Mar 18, 2022 - Podcasts

Does President Biden need a new Putin playbook?

Russia’s war on Ukraine is now entering its fourth week. With no signs of Putin’s unprovoked attack slowing down, how can President Biden and other world leaders stop Putin without escalating it further?

  • Plus, corporations grapple with abortion access for workers.
  • And, Netflix cracks down on password sharing.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev, Emily Peck, and Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, 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: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, March 18th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Corporations grapple with abortion access for workers. Plus, Netflix cracks down on password sharing.

But first, today’s One Big Thing - does President Biden need a new Putin playbook?

Russia’s war on Ukraine is now entering its fourth week with no signs of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attacks slowing down. How can President Biden and other world leaders stop Putin without escalating things further? That question was texted to me by Axios Today listener Eric from Kansas City, Missouri, and I thought Axios’ Margaret Talev and I could start our Friday politics conversation with that question. Hi Margaret.


NIALA: Let's start with Eric's question. Is there a strategy that could work here? Are there creative ways that the Biden administration, the European Union, other leaders should be thinking about engaging with Vladimir Putin?

MARGARET: I think that that is the big question that the White House, the State Department, the Defense Department, all of the U.S. administration—Democrats in Congress, Republicans in Congress, NATO, the EU, parts of the UN are all thinking about right now. And certainly that Ukraine is thinking about, and we heard Volodymyr Zelensky this week, implore Congress, implore Biden to do more, to think about leadership differently, to recognize that systems like NATO that are built on half century old constructs, aren't working against the way Putin is playing ball right now. Uh, the challenge is, is this just a matter of thinking creatively and redefining what a hostile act is or what a provocative act is or whether something can actually be defensive when we've always thought about it as offensive? Is that really all we're talking about thinking outside the box? Or does it come down fundamentally to having to try to protect the rest of the world from the heightened risk of a nuclear strike, a biological attack, a chemical attack.

NIALA: Margaret, it was so striking to watch Volodymyr Zelensky address Congress. I don't think we've quite seen anything like that. And a leader in very stark terms laying out pleading with Congress and President Biden to do something or more people will die. Has that been part of why we've seen a language shift from President Biden this week also?

MARGARET: It's interesting. You've actually asked a very complicated question. For Biden, part of his calculation is political. He can't get too far ahead of Western allies because the west has to show that they are united to have maximum strength against Putin, maximum force. He also can't get too far ahead or too far behind of either the American public or Congress. And there are so many different forces at work here. Americans from the outset have said in polling, they didn't want to commit military troops anywhere near this conflict. You're seeing public opinion start to shift in terms of how active, how involved America should be. But it is still a constant calibration. If he leans in hard, if he takes an aggressive tack toward Putin, does that in fact, put Americans at greater risk or Europe at greater risk of some kind of retaliation by Putin. Is Putin just testing the lines to see how far he can go.

NIALA: What are you going to be watching for next week? As president Biden goes to Europe, meets with NATO leaders, possibly other things.

MARGARET: I'm going to start by watching what happens today when President Biden and the Chinese leader have a conversation. The U.S. is pressing very hard for China to stop giving Russia, not to help Russia at all continue the assault on the Ukraine. But where is Xi’s head really at, what is he willing to do? That's going to be a very important first conversation. And then that trip in Brussels, I think we are going to be looking for whether some of these creative ideas that we've been talking about begin to publicly emerge. If not a no fly zone, can there be a way to protect a humanitarian corridor? How can the U.S. help civilians on the ground in Ukraine? And can there be a rethinking of what it means to defend a country? So much conversation has been about Putin defining what is a provocation? What is an act of war? Why does Vladimir Putin get to decide that? And what Zelensky said in his speech before Congress this week was that Biden has to be the leader of the world. It was really a challenge to Biden to get in front, to lean into. To act like more of a leader for him to set the pace and take the Western allies and the American public and Congress with him. So it will be a real test of Biden's leadership skills and whether he is looking for that reset.

NIALA: Axios’ managing editor for the White House and politics Margaret Talev. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with how companies are covering travel costs for employee abortions.

[ad break]

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

Companies are finding it harder to ignore the issue of abortion access. Consider Citigroup: it disclosed in an obscure SEC filing earlier this week that it would begin paying for travel expenses for US employees seeking abortions.

I asked Axios’s Emily Peck: is this just the first of many corporations to do this?

EMILY PECK: First it's not clear that Citi is the first because Apple reportedly is doing something similar. What they're both doing - Citi, for sure, Apple reportedly - is expanding health insurance coverage so if a woman who now lives in Texas and can't access abortion care needs to travel outside the state, that travel is paid for.

This is actually a policy that Citi and other companies have in place, not for abortion, but for other kinds of health care. So like, if you have like, a heart problem or something, you can travel far from where you live to get the care you need and your health insurance covers it. When you think about it, it's actually quite simple for something that's so controversial.

NIALA: Emily, do you think the Supreme Court decision on this will also change the way companies think about this?

EMILY: Well, I mean, it depends how the decision goes. If what winds up happening is the court upholds Mississippi's restrictive law and more states restrict abortion access, then more women in more states who are employees at more big companies are going to be impacted and need to travel for abortion care. And so it's going to be much harder for employers to sort of do nothing about it. Am I predicting that a lot of companies are going to follow Citi’s lead? I would be crazy to make such a prediction. I have no idea, to be honest with you, but it's not farfetched to think that that would happen.

NIALA: Axios’ Emily Peck. Thanks Emily.

EMILY: Thank you.

NIALA: Okay, here's my confession to you for today. I am sharing my Netflix password with about four different households, but it turns out I'm not the only one. 36% of Americans share their Netflix passwords with relatives. That's according to the Advertising Research Foundation. Well, this week Netflix said enough is enough and they're testing on a crackdown. Axios’ Sara Fisher has been reporting on this. Sara, first of all, how does Netflix know when someone's using the account outside of the household?

SARA FISCHER: Well, typically it would be your IP address. So they look at the devices that are signing on to the platform. And they're looking at what IP address they're connected to. Within one household, all the different devices would typically use the same IP address. Outside of the household, it would be a different address.

NIALA: And so what's Netflix saying about how people are going to be charged?

SARA: Basically Netflix is saying, look, if you want to add a person to your account outside of your household. So presumably from another IP address, you're going to have to pay a little bit more. Now this is just a test. It's something that they're testing in Latin and South America. But presumably they're doing the test because it's something that they're thinking about long-term, and given that the U.S. is the most lucrative market for Netflix, it wouldn't surprise me if someday, maybe that would come here.

NIALA: And then would that also someday maybe mean other streaming services follow suit?

SARA: Yeah, and some are ready to do similar type of stuff. Streaming services have long been experimenting with this kind of stuff. I think it's just ramping up recently because there's more competition.

NIALA: Sara Fischer is author of the Axios Media Trends newsletter. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for this week!

Axios Today is produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Ben O’ Brien and Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath 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 - and have the best weekend.

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