Sep 24, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden’s diplomacy on the world stage

President Biden struck an optimistic note when addressing the UN this week, emphasizing that the America First doctrines of the Trump administration are in the past. But whether it's the Afghanistan withdrawal or a new nuclear deal with Australia and the UK, many Western allies are unhappy with the U.S.

  • Plus, what’s behind Puerto Rico’s high vaccination rate.
  • And, the crisis in daycares across the country.

Guests: Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi, Axios' Margaret Talev and Katie Peralta Soloff.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, September 24th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: what’s behind Puerto Rico’s high vaccination rate. Plus, the crisis in daycares across the country. But first, today’s One Big Thing - Biden’s diplomacy on the world stage.

JOE BIDEN: To all those who dedicate themselves to this noble mission of this institution, it's my honor to speak to you for the first time as President of the United States. We meet this year in a moment of-intermingled with great pain and extraordinary possibility.

NIALA: President Biden struck an optimistic note, addressing the UN this week, emphasizing that the America First doctrines of the Trump administration are in the past. But, whether it's the Afghanistan withdrawal or a new nuclear deal with Australia and the UK, many Western allies are unhappy with the U.S. So I wanted to ask the Axios’ Margaret Talev, whether that America First mentality was really in the past. Hi Margaret.


NIALA: Can you set the stage for us, for President Biden coming into this week, when it comes to foreign affairs or international diplomacy?

MARGARET: For sure. Joe Biden, in his half-a-century path to become President of the United States, has often looked at his experience on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, his time as Vice President dealing with Iraq and other strategic issues when it came to foreign policies. So that was part of what he'd run on, right? Which is like, I know what I'm doing on foreign policy. [laughs] Then you look at, let's say the past month, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Look at the deal with the U.K. and Australia, which seemed like an amazing new partnership until like 30 seconds later, when the French were completely irate and left the country, right? And on top of that, these images of U.S. border agents using the horses and those reins, to try to manage the movement of Haitians, trying to come into the country. So, I think that's what's driven, at least superficially, a lot of these questions both domestically, uh, and, among our allies asking: We thought Biden was going to be really different than Donald Trump. Is he really different enough?

NIALA: So Biden did say that we have to engage deeply in the world and that the U.S. wants everyone to work together. How was that message received publicly in the diplomatic communities?

MARGARET: I think pretty skeptically and pretty openly. And there is a desire to have a public and outfacing skepticism to tell Biden, you know, from many of these allies: Hey, you're on notice because we expect more out of you. And look ahead to what's coming. This climate summit, right, in the weeks to come, uh, later this fall in Glasgow. Biden's not going to have the power to compel other nations or necessarily the credibility that is going to send him into a summit like that with at least one hand tied behind his back.

NIALA: How much of a credibility problem does the U.S. have with allies who think: Well, maybe Democrats won't be in power in two years and Trump will be back in power?

MARGARET: That is not a credibility question so much as a strategic question. I think, after the Trump presidency, there was a universal understanding in all of Europe. That the U.S. electorate is complex and encompasses a wide spectrum, or range of views, that the U.S. is not Europe. And that there's enough of the U.S. that thinks like the modern Republican party that when that pendulum swings every two years or every four years, that's where it could go.

NIALA: Margaret Talev is Axios’ White House and politics managing editor. Margaret, have a great weekend.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala. You too.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, Puerto Rico’s governor explains why COVID measures on the island haven’t been politicized.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. 66% of American adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 - but we know that number varies by state and territory. Puerto Rico has consistently had one of the highest rates in the U.S. - 77.9 percent of Puerto Rican adults on the island are fully vaccinated. Earlier this week I had a chance to speak with Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, when he was in D.C. about how so many Puerto Ricans got the shot.

GOV. PEDRO PIERLUISI: We really went out of our way to take full advantage of all these vaccines we got. What we did was instead of-instead of centralizing the vaccination process, we relied on 600 providers across the island. I decided to vaccinate all education personnel in Puerto Rico, because I was looking forward to the day that we would reopen our schools. So we did that very early on. Right now, 90% of teachers in Puerto Rico are fully vaccinated. We also basically told students 12 years and up, to also get vaccinated, in order to get any in-person learning. Right now, it's 85% of students in Puerto Rico are fully vaccinated.

NIALA: I think people who are listening are probably really surprised to hear this and want to know: How did this happen without all of the fights that are happening all across these states in the U.S.?

GOV. PIERLUISI: Well, in Puerto Rico, this hasn't been a political issue. I haven't politicized this. Of course I have people who have strong religious convictions and do not want to get vaccinated. But what I have done is to give options. For example, government employees, eh, private sector employees in all critical sectors... I have set mandates. But I always tell them either you vaccinate yourself or you come into work with a negative COVID test result each week. People have been pretty compliant. That's why we've been doing so well.

NIALA: Governor Pedro Pierluisi is the governor of Puerto Rico. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

GOV. PIERLUISI: Thank you.

NIALA: Childcare centers have long struggled to find workers. But now these companies are also dealing with major financial losses because of the pandemic. And that's happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Katie Peralta Soloff is a reporter with Axios Charlotte and joining us now. Hi Katie.

KATIE PERALTA SOLOFF: Hey Niala, how are you?

NIALA: Katie, we've been talking about worker shortages across industries for some time, but why is it that childcare centers are also losing money?

KATIE: So this pandemic, as it has with so many other industries, has really exacerbated a problem that was bad for a long time in North Carolina. During the pandemic, childcare centers had to, you know, deal with increased costs from sanitation, as well as the fact that they saw decreased enrollment numbers, as parents lost their jobs, they were forced to pull their kids out of daycare. For instance, the local YMCA of Charlotte saw its enrollment decreased by 50%, and that means the revenue decreased by that much as well. So you can see it's sort of a compounding effect here that's directly tied to employment.

NIALA: Katie, we've been talking specifically about Charlotte, is this happening all over the country?

KATIE: Absolutely. The Washington Post reported this week that the hiring situation in the childcare services industry is actually worse than it is in the restaurant industry in its problems with retaining workers right now. According to the Post and uh, Labor Department statistics, the childcare services industry is still down about 127,000 workers compared with its pre-pandemic levels. That's down about 10%, you know, when you also consider the fact that the median pay for these individuals is about $25,000, you know, McDonald's, Walmart, Amazon, all can offer pay that's much more competitive to that.

NIALA: Katie Peralta Soloff is a reporter with Axios Charlotte. Thank you, Katie.

KATIE: Thank you.

NIALA: Before we go today - there’s one local DC story the Axios Today team has been following all week we wanted to leave you with. Five zebras have been running loose in Upper Marlboro, Maryland for 24 days now - when the herd escaped from a farm nearby. Local animal services Chief Rodney Taylor told WJLA then it would take a few days to catch them.

CHIEF RODNEY TAYLOR: They’re just too fast. They run. They won’t let you get near them.

NIALA: But that was a few weeks ago! So far the zebras have been spotted in the woods, crossing the highway, and even in some backyards.

Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, and Sabeena Singhani. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Michael Hanf. Dan Bobkoff is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and have the best weekend.

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