Jun 22, 2022 - Podcasts

Pressure to the breaking point for election officials

The fourth public hearing this month by the January 6th committee focused on how former President Trump and key allies put pressure on election officials, to promote the lie that there was widespread election fraud in 2020. Many of the witnesses testified on the personal toll that Trump’s lies were taking on them and their families.

  • Plus: new details of the failed response in Uvalde.
  • And: how companies can think differently to get and keep workers today.

Guests: Axios' Alayna Treene and Jim VandeHei.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, 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 Wednesday June 22nd. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: new details of the failed response in Uvalde. Plus, how companies can think differently to get and keep workers today.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: pressure to the breaking point for 2020 election officials.

RUBY FREEMAN: There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?

NIALA: That's audio from the closed door deposition of Fulton County, Georgia election worker, Ruby Freeman in the fourth public hearing this month by the January 6th committee. Yesterday's hearing focused on showing how President Trump and key allies put pressure on election officials to promote the lie that there was widespread election fraud in 2020. Many of the witnesses testified to the personal toll that Trump's lies have taken on them and their families. Axios’s Alayna Treene joins us now with the details. Hi Alayna.


NIALA: Alayna, let's start with that clip we just heard. Both Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss were poll workers in Georgia — and I think many of us watching were struck by the treatment they faced, which was horrific.

ALAYNA: It was, it was really striking. Uh, Shaye Moss was testifying, how she's received death threats. People telling her that she'll be in jail with her mother. Racist attacks on her. And she even said, she said, I am still afraid to leave my home. I think it's hard sometimes for people to, to realize the effect that some of these threats and this narrative has had on their lives.

NIALA: We also heard from several election officials like Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers about the pressure they received — Here’s what Bowers said he told

former president Trump and Rudy Giuliani in a phone call.

ARIZ. REP RUSTY BOWERS: You are asking me to do something against my oath and I will not break my oath.

NIALA: What else did we learn yesterday about how these election officials responded to this pressure from Trump and his team?

ALAYNA: It was really astonishing as well to see, not just those who were testifying publicly like Gabriel Sterling and Brad Raffensperberger, the Georgia Secretary of State. But also to hear the recordings of their conversations with the former president, and hearing them detail in person before the committee, the level of pressure they were receiving from the former president, from his attorneys like John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani. I mean, and they're Republicans. They wanted the former president to win, but they felt that they had to uphold the constitution and they knew that looking for evidence of, of fraud when there wasn't any was a futile exercise. And they asked multiple times, they said they asked Trump's attorneys for proof of these fraud claims and they never got any.

NIALA: Alayna I think it's also important to point out that one of the committee members, Congressman and Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger, this weekend made public one of the death threats that he, his wife and their five month old baby have received. And he has said in response to making this public that as a country, we have quote “violence in our future if we don't acknowledge the truth.” What are other Republicans saying in response to Representative Kinzinger?

ALAYNA: Well, so far, it's been pretty silent from many Republicans and even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, when it comes to some of these threats. And I also wanna point out that we've received some data from Capitol Police that just showed the increase, insane increase in threats to Congress. If you look at the data from, from 2017 to 2021, there was a 144% increase in cases of violent threats against Congress. And I think that is just tangible evidence of just the environment that some of these members are operating and particularly members like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who are in a very tough position by serving on this committee that is seen by so many in their party as partisan and more of a democratic effort.

NIALA: Alayna Treene is part of Axios politics team covering Congress in the White House. Thanks Alayna.

ALAYNA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, why officials call the police response to the Uvalde shooting an abject failure.

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

After weeks of sparse official updates on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers, the head of the Texas State Police said yesterday that the response from law enforcement was an “abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”

STEVEN MCCRAW: The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111, and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.

NIALA: That’s Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, In comments before a special State Senate committee in Austin yesterday.

Uvalde police had enough armed cops inside the school to stop the shooting three minutes after it began — and waited 74 minutes before breaching an unlocked door…including time spent searching for a key.

McCraw said his agency plans to release body camera footage of the tragedy after it completes its investigation. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice and the Texas State Legislature are also looking into what happened.

Employees have more power at work today, thanks in part to a tight labor market and to social media activism keeping companies on their toes. One result? Companies have to think beyond profit as the singular end goal in business.

That’s according to Axios CEO Jim VandeHei who joins us every few weeks with lessons on leadership that he shares in the Thursday edition of the Finish Line newsletter – hey Jim.

JIM VANDEHEI: Hey, how are you? Good to be here.

NIALA: Jim, so this idea you are calling aspirational capitalism. Can you just first start by explaining what you mean by that?

JIM: Well, for most of our lifetimes, we had probably what we'd call some version of cutthroat capitalism, where it was all about how do you drive as much shareholder value as humanly possible. And that was kind of the end objective and the only objective. And it's just clear now that that might work in some circumstances. And certainly you have some old school CEOs that wanna run their company that way. I just don't think it's sustainable. I think if you want to be able to recruit and keep and unleash new talent, they want more than just a paycheck. They want to know that there's a deeper meaning to the work that they do. I think the modern employee expects so much more out of us as an employer than we did when we got into the job market.

NIALA: Why do you think that's changed? What's changed about that?

JIM: You've had this sort of rush of idealism, uh, certainly from the last couple of generations where they realize we're spending most of our waking hours in the office and there was a good piece, uh, not long ago in the New York Times, by a professor who was sort of comparing the workplace expectations now to what, the role that church or unions or, or communities played in our lives growing up. And if you think about the things that the, you know, younger generations are looking for in the workplace, things like values, things like mission, things like togetherness, things like activism. A lot of those things used to come from the church or come from, from organized institutions a lot of which have lost credibility in membership. In some ways, some of those values and expectations have fused with the modern workplace.

And I think there's a real debate. There's a lot of people who don't like the modern culture. People feel like, ah, there's just too much that the employee's expecting of the employer. But I do think if you can align you know, purpose with your work, I really believe that most people who are gonna have success in business over the next, you know, 20 years are going to run businesses that sort of buy into some version of this philosophy. I just don't buy it that you can only get great shareholder value by not being sort of sensitive to the needs outside of a paycheck to the individual.

NIALA: Jim VandeHei is the co-founder and CEO of Axios. Thanks, Jim.

JIM: Thank you.

NIALA: And one more note on this: Axios’ Erica Pandey reported on a recent Gallup workplace survey, which shows that American workers are truly up for grabs if companies can entice them: 71% of Americans believe this is a great time to look for a new job, 58% are stressed at their current job daily, and 20% are likely to move to a new city in the next year.

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

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