President Biden goes off script on Vladimir Putin

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In the last line of a 27-minute speech to close out his European trip, President Biden ended with an off-the-cuff comment aimed at Vladimir Putin. Those nine words are now threatening to overshadow the unified front the west has presented against Russia. The White House quickly walked back that statement from Warsaw – including Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday.

  • Plus, police departments are underreporting hate crimes to the FBI.

  • And, the fight brewing over congressional redistricting in North Carolina.

Guests: Axios’ Dave Lawler, Russell Contreras, and Michael Graff.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, 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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Transcript

NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, March 28th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: the fight brewing over congressional redistricting in North Carolina. Plus, police departments are underreporting hate crimes to the FBI. But first today’s One Big Thing – President Biden goes off script on Vladmir Putin.

In the last line of a 27-minute speech to close out his European trip, President Biden ended with an off-the-cuff comment aimed at Vladimir Putin.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

NIALA: And those nine words are now threatening to overshadow the unified front the West has presented against Russia. The White House quickly walked back that statement from Warsaw, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: As you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else for that matter.

NIALA: Joining us to explain how consequential president Biden’s remarks might be is Axios world editor, Dave Lawler. During his three-day trip, President Biden had successfully signaled to Putin that the West was united against him. We talked about this on the podcast on Friday. How much do these impromptu words undermine the West’s resolve?

DAVE LAWLER: Yeah, we’re getting some signals that those words have made some allies a little bit nervous, including French president Emmanuel Macron, who said there should be no escalation in rhetoric in addition to, uh, in warfare. So Biden is, uh, out on his own more or less in calling for Putin to leave. Uh, even if the sanctions and the other steps that have been announced were unified with allies.

NIALA: Why does this matter? I think a lot of people think that Vladimir Putin shouldn’t be in power. Why does it matter if Biden says that now?

DAVE: I guess it depends how Vladimir Putin takes it. I mean, he certainly does not think that Joe Biden is happy to see him sitting in the Kremlin, but does this play into his at least rhetoric about the west, really having broader aims, not just wanting to end the war on Ukraine, but to change Russia itself, to really have an act of aggression against him. Uh, so it maybe strengthens that argument. Whether it changes what he thinks in private we don’t really know necessarily whether this changes his calculus.

NIALA: Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor. And for more on what’s at stake with these peace talks, you can check out the podcast Dave is hosting How it Happened: Putin’s invasion. The latest episode is also out this morning. Thanks Dave.

DAVE: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: After the break, we’re back with the lack of police reporting on hate crimes.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. More and more police agencies are opting not to share hate crimes data with the FBI. That’s according to numbers from The Justice Department. But advocacy groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, Stop AAPI Hate, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, say they’ve tracked many more instances. Why the discrepancy? Axios’ race and justice reporter Russell Contreras is here to go deeper. Russ, if we hear that hate crimes are rising, how do we know they’re also being underreported by agencies?

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Well, The Justice Department keeps statistics from police departments across the country. More than 12,000 law enforcement agencies are saying they have none, or they have just a tiny bit of hate crimes. This of course kind of really hits at our numbers, our total numbers, and saying, are we getting an accurate picture of the number of hate crimes across the country? Places like Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida, a number of towns and cities are reporting no hate crimes. Law enforcement agencies that are reporting hate crimes are reporting a higher number of hate crimes. According to some folks, The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, Los Angeles had the highest number of hate crimes in its history. Three decade high. If you looked at what Los Angeles is doing, they’ve actually increased the way they report high crimes. So their reporting has gotten better. So as New York, so has Houston. So the places that are reporting hate crimes are doing a better job of reporting hate crimes, but other places like Miami, are reporting zero. So the thinking is that maybe hate crimes are actually worse than what we’re seeing.

NIALA: We asked constitutional lawyer Noah Feldman last year after the Atlanta spa shootings why it’s so difficult for lawyers to prosecute a hate crime. Here’s what he said:

NOAH FELDMAN: A lot depends on how expert the police department is in gathering the evidence that a hate crime existed. Was the crime actually motivated based on hate? And can you prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated based on hate?

NOAH: Russ, Is it just easier to convict someone for, say, assault, instead of a hate crime?

RUSS: When a law enforcement agency looks into a crime, they’re gathering evidence. So they may look into a murder, an assault, about what happened. To really deep dive into why a hate crime occurs. They need to gather more evidence. Some law enforcement agencies just go for the basics. To really look at hate crimes, you have to dedicate the resources and then you have to classify it. So, some of these agencies don’t have the capacity. Some do. They’re just refusing to do it.

NIALA: Last year, President Biden announced a lot of different efforts around this, but reporting on this is still voluntary. So what, if anything, is The Department of Justice saying it could or should do to improve this under-reporting?

RUSS: Well, The Justice Department is saying that police agencies need to report their hate crimes. But there’s nothing right now that’s compelling law enforcement agencies to do it, other than the goodness of their hearts. However, advocates say some federal grants should be tied to reporting hate crimes. That is, the grant should be denied to law enforcement to hire more police officers or to get more equipment, unless you start reporting hate crimes. Right now, there’s an impasse and there’s nothing compelling to force these agencies to start reporting their hate crimes.

NIALA: Russell Contreras is Axios’ race and justice reporter and coauthor of Axios Latino. Thanks for us.

RUSS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: The big question of this year’s midterm election is which party retains control of the House of Representatives. Right now – it’s all up for grabs. In one battleground state – North Carolina – a new congressional map is likely to give Democrats an extra seat in the House this fall. North Carolina has been controlled by the GOP for nearly two decades. I was in Charlotte last week – so I sat down with Axios Charlotte’s Michael Graff to help us understand the big picture here.

MICHAEL GRAFF: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: You wrote about how Democrats are looking at this as an opportunity, how are they capitalizing on redrawing maps here?

MICHAEL: So the maps were, when the legislature originally drew the maps, most analysts would say that it was probably a 10-3-1 Republican advantage in that 10 seats would go to Republicans. Three would go to Democrats and one would be, it’s sort of a toss up. Now it’s more like 7-6-1 and the Democrats are trying to figure out ways to use it to increase diversity in their congressional representation. And so they’ve really targeted two districts, one around Durham and one in Northeastern North Carolina, which has a really rich history, uh, regarding race and our congressional races.

NIALA: Republicans in the state tried to contest this map – they tried to get it to the Supreme Court? And the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case. So the Republicans are moving forward this year, but the key thing is that it’s an interim map. This is only for this year. So they’re going to redraw the districts again after next year. We’re going to go through this again. And I think the key thing about this is after all the partisan back and forth, voters are just really confused about who is representing them, where the district lines are. I joke that some of the maps in North Carolina this past year, uh, had a shorter shelf life than a, than a gallon of milk. They were there and they were gone. So if you’re a voter, it’s hard to keep up.

NIALA: In the meantime, how does North Carolina fit into a bigger national strategy for Democrats?

MICHAEL: North Carolina in 2008, narrowly went for Barack Obama and that was a pivotal moment in the state. And it’s why we still call it a purple state even though, uh, the past three presidential contests since then have all gone to Republicans. It’s a battleground state for sure and now unaffiliated voters make up the largest share of voters in North Carolina. Um, Democrats are second and Republicans ranked third. That helps the Democrats build their argument that these districts are unfair when they say, you know, we have 300,000 more Democrats living in North Carolina than we do Republicans.

NIALA: Charlotte’s Michael Graff.

MICHAEL: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: Tomorrow – another story from Charlotte – controversy over a proposal to update the city’s transit system. As a reminder – we’re hoping to do more stories about the issues that matter to you in this upcoming midterm elections. You can text me your story ideas: I’m at (202) 918-4893. Or email them at podcasts @ axios.com. I’m Niala Boodhoo – thanks for listening – stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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