May 31, 2022 - Podcasts

Testing Senator Joe Manchin’s power

As with virtually everything in the Senate these days, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia holds a lot of power. As he engages in talks on climate and deficit reduction with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, could he also play a role in gun reform?

  • Plus, what new details on George Floyd’s life reveal about the U.S. past and present.

Guests: Axios' Hans Nichols; Robert Samuels, national enterprise reporter at The Washington Post.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. 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 - May 31st.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: what new details on George Floyd’s life - tell us about America. But first, today’s One Big Thing: testing Senator Joe Manchin’s power on gun reform.

NIALA: President Biden said yesterday that “rational Republicans” could act on some gun control measures following last week's mass school shooting in Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers. Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn is said to be working with Democrats on reforms. But as with virtually everything in the Senate these days, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia holds a lot of power. As he engages in talks on climate and deficit reduction with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, could he also help ease the way on gun reform? Axios’ Hans Nichols is here with more. Hi Hans.


NIALA: Okay, so let's start Hans your reporting that Manchin’s reconsidering his opposition to the Build Back Better plan. What's changed?

HANS: Well, Build Back Better is dead. What's changed is that Manchin’s willing to do something in the reconciliation process, which means Democrats only need 50 votes. And he wants to do something mostly deficit reduction, a little bit on corporate tax reform, a little bit on prescription drugs reform having direct negotiations, and then maybe in the range of about 300 billion for green energies or tax credits. So that's the package they're talking about. Manchin said a lot of, sort of important things in that interview, but he had a line in there about Chuck Schumer needing, and he trusts Chuck Schumer to get to 48 49 votes. That signals a shift that really the burden isn't necessarily on Manchin to get there. The burden may be on Schumer to find the other 49 Democrats to whatever Manchin’s going to say the final bill is.

NIALA: What did Manchin say to you about what role he's playing in the bipartisan push for gun control?

HANS: Manchin’s sort of been for some reform on gun control, right? He is for expanded background checks. He's worked on this in the past. He is for red flag laws. The conversation on the gun control is really, it's a question are there 10 Republican senators? Don't think Manchin will be a big impediment there. I mean, he's obviously not going to, he was pretty clear he's not going to blow up the filibuster over this, but the real conversation there is between Mitch McConnell and his caucus. And you saw President Biden give Mitch McConnell a little bit of space. And I think that's the general theme here is that both Schumer and the president are trying to give Republicans the space to get to 10, to do something. Now, whether or not that's enough, that will be an entirely different conversation. But that seems to be the strategy from both Schumer and Biden.

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

HANS: Thanks for having me.

In a moment, we’re back with a portrait of George Floyd’s life - that’s also a portrait of America.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Last week marked two years since George Floyd was murdered by a former Minneapolis police officer. But George Floyd lived a life before his name became a global rallying cry against racism, and there’s a lot about his story you probably have not heard.

Robert Samuels and Tolu Olurunnipa (Olu-run–EE-pah), reporters for the Washington Post, tell that story in their new book His Name is George Floyd, and Robert Samuels is with me now – Hey Robert.

ROBERT SAMUELS: Hey Niala it’s good to see you.

NIALA: So let's start at the beginning and when George Floyd was in second grade, he wrote an essay saying that he wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. What did you learn about what his childhood was like?

ROBERT: George Perry Floyd, when he was young, his family called him Perry. He was a junior. He was named after his dad. He was a pretty isolated kid. He kept to himself, because he was very tall and kids used to make fun of him for being tall. So he developed this really gregarious personality because he wanted people to like him. And then when we spoke with his second grade teacher, she had some records and one of them was his discussion about wanting to be a Supreme Court justice. He had learned about Thurgood Marshall and he found what he did to be super interesting. When he wrote his little paragraph his second graders essay about becoming a Supreme Court justice, the words were spelled correctly, the grammar was right. He was actually reading and doing math at, or a little bit above grade level. Which in a community that was as under-resourced and struggling as Cuney Homes where he grew up, that was seen as a tremendous accomplishment. So when Perry Floyd grows up into Big Floyd, which is what people started calling him when he was a teenager, they saw he was tall and he was fast. And instead of trying to focus on giving him a textbook, they gave him a football and a basketball, and they said to him, “this is your way out of poverty. This is what you can do to have a better life.” He went to a segregated high school. Houston was one of the last school districts in the entire country to integrate. And when they did, white parents took their kids out of the school system, taking their resources with them, taking the good Black teachers and sending them to white schools and white schools did not respond in return. So there was no real safety net to boost his educational experience. And uh, George Floyd, he leans into that, right? He becomes a good football player. And the irony of this, is that when George Floyd gets to college he cannot meet the academic requirements to play.

NIALA: The other part of this disinvestment is around mental health. You write about the fact that he actually moved to Minnesota because of the resources that were available in Minnesota for mental health and for substance abuse that were not available to him in Texas.

ROBERT: Right. This happens after George Floyd comes out of uh, prison on armed robbery charges. He has a young daughter who he wants to provide for, and he hears in his neighborhood that, the people who go to this place called Minneapolis, they come out clean and sober and working, and they're able to live full lives. George Floyd wants to take that chance. In Texas if you're a convicted felon, you can't get many professional licenses. You can't become a barber in Texas at the time if you had a, an arrest record. He ultimately finds himself at one of the few programs in the country that centers on the African-American experience and thinks about healing. And when he comes out he's clean, he's doing better. And then he he starts to spiral again. He's he starts to spiral.

NIALA: You point out that he signed eight different plea deals. Never went before a jury. He never went to trial because he signed plea deals and that's how he ended up and all of his prison time. How common is that story?

ROBERT: In his community, it was completely common because there was a sense that you could not get a fair trial in Texas. There was no active public defender system when he was growing up. which meant that If you couldn't afford a lawyer, which living in poverty, he could not, there was no guarantee that you'd get a lawyer who actually wanted to hear your case. You also knew that the police presence within your community was intense and he was detained more than 20 times in his life. And when you look at the record, some of it's for non-violent drug offenses. Things like walking down the street with nowhere to go. Or walking too fast. And six of the officers involved in those detainments have been charged themselves for misconduct. Um, and so that was the kind of world that he was living in. So the belief within the community was that the system was not fair. So if you were given the option to take a plea deal and have less time, rather than go through a court system, no matter if you're innocent, the jury would convict you. So George Floyd, he never faced a jury of his peers. He only pleaded guilty because he always thought that was the best choice.

NIALA: Robert Samuels is a reporter for The Washington Post – his new book with Tolu Olurunnipa (Olu-run–EE-pah) is His Name is George Floyd. Thanks Robert.

ROBERT: Thanks for talking Niala.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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