Jul 10, 2023 - Podcasts

Biden's inside voice

Maybe you've noticed President Biden sometimes whispering in public settings — especially when answering questions from reporters. But behind closed doors, he's been known to take the volume up a notch.

Guests: Axios' Alex Thompson and Tina Reed.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Robin Linn 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 Monday, July 10th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s important Chinese visit. Plus, CVS and Walgreens get into the clinical trials business. And: today’s One Big Thing: Biden’s inside voice.

Janet Yellen’s important Chinese visit

NIALA: Let’s start this Monday morning catching you up quick with a few important headlines:

JANET YELLEN: We believe that the world is big enough for both of our countries to thrive

NIALA: That’s U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen after wrapping up more than 10 hours of meetings over two days in China. Relations between the two countries are at a low point - a reminder - this trip was rescheduled because of the Chinese spy balloon incident.

And what’s at stake is not just politics but the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies.

Secretary Yellen did not announce any agreements on major disputes, but - she said officials from both countries would have “more frequent and regular” communication at the highest level.

President Biden is also traveling - he’s in Europe this week, and today he meets with not just British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but also King Charles. The focus of that conversation will be climate change. But tomorrow, the focus shifts to Ukraine. Ahead of his meeting with NATO leaders in Lithuania, the President told CNN that Ukraine is not ready to join NATO while it's still at war with Russia. He added - there wasn’t agreement among NATO members about Ukraine joining the alliance - because of the war.

Biden’s inside voice

NIALA: Speaking of the President - maybe you’ve noticed President Biden sometimes whispering in public settings - especially when answering questions from reporters.

But behind closed doors he’s been known to take the volume up a notch…or two. Axios’ Alex Thompson is here with a closer look at how Joe Biden manages his public and private personas. Hi Alex

ALEX THOMPSON: Hey, how are you doing?

NIALA: Alex, I have to say I've always been intrigued with President Biden's whispers, especially during news conferences. So I wanted to start by playing this for you.

JOE BIDEN: You know, uh, when we talked about 28% tax rate, Ronald Reagan was 28% tax rate. People are waiting for relief. I got them $1.9 trillion relief so far. Get vaccinated.

NIALA: Alex, do we know why the president whispers like this?

ALEX: You notice often when he's whispering it's to really emphasize a certain point. And I can tell you from doing a lot of reporting with current and former Biden aides that he doesn't really whisper in private, instead he's a bit of a yeller and he will really, you know, tear into aides when he is very frustrated.

Now they describe these, these sort of outbursts more as, as angry and tear interrogations, not sort of, you know, volcanic tantrums. But you know, when Biden is frustrated with his aides, he will say things like, get the f out of here. How the f don't you know this, this is f-ing important. God dammit. Can I say that on the podcast? If the president says that, I feel like I can.

So he will really lay into aides, in some ways it's sort of become a White House initiation for staff. Even going back to his senate days is that, you know, you really aren't a member of this White House staff until the president has yelled at you. And in some ways if he doesn't yell at you, then that could actually be an ominous sign because it means he doesn't care about your opinion.

NIALA: We've sort of seen a few examples of this sometimes of President Biden being a little short-tempered and he's been caught on mic or speaking to people that way. How much of this is at odds with sort of his folksy kind of guy who loves ice cream image?

ALEX: It is at odds with that public image, which is why in some cases, staff are so caught off guard by it and aren't expecting it. This is a man that's basically been on the public stage for over 50 years and he is a well honed shtick, a lot of which is authentic to him. But he is very disciplined, at keeping that temper, out of, sort of, the public consciousness. And even the few times we've seen it, you know, for example, when he called Fox's Peter Doocey, you know, a “stupid son of a bitch,” it was because he was on a hot mic. It wasn't like it was in an interview. And you know, we have seen this on the campaign trail as well, just a few times. There was one time in Detroit with an auto worker where he said, you're full of shit man. And he told him to stop being a horse's ass.

NIALA: Alex, why did you wanna write this story?

ALEX: I think that when someone's president, it's always just interesting to see both the public persona and how it contrasts with the private persona. You know, some aides, uh, who I've talked to and I think part of the reason they talked to me is because they feel that if he showed his anger a little bit more could undercut the “sleepy Joe” image that Donald Trump and Republicans have attributed to him because of his frequent verbal slips, his stutter coming through. And I think, if you saw his anger, it may turn some people off, but it also might make him look more engaged.

NIALA: Alex Thompson is Axios National political correspondent. Thanks Alex.

ALEX: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment - why big retail pharmacies are delving into the clinical trial business.


CVS and Walgreens get into the clinical trials business

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

Late last week, the FDA gave full approval to the drug Leqembi for patients who are in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. This comes after a large clinical trial conducted by pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Biogen.

It's common for drug makers and research institutions to conduct such trials. But now national retailers like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have all entered the business anxious to capture more of the healthcare market. These retailers are sitting on a trove of consumer data explains Axios’ Healthcare Editor Tina Reed. But will this make it easier to recruit people to participate? Hi Tina.

TINA REED: Hi Niala.

NIALA: Tina, is all of this just the latest example of how the clinical trial market is evolving, especially since the pandemic?

TINA: Yeah, so during the pandemic there was obviously a big disruption. So as they were getting going again, there was really a push to decentralize trials to make it easier to do science via telehealth using wearables, using remote locations. And we've also seen that Congress has passed a law basically saying that investigators have to do a better job at getting a more diverse representation of the United States in their trials. And so we're seeing just this collision of different changes within the clinical trial market that is really interesting to watch.

NIALA: So recruitment and retention for trials has historically been dismal. And you just mentioned diversity. Why has that been such a challenge and how will, like, having a Walgreens or Walmart in this help that?

TINA: Only 5% of Americans ever actually participate in a clinical trial. And then you think about trying to get the right people in those trials – different races, different genders, different geographic diversity – and it gets that much harder. Researchers are also up against potential stigma because certain races of people have concerns about scientific problems that have happened in the past. And so it's just really challenging to do this and to do it well.

And these companies are saying, they have these massive footprints. They have trusted relationships with the consumers in their communities. They've got all this personal health information that they say can not only improve the clinical trial recruitment itself, such as making it more diverse, but also retain those patients in the trials by just making the whole process a lot easier. They also stand to gain a big revenue stream from some deep pocketed life sciences companies if they really can gain some traction here.

NIALA: Tina, you mentioned consumer data. Does this bring up privacy issues?

TINA: So when you're talking about protected health information, that means HIPAA is protecting that information and they can only use that for healthcare reasons. But they can use it for recruitment if it's within the purview of their role as a provider. What they can't do and what regulations do say, is they can't take, for instance, consumer data from their shopping history and somehow connect it with their protected health data.

NIALA: Tina, you noted that especially for certain racial groups, there's certainly a very difficult history involving clinical trials. Today in 2023, why are clinical trials so important?

TINA: We are worried about making sure we've got good science and medicine and people of different races, people of different genders, ethnicities, geographic regions all could potentially respond differently to different drugs, and we need to make sure that we understand how people are going to respond to these drugs if we're going to do a good job at giving them to the right people.

NIALA: Tina Reed is Axios’ healthcare editor. Thanks, Tina.

TINA: Thank you Niala.

Stamps prices go up

NIALA: One final story before we end today.

The price of stamps went up yesterday for the third time in the past 12 months. A standard first class stamp now costs 66 cents. This is a good time to stock up on Forever Stamps. When Forever Stamps first launched in 2007 - they cost 41 cents - and of course - they’re still good!

That’s it for us today! You can always reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or you can text me at (202) 918-4893.

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

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