Sep 28, 2021 - Podcasts

Electric vehicles front and center

Ford Motor Company is making a big bet on electric vehicles in Kentucky and Tennessee through a new assembly plant and new battery factories. This comes as debate continues over President Biden's ambitious spending plan, which could transform the transportation sector when it comes to electric cars.

  • Plus, why it took decades to convict R. Kelly.
  • And, the debt ceiling, explained.

Guests: Axios' Joann Muller and Alayna Treene; Jim DeRogatis, journalist and author of Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly; Koa Beck, journalist and author of White Feminism.

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: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday September 28th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the decades it took to convict R. Kelly. Plus, as things heat up on the Hill - the debt ceiling, explained.

But first, putting electric vehicles front and center in the U.S. is today’s One Big Thing.

Yesterday, we talked about how President Biden's ambitious spending plan includes truly transforming the transportation sector when it comes to electric vehicles. And that's a direction private industry has been moving in for some time, but what's it going to take to get there?

Ford Motor Company is today making a big bet on electric vehicles in Kentucky and Tennessee through a new assembly plant and new battery factories. Axios’ Joanne Muller spoke to its executive chairman, Bill Ford about this and what it means for the auto industry and the future of electric vehicles here in the U.S. Hey, Joann.


NIALA: First, can you tell us what this investment is in Kentucky and Tennessee?

JOANN: Well, Ford is making the largest manufacturing investment in its 118-year history. They're going to spend $11.4 billion to build a new factory that's going to build electric pickup trucks and at least three new battery factories. In all, they're going to create 11,000 new jobs.

NIALA: So Ford says, Joann, that this is the first step to creating a sustainable U.S. supply chain for electric vehicles. What does that mean?

JOANN: Well, here's the problem - is that the batteries that we need to power electric vehicles and all the materials that go into them are not made in the United States. They're all coming from Asia. And so there's a very big push by industry and also by the federal government from a national security standpoint to create a battery supply chain in the U.S.

What Ford is announcing is just that they're going to build this mega-campus in Tennessee that will incorporate all of these things in one area. And so what they're hoping is that they will actually be recycling batteries onsite, reprocessing them into new batteries and then putting them into electric vehicles in the future and what they're building is really a circular supply chain.

NIALA: Joann Muller covers transportation for Axios from Detroit. Thanks, Joann.

JOANN: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: Back in a moment with the journalist who brought R. Kelly’s abuse to light.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Last night, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to fund the government through December 3rd -- because of language in the bill that would raise the debt limit.

So let’s get at how this all works. Alayna Treene covers Congress and the White House for Axios and we asked her to explain two things for us - the debt limit and the continuing resolution - and how they’re related.

ALAYNA TREENE: The debt limit is what allows the nation to continue borrowing and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced a few weeks ago that the nation is expected to default on its debt at some point in October. And so the most prescient issue that Congress is facing now is to ensure that we get the short-term funding bill done and that the government doesn't shut down on Friday.

But, we still do need to deal with the debt. And that is something that Democrats are gonna have to handle in the coming weeks to avoid the deadline of the default. It seems like they're going to have to use tools. One tool that they have at their disposal is reconciliation just given that they control both chambers of Congress and the White House to deal with the debt limit. But again, that is not normal and it's not something that Democrats have been wanting to do. They've actually been pushing against that. And that's why they attach the debt limit to the continuing resolution or the short-term funding bill because they wanted Republicans to vote for it. And at a minimum, they wanted to get Republicans on their record rejecting it.

NIALA: Alayna Treene is Axios’ White House and congressional reporter. We’ll talk to her more later this week.

Musician R. Kelly was found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking yesterday in a federal court in New York. This came after weeks of testimony by dozens of people. And after decades of Kelly avoiding repercussions for his actions against mostly black women and girls, Jim DeRogatis is the journalist who first wrote about R. Kelly’s abuse in the early 2000s, and brought it to national attention over decades of reporting. Jim -- thanks for joining us.

JIM: Sure, Niala.

NIALA: Jim, what do you feel like this conviction means for everyone who has tried to bring a light to this story, including you.

JIM: Well, I think it’s historic for two reasons, Niala. This is the biggest conviction, of the most dangerous predator in that history of popular music. And that really says something. But the other thing, you know, that I have heard from so many women who are still in touch with me, is they're glad that he was finally brought to justice, but it is too little too late for them personally. And why did it take 30 years?

I broke down in tears when I heard the news because of those many women who trusted me to tell their story and I'm thinking of them. And, and I don't know what justice looks like for them. I don't know if it's just justice. I just know that that every single one of them, whoever trusted me and talked to me is hell bent on this never happening again, for any other woman, especially women of color. And Niala, I'm a fat white rock critic. I'm going to leave it to women from this point on to talk about our rape culture and the fact that women in general are not believed, and I'm going to leave it to women of color to talk about how especially tragic it is that women of color are not believed.

NIALA: Jim DeRogatis is a journalist and author of Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly. Thanks so much, Jim.

JIM: You bet.

NIALA: To Jim's point. We also wanted to talk to a woman of color about this Koa Beck is a journalist and author of the book. White feminism. And I asked her what her big takeaway from all of this.

KOA BECK: Many of R. Kelly's victims were sort of lumped into this bucket of women of color and I'm using air quotes. When I say that, these were black girls, these were black victims, And when I see this conviction, that is the first thing that comes to mind is that these are entirely black. Uh, victims as well as black underage girls who historically and systematically go unseen, particularly by the judicial system that convicted R Kelly,

NIALA: Koa, what do you want people to take away from this verdict?

KOA: I'm very interested in the racketeering charges. And I think that's something that people should pay more attention to with regard to sexual abuse. As we think about people like R Kelly, who, you know, have a lot of resources who have a lot of power and a lot of influence in that we're looking and evaluating and, you know, in the legal sense, prosecuting entire systems that facilitate abuse of young girls and non-binary people, not just the person at the top who actually did the you know, very, very transgressive and violating acts, but all of the layers of people who knew and facilitated it. Um, another part to that, is that there are many, many people who prey on black girls and who isolate black girls who are not R Kelly. And they don't have that type of powerful platform. They don't have that name recognition, and yet they still move through a system in which their victims go unseen.

NIALA: Yeah, it's really interesting to see this verdict come after the whole sort of like hand ringing by the media industry about the way it covers white women who are missing versus black girls.

KOA: Yes. And, uh, a big part of why this particular case and the story took so long, particularly given that it was considered an open secret, is that his victims were under age black.

And there is just more media attention, more resources, more investigative efforts. When you're looking at, you know, a very Lily white blonde girl from the suburbs.

NIALA: Koa Beck is a journalist and author of the book White Feminism. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Koa.

KOA: Thank you.

NIALA: And one point of clarification, Koa and Jim both talked about the mostly black female victims of R Kelly, but in this trial, a man also testified, he told the court he was abused by Kelly when he was 17 years old.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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