Introducing Laphonza Butler | Crooked Media
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October 02, 2023
What A Day
Introducing Laphonza Butler

In This Episode

  • A testy and defiant Donald Trump showed up to court yesterday in Manhattan, for the first day of his civil fraud trial. The former president called the suit, brought by New York attorney general Letitia James, a “witch hunt,” though it could cost him control of his sprawling real estate empire.
  • Laphonza Butler will be the new junior U.S. Senator from California, after she was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to replace the late Dianne Feinstein. Marisa Lagos, political correspondent at NPR member station KQED in San Francisco, joins us to discuss Butler’s career.
  • And in headlines: the scientists who laid the groundwork for the COVID vaccines won a Nobel Prize, the U.S. Supreme Court officially started its new term, and Mariah Carey has declared an early start to this year’s holiday festivities with a new tour.


Show Notes:



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Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, October 3rd. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What a Day welcoming you all to whatever season you’re in right now. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, whether you’re in spooky season, cozy season, seasonal depressive disorder season. We’re here for you. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, we are. 


Josie Duffy Rice: We’re not doing no holiday season. [laughter] Because holidays suck. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, the scientists who laid the groundwork for the COVID vaccines have won a Nobel Prize. Plus, the Queen of Christmas herself has declared an early start to this year’s holiday festivities. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right on time. And by that, I mean way too early. But first, Donald Trump was in a Manhattan court yesterday for the first day of his civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Prosecutors claim that the president, his two adult sons and others in his company committed fraud by, as The Washington Post put it, inflating the value of his real estate empire. Trump, unsurprisingly, denies that he committed fraud. And yesterday was the first day of what is expected to be a weeks or even months long trial. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Huh yi yi. Don’t like that for us. [laughing]


Josie Duffy Rice: Hate it. Hate it.


Tre’vell Anderson: But okay. Can you tell us more about the case? Obviously, it’s hard to keep up given that he has so many going on. 


Josie Duffy Rice: He faces a number of different legal battles right now in a number of different jurisdictions. He’s prolific that way. Uh. This one is a civil trial. So there is no criminal penalty involved here. But if he loses, it’s going to cost him a lot of money. Basically, the state claims that Trump and others knowingly lied about his net worth and the company’s net worth in order to gain an advantage with banks and insurance companies, among others. And in order to win this case, the state has to show that the valuation was not just wrong, but that Trump and the others intentionally lied. Which does make this case like a little bit more difficult for prosecutors, right? Trump and his attorneys claim that there was no, quote, “nefarious intent.” And they say that this is a politically motivated case. He loves to say everything is politically motivated. And they’re basically arguing that there are like a lot of different ways to determine the value of some of these assets at issue. One of his attorneys argued, quote, “The value is what someone is willing to pay. That is not fraud. That is real estate.” I love that they’re just like when you’re rich, you just get to make stuff up. Even though it was just day one, it was like a pretty eventful day. The court heard opening statements. They saw clips of Michael Cohen’s deposition from a few months ago, among other things. And the first witness had already begun testifying by the time the court adjourned for the day. Donald Bender, a former Trump organization accountant, began his testimony by recalling his preparation of allegedly false statements of Trump’s finances. 


Tre’vell Anderson: One of the things I find interesting, right, is that Trump was actually there in the court room. How exactly was he behaving? Because we know he likes to act like a toddler from time to time. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh, yeah. He is not subtle and he was not hiding his feelings in court, as you will not be shocked to hear. He apparently had a look of, quote, “disgusted annoyance on his face” when the attorney general’s office was speaking. He was shaking his head a lot, crossing his arms a lot. He also came out during a lunch break to complain about the case to reporters outside. 


[clip of Donald Trump] It’s a witch hunt. It’s a disgrace. We have a corrupt attorney general in this state. You see how she does. This trial was railroaded and fast tracked. This trial could have been brought years ago, but they waited until I was right in the middle of my campaign. The same with other trials and indictments. It’s all run by DOJ, which is corrupt in Washington. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The man loves a tangent because DOJ has nothing to do with this case but [laughter] meanwhile, the judge on this case, State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, already ruled on a number of the elements at issue last week and already found that Trump’s business fraud was extensive and already canceled his New York business license. So this trial is dealing with like the remaining elements of these charges. But it’s clear that regardless of what happens at trial, Trump is in a lot of trouble. He’s going to lose a lot of money. And he basically doesn’t even have the right to do the same kind of business in New York anymore. So it’s not looking great. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Good. I don’t want nothing to look great for him ever again. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I would love for him to be broke. That sounds fun. Broke Trump sounds so chaotic to me. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We can only hope. Thank you for that, Josie. Now, let’s get back to something we talked about on yesterday’s show. We told you all that late Sunday night word got out that California Governor Gavin Newsom planned to appoint Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler, to replace the late Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The minute I heard the name Laphonza Butler. I knew this was [laughter] we’re both Black from the South. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You know a Black from the South name when we hear one. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I heard one. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I read Mississippi. I read Jackson State. I’m ready. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We love this. Absolutely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m ready for a Laphonza in the Senate. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It’s going to be great. It has to be great, right? Like with a name like that, you’re packing some power already. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: So shout out to her parents. Laphonza will be sworn in for her very first job in public office after spending much of her career in activism and strategy for the Democratic Party. And so to learn more about her, I sat down with Marisa Lagos, who covers California politics for NPR member station KQED in San Francisco. I started off by asking the question that’s been on a lot of people’s mind, which is who is Laphonza Butler, a.k.a.“Harpo, Who dis woman?”


Marisa Lagos: She is a Black woman. And the governor had promised to appoint a Black woman to this job. Um. She also will be only the second out lesbian ever in the U.S. Senate after Tammy Baldwin. But in general, I mean, I would call I’ve called her, I think, a Democratic powerhouse. And that’s because she’s really played in kind of like several areas of the party. She was a longtime labor leader. She actually ran SEIU, the biggest labor union in California for about a decade. And she represented mostly women of color there, in-home care workers, nursing home workers. So she’s been a big advocate and clearly a big player in labor, um but she’s also been an advisor to Kamala Harris on her presidential campaign before she joined the Biden ticket. She worked at Airbnb, briefly, has advised Uber in that political consulting world. And really, I just think, you know, kind of brings together a lot of the type of experience and constituencies that you might need to run a Senate race. And she’s only, I think, 44 years old. So depending on what she decides in the future, she’s got some time. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I also know most recently she was the president of Emily’s List, which right. 


Marisa Lagos: Yeah. She’s basically been, spent the last two years raising money to help pro-choice Democratic women get elected. So that’s another area of the resumé that’ll probably be helpful, right, moving forward. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I wonder in what ways, from your vantage point do you think this type of pick makes sense considering the urgency of the decision he had to make, considering the broader, you know, hubbub and pressure around him nominating and approving a Black woman? 


Marisa Lagos: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. So obviously there’s been sort of this like Game of Thrones political chatter in California, like for I mean, really months, because we knew Dianne Feinstein was in poor health and that this could happen. Right. And it’s funny because I think a lot of us assumed and I will kind of admit wrongdoing here [laugh] in a way that because Newsom was so clear that he, A, would pick a Black woman and, B, that it would not be one of the already established candidates, which in that case would have been Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, that we all thought whoever he asked, he would have basically say, you have to be a caretaker. You can’t run for this office. Um. And so I think a lot of younger up and coming folks in the party, we kind of overlooked like Laphonza, because it just seemed like, why would you give up your job for something that’s going to last less than a year? So and, you know, and I think that there’s a lot of like kind of background politics here that are fascinating. I mean, Butler worked for the actual political consulting firm that Newsom, you know, still works with. Ace Smith, Shawn Clegg, these guys at Bearstar Strategies. She was with them when they were previously called SCN. So she’s very much like in Newsom’s inner circle. I think Newsom was kind of perturbed by Lee and a lot of her allies in the way they lobbied him. I mean, she straight up called him a racist basically a few weeks ago when uh, you know, she he said he would not appoint her. And then I think that there was also a sense, like I feel like this is Newsom flexing his independence a little bit from the party leadership. Nancy Pelosi threw all her support behind Congressman Adam Schiff. He and Congresswoman Katie Porter are the two other folks in the race now. Um. So I think that this like checks a lot of boxes. So I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of sort of background democratic things here that when it all comes down to it, like she’s a bit of a unicorn, a lesbian, a Black woman who has worked in labor, but has also worked in the private sector and has been a political consultant. Um. No one in the electorate knows her yet, but they are going to really soon. And I do, I got to give the governor credit. I didn’t see this one coming and I think it’s a pretty brilliant pick on his part. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Barbara Lee and her allies, they have responded to the news. What has that response been like? How does she feel about this moment? Because he basically said, like you mentioned a few weeks ago, that if the seat opened up, he would not appoint Barbara Lee, he said, because he did not want to, you know, get into the primary and like have any influence. That was what he articulated, whether you believe that or not, you know? 


Marisa Lagos: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Is your whole thing.


Marisa Lagos: Exactly. And I do want to clarify, she did not actually call Newsom a racist, I should say like I think that was the perception from a lot of people on his side about how strong she reacted to that statement. So but, yeah, I think for Lee, like, she’s been very gracious. I don’t think she has any problems with Laphonza Butler. And I think she’s, you know, being supportive. But has also made clear that at least as of now, she has no plans to drop out of this race. It’s in a funny way, you could argue that actually. I mean, Lee aside, and I understand why she personally wanted the appointment, but for me, when I heard Newsom say he would appoint a caretaker, I thought that that was him reneging on the promise because the point of putting an incumbent Black woman into this position of power is that they do get a leg up and it is so hard to get elected as a person of color, as a female of color in particular, that like otherwise, what’s the point? So I think in, you know, in some ways this is kind of like him following through on his promise. As I said, he is pissing off a lot of people that, you know, in the Democratic Party. But I think in a way, he’s avoided pissing off even more people than he would have with a Barbara Lee appointment. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now, before I let you go, how long can we expect Laphonza Butler to stay in this seat? I know that the election is obviously in November of 2024. Are they expecting her to run to keep this seat? What’s the kind of expectation at this particular juncture? 


Marisa Lagos: So the governor’s office made clear that they didn’t put any conditions on this and she can run. Um. Her people, she hasn’t come out and said anything personally other than like statements. But they have said, you know, we’re not we’re not talking about that yet. She’s focused on getting sworn in on Tuesday by Kamala Harris and, you know, get starting to work. My personal opinion is I would be shocked if she didn’t run. I think if, you know, you don’t want to, you probably would say that straight up, first of all. And just the way the governor’s office has framed this, that we didn’t put conditions on her. And again, just given her political potential. I don’t know. That’s my prediction. I could be wrong. So, yeah, this is where it gets really confusing. So in March, California voters will be asked two questions on the ballot. One will be who should compete in a primary to finish Dianne Feinstein’s term? And the second will be who should compete in the primary to fulfill this full Senate term that begins in 2025. And then the top two vote getters in each of those elections will move on to the November ballot. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was my conversation with KQED’s Marisa Lagos. And we’ll be sure to follow soon to be Senator Butler’s path in Washington in the weeks and months ahead. But that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: A Florida man is trying to get one of his coworkers fired. To be more specific, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz yesterday made good on his threat to try to force House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his job. He filed what’s known as a motion to vacate on the House floor, a rarely used procedural tool that allows a single representative to force the chamber to vote on whether to remove the current speaker. Gaetz decided to shoot this particular shot after Congress narrowly passed a stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown over the weekend. He and other far right Republicans have blasted McCarthy for working with Democrats to get it passed. Ironically, Gaetz may need to work with Democrats to get his petty revenge because we don’t know for sure if he has enough votes within his own party to give McCarthy the boot. In the meantime, House leadership needs to schedule the vote itself, which will have to come down in the next day or so. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Everyone’s favorite vanguard for civil rights, the Supreme Court of the United States, [laughter] [sigh] has officially started its new term yesterday. Between now and next June, the justices will weigh in on another docket that could include cases on the Second Amendment, racial gerrymandering, online free speech and more. We can pretty much guarantee they’re going to vote the wrong way every single time they have the real opportunity. Abortion may once again take center stage this term, especially if the high court picks up the DOJ’s appeal in the dispute over the abortion pill, mifepristone. If so, it would be the first abortion case the justices will consider since Roe v Wade was overturned in June 2022. If you’ve been listening to the show long enough, you already know that this new term is already off to a pretty funky start after a series of bombshell reports during the summer recess raised serious ethical concerns over two of the justices. We’re looking at you, Clarence fucking Thomas and Samuel Alito. In fact, Thomas already recused himself from a case related to January 6th. The court declined to take up an appeal yesterday brought by former Trump legal adviser John Eastman. This was the first time that Thomas has recused himself from a case involving the attack on the Capitol. But not for the reason you may assume, i.e., not just because his wife was egging this shit on. The reason he recused is because Eastman used to be one of his law clerks. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Wow. What a small world over there. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The insurrection world is really small. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: Two scientists whose research enabled the development of the COVID 19 vaccines were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine yesterday. Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman figured out how to modify genetic material called messenger RNA or mRNA for short. And their work was eventually used to produce the COVID shots that are administered worldwide. The pair first met by chance at an office copy machine at the University of Pennsylvania in the nineties and years later in 2005, they published their research in what is now considered a seminal paper on using mRNA for vaccines. It wasn’t met with much interest from scientists at the time though, and their paper was even rejected by several prominent journals. But the concept caught the attention of drugmakers, Moderna and BioNTech. And by the time the COVID pandemic hit, their research was instrumental in developing some of the vaccines we use against the coronavirus today. And the mRNA technology doctors Karikó and Weissman helped to develop is now being used to explore potential vaccines against the flu, malaria and even HIV. I’ll use this as an opportunity to remind everyone that the pandemic is not really over. Okay? And so feel free to go get your booster shot. Whenever you’re ready. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Not only is it not over, it’s looking like a rough winter. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So now is the time. Trans youth in Nebraska will not be able to obtain gender affirming surgeries and will have to wait seven days before starting hormone therapy and puberty blockers. That is according to new regulations that went into effect over the weekend, which banned trans folks under the age of 19 from surgery. That also includes trans folks who are 18, which are adults. So not just quote unquote, “children.” The new rules also require that trans youth and young adults seeking nonsurgical care must go through 40 hours of, quote unquote, “gender identity focused therapy” before starting any kind of medical treatment. I guess they aren’t supposed to have jobs or go to school either, because that’s a full time job. Republican Governor Jim Pillen enacted the new rules under the guise of an emergency declaration and said during the signing ceremony for the law that trans kids and parents seeking such care for their children are somehow being misled calling it, quote, “Lucifer at his finest.” 


Tre’vell Anderson: Wow. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly terrifying language. The new restrictions will remain in effect while Nebraska state health officials work on a more permanent set of rules. A finalized proposal is expected by the end of the month, ahead of a public hearing scheduled in November. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And as Miss Mariah Carey recently declared herself, the actual defrosting has begun. 


[clip of All I want for Christmas is you by Mariah Carey] Make my wish come true. All I want for Christmas is you. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, yes. The Queen of Christmas announced her Merry Christmas one and all tour, which will kick off on November 15th and hit 13 cities, including Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago and Baltimore. It will wrap up on December 15th in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Whether or not she will be singing live or not, we are not sure. But I promise you the show will be entertaining nonetheless. Mariah’s 1994 album, Merry Christmas, is one of the bestselling holiday albums of all time, so she’s no stranger to going big for the holidays. In 2014, she kicked off her six night residency at New York City’s Beacon Theater called All I Want for Christmas Is You: A Night of Joy and Festivity. She revived that residency two years later and expanded it into a tour that even reached Europe. As for her ability to keep the Christmas spirit alive, I’m still thinking about her interview with Entertainment Weekly back in 2019, when she said I rebuke time. I have a thing where I just live outside the traditional realm of how we measure it. So in that way, Santa and myself are very similar. Of course they are, the gifts that keeps on giving. Tickets for her 2023 tour go on sale this Friday. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Look, I know Mariah has had her, like, shaky moments, like, she couldn’t remember the lyrics for her song. There have been talk about her voice isn’t what it once was. I would rather hear her sing the wrong lyrics with, like, not as great voice than see most people on tour right now. [laughter] So I’m thrilled, this is going to be great. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Valid point. I will just say I saw her during Pride here in Los Angeles. She was one of the headliners um and I was very entertained. I’m not going to lie. So maybe that means that you all need to buy a ticket. I also love the fact that she’s just jumping over Halloween and Thanksgiving because why not? 


Josie Duffy Rice: I am stridently anti starting the holiday season too early, but I feel like this is one exception that can be made. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, Mariah can make any exceptions she want. She is the queen of Christmas. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Anything for Mariah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: After all. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Mariah can do whatever she wants. And she has told us that. [laughter] She has told us she’s allowed to do what she wants. And you know what? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. 


Josie Duffy Rice: She’s right. And those are the headlines. 




Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Go get your damn COVID booster already and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just every single thing on the Supreme Court’s docket like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And let’s go Laphonza. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s go. 


Tre’vell Anderson: More people with Z’s in their name in Congress. Why not? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Amen, truly, I love it. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: 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 Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.