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The Axe Files with David Axelrod
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The Axe Files with David Axelrod

Author: The Institute of Politics & CNN

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David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and CNN bring you The Axe Files, a series of revealing interviews with key figures in the political world. Go beyond the soundbites and get to know some of the most interesting players in politics.
405 Episodes
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Ep. 398 — Rep. Karen Bass

Ep. 398 — Rep. Karen Bass

2020-08-0601:02:401

Rep. Karen Bass is a fifth-term Democratic Congresswoman from California and the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Watching the Civil Rights movement as a child first sparked Rep. Bass’ interest in politics. She got her start as an organizer and activist, eventually leaving her job as a physician assistant to start her own nonprofit addressing the HIV/AIDS and crack cocaine epidemics ravaging her community. Rep. Bass joined David to talk about what she views as racist tactics used by the Trump campaign, regretful comments she’s made in her past, the “surreal” process of being vetted for vice president, and why her parents would be terrified.
This week we revisit our November 2018 conversation with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She joined David to discuss her remarkable personal journey from the Bronx to the highest court in the land, how her background as a prosecutor and district judge helped to inform her perspective, the shifting dynamics on the Supreme Court, and more.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan grew up around politics—his father was the first Congressional Republican to call for former president Richard Nixon’s impeachment—but spent decades in business before running for governor of his home state. In his first months in office, he navigated protests and civil unrest sparked by the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, followed closely by his own battle with cancer. Recently, he’s been critical of President Trump and the federal government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hogan joined David to talk about his time as governor, what he learned about leadership and integrity from his father, the challenges of governing during Covid-19 and his vision for the future of the Republican Party.
In his position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a prominent figure in the fight against Covid-19. He joins David to talk about his early interest in medicine and infectious disease, his pioneering work on HIV/AIDS, and what it’s been like to advise six different presidents on issues of domestic and global health. He and David also discuss how long he anticipates it will be before the country returns to a level of normalcy, even with a vaccine, and the surprising anger of his detractors.
We revisit our January 2017 conversation with Theo Epstein, President of the Chicago Cubs. He joins David to share why he fell in love with baseball at a young age, how he became general manager of the Boston Red Sox at only 28 years old, why data analytics helped steer the Red Sox and Cubs to curse-breaking championships, and more.
Ep. 395 — Erik Larson

Ep. 395 — Erik Larson

2020-07-1601:06:28

Erik Larson is a best-selling narrative non-fiction author. His latest book, The Splendid and the Vile, chronicles British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s first year in office during Germany’s bombing blitz of London in 1940. Larson joins David to talk about what lessons we can glean from Churchill about leadership in times of crisis, what Larson learned about writing from his favorite mystery novels, his process for choosing a subject and crafting a narrative, and how legendary journalist Bob Woodward threatened his career.
This week we revisit our July 2017 conversation with civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. He joins David in Atlanta for a special televised edition of The Axe Files to talk about his activism during the Civil Rights Movement, his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his foray into public service, and more.
Atul Gawande is a surgeon, bestselling author and writer for The New Yorker. He joins David to talk about how Trump has misled the public in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, why it “will be a miracle” to get a Covid-19 vaccine quickly, and how U.S. leaders are undermining the formula for safely reopening the country.  He also shares his early experiences as the son of two immigrant doctors in rural Ohio, his initial rebellion against medicine, and poignant insights drawn from decades of practicing medicine.
When Lin-Manuel Miranda first picked up Ron Chernow’s autobiography of Alexander Hamilton, he didn’t know much about the former Treasury Secretary. He didn’t yet know he was an immigrant, and he hadn’t yet read a sentence penned by Hamilton in which he wished for a war—the line that would inspire the creation of a revolutionary hip hop musical and Disney feature film. Lin joined David in October 2016 and spoke about what Alexander Hamilton would think of our politics today. He also discusses the value of growing up in a school where the arts were emphasized as much as math and science, and what came next when he thought to himself, “What happens if I bring all of me to something?”
Ep. 393 — Shannon Watts

Ep. 393 — Shannon Watts

2020-07-0201:00:11

Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group dedicated to ending gun violence. She joins David to talk about how she became an unlikely founder of a grassroots organization with millions of supporters, the increased demand for guns amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and how the NRA has faltered during the Trump administration.
Yang Speaks to The Axe Files

Yang Speaks to The Axe Files

2020-06-2901:01:252

In this crossover edition of The Axe Files, David joins entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang on his new podcast Yang Speaks. They talk about the future of the Democratic Party and what Joe Biden needs to do to win, Trump’s electoral strategy, the nation’s reckoning with social, racial, and economic inequality, and what America might look like in a post-Trump world.
Ep. 392 — Jon Stewart

Ep. 392 — Jon Stewart

2020-06-2501:01:272

Jon Stewart is a comedian, writer, director, and former host of The Daily Show. He joins David to talk about President Trump’s out-of-touch messaging, the pervasiveness of systemic racism and inequity in America, how he worked to correct a lack of diversity at The Daily Show and why he still believes in American exceptionalism. He also discusses the inspiration for his new political satire Irresistible.
This week we revisit our July 2017 conversation with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He joins David to talk about his father’s journey in public service and his efforts to promote racial justice in the South, rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, his decision to remove Confederate monuments from the city, and why Democrats shouldn’t write off another Trump victory.
Charlie Sykes is a longtime conservative commentator and the founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark. He joins David to talk about his father’s roots in Democratic politics, the growing politicization of the media over the course of his career, why he no longer considers himself a member of the Republican Party, and his assessment of the state of play in his home state of Wisconsin ahead of the November election.
Bakari Sellers is a political commentator, attorney, and former South Carolina state representative. He joins David to talk about how growing up in a rural South Carolina community shaped his life’s work, his father’s leadership during the civil rights movement, and what, if anything, he believes today’s fight for racial justice might achieve. His new memoir, My Vanishing Country, situates his own story in the context of declining prosperity for the black working class in the rural South.
We revisit our April 2019 conversation with Bryan Cranston, actor, producer, director, and screenwriter. He joins David to talk about finding truth in acting, challenges posed by inhabiting larger-than-life figures, the parallels between acting and politics, and more.
This week we revisit our October 2017 conversation with author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. He joins David to talk about his upbringing in Baltimore, his career in journalism, race relations in America, reflections on the Obama presidency, and more.
Ep. 389 — Mark Cuban

Ep. 389 — Mark Cuban

2020-06-0401:02:04

Mark Cuban is an entrepreneur, television personality, and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. He joins David to discuss the origins of his entrepreneurial spirit, what he learned from his early failures in business, his assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency, and whether he sees politics in his own future. He also shares his reflections on this difficult moment in our country, what inspired him to join the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and how he is challenging himself to recognize his own privilege.
This week we revisit our December 2018 conversation with Bryan Stevenson: civil rights activist, lawyer, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides legal aid to prisoners lacking representation. He joins David to talk about his experience growing up in a segregated county in southern Delaware, what it will take to confront America’s brutal legacy on race, his mission to provide legal aid to those disenfranchised by the U.S. criminal justice system, and more.
Ep. 388 — Ezra Klein

Ep. 388 — Ezra Klein

2020-05-2801:07:16

Ezra Klein is a journalist and co-founder of Vox, where he currently serves as the editor-at-large. He joins David to talk about his evolution from obscure blogger to national political commentator, his early work on the Howard Dean campaign, his assessment of the current presidential race, and more. His new book, Why We’re Polarized, explores the structural and psychological forces behind America’s growing political divisions and offers prescriptions to help remedy them.
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Comments (12)

gary fowler

Great interview. I'm always impressed when a white American can be honest about white apathy/disinterest regarding equity in the US. it has always been obvious we who live outside of the US. Nothing will change until campaign finance, Citizens United and gerrymandering are corrected.

Jun 26th
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Nellie Fly

The ragin Cajun. I could listen to him read the phone book.

May 8th
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Paul Sorensen

This interview with Andrew Gillum is so uplifting and eye opening. I hope he gets a chance to become part of the 46th president's Whitehouse. His kind of innovative thinking is really needed. Thanks David Axelrod.

Mar 12th
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Diane Grillo

Terrific episode! My head feels like a closet that needs organizing. Now you can enjoy a lighter moment trying to figure out what it is I'm trying to say! I firmly believe that Russia created the whole Vegas movement with Bernie just as they began the Trump movement. I don't know how they knew Americans were dumb enough to completely empty their refrigerators. Who in their right mind would want to implement a country changing system after 4 years of a madman deconstructing 200 years of American accomplishments? Why hasn't even one candidate spoken of the immediate need to rebuild our relationships around the world? Joe Biden is the man for that job. He is also the one with 40 years of fruendly DC relationships. We need to properly staff the WH, replace Ambassadors around the world, find and fix all the deregulations before we can't drink the water and we're all getting cancer from waste dumping again! And Bernie's concern is Medicare for all in a country of over 300 million that he compares to those with 20 million! He won't be doing anything if the Supreme Court is even ruling in a partisan manner. We all know the media is crucial for a Democrat to win and right now they are only helping Trump as they love pitting candidates against one another and appear in a bad light. A couple of negative Trump phrases to chant for the democratic mantra and we can brainwash the deplorables in a NY second

Feb 24th
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Andy Weir

still a sore loser lol

Feb 16th
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Fraser Scantlebury

An excellent interview - heard more about Yang's programs here then on any other podcast/news report. Thanks to David and the crew for making this interview available for free.

Dec 7th
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fresh mannn

I want this person for President

Dec 7th
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Andy Weir

sore loser

Mar 24th
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John Michaels

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Dec 2nd
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Andres Fernandez G

excellent interview and exemplary carreer in the pursuit of understanding Russia

Jul 21st
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heather lankford

I appreciate your honesty on the subject of suicide. I know first hand how tough it is to be part of this club.

Feb 5th
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