In This Episode
- Today marks six months since President Biden entered the White House. We talked with Crooked Media’s editor-in-chief and the host of “Rubicon,” Brian Beutler, about Biden’s progress on the $600 billion infrastructure bill, the $3.5 trillion Democrat-led budget bill, the COVID response, voting rights, climate change, and more.
- And in headlines: the first sentencing for a Capitol rioter, Canada opens its borders to vaccinated Americans, and Ben and Jerry’s stops commercial activities in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, July 20th.
Elise Hu: I’m Elise Hu in for Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the only podcast that is featured in the background of Space Jam 2.
Elise Hu: Yeah, all the Warner media characters make cameos. And when you see Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz back there, she’s listening to WAD.
Gideon Resnick: You can tell because her eyes are glazed over from all the learning. On today’s show, a federal court upholds a vaccine mandate at Indiana University, plus a documentary, quote unquote “deep fakes” the voice of the late Anthony Bourdain.
Elise Hu: Hmm. But first, we do another check in on President Biden’s progress in office. Today marks six months since he entered the White House.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And yesterday he pushed Congress to pass two key pieces of his economic agenda. First, there’s the nearly $600 billion infrastructure bill, and then also the 3.5 trillion with a T budget that was crafted by Democrats, which is set to go through reconciliation.
[clip of President Biden] What we can’t do is go back to the same old trickle down theories that gave us nearly two trillion dollars in deficit-financed corporate tax giveaways. It did nothing to make our economy more productive or resilient.
Elise Hu: But, you know, this speech for big spending items comes at a tricky time when it seems like the economy still hasn’t fully recovered. And although it’s not the ultimate sign of the country’s economic health—and we know—this just yesterday, Wall Street had a terrible day with the Dow suffering its biggest drop of the year.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And so part of that drop was because of all this uncertainty about the pandemic and its trajectory. The Delta variant has been running rampant across the world and it has also been driving up cases in the U.S., mostly among the many millions who are still unvaccinated. And investors are worried that the variant might threaten the country’s overall recovery in the future.
Elise Hu: So there’s the economy and the virus. But also on Biden’s plate are things like voting rights—you know, democracy—and climate change—kind of a big deal—and international cybersecurity too. Yesterday, the White House formally accused China of hacking Microsoft. That follows sanctions the U.S. placed on Russia back in April for the hacking of the company SolarWinds.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so to find out where Biden is at six months in office, we have Crooked Media’s is Editor in Chief and the host of Rubicon, Brian Beutler. We talked with him 100 days into the Biden administration. So, Brian, welcome back to WAD for another check in.
Brian Beutler: It’s always good to be back.
Gideon Resnick: So let’s kick things off first with the pandemic. Last time you were with us, we were talking about how Biden kind of under promised and then overdelivered when he first set a goal of 100 million vaccine shots given out in his first 100 days. That, of course, happened. But then he fell short of the next goal that he set for himself, 70% of adults with at least one shot by July 4th. So why do you think that is and what could actually be done here to change that?
Brian Beutler: My sense is that they underestimated how much vaccine hesitancy there would be in the population, in part because they underestimated the extent to which Republican Party actors would discourage vaccine uptake, both by spreading lies and also just basically saying that not getting vaccinated is a way to hurt Biden and his administration. After all this time, it seems like maybe you should anticipate that level of malice. At the same time, you kind of, can kind of understand why somebody might not anticipate that, that they would discourage their own supporters from getting a life-saving vaccine in order just to cause political pain to the other party.
Elise Hu: And so far, America—we should be clear—America hasn’t hit it yet. We still haven’t hit 70% of adults with at least one shot, right?
Brian Beutler: Yeah, they were somewhere in the middle 60% range at the turn of the month. And now it’s a couple of weeks later and they’re still not there. So things have slowed down dramatically
Elise Hu: And then the Delta variant is raging. So, Brian, what about the antidote to this malice? Has the administration been sending the right messages about how Americans should be dealing with the variant? And what sort of implications could a possible resurgence have?
Brian Beutler: Part of it might take care of itself as we see case numbers go up. The Biden administration has leaned really heavily on local doctors and clergy. People who trust Trump won’t trust them, but might trust their doctor, right? And I think that that’s wise, but I also think that we’ve seen both in the U.S. and abroad that inducements work.
Elise Hu: Offer them free beer.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, free beer, money, prizes. And, you know, we’ve seen that even in Republican-controlled parts of the country, those things have an impact. And then the third option, which I’ve seen no evidence that they’re interested in trying, would be to impose or encourage the imposition of vaccine requirements in order to get into public places. They did it in France and there was immediate and dramatic uptick in appointments for vaccination when they did it.
Gideon Resnick: On the other side of this, right, like I guess the side that Republicans think that they care about here is the economic stuff. There was this big stock selloff yesterday driven by fears over Delta. Plus there are these concerns about seeing spikes in inflation. That comes as the unemployment rate is at 5.9%. That’s down from nearly 15% April 2020. And a number of polls are getting by about a 50% approval rating on his handling of the economy. So how critical are the next six months or so on this front to Biden’s overall success?
Brian Beutler: Always important, right? I mean, I think political scientists will break down when exactly it’s optimal politically for an incumbent to see economic growth, and it’s like in the quarter or two before the election. It’s a little, it’s a little complicated because, you know, he wants to pass an infrastructure agenda. It’s a lot of money. But those bills will be paid for and thus shouldn’t contribute to inflation. His real lever for making sure that inflation doesn’t get out of control is who he appoints to the Federal Reserve. Nobody is really thinking about that as being a centerpiece of Biden’s political program. Like is he, is he attending to that institution, right? But I do think that, you know, if things were to go wrong, then come election time, we would end up looking back at what he could or could not have done on that front.
Elise Hu: And Brian, you mentioned the infrastructure bill, which is, I think, looking shakier after the growing Republican resistance to the IRS tax enforcement part of it. So bring us up to speed. Where do things stand with what was supposed to be bipartisan infrastructure reform, and where do you see it going?
Brian Beutler: What I saw happen was this. I saw Biden join a group of Democratic and Republican senators in saying that they cut a deal on a framework that would turn into a bill, talking about how proud they were of this accomplishment. And then Republicans were like, actually, we’re going to take one of the key financing mechanisms out of it. And Democrats, I suppose, because they want to log this accomplishment, this bipartisan accomplishment, just decided to reopen the deal and let that piece of it fall out. Now the challenge is like holding Republicans who said that they’d support the framework to their word and not let them use the fact that Democrats are interested in a deal to allow them to, like, drag this process out forever. So I think that if it starts to happen, what will happen is that bill just won’t pass, and then Democrats will move on to put put as much as they can into the into the partisan bill that they want to pass and act alone.
Elise Hu: OK. We’ve got to talk about climate. There’s this $3.5 trillion separate Democratic package that has some provisions to deal with climate change. And we’ve seen in recent days record floods, fires and more, just across the planet, right, because of climate change. So point blank, if Biden doesn’t get through any kind of climate legislation at all, then does the rest of what he does even really matter? Will we still be here?
Brian Beutler: In an existential sense? Yeah, maybe not. But in a truly existential sense, in the long run, we’re all dead so why try to do anything?
Gideon Resnick: True.
Elise Hu: That’s the Mitch McConnell view.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. What I imagine would happen if the $3.5 trillion dollar plan were to go down is that the administration would pluck individual pieces of that agenda out of that bill and try to get them into subsequent legislation in the appropriations process, or any time an opportunity arose to try to get more of that stuff out the door, they would take it. And I imagine that that’s the way they’d go. But the, you know, it would be very hard for them to get something along the lines of a clean electricity standard into law if this big bill somehow sinks.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And on another topic of things that make us feel doomed often: voting rights. At least 17 states have enacted various laws that make it harder for people to vote. Congress, of course, is still trying to pass federal legislation to protect voting rights. Has Biden been forceful enough to try and compel lawmakers to take action? Is the problem here coming from the amount of will that he’s putting towards it?
Brian Beutler: I personally don’t think so. There is a school of thought among a lot of progressives that he should have a, made voting rights and democracy protection his top priority, and then leaned into it more heavily and more publicly the way he has on infrastructure. This is a sign of their priorities, right? They want to get that passed. There is a logic to it. I know that a lot of progressives were disappointed when in his speech on voting rights last week, Biden didn’t mention the filibuster. But I don’t take that to mean that they’re not actually trying to figure out a way to get around a filibuster on voting rights. I took that to mean that putting Biden out there to say that the filibuster has to go so that they have to do this, charges that issue so heavily that it might ultimately be counterproductive and that the way to get to people like Manchin and Sinema is back channels and to use surrogates. If Joe Biden comes out there and says, I want the Senate to change its rules to pass my bill, you might end up actually setting back your own cause.
Elise Hu: OK. Let’s go to the international front, because yesterday the Biden administration accused China of hacking Microsoft. This comes after sanctions were imposed on Russia for the separate SolarWinds attack. How would you assess how the Biden administration is dealing with cybersecurity while navigating these international relationships?
Brian Beutler: Oh, geez, I don’t know.
Elise Hu: This is a smorgasbord.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, an easy one.
Brian Beutler: I can’t say sitting here that I know what the like right level of sanctions, confrontation would be. We’re coming off of such a low baseline from the Trump years in how foreign relations between the United States and these authoritarian governments was conducted, that it’s good to see professionalism restored to that process by people who are basically, you can trust that they’re applying real judgment to these questions. I would say, though, that you’ve seen the restoration of real process to questions along the lines of what’s the right balance between carrot and stick to use with somebody like Vladimir Putin. I’ll just say that it’s good to have some sense that there’s a real process here for doing these things
Gideon Resnick: To wrap things up here, so we’ve alluded to this, but, you know, the midterm elections are coming up relatively soon. Democrats control the Senate because of an even split for now. So given what we’ve said about Biden’s first six months, what do you think is going to be the most crucial thing for him to accomplish before those elections?
Brian Beutler: Oh, making sure that nobody in the Senate passes away.
Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm. Easy.
Elise Hu: That’s real. That’s real.
Brian Beutler: I think that, you know, I don’t know what to say about what more Biden could do to get it done, but really, honestly, issues around democracy protection, adding states: Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico of Puerto Rico wants it, other territories—make them, states give them two senators apiece. Pass the provisions of the Tor the People Act pertaining to gerrymandering.
Elise Hu: Yeah.
Brian Beutler: You can do you can have a great economy and you can win some court cases on these voter suppression tactics and you’re still dealing with needing to win a landslide just to break even. In my personal opinion, more important than the than the infrastructure agenda is just making sure that our elections are secure and that they take place on an even playing field so that whoever gets the most votes wins.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Elise Hu: OK.
Gideon Resnick: Well, Brian, thank you so much again for joining us. We really appreciate it. I guess we’ll check in at 150 days, 200 days, whatever you think.
Elise Hu: We can just pick other days.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, I mean, every 31st day of a month.
Gideon Resnick: Perfect. We’ll see you then. Yeah. Brian will be back very soon. That is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, WAD squad, and today we want to talk about the man who blew the lid off confidential stuff in kitchens, the late, great Anthony Bourdain, who is the star of a new documentary called Roadrunner. Roadrunner, focuses on Bourdain’s ascendant career as a chef, author and TV star, up through his tragic suicide in 2018. And one 45-second chunk of the film has attracted some serious debate. It’s a section where the filmmakers used artificial intelligence and troves of recorded audio to make Bourdain say something out loud that he had only written in an email. This is essentially a deep fake, and some people are opposed to its use in the documentary. One filmmaker said it might make viewers skeptical of everything else they see in the doc, while an ex-wife of Bourdain suggested on Twitter that he would have disapproved. Others say that it’s harmless, given the clip uses Borden’s exact words, and the filmmakers claim to have gotten permission from Bourdain’s estate. Anyway as a host of this podcast, I have recorded countless hours of audio saying just about every word that exists, so I’m just grateful that our company would never do anything like this to me.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, totally never.
AI Gideon Resnick: Hello, me again. I’m the real Gideon Resnick, and I just want to say Crooked Media can make me into a robot puppet that says whatever they want. End of story.
Gideon Resnick: Hmm. Truly frightening. Don’t love it. That sounded like a clip of me saying Crooked could use recordings of my voice to turn me into a quote unquote “robot puppet” which definitely not something I recall saying. Can we, play that again just to make sure.
[robot voice] Hello, me again. I’m the real Gideon Resnick. And I just want to say Crooked Media can make me into a robot puppet that says whatever they want. End of story.
Elise Hu: Huh, that sounded real. I guess you did say that.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you’re right. I don’t really see any other explanation. Yeah, I take back what I said earlier. I look forward to getting faked by my employer, and honestly anybody else? We’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: A Florida man became the first person to be sentenced for participating in the January 6th capital riots, 38-year old Paul Hodgkins was pictured in the Senate chambers carrying a Trump flag and wearing a Trump T-shirt, which is the uniform that most of the other rioters chose that day as well. Weird. He pleaded guilty last month to the felony charge of obstructing the counting of electoral votes, and now faces an 8-month federal prison sentence. The Justice Department first requested a year and a half sentence, but the judge overseeing the case gave Hodgkins some leniency for pleading guilty and not being outright violent. This sentence will likely be a model. It’s going to influence the way hundreds of other January 6th rioters face punishment as their cases move forward.
Gideon Resnick: We’re all one step closer to ripping off our mask and drinking maple syrup out of a tree: Canada will be opening its doors on August 9th to US citizens who are fully vaccinated. Americans will be getting special early access before Canada opens its doors to vaccinated people from the rest of the world on September 7th. Officials have also gotten rid of the 14-day quarantine previously required for people traveling into the country. Since March of last year, Canada banned all nonessential travel into the country to mitigate the spread of the virus. Now authorities, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are feeling good about the rising percentage of the population that has been fully vaccinated, which has surpassed the US’s number over the weekend. Trudeau has been facing more and more pressure to ease border restrictions, as he’s expected to call a federal election next month.
Elise Hu: Canada, eh.
Gideon Resnick: Eh.
Elise Hu: Eh. OK, I’m going to stay with COVID news: a federal judge on Monday ruled that Indiana University could require its faculty, staff and students to get the coronavirus vaccine, which is likely to set a precedent for universities across the country. Eight students brought this case, arguing that the vaccine requirement was a violation of their right to bodily integrity and autonomy. It was paid for by America’s Frontline Doctors, a sneakily-named conservative anti-vax organization. Judge Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana, said Indiana University’s vaccine requirement was in the legitimate interest of public health. He also noted exemptions for religion, allergies, and online class attendance. Currently about 400 university campuses have mandated vaccines, but with such widespread controversy, we can expect more cases to be filed and possibly reach the Supreme Court,
Gideon Resnick: Where I’m sure the decision would be a responsible one. The preferred food of politicians who want to seem normal, ice cream, has entered the political fray yet again. Left-leaning dairy product Ben and Jerry’s announced yesterday that it will stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, citing their values as a company. Additionally, Ben and Jerry’s will not renew its license with the one Israeli manufacturer it currently contracts with. The announcement was met with quick backlash in Israel, with the foreign minister, Yair Lapid, describing it as a, quote “disgraceful capitulation to anti-Semitism.”
Elise Hu: OK. Hey now.
Gideon Resnick: All right, sir. Others in the Israeli government went viral with their criticisms, posting videos of themselves throwing Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the trash can—that’s just a personal own. Ben Jerry’s is typically outspoken about social justice issues, but they said nothing during violence in Gaza and East Jerusalem earlier this year. For those that believe, as Human Rights Watch does, that Israel’s actions towards Palestinians are crimes against humanity, this action by Ben and Jerry’s fits with the company’s other progressive positions.
Elise Hu: And those are the headline.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, use my voice like a robot puppet—please don’t—and tell your friends to listen.
Elise Hu: Yeah, please don’t. And if you are into reading, and not just puns by Ben and Jerry like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I am Elise Hu.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And enjoy your maple syrup!
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean it’s probably appreciated it in age, right? Nobody’s accessed it in like a year. There’s probably a lot in those trees.
Elise Hu: Oh, Canada.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.
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.