In This Episode
- The US vaccination campaign is accelerating, with the country hitting over 2 million doses a day last Friday and Saturday. Following a plunge in new cases over the last few weeks, health experts are expressing some concern that progress may be plateauing.
- This week the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could determine the future of the Voting Rights Act. It comes as Republicans around the country introducing a flurry of bills to make voting harder. Democrats are pushing back, and on a federal level, they’re set to pass the For The People Act or HR1, which would end partisan gerrymandering, allow for automatic voter registration, and more.
- And in headlines: Biden faces bipartisan backlash following airstrikes in Syria, Cuomo responds to a new allegation of sexual harassment, and Bella and Gigi Hadid’s dad does real estate hijinks in LA.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, March 1st. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day where our goal this month is to sit in a new chair.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I just found a chair over in my living room that I completely ignored. I thought it was just a shelf for blankets, but I’m going to give it a shot.
Gideon Resnick: I’ve had a clothes chair for probably like 15 years of my life, and it’s time to use it. On today’s show, voting rights at the Supreme Court, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest:
[clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci] The message that needs to be—prevail, Dana, is that these are three highly efficacious vaccines. I can tell you, I have been fully vaccinated with one that was available—it was the Moderna. If I were not vaccinated now and I had a choice of getting a J&J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me as quickly as possible.
Akilah Hughes: Yo, uh, those are facts and I agree with that. [laughs] But that was Dr. Fauci on CNN yesterday talking about the newly authorized Johnson& and Johnson vaccine, and encouraging Americans to get whichever of the three currently available vaccines that they can. This week, the first few million doses of Johnson & Johnson are going to be shipped out. This is all happening as the U.S. is hitting new highs in doses getting into big, beautiful biceps every day. So Gideon, big picture, where do we stand at the moment in the pandemic?
Gideon Resnick: We stand at a pretty good place. I mean, considering all we’ve been through, you know. Week by week, things have been progressing in the right direction, which definitely feels good to say and feel after all this time. And the Johnson & Johnson authorization is the latest example of that. But to Fauci point about the vaccines overall: the reason that we’re hearing him and other public health experts telling people to get whichever vaccine becomes available is kind of twofold, at least. So first, of course, it’s to help us reach herd immunity faster. The more people that are protected at varying degrees, the fewer places the virus has to go. And second, that all three vaccines are massively, massively successful at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19 point blank, even if the top line numbers for mild disease are somewhat different. Separately, it’s also difficult to compare these vaccines to each other because they were tested at different times for one thing. Pfizer and Moderna’s trials largely took place before widespread emergence of the variants, for instance.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and we said this was coming at a good time. So let’s talk about how the overall vaccination campaign is actually looking right now.
Gideon Resnick: It has been way up, which is awesome, especially encouraging given the slowdown from the winter weather. So Friday and Saturday each had over two million doses administered, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. And overall, more than 72 million shots have been given. So something like 14.6% of the US population has gotten at least one dose, if not two. And the good news is that those daily numbers are only poised to increase. For instance, at a recent House panel, Pfizer said that by the middle of the month, they’re hoping to increase their supply from four to five million shots per week to about 13 million each week. Moderna said that by April, they’re looking to double their supply to more than 40 million per month. And Johnson & Johnson has said 20 million in total by the end of March. So soon enough, we really could be talking about three million or so shots daily, which is great. And with that, hopefully we get past many of these other logistical challenges of finding doses, making appointments, all that stuff.
Akilah Hughes: Absolutely. And we are well on our way to surpassing Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, which is good because experts said we needed to aim higher. Then, of course, everyone is keeping a close eye on variants and case numbers. So what is the latest there?
Gideon Resnick: Well, we’ve seen cases overall plunge from these crazy, insane highs over the holiday season. But health experts have been slightly concerned about a plateauing in recent days. So we don’t have enough data to know for sure, but that steep drop in cases has for now kind of leveled off at around 70,000 per day, which is still quite high. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at the end of last week that there was a, quote “very concerning shift in trajectory.” She said it’s possible that the variant first identified in the UK could be playing a role there, and that collectively the variants they’ve identified make up something like 10% of US cases. So big picture, there have been some experts saying to kind of gear up for another potential bump in cases in the spring, but that summer could quite likely feel quite a bit closer to some kind of normal—if we can remember that. A lot of unknowns, but a lot of good news as well.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, something to look forward to. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t so far away.
Gideon Resnick: I know, for the first time in maybe, ever. So more on that in the coming days. But onto our next story: voting rights. So earlier this year, we talked about the massive new push by Republicans at the state level to restrict voting. So we’re going to take a moment to update on that and some of what’s happening in the courts and in Congress. So let’s kick it off with the courts.
Akilah Hughes: All right. The big news is that the Supreme Court is going to hear a case this week that could determine the future of the Voting Rights Act. The case has to do with two particular voting rules in Arizona. The first is an out of precinct rule that would throw out ballots cast at the wrong polling place. The second is a ban on mail ballots being collected and turned in by others. Democrats and a group of voters sued the state over these rules in 2016 under something called Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows people to sue if a voting law or policy is racially discriminatory. They won the case and now Arizona’s Republican attorney general and state Republican Party are appealing to the Supreme Court because they are desperate. And aside from arguing that they are not violating Section 2, they’re also asking the court to restrict Section 2 altogether, to make it harder for people to use it to strike down discriminatory voting laws.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and this comes after the Supreme Court already weakened the Voting Rights Act back in 2013 by essentially gutting a different section—that was Section 5—because they thought it was outdated.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, that was a part of the law that required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get preclearance from the federal government, meaning they had to run new voting rules by the Justice Department and prove they weren’t discriminatory before being allowed to enact them. RBG famously dissented in that case, saying that getting rid of preclearance was like, quote “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.” Well, it is still raining and we only have a tiny umbrella called Section 2 left, so hopefully they don’t really poke any more holes in it. We need as much as we can get.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. No more rain. That would be nice. We touched on this a few weeks ago, but let’s do a little refresher on the voting laws that Republicans are pushing for.
Akilah Hughes: Yes. So the short of it is that Republicans aren’t betting on winning again with their policies—of which they seem to have few, you know, just reactions to Democratic policies—and so their strategy to avoid complete irrelevance is just to make it harder for everyone else to vote. At the state level, GOP lawmakers are considering well over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to roughly this time last year. That’s over 165 bills and counting, across 33 states and counting, according to The Brennan Center’s latest data. And the bills run the gamut. But they primarily restrict mail voting, or increase voter I.D. requirements like signature matching, put in place invasive poll watching, make voter registration at all more difficult. And they would like to aggressively purge voter rolls with few obligations to let people know that they’re no longer registered. It’s pretty much the most anti-democratic thing I can think of.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, pretty much. And this is happening in a lot of places, but some places more so than others.
Akilah Hughes: It’s definitely happening in the states that cost Trump the election. Arizona leads the nation with 19 restrictive bills on the docket. Pennsylvania is coming in second with 14, followed by Georgia with 11 bills and, kind of a wild card: New Hampshire has 10—I guess they felt left out. And all of them are built on the big lie—which is racist, xenophobic, ableist pretty much every other ist— you know, that the election was somehow stolen because Trump just couldn’t get the votes.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So I’m glad that we’re talking about this again because we have some updates on what Democrats have been doing to respond to all of this. So let’s go over that part of this.
Akilah Hughes: All right. So they are organizing, baby, on a local level. Dems are working to expand voting access across the board. Eleven states have 33 bills that would allow all residents to vote by mail, which: why would you not want more people to vote—like, does anyone ever ask Republicans why they hate when people vote? But 13 bills would extend mail ballot deadlines, 18 states want to expand early voting, and 19 states have introduced legislation that would restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies, just to name a few. But even on the federal level, Dems are fighting back via a bill called H.R.1. You can expect to hear more about it this week as the House is voting on it. Even yesterday at the Klan rally known as CPAC, the former president was complaining about H.R.1 because he knows it will make voting easier for all of us. Kick rocks trump. No one cares.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and so we’ll come back to it but let’s do the cliff has for now on H.R1, or the For the People Act.
Akilah Hughes: All right. So it’s legislation that basically reduces all the barriers to voting that Republicans are clinging to, like flies to shit. You know, automatic voter registration, expanding mail and early voting, ending partisan gerrymandering, ethics reform, a lot of other stuff. If you care about climate change or police reform or the minimum wage or just making sure your vote counts, this matters. And getting it done now matters because who knows what’s going to happen around the midterms. So we’ll have more on that for you soon. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about the first socially distant awards show of the year: the Golden Globes, which was last night. We’ve already mentioned how this award show is basically not real, but it’s still fun to watch. As we go to record, about half of the awards have been given out. So Giddy, are there any highlights or lowlights for you so far?
Gideon Resnick: It seems like with everything during the pandemic, they were just getting through it, you know. They were like, everybody was sort of like: I guess we have to be here to accept?
Akilah Hughes: Not everybody. [laughs] I feel like the Killing Eve girl, Jodie Comer, she didn’t, she was like, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Good luck.
Gideon Resnick: Oh! Good for her. Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, like, you know, like some people were able to like, lean into more of like the technical snafus I guess. Like I haven’t seen that much of it but you know that Daniel Kaluuya award acceptance, he recovered pretty quickly, which makes sense. But the rest of it. Yeah, like it’s a dumb thing that occupies three hours of my time every year and I didn’t realize how much of the filler time is people just mingling around and like looking at each other and like waving to each other, and not having that aspect of it is just sort of like: this is really, I’m truly watching people on Zoom. That’s, that’s what I’m doing.
Akilah Hughes: Right. Yeah, and like, I want them to cut to someone at the wrong time and see them not laughing. Like that, I need the in-person experience for this to be worthwhile because otherwise you’re just like, I mean, this really could just be an email.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. It totally could be like a chain email with everybody on it. You find out at whatever time: you won, you lost. OK, logoff. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
Akilah Hughes: Totally.
Gideon Resnick: That would be, yeah, that would be a better use of time. So I guess I sort of know the answer to this, but how are you feeling about this so far?
Akilah Hughes: Well, you know, I think that I think that anything over Zoom is difficult. You know, we do a podcast every day and I’m like: if people had to watch this as the podcast, it would not be as entertaining] as you know, if he had like a theater of people or something. You know, it’s just it’s hard to get that energy. Like, I think every screen that you add takes away like 5% of your energy. And then there was that one part of the awards where I think it was for Soul, they had like the person on Zoom talking about how they’re happy they won the award and then they hold up, you know, the director’s like iPad while he is talking—I’m like: it’s 70 screens. There’s too many screens. I don’t feel anything anymore. So that’s definitely like, you know, the running track of the show. But I will say seems like the Hollywood Foreign Press is trying to make up for it by giving a lot of Black people awards. So, you know, it was the last day of Black History Month, and it’s always good to see Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega win awards. So keep giving them to them.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Akilah Hughes: I think that we should get them.
Gideon Resnick: They, they definitely read the headlines It seems like.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Well, just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. Hey, why not give yourself an award? You seem pretty cool. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The White House has decided not to sanction Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. An intelligence report released by the Biden administration last Friday concluded that the prince approved an operation to kill Khashoggi and also authorized violent measures to silence Saudi dissidents overseas. Some lower ranking officials got sanctioned for their involvement in the murder, but the prince got none, despite the report’s very clear findings. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the decision, saying it will allow for room to work with Saudi Arabia in the future. We also could maybe not. In other foreign policy news, President Biden is facing bipartisan backlash for his decision to carry out airstrikes in Syria last week. The strikes targeted Iranian-backed militia groups that attacked U.S. troops and facilities earlier this month. A White House spokesperson claimed Biden was exercising his constitutional authority to defend U.S. personnel, but members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are questioning the legality of his decision.
Akilah Hughes: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to allegations of sexual harassment against him, yesterday. In a statement, he expressed regret that his previous workplace comments were, quote “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation”, essentially using the classic non-apology: I’m sorry you felt what I did was wrong. Cuomo maintained his denial of the recent allegations, which have now been brought forward by two former aides. The second is someone who worked for Cuomo during the pandemic, and she revealed this weekend that he asked for inappropriate questions about her sex life and implied he was open to a sexual relationship with her. After initially choosing a Clinton-appointed former federal judge to lead an investigation into the claims, leading to concerns that there would be political bias, Cuomo reversed course and said he would cooperate with whatever independent investigator is chosen by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Gideon Resnick: The grocery store that invented food, but quirky: Trader Joe’s is facing criticism for firing an employee after he expressed concerns about worker safety. Earlier this month, New York City crew member Ben Bonnema sent a letter to the Trader Joe’s CEO outlining recommendations to reduce COVID transmission in his store. Those recommendations included improving filtration and letting employees kick out maskless customers. Soon after, Bonnema was dismissed, with a note that said his suggested policies conflicted with the values of TJ’s. Representatives for the chain later said that an employee would never be fired for raising safety concerns, and that Bonnema lost his job because he was disrespectful to customers. Bonnema thinks his firing was retaliation, and plans to present his case to the National Labor Relations Board. So not only will I pause on shopping at Trader Joe’s until this is resolved, I’m also going to take a break from my enormous collection of boxy Hawaiian shirts.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, give ’em a break, you know. Well, quick update on Bella and Gigi Hadid’s dad, the man who’s famous for having super successful model daughters is also a wildly chaotic L.A. real estate developer. And he’s facing major hurdles right now in his plan to build a huge gated community in the middle of a public hiking trail. Mohamed Hadid has spent ten years and millions of dollars excavating and building the luxury compound in L.A.’s Franklin Canyon, allegedly using shell companies to obscure zoning violations. His work has been met with protests from members of the surrounding community who formed a group called Hillsides Against Hadid. Animal lovers should also know the complex is being built where mountain lions live and as we know, mountain lions skew NIMBY. Now, the feature of the project looks uncertain as Hadid’s holding companies declared bankruptcy last month to avoid foreclosure on the land. To pay off his debts and keep building he’ll need 30 million dollars, which is definitely the most I’d pay for a small to medium sized mountain.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that is the asking price. That’s what I’ve heard.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, you know so check out my Go Fund Me. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: One last thing before we go, we’ve got a great new YouTube video to share with you. That’s right, you. Crooked Media Political Director, Shaniqua McClendon, interviewed Representatives James Clyburn, Alma Adams and Cori Bush about HBCUs, why they chose them, and how that choice has impacted their perspective.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, they also talked about whether or not our culture is starting to reward political figures who embrace the diversity of who they are. It’s super interesting and thoughtful as a discussion. So go check it out at YouTube.com/Crookedmedia.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, buy my used Hawaiian shirts, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just real estate listings for mountains 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 thanks for the podcast Golden Globe!
Akilah Hughes: I’d like to thank my agent and the Hollywood Foreign Press, even though they didn’t want me to win this, you know. They’re bad.
Gideon Resnick: I’d like to thank the travel agency that booked those flights. That seemed to really pay off for us. [laughs]
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.