Pelosi's Spouse Attacked, Pennsylvania Senate, Train Labor Dispute : The NPR Politics Podcast A man broke into the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and attacked her husband. The speaker was not home at the time and her husband is expected to make a full recovery. But, a source briefed on the attack told NPR, the assailant was looking for the Speaker.

In Pennsylvania, a debate challenged Democrat John Fetterman as he continues to recover from a stroke. Though he is still ahead of his opponent, Republican Mehmet Oz, the race has tightened in the past month.

And a major train strike appears possible after the midterm elections as a labor dispute the White House weighed into resolve has begun to unravel after two major unions voted against a proposed deal.

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, voting correspondent Miles Parks, national political correspondent Don Gonyea, and politics reporter Ximena Bustillo.

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Pelosi's Spouse Attacked, Pennsylvania Senate, Train Labor Dispute

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DAVID: Hi. This is David (ph) in Hattiesburg, Miss., and I am currently driving to my last shift in my nurse anesthesia residency. This podcast was recorded at...


12:14 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, October 28, 2022.

DAVID: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but I will be one step closer to sitting for my boards in December. OK. Here's the show.


KHALID: That's exciting. Congratulations.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Yeah, very impressive.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good luck on the boards.

KHALID: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

GONYEA: And I'm Don Gonyea, national political correspondent.

KHALID: And before we start today's show, I just want to catch you all up with a bit of news. We got word that Paul Pelosi, who's the husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has been hospitalized after he was assaulted by someone who broke into the couple's residence in San Francisco. Nancy Pelosi was not home at the time, but we got all of this via statement from the speaker's spokesman. And it seems that Paul Pelosi is expected to make a full recovery. Don, although we don't know all of the specifics around this attack, we've gotten word from our colleague, Deirdre Walsh, that the assailant was apparently looking for Nancy Pelosi, shouting in their home, where is Nancy? Where's Nancy? And I do think it's worth just taking a moment to note that threats against lawmakers are up. Lawmakers are spending more on security now. And it does seem like we have entered this very strange - I don't want to say new normal, but it kind of feels that way in terms of how lawmakers are operating.

GONYEA: I can tell you as one who covers politics and is out in the world a lot looking for candidates, talking to voters, you are always aware of security. We have the case in Michigan with, you know, Governor Whitmer - just this past week, more convictions in that kidnap plot against her. I find it harder to know where candidates are going to be. If they put out their schedules at all, and a lot of them don't, you have to RSVP. And then once they check you out and make sure you're OK, and you're legit, then you get a separate email that tells you where the event is. Events are just not as open as they were to the general public, so it is filtering through our entire electoral process, I think.

PARKS: And we are just only a week and a half until voting ends in this midterm election. You know, also, we've seen this unprecedented rise in threats against election officials. We know that there's going to be thousands of election observers in a way that there haven't been in previous elections. And I think it's just a scary time to be at any position in our election system right now.

KHALID: All right. Well, we will keep an eye on that story over the weekend. And I'm sure we'll have more coverage on our air and online as we know more. But in the meantime, Don, I want to zero in on one specific state where you have done a lot of reporting, and that is Pennsylvania. Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman debated for the very first time this week in their contest for the Senate. And you were there. And I think part of the reason that that debate in itself is so interesting to watch is, you know, the race has gotten a lot closer than some analysts initially expected. And Fetterman wanted to demonstrate in that debate that his recovery from a stroke five months ago is on track and that he's up for the job that he's running for. You know, Don, was he able to demonstrate that?

GONYEA: It's worth noting this was not just their first debate. It's their only debate. There will not be another one. And in some ways, that put even more attention on it and even more pressure on Fetterman. He had that stroke back in May. We've seen him out on the stump giving speeches - albeit not the kind of freewheeling, ad-libbed speeches he used to give pre-stroke - but still, you know, speeches that were just fine, if not quite as dynamic as he once was. And that might have created the impression that he would be just fine in the debate as well. But clearly, he struggled with the format. They had monitors that were mounted up behind the moderators. Again, this was in a TV studio. There was no audience. So as words were spoken, everything that was said was transcribed in real time so he could read it.

KHALID: So closed captioning, yeah.

GONYEA: It was closed captioning for him. The sense was that that would allow him to be much smoother and much more engaged and that he wouldn't miss anything. But he clearly struggled with that system, and he struggled with the kind of rapid-fire nature of a debate where you have one minute to answer, where you have 30 seconds to rebut. And sometimes they'd say, if you want to rebut the rebuttal, you have 15 seconds. And he was often searching for the right word. He was often halting. Sometimes he seemed to get a little bit lost in that closed captioning, especially as he saw his own words being typed back at him as he said them. And again, it's fair to say he absolutely did not put to rest any questions that people might have had about how his recovery is going.

PARKS: Well, it is, like, a very sensitive thing to talk about. And I feel like over the last few months it's been clear it's a hard thing to discuss in a sensitive way. But at the same time, Don, I wonder, as you talk to voters, what do they tell you about how much these health issues are on their mind?

GONYEA: Before the debate, it wouldn't come up with voters. I mean, it did right after the stroke...

PARKS: Yeah.

GONYEA: ...Which happened to be just a couple of days before the May primary. So people would say, whoa, is he going to be able to run? Is he going to stay in the race? And he did stay in the race, and he won that primary in a landslide. It wasn't even a contest. His main competitor was Congressman Conor Lamb. So the sense was that he's laying low in the summer. He's recovering. It's going to slow him down a bit, but he's fine. So people didn't talk about it much. Now people talk about it. They still, though, want to talk about the issues.

KHALID: Was there a moment in the debate itself, when we talk about the policy, that really stood out to you, where some of those contentious issues that voters have been bringing up was in some way, you know, resolved? Did any candidate really have a moment that stood out?

GONYEA: Yeah. They covered, again, the whole range of issues, including what kind of mayor Fetterman was when he was mayor of the small town of Braddock and what kind of TV doctor Oz was, and what about all those kind of cure-all supplements he used to sell on his TV show that he made - let's be clear - a lot of money from selling, you know, on - and promoting on his show.

But I think probably the big issue was abortion. And Dr. Oz was, during this debate, really trying to reach out to the suburbs. You could feel it. He was trying to be the reasonable guy on stage. And on abortion, he noted that he believes in exceptions for rape, for incest, if the woman's life is endangered. And, again, he was trying to sound very reasonable, but when pressed on it, he did say that, as a doctor, he's been in on patient-doctor discussions, and he's kind of describing that patient-doctor choice that you might make on any given issue. And then he says, that's who should be making this decision, along with local officials.


MEHMET OZ: There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions. As a physician, I've been in the room when there're some difficult conversations happening. I don't want the federal government involved with that at all. I want women, doctors, local political leaders letting the democracy that's always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.

GONYEA: So obviously, that's Dr. Oz there. Fetterman's response was actually, I'd say, his best moment of the night. It was focused. It was clear. Now, it's a line about his support for Roe v. Wade that he clearly had memorized and was clearly ready to say. But it was a pretty powerful kind of punch back to what Dr. Oz had just said.


JOHN FETTERMAN: Roe v. Wade for me is - should be the law. He celebrated when Roe v. Wade went down, and my campaign would fight for Roe v. Wade and, if given the opportunity, to codify it into law.

GONYEA: And I might add that the Fetterman campaign has already turned that into an ad that they're using to really drive those voters for whom abortion is the issue or a top issue to the polls.

KHALID: The race certainly seems to have tightened in the last month or so, though the polls do still have Fetterman as a slight favorite. And I'm curious if you can explain, you know, why this race has become so tight, especially because we don't see the race as competitive between the Republican and the Democrat who are running for governor.

GONYEA: The governor's race looks to be a potentially easy win for Josh Shapiro, the Democrat. He's the sitting attorney general. But probably the biggest thing is that his Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano, is a hardcore Donald Trump, MAGA supporter, and he believes abortion is murder and that there should be no exceptions. So he is a much more hard-line figure than Dr. Oz is and portrays himself as such.

KHALID: All right, Miles, thanks a bunch. Why don't you take a quick break, and you'll be back to join us for Can't Let It Go.

PARKS: I will indeed. Yeah. I'll talk to you guys in just a few.

KHALID: All right. Let us take a quick break, and we'll have more in a moment.


KHALID: And we're back. So when Joe Biden ran for president, he promised that he was going to be the, quote, "strongest labor president we have ever had." He has been a supporter of labor unions, and he's now put himself at the center of negotiations between railway companies and their employees over new contracts. But all of that work, it seems, could be undone. Earlier this week, a railroad union voted against ratifying this new agreement that the Biden administration had worked on. They are the second union to have done that. And while six unions have already approved this deal, they could all still go on strike even if one union doesn't sign on. Let's bring in Ximena Bustillo, who's been covering this for NPR.

Hey there.


KHALID: So Ximena, broadly, what have these negotiations been about?

BUSTILLO: Yeah. The unions have been in over two years of negotiations with management on their new union contract. And so they've gone through different provisions, whether that's health care, pay raises, absence and sick leave policies to renegotiate the contract that would hold them over for the next couple of years.

KHALID: So it seems like, for a while, these negotiations were not going anywhere. And the Biden administration got involved, and then it looked like things were promising. So I guess, can you just help us understand what the timeline is, and what is the crux of the disagreement now?

BUSTILLO: So, again, these negotiations have been ongoing for two years. And in those two years, the unions were in what's called a status quo period. And that means that no changes can be made either by management or by the unions while they're negotiating. Now, that status quo period was set to end in around the middle of last month. And when that expired, the unions could go on strike. And they were threatening to strike. And as you mentioned earlier, if one of them does it, it is customary that they all do it.

So President Biden got involved at - a little bit earlier this year, around the spring, and he has the power to put together a board that helps to kind of mediate and broker a deal between management and the unions. But it really came down to the wire. And that is the deal that came to be a little over a month ago. And so most people assumed that it was all set and done, but...

KHALID: Yeah. That's what I assumed when, I remember, reading your coverage at the time.

BUSTILLO: Yeah. But it is important to know that all the union members, like, the actual workers, have to vote in favor of that agreement. It's not just the representatives. It's not just management. The workers have to. And so even after this deal was reached, it is important to know that many workers - they weren't striking, but they were still picketing because there were outstanding issues.

And one of the biggest issues right now and one of the reasons these two unions have already voted against - it comes down to sick leave and, in some instances, absence policies because they argue that management doesn't give them time off if they're sick, and especially working through a pandemic, and they feel pretty disrespected both by management and, to some instance, also the administration, which - their tentative agreement didn't address the sick leave either.

KHALID: So, Don, I actually want to ask you about the administration. You know, as I mentioned, President Biden - he has been really supportive of labor. He's often touted himself as being just a real strong friend of unions. His labor secretary, Marty Walsh, used to be a union president. So if this intervention from the administration ultimately does not work, I am curious what you think that means for the administration's reputation with unions.

GONYEA: You do hear from union leaders. And this is not just the top leaders, the president of the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters and the like, but even local union presidents and shop stewards - that they consider Biden to be a guy who's on their side. And I've often heard them say that he is indeed the most labor-friendly president they have ever known in their lifetime. So that is out there, right? And that does buy him some goodwill.

Now, we don't know where this is going to go in terms of whether or not there's a strike, what the disruption is for the economy, how it filters through. But he does have that goodwill. It feels like the key right now is how he uses it. Can he get the - you know, the two sides, or however many sides there are now because there are so many different unions, to go back to the table. Is it something they need to tweak? Is it something they were kind of going back and forth on, and they went this one way, but it turns out that was the wrong way for the workers? So they've got time to address these things.

BUSTILLO: The new status quo deadline is November 19, which is post-Election Day. And so it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to impact the way people are going to vote or are already voting. However, you know, you cannot understate the impact of railroads. You know, we're not just talking 40% of goods and services, which - you know, maybe that is something we should also be talking about - but also holiday travel.

Ahead of the last end of status quo when there was a literally midnight threat to a strike, Amtrak was already warning passengers and beginning to slow down its services because there is the risk that passengers would get stuck halfway through their travels. So having this happen ahead of Thanksgiving, ahead of, you know, other high, intense travel weeks - then just even that alone could be pretty catastrophic.

KHALID: All right. Well, Don, thank you very much for your insights. We're going to say goodbye to you for now.

GONYEA: All right. Always glad to be here.

KHALID: And Ximena, stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.

And we're back. And it is time now to end the show like we do every week, with Can't Let It Go. That's the part of the show where we talk about the things from the week that we just cannot stop thinking about, politics or otherwise.

And Miles, why don't you kick it off?

PARKS: Oh, sure. So the thing I can't let go is the thing probably much of America can't let go of this week, and that is Taylor Swift, who released her new album "Midnights" last Friday. I've listened to a few times. Have you guys listened to it yet?

BUSTILLO: Yes, so many times.

KHALID: So I admit I have not. It is not because I am, like, anti-Taylor Swift. I may be one of the few Americans that's just kind of, like, ambivalent about Taylor Swift.

PARKS: So this is actually my take. So, Ximena, wait, before we - before I say my take, I'm curious - before I offend you, what is your take on this new album?

BUSTILLO: It's different, but I like it.



PARKS: Do you - I mean, do you have a strong opinion about it?

BUSTILLO: I'll defend it.


KHALID: How interesting. See, like, when Beyonce releases stuff, I go, and I find it. When Taylor Swift releases stuff, I just wait for it to get played on the pop stations...

PARKS: That's how I feel.

KHALID: ...While I'm driving around.

PARKS: And I guess that's what I feel. Like, it's somehow become the hottest take of all about Taylor Swift is that I'm like, meh. Like, I listened to it twice, and I don't think I ever want to listen to it again. I may go back to it one time. There's, like, two songs...

KHALID: OK. Now I need to actually...

PARKS: ...That I will put on running playlist.

KHALID: Yeah. Now I'm kind of curious.


PARKS: Other than that, I think I've, like, moved on. And it's - I want to be clear, this is not a Taylor Swift take because I still listen to, like, "Blank Space," like...


PARKS: ...Probably, like, twice a week.

BUSTILLO: All the time.

PARKS: Like, literally, like, I am like...


PARKS: It's, like - I think it's, like, one of the greatest pop songs, like, ever written. So this is not an anti-Taylor Swift take. I just think that, like, this idea that every time she releases new music, it has to be some sort of, like, galaxy-shattering event when the music itself every single time isn't - you know, it doesn't necessarily live up to that. And I think that's just how I feel.

BUSTILLO: Fair take.

KHALID: That's fair.

PARKS: And I'm sure my Twitter mentions will now blow up because this will be edited into some...

KHALID: I mean, I also think there's, like, an age demographic, and now I'm kind of aging myself out. But - right? Like, Beyonce was of my age.

PARKS: Yeah. But Taylor Swift is, like, almost exactly my age.

BUSTILLO: Beyonce's cool.

KHALID: No, she's a little younger, though. Oh, she's your age.

PARKS: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Sorry.

BUSTILLO: (Laughter).

KHALID: I was like, she's a little younger than me.

PARKS: Yeah.

BUSTILLO: I mean, I think she's also done a lot of music with the rerecordings of her albums and the "Evermore" and...

PARKS: Oh, so maybe, like, an oversaturation thing of, like...


PARKS: ...We've just gotten a lot of T Swift in the last couple years.

BUSTILLO: Yeah, I mean, she - 'cause she did, like, the - she did "Evermore" and "Folklore"...

PARKS: Yeah.

BUSTILLO: ...Pretty back-to-back, which was, for me, awesome.

PARKS: Yeah.

BUSTILLO: But then she's also been rerecording her albums, and she put out, I think, one or two of those. So it's been...

PARKS: Honestly, that might be what it is...

BUSTILLO: ...Two years (inaudible).

PARKS: ...Is that I'm just kind of like, can I take a breath? Can I, like...

BUSTILLO: (Laughter).


PARKS: Maybe I'll come back to "Midnights" in, like, six months or a year, and I might like it a little bit more. But I'm kind of like, I might go listen to some other stuff right now.

BUSTILLO: Yeah - which is fair. For me, I love it, but I could also see it as an oversaturation of Taylor.

PARKS: Yeah. Ximena, what can't you let go of?

BUSTILLO: I cannot let go of the Cincinnati Zoo celebrating National Pumpkin Day this week by feeding pumpkins to all of its zoo animals.

KHALID: Oh, wow. OK. So they all eat pumpkins? 'Cause that...

BUSTILLO: Well, most do - I don't know if it was all or - yeah.

KHALID: Like, I was going to say I...


KHALID: ...Didn't know all animals ate pumpkins.

BUSTILLO: Yeah. Well, a select group of them at least do. Specifically the hippos got to chomp on some pumpkins and...


BUSTILLO: Yup. There you go, nice chomp.

PARKS: Is that a one bite?

BUSTILLO: (Laughter) Yeah.

PARKS: Did they just demolish those things?

BUSTILLO: Just went for it, yeah.


BUSTILLO: Yeah, hippos are scary.

PARKS: Like a Skittle.

BUSTILLO: Yeah, like a Skittle.

PARKS: Like a hippo Skittle, yeah.



BUSTILLO: It was hippo Skittle. But Cincinnati Zoo is home to Fiona Hippo. I've been a fan - not just Taylor Swift but also of Fiona Hippo. She's this tiny, little hippo that was born premature in, like, 2017.


BUSTILLO: And they saved her, and she's adorable. She's big and crunching pumpkins now, but I cannot let go of that.

PARKS: I feel like pumpkins generally - we get this one month of pumpkin content. I was talking to Sue Davis the other day about - there's some festival that - where they just, like, throw pumpkins and then watch them, like, shatter.

BUSTILLO: I saw that.

KHALID: Oh, like out of those cannon balls.

PARKS: Yeah, exactly.

BUSTILLO: Yeah, I was trying to look for that. Yeah.

PARKS: So I think people are just really into pumpkins exploding, whether it's with hippos, cannons...

BUSTILLO: Or the thing where they, like, sit in a pumpkin like a canoe, and they row across a river.

KHALID: I haven't seen...

PARKS: (Laughter) I don't know about this.



KHALID: That I do not know.

PARKS: You have, like, some pumpkin TikTok that you've, like, gone far - way too far down.

BUSTILLO: Too much is in my pumpkin brain files.

PARKS: Yeah. Asma, what about you? What can't you let go?

KHALID: OK. So I'm going to shift this conversation back to celebrities. I'm sure you all heard the news that Prince Harry has a memoir coming out. I assume you guys have heard that, right?

PARKS: Yes, yes.

KHALID: OK. So it is - what? How do you feel about this? I felt like that was not an enthusiastic yes, Miles.

PARKS: I think...

KHALID: So Prince...

PARKS: ...I'm just over everything. I'm over Taylor Swift. I'm over the royals. Like, we just got so much royals for the last couple of weeks.

KHALID: We've had a...

BUSTILLO: It's oversaturation.

KHALID: ...Lot of royals. But this is why I'm so intrigued by this book because I feel like we don't actually really know what's going on with the royals ever. And I'm not saying Prince Harry's book is going to be, like, dishing all the secrets - isn't going to be some tell all. But there's a lot of anticipation for it. Book is called "Spare," it's coming out in January. I am not his publicist. I'm just sharing the details here.

PARKS: Wait, so am I missing something on the title? I feel like, again, I'm, like, outing myself as somebody who knows nothing about the royal family. But what does spare mean?

KHALID: So apparently royals - and I credit our wonderful producers and editors for sharing this knowledge with me. But there's, you know, an heir to the king or the queen, and then there's a spare. Gosh, that sounds so harsh.


KHALID: But so he's, like, owning - he's owning who he is, which is, you know, the spare. I mean, that sounds so harsh to think of your child as a spare. I would never say that out loud, but I'm not royal. So...

PARKS: We'll see how you feel. You have two kids. They're very young, Asma. We'll see how you feel in 20 years.

KHALID: If I - gosh...

BUSTILLO: You might (inaudible).

KHALID: ...Could you imagine thinking, like, one of your children is legit the spare?

PARKS: Yeah.

KHALID: I mean, I don't know. I'm so intrigued by this because, you know, the royals don't share a lot. There was an assumption amongst the royals, you know, the tabloid press in the U.K. that between Harry and Meghan, it was always Meghan they thought who was the one like, you know, spilling the tea and, you know, sharing all this stuff. And now it may actually be that Harry's going to tell us a lot about what's going on. And it's his story. I mean, I'm sure the tabloids will still find a way to blame Meghan. But, you know, I don't know. I'm intrigued.

PARKS: I'm sold.


PARKS: I'll read it. Why not?

KHALID: ...Lots of anticipation - I wonder if he's going to do an audiobook version of it, you know? Then we could listen to it instead.

BUSTILLO: Book tour?

KHALID: That'd be interesting - yeah, a book tour. All right. Well, that is a wrap for today. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Our editor is Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Elena Moore and Casey Morrell. Katherine Swartz is our intern. Thanks to Krishnadev Calamur, Brandon Carter, Juma Sei and Lexie Schapitl. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

BUSTILLO: I'm Ximena Bustillo, and I cover politics.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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