Apr 26, 2023 - Podcasts

The way forward for candidate Biden

President Biden announced his 2024 campaign for reelection with a video on Tuesday. Axios' Alex Thompson breaks down what we can expect from Biden’s campaign.

  • Plus, the melting of California’s historic snowpack intensifies.
  • Also, the religious gap between Congress and the American people.
  • And, the life and legacy of Harry Belafonte.

Guests: Axios' Alex Thompson, Andrew Freedman and Russell Contreras

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

It’s Wednesday, April 26th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: the melting of California’s historic snowpack intensifies. Plus, the religion gap between Congress and the American people. But first, the way forward for candidate Biden is today’s One Big Thing.

The way forward for candidate Biden

NIALA: President Biden announced his 2024 campaign for reelection yesterday with a video, and it started with an image of the riots on January 6th and protestors outside the Supreme Court in support of abortion.

JOE BIDEN: You know, around the country MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms, cutting social security that you've paid for your entire life, while cutting taxes for the very wealthy.

NIALA: Here to break down what we can expect from President Biden's 2024 presidential campaign. Axios’ National Political Correspondent Alex Thompson.

Hi Alex. Welcome to Axios Today and Axios.

ALEX THOMPSON: Hey, thank you. My first time.

NIALA: So President Biden released this video at 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning, and then one about his day is that announcement in the way he did that, a preview for what his campaign is gonna look like?

ALEX: Yes, in that he is basically going to campaign, by just being president essentially last time, uh, his campaign because of Covid was sort of mocked as the basement campaign. We're gonna see a lot of that same stuff over the next 18 months except instead of a basement, you're gonna have the Rose Garden, you're gonna have the presidential bully pulpit. He's gonna rely on that to try to get his message out and also hope that it is a little bit of a contrast with a little bit more of the, uh, colorful Republicans that he'll probably be going against.

NIALA: How much of Biden's campaign will focus on running against Trump?

ALEX: He is trying to paint the entire Republican party with the Trump brush. Now in the ad, you heard him say the term MAGA extremists. And what you're seeing is that even though Trump isn't the nominee yet, Joe Biden is gonna try to say that even if Trump isn't the nominee, this is just a Trump in a different suit.

NIALA: Biden received criticism in 2020 and is still receiving criticism about his age. How is he planning to address that during the campaign?

ALEX: The White House is going to try to do everything they can to have instances of him looking vigorous, but whether or not that's enough, you know, he's 80 right now, but he will be, uh, 82 by the time that he would be inaugurated the next time, and he would be 86 by the time that he would leave the Oval Office the end of a second term. So, you know, in some ways it's an intractable problem because I think he would be almost renominated by acclimation and would be a decisive front runner if he was not 80. Um, but because he is, it's not really a problem you can solve.

NIALA: Vice President Kamala Harris's approval ratings are actually lower than President Biden. How will Team Biden be handling that?

ALEX: Yeah, she's been stuck mostly in the high thirties, whereas he's been sort of stuck in the, in the low forties. So, you know, they're both, their approval ratings aren't great, but the Biden team recognizes that Republicans given his age are going to try to argue that by reelecting Biden, there's a significant chance that you are electing Kamala Harris President. As a result, her low approval ratings mean that she's a drag on the ticket. So you're seeing a lot of, White House personnel are helping the Vice President's office in a way they weren't the first two years when, both sides sort of saw each other with some mutual distrust and anonymous backbiting and sniping.

NIALA: Alex Thompson is a national political correspondent in Axios. Thanks Alex.

ALEX: Thanks so much. Longtime listener, first time caller.

Religion gap between Congress and the American people

NIALA: As we look ahead to future elections, recent data on the religious beliefs of our lawmakers may shed some light on the state of American politics today. Axios’ Race and Justice Reporter Russell Contreras has the story.

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Members of Congress are more Christian and more religious than the American public by a wide margin. This is important because this discrepancy, a trend that's also present in the state legislatures, provides a window into why our politics and debates around abortion, trans rights and other issues often don't reflect what the American public want.

It also shows how this two party system, a system that favors partisan primaries, favors candidates who openly professed faith. But right now, the number of people unaffiliated with their religion is growing. About 90% of those in Congress say they practice some form of Christianity, whether it's Catholicism, conservative evangelicalism, or any form of progressive Christianity. This is according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. But the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute's American Values Atlas survey found that only 64% of Americans identify as Christian, and that survey found that nearly 27% of the general public is unaffiliated. In Congress, that number's only at 4%.

NIALA: You can find a link to Russell’s reporting on this in our show notes.

Coming up: communities face flood risks with California’s big melt.


Melting of California’s historic snowpack intensifies

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

This year California has a near record snowpack and as it melts communities are facing destructive floods. This week with temperatures rising as much as 20 degrees above average that so-called big melt is accelerating even more. Axios’ Andrew Freedman is here with what this means for the state. Hi Andrew.


NIALA: How is this year different when it comes to the snow melt and California’s snowpack?

ANDREW: So, the way it's supposed to work is that the snow pack that you put away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains acts kind of like the savings account for California's drinking water, reservoirs, and agricultural lands for the dry season. The water gradually melts, goes through the series of highly manipulated and regulated reservoirs, and channels and different water systems that they have in place, particularly in northern and central California. Normally you would want kind of a steady amount of withdrawals from this snow bank, if you will. That is typically what happens. However, there have been other years where this was a near record snowpack. And the result was very damaging flooding. We know that flooding is already occurring in many areas. And the snowpack that is sitting up there is like a water bomb waiting to go off, that communities are really anxious about.

NIALA: How much water is up there?

ANDREW: They measure the snowpack in what's called snow water equivalent, which is essentially a measure of the amount of water contained in the snow. If you were to suddenly melt this column of snow, this is how much water that would result. And right now in the Southern Sierra, which is the most unusually deep snowpack, there's 55.4 inches of water sitting up there in frozen form that needs to melt out and will do so.

NIALA: If this melt happens so quickly, is there a risk of not just the extreme flooding, but losing some of that water?

ANDREW: In terms of losing water, they're not as worried about capturing that water in reservoirs. The reservoir levels have already climbed steeply. Really, it's a matter of the risk of flooding here cause it increases the risk that some levees will give away.

NIALA: Do you have concerns about that infrastructure being able to handle this level of water?

ANDREW: Yes, not because the infrastructure wasn't well designed or isn't functioning properly today, but because it's gonna be under stress for a prolonged period, which makes the probability of some sort of failure a little bit higher. So I think people need to understand that for many Californians, this is an unprecedented situation in their lifetime, depending on their age. The effects of whiplashing from drought to flood are potentially traumatic for a lot of people affected.

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

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

Harry Belafonte's legacy

NIALA: Before we go, a hat tip to Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor and civil rights activist, who died yesterday at 96.

As a Caribbean-American I know I have a special attachment and pride about his heritage – but it’s his work in this country that made history. Belafonte was the first single artist to sell more than a million copies of an album - Calypso. Here’s one of my favorite’s Woman Smarter.

And of course in later life, his support of the civil rights movement included putting up the seed money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee - and maintaining a life insurance policy on his friend, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - helping to ensure the King family’s financial security after his assassination.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - please stay safe. See you back here tomorrow.

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