Apr 3, 2023 - Podcasts

U.S. tornado death toll keeps rising

At least 32 people are dead after a series of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes hit the South, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic over the weekend. That brings the American death toll from tornadoes over the past two weeks to more than 50.

  • Plus, the latest on former president Trump’s indictment.
  • And, the debate over crime in the nation’s capital.

Guests: Axios' Andrew Freedman, Cuneyt Dil and Adriel Bettelheim.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, 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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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, April 3rd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: the latest on former president Trump’s indictment. And, the debate over crime in the nation’s capital. Plus, a change to preventive services under the ACA. But first, the U.S. tornado death toll keeps rising. That’s our One Big Thing.

U.S. tornado death toll keeps rising

NIALA: At least 32 people have died, after severe storms hit the South, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic over the weekend and brought the American death toll from tornadoes over the just the past two weeks…to more than 50.

Since the start of this year, the National Weather Services’ preliminary data shows there have been at least 385 tornadoes across the U.S.

Axios’ Andrew Freedman is here with the big picture. Andrew, just how wide ranging were this past weekend storms?

ANDREW FREEDMAN: Extremely wide ranging going from, the Mississippi River Valley all the way up, almost into Wisconsin and then eastward into states you don't normally expect this weather at this time of year, Delaware and New Jersey.

NIALA: Last weekend, the Mississippi tornado was rated in EF-4, the second highest rating of severity. Andrew, what role is climate change playing in? How intense or widespread tornadoes have been so far this year?

ANDREW: Scientists are hard at work trying to decipher what role climate change has played in this year's tornadoes so far. But more importantly, which direction things are going. It is virtually impossible that climate change isn't affecting these weather systems. We're getting more water vapor in the air, that means there's more instability for severe thunderstorms. There's just intricacies that computer models have trouble resolving.

NIALA: Andrew, is there more of this severe weather coming tomorrow? Where do people need to be on guard?

ANDREW: Yeah. So right now it really looks like another outbreak is possible going from Chicago southward to, uh, the Mississippi River Valley. So pretty much the same regions that were hit Friday into Saturday. What we're talking about right now in terms of storm preparations that people should be making is really preparing to have multiple ways to get weather information, in case one fails. So one great one is a no weather radio, which will, blare, any warning information. Another one is a trusted media source, it's kind of thinking about okay, where am I gonna get information tomorrow?

NIALA: Andrew, you and I are in the D.C. area, but do you have a tornado safety plan in place for you?

ANDREW: Taking the cat, the dog, my wife and son, immediately to the basement when a warning is issued and taking them seriously. Not immediately running outside to record video, which is what too many people seem to be doing these days. Uh, take warnings seriously. They can save lives.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman covers climate and energy for Axios. Thanks Andrew.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

The latest on former president Trump’s indictment

NIALA: Former President Donald Trump is expected to surrender to New York authorities on Tuesday afternoon at 2:15 Eastern time, and he’s already planned a news conference for back at Mar-A-Lago on Tuesday evening.

Two other headlines to catch you up quick on the latest in the historic indictment:

- A lawyer for Michael Cohen – Trump’s former attorney – told CNN and Axios’ Mike Allen that his client presented evidence to the grand jury of hush money paid to a second woman, who claimed to have had an affair with the former president. That suggests the indictment may be broader than just Stormy Daniels.

- And, a Trump official also tells Axios that Trump’s 2024 reelection campaign has raised $5 million since news of his indictment broke - more than $4 million of that came within the first 24 hours.

In a moment, the congressional fight over crime in the nation’s capital.


The debate over crime in the nation’s capital

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

Before attention turned to Trump’s indictment, a different conversation on crime was dominating the Hill last week.

City officials in D.C. denied congressional Republicans' claims that the nation’s capital is having a quote “crime crisis.”

Axios’ Cuneyt Dil has been covering this and is here to explain why this D.C. conversation matters for the whole country.

NIALA: Cuneyt, so House GOP lawmakers are doubling down on D.C. and painting it as a mismanaged city that is soft on crime. Why is that?

CUNEYT DIL: Crime has become sort of this existential problem for some people in Congress who who feel it, you know. They talk about property crimes that they've experienced. Senator Rand Paul staffer was brutally assaulted and police are investigating that still and it turned into this where the House GOP can go after D.C. And the crime issue is one that is not just in D.C. but across the nation. And so this is really also a chance for them to go after, in some ways, other Democratic run cities that they think are soft on crime.

NIALA: Can you just remind us of why Congress has so much power over the District of Columbia?

CUNEYT: Yeah, the Constitution essentially gives the federal government final say over the district essentially. Congress can block its laws like it just did for the first time in three decades. And it can call up leaders for oversight and other things that it can't do for like Chicago or New York City or any, anywhere else really.

NIALA: What do we know about crime rates across the city and what kind of crimes are we talking about? Are they violent?

CUNEYT: I mean, the reality is there is a crime resurgence in the district and other cities. Carjackings have been going up for five years now. It's sort of a national problem too. Homicides have exceeded 200 for two years in a row. It dipped a little bit last year, but it was still over 200. And those are figures we haven't seen in D.C. since about 2003. Gun violence, in particular, we've reported is up across the city. Last year there was a slight dip in overall crime incidents, but, I mean, you look at all these events that get people's attention. It's worrying not just Congress, but city leaders, the mayor, you know, people in neighborhoods, they're, they're taking notice as well.

NIALA: The Senate voted to block changes to D.C.'s criminal code. As you mentioned, that's the first time Congress has approved overturning local D.C. legislation since 1991. What does this mean for the city?

CUNEYT: It's a big setback for home rule. The city in a split screen moment is super close to statehood on paper. But at the same time, it just suffered the biggest defeat and self-governance in three decades. So for local leaders, it was a real punch in the gut. Now, there's also this politicization of this whole situation where republicans are looking at 2024 and they wanna make Democrats look weak on an issue, and that's crime. They're forcing votes on police reform. They're forcing votes on sentencing like they just did in D.C. So there, this is definitely a political issue. At the same time, I think Democratic mayors are also noticing that crime is an important thing to handle.

NIALA: Cuneyt Dil covers D.C. for Axios. Thanks Cuneyt.

CUNEYT: Thank you.

A change to preventive services under the ACA

NIALA: A Federal judge in Texas ruled Thursday that employers cannot be required to cover some preventive health care services under the Affordable Care Act. Axios’ Senior Healthcare Editor Adriel Bettelheim has what you need to know and what comes next.

ADRIEL BETTELHEIM: This case was argued last year in a federal court in Texas and centered around a group of individuals and businesses that objected to being mandated under the Affordable Care Act to offer coverage of medications that prevent HIV because they didn't want to encourage homosexual behavior.

The federal Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that the requirement, uh, under the ACA violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But on Thursday, he further ruled against required coverage of services at no cost that were recommended by a federal task force since March of 2010. So we're talking about skin and lung cancer screenings, HIV PrEP the medication, statins for heart disease, chemoprevention for breast cancer risk. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates, six in ten commercially insured people, or equivalent of about 100 million, use ACA preventive services.

So now, we're waiting, first of all, for the government to act, and then the focus turns to insurers and employers, who no longer have to meet this coverage requirement. And as this winds through the courts, there may also be challenges to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, a separate mandate, as this thing winds through and there's more appeals at the appellate court level, higher court level, even to the Supreme Court, an effort to strike that requirement will come back into play. So, really a lot of different preventive services are up for grabs right now as this moves through the courts.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Adriel Bettelheim.

And that’s all for today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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