Supreme Courting The Voters with Dan Pfeiffer | Crooked Media
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January 28, 2022
What A Day
Supreme Courting The Voters with Dan Pfeiffer

In This Episode

  • President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court yesterday, and said that he would announce his choice by the end of February. Plus, Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his retirement. We were joined by Dan Pfeiffer, former White House Communications Director during the Obama administration and one of the hosts of Pod Save America, to discuss the impact the SCOTUS shakeup could have for Democrats as we head into midterm election season.
  • And in headlines: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the military to install measures to prevent civilian deaths caused by American airstrikes, countries across the globe advised their athletes to bring temporary cellphones to the Beijing Winter Olympics, and a study claimed that even when gas stoves are turned off, they often continue to leak unburned methane into their surroundings.





Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, January 28th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re pleased to announce that our boomer allies have finally found out about Wordle.


Gideon Resnick: I think they will find it much harder to fall down alt-right rabbit holes on the cute word puzzle than in the Facebook hellmouth.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. A five-letter word for insurrection? Trick question, there isn’t one?


Gideon Resnick: Ideas show workers at an Amazon facility raise concerns about a mailbox again ahead of another union vote. Plus athletes are told to use burner phones at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his retirement yesterday and delivered a brief remarks at a White House ceremony, including this one on the American experiment:


[clip of Justice Stephen Breyer] I say I want you to pick just this up. It’s an experiment that’s still going on. And I’ll tell you something, you know who will see whether that experiment works? It’s you, my friend. It’s you, Mr. High School student. It’s you, Mr. College student, it’s you, Mr. Law School students. It’s us, but it’s you. It’s that next generation and the one after that, my grandchildren and their children—they’ll determine whether the experiment still works. And of course, I am an optimist, and I’m pretty sure it will. Does it surprise you that that’s the thought that comes into my mind today? I don’t know. But thank you.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow, that is right. I know he is not threatening us. It just felt a little, a little threatening to me. It’s fine. President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court and said that he would announce his choice by the end of February.


[clip of President Biden] I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency. While I’ve been studying candidates’ backgrounds and writings, I’ve made no decision except one: the person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.


Priyanka Aribindi: So now that all of this has been formalized, let’s talk about some of the responses that we’ve heard so far.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is really only the beginning, but there’s a lot. Here is just a brief overview. Some civil rights organizations are already gearing up to support the eventual nominee and really to counter any likely campaigns against her from conservatives. And already, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that Biden should not be influenced by the quote unquote “radical left” in making his decision. All right. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said again that the confirmation process is going to move quickly. Senator Kyrsten Sinema said that she looks forward to quote, “thoughtfully examining the nominee”—and this one’s interesting—Senator Joe Manchin said that he wouldn’t mind if the nominee is more liberal than he is, noting that from his perspective, Priyanka, it is not hard to be more liberal than he is.


Priyanka Aribindi: And on that, he is correct.


Gideon Resnick: He is correct right there. Manchin and Sinema has voted to confirm all of Biden’s nominees to the lower courts so far, which is an encouraging sign for how they might end up voting here. So all that being said, on yesterday’s show, we went over Breyer, the replacement process, and the general future of the court. And today we want to dive in on all the potential political ramifications this could have in the near and long term.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. And for more on that, I spoke with the one and only Dan Pfeiffer, former White House Communications Director during the Obama administration and one of the hosts of Pod Save America. I started by asking him about the impact that this could potentially have politically for Democrats as we head into midterm election season.


Dan Pfeiffer: Well, I think it will have a galvanized effect for Democrats. We need a win. It’s been a rough few months for Democrats. Getting to appoint a qualified history-making nominee with the first Black woman ever, I think, will be a boost to Democrats’ political fortune. I think it will give us something to rally around. One of the reasons why Biden’s approval numbers have taken a hit is he’s lost ground with Democrats, and I think he’ll be able to get some of that back by delivering on a core campaign promise.


Priyanka Aribindi: Do you think it’s too far out from the midterms to have an effect? Or do you think that this type of thing kind of carries on into, you know . . . ?


Dan Pfeiffer: I don’t I don’t think it’s a game changer per se, but I think we need to build some momentum towards the midterms. And so having some success over the next couple of months to get this confirmation in I think is pushing us in the right direction. So I don’t think this is going to be like necessarily the Kavanaugh fight was for Republicans or the Amy Coney Barrett one was happening like minutes before the election, but it will certainly be helpful to Democrats, presuming everything goes the way we want it to go.


Priyanka Aribindi: OK. Also in the news this week: yesterday, we got some promising new numbers. The economy grew 1.7% in the last quarter, bringing the total growth in 2021 up to 5.7%. I believe that’s the largest figure since the mid ’80s. So good numbers there. Based on polling on the other hand, the public has not been too happy with Joe Biden in recent months. But how do good job numbers affect the president, the party in power, and how do those kind of square with the economic realities that most people are facing right now?


Dan Pfeiffer: This is probably the most narratively complicated economy in modern political history. You have 2021 was the year with the greatest private sector job growth in history, you have these growth numbers—all the macroeconomic factors look incredibly strong. And particularly when you put it in the context of what President Biden was able to get us out of so quickly of what he inherited from President Trump. Yet people are pissed about the economy. They’re incredibly angry. In every poll, people are more frustrated, angry about the economy than the pandemic. They believe that Democrats are not focused enough on the economy, and it is one very specific thing, it is inflation. And people are feeling inflation in their pocketbook and their wages are not going as far as they were before, they are paying more, particularly last year, at the gas station, grocery prices are up—and that is clouding out all the other economic good news. People don’t care about any of the other stuff because their dollar, their hard-earned dollars, are not going as far as they would like them to go.


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk a little more broadly about the midterms, which, like it or not, they’re coming later this year. Always a crazy realization for me every time I think about it. Traditionally, midterm elections have, um, shit turnout. They’re known to be really tough for the party in power. Turnout was actually pretty high during the Trump years’ midterm, but it still wasn’t great for him, obviously, in terms of outcome. Can you set the stage a little bit for us? What are Democrats and the president kind of walking into the midterms with? What’s it looking like?


Dan Pfeiffer: If you look at all the various factors—and I promise this will get a little bit better, but it’s going to start really hard—all the various factors, Democrats are in a terrible position. This is the first midterm of a president, which is almost in every single case other than George W. Bush 2002, devastating for that president. It’s happening in a redistricting year where Republicans control more of the maps than Democrats. Now there is some good news in this. One, with two thirds of the redistricting process done, I wouldn’t say it’s been favorable to Democrats, but it’s been a lot less bad than we thought. And Democrats have opportunities to pick up a lot of seats in states like New York and Illinois that have been very aggressive in the redistricting process. The Senate map, to our great fortune, is very favorable to Democrats this year. We can not only keep the majority, but also expand it by a couple of seats, by only winning states that Joe Biden won in 2020—that is Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. That’s six states. The Senate map generally is very bad for Democrats, and so it is a great fortune that we end up this year with a good map. That only happens every decade. We also have a very legitimate chance to hold on to key governor’s races in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, and pick one up in Georgia, where in Arizona, where we have great candidates running with Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Katie Hobbs, among others, in Arizona.


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. OK. Actually, I’m very glad we’re talking because I’m feeling a little bit better than I was 10 minutes ago. In the House and the Senate, democrats have very slim majorities at the moment. What is kind of the worst-case scenario? Obviously, we’ll talk about the good stuff, don’t worry, but what happens if they lose these majorities or the House majority?


Dan Pfeiffer: So if we lose the House, there’s two things that we have to be very clear about. One, Joe Biden will not pass another bill of substance in his first term. And I think it is highly likely the House will begin impeachment proceedings against Biden for some trumped up, made up, thing.


Priyanka Aribindi: Right.


Dan Pfeiffer: And there will be endless investigations that would make Fox primetime blush in terms of its absurdity, will all happen in the House. If we were to lose the Senate, it is likely that Joe Biden would not confirm another judge of consequence in his first term. The Republicans are definitely favored in the House, and I think the Senate is a coin flip, but that’s because the map benefits us, and what will really determine what happens in the Senate is what happens in the Republican primaries. You know, they are more electable Republican candidates facing off against some pretty Trump-y Republican candidates, and who wins those primaries could help determine how we do there.


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. OK, so let’s talk about the flip side. What if they win? And obviously I’m not a hater, but it’s been a tough few months watching a lot of the priorities that Joe Biden ran on get shot to the ground by members of, you know, his own party. So what’s the case the Democrats are trying to make to keep their jobs and, you know, expand their majorities? What happens for us in the best-case scenario?


Dan Pfeiffer: Well, the best-case scenario in the Senate is that we get up to 52 senators, which is very mathematically possible because we have pickup opportunities in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Ron Johnson is running for reelection in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is quite a Republican primary. Dr. Oz, the head of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, whose remade himself into a MAGA candidate—there’s a whole bunch of crazy stuff happening there. But if you get the 52 senators, we never have to say the words Manchin and Sinema again. In both the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Senate primary, the major candidates have said they would be for getting rid of the filibuster. So you can see a world where we get to 52 and could eliminate the filibuster. And if we still have the House to pass legislation, could deal with voting rights on day one.


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it! OK, you don’t have to tell me twice. Good to know. OK, but thanks to Republicans and a couple Democratic senators, we do not have federal voting rights legislation as we head into this election. You wrote about this in your last issue of Message Box, your newsletter. But in the face of all these voting rights restrictions that are going on around the country, how do Democrats win elections now? Is there something specifically that we should be focused on? How is this possible?


Dan Pfeiffer: Well, we’re going to have to win in an environment of voter suppression. That is the world we’re going to live in. There will continue to be some measure of court cases to try to push back on some of those efforts, but we have to recognize that the environment that Joe Biden won Georgia in, in 2020, is going to be tougher for Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock because of voter suppression. And it’s going to require hard work and organizing and getting people on the ground as soon as they can and educating voters about these new rules. And it’s going to be a ton of work. And it’s completely unfair and it’s probably unconstitutional and it’s wrong, but we’re going to have to live in that environment. But we also have to think not just about voter suppression, but about election sabotage, because we know that Republicans are running these 2022 elections to put themselves in a position to ensure that no matter what happens in the Electoral College or the popular vote in 2024, they will have the opportunity to install Donald Trump or whoever the Republican nominee is in the White House despite losing the election. Parts of the Freedom to Vote Act would have dealt with that. The best way to fight that is at the local level by electing governors, secretary of state candidates, and even in some states like in Arizona county recorders of deeds are the local election officials. And so Run For Something, a group that we have worked with the Crooked Media at lot, has been recruiting and training candidates to run in those races to try to—because Republicans have been doing this. They’re recruiting believers in the Big Lie to run up and down the ballot everywhere.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yikes.


Dan Pfeiffer: They are pouring money and resources into this because they know that’s where political power is, and we have to do the same thing on our side.


Gideon Resnick: You’ll be hearing more about all of this very soon. We are quite sure of that, but that is the latest for now. It’s Friday WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are back on our favorite beat, which is Sarah Palin’s battle with the New York Times by way of her battle with the novel coronavirus. So as we know, Palin’s defamation trial against the Times was postponed this Monday after it was revealed that she had tested positive for COVID. She had not gotten the vaccine, probably under the impression that she could outrun COVID aerosols on a snowboard. The story got even more interesting after the postponement, as it became clear that Palin had eaten inside the pricey Italian restaurant Elio’s in Manhattan on Saturday—this is a place I was not familiar with quite honestly until this story—


Priyanka Aribindi: Me either.


Gideon Resnick: Now I am deeply familiar with it—leading many to question how she had managed to get around New York City’s COVID vaccine mandate.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it is not known if Palin had tested positive before or after her Saturday Elio’s trip. But since her diagnosis, she has continued to sample New York’s finest restaurants, eating at a different fancy Italian place on Tuesday, though this time she was outside, and returning to Elio’s eat outside on Wednesday. Back to the original scene of the crime.


Gideon Resnick: What!? OK.


Priyanka Aribindi: So as we go to record, she is surely working through a tray of hot lasagna on a Manhattan sidewalk somewhere. Her new status as the Typhoid Mary of pasta places is so undeniable that even the mayor’s office has had to address it, with a spokesman for Eric Adams saying quote, “We encourage any New Yorker who came into contact with Sarah Palin to get tested.”


Gideon Resnick: Dear Lord.


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, she comes with a warning. Now Gideon, you and I are not public health experts, so we’ve been reluctant to offer too much pandemic guidance in the past, but this seems like one topic where we are uniquely qualified to weigh in. So my question is how would you advise someone who is seated next to a COVID-positive Sarah Palin at a restaurant?


Gideon Resnick: Well, I would say it’s unfortunate that you are in this position, but I hope that you have a syringe on you, because if you put a syringe on the edge of the table in eyesight of Sarah Palin, she could be led to think that it may be a vaccine and she may not want to be near said vaccine and may very well leave. And that gives you the opportunity to finish your lovely Italian dinner. Priyanka, what do you think about all of this?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, OK, if you find yourself in this scenario, you are seated next to COVID-positive Sarah Palin, one, get the fuck out of there. Two, question everything that has ever happened in your entire life to lead you to this point. What are you doing dining at the same place as her? You’re messing up somewhere.


Gideon Resnick: It’s true.


Priyanka Aribindi: I hate to break it to you.


Gideon Resnick: Just like that, we have checked our temps. They are at a normal temperature because we don’t have fevers from contracting the novel coronavirus near Sarah Palin at this time.


Priyanka Aribindi: Haven’t been in contact with Sarah Palin, so we’re all good.


Gideon Resnick: We can affirm that, and we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered the military to immediately install measures to better prevent civilian deaths caused by American airstrikes. The Department of Defense announced the initiative yesterday after Austin wrote to senior military defense officials requesting immediate action on the matter and calling the measure a quote, “moral imperative.” In his letter, Austin calls for the department to create a civilian protection center, reevaluate how the military responds to cases of civilian harm—like when bombs are dropped on their homes—and develop measures to prevent civilian casualties as a whole. The Pentagon has faced harsh criticism in recent months following reports on American airstrikes that have resulted in needless casualties. Most notable was the drone strike last year in Afghanistan that killed ten civilians, including seven children. In that strike, the military’s target was later found to have no terrorist affiliations. Austin is giving defense officials 90 days to come up with a detailed plan to carry out the measure. And in his letter, he said quote, “We can and will improve upon efforts to protect civilians.”


Priyanka Aribindi: Feels like this measure could come at any time before this. I don’t really know where it’s been, but glad it’s happening.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: As Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama gear up for a second vote on whether or not to unionize, their representatives are calling for the removal of a mailbox on the warehouse’s property, a mailbox very similar to the one that Amazon put on the premises last year, which was one of the main reasons why the National Labor Relations Board invalidated that election’s result, citing election interference. The company had claimed they installed the mailbox to make the voting process more convenient, but many saw it as an attempt to intimidate workers by implying that Amazon would play a role in counting the votes. Ultimately, workers voted not to unionize by a large margin in that election. Representatives for the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union wrote to the labor board yesterday, asking that Amazon remove the mailbox ahead of the revote, where over 6,000 workers are eligible to participate. Ballots will be mailed out next week, and if these workers vote to unionize this time around, it would be a huge win for Labor organizers everywhere.


Gideon Resnick: It would. I can’t believe that they would attempt even—


Priyanka Aribindi: Again?! What!?


Gideon Resnick: —a suggestion of an attempt here. Crazy. Turns out the enemy in the kitchen is not the Hamburger Helper that you’ve been eating every day of the pandemic, but it is the dormant stove.


Priyanka Aribindi: How did they know?


Gideon Resnick: A study published Thursday claims that even when gas stoves are turned off, they often continue to leak unburned methane into their surroundings—again, why are we just finding out now? During the course of a year, three quarters of the unburned methane emissions from gas stoves occur when the devices are shut off due to leaks in the fittings and gas service lines. When unburned, methane, the main component of natural gas, can warm the Earth at a rate 80 times that of the same amount of carbon dioxide—excellent. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, estimated that over a 20-year period, emissions from gas stoves in the U.S. could be having the same global warming impact as half a million gas-powered cars.


Priyanka Aribindi: Jesus.


Gideon Resnick: Dear Lord. As much as we love to hear the click-click-click of a gas stove, it might be time for the once sought after kitchen feature to become a thing of the past. Last month, New York City banned gas hookups in all new developments. However, in 20 states, cities are barred from restricting gas use at all. That’s due to legislation supported by the natural gas lobby. So next time you’re shopping for your next cooking device, don’t be a gashole. Consider going electric.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, this one goes out to all the landlords: I think you got to update our appliances. Please and thanks you.


Gideon Resnick: Wouldn’t it be nice?


Priyanka Aribindi: Speaking of burners, countries across the globe are advising their athletes to bring temporary cell phones to the Beijing Winter Olympics, as concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s stance on cyber espionage and online content restriction rise. Netherlands athletes have been told to leave their phones and laptops at home, while countries like Canada and Germany are providing temporary devices to be used for the length of the games. In a tech advisory notice distributed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, athletes and support staff have been warned to quote, “assume that every device and every communication, transaction and online activity will be monitored,” also encouraging the use of burner computers and phones—just another way in which the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, set to take place from February 4th through the 20th, are shaping up to be one of the weird ones. You can say that again.


Gideon Resnick: Yep.


Priyanka Aribindi: While I will miss the cardboard bed TikToks and checking athlete Instagram Stories first thing in the morning like it is the newspaper, we can all appreciate how these safety measures will at least make it easier for gold medalists to ghost the clingy Swedish curler they hooked up with in the Olympic Village.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s certainly going to encourage bad behavior, I would imagine.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, we’re never going to know about the [unclear] above the Olympic Village. That is just something that we all have to make peace with, whether or not we’d like to.


Gideon Resnick: Be careful out there. We will find out some way.


Priyanka Aribindi: Protect your hearts, Olympians.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, please. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, yeet your gas stove into the void, and tell your friends to listen.


Gideon Resnick: And if you’re into reading, and not just about steamy winter Olympic hookups like me—you got me—What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And bon appitito, Sarah Palin!


Priyanka Aribindi: No, I’m not wishing her a good meal. All of her meals, I hope are cold because it’s frigid out there.


Gideon Resnick: They will be cold by the time she gets the takeout from the restaurant back to her home, where she can’t expose people to the novel coronavirus, which would be nice. That’s all I ask.


Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s hope.


Gideon Resnick: You can still eat Elio’s, just please take it to your home or something.


Priyanka Aribindi: She’s not familiar with the concept.


Gideon Resnick: 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, with writing support from Jocey Coffman, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.



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