The Real House Speaker of D.C. | Crooked Media
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October 25, 2023
What A Day
The Real House Speaker of D.C.

In This Episode

  • Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana is the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, ending a 22-days of GOP in-fighting since Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster. While he managed to earn the support of both “moderate” and far-right Republicans, Johnson has a history of voting against abortion access and LGBTQ rights.
  • The war between Israel and Hamas rages on, and people living on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border are on edge over skirmishes between the IDF and the militant group Hezbollah. We check in with Washington Post correspondent Sarah Dadouch from Beirut about fears that the conflict could spill over.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, October 26th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What a Day. 


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, Donald Trump was hit with another fine for violating the gag order in his civil fraud trial. Plus, a new survey has found that nearly one in four Americans support political violence. 


Juanita Tolliver: I know exactly who we’re side eyeing and placing a lot of the blame on right now. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yup, it’s not good. 


Juanita Tolliver: But first, after 22 days of chaos since giving Kevin McCarthy the boot, Republicans unanimously elected Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson, Speaker of the House. And the final vote was 220 to 209. Now, while a lot of folks are saying how nice of a guy Johnson is, his voting record and legislative agenda say otherwise. Here’s how Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries described him during a conversation with MSNBC host Ari Melber. 


[clip of Hakeem Jeffries] Well, Mike Johnson has a very pleasant demeanor, but his voting record is as extreme as the most extreme members of their conference. Someone who like Kevin McCarthy, like Steve Scalise, like Jim Jordan, voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Track record of trying to undermine Social Security and Medicare, probably more so than almost any other member of the House Republican Conference wants to criminalize abortion care and impose a nationwide ban. 


Juanita Tolliver: Like not a single lie detected. And on top of what Representative Jeffries mentioned. Speaker Johnson has also supported the criminalization of same sex relationships. He co-sponsored a bill to criminalize gender affirming care for people 18 years old and under. And when it comes to abortion, Johnson once argued that abortion access prevents women from giving birth to, quote, “able bodied workers.” This man is truly sickening. And now he’s running the house and he’s the third most powerful person in our government. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Great. I mean, like, what is there to say to all of this? I feel like the Trump era is the gift that really keeps on giving, is just that the uh absolute worst, least qualified, most disgusting, despicable human beings are elevated to positions of power that they have no business being anywhere near, not even with a ten foot pole. 


Juanita Tolliver: And the fact that the entire Republican conference backed him up on it. So–


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Juanita Tolliver: –don’t tell me y’all aren’t extremist when that’s what it is. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right? So what did it take, speaking of all that, for Mike Johnson to get this unanimous vote from these House Republicans? 


Juanita Tolliver: Well, in addition to Johnson’s extremist bona fides, the top two factors in my mind are the general fatigue and shame that Republicans were feeling and the fact that Donald Trump signed off on Representative Johnson. After the uno reverse on Representative Emmer, Republicans were exasperated with each other and honestly, they were just over it. So they turned to Johnson, who fulfills the extremist MAGA Republican checklist that Marjorie Taylor Greene was looking for. But unlike failed speaker candidate Representative Jim Jordan, Johnson doesn’t have as many haters within the Republican conference because he advances his hateful, anti-abortion, anti LGBTQ anti-democracy agenda with a smile. That plus Trump’s support, which was likely rooted in Johnson’s efforts to overturn the 2020 elections, is what put him over the edge here. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So how is the White House reacting to this newly minted Speaker Johnson? 


Juanita Tolliver: President Biden called the speaker after the vote and expressed his interest in working together and, you know, finding common ground. The president also released a statement calling on Congress to move swiftly on pressing issues, including funding the government, which Johnson actually voted against a few weeks ago. Conversely, Biden’s 2024 presidential campaign actually went in. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Thank you. 


Juanita Tolliver: I know, right? The campaign declared that the election of Johnson as speaker quote, “cements the extreme MAGA takeover of the House Republican Conference.” A campaign spokesperson added that Johnson would seek, quote, “to ban abortion nationwide, lead efforts to deny free and fair election results. Gut Social Security and Medicare.” And there is the 2024 messaging, and it does look identical to the 2022 midterms messaging where Democrats saw history defying outcomes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I mean, I can’t say I’m mad from that perspective, but I do think that, you know, this being the party platform of one of the two major parties of our country is– 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –really not good for anyone who cares about our country. So are we in the clear now that we have House Speaker Johnson? Are we in the clear in the House now? Can we stop talking about this for a minute? 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean, not quite. So you remember that rule where a single person can trigger a motion to vacate? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, yes, I do. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, that’s still in place for now at least. Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw has said that he plans to propose a rules change on that, to raise the threshold from one member to 25 members and to ensure that the chair is not vacated until a new speaker is elected. So let’s not get comfortable just yet. You know, like that rule is still on the books. So until that changes, I wouldn’t lighten up at all. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Sure, that makes sense. Thank you so much for walking us through all of this chaos of the past 22 days. You are a hero for that. We really appreciate it. Now, we will switch back to the latest from the war between Israel and Hamas. Concerns about the ability to deliver aid and warnings over the deteriorating situation in Gaza continue to come. Yesterday, the World Health Organization said that 12 out of the 35 hospitals in Gaza are no longer functioning. And the U.N. warned that it is on the verge of running out of fuel in the Gaza Strip, which would force aid workers to slow down their relief efforts. As of the time of our recording, only eight aid trucks were able to cross into Gaza from Egypt rather than the 20 that had been originally scheduled. Israel was still inspecting the other 12. The Hamas controlled health ministry in Gaza has raised the death toll to more than 6500 people in Gaza. Those figures, as we’ve noted, are not possible to independently verify at this time. President Biden expressed that he was not confident in those figures, but many experts do actually consider figures that the health ministry provides to be accurate based on the accuracy of the information that they have provided in the past. So a little divide there, not able to independently verify at this time, but it remains very clear that the situation is dire and people need help. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. And speaking of President Biden, what is the administration calling for at this time? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So the Biden administration has been vocal about wanting more aid to reach the civilians of Gaza. They are now pushing for a humanitarian pause in Israel’s military action in order to get that aid into Gaza and to get civilians who want to leave out of Gaza. That is a definite shift in message from where they have been in, you know, days and weeks past. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Though President Biden throughout all of this has repeatedly affirmed that the U.S. recognizes and will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Israel has agreed to delay its ground invasion at the request of the U.S. so that the Pentagon will have time to position air defenses in the region to protect U.S. troops. That is according to this one report, hasn’t been verified by other outlets at this time. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu did say yesterday that the Israeli military was still preparing for a ground invasion in Gaza, but he refused to provide any further details on timing. Speaking at the White House earlier, Biden reaffirmed support for Israel and also added that he was alarmed by Israeli settlers who are attacking Palestinians in the West Bank. That is something we have seen happening more frequently in recent weeks. He said that they were pouring gasoline on the fire. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, speaking of that, we have mentioned the potential for this war to spread within the region. It’s a concern of many of these groups and leaders. Do we have any new information on that front? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So yesterday, the leader of Hezbollah, which is a militant group based in Lebanon, met in Beirut with senior leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is another militant group in Gaza. Afterwards, they released a statement saying that their shared goal is to achieve a, quote, “real victory for resistance in Gaza and Palestine and to stop Israel’s aggression against the people in Gaza and in the West Bank.” We spoke earlier about the situation in Lebanon with Sarah Dadouch. She is a middle East correspondent with The Washington Post who has been covering the broader conflict from Beirut. We started by asking her how people in Lebanon are feeling as the border clashes continue to flare up between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops. 


Sarah Dadouch: There is a lot of fear in Lebanon right now. The Lebanese are very used to this idea that Israel and Lebanon will go to war at some point. It’s been present in their minds ever since 2006, every summer the joke goes, the Lebanese say there’s going to be war when the when the weather is at its best. 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. 


Sarah Dadouch: But there still seems to be this kind of astonished sense that this time it’s actually happening. There’s panic everywhere. The streets are completely empty, the shops are empty. A lot of them are closing early out of fear that something’s going to happen because of the evacuation in the south. You know, there’s a lot of places that have been completely filled up. Rent has tripled in some areas, especially north of Beirut, in Christian dominated areas, because those areas are less likely to be hit. This assumption is based off of the blueprints of where Israel bombed in 2006. There has been about 30% of an increase of people leaving and about 30% of a decrease of people coming in. Middle East Airlines, the flagship carrier for Lebanon, has brought down its number of flights from 22 to 8, and it’s parked a bunch of their aircrafts in Turkey uh for for insurance reasons. So it’s a very tense situation here. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I said wow a couple of times as you were speaking just then, because of the economic premium placed on safety right now, you mentioned the planes in Turkey because of insurance purposes. You mentioned rent being increased three times in Christian parts of the country. Like, that’s sickening to hear that still, there’s this mentality of different ways of profiting off of people’s fear. 


Sarah Dadouch: The worrying part about this also is that on top of the fact that, you know, just like any other war, people will profit from this, Lebanon is not doing well. It’s been in a massive economic meltdown since 2019 when protesters took to the streets to kind of call for the end of this corrupt um system that’s been in place. But no one is doing well economically. In 2006, when people were leaving in droves and when Lebanon, like a lot of other Middle Eastern countries, is very community based. So if you were in the South, you had people usually along the coast or somewhere else in Lebanon and you could go stay with them. There is no guarantee for that this time. Well you know, I went to the south and spoke to some people who have been displaced to schools. And there was one father whose wife had left him right after she had their two month daughter. And so it was just him and her and he had some married daughters elsewhere. And I said, well, can’t you go stay with them? And he said, it’s such a hard time on everyone. They told me to come, I just they’re living in one room and a lot of, you know, the people who are who come from poorer backgrounds or he’s an electrician in the South, you know, he doesn’t have houses somewhere else. He can only rely so much on his family. He luckily, the second he saw stuff in Gaza pop off, he packed all of his seven bags and packed them on his motorcycle with diapers and milk and everything that his daughter needs and a thermometer and medicine. 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. 


Sarah Dadouch: He had it all lined up in the school and he kept talking about going north because he doesn’t even trust that this school won’t get bombed. So we’re talking a very different economic situation for the Lebanese themselves. And the difference also between the last conflict and this one is that in 2006, there were large numbers of people who were able to drive into Syria and Syria as a at the time functioning country was able to take in these numbers. So Syria can’t do that anymore, that Syria is in no condition to take in anyone. It’s told the foreign minister that the road is clear, he told me yesterday, but–


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Sarah Dadouch: They are not really able to provide anything really more than a than a route to people who can then maybe cross into Jordan. So that’s also a big calculation for Lebanon is the government and the people cannot handle a war. 


Juanita Tolliver: And speaking of the government, one frame that has been prevalent in the media is that Hezbollah is the entity essentially dragging Lebanon into this conflict and that the Lebanese government has no real say in the cross-border clashes that are occurring. Is that an accurate portrayal of the power dynamic on the ground? And if so, how is the Lebanese government responding in this moment? 


Sarah Dadouch: Right now, Hezbollah and its allies control the largest number of seats in parliament. There were elections last year and they had the majority in parliament before they lost that majority, but they still have the largest number of seats. So we have you know ministers who are pro Hezbollah and we have ministers who aren’t who are from the other side. So we’re getting a very mixed bag basically from the government. But the government itself has said the Minister of Information has come out and said the official Lebanon does not want a war. But we are very aware of things that are happening at the border. The foreign minister was saying we have been asked to restrain Hezbollah by the Americans and by the French and by other Western countries, and our messaging back to them is just like, you can’t restrain Israel, we can’t restrain Hezbollah. 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. 


Sarah Dadouch: Within Lebanon. And they’ve said instead of trying to place pressure on us to pass on that pressure to Hezbollah to not engage with Israel, you need to pass on the pressure in the other side to Israel and make sure that they impose a cease fire and make sure that they don’t do a ground invasion [?] because that’s what’s going to probably provoke Hezbollah to carry on into Israel or strike Israel or engage with Israel in the south. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So if this situation with Hezbollah escalates, is it possible to say, you know, how it would be different from the group’s previous clashes with Israel up until this point? 


Sarah Dadouch: I think this escalation is very different in that it’s not a Hezbollah Israel war. If Hezbollah properly enters the fight because it already has entered, we’re not going to just be seeing that from Hezbollah. We’re going to be seeing that probably from [?] Hezbollah, which is another group that is not affiliated, not not related to Hezbollah. It’s just has the same a similar name. We’re going to see that in Syria, where a lot of Palestinian factions are based. We’re going to see a reaction from Iran most likely. The Houthis in Yemen have already said that they’re going to attack, and I think they already have claimed a strike. One big difference is that this won’t be an isolated fight for the group. They also know that in 2006 there was massive support for Hezbollah. This is not as guaranteed now in locally in Lebanon because of the really dire economic conditions. But militarily, Hezbollah has been prepping for this for a very long time. They have not kept this a secret. They’ve said [?], the the leader of the of the group has repeatedly said that we have all of our, you know, weapons and arms in place. Hezbollah is very patient. It thinks very long term. It’s been prepping for this. So it’s ready for the long haul. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Is there anything, just as we wrap up our conversation that we haven’t touched on that you think might be valuable for people to understand as we continue to watch this conflict unfold? 


Sarah Dadouch: It’s important to remember we have been, unfortunately, desensitized to photos and images and stories of of Palestinian children being killed. And what happened to Israeli civilians was a tragedy. What is continuing to happen on a daily basis in Gaza is also a very, very big tragedy. And this is not something that’s recent. This is one of the biggest spates of such kind of attack. But this is not an isolated event. What happened in Israel was one of the worst things that has happened to Israel since you know 1948. But what’s happening in Gaza has been happening for a very long time. It was already under a blockade and now it’s under a full blockade. It wasn’t doing well to begin with. And a big, big, big percentage of the ones being killed are children. So I think that distinction between Palestinian and Israeli lives is something that we need to reconsider and think about. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was our conversation with Sarah Dadouch from The Washington Post. We’ll be sure to bring you more updates as this conflict continues to unfold. But that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break] 




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: If you are dealing with any drama in your personal life right now, consider this. At least you are not hanging around one Donald J. Trump.


Juanita Tolliver: Wow, the bar is really low for that. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: The bar is so low, the bar is has never been lower. The former president was slapped with a $10,000 fine yesterday for violating a gag order in his civil fraud trial in New York. We have mentioned before that the judge in this case imposed the order to stop him from going after court staffers, in particular, one of Judge Arthur Engoron’s clerks who Trump essentially doxxed on social media earlier this month. It all went down yesterday after Trump was abruptly called up to the stand to explain these comments that he made to reporters. 


[clip of Donald Trump] This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who is very partisan sitting alongside and perhaps even much more partisan than he is so uh we are doing very well, the facts are speaking very loud. He’s a terribly discredited witness. And we haven’t seen anything yet. This goes on for a long time, he’s a totally discredited witness. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. What a terrible situation to be this man’s lawyer to know that he will say whatever the fuck he wants. He has no regard for your legal advice. 


Juanita Tolliver: 100%. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Whether or not it’s good. Trump was in the hot seat for about 3 minutes and claimed he was talking about his former fixer, Michael Cohen. What a blast from the past. Who actually took the stand against him earlier that day. Judge Engoron of course, did not buy it. Shortly after that, Trump’s defense team asked to dismiss the case entirely when Judge Engoron shot that down, Trump reportedly stood up and stormed out of the courtroom. Without any warning or notice. 


Juanita Tolliver: I’m sure his fists were balled as he pounded his feet against the floor like a toddler. What a weirdo. Like–


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. 


Juanita Tolliver: Does not accept any accountability and so doesn’t know how to behave when he receives it. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s toddler behavior. It is wild. This is the second time that Trump has been fined for running his mouth in his civil fraud trial. He now has 30 days to pay up. Will he do it? Place your bets. 


Juanita Tolliver: All communications in Acapulco, Mexico, were knocked out after Hurricane Otis slammed into the resort city early yesterday morning. Otis initially crept up as a tropical storm, but quickly strengthened to a Category five hurricane just hours before it made landfall. Forecasters called the storm a, quote unquote, “nightmare scenario” as it was unfolding and at one point clocked in sustained winds of 165 miles per hour. The ferocious storm also dumped sheets of rain on the region, triggering landslides and flooding roads. As of our record time Wednesday evening, there were no immediate reports of any fatalities. But Mexican authorities say communications with emergency responders are also down. It’s unusual for a storm to intensify so quickly. Scientists have warned that as human driven climate change accelerates, such fast moving and unpredictable storms are becoming more common. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The United Auto Workers Union said last night that it has reached a tentative deal with Ford. Many of the details of the agreement weren’t released by the time we sat down to record this show, but there are reports that it would include pay increases for workers of up to 25% over the course of the four and a half year contract. The deal will first need to be ratified by the 57,000 UAW members at Ford before it goes into effect. In the meantime, it definitely puts pressure on GM and Stellantis to come to an agreement with the union as well. UAW members went on strike against the big three automakers six weeks ago and have since walked off the job at assembly plants in multiple states. This is a really exciting development for these striking workers who have– 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes it is. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –really been in solidarity, walking off the job, doing their part to get what they deserve. And now Stellantis and GM. Let’s make it happen. Let’s bring this home, please. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. You literally have the blueprint from Ford. Step up. Let’s lock it up. And finally, a new survey has found that more Americans support political violence because they believe it’s justified. The report released by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that nearly a quarter of Americans agree with the following statement, quote, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” That sounds ridiculous and crazy. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: That number is up from 15% who agreed with that sentiment in 2021. What’s more, a third of Republicans surveyed said they support resorting to violence to, quote, “save the country,” compared to 22% of independents and just 13% of Democrats. And digging further into those numbers, the survey also found that Republicans who support former President Donald Trump are nearly three times as likely to support political violence than Republicans who don’t like him. Look, we saw January 6th. I feel like this is yet another opportunity to confirm what we already know. Thank you for this data and be wary of anybody who calls himself a patriot. Yikes!


Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously. 


Juanita Tolliver: But there were some areas where most Americans see eye to eye. Three quarters of survey respondents agreed that the future of democracy is at risk ahead of next year’s presidential election. There’s a lot more to unpack from the survey, including an increase in support for conspiracy theories. So– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Guys. 


Juanita Tolliver: We’ll link to it in our show notes if you want to learn more. And when we say we’re worried about the general public and the electorate and how that relates to our democracy, this is what we’re talking about. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. It’s scary. It’s sad, and it plays out in how our society has become more extreme, more divided, and as we’re seeing here, with increasing tendencies toward violence.


Juanita Tolliver:  Yeah. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi. [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martínez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break]