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February 17, 2021
What A Day
Keep Austin Warm

In This Episode

  • President Biden was in Wisconsin yesterday on his first official trip since taking office making the pitch for his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. The House is preparing to vote on the bill by the end of next week, and after that, it heads to the Senate, where we could see a fight over whether to include the $15 minimum wage increase.
  • Extreme winter weather has debilitated Texas’s weather grid, creating a dangerous situation that left over 3 million people without power last night and has led to multiple deaths. We explain what’s behind the weather and the electricity issues.
  • And in headlines: the NAACP files a lawsuit against Trump and Giuliani for their connection to the Capitol Hill riot, George Conway says the Lincoln Project should be investigated, and Oprah will interview Harry and Meghan.




Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, February 17th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan, filling in for Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: And this is What A Day where we’re giving up bad and toxic vibes for Lent.


Erin Ryan: Yeah, thanks to everyone in advance for providing good vibes only for the next 40 days. As a Catholic, I’m just going to say good vibes are the point of Lent.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, it’s the point and it has to be a team effort. It’s on all of us, you know. On today’s show, bitter cold and power failures in Texas, then some headlines.


Gideon Resnick: But first, the latest.


[clip of President Biden] I do support a $15 minimum wage. I think there is equally as much, if not more, evidence to dictate that it would grow the economy, and long-run and medium-run, benefit small business as well as large businesses.


Erin Ryan: That was President Biden talking about his promised COVID relief package at a town hall in Wisconsin last night. The event was his first official trip since taking office. And later this week, he’ll be in Michigan visiting a Pfizer facility. Both states that can be represented by holding up your hand and pointing to where in it you’re from. This is all happening with the Trump impeachment trial now in the rearview. So let’s talk about the next steps to get this bill passed.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. So it is looking like the House is getting ready for a vote by the end of next week or so. And as a quick refresher here, because we might not have talked about this in a little while, the main arms of the bill include school funding, state and local aid, unemployment benefits extending into the fall, $1,400 direct payments and increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour over time, as Biden was talking about in that clip. The goal is to get this passed by mid-March, and that’s when the current unemployment benefits expire. So passing the bill in the House with that minimum wage provision seems like the far easier task, but it could be an issue in the Senate, unfortunately. As an aside, making $15 an hour in 2025, which is what the legislation proposes, could still fall short of a “living wage” in many places.


Erin Ryan: One day I dream of an America where the Senate doesn’t pretend to forget how much it costs to live in a city.


Gideon Resnick: True.


Erin Ryan: Fifteen dollar minimum wage is just over $30,000 a year, if you work full time. So the House will vote first, then the Senate. And that’s where the roadblocks may be.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, and from Democrats no less. At least, two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, have indicated that they do not support the minimum wage hike and Democrats need every senator on board to get this passed. Plus, there was some disappointment from activists about Biden himself seeming to undercut it recently by saying he didn’t think it was going to survive in the bill because of budget reconciliation rules. Then last night, he said he did support it again, but said it was “totally legitimate for small businesses to be concerned about it” at the town hall and said the increase, like we’re mentioning here, would be gradual. This is all coming on the heels of some strikes across the country from fast food workers pushing for a minimum wage hike. So there’s definitely a lot of pressure that’s being applied here. And the last time the federal minimum wage was raised was 2009 to $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year for full time, which is still where it stands today. Nuts.


Erin Ryan: Oh, my. Do lawmakers know how much it costs to be alive?


Gideon Resnick: I don’t think so [laughs].


Erin Ryan: I don’t think they do. Like, look at it:  i’s a banana. Michael, what could it cost? Ten dollars? It’s interesting because progressive Democrats are really trying to push for this. They a big victory recently in the House when they got the minimum wage language into the bill. So what else have they been saying?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I think they really think that this is the time and they have the opportunity to do it. So Representative Pramila Jayapal told The Washington Post that “bowing to one or two conservative Democrats seems like a terrible policy idea and a political idea.” She was also on Pod Save America last week talking about this very idea. So we’ll put a link in our show notes if you want to take a listen to that. So there is a world here in which the Senate says no to the wage increase, kicks the bill back to the House and we see whether members like Jayapal are going to let that stand. And last time we talked about this, we mentioned the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the minimum wage, which showed the costs and benefits. As part of the scorecard, though, Senator Sanders asked the CBO to send him more information on the federal budget impacts. He’s doing his homework. They did, and it showed significant and wide ranging effects. That is important because it establishes an argument that raising the wage meets the budget requirements for including it in budget reconciliation, which has been a big procedural question. But let’s shift gears to our next story out of Texas, where as of last night, there were over three million people without power experiencing record cold temperatures. Erin, most of the country is actually experiencing some parts of this massive weather event. It’s truly insane.


Erin Ryan: Yeah, it’s, it’s nuts. If you look at a map, there’s basically a huge winter storm over the entire middle of the country and extending to parts of the coasts. So far, at least 23 people have died across four different states. We’ve seen multiple feet of snow in Chicago, a rare freeze in southern Louisiana—just in time for Mardi Gras—and something known as a snownado over the Lone Star State. Look, I grew up in a place where it was 40 below zero sometimes, and we never had a snownado. This is legit bigger than normal.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah, they’re always talking about, oh, extreme weather patterns will become the norm, well, we are seeing it. So, lots of people simultaneously dealing with this sort of extreme winter weather, during a pandemic no less. But also lots of people in places that aren’t really equipped for this happening, like Texas where most of the grid problems are. So let’s explain all that for a second.


Erin Ryan: OK, so Texas’s power grid is designed to handle spikes in demand, like during the summer when everybody’s cranking their AC. But the grid wasn’t equipped to handle the demands of heating an entire state at the same time. Houses in Texas are not built for the cold. Texans don’t typically prioritize having modern, efficient heaters installed because why would they? They live in Texas. So when it got cold, people crank the heat up. But the problem started long before this recent cold snap. So Texas’s grid relies on power generated from a few sources: coal power plants, natural gas power plants and wind farms. The cold weather made many of the natural gas and coal plants inoperable, which caused the capacity of the grid to plummet. So these plants were not adapted to operate under inclement weather, under cold weather. Wind turbines also stopped working in the cold, which contributed to—but to a smaller extent—to the failure of the fossil fuel plants. So you’ve got a reduction in capacity at the same time as a massive spike in demand and rolling blackouts were the only way to prevent the grid from totally shutting down. Now, normally, when giant power outages happen, different regions can help one another by transferring excess power. But Texas can’t.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, whenever we get into this conversation about power grids overall, I feel a little over my head but can we walk through why Texas is uniquely screwed in this situation?


Erin Ryan: Yeah, Gideon, I think power grids are one of those things in my brain just cannot understand. It’s like Bitcoin, no matter how many times it’s explained to me, I’m like: no, don’t get it! But without getting too wonky about power grids because everything I know about power grids, I learned from this news event. So the United States is on three main grids, one for the east, one for the west and one for Texas. The east and west grids are connected to each other so in the event of a catastrophe, extra electricity can be transferred over long distances from one to the other. However, Texas has been operating a power grid that isn’t connected to the others since the time of FDR. Why? Because they wanted to operate without federal oversight.


Gideon Resnick: Un-huh.


Erin Ryan: And because Texas power plants are operating at the whims of the free market because, you know, free market is, is good and breeds innovation, etcetera, etc. The government hasn’t offered any incentives to plants that generate excess power when demand for power is low. So if there were any way to save power into a power savings account, there’s no reason that a plant would do that in Texas because there’s no incentive for them to produce excess power.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, free market winning again, of course. You know, obviously the government cannot control the weather, but it sounds like a lot of steps that the government could have taken to prepare the state for something like this, that just simply were not taken.


Erin Ryan: Exactly. So fingers are being pointed all over the place in Texas. You know, that cartoon with Spider-Man pointing at the identical Spider-Man?


Gideon Resnick: Yes.


Erin Ryan: And they’re both accusing each other and it’s become kind of a meme? That’s basically every high-ranking official in Texas, at each other right now. Meanwhile, Texans, actual Texans are freezing in their homes with no power. So Governor Greg Abbott has demanded an investigation into the organization that oversees the grid there and that organization is called: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. And other people are pointing at Governor Abbott because he’s the governor. You know, he’s in charge. He could have he could have made updating the power grid a priority, but he didn’t. He, I guess he, he prioritized other things instead. Now, President Biden approved a declaration of emergency for the state of Texas on Monday. And FEMA has opened some warming shelters for residents who are in physical danger. However, some of those shelters had to close down due to a loss of power, which is so frustrating and horrible. Meanwhile, the lights are on in Austin’s downtown business district leaving many freezing Texas residents on day three without electricity, demanding to know what the fuck is going on. So, in short, all of the downtown buildings are connected to to the same grid and so turning off all of the buildings would require them to cut off power to hospitals and other really essential places. But still, like imagine if you were living in the outskirts of Austin, or Houston or any city experiencing a huge outage, without power and seeing the skyline lit up. That would be so frustrating. Officials in Texas say they’re working on it and some of the power is starting to come back online, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it definitely seems like it’s. So zooming out here, is the impression that the weather is really a fluke. It certainly feels as though this is the slow and quickening march of climate change.


Erin Ryan: Gideon it is with a heavy heart that I announce that the polar vortex is at it again. So the polar vortex, for those of us who remember the year 2014—I spent the early days of 2014 stranded in the San Juan airport in Puerto Rico because no flights could go into the eastern seaboard of the U.S. because of the polar vortex—so basically there’s a huge mass of very cold air that usually hangs out above the Arctic. What we’re seeing now is that a strong current of air called the jet stream, which usually holds the cold air up north, kind of like a belt or some shapewear, has temporarily weakened enough so now the Arctic air has slipped out of place and is sitting on top of the U.S. where it’s wreaking havoc on our weather. So in terms of whether this is climate change or not, more research is necessary before scientists can say conclusively. But we can use our thinking caps here and see that there’s a correlation between wild weather events and climate change. The trend is not moving in the direction of things calming down.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is truly the one thing that keeps me up at night and it has for years. So that’s, that’s a dark way to view it but that’s just the truth.


Erin Ryan: Yeah. I mean, I feel like every house in America is going to have to have snow, boots, galoshes and SPF 100 just on hand all the time moving forward. Well, that’s the least.


Gideon Resnick: It is Wednesday, WAD squad, and today we are talking about the latest fake money news. Yesterday, a federal judge in New York ruled against Citibank in its effort to reclaim 500 million dollars that it wired by mistake last year. Citibank had intended to make interest payments of about eight million dollars to companies that had lent money to its client, Revlon. Instead the bank accidentally sent 900 million dollars and the lenders have refused to return much of it because they had already sued Revlon to get their loans back so to them, this was a happy accident. These numbers are truly migraine-inducing and a good reminder of why you should always double check. But, Erin, my question for you: how much do you trust yourself to not make a mistake like this?


Erin Ryan: I trust myself zero percent Gideon because I have failed myself multiple times in the past. I think the most dangerous thing for me is having apps on my phone where, one touch I can spend money on things. And having access to things that lower my inhibitions, like alcohol or, where I live, California, legal marijuana.


Gideon Resnick: I’ve heard of both.


Erin Ryan: Yes. So my problem is that sometimes when I’m in a, I’m in a mood, I will just impulse buy things like I used to, I used to impulse buy, like DVDs of movies. And so like a week after a night of, like, you know, enjoying myself, I would open the mail and I’d be like: Oh, I got Cars 2 on DVD, which I ordered for myself—I don’t know why I did this! My latest thing, though, has been books. So I have like this really like intense wish list of books on Amazon. And if I in any way stray from the path of sobriety and I’m alone with my phone, I will like seek, like sneak order some books for myself. Some of the books I’ve ordered for myself multiple times so I had multiple copies of How Much These Hills Is Gold by Pam Zhang. No particular reason. I wanted to read the book and I ordered it three times. So yeah, no, I should not be in charge of anything that involves pushing buttons. Gideon same question for you.


Gideon Resnick: No, I couldn’t either. I think that at a certain point, if you have had multiple addresses over the course of owning various, you know, shopping accounts on all of the websites that we are plugged into, the other easy mistake to make is just sending the stuff that you want to places where you don’t live anymore. And that, that has happened way more than once. And I’ve had to, you know, like go in and try to divert very quickly and have like an awkward conversation with somebody where this diversion has to happen. And then I just feel really, really stupid. But just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe. You know, order as many books as you feel that you need and be responsible for them. And we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


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


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The Biden administration announced yesterday that it is extending a ban on foreclosures and mortgage forbearance programs through June. On his first day in office, President Biden initially extended the moratorium on foreclosures of federally backed mortgages to March 31st. And Census Bureau data found that nearly 12% of Americans with mortgages were late on their payments at the time. The new extension is aimed at providing relief to over 2.7 million homeowners currently in forbearance, an option for almost 11 million government-backed mortgages across the country. The independent Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—our old friends—also decided to extend their forbearance period and ban on foreclosures. Combined, the two actions covered nearly 70% of single family home mortgages in the country.


Erin Ryan: Cool. What about renters? I’m a millennial. I don’t know anybody who lives like, on the coasts who own their own home.


Gideon Resnick: No.


Erin Ryan: Most of us rent. The NAACP filed a lawsuit against Trump and his lawyer/socialist voting machine consultant Rudy Giuliani yesterday for their connection to the Capitol Hill riot. The suit alleges that Trump and Giuliani, along with extremist groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers— they honestly sound like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle antagonists—violated a 19th century anti-KKK law by misinforming their supporters about the election and inciting violence. The NAACP brought the case on behalf of Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who was in the Capitol on January 6th. He said in an interview yesterday that he wouldn’t be suing if the Senate had voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial last week. Representative Thompson also claims he was put at an increased health risk when he was forced to shelter in place that did not allow for social distancing. Also, there were some germy people in there who didn’t want to put on masks. Two members of Congress in that room later tested positive for COVID-19.


Gideon Resnick: Awful. It’s only fitting that the Lincoln Project should end in a civil war which will pit Cheeto Man-destroying brother against brother. Cheeto Man. I will not say it again. Yesterday, founding member George Conaway tweeted that the Never Trump Republican PAC should be shut down and investigated in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against co-founder John Weaver. At least 21 men have accused Weaver of sending them sexually explicit messages online and in some cases offering professional help in exchange for sex. When those accusations came to light last month, the Lincoln Project project denied any knowledge of them but subsequent reports have alleged that LP founders knew of Weaver’s predation as early as June 2020. Apart from that, and reports of a toxic workplace rife with sexism and homophobic language, the scale of the Lincoln Project grift has recently become much more clear. The PAC raised more than 90 million dollars in its fight to stop Trump, but spent only 27 million on ad buys and sent the majority of its money to groups run by its own founders. At least one 1.4 million dollar house was purchased in Park City, Utah, last year by co-founder Steve Schmidt. You know, sometimes you need a little mountain retreat to come up with new viral ideas for how to call Trump a bad president. It’s necessary. As to account for expenditures, Schmidt said last week “The Lincoln Project will be delighted to open its books for audit immediately after the Trump campaign and all affiliated super PACs do so.” OK. He tricked me. He got me. You know, I forgot now about what he did and that was wrong. Congrats to Steve on knowing how to manipulate my bad brain.


Erin Ryan: What a political genius. From the mind that brought you Sarah Palin as the future of the Republican Party comes that incredible retort. Wow. Wow, Steve. Also Park City: inferior to southern Utah. I’m going to say it. I’m going to put that out there. OK.


Gideon Resnick: Go out on that limb.


Erin Ryan: My three best friends are meeting up again without me. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan will sit down with Oprah Winfrey for an upcoming CBS interview, which is set to air on March 7th. The interview was announced yesterday, just one day after Harry and Meghan told the world they’re expecting their second child. Honestly and truly, I am happy for them. That, that makes me very happy. This will be Harry and Meghan’s first interview since they stepped back from their royal duties last year. And some are reporting that could result in them losing the remaining formal links to the royal family. These are the sacrifices people make to bask in Oprah’s smile. And anyway, others are saying that Harry and Meghan are taking careful steps not to say anything in the interview that will undermine their relationship with the Queen. Again, a made up title. Made up! All of royalty is just a made up thing. It’s so silly. And if they do give up more royal honors, it’ll be just because they live in California instead of England. Meghan won a major privacy victory last week against British weekly The Mail on Sunday, with a judge ruling that the newspaper broke the law by publishing part of a private letter she’d written to her father. I enjoy attention so if the UK media need a new person to obsess over and try to destroy, I do volunteer as tribute. I’m just going to go ahead and say, I do not volunteer of tribute. The UK tabloid media is terrible. I feel like Meghan Markle has lived a life of much more purity and moral goodness than I have, and they would rip me to shreds. Like a pack of wolves. So do not do that, UK media.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I heard that Jon Millstein actually does volunteer as tribute instead. Those are the rumors.


Erin Ryan: Yes. Writer, writer Jon Millstein would like to volunteer as tribute. Everything about his life is up for scrutiny and ridicule.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we just report the news and you decide. But those are the headlines.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, stay possy for Lent and tell your friends listen.


Erin Ryan: And if you are into reading, and not just royal birth announcements like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Erin Ryan.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And keep watch for a socialist voting machine.


Erin Ryan: Isn’t voting itself sort of like a socialist thing? Like everybody shares the power that they give to one person. I don’t know.


Gideon Resnick: That’s deep. That’s deep, and I’m going to have to sit with it for a time.


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 is our assistant producer.


Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.


Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.