The “Forgive Me, Joe” Edition
Emily Bazelon: This Ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. Enjoy.
David Plotz, David David: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest.
David Plotz, David David: For June 2nd, 2022. It’s the Forgive Me Joe Edition and David Plotz of City Cast in Washington, D.C.. No, I’m not in Washington, D.C. That was a trick.
John Dickerson: Oh, my God.
David Plotz, David David: I’m in Chicago because I’m spending a week working with my dear city cast colleagues in Chicago. And what a great city. So happy to be here that oh my God, of course, came from John DICKERSON of CBS Sunday Morning, who’s in New York City. Hello, John.
John Dickerson: Hello, David.
David Plotz, David David: And not. Oh, my God. I’m not impressed with the fact that I’m in Chicago because she’s been everywhere is Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School in New Haven. Hello, Emily.
Emily Bazelon: You must be feeling very exuberant, since it’s really John who does all the traveling of the three of us. And really, in COVID times, none of us go much of anyone.
David Plotz, David David: I’ve traveled a ton this year. I’m sort of ashamed to admit it because I’ve traveled a lot. It’s all I’m making up for. Lost time this week on the Gabfest the response to the of all the shootings, the catastrophic police mistakes that were made, the lies that have been told, and the prospects for gun legislation. Then, does Biden’s plan to forgive $10,000 in student loans for millions of Americans make sense? And then Republican members of Congress and a lot of other people are refusing to honor subpoenas from the January six committee. Will they be forced to testify? How bad and precedent setting is their refusal to show up? Plus, of course, we’ll have cocktail chatter.
David Plotz, David David: The revelations about the Uvalde massacre have brought shame on local police and compounded the tragedy as though you could compound something that was that terrible to begin with. And yet they’ve somehow made it worse. Different police officials have now had to walk back almost everything that was originally claimed about the police response to the shootings and a lot of what they claimed even after that in the secondary claims.
David Plotz, David David: On Wednesday, Texas officials acknowledged that a teacher did not, in fact, leave a door open to let the shooter in, but that an automatic lock had failed. They still have only barely explained how the incident commander made such a colossal mistake in abandoning active shooter protocols and waiting an hour before going in after him. It’s a tragedy layered over with catastrophic incompetence, all soaked, marinated drowning in America’s insane gun culture. So Emily, more than a week after this tragedy, we’ve all sort of been living with it. These incredibly sad stories of funerals, of the families upended and destroyed by this. What is sticking with you?
Emily Bazelon: I have just been driven by this story, and I know there are so many terrible things that happen in the world. But this has really gotten to me. And one reason for it, I think, is that I feel such frustration that this 18 year old was so easily able to obtain a gun and that we’ve had this string of legally authorized gun purchases that have led to mass casualties and just lead to so much gun violence in our country.
Emily Bazelon: And here are the last line of defense failed. Right. The idea that the police that law enforcement in the state of Texas, which is, you know, so swashbuckling about law enforcement, that they could utterly, utterly botch the scene of the shooting and leave children vulnerable, that so much of those kids would be on 911 begging for help. And that help did not come in any timely way. It’s unfathomable. You’re right. They still haven’t explained it. We haven’t listened to the voices of those children on those calls. I mean, that is going to be truly unbearable. But we know that there were shots being fired as the police were standing in the hallway that the police could hear that were coming through over 911. And I just can’t understand it. And I can’t understand how we’ve gotten to this pass where these were the rescuers. They were supposed to rush in. They failed and the country still seems frozen.
David Plotz, David David: There’s been this interesting question about should we see the photographs of the of the scene and should that be shared? And which is a different question from should we hear the calls? And I personally think we probably shouldn’t see the photographs. And they will inflame the wrong people and and simply and not particularly do something for the for the right people. I absolutely think we should hear those calls. I think there’s something about the human voice. I mean, we’re podcasters, all of us. But I think there’s something about those voices that will, in fact, be moving and powerful. And I really do hope that those are heard, but I don’t know if we will.
John Dickerson: And the idea behind pictures or voice is to keep this real and not allow the fact that it’s become such a. Regular part of our American culture. There have been several shootings even since this one, you know, to keep people from being anesthetized to the horror of what happened. And I’d just like to go back to the word you used, Emily. I think you said they botched it. It feels like the botch is built in, which is by which I mean, when you have a situation where an 18 year old can go and buy two of these assault style weapons and that much ammunition, that the police are going to be outgunned, the SWAT teams that can come in, the tactical forces that can come in are always going to be late because you can’t have a tactical team right at the door always. You can’t put a tactical team in every school.
John Dickerson: And also and I’m relying, as I will probably often in this discussion on the work of James Densley and Jillian Peterson of the Violence Project, who studied all of these mass shootings. And there are two things that really struck out in an interview they did with Politico. One is mostly these are suicide attempts by the shooter. So the idea that you have a good guy with a gun isn’t going to stop them from going in and shooting the place up. It just means that they’ll get what they want when they get killed. And the second thing is, 90% of the time with these shooters, they went to the school. That wasn’t the case in this case, but they went to the school, which means it’s an inside job. Locked doors aren’t going to stop them because they go there. It just seems like everything I read about this botched response affirms the idea that in any of these cases, a response is always going to be botched.
Emily Bazelon: That’s all totally true and well said. Obviously, you are not excusing the response of the police in Uvalde where they had just done an active shooter drill two months earlier, have been trained to rush in and utterly failed to do that.
David Plotz, David David: What do you guys think about the credibility of the police in the wake of Uvalde? Is this going to have a cascading effect whereby when police come out and speak after terrible events, they are just that the level of trust is going to be eroded? Or is this something which will be forgotten? So many things, times a terrible event happens and you think, Oh, this surely will change everything. And we we talk about how it’s going to change everything. And you realize when you look back six months later, it really didn’t change anything. People still listen to police spokespeople and, you know, the police still make stuff up and they still, you know, don’t don’t give give the full story that ultimately comes back out years later in some trial that no one ever follows up on.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, I just think we’re so reliant on the police as a culture. How are we really ever going to break that habit of listening to them after an event of we need them? And so it’s really hard to imagine having lasting impact. That said, it really deeply troubles me that the police department in Uvalde and this little mini police department and the Uvalde school district have ceased cooperating with the Texas state wide investigation because that suggests they care much more about protecting themselves than getting to the bottom of what happened, which is important for preventing it the next time.
John Dickerson: Well, going back to that idea of why, whether we’ll trust the police. There’s such a craving for information in the early moments of these these massacres that I think even if people are distrustful, the craving for information makes people incredibly credulous. And in this case, of course, the first voice was the governor, which is who is in an election race this year. And, you know, there’s an argument that a lot of leaders, presidents and governors and otherwise that you let the officials do it because it’s their job, they’re close to it. And B, you don’t get what happened to Abbott, which is that he gave out bad information.
David Plotz, David David: Emily There’s a lumbering movement. Lumbering movement. They’re like baby step something towards some kinds of legislation in Texas, maybe slightly stiffened red flag laws. Is there any reason to think this won’t end the way? All of this has ended in the past. The proposed law is sort of being tossed around and change and people talking about, oh, maybe we will get some changes even at the national level and then ultimately failing or never getting to a vote. And then the same state legislatures loosening gun restrictions in some other way a few months from now. Is there any reason to think this is different? We thought it was different at Newtown. It wasn’t different.
Emily Bazelon: Politics are worse now in the sense that they’re even more polarized. I think there’s some tiny possibility of some kind of federal red flag law, which, you know, we talked about, I think last week is the idea of temporarily taking away guns from people where there’s some kind of proceeding that they pose a danger to themselves or others. I don’t think that’s the most effective solution by any long shot, and it’s not even clear that that will pass.
John Dickerson: And it may very well just be a red flag nudge to the states rather than a federal law with lots of due process protections. I think there’s some evidence that red flag laws help in cases of domestic violence and abuse at the hands of guns. As we all know, there are kind of there is there are three or four major categories of gun. There’s. Death by suicide in which a gun was used. There’s street crime. Then there’s these mass shootings. And domestic violence is the fourth for different areas that have four different kinds of solutions. It doesn’t seem like a red flag would have happened in this case. What might have happened.
John Dickerson: And again, I’m going back to the work by James Densley and Jillian Peterson. Raise the age to 21, the average age of the shooters. In all of these cases, they’ve studied average age 18. And then to the point of legislation and mental health, one of the things they say is if you wanted to attach part of this problem and their argument is it’s got there’s a multiplicity of issues. But if you want to go after mental health and this is the test of the legislation being promoted by Republicans who don’t want to do anything about the easy access to guns. And what they’ve suggested is hiring 500,000 psychologists to put them in schools around the country. And if you assume a salary of about $70,000 a year, that’s about 35 billion a year in funding. So that’s the test of all this discussion about mental health responses to these shootings.
David Plotz, David David: Emily, one thing that has me somewhat despondent. So gun owners are this tiny minority of Americans and gun owners who don’t want gun restrictions are a teensy tiny minority of Americans. They’re extremely powerful, but they’re about to get a huge Supreme Court win. Right. What’s that going to do? And can you just quickly explain what that is?
Emily Bazelon: Yeah. I mean, this is a case about a gun law in New York. The New York restriction on gun ownership is quite onerous. The Supreme Court will surely strike it down based on its evolving Second Amendment jurisprudence. The question is just how big a hole they are going to blow in state and local gun safety laws across the board. I mean, they could just make it much, much harder for states to impose restrictions in the name of the Second Amendment. And what you see here is the conservative Supreme Court grabbing a hold of a part of the Bill of Rights that they really like and being super expansionist about it in a way that flies in the face of states trying to, you know, make their own laws and policies within their borders. So, yes, we are anticipating that in the New York gun case, which should be decided by the end of June.
John Dickerson: And on the on the what’s happening in Congress, the other branch of government we have the House on Thursday is likely to pass a bill with a series of provisions, including raising the age to 21 all. And it will pass the House and will go nowhere in the Senate. In the Senate there. They’re mostly focused around the red flag law and and a far more modest response and and some mental health response, which, again, will be really interesting because of the the work I’ve been citing is, as you quite rightly pointed out, David, mental health officers in schools would would help with these other problems that Peterson and Densley have have connected them to, which is the despair that has led to increase in overdose and in suicide more broadly.
John Dickerson: And so there is actually an epidemic of despair which channels itself into these 18 year old shooters, some of whom, by the way, if you’re thinking of other causal factors, what their work shows is that if you have suicidal ideation, if you are then given a scapegoat by a charismatic public figure and we know some of those who exist, if you’re given a scapegoat to explain why you feel suicidal, you then turn your inward thoughts outward towards groups that you can attack because you’ve been given this link between your despair and this other group. So in a time of despair, when you are a public figure turning other groups into scapegoats, you’re playing with fire.
David Plotz, David David: Slate plus members. You, of course get bonus segments on the Gabfest every week. Slate.com slash Gabfest plus to become a member today.
David Plotz, David David: We’re going to talk today about Elon Musk musk he musk this week and the way he Musk’s was demanding that his employees at Tesla and SpaceX access 112,000 employees at Tesla and SpaceX return to work in the office full time. No remote work allowed at Tesla and SpaceX. Is he a visionary or a monster for his requirement?
David Plotz, David David: President Biden plans to cancel $10,000 of federal student debt for anyone who has federal student loans and earns less than $150,000 a year. It’s a procedurally finicky thing to do because income verification is going to be a little bit tricky. The IRS and the other parts of the government can’t share that information so easily, so simply. But it is something that Biden can do all on his own without Congress, and that’s why he’s probably doing it. So, John, what’s the theory behind this move and what would the cost to the country be if he does it and the gain for the country?
John Dickerson: Right. Well, so there’s the policy and the political. So the policy theory is that if you have so many people who are burdened by student debt, that in a time of high inflation, you can remove this burden. $10,000 of relief that would be calibrated to those who make less than $250,000 and $300,000 for married couples. So that would settle the balances of about a third of the borrowers while cutting the total debt at least in half for another 20%. And that’s from the Department of Education. And that the idea would be that it would benefit those who have not shared in prosperity and remove this anvil from from future economic activity by those people.
John Dickerson: The arguments against are that. I mean, there are lots of them. One is that even if you targeted, as the Biden administration appears to be doing, you still end up helping people who don’t need the help. And then the question is, why are you forgiving this kind of loan debt? What about, say, medical loan debt, which is the result of accidents as opposed to a free choice to decide to go to college? What about all those people who attended college but never took on debt? What about all those people who didn’t even go to college at a four year college but went to a community college because four year college was too expensive? What about the person who paid off their student loan debt a week ago? What about the people who avoided debt by serving in the military to qualify for the GI Bill? So that’s a broader and then there’s the economic there are some possible economic effects, but those are the kind of fairness effects.
John Dickerson: And then, of course, what do you do going forward.
David Plotz, David David: Emily? Why do you think so many people are irritated about as John? Start to get out. There are a lot of different constituencies that seem to feel it’s either inadequate or it’s too it’s unfair. So it’s being attacked from all the possible directions it can be attacked from.
Emily Bazelon: Right. I mean, to me, this just seems like a policy thicket and a political thicket for the reasons you both just laid out. So the minute Biden came forward with this $10,000 idea, advocacy groups that have been asking for a debt relief scorned it and said, you know, basically, this is not at all going to be enough of a solution. And so this quite substantial debt relief in terms of the amount of overall money and all the fairness questions it raised that John was talking about isn’t even going to satisfy the political constituency that really wants it. So Biden’s going to get denounced for not doing enough.
Emily Bazelon: And then it really does have deep fairness questions about why this kind of debt. You know, our method in this country for financing college doesn’t make any sense. We have these huge price tags, wildly different amounts people pay. There’s nothing about this $10,000 cap debt relief that’s going to really change that system. It also doesn’t change things for the people going to college now. Right. It’s like debt, amnesty. It doesn’t necessarily apply going forward. And it’s just really complicated to figure out what is a fair way to think about these exorbitant loans people have taken out in some cases, versus like people who are more disadvantaged, didn’t get to go to college in the first place. Like, what about them? It just is so tricky.
Emily Bazelon: And then there’s this other racial justice element, which is that black college students take out disproportionate amounts of loan, and that is like a huge burden on them. And yet at the same time, it’s not the most disadvantaged people who are going to benefit from loan relief because those aren’t the people who go to college. So I just my God, I this is one where I like really kind of pity the Biden administration.
John Dickerson: And there’s also, you know, arguably the income driven repayment scheme which exists already can be tweaked and improved and changed in a way that might be more effective, certainly less politically. You know, nobody’s going to run to the microphone and say we’ve tweaked the income driven repayment plan. You know, that’s the whole fix here, which is that to be economically to be powerful enough to get the political benefit, which, by the way, is a difficult you know, it’s not certain that there’s a direct political benefit to be won here. But anyway, it’s got to be real big to wake everybody up to the beauty of it. But the bigger it gets, the stickier it becomes economically.
Emily Bazelon: But just one thing about the income driven repayment plan, which is that it’s supposed to be that your debt gets forgiven more of it over time. It’s like up to 10% of your earnings. It does not work. It has benefited only a tiny, tiny fraction of people. There is just this horrible bureaucracy of eligibility rules. If you’ve ever talked to anyone who tried to get any kind of debt relief from it, you hear these awful stories. So how are we supposed to trust it to work better?
David Plotz, David David: Millions eligible, 32 people, 32 people in the country. I mean, it’s laughable. It’s laughing, but it’s tragic to try to.
John Dickerson: Show that is embarrassing. But I thought, Emily, that the problem is it’s not that it’s a bad idea. It’s it’s poorly executed. So that if it’s execution.
Emily Bazelon: Yes. But you just have to trust that they could execute it better when it’s being executed clearly in a failed way. Like that’s a leap.
David Plotz, David David: But don’t you feel that at least what Biden is doing it is there are a whole set of people who are suddenly not going to have student debt if he if he carries it out. And there are people who it actually turns out the people who are closest to bankruptcy, who are most likely to be damaged by student debt, have relatively trivial amounts of debt. They many of them are people who didn’t actually complete college. They didn’t they went to two for profit colleges and didn’t complete and are and are weighted under what might be a trivial amount of debt to a doctor or a lawyer. But for somebody who doesn’t have a college degree or hasn’t made a huge amount of money, it is it is life crippling. And so to liberate some hundreds of thousands of people from that and that burden is does seem to me like a it’s a it’s a pretty simple, clear fix. And as but as you guys say, everyone else is so angry that probably whatever political benefit is gained is is wiped away. But but maybe there is a gain for those number of people.
Emily Bazelon: And that seems so sensible, right? I mean, when I was thinking about that part of it, okay, 90% of the people who are facing bankruptcy fall into this under $10,000 pool. I felt like, okay, great, let’s just let all of that go. Sure.
David Plotz, David David: And I guess the reason I mean, just to just to touch on some of the reasons that people are critical to the medical debt. Well, medical debt isn’t for the most part. It’s not federal debt. I don’t think it’s not it is not something that he can do with the stroke of a pen. And this is federally guaranteed or federally issued debt for these students. And so Biden can actually make that that action.
Emily Bazelon: Until the Supreme Court stops him, at least go on.
David Plotz, David David: Right. Right. Good point. You’ve also for debt for few people in the future. You can’t prospectively pay off people’s debt. For people who’ve who’ve settled up their their debt, like, what do you want to do? Like, I don’t think you can. I don’t think he could arbitrarily send $10,000 checks to people who happened to have completed their student loan repayments in last year. It’s a thing that he can do easily. I’m not saying that these criticisms aren’t valid or that they’re not deeply felt because clearly they are. It’s just that he doesn’t have a lot of options.
David Plotz, David David: When you have a Congress that can’t act, the piece that it’s just not been addressed at all is just it’s ludicrous what’s happened with higher education. It’s this it’s the gutting. The public funding has been gutted and and universities just continue, not because they’re particularly greedy, but because there aren’t real controls on them just to raise costs and costs and cause. I assume that what’s happened in pandemic, which is this enormous drop in the number of students enrolling in college, will have a will have a knock on effect. And ultimately, college costs will have to come down because they just aren’t getting enough students. And they’re going to have to they’re going to have to do something to make it more affordable. But but university in this country is absurdly expensive.
Emily Bazelon: That’s not going to happen. They’re just going to keep like not having most people pay the actual price. Right. I mean, college is incredibly discounted for so many people. And then the people who actually pay the whole thing are relatively wealthy. Like that’s how it works.
David Plotz, David David: John, does it seem useful to Biden and the Democrats if this this debt cancellation goes through? Does it change the narrative so that people are at least talking about something other than inflation? I don’t like I can’t it doesn’t seem like the polls are going to be filled with voters who are suddenly Hosanna and Joe Biden with gratitude. But does it change the narrative.
John Dickerson: Option in a really awful drawer full of bad options? And so the positive case politically for the way this works out is that it creates a fight and the fight goes on for a while. And the Democrats get to say, we’re on the side of middle class and working people who, you know, are totally buried under this debt. You get it allows the president to say, I took action.
John Dickerson: Right. The last big thing that everybody’s paid attention to because nobody’s talking about Ukraine in this context, you know, they think about the failure of build back better. We’ll hear he is acting to the extent that this has a response to inflation of a kind. In other words, yes, you’re you know, every gas station price sign is a negative billboard against the Democrats. And so this is a way to say, well, we’re thinking about long term, the long term burdens of high inflation activities like college. So, yeah, it keeps its turf. Democrats are safer on. It also allows them to have some response to the inflation because otherwise the responses are incredibly thin. And so that’s probably the best they can hope for in this pretty dreary environment. Because when you are on the stump, as I was recently and hear Democrats talking about the infrastructure bill, it does not get the crowd in, you know, in an uproar.
John Dickerson: And what will be really interesting to watch in these purple districts and purple states is how much the candidates talk about abortion and gun safety, because it’s not a certainty that those two issues work unequivocally well for Democrats in these kinds of elections. So this is also a way for Democrats to stay on turf where they might be a little it might be a little safer for them.
David Plotz, David David: I cannot remember where I saw this, but someone observed this week that if Watergate happened today, the president would never pay the price for it because all the president’s men would not bother to show up and testify. We are witnessing a really interesting and deeply depressing spectacle over in the House where a huge percentage of the witnesses who are called to testify to the January six committee, a huge percentage of the high profile ones in particular, are refusing to show up. So Emily, who is resisting, refusing these lawful subpoenas and why are they doing it?
Emily Bazelon: I mean, who is not resisting? Well, no, actually, that’s not true. Mark Meadows cooperated a little bit. So did Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner weeks ago. The people are not cooperating. Include four members of Congress.
David Plotz, David David: McCarthy, Jordan Brooks and a couple others.
Emily Bazelon: And also newly added to the list, Peter Navarro, who is Trump’s trade adviser and filed a lawsuit this week about a subpoena he received in February, which the FBI knocked on his door about in May. And, yeah, I mean, I think what we’re seeing here honestly started during the Trump administration with President Trump himself, former President Trump, which is a lot of fist shaking about congressional subpoenas and the congressional subpoena power is both crucial to our democracy. It’s a huge tool that Congress has. If you have a valid legislative purpose, which basically means you’re trying to figure out what to do about a problem which can include investigating something that’s gone wrong in the past to prevent it from happening in the future.
Emily Bazelon: Then Congress has the power to force people to show up and testify. Except that Congress hasn’t enforced its own powers to do that by actually like throwing someone in jail. And since the beginning of the 20th century, and so effectively, this power has operated by everyone just complying or with these kinds of long, long dances in court where people do not comply and the clock runs out.
Emily Bazelon: We’ve seen that happen in previous administrations, and we are seeing it again, kind of on steroids at this moment where it seems like this January six committee is super important. This terrible thing happened in the Capitol itself. There are lots of people implicated who are both in Congress and high up in the government at the time or connected to people who are in the Trump administration. And for all kinds of reasons, legal and political, they have disincentives to comply. Right. It’s only going to help all these members of Congress when there are elections, if they’re seen as shaking their fist at this mostly Democratic House committee. And legally speaking, they don’t want to have to show up and tell the truth about what’s happened. And some of them don’t even want to show up and take the Fifth because they don’t like the idea of saying that they’re incriminating themselves, presumably. So they’re just not showing up at all and they are turning Congress into a paper tiger. And that, in terms of our separation of powers, is really bad.
John Dickerson: Well, everything you say is true. We should also mention Scott Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who coordinated the plan to try to replace the acting attorney general and who it is reported after a conversation with Mark Meadows. Meadows burned documents in the fireplace of his office. That’s one of the things that has been alleged. One thing that I wonder about him, what we’ll learn next week is they’ve interviewed a thousand people in this committee and the big fish have refused. But big fish have lots of little fish that work for them and they have been able to get testimony from not these members of Congress staffers, but the staffers of lots of White House people who have Meadows is staffer.
John Dickerson: For example, Meadows has refused to testify more, and also people who who worked in other key jobs in the White House, who in this pell mell effort were taking notes, talked on on emails. And so it could very well be the case that these members get in the narrative that comes out. Their testimony would have maybe helped them spin whatever is going to come out, because what comes out might be quite detailed, specific and quite damning.
John Dickerson: Now, what you said about politics is exactly right. They’re hoping to turn this into a partisan fight that people think, oh, this is just, you know, two sides going after it again. It’s just the same old thing as opposed to what it is, which is the greatest threat by the most powerful person in the democracy to a central tenant of the democracy. They would like it to be a fight about something else. So turning it into a legal drama is something people are used to not kind of this deep threat to the functioning of our system.
David Plotz, David David: I separate simply, incorrectly, these subpoenas and the refusal to comply with them into two categories the members of Congress. And they are refusing to comply for a set of reasons. Mostly they for the reasons that Emily cited, but also they are making a claim that if Congress is going to be subpoena its own members, it’s going to be a dangerous road to go down. I’m no I know they’re making this claim disingenuously, but that’s the claim. And then but the people like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, who are refusing subpoenas, claiming some kind of executive privilege, that there’s an executive privilege.
Emily Bazelon: To break.
David Plotz, David David: The law.
Emily Bazelon: Only if they don’t.
David Plotz, David David: They didn’t even name. Yeah. And also they didn’t even weren’t even working officially for Trump. And they and these were these were not this was about overturning the election was the discussions which can’t possibly be something that’s protected by presidential privilege. The idea that those subpoenas could not be enforced, that that we may reach a, you know, November and this committee gets disbanded or undone or January 1st or whenever the Congress turns over.
David Plotz, David David: And Steve Bannon, Peter Navarro, have not been held to account for this is incredibly threatening to the country. We already had in the Trump presidency he essential blanket refusal of Trump officials to testify about anything that they didn’t want to testify about. They just wouldn’t show up to Congress. And they were never held to account. Congress was never able to compel them to do it. But now the Trump is no longer president. These people have no, you know, plausible claim that they are protecting some sort of executive interest. And still Congress can’t even act. It is shocking.
Emily Bazelon: Well, this is where actually the Justice Department comes in. Right. Because whether Congress wants to put people in jail for contempt of Congress and do something it hasn’t done for almost 200 years, I think actually more than 100 years at this point. That’s one question whether the Justice Department should be issuing criminal subpoenas with potentially criminal contempt citations. That’s a different matter. And in fact, that’s what prompted Navarro’s lawsuit was the involvement of the Justice Department. And so this is the part in the conversation where everyone says basically, where is Attorney General Merrick Garland? Is he going to back up Congress? Where is his investigation? And have they been too slow? You know, a couple weeks ago, they asked for the transcripts of all the January six committee hearings, which is just a really interesting interplay between the branches of government, that the Justice Department would feel that Congress investigation was further along and had perhaps information that DOJ itself doesn’t have.
John Dickerson: I would just have wanted to add to the my point earlier about lower level staffers remember that Alexander Butterfield was the one who in the Watergate hearings testified to the existence of the taping system. He was Haldeman’s assistant. So again, it’s somebody it’s not the big fish. It wasn’t Haldeman, the president’s chief of staff, but it was an assistant to Haldeman who ended up, you know, a major, major turning point in that public investigation. So you could imagine something like a like that happening in these hearings.
David Plotz, David David: Emily Is the game of run out the clock going to work?
Emily Bazelon: Probably. Which is awful. But yeah, we’re getting closer and closer. This is where the Justice Department either comes in or it doesn’t.
John Dickerson: And can I make one last point, which is this is not about the past. Everything that you’ve described and the frustration you were articulating, David and both of you, about the weakness of the system, this is a real time display of all of the things that led to the January six, the talent for diversion, the belief in lies, the total ignoring of both norms and rules, and the view that basically power is all that matters and political team is all that matters. And there’s nothing higher than that. All of that was what led to January 6th, and it’s all going to be on display in the way people respond to the hearings looking into January six.
David Plotz, David David: Let’s go to cocktail chatter. Emily Bazelon When you are fully recovered from COVID and getting back to your regular boozy habits sitting on the porch. Breathing deeply. Drinking heavily. What are you going to be chattering about?
Emily Bazelon: You know, really, they should have come up with some chatter about like puppies or flowers or, I don’t know, yummy food. Instead, I got fixated on a piece in Politico called It’s Going to Be an Army Tapes Revealed GOP Plan to Contest Elections. And I’m just having a kind of sense of deja vu. This is a story about Republican National Committee staffers in Michigan who are signing up thousands of volunteers to be poll workers for the next election. The idea is to connect them immediately, you know, in the moment with armies of lawyers who are going to help them challenge every single ballot that’s possible to challenge.
Emily Bazelon: We heard a lot of things of this ilk leading up to 2020. Not all that much of it actually played out on the ground, or at least not in decisive ways. But now they’re signing up thousands of people in Michigan. And one imagines that with all of the attention to questions about certifying elections, all of the kind of technical, bureaucratic work of counting the vote and authorizing it and making sure it’s valid, that there could really be the kind of interest among Republican volunteers that could muck up the works for real in places like Wayne County, which was which includes Detroit. It was a huge issue in the last election in terms of Michigan’s returns. And I just the idea that we are going to have even more of these efforts to potentially just undermine the work of election officials. I mean, man, how much more of this can the country take?
John Dickerson: And also to keep the fuel behind the effort to hire all those people, you have to increasingly speak in apocalyptic and demon demonizing terms about the other side based largely on just fiction, as opposed to if you’re on the left and you’re are and you’re worried about the integrity of the ballot, you can look to the pieces of legislation being passed by by Republicans to go to make it harder to vote or to put partisanship in the vote counting process. And so I worry about the demonization that takes place to keep those armies of poll watchers going. It just keeps the fire hot.
Emily Bazelon: John. You can come to my cocktail party. No, no. I want to talk to either of us.
David Plotz, David David: That is not true. Everyone always wants to talk to you guys.
David Plotz, David David: John DICKERSON, what’s the chatter?
John Dickerson: I have an animal related chatter, but first one that AP analyzed the early vote in Georgia, the early voting data, I should say, in Georgia after the primary and found that 37,000 people who voted in the state’s Democratic primary two years ago cast ballots in this year’s Republican primary. We talked about this with respect to this crossover voting idea, with respect to Nebraska, strategic voting is always kind of a mirage. But in this case, it might have it might be happening as Democrats participate in Republican primaries to try to block Trump back candidates. Now, in the case of Georgia. The Trump backed candidates got beaten by such a large margin. I bet there’s a Wikipedia entry for a margin that’s that large. I mean, losing by 52 points. You have to literally go and punch voters in the face to lose that badly. And yet David Perdue did that. So 37,000 Democrats didn’t really matter in a defeat that large. But it is interesting, you get 37,000 people to do that, so that’s worth watching.
John Dickerson: The other thing is that mice are afraid of bananas. Scientists were studying the relationship between male mice and stress and it is normally induced by proximity of male mice to late pregnant or lactating female mice. Why? Because male mice eat baby mice and so yucky. Yes. Female mice about to give birth or giving birth produce a scent that keeps the male mice away so that the new babies can survive. That scent, it turns out, is very close to the scent of bananas. And the scent essentially increases the stress among the male mice and they run away. And so they found out by accident that if you bring in some banana oil into a cage of mice, that they will freak out as as if they’re being about to be attacked. And so this is a this is a a long time mystery that has been solved.
Emily Bazelon: So wait a minute. No one ever showed a mouse, a banana before. That just seems like a thing that would have happened.
John Dickerson: No, they showed on the mouse a motorcycle. And and they also.
Emily Bazelon: Gave a mouse a cookie.
John Dickerson: Gave a mouse a muffin, but they didn’t bring a banana in.
David Plotz, David David: My chatter is about a. Excellent column by Ezra Klein in The New York Times. What America needs is a liberalism that builds. It’s this week and it’s asking the question about why the US is bad at building things and how doleful that is for the Democratic Party. If you look at those Great Depression era glorious dams and bridges and footpaths, you look at the Empire State being built in a year and now you have the United States where it costs three times as much to build tunnels in the US as in other comparable countries rich, unionized, safe countries. And it is impossible to build anything quickly.
David Plotz, David David: And it’s not just because Republicans don’t want to do things or not just because there are too many union that’s it’s what as we’re talking about and this is the little bit what Paul Sabin, your husband has written about is this procedural liberalism that is obsessed with ensuring a legally sound process. Democrats have made a government that doesn’t work as well as it could. Some of it is for environmental protection reasons or other other reasons where you want to be, you know, safeguard against some greater damage. But some of it is just cumbersome and difficult. And and it’s also the case that some of the best people have left government and gone to work at nonprofits. And so government itself, the quality of people who work in government is not as high. And that combines to to create a government that is is not particularly good at building things when it needs to build things or when people want it to build things. And that’s that’s bad for Ezra, I would argue for liberals and and I would argue for the country as a whole.
David Plotz, David David: So a friend of mine asked me this week I have a chat or I want to send you, how do I send it to you? And I said, you should send your listener chatter to Gabfest at Slate.com by email or tweet to us at at Gabfest. That’s a true story. Friend really asked me that. And you guys have been sending us great listener chatters. And this week’s comes from Barbara Tanzler. It’s about potatoes.
Emily Bazelon: My cocktail chatter this week when drinking a nicely pulled pint of Guinness is news of the 11th World Potato Congress being held this week in, you guessed it, Dublin, Ireland. 1000 participants from across the globe are attending and will be able to attend sessions on various topics. For example, from couch potato to performance fuel, repositioning the potato or the potato. Healthy or not. And finally, to infinity and beyond the potato on Mars.
David Plotz, David David: I am always interested in the question of whether potatoes are healthy or not. They feel really deeply unhealthy. And yet I. I don’t know. Maybe they just have bad publicity and they need more world potato congresses.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, why are they any more unhealthy than any other starch? What do they have going against them other than they are a starch? Do you feel like rice and pasta are unhealthy?
David Plotz, David David: Their preparation is almost always, uh, always, almost always involves a huge amount of fat. And so it’s heart and salt. And so it’s hard to prepare them in such a way that they aren’t fat and salt delivery vehicles. I love fat and salt. I potato chip is an incredible food. Incredible. It’s amazing that someone invented the potato chip, but it never has struck me as being healthy.
David Plotz, David David: That’s our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Jane Arraf. A researcher this week is Grace Woodruff. Brigid will be back soon. Our theme music is by They Might Be Giants. Ben Richmond is senior director for podcast operations. Alisha Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate Podcast. Please follow us on Twitter and at Slate Gabfest and tweet chatter to us there or emailed to us at Gabfest and Slate.com. And definitely coming to our live show, you can get tickets at Slate dot com slash Gabfest Live June 29th in Washington, DC. We would love to see you there. It’s gonna be great for Emily Bazelon and John DICKERSON. I am David David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week. Give it. Give a quick puppy. Quick puppy update.
Emily Bazelon: Oh, puppy is so lovable and amazing and she’s sleeping pretty well. She really could work on her house training. She just doesn’t really get it. I think. Like she’s eager to please, but she just doesn’t really get it. And it’s not great. Well, she say she’s.
John Dickerson: Giving you presents.
Emily Bazelon: Exactly. And I don’t want them.
David Plotz, David David: Hello, Slate. Plus, how’s it going? So, Elon Musk, who cannot go a minute without making news? Who makes news with? With literally every. Every word out of his mouth, every letter that he types, every not even letter. Sometimes any name is kid like a non letter thing. And that made news because it was an exclamation point or an asterisks or something.
John Dickerson: Hashtag baby.
David Plotz, David David: He made news by writing memos to his employees at two companies that he runs SpaceX and Tesla. Tesla has 99,000 employees, SpaceX X 12,000 employees, both extremely successful companies. He demanded that his employees return to work in the office. There is no more remote work. You can you can work remotely, he said. But you have to be in the office 40 hours a week. And essentially his his. He pointed out that the people who worked on the factory floors at at Tesla and SpaceX had to be present and working for at least 40 hours a week. And he had the same expectation that his senior leaders and the people who did other kinds of work, that it was possible to do remotely be present and working together in person for that amount of time. So. Visionary Monster.
Emily Bazelon: Discuss Monster. I always think of Elon Musk as a monster, but anything that is this inflexible and doesn’t recognize that 40 hours a week in the office at this point, to most of us sounds just like a colossal imposition is being monstrous. It doesn’t mean that there should be any requirement that people come in. I do think things are lost when there’s no office culture. But the idea that you would just issue this kind of blanket order and that if you don’t like it, you can go pretend to work somewhere else. That was another musk line in all of this. It just seems totally out of step with where white collar jobs and professional habits are going.
John Dickerson: I can imagine certain kinds of work requiring this, and I’m a, uh, I think certain kinds of work doesn’t don’t require it, I think. But, but so let’s imagine for a moment that, that he’s right on the merits. It does seem like he’s may he is he’s undermining his case, which is by by make. Because what’s implicit in the way he wrote these things is basically if you have concerns about this kind of flexibility or, you know, have a case to make that you’re basically bankrupt, that you that you’re just trying to shirk and get out of work, which means if you do it, sort of like the beatings will stop once morale improves. Once you do come into the office, it may be a benefit in terms of the kinds of work he wants, but everybody’s grinding their teeth about the boss who’s who’s written these these memos, which surely reduces the productive capacity of those people you’ve frog marched into the office.
David Plotz, David David: Most of the people who work, or many of the people who work at Tesla and SpaceX X physically make things. And to physically make things, you have to be physically present to do tighten that, tighten that bolts and to supervise that robot and and and make sure that O-ring or whatever they use to seal their rockets is is correctly installed. And and I think what Musk is saying is that, you know, if this is this is the company that we have and we’re we’re built around making these objects. And and because your colleagues have to be there present to do the work that they’re doing, you also need to be present. And in your presence, you may not feel that your physical presence is as valuable or as important to your work as as it is for someone who’s making a rocket.
David Plotz, David David: On the other hand, we know there are benefits from you working in person with other people. And I, as a CEO of this company, have decided that I think those physical those benefits of you being physically present and able to work with your colleagues directly in this way is overwhelmingly important. And I expect it to do it feels to me like, look, this is not a decision I would make. I have to work at a fully remote company. And and it’s only this week, literally for the first time that I’m working with any of my colleagues. And in physical presence, it makes a huge difference. But I don’t think it would make a huge difference if I did it every single day. That said.
David Plotz, David David: Let’s have diversity of opinion. Let’s have diversity of options. People who don’t want this don’t need to work at Tesla. They don’t have to do it. They can criticize them for making a bad choice. But the offices where no one is going back or the offices where like a lot of offices, people are saying you have to come back two days a week and people aren’t showing up. And then what do you do? And and it doesn’t seem to me to be the worst thing in the world to have a set of places which which require physical presence, even for people who actually don’t need to be physically present to do their jobs. It’s it’s just a set of choices. And it gives, it gives more variety and workplaces. And that seems fine.
John Dickerson: David That makes a great point. Just why did he make it in such a snippy way? If you why kick everybody in the knee?
David Plotz, David David: Have you followed Elon Musk for the last decade? Does he make points in snippy ways as you do it in ways that are an aggrandizing and aholic?
John Dickerson: Fair, fair, fair point. I also would add from the car business, I believe it’s a story about Henry Ford, who hired a productivity expert or something would come through and look at his operations and the guy who report delivered his report and he said, there’s a guy, you know, down the hall in this office, and he basically sits with his feet up on them, on the desk all day. You know, you got to get rid of that guy. And Ford said, well, he may, but the ideas that he comes up while his feet up are up on the desk, you know, earned us $2 billion so he can keep his feet up on the desk all day. I don’t know if that story is at all true, but it it is a reminder that. You know, maybe it’s only for certain kinds of a small number of employees or maybe it’s just one employee. But there are other ways of work and kinds of work that a must be seen in front of everyone else. Mindset undermines.
Emily Bazelon: I just think we are like at the very beginning of such a revolt over all these things. I mean, maybe I’m being influenced somewhat by my own workplace, where the New York Times, based on a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board, has to bargain return to office policies. They can’t just order everyone back. And that is a really interesting dynamic. And I think a lot of workplaces, whether or not they have unions, are just going to face a different set of demands. I mean, I hear it from people who are hiring all the time that one of the first questions is, do I have to come in? How much do I have to come in? Can I come in like maybe once a month if I feel like it, as opposed to being there every day? Anyway, yeah, we’ll see how it all shakes out.
David Plotz, David David: As I was saying, I’m I’m working together in person with colleagues for the first time this week and it’s so thrilling to me and we are so productive in the things that we need to do. I’m not saying again, I’m not saying that that should be like that every day. It shouldn’t because we concentrated our work and we’re focusing on the things that we need to focus on and then we can disperse. And. But it is it is so Looney Tunes for people to claim that there’s no benefit for people working together, even people who whose work is primarily, you know, intellectual work, brain work that is so low brain work to claim that it’s just not right. It’s wrong.
David Plotz, David David: And and it’s not to say there aren’t you know, the commuting costs are real. The time that you waste in commuting, that is a huge loss. The time, you know, there’s some people find the socialization of the office totally enervating or that they the gossip of the office totally enervating. I’m not saying they’re not right about that. They are right about that. But like except that being physically present with other people and trying to accomplish task with other people is easier than trying to do it remotely most of the time. And it if I had to if I had a kind of business where, where we were all in the same city, at least I would Mike Mike thing would be we have to be together, you know, two days a week on the same day is physically present and then the rest of the time, no.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, that’s what I think it’s going to land for a lot of, you know, office white collar knowledge work where people aren’t making stuff.
John Dickerson: I think I’ve there’s prompted two thoughts. One is I wonder how much all of us need to be re taught. The interactions of the office. Because we’ve been away from it for two years. And so part of this is just remembering how you behave and what the day’s like and how interruptions are not as bad as they may seem. I can imagine people working for two years on their own home schedule, going into an office and feeling like the normal interruptions that are a part of the good part of of working together would be irritating. And so you’d have to relearn that. So that’s one thing.
John Dickerson: And then second thing is that the reason to have everybody together in the same office is our aggregate ability to communicate has been all screwed up by texts and emails. And so it’s often the case that you can resolve something in 2 minutes in person, that it can take 50 emails to resolve, and that that is not just about making the company better, but making communication better for all of mankind, which we need a great deal of help with. So everybody should be frog marched into their offices to communicate with each other and Elon Musk is a genius.
David Plotz, David David: I just one small point about relearning. So we I’ve been having these meetings in a conference room, me and two other colleagues for the last couple of days. And I realized all my crazy, weird, bad habits that I had when I used to work in conference rooms have reemerged, which is that I paced. I lay down on the floor. I do things which which are such boss privilege, such like like it’s awful. I can’t stand myself. Like I’m incapable of sort of just sitting there politely in my chair or, you know, possibly striding up to the whiteboard and, you know, elegantly taking notes. I have to move around nervously in ways that are extremely disruptive.
Emily Bazelon: It’s sounds great. So glad I missed that.
David Plotz, David David: I all my. Yeah, well, it turns out that Mike, the colleagues I was working with are also kind of like that. So at some point we were there were two of us were lying on the floor having the meeting. So it was that was an interesting, interesting thing that was happening. All right. Goodbye Slate plus see you at the office got.