Jan 6, 2023 - Podcasts

Our democracy two years after Jan. 6

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy lost a stunning 11 rounds of voting for the House speaker position this week, and there's no end to the standoff in sight. Of course, all of this has been unfolding in the lead-up to the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

  • Plus, California's stormy winter.
  • And, Pope Benedict is laid to rest.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev, Andrew Freedman and Princeton University's Julian Zelizer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, 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 Friday, Jan 6.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following today: California’s stormy winter. Plus, Pope Benedict is laid to rest.

But first, our democracy two years after the January 6th insurrection. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Representative Kevin McCarthy lost a stunning 11 rounds of voting for the house speaker position this week, and there's no end to the standoff in sight. And of course, all of this has been unfolding in the lead up to today, the second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection. Here to provide context in our Friday politics State of Play is Margaret Talvev, a senior contributor to Axios, who's also the new director of the Democracy Journalism and Citizenship Institute at Syracuse University. Welcome Margaret, and congratulations on the new job.

MARGARET TALEV: Thank you, Niala. It's great to be back.

NIALA: Also joining us is Princeton University's Julian Zelizer, a professor of History and public affairs and editor of Myth America, which is just out this week. Hi Julian.

JULIAN ZELIZER: Nice to be with you.

NIALA: Margaret, you have been calling this week a living lesson in American democracy. What do you mean by that?

MARGARET: It's really everything you could hope to understand about how Congress works, about the divisions within the Republican party, a touchback to the World War I era, and all the way back to the Civil War to really understand the threads, the power struggles, and the potential outcomes coming out of this week. And uh, Kevin McCarthy has, so far lost 11 attempts for this to happen. A century ago, that guy made it on nine tries. So Kevin McCarthy is making history as we speak, but what you're seeing here is something different than electoral politics. It is the internal politics of the House of Representatives, and it is about how essentially, five guys can hold off the will of the majority and the profound impact that could have on weakening the future of the House speakership. And I think the way we've been covering it and the way people are watching it is to say, Kevin McCarthy has no way out, he's completely trapped. But of course that's not true either. He does have a way out. The way out if he really, really, really wants it is to cut a deal with Democrats. But that would be so politically flammable it could almost instantaneously end his speakership. And I don't think it's a crisis yet, but in a few weeks when the debt ceiling runs out it's gonna be a crisis. This needs to be resolved pretty soon.

NIALA: Julian, is it fair to relate the January 6th insurrection to what's happening now? House Democrats have been saying what you see this week shows how little progress has been made toward unity in this time?

JULIAN: Well, I think part of this is a reflection of changes in the Republican party that have been taking place really for decades. You can date it back to the Tea Party. You can date it back to Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and 90s. But, it's been a shift to a much more extreme and aggressive form of partisan politics where there really aren't many guardrails to what's permissible. And I think what we're seeing now with this small group, is the latest incarnation, of, uh, an even more extreme version of how Republican politics will work. And so in that way, it's connected to the same Republican party that brought us not just January 6th, but the entire effort to overturn the election. And many of the people who are part of this group of 20 are election deniers. They were staunch supporters of Trump. They were part of that same cabal that came of age in the last few years.

MARGARET: And Niala it's the two year anniversary of the January 6th attacks. And even on the eve of it, you saw Donald Trump through his true social posting a mocked up photo of himself in the role of House speaker sticking his tongue out and waving his hands. The ultimate trolling, not just of Kevin McCarthy, but of the entire political establishment of the United States.

NIALA: Margaret, what does that mean for the House of Representatives going forward? You mentioned, for example, the debt ceiling.

MARGARET: I think that's the big unknown, the rule changes that Kevin McCarthy has agreed to. If he ascends the speakership, what will happen will weaken his ability to suppress a real right flank minority when the US runs out and the debt ceiling needs to be raised again, there could be a um, instant vote to hang his speakership in the balance before a willingness to raise the debt ceiling. So that could be the era that we're entering. And I think the question is, is it worth it? And I think the second question is, if not him, who?

MARGARET: Julian, what do you think we can learn from history in terms of what you are going to be looking for, as we think about the House coming back again at noon today to do this all over again?

JULIAN: Well, I think the giveaways are important. I mean, meaning if, if McCarthy does get the speakership, but the cost is to weaken the speakership as an institution we've had this happen before in the early 20th century. There were reforms in 1910 and 11 that weakened the speaker. And for decades, the speaker is a much more marginal figure than they've been since the seventies and eighties. So I'm just curious how much giveaway there is in terms of the institutional clout of the speaker. And the second is it comes back to the electorate, is there any shift in voter preferences or any indication in the polls that the voters in some of these districts care about what's going on? And if there's no indication, this shifts the game that's a big problem. Uh, ultimately it's a bottom up solution that's gonna be needed to get back to a more functional moment in American politics.

NIALA: Princeton University's Julian Zelizer, professor of History and Public Affairs. Thanks also to Margaret Talev, an Axios Senior contributor. Thank you.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

JULIAN: Thanks for having us.

NIALA: In a moment a major storm hits California, and other headlines.

California’s stormy winter

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

A few other stories for your Friday now:

A two-year-old and teenager are dead after an atmospheric river storm associated with a bomb cyclone hit California this week.

Heavy wind, rain and flooding left thousands without power throughout the state.

I asked Axios’ Climate and Energy Reporter Andrew Freedman to explain the situation – including exactly what an atmospheric river is.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: Atmospheric rivers really are narrow corridors, they're sort of like superhighways of moisture in the atmosphere that connect the tropics to the northern latitudes. So they transport a huge amount of moisture from the tropics to northern areas, sometimes as far north as the arctic.

You know, we think of California as being in a long-term drought, and they still are, but they're not in a soil moisture drought so much anymore because they've had a couple of big storms. The problem that meteorologists are seeing is that this isn't one and done. We're gonna have a parade of storms at least stretching into the two week period.

NIALA: President Biden is headed to El Paso, Texas to visit the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend – his first visit as president.

Biden revealed his plan yesterday to slow illegal crossings in a rare public address on problems at the border:

JOE BIDEN : My message is this, if you're trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua, or Haiti, you have and or have agreed to begin a journey to America. Do not, do not just show up at the border, stay where you are and apply legally from there. Starting today, if you don't apply through the legal process, you will not be eligible for this new parole program.

NIALA: That’s Biden from the White House announcing his migrant parole program. It offers legal entry into the United States for up to 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers a month – from Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela. Applicants must have a U.S. sponsor and go through a vetting process. The president says if an application is denied, “you will not be allowed to enter.”

Pope Benedict is laid to rest

NIALA: And one more big moment from this week… a final farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th. The oldest pope in history, he retired in 2013 – a first for a pope in modern history. He was laid to rest at the Vatican yesterday.

Pope Francis proceeded over the funeral with thousands gathered to mourn. The former pope passed away at the end of December after falling ill. He was 95.

That’s all for this week. Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our senior sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks as always to Axios’ Co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

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