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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    U.S. President Trump sits next to Tillerson during bilateral meeting with China's President Xi at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach

    U.S. President Donald Trump sits next to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a bilateral meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 7, 2017. Photo via Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The chemical weapons attack in Syria that triggered retaliatory American airstrikes hasn’t shifted U.S. priorities toward ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad, top Trump administration officials said.

    After last Tuesday’s chemical attack, President Donald Trump said his attitude toward Assad “has changed very much” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson even said “steps are underway” to organize a coalition to remove him from power. But in a television interview that aired Sunday, Tillerson said the priority “really hasn’t changed.”

    Defeating the Islamic State group remains the top focus, Tillerson said. Once that threat “has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

    “We’re hopeful that we can prevent a continuation of the civil war and that we can bring the parties to the table to begin the process of political discussions” between the Assad government and various rebel groups.

    The hope, he said, is that “we can navigate a political outcome in which the Syrian people, in fact, will determine Bashar al-Assad’s fate and his legitimacy.”

    [Watch Video]

    Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said “getting Assad out is not the only priority” and that countering Iran’s influence in Syria was another. Still, Haley said the U.S. didn’t see a peaceful future Syria with Assad in power.

    “Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria,” Haley told CNN’s ‘State of the Union.”

    The comments from Tillerson and Haley suggested that the airstrikes Trump ordered punishing Assad for using chemical weapons would not lead to any immediate change in U.S. strategy toward Syria. Reluctant to put significant troops on the ground in Syria, the U.S. for years has struggled to prevent Assad from strengthening his hold on power.

    U.S.-backed rebels groups have long pleaded for more U.S. intervention and complained that Washington has only fought the Islamic State group. So Trump’s decision to launch the strikes — which President Barack Obama declined to do after a 2013 chemical attack — has raised optimism among rebels that Trump will more directly confront Assad.

    Tillerson spoke days before he will make the Trump administration’s first official trip to Russia, a staunch Assad ally. Russia had its own military personnel at the Syrian military airport that the U.S. struck with cruise missiles. But Tillerson said he sees no reason for retaliation from Moscow because Russia wasn’t targeted.

    “We do not have any information at suggests that Russia was part of the military attack undertaken using the chemical weapons,” Tillerson said. Earlier, U.S. military officials had said they were looking into whether Russia participated, possibly by using a drone to help eliminate evidence afterward.

    The post Trump officials say no new U.S. focus on ousting Syria’s Assad appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    New legislation would make Hawaii the first state to require insurance companies to cover in vitro fertilization for surrogates. Photo by Alfredo Ausina/Getty Images

    HONOLULU — Sean Smith and his husband paid more than $20,000 for a fertility procedure when they decided to have a child using a surrogate mother. They did not know at the time that if they were a heterosexual couple, they might have saved that money.

    Now, Smith and other members of Hawaii’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are lobbying for equal access to the financial help married, heterosexual couples enjoy under state law.

    They are pushing legislation that would require insurance companies to cover in vitro fertilization for more couples, including making Hawaii the first state to require the coverage for surrogates, which would help male same-sex couples who must use a surrogate.

    “Now that marriage equality is the law of the land and is accepted, now let’s turn to family building, and let’s figure out how we fix all these inequities that exist,” said Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve, a national organization that advocates for access to fertility treatments.

    Hawaii is one of eight states that require insurance companies to cover in vitro fertilization, a costly procedure where a doctor retrieves eggs from a woman, combines them with sperm from a man and then implants an embryo into a woman’s uterus.

    But Hawaii’s mandate applies only to married heterosexual couples because it covers the medical intervention only if a woman uses sperm from her spouse, leaving the LGBT community and single women behind.

    “At the end of the visit, I would be going into the office and pulling out my credit card, and other people are probably just walking out and insurance is picking up the tab,” Smith said. “We had to borrow money, refinance a second mortgage, and I’m sure there are people who don’t even explore the option because the expenses are too great.”

    READ NEXT: Trans patients, looking for fertility options, turn to cancer research

    The measure pending in the Hawaii Legislature removes requirements that the egg and sperm come from a married couple and includes surrogates among the people to be covered.

    No other state has included surrogates in their laws, Collura said.

    “It is definitely groundbreaking,” Collura said. “And it’s an often-overlooked way that people choose to build their family, and it should not be left out. It’s great to see that Hawaii is taking the lead.”

    Kaiser Permanente Hawaii opposed the measure, saying the medical provider and insurer does not perform in vitro fertilization with donor eggs or surrogates because of complex legal issues and medical risks. The company asked lawmakers to remove egg donors and surrogates from the bill, saying requiring coverage of additional procedures would raise costs for the company and its customers.

    A similar measure in Hawaii failed in previous legislative sessions. But aside from Kaiser, the bill has seen little opposition this year.

    A broad coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and the Democratic Party of Hawaii are working with LGBT groups to push for change. The proposal passed the state Senate and is up for a vote in the House this week.

    Maryland had a law that also excluded same-sex couples until about a year ago, when the Legislature changed the provision so it no longer required using a husband’s sperm. That helped lesbian couples, but gay men were still left out because the law didn’t cover surrogates, Collura said.

    Most state mandates limit insurance reimbursement to a certain number of in vitro fertilization trials or allow coverage only after years of infertility. Some states also allow religious or small employers to get out of the requirement.

    “We need to change these laws,” Collura said. “We need to update them and make them so that they are no longer discriminatory.”

    The post Hawaii LGBT couples seek equal access to fertility treatment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Pacific Ocean

    The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Pacific Ocean January 30, 2017. U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tom Tonthat/Handout via Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says a Navy carrier strike group is moving toward the western Pacific Ocean to provide a physical presence near the Korean Peninsula.

    North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests and continued pursuit of a nuclear program have raised tensions in the region, where U.S. Navy ships are a common presence and serve in part as a show of force.

    On Saturday, President Donald Trump and South Korea’s leader, Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn, spoke by phone. The White House said the two agreed to stay in close contact about North Korea and other issues.

    The U.S. Pacific Command directed the carrier group to sail north to the western Pacific after departing Singapore on Saturday, according to a Navy news release. The carrier group includes the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, with support from several missile destroyers and missile cruisers.

    Deployed from San Diego to the western Pacific since Jan. 5, the strike group has participated in numerous exercises with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and Republic of Korea Navy, various maritime security initiatives, and routine patrol operations in the South China Sea.

    The post U.S. carrier strike group heads toward W. Pacific near Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Pulitzer Prize awards for excellence in journalism and the arts produced in 2016 were awarded at 3 p.m. EST Monday. This is the 101st year of the contest.

    There are 14 categories for journalism, included reporting, photography, cartooning, criticism and commentary, and seven categories for the arts, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama and music.

    The New York Daily News and ProPublica won the award for public service for its investigation into abuses in the New York City Police Department’s enforcement of eviction laws, which disproportionately affected poor communities. The award for breaking news reporting went to the East Bay Times, for its coverage of a fire in Oakland, California, at an art warehouse known as Ghost Ship. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold won the national reporting award for his coverage of the charitable giving practices of then-presidential nominee Donald Trump, for which he employed the help of Twitter.

    [WATCH: Oakland’s horrific fire leads to worries for other warehouses]

    [WATCH: Donald Trump hasn’t donated to his own foundation since 2008, investigation finds]

    “In recent years the focus has been on the decline of newspapers large and small,” said Pulitzer Prize Administrator Mike Pride, who announced the winners. “Yet the work that wins Pulitzer prizes reminds us that we are not in a period of decline in journalism. Rather we are in the midst of a revolution.”

    The New York Times won the most Pulitzers — two — for its international reporting on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to spread Russia’s influence abroad, and for C.J. Chivers’ feature writing on a Marine’s post-war descent into violence.

    In the arts, Colson Whitehead won the fiction prize for his novel “The Underground Railroad,” which blended fantasy with tragic American history. In the history category, Heather Ann Thompson won for “Blood in the Water,” an account of the 1971 prison uprising at Attica, whose inmates seized the prison to demand better living conditions.

    Watch our conversation with Colson Whitehead:

    Watch our conversation with Heather Ann Thompson:

    Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” a story of an industrial town in decline, won for best drama. And the book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which exposed troubling eviction practices in the U.S., won for best nonfiction.

    Watch our conversation with Lynn Nottage:

    Watch our conversation with Matthew Desmond:

    The full list of 2017 winners:

    In journalism

    Public Service: New York Daily News and ProPublica, for its investigation into NYPD eviction enforcement practices
    Breaking News Reporting: The staff of the East Bay Times, for its coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire
    Investigative Reporting: Eric Eyre, from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, for his reporting on the flood of opioids into West Virginia
    Explanatory Reporting: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, McClatchy and The Miami Herald, for its reporting on offshore tax havens in the Panama Papers
    Local Reporting: The Salt Lake Tribune staff, for its coverage of sexual assault on campus
    National Reporting: David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, for his coverage of the charitable giving practices of then-presidential nominee Donald Trump
    International Reporting: The New York Times staff’s reporting on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to spread Russia’s influence abroad
    Feature Writing: C.J. Chivers’ feature writing on a Marine’s post-war descent into violence.
    Commentary: Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, for her columns during the divisive presidential campaign
    Criticism: The New Yorker’s Hilton Als, for his reviews on the subjects of gender, sexuality and race
    Editorial Writing: Art Cullen of The Storm Lake Times, for his editorials challenging corporate interests in Iowa
    Editorial Cartooning: Jim Morin of The Miami Herald, for his prose and wit
    Breaking News Photography: Daniel Berehulak, a freelance photographer, for his photos of violence in the Philippines
    Feature Photography: E. Jason Wambsgans of the Chicago Tribune, for his photography of a 10-year-old boy after surviving a shooting

    In books, drama & music

    Fiction: “The Underground Railroad,” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday), for exploring the country’s history of slavery in both realism and allegory
    Drama: “Sweat,” by Lynn Notttage, which explored workers in an industrial town searching for the American dream
    History: “Blood in the Water” by Heather Ann Thompson (Pantheon), which explored the 1971 Attica prison uprising and police brutality
    Biography or Autobiography: “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between,” by Hisham Matar (Random House), an elegy for home and a father
    Poetry: “Olio,” by Tyehimba Jess, for its exploration of memory, race and identity
    General Nonfiction: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” by Matthew Desmond, which investigated the mass evictions in the U.S. after the financial crash
    Music: “Angel’s Bone” by Du Yun, an operatic work about human trafficking


    The post Here’s the full list of 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Police lead Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, on in June 2015. Photo by Jason Miczek/Reuters

    Police lead Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, in June 2015. Roof is expected to plead guilty Monday to state murder charges in exchange for a life sentence. Photo by Jason Miczek/Reuters.

    The man who killed nine churchgoers two years ago at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, pleaded guilty Monday to state murder charges in exchange for a deal with state prosecutors that gives him nine consecutive life sentences without parole.

    In December, a federal jury convicted Dylann Roof of 33 federal charges — including hate crimes — in connection with the fatal shooting on June 17, 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The jury handed down the death penalty in January, making Roof the first person sentenced to death for federal hate crimes.

    Roof’s guilty plea came in a hearing Monday for a second trial on state charges of murder and attempted murder. Roof, now 23, received an additional 90 years for three counts of attempted murder. He also waived the right to appeal his guilty pleas.

    The trial, lasting just under one and a half hours, was replete with testimonies and statements from friends and relatives of the deceased. In a statement, Roof’s grandfather said this was a situation he could have never imagined was possible.

    “What happened here I will never understand, I will go to my grave not understanding,” he said. “I’d like to say loudly and repeatedly and constantly, we’re sorry. We’re just as sorry as we can be that this has happened. We regret it – it’s ruined lives and I cannot put those back together.”

    In a letter to the victims’ families, obtained by the Washington Post, state prosecutor Scarlett A. Wilson described the state plea agreement as “an insurance policy.” If the federal death sentence is overturned, the plea ensures Roof would spend the rest of his life in prison.

    It also avoids what would likely be another emotionally draining trial for the families and friends of those killed.

    In the federal trial, friends and family members of the victims shared stories of the pain, sorrow and anger the needless killings evoked. Roof, emotionless, refused to make eye contact and stood by his decision to carry out the sinister killing spree.

    “I still feel like I had to do it,” Roof told jurors in his closing argument in January.

    Some of those family members and friends offered their testimony on Monday as well.

    As part of the state plea agreement, Roof will be transferred to a prison outside of South Carolina to await his execution, according to the Associated Press.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post Dylann Roof pleads guilty in state trial for Charleston church massacre appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke about health care reform      during an April 6 press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke about health care reform during an April 6 press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

    WASHINGTON — Move over, “Obamacare.” The health care debate has shifted to ideas from President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers in Congress, and most people don’t like what they see.

    With Republicans in command, their health care proposals as currently formulated have generated far more concern than enthusiasm.

    Even among rank-and-file Republicans, there’s opposition to changes that would let insurers charge higher premiums to older adults, and many disapprove of cuts to Medicaid for low-income people, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It also found more than half of Republicans at least somewhat worried about leaving more people uninsured, as the House plan is projected to do.

    March polls by Fox News and Quinnipiac University showed overall margins of opposition to the GOP bill nearing or even exceeding those of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, or ACA, at its lowest points — such as when the HealthCare.gov website went live in 2013 and promptly crashed.

    “Republicans are taking ownership of the health care issue, and all the pleasure and pain of health reform,” said Drew Altman, president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks the health care system. “There has been a shift in focus from the ACA itself to the Republican plans, and who might lose benefits as a result.”

    Poll: Americans dislike GOP’s, Trump’s plan on health care

    Highlighting the stakes, the uninsured rate among U.S. adults rose slightly in the first three months of this year, according to Monday’s update of a major ongoing survey. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that 11.3 percent of adults were uninsured, an increase from 10.9 percent in the last two calendar quarters of 2016.

    “Only time will tell” if the uptick means the U.S. is again losing ground on health insurance, said survey director Dan Witters.

    “A lot of uncertainty has been introduced into the marketplace through efforts to repeal,” Witters added. “That will scare people off who have real reason to believe that the ACA won’t even exist in a year. Plus premiums are now realizing a big jump for the first time in the ACA era, so some folks may be priced out of the market even with income-based subsidies.”

    Trump came into office with big, bold promises. In a Washington Post interview shortly before his inauguration he declared his goal was “insurance for everybody,” hand-in-hand with affordable coverage, “lower numbers, much lower deductibles.” Although Trump said he’d soon release a plan, none appeared.

    Instead, after weeks of laboring behind closed doors, House Republican leaders rolled out a proposal March 6 that the president enthusiastically embraced. But all the efforts of the White House and congressional leadership haven’t convinced GOP lawmakers to pass it. Congress is on a two-week break with the bill in limbo.

    WATCH: Spicer says President Trump optimistic about health care reform

    Frustrated, Trump is seeing his promise slip away to quickly repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with something better. Instead he could get left as the caretaker of the ACA, a law he’s repeatedly called a “disaster” on account of rising premiums and insurer exits that diminish consumer choice in many communities.

    Trump’s personal image has taken a blow, with the AP-NORC poll finding that he gets his worst rating on health care. About 6 in 10 people disapprove of how the president has handled the issue.

    “It is a major failure that a high priority of President Trump and the congressional Republican leadership leads to no bill, and the bill as proposed becomes unpopular even among their own voters,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who follows opinion trends on health care. “It’s a real leadership crisis issue.”

    Amid disapproval of the House GOP plan, some polls have shown improved ratings for the ACA. Gallup, for example, found “Obamacare” gained majority approval for the first time. But Republican voters remain overwhelmingly opposed to former President Barack Obama’s signature law and want it repealed.

    There’s recent evidence that Republicans differ among themselves about what “repeal” of the Affordable Care Act may mean.

    Nonetheless, there’s recent evidence that Republicans differ among themselves about what “repeal” may mean.

    A Quinnipiac poll last month found that 55 percent of Republicans said Trump and the Republican-led Congress should repeal “parts” of the ACA, while 42 percent said “all” of it should go. Only 2 percent of Republicans said the law should not be repealed.

    Republican views compare with 50 percent of the general public who say parts of the ACA should be repealed, 20 percent who say all of it should be repealed, and 27 percent who say it should remain.

    The divisions among rank-and-file Republicans appear to mirror those in the House, where disagreements among hardliners and moderates are keeping Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., from taking the bill to the floor.

    Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said, “You have to figure a lot of people who voted for Trump are on Obamacare.”

    The post The health care debate has shifted to the GOP — and most people don’t like what they see, poll says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is expected to field questions about last week’s U.S. strike on Syria in a Monday news briefing.

    Watch Spicer’s remarks live in the player above.

    A U.S. military spokesman said earlier today the U.S. has taken extra defensive precautions in Syria in anticipation of possible retaliation against American forces for last week’s cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base.

    The spokesman, Col. John J. Thomas, told reporters at the Pentagon that the increased emphasis on defensive measures to protect U.S. troops on the ground in Syria led to a slight and temporary decline in offensive U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

    Thomas said there has been no Syrian retaliation for the cruise missile attack, which he said destroyed or rendered inoperable more than 20 Syria air force planes.

    He said the U.S. intends to return to full offensive air operations as soon as possible.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post WATCH: Spicer addresses Syria attack in news briefing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The San Bernardino Police Department held a news conference today, after a shooting inside a local elementary school.

    One woman and one student are dead after a man opened fire in a San Bernardino, California, elementary school classroom Monday morning, the city’s police chief said.

    The gunman, identified as 53-year-old Cedric Anderson, shot his wife, a teacher at North Park Elementary School, in an apparent murder-suicide inside a special-needs classroom.

    The adult victim, identified as Karen Elaine Smith, 53, was shot, as well as two children who were standing behind her. One student, 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, died hours after the attack. Another student was shot and transported to a nearby hospital. The student is described as being in stable condition.

    Capt. Ron Maass told reporters in a briefing today that police didn’t think the children were the intended targets.

    San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan initially said on Twitter that four people were being treated for injuries sustained in the classroom shooting; two of them were possibly students, he said. The police chief later confirmed that two adults have died in the shooting.

    Burguan added “the suspect is down and there’s no further threat.” It is now clear whether the shooter was one of the two adults who died in the shooting.

    Burguan said that preliminary reports point to the shooting as a murder-suicide.

    The rest of the students were transported to a nearby high school, the police chief tweeted.

    San Bernardino was previously the site of a 2015 terror attack where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a holiday office party. The couple later died in a shootout with police the same day.

    This is a developing story. PBS NewsHour will update as more details become available.

    The post 2 adults, 1 student killed in likely murder-suicide at San Bernardino elementary school appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A file photo shows Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking at a news conference at the Justice Department in D.C. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    A file photo shows Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking at a news conference at the Justice Department in D.C. Sessions said Monday he is ending an Obama-era partnership with independent scientists that aimed to improve the reliability of forensic science. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday he is ending an Obama-era partnership with independent scientists that aimed to improve the reliability of forensic science, as longstanding concerns remain about the quality of such evidence in court cases.

    The Justice Department will not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a panel of judges, defense attorneys, researchers and law enforcement officials that had been advising the attorney general on the use of scientific evidence in the criminal justice process. The department will instead appoint an in-house adviser and create an internal committee to study improvements to forensic analysis, Sessions said.

    Read more: Sessions encourages cities to revive 1990s crime strategies

    Their tasks will include a broad look at the personnel and equipment needs of overburdened crime labs.

    “As we decide how to move forward, we bear in mind that the department is just one piece of the larger criminal justice system,” said Sessions in a statement, adding that most forensic science is done by state and local laboratories and used by local prosecutors.

    The Obama administration formed the commission in 2013 to address wide-ranging concerns about problematic forensic techniques.

    The Justice Department also is reconsidering an effort launched last year to review forensic sciences practiced by the FBI. That review sought to determine whether other scientific disciplines have been tainted by flawed testimony, a problem that surfaced in 2015 when the Justice Department revealed that experts had overstated the strength of their evidence in many older cases dating back decades involving microscopic hair analysis.

    Read more: How a tight budget could complicate Sessions’ vow to fight crime

    The disbanding of the commission was yet another way in which Sessions is shifting away from his Obama-era predecessors, who pushed for changes in forensic science and tried to establish federal standards. Last year, for example, acting on the commission’s recommendations, the Justice Department announced a new code of professional responsibility for its forensic science laboratories and also cautioned its examiners and prosecutors to use restraint in discussing the strength of their findings, among other standards.

    Sessions, who frequently articulates a tough-on-crime agenda, called the availability of accurate forensic analysis “critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime and increasing public safety.” He said the Justice Department would seek public comment on how to improve crime labs and “strengthen the foundations of forensic science.”

    The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said it was disappointed by the move. Association President Barry Pollack said the commission was important because it allowed “unbiased expert evaluation of which techniques are scientifically valid and which are not.”

    The post Sessions says Justice Department will end forensic science commission appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pao Ge Vang, age 5 looks out of the school bus on his way home after his second day in kindergarten 4 in Fresno, California, after arriving in U.S. from Thailand with his family as part of a U.S. government resettlement program. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    Pao Ge Vang, age 5 looks out of the school bus on his way home after his second day in kindergarten 4 in Fresno, California, after arriving in U.S. from Thailand with his family as part of a U.S. government resettlement program. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    By the measure of a year, Mai Der Vang was not born in a refugee camp, as her sister was. But she’s always felt pulled between different worlds. In 1981, when Vang was born in Fresno, California, her parents had only recently arrived in the U.S. from Laos, by way of Thailand, where they had lived in Hmong refugee camps for half a decade. In the states, they did not often talk to their daughter about what life was like before America.

    But Vang was curious about the history of her family and of the Hmong people, an ethnic group that has existed for centuries without a formal homeland, though they have lived most often in southeast Asia. Scholars believe the Hmong fled persecution in China thousands of years ago, and migrated to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. More recently, after the U.S. recruited Hmong fighters from Laos in the 1960s and 70s to assist in a so-called Secret War against communism, thousands of Hmong were forced to flee persecution in Laos as well. Today, some 250,000 Hmong refugees live in the U.S.

    Mai Der Vang. Photo by Ze Moua, courtesy of Graywolf Press

    Mai Der Vang. Photo by Ze Moua, courtesy of Graywolf Press

    “The Hmong people will sort of be perpetually lost without that sense of a homeland, because we don’t have a way to go back,” Vang said. And so, through her just-released books of poems, “Afterland,” she sought to explore the identity of a people who are always in exile. Many of the elders she knows still talk of returning to Laos, she said, though they know it is not possible.

    In some of the poems in “Afterland,” Vang investigates what happened before the Hmong migrated from Laos: the Secret War, reports of yellow rain, the many people that died in combat. But her poetry is just as interested in what came after.

    “I started meditation and writing on how often, when we go through something, we end up somewhere different after, a kind of ‘afterland’” she said. “The reality is that oftentimes it’s a place that can be scary… whether it’s the afterland of the refugee, or the afterland of the spirit.”

    In the poem “Calling the Lost,” Vang explores the Hmong belief that a person’s spirit disappears when they lose their grounding, and how a Hmong shaman works to heal that. But the poem also unpacks larger questions about the story of the Hmong in exile.

    It asks: “Which shaman in this world is going to bring us back to our old world?” Vang said. It is, perhaps, a question without an easy answer.

    Below, read “Calling the Lost” or listen to Vang read it aloud.

    Calling the Lost
    By Mai Der Vang

    Hmong people say one’s spirit can run off,
    Go into hiding underground.

    Only the physical stays behind.

    To heal, a shaman checks on the spirit
    By scraping the earth,
    Examining the dirt.

    If an ant emerges,
    He takes it inside,

    Careful not to crush the ant with his hold
    Nor flutter its being into shock
    With one exhale.

    Sometimes we hide in ants, he says.

    He will call for what left
    to come back,

    and for the found,
    to never leave.

    Mai Der Vangis an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle and coeditor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post.

    The post What does it mean to have no homeland? This haunting poetry searches for answers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For many years, 146, to be exact, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been awing crowds with acrobatic feats and animal stunts. But the Greatest Show on Earth is coming to an end next month.

    Its parent company made the decision after ticket sales had been dropping for years. The circus also struggled with a long court battle over the treatment of animals, particularly the elephants.

    The circus won in court, but the elephants were dropped from the show.

    We caught up as Ringling Bros. rolled through Washington, D.C., one more time, and spoke with longtime performers and their families.

    JOHNATHAN LEE IVERSON, Ringmaster: My name is Johnathan Lee Iverson, ringmaster of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

    It’s just pure, unadulterated, unapologetic entertainment. Where everything you look at now is sort of defiled, circus is the last bit of magic in the world, and your children’s imaginations are safe there. Your imagination is safe here.

    TATIANA TCHALABAEV, Queen of the Circus of Fire: Well, in this amazing show, I’m playing the character of the Queen Tatiana of the Circus of Fire.

    We are artists. We are performers, like the people in the movies. They’re coming out there and they are doing the shot. We are doing live.

    We don’t have no repeats. We basically have to perform our stunts.

    JOHNATHAN LEE IVERSON: It’s all about the impossible. It’s all about really art at its highest level. People are flying. They’re talking to animals.

    DERRELL WALKER, Retired Fire Captain: Kids love the clowns, the animals, the cotton candy, the popcorn, all that stuff. So we have a great time.

    KATHY ALMASSY, Maryland Resident: We’re extremely disappointed to see it end. I understand the concerns, but we’re very, very sad. Sad to see it end.

    WILLIAM, 13-year-old: I’m not very happy about it, because I love coming here, and it’s really nice and fun for me and my family to hang out together.

    DERRELL WALKER: I like the lions and the tigers. I like the suspense. I like the danger that’s involved. I mean, it’s just — and they’re beautiful animals. They’re very beautiful animals, very, very majestic.

    ANNALISE, 8-year-old: I like the animals, like how they’re colorful.

    STEPHEN PAYNE, Feld Entertainment: Have the animal rights disputes hurt Ringling Bros.? Yes, it was a factor. But it wasn’t the only factor. We won in court, and we won in most legislative fights that we have.

    My name is Stephen Payne. I’m the vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment.

    When we transitioned the elephants off of the circus last year, we knew we were going to see some decline in ticket sales. The entertainment landscape has changed. When Ringling Bros. started, there wasn’t TV. Now there’s 1,000 stations. There wasn’t iPhones.

    It’s a huge, huge undertaking that requires an immense number of talented crew members to pull off.

    ALEXANDER LACEY, Big Cat Trainer: You have to be completely dedicated to the animals. You have to love doing what you’re doing. It’s what keeps you safe. And I have been doing it now for 22 years solid.

    My name is Alexander Lacey, the big cat trainer and presenter here on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

    Of course, everybody wants to see the lion-tiger trainer get eaten, so I have a point in my act where the lions attack on command, which is quite a highlight, because people think they have suddenly gone out of control. But it’s a trained movement.

    DAVIS VASSALLO, Highlight Clown: When you go to a show, you don’t think about your problem at home. You just enjoy the show you, and you have a nice time, and you feel like children again.

    My name is Davis Vassallo. I am the highlight clown of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

    My grandfather was a clown. My father was a clown. I just have fun. I become like children. And I think that, for the people, watching a clown is a little bit like watching children. How can you not smile when you see children, a little bit goofy, falling down, do some funny things? And in this moment, you don’t think about anything else.

    TATIANA TCHALABAEV: For us it’s our home. It’s our life. It’s our love. It’s our heart. It’s everything.

    When, in the end, our announcer is saying it for the last time, enjoy Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, my tears are coming out.

    JOHNATHAN LEE IVERSON: When those curtains close, it — you know, a part of a part of us ends in America.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s Monday, in other words, time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR, who joins us today from California.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Tam, I just said California. You have got to tell us where in California.


    TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Southern California.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. That narrows it down a lot.


    TAMARA KEITH: A little bit. All right, the L.A. area.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

    Well, let’s start by talking about a very serious subject, and that is the decision by the United States to strike the airfield in Syria last week.

    And, Amy, we’re still dealing with the strategic, the military repercussions from this, but what about the political? How is the public reacting? And then I want to ask you both about Congress.

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes.

    The Congress seems to be giving somewhat a mixed message on how they feel about what happened in Syria over the weekend. There have been at three polls that have come out since the strikes happened. A majority of Americans say they approve of this decision, anywhere from 51 to 57 percent.

    But then, when you ask them the next question, which is, should we do more things like this, the majority of Americans say, we don’t want to see any more airstrikes. And then when you ask the question — and I think this is also really important — about what the impact has been on the president, did Americans rally around the president, did this bump up his approval rating, it really hasn’t done much at all.

    His approval rating still stands somewhere around 40 percent. So, you have a public that is basically, there are a small majority agreeing with the strike, but they don’t want to see much more. And it hasn’t really benefited the president, nor has it made people less likely to support him. He’s still basically at the same place he’s always been, which again comes back to something we talk about almost every week, is our deep polarization in this country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so much of this, Tam, I think, is people — a matter of people comparing how this president is handling Syria and the Middle East, that part of the world, vs. the way President Obama handled it.

    TAMARA KEITH: That’s right.

    And, in terms of Congress, when President Obama went to Congress in 2013 and asked for authorization to take similar action back in 2013, Congress was kind of, like, wait, this is a hot potato, we don’t necessarily want this hot potato.

    They found an out that sort of let them off the hook with this deal with Russia to dispose of the chemical weapons, which, clearly, in retrospect, they’re not all gone somehow. And so Congress has frequently wanted to have some ability to weigh in, but then when it comes time to actually weigh in to authorize the use of military force in a formal way, they have had a lot of trouble agreeing on something.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, as Tam just said, this is exactly what President Obama …

    AMY WALTER: That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re talking three years later.

    AMY WALTER: Different.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s what he was concerned about, too, and led to the decision not to.

    AMY WALTER: It feels very familiar.

    And a lot that too is the fact that Americans feel very similar to the situation in Syria today as they did back in 2013. This is a ABC poll. Fifty-four percent said they oppose using additional airstrikes.

    When you look back at where we were in the fall of 2013, when then President Obama was talking about airstrikes, about 60 percent opposed doing that. So, the public isn’t any more — looking forward anymore today than they were back then to getting more deeply involved in that part of the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Tam, speaking of Congress, members going home, went home this weekend for two-week Easter recess.

    Are they likely to hear much from the public about Syria? Are people still talking about health care? What are we expecting in that regard?

    TAMARA KEITH: I think that health care is something they’re far more likely to hear about.

    Town halls, if they’re happening — and fewer of them are happening. There are more tele-town halls, and Facebook town halls, and any sort of town hall that won’t allow the same sort of video images that dominated during the rise of the Tea Party.

    Absolutely, they are going to hear about health care. And it’s an interesting time for the health care legislation. Republicans in Congress, realizing they’re about to go home, and not wanting to say, wow, we have completely failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, did some amendments at the very end, right before they left for recess, so that Republican members of Congress could go to Republican districts and say, well, we’re still working on it, health care is not dead.

    Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to put a lot of pressure. On the left side, progressives are really pushing members of Congress and trying to make sure that this effort doesn’t come back to life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about that, Amy, but I also want to get to another way of gauging public reaction to what’s going on in Washington, and that is these special congressional elections that are taking place in the next couple of weeks.

    Very interesting, Republicans worried about some of these special congressional…

    AMY WALTER: They are.

    We have one coming up tomorrow in Kansas and then the next week in Georgia in two districts that are heavily Republican. These districts are special elections because their Republican members are now sitting in the Cabinet.

    And this goes to the issue really of enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. This is what Republicans are very fearful about. They’re not seeing that energy around their candidates in the same way that Democrats are. And we know that energy equals turnout, especially when you have a special election, where not a whole lot of people are coming out and voting.

    So, we’re going to be looking at these special elections, first of all, to see if there’s an upset. This would be a very big deal, especially in Kansas. This is a district…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: These are red, very red places. Right. Right.

    AMY WALTER: These are red, red districts.

    This district in Kansas went for Trump by almost 30 points. The president, in fact, now is making recorded calls, sending those in right now. Ted Cruz, Senator Ted Cruz, is out there, again, trying to get people excited, energized.

    But it’s Democrats who are energized. The anti-Trump momentum, you can feel both in the — how voters are reacting in these sort of places, as well as the fund-raising. The Democrat in Georgia — this, again, a very Republican district outside of Atlanta, a district that Tom Price, the now HHS secretary, won easily, very, very close there — he’s raised over $8 million as an unknown candidate.

    He’s not a celebrity. But that shows the fervor and energy out there on the side of Democrats.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it, Tam, kind of the Tea Party with the shoe on the other foot now?

    TAMARA KEITH: It is certainly sort of a 180-degree turnaround.

    And, in fact, next weekend, there is going to be a Tax Day protest. This is exactly eight years after the last Tax Day protest that was really the kickoff for the Tea Party movement.

    But, you know, these special elections are special for a reason. They can be sort of — they aren’t necessarily good indicators of what’s to some. Democrats won a special election in April of 2010, and then that fall were completely knocked out, lost something like 63 seats.

    AMY WALTER: The important thing about the special elections — Tam’s point is correct, you don’t want to read too much into them.


    AMY WALTER: But a success for the Democrats would be that they do very well, i.e., they win, or come close enough that it impacts their ability to recruit candidates to run in 2018. People get excited when they see that you’re getting really close to Republican seats. And it helps with fund-raising.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we never get tired of talking about elections here. It’s only been five months since that big one, when the earth shook.

    AMY WALTER: And then we get midterms, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And when we get the midterms coming up.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday, thank you both.

    TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

    AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The continent of Africa does not now hold many internationally well-known universities, but one man is trying to change that, a one-time Microsoft executive who was educated in the United States, Patrick Awuah.

    As special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports, as part of his Agents for Change series, one special focus of classes is to teach Africa’s next generation of leaders about ethics.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It looks like a pretty typical college campus, with students working in computer labs, studying at the library, or hanging out with friends.

    But Ashesi University, in the West African nation of Ghana, has embarked on an experiment which its founder hopes will help start to fundamentally change the entire continent.

    PATRICK AWUAH, President, Ashesi University: In the next three decades or so, the population of Africa is going to double, and something like 40 percent of working-age people are going to be Africans in the world.

    A lot of jobs need to be created. And so we need to be educating the next bench in a way that they’re going to go create those jobs and create those opportunities for people.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Patrick Awuah was born and raised in Ghana, but came to the United States on scholarship to get an undergraduate degree in engineering from Swarthmore and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. He went on to become a program manager at Microsoft.

    When he decided to return to his homeland, he assumed he would start a software company, but quickly realized the system of higher education was so poor, there wasn’t a competent work force to hire.

    Experts say the problem with education in Africa is not so much that there aren’t enough institutions, but, rather, it’s in what students are taught and how they’re taught it, with an emphasis much more on rote learning and memorization, much less on critical thinking, on thinking for oneself.

    PATRICK AWUAH: Under colonial rule, the educational system was really designed for that, to educate people to follow instructions and to do things in a very consistent way.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, Awuah decided he had to start his own university. With money from American friends, colleagues and foundations, he raised $2.5 million to open a school with an initial class of 30 freshman in 2002.

    Ashesi has now grown to a campus of nearly 800 students. The guiding principle throughout has been a laser-like focus on three principles: ethical leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

    PATRICK AWUAH: We need a lot of innovation. We need people who are trained to drive that. And we need people who are going to be working on the government side, who are going to create an enabling environment for that.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ghana, like most countries in Africa, has been plagued by government-related corruption, which has hampered job growth.

    ROSE DODD, Professor, Ashesi University: For the next three to four minutes, come up with a list of things that a brick can be used for.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ashesi’s goal is to teach students to fight against the temptations of corruption and think outside the box. It begins almost from the moment a freshman arrives on campus and takes a mandatory course called Foundations of Design and Entrepreneurship.

    ROSE DODD: How many do you have?

    STUDENT: Twenty-nine.

    ROSE DODD: Twenty-nine.


    PATRICK AWUAH: The instructor says, you go find a problem that you think is worth solving, and then come up with an answer to problem. It’s very open-ended and then…

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And scary in part, I imagine.

    PATRICK AWUAH: Scary. It feels like you have been thrown into this kind of weird world, where you can’t plant your feet on the ground. Right? It’s very different way of approaching education.

    ROSE DODD: When you see a problem, your first human instinct is to think of the first, easiest solution that comes to mind.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Professor Rose Dodd, an Ashesi alumna herself, says she hopes the class will encourage her students to take on the entrenched establishments in Ghana.

    ROSE DODD: Don’t be limited. Don’t feel that whatever the system is limits you. Think about whatever else could be and then try it out. And I think the goal, the end goal should be to make life better for everybody around you.

    MAN: Look at the question on the board.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Indeed, many Ashesi graduates have gone on to do some form of public service, whether it’s teaching in rural elementary or secondary schools, or mentoring the next generation of young women.

    Yawa Hansen-Quao became the first female student council president at Ashesi in 2006. While in college, she began thinking about a way to help women grow into leadership positions, a goal that she made a reality with the founding of Leading Ladies’ Network.

    YAWA HANSEN-QUAO, Leading Ladies Network: Our goal as an organization is to help women get out of themselves and their problems and to start thinking of what kind of change they can bring to the community around them.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One young woman that Quao has mentored is Narkie Agbettor, another Ashesi grad. She has just started her own small business, selling virgin coconut oil products. And while she’s enthusiastic about her company, she admits it’s not always easy dealing with government bureaucracy and seeing competitors resort to bribery.

    NARKIE AGBETTOR, Entrepreneur: There are solutions to every problem out there. It requires thinking. So, you want to be successful and you want to be ethical as well.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Patrick Awuah knows that his young, idealistic graduates, many who come from families of modest means, will be severely tested out in the real world. But he hopes the lessons they have learned at Ashesi will help guide them.

    PATRICK AWUAH: Are some alumni probably not holding the line? Probably. But I would hope that even those who are not holding the line are thinking twice about doing it.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The other cultural problem that Awuah hopes to change is stopping the so-called brain drain, where, after college, people leave the continent to seek careers in developed countries. So far, 90 percent of Ashesi grads have stayed and work in Africa.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro in Accra, Ghana.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: some eye-popping news in the automotive world.

    The market value of Tesla, the manufacturer of high-end electric cars, has actually surpassed that of Ford and General Motors, both of which sell millions more cars than Tesla does.

    William Brangham takes a closer look.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Here are some head-scratching numbers to consider.

    Tesla’s market value is $50 billion, yet Tesla may lose nearly a billion dollars this year, whereas, combined, Ford and GM are expected to earn more than $15 billion. Last year, Tesla sold just about 80,000 vehicles. Ford and GM? They sold nearly 17 million.

    James Stewart is a business columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for The New Yorker, and he’s here to help us understand why Tesla’s value is skyrocketing.

    James Stewart, welcome to the NewsHour.

    You know these numbers very, very well. What is going on here?

    JAMES STEWART, The New York Times: Well, these numbers are pretty amazing. They make no rational sense, really.

    But Tesla is what I call the sort of ultimate story stock, which means investors care about the story. They don’t care about the numbers. They do not care that it’s losing. They have lost over $500 million last year, may lose a billion this year. And they don’t really care that GM and Ford are making billions of dollars in profit.

    The story with Tesla is that they are going to dominate the auto market, that they are going to create the world’s safest car, that they are going to take over the battery market, and that they are going to dominate and reinvent the electric grid.

    I mean, these are all huge markets, and they think Tesla is going to dominate every one of them.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As you wrote in a recent column in The New York Times, there have been a lot of story stock and story companies that the story turned out to be a lot more fiction than fact. How do we know whether Tesla is going to be one of those?

    JAMES STEWART: Well, we don’t.

    And most story stocks which trade at these astronomical levels end up very badly. There were scores of these in the dot-com boom now forgotten, worthless. But, more recently, the Amazon story has caused investors to be very excited.

    Amazon didn’t make any money for years. It plowed all its revenues back into R&D. But the story is, it was going to dominate the vast global retail market. It still hasn’t achieved that. It still is not making huge amounts of money. But investors in Amazon have done very, very well over a period that’s now going on to decades.

    So, stock investors in Tesla can do well as long as the story holds. So, every time you see a bit of data that confirms the story, the stock surges. Like, it had modestly better sales in the last quarter than expected. The stock was up 7 percent.

    Now, I will say for Tesla, it also has delivered a product that people love. It’s quality. It looks great. It performs great. And so far, it has actually met its promises, even though they seemed farfetched at one time.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I mean, I would agree with you, all those characterizations. It’s a beautiful car. I have ridden in one. It’s a fantastic vehicle to be in.

    But there have been some quality and reliability issues. And primarily their customers have been luxury market customers. I know Tesla is now trying to roll out a more mid-market car.

    If they have those same reliability problems, do you worry that that could really dent their image?

    JAMES STEWART: Well, I have to say, in Tesla’s defense, that, yes, there have been some issues, but nothing out of the ordinary.

    In fact, I think, just in January, the federal monitors gave it its highest safest evaluation. And one of the stories that people are so excited about is that its autonomous driving technology is going to make the car incredibly safe.

    But we will see. You’re right. It is the high-end customer so far that is driving the sales. And a big, big step for them is when they try to expand that market by moving into more of the mass market car with this 3 model at a much higher production level.

    Can they keep the quality levels up? Can they keep the consumer satisfaction levels up? Again, though, I have to say, Tesla was very smart. They start at the high end. They develop incredible brand allure, and now they’re moving down market.

    GM, I think, had a terrific car first with the Volt, now the Bolt, but they buried in the Chevy name plate, and it didn’t take on any allure whatsoever for consumers.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What are the other automakers saying about this? This must make them livid.

    JAMES STEWART: Well, they won’t say it publicly about a competitor, but they’re tearing their hair out.

    They don’t get it at all, because Tesla gets the benefit of every possible doubt from investors. They get the benefit of none. Tesla doesn’t have profits, so you can’t measure its stock compared to profits.

    But profit-to-earning ratio, which is a common stock measure, Ford and GM have some of the lowest in the stock market. As Tesla trades at like seven times the revenue, Ford, when I looked this week, was trading at 0.3 times revenue.

    I mean, I do feel kind of bad for them. People feel the sun has set on the traditional auto industry, and they just are not getting any benefit of the doubt.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, James B. Stewart, thank you very much.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: On the domestic front, as we reported, the Supreme Court today welcomed its newest member, Neil Gorsuch, who brings the court back to its full compliment of nine justices.

    Jeffrey Brown takes it from there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now that he’s officially Justice Gorsuch, we confront the question of how he might influence the high court and its work going forward.

    And for that, we turn, as we always do, to Marcia Coyle, chief Washington correspondent for The National Law Journal.

    So, Marcia, on one hand you have a conservative justice replacing another conservative justice, so you wouldn’t expect major ideological shifts.

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Well, that’s right, Jeff.

    I think it is true that Justice Gorsuch will not change the conservative direction of the Supreme Court, but that doesn’t mean that his vote is going to be insignificant. And I think we saw that just last term, for example, with Justice Scalia’s death. The court split 4-4 in a major immigration case affecting millions of people.

    It also divided 4-4 in a major labor union case affecting thousands of union and non-union workers.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which may well come back.

    MARCIA COYLE: Absolutely. It’s an agenda case on the part of a conservative organization that already is pushing another case toward the Supreme Court.

    So, this court has been divided ideologically, and Justice Gorsuch will play a role in the outcome of some very important cases.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, and let’s look at some of them. Most immediately would be even this week, right, where he for the first time takes part in that decision-making of which cases will go forward.

    MARCIA COYLE: That’s right. The justices will meet Thursday in a private conference. And they go over petitions that have been submitted to the court in which parties are asking the court to hear their case.

    And there are actually two petitions that he may play an important role in whether the court takes or doesn’t take them. One is a case from his home state, Colorado. It involves a baker who feels that it’s against his religious beliefs to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That one got a lot of attention early on, right?

    MARCIA COYLE: It did. And it’s been hanging in the court since early December. So, we’re not quite sure what the court plans to do with it.

    And then another case, interesting case, out of California involves the Second Amendment and California’s law that requires a very good reason for you to have a concealed carry gun, a permit for that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, and then, next week, he starts hearing cases for the first time, right?


    JEFFREY BROWN: And the biggest one next week is a church and state separation case out of Missouri.

    MARCIA COYLE: That’s right, and it involves Trinity Lutheran Church of Missouri, which is challenging an amendment to Missouri’s constitution, state constitution, that prohibits direct and indirect support of religious organizations and institutions.

    Trinity Lutheran Church operates a playground, day care center, and it wanted to participate in a state grant program that allows organizations to refurbish playgrounds with recycled tires. But Trinity Lutheran was turned down because it is a religious institution. So it’s claiming that that state constitutional amendment violates our First Amendment free exercise of religion clause.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so then we start to look at the longer term. And even as I say that, I realize he’s a younger man, so the longer term for him could be a very long time, right?

    But in the more — the closer long term, one of the possible cases would be, well, for example, Donald Trump’s immigration case, right?

    MARCIA COYLE: Immigration. Right, the executive order on immigration.

    That is percolating in a number of courts around the country, federal appellate courts that could rule soon. And I think some of them are hearing arguments in May. We may see decisions from those courts this summer, depending on the urgency of the government in getting the Supreme Court to take a look at this. If the government loses, or if the other side loses, either way, that’s going to get to the Supreme Court, undoubtedly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Just in our last minute, let me put you on the spot a little bit. We have talked about this in the past.

    But now we have — we just went through a process with a lot of questions about impact on the Senate, right, of going through the so-called nuclear option.

    MARCIA COYLE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But also lasting questions about impact on the court itself — a partisan country, a polarized country. To what degree can we say that this has had any impact that you might see about a polarized, partisan court?

    MARCIA COYLE: This court is ideologically divided right now. Whether it’s partisan may depend on your point of view.

    I tend to think that ideology is stronger here than any desire to reach decisions in order to benefit a particular political party. What it all comes down to eventually, Jeff, is that presidential elections are very important, and if you agree with what the court is doing, the justices and the majority, or you don’t, you really have to pay attention to who you elect as president.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal, thank you, as always.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, Jeff.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In a statement this afternoon, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Friday’s U.S. missile strike damaged or destroyed 20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft, and that jets could no longer refuel or rearm at that base.

    For more on U.S. options in Syria, relations with Russia and the ongoing crisis with North Korea, I sat down a short time ago with retired Admiral Mike Mullen. He served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011.

    Syria, first of all. Was the U.S. strike on that airfield justified?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, (RET.), Former Chairman, Joints Chiefs of Staff: I think it was justified.

    I think it sent a pretty strong message that the use of chemical weapons, which are banned globally, is not to be tolerated. And I think that was the main message.

    What has been a little surprising to me, anyway, is to find out through media that there actually have been several chemical attacks recently. Now, with some belief on my part, and I think a lot of people, that we thought we got rid of the chemical weapons with the regime that President Obama and President Putin put in place.

    That’s a bit of a surprise, but I think we have to send the message that this is unacceptable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think that message has been received? What do you think this accomplished?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: I think the message has been received. And it was really focused on that.

    I certainly have seen the discussion that, after the fact, that that air base was back in operations. That didn’t surprise me, but I thought it was proportional, which I think is important. It was focused on the air force, which has been barrel bombing its people, you know, for some time, and, in that regard, a pretty strong message.

    Will it, in fact, be absorbed by Assad and others? I don’t know. I think that’s what we’re going to have to wait and see.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think it means that if Assad uses chemical weapons again, the U.S. will strike again?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: I don’t know the answer to that. Certainly, you know, from where I sit, there’s an expectation that, if he continues, obviously, he will continue to pay a price for that.

    And so we will see. It’s just such a tragedy to see what he has done to his own countrymen, you know, the civilians, the women, the children, and just the visible images of that chemical strike. I don’t think — I think, in the long run, he loses if he continues to do that. How that happens, what the — I’m not really sure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is it clear to you, Admiral Mullen, what the priority of the Trump administration is now toward Syria? Is it mainly to continue the fight against ISIS? Is it more now against President Assad? I think many people are having difficulty understanding.

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, I think — and I thought General McMaster yesterday on the Sunday show was excellent in sort of framing it, that there is going to be some of both, clearly.

    The priority, it seems to me, is ISIS, and that was used for justification for this attack, and in terms of supporting, fighting ISIS, and responding to the use of chemical weapons.

    My own personal view is, I think, you know, in the long run — and I don’t know how long that is, but I think it’s a while — that Assad doesn’t have much of a future in that country. I worry a little bit about — quote — “regime change.” We haven’t had a great deal of success with that in years. That’s just really difficult.

    That said, I think it’s a strong message, at least from the Trump administration, that we’re not going to tolerate his continuing to certainly use these weapons. And we will see where it goes with respect to the rest of Syria.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia. The Associated Press is reporting this afternoon that, quoting a U.S. official as saying they now have concluded that Russia knew about that chemical weapons attack before it happened, and they may even have gone in and bombed the location of the attack in order to hide evidence that chemical weapons were used.

    If that’s the case, what can the U.S. do about it?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, I think just the strike itself, our strike itself was a pretty strong signal to Russia in terms of starting to draw a line, if you will, in the sand that there are limits, first of all.

    Secondly, I think it undermines the use of chemical weapons, certain weapons, certainly undermined Putin. I know Secretary Tillerson is on his way to Moscow this week. And I expect — I mean, I don’t know for a fact, but I expect he will carry a very strong message to Russia.

    McMaster yesterday talked about he thought it was important that Russia, in fact, asked themselves what they’re doing and what they hope to accomplish. There’s been a considerable amount of press on deconflicting the U.S. and Russia. And I think that will continue, even though Russia has called it off, per se.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You think what will continue?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: I think the deconfliction between the forces will continue, although it’s a pretty mixed battlefield on the ground.

    I suspect that the militaries will figure out a way to continue to do that. But I think there’s — in the long term, the solution in Syria is politically driven. And I put it in two big pieces. One is, we have to stop the killing. And the other is, we need to let the refugees — we need to let Syrian citizens go home.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that was part of my question. Can it be done? Can progress be made without Russian participation and Russian agreement?


    I have believed for years that Russia was going to be part of the solution even before they went in. Obviously, it became much more evidence when they did go in. And I don’t think there is any way that this can be solved without the U.S. and Russia getting together and figuring out politically what the solution is.

    There’s going to be a need to include other political leaders in the region, but certainly the U.S. and Russia are the two key ones.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Admiral Mullen, North Korea, right now, there is a U.S. carrier group on the way to the Korean Peninsula, in the wake of North Korean missile tests.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were part of a Council on Foreign Relations report some months ago saying that the next administration had to make getting China involved in dealing with North Korea a priority.

    Is it your sense that the administration is — this administration is doing that successfully? Is that happening? And do you think the Chinese can make a difference?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: I think the Chinese can make a huge difference.

    And I think, if they don’t, and without them, that the options are pretty drastic and pretty bad pretty quickly. I do think the Trump administration has taken a more regular approach. I see reported that there have been National Security Council meetings on this, so there clearly is a planning process which is going on.

    I think the message from the president, the North Korean leadership, and the rest of the world is that there are limits on what he’s going to tolerate. That was clearly priority message in his meeting with Xi Jinping, President Xi Jinping, from China on Thursday. All of those steps, I think, are positive in, again, what is an enormously complex problem.

    He’s got nuclear weapons that are buried deeply, that are very difficult to impossible to hit. He’s emerging on more and more capability. And the longer — this is a very tough solution set, no matter what you do.

    But I do believe, the longer we wait, the more challenging the solution set becomes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The longer the U.S. waits to do what?

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: The longer we wait to take some sort of action, whether it’s negotiations or some kind of military operation, depending on what the president would choose, the more difficult those solution sets will become, back to where you — where they started, from the perspective of this solution must go through Beijing.

    We need to incentivize Beijing to do this. We need to figure out, if we can, how to incentivize the leadership in North Korea, if there is a possibility to do that — and I’m not sure it is — to avoid what will be a potentially drastic capability that allows that very uncertain leader in North Korea the ability to strike the United States of America with a nuclear weapon.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Serious problems in all these directions.

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: There are.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Admiral Mike Mullen, we thank you very much for coming by.

    ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Thanks, Judy.

    The post ‘We have to send a message’ on Syrian chemical weapons, says former Joint Chiefs chairman appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we return to the U.S. missile strikes on Syria and what the Trump administration’s options for dealing with that now-six-year-old civil war.

    Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, begins our coverage.

    REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.

    MARGARET WARNER: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made that vow today at a memorial ceremony for victims of a Nazi massacre. He spoke ahead of a G7 meeting in Italy. His message came just days after dozens of U.S. cruise missiles struck a Syrian air base in response to another massacre, a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people in rebel-held Idlib province.

    Syria dominated today’s summit, and all eyes were on Tillerson for clues as to what the U.S. plans to do next.

    QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Minister, are you looking for clarification from the U.S. on its position on Assad?

    MARGARET WARNER: Those questions came after Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley appeared to send mixed messages yesterday about U.S. policy on Syria going forward, most notably on the future of Syrian President Bashar al- Assad.

    Tillerson told CBS’ Face the Nation that defeating the Islamic State, not removing Assad, remained the top priority.

    REX TILLERSON: Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria. We are hopeful that we can prevent a continuation of the civil war, and that we can bring the parties to the table to begin the process of political discussions. Clearly, that requires the participation of the regime, with the support of their allies.

    MARGARET WARNER: But Haley seemed to suggest otherwise on CNN’s “STATE OF THE UNION.”

    NIKKI HALEY, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime. Well, regime change is something that we think is going to happen, because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.

    MARGARET WARNER: Today in Washington, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to square the two statements.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Bashar al-Assad is in power. And there can be a multipronged approach. We are ensuring that ISIS is contained and there is a de-escalation of the proliferation of chemical weapons at the same time creating the environment for a change in leadership.

    MARGARET WARNER: Spicer also raised the possibility of U.S. military action against Assad for use of conventional weapons.

    SEAN SPICER: If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you can — you will see a response from this president.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tillerson, who has charged that Syria’s principal backer, Russia, was either — quote — “complicit or simply incompetent” in Syria’s use of chemical weapons, heads to Moscow for meetings Wednesday. He will meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but not, the Kremlin announced today, with President Vladimir Putin.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.


    The post After U.S. missile strikes, what’s the next move on Syria? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Republican candidate Bob Gray speaks during the League of Women Voters' candidate forum for Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services, in Marietta, Georgia, U.S. April 3, 2017. Picture taken April 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Bita Honarvar - RTX34SCJ

    Republican candidate Bob Gray speaks during the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election in Marietta, Georgia on April 3, 2017. Picture taken April 3, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Bita Honarvar

    It may be an off year, but elections are happening: Five members of Congress have left their seats to either join the Trump administration, or in one case, to battle him as attorney general of California. Three of those races are set for this spring, including one today. These races are in deep red districts, and in at least two cases, Democrats are on a hunt to turn the seats blue.

    Here’s a look at races to watch.

    Kansas: 4th District

    It’s Election Day! Tuesday marks the special election to replace former Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is now serving as CIA director. It’s the first Congressional race in the nation since President Donald Trump’s election this past November. The open seat is for Kansas’ 4th congressional district, which includes Wichita, the state’s largest city.

    Typically, this is a deep red district; Mr. Trump won it by 27 points in 2016. Republicans have held this Wichita-based seat for more than two decades. But in the final days leading up to the special election, Republicans have shown concern about their hold on the seat, calling in heavy hitters like Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to make sure Republican state treasurer Ron Estes bests Democrat Jim Thompson, a civil rights attorney and Army veteran who has surged in the polls.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP, has spent nearly $100,000 on television ads backing Estes in the last few days. Cook Political Report rates this race as “Lean Republican.”

    Georgia: 6th District

    This special election, set for April 18, has garnered national attention. Previously held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, the seat for Georgia’s 6th Congressional district, which covers the suburbs of Atlanta, is solidly Republican. The race to replace Price has become so crowded — there are 18 candidates — that it’s projected to become one of the most expensive special elections in the state’s history.

    The wide slate of Republicans in the race seem to be splitting the conservative vote, helping newcomer Democrat Jon Ossoff come out with a slight edge over the rest of the pack. The challenge: Ossoff would need to win more than 50 percent of the vote (which looks very unlikely) to avoid triggering a June runoff election. Cook Political Report rates this race as a “Toss-Up.”

    Montana at-large

    The May 25th special election will determine who fills the seat left vacant by former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who left the House and rode into his job last month as Interior Secretary. Democrats control the state governorship and one of two U.S. Senate seats, but they haven’t been able to get a member of their party into this House seat in 20 years.

    Democrats are hoping their banjo-playing folk singer candidate, Rob Quist, could change that. Republicans are backing Greg Gianforte, who recently lost the 2016 race for Governor to Democrat Steve Bullock. Cook Political Report rates this race as “Likely Republican.”

    The post These special elections will be first test of political climate under Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The U.S. border fence between Mexico and Nogales, Ariz.  Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

    The U.S. border fence between Mexico and Nogales, Ariz. Bidding ended last week on designs for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

    The 24-hour news cycle is filled with politics coverage, but not everything gets the attention it deserves. Here are five political stories you may have missed in the past week:

    1. PHOTOS: The Many Possible Shapes Of Trump’s Border Wall — 4/5. Throughout the campaign, Trump promised to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border. What he didn’t promise, is what it would look like. — NPR

    2. Why Jon Ossoff’s huge fundraising haul is an advantage and a liability — 4/8. The leading Democrat has raised an astounding $8.3 million in Georgia’s special election. — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    3. Why Democrats have no regrets after McConnell’s ‘nuclear’ blast — 4/9. Senate Democrats forced Mitch McConnell to change the rules in order to confirm Judge Gorsuch. — Politico

    4. Feds Drop Demand That Twitter Turn Over Information About An Anti-Trump Account — 4/7. After Twitter threatened to sue, the government withdrew a request for information about an anonymous anti-Trump user. — BuzzFeed News

    5. The mainstream and conservative media are living in different worlds. So are those who read them — 4/10. How a single news story can be framed in two completely different ways. — Los Angeles Times

    READ MORE: 5 overlooked political stories that are worth your time (April 5)

    The post 5 overlooked politics stories that are worth your time appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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