Feb 8, 2023 - Podcasts

A spirited and tense State of the Union address

President Biden delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, with a repeated message: “let’s finish the job.” Members of the GOP vocally objected to moments in the speech, and Biden responded.

  • Plus, LeBron James makes sports history.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev and Mike Allen, and The Edge of Sports podcast’s Dave Zirin.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, 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 Wednesday, February 8th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: LeBron James makes sports history. But first, a spirited and tense state of the union address… That’s today’s One Big Thing.

A spirited and tense State of the Union address

JOE BIDEN: We've been sent here to finish the job in my view.

We gotta finish the job. Let's finish the job.

That’s President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address last night with a repeated message…

Axios’ Mike Allen and Margaret Talev are with their analysis and takeaway – Mike, Margaret, hello.

MARGARET TALEV: Thanks, Niala.

MIKE ALLEN: Hello Niala.

NIALA: Margaret, let's start with what your biggest impression was coming away from this speech?

MARGARET: Joe Biden ate his Wheaties. Joe Biden is preparing to announce a reelection bid sometime in the coming weeks or months. The State of the Union was important because it's gonna be seen as a barometer of: how much fight does he have in him? Does he have the energy and the strength? All those sort of cues that are hard to quantify, but that people watching in his own party and in the general public are gonna be looking for. And he was succinct, energetic, optimistic. But gave back as good as he got. He started out with that olive branch — “Congratulations to Kevin McCarthy. I don't wanna ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.” But within minutes, as soon as Republicans were, you know, booing and heckling and jeering him over social security stuff, all of a sudden he was in the fight that he wanted to have. For Joe Biden, who is not the world's greatest orator, it was a very strong speech.

NIALA: Members of the GOP were very vocal at moments. Let's hear one of those.

BIDEN: Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security sunset. I'm not saying it's the majority of 'em.

[Crowd shouts and boos]

NIALA: Mike, what did you make of these interactions, especially the repeated shouting from different GOP members during the State of the Union?

MIKE: I think that his people are gonna like the fact that this showed him in the moment. So you have him shouting back: Check it out. Anybody who doubts it, contact my office. Look it up. Give me a break. I will say I've seen a lot of these, the shouting from the Republicans, the arguing, seemed more than in the past.

We see them engaging here and it's a preview of 2024. It's what Margaret said about he's out there running. At the top we heard the “finish the job” quote 12 times. That phrase used in the text along with, “We know our work is not done.” Not exactly subtle.

MARGARET: You know, Niala I tried one of my, uh, favorite, tricks in political speech analysis. It's cheap and easy, but you put it into a word cloud machine. The top words in Joe Biden's, uh, prepared speech — Number one: America. Number two: job. Number three: nation. Number four: world. Number five: law.

Those are the words: the rule of law, the United States of America, jobs. Those are the themes and messages he was trying to get across. You know, the State of the Union address was really sort of the Joe Biden Democratic version of populism. Affordable insulin, safe drinking water, freedom from bad cops and gun violence.

These sort of issues, uh, no place for political violence. No junk fees, we’re tired of being played for suckers. These are the sort of themes that Biden thinks can capture the enthusiasm of the center as well as, uh, as the left in the United States.

MIKE: And Niala let me add one more to Margaret's list. “Unfair.” Very populist. Four times the President, using the word “unfair.” I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it. And he talked about everything from gas prices, to food prices, to resort fees, and he's saying even places that aren't resorts will charge a quote “resort fee” unquote.

MARGARET: He also talked about people feeling forgotten, left behind and invisible. He said, maybe that's you watching from home. And he was talking about fentanyl. And in these areas he's, again, trying to sort of reach the part of the population that maybe you could characterize as grievance voters, but that are still within his reach. It's Joe Biden's version of saying, I feel your pain.

NIALA: Tyre Nichols' parents were there last night. President Biden pushed for Congress to unite on police reform. Is there any chance we'll see movement on that?

MARGARET: I don't know what's gonna happen, but I do know that was an incredibly powerful moment, and that members of both parties were silenced and riveted.

NIALA: Senior contributor Margaret Talev. Co-founder Mike Allen. Thank you both.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala.

MIKE: Niala, have the best day.

NIALA: In a moment, LeBron James now holds the all-time scoring record in the NBA.


LeBron James makes sports history

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

GAME ANNOUNCER: LeBron James a shot at history and there it is. LeBron stands alone.

That was the moment in last night’s LA Lakers game against the Oklahoma City Thunder when LeBron James made basketball history: he now holds the all-time scoring record for the NBA.

LEBRON JAMES : Thank you so much - cause I wouldn’t be me without y’all.

NIALA: It breaks a record held for nearly four decades by another great: Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Dave Zirin from the Edge of Sports Podcast is here to talk about these athletes on - and off the court. Hey Dave. Welcome to Axios today.

DAVE ZIRIN: Hey, it's great to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

NIALA: Dave, let's just take a moment to honor the sheer athleticism of LeBron James. How significant is this record?

DAVE: Well, it's a record that a lot of people thought would never be broken. it was thought to be unbreakable until, uh, the kid from Akron, uh, comes into the NBA with the benefit we have to say of coming in straight outta high school.

Unlike Kareem, who spent four years at UCLA. But the sheer longevity of LeBron James, his indestructibility, while playing at such a high impact pace really is remarkable. And he has a supercomputer for a brain. He tends to see things like a chess master, multiple moves ahead.

NIALA: And what does it say that Kareem held this record for — I feel like for basically my entire lifetime I've been watching the NBA?

DAVE: I mean it, it says that Kareem's longevity and Kareem did once hold the record for most games played, uh, is something to behold because not only did Kareem set this record, , but Kareem did it through an era of dominance that's just mind boggling. I mean, 20 seasons and 19 all-star games, that was it. And Kareem possessed the single greatest weapon in all of sports, and that's the sky hook. Rarely imitated, never duplicated Barry Bonds’ swing. Uh, Serena Williams serve, Steph Curry's step back. Nothing compares to the sky hook.

NIALA: So on-court comparisons are probably obvious, but in what ways would you say LeBron and Kareem are similar off the court?

DAVE: I mean, we know about Kareem's incredible rebel politics when he was part of the Ali Summit. That famous photo with Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell surrounded by NFL players speaking out about their support of Muhammad Ali's, uh, non-entry into the draft for the war in Vietnam.

But for most of Kareem's career, there weren't really the movements to support him being that kind of frontline athlete. LeBron, it's a different era, it's a different time, different kinds of movements in the streets, different expectations of the most powerful player in all the land. You know, the expectations that he'll have something to say about everything that happens in the league on issues ranging from not just racism, but issues that he's never expressed expertise or interest in, like antisemitism or the NBA's relationship with China.

And I keep thinking of this quote from Muhammad Ali from the late seventies where he said, I'm the only-est boxer who they ever talked to like he was a politician. And that makes, reminds me of LeBron. And there's a burden that comes with that that frankly makes his encore accomplishments all the more impressive.

NIALA: Where does LeBron go from here?

DAVE: Well, we know what his ambition is and that's to stay in there till he's old enough and still viable enough to play with his son Bronny. He might wanna play till his, uh, second child, Bryce, is old enough, to play in the NBA. In LeBron James, uh, we are watching the greatest player, not only of his generation, but maybe the greatest to ever pick up a basketball. And I think we should all just sit back and appreciate the fact that this kind of player is playing in our present and we are all witnesses.

NIALA: Dave Zirin is host of the Edge of Sports podcast. He's also the sports editor at The Nation. Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: Thank you so much.

NIALA: That’s it for us today!

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

This week on The New Yorker Radio Hour: a talk with novelist Salman Rushdie. He survived a brutal attempt on his life last year, and he just published a new book. Salman Rushdie, on the New Yorker Radio Hour, from WNYC Studios. Listen wherever you get podcasts.

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