In This Episode
- President Biden gave his first address to Congress, last night, themed largely around moving America out of the most difficult stage of the pandemic and approaching a new normal. Part of that has to do with The American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion program that would pay for two free years of community college, universal pre-K for three and four year olds, and more. We go over the main takeaways.
- Biden timed his speech to come right as he approaches his 100th day in office on Friday, too. To discuss that broader context and what we can learn from Biden’s first 100 days, we spoke with Crooked Media’s editor-in-chief and host of the podcast Rubicon, Brian Beutler.
- And in headlines: Mario Gonzalez died after being pinned by police in California, charges for the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, and the Senate restores Obama-era regulations on methane leaks.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, April 29th. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day where we are figuring out the politest way to ask our apps to stop tracking us.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I want to let them down easy, you know. They do mean a lot to me.
Gideon Resnick: I love my tracking apps.
Akilah Hughes: On today’s show, Rubicon’s Brian Beutler helps us assess President Biden’s first 100 days, but first, the latest:
[clip of President Biden] To win that competition for the future, in my view, we also need to make a once in a generation investment in our families and our children. That’s why I’ve introduced the American Families Plan tonight.
Akilah Hughes: That was Biden making the pitch for his new American Families Plan, yet another spending and tax plan as part of his first address to Congress. The vibes were still very pandemic-y: double masks and distanced, it’s like an 1/8th of the size of a normal congressional address. And it was certainly a reminder that this isn’t over yet. But back to the plan.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. So on that plan, it is the administration’s latest approach to basically getting us out of the pandemic, the major focus of the start of this administration. It is a $1.8 trillion dollar plan that would, among other things, provide education funding, covering two free years of community college and pre-K for all three and four-year olds. It would also fund a paid family and medical leave program, extend a child tax credit—although not make it permanent—and extend subsidies for ACA premiums. And the White House has said it would be paid for it with income tax rate increases for the top 1%—ha ha—and increasing the capital gains rate. But also it would be paid for by beefing up IRS enforcement, which it thinks would help bring in a lot of money from corporations. And this is all in addition to the previously-announced infrastructure plan. There are a lot of big packages this administration is dealing with. Now Biden also spoke about immigration, climate change, foreign policy and voting rights, among other legislative priorities. And, of course, the vaccination campaign.
[clip of President Biden] Today, 90% of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site. Everyone over the age of 16, everyone, is now eligible to get vaccinated right now, right away. Go get vaccinated, America. Go and get the vaccination! They’re available.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. So, as we heard, Biden has a really over delivered on his vaccine rollout goal and is still urging Americans to get the vaccine. And we’ve covered the slowdown in demand in recent days. So this appeal to the nation hopefully doesn’t go unheard. He notably did not bring up the crisis in India right now, but he did say we’ll return to our World War Two legacy of supplying our, quote “arsenal of democracy” in reference to sharing vaccines. But this is still a little disappointing because it was relatively vague and there was no timeline.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I hope we do much, much more. And what about the pandemic more broadly? What did he have to say about his administration’s handling of it?
Akilah Hughes: While he had a lot to say. So he went on to talk about his response to every facet of the pandemic. He boasted about the 160 million relief checks being distributed and 1.3 million jobs being created since January 25th. He also flexed that the ACA had nearly 800,000 additional sign-ups thanks to his special enrollment period.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And we heard from Biden a bit on the topic that is obviously at the forefront of everyone’s minds: policing in America. And he talked about trying to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act.
[clip of President Biden] We need to work together to find a consensus, but let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death. [applause] The country supports this reform and Congress should act, should act. We have a giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, real justice.
Gideon Resnick: Mmm. What were your reactions to this part of the speech?
Akilah Hughes: OK, so I’m glad that he emphasized real justice, because consequences after the fact do not bring Black people back from the dead. And look, I’m not exactly sure how he can enact change on the local level in rooting out the bad apples. But I just want to reiterate that the saying goes one bad apple spoils the bunch. So the premise that there are some bad apples means it’s a big enough problem to be a priority. I appreciate that it made it into a speech, but beyond Congress acting at some point, there does need to be like a real reckoning, an overhaul of how so-called justice is served in the country.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and Biden timed his speech to come right as he hit his one 100th day in office today. That number always sounds good to use as a way to judge how a president is doing so far because 100 is a nice round number, and more importantly, it can portend successes and failures for the rest of the term. And so today we have with us Crooked Media’s Editor in Chief Brian Beutler. He is also the host of Rubicon, which is currently exploring this very topic. Welcome back to the show, Brian.
Brian Beutler: It’s great to be here every time.
Gideon Resnick: So I want to start with the pandemic, where before President Biden took office, our country had one of the world’s worst COVID responses, I think is a light way of putting it. But on January 26, Biden said this:
[clip of President Biden] These aggressive steps to increase vaccine supply come on top of the steps we took last week to get more people vaccinated for free, to create more places for them to get vaccinated, and to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms.
Gideon Resnick: OK, so then today about 29% percent of our total population is fully-vaccinated. And Biden did meet his updated goal to give out 200 million shots within his first 100 days. He got there on day 92, if we are counting. The White House also announced this week that it plans to share millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine with other countries. So how did we get here, and did you expect this much success on vaccinations?
Brian Beutler: When Biden came into office, he had set the goal initially at 100 million shots in 100 days. By the time he took office, we were already clearing about a million shots a day, so basically, if he had done nothing to improve the situation he inherited, he would have hit that goal. But they very quickly exceeded that pace and updated the goal. And it was unclear whether even a really competent administration of the vaccine rollout could have achieved that. The Trump team’s vision for a vaccine rollout was really quite a lot like FEMA after hurricane dropped pallets of water at a way station and said: come get your water. They had to do the whole last mile and they had to build it out starting on day one. And to get from there to consistently over three million shots a day was a real feat.
Gideon Resnick: And so the vaccine rollout has, as you’ve alluded to, some bumps as well throughout the process. You know, at the beginning, it was disadvantaged people really struggling to figure out the complicated processes in various states and localities. Now, there is a related issue of having that campaign stall out below three million. How did Biden do specifically in addressing the divide of who could and couldn’t get shots?
Brian Beutler: Yes, I think that there was a balancing act that they had to strike in the period of time when vaccine supply was limited and vaccine demand was through the roof. You only saw the beginnings of a continuous messaging campaign about getting people, particularly people who needed to come out of the woodwork to get the vaccine, vaccinated, until the second half of the first hundred days. And I think now that we have reached the point where supply has eclipsed demand and there’s been some drop off, you’ll see that accelerate because you’re trying to reach people who are harder to convince. But when you do convince them, they can go anywhere pretty much and they can get a shot. And so I think that that is what you’re going to see going forward, is a much more concerted effort to find the people who, you know, they ideally would have loved to have gotten their shots in the first 100 days, but were hard to reach for one reason or another.
Gideon Resnick: The second sort of major thing, I guess, in the pandemic response has been the passing of the American Rescue Plan. So what can Biden learn from the success of that entire process and use those lessons to pass other kinds of progressive legislation—like the infrastructure plan, the American Families Plan—when reconciliation might not always be an option for him?
Brian Beutler: If reconciliation is not an option for him, then I think he’s going to have to lean harder than he has into changing the filibuster rules. But if we’re going to assume that reconciliation is going to be an option for at least a lot of this stuff, he’s going to want to continue, as he seems inclined to do, to propose provisions in his jobs and families plans that are really about providing more resources to programs that are well understood, well liked, they’re just maybe a little under-resourced. And then I think the third plank of this is sort of related to the filibuster complication, which is that a lot of this is in the hands of congressional Democrats. And what, they showed really remarkable restraint in the crafting and the passage of the Rescue Plan, where they didn’t let their big pet projects or their major reservations about whatever, derail anything. And if he can convince the entire Senate Democratic caucus to do the same thing for these two plans, then I think that he could basically repeat what was so successful about the Rescue Plan, and he’d find that it worked again.
Gideon Resnick: On the filibuster, specifically, you know Biden at this point seems unwilling to flat out get rid of it, as he has for quite some time, but it seemed like a revelation that he mentioned reform in March. Here he is talking to CNN about that:
[clip of President Biden] We have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate, and that is that a filibuster, you had to stand up and command the floor. Once you stop talking, you lost that and someone could move in and say “I move the question of.” So you got to work for the filibuster.
[interviewer] So you’re for that reform? You’re for bringing back the talking filibuster?
[clip of President Biden] I am. That’s what it was supposed to be.
Gideon Resnick: So far the talking filibuster is not back, and the rule continues to be an obstacle to passing all sorts of legislation, basically everything that has gone through the House in the last three months or so. So could Biden be doing more to reach that goal, and what can he really be doing as president to make those sorts of changes on that level happen?
Brian Beutler: There’s just going to have to be some level of creative politicking. What he needs is every single Senate Democrat to agree with him, and currently maybe 48 do.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Brian Beutler: What you need then is to figure out a way to get the last couple Democrats to realize that the rules as currently written, aren’t working. There are certainly things that will matter to Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Krysten Sinema, whether it’s minimum wage legislation, or democracy reforms that would protect someone like Krysten Sinema from the voter suppression legislation that Republicans in Arizona are trying to pass. You put those on the floor, you show that they have enough votes to pass in a world where the majority gets to govern, and the only thing that’s stopping them from becoming law is this arbitrary requirement that legislation needs 60 votes to pass.
Gideon Resnick: And another issue that I think has been part of Biden’s early administration so far is immigration. He did send a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress, but then again, he faced backlash from progressives and immigration advocates for breaking his campaign promise on refugees, not to mention housing conditions for migrant children. But on the refugee point specifically, he initially pledged to raise the cap on the number of the US would take in each year. But almost two weeks ago, he said he would keep the Trump-era cap in place, before walking it back and promising to raise it after all. I think that’s where it ended up. That cap is still half of what he promised: 62,500 instead of 125,000. What does something like that quick turnaround say about Biden’s approach to immigration, and what can we even say so far about his approach overall?
Brian Beutler: It’s a little murky. I think that you can see in what Democrats in Congress have prioritized that they don’t see immigration reform as much of a priority. I think that what the story of the refugee cap tells, is that this White House is very attuned to public opinion and they don’t want to put Biden on the wrong side of it when they don’t feel they have to, but that they’re also very responsive when their are whole support structure turns around and tells them that they made a mistake. So you could imagine their political caution being something that pushes them away from doing comprehensive immigration reform, or other things, because they don’t think it’s worth investing political capital on things that will blow back.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. And then just overall here, we talked last time about how this 100 days metric is in some ways kind of arbitrary, but we do it anyway every single time. Looking back on it now, what is your overall assessment so far here?
Brian Beutler: If you limit it to what happened in the 100 days and ignore the question of how well it’s situates them for the next 100 or the next 1,000: like knocked-it-out-of-the-park good. Right? Any president would love to pass a super popular two trillion dollar Rescue Plan that helped save the country from a pandemic. The flip side of that is what you want and why we care about the first 100 days or the first early weeks or whatever you want to call it, is to sort of gauge how well the administration situated themselves to govern for the entire term. Biden has really big ambitions, but if there’s a filibuster in place, many of them are going to go in that, and that will leave a couple of bills that they might be able to pass through reconciliation, but they will need every Democrat to get on board, and not to get mired in infighting. And I don’t think we have enough history under our belt yet. A hundred days didn’t provide us enough to be able to take a fair stab at which version of events we’re going to see play out: the one where Biden becomes this this LBJ or FDR-like figure who passes tons of transformative legislation, or whether we’ll look back at the 100 days as the high watermark and then things kind of ground to a halt.
Gideon Resnick: Brian, thank you so much again for joining us today. Really appreciate it.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, it was a blast. Thanks for having me.
Akilah Hughes: That was Brian Beutler, the host of Crooked’s Rubicon, where he assesses Biden’s first 100 days. The finale episode comes out tomorrow. And that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about one of New York’s least desirable apartments: it’s Rudy Giuliani’s, where FBI agents seized cell phones and computers yesterday as part of the investigation into the former mayor’s work in Ukraine. This goes back to Giuliani’s attempts to get dirt on the Biden family during the Trump campaign. He’s also on the hook for potentially pushing to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on behalf of the Ukrainian government. His raid is a significant development in an investigation that started over two years ago. So Giddy, what’s your take on it? And also on the overall idea of raiding Rudy Giuliani’s apartment,
Gideon Resnick: This would be the most catastrophic Room Raiders episode of all time.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Bad. Woof. Black light.
Gideon Resnick: [laughs] Yeah, black light. I’m wondering, I have two questions. One is: what sort of hair products were found in the apartment, and were they seized?
Akilah Hughes: I think they were just Crayola markers that he draws so can just melt on screen. He really likes to have it in his pores.
Gideon Resnick: Yep, yep. It’s got to drip. I, I also wonder if he has a collection of sort of like, sweat rags that he like dabs himself with, like he did at the one Trump speech—I can remember, maybe the RNC. And also, on the phones: are there any behind the scenes Borat pictures? Maria Bakalova when he thought that she was the reporter? You know, I, I have some questions.
Akilah Hughes: Ugh. Yeah. I mean, I think that these are all good place to start. And I think that, you know, the FBI would do well to take that suggestion. You know, let’s look into those things first. Ukraine is going to be there, like we know is going to be there. Yeah, fully.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Don’t even worry about that. But how are you feeling about this? What’s, there’s a lot to think about here.
Akilah Hughes: I mean, yeah, I kind of think that it would be very damp in there, you know, so it’s like I hope that they had some full-body coverings. You don’t want to get any drippings from the ceiling or the floor. I think it would be kind of like a very warm bat cave, but not like cool. Like there’s nothing cool in there. None of these, there’s no high-tech stuff. It’s just like low tech in a cave. [laughs] But yeah, beyond that, I think it’s just like, it’s very funny because so many people who are, you know, in ways close to Trump—I guess he’s his lawyer or was for a time—they’re all just thinking they were going to get away with everything and now, you know, the chickens are coming home to roost. So it’s going to be interesting. I think that this is, this is a good bit of news to wake up to. I enjoyed seeing it on West Coast time in the morning. I was like: all right, DOJ out here doing some work today. They woke up on the right side of the bed. And honestly, I think that’s a good place to remember, everybody. We checked our temps. Stay safe. And yeah, if the DOJ is coming to investigate you, just tidy up a little bit. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: 26-year old Hispanic man in California’s Bay Area died after police officers pinned him face down to the ground for five minutes. Mario Gonzalez died on April 19th, but the Alameda County Police Department released the body camera footage earlier this week. An initial police report said that Gonzalez was intoxicated and had a medical emergency. But a lawyer for his family called it misinformation and said, quote “drunk guy in a park” doesn’t equal a capital sentence. The three officers responsible have been placed on administrative leave. In other news, a South Carolina judge denied the public release of body camera footage of sheriff’s deputies fatally shooting Andrew Brown yesterday. Brown’s family will be able to watch the footage in a private viewing, but the judge claims that releasing it publicly would interfere with the investigation. In most states, body camera footage is considered public record, but not in South Carolina.
Akilah Hughes: Disgusting. Three white men were indicted on charges of federal hate crimes and attempted kidnaping in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. A federal attorney’s office in Georgia said Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and William Bryan, interfered with Aubrey’s right to use a public street because of his race. Last February, the three men chased down and fatally shot Arbery while he was out on a jog. Arbery’s family’s attorney, Ben Crump, called the indictments another step in the right direction. All men are also facing state charges, including murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment, but a court date has not yet been set for the trial.
Gideon Resnick: Another story about three white men facing consequences: three of the men who planned to kidnap Michigan’s governor have been charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Truly a blast from the past. The men are part of a right-wing extremist group called the Wolverine Watchmen, and they were motivated to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer after she imposed lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID. To me, this seems like a lot more time consuming and expensive than just buying a mask, but then again I’m not a white supremacist whose brain has been melted by hatred. I’m uh, just not. Another part of the group’s plan was to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s house so police couldn’t easily reach her. To do it, they ordered $4,000 worth of explosives from an undercover FBI agent, which is what led to the new charge. That makes sense. Finding WMDs in Michigan does not mean we have to go to war with the state, but it does mean these three men face up to life in prison, along with three other members of the group who face kidnaping charges.
Akilah Hughes: Almost a week after her big day, the Senate finally came through with a present for Earth. Fifty two senators voted yesterday to restore an Obama-era regulation to curb methane leaks from oil and gas operations. The EPA implemented the rule in 2016 and Trump overturned it late last summer. He was standing up for blue-collar energy workers by making their bosses richer so they can buy more private airplanes for the workers to look at. Now, the bill heads back to the House, where it’s expected to pass easily before landing on Biden’s desk. Methane gas has up to 80x more climate impact than carbon dioxide, and reducing methane emissions by at least half by 2030 is a key part of Biden’s climate agenda. And Dr. Jill can only do so much by making running her only mode of transportation.
Gideon Resnick: Yet. Let the woman put her feet up, OK?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. You know, she’s tired. She shouldn’t have to carry all of this on her own back. And those are the headlines.
Akilah Hughes: One more thing before we go: this week on Hysteria, hosts Erin Ryan and Alissa Mastromonaco are joined by Sophie Ackoff, a Co-Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, to discuss the importance of supporting farmers and the need for equity in farming. Check out this, and a host of other fantastic conversations by subscribing to Hysteria wherever you listen to podcasts.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, avoid Rudy Giuliani’s apartment, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just running tips from Dr. Jill, like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And Happy Belated Earth Day!
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, we knew we would figure something out that you didn’t have already. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: We are creative with gifts. What can I say?
Akilah Hughes: Figured it out.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.