Biden's end-of-year winning streak
It's been a good few weeks for the president, capped off by a Democratic win in the Georgia Senate race, and WNBA star Brittney Griner's release from a Russian prison.
- Plus, protests, crackdowns and change in China and Iran.
Guests: Axios' Mike Allen and Stanford University's Larry Diamond.
Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi and Ben O’Brien. 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.
- How the Biden admin says Brittney Griner's release happened
- Rep. Andy Biggs challenges McCarthy for speaker
- Iran executes man arrested in Tehran demonstrations
NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!
It’s Friday, December 9th.
I’m Niala Boodhoo.
Here’s what we’re watching: protests, crackdowns and change in China and Iran. But first, Biden closes out the year on a winning streak. Our Friday politics State of Play is today’s One Big Thing.
NIALA: A senator elected from Georgia, a battle for Congressional leadership, and WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian prison…what a week. Here to break it down for all of us in our Friday politics “State of Play” is Axios co-founder Mike Allen. Hey, Mike
MIKE ALLEN: Niala, thanks for having me.
NIALA: Mike, let's start with Britney Griner. She's on her way back home to the US from Russia. This is a big win for the president. Just adding to the list of his successes in recent months. How different is this year ending than how it started for President Biden?
MIKE: Funny that you should ask that because I was just Googling a story about Biden, and what came up was a story from January 2022, so 11 months ago. And it said Biden closes out year one on epic losing streak. So, (laughs) it shows how fast fortunes change. And the Brittney Griner story is a perfect example of how by being in the White House, having the most powerful seat in the world, you get blamed for everything, are responsible for everything, but also have huge power. And this is gonna be one of those stories of the year. No question. And if you were to flashback and ask President Biden a year ago, could he see this string of electoral successes, the economy being in a slightly better place, and foreign policy accomplishments and a friendly Senate next year? He'd be like, I'm in!
NIALA: On the flip side of that, we have Republicans. How much of the rest of this year is going to be about the struggle for congressional leadership, particularly in the House?
MIKE: No, it's a great point. And the surprise of this season. If you'd asked us on Election Day, election evening, who's gonna clearly be almost definitely gonna be this Speaker of the House, we would've said Kevin McCarthy, like, he's gonna ride the red wave right to the gavel. But of course, none of that happened, like that wound up being like the tiniest of margins, and therefore it makes Kevin McCarthy vulnerable in a fight over the speakership. And I'm told they're gonna have to sweat it out until the actual vote on January 3rd.
NIALA: Of course, the other story of this week was Georgia’s Senate race. Democrats now have a 51 seat majority in the Senate with Raphael Warnock's reelection in Georgia, a historic reelection, we should also point out. How do Democrats pull this off, and what does this majority mean for Democrats in the Biden administration for 2023?
MIKE: Look at Senator Warnock's win in Georgia, and you can see that as a blueprint for Democrats in 2024 as you look at those Senate races, at that presidential race. And the two things he was able to do very well in the big suburbs around Atlanta, typically has been friendly Republican turf, and energizing the Black vote. Now, looking in 2023, what does that one seat do for President Biden? A couple of things. One, it gives President Biden more flexibility, more room to maneuver on nominations for his own cabinet. We expect changes there, certainly a reshuffle going into the second half of the term and nominees for judges. One of the biggest things that he's gonna be able to do in the next two years when you're not gonna be able to pass a lot of legislation through the House is judges, judges, judges, as one person texted it to me. And Senate Democrats now have subpoena power, not needing to enlist a Republican in their committees. And so, as we talked here on Axios Today, about all the investigations that House Republicans have up their sleeve. Well, surprise, now, Senate Democrats have a few investigations up their sleeves.
NIALA: Is it fair to say that as good a week it was for Joe Biden, it was as bad a week for former President Trump?
MIKE: Former President Trump, three weeks, so ever since he announced his election in Mar-a-Lago, he's had a string of unfavorable court rulings. He had the big midterm disappointment where being associated with Trump actually cost you. There actually was a Trump tax. The New York Times and others have calculated it at about five points that candidates who were endorsed by President Trump and some of these big races did about five points worse than they should have. Listen to this fact! Niala, in Georgia, where Herschel Walker, the Republican, just lost the Senate race, after coming behind on election night. In the very same state, a Republican, the governor, Governor Kemp, won by 7.5 points. That is the Trump tax.
NIALA: Before we let you go, I have to shout out to our listeners who caught Hans Nichols misspoke on Wednesday's podcasts when he said that President Trump, if incarcerated, would be the first to run for president from prison. But we have to correct that, because Mike, actually, as several of our alert listeners pointed out, Eugene Debs actually did this in 1920, right?
MIKE: I can't believe that anybody omitted that. It's actually one of the biographies on my bedside right this moment.
NIALA: That's Axios’ Mike Allen. You can check out all of his daily newsletters at axios.com/newsletters. Thanks, Mike
MIKE: Niala, have the best weekend and holidays.
NIALA: After the break, Iran executes an anti-government protester.
Protests, crackdowns and change in China and Iran
NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.
This week, China eased its zero-Covid policy, after rare nationwide protests called for change. Months-long protests are also ongoing in Iran this week, and after reports of the abolition of the country's morality police, anti-government demonstrations appear to have led to the execution yesterday of a protester.
To help us understand the role protests can play, especially in societies where free speech is limited, Stanford University's Larry Diamond is with us. Hi Larry.
LARRY DIAMOND: Hello, Niala.
NIALA: Earlier in the week, it seemed like there might be cause for protestors to celebrate in Iran, but now we have news of this execution. What do we know about this?
LARRY: What we know is that we're dealing with a ruthless Iranian regime that has no mercy and no restraint in executing its opponents. And we know that it has repeatedly crushed previous protests, including the massive protest movement that seemed to have a possibility of toppling the regime in 2009. So we know that that's what this regime and other deeply authoritarian regimes will resort to if they need to.
NIALA: Would you say that in China, the easing of the zero covid policy is a pivot for the government in a victory for protesters?
LARRY: I think the government really had no choice, or the wheels were gonna come off. Not only public acceptance of this, almost neo-totalitarian policy, but also it was strangling economic growth in China. Now we'll see how far Xi Jinping will really go in rolling back the zero-Covid policy and doing what's needed to inoculate the population and open up the society. The government will certainly never allow it to be framed as a victory for protestors, but I think we should see it as one.
NIALA: Larry, how does that work when you're talking about authoritarian or repressive regimes and people in society's ability to affect change, when does the tipping point happen?
LARRY: The tipping point happens typically when a regime experiences internal divisions and a faction of the ruling elite, and ideally at least a faction of the security apparatus, defects. If you're asking, are any of these regimes gonna fall in the next several months as a result of popular mobilization, I would say no. If you're asking is there any contribution to a long term process of change in these countries? I think there is. And historically, over time changes also doesn't necessarily happen immediately, but creates doubts and divisions within the regime and diminution of public support for the regime which may accumulate and evolve over time.
NIALA: Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. Thanks, Larry.
LARRY: Thank you.
NIALA: That’s it for this week. Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi, Robin Linn, Amy Pedulla, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Ben O’Brien. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief.
I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.
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