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

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    President Donald Trump says his busy schedule makes it “not possible” for his staff to speak at the podium with “perfect accuracy.”

    Trump on Friday defended the struggle by his administration to come up with a consistent timeline and rationale for the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey this week.

    Trump tweeted, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”

    He added, “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

    The president’s advisers said Trump fired Comey in response to a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then said Trump had planned to fire Comey regardless.

    Under Rod Rosenstein, what’s in store for Russia probe?

    The post President Trump says ‘perfect accuracy’ not possible appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Speaking from the Department of Justice headquarters in D.C. today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new charging and sentencing guidelines for federal prosecutors.

    WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms.

    The move has long been expected from Sessions, a former federal prosecutor who cut his teeth during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic and who has promised to make combating violence and drugs the Justice Department’s top priority.

    “This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions wrote in a memo to U.S. attorneys made public early Friday.

    Advocates quickly criticized the move as a revival of the worst aspects of the drug war, which subjected nonviolent, lower-level offenders to unfairly harsh sentences that disproportionately hurt minority communities.

    “It looks like we’re going to fill the prisons back up after finally getting the federal prison population down,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “But the social and human costs will be much higher.”

    The announcement is an unmistakable undoing of Obama administration criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a national rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced.

    Sessions contends a spike in violence in some big cities and the nation’s opioid epidemic show the need for a return to tougher tactics. He foreshadowed the plan early in his tenure, when he signaled his strong support for the federal government’s continued use of private prisons, reversing another Obama directive to phase out their use.

    “We know that drugs and crime go hand-in-hand,” Sessions said in a Friday speech. “Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.”

    The policy memo says prosecutors should “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” — something more likely to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. Those rules limit a judge’s discretion and are typically dictated, for example, by the quantity of drugs involved in a crime.

    The memo concedes there will be cases in which “good judgment” will warrant a prosecutor veering from that rule. And Sessions said it gives prosecutors “discretion to avoid sentences that would result in an injustice.”

    But any exceptions will need to be approved by top supervisors, and the reasons must be documented, allowing the Justice Department to track the handling of such cases by its 94 U.S. attorney’s offices.

    And even if they opt not to pursue the most serious charges, prosecutors are still required to provide judges with all the details of a case when defendants are sentenced, which could lengthen prison terms.

    The directive rescinds guidance by Sessions’ Democratic predecessor, Eric Holder, who told prosecutors they could in some cases leave drug quantities out of charging documents so as not to charge suspects with crimes that trigger long sentences. Holder’s 2013 initiative, known as “Smart on Crime,” was aimed at encouraging shorter sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and preserving Justice Department resources for more serious and violent criminals.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative annual conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative annual conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    In a statement Friday, Holder called the reversal “dumb on crime,” saying it would be “financially ruinous,” for the department to focus its spending on incarceration rather than preventing and investigating crime.

    “It is an ideologically cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety,” Holder said.

    The Obama policy shift coincided with U.S. Sentencing Commission changes that made tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners eligible for early release, and a clemency initiative that freed convicts deemed deserving of a second chance. Combined, those changes led to a steep decline in a federal prison population that now stands at just under 190,000, down from nearly 220,000 in 2013. Nearly half of those inmates are in custody for drug crimes, records show.

    Obama officials cited that decline and a drop in the overall number of drug prosecutions as evidence that policies were working as intended. They argued prosecutors were getting pickier about the cases they were bringing and were seeking mandatory minimum sentences less often.

    Still, some prosecutors felt constrained by the Holder directive and expressed concern that they’d lose plea bargaining leverage — and a key inducement for cooperation — without the ability to more freely pursue mandatory minimum sentences.

    Sessions argues Holder’s approach sidestepped federal laws that impose such sentences and created inconsistency across the country in the way defendants are punished.

    “I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments,” Sessions said. “They deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micro-managed from Washington. Rather, they must be permitted to apply the law to the facts of each investigation.”

    The reversal gives prosecutors better tools to go after drug traffickers and gangs, said Lawrence Leiser, head of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

    Defense attorneys disagreed.

    Barry Pollack, head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the new policy “marks a return to the failed policies of past administrations that caused mass incarceration, devastated families and communities, wasted untold millions of dollars and failed to make us any safer.”

    READ MORE: Justice plans crackdown on violent street gangs

    The post WATCH: Jeff Sessions announces guidelines for stricter sentencing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in an apparent warning to his fired FBI director, said Friday that James Comey had better hope there are no “tapes” of their conversations. Trump’s tweet came the morning after he asserted Comey had told him three times that he wasn’t under FBI investigation.

    “I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said you are not under investigation,” Trump said in an interview Thursday with NBC News. He said the discussions happened in two phone calls and at a dinner in which Comey was asking to keep his job.

    Comey has not confirmed Trump’s account. Late Thursday, The New York Times cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his version of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the report and said the president would “never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty.” Officials did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump recorded his discussions with the FBI director.

    The president’s morning Twitter comments again raised the specter of Richard Nixon, who secretly taped conversations and telephone calls in the White House during the Watergate investigation that ultimately led to his downfall. Trump’s firing of Comey already has left him with the dubious distinction of being the first president since Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation tied to the White House.

    Even before Trump’s provocative tweet, the White House was scrambling to clarify why Comey was fired. Trump told NBC he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step.

    The White House initially cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the impetus for Trump’s decision. But Trump on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that the Russia investigation — which he dismissed as a “made-up story” — was also on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.

    The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a “showboat” and “grandstander,” added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president. Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.

    The White House’s explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House’s assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file.

    “That is not accurate,” McCabe said. “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”

    As President Trump lambasted in an interview the man he had fired two days ago, the acting FBI director at a Senate hearing painted a very different picture of James Comey. Meanwhile, the president’s explanation seemed to contradict what White House officials have been saying. William Brangham recaps the conflicting statements and Judy Woodruff gets an update from Lisa Desjardins and John Yang.

    Unfazed, Sanders insisted she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision.

    McCabe also pointed out the remarkable nature of Trump’s version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not “standard practice” to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.

    Previous presidents have made a public show of staying out of legal matters, so as not to appear to be injecting politics. Trump’s comments demonstrated his striking deviation from that practice.

    The ousted director himself is said to be confident that his own version of events will come out, possibly in an appearance before Congress, according to an associate who has been in touch with him since his firing Tuesday.

    Trump and Comey’s relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president’s explosive and unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey found the allegations confounding, according to his associate, and wondered what to make of what he described as strange thoughts coming from his new boss.

    The president was no kinder to Comey on Thursday, calling him names and saying he’d left the FBI in “virtual turmoil.” He said that while he received a scathing assessment of Comey’s performance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, that memo was not a catalyst for his dramatic decision as the White House had said earlier.

    “I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said. “Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey.”

    That’s far different from the White House’s initial account in the hours after Comey’s firing. Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    How does the fallout from the firing of FBI Director James Comey affect the functioning and the stability of the Trump presidency? Judy Woodruff gets two views from David Avella of GOPAC and Steve Deace of The Steve Deace Show on perceived hypocrisy among Democrats about Comey, whether the way he was fired hurts the president’s cause and if it will matter to voters in 2018.

    But it quickly became clear that the president had been stewing for days over the Russia investigation and Comey’s refusal to defend him in appearances before lawmakers. By Wednesday afternoon, the officials, like Trump, were saying he had in fact been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the agency.

    And the Russia investigation was still on his mind.

    “In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” he said.

    Sanders attributed the disconnect in the week’s explanations to the fact that she had not directly asked Trump when he’d made the decision to fire Comey until shortly before Thursday’s press briefing.

    White House officials and others insisted on anonymity in order to disclose private conversations and internal deliberations.

    The White House said Trump is weighing options for replacing Comey, a decision that could have broad implications for the future of the Russia investigation. Some senior officials have discussed nominating Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who ran the House committee that investigated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s actions in connection with the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

    Trump’s advisers have repeatedly tried to downplay the Russia-election matter, with Sanders saying Wednesday the FBI was “doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation.”

    But McCabe characterized the investigation as “highly significant” and assured senators that Comey’s firing would not hinder it. He promised he would tolerate no interference from the White House and would not provide the administration with updates on its progress.

    “You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” he declared. He said there has been no interference so far.

    Pearson reported from New York. Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Deb Riechmann and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: President Trump says ‘perfect accuracy’ not possible

    The post Trump to Comey: Better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of their talks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump talks to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a meeting with teachers and parents Feb.14 at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    President Donald Trump talks to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a meeting with teachers and parents Feb.14 at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Even as fierce political battles rage in Washington over school choice, most Americans know little about charter schools or private school voucher programs. Still, more Americans feel positively than negatively about expanding those programs, according to a new poll released Friday.

    “I wonder what the fuss is about,” said Beverly Brown, 61, a retired grocery store worker in central Alabama. Brown, who doesn’t have children, says American schools need reform, but she is not familiar with specific school options and policies. “Educational standards have to be improved overall.”

    All told, 58 percent of respondents say they know little or nothing at all about charter schools and 66 percent report the same about private school voucher programs, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

    Charters are schools funded by taxpayer money, but they operate independently of school districts and thus have more freedom in setting their curriculum and hiring staff. Vouchers are publically funded scholarships given to low-income families to help cover tuition in private schools, including religious ones.

    Using taxpayer money to aid struggling public schools or diverting it to fund more charter schools or make private schools available to more families has been hotly debated since Donald Trump was elected president. During the campaign, Trump promised to fund a $20 billion school choice program. He picked a long-time charter and private school advocate, Betsy DeVos, as his education secretary. Last week the president welcomed a group of students who were voucher recipients to the White House and asked Congress to work with him to make school options available nationwide.

    Those efforts face fierce resistance from Democrats and teachers unions, who say that school choice drains funds from public schools while leaving charter and private schools unaccountable in terms of academic standards and civil rights protections.

    Patrick McGuin, an education professor at Drew University, said he was surprised by the fact that most Americans had little knowledge about school choice options.

    “That’s pretty remarkable given the growth and high-profile politics around charters,” McGuin said. “As much as policymakers are talking the heck about this, the debate really hasn’t permeated the general public’s discussion yet.”

    Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has neither taught nor worked in a school system, but she and her family have used wealth and influence to create more charter schools and champion vouchers. As educators watch her hearing for an understanding of her views, William Brangham talks to Frederick Hess of American Enterprise Institute and Randi Weingarten of American Federation of Teachers.

    Charter schools currently operate in 42 states and the District of Columbia. D.C. has only the federally funded voucher program, while 30 states have voucher or similar education choice programs.

    Even though they are unfamiliar to many, Americans have largely positive reactions to charter schools and vouchers. While 55 percent of respondents say parents in their communities had enough options with regard to schools, about 4 in 10 feel that that the country in general would benefit from more choice. Forty-seven percent say they favor opening more public charter schools, 23 percent are opposed, and 30 percent feel neutral about it. Meanwhile, 43 percent of respondents support giving low-income families tuition vouchers for private schools, 35 percent are opposed and 21 percent don’t have a strong opinion either way.

    Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to favor opening more charter schools, 53 percent to 42 percent, but there is little partisan variation for voucher programs. At the same time, opposition to vouchers is highest among those who have heard the most about them.

    John Rekers, a 46-year-old mortgage broker in California, has five kids and all of them are attending charter schools. He believes charter schools are more innovative and progressive. “They are not so oriented to sitting at desks and doing stuff,” he said.

    “The charter school is much better oriented in teaching children,” Rekers said. “They have higher standards.”

    Marc Culbreath, a janitor in Philadelphia, spent several years renting a house in the suburbs so that his children could go to quality public schools, but when the family moved into the city, they were appalled by neighborhood schools.

    “Kids in the city — their public schools are terrible,” Culbreath said. Culbreath sent his son, now in 10th grade, to a charter school and he is now on track to go to college. “They treat the kids in the city same as they treat the kids in the suburbs,” he said of the charter school.

    But Madolyn Stall, 22, a college student in Kansas, doesn’t support voucher programs. “If you cannot afford to go to a private school, then public school is fine,” she said. “I don’t really want to pay more of my tax money to send people to private school when they can go to public school.”

    About 7 in 10 respondents feel that both charter schools and private schools funded with taxpayer money should meet the same education standards as public schools. School choice critics point to the fact that most private school don’t need state accreditation to operate and that some private schools teach creationism in science classes.

    Still, Americans are more likely to say that private schools, both locally and nationally, provide a good quality of education than say the same of public schools.

    The AP-NORC poll of 1,036 adults was conducted April 20-23 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

    READ MORE: Won’t dismantle public schools as education secretary, DeVos says

    The post Most Americans unfamiliar with school choice, poll finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Dillingham, Alaska, a fishing community of 2,300 is the largest town and hub of the Bristol Bay region. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT via Getty Images)

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration settled a lawsuit Friday over the proposed development of a massive gold and copper mine at the headwaters of one of Alaska’s premier salmon fisheries.

    The Environmental Protection Agency settled the long-running case with the Pebble Limited Partnership, agreeing to allow the Canadian-owned company to seek a federal permit to build its mine near Bristol Bay.

    Pebble sued in federal court over what it claimed was EPA’s collusion with mine opponents to block the project, which a study shows could pose significant risk to salmon populations. A review by EPA’s inspector general found no evidence the agency acted improperly.

    “We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides,” said Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator. “The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation.”

    According to court documents, the two sides had been exploring ways to resolve the case since August, when President Barack Obama was still in office.

    The proposed mine for has been hotly debated for years. Environmental activists like actor Robert Redford opposing development and multinational jewelers saying they won’t use minerals mined from the Alaska prospect.

    The dispute dates to 2014, following the release an EPA study that concluded large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risk to salmon and could adversely affect Alaska Natives in the region whose culture is built around salmon. Bristol Bay, in southwest Alaska, produces about half of the world’s sockeye salmon.

    The study provided the basis for the EPA to invoke a rarely used process under the federal Clean Water Act that supporters of the proposed Pebble Mine feared could result in the project’s veto before it goes through the permitting process.

    Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which owns the Pebble partnership, accused EPA of being in cahoots with mine opponents with a predetermined goal of blocking the project.

    EPA, in court documents, characterized Pebble’s claims as an effort to undermine its plan to protect parts of the Bristol Bay region from development.

    While the EPA proposed restrictions on development, those restrictions were never finalized. A judge ordered the agency to stop work related to that process while the lawsuit was pending.

    Officials for the Pebble Partnership argue EPA’s actions have been overreaching and expressed hope that it will get a fairer shake with new Trump administration than it believes it got under Obama.

    Northern Dynasty has called the Pebble deposit “one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth ever discovered” — containing copper, gold, molybdenum and silver. It has been looking for a partner since 2013, when a subsidiary of London-based Anglo American PLC announced it was withdrawing from the project.

    On Thursday, before any settlement was announced, representatives of tribal organizations and others in the Bristol Bay region expressed concern that protections they had been seeking could be wiped away and frustration that Pruitt had not reached out to them since taking office.

    Norman Van Vactor, with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, said the next phase of challenges to the project could include additional legal fights and “standing in front of bulldozers.”

    The inspector general for the EPA, which conducted an investigation following requests by the state, Northern Dynasty and others, last year found no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted the study on potential mine impacts. It also concluded that the agency did not predetermine the study’s outcome.

    The post EPA may allow massive mine near pristine Alaskan bay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Eileen DeDomenicis on the patio of her home on Arizona Avenue as a high tide and rain cause flooding in parts of Atlantic City. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    Eileen DeDomenicis on the patio of her home on Arizona Avenue as a high tide and rain cause flooding in parts of Atlantic City. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — A driver plowed a sedan forcefully up Arizona Avenue, which had flooded to knee height during a winter storm as high tide approached. The wake from the passing Honda buffeted low brick fences lining the tidy homes of working-class residents of this failing casino city, pushing floodwaters into Eileen DeDomenicis’s living room.

    “It wasn’t bad when we first moved in here — the flooding wasn’t bad,” DeDomenicis said on a stormy morning in March, after helping her husband put furniture on blocks. She counted down until the tide would start to ebb, using a yardstick to measure the height of floodwaters climbing her patio stairs. She was tracking how many more inches it would take to inundate the ground floor. “When somebody comes by in a car, it splashes up. It hits the door.”

    DeDomenicis has lived in this house since 1982, a few hundred feet from a bay. She used to work as a restaurant server; now she’s a school crossing guard. Her husband walked a mile to his job at Bally’s Casino until he retired in January. They’ve seen floods worsen as the seas have risen, as the land beneath them has sunk, and as local infrastructure has rotted away. “It comes in the front door, the back door, and then from the bottom of the house, in through the sides,” DeDomenicis said. “You watch it come in and it meets in the middle of the house — and there’s nothing you can do.”

    Arizona Avenue — Kids play on a flooded Arizona Avenue on October 4, 2015 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

    Two miles east of Arizona Avenue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending tens of millions of dollars building a seawall to reduce storm surge and flooding risks for Atlantic City’s downtown and its towering casinos, five of which have closed in the past four years. A few miles in the other direction, it’s preparing to spend tens of millions more on sand dunes to protect million-dollar oceanfront homes.

    But the federal government has done little to protect the residents of Arizona Avenue, or the millions of other working class and poor Americans who live near bays up and down the East Coast, from a worsening flooding crisis. Seas are rising as pollution from fossil fuel burning, forest losses and farming fuels global warming, melting ice and expanding ocean water. With municipal budgets stretched thin, lower-income neighborhoods built on low-lying land are enduring some of the worst impacts.

    Climate Central scientists analyzed hundreds of coastal American cities and, in 90 of them, projected rapid escalation in the number of roads and homes facing routine inundation. The flooding can destroy vehicles, damage homes, block roads and freeways, hamper emergency operations, foster disease spread by mosquitoes, and cause profound inconveniences for coastal communities.

    Atlantic City is among those facing the greatest risks, yet much of the high-value property that the Army Corps is working to protect was built on a higher elevation and faces less frequent flooding than neighborhoods occupied by working class and unemployed residents — an increasing number of whom are living in poverty.

    Low walls called bulkheads built along Atlantic City’s shores to block floods have washed away, or were never built in the first place. Flap valves in aging storm drains have stopped working, allowing water to flow backward from the bay into the street when tides are high. At high tide, stormwater pools in Arizona Avenue, unable to drain to the bay. The flooding is getting worse because seas have been rising along the mid-Atlantic coast faster than in most other regions, and the land here is sinking because of groundwater pumping and natural processes. High tides in Atlantic City reach more than a foot higher than they did a century ago and sea level rise is accelerating.

    New Jersey has done little to address the problem, aside from administering federal grants that have helped a limited number of residents abandon or elevate vulnerable houses. “We expect each town to focus on planning and budgeting for mitigating flooding,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Bob Considine. Atlantic City can nary afford the kinds of capital improvements needed to provide meaningful relief.

    The Army Corps last year began a study of bay flooding in a sweeping stretch of New Jersey covering Atlantic City and 88 other municipalities, home to an estimated 700,000. The study was authorized by Congress in 1987, but it wasn’t kickstarted until federal research identified widespread risks following Superstorm Sandy.

    The bay flooding study is “fairly early in the process,” said Joseph Forcina, a senior Army Corps official who is overseeing more than $4 billion worth of post-Sandy recovery work by the agency, including construction of a $34 million seawall in downtown Atlantic City and tens of millions of dollars worth of sand dune construction and replenishment nearby. The study is expected to take more than two years. “We really are in the data-gathering mode.”

    The study will help the agency propose a plan, which Congress could consider funding, to ease flood risks when high tides and storms push seawater from bays into streets and homes. It will consider the effects of sea level rise but it won’t directly address flooding from poor drainage of rainwater, meaning any fixes spurred by the study are likely to be partial at best. “The Corps is not the agency that deals with interior drainage,” Forcina said. “That’s a local responsibility.”

    Floods are driving up insurance rates, while routinely causing property damage and inconveniences. Federal flood insurance promotes coastal living in high-risk areas, and the program is more than $20 billion in arrears following Hurricane Katrina and Sandy. Arizona Avenue residents received Federal Emergency Management Agency letters in March warning of insurance rate increases ahead of 5 to 18 percent a year, which “makes us want to leave even more,” said Tom Gitto.

    Raising three children on Arizona Avenue, Gitto and his wife have been unemployed since the closure last year of Trump Taj Mahal, where they worked. He said the flooding has become unbearable but property prices are so low that they feel trapped. Two houses on Arizona Avenue recently sold for less than $35,000. Gitto paid a similar price for his fixer-upper in the 1990s, then spent more than the purchase price on renovations. Flood insurance provided $36,000 for another refurbishment after Sandy ravaged their home.

    Flooding strikes the Jersey Shore so often now that the National Weather Service’s office in Mount Holly, N.J., raised the threshold at which it issues flood advisories by more than 3 inches in 2012 “to avoid creating warning fatigue,” flooding program manager Dean Iovino said. Such advisories were being issued nearly every month in Atlantic City before the policy change, up from an average of four months a year in the 1980s.

    Chart courtesy of Climate Central

    One out of 10 of the 20,000 homes in Atlantic City are at elevations that put them at risk of flooding each year on average, Climate Central found, though some are protected by bulkheads and other infrastructure that help keep floods at bay. The research was published Wednesday in the journal Climatic Change.

    The proportion of the city’s streets and homes affected by flooding is projected to quickly rise. Within about 30 years — the typical life of a mortgage — one out of three homes in Atlantic City could be inundated in a typical year. That would be the case even if aggressive efforts to slow climate change are put in place, such as a rapid global switch from fossil fuels to clean energy.

    The worsening woes aren’t confined to Atlantic City, though risks here are among the greatest in America. Neighborhoods near bays can experience rapid increases in the number of streets and homes exposed to regular floods, with small additional sea level capable of reaching far into flat cityscapes and suburbs.

    Elsewhere at the Jersey Shore, in Ocean City, N.J., the analysis showed one out of five homes are built on land expected to flood in typical years, a figure that could rise to nearly half by 2050. Other cities facing rapid increases in risks include San Mateo along San Francisco Bay in Silicon Valley, the lumber town of Aberdeen at Grays Harbor in Washington state, and Poquoson, Va., which has a population of 12,000 and juts into the Chesapeake Bay.

    The greenhouse gas pollution that’s already been pumped into the atmosphere makes it too late to prevent coastal flooding from getting worse. It’s simply a matter of how much worse.

    The benefits of acting now to slow the effects of warming later would become clearest in the second half of this century. In Atlantic City, if global pollution trends continue and defenses are not improved, 80 percent of current homes risk being inundated in typical years by the end of the century, the analysis showed. By contrast, if greenhouse gas pollution is aggressively reduced almost immediately, the number of homes expected to be exposed to that risk in 2100 would fall to 60 percent.

    As efforts to protect the climate founder in the U.S. and elsewhere, unleashing higher temperatures and seas, communities like the DeDomenicises’ have three basic options for adapting. They can defend against floods with infrastructure that keeps tidal waters at bay, such as bulkheads, pumps, and marsh and dune restorations. They can accommodate the water using measures such as elevating existing houses and building new ones on stilts. And they can relocate altogether, an option that’s expected to lead to mass migrations inland during the decades ahead.

    Modeling by University of Georgia demographer Mathew Hauer projects 250,000 being forced by rising seas from New Jersey by century’s end if pollution levels remain high, with nearly 1.5 million refugees fleeing to Texas from U.S. coasts elsewhere. And from Florida — the poster child for sea level dangers in the U.S. — 2.5 million may be driven to other states.

    All three strategies are being pursued to some extent in Atlantic City. All of them are expensive, limiting the options available for a city in decline. “Cities boom and bust,” said Benjamin Strauss, coauthor of the new study and vice president for sea level and climate impacts at Climate Central, which researches and reports on climate change. “Neighborhoods can thrive, and fall into decay. Those are, to some extent, natural cycles of economic life. But now, superimposed onto that for Atlantic City at just the wrong time is this awful existential sea level threat.”

    The Army Corps is building a seawall to protect downtown Atlantic City from floods caused by storm surges. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    The Army Corps is building a seawall to protect downtown Atlantic City from floods caused by storm surges. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    Barrier islands like Absecon Island, upon which Atlantic City grew as a gaming and vacation mecca, line the East Coast, from New York to Florida, natural features associated with the coastline’s wide continental shelf and shallow waters. Until barrier islands were developed and armored with seawalls, roads and building foundations, low-lying shores facing the mainland could keep up with rising seas. Wind and waves washed sand and mud over growing marshes, helping to build up the land. Now a century of development has locked down the shape and position of the islands, blocking natural processes.

    “It’s a huge problem for the U.S.,” said Benjamin Horton, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, which is a global leader in researching sea rise. “These barrier islands are important for so many things — important for housing, important for the economy. They’re important for a variety of industries. They’re especially important for ecosystems. And the barriers protect the mainland from hurricanes; they’re a first line of defense. You lose the barrier islands and where do you think the big waves are going to hit?”

    As barrier islands and mainland coastlines were developed, wealthy neighborhoods clustered near ocean shores, where the elevations tend to be higher, which reduces flood risks, and where views are considered the best. Lower-income neighborhoods and industrial zones grew over former marshlands near bays and rivers, where swampy smells are strongest and where flooding occurs most frequently.

    That divide between rich and poor is clearly on display on Absecon Island, where stately houses built on higher land facing the ocean are often occupied only during summer — when risks of storms are lowest. The vacation homes and downtown Atlantic City casinos will be protected from storm surges by a new seawall and sand dunes built by the Army Corps, despite lawsuits filed by homeowners angry that dunes will block ocean views.

    Poorer neighborhoods are exemplified by Arizona Avenue, a block-long street between a bay and a minor thoroughfare. Bricks in fences and walls are stained by floodwaters and decaying beneath the effects of wakes from passing cars. The century-old, two-story houses have concrete patios and little landscaping — plants are hard to grow in the flood-prone conditions.

    During high tides that accompany new and full moons, the street can flood on sunny days. Rubber trash cans can be buoyant in floodwaters, tip over and foul the street with spoiled food and bathroom waste, which residents sweep away after floods recede. Cars are frequently destroyed. Many of the houses along Arizona Avenue had to be stripped and renovated after Sandy filled them with floodwaters and coated walls and ceilings with mold.

    The winter storm that inundated Arizona Avenue in March was a typical one for the region. The nor’easter struck during a full moon, meaning it coincided with some of the highest tides of the month. Floodwaters stopped rising a few inches beneath the DeDomenicises’ front door. Emergency crews patrolled in vehicles built to withstand high water. These kinds of floods are called “nuisance floods” by experts.

    Nuisance floods are becoming routine features of coastal living around America, and their impacts are difficult to assess. Washington and other major cities could experience an average of one flood caused by tides and storm surges every three days within 30 years, according to a study published by researchers with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists in the journal PLOS One in February. Rain and snow that fall during storms increase flood risks.

    Residents of Arizona Avenue describe anxiety when tides and storms bring floods, especially if they aren’t home to help protect their possessions. The rising floodwaters can be emotional triggers — reminders of the upheaving effects of floods wrought by major storms like Sandy in late 2012 and Winter Storm Jonas in early 2016. Some of the residents have spent months living in hotels while their homes were repaired following storms. One of Tom Gitto’s children was born while the family was living in a hotel room paid for by the federal government after Sandy.

    Susan Clayton, a psychology and environmental studies professor who researches psychological responses to climate change at the College of Wooster, a liberal arts college in Ohio, said such triggers can lead to sleeping difficulties, “profound anxiety” and other symptoms. The frequent risk of flooding may also make people constantly fear for their homes and for the security their homes provide.

    “It tends to be very important to everybody that they have some place that they feel they can relax, where they can be in control,” Clayton said. “Your home is your castle. When your home is threatened, that can really undermine a sense of stability and security. It’s not just the flooding, it’s the idea that it’s your home itself that’s being threatened.”

    The economic impacts of nuisance floods can also be far-reaching — researchers say they’re more impactful than most government officials assume. “Since they don’t get a lot of attention, we don’t have a data record of nuisance flooding costs,” said Amir AghaKouchak, a University of California, Irvine, scientist who studies hydrology and climatology.

    Cars and vans can create wakes when they’re driven through floods in Atlantic City’s bay neighborhoods. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    Cars and vans can create wakes when they’re driven through floods in Atlantic City’s bay neighborhoods. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    AghaKouchak led a study published in the journal Earth’s Future in February that attempted to quantify the economic impacts in large coastal cities. The researchers were hamstrung by the dearth of data. Their preliminary findings, however, suggested that the cumulative economic impacts of nuisance floods might already exceed those of occasional disaster floods in some areas.

    “There’s a lot of cost associated with this minor event,” AghaKouchak said. “Cities and counties have to send out people with trucks, pumps and so forth, they have to close down streets, build temporary berms.”

    On Arizona Avenue, residents say they feel abandoned by all levels of government. Like an Appalachian coal town, many here depend upon a single industry — an entertainment sector that’s in decline, anchored by casinos that draw visitors to hotels, arcades, restaurants, gas stations and strip clubs.

    “They forget about us,” said Christopher Macaluso, a 30-year old poker dealer who owns a house on Arizona Avenue and grew up nearby. “We’re the city. If they didn’t have the dealers, the dishwashers, the valet guys, the cooks and the housemaids, what have you got? We definitely feel left out.”

    With casinos operating in nearby Pennsylvania and elsewhere following the lifting of gambling bans, the flow of visitors to Atlantic City has slowed over a decade from a gush to a trickle. Some towering casino buildings stand abandoned, like empty storefronts in a dying downtown. Others are filled well below capacity with gamers and vacationers; their gaudy interiors faded and gloomy.

    One out of every six jobs in Atlantic City was lost between 2010 and 2016 as nearly 5 percent of the population left, according to the latest regional economic report by New Jersey’s Stockton University, which is building a campus in the city. The number of Atlantic City residents using food stamps rose to 15 percent in 2015, and more than one out of every five children here is now officially living in poverty.

    President Trump’s construction of two ill-fated casinos in a saturated industry intensified the Atlantic City gaming bubble that began its spectacular burst a decade ago. (As president, Trump is dismantling regulations designed to slow sea rise and other effects of warming.) The city is so broke that its government operations are being overseen by New Jersey.

    Flooding in Fairmount Avenue near Arizona Avenue at high tide during a storm. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    Flooding in Fairmount Avenue near Arizona Avenue at high tide during a storm. Photo by Ted Blanco/Climate Central

    “From the moment they started pulling handles in Pennsylvania, the cash that was pouring into slot machines in Atlantic City started to fall,” said Stockton University’s Oliver Cooke, who compares the city’s economic plight to that of Detroit. “As the economy melted down and the land valuations in the city headed south, the tax base just completely melted away.”

    Unable to pay for far-reaching measures taken by wealthier waterfront regions, like road-raising in Miami Beach and sweeping marsh restorations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Atlantic City has taken only modest steps to ease flooding.

    Using funds from a bond sale and state and federal grants, the city has been refurbishing sluice gates in a canal that were built to control floodwaters but haven’t worked in more than half a century. It plans to replace flap valves in two stormwater drains near Arizona Avenue for $16,000 apiece. “We’re treating that money like gold,” said Elizabeth Terenik, who was Atlantic City’s planning director until last month, when she left its shrinking workforce for a job with a flood-prone township nearby.

    That’s far shy of the tens of millions of dollars being spent just blocks away. The Army Corps is using Sandy recovery money to alleviate hazards in wealthier parts of the city and elsewhere on Absecon Island and in New York and other nearby states, while flooding affecting low-income residents of Arizona Avenue and similar neighborhoods is overlooked.

    “The Corps does not say, ‘Here’s a problem, and we’re going to fix it’ — somebody has to ask them to help,” said Gerald Galloway, a University of Maryland engineering professor and former Army Corps official. “It depends on a very solid citizen push to get it done. The Corps of Engineers has a backlog of construction awaiting money. You need very strong organizations competing for it.”

    Coastal New Jersey’s working class have little power in Washington and their cities manage modest budgets. The divide in Atlantic City reflects a grand injustice of global warming — one that’s familiar to Pacific nations facing obliteration from rising seas, and to Alaskan tribes settled by the government on shrinking coasts. While the wealthy may be able to adapt to the effects of climate change, the poor oftentimes cannot.

    “In some cases, the most vulnerable populations will not be able to move,” said Miyuki Hino, a Stanford PhD candidate who has studied coastal resettlements around the world. “In other cases, they’ll be forced to.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from Climate Central. It was first published on May 10, 2017. Find the original story here.

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    White House press secretary Sean Spicer is expected to field questions about Friday’s series of tweets from President Donald Trump, including one in which he said ousted FBI director James Comey “better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    Spicer is expected to speak around 1 p.m. EST. Watch live in the player above.

    The tweets came three days after Trump fired Comey, setting off a flurry of reactions around Capitol Hill. The White House has changed its story on the series of events leading to Comey’s removal several times, drawing criticism from Democrats, Republicans and the media. (PBS NewsHour correspondent John Yang detailed those changes in this piece.)

    “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump tweeted Friday in response to that criticism.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    READ MORE: Everything we know about Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey

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    File photo of cattle by Lance Cheung/USDA

    File photo of cattle by Lance Cheung/USDA

    WASHINGTON — Beijing will open its borders to U.S. beef, while cooked Chinese poultry is closer to landing on American supermarket shelves under a U.S.-China trade agreement.

    Trump administration officials hailed the deal as a significant advance toward boosting U.S. exports and closing America’s trade gap with the world’s second-largest economy. U.S. trade experts offered a more muted assessment, calling the agreement a modest fulfillment of past assurances made by China.

    Among other things, the deal enables U.S. companies to export liquefied natural gas to China. It will also lower long-standing barriers that have affected matters ranging from agriculture to the operation of American financial firms in China.

    Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed the agreement, coming on the heels of President Donald Trump’s April meeting with President Xi Jinping, as “a herculean accomplishment.”

    “This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade,” Ross told reporters Thursday evening at the White House.

    In Beijing, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters the early results of the agreement showed that economic collaboration between the two sides “couldn’t be closer.”

    But trade experts questioned the magnitude of the deal.

    “These are modest moves which by themselves will not have much effect on the U.S. economy,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Treasury Department official.

    The beef exports and electronic payments in the agreement have long been promised by China. And the agreement does little to address some key issues of trade friction, such as automobiles or social media. While the Trump administration has touted a surge in U.S. manufacturing, this agreement does little to help that goal.

    “The challenge is selling manufactured goods into China — there isn’t anything in this deal to suggest China is going to become more open to U.S.-manufactured exports,” said Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    It remains unclear how far China will go to allow more American exports. Previous administrations have hailed market-opening agreements only to be left disappointed.

    “The key in these negotiations is specifics that are enforceable — literally, the devil is in the details,” said Scott Mulhauser, a former chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

    “The more these agreements include real, concrete outcomes rather than platitudes, rehashing old ground or punts to the future, the better they are,” Mulhauser said. “American companies, workers, farmers and more are eager for more access to Chinese markets, and they’ll look to ensure reality matches the rhetoric of these promises.”

    Trump made America’s wide trade deficits and especially the gap with China a major issue in his campaign and during the early days of his administration. He’s argued that America’s perennial trade gaps have cost millions of factory jobs and he has pledged to take a tougher stance in trade negotiations to lower the imbalances.

    “The key in these negotiations is specifics that are enforceable — literally, the devil is in the details.” — Scott Mulhauser, a former chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing

    Under the agreement, the United States is inviting Chinese companies to import U.S.-produced liquefied natural gas. The Energy Department has authorized natural gas shipments of 19.2 billion cubic feet per day to China and other interested countries that lack a broader free trade agreement with the United States, the Commerce Department said.

    China is turning more to natural gas as a way to reduce its dependence on coal and combat the country’s extensive air pollution. The move would allow China to diversify its supply and provide a major market for American suppliers, though the expansion could lead to higher prices for U.S. consumers.

    The agreement would also ease import restrictions on agricultural goods, including ending China’s ban on beef imports, which was imposed in 2003 after a case of mad-cow disease. In exchange, the U.S. would allow the sale of cooked Chinese poultry — a move Ross said could be done safely.

    The agreement would also streamline the evaluation of U.S. biotechnology product applications; pave the way for allowing American-owned suppliers of electronic payment services to begin the licensing processes in China; and facilitate the entrance of Chinese banks into the U.S. banking market.

    The agreement grew out of negotiations the countries agreed to start after Trump’s meeting at his Mar-a-Lago estate with the Chinese president.

    America’s trade deficit in goods and services with China totaled $310 billion last year, by far the largest imbalance with any country.

    The two countries have also agreed to hold talks this summer to be led by Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Vice Premier Wang Yang to work on a one-year plan.

    While Trump had earlier said China could receive more favorable trade terms from the U.S. in return for help in persuading North Korea to cease its nuclear and missile activities, Zhu downplayed any suggestion of a link between the two.

    “Both sides have a deep and close understanding that the U.S.-China economic relationship can’t be politicized.” Zhu said.


    Associated Press writers Gerry Shih in Beijing and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

    The post China and U.S. reach agreement on beef, poultry, natural gas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Comedian W. Kamau Bell. Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

    “Comedy is like expensive cheese,” comedian W. Kamau Bell once said. “Well, it’s like cheese, in general. Everybody likes what they like, and everything they don’t like, they think is the worst.”

    That may be the case, but still we wanted to know what Bell, whose hilarious new book is about awkwardness and race and a whole lot else, thinks is funny. Or what comedy he thinks matters.

    Bell is also the voice of the brilliantly-titled podcast “Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period” as well as CNN’s new race documentary series “Shades of America.” In both, he manages to be both super-serious and super-funny. Which is why he’s called a “socio-political comedian,” a term that not everybody’s down with but that’s pretty accurate for his brand of comedy.

    In a recent interview with NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown, we asked Bell to recommend the places he goes to for laughs and inspiration, from websites to books to television.

    In his words:


    “Shrill.” Courtesy:

    The book I’m recommending is “Shrill” by author and comedian Lindy West. It’s a great, hilarious [read] – I feel like my book was inspired by her book in some way. It’s her take on the world from her very specific perspective. She’s also probably left-leaning, so know that going in. She’s got a strong, comic voice and I hope we hear more from her.

    The Establishment.

    The Establishment.

    Where do I go for my socio-political part? I’ll recommend a website called The Establishment. It is a website that is run by women that primarily employs women writers and they pay a living wage for women to write on that site. It’s based in Berkeley so that tells you all you need to know. … The writers are very funny. Very Smart Brothas is another website that I check in with a lot.



    The TV show I’m going to recommend is “Black-ish.” That’s just a TV show I love. And I think that no show really shows that black people aren’t a monolith like “Black-ish.” It’s really one of the most daring shows in the history of television and it helps dismantle the idea that all black people think one thing. They have a whole family of black people and none of them agree on anything. So for me, it’s very sort of relaxing and it sort of nurtures my soul.


    And I’ll recommend a comedy album – “New Material Night Volume 1” by Hari Kondabolu. I’m totally biased about that – I host a podcast with him and it’s his brand new comedy album, but I’m going to recommend it.

    Keep an eye out for the NewsHour’s upcoming broadcast piece on Bell, in which he shares more about his new book, the loquaciously-titled “The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian.”

    The post What makes comedian W. Kamau Bell laugh appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    British nurse Florence Nightingale (1820 - 1910) makes her rounds in the Barrack hospital at Scutari, during the Crimean War, 24th February 1855

    Florence Nightingale’s poetic moniker, “Lady of the Lamp,” was the result of her late evening rounds visiting the wounded soldiers. Photo by Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    In all of medical history, few names have been sung more brightly than Florence Nightingale, born on this day in 1820. Credited with founding the first modern, secular nursing school in 1860 (at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, and currently part of King’s College, University of London), Florence’s birthday has been designated International Nursing Day.

    Nicknamed “the Lady of the Lamp” by an intrepid journalist for the London Times, and subsequently immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his 1857 poem “Santa Filomena,” Florence Nightingale first came to prominence during the Crimean War.

    Appalled by the primitive, filthy hospital facilities, Nightingale later wrote, “the British high command had succeeded in creating the nearest thing to hell on earth.”

    In 1855, she organized and trained a group of nurses to help the soldiers injured during that conflict. Appalled by the primitive hospital facilities, the lack of beds, bandages, and bathing facilities, all wrapped into a decidedly filthy, vermin-ridden environment, Nightingale later wrote, “the British high command had succeeded in creating the nearest thing to hell on earth.” Initially, her nurses were not allowed to see the suffering soldiers and, instead, ordered to clean the hospital floors. As the casualties mounted and the physicians became overwhelmed, Nightingale’s nurses were finally enlisted to help.

    READ MORE: Celebrating Rebecca Lee Crumpler, first African-American woman physician

    Nightingale’s poetic moniker was the result of her late evening rounds visiting the wounded soldiers. When the war ended and she returned home to London, she was lauded as a national hero and showered with awards and medals including a jewel from Queen Victoria.

    Portrait of Florence Nightingale circa 1860

    Ever busy with advancing the profession of nursing, Nightingale worked extraordinarily hard to counter the prevalent (and negative) view of nurses, such as that described by Charles Dickens in his 1842-1843 novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” One of the minor characters in this delightful tome is an incompetent, poorly trained and negligent nurse named Sarah Gamp. She is best recalled as an alcoholic, far more interested in her next glass of gin than the needs of her patients.

    Nightingale’s 1859 book, “Notes on Nursing,” on the other hand, shed a far better light on the profession and soon became a standard textbook for training nurses around the globe.

    Florence was also consumed with advancing the causes of cleanliness in the hospital setting and beyond by using the newly developed mathematical methods of statistics to prove that such interventions made a difference.

    Beginning with her war work, Nightingale noted that 10 times more soldiers died of the so-called filth diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and typhus, than those who succumbed to bullets and cannon balls. She determined the cause to be related to the overcrowding of soldiers, paltry latrine and sewer facilities and, in an era when “poisonous miasmas” were still thought to the source of many infectious diseases, poor ventilation in the hospital wards. Indeed, her insistence on adequate ventilation led to a worldwide trend of building hospitals with large windows and cross-ventilation schemes, a design one can still see in the few 19th century hospital buildings that remain in various American and European cities.

    READ MORE: How poet John Keats met his early end

    Working with the pioneering British statistician William Farr and public health and urban poverty expert Edwin Chadwick, she compiled, analyzed and presented understandable and detailed information on the living conditions of England’s poorest citizens, as well as the living conditions, public health, and medical care of those living in India. Florence Nightingale pioneered in the graphical representation of the numbers she crunched. She was an early adopter of the “pie chart” and developed her own “rose diagram,” which is a circular histogram of data she called the “coxcomb” and used to describe seasonal changes in patient mortality, first in various military theaters and, subsequently, among Britain’s poor.

    This work led to the passage of England’s Public Health Acts of 1874 and 1875, which required property owners to connect their sewage lines to main drain pipes, as a means of controlling the dumping of huge amounts of human waste onto city streets, and giving control of public health problems to local authorities who saw the unhealthy conditions first hand, rather than the previous system of granting those powers to centralized government officials in a faraway office. Both these reforms are credited with playing a vital role in extending the lifespan of British subjects (as well as citizens in other industrialized, western nations) by 20 years, between 1891 and the mid-1930s, when there were not yet the advantages of antibiotics, intravenous fluids or other modern medical conveniences.

    If you want to know what is really going on with a patient, make sure you ask his or her nurse first.

    A deeply religious woman, Florence was the advantaged child of a wealthy family. She managed to use those advantages, as well as surmount the disadvantages of being an ambitious, professional woman in Victorian England, to help the neediest and most vulnerable, both to the ravages of poverty and disease.

    Today, on Florence Nightingale’s birthday and International Nurse’s Day (this year’s celebratory theme is “The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit”), we celebrate her multitude of accomplishments and those of the legion of nurses who followed in her path and continue to make a huge difference in caring for the ill.

    When reflecting on the life of this extraordinary woman, the doctor in me is forced to recall a lesson he learned the hard way as an intern: if you want to know what is really doing on with a patient, make sure you ask his or her nurse first.

    Nurses hold candles as they take oaths during their commencement to celebrate the upcoming International Nurses Day at a medical school in Nanjing, Jiangsu province May 10, 2007. International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world every May 12, which is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth.

    Graduating nurses hold candles to celebrate International Nurses Day at a medical school in Nanjing, China in 2007. Photo by REUTERS/China Daily

    The post How Florence Nightingale cleaned up ‘hell on earth’ hospitals and became an international hero appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is declining to say whether President Donald Trump taped conversations he had with fired FBI Director James Comey.

    Spicer says: “The president has nothing further to add on that.”

    WATCH LIVE: Spicer addresses Trump’s tweets about Comey in news briefing

    Spicer was asked multiple times during the daily White House briefing about the president’s Friday morning tweet stating that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    Spicer said the tweet was “not a threat” warning Comey not to talk to the press.

    But Spicer insists that “the tweet speaks for itself.”

    Trump suddenly fired Comey on Tuesday. The FBI — along with the House and Senate — is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign and aides.

    Trump has dismissed those allegations as a “hoax.”

    READ MORE: Everything we know about Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey

    The post Spicer neither confirms nor denies taping system in White House appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Kentucky Fried Chicken took the golden opportunity to release its first romance novella for Mother's Day. Image courtesy of PRNewsfoto/KFC

    Kentucky Fried Chicken took the golden opportunity to release its first romance novella for Mother’s Day. Image courtesy of PRNewsfoto/KFC

    Kentucky Fried Chicken, the fast-food chain of dubious Double Down fame, released a free e-book this year that’s dedicated to “mothers everywhere.”

    Titled “Tender Wings of Desire,” the nearly 100-page novella is a Mother’s Day promotion billed as a “brief escape from motherhood into the arms of your fantasy Colonel.”

    On the cover is the chain’s mascot Colonel Sanders donning his trademark goatee, black string tie and white suit. He is also, you should know, sleeveless. He cradles a young women who clutches a chicken drumstick. The cover mimics the hallmarks of steamy romance novels — the Colonel’s muscles are defined — and there’s a KFC bucket nestled in flowers nearby, lest you forget that this is an over-the-top ad for their “$20 Fill Up” meal.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    Here’s how George Felix, advertising director, sold it: “The only thing better than being swept away by the deliciousness of our Extra Crispy Chicken is being swept away by Harland Sanders himself,” he said in a statement. “So this Mother’s Day, the bucket of chicken I get for my wife will come with a side of steamy romance novella. Dinner is taken care of and she’ll have the time to escape her busy schedule.”

    This is, after all, the chain that once introduced the Double Down Dog in the Philippines, which slaps a hot dog between a fried chicken bun. Also, the fried chicken corsage.

    I gave the book to my mom anyway.

    Here’s what you should know about my mother. My mom likes to give gag gifts. She presented a homemade mini craps table to her own father, who loved to gamble at casinos off the Mississippi coast. She once bought fake dog poop that was regifted among family members. Then there was the time she had me scratch off a fake winning lottery ticket. I don’t remember my reaction, probably for good reason.

    So I fire off an email with instructions to access the e-book. I send the following note:

    There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not grateful for all the sacrifices you made as a mother. I think about all the ways I can pay back in spades all the grace you’ve shown me my whole life.

    I hope this present is all but a small token of my gratitude.

    I love you, Mom.

    I also send a text, asking her to check her email. Her response minutes later: “I hope you’re going to say you’re coming home. Love you too, call me sometimes when you’re not busy”

    This is going well.

    I text her an hour later to see if she downloaded the e-book. She had, but added that she read only a few pages before she had to pick up my 9-year-old nephew. No other information is given. Meanwhile, I start reading it.

    The book opens with Lady Madeline Parker who’s quickly defined by her hatred of embroidery. In fact, poor Madeline is often defined in direct contrast to her younger sister Victoria. Madeline has “zero musical ability,” while Victoria plays the harp and piano. Madeline can’t dance, a fact that’s doubled down (sorry) later in the book. Victoria can. Victoria also can’t wait to marry a man, while Madeline “would be perfectly happy to be a spinster all of her life.”

    Their mother arranges for Madeline to marry a duke. But on the eve of the wedding, Madeline flees into the night, but not before whispering “Goodbye” to her family back home.

    Waiting for a reply from my mother, I’m bombarded by ads for Mother’s Day while listening to Spotify (The new wicker seating set is just $249 at Home Depot.) Pangs of guilt over the gag gift soon follow. They jump-start a series of memories. How she took night classes while supporting me and my two siblings. How she would often run her fingers through my hair to calm me down. How she would always send a care package around Halloween every year that included Count Chocula cereal.

    I also remember a time as a child when I once called her “ignorant.” The word fell out of my mouth during a minor disagreement. I’m pretty sure I had studied it for a spelling test or something that day. I remember how her mouth dropped in response. She wasn’t angry. She was hurt. I’ve since removed the word from my vocabulary.

    I’m irritated when the book decides to use “old maid,” a few pages after using “spinster.”

    Fast-forwarding a couple chapters, Madeline is in a faraway seaside town. She stumbles into a job at a tavern called The Admiral’s Arms. By Chapter 6, a handsome man approaches Madeline, and the book dwells on the man’s eyes — they “were almost the exact color of the sea, perhaps darker, but not by much,” — and his glasses.

    Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is shown here as he celebrates his 88th birthday. Photo by Getty Images

    Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is shown here as he celebrates his 88th birthday. Photo by Getty Images

    The man is Harland, an obvious stand-in for the real-life KFC founder Colonel Harland David Sanders. In a 1970 New Yorker profile of the fast food mogul, William Whitworth wrote that Sanders dreamt of fried chicken “so golden and delicious” and of gravy “so sublime that, he says, ‘it’ll make you throw away the durn chicken and just eat the gravy.'”

    The book lacks that Southern flavor. And there’s rarely a chicken combo meal nearby when Madeline is at the tavern. In fact, there’s a suspicious lack of chicken in this story at all.

    Among all the Amazon reviews, naturally filled with chicken puns, one reviewer said: “For a book called ‘Tender Wings of Desire’ I expected some tendies, but the author forgot to add their special blend of herbs and spices to an otherwise bland short story.”

    But — spoiler alert — Harland turns out to have a fried chicken empire, and they swap fried chicken wedding bands at the end — or something. I didn’t finish it.

    I did notice, however, this line on Madeline leaving her family: “Her decision to leave had nothing to do with her love for them, but would her leaving change their love for her?” What?

    She then writes a letter that twice says she’s safe and twice says she’s sorry for her abrupt exit — and then doesn’t send the letter. Madeline, come on.

    Photo of me and my mom. Photo illustration by Justin Scuiletti/PBS NewsHour

    Photo of me and my mom. Photo illustration by Justin Scuiletti/PBS NewsHour

    I call my mother back to finally get her reaction. After some quick chatter, she then addresses the 16-piece bucket meal between us.

    “Thanks for the gift … I think.” She pauses for a beat. “Have you taken up the weeeeds?” she says in a Mississippian drawl that stretches out those e’s. She then laughs in a way I recognize. My mother and I are an easy audience.

    “I’m curious what you thought of the book.”

    My mother says she liked the part when Madeline — she knew her name — landed at the tavern.

    Turns out, she read the whole durn thing. She made time to finish the book in between taking care of her two grandchildren, while my sister was out of town.

    My mom, who’s a lifelong Church’s Chicken fan, said she thought it was funny in parts. My mom, who sent me the same personalized birthday song on cassette tape every year, who stayed strong when Dad died, and who didn’t bat an eye when I came out — read the stupid thing I gave her.

    She did, however, have one major criticism: “I thought,” she said, “after all that, there would be a coupon for chicken at the end.”

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    Americans might have been shocked when President Donald Trump suddenly fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, but the reaction from some foreign officials was decidedly less so.

    During a photo opportunity with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov jokingly said in Russian, “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding.”

    Watch Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s reaction in this 11-second video clip.

    Comey’s bureau is investigating whether Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections and possibly colluded with members of the Trump campaign. President Trump said he fired Comey to restore public confidence in the FBI.

    In an interview Thursday with NBC News’ Lester Holt, President Trump said he supports a full investigation into Russian interference in the election.

    “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” said Mr. Trump. He said he thought his action might lengthen the investigation, “but I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.”

    In terms of worldwide impacts, Phillip Lohaus, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said even though the FBI’s primary focus is on domestic affairs, Comey’s ouster could have ripple effects on America’s foreign policy.

    The president is free to fire Comey and craft whatever policymaking environment he likes, said Lohaus. But “the timing of the decision, and the inability of the administration to convincingly articulate its rationale, will inevitably send a message to foreign policy appointees that dissenting voices are not welcome.” Lohaus said presidents frequently face difficult decisions and must allow alternative viewpoints.

    “In firing Comey, Trump has shown that personal loyalty — a test Comey failed — is more important to him than allowing a federal agency to execute its responsibilities — in this case, the investigation of foreign intelligence activities on U.S. soil. Some of Trump’s advisers will take note,” Lohaus said. “It’s easy to see them dismissing an inconvenient intelligence assessment or indulging inaccurate viewpoints simply because they conform to the president’s whims and opinions. In order to gain an upper hand, it’s also easy to see them questioning the loyalty of dissenters. America’s ability to craft effective, fact-based foreign policy will be damaged as a result.”

    Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, said the removal of Comey strengthens the claim that the Trump administration doesn’t adhere to norms and institutions, and international relations is much more about norms and voluntary institutions than about laws, he said.

    President Trump will have a hard time abiding by U.N., World Trade Organization, or other decisions that he doesn’t like, said Kupchan. “If he walks from institutions, or tries to fire the head, he’d be setting many new and worrisome precedents.”

    Halfway across the globe, the news of Comey’s dismissal elicited a tweet from U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith about the troubles she has explaining Washington’s actions.

    Her message was retweeted thousands of times and generated comments such as “Yup, America not exactly the best role model right now” and “Half the country is throwing a temper tantrum because they lost an election. It’s embarrassing.”

    READ MORE: What does Comey’s firing mean for the FBI’s Russia probe?

    Comey’s departure took place just as the FBI investigation into Russia was gaining steam, said Kupchan. “Comey had asked for additional resources, and controversy over (former national security adviser) Michael Flynn’s behavior was deepening. Comey’s ouster was an act against an official who Americans believe was and should have been empowered to implement laws fairly.”

    Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, described Comey as an impediment to congressional investigations. “In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey’s leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide,” Grassley said in a statement. “The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence. Unfortunately, this has clearly been lost.”

    In terms of relations with Russia, Kupchan said the Comey firing would have a chilling effect. “The president truly seems to want to improve relations with Russia, and for many justifiable reasons. But the Comey firing makes any cooperation with Russia even more toxic for Congress and the U.S. public. Regardless of what the facts around Comey’s ouster turn out to be, a president who many believe can’t tolerate an investigation won’t be able to lead a reset.”

    When asked for his opinion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Comey’s dismissal would have “no effect” on relations with the U.S. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don’t be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that,” he told a CBS News correspondent through a translator before heading to the ice at a hockey game in Sochi.

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    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she worries the firestorm over the ongoing Russia investigations and fallout from President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey “is starting to erode people’s confidence in our institutions.”

    When asked by PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey — as the former director was investigating possible ties between the president’s 2016 campaign and Russia — crossed any ethical lines, Rice said he had the authority to relieve Comey from his duties, though such actions should be rare.

    READ MORE: Everything we know about Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey

    Democrats and some Republicans have raised concerns in the wake of Comey’s firing about the future of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 elections. Some lawmakers, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have called for an independent investigator to step in.

    But “we have institutions that can handle even disruption of this kind,” Rice, who served under President George W. Bush, told Woodruff.

    “I have great confidence that whoever is at the FBI is going to find career people who are dedicated to a thorough investigation” she added, describing Russia’s role in the elections as “a hostile act by a foreign power.”

    At this point, we need to “settle down, step back and let the investigation move forward,” Rice said, adding the Senate Intelligence Committee, which also has a Russia probe underway, “has all of the tools it needs.”

    “We need to find out what happened and let the facts fall where they do,” she said.

    READ MORE: How could Comey’s firing affect foreign relations?

    Rice also said she didn’t take issue with Trump hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House this week, a move that drew some criticism for its exclusion of U.S. press and its timing the day after Comey’s firing. Rice also it wasn’t abnormal for Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s controversial ambassador to the U.S., to accompany Lavrov on his visit to the White House.

    “We have important things to talk to the Russians about despite their meddling in our elections,” Rice told Woodruff, saying she hoped the conversation included North Korea’s Kim John-Un’s long-range missile — which she said “can reach Alaska one day” — and ending the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

    “President Putin received Secretary Tillerson when he was in Moscow. It would be reciprocal for the President to receive the Foreign Minister of Russia when he is in Washington,” Rice added.

    Watch Judy Woodruff’s full interview with Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday’s episode of PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: another in our occasional series My Music, giving artists a chance to talk about their work.

    Tonight, singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra of the band Hurray for the Riff Raff. She performed recently at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

    Segarra was just 17 years old when she left her home in the Bronx in what she said was a search for American music. Now 30, she’s returned to her roots in New York with a new album exploring her Puerto Rican heritage.

    ALYNDA SEGARRA, Hurray for the Riff Raff: The people who have gotten me through my life are the weirdoes and the poets, the rebellious women and the activists. They were considered the riffraff by people in power, and they’re the ones that make history.

    I am Alynda Segarra , the lead singer of Hurray for the Riff Raff.

    My path was really unconventional. I knew I was doing bad in school. And I dropped out, and I ended up running away. And it was really hard on my family.

    And I traveled by hitchhiking with friends and riding freight trains, because Woody Guthrie rode freight trains, and playing music on the street in New Orleans, because I needed to do something to make money.

    The new album, “The Navigator,” is about a young girl growing up in a very big city. And she is based off of me, but she’s a little bit more of a superhero than I am. It’s me realizing what I lost when I ran away from home, realizing what shame did to me, and really trying to get in touch with what it means to be a Puerto Rican woman, what that means musically.

    My path of running away, I look back on it now, and I’m like, I could have been killed. And a lot of the journey was me realizing that there were odds stacked against me, and deciding to be OK with not being rich, saying, OK, I will make music. I will play in coffee shops. I will play in houses. I will play in these tiny places that only 10 people will come.

    I’m going to do it because I believe in art and I believe in what I’m doing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Great music.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now back to the dominant story of the week, the FBI director’s firing and the fallout from it, with the analysis of Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru. David Brooks is away.

    And welcome, gentlemen. Welcome to both of you.

    So, Mark, any question that the president was within his authority to fire James Comey?

    MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: No. It was within his authority, Judy.

    But this wasn’t amateur hour. This was an incomprehensibly incompetent, inept amateur week, beginning and ending with the president. Other people came out with eggs of all sorts on their faces. Everybody associated with them is diminished, sullied, stained in some way.

    But this was Donald Trump’s total miscalculation. The man who made a national reputation by saying “You’re fired” didn’t have the decency to call the FBI director in person, and publicly humiliated him and embarrassed him by severing him, announcing it on cable television as he was speaking to FBI colleagues in Los Angeles.

    And he has thus insured that this will be, with this Russian investigation, is now a permanent part of our political landscape. It will affect and influence and be an outline of the 2018 election, and perhaps even beyond.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Total miscalculation, Ramesh?

    RAMESH PONNURU, National Review: The administration combined two of its hallmarks, reacting to these events with disorganized dishonesty.

    They began by saying that the firing was a response to the FBI director’s handling of the Clinton e-mail story and the analysis of that handling by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. But, by the end of the week, President Trump himself was saying it really wasn’t about those things. He had made his decision before the memo, and the decision was really motivated by the fact that Comey wasn’t shutting down the Russia investigation, the investigation into the administration and the campaign’s ties to Russia, and thus exploded everything that people had been saying in the administration’s defense earlier in the week.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, Mark, they have given several different explanations over the course of a few days. What do you believe was behind this?

    MARK SHIELDS: Donald Trump.

    Judy, think about this. Robert Mueller was the predecessor at the FBI before James Comey. He was there from 2001 to 2013 under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. I don’t know how often they had dinner or how often they met privately.

    But can you imagine Robert Mueller being asked by George W. Bush or Barack Obama, not once, not twice, but three times, am I the subject of a criminal investigation by your department, by your agency? It’s unthinkable.

    And this is — obviously, he wants this to go away. He, the president, wants this whole investigation to go away. And he has guaranteed — he has guaranteed the following. James Comey was enormously popular among the FBI workers. He was somebody who was thoughtful and supportive of his employees and colleagues.

    And they liked him. And he was would take one for a team. He was willing to take criticism for the FBI, and in spite of the decision he made on Hillary Clinton and the handling of that, which a lot of people disagreed it.

    He’s guaranteed, Donald Trump has, that everybody associated with the FBI is going to make one more call, follow up on one more lead, and work one hour harder every day on the pursuit of this case. It’s not going to go away. He has guaranteed that it’s going to be more pursued even more arduously, intently, passionately, and professionally by the bureau.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see as a fallout, Ramesh?

    RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that this may be the beginning of an effort by the administration to push a lot of congressional Republicans somewhere they don’t want to go.

    The prevailing line from Republicans, even those who are well-disposed towards President Trump, has been, of course the FBI and of course the congressional Intelligence Committee investigations need to continue.

    What is coming out of Trump world right now is, no, these investigations are an attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. It’s a taxpayer-funded charade. If you believe that, these things need to end.

    Is that something that congressional Republicans are really going to accept? That’s not something that I think they’re going to want to try to sell to the American people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see Congress moving on this?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think Congress is under tremendous pressure now. The committees have to perform, because any foot-dragging on this at this point, at any point, the administration, the White House will be seen as somehow hiding something, that there is something here to hide.

    I mean, the president boasting that, three times, you exculpated me in the letter that says I’m firing you, I think it puts pressure there. I think it guarantees that any appropriations by an investigating agency will be fast-lined and will be available. Nobody wants to be seen on that other side.

    Judy, there are 241 Republican House seats right now. In 2018, they’re all on the ballot; 175 of those members of the 241 have never run for reelection with a Republican president in the White House. They’re used to being on the offensive in midterm elections, running against — or for repeal Obamacare, or against the administration.

    They’re going to have to decide, and a lot of them. They’re looking right now at losing three dozen House seats, by historical standards. They have to decide right now, are they going to establish daylight and independence from this toxic administration?

    This administration this week was so absolutely misleading, dishonest in its handling of this, that the White House right now at this point doesn’t even believe its own leaks. It is that bad. It’s really reached that point.

    So, if you are a Republican, you cannot be seen on the side of trying to slow this down, cover it up, hide things.

    RAMESH PONNURU: You do have to wonder whether the Senate is capable of confirming anybody to the FBI director position.

    If that person doesn’t have a demonstrated record of independence and integrity, I think it’s going to be very hard for them to get the requisite votes.


    MARK SHIELDS: You think Rudy Giuliani is a good choice at this point?


    RAMESH PONNURU: There is a narrow Senate margin. And I think you are going to be not looking for political figures.

    MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely.

    RAMESH PONNURU: I think you’re going to be looking for people like Judge Silberman, people like Michael Chertoff, people who are respected across the aisle.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ramesh, what about Mark’s larger point here that this is really a turning point for this administration, a turning point in terms of how Congress sees the administration?

    We don’t know yet about the public. We haven’t seen any public opinion polls yet, significant ones. But what about the Congress?

    RAMESH PONNURU: Well, look, I do think that this story right now is a topic of consuming interest in Washington, D.C. I don’t know that it is in the country at large.

    But I do think this is running the risk of isolating this president politically. There’s a reason why congressional Republicans have not felt it was in their interest to just say, these investigations are all legitimate.

    There’s a reason why the administration’s first instinct was to come up with a pretext for dismissing Comey and not tie it to the Russia investigation. And so I think it’s going to be really hard for them to sustain this, particularly when you consider that President Trump remains somebody who, for this early in his presidency, is pretty unpopular.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because now it’s out in the open that the rationale was the Russia investigation?

    RAMESH PONNURU: That’s right, and because Trump seems inclined to want to push this argument further, and he seems to want his surrogates to be making this argument.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, have we learned something new about the president in all of this? Is this the coming together of everything that we already believed? I mean, how do you see this moment?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, you see that the president thinks and acts in very short time frames.

    Judy, if you wanted to get rid of the FBI director, there is an established way of doing these things. You get a mutual friend to go to him and say, the president wants your resignation, and we will do it on your terms, and we will exchange letters, and there will be a Rose Garden ceremony, and we will introduce your successor, and you will leave with a great tribute and great — and it’s not Donald Trump.

    Either he’s scared, or anxious or whatever, but he had to do it in a hurry. And he did it in his way. He did it to the point where he’s totally discredited, if not disabled, his own press secretary. And he’s totally discredited or partially discredited Mike Pence, his vice president, who his reputation is based on his earnestness and his decency, not on his great imagination or great vision, but he’s a solid guy. He is a guy you can trust.

    He got caught in a total lie, pretending that Rod Rosenstein, two weeks on the job as deputy attorney general, somehow barreled into the White House and said, take this, Mr. President, you have got to do it.

    Now think about Rod Rosenstein. What does he do? He is a man who has earned a reputation, a deserved reputation, bipartisan respect as being a straight shooter. He’s been used as a pawn in this thing. He was advanced as the reason, when he knew he wasn’t the reason. And now he’s got to prove his independence, if he’s going to be in charge of this investigation.

    So, he’s not going to be — no pressure can be applied to him. If it appears to be, again, it’s going to be redound to the detriment of the White House and the president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I have seen some analysis this week, Ramesh, that people are watching moderate Republicans, especially in the Senate, to see how they react.

    What is their calculus? What do they look for as they decide how to respond to this and what to do?

    RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that they are going to be nervous.

    They’re not going to want to go out on a limb and defend the administration, particularly when the line for the administration keeps changing. And you go out on the limb, the administration might saw that limb out right from behind you.

    The political pressures on them are going to be intense. They’re going to want to look for ways to get out from those political pressures. And it could be that the end result of this is that it has strengthened the case for a special prosecutor, an independent commission or a select committee of Congress.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark said — I want to ask you about — I think, Mark, you said, what, three — you think three dozen Republican …

    MARK SHIELDS: House seats that right now …


    JUDY WOODRUFF: … are in jeopardy.

    MARK SHIELDS: Historically, presidents under 50 — this president is going to be under 40 percent favorable.

    Just Ramesh’s point is, I think, a very good one that bears — it bears reflection on, that the idea, Judy, that The Wall Street Journal editorial page leads its endorsement of firing Comey by quoting, the president had reacted to the deputy attorney general’s initiative in doing it.

    So, they’re supporting Donald Trump, and they have got egg all over there. They have got a poultry farm on their face.


    MARK SHIELDS: I mean, let’s be honest about it.

    And to be — have him say, have — how about being accused of being a showboat by Donald Trump? Now, that is tantamount to being called ugly by a frog. I mean, Donald Trump has never been a shrinking violet before. I didn’t know grandstanding was a mortal sin in his lexicon.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you look for in the days to come to see where this goes, Ramesh?

    RAMESH PONNURU: I think I would start looking for the congressional Republican reactions.

    I don’t think that a lot of people today have been very vocal in response to President Trump’s tweeting about tapes of …


    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, by the way, we don’t know whether there is a recording system in the White House.


    But I think — but the question is, do they just try to ride this out, or do they start criticizing the president?


    MARK SHIELDS: I think, Judy, I think that it’s going to be every man and woman for him or her self, and they’re going to realize that their fate, fortune and future is not going to be well-served being tied to this president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a week that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

    Mark Shields, Ramesh Ponnuru, thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump has long put law and order at the top of his White House agenda. But today’s move to seek tougher prison sentencing policies marks the biggest effort yet to dismantle his predecessor’s criminal justice reform legacy.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. Attorney General: I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe the law requires, most serious readily provable offense. It means that we are going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: With that, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors across the country to revive some of the toughest practices of the decades-old war on drugs.

    JEFF SESSIONS: I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments. They deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington. If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way. We will not be willfully blind to your misconduct.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This memo reverses Obama administration policies that aimed to lessen the federal prison population by not charging low-level nonviolent drug offenders with long mandatory minimum sentences.

    In 2013, then Attorney General Eric Holder told prosecutors to leave drug quantities out of charging documents to cut down on unduly harsh sentences that didn’t — quote — “promote public safety deterrence and rehabilitation.”

    These directives coincided with U.S. sentencing commission changes and Obama administration clemency initiatives that provided second chances for low-level federal drug offenders. That led to a sharp decline in the federal prison population. In 2013, the federal prison population sat at nearly 220,000. Today, that number stands just under 190,000.

    In reaction to Sessions’ memo today, former Attorney General Holder called the move “dumb on crime.” And Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said these new policies will accentuate the injustice of “unfairly incarcerating a disproportionate amount of minorities.”

    In March, President Trump created a new national commission to combat the opioid crisis.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Drug abuse has become a crippling problem throughout the United States.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today, Sessions listed the opioid epidemic and a spike in violence in big cities as reasons for this return to harsher sentences.

    JEFF SESSIONS: Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it with the barrel of a gun.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the memo, Sessions does leave discretion up to prosecutors to avoid unjust sentences, but those exceptions would need to be approved and documented.

    For more, we are joined by two former directors of the White House Office of National Drug Control, known more commonly as the country’s drug czars.

    Gil Kerlikowske served as President Obama’s drug policy adviser from 2009 to 2014, before becoming commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol. He retired from that post in January. And John Walters served as drug czar for all eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. He is the chief operating officer of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.

    Thank you both for joining us.

    John Walters, let me start with you.

    Don’t mandatory minimums handcuff judges, take away some of their discretion, and disproportionately affect the poor and people of color?

    JOHN WALTERS, Hudson Institute: Well, what they do is, they target in the federal level more senior traffickers. And they try to protect people from this horrible drug epidemic.

    I think the issue is whether or not we’re going to have equity across the system. Some of these were created for two reasons, one, to create equity across the system for serious offenses, so that some people in some places or shopping judges wasn’t a way to avoid a fair and equal punishment.

    Two, the sentences were used to create evidence from individuals pending conviction to help break down whole drug organizations. They worked. We need them now. We have the most deadly drug epidemic in the history of the United States under way.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Gil Kerlikowske, does this dismantle in some ways some of what you started to accomplish as drug czar in your administration and perhaps slow the momentum for what seems to be a bipartisan approach and understanding towards criminal justice reform?

    GIL KERLIKOWSKE, Former U.S. Drug Policy Director: Well, in some ways, it does, but let’s separate the opioid epidemic.

    When I took office in 2009, it wasn’t really on the public’s radar screen. These are pills. These are not being smuggled in across the country. They’re not being manufactured in some garage. This is driven by our medical practices, which, by the way, is governed at the state level.

    So try to separate out the opioid issue. The heroin issue is different, although it certainly is connected. But if you’re a trafficker, a drug trafficker, I couldn’t agree more with what the attorney general said, because if you’re a drug trafficker and you’re indicted by the federal government, it’s usually for a substantial amount of drugs, and so that’s important.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Gil Kerlikowske, I also want to ask, does this — what about the argument that Jeff Sessions makes that says that this takes the handcuffs off of prosecutors?

    Prosecutors have been complaining for some time that they can’t use a large sentence as leverage to get the type of information that they need.

    GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Well, the large sentence can be helpful.

    But, remember, too, there are finite resources in the Department of Justice. There are finite jail space availability in the federal government. And so reserving those spaces and reserving those prosecutors for the most serious crimes is very important.

    I spent almost eight years in the administration, all but four months. I met with a number of U.S. attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys. I didn’t hear them complaining about the way they were being dealt with by what’s fondly called main justice.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: John Walters, I want to ask, you mentioned the heroin epidemic, and Gil also seconded that.

    What about going after the distribution and the manufacture? I mean, I have to show I.D. to get a bottle of NyQuil over the counter, yet a town in West Virginia of a population of 800 can get 300,000 pills shipped to it over a few years.

    JOHN WALTERS: Yes, I think the enforcement of the diversion of drugs, pill mills and other kinds of diversion of synthetic opioids are important.

    But, today, that was what was happening in five, six years ago. Today, the death rate is driven by criminally produced synthetic fentanyl and heroin. And this is killing more people every year than all the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

    Secretary of HHS Price mentioned that. In addition, that number is accelerating. What happened is, we have lost control of these organizations, and we need to be able to enforce the law.

    You yourself have had the author of “Dreamland” on this program, the story of the pills and heroin coming together to create this carnage. He notes that some of these gangs were parking outside drug treatment centers to give free samples of heroin to people to readdict them or to keep them from getting into treatment.

    Those people need to go to jail. We need to assign a much larger effort. We need to stop talking about there is limited resources in the federal system and the state system. We need to bring together public health efforts to bring people into treatment and we need to stop the flow of this poison.

    It is killing more Americans than all gun and automobile accidents combined. And it’s accelerating. And, in addition to that, cocaine production out of Colombia is going back to the old track days.

    We are in the midst of facing a perfect storm, and we’re not on top of it. We need law enforcement to work, as we need treatment to work.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Gil Kerlikowske, he’s pointing to the inflow of drugs from outside. The president has proposed a border wall. You were the head of Border and Customs.

    Will a border wall work to stop what he’s describing?

    GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Well, one, the border wall certainly won’t work, because when we talk about heroin and fentanyl — and let’s be clear — 17,000 people perished as a result of the pills in the United States.

    That’s considerably more than the heroin coming into the United States. But heroin and fentanyl, a very powerful painkiller, come in between — or at our ports of entry. People carry it on their persons. People try to conceal it in vehicles.

    If you wanted to slow that down, you would actually not worry so much about a wall. You would actually give more resources, drug-sniffing dogs, technology at our ports of entry, not between our ports.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: John Walters, I want to give you a chance to respond.

    JOHN WALTERS: Yes, I think, look, fentanyl is a change, and it’s now the driving forces in many of these deaths.

    But the vast majority of the drugs killings Americans are coming from overseas. The vast majority of those are coming over the Mexican border. The vast majority of those walk within six feet of a uniformed border agent. This is a significant and dramatic failure of intelligence and operations.

    We need the cooperation of the Mexicans. We need to do a better job. The deaths in this country are going to approach 100,000 a year pretty soon, and it’s already staggering.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Gil Kerlikowske, John Walters, thank you both.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now one-on-one with Condoleezza Rice.

    I sat down with the former secretary of state earlier today to discuss President Trump’s abrupt firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, and her new book, “Democracy: Stories From the Long Road to Freedom.”

    Secretary Condoleezza Rice, thank you very much for talking with us.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE, Former U.S. Secretary of State: A pleasure to be with you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump, as you know, fired the FBI director, James Comey, this week.

    You are someone who has served at the highest levels of government. Do you believe what the president did, at the moment of the Russia investigation going on, crossed any ethical lines?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, the president obviously had the authority to relieve the FBI director. Obviously, these are 10-year terms because it should be rare that that happens.

    But I really think, at this point, we need to settle down, step back and let the investigation move forward. I have great confidence that whoever is at the FBI is going to find a group of career people who are dedicated to a thorough investigation.

    Senate Intelligence has all of the tools that it needs, all the information, because, Judy, I worry that this is starting to erode people’s confidence in our institutions. And we shouldn’t have that erosion, because we have institutions that can handle even disruption of this kind.

    But we need to find out what happened. It was a hostile act by a foreign power. We need to find out what happened and let the facts fall where they do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the president said the investigation should go forward, but he’s also called it a charade and said that it all stems from Democrats being angry over the outcome of the election. So, he himself has undermined what’s going on.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, whatever is said, the investigation will go forward, and it will reveal whatever happened there.

    And so my view, and I think it’s probably shared by a lot of my fellow citizens, is, could we get on with this and really find out what happened here?

    You know, I look at Vladimir Putin as somebody who is an eye-for-an-eye kind of person. We questioned the legitimacy of his election in 2012, Secretary Clinton did — rightly, by the way. It did have — it was quite fraudulent.

    And so I think he’s saying now, I’m going to show you that I can do the same thing.

    And we shouldn’t let him do that. We should have confidence in our institutions, let them get started, let them get finished, because we have a lot of other work to do on behalf of the American people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To get to the bottom of this is going to take time, is going to take an investigation.

    This country needs to take seriously what President Putin has done and his government has done, shouldn’t it?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We absolutely need to take it seriously. As I said, it’s a hostile act.

    But there are ways to handle even hostile acts. We say to the Russians, we know you did it. At a time of our choosing, we will find a way to punish that behavior.

    But we do have confidence in our institutions. We are not Russia. We have an executive that is constrained. We have a legislature that is real. We have a press that is free. We have courts that are independent. This is not Russia.

    And we don’t have to allow him to draw that parallel.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Separate, but related question, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had a role in essentially signing off on the decision to fire the director of the FBI, at a time when the attorney general had himself recused himself from the Russia investigation because of things that had happened before this.

    You wrote a letter of endorsement for the attorney general. Any concern about that?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I still have the highest regard for Jeff Sessions.

    Look, I can’t — I don’t think any of us know now what the course of events actually as it led to this. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what came when from whom.

    Let the White House speak to why this unfolded in the particular way, but I have a lot of confidence in Jeff Sessions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, in the middle of all this, the president had a meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

    What of this, again, at the same time this investigation is under way?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I don’t have a problem with him meeting with the Russian foreign minister.

    President Putin received Secretary Tillerson when he was in Moscow. It would be reciprocal for the president to receive the foreign minister of Russia when he’s in Washington.

    We have important things to talk to the Russians about, despite their meddling in our elections. I hope they’re talking about a way to eventually end this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria, end that war. The Russians have more leverage than we do. I hope they’re talking about the fact that, if Kim Jong-un’s long-range missiles can reach Alaska one day, they can also reach Vladivostok.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about with the ambassador to the U.S.?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, the ambassador is going to always accompany the foreign minister.

    And so not everything is abnormal in this situation, and that seemed to be perfectly normal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The book. You write with great passion about how important it is for the United States to pursue democracy, democratic values, freedom, as it pursues its foreign policy in the decade to come.

    Why was it important to you to write this book now?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think, on some level, I have always wanted to write this book, because I think there is a kind of mystery about democracy.

    How do people come to trust these abstract institutions, the Constitution, rule of law, courts, elections, to carry out their concerns, rather than going to the streets? How does that happen?

    And in the United States, you know, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. We weren’t full citizens. My parents couldn’t go to a movie theater with me. My dad couldn’t register to vote in 1952. And yet I remember very well — and I relayed it in the book — standing as — being in the car with my uncle on the way back from school.

    It was Election Day. And George Wallace was about to be elected governor of Alabama. And my 6-or-so-year-old self knew that that wasn’t good for black people. There were lines and lines of black people voting.

    And I said to him, “So, this man Wallace can’t win if all these people vote.”

    And he said, “No.” He said, “We are minority.” He said, “He will win.”

    I said, “Then why do they bother?”

    He said, “Because they know that, one day, that vote will matter.”

    And I have always seen people around the world doing that, and I think people have this — they are attracted to it. So, there is a moral case for supporting people who want the same benefits that we have. We are safer when we support democratic development as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You were a — one of the major advocates for Rex Tillerson being hired to be the secretary of state. And the president is proposing a 25 percent cut in the budget of the State Department. Are you concerned?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I don’t think you will see cuts of that magnitude.

    Let’s remember, the administration proposes, but it’s the Congress that authorizes and appropriates. And I think you’re going to have to see some rebalancing, because diplomacy is a very important part of national security.

    Now, there are some efficiencies that the State Department could achieve. I think there’s no doubt about that. And I think the numbers have gone up a lot. There seem to be many more people. So, maybe there are efficiencies.

    But when I look to the department, I look, first of all, at a Foreign Service that is already a bit stretched. I remember Bob Gates once said there are more people in military bands than foreign service officers.

    I also see programs that have just redounded to America’s benefit abroad, for instance, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, that showed our compassion and saved the continent from pandemic, the Millennium Challenge, which is a foreign assistance program that is predicated on the idea that you get foreign assistance only if you’re governing wisely, fighting corruption.

    Why wouldn’t you want to help countries like that? Look, we needed to raise the defense budget, but we need to be careful that we keep our diplomatic tools intact as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re confident that the things that you just described are going to survive?


    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I certainly am going to be out there arguing for them. And a lot of people are.

    And, you know, in the book, I try to explain to people that democracy promotion isn’t all that expensive. When we think of it, one of the regrets I have about Iraq and Afghanistan, and say this, is that people have come to think of that as democracy promotion.

    And that was so hard, and that was the loss of life and so expensive. I would never have said to President Bush, use military force to bring democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

    We had a security problem in Iraq and Afghanistan. We used military force to bring down those governments. Then we had to have a view. What comes after? And we thought that it was better to give the Iraqi and Afghan people a pathway to democracy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re describing things that I don’t hear this administration talking about. They’re talking about more troops in Afghanistan 15 years after the U.S. first went in.


    Well, we may well need more troops, but we’re also going to need — you know, we didn’t stabilize and win the hearts and minds and ultimately the stability of Germany and Japan with our military forces alone. We defeated imperial Japan, and we defeated Nazi Germany, but it was the bet on a democratic Germany, on a democratic Japan that they would never again threaten their neighbors, that’s what paid off.

    And now they are firm pillars of international stability.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question, human rights.

    Secretary Tillerson has spoken out forcefully just in the last few days about how, in making decisions about U.S. policy, national security, that human rights and American values can’t be part of that conversation right now.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I heard a little bit more nuanced speech from Secretary Tillerson on this.

    I remember when I gave the speech in Egypt in 2005 saying Egypt had to leave the world for democracy and reform, and people said, well, then how can you talk to Mubarak?

    Well, you have to talk to the Egyptian president or the Turkish president. You have to talk to people who have bad human rights records. I had to sit with Moammar Gadhafi, for goodness’ sakes.

    Sometimes, policy, you do have to deal with people who don’t share your values. But you are always better off to remember that your values and your interests are linked in the long run. And that’s how America has prospered.

    And the moral case is that we are an idea. And it can’t be that liberty is right for us and not for them. And so the language here will matter. I saw nuance in that speech, but I do want to hear the administration say that America’s always going to stand for the voiceless. That is what has made us a great power.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And are you hearing them say that?

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: These are early days.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Condoleezza Rice, thank you very much, the book, “Democracy: Stories From the Long Road to Freedom.”

    Thank you.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: A massive cyber-attack struck major institutions and companies in more than 70 countries. The computer systems were infected with so-called ransomware that demands money in exchange for unlocking data. The malware is believed to have exploited a cyber-hacking tool that was used by the National Security Agency that was broken into last year.

    The United Kingdom was among the hardest-hit, forcing its National Health Service to close dozens of hospitals and medical centers.

    Paul Davies of Independent Television News has this report.

    PAUL DAVIES: It is a sinister development, the very people we turn to when we’re sick or injured, themselves under a concerted and highly sophisticated attack.

    Hospitals and other NHS organizations only realizing something was wrong when someone appeared to take control of their vital computer systems, and then this message demanding immediate payment, with the threat that invaluable records will be deleted in a week if the money wasn’t paid.

    The result is chaos. At the hospitals affected, treatment has been postponed and ambulances diverted. Not all hospitals have been targeted, but those that have are widespread.

    When Emma Simpson took her son Seb for a check on his broken toe, they joined the thousands of patients inconvenienced.

    WOMAN: They said, I’m really sorry, but the computer system is down. You are going to have to go away. We can’t have any appointments. It would be dangerous to do so because we can’t access any of the files.

    PAUL DAVIES: But this local doctor described the impact.

    DR. ROB BARNETT, General Practitioner: We have become isolated. We have got no access to the records. We have got no access to electronic prescriptions. We have got no access to investigations on patients.

    PAUL DAVIES: Latest information suggests as many as 40 health trusts may now be affected. The message to patients is hardly reassuring.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Two top security firms said most of the infected computers were in Russia. The Russian Interior Ministry reported that roughly 1,000 of its devices were affected. It’s still not clear who or what is behind the cyber-attack.

    The U.S. Justice Department has issued a directive to federal prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for the vast majority of criminal suspects. The move is a direct reversal of the policy that was put in place under former President Obama, which sought to reduce prison overcrowding.

    We will have more on the impact of the new sentencing directive a little later in the program.

    The Trump administration has unveiled its new trade deal with China. As part of the agreement, Beijing will lift a 13-year-old ban on U.S. beef imports. It will also allow U.S. shipments of liquefied natural gas and open the Chinese market to U.S. credit card companies. Chinese banks in turn will be permitted to enter the U.S. financial market, but an exact date has yet to be set.

    U.S. immigration agents have arrested nearly 1,400 suspected gang members across the U.S. in a massive six-week operation. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said fewer than a third of those arrested were illegal aliens. About 1,100 people taken into custody are being held on criminal charges.

    Last night, the agency’s acting director said the crackdown is far from over.

    THOMAS HOMAN, Acting Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Let me be clear that these violent criminal street gangs are the biggest threat facing our communities. Today, we speak about what we have done the past six weeks. Now, I want to make sure there’s no mistake. We are not done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The crackdown is the largest anti-gang operation in the agency’s history.

    North Korea’s parliament sent a rare letter to the U.S. Congress today protesting new sanctions that the House of Representatives passed earlier this month. They target the North’s shipping industry, and were in response to its nuclear program. North Korea called the measure a — quote — “heinous act against humanity,” and said — quote — “The U.S. House of Representatives should think twice.”

    It wasn’t immediately clear how the letter was sent, since the U.S. and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic relations.

    Hepatitis C infections have now nearly tripled in the U.S. That’s according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers attribute the increase to the opioid epidemic and a spike in heroin use from the years 2010 to 2015. The highest rates of infections were among people in their 20s who inject drugs.

    Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than a million Ram pickup trucks in the U.S. to fix a software glitch. The automaker said the error could prevent side air bags and seat belts from working during a vehicle rollover. The defect has been blamed for at least one death.

    And stocks were mixed on Wall Street today after poor showings by department stores and Treasury yields. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 23 points to close at 20896. The Nasdaq rose five points, and the S&P 500 slipped three. For the week, both the Dow and the S&P 500 lost a fraction of a percent. The Nasdaq rose a fraction of a percent.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re 113 days into the Trump presidency, with more than 1,300 left until the next Inauguration Day. At times, it’s felt like a whirlwind, and this week may have brought the most tumultuous yet.

    Our Lisa Desjardins brings us up to speed.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, Deputy White House Press Secretary: And now I will take your questions.

    LISA DESJARDINS: A roller-coast week for the White House ended with more turbulence and questions.

    QUESTION: Does he think it’s appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey?

    LISA DESJARDINS: After reports that allies of fired FBI Director James Comey insist he never told President Trump that he wasn’t under investigation, the opposite of the president’s version.

    This morning, a tweeting President Trump fired out: “Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations.”

    At the White House, reporters asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer if that was meant as a message.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: That is not a threat. He’s simply stated a fact.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Asked repeatedly if there are recording devices in the Oval Office, Spicer refused to answer.

    SEAN SPICER: The president has nothing further to add on that.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The back and forth and back again this week has been dizzying. It may clear things up to look at the two core issues: Why was Director Comey fired, and when was that decision made?

    First, why — here’s what the president said yesterday to NBC News.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But just one day earlier, Wednesday, Vice President Pence told reporters the issues were a lack of confidence and recommendations from the Justice Department.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The American people have to have confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And because of the actions that the deputy attorney general outlined to the president that were endorsed and agreed with by the attorney general, the president made the right decision at the right time.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Pence was referencing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His letter released Tuesday centered on charges that Comey mishandled the Clinton investigation, nothing about Russia.

    The other rationale for Comey’s firing — it was in the president’s letter to Comey — restoring trust and confidence in the FBI, but that was directly countered yesterday by acting FBI Chief Andrew McCabe.

    ANDREW MCCABE, Acting FBI Director: I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.

    LISA DESJARDINS: At different times, the White House pointed to three different reasons for the Comey firing. There were also varying descriptions of when and how that decision was made.

    Here’s the president in yesterday’s NBC interview.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey, my decision. I was going to fire, regardless of recommendation.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That is at odds with the previous two days of staff statements.

    First, Press Secretary Spicer speaking off-camera minutes after the Comey firing told reporters it was a DOJ decision made by no one at the White House.

    Wednesday, Vice President Pence pointed seven times to the Justice Department recommendation.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: President Trump made the right decision at the right time, and to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, to ask for the termination, to support the termination of the director of the FBI.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Same day, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders implied the Justice Department initiated the idea to fire Comey.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: He did have a conversation with the deputy attorney general on Monday, where they had come to him to express their concerns.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But one day later, a change: Sanders said the president had told her he decided earlier.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question. I have since had the conversation with him right before I walked on today, and he laid it out very clearly. He’d already made that decision. He’d been thinking about it for months.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Today, the president tweeted that he is a very active president and it’s not possible for his surrogates to have perfect accuracy.

    Press Secretary Spicer summed up the Comey firing this way today:

    SEAN SPICER: This is always going to be the president’s decision, to hire someone, to fire someone. He made a decision, in part based on the recommendation. And he is now focused on making sure that we will have a replacement at the FBI.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Spicer said there is no set timeline for the president to choose his new FBI nominee, that it will happen when he finds the right person.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we are joined now from the White House by correspondent John Yang.

    So, John, a few other threads that we want to pursue right now. One is, the president was asked earlier this week by Senator Lindsey Graham for a letter to certify that he had — to explain what his connections are to Russia. Now you have seen that letter. What does it say?

    JOHN YANG: Well, it’s from his tax attorneys. They have looked at the past 10 years of his tax returns. They say they show no investments in Russia, show no loan payments, interest payments to lenders from Russia.

    They say the only income was about $12 million in 2013 for the Miss Universe Pageant and the proceeds for a $95 million sale of a Florida estate to a Russian billionaire. But tax experts say that this is not conclusive, that there are many other ways that the president could have dealings with Russia that are not included in this letter.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, John, separately, another issue that’s come up in all this back and forth that we just heard from Lisa has to do with the White House press briefing, and the president had something interesting to say about that today.

    JOHN YANG: He’s got an idea of his own. He said, instead of a daily briefing, there should only be a briefing once every two weeks, and that he should give it. He said he thinks that’s a good idea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we don’t know yet whether that’s going to take place.

    Just quickly, John, one other story I want to ask you about, the conflicting reports about a dinner that the president had with James Comey in late January?

    JOHN YANG: That’s right.

    In the interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, the president said that this was a dinner that Mr. Comey had asked for because he wanted to keep his job. Friends of Mr. Comey’s say that that was actually not the case from his point of view. He says that he was asked to come to the White House for dinner.

    And he also said — Comey said that he was asked several times by the president whether he could have his personal loyalty, whether the president would have his personal loyalty. He said that all he could promise was that he would have his honesty.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot to keep track of. John Yang, we thank you.

    And we will get another view of the firing of FBI Director Comey from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That’s right after the news summary.

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