In This Episode
- President Biden is expected to announce a deal today where the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID vaccine and send them to 100 countries that are short on shots. This is great, but those doses alone won’t help us achieve global vaccine equity. We discuss what else is being done and what more can be done.
- Biden’s attempt to agree on an infrastructure bill with Senate Republicans broke down this week, with Republicans fulfilling their promise of obstructing the President whenever possible. Now, Biden is working with a bipartisan group of senators and is examining the possibility of passing a bill through budget reconciliation.
- And in headlines: the Keystone XL Pipeline is cancelled, Nicaragua’s dictatorial president arrests opposition candidates, and Uber drivers aren’t seeing proportional benefits from surging prices.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, June 10th,
Elise Hu: I’m Elise Hu, in for Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we’re glad Joe Biden saved TikTok so we can continue to avoid it because it makes us feel ancient.
Elise Hu: You are younger than me, but we are both elder millennials.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I’m geriatric, quite frankly.
Elise Hu: Is there any other kind of millennials besides elder ones?
Gideon Resnick: No. You’re millennial and then you’re elder, and it’s a process that takes like two years. On today’s show, Biden moves on from negotiating with just Republican senators on the infrastructure bill, plus we’ll have headlines.
Elise Hu: But first, the latest:
[clip of President Biden] At every point along the way, we’re going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and the issues that matter most to our future.
Elise Hu: That’s President Joe Biden speaking to American troops stationed in the U.K. yesterday. Stop one of his first foreign trip as president. He will be traveling throughout Europe to repair relations with longtime U.S. allies and other leaders that are part of the Group of Seven, or G-7, nations. And he’s patching things up and trying to return to those halcyon days of yore that lasted from, oh, I don’t know, post-World War Two and up until the Trump administration, when the U.S. wanted to lead and be part of multilateral institutions. Hey-o!
Gideon Resnick: You got him. [laughs]
Elise Hu: And right before he took off yesterday, while still on the tarmac, Biden hinted at a global plan for vaccines.
[clip of President Biden] I have one and I’ll be announcing it. Thank you.
Gideon Resnick: OK, brief. So at least it sounds like he has something in the works, perhaps a gift basket. What is in this basket?
Elise Hu: We are expecting that he will announce 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Corona vaccine will be going to nations around the world. He’s expected to formally announce that deal where the U.S. is going to buy up those doses at below market prices, and then a plan to send them to about 100 countries to help vaccinate their populations over the next year or so. CNN reporting the plan is to distribute 200 million doses this year, and another 300 million in the first six months of 2022.
Gideon Resnick: Got it. And that is pretty big news for the globe, because as we said yesterday, there are these increasing concerns over the rise of yet another variant, the Delta variant, and the massive amount of people across the world who are unvaccinated.
Elise Hu: Right. It’s scary. Scientists are sounding the alarm because this variant may be the most transmissible variant yet. They are estimating it’s about 40% more infectious than the Alpha variant, which was already more virulent than the OG strain. Advocates say that even though this announcement will help, this is really a race against time. That Delta strain is spreading so quickly that this rollout of Pfizer doses, which, as I mentioned, stretches into the middle of next year, means millions of people will likely be infected before they get the vaccine in their arms. And half a billion vaccine doses, while a lot, is still far short of the worldwide need. And the backdrop here, America has been under intense pressure to show moral leadership and do more with the surplus vaccine the U.S. is sitting on, and really under pressure to ship more doses to poor countries, and to waive the vaccine patents of U.S. drug makers—which Biden does support.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And is there enough being done then to provide equitable access to vaccines?
Elise Hu: Whoo-boy! Not nearly fast enough. Getting at equitable global access to vaccines has probably been the most intractable, the most vexing, and rather tragic challenges of this pandemic. For instance, Africa, as we know, has an abysmal vaccination rate, in part because it just doesn’t have vaccine-making capacity or supply. The World Health Organization says that continent needs at least 700 million doses, but shipments have ground to a halt. Places that are really contain the outbreak from the start, places like Taiwan, are now super vulnerable because of this Delta strain, because their populations are unvaccinated. So TLDR, this Delta strain, is more severe and more transmissible. And then we have this real lack of supply that’s bottlenecking the vaccines getting into arms.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is really awful, but these are sovereign countries, so beyond waiving patents to let other nations produce vaccines—which still isn’t a done deal—what could be done here to increase global vaccination rates?
Elise Hu: Advocates say that we have to do whatever we can as fast as possible. Otherwise, it’s plausible that we’re going to end up seeing more deaths from COVID after vaccines came online to prevent them than before the vaccines were around. So it’s really sad. It’s similar to HIV, really, where most of the HIV deaths happened after we had effective A.R.T. immunotherapy drugs. I should note that as of this recording, Biden’s announcement isn’t out yet. So right now, there’s only a few details on how the U.S. could help increase vaccine supply as fast as it needs to. Throwing more money at the problem is nice, but an analogy would be, hey, no croissant recipe is going to let me mass produce croissants tomorrow.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Elise Hu: One way to solve the supply problem, may be helping build facilities, or change over facilities that could mass produce vaccines, and support that last mile, the local distribution efforts. That’s what I’m going to be watching for in the formal announcement of this on Biden’s trip. But Gideon, in the bigger picture of just relationships, if Biden can use this international trip and vaccines as a goodwill offering to the rest of the world, it’s a sorely needed gesture to repair foreign ties weakened under Trump.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, to say the least.
Elise Hu: But returning to the domestic front, I want to hear about [clears throat] infrastructure. No, really, I do. Negotiations broke down this week, from what I understand, with Senate Republicans over Biden’s infrastructure proposal. It would have invested billions on things like roads, airport, water systems, broadband and more. All I know is that they broke down, though, so bring us up to speed. Where are things at?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, breakdown is right. We once again saw everyone do the bipartisanship song and dance for a while when it seems pretty painfully clear all along that Republicans were not going to get to where the administration wanted this bill to be. That the crux of all of this was that, broadly Republicans have a) not wanted to spend as much as the administration and, b) have been opposed to financing it with corporate tax hikes. So two pretty significant sticks in the mud when you lay out a plan that is contingent on those two elements. The whole process so far kind of mirrors how the early negotiations went over the COVID relief package that passed earlier this year. You had a Democratic White House with majorities, albeit very narrow, in the Senate and House, being deferential to the party that doesn’t control Washington. And then the response from a lot of Democrats has been the same here as well. Going through that process at best wastes valuable time to pass these important bills, and at worst does that and waters them down in the process. And we can look to the outcome in the last case here, the relief package, of course, was ultimately passed via reconciliation.
Elise Hu: And in this case, we might see that happen again.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, that is probably what is going to happen at some point. So what’s more is that after these initial infrastructure talks dissolved, Biden didn’t even end up with the bare minimum of earned goodwill with the primary Republican negotiator in all of this, West Virginia’s other senator, Shelley Moore Capito.
Elise Hu: Yes, folks, there is another senator from West Virginia who isn’t Joe Manchin.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. Exactly right. Well, she said yesterday that she felt the administration kept, quote “moving the goalposts.” And Democratic members of Congress, like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have been getting at this overall feeling in D.C. at the moment with politics, that the electoral promise of Biden’s ability to work with Republicans is far from reality. And then adhering to that flawed premise, Charlie Brown-football style over and over is just going to cost Democrats and the country.
Elise Hu: Well, it keeps happening again and again. It feels exhausting.
Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm.
Elise Hu: So if you can’t get Senate Republicans on board, which is what is apparent, what is Biden’s next move here?
Gideon Resnick: Well, publicly, at least, he’s working with a—drumroll, please—bipartisan group of senators on their own proposal. That group does include Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Mitt Romney, as well as Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. Romney said that eight or nine Republicans were involved in building this proposal out, but that also tax increases were a, quote “red line” which again, to me, begs the question as to how pursuing a similar strategy will get different results this time. There has been some reporting to that question you asked Elise, that this package could end up getting split into two bills, with one potentially going through reconciliation. Biden is actually reportedly talked to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about that possibility, which doesn’t sound as though he himself is actually too hopeful about a deal involving Republicans. And then in the reconciliation circumstance, of course, you would need all 50 Democratic senators. So perhaps it would take Sinema and Manchin watching another round of negotiations blow up with their own eyes, to get on board with that.
Elise Hu: Wow. And just beyond the political process in D.C., a lot of the country is going to rely on whatever shakes out because a bill like this centers on things like roads and bridges, which need to be updated or repaired. But also Gideon, there is a critical climate change element to this. How is that playing into the discussion of the bill?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, people are rightfully concerned that that part is sort of falling by the wayside or at least out of focus. Biden’s climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, turned heads earlier this week when she said to Politico that the infrastructure bill could end up lacking some of the proposed climate measures the president had put forward. She did say, though, that Biden was still, quote “going for it” on that front. But a lot of Democrats voiced their concerns, namely Democratic senators like Martin Heinrich and Ed Markey, who basically said that the exclusion of climate priorities, like a clean electricity standard, for instance, would actually threaten their votes for an ultimate bill.
Elise Hu: So you could be losing votes from the left.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, that is definitely a possibility. Not only there, but the same sentiment is also being shared in the House where the margins are also slim. Here’s Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, kind of getting at this overall frustration on MSNBC earlier this week.
[clip of Senator Jayapal] We can wait another week. We can negotiate with one different Republican senator or two different Republican senators, but the result is not going to be different, because this Republican Party has no interest, these Republican senators have no interest in doing anything that the people desperately need or want.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that is kind of the vibe from a lot of members right now. So we’ll keep track of all of this and try not to grind all our remaining teeth into mush. But that is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about the latest moves in the war on journalism. A swarm of cicadas stopped a plane—a plane!—carrying Biden’s press corps from taking off late Tuesday night. The journalists are accompanying the president on his first trip abroad, but they were delayed for several hours when a lot of Brood X cicadas filled up the plane’s engines. Ultimately, everyone had to move onto a second plane, narrowly avoiding what aviators call a bug Sully. Cicadas were also blamed for a car crash in Cincinnati this week, which thankfully caused only minor injuries. So Elise, how are you processing these recent cases of bug on vehicle violence?
Elise Hu: This is pretty wild. It actually seems biblical now. We are on the West Coast, or I am on the West Coast, much of the WAD production team is on the West Coast. So we are not bothered and not in an existence where we’re having to hear cicadas constantly. But President Biden made a reference to one kind of on his face as he was leaving for his foreign trip.
Gideon Resnick: Ugh.
Elise Hu: I mean, they seem to be truly everywhere in a way that is now apparently grounding planes and causing car accidents. So, yeah, it’s wild. And I have to wonder if these cicadas are the ones, the 5% of the cicadas this year that are the hypersexual ones that are high on some sort of fungus. Which I happen to report the last time I was filing in.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, [laughs] the backdrop to the inclusion of these kinds of stories is that it does feel a little bit like hazing at this point, and I feel very, very bad about constantly talking about cicadas with you. The third time it happens, I think you can, you can tell us not to do it.
Elise Hu: Yeah, I think I’m out.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. At that point, that would only make sense. We’ll come back to this soon. That is all for today. Stay safe. Avoid these bugs, clearly. Like if you’re on the ground or in the air or about to be. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Probably the country’s most hated tube, the Keystone XL pipeline, is officially canceled. TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the project, made the announcement yesterday and promised to work with government agencies to safely remove the unfinished pipeline. This is a huge win for the Indigenous people and environmental activists who have been fighting against the project for decades. Had it been completed, the eight billion dollar crude oil pipeline would have stretched 1,200 miles from Alberta to Nebraska, potentially threatening tribal lands and water sources in its way. Now the pipe can be repurposed to help carry the tears of fossil fuel executives directly into the sea. One of the many contributors to the project’s demise was Biden’s decision on his first day in office to cancel its permit, which Trump had previously granted. Activists have already turned their attention to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, which also will stretch from Alberta to the US Midwest, and has been drawing similar criticism to the now defunct Keystone XL.
Elise Hu: From North America to Central America. In this past week alone, five prominent opposition leaders in Nicaragua have been arrested. Key point: four of them happen to be the presidential candidates running against current President Daniel Ortega in the country’s upcoming, quote unquote “election.” His regime has always been hostile to opposition, but it has recently been ramping up its efforts to crack down on dissent using a so-called ‘guillotine law’ passed last year that allows the arrest of citizens without evidence. The Biden administration responded to the arrests by sanctioning four of the regime’s top officials. Ortega is seeking to “win” —also, quote unquote—a fourth term in November to further solidify his dictator status. And speaking of dictators, a Russian court has outlawed organizations founded by detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny. That means people who worked for those groups, donated to them, or participated in their protests could now be prosecuted.
Gideon Resnick: It’s scary stuff, all around.
Elise Hu: It’s a big the time for autocrats.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. The company that invented taxis, but dystopian. Uber isn’t giving drivers a cut of higher than average fees. Fares are up as much as 50% over last year, due in part to a driver shortage plus a rider’s surplus. But drivers don’t get a percentage of these higher fares and instead receive a flat $3, $5, $10 bonus during price surging. This leaves drivers in the dark about why they’re making what they’re making, and it usually leads to lower earnings. All this is important rider literacy for us is we spend $70 for a 9-minute ride plus free mints if we’re lucky, but it’s notable in a political context, too. In most states, driver payment has been decoupled from fares for a while. But in California, the new system was only adopted back in April after ride share companies successfully lobbied voters against classifying drivers as employees. Uber wanted drivers to be seen as in control of their earnings, so they paid out a direct percentage of fares and let drivers set surge prices. Once the company had no incentive to offer these options, they took them away. Anyway, this is all a reminder that the only morally neutral app is the one where you solve puzzles to stop a bald man’s house from filling up with water.
Elise Hu: I don’t know that reference! I hope you kids out there do.
Gideon Resnick: [laughs] Good luck.
Elise Hu: A protest outside the home of Anna Wintour on Tuesday featured both shouts and murmurs. The New Yorker magazine Union demonstrated there to demand higher wages plus other concessions related to health insurance and job security. The union includes fact checkers and editorial staff members, but not writers. Union members say their base salary of $42,000 a year reflects that their contributions are being taken for granted, and it essentially requires them to trade financial security for the prestige of working at a top magazine. Wintour actually isn’t involved with The New Yorker, but she is the Chief Content Officer for its parent company, Conde Nast, and a real life stand in for the question: what could a banana cost—ten dollars? The New Yorker Union has been negotiating with Conde Nast since 2018 and has made some progress, but staffers want to ramp up public pressure. They’ve previously voted to authorize a strike and if they go through with it, there’s no question that it will be, wait for it . . . the talk of the town
Gideon Resnick: Solidarity to them, I hope, in their contract negotiations.
Elise Hu: Sorry about that.
Gideon Resnick: They also forbid us from making more of those jokes. Those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, rescue the mobile app guy with the leaky house, and tell your friends to listen.
Elise Hu: I still don’t know what he’s talking about. And if you are into reading, and not just clever protest signs from The New Yorker staff like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Elise Hu.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And check your engines for bugs!
Gideon Resnick: You have to now. Especially Brood X bugs, the worst.
Elise Hu: Look out. Look out people, they might be the horned up ones.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon 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.