Nov 10, 2022 - Podcasts

Biden seizes the moment

President Joe Biden defied history with the midterm election results by avoiding a wave of Republican victories…and made his first public address about it Wednesday afternoon.

  • Plus, election denial in Pennsylvania.
  • And, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on its 40th anniversary.

Guests: Axios' Hans Nichols, Mike D'Onofrio and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's Robert W. Doubek.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Robin Linn, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi 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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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, November 10th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

On the show today: election denial in Pennsylvania. Plus: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on its 40th anniversary. But first...

JOE BIDEN: I've never been more optimistic about America's future than I am today.

Biden seizes the moment. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Biden seizes the moment

NIALA: President Joe Biden defied history with the midterm election results by avoiding a wave of Republican victories and made his first public address about it yesterday afternoon.

JOE BIDEN: It was a good day, I think, for democracy, and I think it was a good day for America.

NIALA: Axios’ Hans Nichols covers the Biden administration and is here now with how much this win changes the matrix for President Biden. Hey Hans.


NIALA: How much of this is a reboot for President Biden?

HANS: It's sort of a retool, maybe I'm splitting hairs there, but you know, what you heard from the president last night was sort of not a victory lap but a victory sigh. And what the messaging they're working on, and they've been planning for this for months now in the White House, cause they kind of always knew that they would lose the House.

They didn't know by what extent but they knew they'd lose it. And what you really heard from the president was the dual message, and that is, look I'm willing to work with Republicans, we need to do Ukraine funding on the foreign policy space. But he went out of his way at several points to talk about mega MAGA Republicans and to talk about cuts to social security and how he will use his veto pen. He really wants to sharpen the distinction between him and the Congress that he's running against, and that's the path to reelection. That's what so many senior officials think.

NIALA: There was a point where he was asked during the news conference about the idea that America has been under this fever and how much the election changed that. How did he answer that?

HANS: He doesn't really have an answer. He has an aspiration. And his hope is this. He just keeps being Biden and reaches out a hand and extends that hand that eventually more Republicans and centrist and moderates will come towards him. At the same time, look there is a recognition at the highest levels in the White House that having sort of a Rump Trump faction within the Republican party helps Biden politically, cause it's a foil. And as I said, it helps them sharpen the distinction to really make that contrast.

NIALA: Hans, what are you hearing from inside the administration about how much these wins or these Republican losses give Biden and the administration more of a mandate, and as you said, sort of sharpen that message over the next two years.

HANS: You know, I think what I heard the most from the president was a combination, and senior aids as well, but a combination of frustration and crowing, crowing that the media got it wrong.

JOE BIDEN: This supposed to be a red wave. You guys, you were talking about us losing 30 to 50 seats and this is gonna, no, that's not gonna happen.

Crowing that Biden yet again, has been underestimated. He defied expectations. Yes, they're gonna lose anywhere from, you know, 15 to 20 seats. We don't know what the final number is, if it's 12 to 20 in the House, but that's much better than the historical average. There's a little bit of a chip on the president's shoulder, if I can say that about the media coverage, but they love the vindication, and boy did they feel it these last 24 or 36 hours.

NIALA: Axios’ White House Reporter Hans Nichols, covers the Biden administration for us. Thanks, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In a moment: the Pennsylvania GOP learns from election denier Doug Mastriano’s loss.


Election denial in Pennsylvania

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was defeated last night by Democrat Josh Shapiro. But Mastriano hasn't conceded. That's not a surprise since Mastriano denied the validity of the 2020 presidential election results, spread rumors of voter fraud and was at the US Capitol on January 6th, 2021. He's a high profile election denier and one of at least 260 that were on the ballot across the country this year.

Axios’ reporter Mike D’Onofrio is here with more from Philadelphia. Hey Mike.

MIKE D’ONOFRIO: Hi, how are you doing?

NIALA: Mike, Doug Mastriano didn't win and as of this taping, he hasn't conceded. Are political observers in Pennsylvania worried he won't accept this loss?

MIKE: I think it's, there's a pretty good possibility that he will not accept the loss. I wouldn't be surprised.

NIALA: So, Mike, when we're thinking about these election deniers that were on the ballot across the country, nine were candidates that were running for governor, five for Secretary of State, five for Senate ,31 for the House. As we focus on Pennsylvania, Mastriano’s platform, as you've said obviously didn't succeed. How do you think his run helped mainstream election denying on the national stage?

MIKE: I think it gave him a platform, a very and very loud megaphone, to get his message across and to reach people. I don't think he would've gotten the press, that he, about the issues that he was bringing up, his false claims that he would have without winning the Republican nomination for governor.

NIALA: Does his loss tell us about how Pennsylvania voters reacted to his claims of voter fraud and his denial of the 2020 election.

MIKE: I would say it's pretty clear that voters in Pennsylvania rejected claims about voter fraud, and concerns over the 2020 election he only garnered about 42% of the vote. I think one of the biggest impacts of Mastriano losing will be felt in the 2024 election. The Democrat Josh Shapiro has pledged to protect voting rights, but also, the governor gets to appoint, secretary of state who oversees elections in the state. So if Mastriano were to win, there'd be several questions raised about the presidential 2024 election because he would've had influence over the person overseeing the election.

NIALA: Mike, does this send any message to the Pennsylvania GOP about candidates they should be backing in their platform?

MIKE: I think the Pennsylvania GOP has a lot of soul searching to do. They have lost the last three gubernatorial elections and Mastriano in many ways was a flawed candidate

NIALA: Axios’ Philadelphia reporter, Mike D’Onofrio. Thanks Mike.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial on its 40th anniversary

NIALA: Tomorrow is Veterans Day -- and Sunday marks 40 years since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was erected on the National Mall here in Washington D.C. The memorial’s Executive Director and Co-founder, Robert Doubek helped bring it to life...after his own military service.

ROBERT DOUBEK: I had served in Vietnam in 1969 in a non-combat role, but I did identify with my service in Vietnam. And I did meet some very, some of the finest people I met in my life there. And I came back to Washington, DC and I went to law school. And, the idea of being a Vietnam veteran was something you didn't talk about. It was very low on the status scale of the upcoming professional set in Washington.

NIALA: I spoke with Bob earlier this week at the memorial, as we sat across from the iconic black granite wall inscribed with the 58,000 names of US armed forces who were either killed or went missing in action in Vietnam.

ROBERT DOUBEK: This is not only a space for the memory of people who lost their lives. This memorial honors all who served with a special tribute to those who did not return. And, remembrance is important because the Vietnam War and the Vietnam era was a very traumatic period in their country.

NIALA: The memorial went from idea to reality in just a few years -- which Doubek told me had to do with the mood around the war.

ROBERT DOUBEK: There was a pent up sense of guilt and responsibility in the country the way the veterans had been treated. And our theme rather than of a divisive one, of getting back at the anti-war movement or, proving the war was wrong, was national reconciliation. Cause we felt that people who opposed, people who supported the war could agree on the veterans had served honorably and well, and deserved to be recognized for their service.

NIALA: And since then – Doubek says it has been serving its purpose.

ROBERT DOUBEK: Probably one of the first instances of wall magic happened on the day it was opened to the public, or the day we dedicated it on November 13th, 40 years ago. And there were two veterans, side by side looking for names at a certain date on the wall and they looked, they bumped into each other and realized they were each looking for the other’s name. They had all those years assumed that their comrade had died and they found out that they both had survived and they were standing right next to each other.

NIALA: Today, Doubek told me the memorial has helped change the narrative around those who fought in the war.

ROBERT DOUBEK: We styled it as a Veteran's Memorial. And not a war memorial. Its purpose was to honor and recognize the veterans not to commemorate the war. And I think it's played a pivotal role in a cultural shift of separating the war from the warrior because the men and women who have served in the Middle East and in the Gulf, you know, are respected. Whether people have felt that those wars have been a good policy or not.

NIALA: Robert Doubek is The Executive Director and Co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial…which marks 40 years this weekend. And tomorrow at 1 o’clock there will be a ceremony at the wall live streamed – we’ll include a link in our show notes.

NIALA: Axios Today is produced by Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Naomi Shavin. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. And Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. Special thanks as always to Axios’ co-founder Mike Allen.

Thanks so much for following us for the last few days – We’d love your feedback – you can send me a text at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening…stay safe this Veterans Day weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

For The Economist's analysis of the results of the midterms and where America is headed -- listen to the "Checks and Balance" podcast -- where John Prideaux and his colleagues provide their perspectives on democracy in America. Join them today and start listening to "Checks and Balance" wherever you get your podcasts.

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