Why the Biggest Threat in 2022 May Not Be COVID (with Jon Favreau)
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With the defeat of the Freedom to Vote Act, Andy turns his attention to the threat to our democracy with Crooked Media co-founder and Pod Save America co-host Jon Favreau. They discuss just how real the threat remains, how a Big Lie scenario could play out in 2024, and what we can do to prevent that from happening. Plus, what Jon, a former Obama speechwriter, wants to hear the Biden Administration communicate to the American people about the pandemic.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Listen to Jon on Pod Save America: https://crooked.com/podcast-series/pod-save-america/
- Read this opinion piece in The Washington Post about Trump, Arizona, and what could happen in 2024: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/17/trump-arizona-election-threat-democracy/
- Learn more about the Electoral Count Act and the next steps on voting rights: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/voting-rights-electoral-count-act-next-steps/
- Find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you: https://www.vaccines.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com/show/inthebubble.
Andy Slavitt, Jon Favreau
Andy Slavitt 00:18
Thanks for joining IN THE BUBBLE. This is Andy Slavitt. Really interesting show for you today. Let me start out by talking a bit about the state of affairs with Omicron. Omicron is on the decline, it probably started before we knew it was on the decline. It’s not on the decline everywhere, the full effects won’t be felt for a little while. And you know, everyone wants to know what comes next. And it’s got me thinking a little bit about 10 of what our perceptions are. Perceptions of what normal should be, and what should happen next. And then there’s a few people who are out there writing and saying things like, you know, the pandemic is over, the risks are down, we’re in the endemic stage back to life, etc. And, you know, everybody’s got an opinion, and I suppose everybody’s tired. But it reminded me of something that I heard when I talked to this guy named Baruch Fischhoff early on of the pandemic, he’s kind of a sort of a pandemic sociologist. I mean, the fact that there is such a thing is I’d never knew before. But he made he makes it something which, which has gotten me thinking recently, which is a little bit of like, the fact that, you know, people believe that they’re owed a sense of normalcy. And that’s the really the right thing to happen. And when people are not getting that sense of normalcy or not feeling like they have everything back to the way they used to be that there’s something somehow wrong.
Andy Slavitt 01:52
In other words, that people don’t accept the fact that things might be changed, that a pandemic creates changes, that there’s this expectation that we will automatically and need to return to a state that’s like 2019. By the way, 2019 wasn’t very good from what I remember. But that’s for different reasons. And, you know, I think that it’s a dangerous assumption, because it sort of basically, to me, it’s incorrect, it divides the fact that this is human kind battling a virus, man versus nature, if this sort of literature, and there is no necessarily storybook kind of beginning and end, like there wasn’t things we can look back on history and say, well, that had a clear beginning and a clear end, when you’re in the middle of it, you just don’t know. Obviously, you do move out of the pandemic phase, at some point that is for sure. But how it happens, and what you what remains? I think people are very angry people are angry that when President Biden said words to the effect of you know, we’re all going to be living with us in some form, it’s going to be a lot better. But there’s, you know, I think people who have a certain amount of resentment that we deserve to go back to the way things were and if you can’t go to school, the way you want to go to work the way you want, or do everything the way that you once could, that something is somehow wrong.
Andy Slavitt 03:21
And that has to get righted. And if it hasn’t gotten righted, then, you know, we go through all kinds of emotions, anger, blame, depression, whatever. You know, I just don’t know if that’s right. Because I think about, like, what an extraordinary period of time we’ve lived through in the US, where generally speaking, people were optimistic that life was going to get better. And that things were we’d have a degree of normalcy, but we didn’t really think about the things that those things depended on that don’t change all the time. Because, you know, they last for hundreds of years. You know, what all of this, to me is premised on having a stable planet, we always assumed we had a stable planet when I grew up. And now that we don’t, it is, it changes our assumptions. We always assumed that we wouldn’t be fighting a disease in nature, or have some imbalance, like we do with this pandemic, or like with biodiversity crisis, or antibiotic resistance, you know, those are things we’ve never assumed. And we assume that our democracy was underneath us, not necessarily that our candidate always won. Not necessarily that we were always happy with things turned out and not even that the democracy was perfect, but just that it was there. I mean, these were underlying assumptions when I was growing up. And I think when those things are shaking the chickens us just shaking us in the ways of disappointment that our candidate lost or that you know, we got an illness or someone in your family got an illness, all things that are bad, but in a more existential way, like wow, maybe the things that I believed that would always be true aren’t always going to be true. And that’s a scary thought.
Andy Slavitt 05:02
And that’s why I think on the show, we’ve focused on a little bit more than just the pandemic. But IN THE BUBBLE is also talked about these existential things that we feel like we can’t control like climate, like inflation, which is a bit nearly more temporary. But it’s something that feels very out of our control. And today, like our democracy, because all these things have something in common. All these things are pillars of, we believe our ability to lead the kind of lives we want to lead. And when they change, it has an impact on us. And it also just changes the ground and the framework with which we think about life. And I don’t want those things to be scary, I don’t want them to be as scary as they are, because all of them have at its core things we can learn and things we can do. And things we can fight back against and things that can help us. And you know, they are part of the as a matter of speaking the tooing and froing of life. And, you know, that’s hopefully what this show is about is bringing you inside the bubble, into these conversations, where we can learn about these things. And today, we’re gonna talk about the threat to our democracy. We’re also going to talk a bit about COVID. In this context, with a great, great person, someone I really like I’ve gotten to know a few years ago named Jon Favreau.
Andy Slavitt 06:26
If you listen to podcasts, you probably know John. Well, he founded Crooked Media, which is the podcast company that hosts a lot of podcasts, including Pod Save America, which I’ve been on a few times, Love It or Leave it which I’ve been on a few times, Pod Save The People, which I’ve been on a few times, and then a bunch of shows that I’ve never been on. Thanks a lot. But Jon is great. He was a speechwriter for Barack Obama as a relatively young person, but he’s sort of emerging as one of the people who has a really kind of crisp political commentary voice, in the new generation. I mean, I think about people like David Frum, who was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and how he has become just a columnist, that respected columnist, we’ve had him on the show, very smart person. And Jon is, I think, for this next generation. And with using social media and other forms of media, very much the same person, a very wise commentator, who’s been paying a lot of attention to the very interesting real happenings that are going on in Washington around January 6, around the attempt to restore voting rights, around the attempt to improve the way the Electoral College works. And around the filibuster kerfuffle, which we’re gonna get into all that.
Andy Slavitt 07:54
Now, you might say, well, this is programming, I could hear other places why you cover it on in the bubble. And look, you got to tell me whether I do a decent job covering it, whether or not we do something uniquely well and contributory because that’s why we do it. But I do want to break down these big existential problems for you in ways that I think helped us get some shape around him and feel better, because of the future’s not promised any regard. But optimism is a big part of who we are, and a big part of life. And I think being able to manage these things are breaking down in bite size is what allows us to stay optimistic. And to me, this is a fascinating, fun conversation. Because it’s a casual conversation that we kind of want to we like to do here, where you really get someone talking and telling it like it is. And Jon is a really good forum for this. So let’s bring on Jon Favreau.
Andy Slavitt 08:57
Thank you for coming on.
Jon Favreau 08:59
Of course, happy to do it.
Andy Slavitt 09:00
John, we got a lot of stuff we all worry about today. Right? I mean, we really like if we’re the worrying type of people that is, and I occasionally have, like, you know, I mean, they worry about the climate. I worry about pandemic. And my question is, you know, everyone’s saying, telling me now I should be really worried about our democracy. How much, how up there and on your on your list of worries, and you’re worried list is the democracy like, where does it rank?
Jon Favreau 09:30
It’s a great question. The ranking is tough. I do think that having a functioning democracy is a prerequisite to solving any of the other problems we may worry about. So we’re worried about climate change, were worried about future pandemics. We’re not gonna be able to tackle any of those challenges if we don’t have a functioning democracy, not just a functioning democracy, but if we don’t have a democracy, which I guess is part of the threatened as well. So it’s something that I think about a lot. You know, I try not to get myself to over talk about things I can’t control. And I tried to really focus on things that I can. And when it comes to preserving our democracy, obviously, we’ve had this struggle for the last year to try to pass voting rights legislation, which is probably going to end in failure, because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said again, and again, that they’re not going to do anything to weaken the filibuster, which makes it impossible to pass voting rights legislation. So that is something that I’m incredibly angry and disappointed about, but also something that I cannot control at this point. And so I’ve been thinking about, okay, what do we do now, to protect democracy that we actually can control? And, you know, we can talk about any of the different ways to do that.
Andy Slavitt 10:59
Sure. Like, how much peril like is it in really like, for years, people talk about well, okay, we’re gonna have a pandemic. And I think a lot of people were like, yeah, it’s good until we had until we had it. Like, wasn’t real. And it always just seemed very theoretical. You know, climate change, I think, honestly, became, people started acting on it more real when the wind weather started getting crazy, like out here in the west and everything. And like, are we seeing the same signs, like 2020, like Donald Trump saying, Well, the big lie, they didn’t really win the election, Donald Trump said, we’re going to elect a bunch of people in states now that are just not going to honor the will of the voters. Are we like a similar analogous place in your mind where you’re like, well, we could be like on a cusp of something that could be. We could be in a different soup.
Jon Favreau 11:55
Yes, yeah, we could. I mean, let’s review. Donald Trump tried to overturn the last election. And when his scheme didn’t work, he incited a riot of people who stormed the Capitol and attacked violently attacked police officers and others at the US Capitol as they were trying to obstruct the proceedings to certify an election. So then the question is, okay, he tried in 2020, to overturn an election. What stopped him? What stopped him is Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House. There were Republican officials in place in some swing states who would not go along with this scheme. There were democratic officials as Secretary of State and governor in some swing states to prevent that. And there were some nonpartisan officials, there weren’t enough Trump loyalists in the right places to help him pull off his scheme. And also, I should add that there were the judiciary helps save us as well. And, you know, one thing that’s optimistic is the judiciary that is currently, you know, overall pretty right wing, especially at the Supreme Court level, did the right thing, in many cases, but the question going forward, as can we count on the judiciary to continue to do the right thing? What’s happening in states where some of these nonpartisan officials or Democratic officials or Republican officials who are non-Trump partisan Republican officials are either getting replaced, or they have proponents of The Big Lie running against them, like what will happen in those states?
Jon Favreau 13:40
And that’s what worries me Look, but the scenario that keeps me up at night, the way this would go down, is in 2024. You know, let’s say in Arizona, let’s say the person who’s running for governor of Arizona believes that the Secretary of State in Arizona the Democrat now Katie Hobbs, she should be locked up. Believes in the big lie. The person who’s running for Secretary of State in Arizona, the Republicans running for Secretary of State was a January 6 protester, was at the intersection. Those two people when Joe Biden wins Arizona in 2024 and only wins by a small margin, which is very possible because we’re in a very polarized time that Trump people start saying, you know, there’s all kinds of fraud, they make up allegations of fraud. unclear what to do then but the Arizona legislature decides, well, the election is too close. And the Republican legislature in Arizona is going to send their own slate of electors because the Arizona governor, the Republican governor, and the Republican Secretary of State refused to certify the election. And so now we get a slate of Trump electors that go to Congress, even though we know that Joe Biden won the election. Now what happens?
Andy Slavitt 14:56
Right, so I was gonna go through this worst-case scenario with you because like my method of coping, Jon is like, Okay, I gotta understand the worst thing that could happen. And then I got to like, build back, like how likely is that to be split? So the worst-case scenario you’re putting out, it probably isn’t even the worst of the worst cases. It comes down to one state, the states, Arizona. It could be Georgia. But I think Arizona is a good one to pick because of precisely the reasons you said. And, you know, we’ve got states that could vote in the presidential election for one party, but have a legislature and governor and a Secretary of State of a different party. So and look, I think, just to be I mean, I think we assume we’re talking about the same thing, which is we’re talking about here, like, will my candidate win, like in 2016 and 2020, I was really focused on Will my candidate win? Because I really like the other candidate. But now we’re talking about, like, will the voting even matter? That’s the frame of this conversation. Right? So if you’re saying is, you know, the Democratic candidate for president wins by two points, 1.1 and a half points, which is probable margin of error. What happens next? Is it then the legislature, the Secretary of State, how, how does it get messed up from there, and then I think you mentioned something important, which is the Electoral College and, and the way the Electoral College works, actually creates a giant, gaping loophole.
Jon Favreau 16:21
I mean, different. It’s tricky, because different states have different laws and how they certify elections, which is part of the issue here is that because we have federalism in this country, states run elections, and states have different rules for how you in different laws for how you certify an election. But, you know, ultimately, you need some state official to certify an election, that has happened in the state. And to the extent that some states have partisan officials doing that, that’s basically there’s a bunch of different places where this could fall apart. So you need an official to certify the election first. And then you need to send the electors to Congress. And you could have problems with a Republican official who refuses to certify the election, you could have a problem with county officials in big counties that, you know, refuse to certify the election, you could have the state legislature step in and say because no one certified the election, then we’re going to send our own slate of electors to Congress, you could have two competing slates of electors sent to Congress, if there’s a Democratic governor who certified the election, but then a Republican state legislature who’s saying, no, we shouldn’t have certified the election and Trump actually won, and we want to send a slate of electors to Congress.
Jon Favreau 17:37
So you can have a whole bunch of different basically points where this process falls apart. You know, the one thing I think people could be optimistic about is none of this would happen without lawsuits being filed. If there were competing slates of electors, or if there was a slate of electors that did not reflect the vote tally in the state, but then you have to hold out hope that, you know, federal judges, circuit courts, the Supreme Court would all side with the will of the voters, which again, you know, there was Trump’s record with lawsuits post-election lawsuits was pretty grim. Post 2020. They sound like there were a bunch of Trumpy judges that helped him pull off his scheme. And there were some Trump judges that heard these cases and still denied them or still ruled against Trump. So you know, like that, that is something that gives me a little bit more comfort. But that’s just because, you know, you haven’t had as many Trump judges who are willing to help him pull off a scheme yet.
Andy Slavitt 18:35
But you get down to the thin fabric of the safety net there, Jon.
Jon Favreau 18:38
Andy Slavitt 18:41
We’re imagining a scenario which, which I don’t think too many people listening feels too far off in terms of possibility, where a state essentially decides that it’s going to put up its own electors. And the state apparatus, however, they’re set up in the state allows it to happen, because they don’t certify the election because they claim that there’s a problem and Trump had a statement recently that was sure you might have seen it.
Jon Favreau 19:18
Yeah. Yeah. Part of the problem with the big lie is not just what it says about the past, but what he’s trying to say about the future. And what he’s trying to say about the future is bait cheated last time. And so we’re gonna cheat next time to make sure that they don’t outsmart us last time because they stole the last election. We’re not going to let them steal the next election. We’re going to steal it.
Andy Slavitt 20:07
I mean, this is so traditional, right? He’s not out there saying, hey, I’m the better man, I’m the better person for the job, you should vote for me. He’s out there saying, doesn’t matter. Because if I want to put all my attention, it appears to me to put the right people in the right roles in the right places in these States, and to the best he can I presume, within the justice system and the judges, so that I can bake the outcome. And that feels like if I’m not mistaken, when people say we have a threat to our democracy. That scenario, right, there feels like the primary case that most people are worried about, whether it’s Michigan, whether it’s Arizona, whether it’s Georgia, it’s some high jinks, at a state level, that sends essentially not electors that the state put forward instead of the voters put forward. Is that oversimplified way to look at it?
Jon Favreau 21:12
I mean, that is the sort of electoral scenario that keeps me up at night. I also think, you know, the one thing we haven’t talked about is higher instances of political violence around that. And obviously, we saw that on January 6, but if you have millions and millions of people in this country who believe that their voices were not heard in the last election, that the last election was overturned by the Democrats or stolen by the Democrats. And now you’re heading into 2022 and 2024. You have a lot of extremists who think like the last gun was stolen from us, and I’m not going to let that happen again, because now our you know, we think democracy is threatened. The people who believe in the big lie they believe, democracies threaten too and if you believe the polls, even more so than Democrats. This is part of the issue is that when you ask, do you believe democracy is threatened, you tend to get Republicans, you get a higher percentage of Republicans saying that they believe democracy is threatened and even Democrats is as worried as you and I are and people who paid close attention to politics.
Andy Slavitt 22:14
I heard you say that in your show. Right? So it’s like, by the way, if you don’t know Jon has a little podcast, which is you got to listen to it sometime. It’s a cute little podcast, got a million listeners. But no, you said something very much to this effect, which is that everybody thinks democracy is broken. But when some people say it, they mean one thing, and when some people say it, they mean the complete opposite. And I suppose it’s worth thinking this through understanding that there are people soaked by Trump, who believe that he did actually win in 2020. I don’t think he actually believes he won in 2020, for a second. But I think that he says that enough, I think there are plenty of people who do believe it. And then I think there’s a third category, John, which are elected Republicans or Republicans running for office, that to them, this is the only test they need to pass in order to get Trump’s endorsement. And so whether they believe it or not, they are making it their single issue in terms of how they’re either running for office, or governing.
Jon Favreau 23:22
Yeah, and it’s almost beside the point, whether they truly believe it or not, because that’s how they’re all going to operate. You don’t have many people running in the Republican side who are saying, The Big Lie is just that it’s a big lie. Because those people are either retiring, or they’re Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Or they’re getting threats from, you know, MAGA loyalists, and so they’re deciding politics isn’t for me anymore, or I’m going to be quiet about it. And so you have a ton of Republicans running, embracing the big lie. And that, to me, is very dangerous. And the reason they’re doing it is not just because of Trump, but because right wing media has propagated the lie. And I think right wing media has a greater control over the Republican base right now than most Republican politicians, with the exception of Donald Trump.
Andy Slavitt 24:16
Sure. So look, just to play it out. I mean, a lot of us were around for the 2000 election where it felt to a lot of people in the country like the democracy didn’t exactly work as it should have. Although it wasn’t interestingly to have either one of the candidates that was necessarily seem to be trying to subvert democracy. And then you know, there are people as you said, that in 2020, on the other side, think that because of provably false accusations that have been litigated. But what happens in 2024? Let’s just to play out your nightmare scenario a little bit further because I’m a deep dark person at heart. Those electors in Arizona, are decided for Trump. That gives Trump you know, over 270 votes. So they go to name, Trump president. And as you say, there’s a series of lawsuits, etc. But where the democracy imperil is at that point in time, I assume, you know, the Republicans and the Democrats have all basically said, all bets are off, this, this doesn’t matter anymore, doesn’t work anymore. And we’re going to go back, pull back and say, Is there a repair work or precautionary work that can be done? But at that point in time, is there repair work that can be done? Or, you know, where do we drift? I mean, this isn’t that far off. And I want to call our attention to it. Because, you know, like climate change, you know, a healthy planet and a functioning democracy are two things that when I grew up, for all of the problems we could have, I always felt like at least we had a country that had this level of stability to it, at least we had a planet that was our home. And it feels like if those things are going to be in question within the next few years, kind of want to know about it?
Jon Favreau 26:17
Yeah. So I think, let’s start with the judiciary, what might happen in the judicial system? So constitution says, gives state legislatures and states pretty wide latitude to figure out how they’re going to elect how they’re going to choose the president. And they say basically, what the state legislature, you know, the state legislature gets to determine the electors, but they also, the Constitution also says that gets to determine electors, based on procedures they have laid out in advance. And so what you do have is a lot of states have laws on the books that says, Okay, if so and so wins the most votes. That’s how the state legislature determines which electors to send. So you’d have a bunch of fairly strong legal challenges, if the legislature just decided to send a different slate of electors, because people say, okay, and the Supreme Court has said this, too. And it said this at times, basically, in 2020, you can’t, if you’re a state, say, alright, the way we’re going to determine how to choose electors is whoever wins the popular vote in the state, and then someone wins the popular vote, then the state legislature says, Actually, we’re going to do it another way, you can’t after the fact decide to change the rules. Now, again, this gets tricky, if there’s charges of fraud and whatever. And it’s very, very close, it’s a little bit of more of a gray area, but you do have sort of, you know, these laws are, are going to prevent some of this, or at least the judicial interpretation of some of these laws. So that’s the judicial side.
Jon Favreau 27:46
Then you have these electors go to Congress. And again, you can have members of Congress, as we saw in 2020 object to certain slates of electors from states, if they feel that those slates of letters have been sent in error, or that they sent the wrong slate or they you know, they’re trying to steal the election. But again, if there is a Republican House and Republican Senate, that doesn’t vote too well. So again, what I’m getting to is you talked about sort of stepping back on the repair work. And I’m already thinking ahead of the push up to pass voting rights legislation, because it has seemingly failed. The repair work is we have to make sure that we win and we have to make sure and when I say make sure we win, I mean, in 2022, obviously, the Senate is at stake, the house is at stake. But like, we need to make sure we reelect Gretchen Whitmer, and Tony Evers, and that we elect a Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, and that we elect a Democratic governor in Arizona, and we elect Stacey Abrams in Georgia. And then we get to make sure we elect Secretaries of State in all of those states, who are Democrats. And we got to do our best to hold the Senate and do our best to hold the house.
Andy Slavitt 29:08
Now, I want to put a fine point as to what you say here, because like you and I, we both sort of Democratic administrations. It’s not a secret that we’re both Democrats. But when you say we hear it’s interesting, because like, if you and I were having this conversation, like in 2000, you know, at 1819 about the situation, we will be using the same words. But we will be talking about because we think the guy who’s running the country is leading it in the wrong direction, and we want someone leaving the country to put it in the right direction. What makes this tricky, it’s like it feels like you’re now talking about it in an entirely different context. You’re talking about when we win, you’re just talking about people who will preserve the laws and the customs of how of how a slate of electors get put forward for one very simple example. You’re not even talking about policy; you’re not talking about making the country better. You’re not talking about who’s a better leader. You’re talking about so that we have, we save basically the ability to have a fair and square method in this country. Because it feels like, you know, I mean, I wouldn’t say that we’re like that close. I don’t wouldn’t say we’re like on the precipice of civil war. But I’d also say that, like, if we were moving towards the precipice of civil war, this would be what the early steps would feel like.
Jon Favreau 30:30
Yes, I mean, I think we have to, we have to elect people who are willing to preserve democratic institutions, you and I would rather those people be Democrats. But if there are Republicans who are willing to preserve our democratic institutions, and they win an election, like, again, I’d rather a Democrat, because I’d rather democratic policies, but like, okay, sure.
Andy Slavitt 30:53
That’s a low bar. That’s a low bar. Hey, if you’re a Republican, and you’re willing to uphold the Constitution.
Jon Favreau 30:59
Yeah, no, I mean, that is where we are. And look, it is whether you want to call it frightening, frustrating, and anywhere in between. That’s where we are right now. And, look, I don’t think that should make people feel like that situation is hopeless or helpless, because I do think we sort of this is in our hands, and who we elect to office. But it’s something we should be clear eyed about.
Andy Slavitt 31:54
I want to go back to where you just were about how to prevent this because like, the prevention is better than then trying to figure it out a sort of way out of this mess. And you kind of talked about you talked about something which is, which great if you gave people a little bit of education, which is the Voting Rights bill that I think everybody has been more or less following in Congress, some passionately because it’s their issue, some passionately because they’ve seen the injustice is, some passionately because they’re just following politics closely. But there’s a couple things in there, and they’re not all synonymous, right? Like, what we’ve just been talking about, essentially, how the Electoral College works, is different right, from voting rights itself. Like, can I go to the polls? Can I vote virtually? Can people bring you water in line, etc? So there’s a whole bunch of things. Can you help sort out? Like, maybe what’s important in terms of two categories? You know, preserving our democracy, as such that it is today? And then there’s other things, you know, that I think, you know, we’re part of John Lewis’ bill in the House, which were how to make sure that their democracy is a really just unfair democracy, where everybody is represented, because I feel like those are two different risks, two different markers like, like, it would be great if we could get voting rights as they should be in this country. Like, not just great. I think it’s vital that it happens. But there’s also this, it’s important that whatever the election rules are, even if they are as imperfect as they are today, that the outcome gets honored. So can you sort through those?
Jon Favreau 33:39
Yeah, in my mind, I sort this into two categories, protecting the right to vote and then protecting the right of your vote to be counted. And so I think it is unequivocally true that Republicans have been trying to make it harder for people to vote, you’ve seen voter suppression laws pass and but you know, 25 states now. And so they are doing everything they can to make it harder to vote by mail, trying to cut down early vote periods, trying to get rid of drop boxes for ballots, just absurd things like trying to make it illegal to you know, give someone food and water if you’re standing in line to vote. So all of these are ways that Republicans tried to suppress the vote. And we’ve seen this for years. This is not very new. And I think Democrats have put forward pretty strong legislation to not only prevent that kind of voter suppression, but to just make it easier for people to vote, which again, these are all good and important things that we should do. You know, we may not be able to it looks like we’re not gonna be able to do that to pass the freedom to vote Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema won’t change the filibuster. So what do you do then? Well, I know a lot of voting rights advocates are upset with the White House, someone in the White House said we’re gonna have to out organize them. And I think it’s not easy to organize them. We shouldn’t have to out organize them because they pass voter suppression laws. But I think on everything I was just talking about; it is possible to out organize some form of voter suppression.
Andy Slavitt 35:21
And by out organize you mean on election day or the election period?
Jon Favreau 35:26
Look, it’s gonna take a lot more resources that we should be spending other places to try to win the election, to make sure that if there are new, cumbersome voter ID laws that we can educate voters about how to get around those. If there’s not automatic voter registration, we have to go do it ourselves. If people can’t early vote like they could, we have to let them know when they can vote. If there’s not dropboxes, we have to let them know where they actually go to vote, right? Like there’s education you can do with voters and organizing you can do to get around some of this voter suppression, it’s just it puts a lot more burden on organizers, it’s a lot more resource intensive, you’re gonna have to file more lawsuits and stuff like that. So it’s messier and it’s harder, but it’s doable. I think what you and I were just talking about is sort of this, making sure that your once you cast your vote, that it’s counted. And there are some provisions in the law, that the freedom to vote act that would help make sure that’s true, there’s a part of the legislation called, you know, everyone has a right to vote, and a right to have their vote counted. And by having a federal right to vote and have your vote counted, that sort of, you know, you have greater legal protection. If someone tries to overturn the election, Mark Elias democratic lawyer has been talking about this a lot. And you know, it also allows for all voting rights cases like that, or almost all voting rights cases to be heard in the DC Circuit, which is also, you know, more favorable to voting right. So that would help as well. Now, barring this, right, because we don’t think the freedom to vote act will pass now, you have, you know, some movement on reforming the electoral Count Act. And when I say movement, you have some Republicans, some more moderate Republicans who are interested in reforming the electoral count act.
Andy Slavitt 37:12
This is the one that McConnell said recently that he had some sympathy to looking at, is that correct?
Jon Favreau 37:16
Correct. And the electoral account act is, I’m sure, you know, a lot of people were looking at what happened at the end of 2020. I mean, like, why does Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz just get to stand up in Congress and suddenly say, we object to these electors? And you know, why did Trump think that Mike Pence had a role that wasn’t just ceremonial and that Mike Pence somehow had the power to overturn the election? Well, because the electoral Count Act, you know, which was like, written in the 1800s is a little fuzzy, some of these issues. It’s not helpful. And so you want to clarify the role of Congress, and the role of the vice president in counting the electors and certifying the election. And so there’s some movements that, now the danger there is, you don’t want to reform the electoral count act, where you just clarify the role of Congress, just clarify the role of vice president and do nothing about the threat from state, Republican state legislatures or any state legislatures, that could somehow just send their own slate of electors. So there are I believe that Amy Klobuchar and Angus King and some others have a version of reforming the electoral count act, in addition to clarifying the role of Congress and the Vice President also put in place a judicial review process for states in case there are dueling slates of electors or a slate of electors that doesn’t represent who won the popular vote.
Andy Slavitt 38:37
Do we think that there’s enough potential Republican support in the Senate? Just to refresh your buddy’s memory in the math you’d need? What is it? 10 Republican votes to get to 60, which is what it would take to end this filibuster. But do we think that there’s potentially 10 Republican senators who are sympathetic enough to vote for that?
Jon Favreau 39:03
I think there are like 4 or 5 who are participating in the discussions on this. Certainly not 10 right now, I am doubtful, there’s 10. I’ve talked to some Democrats in Congress and some folks on the hill who are doubtful that there are 10.
Andy Slavitt 39:20
Is McConnell one of the 4 or 5?
Jon Favreau 39:23
You know, what you worry about is a scenario where the changes are cosmetic only right? Or it’s just a change that says like, oh, the Vice President has no role. The Vice President’s just ceremonial and maybe you raise the threshold, the threshold for how many members of Congress of the House and the Senate it takes to throw out electors from a certain state, right? So maybe you do that, but you don’t do anything about the states. Like, again, you don’t want a scenario where suddenly it’s the mischief making is from the Republican state legislatures. It gets to Congress, and like, VP Harris’s hands are tied. Because we did nothing about states aversion. But we did do something about making sure that the Vice President didn’t have a role. You could see McConnell and some of these Republicans being like, alright, I’m for something that’s small or cosmetic or only deals with the Vice President, but I’m not for the real threat of I’m not for doing something about the larger threat of election subversion.
Andy Slavitt 40:17
I see. Well, yeah. And it look, it’s really just, I think the thing that I missed big time, was even when Trump was elected. You know, I did not imagine an entire party, saying, Yeah, whatever he says, like, yeah, that’s what I believe. If you he say, no, no, let me be even crazier. Let me go more extreme than that. And it feels like that would the one. I think sort of foolish assurance I felt was, and this is I think the problem was slippery slopes, right? And to our democracy to climate change, to pandemic or anything else is that, you know, he said, well, that this guy won’t be this guy will be bad, but it only one person. And then he gets in and then you know, mischief ensues. And it feels like we’re like living through several of these slippery slopes right now that could get in fairly dangerously.
Jon Favreau 41:18
Yeah, that’s the concern. And I know, when people were really freaked out in the post-election period in 2020. Again, I wasn’t freaked out, not because I thought that Trump wouldn’t try to cheat and that most Republicans wouldn’t go along with them. I thought that was true. But I knew that we had people in positions of power. That wouldn’t let this happen. Like, again, Democrats controlled the House. I know that in the Senate. You know, there were people like Republicans like Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, who weren’t gonna go along who weren’t going to like they’re basically wasn’t a majority in the Senate to steal helps Trump steal the election, because the number of Democrats plus the number of anti-Trump Republicans gave you a majority. So again, you looked ahead to 2024. You know, you’d have to count 51 senators, who are not only just Republican but also willing to steal the election for Trump. And right now, we still have a few Republican senators who would not do that. But again, it’s not a ton of comfort.
Andy Slavitt 42:26
There’s all these elections going. So, okay, that whole thing, you just made me feel a whole lot worse. So now I understand it better. It truly makes me feel better to understand it better. You’ve been really generous with your time. And so I don’t want to take too much more of it. But maybe we should close on a couple of pandemic things. I probably get criticized for not criticizing the Biden administration enough, or at all. The one time I said something mildly, critical it was brought up in a Jen Psaki briefing literally the next day by a PBS reporter, and she had to answer to why is Andy Slavitt criticizing you? And so, you know, I don’t know if that makes me a very good podcast host or narrator of the pandemic or whatever. But you know, you’re professional at messaging, communication, and political strategy, in addition to a lot of the things you’re very good at, Jon, what tips from the side could you offer to how to respond to I think a lot of the criticism that’s out there about the administration could be doing better job communication messaging, and sometimes they say it’s the CDC, and sometimes they say, it’s the White House, and sometimes they don’t really know.
Jon Favreau 43:44
Yeah, I mean, look, I, I find myself in this position all the time, as someone who was in politics, sitting where were these guys all are. And I don’t want to avoid criticizing them. Because I think like, you know, I want to protect them in some way. But I want to make but I know having been there that oftentimes, the criticism you get doesn’t have the full context of what you’re going through. So on issues like someone on the substantive policy issues, like testing, and, you know, and vaccines and all that kind of stuff, and masking all that, like, I don’t know exactly what’s going on in there. So I’ll leave that aside and talk about the messaging and communication, which I do know. And I think what I would criticize is there has not been enough, communication hasn’t been consistent enough, right? And like, I don’t fault them for they could not know, I know that Kamala Harris got a lot of […] for this, but like, they did not know exactly what the Delta variant would look like. They probably knew that other variants could come they do not know exactly what the delta variant would look like, or when it would hit they did not know exactly when the armor caught what the Omicron variant would look like or when it would hit past when the rest of the world knew. So I get that this is a rapidly changing virus. But I do think, like, I think back to when, you know, we knew about Omicron, we knew that it was hitting South Africa around Thanksgiving, and kind of took them a long time to have Biden come out and really talk about this a lot to the American people. And then they kind of do a thing where he does it once. And then they leave it to Walensky or Fauci or a whole group of other people to follow up and talk about it. And then you don’t hear from Biden again till later.
Jon Favreau 45:29
Like in this day and age, you’re gonna get coverage, the way you get coverage is when the President of the United States goes out and talks right. And like, not everyone is not everyone except the most engaged, people are watching the briefings from Walensky, or Jeff Zients or everyone else. And so you really need I think, consistent and clear communication. And I also worry that a lot of the communication has been entirely reactive to what’s happened and not what’s next. Like we’re in the middle. We’re in the fog of war right now. We’re in the middle of this surge. But I do think the administration neat, and I think it needs to come from Joe Biden needs to come out soon. And maybe he’ll do this in the State of the Union in early March, because that will be good timing, because hopefully, in early March, we’ll be through this wave, or at least mostly through this wave. I think he needs to lay out what living with the virus looks like. And sounds like I mean, I interviewed Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general Dr. Murthy for offline. And we talked about mental health issues. But you know, one thing he said about the pandemic is he’s like, I can’t predict when this pandemic is going to end. But I can say confidently, that we now have the tools that we’re going to be able to live our lives and do what we love with this virus, right? Like, we’re going to be able to go to work and see our loved ones if like that we have those tools. And I do think Biden now needs to lay out a vision of what post Omicron looks like. And look, it doesn’t have to be a vision that says like, we know that another variant may come right, we know that we know that there could be other surges and other waves in the fall in the winter. But he needs to give people a sense of optimism that is based in reality, about how we’re not going to be just sort of lurching from wave to wave and variant to variant, which I think is how it feels to people right now. Like, okay, I gotta get through Omicron and then maybe it’ll be a little better, but who knows what’s gonna happen next, and I’m gonna Am I gonna have to be worried forever, and we have to be terrified forever. And the only person that can, the people that should be able to give you confidence about whether that happens, you know, whether you can feel comfortable and confident living with this virus and how you do it. And what the tools you do it is the president united states and the White House. And I think they need to be clear; I think they can’t just let it sort of like fade into the background where the Omicron wave ends.
Andy Slavitt 47:52
Well, this is a question I have for you. It’s like, the conversations that I’ve been having with them are a little bit like this, like on the policy front. If you get what you understand their policy, like, they did just send out 400 million masks. And they sent it out to all the right places to people who can afford to buy masks to people who needed the most, they’re making available like really, retail way to set up this website. And you could call it late to get tests out. But my issue is not that late early. My issue is it tells me whether I’m on the wrong page or is packaging. Because when it comes off, like every there’s a new thing every few weeks, as opposed to saying what a little bit of what you said, which is we’re about to enter a new era, the new era is called the tools era. It’s an area that where we will begin to get back to normal life by having an array of tools and resources that are more powerful than the virus. And for that we have created the following, a website for Americans, that where you can get tests, you can understand the risk in your area, you can understand your local school district issue. You can get masks. They’re all the things that they’re actually doing. I’m not talking about changing one iota of policy, but to say, hey, guess what we’ve thought it through holistically. And this is a holistic set of things that you’re going to need to anticipate the future. And by the way, that future is going to include all kinds of things we don’t know about today. But these sets of tools and the ones we will add to them will be the things to keep you and your family safe. And what he does is he talks about the content underneath that he’s like, go get vaccinated, go get tested, hey, here, we’re setting up maks. Hey, we’re doing this. And to me, I don’t know if I’m, again, being outside, it’s dangerous to criticize, because it always looks easier from the outside, it just feels like that’s the conversation that I’ve been trying to have internally there, which is you’re doing all the right things, but you’re going to look reactive until you lay that out a little bit differently and I may be wrong, but I don’t know.
Jon Favreau 50:02
No. And I also think, what’s the headline here. Right? Like, I think they got to come out and say, you know, COVID may always be a part of our lives, but we’re not going to let it control our lives. Here’s how, number one, you should know that, as of right now, if you were vaccinated and boosted, right? For the vast majority, 90 something percent of Americans, like if you come in contact with this virus, and if you get infected, it’s going to be somewhere between, you know, a bad cold and a bad flu. If you are immunocompromised, we have these antivirals that are coming out to coming down the pipe, right? If you are elderly, or nursing, you know, we have this for you. Right? We’re going to have this is hopefully we’re going to have vaccines for under five sets soon, right. So this is going to be our vaccination thing. Now let’s go well, you know, if you want to be, if you want to have more protection inside, please wear this N95 Mask. And even if someone else isn’t wearing a mask, if you’re wearing your N95 mask, you have this kind of protection, right? We’re ramping up production of the antiviral pills in case you do get infected with COVID and your high risk, right? And you sort of like, go down the list of what you’re going to do, here’s how we’re prepared for the next variant if it happens.
Jon Favreau 51:06
Here’s our plan to vaccinate the rest of the world to make sure that we don’t get another variant and to make sure that we’re equitable in our vaccination status, right? And if we do these things, and we have these tools in place, you should go out and live your lives and feel confident that you’re going to be okay. And by the way, if there’s another variant, or there’s another surgery, there’s another wave. Now we’re going to have these things in place. So maybe the CDC looks at hospitalization metrics, and says, if the hospitals get this full, yeah, we might have to put in place more public health restrictions. But if not, there’s not going to be those restrictions. And I think you need to give people a sense of what might happen in the future, but also, like, not constantly scare them, because I think what you get right now is look, you have a bunch of Republicans and a lot of unvaccinated people who are like, I don’t believe this anymore. I don’t want to be vaccinated. And that’s them right? You have a bunch of Democrats and people who are vaccinated and boosted who probably some of them think that there’s a greater threat from this virus than there actually is.
Jon Favreau 52:06
Because there’s a lot of panic in the media. There’s a lot of misleading headlines. I mean, you’ve seen it all, right, you got some people on Twitter who have very large followings who say crazy […], not just the right, increasingly, someone is talking about COVID is airborne HIV the other day, I won’t name names, but he has like five 600,000 followers. That’s very damaging to it’s not anti-vaccine, but it’s pretty damaging. And I think so when people are very, very, and I have people in my family like this, I have friends like this, who were like, give me stats about COVID that are way more panicky than they should be. Some of the others, like 1 in 100 children are in the hospital right now. And I was like, that’s not true. I understand where that anxiety comes from, because there needs to be a clear and consistent message from the administration.
Andy Slavitt 53:02
We’ve all been broken. We’ve all got this trauma. If Omicron dropped on us today, and there had never been a Delta or an Alpha or a 2020 version. But Omicron were dropped out today. Net new as a new thing. We’d be like, oh, it’s like a little virus thing. We wouldn’t minimize it, but we would treat it very differently. But we’ve all lived through 2020. And I think we all remember what it was like, when Delta came back. And we were surprised again. And so those experiences I think are kind of burned on so many of us. And so all the more reason, by the way, incredibly sympathetic human like Joe Biden is a perfect person to just level with us and say, folks, you know, again, 2020 was scary. 2021, we’re getting our stuff together. 2022, we’re gonna exit this year with a full arsenal. And you know what, our science is smarter than the virus is wildly, it just is. And there are going to be periods of time months, even when the virus looks like it’s getting ahead of us or catches us by surprise. But the virus is not been able to do the things to us that it did even a year ago, little two years ago since we started vaccinating you.
Jon Favreau 54:25
Well, that last part. I mean, I think there’s been sort of at some point along the way, because I think there was an overcorrection because there was a lot of criticism that the Biden ministration relied too heavily on vaccines and vaccines as part of their message. And now I think there’s been an overcorrection the other way where we’ve forgotten the fact that like, these vaccines, which were maybe the greatest achievement in human history of the last century, scientific advances last century, are protecting people in an extraordinary way, especially if you’re boosted, even with this new variant that’s extremely transmissible.
Andy Slavitt 54:58
Everybody’s obsessed about tests. It would take me a billion tests equal one vaccine.
Jon Favreau 55:04
Yes. And I think like, that’s, you know, this another very frustrating debate online is like, you know, you call Omicron, mild and everyone gets upset and says it’s not mild and this whole back and forth about mild, it’s like, it’s not about whether the variant itself milder, which it is, it’s about whether your immune system is ready to handle it, and your immune system is going to be ready to handle it if you’re vaccinated and boosted. Those people are not by and large going to the hospital. They’re not dying. You know, if you’re vaccinated, that’s what you need to know.
Andy Slavitt 55:35
Look, I think people are worried that the shoe hasn’t last year hasn’t dropped on COVID If they were sure, if people could feel sure that we would be living in a world about where we live in today. And it wasn’t going to get worse than this. I believe it would, I think people generally feel like, I know how to live through this and live with this. For people who are immunocompromised, the antivirals will be the thing to make the difference. And so they’ll get there then too, for people with kids under five like you and your wife, Jon. And like, Charlie, you know, there’s another issue that needs to drop for life to be fully back to where it is. And we can’t forget, like the country sometimes talk about these groups like their corner cases, yeah, but except for kids under five, except for people immunocompromised, we’re talking about like, literally 10s and 10s of millions of people in those categories. But as those things evolve, which they will over the course of 2022, for sure. You know, I think but people just they’re gonna need a little bit of time to go, this is normal. Like, I think we’re gonna I actually believe we won’t know where normal until a year after we’ve been in normal, or more.
Jon Favreau 56:47
And look, like you said it, a lot of this is PTSD from what we’ve all been through. And fear is an incredibly powerful force. And it’s more powerful than the knowledge of statistics, right? Like, I’m afraid of flying, right? Everyone tries to tell me like, you’re not going to crash in a plane, you know, talk to the pilot, talk to the flight attendants. It’s a fear that I have. So everything that I know is not going to overcome that fear. I think about that with like, you know, probably five or six of Charlie’s friends now have had COVID over those last waves. They’ve all had fevers and coughs and then they’ve been fine, right? One- and two-year-olds, but then, you know, heard of a friend with a two-year-old whose oxygen levels dropped when she had it, and they almost took her to the hospital. And you’re like, okay, even though that’s the one case I’ve heard, and all the other cases, I’ve heard the kids were fine. That’s the one that sticks in my head.
Andy Slavitt 57:36
We have kids, it needs to be absolute. Like we have kids. That’s not a risk you’re willing to take for your kids, you take the risk for yourself. But not for your kids.
Jon Favreau 57:46
I also empathize with the parents too. It’s like, you know, Charlie’s not in preschool yet. But when he can’t do a lot of play dates, and you can’t go to museums, and you can’t do all that kind of stuff. Like it’s hard. It’s hard raising kids. And I can’t imagine with you know, families who have childcare issues, and preschool, shut down all that kind of stuff. So I get weighing it get my point is the job of public health officials should not be to tell people everything’s fine when it’s not. But they should try whenever they whenever possible to minimize fear that isn’t warranted by giving people the information that they need to make informed decisions about risk for themselves. And I do think that’s a key role that the Biden administration will need to play going forward, especially as we get into this, you know, period, that’s post Omicron. And we’re still not sure what’s going on.
Andy Slavitt 58:34
Right? Well, you know, it’s the funny thing is like, I think it’s administration, there’s just so and I don’t speak for them. So this is just my thing. It’s like, what you just said is like the most important thing, the threshold that was reached when every American had access to a vaccine, like at that point in time, where it was either by choice or again, with accepting people under fire for immunocompromised people, that does represent the fact that we all have choices, how to move on. Look, I’ve kept you such a long time that I’m very self-conscious of it.
Jon Favreau 59:09
Happy to chat. We had a lot to say.
Andy Slavitt 59:11
We had a lot to talk about. And I appreciate you coming on. I appreciate you in general. And as I said, you know, you have a small little podcast people might want to listen to if they’ve never heard of it. Again, actually, that one podcast, you got dozen of podcasts, right?
Jon Favreau 59:26
Yes, we do. And we always tell people to listen to you and to this one too and I’m very appreciative of, you know, just the information and that you’ve given us all during the pandemic, and especially all the people that you’ve brought on this podcast, I’ll follow on Twitter and keeps me informed and keeps me not too afraid. But knowing what the reality is. So I really appreciate that.
Andy Slavitt 59:48
Well, my best to you, the guys, your wife, your son, and thanks for keep doing it and protecting our democracy as well at the same time.
Jon Favreau 59:57
Well, thank you very much. Take care, Andy. I appreciate it.
Andy Slavitt 1:00:08
Okay, we got an incredibly special show for you on Wednesday. I can’t employ you enough to download it as soon as you humanly possibly wake up on Wednesday. Well, maybe that’s a little much. You can get a cup of coffee first. We’re going inside a hospital right now. Right now we’re gonna go inside the hospital for a shift in Rhode Island, to see what it is like. What’s different about it now compared to delta and earlier waves, what’s different about it now, with all the new treatments, what it looks like, what the wait times are, how the doctors are feeling, how the nurses are feeling. All of that. So this is a different type episode. We’re literally going to have footage inside the hospital, led by a great physician Megan Ranney, who will be there to give it to us. It’ll be great. Then on Monday, our next show after that is about caregiving in America. America’s number one issue today is how we do caregiving in America, all of us who have to take care of parents, kids, etc. Then we have safe or not safe Omicron variety. This will be great. It’ll help us I think hopefully at that point in time coming out of Omicron. Talk about what’s safe to do again, and that’ll be fun. Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you on Wednesday.
Andy Slavitt 1:01:44
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. Hope you rate us highly. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen produced the show. Our mix is by Ivan Kuraev and Veronica Rodriguez. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs are the executive producers of the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, and additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter or at @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you like what you heard today, please tell your friends and please stay safe, share some joy and we will definitely get through this together.