Axios Today podcast: Biden, Manchin and climate change

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There was lots of news over the weekend about West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to a crucial piece of President Biden's proposed climate agenda. That piece would encourage wind, solar, and other zero carbon sources of clean electricity. Axios' Ben Geman has a reality check.

  • Plus, how the U.S. Secretary of Education says he's tackling crises in our public schools.

  • And, the history of American newspapers promoting lynching.

Guests: Axios' Ben Geman and Jonathan Swan; DeNeen Brown, associate professor at the University of Maryland and Washington Post reporter.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. 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 October 18th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: how the U.S. Secretary of Education says he’s tackling crises in our public schools. Plus, the history of American newspapers promoting lynching.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: President Biden, Sen. Machin and climate change.

There was lots of news over the weekend about West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition to a crucial piece of President Biden's proposed climate agenda that would encourage wind, solar and other zero carbon sources of clean electricity. Of course, Manchin’s support in the evenly split Senate is crucial. Here to explain what all of this means is Ben Geman, an energy reporter at Axios and author of the daily Axios Generate newsletter. Good morning Ben.

Ben: Good morning, thanks for having me back on.

NIALA: Ben, I saw some headlines that implied that Senator Joe Manchin is basically killing Joe Biden's plans to tackle climate change. Is that an accurate way to think about this?

BEN: You know what, that goes too far. However, Senator Joe Manchin is thus far opposed to what would be a really important element of what Democrats in the White House are trying to do. I mean basically what's happening is that this big tax and spending package that the Democrats are trying to move on this very thread the needle party line vote, has a program in it that would create this new system of financial carrots and sticks for utilities to speed up what's already this sort of ongoing increase in deployment of zero carbon power sources. And that's really important because look, electricity is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, narrowly behind the transportation sector. So we're not going to achieve our climate goals without a significantly cleaner electric power sector.

NIALA: Does leaving this part of the program out have a significant effect on president Biden and Democrats’ plans for combating climate change?

BEN: It does. I mean, look, I don't want to overstate it, I guess I would say it like this: it's a big piece of a big piece. I mean, if you look at the package that the Democrats are trying to steer through Congress, as well as the separate bipartisan infrastructure bill, but largely the former, it has a whole bunch of different elements in it that are aimed at cleaning up the electric power sector and hastening the movement away from coal and natural gas. That said, another huge, huge part of this would be this big expansion and extension of tax credits and incentives for various different types of clean power generation. And now look, different analysts don't necessarily all agree on this, but all of them come to the same basic conclusion that you get a lot of emissions cuts from these tax credit programs. So, you know, the bottom line is that it is important, but it is not the be all end all.

NIALA: What are you hearing on the Hill about where we go from here?

BEN: If this new proposed system is indeed going to have to be left on the cutting room floor, there are discussions about how what other elements could perhaps be added to the legislation that would help claw back some of those emissions cuts that would be lost by not having this program. Another thing that I'm really looking at is what this might mean for the upcoming and very important climate summit that the United Nations is having in Glasgow, Scotland that starts at the end of this month. I mean, one thing that's going to be really important is what the U.S. negotiating posture is going to be as we try to get other countries to sort of take more aggressive steps on climate change. Now, the U.S. posture is somewhat hobbled if the president walks into that summit without any type of domestic emissions cutting legislation in his pocket. You know, it seems unlikely that a final bill would be passed by then. But to the extent that it's looking like this legislation is going to be stalled and, or in this case weakend, that does not help the, uh, prospects for the outcome at the, at the United Nations summit.

NIALA: Ben Geman is an energy reporter for Axios. Thanks, Ben.

BEN: Thanks so much for having me on.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with Jonathan Swan and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

The U.S. Public School system is facing more than one crisis. There aren’t just fights over mask and vaccine mandates in schools, but there’s escalating tension between teachers, parents and school boards. And - between 2019 and 2021, public school enrollment fell by 3.3% - about 1.5 million students switched to a private school, charter school or started being homeschooled.

Axios' Jonathan Swan recently sat down with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in Wisconsin as he was traveling for his back to school bus tour across the US. He talked to him about whether the money in Biden's agenda is enough to better the US public school system.

JONATHAN SWAN: He's got an unprecedented amount of money to spend on public schooling through some of the legislation that's already being passed. And one of the things I pressed the secretary on is the disconnect between the amount of money that we spend in America on public education and the actual performance of public schools in this country. We are number five in expenditure among highly developed countries, number 31st when it comes to performance in mathematics. So there's a huge gap there.

He thinks one of the keys to it is early childhood education. So we talked a little bit about that, but beyond that, the states are really going to have a lot of autonomy as to how they spend their money. So it's not clear to me whether there's a national strategy for squaring the spending with the outcome.

The other big fight that we talked about is over masks and vaccines. Cardona indicated that he would not be prepared to threaten to withhold funding to push some of these states into complying with mask mandates.

SEC. MIGUEL CARDONA: Department of Education doesn't mandate masks, nor does it mandate vaccines. What we do is work closely with states and with local leaders--

JONATHAN SWAN: But you have the money.

SEC. CARDONA: --and boards of education to support the effective use of mitigation strategies.

JONATHAN: So he has drawn at least a faint line as to how far they are willing to go with these pressure tactics.

NIALA: Axios' political reporter Jonathan Swan. You can hear his interview with Miguel Cardona on Axios on HBO.

NIALA: Today marks the start of an ambitious 30 part nationwide student journalism project to investigate the role of American newspapers in promoting lynchings and other racist violence from reconstruction through the 1960s. Washington Post writer DeNeen Brown's reporting on the 1921 Tulsa massacre was an inspiration for the project. She's also an associate professor at the University of Maryland and worked with students on the inaugural piece. Thanks for joining us DeNeen.

DENEEN: Thank you. It's great to be here.

NIALA: Can you start by telling us how you understand the scope and goals of this reporting project?

DENEEN: As you said, um, this project was inspired by my reporting, particularly about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. That massacre was sparked by a headline that ran in the Tulsa Tribune, um, on May 31st, 1921 that said Nab Negro for attacking girl in an elevator. Historians say it essentially sent a whistle call to members of the clan and members of the white mob and Tulsa to descend on the courthouse to essentially lynch Dick Roland, the black teenager who was arrested and falsely accused of this attack. So, I kept thinking, how many other headlines are out there that sparked racial terror, lynchings and racial terror,massacres of black Americans. Just tell deep and how wide is this in history?

NIALA: Do we know how many of these headlines actually, I mean, do we have a sense of the scope of this?

DENEEN: So the, the student journalist, we examine newspapers from 1865 to 1965. Hundreds, literally hundreds of newspapers, not only small town local newspapers, but big mainstream newspapers, ran these headlines. They also ran cartoons. Sometimes on some occasions, would announce the time, date and place that a lynching would occur or announce a time, date and place for a white mob to meet to participate in a massacre. A lot of people blame, uh, racial terror on the south, but this happened in the north as well.

NIALA: As a journalism professor, what do you want these young journalists to take away from this?

DENEEN: I want these students to know about the history of this country that's been left out of their textbooks. And then as reporters and as journalists to go out into the world after they graduate and infuse newsrooms with that knowledge.

NIALA: The project is called Printing Hate. We are going to post a link to the students' stories in our show notes. They're going to be published Mondays and Thursdays through mid December. We weren't able to play the full version of this conversation on Axios today, but you can hear a longer version on This Afternoon's Axios Re-Cap. DeNeen Brown is a writer for the Washington post and associate professor at the University of Maryland. DeNeen thank you for your time.

DENEEN: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

NIALA: That’s it for us today. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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