Jan 14, 2022 - Podcasts

Biden's epic failures

President Biden hasn’t been seeing a lot of wins lately. We’re almost a year into Biden’s presidency, and Republicans, moderate and liberal Democrats all seem to be at odds with his agenda.

  • Plus, curbing carbon emissions by changing how planes land.

Guests: Axios' Mike Allen, Margaret Talev, and Andrew Freedman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Sabeena Singhani and Alex Sugiura. 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, January 14th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: curbing carbon emissions by changing how planes land.

But first, President Biden’s epic fail is today’s One Big Thing.

President Biden hasn't been seeing a lot of wins lately. Yesterday, the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of his vaccine-or-test mandate for employers with more than a hundred workers. Although the court did allow for a mandate for workers at federally funded health care facilities.

We're almost a year into Biden's presidency and he's in a rare position with Republicans, moderate and liberal Democrats all at odds with his agenda. Axios’ co-founder Mike Allen and managing editor for politics Margaret Talev are here for our Friday politics convo. Hey guys.

MARGARET TALEV: Good morning, Niala.

MIKE ALLEN: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Two of President Biden's biggest legislative initiatives, the Build Back Better Act, and now voting rights are going nowhere. So what does that say about his leverage within his own party?

MIKE: Well, Niala, that's the problem is not only are they not going anywhere, but what's next? Like usually when you're in a slump, you at least know how to get out of it or at least you have another game. That's the problem for the administration. The two measures that they'd sort of counted on as their rocket fuel are, as you correctly point out, not headed anywhere.

A lot of this is the hand President Biden was dealt. He has a 50-50 Senate. He has a couple of Democratic senators who are not helping and are hindering a lot of the agenda, but he knew that math and has set up these two huge issues - Build Back Better and voting rights - when it's not clear what the path is.

MARGARET: This is early for a president to be faltering like this. Joe Biden really has nowhere to go. He has very little leverage on the merits and it's a pandemic that's bigger than any of us. It's a virus and it's mutating and it won't stop. But you can also look at Biden and his team and say they have made some mistakes. They have fallen short on messaging and on expectation-setting. And even if that sounds silly, it has had a significant impact on the way Americans have reacted.

NIALA: How complicating a factor is it with the economy? We've seen lots of images of empty grocery store shelves. We had some big headlines about inflation this week, which isn't necessarily President Biden's fault, but how does that enter into all of this?

MARGARET: The two biggest issues for Americans right now are the health implications of COVID and the economic implications of COVID. If you look at the polling, you can see that Republicans are a little more concerned about the economic aspects and Democrats are a little bit more concerned about the health aspects, but duh, it’s the economy, stupid. Everybody cares about it. So when you have empty grocery store shelves, when you have supply chain shortages, when you have inflation, all of that is very difficult to message against. And just like Americans are wondering, when are we going to hit the bottom when it comes to the pandemic? They're wondering, when are we going to hit the bottom when it comes to the economy? And nobody trusts the optimistic idea that things will be back because things have not been back for so long.

NIALA: We're headed into Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and Dr. King's family has been urging lawmakers to pass this voting rights legislation calling for quote, “no celebration without legislation” on the holiday. Does that put any additional pressure on Congress?

MIKE: It does put pressure on them. We saw this when the president was in Atlanta - top activists suddenly too busy to show up with the president. Something that's very rarely the case, but there aren't the signs that that is going to change.

And yet, it was only this week that the president explicitly said he was willing to bend the Senate's filibuster rule on this. And you have the New York Times columnist Charles Blow saying that Biden was dilly-dallying about this at the very time that he could have been putting the pedal to the metal.

MARGARET: It's an existential crisis for the Democratic party. The president has to do something. What can you do? Joe Manchin is not going to move. Kyrsten Sinema is not going to move. I don't know what the right answer was for Joe Biden, but I do know that everything that's wrong right now will get blamed on the guy at the top.

NIALA: So next week, there's going to be all the inevitable headlines about President Biden's first year in office. What are you watching for as we go from here?

MIKE: Niala, going back to when he was inaugurated. He wanted to be a transformational president and Niala, Build Back Better was supposed to be President Biden's FDR moment. Voting rights could have been his LBJ moment. Instead, he comes up on his first birthday in office next week with neither.

MARGARET: I see two parallel challenges for Joe Biden. One is can you bring the economy back and can you bring the virus under control? The very same questions he was asking himself a year ago, but the second question has much more to do with things he can control. Can he communicate to Americans in a way that reaches them? In a way that he hasn't been able to so far? He has to be able to show people that their lives are better with him in the White House and with the Democrats in charge of Congress than the other scenario. He fell short of that in 2021.

NIALA: Axios’ Margaret Talev and Mike Allen. Thank you.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala.

MIKE: Niala, have the best holiday weekend.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, how changing planes’ landing patterns could help save fuel - and the climate.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to change the way planes land in a bid to save fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. When you consider the fact that air traffic makes up about 10% of transportation-related carbon emissions in the US, this can really add up. Here to explain is Axios’ climate and energy reporter Andrew Freedman.

Andrew, how would planes landing differently affect the climate?

ANDREW FREEDMAN: So the way planes land right now is you come down and kind of a staircase fashion and you can feel this as a passenger where you start your descent and then you, the plane levels off and you hear the engines rev up and then you descend again and then the same thing happens again. And it seems like there's like a half an hour long process by which this takes place. But what they've been doing, at least since 2021, is experimenting with these continuous approaches where a plane would get to a certain distance from an airport, and it would then descend continuously more or less to the airport itself. So because the engines are idle and they're not having to rev them up so much, you're not burning as much fuel.

NIALA: And so how much gas would a continuous descent save?

ANDREW: So it would actually be pretty significant in terms of fuel savings. Because if you just look per airport at this continuous descent profile, it would save the fuel equivalent of about 1300 flights from Atlanta to Dallas on a Boeing 730. So this actually adds up and we are trying to address air travel emissions, because it's a very, big growing component of transportation emissions in the United States and around the world.

NIALA: It also seems like it would save money.

ANDREW: It does save money and airlines want to save money and the thing that they want to save money on is fuel. This is one of the ways that airlines and airports can become more efficient and more of a climate solution. When you really don't look at aviation as a climate solution, you look at it as sort of like a necessary thing that you have to do, and then you maybe feel guilty about it.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman is Axios’ climate and energy reporter. Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Before we end this week – we’re off for the holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr on Monday. And a reminder - many use this weekend to volunteer in remembrance of Dr. King.

Here’s one idea for you: the Smithsonian Institution and Library of Congress have troves of historical documents that need to be transcribed in order to be made more widely accessible. And you can help – I’ll tweet out the link to where you can sign up.

And that’s it for this week. Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - and have the best weekend - and we’ll be back with the news on Tuesday.

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