MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the first day of November, 2023.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday.
Today, a conversation about President Biden’s executive order on Artificial Intelligence.
BROWN: But first, an update on presidential politics. Over the weekend, a Republican candidate dropped out and a Democrat jumped in.
Former Vice President Mike Pence announced the end of his campaign last Saturday. And on Friday, Dean Phillips, a Democratic congressman out of Minnesota, announced his bid to challenge Joe Biden for the nomination.
AUDIO: I do so not in opposition to President Biden, who has my affection and my gratitude, rather with two core convictions: that I am the Democratic candidate who can win, who can win the 2024 election. And second, it is time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders.
EICHER: Well, we’ll see about that. If you go by the polls, it seems likely that 2024 will be a rematch of 2020 with Joe Biden running against Donald Trump.
BROWN: But there’s at least one candidate aiming for a remix of 1992 when Independent candidate Ross Perot cost President George H. W. Bush reelection.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his campaign as a Democrat back in April. But then last month, he switched his affiliation to run as an Independent.
KENNEDY: People stop me everywhere at airports, hotels, malls. They remind me that this country is ready for a history-making change. I’m here today to declare myself an independent candidate.
EICHER: Does Kennedy have the funding to stay in the race through next November, and if he makes it, is he more likely to be a spoiler for Biden…or for Trump?
Our Washington Bureau reporter, Leo Briceno, has analysis.
LEO BRICENO, REPORTER: Kennedy, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, had previously pulled some surprising numbers when stacked up against President Joe Biden. While R-F-K’s support is not as strong as the support of his other uncle—Ted Kennedy—and what he was able to do in his 1980 campaign against President Jimmy Carter. The younger Kennedy has been polling between 16 and 20 percent according to Fox and CNN, respectively.
In any case, President Biden has essentially ignored Kennedy, and that’s frustrated the lifelong Democrat.
KENNEDY: And Part of having a democracy is that the public gets to pick the candidate. It’s not picked by the party, it should be picked by the people. The best way to pick them is to have debates, town halls, to do retail politics, because otherwise we have politicians who are living inside of a bubble.
In case you’re wondering, the reason Kennedy talks like that is because he has a rare voice disorder called Spasmodic dysphonia. In any case, while RFK can’t speak as clearly and compellingly as previous members of the Kennedy family, he had hoped to continue the family business as a Democrat. Not anymore.
But what if he could run against Biden from outside the party and draw support from across the political spectrum?
After all, his platform includes elements that appeal more to traditional Republicans than Progressive Democrats. That includes things like limited government power, oversight for federal agencies, and skepticism about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
More recently, his support for Israel—and reservations about America’s continued involvement in Ukraine—mirror what Republicans have been saying. Here he is speaking with Fox News back in October.
KENNEDY: Israelis have wanted to trade peace for land and again and again the Palestinians in leadership have betrayed their own people by refusing to even negotiate or make a counter offer - so there’s a long history.
What about fundraising? How does Kennedy stack up?
Well, early on, Kennedy got off to a slow start. On April 19th—the day that Kennedy announced—his disclosed FEC filings show that he raised just $20 thousand dollars. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, by comparison, raised $1.5 million dollars just in the few hours after his announcement.
But Kennedy’s small-donor donations have slowly picked up. His single largest contributor has only given $10,000…but in June he raised almost 3 million dollars in gifts ranging in size from one to thirty-three hundred dollars. He’s just behind Nikki Haley, whose presidential campaign has received $18 million.
Derek Willis isn’t surprised, but wonders about RFK’s staying power.
WILLIS: His last name is Kennedy. That's a good name to have in politics. I think it’s also pretty clear that his fundraising does indicate that there is a desire for some alternative among a certain set of donors. I think the issue is whether that desire can be sustained as this campaign becomes less abstract and more real.
Willis explains that Kennedy has a bit more lease on life than maybe some other Republican candidates. He doesn’t have to compete for air in the race for the party’s nomination.
WILLIS: The good news for independent candidates is that I could see him staying in until the very end. Unless he runs out of money, he could still run a zombie campaign in the sense that all he really needs to be is on the ballot.
If he reaches the end, the question isn’t really whether Kennedy himself would have a shot at the presidency, but rather, how does he change the odds for the two other nominees?
A recent poll by USA Today and Suffolk University puts RFK in a hypothetical race against Biden and Trump. The results had Biden and Trump tied at 37%, with RFK pulling 13 percent of the vote.
If nothing else changes between now and November of 2024, America could be looking at a very similar election to the one in 1992 when another third party candidate, Ross Perot, made history.
Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote. He didn’t carry a single state. But looking back on that race, many believe Perot ruined then-president George Bush’s chances of reelection. He ran on cutting government spending and fighting NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement.
PEROT: We’re 4.1 trillion dollars in debt. That’s a staggering burden to pass to our children. It’s unconscionable.
In 1992, that messaging resonated with Americans and, more specifically, with Republicans.
According to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, James Baker, Bush’s chief of staff, said this of Perot:
“We had Ross Perot taking two out of every three votes from us, and there’s no doubt about that. Don’t believe that baloney that he puts out that he didn’t take from us any more than he took from the Democrats.”
Could Kennedy be a similar foil for Trump because of his Republican-like messaging? Or could he be a foil for Democrats if Biden’s age and ability to serve continue to be a part of the picture?
Here’s Willis again.
WILLIS: I think around the time that the Republican field solidifies, coalesses, he’s going to have to make a decision about whether he continues and what his campaign message then is.
As the field between Democrats and Republicans narrows back down to two options, what Kennedy’s support looks like then will be a telling indicator as to whether he’s a problem—and for whom.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leo Briceno.
EICHER: Well, in other news, on Monday President Biden issued an executive order regarding artificial intelligence.
BIDEN: This order builds on the critical steps we've already taken to ensuring the AI Bill of Rights to bring together leading AI companies who agreed to voluntarily to make certain, certain commitments to make sure AI is safe, and the system is secure.
BROWN: Joining us now to talk about it is James Czerniawksi. He’s a Senior Policy Analyst at the Washington D.C. think tank, Americans for Prosperity.
James, good morning!
JAMES CZERNIAWSKI, GUEST: Thanks for having me.
BROWN: James, this is a wide-ranging Executive Order addressing issues like privacy, national security, and civil rights… but let’s start at the top. The first item is a requirement that AI companies “share safety test results and other critical information with the government.”
What authority does the White House have to require this information without a law from Congress or is there existing legislation that gives the executive branch the authority it needs?
CZERNIAWSKI: Yeah, that's a great question. So basically, the Biden administration is relying pretty heavily on the Defense Production Act in order to justify why it thinks it can put on these kinds of requirements on AI companies that would seek to have the government buy its products for what it's using, right? But we've seen the Defense Production Act used to address a variety of things beyond AI, whether it was to go and help with some of our supply chain issues, or to help with manufacturing certain critical goods during the COVID 19 pandemic. But it's never quite been used on like this kind of a level. It's usually meant on like the back end stuff of your orders that you are placing, not on the requirements under which that you are going to be buying something. So President Biden probably is definitely bending the rules a little bit for what Congress is, you know, rules supposed to be here, they should be setting the rules. And there are certainly proposals in Congress around AI that are going on right now. But this is where we're at right now is that he's using the power of the pen and paper to go and put his vision for AI forward.
BROWN: You mentioned that Congress is in the process of creating legislation on AI. I remember there being several committee hearings over the summer and the Senate holding a closed-door AI forum in September…but anything more concrete yet?
CZERNIAWSKI: Yeah. So I mean, we've had some different proposals, reached out with AI, whether it's trying to remove Section 230 protections out of the equation altogether for artificial intelligence when it comes to their liability. We've seen proposals around AI that are targeting misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, all the bad information, if you will, by by certain members of Congress. There was a rules hearing back at the end of September in the Senate that was talking about AI and elections, we just had a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce hearing that was surrounding AI and energy. Right now, it's a lot of high level discussions about just understanding the playing field as to what exactly AI is, and how it can go and change all these different sectors of our economy because, make no mistake, it is going to have a transformational impact on every single sector of our economy.
BROWN: Okay, final question, James. Does America need government regulation of AI? And if so, why?
CZERNIAWSKI: Yeah, I would say right now, it's probably a bit premature to have specific regulation around artificial intelligence. There's a lot of existing laws that are already on the books that can apply to AI. It's just a matter of getting your existing regulators and staffers up to speed as to what the technology is, and more importantly, what it is not. So that way you can properly apply the law there. And if there are any gaps that we can identify after trying that, then by all means, that says something that Congress can certainly go and try to pass legislation surrounding but right now it's a little bit on the premature side, in my opinion.
BROWN: James Czerniawksi is a Senior Policy Analyst at Americans for Prosperity. James, thanks so much for your time!
CZERNIAWSKI: Thanks for having me.
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