McConnell to end reign as Senate Republican leader
Feb 28, 2024
Episode 1107

McConnell to end reign as Senate Republican leader

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It's been a long run.

Mitch McConnell announced he’s stepping down as leader of Senate Republicans this year. The longest-serving Senate leader is revealed his decision amid ongoing negotiations over Ukraine funding and a looming government shutdown. We’ll look back on his historic tenure. Plus, why some corporations should learn to read the room. And, the legacy of “Soul Train,” the iconic TV dance show.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

We love to hear from you. Send your questions and comments to makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.

Make Me Smart February 28, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kai Ryssdal 

All right let’s do it.

Kimberly Adams 

Hi everybody, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense.

Kai Ryssdal 

I’m Kai Ryssdal. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us on this Wednesday 28th Feb. Today, we will do what we usually do on a Wednesday. News and then some smiles. We will jump right into it. I will just read from my note in the rundown here. Ms. Adams, it says we should riff on McConnell for a bit.

Kimberly Adams 

We should indeed. So, as folks who will probably are listening to this will probably have heard by now. The Senate Minority Leader has announced that he will step down as the Republican leader starting in November as AP headline says, “a record run in the job.” He’s been in that job. Gosh, for how long? Decades.

Kai Ryssdal

Since 2007, so.

Kimberly Adams

Since 2007, and he’s 82. And his term ends in January 2027. He says he’s going to serve out the end of the terms, serve out his term. But you know, wow, there’s such an impact that McConnell has had on the Senate and on American politics, you know, very famously blocking the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. Just sort of working with Trump in the way that he did. Blocking Obama’s, you know, administration goals, saying out loud that his whole purpose was to make sure nothing got done. I think a lot of them. We talk often on this show about the party of obstruction, right? And this idea of whether or not they get their agenda done, it’s about not, you know, moving other things forward. And McConnell has a lot to do with that.

Kai Ryssdal 

I think McConnell has everything to do with that, in his term as majority minority leader of the Republican Party, I think. I think, demonstrably, he has been opposed to governance, and in favor of blocking the Democratic agenda. And look, to some measure, that’s what an opposition leader is supposed to do. But there is also some measure of you actually do have to govern. Here’s the thing that gets me about McConnell, and we’re going to have historiographies of him now for the next, you know, two, three weeks, right? All these Republicans are going to say, oh, my goodness, you know, such a meaningful leader and this and that, and whatever. Other than Donald Trump himself, Mitch McConnell is the reason that Donald Trump is still a political force in this country.

Kimberly Adams

Hmm, say more on that.

Kai Ryssdal

Sure. At the impeachment, that second impeachment at the trial, McConnell voted to acquit. And if McConnell as the then, I guess he was minority leader, but still a man of incredible influence in the Senate. If he had said to his Republican colleagues, “We will vote to disqualify him from holding further office,” as is the Senate’s prerogative to do when they try somebody for impeachment. We wouldn’t be sitting here today. This wouldn’t be happening.

Kimberly Adams 

This is true. This is very true. Another thing that came to mind when I heard this news today was sort of the timing of it, where it’s coming in these very difficult negotiations to avoid a government shutdown, with the funding for Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan, that the Senate passed in a bipartisan measure not going anywhere in the house. He’s having a rather challenging relationship with House Majority Leader Johnson. Speaker of the House Johnson, sorry. House Speaker Johnson, and I wonder if he’s just like, you know, what, I can’t get anything done anymore. Why bother? You know?

Kai Ryssdal 

Yeah, I don’t. Hmm.

Kimberly Adams 

The party does what Trump says. He doesn’t have a great relationship to Trump anymore. And why wait for your power to completely fade before you exit stage left, whereas now he can leave with some of his power intact, but right now, it’s clearly going away. There was a time when McConnell being McConnell could have said we’re going to push this through. House Republicans get on board, and he can’t do that anymore.

Kai Ryssdal 

I think that’s exactly right. The party has in many ways moved past him. I did think it was interesting, though, just on the Trump thing to read in Times yesterday, maybe Politico someplace that that lieutenants of both men or close former associates of both McConnell and Trump are in discussions to have McConnell endorsed Trump even though McConnell’s feelings about Trump are extremely well known. And they are just this side of hatred.

Kimberly Adams 

I mean, that hasn’t stopped a lot of other people.

Kai Ryssdal 

I know, but it speaks to it speaks to the transparently, just feckless nature of much of the Republican party today, right?

Kimberly Adams 

I don’t want to go as far as that. I will be extraordinarily, what’s the right word for it? I will be extraordinarily fascinated in what a McConnell endorsement of Trump actually says. Like, what are the words?

Kai Ryssdal 

That’s fair. Totally fair. Yep.

Kimberly Adams 

You know, what are the words that are being used? Yeah, so anyway, right. So that’s McConnell,

Kai Ryssdal 

What else? What else you got?

Kimberly Adams 

I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to unpack. We often talk about reading the room and how companies do a real bad job of it. And there were two examples that, you know, kind of crossed the news today of companies just not doing a great job. So, remember, on Friday when we were doing our Economics on Tap happy hour and a Half Full/Half Empty. They were talking about cereal for dinner. Do you remember this?

Kai Ryssdal 

Yep. Yes, I do. Yes, I do.

Kimberly Adams 

That is because the Kellogg’s CEO was suggesting that, you know, Americans if they’re struggling with high prices of food that they might consider eating cereal for dinner. And this came up a couple of different ways. He’s been saying it in interviews. They’ve been saying it in earnings calls. Apparently, this has been a campaign they’ve kind of been doing in their advertising.

Kai Ryssdal

Is that really? Oh my God. Read the room.

Kimberly Adams

Yeah, exactly. Read the room. I’ll read here from The Washington Post, Gary Pilnick is the CEO, “Gary Pilnick touted a marketing campaign that his company launched urging people to give chicken the night off and instead consumed bowls of Frosted Flakes and frosted Mini Wheats. Those advertisements don’t make the explicit pitch for cereal as a cost saving move, instead showing it as a fun way to shake up a family’s dinner table routine. But Pilnick brought it up when CNBC host Carl Quintanilla questioned him about rising prices in the grocery store.” Needless to say, the internet did not love it. They excoriated this dude pointing out the millions and millions of dollars he makes and making lots of comparisons to the let them eat cake à la Marie Antoinette, and some social media posts are saying that perhaps instead of eating cereal for dinner, we should eat the rich. So, read the room. And then.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh, my Lord. Oh, my lord.

Kimberly Adams 

On top of that, we have this news about Wendy’s, which got also in trouble with everyone when they announced that they might have what they were calling dynamic pricing, but which everyone basically heard as surge pricing à la Uber. And now Wendy’s is clarifying their statements to say that they didn’t really mean surge pricing. They just meant dynamic pricing, and they’re really trying to clean this up. So, I’m going to just read here from NBC. All right. “In mid-February, Kirk Tanner, the new CEO and president of Wendy’s shared with analysts that they would be rolling out new plans to improve company profits, including digital menu boards that will more easily be able to change the prices of items, as well as testing dynamic pricing and daypart offers,” right? “According to Nation’s Restaurant News. They “explained that they plan to invest $20 million in this the digital boards and meant to improve accuracy,” etc., etc. “While initially compared in the media (including TODAY.com),” which is the website I’m reading from, “to the concept of ‘surge pricing’ on the Uber app when prices rise as drivers are scarce, Wendy’s clarified how the company plans to use ‘dynamic pricing’ in a statement on February 27. ‘To clarify, Wendy’s will not implement surge pricing, which is the practice of raising prices when demand is highest. We didn’t use that phrase, nor do we plan to implement that practice.’” However, this article later goes on to say, “A Wendy’s spokesperson had initially confirmed the digital menus, as well as dynamic pricing, in a February 26 statements to TODAY, noting that the company’s future ability to change prices at different times of day. The initial statement did not say the fast-food chain would only lower prices with the new dynamic pricing model.”  Yeah, so read the room, corporate America. Read the room.

Kai Ryssdal 

They can’t read the room. It’s the most remarkable thing. It is the most remarkable thing.

Kimberly Adams 

I wonder how much wealth you have to have before you get that out of touch.

Kai Ryssdal 

So much, so much.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, you know, and perhaps that’s not fair. It’s not that it’s the one person making these decisions. There were a whole team of people probably spread off, spread out across multiple income brackets, who played into coming up with this strategy. And they all were probably like, this is a great idea. And the person who thought this is a terrible idea, somehow got shot down in the meeting. And so here we are, and now it is what it is.

Kai Ryssdal 

Right. Exactly.

Kimberly Adams 

All right. So, I guess we should move on to smiles.

Kai Ryssdal 

Let’s do smiles here, shall we? Man, my iPad keeps crapping out. If that’s why my video is going away, I apologize. Anyway, go ahead. What do you got? What’s your smile?

Kimberly Adams 

I am going to mark the tail end of Black History Month with the super fun article I saw in Vox digging into the history of Soul Train. And as they say, in the headline, “The revolutionary spirit of Soul Train.” It says, “Black creativity found a home on Soul Train and made TV history.” There were a bunch of different details in this article that I did not know about Soul Train. So, for example, it had more than 900 episodes across 35 years. That’s a lot of episodes. And “it launched musicians like Teena Marie, Curtis Mayfield, the Jackson Five, Vivica Fox, Jody Watley, and Rosie Perez, to new heights of fame.” It included celebrities like Patti LaBelle, Elton John, Little Richard. And yeah, it’s, you know, even though I am too young for Soul Train, it still just resonates. I mean, every party, you know, wedding and get together will still have the Soul Train line, even for people who’ve never encountered the show in real life. But what’s very fascinating about this sort of analysis of the history of the show is that it created this space for spontaneous creativity in terms of the people showing up and dancing and trying out new moves and things like that. Whereas now we live in a world where those sorts of expressions are so curated, and you often don’t see them until they are perfect, right? Even somebody’s TikTok dance, you’ll see the finished product, maybe you’ll see a couple of bloopers or how they got there or whatever. But for the most part, you see perfection at the end, as opposed to the process. And we’ve probably lost something. But Soul Train, last interesting detail “remains the longest first-run syndicated television series in broadcast history.”

Kai Ryssdal 

Wow, that’s something.

Kimberly Adams 

And the ads that ran during Soul Train very famously highlighted Black hair products and Black hair products tailored towards people’s natural hair texture in an environment where it was, there was still just so much pressure for people to straighten their hair or to have more conforming hairstyles. And during the show, you could see the celebrations of people with afros and things like that, which was unique at the time. I thought that was cool. What’s your smile?

Kai Ryssdal 

Okay, mine is not a smile, smile. It’s a wow, how about that kind of thing. Once again seen on Twitter. By a Space Observatory in Palo Alto, California, repeated online by several very reputable sources, so I feel confident in pointing this out. I will just read this, “At 06:30 UTC today,” which is to say 6:30 Greenwich Mean Time, “we observed a conjunction at 680 kilometers between two non-maneuverable spacecraft: a derelict Russian satellite and an operational NASA satellite,” which is to say 375 miles above the Earth. give or take, in low Earth orbit where so much stuff is that we depend on. Satellites, the space station, a bunch of stuff. Two non-maneuverable spacecraft came within 20 meters of each other, maybe 30 yards, maybe 30 yards and here’s why this matters: “The resulting debris of a collision between these two objects would have resulted in anywhere from 2000 to 7000 cataloged fragments.” That is to say, space junk, all of which begets more space junk. If you’ve seen the Sandra Bullock movie Gravity, you know what I’m talking about, are two things smashed into each other up there. They create debris and that debris hits other stuff and it’s more debris. Space is crowded, man.

Kimberly Adams 

It’s called the Kessler syndrome, by the way.

Kai Ryssdal 

Good for you. I had no idea.

Kimberly Adams 

Because one of the first sets of stories I did when I got hired at Marketplace was a three-part series on orbital debris. And I interviewed the guy who Kessler syndrome is named after it because like, decades ago, he was like, “hey, if we keep sending stuff up into space without a deorbiting process, we’re going to get this knock on effect where debris causes more debris causes more debris.” And it was funny because you know, he said it first. Nobody really took him seriously, and I was like, “When you go to conferences now do you just walk around and say ‘I told you.’” And he was like, “I don’t have to.” It’s funny but not.

Kai Ryssdal 

Funny but not. Space is crowded. Yeah, and this was funny but not make me smile. So, there you go.

Kimberly Adams 

Yes. All right. Well, we got a lot in today. But that is it for us today. Tomorrow we are going to be back to do something we haven’t done in a little while on the show. We’re going to be answering listener questions, and we still have time if you want to send some in, so you can email us. You can call us. All those good things.

Kai Ryssdal 

You know the drill. You know how to do it. Email us at makemesmart@marketplace.org. Voice memo or voicemail, I forget. 508-U-B-SMART

Kimberly Adams 

Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. Today’s program was engineered by Juan Carlos Torrado. And Thalia Menchaca is our intern.

Kai Ryssdal 

Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music. Our senior producer is Marissa Cabrera. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. Francesca Levy is the executive director of Digital.

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