The Axe Files with David Axelrod
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.
After more than three decades representing his Michigan hometown in Congress, Rep. Fred Upton announced his retirement in a speech on the House floor in April 2022. He joined David to talk about his famous Michigan family, his focus on bipartisanship, why he supports gun safety legislation, voting to impeach Donald Trump following the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and his decision not to run for reelection in 2022.
Jun 23, 2022
John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, was directly involved in covering up the Watergate break-in. But he has also been credited with taking down Nixon, thanks to his critical testimony before the Senate committee investigating the scandal. In recognition of Watergate’s 50th anniversary, John joined David to talk about his professional journey that landed him in the White House at just 31 years old, his involvement in Watergate, parallels between Nixon and Donald Trump, his concerns about the present day Republican Party, and his work on CNN’s “Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal.”
Jun 16, 2022
Former US Secretary of Education and CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan now spends his days focused on stopping gun violence in his hometown of Chicago through his organization, Chicago CRED. Curtis Toler, the organization’s director of outreach, grew up surrounded by violence and was a gang leader before joining CRED, where he works to stop violence throughout the city and build relationships with at-risk young people. Arne and Curtis joined David to talk about the challenges facing many...Show more young Chicagoans and the daily trauma they experience, the lack of Congressional action on gun safety, policing in Chicago, the impact of Covid-19 and George Floyd’s murder in the communities they serve, and why Arne decided against running for mayor.
Jun 9, 2022
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts tried to get out of applying to the University of Chicago, as his father wanted, by pretending to forget about the application. His ruse didn’t work, and he ended up attending the school and spending more than a decade in Chicago before making his way back to Omaha. Gov. Ricketts joined David to talk about what he learned from his father, what he believes makes the Second Amendment inalienable, his strongly held convictions on abortion and the death penalty, his views on the role of government, the benefits and challenges of working with Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, and why he thinks that these are the good old days.
Jun 2, 2022
Chris Krebs was a champion pole vaulter and spent time as a scuba instructor before getting into infrastructure risk management. He ended up as the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, a role that put him in former President Trump’s crosshairs as Chris sought to secure the 2020 election infrastructure. He was ultimately fired by the president. Chris joined David to talk about the ever-evolving nature of cybersecurity, working in the Trump administration, threats of Russian cyberattacks to the West and the war in Ukraine, and his concerns that false claims of election fraud are growing—and putting democracy at risk.
May 26, 2022
Rep. Jackie Speier got her start in politics working for Rep. Leo Ryan, then a California state Assemblyman. But what started as a high school assignment ended on an airstrip in Guyana, where Rep. Ryan was killed, and Rep. Speier was shot five times ahead of the Jonestown Massacre. She has since dedicated her life to public service, making a mark when she became the first US Representative to speak about her own abortion on the House floor in 2011. Rep. Speier joined David to talk about her blue-collar upbringing, her experience in Jonestown and its lingering ramifications, abortion rights, gun violence, her concerns for the future of Congress—and what gives her hope.
May 19, 2022
Growing up, Shaka Senghor wanted to be a doctor. But at age 14, he ran away from his unstable home. By 19, he was in prison. While in prison, he began unravelling his past, seeking to understand how he went from a bright young boy to solitary confinement. Shaka joined David to talk about the overwhelming challenges facing young people in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, the seduction of drug culture, the injustices of the criminal justice system, being a father, and his new book, “Letters to the Sons of Society.”
May 12, 2022
Al Franken has been in the public eye for decades, first as a comedian and then as a senator from Minnesota. Since he resigned from the Senate in 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations—that he has denied—he has mostly stayed out of the spotlight. He talks to David about his transition from comedy to politics, his departure from the Senate and his subsequent battle with depression, whether he might run for office again, and his touring comedy show, “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour.”
May 5, 2022
As a high school student in Montana, Ambassador Michael McFaul became interested in Russian affairs while working on a debate team assignment concerning trade sanctions on the Soviet Union. He first visited the Soviet Union in college and went on to serve as US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. Ambassador McFaul joined David to talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s paranoia over the expansion of democracy around the world, the rise of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, what he sees as potential outcomes for the war in Ukraine, and how Putin’s attempts to tighten his grip on power may actually accelerate the unraveling of his leadership.
Apr 28, 2022
Inspired by the stacks of books in her parents’ home, Republican strategist Sarah Longwell once thought she might become a poet. But at Kenyon College, she found herself more captivated by political science than writing. Sarah joined David to talk about coming out as gay in a very conservative professional environment, her work to keep Donald Trump from winning in 2020, the struggle to separate true conservatism from the current culture wars, why she believes Joe Biden shouldn’t run for reelection, and what happens if Trump wins in 2024.
Apr 21, 2022