Reacting To Biden's First State Of The Union with Jon Favreau | Crooked Media
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March 02, 2022
What A Day
Reacting To Biden's First State Of The Union with Jon Favreau

In This Episode

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued into its sixth day, with explosions shaking the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, and the death toll rising. According to the United Nations, approximately 660,000 people have fled Ukraine already, and this could become “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.”
  • President Biden gave his first State of the Union address last night. In it, he devoted large sections to address Ukraine along with the course of the pandemic, the economy and inflation, a “unity agenda,” and more. Jon Favreau, co-host of Pod Save America and the host of Offline, joins us to discuss his takeaways as someone who used to be in charge of writing State of the Union speeches for former President Barack Obama.
  • And in headlines: Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that four Palestinian families facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah can stay in their homes, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is investigating one of its own employees who has a transgender daughter, and Major League Baseball canceled the first two games of the season.


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Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, March 2nd. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that watched the State of the Union on more simultaneous streams than any other podcast.


Gideon Resnick: That’s right, I had PBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, all going at once, looking like the director of The Truman Show inside of his control room.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I managed to take down the internet for my entire apartment.


Gideon Resnick: Congrats to you. On today’s show, Jon Favreau joins us for his biggest takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union. Plus, the start of Major League Baseball is off because of continuing negotiations between the league and the players union.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, an update on Ukraine as we go to record at 11 p.m. Eastern. Yesterday was the sixth day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and explosions continue to shake Kiev and Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, as the death toll continues to rise. In Kiev, a Russian projectile hit the city’s main radio and television tower on Tuesday, killing five people and taking TV channels off the air. In Kharkiv, there was an explosion at a building in the city’s main square and a rocket attack that destroyed a hospital, killing at least 18 civilians combined and injuring several more. On top of these explosions, there’s also a rather terrifying Russian military convoy that’s heading towards the city of Kiev, according to a senior U.S. defense official. It is a 40-mile stretch of armored attack vehicles and supplies, and satellite imagery shows burning homes and buildings nearby where it’s been passing by.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: This has been raising fears that Russia could surround the capital and cut off its access to resources, or even launch a full-scale attack on Kiev from the ground. So just really terrifying stuff happening.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it really is. And so we are thinking, of course, about people that are in Ukraine. What are they doing as all of this is happening?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, many are fleeing by any means that they can. So there are huge crowds at train stations and at borders, and there are really devastating photographs of people who have become refugees in a matter of days. Here is the voice of Kseniia Putiatina. She will be featured on Pod Save The World and she is a 29-year old refugee from Odessa, Ukraine, who arrived in Istanbul on Monday:


[Kseniia Putiatina] I wasn’t worried for my life or safety in terms of physical safety, I just knew that if things go bad, I wouldn’t be able to exist under that government and exist in that political reality.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: According to the United Nations, approximately 660,000 people have fled Ukraine already, and this could become quote, “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.” These refugees have headed towards Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and more. And it’s been noted that unlike previous wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, these refugees have largely been welcomed by other European countries.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And how are other leaders and diplomats responding to all of this as they’re watching?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky gave CNN an interview where he said this about Russian forces and the kind of resistance that they’re facing from Ukrainians:


[clip of Volodymyr Zelensky] And they do not even understand our state. They do not know these streets. They do not know our people. Do not understand our philosophy, our aspirations, what type of people we are. They don’t know anything here. They were just sent here to fight and to die.


Priyanka Aribindi: Zelensky also accused Russia yesterday of war crimes for targeting civilians, and other countries are taking this incredibly seriously as well. Earlier yesterday, 100 diplomats from countries around the world walked out in protest while Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Council. Companies are also getting involved too. Facebook, YouTube and Tik Tok have banned Russian state media outlets in Europe, and Google said that it won’t allow articles from these outlets to appear in Google news. Companies like Apple have also reportedly stopped sales in Russia. So definitely a big deal around the world.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. And that is the backdrop of the State of the Union. So President Biden, of course, devoted large sections of his first address to Ukraine, saying, among other things, that Russian President Vladimir Putin had underestimated the response that he would get from the U.S. and allied nations.


[clip of President Biden] Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he can make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll in to Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and in a reflection of just the sheer amount of crises that Biden has faced in his term so far, he also addressed the course of the pandemic, the economy, inflation, a quote unquote, “unity agenda” and a lot more.


Priyanka Aribindi: A lot of ground that he covered in there.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, we were going and a lot of different speeds as well. And with us today to walk through it as a person who used to be responsible for writing said State of the Union speeches, Jon Favreau. He is a co-host of Pod Save America, but also the host of Offline. That show has a new season starting this coming Sunday. Jon, welcome back to WAD.


Jon Favreau: Thanks for having me, guys.


Priyanka Aribindi: We have a bunch of questions for you. My first: you’ve worked on a bunch of these, I know there’s a lot of prep involved. Biden, definitely late in the game, had to retool his speech in order to incorporate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, all of the current events, a lot of things happening very quickly before this. What did you take away about how he framed all of that, especially like right up top at the beginning?


Jon Favreau: We used to say about speeches like this, he had a lot of business to get done in this speech, and his chief speechwriter, Vinay Reddy, who’s a friend of mine, texted me like two days ago and was like, Yeah, just got out of a meeting with Biden. Have to rewrite like 75% of the speech because of the Ukraine thing. And so what they did is obviously he put the Ukraine section at the top. It was pretty lengthy, but I think the proper length for something as critical as that issue. He had to talk about what has happened so far. He had to talk about why the United States got involved and what the United States is doing. And then he, I think he also had to temper expectations about what’s to come, because as much as you know, it was important to talk about how strong and resilient and courageous the Ukrainian people are, you know, as he pointed out, there’s some pretty hard days to come because as we know that Putin’s, you know, his only used, you know, a small portion of the military force that they have so far. So things are currently getting much uglier. And then he had to wrap it all in the larger struggle between democracy and autocracy around the world, which is a theme that he has talked about in the campaign that he talked about in the White House as well. So lots to get done in one opening section. But, you know, I think he hit all the points.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And beyond the broader stuff too, it’s kind of interesting, he did talk about some new policies, one regarding Russia, including the banning of American airspace for Russian flights. So I’m curious like, is your sense that the American public is sort of just starting to hear some of this stuff about like what the administration is doing? And if so, like how do we think that they are interpreting the administration’s actions so far in all of this?


Jon Favreau: So we talked about this on Pod Save America the other day because there was some new polling out this week, early this week and I think like 70% of the American people are paying attention to this, which is a lot for an issue like this. 30 or 40% paying attention very closely. People overwhelmingly support Ukraine and don’t support Russia, even Republican voters despite what we see on right-wing media. People are supportive of Biden’s actions on sanctions. People are supportive of the decision not to send troops in. And yet, when you ask people how Biden is handling the issue, I think something like only 35% support how he’s handling the issue, 48% were opposed.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Jon Favreau: So they support the steps he’s been taking, but they still are saying he’s not handling it well. So I think part of what he had to do tonight is identify himself with those steps.


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. He also took quite a bit about targeting inflation. What did you make about everything he was saying during that part?


Jon Favreau: I thought his section on inflation was one of the strongest sections just in terms of how it probably landed with the American people. And we got some hint of this because the folks at Navigator Research was doing dial tests during the State of the Union, and the inflation section scored very high with independent voters, liberal-leaning swing voters, more conservative voters. And what he did is he sort of reframed his economic agenda in terms of bringing down inflation and basically helping people deal with rising costs, right? Because the average American family, do they think about it in terms of inflation and prices or whatever, or do they just think I’m paying a lot for stuff, whether it’s gas, groceries, education, insulin, prescription drugs? He definitely ticked through a list of policies that are all about sort of lowering costs for people. He even reframed his climate agenda in terms of lowering costs. He talked about how he wants to cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combating climate change. I think he picked out the policies from Build Back Better that he believes Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema would support, and then he made sure to include the policies that were most popular with people. He also talked about his tax plan, which is very popular. He said nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in new taxes, that most people think the tax system is unfair, that wealthiest people and corporations should pay their fair share, and then, of course, we should use that money to do things like cut energy costs for people, cut prescription drugs costs for people, cap insulin out-of-pocket costs, lower health care premiums, etc. So I thought that was a pretty strong section, it was very economically populist, and I know that it tested really well with folks.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s super interesting, too, because like again, I guess I’m going to ask the same question of are these presentations more for like the Sinemas and the Manchins in the audience or like the American people in the audience, or maybe both, in terms of like specifically this sort of breaking apart of Build Back Better? Does that strike you more as like, OK, this is like legislatively how I might get you stubborn, for lack of a better word, SOBs as Biden might cause some people to agree with this. Or is that more for like, Hey, this is what the economic future can look like for everybody in America if we pass these things?


Jon Favreau: I think the primary audience was definitely the people at home. You want to make sure that you don’t piss off Manchin and Sinema. Like, you don’t want to say anything that’s going to cause them to oppose the agenda. I think what you want to show them through this speech is, Hey, I just talked about a bunch of policies. Look at the polling on this, look at the dial groups, look how unbelievably popular these policies are, and you want to tell people at home—most of whom had no fucking idea what’s in Build Back Better, because it was, by necessity, a bill that included Joe Biden’s entire economic agenda outside of the infrastructure plan, and because the press covered it as just Build Back Better or his social policy agenda or whatever the fuck they said it was—just a lot of people didn’t know what was in it. So now he has an audience of tens of millions of people who are just listening to him speak and now is his chance to say, OK, here are like the top five policies, or whatever it was, in this legislation—notice he didn’t say Build Back Better, he just said my plan, which probably should’ve said from the start of this whole thing—and if people know that and they have a greater awareness of that and those are popular, then maybe Manchin and Sinema who basically support most of the policies that he mentioned would say, OK, well, I’m willing to go there now. And remember, one of Joe Manchin’s reasons for not supporting this is that he is worried about inflation, which is also, I’m sure why Biden reframed the whole agenda as an agenda to fight inflation and to lower costs for people.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I mean, he had a lot of ground to cover in the speech, and he did, but he had once again to do the really difficult job of talking about where we are in this pandemic. Notably, everybody in the room wasn’t wearing masks. I know that was sort of a recent decision. And the administration has struggled at times in the past year or so about communicating with the public on COVID and where we are. Do you think he adequately described this moment and where we are at?


Jon Favreau: I think he did. There was part of me when I listened to him do the pandemic section, wishing that he had given a speech like this earlier. Part of the reason I think he didn’t is he pledged to follow the science, and the CDC was a little behind on some of this stuff because the science wasn’t there yet, because cases weren’t down as fast as they needed to be until very recently, maybe this week. So I think the timing was good for this. I think he said, you know, the pandemic doesn’t need to control our lives anymore. It’s still going to be with us. We’re still going to fight this disease as hard as we can, and here’s my agenda to do so. But it really sort of marked a turning point in the pandemic that I don’t think was just a rhetorical or political decision. And he you talked about vaccinating the rest of the world to make sure that another variant doesn’t pop up like it has in the past.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I want to sort of close on something I said a little bit more like Galaxy Brain here, but what purpose in your mind of these addresses typically serve and did this meet that purpose? And as we sort of think through this, obviously, you know, moments after it happened, was there anything major that was missing?


Jon Favreau: I honestly don’t know what purpose they serve at this point. Look, speaking for an hour to people on television in our Lord’s year of 2022 is the most antiquated style of communicating that I could imagine. And yet it’s our tradition. In the Constitution. It says that you’ve got to deliver a State of the Union, so you go do it. So you have this captive audience of 20 million people who on most days do not consume as much political news, particularly news about what the administration is doing, as we do, because we’re all news junkies. So what am I going to tell them in this hour? Well, there is a lot on our plate, right? You got to explain what’s happening in Ukraine with Russia. You’ve got to talk about your economic agenda because that’s the top concern. You know, inflation and the economy is the top concern among voters. You’ve got to talk about the pandemic, because obviously, that’s a huge concern, too. And then, oh, by the way, now that you have those three big pieces of business done that are probably the top concerns of all voters, you’ve got to talk about everything else that you’re doing and that people care about. Which you’d notice, once he finished the section on inflation, he’s are really picking up steam and just sort of like including everything else on the agenda. And you know, there’s a lot of people were like, Well, he didn’t talk long enough about this or that or this issue, and they’re all right. He didn’t. But at some point, you know, he also kept it around an hour, which is usually the limit. He got a lot done within an hour, and you have to think to yourself, what should he have cut in that speech? And I don’t know that there’s much he could have cut.


Priyanka Aribindi: Jon Favreau is a co-host of Pod Save of America, but also the host of Offline Crooked’s interview show about how our lives online shape everything from politics to culture and more. The new season is out this Sunday. If you haven’t already subscribed, head over to your podcasts app right now and hit Subscribe. Thank you so much, Jon, for being here.


Jon Favreau: Thanks for having me, guys. This was fun.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, thank you and more on all of that very soon. But that is the latest we have for now. We are going to be back right after some ads.


[ad break]


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


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: After a decades-long legal battle, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that four Palestinian families facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah can stay in their homes. The ruling is a huge victory for Palestinian activists and these families, and could potentially ease tensions in the east Jerusalem neighborhood. Jewish settler organizations sued Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah in 1972, alleging that the land originally belonged to Jewish people. But Palestinian activists have argued that the eviction threats are a part of a larger effort to further displace Palestinians from the area and to expand Israel’s control over the region. The ruling states that the four families can remain in their homes until the dispute over who owns the property is resolved. Legal experts say that such a process could take years if it happens at all, and that the ruling could set a precedent for dozens of other Palestinian families facing eviction in the area.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, obviously really complicated. But this has been a long fight, and I’m glad that they’re able to stay in their homes. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has begun investigating one of its own employees who has a transgender daughter, for potential child abuse.


Gideon Resnick: Dear God.


Priyanka Aribindi: This comes just one week after Governor Greg Abbott ordered state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for trans kids as child abuse, and encouraged the public to report the families of trans youth to state authorities if their children appear to be receiving such care. The department put the employee on leave the day after Abbott’s letter was released, and asked her to hand over her daughter’s medical records, to which she refused. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, filed a lawsuit yesterday to block the request on behalf of the employee and challenge the legitimacy of the investigation. Adri Perez of the ACLU of Texas said in a statement yesterday quote, “No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child.”


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that should be obvious.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yep.


Gideon Resnick: Major League Baseball announced yesterday that it is canceling the first two games of the 2022 season, which were scheduled for March 31st. That is, after it failed to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union. So players have been locked out of the league since the beginning of last December, as they tried to advocate for things like a minimum compensation for players. The lockout was imposed by the league in the midst of these negotiations in attempts to speed up the process and to prevent the start of the season from being delayed. Well, that clearly did not work, and the league now says that players will not be paid for any games that it has canceled. The Players Association executive director Tony Clark called yesterday a quote, “sad day.” This is the first time in 27 years that Major League Baseball games have been canceled due to a work stoppage.


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. Well, you know, I’m glad they’re in a union and glad that they can bargain collectively for what they deserve. The cargo ship many are calling the Ever Given with a trust fund, The Felicity Ace sank yesterday off the coast of the Azores in Portugal. It was filled with 4,000 German luxury cars, including Porsches, Bentleys and Lamborghinis, which went up in flames nearly two weeks ago and have been the subject of a rescue mission ever since. Wow. I feel like these cars might be treated better than some humans in our world—


Gideon Resnick: Definitely.


Priyanka Aribindi: —but that is the point for another day. All told, the cars on board are said to be worth about $400 million, making this a huge come up for some car-obsessed fish with a taste for elegance and class. The ship was being towed towards land when it sunk, sending its cargo on a detour on the highway to the bottom of the sea. The cause of the fire is unknown, but experts have pointed to the batteries in the electric cars that were on board, and if they didn’t start the fire, those batteries definitely could have made it burn more intensely than it would have with non-electric vehicles. Yikes.


Gideon Resnick: We are sitting on unbelievable IP if Finding Nemo meets Fast and Furious. We have an entire franchise here.


Priyanka Aribindi: Little Mermaid in the Lamborghini. I can see it all.


Gideon Resnick: Yes.


Priyanka Aribindi: Sorry to whoever lost your car, but like, come on. This is literal treasure under the sea. It’s amazing.


Gideon Resnick: We will not consider the environmental impacts either of throwing expensive trash.


Priyanka Aribindi: No, no. That doesn’t factor into this. It’s a cartoon.


Gideon Resnick: Those are the headlines.


Priyanka Aribindi: One more thing before we go: Texas’s is primary was just the first of the midterms. In the coming months, we’re going to help you navigate how to vote despite Republican efforts to make it harder, progressive candidates to keep an eye on, and so much more. If you have questions, I want to know. Please tweet me, DM me, wherever you can find me. I want to know what you want to know, and I will get your questions answered. We’ll be doing our best to get them answered on the show so you can feel confident when you cast your ballot. Tweet me at priaribi. That is my Twitter. I’ll be looking out for your questions.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you can send your questions to me by mail and my pigeon will collect them accordingly. That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, be careful when you park your luxury car on a boat, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just road signs on the highway to the bottom of the like 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 State of the Union re-watch party tonight!


Gideon Resnick: I will be using even more streaming services: Roku, neighbor’s Roku, Apple TV. Watch out. They’re all on.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah guys, I couldn’t get enough of it this time I need I need more.


Gideon Resnick: Every night for the rest of my life. State of the Union re-watch. 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, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.