In This Episode
- Senate Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion economic relief bill on Saturday, without any support from Republicans. The final bill pared back some elements of the House’s version, including a minimum wage hike. Still, it’s a massive cash infusion for low and middle income Americans, and could cut child poverty in half by some estimate.
- Yesterday was the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” where civil rights activists dared to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama and were met with extreme violence from police. Biden marked the day by signing an executive order aimed at expanding voting access.
- And in headlines: lawmakers call for Andrew Cuomo’s resignation following additional allegations of sexual harassment, Swiss voters approve burqa ban, and a look at vaccination passports.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, March 8th. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we’re like Meghan Markle, we never Googled each other before meeting as hosts.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I just assumed that Gideon was a royal. I’ve been very disappointed ever since.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show the future of the filibuster and voting rights reform, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest:
[Senate vote clip] The yeas are 50, the nays are 49. The bill as amended is passed.
Akilah Hughes: Aw yeah everybody, we did it. It’s been a long time coming, but they finally did something in the Congress. So that clip was the moment the Senate passed the 1.9 trillion dollar economic relief bill on Saturday in a 50 to 49 vote with no Republicans voting in favor. It took a 24-hour plus session to get it done with various holdouts along the way. Next, the House must pass the new bill before it goes to President Biden’s desk, where it will be signed in the coming days. So we are one really, really, really big step closer, but Gideon, let’s start with what’s in this bill and how different it is from the House version.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so it’s pretty close to the House bill, but with a few important exceptions. First, one of the more glaring absences was the $15 minimum wage hike that was in the House bill, but not in the Senate package given the parliamentarian’s ruling. And there actually was a moment when senators did have the opportunity to vote on including the wage hike, though, and eight—yes, eigh0—Democratic senators voted against doing that. One of the more high profile moments that drew a lot of flack was the way in which Senator Sinema of Arizona did that dramatic thumbs down—video that I’m sure everybody’s seen. The other senators who were against it were Manchin, Shaheen, Hassan, Carper, Coons, Tester and King. Then in the House, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, said that she was, quote “extremely disappointed that the minimum wage was not included.” But the statement didn’t seem to indicate that house progressives are going to be against this bill when it goes back there.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and there were some other changes as well. The Senate bill lowers the income threshold for stimulus checks, capping eligibility at 80K for an individual or 160 K for a couple. And that’s down from 100K and 200K in the House bill. But what else got changed?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. That, another major holdup came from Senator Joe Manchin—I have a feeling we’re going to be saying that a lot from now on. So on unemployment benefits, he was not on board with a plan to raise the weekly amount from $300 to $400.
Akilah Hughes: That’s cheap.
Gideon Resnick: According to New York Times, the plan from Biden and the House was to raise it and extend it through the end of August. Manchin, among others, thought that that was too much. Democrats came back with this offer to keep the benefits at 300, but extend to October and add forgiveness in taxes on unemployment benefits. That also did not work for Mr. Manchin either. Then the final deal was $300 a week ending September 6th. So a lot of the focus over the weekend was on these limits and concessions to conservative Democrats. But the final bill is still predicted to have a vast impact on poverty in the U.S., which kind of comparatively flew under the radar as all of this was being negotiated.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I mean, big picture, this is a massive relief bill. It’s going to get a lot of money out to people with low and moderate incomes. And by some estimates, it’ll cut child poverty in half. So let’s talk about that.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there are the $1,400 stimulus checks which go to individuals, but also parents get $1,400 for each dependent as well, instead of a partial payment like in the CARES ACT last year. Then on top of that, the bill also expands the child tax credit to 3,000 or 3,600, depending on how old your kid is. So in total, from just those two parts of the bill, a family of four would get over 8,500. You spread that out across families across the country, that’s a pretty big deal. The impacts could be enormous here. Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy said that the bill will reduce overall poverty by a third, lifting 13 million people out of it, and reducing child poverty by more than half as you said. According to the Times, more than 93% of children would receive benefits under the plan. So the programs aren’t permanent but the hope is that once this gets instituted, it’s going to remain. There are tons of wealthy countries that provide this kind of help for children and families, but we’re extremely bad at the whole government doing things for regular people bit. So hopefully this does stick around.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s definitely high time we did something for the people of this country. All right. So that’s some of the policy and politics in and around the bill. What are some of your big takeaways from this big first legislation so far?
Gideon Resnick: Yea, so one of the things people that are smarter than me pointed out is that this is hopefully a sign that some Democrats learn from mistakes of not doing nearly enough during the last recession. For reference, the stimulus bill passed in 09 during the financial crisis got negotiated down to about 800 billion dollars. Now, Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say trimming it back prolonged the recession, they didn’t want to make that same mistake again. The other thing is what a 50 – 50 Senate is going to look like. So on the one hand, it emphasizes the importance of Democrats winning two Senate seats in Georgia, two senators who effectively ran on this bill. And on the other, it emphasizes how people like Manchin and Sinema could hold things up in the future, things like minimum wage or the filibuster. Though in a series of interviews yesterday, I will say Manchin indicated even he could have a change of heart on filibuster reform. Here’s a clip from one of those interviews on Fox News.
[clip of Senator Manchin] I’m supporting the filibuster. I’m going to continue to support the filibuster. I think it defines who we are as a Senate. I’ll make it harder to get rid of it, but it should be painful if you want to use it.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So it’s a little confusing, but he seems to want to keep it, but also suggests that filibustering should be the old talking filibuster model, whereby basically people in the minority party would have to literally stand and talk until they relent, after which there would be a simple majority threshold vote. If that is what joe is saying—I would love for him to explain further—it would be an improvement that could allow things like voting rights reforms to pass with just 50 votes and the tiebreaker from Vice President Harris. Which brings us to our next story.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, on that note, yesterday was the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, where civil rights activists dared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and were met with extreme violence from police. Sound familiar? The reasons for these civil rights protests were vast, but one major reason for this particular march was to give African-Americans their constitutional right to vote. You may notice again some similarities to the ways in which some members of society still don’t want black people to vote today. This year was the first anniversary of the event since John Lewis’s passing. It comes days after House Democrats passed H.R.1 to expand voting rights, an issue that Lewis had made his life’s work. The bill, in attempts before it, as you said, are a perfect example of Democratic bills that cannot ever pass with consistent partisanship from the right and the filibuster.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that word—whooh—is going to be the death of me. Uh, Biden marked the day by signing an executive order aimed at expanding voting access.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and he made a statement saying, quote “Every eligible voters should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.” Which was not so subtly aimed at reactionary Republicans. On that executive order, it basically directs the heads of all federal agencies to submit proposals to promote voter registration and participation within 200 days. He doesn’t have a lot of executive authority here, which is why he also called on Congress to address voting rights.
Gideon Resnick: And all this is happening as Republicans continue trying to roll back voter access. We’ve talked about this a lot in the aggregate, but let’s talk about one specific instance in John Lewis’s home state.
Akilah Hughes: Yes, OK, so a perfect example is legislation advancing in Georgia right now that targets weekend voting, which unsurprisingly, is a direct attack on Black churchgoing voters who take part in Souls to the Polls on Sundays and similar events. Which is funny how Republicans are constantly decrying so-called Christian oppression while actively legislating against Black Christians because they cannot win elections with their policy proposals. Maybe if they spent less time boohooing about Mr. Potato Head and books they’ve never read not being published because of a company’s right to say what the fuck they want to sell, they could win an election without cheating. Similar legislation aimed at stopping the Democrats Black base is being proposed across the country and just in case it bears repeating, Republicans are doing the racism out loud now. So we’ll keep following this and pressuring Congress to stop the filibuster, if only to make America the democracy it purports to want to be. Lastly, if you want to learn more about H.R.1 head to VotesaveAmerica.com/forthepeople where you can see what’s in the bill and help make sure it gets passed, so these shitty bills in Georgia don’t. And that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’ve got an extremely hard to relate to story about finance. Elon Musk lost 27 billion dollars last week as Tesla stock fell hard after a year of massive gains. Tech stocks were down in general last week and Tesla was no exception. Musk’s losses mean he is no longer the richest man in the world. Boohoo. His net worth is now about 157 billion dollars compared to Bezos’s 177 billion. So Giddy, now that you’ve processed these numbers, what’s your reaction here?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been there. You know, hard relate. To definitely understand going through an experience like this totally checks out for me. Yeah. I mean, I like, I feel like these two guys are probably going to be like trading spots like this for a while. And it seems like the only reason that Elon falls on, quote unquote “financial troubles” if you could even call this that, is he seems just a lot more reckless. Like I don’t really know what he does on a day-to-day with his finances and who handles it, but he definitely seems to be like swinging around more in that in that upper echelon. But, you know, I think, I think he is going to be OK. That’s my encouraging words.
Akilah Hughes: I’m honestly curious if his life has changed at all, to be completely honest. [laughs] I don’t know how it could have.
Gideon Resnick: But same question for you, Akilah. This is a truly tragic development. How are you processing it?
Akilah Hughes: I mean, you know, I think that the way I process it, is the way I process all of these numbers, and I roll my eyes and I think: nothing is real, we are all just pretending that money is an actual thing, and at any point we could all just agree that it’s not. But in reality, I know that that’s not the case. I think that it’s, it’s pretty shocking that someone can lose that much money in a week. And I also think that, like, when the market is this volatile, it’s really hard to put a lot of stake in it as like the thing that we can say is reflective of the country. Like this might be the first time it feels reflective of the country in the entire pandemic, you know? The last year has been nothing but rising stocks. Tesla was, I think, you know, at one point $900. So it’s really shocking that it was ever that high to begin with, its cars. [laughs] But, you know, I think that, again, this is all kind of funny money. And, you know, we’ll see what happens, we’ll see if the electric car future can bring him back. But honestly, maybe we should just get to the point where we recognize that people having billions of dollars is unethical. And when you lose it like that, it’s even more unethical because like, wow, 27 billion would at least have paid for my student loans. Right? Well, just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe. Hey, maybe invest in yourself and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Top state lawmakers in New York are calling for Andrew Cuomo’s resignation after more allegations of sexual harassment against the governor. The leader of the state Senate, Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins was the most prominent New York state official to call for Coleman’s resignation over the weekend. She said his scandals were drawing attention away from the state’s handling of COVID. Cuomo is currently facing sexual harassment allegations from five women, with two former aides coming forward over the weekend. Cuomo told reporters that he will not be resigning because of the allegations and even suggested that one of the women, Karen Hinton, had political motives for speaking out. Cuomo’s attempts to downplay nursing home deaths last summer—another thing—is also looking worse and worse, with the news last week that his office actively removed more accurate numbers from a July report from the New York State Health Department. Around the same time, Cuomo was starting to write his book on his handling of the pandemic.
Akilah Hughes: Well, I think I have some edits for him. A majority of voters in Switzerland approved a near total ban on full face coverings yesterday, which includes burqas and niqabs. The proposal was created by the right wing Swiss People’s Party. It doesn’t specifically mention Islam, but it’s widely known as the burqa ban. Under the new rule, religious face coverings will be banned in all public places, including streets, offices and public transportation. The only exceptions are inside places of worship or other sacred sites. Tourists and other visitors are also forced to abide by the ban, and face masks for COVID don’t count. Several religious and civil rights groups within the country have criticized the proposal, calling it anti-Muslim and an infringement on religious rights. Switzerland joined several other European countries that have imposed full, partial or local bans on religious face coverings like France, Germany and Denmark.
Gideon Resnick: Moving on to bigotry at home, a new report from Axios showed that state Republicans have introduced more laws targeting trans youth in the last two months than they did in all of 2020. Of the 60 bills brought forward, 41 of them were to exclude trans youth from playing on sports teams that match with their gender identity. Other bills were to make gender affirming care for trans youth illegal. The crackdown on children existing while trans, has been seen as a reaction to progress at the federal level, specifically the election of Joe Biden and a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to fire employees for being gay or trans. More broadly, attacking trans kids fits with the culture war-type issues Republicans have used to fire up their base. You know, maybe it’s time to cancel Shel Silverstein or Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, as a distraction.
Akilah Hughes: Yes, I guess we should keep canceling dead people and animated characters. Antibodies could become this summer’s must-have travel accessory as countries around the globe consider implementing vaccine passports as a requirement for crossing borders. Israel rolled out their green pass last month, which allows more than half of the population that’s vaccinated to access gyms, hotels, theaters and more. In the EU, Greece and Spain are pushing for a similar program for traveling in-between member states. The tourism-dependent economies make them extremely open to the idea of a vaccination express card. In general, the ethics of vaccination passports are murky, and they have the potential to reinforce inequality. Critics also fear the passports could lead to vaccine skepticism by making the shot appear government-mandated. This won’t solve the problem, but another way to prove you’re vaccinated is by happy crying all the time and loudly thanking the world for being so, so beautiful.
Gideon Resnick: That’s what I plan to do to travel anyway.
Akilah Hughes: I’m going to be in that airport lounge crying. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all today, if you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, help us find Elon Musk’s 27 billion dollars, and tell your friends listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just hot takes on Kyrsten Sinema thumbs down like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And don’t lose your vaccine passport!
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, else you’re just going to have to stay home like you’re already doing.
Gideon Resnick: They’re very expensive to fake too, you know. I don’t know a guy who could do that.
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 Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.