David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, brings 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. This show is m…
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.
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.
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.
In honor of Memorial Day we revisit our September 2019 conversation with Admiral William McRaven, retired U.S. Navy SEAL who served as the commander of U.S. Special Operations from 2011 to 2014. He joins David to talk about his decision to serve in the military, his assessment of the Trump administration, and his most memorable missions — including the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, and the raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
Gene Sperling is the former Director of the National Economic Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He joins David to share how his parents’ fight for racial and economic justice shaped his values, what his time in two presidential administrations taught him about the power of economic policy, how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the country to rethink everything from workers’ rights to budget deficits, and more. His new book, Economic Dignity, draws on decades of economic policy experience to offer market reforms that would secure greater economic dignity for American workers.
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot joins David to talk about managing the COVID crisis and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, the consequences of federal misdirection, and the possibility of reopening the city in stages over the coming months. She also shares her personal story: growing up a minority in a predominantly white Ohio community, her career in law enforcement, and her path to become the first black female and openly LGBTQ mayor of Chicago.
Mary Kay Henry is the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an organization of more than 2 million union members in health care, the public sector, and beyond. She joins David to talk about the many SEIU members who are on the front lines fighting COVID-19, her concerns about the politicization of the federal pandemic response, her assessment of union members’ attitudes towards President Trump, and more.
We revisit our May 2019 conversation with Aaron Sorkin: screenwriter, director, producer, and playwright. He joins David to talk about the qualities that make a great speechwriter, how writing for the screen differs from writing for the stage, creating “The West Wing,” his struggle with addiction, and more.
Gayle Smith is the president and CEO of the ONE Campaign and the former administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). She joins David to talk about her two decades spent in Africa as a young journalist and NGO worker, insights from her career in global development and humanitarian assistance, efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic in the Obama administration, and more.
Megan Rapinoe, captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, joins David to talk about growing up in a small conservative town, finding and forging her identity, her decorated soccer career and World Cup wins, and on using her platform to engage in progressive activism: from LGBTQ and racial justice to equal pay, electoral politics, and more.
Cecilia Muñoz is the former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Obama administration and currently serves as Vice President for Public Interest Technology and Local Initiatives at New America, a public policy think tank. She joins David to talk about growing up as one of the few Latinas in a Midwestern town, her trailblazing work in civil rights advocacy and journey to the White House, Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, and more. Her new book, More Than Ready, draws lessons from the challenges she faced as the first Hispanic to serve as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and offers insights to other young women seeking to forge paths of their own.
Stacey Abrams, former Georgia gubernatorial nominee and founder of Fair Fight 2020, joins David to talk about inequities in Georgia's public health infrastructure, voter suppression and her efforts to remedy it, her own journey in public service, and vice presidential speculation.
Gretchen Whitmer is the 49th governor of Michigan. She joins David to talk about leading her state during the COVID-19 pandemic and her assessment of the federal response, as well as her journey in public service and her response to speculation she could become Joe Biden’s running mate.
Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, joins David to talk about what he’s learned throughout his thirty-year career in law and politics, his relationship with President Trump, what advice he would give to the administration during the present crisis, and more.
We revisit our 2017 Axe Files episode with Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks, who joins David to talk about how he parlayed an early love of drama into a career, his most memorable roles, sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood, Trump's relationship with the media, and more.
This week, we revisit our November 2016 conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. She joins David to talk about why storytelling is important in politics, the qualities that make a great leader — particularly during trying times — what she learned from studying our nation's greatest leaders, and more.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon, professor, and the Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN. He joins David to share his insights into the present crisis, his assessment of the government’s response to COVID-19, and what steps we can take to mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic. Dr. Gupta and David also discuss his remarkable personal story—including his foray into journalism, how difficult it is to deliver bad news as a doctor, and whether he thinks universal healthcare is compatible with high-quality care.
Gerald Butts is the former chief adviser and strategist to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He joins David to talk about the early friendship he forged with Trudeau as college debate partners, what he believes it takes to run a successful national campaign, the state of U.S.-Canadian relations in the age of Trump, and his efforts to combat climate change.
Ron Klain is the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden and served as the Ebola Response Coordinator in 2014 under President Obama. He joins David to talk about the COVID-19 crisis: relevant lessons he learned from managing the Ebola epidemic, his assessment of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, and what we can do to mitigate the coronavirus’ long-term impact. He also shares his take on the 2020 campaign and why he believes his longtime boss, Joe Biden – whose campaign he is advising – is uniquely equipped to handle the politics of the moment.
Denis McDonough is the former White House Chief of Staff and former Deputy National Security Advisor under President Barack Obama. As the world faces the reality of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, he joins David to discuss what it’s like to be in the White House in times of crisis, the steps the Obama White House took to quell public health emergencies like H1N1 and Ebola, and shares his assessment of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) joins David to discuss her career as a CIA operations officer and federal law enforcement agent, the series of events that drove her to run for public office in 2018, and why she ultimately chose to support the impeachment of President Trump. She also weighs in on what having Sen. Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee would mean for her reelection campaign, what it is like to be a member of Congress in a polarized environment, and more.
Andrew Gillum is the former Mayor of Tallahassee, Florida and the 2018 Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee. He joins David to talk about the state of the 2020 Democratic primary in the aftermath of Super Tuesday. The first in his family to graduate from high school and college, he shares the inspiring personal journey that led him to become the youngest person ever elected to Tallahassee’s City Commission. He and David also discuss his tenure as mayor, his run for governor, why he’s decided to turn his attention to voter registration efforts, and more.
Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. He joins David to talk about why he decided to pursue a career in economics, the qualities that make a great writer, his assessment of the Trump administration’s economic initiatives, and the way in which economics animates public policy in climate change, health care, and more. His new book, Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future draws from his New York Times column to tackle misunderstandings on a wide range of topics — including health care, housing bubbles, tax reform, and Social Security.
Adam Frankel is a former senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama. He joins David to discuss his new memoir, “The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing.” The book is a remarkable story of family secrets, intergenerational trauma, and the process of coming to terms with life-changing revelations. He and David also discuss his family’s legacy of public service, their shared experience working for Barack Obama, and more.
Abdul El-Sayed is a public health expert, former Health Commissioner of the City of Detroit, progressive activist, and former Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate. He joins David to talk about how his Egyptian-American heritage shaped his appreciation for democratic ideals and institutions, his career in medicine and what he learned as a practitioner, and why he supports Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda. His forthcoming book, Healing Politics: A Doctor's Note on Treating the Insecurity Epidemic, diagnoses our country’s epidemic of insecurity and the empathy politics we need to treat it.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are Pulitzer-Prize winning authors and journalists. They join David for a live edition of The Axe Files to talk about how their families’ immigrant stories inform their own views, how lessons from their coverage of the Tiannamen Square protests may be relevant today, and how the threat of a rising China might push us to reevaluate our own economic system. They also discuss their new book, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, which illustrates the present-day working class crisis marked by poverty, addiction, and suicide — and offer policy prescriptions to address institutional failures.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and served as lead House manager in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. He joins David to share his assessment of the impeachment proceedings and beyond: including why he believes the impeachment trial was worth the political risk; what, if anything, the process accomplished; the significance of Sen. Mitt Romney’s unprecedented vote; what Trump’s acquittal might mean for the future of democratic institutions; and more.
Michele Norris, former host of NPR’s All Things Considered, joins David to talk about how her family’s firsthand experience with housing discrimination shaped her world view, her struggle as a fledgling television reporter to overcome a speech impediment, her friendship with Michelle Obama, and how The Race Card Project — an initiative she founded in order to foster a wider conversation about race — might inform our politics today.
David Gergen is a former presidential adviser and CNN political commentator. He joins David to talk about how Trump’s State of the Union could shape his reelection chances, the electoral challenges Democrats face, and which Democratic hopeful’s message he likens to Obama’s and Carter’s. He draws on five decades of experience across four administrations — Democratic and Republican alike — to situate Trump’s leadership style in the context of his presidential predecessors and shares what he thinks it could mean for the future of democratic institutions.
Judd Apatow is a filmmaker, writer, and comedian. He joins David to talk about how his parents’ divorce helped fuel his interest in comedy, his struggles with anxiety at the height of his career, the psychology behind Trump’s political prowess, how Hollywood culture parallels that of Washington, and much more.
Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch are the co-founders of Fusion GPS, the private research firm behind the Steele “Trump-Russia” dossier. Simpson and Fritsch join David to discuss their joint roots as Wall Street Journal reporters, how the research skills they developed as journalists translated to careers in private investigative work, how they met Christopher Steele and the formulation of the Steele Dossier, and what they learned about Donald Trump following a private investigation of then-candidate Trump. Their new book, Crime in Progress, takes readers inside the firm’s four-year-long investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia ties—culminating in what became known as the Steele dossier.
John Heilemann is a journalist, author, television commentator, editor-in-chief of The Recount, and host of Showtime’s The Circus. He joins David fresh from a swing through Iowa to share his assessment of the leading Democratic candidates, what he thinks matters most to voters in Iowa, why he believes Trump is politically underestimated, and whether or not impeachment will impact Trump in 2020.
Heather McGhee is the former president of Demos, a non-profit progressive think tank devoted to racial justice. She joins David to talk about her upbringing in the South Side of Chicago, the evolution of race relations in the United States, the weaponization of race in present-day politics, and the future of inequality in America.
Sarah Hurwitz, former head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama and senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama, joins David to discuss her early career in politics, the art of speechwriting, and the spiritual journey that culminated in her new book: Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life-- in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).
Richard Stengel is the former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and former managing editor of Time. He joins David to talk about his collaboration with Nelson Mandela on Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom; his tenure at the helm of Time, during which he interviewed Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mohamed Morsi, and Julian Assange; and his efforts in the Obama administration to combat disinformation. His new book, Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It chronicles the global spread of disinformation and offers prescriptions on how to combat this ever-growing threat to democracy.
Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang joins David for a live edition of The Axe Files to discuss why he abandoned a career in law to build his own business, how rapid technological growth is shaping our society both socially and economically, the rationale behind his ‘Freedom Dividend,’ how raising an autistic son shapes his perspective in life and on the campaign trail, and much more.
Gary Cohn served as the Director of the National Economic Council and chief economic advisor to President Trump. He joins David to talk about how an early dyslexia diagnosis shaped his drive to succeed; his tenure at Goldman Sachs, particularly as an executive during the 2008 financial crisis; why he decided to serve under President Trump despite differences on trade, climate, and immigration; his concerns about the absence of dissenters in the White House; and much more.
Dennis Ross is a diplomat and author with over four decades of experience in Middle East policy. He joins David to talk about his service under six presidential administrations, how the political climate in the Middle East has evolved, and the status of America’s diplomatic efforts under the Trump administration. His new book, Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, explores the stories of the founding leaders of Israel—both the challenges they faced and the resolve they showed in the struggle to protect the fledgling democracy. For the full episode visit luminary.link/axe.
Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, joins David to talk about the journey from her childhood in Ireland to the halls of the U.N. — and the trials she faced along the way. She shares the experiences that compelled her to become a Balkan War correspondent, how what she saw there inspired her to author a Pulitzer-prize winning book on genocide, and the human rights causes that drew her to then-senator Barack Obama. She also shares her thoughts on the hollowing out of the State Department, Trump’s attempt to politicize service officers and institutions, U.S. credibility and the state of our global alliances, and what an emboldened Putin and Erdogan means for the global order. Her new memoir, The Education of an Idealist, documents this journey—and the lessons she picked up along the way.
Cindy McCain joins David for a special televised edition of the Axe Files on CNN to discuss President Trump and the state of the Republican party, her advocacy on human trafficking issues, the toll living a public life took on her and her family, and her mission to carry on the legacy of her husband, the late Senator John McCain.
NBA Hall of Famer and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo joins David for a conversation about his upbringing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, how an international science competition ultimately steered him to the Georgetown Hoyas’ basketball team, his decorated 18-season career in the NBA, and his worldwide humanitarian initiatives with the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation.
Admiral Mike Mullen, formerly the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joins David to discuss President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, the state of our alliances today, his historic testimony in support of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and his upbringing as the son of a Hollywood publicist.
Harry Reid, former U.S. Senator from Nevada and Senate Majority Leader, sits down with David in Las Vegas, NV for a special televised edition of The Axe Files. In this extended version of the conversation, they talk about his tenure as Senate Majority Leader and how the role has changed under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, Reid’s unique relationship with Barack Obama, his take on Donald Trump and the impeachment inquiry, and much more.
Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island and Chair of the Democratic Governors Association, joins David to talk about how her father’s early job loss moved her to enter public service, what Democrats running in 2020 can learn from the governors who ran successfully in 2018, and how her role as governor has changed in the age of Trump.