The Axe Files with David Axelrod-logo

The Axe Files with David Axelrod


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.


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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.




Ep. 526 — John Hendrickson

Since childhood, journalist John Hendrickson has lived with a stutter: wrestling with it, searching for escapes from it, and working to accept it. John, who rose to national prominence after interviewing then-presidential candidate Joe Biden about his own stutter in 2019, recently wrote a book about his experiences and the science behind stuttering. John joined David to talk about living with a stutter, his work as a journalist, interviewing Biden, and reexamining his own relationship with...


Ep. 525 — Amb. Michael McFaul

In high school, Michael McFaul developed an interest in the Soviet Union that would eventually lead to him serving as US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, McFaul emerged as a vocal supporter of Ukraine. McFaul joined David to talk about his work advising on sanctions against Russia, why he believes that the US should go all-in on military aid to Ukraine, how Russian President Vladimir Putin could claim victory, how much time Ukraine has...


Ep. 524 — Peter Meijer

Just days after he was sworn in to Congress, former GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan watched in horror as protestors stormed the Capitol. Deeply unsettled by the experience, he voted to impeach President Trump, opening a lane for a Trump-endorsed primary opponent to defeat Meijer in 2022. He joined David to talk about his Michigan-famous family name, his time in the military, the importance of defending Ukraine, his decision to vote to impeach Trump, the importance of long-term thinking in...


Ep. 523 — Beto O'Rourke

Beto O’Rourke shot to national prominence in 2018 when he narrowly lost to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in an unexpectedly close election. Two years later, he ran in the Democratic presidential primary, and, in 2022, he ran for governor of Texas. While the three back-to-back races were unsuccessful, they generated enthusiasm and energy and at times helped reinvigorate the Democratic Party in Texas. Beto joined David to talk about the political fight in Texas, raising three children while running...


Ep. 522 — Amb. Tom Nides

As a Jewish kid growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, Amb. Tom Nides didn’t plan to be a diplomat some day. After a career spanning roles in government and business, he took on the position of US ambassador to Israel in 2021. Following a year of relative calm, Nides now finds himself weathering a tumultuous few months under a new Israeli government—the most right-wing in the country’s history. He joined David to talk about the US’s “unbreakable bond” with Israel, the state of Israeli democracy,...


Ep. 521 — Gov. Gavin Newsom

Growing up with severe dyslexia, California Governor Gavin Newsom questioned his own intelligence and path forward. But things began coming together in college when he embraced his interest in politics. Gov. Newsom joined David to talk about his childhood, the tension of growing up with little money while being deeply connected to the Bay Area’s elite, approving same-sex marriage in San Francisco as mayor, gun violence, his disdain for Gov. Ron DeSantis, and why he thinks the Democrats need...


Ep. 520 — Tim Ryan

A chance meeting with his Congressman during a high school football banquet set Tim Ryan on a path to politics, from a seat in the Ohio Senate, to two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, to a bid for U.S. Senate in 2022. He joined David to talk about growing up in working class Ohio and how the Democrats lost touch with blue-collar America, the state of the federal government and the need for reform, the House of Representatives under Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s leadership, and what his...


Ep. 519 — Sec. Antony Blinken

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a circuitous path to government, working in journalism, law, and the movies before landing a job in the Clinton administration. He still has varied interests; while he spends his days meeting with world leaders, guitar fans can also find him on Spotify. Secretary Blinken joined David before a live audience at the University of Chicago to talk about Russia’s war on Ukraine, America’s relationship with China, Afghanistan, the state of the world, and the...


Ep. 518 — Amanda Gorman

When poet Amanda Gorman was 5 years old, she was already in the habit of waking up before dawn to write; her mother paid her a quarter each morning she stayed in bed past 6 a.m. Poetry became Amanda’s outlet for exploring history and her own experiences. Her talents have taken her from serving as the first National Youth Poet Laureate to reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Amanda joined David to talk about her mother’s influence, working through her...


Ep. 517 — Gov. Chris Sununu

Although New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has said that he was a shy child, he has no problem with the spotlight now; there is widespread speculation that he will run for president in 2024. As a popular Republican governor in a purple state, some say Gov. Sununu has the right playbook for putting a Republican back in the White House, while his detractors say he doesn’t stand a chance against former President Donald Trump’s base. Sununu joined David to talk about the power of local...


Ep. 516 — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

In 2022, Democrats in Michigan made history when they took control of state government for the first time in 40 years. At the top of the ticket was Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who won reelection by nearly 11 percentage points. Governor Whitmer joined David to discuss the role reproductive rights played in her campaign, the dangers facing public servants today and the sacrifices her family has made, governing through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the priorities for her second term in office. To...


The Axe Files presents The Assignment with Audie Cornish

This week The Axe Files team is sharing an episode of CNN’s The Assignment with Audie Cornish. Each week Audie pulls listeners out of their digital echo chambers to hear from the people who actually live the headlines. From the sex work economy to the battle over what’s taught in classrooms, no topic is off the table. For this episode, Audie talks to two parent activists turned elected school board officials about what motivated them to run for office and the changes they hope to make while...


Ep. 515 — Dr. Anthony Fauci

After 54 years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Anthony Fauci will step down from his role at the end of 2022. While he has worked on a spectrum of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, he rose to national prominence recently for his work on the Covid-19 pandemic. Considered at times to be a hero to the left and a villain to the right, Dr. Fauci talked to David about his career at NIH, what he sees as social media’s deleterious impact on science, fighting conspiracy...


Ep. 514 — Wes Moore

When Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore was 3 years old, he watched his father collapse in front of him. Losing his father at a young age greatly impacted Moore’s life. He acted out at school, was sent to a military academy by his mother, and later confronted what he called the inequitable policies influencing his life, including his father’s inability to receive adequate medical care. Governor-elect Moore talked with David about his path to public service and gubernatorial victory, his time...


Ep. 513 — Mike Pence

Former Vice President Mike Pence has centered his career around his Christian faith and conservative beliefs. Most recently, he spent four years serving alongside former President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for his brash and confrontational demeanor. While the two have different political styles, Pence remained steadfastly loyal to Trump until January 6, 2021, when Pence refused to reject the results of the 2020 election. Pence spoke to David about the role of his faith in his...


Best of The Axe Files: Anderson Cooper

This Thanksgiving, we're revisiting a conversation with Anderson Cooper from October 2021. Anderson is now a well-known CNN anchor and host of the new podcast, All There Is with Anderson Cooper, but he got his start in journalism armed with just a camcorder and a fake press pass. Anderson is also part of the storied Vanderbilt family, which he wrote about in the book Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty. He joined David to talk about the corrosive power of money and how its...


Ep. 512 — Sen. Alex Padilla

Just months after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in engineering, California Senator Alex Padilla was drawn to politics, outraged by a state ballot initiative regarding undocumented immigrants. He soon became the youngest Los Angeles City Council president and is now the first Latino senator from California. Sen. Padilla joined David to talk about the 2022 midterms, election deniers and voter suppression, policing and public safety, his relationship...


Ep. 511 — Speaker Rusty Bowers

Rusty Bowers, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, is a Mormon and conservative Republican. He is also a sculptor and painter with a love of the outdoors who likes to sketch satirical drawings of his fellow legislators. After years in the state legislature, Speaker Bowers rose to national prominence when, as he said, he chose his oath to the Constitution over pressure from Donald Trump and his allies to overturn Arizona's results in the 2020 presidential election. Speaker Bowers...


Ep. 510 — Major Garrett

Journalist Major Garrett caught the journalism bug early, chasing fire trucks down the street in search of a story as a kid. He has since spent his career as a Congressional and White House correspondent, most recently at CBS. Major joined David to talk about the upcoming midterm elections, what he believes is hurting Biden and Democratic candidates, the state of democracy, and his new book written with David Becker debunking the myth that the 2020 election was stolen, “The Big Truth:...


509 — Rep. Liz Cheney

In the span of 15 months, Rep. Liz Cheney went from House GOP conference chair to losing her primary by more than 30 points. Her fall within the Republican Party began with her vote to impeach President Donald Trump after the January 6 attack on the Capitol and accelerated when she joined the House committee investigating the events of that day. Rep. Cheney joined David to talk about Trump and his supporters in Congress, her work on the Jan. 6 committee, how the threats to American democracy...