Oct 7, 2022 - Podcasts

State of Play: One month out from midterms

President Joe Biden announced Thursday he will pardon everyone convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law — and he’s urging governors to do the same. More than 6,500 people were convicted of simple possession between 1992 and 2021 under federal law, and thousands more under District of Columbia code. It’s a big move by Biden a month ahead of the midterms — what does it mean for messaging for Democrats and Republicans?

  • Plus, a devastating attack rocks Thailand.
  • And, the U.S. imposes more sanctions on Iran as protests continue.

Guests: Axios’ Josh Kraushaar and Mike Allen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi 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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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, October 7th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we are covering today: a devastating attack rocks Thailand. Plus, the U.S. imposes more sanctions on Iran as protests continue.

But first: the political State of Play, just over a month till election day. That’s our One Big Thing.

NIALA: President Joe Biden announced yesterday that he’ll pardon everyone convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law, and he's urging state governors to do the same. More than 6,500 people were convicted of simple possession between 1992 and 2021 under federal law, and thousands more under DC code.

It's a big move by the president a month ahead of the midterms and Axios Co-founder Mike Allen and Senior Politics Correspondent Josh Kraushaar are here to explain that and other big politics stories this week. It's our Friday State of Play. Mike, Josh, thanks for being with me.

JOSH KRAUSHAAR: Great to be here, Niala.

NIALA: Josh, the Biden administration is also planning to review marijuana's classification as a Schedule one drug. What does all of this mean for midterm messaging?

JOSH: Look I think this is an issue that the White House is doing because they wanna excite the base of the parties, particularly younger voters that are following this issue very closely. And look the, there already has been a reaction from a big Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, who has campaigned on this issue. And, it's an issue he's been talking about in this crucial Senate race in Pennsylvania. So, this is something that could very well excite them and help Democrats on the margins.

MIKE ALLEN: Josh. That's a great point. And it's a little bit of a peaceful student loans, right? And you look at data and you realize how important young voters are to Democrats, and all of a sudden you see more clearly a lot of these debates and decisions coming outta the White House.

NIALA: Speaking of student loans, the Mitch McConnell aligned super PAC is running an ad North Carolina attacking Democrat senate nominee Cheri Beasley for supporting President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan. How are we seeing messaging about student loans playing out here?

JOSH: Republicans attacked President Biden's decision to forgive a whole lot of student loans, but they hadn't really spent a whole lot of money on TV ads. You now see in a very close Senate race in North Carolina, the biggest super PAC in the country, the Senate Leadership Fund, is actually using this message attacking a democrat for supporting that student loan forgiveness. They’re framing it as an issue of fairness. We're only seeing it in North Carolina right now. But it is, it raises the question in the final month, we may see more of this to come.

MIKE: And Josh, fascinating the first head about student loans came from Republicans, not Democrats.

JOSH: Yeah, I mean I was just in New Hampshire and it was remarkable when I asked this issue to every Democrat on the ballot they all either criticized President Biden or sort of didn't want to talk about the student loan issue.

NIALA: I'm guessing Democrats also don't wanna talk about Hunter Biden, but the President's son was also in the news yesterday, the Washington Post reporting that federal agents investigating Hunter Biden have gathered sufficient evidence to charge him with tax crimes in a false statement related to a gun purchase. Mike, let's just one final thought on messaging when it comes to the midterms and Hunter Biden.

MIKE: Yeah, Niala, the texts that I got after this news broke were all hell of a leak a month out from the midterms. And of course we don't know the motive of the sources for this story, but it injects a last minute topic that of course Democrats, White House wouldn't want yet another October surprise. We're getting to have kind of a long list. It was an issue that Republicans loved to talk about, Democrats never talked about. Now no one has a choice.

NIALA: Okay, we are chatting with Axios’ Mike Allen and Josh Kraushaar, and we will be back in a moment to continue our conversation about the political state of play leading up to the midterms.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. I'm talking politics with Axios’ co-founder Mike Allen and senior politics correspondent Josh Kraushaar.

Josh, we're starting to see a lot of Senate candidates in key battleground states like Arizona and Nevada getting cut loose by their national allies. What's happening here?

JOSH: Nevada's just a fascinating state, Niala, because it's looking like a really good year for Republicans in Nevada. We have reporting about the Senate candidate Adam Laxalt leading already against Senator Cortez Masto. You have the governor's race, Republicans think that is their best pickup opportunity to win a governorship in Nevada.

But when it comes to this one house race, in Nevada, the Republicans nominated a very far right Trump loyalist in a swing district, and not a single Republican group is putting a dollar behind him because they don't think he can win. They think that extremism doesn't sell even if it is a good political environment. So there are a lot of other candidates like that on both sides that are getting left out, and we're giving a sneak preview on those races where the triage is already taking place.

NIALA: Mike, can we end with a forward look, the January 6th committee's hearing that was rescheduled because of Hurricane Ian is now happening next Thursday. We started this conversation talking about messaging. Where does the January 6th committee fit into that for Democrats and Republicans?

MIKE: Niala, the January 6th committee has set a very high bar for itself. These hearings have been so surprising, so captivating, and I can tell you from my conversations behind the scenes, they want a big finish. So they're gonna make sure that there's plenty to chew on from this hearing. Then there's a written report that's gonna be a publishing event, people in the publishing industry tell me they haven't seen anything like the interest in this report since the star report, the Monica Lewinsky report during the Clinton administration. So multiple additions, of course it's a public document, and then at the end of the year the committee goes outta business.

NIALA: Mike Allen is Axios’ co-founder. Josh Kraushaar is Axios’ Senior Political Correspondent. Thank you both for joining me.

JOSH: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: Niala, have the best holiday weekend.

A devastating attack rocks Thailand

NIALA: Before we go, some headlines from around the world –

In Thailand at least 37 people — including at least 22 children — were killed in a mass shooting and knife attack at a child care center yesterday. The gunman has been identified by authorities as a former police officer who has been in court earlier that day related to drug charges.

He shot several officials working at the childcare center. Witnesses also saw him wielding a knife. Most of the children, who were between the ages of 2 and 5, were stabbed to death.

After the attack at the child care center he killed his wife and child and then himself.

The attacks raising questions about the future of gun violence in the country – where mass shootings are relatively rare, but where gun ownership on average is higher than in neighboring countries.

The U.S. imposes more sanctions on Iran as protests continue

NIALA: And the US has imposed more sanctions on Iranian officials, in response to the death of a 22-year old Mahsa Amini. Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police last month after being arrested for wearing her hijab too loosely and showing some hair.


Protests have been engulfing the country for the past three weeks since Amini’s death… including schoolgirls removing their head coverings and chanting “death to the dictator.” That’s audio from the BBC.

The unprecedented protests have been met with a systematic crackdown, at least 154 people have been killed since the protests began, according to the Norway-based non-profit Iran Human Rights. And at least 35 journalists have been detained according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

NIALA: Finally yesterday, French writer Annie Ernaux has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ernaux is the 17th woman to receive the prize, which has been given to 119 writers since 1901.

In her more than 20 books she has written about her own life, including on her upbringing in post World War 2 France, an illegal abortion she had the 1960s, and her extramarital affair. Nobel prizes will continue to be announced through October 10th.

That’s all for this week. Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Robin Linn. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura and Ben O’Brien. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. We’ll be off Monday for Indigenous People’s Day – enjoy your day, stay safe, and we’re back with the news on Tuesday.

NIALA: The day that Richard Nixon gave a speech about his dog. The time that a war broke out over a pig farm. The very first time that a district got gerrymandered. Check out This Day In Esoteric Political History from Radiotopia. Short, fun episodes, three times a week, with surprising stories from our political past, and how they connect to our current moment. Get it wherever you listen to podcasts.

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