Jul 30, 2021 - Podcasts

Suni Lee wins the gold

Yesterday in Tokyo, gymnast Sunisa Lee became the sixth U.S. woman to win an Olympic all-around gold. She’s the first Hmong American to not only win but compete at the Olympics.

  • Plus, how climate fares in the infrastructure deal.
  • And, U.S. GDP growth falls short of expectations.

Guests: Kare 11 News anchor Gia Wang, Axios' Ben Geman and Courtenay Brown.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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HOPE KING: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, July 30th.

I’m Hope King, Axios business reporter, filling in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: how climate fares in the infrastructure deal. Plus, U.S. G.D.P. growth falls short of expectations.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: what gymnast Suni Lee’s gold means to the Hmong community in America.

HOPE: Yesterday in Tokyo, gymnast Sunisa Lee became the sixth U.S. woman to win an Olympic all-around gold. She’s the first Hmong American to not only win but compete at the Olympics.

As she competed, her family watched alongside the rest of the Hmong community in St. Paul. Gia Vang, an anchor for KARE11 in Minneapolis was there with the family. She joins us now.

Good morning, Gia!

GIA VANG: Good morning, Hope. Thanks for having me.

HOPE: We're really happy to have you. You have been with the Lee family. You've been watching them, watch her compete from the other side of the world. What's it been like to be in there?

GIA: Pretty special. I'm Hmong myself so this hits a lot of different ways for me, but it has been joyful to see a Hmong American on the world stage in that way. The moments leading up to it was tense. Mom had her hand over her face. She was holding other people's hands. The moment that they announced that Suni got the golf, it was just a moment of relief and celebration and history, really for the Hmong community. And then for everyone else, who's been supporting Suni through this journey.

HOPE: Well, her trajectory has been one filled with some painful moments in her life. I'm wondering if you can share with us any of those personal moments that you saw, especially from her father.

GIA: Yeah, so John Lee, when he talks about her, I feel like there's almost like a sparkle because she is so special. The one thing also, I think people should know about Sunisa’s family is, they're not a wealthy family. They couldn't afford for uniforms. And so they started doing annual fundraisers and those fundraisers are really for people that John knew, his cousins, his brothers, relatives, and then any friends that they told. What I think that speaks to the communal nature of the Hmong community. And I think that's why the gold medal win was so, so huge for her and the rest of the community watching.

HOPE: Can you say a little bit more about the significance of that just within the Asian American community?

GIA: Yeah, I think that Suni has talked a little bit about it. She's 18 years old and she said, in different interviews, you know, “People just don't like us and I don't know why.” And, you know, it speaks to us being the other when it comes to Asian Americans. We look like them so they kind of just group us in there, but there's nuances within the Asian umbrella that we don't talk about, the poverty, levels of disparities that have to do with some of the ethnicities in the Asian umbrella. Suni has talked about, “I want to show people who we are,” and I think this has shown a lot of people who we are as a people and how we got here. And we've only been here as John, her dad would say, 40 plus years and in his lifetime, he never thought he would see a Hmong Olympian, but yet it is his daughter. So we're just all really proud.

HOPE: Gia Vang is an anchor for KARE 11 in Minneapolis. Gia, thanks for being here.

GIA: Thank you.

HOPE: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with climate and the infrastructure bill.

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HOPE: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Hope King filling in for Niala Boodhoo. This week, the infrastructure bill cleared its first hurdle heading toward debate in the Senate. Many Democrats are calling this a good start for Biden's environmental agenda, but as with all things politics and climate, it's complicated. Axios’ energy reporter Ben Gaiman is here with more. Good morning, Ben.

BEN GEMAN: Good morning. How are you?

HOPE: Great. Ben, what are the biggest differences in this version versus the one that president Biden proposed back in the spring?

BEN: Well, this bill could be considered something of a down payment on the climate and clean energy measures that the White House has been seeking. Of course one big thing we're all waiting for is the text of the legislation itself. We need to see the details, the actual bill language. Based on the outlines that have been in circulation, it does have some very significant provisions on clean energy and climate change, but that said they are not anywhere near on the scale of what the White House has said it wants to see in a big infrastructure and climate and energy package. And that's why you're seeing Democrats and activists hoping to see this subsequent party line effort through the budget reconciliation process to include a lot of the things that the White House is seeking, but that are not part of the bipartisan plan.

HOPE: Would you say that this bipartisan plan is much less or much more aggressive than the provisions pitched back in March?

BEN: It's much less aggressive than those. The White House proposal back in March included $174 billion to go toward a range of vehicle electrification efforts, including electric vehicle charging deployment. Now the outline of the bipartisan legislation, we know has $7.5 billion to help build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure. But there's a lot more on the electric vehicle front that Democrats and the White House are hoping to see in the separate budget reconciliation package, including very large consumer incentives to purchase electric vehicles.

HOPE: That's a huge deduction. I mean, it's just a fraction of what was initially proposed, so what happened?

BEN: Yeah, that's right. I mean, I think basically what happened is that you were never going to have Republicans sign on to a multi-trillion dollar piece of legislation along the lines of what the White House has said it wants.

HOPE: Ben Geman is Axios’ energy reporter and he co-writes Axios Generate. Ben, thanks so much.

BEN: Thanks for having me.

HOPE: U.S. GDP grew 6.5% last quarter, less than experts expected, but the number was still good. Axios’ Courtenay Brown is here to explain. Hey Courtenay.


HOPE: I know you're saying the number is good, but what is still holding growth?

COURTENAY: Well, stop me if you've heard this before, but it's shortages. Inventories, the amount of stuff that businesses have available to sell contracted and it's telling us in number form what we've been hearing anecdotally from businesses across the country. They can't get the stuff they need to stock their shelves. Another thing that held back growth was housing. What matters for economic growth is not necessarily home sales, it's construction. And we've reported on and talked about for weeks now - It's difficult for home builders to get the materials that they need to move forward with housing. And if they can get it, it's extremely expensive.

HOPE: In context of all the other measurements, where's the economy now versus pre-pandemic?

COURTENAY: Well, last quarter actually marked a pretty important milestone. The economy is officially bigger than it was before the pandemic hit. So in other words, the economy has fully rebounded from its pandemic plunge, but it's still short of where economists say it would have been had the pandemic not happened at all.

HOPE: Courtenay Brown is markets reporter at Axios. Thank you.

COURTENAY: Thanks, Hope.

HOPE: Before we go, circling back to the Olympics: All week Axios’ Ina Fried has been sending us dispatches… for this last note of the week: she spent some time learning something new in Tokyo:

INA FRIED: I was all set to go back to the media center and do some writing. But then I realized water polo was right next door. So how could I say no? And the U.S. was playing Italy in just over an hour. It's like soccer in water or hockey in water, but it's actually pretty confusing to watch. There's actually some bigger fouls that you don't see all that often. So if there's a really big foul, it's like a four minute power play and the player gets ejected. It's called a brutality.

HOPE: Axios’ Ina Fried teaching us ALL the things... We’ll hear more from her next week.

And that’s it for us! Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries. We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, and Sabeena Singhani. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Michael Hanf. Dan Bobkoff is our Executive Producer. Sara Kayheanli Goo is our Executive Editor. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Hope King - Niala Boodhoo will be back with you on Monday - thanks for listening - stay safe and have a great weekend.

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