Jan 21, 2022 - Podcasts

Biden on the defensive

As year two of his term begins, President Biden has been busy doing cleanup after a two-hour press conference this week. His remarks caused international alarm and exacerbated divisions within the Democratic Party. The big question now is can he hold onto allies as he fights battles at home and abroad?

  • Plus, burned out health care workers, looking for hope.
  • And, could robot umpires be coming to major league baseball?

Guests: Axios' Glen Johnson, Margaret Talev and Kendall Baker.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Erica Pandey, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, 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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ERICA PANDEY: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, January 21st. I’m Erica Pandey. In for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following today: Burned out healthcare workers, looking for hope. Plus, could robo umpires be coming to major league baseball?

But first: Biden on the defensive…is today’s One Big Thing.

As year two of his term begins, President Biden has been busy doing cleanup after a two-hour press conference this week. And his remarks caused international alarm and exacerbated divisions within the Democratic party. So can he hold onto allies as he fights battles at home and abroad?

Axios’ Glen Johnson and Margaret Talev are here now with what comes next for the president. Good morning.

MARGARET TALEV: Good morning, Erica.

GLEN JOHNSON: Good morning, Erica.

ERICA: Biden walked back comments on Ukraine, which referred to the threat of Russian invasion as a quote, “minor incursion.” What happened there?

GLEN: You know, a president forgot that he's no longer a senator. And he can't say certain things that he would say in the cloak room, and what he did was really cause alarm in Kiev. You have a president there who's trying to brace his military for a superpower invasion. And then you have a president of the United States differentiating between forms of an invasion and degrees of reaction to that. And all that is very alarming on the world stage. You had 38 minutes after the president walked off the podium the other night, the White House press secretary, putting out a statement recasting what he meant. You had the president himself deliver comments at the top of one of his events yesterday in the White House recasting what he said about Ukraine. So there was a lot of cleanup on, as somebody put it, aisle 1600 following this comment that really resonated far beyond the East Room and the White House.

MARGARET: I think this is all of a piece, even though it seems like a foreign policy discussion about Ukraine and Russia is completely different than a conversation about Build Back Better or voting rights reform. In both cases, this is the president of the United States, and he has the most important bully pulpit in the country and in the world. And the way successful presidents use that bully pulpit is to convey strength and power and fearlessness and Biden has not been able to do that. When that is your role, when you are the guy at the top, you have to find a way to maximize your leverage and your power. The Democrats real frustration with Biden right now is he's not doing that.

ERICA: He came right out and said, “I'm not Bernie Sanders. I'm not a socialist.” A dig like that is sure to alienate the progressives. How does Biden win that support back?

GLEN: I mean, it's one thing to say in a primary, when you’re trying to differentiate yourself from a field of numerous candidates, but Bernie Sanders is an independent, who caucuses with the Democrats, his vote counts. So that's another example of a president saying the quiet parts out loud, and then having to try and walk them back the next day.

ERICA: He said the way forward for Build Back Better now is to break it up into these smaller pieces and get those done. Can you do even that with the divisions in his party right now?

MARGARET: It only works if the progressive and the centrist wing come together behind what Biden is asking for. And if Biden himself and his team have very clear cut ideas strategically about what they want and what they expect everyone to circle behind.

ERICA: The natural next question after what you just said, Margaret - I mean, does this bode well for the Republicans going into the midterms?

MARGARET: They're in very strong shape going into the midterms. They have history, which says that unless there's something catastrophic going on, like a 9/11, in a midterm year when the president is a member of one party, the other party is going to make gains. There are Democrats who look ahead and say things could be in a completely different position by summertime. It's just not clear that it's going to be true enough. The Democrats would have to overcome major hurdles of history to be able to hold their majorities. And so the question is how much would things need to change for them to be able to reverse the momentum that's already in place?

ERICA: Margaret Talev and Glen Johnson lead Axios’ politics team. Thank you both.

MARGARET: Thanks, Erica.

GLEN: Thanks, Erica.

ERICA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with how healthcare workers are faring now.

[ad break]

ERICA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Erica Pandey, filling in for Niala Boodhoo. There are some signs the omicron surge may be waning, but hospitals in the U.S. are still dramatically understaffed. Since the start of this year, as many as a quarter of hospitals nationwide have faced a critical shortage of healthcare workers, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. We know burnout is a major factor in the shortage…And we’ve been hearing from some of you about your experience.

ANONYMOUS: I'm a physician assistant working at a public hospital in Manhattan, New York. I think I speak for all healthcare providers when I say we're exhausted. We're emotionally drained and physically drained. Will this bleakness ever end? And is this something that I can stick around for?

KARINA: My husband works in the ER, and I work in mental health. In mental health, there are better words for this kind of pain. We call it what it is, secondary trauma, because you cannot witness these levels of human suffering without getting hurt or shutting down.

ANONYMOUS: We don't have proper PPEs to treat these COVID patients. But we are asked to do without regard to our own lives or the patient's welfare as well. I am now infected with COVID-19 due to their negligence. I have a son and daughter, both under five years old. They are jeopardizing my family life, as well as my own.

ERICA: Many of you who shared your stories have also told us: where you find hope.

KELLY: There are three important things that have helped me combat this. One: After work mimosas. Two: my pandemic puppy. And three: determining my own worth by quitting one nursing job and taking a traveling assignment that adequately compensates me for my value.

CHLOEANNE: One way I try to relieve my own stress from work. I play piano and put little 30 second snippets of my fingers playing piano on my Instagram account and share them with family and friends. It has me kind of focusing on something that just brings me joy.

GAYLE: I de-stress by putting on my roller skates and skating in my kitchen. I've also started seeing a mental health coach, and I'm excited for what will come out of that.

ERICA: Thank you to all of you. And if you’re a healthcare worker looking for mental health resources, you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s help line at 800-950-6264 or text SCRUBS anytime to 741741.

ERICA: It's really starting to feel like robots are everywhere nowadays. And that includes the baseball diamond where robo-umpires have made an appearance and could be heading to the majors. Axios sports editor Kendall Baker joins us now with the latest. So Kendall, first of all, what is a robo-ump? Is baseball gonna be ruled by robot overlords?

KENDALL BAKER: Um, in a sense, I guess, yes, really what's going on is it's a computer that's analyzing a strike zone, calling a ball or strike. And then that call is relayed to a human empire through an earpiece, and then they make the call. So they're not going to be robots standing behind home plate, more of a computer. But the robo, uh, moniker has kind of stuck.

ERICA: Doesn't this take some of the fun out of going to a baseball game? I mean, I'm thinking about like people arguing with refs over calls or with umpires, how's this going to impact the game or the fans or any of it

KENDALL: Yeah. You know, I think there's definitely some nuance to baseball that will change with this writer. As you said, arguing calls is kind of a big part of the game. Certain umpires tend to have different types of strikes zones. So there's a little bit of nuance that obviously gets lost. Like anything when you have to automate something. And I think for people at a ballpark, most of them, you know, unless you're sitting behind home plate, can't see the strike zone anyway. But for players, it'll definitely be an adjustment.

ERICA: How soon will we see this in the MLB?

KENDALL: They've been testing it in independent and minor leagues, and it looks like they're not going to bring it up to AAA, which is one level below the major leagues. So there's no date, but it definitely, if I had to guess, it feels inevitable within the next, you know, five to 10 years.

ERICA: Kendall Baker is sports editor at Axios. Thanks, Kendall.

KENDALL: Thank you.

ERICA: And that’s it for this week. Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. Special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Erica Pandey, Niala Boodhoo is back next week- Thanks for listening - and have the best weekend.

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