Mar 29, 2022 - Podcasts

Biden’s push for police funding

President Biden Monday proposed a $5.8 trillion budget for the coming fiscal year, which would include a tax on billionaires and increased spending on defense, supply chain issues and law enforcement.

  • Plus, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife under scrutiny from the Jan 6th committee.
  • And, how modernizing public transit could displace people who need it the most.

Guests: Axios' Hans Nichols, Andrew Solender, and Danielle Chemtob

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 Tuesday, March 29th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Today: Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife under scrutiny from the Jan 6th committee. Plus, how modernizing public transit could displace people who need it the most. But first, Biden’s push for police funding… is today’s One Big Thing.

President Biden Monday proposed a $5.8 trillion budget for the coming fiscal year, which would include a tax on billionaires and increase spending on defense, supply chain issues and law enforcement:

PRESIDENT BIDEN: The answer is not to defund our police departments. It's to fund our police and give them all the tools they need.

NIALA: That’s President Biden yesterday. Republicans have made rising crime a talking point ahead of the midterms. But Biden’s budget runs counter to calls from progressives to defund the police. Hans Nichols covers the Biden administration for Axios. Hi Hans.

HANS NICHOLS: Good morning.

NIALA: First, let's start with what your big takeaway is from the entire budget proposal the president made yesterday?

HANS: So big picture, they are clearly moving to the center. They're doing that on police, they're doing that on defense, they're spending more for defense. And then crucially, they're doing it on deficit reduction. And to me that's really the biggest change, right, is that Joe Biden is kind of accepting Joe Manchin's argument that if you're going to spend for things, and if you're going to increase spending, you need to actually increase revenues. And that deficit spending causes inflation. Because you look at all the polls that are out there, anecdotal evidence inflation is killing President Biden. They know they need to have a plan or at least the illusion of a plan. They need to appear to be doing something.

NIALA: With the idea of funding for law enforcement. Where will this money actually go if this makes it into the final budget.

HANS: So we'll have like 300 new investigators, agents, personnel for alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. There'll be more DOJ prosecutors. The money for DOJ is mostly cosmetic, right? I mean, it's real money. It's a total of 32 billion. These budgets never really get line item enacted into law. Think of them more as like an enunciation of principles, an opening offer. We all know that for most part, police budgets are local issues, but the White House wants to be on the record for funding the police, not defunding the police.

NIALA: As a candidate Biden pledged police reform. So where does this fit into that?

HANS: Yeah. There's like 300 billion for community activities and community policing. We'll see if that makes it in. Again, this is about tone and emphasis.

NIALA: Has there been pushback from those who do want police defunding to happen?

HANS: A little right. I mean, there's been some out there, mostly progressive. But in a way, you know, when the White House was considering this initial push back before the state of the union they almost wanted to fight with progressives on this issue. They want to draw the contrast because they want to be on the side of funding the police. And so if progressive's in their party sort of ding them on that they're willing to have the debate because they liked the attention.

NIALA: Axios’ Hans Nichols covers the White House for Axios. Thanks, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

After the break, Congress wants to interview Ginni Thomas for her role in advocating for overturning the 2020 presidential election.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Multiple news outlets are reporting that the January 6th committee will be asking Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, to interview with the panel about her role in the insurrection. To explain why, Andrew Solender is here. He's been reporting on this from The Hill for Axios. Andrew, what do we know about Ginni Thomas' role in the January 6th insurrection?

ANDREW SOLENDER: What we know is basically what we have from 29 text messages between her and former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, which were turned over to the committee and then reported by the Washington Post and the CBS News last week. Which basically show a very persistent effort on the part of Thomas to encourage Meadows to pursue some of the most extreme conspiratorial narratives about the 2020 election. She, at one point accused the White House of even going too easy on their efforts to overturn the election. And then, in the aftermath of January 6th, four days later, she said that she was quote “disgusted” by Former Vice President Mike Pence’s unwillingness to halt or delay certification of the election. And said she was figuring out how to move forward from that.

NIALA: Can you remind us what Judge Thomas's role as a Supreme Court Justice was in the election?

ANDREW: The central case that observers have pointed to was the case in February, where Former President Trump, was continuing to try to adjudicate the election. The court overwhelmingly ruled not to consider the case. But Thomas was a notable dissent on that. The court has had to decide whether to take up several cases related to the January 6 committee's efforts to gather documents and compel testimony. Thomas has been a part of determining whether to take up those cases as well.

NIALA: And so there's a question now, if he has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself?

ANDREW: Right. And that's what some Democratic lawmakers are saying. You're also seeing today now some Republicans in the Senate coming out. His wife, Ginni Thomas has stringently maintained that they don't discuss work, even though they have a similar political philosophy. And that is sort of what Republicans have said in Thomas' defense. So, we'll see in the coming days, whether there's going to be a really unified and concerted effort to have some concrete consequences for this.

NIALA: Andrew Solender covers Capitol Hill for Axios. Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW: Thank you.

NIALA: We did some reporting in North Carolina last week. The city of Charlotte has an ambitious 13 and a half billion dollar transit plan that would create a new rail line, greenways and improvements to the bus system.

But it's hitting a few roadblocks, especially among Black residents who are worried they’ll be left out. Similar transportation plans have been in the works in cities like Nashville and Austin with varying results, because all have hinged on concerns about displacement and affordable housing. Danielle Chemtob is an investigative reporter for Axios Charlotte. Hi, Danielle, why has this plan been so controversial?

DANIELLE CHEMTOB: Yeah, so there are a number of hurdles this plan is facing and concerns from the Black Political Caucus and leaders in the community that they are looking at past transit decisions all the way back from the construction of highways, which cut through Black neighborhoods. As well as recent decisions like the light rail which didn't so much fracture communities literally, but it caused displacement in that property values went way up along the light rail and there were a lot of people who could no longer afford to live in those areas. So they're just concerned about whether Black communities will receive, you know, a benefit from the system that gets built.

NIALA: So what do they want this plan to look like?

DANIELLE: So they want it to include a chunk of the revenue from the potential sales tax, dedicated to anti-displacement measures, which could be things like property tax relief, helping people stay in their homes. And they also want to see 10% of the housing that gets built along new rail lines to be affordable. And lastly, they want to see participation from Black-owned businesses and businesses owned by people of color in the construction of the project itself.

NIALA: Danielle, what are activists telling you about what this story says about cities that are trying to modernize their transit system?

DANIELLE: So in Nashville, for example, they had a transit plan that also raised concern about gentrification and affordable housing and it failed. The people who stand to benefit the most from public transit are the very people who are at risk of being displaced. And it's, again, this conversation about equity so I think it's really just everyone starting from the point of, we need this, but how do we create equity within it?

NIALA: Danielle Chemtob is an investigative reporter with Axios Charlotte. Thank you, Danielle.

Before we go today, an update on a story we’ve been following on the podcast: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis yesterday signed into law what critics have dubbed the “Don't Say Gay” bill. The law, which goes into effect July 1, will ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to kids in kindergarten through 3rd grade. For older student instruction should be “age and developmentally appropriate.” Plus, it will allow parents to sue teachers or schools. LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida is creating a legal defense fund and promising litigation to fight the new law.

That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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