In This Episode
- Tuesday was the second day of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings. She faced questions from senators on the Judiciary Committee on a variety of topics, including her religion, abortion rights, critical race theory, war crimes, and child pornography sentencing.
- The World Health Organization said that as of March 18, at least 62 healthcare facilities had been hit in Ukraine. There are estimates that as many as 10 million people have either left the country or gone to western Ukraine to escape the conflict. Avril Benoit, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, joins us to discuss the work her organization is doing to provide humanitarian aid to those in need there.
- And in headlines: Two Republican governors vetoed anti-trans bills, Amanda Bynes was released from her conservatorship, and the Democratic Party proposed letting some states move up their 2024 presidential primaries to before March.
- Doctors Without Borders: “MSF assesses response as Ukraine conflict escalates” – https://bit.ly/3JAxY8K
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, March 23rd. I am Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re withdrawing our host offer to Che Diaz now that they’re doing a second season of “And Just Like That.”
Gideon Resnick: Yes, the show’s renewal was announced yesterday, meaning Che will not come on WAD to push us all out of our comfort zones.
Priyanka Aribindi: We’ll always have a mic for them whenever they’re ready.
Gideon Resnick: Take a seat for Elijah at Passover, but a microphone for Che. On today’s show, the Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders tells us about trying to provide medical help to civilians in Ukraine. Plus, two Republican governors vetoed anti-trans sports bills in their states.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the latest on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings. Yesterday was day two of four, and Judge Jackson faced questions from senators on the Judiciary Committee on a variety of topics. Some a little less pertinent to the job of Supreme Court justice than others.
[clip of Sen. Graham] What faith are you, by the way?
Priyanka Aribindi: That was Senator Lindsey Graham, if you couldn’t tell. After she said she was a nondenominational Protestant, he had this follow up:
[clip of Sen. Graham] Could you fairly judge a Catholic?
Gideon Resnick: I love it. Unbelievable. All right. So that’s obviously the important stuff. But what else can you tell us about day 2?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So whereas day one was opening statements and introductions, day two was a long day of questioning that went well past its expected end time of 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday night. Judge Jackson was asked about everything from her religion, as you just heard, to abortion rights, critical race theory, war crimes, and child pornography sentencing.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so that is quite a bit. Let’s talk about how some of these exchanges went, starting with abortion rights.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. So early on into the questioning, Judge Jackson was asked by California Senator Dianne Feinstein about how she views Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision recognizing the constitutional right to an abortion. Judge Jackson responded that this is quote, “settled law” saying that it’s been repeatedly relied upon and reaffirmed by the court. In the upcoming months, the Supreme Court will assess Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which could overturn Roe. So as far as questioning goes, A+ to Feinstein for something relevant here. That is not something we could say for everybody else.
Gideon Resnick: And not something you can always say for Feinstein in these hearings, either. So moving on, people might be seeing headlines that critical race theory came up during yesterday’s hearings. Can you break down how and why for us?
Priyanka Aribindi: I certainly can, but I can’t say happily. So, Ted Cruz, being Ted Cruz, decided that it’d be a good use of time to question Judge Jackson about a children’s book being read to students at a D.C. private school where she sits on the board. It’s called Anti-Racist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi. Take a listen to that exchange:
[clip of Ketanji Brown Jackson] Senator, I have not reviewed any of those books, any of those ideas, they don’t come up in my work as a judge, which I’m respectfully here to address.
Priyanka Aribindi: There you go. She went on to say the critical race theory quote, “doesn’t come up in my work, as it’s never something that I have studied or relied on, and it wouldn’t be something that I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.”
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I don’t understand why a person who would be on the board of a school would be reviewing books that are—it’s so far removed from—
Priyanka Aribindi: I think it was just an opportunity for Ted Cruz to break out the poster board, which he did. Sadly, can’t show that to you in a podcast. It was quite the scene.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, he loves to get photoshopped. On Monday’s show, Josie was also talking about Republicans that were going to really try and paint Judge Jackson as soft on crime. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was definitely one of those people trying to do that. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So if Ted Cruz was on the CRT beat yesterday, Josh Hawley picked up the child pornography one. He spent most of his time grilling her on one specific case in which, as a federal district court judge, she sentenced an 18-year old offender to three months. Republicans have been trying to drum up a controversy here by pointing out that in these types of cases, Judge Jackson has given sentences that were shorter than what was outlined in sentencing guidelines or what prosecutors were asking for. But many judges, as well as prosecutors and probation officers, tend to deviate from those guidelines in these cases. They view them as out of date, and judges in particular have discretion to adjust their sentencing based on a variety of factors. Here’s what Judge Jackson had to say about how she gives sentences in these cases:
[clip of Ketanji Brown Jackson] The statute says calculate the guidelines, but also look at various aspects of this offense and impose a sentence that is quote, “sufficient but not greater than necessary to promote the purposes of punishment.”
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, from the Republican side of things, there’s obviously like the classic tough on crime sort of politics of this, but also seems like there’s a little bit of like a QAnon’y element here in the suggestion of what Democrats and the Left are doing.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, very weird that that’s all getting tied together. Last but not least: war crimes. So yesterday, two Republicans falsely claimed that Judge Jackson called former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush, quote unquote, “war criminals.” She did not. So how did that happen?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So back when she was a federal public defender in 2005, Judge Jackson and one of her colleagues were assigned to represent four detainees at Guantanamo Bay. She and several other lawyers signed on to a habeas corpus petition on behalf of detainees. The petition claimed that the U.S. government tortured these detainees and that such acts constitute war crimes. Just to get it 100% clea,. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin laid it out plain and simple with this question:
[clip of Sen. Durbin] So to be clear, there was no time where you called President Bush or Secretary Rumsfeld a quote, “war criminal” closed unquote. Did you want to respond?
[clip of Ketanji Brown Jackson] Correct, Senator. No, thank you. That was correct.
Gideon Resnick: Rats! This close to saying a really cool thing. This close.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, there are two more days of this confirmation hearing, today, tomorrow. I’m sure a bunch of wacky stuff will come up. We’ll be here to debunk it for you, but we’ll keep you updated as this continues.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, a lot to come, for sure. Shifting gears to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that as of March 18th, at least 62 health care facilities had been hit in the country. It’s yet another statistic representing the enormous toll the invasion has been having on people in Ukraine. Another is just the sheer amount of people who have left the country. There are estimates that as many as 10 million, or one in four, have either left or gone to western Ukraine to escape the conflict.
Priyanka Aribindi: What does this meant for the countries who have been accepting the people who have fled?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we won’t really know the full scope of it just yet, but European countries like Ireland and France have said they are preparing for more Ukrainians to arrive. Meanwhile, the neighboring country of Moldova has said that the huge influx of refugees is straining its health care system already. And the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. International Organization for Migration are working with a number of countries to move the most at-risk refugees from Moldova. That is, according to The Washington Post.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Millions more haven’t been able to flee Ukraine or the conflict zones at all. So what do we know about the efforts to help them?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, there have been reports of a lot of challenges within Ukraine to get people out via evacuation routes, mostly due to Russian attacks. And organizations like Doctors Without Borders have been coordinating throughout the country to provide medical humanitarian assistance to anybody who needs it. On Monday, I spoke with Avril Benoit. She is the Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders before she was set to leave for the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. I started by asking her broadly about the work Doctors Without Borders has been doing in Ukraine.
Avril Benoit: It’s incredibly complicated to try to mount emergency medical operations in an open conflict zone, and especially when you’re trying to approach it from a position of neutrality. We’re not part of any military operation. We’re really trying to uphold those humanitarian principles that normally would allow you to work in a conflict zone. Initially, what we had to do was pause regular medical projects, and we had to shutter those projects very quickly in order to pivot completely into emergency mode. We do have a lot of experience of working in conflict zones and so that’s, we have a reputation and a skill set. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly difficult. Even just imagine sending in supplies. Yes, you can accomplish it up to a point fairly straightforward and with this incredible train system that still seems to be running, but there’s also just moving around. So our teams approach. Then the sirens go off. We have to retreat. Maybe we’re able to support a surgical team in a hospital, then you have to retreat. And so there’s this constant flux. In the meantime, you’re trying to figure out, OK, where can we put our warehouse for the supplies? Where can we put our coordination base? Where can we engage in a hospital that is likely to be running in another week or two, not to mention longer?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I honestly cannot conceive of it at all. And we’re talking as you are getting ready to actually go to Ukraine. Do you know where you are going to be and what do you actually expect to see?
Avril Benoit: My main base will be Lviv. It’s become a little bit a hub for the international community, for the diplomatic effort, the aid organizations, and the media. So that’s where we’ve got a coordination office and that’s where I’m going to mostly be based. My role there over the coming months is to support that pillar of our work, and really a part of our identity is not only the medical humanitarian action, although that is the most important thing we do, the second part of it is bearing witness. This notion that we have an obligation to report on what we see, and this also includes speaking out and includes calling out, it includes really trying to support our operations through public advocacy efforts.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah. And as we’re speaking, the W.H.O. has recorded more than 50 attacks on Ukraine’s health care system. How unprecedented is that number?
Avril Benoit: We saw it in in Syria, that attacking health infrastructure—so that’s hospitals, clandestine hospitals, underground hospitals, also ambulances—it became a tactic of the Syrian war. So we saw it repeatedly and unfortunately, it seems to be shaping up that way again.
Gideon Resnick: And what does that mean in practical terms for the challenges here of perhaps treating civilians, addressing civilian concerns, and also conceivably having to do that also for other health professionals within the country?
Avril Benoit: It’s problematic on just about every level, and for any sort of medical facility—which is a civilian infrastructure under the strictures of international humanitarian law—for any civilian facility or civilian place of gathering, it’s not supposed to be a target. It’s not a legitimate target. It’s really deeply wrong. It’s criminal. It shouldn’t happen. And so over and over again, you just have to call it out and remind. I mean, this is really a strong, strong remit of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the ICRC. It’s their mandate to uphold this. But the rest of us really count on it as well, because if you’re going to be providing that small space of healing, of sanctuary for any civilian—and just a reminder that even somebody who was a combatant who was injured and now finds themselves in hospital is now de facto considered a civilian. And so, you know, sometimes you’ll hear these excuses, Well, we bombed the hospital or we attacked the hospital—although often there are denials, even when it’s obvious what happened—and they’ll say, Well, it was being used as a military ammunitions stock, it was being used for some military positioning. And of course, in war there is the use and abuse of humans as shields. That does happen. You’ll see that. But in general, hospitals are hospitals. They’re treating civilians and it should be absolutely protected.
Gideon Resnick: We saw some references to, you know, various teams distributing war wounded kits in Mariupol. Can you kind of describe to people, generally speaking, how you go about finding people who are in need of these kits? What sort of happens when you are looking for people who do need assistance?
Avril Benoit: We have logistical centers, huge ones in Bordeaux in France, also right around Brussels. Those are used to sending kits that have a certain number of prescribed items in them. And so for a surgical kit, it’s everything you would need to perform in an operating theater. And what we’ve actually found in our discussions with the hospitals themselves is that they don’t really want to get the whole kit necessarily. They have a specific thing they need, and then you start to refine the supplies. We do have a lot of teams that are moving around, visiting general hospitals, and sometimes what they say is, Look, what we really want is training and mass casualty plans, how to operate on a whole bunch of people at the same time who are coming in injured from one event. Sometimes what they’re saying to us is, Look, what we really want to work on is we’ve got a whole bunch of elderly people in this area and they have heart disease, they have diabetes, we need insulin, we need things like that that would not necessarily immediately come to mind as the stuff you would send into a warzone but it’s needed and it will save lives.
Gideon Resnick: And that sort of gets me into this. I’m kind of like marveling at how you even sort of figure out where need is and how you prioritize it in general. Is there any real rhyme or reason to that? Or is it sort of as things develop, the various teams respond?
Avril Benoit: Often when you end up in a polarized context of a war, you’ll be directed to provide for this group or that group, and that’s why it’s so important for us to do our own independent assessments on the ground. I mean, one of the things that we’re going to be doing, and we’re setting up at the moment, are mobile clinics, and this is not the kind of structure that you necessarily plan to have in a location for a long time. It’s a place where those who are coming out of an area that has been injured can be given first aid—so just stabilizing basic treatment, tourniquet kits, bandage them up in the in the most basic sense in order to be evacuated through whatever means, whether it’s on the trucks or on the trains or in cars, to a location where there’s a proper hospital set up in a safer location. And so insofar as the risks go, you have to know also that your teams also have to be protecting themselves because of course, you have to have the safety of the medical teams, otherwise they can’t help anybody. And so that too comes into the calculus. And that includes also making all the parties to the conflict aware of your location of where you’ve situated a medical team and where you’ve insisted that they not be touched and that they be allowed to work so that people can access lifesaving health care when they’re in a situation like that, and where they have a right under humanitarian law as well.
Gideon Resnick: That was Avril Benoit. She is the Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders. Hopefully, we will get the opportunity to reconnect soon, but until then, we’ll have some links in our show notes where people can assist their efforts. And that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Some surprisingly good news from red states: Indiana’s Republican Governor, Eric Holcomb, vetoed an anti-trans bill yesterday that would have banned trans girls from competing in female sports in schools—no, you didn’t imagine me saying that combination of words. In a letter about his decision, Holcomb said that he didn’t understand the need for the state to intervene in the matter and that the legislation didn’t address how the ban would inevitably face legal challenges if it were signed into law. Now, the governor did say he supports the quote unquote “overall goal of the bill”—yikes—but could not sign it because he found no evidence that competitive female sports are currently unfair and in need of reform. Holcomb is joined by Republican Utah Governor Spencer Cox, who also vetoed a similar bill in his state yesterday. Cox claims that the state legislature did not prove that trans student athletes undermine the fairness of sports, and in the letter of his own, said quote, “I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt, however, I always try to air on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion.” The move from both conservatives serves as some kind of hope amid an overwhelming wave of similar anti-trans sports bills that have already been signed into law by Republican governors.
Priyanka Aribindi: A California judge ordered that former actress Amanda Bynes be released from her conservatorship yesterday after nearly a decade of living under her parent’s control. For almost nine years, Bynes, Bynes’ parents have overseen their daughter’s medical, financial, and mental health decisions after a judge ordered that she be put under a conservatorship in 2013. This came after the former “All That” star was arrested multiple times and was even involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital amid her struggles with substance abuse and addiction. At first glance, Tuesday’s ruling of freeing Bynes mirrors that of Britney Spears, who was released from her own conservatorship last year. But unlike Spears, this case Bynes’ parents were actually happy to let her go. According to Tamar Arminak, a lawyer for Bynes’ parents, they’d been preparing for this moment after seeing their daughter thrive in recovery and hope to see her smooth transition into independent life. Arminak said of her clients’ quote, “the moment that it was clear and apparent that Amanda would do well off this conservatorship we agreed to terminate this conservatorship.” Bynes is currently studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing in Los Angeles and is now free to make personal decisions she couldn’t before, such as marrying her fiancée.
Gideon Resnick: It is always crazy when it’s put in those terms, right, that that’s not even something that she was able to do.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right, like the most like basic of life choices. I mean, really happy that you can now do that. Time for the dancing lobsters. Bring them out.
Gideon Resnick: Bring them out. As always.
Priyanka Aribindi: Cause for celebration.
Gideon Resnick: The flood of photos of candidates eating foods on sticks in Iowa that used to signal the start of primary season might soon be a thing of the past, but we will have those cherished Google searches.
Priyanka Aribindi: Forever.
Gideon Resnick: On Monday, the Democratic Party circulated an idea to let as many as five states move up their 2024 presidential primaries to before March, meaning the Iowa caucuses would no longer be the first contest of the election cycle. Iowa holds its caucuses in January or early February, kicking off the primary season since 1972. But there are a few reasons that Democrats say they want other states to take the lead. They range from the major accounting snafus that plagued the 2020 Iowa caucuses—
Priyanka Aribindi: Never forget!
Gideon Resnick: Does anybody remember, does anybody remember that lovely evening?
Priyanka Aribindi: That doesn’t feel like their fault, I will say, but no—
Gideon Resnick: Right. What Iowa has to do with that? No—to the state’s shift to the right, to its striking lack of diversity relative to the rest of the country. The idea to let other states move their primaries is in its early stages, but even before the proposal was revealed on Monday, Nevada Democrats have been campaigning in recent weeks to let their state go first—how fun. They even printed up glossy brochures touting the state’s diversity, its importance as a swing state, and more. Our advice, emphasize how instead of chewing on meats, candidates starting off in Nevada would be able to score points by buying tickets to the Vegas Adele residency or getting sawed in half by Penn and Teller, or running into The Weekend as he’s trying to score cocaine near the Bellagio, maybe Danny Ocean and the rest of his team pulling off a heist? What other things happen in Vegas?
Priyanka Aribindi: Only good things.
Gideon Resnick: We can’t because they stay there.
Priyanka Aribindi: I love this! Swap in a state fair for like the floor of a casino. I’m intrigued. I think this could be fun for everybody.
Gideon Resnick: I want to see Pete Buttigieg on shrooms at the Beatles love show. Make it happen.
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s how we need to decide our next president.
Gideon Resnick: It is.
Priyanka Aribindi: Kid Rock has gone public about his second career: foreign policy adviser to the former president. That is separate from his first career, which is the official archivist of bad clothes from 1999. Mr. Kid appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Show this week, saying this about conversations he’d had with Donald Trump back when Trump was president:
[clip of Kid Rock] We’re looking at maps. [bleep] I’m like, you know I’m like, Am I supposed to be like in on [bleep]. I make dirty records sometimes. What the [bleep] am I doing here?
You didn’t think you’d have a hand in—?
[clip of Kid Rock] What do think we should do about North Korea? I’m like [splat noise] What?! I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: At least he’s right, like at least he’s self-aware.
Gideon Resnick: He acknowledged that that was a strange thing to be doing. OK?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. Our apologies for making you listen to Tucker Carlson’s laugh in that clip. You can invoice us for melatonin if that sound haunts you in your sleep for the rest of your life, like it will for me. Mm hmm. Kid Rock also said that Trump consulted him about what to tweet after attacking a series of ISIS targets in the Middle East— seem to me a lot of Kid Rock interactions. Like, how many times are they meeting?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I’m not sure that I believe him. I’m just gonna throw that out.
Priyanka Aribindi: And in more Trump-adjacent updates: Donald Trump Jr. is diving into the fast growing world of conservative apps by launching MxM News, a right-leaning news aggregator meant to capitalize on the Drudge Report’s waning influence. The app describes itself as mainstream news without mainstream bias—with for Trump, Jr. and his co-founders will probably translate into a feed consisting of only pure, unfiltered Dan Bongino.
Gideon Resnick: Listen, Don, I don’t know if MxM can be on as many computer home pages as Yahoo, but until then, sir, I don’t think you are going to get as much traffic as that—
Priyanka Aribindi: This is a crowded space. We don’t need you here. We’re doing all the news aggregation—I mean, until this man takes over and we have no business because he has all of our listeners. Please don’t listen to Don Jr.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that would not be great. If you’re listening to this, it seems somewhat unlikely, but just in case, yeah, we advise against it. Those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about a place where books can be themselves: on an island of just 100 year-round residents off the coast of Maine, one library has launched an effort to buy banned books to quote, “publicly push back against the impetus to ban books” and say, quote, “if you don’t want it in your library, we want it in ours.” This effort is driven by volunteers and has led the small library to acquire literature some conservatives have deemed destructive to people’s minds, like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bluest Eye, Maus, and a children’s book called And Tango Makes Three that depicts two male penguins raising a chick together—aw. It is a heartwarming example of a community mounting a small yet powerful protest, and it will also help us pass the time on our upcoming vacation, to said Island while we’re waiting for our lobster traps to fill up with delicious red bugs. So Priyanka, what are your thoughts on this story?
Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, I like Maine. I like lobster. I like books. Like this sounds great to me. The one thing I will say is for a town of like 100 year round residents, that’s not that many people. Like they kind of attracted a lot of attention to themselves, which I think is probably not a thing that these people like if they’re living somewhere so remote. But Gideon, I know you have a lot of thoughts on this story. Please, do tell.
Gideon Resnick: So you’re approaching it from the perspective of, like a lot of visitors may come up for said books, which I haven’t thought about, but that could be a big problem. Yeah, if you’re accustomed to 100 people and even like 100, come, that’s 100% more people.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right!?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Amazing map editor there. My thought earlier was this is really great but also like, who is reading these? Like a 100? You know what I mean? Like, could we do this in like a place where said books were actually being banned, like a more like populous city or town or something like that? Like, maybe this will inspire that to happen, which would be great but let’s make it a library that’s like a little bit more accessible if we can and to maybe a wider audience. Not to pooh-pooh it because I do like the idea.
Priyanka Aribindi: Maine, we love your library. Other people, other states: get the idea from them. Steal it. It’s fine.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, go up to this tiny, not populated island, steal the idea, and bring it back to your hometown.
Priyanka Aribindi: No one’s going to know.
Gideon Resnick: No one is going to know because we never said it on here, did we? And just like that, we have checked our temps. That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, show me a red bug that is not delicious, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just banned books on a remote island in Maine like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And delete MxM!
Priyanka Aribindi: OK, you shouldn’t have downloaded it in the first place, A. What are you doing?
Gideon Resnick: In between the time that we mentioned it and told you not to download it, you downloaded it?
Priyanka Aribindi: You already did?
Gideon Resnick: I’m upset.
Priyanka Aribindi: Can’t leave you unattended for like, two minutes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed. That’s all. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.