Mar 25, 2022 - Podcasts

NATO, united

Biden gave a strong message about NATO’s unity from Brussels yesterday, where he held emergency meetings with allies, on Russia's war in Ukraine. Speaking to the press, Biden was clear on the purpose of the talks: ensure that NATO remains committed to longterm action against Russia's brutality.

  • Plus, culture wars dominate at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson

Guests: Axios' Mike Allen and Margaret Talev

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 BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, March 25th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Today: culture wars dominate at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice nominee Katanji Brown Jackson. But first: President Biden delivers a message of strength from Brussels. NATO, united, is today’s One Big Thing.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: NATO has never, never been more united than it is today. Putin is getting exactly the opposite what he intended to have as a consequence of going into Ukraine.

NIALA: President Biden speaking from Brussels yesterday, where he held emergency meetings with NATO allies on Russia's war in Ukraine. Speaking to the press, Biden was clear on the purpose of the talks: ensure that NATO remains committed to action against Russia's brutality.

BIDEN: Why I asked for this NATO meeting today is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we're doing, not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That's what will stop him.

NIALA: Axios co-founder Mike Allen and managing editor for politics Margaret Talev are both with me in person to break down what we learned from President Biden. Hello, to both of you.


MIKE ALLEN: Hello Niala.

NIALA: Margaret, is NATO and the U.S. as unified as President Biden was making it sound there?

MARGARET TALEV: I mean, the answer is yes, but. So far they have moved in a very unified fashion, but they've also moved in a very cautious and measured fashion. And part of the reason why is because it's been so important for them to move in lock step. But what happens when things get more complicated. We heard early discussion about whether Russia should be forced out of the G20. There are big questions around what happens if there is, in fact, a chemical attack. The allies agree, the West agrees, there would be consequences, but what would those consequences be?

NIALA: Mike, so Margaret’s saying we haven't gotten to complicated yet when it comes to Russia and Ukraine?

MIKE: No, ma'am. Right now, president Biden is able to say that he's successfully led the west, right? The Ukraine intelligence was spot on, and the West has stuck together, but you want to talk about complications, listen to this complication: what if there's a chemical attack in Ukraine that then wafts into a NATO country? Is that an attack on NATO? Senator Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee says it looks like it is. That means all of NATO has to respond. That's a big, big, big conflict.

NIALA: Reading between the lines of what we heard from President Biden and other NATO allies this week, and Ukrainian President Zelensky, what are your biggest takeaways?

MARGARET: I mean, right now, the Ukrainians are still talking about whether there could be some sort of a deal right in the works with Russia. But what does that really mean? You know, you heard President Biden meeting with CEOs earlier in the week, talking about how there's a very real chance of cyber attacks on basically America-

MIKE: He said they're coming

MARGARET: Yep. He did. It wasn't just there's a chance it was it's happening, get ready for it. Every company has to get ready. And for America, how do Americans protect themselves inside the US? Financial systems, power grids…for all the talk about whether there could be some sort of a cease fire or a peace deal or an agreement, nobody really on the world stage is counting on that.

MIKE: The world has changed. You're now hearing the year 2022 talked about as the sort of hinge that 1989 was when the Soviet Union fell or 1945 with the end of world war II in the redrawing of the map of much of the world, the world has changed.

NIALA: After the break, I get to keep talking to Mike and Margaret…we'll be back shortly to turn to the big takeaways of this week's hearing of Judge Katanji Brown Jackson.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously.

NIALA: Supreme Court nominee Katanji Brown Jackson endured three grueling days of testimony and questions this week in her confirmation hearing. On Fridays, we like to wrap up the weekend politics and we want to turn now to the U.S. and these hearings with Axios co-founder Mike Allen and politics editor Margaret Talev. Margaret what did we learn about Katanji Brown Jackson this week?

MARGARET: We learned the judge Jackson knew what was coming and had prepared pretty well for it. You saw a Republicans in the Judiciary Committee go after her on all the culture wars questions, all the proxy questions, uh, that are playing out in this year's midterms and may play out in the presidential elections. Questions over critical race theory, questions over things she had said in the past, rulings she had made in the past, sentencing guidelines she had recommended in the past and all of this with an eye, not towards preventing her confirmation, it's still widely believed she will be confirmed, but towards damaging her credibility and creating issues that Republicans can drive into these midterm elections.

NIALA: Let's just take a listen – to your point to the volume, let's just take a listen to how some of this went.

SENATOR TED CRUZ, SENATOR MARSHA BLACKBURN, SENATOR TOM COTTON: I’m an Hispanic man, could, could I decide I was an Asian man? Can you provide a definition for the word woman? 46% of all murders go unsolved. Should we catch more of those murders or should we catch fewer of them?

NIALA: That last question was from Senator Tom Cotton. We also heard from Senators Marsha Blackburn and Ted Cruz. What do we think about the tone of these confirmation hearings? Mike, you're just shaking your head.

MIKE: Yes, it's a crazy process. So I'm sorry to say that during her 13 hours day, the judge sat in that chair for 13 hours for a lot of contentious questioning, the word that the commentators kept using was restraint, which is what I think a lot of people want in a judge, but that's what she had to use during this process, because spoiler alert, she's going to be confirmed. So what is this questioning about? A lot of times it's about something else. It's about someone running for president. It's about appealing to the base. It's about getting on cable news, raising money.

NIALA: When we think about the last three Supreme court nomination hearings, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and now Ketanji Brown Jackson, they've all been fairly contentious. Is that just unfortunately, the state of play when it comes to Supreme court nominations?

MIKE: It is. And I think that what it mostly means is the public tunes them out. I remember when Joe Biden was a Senator, he used to call it the Kabuki dance, right? Which is like, Probably already know what's going to happen, unless there's a major discovery when the nominee is being vetted, in her case, she had just been vetted a year earlier and confirmed a year earlier. So everything about, you know, her rulings and background was already known and out there. Um, so the Kabuki dance is what happens when you pretty much know what's going to happen. And then the theater of it plays out anyway.

MIKE: Yeah, that's super interesting. Right before I came in for this interview I texted one of the most wired, uh, Republican somebody that, that we all know well, and I said, I just want a gut check. Like, what is your side saying about Judge Jackson? And they said, you know, with the war going on, March madness, to be honest, I haven't heard much. This is somebody who is attached to the news cycle like an IV drip. So it's not breaking through, it just shows it's meant to play for a small stage.

NIALA: I wanted to just end on a moment from late Wednesday, which is a reminder of why Jackson's nomination as the first black woman to the Supreme Court is so historic.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: I want to tell you, what, I look at you- this is why I get emotional. I'm sorry you're- you're you are a person that is so much more than your race and gender.

NIALA: Senator Cory Booker, a black Senator from New Jersey who went on to say this,

BOOKER: You have earned this spot. You are worthy.

NIALA: Where do we go from here?

MIKE: I don't think anybody can look at the tableau that we saw all week of Judge Jackson reaching across the aisle to her young daughter, her husband at her right hand, knowing that she's going to make history as the first black woman on the Supreme Court, and not recognize that this is a moment that will transcend any little arguments.

MARGARET: This is one of those high road, long road moments. Senators live in six year election cycles and their juxtaposition against four year presidential cycles. But a Supreme Court nominee once confirmed has that job for life, if they want it.

NIALA: Margaret Talev, managing editor for the White House and politics for Axios, Mike Allen, Axios’ co-founder and author of AM and PM newsletters, thank you both.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala.

MIKE: Niala, have the best weekend.

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 engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer and Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening - and have the best weekend.

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