Biden's High-Wire Act | Crooked Media
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October 17, 2023
What A Day
Biden's High-Wire Act

In This Episode

  • As President Biden prepared to visit Israel, a hospital in Gaza City was hit by a devastating blast Tuesday, killing at least 500 people. Hamas blamed it on an Israeli airstrike, though Israel denied any involvement. Hours later, the White House confirmed that a planned summit in Jordan with Arab leaders was called off.
  • Crooked’s Tommy Vietor joins us to explain how these new developments will complicate President Biden’s wartime trip.
  • And in headlines: Rep. Jim Jordan fell short in the first round of voting to become House Speaker, the Justice Department is appealing the prison sentences of five members of the Proud Boys, and lowriders are officially free to cruise in the Golden State.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, October 18th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What a Day. 


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, Jim Jordan fell short in the first round of voting to become House speaker. Plus, Californians can now legally ride low and cruise. 


Juanita Tolliver: But first, the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City was hit by a devastating blast in the middle of the night yesterday. After Gazans were given a warning by Israeli forces to evacuate northern Gaza, the hospital became a centralized location for not only physicians and patients, but also for Palestinians who are fleeing their homes and living within the courtyard of the hospital. The Gaza Health Ministry stated that at least 500 people were killed and that number is expected to climb. They also stated that the hospital had been targeted in recent days. Following the explosion, Palestinian authorities blamed Israel for the airstrikes, while Israeli officials denied any involvement and claimed that the explosion was the result of a failed rocket launch by a militant group in Gaza. Of course, it is going to take time to get confirmation about what actually happened at the hospital that left hundreds of Palestinian civilians dead. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. Another terribly tragic, devastating development in such a series of, you know, similar events. And, you know, hospital is really just another level, too. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Because that is just so unequivocally, you know, everybody agrees that is wrong, for that to be targeted. So I know a lot of eyes are on this. A lot of people want answers, want to know who’s responsible. Have U.S. intelligence officials weighed in at all on, you know, what happened at the hospital? 


Juanita Tolliver: A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters that the Pentagon was aware of reports about an attack on Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza but did not have more information to provide. In a statement aboard Air Force One, President Biden said that he was, quote, “outraged and deeply saddened.” And while he did not say who was to blame for the explosion, he directed his national security team to, quote, “continue gathering information about what exactly happened.” As we await more information, the Egyptian foreign ministry called on Israel to, quote, “immediately stop this policy of collective punishment against the people of Gaza.” The director general of the World Health Organization called for the immediate protection of civilians and health care and for the evacuation orders to be reversed. And he stopped short of blaming a specific country for what happened at Al-Ahli Hospital. Also, Jordan’s deputy prime minister confirmed that the planned summit today with President Biden, Egyptian leaders and Palestinian leaders was canceled. This came down right as President Biden prepared to fly to the region. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. A lot of things changing very quickly. You know, what happened at this hospital certainly seems to be of a lot of importance to a lot of other countries too, not just Israel and Palestine. So what does this mean for President Biden’s trip at this point? 


Juanita Tolliver: It definitely shifts the tone and the goals of the president’s trip as the summit with Arab leaders in Jordan was meant to help address regional tensions in the wake of this conflict. It was also reported that before Jordanian officials canceled the summit, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas withdrew from the summit after the reports about the Al-Ahli hospital. As all of this is evolving and changing minute by minute. We sat down with Tommy Vietor, co-founder of Crooked Media, co-host of Pod Save America and Pod Save the World. 


Tommy Vietor: I hope that as part of this trip to Israel, what part of President Biden’s plan is, is to encourage Prime Minister Netanyahu, both publicly and privately, to consider a cease fire, to rein back these airstrikes, to rethink uh reports that Israel might be planning a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip. Because I think, you know, all of those escalatory paths will end very badly for the people of Gaza and for the IDF. And, you know, I’m just I’m really concerned about it. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, this is a very high stakes visit, to say the absolute least. It’s been reported that Biden only agreed to come visit after Israel’s leadership promised to follow through on demands to implement humanitarian aid and corridors. But does this mean that Israel will delay its ground invasion of Gaza further until Biden leaves the region? 


Tommy Vietor: It’s almost certainly the case that they will not launch a ground invasion while President Biden is there. You’re right that the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, has been conducting this shuttle diplomacy. I think he’s been to six or seven countries in like four or five days. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yup. 


Tommy Vietor: Including multiple visits to Israel. And it sounds like, Tony, in his 9 hours of meetings with Bibi Netanyahu, made Joe Biden’s visit to Israel contingent on Israel agreeing to further concessions when it comes to humanitarian relief into Gaza and I assume delaying any potential ground invasion. So I personally hope that there will never be a ground invasion. I think it would be catastrophic. But it certainly seems to have delayed that from starting at least by making this trip. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. I mean, that’s something we’ve been talking about for several days now and we haven’t seen happen. So, you know, we hope. 


Tommy Vietor: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The United Nations says that a ground invasion would violate international law. How do you think Biden will be threading that needle during his visit? 


Tommy Vietor: What I think Biden’s trying to do on this trip is show solidarity and support for Israel when they have just been through the worst trauma in the nation’s history, arguably. If you look at the attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7th, I think by capita it’s sort of ten times larger in terms of casualties than the 9/11 attacks were for the United States. So it’s just a horrific incident, a horrible trauma like innocent civilians killed. And so–


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Tommy Vietor: –President Biden is trying to show that, you know, the United States is there for Israel. I think he’s also trying to warn off other terrorist groups in the region, like Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, from getting involved in this conflict. The United States has also moved two aircraft carriers to the region to manage and monitor Hamas and Hezbollah. So that’s part of the message. I also hope, though, that Joe Biden is talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu about the images that we’re all seeing on the news every day of Gazans being killed, of children being pulled out of piles of rubble. I mean, the death toll is nearly 3000 people. At the time we were recording this, I’ve seen over 10,000 injured. It’s mounting every day. I just really hope that President Biden is talking to Bibi Netanyahu about showing some restraint, slowing things down, considering a cease fire, because, you know, there’s like 200 hostages sitting in Gaza. They’re at risk from these airstrikes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Tommy Vietor: Innocent civilians are at risk. We don’t even know if the Hamas leadership is still in Gaza. The question of sort of the laws of war um should be underpinning all of this. But I do hope that we’ll never get to this ground invasion. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I want to ask a follow up question on the hostages, because we know Hamas this week issued their demands through the press, oddly, but issued those demands. And what role do you think President Biden has in that negotiation process, if any at all? 


Tommy Vietor: I think President Biden has been very personally involved in the ongoing efforts to get back these hostages. He’s done a call with some of the families. Tony Blinken, the secretary of state, when he traveled to Israel, brought the director for hostage affairs with him. And I think that individual stayed in Israel to sort of coordinate the efforts out of there. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Tommy Vietor: In the past, Israel has shown a very admirable determination to get back all hostages, no matter how long it takes. There was an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit. 


Juanita Tolliver: Five years right? 


Tommy Vietor: That was taken hostage yeah he was held for five years and Israel ended up releasing a thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange to get Gilad Shalit back. I imagine ultimately that some sort of process like that is going to be the only thing that brings home these hostages. There’s likely Americans among the hostages. So I hope that’s part of this conversation, because, again, every day they are in this war zone. They’re at risk. Every day they are in the hands of terrorists they are at risk. There’s children. There’s elderly people. There’s a Holocaust survivor that was taken. There are badly wounded people. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Tommy Vietor: Hamas released their first hostage video the other day. It was a 21 year old uh girl whose arm appears to have been shattered. You know, they’re trying to show that they have provided her medical treatment. But, you know, when I see her, I look at someone who’s terrified and in horrible condition. 


Juanita Tolliver: Terrified. And we also don’t have explicit date stamps on that. So–. 


Tommy Vietor: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: It’s still a question into her current situation. But–


Tommy Vietor: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: I want to go back to the canceled meeting in Jordan, because as President Biden was boarding Air Force One, that’s when that cancellation was reported and announced. And I want to talk about it in the context of deterrence in the region, because that was the goal for that. How do you think this canceled meeting and summit will complicate the president’s efforts to deter regional actors from engaging, but also to kind of diffuse regional tensions that we know are percolating right now? 


Tommy Vietor: President Biden is looking to get leaders in the Gulf on board to help deter Hezbollah from jumping into this fight, to help them urge Hamas to release women and children who they’ve taken hostage and to generally show support for Israel in this, you know, this horrific post terrorist attack period. The other part of Joe Biden’s long term strategy, though, is, you know, if you don’t want people in the Gaza Strip to support Hamas, you have to help provide them an alternative. That alternative should be the Palestinian Authority, which is run by Mahmoud Abbas. Now, look, that organization has been corrupt and feckless at times. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. I think it’s important to name that reality. Yes. 


Tommy Vietor: Yeah. And he’s not shown great leadership. But I think what the Palestinian Authority needs is support from its neighbors to help them get funding to help them get political legitimacy and to show Palestinian people a political option that isn’t Hamas and potentially a path to a two state solution. So, you know, I think that meeting being canceled is really a it’s an ominous sign. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, as you were saying earlier, President Biden’s trip does follow a lot of work by Secretary Blinken on the ground, his trips to Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. You know, he’s been laying the groundwork for this. So with all of that in mind, what does a successful trip for President Biden look like? Are there any new commitments that the president is seeking? You know, what should we be looking out for or wanting to see from this? 


Tommy Vietor: Success, I hope will look like some additional commitments on the humanitarian front from Israel. Some pushing forward of talks and diplomacy around getting hostages back, some reassurance to the Israeli government and the Israeli people that America has their back and will be there and willing to deter Hezbollah from attacking Israel from the north. So you’re right. I mean, this is a real high wire act. This is a trip coming together in like 48 hours when these things usually take weeks, if not months. And it’s an active war zone. So it’s um– 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Tommy Vietor: Listen, this is not a trip I necessarily would have recommended, but credit to President Biden for wanting to just, I guess, dive into the problem. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Before we let you leave. Tommy, is there anything else that you think we should know or, you know, context that’s important as this trip begins? 


Tommy Vietor: The United States has an enormous interest in what’s happening between Israel and Gaza right now. My concern about President Biden’s visit is just making sure that others in the region know that the United States cares about the people of Gaza, that [?] we are pushing for humanitarian supplies and a cease fire in Gaza. And they aren’t just going to see President Biden with Bibi Netanyahu and think that the United States is complicit in the military offensive that’s happening now and whatever happens next. So that’s another thing I’m watching closely and frankly concerned about. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was our conversation with Tommy Vietor, co-founder of Crooked Media, co-host of Pod Save America and Pod Save the World. And we will keep following all of this very closely. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The saga to choose the next speaker of the House continues. Ohio’s Jim Jordan, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, fell short of the 217 votes he needed to win. 20 of his fellow Republicans refuse to vote for him despite running a last ditch effort to bring them to his side. Some of them once again voted to put former Speaker Kevin McCarthy back to the job, while others threw their support behind Representative Steve Scalise, who withdrew his own bid for the speaker’s race last week. So uh Republicans in disarray. People get used to it. It’s not as alliterative, but it seems to make a little more sense. In fact, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries scored more votes than any other candidate for the position coming out on top with the support of all 212 House Democrats. Clearly, the only party that has their shit together. 


Juanita Tolliver: 100%. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The House is set to host another floor vote today at 11 a.m. Eastern, where Jordan hopes to turn his luck around. But sources told NBC News yesterday that a handful of Republicans who backed Jordan in round one will not vote for him again, meaning that he might have even less support in round two. Either way, let’s hope we don’t see a repeat of the many rounds of voting that it took to get Kevin McCarthy in place, even though that seems to be where we are heading. And a quick reminder, Jim Jordan was one of the 147 Republicans who voted to reject the Electoral College results from Pennsylvania and Arizona following the 2020 presidential election. His name also came up over a dozen times in the final report from the House January 6th committee. Perhaps a good thing that he’s not able to be successful in this running, but I don’t know. I don’t think they could really nominate a good candidate at this point. I don’t think there’s anyone. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. I just want to shout out all the Democrats who called him an insurrectionist when they cast their votes, but also remind everybody that we are literally a month away from the government not having any more funding. So Republicans pick somebody else and do it quickly, please. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, get it together, people. 


Juanita Tolliver: And speaking of insurrectionists, the Justice Department is appealing the prison sentences handed down to five members of the Proud Boys. Back in May, they were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the January 6th riot. And while prosecutors didn’t explain why they’re appealing in their initial paperwork, the move likely indicates that they want these guys to serve more time behind bars. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, sentenced former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio and four other members of the group to sentences ranging from 15 to 22 years. Tarrio received the longest sentence. Still, he received a much shorter sentence than the 33 years that prosecutors originally wanted. At least 1100 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the attack on the Capitol so far. Earlier this summer, the DOJ also appealed the sentencing of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other members of that far right group for their involvement in the insurrection. 


Priyanka Aribindi: India’s top court yesterday declined to legalize same sex marriage in the world’s most populous country, ruling that it’s up to India’s parliament to make that decision. The verdict comes after the court heard more than a dozen petitions by advocates for same sex marriage earlier this year. Ultimately, the five judge bench unanimously ruled against the petitioners, saying that legalizing same sex marriages is up to legislators. Basically, the court agreed that it was limited in its ability to grant that right, but also emphasized that LGBTQ+ folks should not face discrimination or harassment. The judges also clarified that transgender folks have the right to marry, but only on the condition that they marry someone of the opposite sex, which is not necessarily what we wanted to hear. Mario da Penha, one of the petitioners, told the Associated Press that it was, quote, “a day to be disappointed but not to lose hope,” adding, quote, “There’s been tremendous work that has gone into these petitions and many hopes and dreams of the queer community attached to them to lead lives that most other Indians take for granted. The fact that the dream could not come to fruition today is a disappointment for all of us.” Hopefully these petitioners get what they are looking for from these legislators. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know. I’m not holding my breath, but it would really be a great thing to see. And as we said, the world’s most populous country, that’s really important. That’s a lot of people. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. And finally, some good news for those who prefer to drive low and slow. Lowriders are now officially free to cruise in the Golden State. Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill into law that lifts statewide restrictions on lowrider cruising. Lowriders have been a big part of California’s car culture since the forties, thanks to young Mexican-Americans who started the trend of customizing and tweaking their rides with bright paint jobs, hydraulics and later souped up sound systems. But over the years, California imposed bans on cruising and put strict limits on how low cars can ride. Many of those restrictions were imposed, ostensibly in an effort to curb gang violence. However, critics say the policies were racist. I second that and gave police an excuse to target Chicanos. Some California cities like Sacramento, Modesto and San Jose had already lifted their restrictions. But the new law makes it so that low riders can keep rolling statewide. Specifically, it prohibits local governments from imposing their own rules and regulations on cruising and also lifts a previous restriction that made it illegal for the body of a car to ride closer to the ground than the bottom of its rims. The new law is set to take effect on January 1st. Just be careful of those potholes. Now you know, roads in local communities tend to be neglected. And that bodywork is expensive, y’all. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. Very exciting news for everyone who wants to cruise. If you want to take me with, I’m around [laughter] I’m available. Let me know. Let me know!


Juanita Tolliver: I’m just hoping for the return of Pimp My Ride California edition, please please please. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. 


Juanita Tolliver: I want to see the most absurd things in your cars. And the best paint jobs. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Juanita Tolliver: Xzibit never missed out on the paint jobs. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Never missed, bring back that absolutely elite programming. Please. We beg of you. And those are the headlines. 




Juanita Tolliver: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review and tell your friends to listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martínez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.