April 20, 2024

๐ŸŒฟ It's 4/20 โ€” marijuana's high holiday.

  • Erica Pandey is your weekend steward. Drop her a line: [email protected]. Smart Brevityโ„ข count: 1,395 words ... 5 mins. Edited by Lauren Floyd.

1 big thing: Safe-spaces strategy

President Biden on "SmartLess" podcast
President Biden tapes the "SmartLess" podcast in Manhattan in March. Photo: Biden for President

President Biden and former President Trump have one big thing beyond old age in common: They duck difficult questioning by reporters, with historic stubbornness.

  • During his 3+ years in office, Biden has refused to give a single interview to White House reporters for The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal. But he sat down twice with friendly comedian Jason Bateman and his podcast pals on "SmartLess."

Why it matters: Call it the safe-space election. Biden is more likely to talk to mainstream outlets, and Trump to echo chambers. But both pop up for questioning with sycophants, supporters and sympathetic journalists.

๐Ÿ–ผ๏ธ The big picture: It wasn't always so. Biden and Trump not long ago loved mixing it up with more serious reporters. But whether it's age or bitterness about coverage, they're hiding in their own witness protection program.

  • For Trump, it's mostly bitterness and contempt for the media. For Biden, confidants tell us privately it's partly fear the president will go off script or botch an answer that amplifies worries about his age.

๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ Case in point: This is the first time in 60+ years that the sitting president has stiffed the newsroom of The New York Times for a formal interview. (The White House regularly engages with the paper behind the scenes.)

  • Biden has given separate sit-downs to two friendly opinion columnists, David Brooks and Tom Friedman, who ate a tuna salad sandwich and credited the president with "the best performance of alliance management and consolidation" since President George H.W. Bush.

๐Ÿ’ญ Elisabeth Bumiller, the paper's Washington bureau chief, told me The Times has proposed a series of interviews on foreign policy, among other overtures. Peter Baker, the paper's chief White House correspondent, has covered five presidents.

  • "The correspondents for the major papers are deeply immersed in the issues and have sharp follow-ups," said Bumiller, who covered President George W. Bush. "They're just tougher."

๐Ÿ’ก Reality check: New York Times readers aren't the voters who'll decide the election.

๐ŸฅŠ The other side: Trump frequently visits Fox News and ideological outlets. Exceptions this year include a marathon phone interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box" in March, and an interview with Spectrum News 1 Wisconsin.

๐ŸŽง For Biden, stops have included talking democracy with historian Heather Cox Richardson โ€” and a podcast conversation with CNN's Anderson Cooper about facing grief.

  • Biden sat down last year for serious conversations with CNN's Fareed Zakaria and Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes." A Univision interview earlier this month got 7 million viewers across all platforms, the White House says.
  • The White House's Andrew Bates said: "President Biden is crisscrossing the country ... talking to the American people about their lives and the issues that matter most to them and executing an aggressive, modern, all-of-the-above communications and digital strategy that highlights how he's fighting for families and their values."

The tonal and topic contrast is stark. Trump mixed it up in Vegas with the mixed martial arts podcast "UFC Unfiltered." Last month, he welcomed Brexiteer Nigel Farage to Mar-a-Lago for an interview on Britain's right-leaning GB News, which bills itself as "the People's News Channel."

  • Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said: "President Trump is more accessible to the press and the American people ... Here is the most basic question to underscore the point: Joe Biden, will you commit, right now, to debating President Trump?"
  • Biden, asked last month about debating Trump, said: "It depends on his behavior."

Share this story ... Axios' Sophia Cai, Hans Nichols and Alex Thompson contributed reporting.

2. ๐Ÿš— South's union breakthrough

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. โ€” Union supporters have renewed hopes of organizing in the South after the United Auto Workers scored a breakthrough victory late last night, Axios' Nathan Bomey reports.

  • Why it matters: The South has historically been a no-go zone for unions at major private companies due to political, legal, cultural and business opposition.

VW workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted 73% against 27% to become the only non-Detroit Three automotive assembly plant in the U.S. to be unionized.

๐Ÿ”ญ Zoom out: The victory came after the UAW's two previous attempts to organize the VW factory in 2014 and 2019 failed by a narrow margin.

  • But public support for unions just hit a near-six-decade high. The UAW is riding high after winning record contracts from GM, Ford and Stellantis.

๐Ÿ‘€ What to watch: The next milestone is the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa County, Ala., where the UAW has secured a vote May 13-17.

3. ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Ukraine's exhausted army

The Pentagon is preparing to rush critical ammunition and air defenses to Ukraine in the coming days, delivering a lifeline to frontline forces battered by Russian bombs and demoralized by Congress' failure to act.

  • Why it matters: Eight months after President Biden first requested billions of dollars in new funding for Ukraine, the House finally is on the verge of passing a foreign aid package today, Axios' Zachary Basu writes.

The delay has dealt a massive setback to Kyiv's war effort. But experts say it's not too late to turn the tide.

  • "It will give the Ukrainians time and resources to refit, retrain, rearm and refresh army units in preparation for a counteroffensive later this year or early next," former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told Axios.

With Congress set to pass $61 billion in funding for Ukraine today, the Pentagon says it plans to mobilize "within days" to transfer weapon stockpiles that have been sitting in Europe for months.

  • Air defenses, in particular, can't arrive soon enough: Russia has ramped up assaults on Ukraine's energy infrastructure and continues to terrorize Ukrainian cities with missile strikes.

Go deeper.

4. ๐Ÿ•ฏ๏ธ 25 years since Columbine

A vigil
13 chairs were empty at a vigil in Denver yesterday. Photo: Jack Dempsey/AP

Today marks 25 years since two students fatally shot 12 classmates, a teacher, and wounded more than 20 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Axios Denver's Alayna Alvarez writes.

  • The 1999 tragedy has become a blueprint for other shooters over the last quarter-century, and school gun violence has only gotten worse.

In 1999, there were 23 firearm incidents and 63 deaths or injuries from such incidents at K-12 schools, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.

  • In 2023, there were 348 incidents and 249 victims.

Share this story ... Get Axios Denver ... 30 Axios Local cities.

5. ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Pic du jour: World's biggest election

Women in India stand in line at the polls
Photo: Bullu Raj/AP

Women in Bishnupur, a city in the west of India, show their identity cards and voting slips as they stand in line to vote Thursday during the first round of polling in India's national election.

  • 970 million voters will go to the polls in a series of staggered contests running until June 1.

Go deeper.

6. ๐Ÿค– AI optimists

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

VANCOUVER, Canada โ€” Some of the biggest names in tech took to the TED stage this week to reiterate the boundless possibilities of AI, with only brief nods to its risks and few new ideas for addressing them, Axios chief technology correspondent Ina Fried reports.

  • Why it matters: The technology industry is racing to create AI systems that could surpass human intelligence โ€” and also believes they will somehow remain within our control.

Industry giants painted bold pictures of utopian breakthroughs:

  • Mustafa Suleyman, Google DeepMind co-founder and now a top Microsoft executive, said we should think of AI as "a new kind of digital species."
  • Investor Vinod Khosla promised AI would deliver free medical advice and education to all.

Go deeper.

7. ๐ŸŽก Coachella cough

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

It's "Coachella cough" and "festival flu" season.

  • Music lovers may experience cold- and flu-like symptoms, including coughs, irritated throats, sneezing and running noses after attending large outdoor festivals this spring, Axios' Analis Bailey writes.

Allergy season is only getting longer and worse with climate change. Coachella, which concludes in the California desert this weekend, lands right in the middle of it.

  • With limited hand-washing stations, dusty conditions and large crowds, colds, flus and other respiratory illnesses can spread more easily.

Share this story.

8. 1 ๐ŸŒฟ thing: Weed drinks flood market

Two people drinking colorful cannabis drinks
Image: Cann

Companies that make cannabis-infused drinks are encouraging people to ditch booze for weed on 4/20.

  • More people are going "California Sober" โ€”ย no alcohol or hard drugs, just marijuana, thank you, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson reports.

There are now dozens of THC drinks, with names like Happi, Cantrip, Cann, Boldt and Artet (which calls itself a "cannabis aperitif").

๐Ÿ“ฌ Please invite your friends to join AM.