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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We return our focus to the White House, how the Trump administration is responding to mounting tensions, and how that compares to past administrations, with Gerald Seib, executive Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. And Christopher Ruddy, he’s the CEO of the conservative Newsmax media and a friend of President Trump.

    And welcome, both of you, to the program.

    Chris Ruddy, I’m going to start with you.

    You told The Wall Street Journal for their today’s editions that right now the White House is in a what you call perpetual quagmire on side issues. What did you mean by that?

    CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, Newsmax: Well, the side issues are things you have been talking about, Judy, and a lot of the other media on the Russia issue.

    Sometimes, the president’s tweets cause some of those side issues. And they’re not focusing on the — I think the big agenda items of the Trump administration that are very positive for him, such as his jobs programs and efforts there, the fact that he is getting China to open up its markets for the first time in 30 years to American businesses, incredible movement on making the country more secure.

    And those things are not being talked about, and they’re focusing on personnel issues and other things that are not necessarily moving their agenda or making the president more popular.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jerry Seib, how do you see the state of affairs right now in the White House?

    GERALD SEIB, The Wall Street Journal: Well, I think there is a danger at a time like this that the controversy, the scandal, the investigation swallows up to the rest of the agenda.

    And we saw this — I think back to the Reagan White House in the second term, the Iran-Contra scandal. You saw it, as well as I did. And there was a real danger that the whole second term could be swallowed up by that scandal, and so the White House moved.

    It brought in new blood. It brought in a new chief of staff, a new White House counsel, a new national security adviser. And, importantly, it set up an entire separate channel to handle the investigation, the scandal, the controversy, trying to wall off the rest of the agenda, so it wouldn’t get consumed, and so the rest of the White House staff could work on things other than the scandal that seemed to be everywhere.

    It took a long while, and people who worked in that White House think they lost almost an entire year to the controversy, but eventually they figured out how to get some other things done. I think that’s in many ways the challenge before the Trump White House right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris Ruddy, you talk to this president on a regular …


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, pick up on that, because I’m curious to know how the president is seeing this. Does he feel he’s able to turn things around?

    CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: Well, I always say Donald Trump moves in two parallel tracks at the same time.

    There’s the controversial political guy that’s always out there with his tweets. He comes from a showbiz background, as well as a very successful career in finance and real estate. He loves sometimes the controversy more than some people — the press thinks they’re totally aggravating him.

    He sometimes thrives on the public controversy and the hitting back. Meanwhile, he’s very results-oriented. He knows that the American people are going to judge him by his performance on the economy, on jobs, on national security.

    And on those things, Judy, he has been pushing forward relentlessly. I spoke to Steve Bannon today. And he said to me that they are — the morale in the administration is very high, that they’re pushing forward on all these agenda items. They’re not going to get bogged down on these investigations. And I think that’s the important thing. And I think the president will keep his eye on the ball.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jerry Seib, if that’s the case, is that coming across?

    JERRY SEIB: Well, I don’t think, at the moment it is. And there’s a tendency at a time like this in the White House to think, well, the problem is the press or the problem is the leakers, and if we could just have a better communication strategy and get our message out, everything will be OK.

    And it’s rarely that simple. I think one of the realities that I think past presidents have discovered at times like this is, the one thing you can’t really do is stonewall the investigative process. You have to sort of let it play out. And, in fact, clearing the air is an important thing in the long run.

    In the short run, that’s a very tough thing for any president to see. But I do think, right now — and this is why the next few weeks I think are really crucial — the way you look forward out of a rut like that is to show some forward momentum on your agenda in Washington.

    The problem right now is that, on health care and the budget and tax cuts, that doesn’t look like it’s going to be an easy thing to do. You need to put some wins on the board.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris Ruddy, is that feasible?

    CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: Well, let’s start with one other — well, Gerald says stonewalling the investigative process.

    Where has the president stonewalled the investigative process? They’re cooperating with Congress. He’s never said for Congress — he’s got majorities in the House and Senate. Never encouraged anybody to shut down investigation, never — even with the firing of Comey, he could have — the way you shut down that investigation was in the Justice Department. He knew that.

    He could have tried to shut down that investigation. There was never — he was upset that Comey was pursuing this, when people are making leaks of the most highly classified conversations our president can have with foreign leaders, and they’re making them out of the intelligence community, and nobody wants to investigate that.

    And yet he feels, after six months of investigating Russia, they keep saying there’s no evidence of collusion on this, but yet it keeps going on and on.

    So, I don’t think he — there is any evidence that he’s been trying to shut down these investigations. But, at the same time, I think he’s frustrated that the media keeps focusing on them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But is it realistic, Jerry Seib — and I will come back to you, Chris Ruddy, on this — to expect that the media is just going to stand down while these investigations take place?

    GERALD SEIB: Well, first, I wasn’t saying that there had been stonewalling. I’m saying that’s the temptation at a time like this. And I think past presidents have learned you have to avoid that temptation. So, I agree with Chris entirely on that.

    I think it’s not realistic to think that the press is going to stand down. And this is going to be with us for a while. So I think the way you approach this is, you accept that there’s going to be this distraction, but you can’t make it — allow it to become an all-consuming distraction.

    And so you almost need a two-track strategy. And that’s really the point I was trying to make.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris Ruddy, is there — are there more staff …


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

    CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: No, you go ahead, Judy. I keep interrupting you.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re …

    CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: This is my first time on your show, so I’m learning your tempo a little bit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I’m curious to know, are there going to be, you expect, more staff changes? We saw the communications director leave today, or expected the leave after today.

    CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: I think there will be.

    I don’t think it’s going to be wholesale. Like, sometimes, the press says, President Trump is going the make this wild, major shakeup. I don’t — I think there will be changes. Again, let’s go back to certain core facts here.

    This is a man that was never a politician, never in Washington. He brought in some fresh faces. He thought it was going to open up government. He realizes he needs more veteran, experienced hands. He’s on a learning curve, I think a pretty fast one. He’s brought in some very good people in the Cabinet. He’s deferring to them on most of the major stuff, which is good.

    And he’s brought in McMaster, who is excellent. And he’s bringing in other people. And I think you see these changes over time. I think it will be very healthy for him. I think it’s going to be good for the country as a whole. But I do think there will be additional changes coming down the pike.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, very quickly, if that’s what they do, Jerry Seib, can that make a difference?

    GERALD SEIB: I think it can, absolutely.

    And I think one of the things you have to remember is that Republicans on the Hill who control the House and the Senate, they’re the ones who kind of have to take the next step at pushing the agenda forward. That’s not all on Donald Trump. That’s on Republican leadership in the House and the Senate as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to have to leave it there.

    Gentlemen, we look forward to having you back to discuss this and much more to follow.

    Jerry Seib, Chris Ruddy, thank you.

    The post Can the Trump administration advance its agenda amid turmoil? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to my interview with the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

    He served in that post for six-and-a-half years under President Obama, stepping down just this past January. We spoke earlier today.

    Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, thank you very much for talking with us.

    JAMES CLAPPER, Former U.S. National Intelligence Director: Well, thanks for having me, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me start with the news that was out this morning from CNN, essentially, that U.S. intelligence officials last year picked up from Russian sources that Russian government officials said they had derogatory information about then-candidate Donald Trump and people close to him, some of his top aides.

    Do you know anything about this?

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I can’t comment on specific reports, whether we have them or not or the content of them.

    I will say, though, that, in general, that there was concern that all of us had about these interactions, whether we had direct reflections or indirect reflections of them, based on discussions among the Russians themselves.

    We didn’t know the intent and we didn’t know the content, but, in the context of what else the Russians were doing to interfere with our election and the long history of what the Russians do — have done and continue to do to undermine us, undermine our processes and undermine our system, there was great concern about what was going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about another story that surfaced in the last week, and that has to do with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

    Essentially, it was reported that he was trying to set up a secret back channel to Russian government officials in early December, during the transition last year.

    Is there any rational explanation, any explanation you can think of for doing that?

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I guess a benign explanation was simply an outreach to the Russians, the Russian government. So that’s not, in and of itself, untoward.

    But, again, not knowing the intent or the content, and whether or not the sort of time-honored principle of one president at a time in this country, that did give rise, particularly given the attempts to mask, apparently, this dialogue, so that was certainly a concern to all of us. It certainly was to me personally.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you think of a reason why it would be necessary to have a secret — a channel that was secret from U.S. intelligence agencies?

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, if it’s true — and, again, I’m not — I can’t confirm or deny — but if it’s true that the objective here was to use Russian secure communications as the mode of this dialogue or this communication, that is, I will say, curious. Why all the cloak-and-dagger secrecy?

    If the intent was simply to reach out to establish — to make acquaintance — but one wonders if there was something worse than that or more nefarious than that. And, again, we didn’t know, I certainly didn’t know before I left the government on the 20th of January.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m asking because yesterday — or, over the weekend, the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, said in an interview, he said, it’s a good thing. He said, if there were attempts to open lines of communication, it’s a good thing. It’s a positive thing.

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, it could be, and I agree with him.

    And, again, this is not a new thing. Other governments have sought back channels, and particularly as administrations change over. But there is an art form here to how this is done, and there is a line between reaching out, establishing lines of communication, vs. substantively undermining the policies of the current administration.

    And, again, we do have a principle here of one president at a time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about two recent disclosures of classified information by the president himself. One was in a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office when the president shared information about ISIS capabilities …


    JUDY WOODRUFF: … that had all the earmarks of coming from Israeli intelligence, and then separately in a conversation with the president of the Philippines, when the president said that two U.S. nuclear subs had been in the vicinity of North Korea.

    Is this truly damaging information to share, or is all this overblown?

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, certainly, I guess there are two dimensions to this.

    One, the public revelation of this, which, of course, was in both cases somehow leaked to the media, that — and leaks, I have to say, are bad. I know that’s the lifeblood of the media business, but, for the intelligence community, leaks are bad. They compromise sources and methods, tradecraft, in some cases, can endanger the lives of assets. So, leaks are damaging.

    The other dimension, of course, is the revelation of these things to a foreign government. Well, that kind of thing goes on all the time, but it’s also in due deference to protecting either the operational equities or the intelligence equities.

    And it’s not something you just kind of wing extemporaneously.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: These incidents must give some in the intelligence community pause.

    JAMES CLAPPER: I’m sure it does. And it’s not exactly confidence-building.

    And I think that’s important to restore or achieve a level of confidence that that flow can continue unabated.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you hear from your friends in the intelligence community about their view of President Trump?

    JAMES CLAPPER: I think the view of the intelligence community, as much as I explained to him when I spoke with him by phone on the 11th of January, after he characterized the intelligence community as Nazis, that the national intelligence community is a national treasure, and that the men of the women of the community stand ready to support the president, whoever it is, particularly in his role as commander in chief.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The terrorist threat. Over the last few days, the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, has painted a pretty frightening picture. He said at one point he expects — quote — “a lot more attacks” like the one in Manchester, England.

    And he said: “The terror threat is worse than most people realize. If people knew what I knew, they would never leave the house in the morning.”

    Do you share …

    JAMES CLAPPER: And he went on to praise the counterterrorism efforts that we have under way, of course, very much of which the intelligence community is involved in.

    And we have gone to great lengths and made great investments to try to ensure that we don’t have a similar instance as happened in Manchester. But I would point out that this may not necessarily come from outside. And the issues we have had in this country have been caused by U.S. citizens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you share that level of alarm, though, that people wouldn’t leave their houses if they knew …

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I’m here, so I left my house this morning.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: North Korea. Do you believe there’s a realistic chance now that North Korea could pull back from its nuclear weapons development program?

    JAMES CLAPPER: I think it’s unlikely, and I certainly think it’s not realistic for us to expect the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons. That is their ticket to survival.

    I was taken aback when I visited North Korea in November 2014 to bring out two of our citizens who were in hard labor then. And I have been a student of the Korean Peninsula for a long time, ever since I served there as the director of intelligence for U.S. Forces Korea in the mid-80s.

    But I had underestimated the level of paranoia and the siege mentality that prevails in Pyongyang. And, as they look out outward, all they see are enemies. And so they’re not going to give up their nuclear weapons.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you’re going to be in South Korea in coming days. What do you think the best approach is for the United States?

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I think dialogue. And I know we have had — there’s a long history here of dialogue which hasn’t turned out so well with the North Koreans. I attempted it myself.

    But I think that’s a far better option than a military confrontation, which I think would be a disaster.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much does it matter what the president says and tweets?

    JAMES CLAPPER: Well, it matters a lot. Words count. And it’s quite important what he says or doesn’t say.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One final question about Robert Mueller. You know him well, named special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.

    How confident are you that he’s going to be able to get to the bottom of what happened?

    JAMES CLAPPER: I think that was an inspired, brilliant choice to pick Bob Mueller for that function.

    In my opinion, he’s cut from the same cloth as Jim Comey, two outstanding public servants. And Bob will get to the bottom of this, and he will not be intimidated by any outside influences.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, thank you very much.

    JAMES CLAPPER: Thank you.

    The post Clapper: Jared Kushner’s alleged secret back channel with Russia ‘curious’ and unusual appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pentagon building

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The U.S. military announced that it knocked a mock warhead out of the sky in the first such test in three years. It targeted a long-range missile like the one that North Korea is developing. An interceptor launched from Southern California hit the warhead that was launched from more than 4,000 miles away over the Pacific Ocean.

    South Korea’s president charged today that the U.S. delivered more anti-missile launchers to his country without his approval, and he demanded an investigation. Moon Jae-in took office this month after his predecessor was ousted in a corruption scandal. Moon wants to review the decision to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system. Now a spokesman says he wasn’t told about the new launchers arriving.

    YOON YOUNG-CHAN, Presidential Spokesman, South Korea (through interpreter): President Moon was briefed on such facts, and said it was very shocking. He ordered his senior secretary for civil affairs and the national security council chief to find the truth behind the unauthorized entry of the four rocket launchers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Both China and North Korea strongly oppose South Korea installing the anti-missile system.

    The death toll in Sri Lanka has hit at least 194 in the wake of severe floods and mudslides. The disaster started last Friday. Today, Indian aid teams off-loaded shiploads of goods as rescue efforts continued. Water levels slowly receded as the weather cleared. Almost 100 people are still missing, and more than 80,000 are still displaced and remain in relief camps.

    Back in this country, the Portland, Oregon, man accused of fatally stabbing two other men appeared in court today. Police say the victims intervened as Jeremy Christian was verbally abusing two young Muslim women. The 35-year-old suspect repeatedly shouted to the courtroom during his briefing hearing.

    JEREMY CHRISTIAN, Stabbing Suspect: Death to the enemies of America. Leave this country if your hate our freedoms. You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism. You hear me? Die.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The mayor of Portland says he hopes the killings will lead to changes in the nation’s political dialogue.

    The city of Cleveland has fired the police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice. Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Rice at a recreation center in 2014. It happened moments after Loehmann and another officer answered a call about someone pointing a gun. It turned out Rice had a pellet gun. Cleveland’s police chief says that Loehmann was fired for inaccurate details on his job application, and not for the Rice shooting itself.

    CALVIN WILLIAMS, Chief, Cleveland Police Department: There’s a 12-year-old kid dead, so, I mean, you know, people on both sides are going to say it wasn’t enough, it was too much. After, you know, over two years of investigation by our agency, the county prosecutor’s office and the sheriff’s department, I think we have come to a — what we consider a fair conclusion to this process.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Loehmann’s partner on the force was suspended for 10 days for a driving violation.

    Meanwhile, five people are dead and 44 wounded in Chicago after a wave of shootings over the Memorial Day weekend. The holiday has become one of the deadliest times of the year in the city. This year’s numbers are actually lower than last year, when seven people were killed and 61 wounded.

    Police in Florida now confirm that golfing great Tiger Woods had not been drinking when they arrested him early Monday. A police report confirms Woods’ statement that alcohol wasn’t involved. It does say the golfer was — quote — “asleep at the wheel” and that his speech was — quote — “extremely slow and slurred.” Woods is still facing a charge of driving under the influence. He blames a reaction to medication.

    On Wall Street, a seven-day rally ended as interest rates fell and pulled down bank stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 50 points to close at 21029. The Nasdaq fell seven, and the S&P 500 slipped about three.

    And former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega died in Panama City today. He grabbed power in the early 1980s and initially became a U.S. ally, but a U.S. invasion ousted him in 1989, and he served 17 years in a U.S. federal prison for drug trafficking and money laundering. He later served time in France and back in Panama as well.

    Manuel Noriega was 83 years old.

    The post News Wrap: U.S. military successfully stops missile in simulated attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: From the outside, it appears the Trump White House has spent this day fending off questions about ties to Russia, relations with Germany, and staff shakeups, all of this as the president tries to move ahead amid the turmoil.

    John Yang has our report.

    JOHN YANG: It was the first on-camera White House briefing in more than two weeks, but topic A was still the Russian connection. Press Secretary Sean Spicer brushed aside reports that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner met the Russian ambassador in December, seeking to set up a direct line to Russian President Vladimir Putin outside normal diplomatic channels.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: I think that assumes a lot, and I would just say that Mr. Kushner’s attorney has said that Mr. Kushner has volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings and he will do the same if he’s contacted or connected with any other inquiry.

    JOHN YANG: The New York Times reported investigators are also looking into a meeting Kushner held with the head of a state-owned Russian bank that is under U.S. sanctions. And CNN reported that, during the presidential campaign, U.S. intelligence intercepted Russian officials, saying they had potentially derogatory financial information about Mr. Trump and some top aides.

    This morning, the president tweeted: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. and how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the fake news.”

    Now back home, after his first overseas trip, Mr. Trump traded tough words today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After the two met at European summits, the German leader said, “We in Europe have to take our fate into our own hands.”

    In turn, the president tweeted: “We have a massive trade deficit with Germany. Plus, they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. This will change.”

    Today, Spicer insisted the leaders’ relationship is unbelievable.

    SEAN SPICER: They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continued to grow the bond they had during their talks in the G7.

    JOHN YANG: All this comes amid rumblings of a staff shakeup. White House communications director Michael Dubke has quit after only three months on the job, and the White House may set up a rapid-response war room to deal with the Russia investigations.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will take a closer look at how all this affects work at the White House later in the program.

    The post Back at the White House, Trump administration fends off questions on Kushner, Germany appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool - RTX37KZJ

    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium. A French official told the AP that Trump gave Macron his cell phone number, something he has also done with other world leaders, AP reports. Photo by Peter Dejong/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications.

    Trump has urged leaders of Canada and Mexico to reach him on his cellphone, according to former and current U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the practice. Of the two, only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken advantage of the offer so far, the officials said.

    Trump also exchanged numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron when the two spoke immediately following Macron’s victory earlier this month, according to a French official, who would not comment on whether Macron intended to use the line.

    All the officials demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the conversations. Neither the White House nor Trudeau’s office responded to requests for comment.

    The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world. But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels. The formalities and discipline of diplomacy have been a rough fit for Trump — who, before taking office, was long easily accessible by cellphone and viewed himself as freewheeling, impulsive dealmaker.

    WATCH: Can the Trump administration advance its agenda amid turmoil?

    Presidents generally place calls on one of several secure phone lines, including those in the White House Situation Room, the Oval Office or the presidential limousine. Even if Trump uses his government-issued cellphone, his calls are vulnerable to eavesdropping, particularly from foreign governments, national security experts say.

    “If you are speaking on an open line, then it’s an open line, meaning those who have the ability to monitor those conversations are doing so,” said Derek Chollet, a former Pentagon adviser and National Security Council official now at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

    A president “doesn’t carry with him a secure phone,” Chollet said. “If someone is trying to spy on you, then everything you’re saying, you have to presume that others are listening to it.”

    The caution is warranted even when dealing with allies. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s learned in 2013, when a dump of American secrets leaked by Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. was monitoring her cellphone, good relations don’t prevent some spycraft between friends.

    “If you are Macron or the leader of any country and you get the cellphone number of the president of the United States, it’s reasonable to assume that they’d hand it right over to their intel service,” said Ashley Deeks, a law professor at the University of Virginia who formerly served as the assistant legal adviser for political-military affairs in the U.S. State Department.

    The practice opens Trump up to charges of hypocrisy. Throughout last year’s presidential campaign, he lambasted Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a private email server while she was secretary of state, insisting she should not be given access to classified information because she would leave it vulnerable to foreign foes.

    READ MORE: White House communications director Michael Dubke resigns amid tensions

    Presidents’ phone calls with world leaders often involve considerable advance planning. State Department and National Security Council officials typically prepare scripted talking points and background on the leader on the other end of the line. Often an informal transcript of the call is made and circulated among a select group — sometimes a small clutch of aides, sometimes a broader group of foreign policy officials. Those records are preserved and archived.

    The White House did not respond to questions on whether the president is keeping records of any less-formal calls with world leaders.

    Trump’s White House is already facing scrutiny for apparent efforts to work outside usual diplomatic channels.

    The administration has been fending off questions about a senior aide’s attempt to set up a secret back channel of communication with Moscow in the weeks before Trump was took office. White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, met in December with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. and discussed whether a secret line of communication could be used to facilitate sensitive policy discussions about the conflict in Syria, according to a person familiar with the talks. The person demanded anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the sensitive conversation by name.

    The practice opens Trump up to charges of hypocrisy; throughout his campaign, he said Hillary Clinton should not be given access to classified information because his Democratic rival would leave it vulnerable to foreign foes. Trump’s White House is already facing scrutiny for apparent efforts to work outside usual diplomatic channels.

    The White House has said such back channel communications are useful and discreet.

    Trump has struggled more than most recent presidents to keep his conversations with world leaders private. His remarks to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Russian diplomats have all leaked, presumably after notes of the conversations were circulated by national security officials.

    It was unclear whether an impromptu, informal call with a foreign leader would be logged and archived. The Presidential Records Act of 1981, passed in response to the Watergate scandal, requires that the president and his staff preserve all records related to the office. In 2014, the act was amended to include personal emails.

    But the law contains “blind spots” — namely, record-keeping for direct cellphone communications, said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in public interest and national security law.

    Under Barack Obama, the first cellphone-toting president, worries about cyber intrusions — particularly by foreign governments — pulled the president’s devices deep into the security bubble. Many of the functions on Obama’s BlackBerry were blocked, and a very small handful of people had his phone number or email address, according to former aides.

    “Government sometimes looks like a big bureaucracy that has stupid rules, but a lot of these things are in place for very good reasons and they’ve been around for a while and determine the most effective way to do business in the foreign policy sphere,” said Deeks. “Sometimes it takes presidents longer to figure that out.”

    Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

    The post AP report: Trump has urged world leaders to call his cell phone appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin will speak at a news briefing with reporters Wednesday in the White House.

    Shulkin is expected to begin speaking at 11:30 a.m. EST Wednesday. Watch live in the player above.

    The White House did not indicate what Shulkin will address. Earlier this month, Shulkin said he is considering closing more than 1,100 VA facilities nationwide, “as it develops plans to allow more veterans to receive medical care in the private sector.”

    On Monday, the AP reported the government was opening dozens of new investigations into possible opioid and drug theft from veterans’ care facilities by VA employees.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post WATCH LIVE: Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin to speak at news briefing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    In a move seemingly set to inspire heavy metal songs for years to come, NASA wants to send a probe directly into our sun’s atmosphere.

    NASA will announce the details of Solar Probe Plus (or Solar Probe+) on Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET from the University of Chicago’s William Eckhardt Research Center Auditorium.

    Solar Probe Plus would orbit within four million miles of the sun’s blazing surface in order to answer longstanding questions about the inner workings of stars. Such observations can improve space weather forecasts and prepare Earth for drastic events like solar flares, which can cripple our electronics.

    The Ulysses probe — a joint operation between NASA and the European Space Agency — was the last probe to orbit the sun. It was deactivated in 2009.

    Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, prepare the developing Solar Probe Plus spacecraft for thermal vacuum tests that simulate conditions in space. Photo by NASA/JHUAPL

    Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, prepare the developing Solar Probe Plus spacecraft for thermal vacuum tests that simulate conditions in space. Photo by NASA/JHUAPL

    NASA approved the construction of Solar Probe Plus in April 2015. The space agency plans to launch Solar Probe Plus during a 30-day window that opens July 31, 2018.

    This story will be updated.

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    Flynn’s cooperation was the first signal that he and the Senate panel have found common ground. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.

    Flynn’s decision Tuesday came as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, rejected a House intelligence committee request for information, and former White House staffer Boris Epshteyn confirmed he has been contacted for information as part of the House investigation.

    Meanwhile, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded similar tones as they criticized the ongoing U.S. scrutiny of Russia’s attempts to sway the presidential election.

    Flynn’s cooperation was the first signal that he and the Senate panel have found common ground. Congressional investigators continue to press for key documents in the ongoing investigation, and the retired lieutenant general is trying to limit damaging disclosures that hostile Democratic lawmakers could use against him.

    Flynn had previously invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in declining an earlier subpoena from the committee, which sought a wide array of documents and information related to his contacts with Russia. Flynn’s attorneys had argued the request was too broad and would have required Flynn to turn over information that could have been used against him.

    In response, the Senate panel narrowed the scope of its request. It also issued subpoenas seeking records from Flynn’s businesses.

    One of the businesses, Flynn Intel Group Inc., did consulting work for a Turkish businessman that required Flynn to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent earlier this year. The other, Flynn Intel Group LLC, was used to accept money from Flynn’s paid speeches. Among the payments was more than $33,000 Flynn received from RT, the Russian state-sponsored television network that U.S. intelligence officials have branded as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

    On Tuesday, a person close to Flynn said he will turn over documents related to the two businesses as well as some personal documents the committee sought in the narrower request. Flynn plans to produce some of the documents by next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Flynn’s private interactions with the committee.

    While the Senate committee awaits documents from Flynn, Putin and Trump both dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic emails.

    In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday. Putin also said the allegations are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss.

    Trump made a similar claim in a tweet early Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”

    Meanwhile, Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, told the AP that he turned down a request for information from the House intelligence committee looking into the Russian interference.

    “I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen said. “I find it irresponsible and improper that the request sent to me was leaked by those working on the committee.”

    Earlier Tuesday, the AP reported, citing a congressional aide, that the House intelligence committee had subpoenaed Cohen. The aide later retracted the statement. Cohen said if he is subpoenaed, he will comply.

    Cohen, a longtime attorney for the Trump Organization, remains a personal lawyer for Trump. He served as a cable television surrogate for the Republican during the presidential campaign.

    Cohen told ABC News that he had been asked by both the House and Senate intelligence committees to provide information and testimony about contacts he had with Russian officials.

    Cohen’s ties with Russian interests came up in February when The New York Times reported that Cohen helped to broker a Ukraine peace plan that would call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum to let Ukrainians decide whether the part of the country seized by Russia in 2014 should be leased to Moscow. The Russian government denied knowing anything about such a plan.

    The Times reported that the peace plan was the work of Felix Sater, a business associate who has helped Trump try to find business in Russia, and Cohen.

    Cohen was a fierce defender of Trump during the campaign, often haranguing probing reporters and famously challenging a CNN reporter live on-air to name the specific polls that showed then-candidate Trump behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.

    In the early 2000s, he formed his own firm working on a range of legal matters, including malpractice cases, business law and work on an ethanol business in Ukraine. Cohen also owned and operated a handful of taxi medallions, managing a fleet of cabs in New York.

    Cohen’s business associates in the taxi enterprise included a number of men from the former Soviet Union, including his Ukrainian-born father-in-law.

    Cohen has made his own unsuccessful attempts at public office, losing a city council race and briefly running for state assembly in New York.

    The House intelligence committee has also sought information from Epshteyn, a former staffer in the Trump White House.

    Epshteyn said in a statement that he has asked the committee questions to better understand what information it is seeking and will determine whether he can reasonably provide it.

    Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, worked a short time in the White House press office. He left in March and now works as a political analyst for right-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting.


    Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Eileen Sullivan and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report. Pearson reported from New York.

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    Scores of people were killed or wounded on May 31 as a massive blast ripped through Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, shattering the morning rush hour and bringing carnage to the streets of the Afghan capital. Photo by Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

    A truck bomb exploded in the embassy and presidential palace quarter in Kabul during the heart of morning rush hour, killing scores and injuring hundreds in one of the most heavily secured areas of the city.

    • Hospitals initially reported 80 people were killed by the blast and 350 were wounded. Those numbers are expected to rise.
    • “The blast was so huge that it dug a big crater as deep as four meters,” or 13 feet, General Frogh told the New York Times.
    • The truck bomb was described as a water tanker truck, which is used to empty septic wells.
    • The German embassy was heavily damaged, but the Washington Post reports that it’s unclear if the building was targeted.
    • No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing yet, but Afghanistan has been losing ground in its battle against extremists. “Both the Taliban and Islamic State have stepped up attacks on Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan,” reports NPR’s Jennifer Glasse.

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    WASHINGTON — A midnight tweet from President Donald Trump has social media trying to find a meaning in the mysterious term “covfefe.”

    Trump tweeted just after midnight on Wednesday: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

    The tweet immediately went viral and became one of the president’s more popular posts before it was taken down after nearly six hours online. Trump poked fun at the typo, tweeting around 6 a.m., “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!”

    The term became a top trending item on Twitter, with many users supplying tongue-in-cheek meanings. One user joked that “covfefe” is already a popular name for babies in states that voted for Trump. Silicon Valley executive Andrew Crow went as far to change his last name on Twitter to “Covfefe.” Jimmy Kimmel lamented that he’ll never write anything funnier than the term.

    Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster checked in with an eye-rolling tweet about people looking up “covfefe” on its website. Dozens of definitions have been submitted the Urban Dictionary website, which crowdsources meanings for slang terms.

    The president returned to his normal Twitter routine later in the morning by slamming Democrats over the probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

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    WASHINGTON — A White House official says President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.

    But the official says there may be “caveats in the language” that Trump uses to announce the withdrawal — leaving open the possibility that the decision isn’t final.

    The official insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the decision before the official announcement.

    Nearly 200 nations, including the United States, agreed in 2015 to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change.

    During Trump’s overseas trip last week, European leaders pressed him to keep the U.S. in the landmark agreement.

    Trump promised during his presidential campaign to pull the U.S. out of the deal.

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    FILE PHOTO - Kushner arrives to join Trump and the rest of the U.S. delegation to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the Royal Court in Riyadh

    Should Jared Kushner be lauded for reaching out to improve relations with Russia, or suspected of something more nefarious? Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Smart diplomacy or inappropriate — and possibly illegal?

    Jared Kushner’s reported attempt to establish a “back-channel” line of communication between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential transition team is proving divisive, even if such talks aren’t unusual.

    Supporters of the president say it’s laudable that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a trusted adviser, was working even before the inauguration to foster better relations with Russia.

    Critics say it’s a matter of context and timing. They call it a giant and arrogant step over the line — perhaps even treasonous — for a private citizen to try to set up covert communications with a hostile power like Russia, particularly after U.S. intelligence agencies accused Moscow of trying to interfere in the 2016 election to help Trump.

    A look at what constitutes back-channel diplomacy, some examples from history and the risks and benefits of such informal communications.



    Back-channel diplomacy refers to unofficial but direct, high-level communications that bypass formal channels, according to “Safire’s Political Dictionary.” These talks sometimes can help governments work through difficult problems and reduce tensions in lower-pressure settings away from the limelight. “They can be an incredibly effective tool in the diplomatic tool box,” says Richard Moss, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and author of the book, “Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow: Confidential Diplomacy and Detente.” But Moss added that such channels “work best when they supplement rather than supplant traditional diplomacy.”



    Back-channel talks have been common in U.S. diplomacy, especially when Washington lacks formal ties with another government it wants to speak with.

    The Obama administration, for example, approved months of secret meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials to clinch an interim 2013 nuclear deal.

    When the deal was done, President Barack Obama said the early informal talks explored “how much room” existed to get something done. Once the work became more technical, they merged into public talks with world powers.

    U.S. back-channel diplomacy with Cuba has its own long history. It spans the secret talks leading to Obama’s 2014 agreement to re-establish diplomatic ties back a half-century to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when President John Kennedy used his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to help defuse the crisis. President Richard Nixon used multiple back channels to interact with the Soviet Union.



    Back-channel talks during a presidential transition period can be particularly sensitive, as an incoming administration looks to get a head start on diplomacy while the current president still holds power. That’s one reason the Kushner overtures are getting so much attention. But even transition back channels aren’t unprecedented.

    Nixon set up two back channels to the Soviets while waiting to take over from President Lyndon Johnson, Moss says, including talks between Nixon adviser Henry Kissinger and KGB operative Boris Sedov.

    Those talks proved to be a “fruitful back channel between the leadership of our two countries,” former KGB general Oleg Kalugin wrote in “Spymaster: My Thirty-two years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West,” adding that Kissinger “began to convey to us that Nixon was no anti-Communist ogre and that he wanted improved relations with USSR.”

    Moss said longtime Nixon aide Robert Ellsworth also had a back channel with the Soviet ambassador and another Soviet diplomat that Nixon used, among other things, to kill Johnson’s idea of a summit involving his outgoing administration, the incoming Nixon team and the Kremlin.

    There have been persistent allegations of back-channel talks between aides close to Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and the Iranian government in 1980 amid U.S. negotiations to release American hostages in Iran. Reagan always denied such parallel talks. The hostages were freed hours after Reagan’s 1981 inauguration.

    Obama wasn’t averse to informal diplomatic channels before his 2008 election. When foreign policy adviser Daniel Kurtzer met with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s foreign minister in the summer of 2008, Obama’s campaign stressed that Kurtzer wasn’t a paid adviser or authorized to conduct talks with any government. Still, Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, criticized the outreach. McCain is now among those raising concerns about Kushner’s proposed back-channel talks.



    What exactly was Kushner up to? He talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about opening up a line of communication to explore options as the new administration developed a Syria policy, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders. In Syria’s civil war, Russia has backed Assad. The U.S. has supported anti-Assad rebels. Kushner proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for the discussions, apparently to make them more difficult to monitor, according to The Washington Post. Flynn never ended up using Russian facilities to talk to Moscow, U.S. officials said.



    Kushner’s outreach, at a time of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has fed accusations of Trump campaign collusion, which the FBI is investigating.

    Eliot Cohen, a veteran of George W. Bush’s State Department, tweeted that contacts between a transition team and foreign diplomats are normal. “What is not normal,” he added, “is asking a hostile government to provide secure comms to avoid FBI/NSA surveillance.”

    Former CIA boss Michael Hayden asked on CNN: “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or an appropriate idea?”

    Back channels are fine, Hayden said, “but you don’t do it when you’re not the government and I don’t think you do it using your adversary’s communications system.”



    Kushner’s contacts have revived talk about the Logan Act, a centuries-old law that prohibits U.S. citizens from trying to influence a foreign government in disputes with the United States. The act has been used so rarely that legal experts say it may no longer be valid. And no one has ever been found guilty of violating it.


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    President Donald Trump (C) gathers with Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    President Donald Trump gathers with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare. A new poll finds three out of four Americans do not believe the bill fulfills most of his promises Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has called the House-passed health care bill a “great plan,” but a new poll finds that three out of four Americans do not believe it fulfills most of his promises.

    The poll out Wednesday from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation also found a growing share of the public concerned that the GOP’s American Health Care Act will have negative consequences for them personally by increasing their costs, making it harder to get and keep health insurance, or reducing quality.

    “There is nothing in this poll, that if you were in the Senate, would cause you to rush out and pass the House bill,” said Drew Altman, president of the foundation, a clearinghouse for health system information. It was the latest in an ongoing series of Kaiser polls on health care.

    Senators are on recess this week, back in their home states sounding out constituents. In Washington, staffers are working on a legislative framework that can get 51 votes. In the poll, only 8 percent said the Senate should pass the House bill as it is.

    The House-passed AHCA would eventually lead to 23 million fewer people covered, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate. While it would reduce average premiums over time, it could also destabilize coverage for people with health problems in some states.

    The GOP bill would eliminate former President Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion and limit future federal financing for that safety net program. It would repeal the unpopular requirement that most people get covered or risk fines. It would continue to provide subsidies for private health insurance, but at a reduced level. And it would cut taxes on upper-income people that Democrats raised to finance their Affordable Care Act.

    CBO verdict: 51 million uninsured by 2026 under House health care bill

    As a candidate and as president, Trump has made reassuring promises about health care. While offering few details, he’s vowed to improve coverage and cut costs. Days ago the president tweeted, “I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead – the Republicans will do much better!”

    However, both the House GOP bill and Trump’s own budget would make big cuts across a range of health care programs, from insurance to medical research.

    In the poll, three-in-four said they don’t think the narrowly-passed House bill fulfills most of Trump’s promises. Thirty-five percent it fulfilled none of his promises, while 40 percent said the bill fulfills some Trump promises.

    In the poll, three-in-four said they don’t think the narrowly-passed House bill fulfills most of Trump’s promises. Thirty-five percent it fulfilled none of his promises, while 40 percent said the bill fulfills some Trump promises.

    Only 4 percent said the GOP bill fulfilled all of the president’s promises, while another 10 percent said it delivered on most of his promises.

    Drilling down to Republicans, only 30 percent said the bill delivered on all or most of Trump’s health care promises. Fifty-one percent said it fulfilled some pledges.

    Among independents, only 4 percent said the House GOP bill fulfills all the president’s promises, while 79 percent said it delivers on some or none.

    READ MORE: Across the country, activists ramp up fight against GOP health care bill

    On the plus side for Trump and his congressional allies, the poll found that the GOP base continues to support the House bill, with 67 percent of Republicans saying they view it favorably. And a plurality of Americans — 42 percent — expressed support for Medicaid work requirements favored by the GOP

    Other findings are not so reassuring.

    After Trump won, relatively few people saw personal risks from his promised repeal of Obama’s health overhaul. Only 28 percent thought it would increase the cost of their own health care, while 21 percent said it would worsen access to health insurance, and 19 percent were concerned about quality.

    Now, when asked about the GOP health care bill, 45 percent feared their costs would go up, 34 percent were worried about their ability to get and keep health insurance, and 34 percent were concerned that quality would suffer.

    WATCH: States need more flexibility from health care reform, says Arkansas governor

    The poll found that the ACA — or “Obamacare” — is more popular than the AHCA, or “Trumpcare.” Forty-nine percent had a favorable view of the ACA, compared to 31 percent who had a favorable view of the Republican AHCA.

    Twenty-nine percent said the Senate should not pass the GOP bill, while 26 percent wanted major changes, and 24 percent called for minor changes.

    The Kaiser poll was conducted from May 16-22 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,205 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

    The post House GOP health care bill does not deliver on Trump’s promises, poll says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    White House press secretary Sean Spicer is expected to address President Donald Trump’s upcoming decision on the Paris climate accord, among other topics, at a Wednesday briefing at the White House.

    Spicer is expected to begin around 2:30 p.m. EST. Listen live in the player above.

    President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from a landmark global climate agreement, a White House official said Wednesday, though Trump and aides were looking for “caveats in the language” related to the exit and had not made a final decision.

    Leaving the deal would fulfill a central campaign pledge, but would anger international allies who spent years in difficult negotiations that produced an accord to reduce carbon emissions.

    READ MORE: President Trump expected to withdraw U.S. from Paris climate accord

    Trump faced considerable pressure to hold to the deal during visits with European leaders and Pope Francis on his recent trip abroad. The official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the decision before the official announcement, said the president and his aides were finalizing the details of a pullout.

    Trump himself tweeted that “I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days.”

    While Trump currently favors an exit, he has been known to change his thinking on major decisions and tends to seek counsel from a range of inside and outside advisers, many with differing agendas, until the last minute.

    Trump’s top aides have been divided on the accord.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: There’s word that ousted FBI Director James Comey will testify that the president pressured him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. The fired national security adviser is under scrutiny over his Russia ties. CNN and The Wall Street Journal report that Comey is expected to tell that to the Senate Intelligence Committee as early as next week.

    And the House Intelligence Committee today issued subpoenas for Flynn, the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and others.

    President Trump today promised a decision “very soon” on whether the U.S. will quit the Paris accord on climate change. The White House wouldn’t confirm news reports that he is likely to withdraw, but will leave open the possibility of reversing his decision.

    We will take a closer look at this, and the day’s many reactions, later in the program.

    A tropical cyclone that tore through Southern Bangladesh has left thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees in ruined camps. They had fled persecution in Myanmar and were living in flimsy shelters when the storm struck Tuesday, killing seven people. Authorities evacuated 350,000 permanent coastal residents, but most of the refugees stayed behind. Now, many have lost what little they had.

    ABUL KASHEM, Rohingya Refugee (through interpreter): Yesterday, the storm destroyed my house. My son and daughter were injured. They are in a hospital. I was also injured. The roof has fallen on my chest. Now I don’t have any food and no money to repair my house.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The refugees spent last night exposed to the rain, waiting for outside aid to arrive.

    There’s word that President Trump has invited other countries’ leaders to call him on his private cell phone. The Associated Press and others report that this is raising concerns about holding sensitive conversations on unsecured lines. The reports say that Mr. Trump has given his cell number to the leaders of Mexico, Canada and France.

    Ivanka Trump’s fashion line is facing calls to cut ties with a shoe supplier in China. That’s after the arrests of three activists who had investigated labor abuses. The Democratic National Committee and Amnesty International both called today for the Trump brand to respond. The company declined comment.

    Separately, China has delayed enforcement of a new cyber-security law. It requires that foreign companies face government security checks and that they store their data inside China. That drew widespread complaints that it violates free trade agreements and opens the door to Chinese government snooping.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 20 points to close at 21008. The Nasdaq fell four points, and the S&P 500 slipped one.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The situation is deteriorating day by day. Those were the words of one of Afghanistan’s lawmakers after a huge truck bomb devastated part of Kabul today. It killed at least 90 people, and wounded 400 more.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has our report.

    MARGARET WARNER: A pall of black smoke, sirens wailing, chaos in the streets. A gigantic suicide bomb had detonated in the highly secured heart of the Afghan capital. The tremendous force of the blast gouged out a 15-foot crater and blew out windows as far as half-a-mile away.

    RAHIM, Witness (through interpreter): The explosion took place the minute we sat down. After the explosion, we hurried downstairs and saw all the things damaged. Many buildings were badly destroyed.

    MARGARET WARNER: Special correspondent Jennifer Glasse in Kabul, who spoke to us via Skype, said the bombing came as a jolt.

    JENNIFER GLASSE: It’s been quiet here in the Afghan capital for the last couple of weeks, almost eerily quiet. The weather’s been beautiful. People have been going out for picnics. The scale of this attack is really unprecedented, the worst we believe since 2001, and that is such a terrible, terrible shock to people.

    MARGARET WARNER: The bomb hidden in a septic tank cleaning truck rocked the diplomatic quarter at the height of morning rush hour. Despite its fortified blast wall, Germany’s embassy suffered extensive damage. The bomb site was also close to the Afghan presidential palace and defense ministry.

    The U.S. Embassy is about a mile away, yet 11 American contractors were hurt. Scores of the wounded were rushed to nearby hospitals, where some told of surviving the blast.

    SEBGHATULLAH KHAN, Victim (through interpreter): Everything was destroyed in my location. I don’t know what happened. There were lots of workers. A lot of people were martyred. All the people who were on the street were killed.

    MARGARET WARNER: In Nuremberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack.

    CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): In moments like these, it is once again clear to us that terrorism knows no boundaries. All of us who believe in the rights, the freedom and the dignity of mankind in Europe, America, in Africa, and of course also in Afghanistan will wage the battle against terrorists and we will win.

    MARGARET WARNER: Today’s bombing is just the latest in a string of attacks that have racked the Afghan capital. Security conditions have deteriorated sharply. And hundreds of Afghans have been killed in bombings from both a resurgent Taliban and a growing faction of the Islamic State.

    Jennifer Glasse says the Afghan security forces’ failure to protect them have roiled the country’s citizens.

    JENNIFER GLASSE: There’s a lot of anger here among the Afghan people. How this large truck got into this part of Kabul, heavily fortified — you’re not allowed to have big trucks in the center of Kabul during the daytime for security reasons and for traffic reasons. And so there are a lot of questions among the Afghan people how this could have possibly happened.

    MARGARET WARNER: The Taliban denied responsibility for today’s blast, and in fact condemned it.

    JENNIFER GLASSE: We have seen this before, especially in cases where there have been large civilian causalities and a potential for a public backlash, that the Taliban, sometimes, even when they have carried out the attack, deny that the attack was theirs.

    MARGARET WARNER: Afghan troops have suffered heavy losses over the past year, as the Taliban has made gains across the countryside. Now the Trump administration has signaled it plans to take a more aggressive role there.

    Reports surfaced earlier this month that the president is considering sending 5,000 more U.S. troops to support the 8,000 already on the ground.

    Again, Jennifer Glasse:

    JENNIFER GLASSE: The idea is to get more international forces a little closer to the ground level to guide the Afghan security forces in the field, to get them a little bit more coordinated, and to make them a little more effective in the fight against the Taliban. They’re right now taking punishing casualties, losing 15, sometimes 20 soldiers a day across the country.

    MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. also has stepped up airstrikes and raids against the Islamic State group that’s now active in Eastern Afghanistan. Last month, in a highly publicized move, the U.S. dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on ISIS hideout there.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.

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    This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced color, and stereographic projection. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

    This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). New, beautiful images from the spacecraft, released by NASA last week, are challenging what we’ve believed about the planet. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

    Last week, our attention turned abroad, as President Donald Trump wrapped up a nine-day trip overseas — his first as president.

    Trump visited the Western Wall, the first such trip made by a sitting president, set the Internet afire with theories about a glowing orb at the opening of an anti-extremist center in Riyadh and spent time at the Vatican with one-time foe Pope Francis, who asked the first lady “What do you give him to eat? Potica?” (Melania Trump laughed at the nod to her native Slovenian strudel).

    At a NATO meeting and a G7 summit, Trump shared tense moments with European leaders over trade and the Paris climate accord, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to tell a packed beer hall that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

    Meanwhile, at home, a new special counsel took over the federal Russia investigation, amid new allegations that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was trying to open secret back channels with the Kremlin.

    Take your news feed into your own hands again with these five stories that were overlooked in last week’s news frenzy.

    1. Three federal agencies are investigating America’s biggest psychiatric hospital chain

    Alan Miller, chief executive officer of Universal Health Services Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Thursday, March 10, 2016. Universal Health Services Inc., a chain of hospitals and surgery centers, is prepared to buy more centers as opportunities arise, Miller said. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Alan Miller, chief executive officer of Universal Health Services Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in March in New York. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The country’s largest psychiatric hospital chain may systematically hold patients longer than necessary to cash in on insurance payments, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed News.

    At least three federal agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI and the Department of Defense — have launched civil and criminal investigations into Universal Health Services, which treated 446,000 patients at more than 350 facilities in 2016, according to its annual report.

    The allegations were first raised in a yearlong Buzzfeed investigation into UHS published in December, including interviews with employees who “said they were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method — which sometimes meant exaggerating people’s symptoms or twisting their words to make them seem suicidal — and to hold them until their insurance payments ran out.”

    The company is also under investigation for Medicare fraud. In 2015, the company brought in $7.5 billion in revenue from inpatient care; more than 30 percent of that revenue is paid by Medicare or Medicaid, Buzzfeed found.

    UHS denied the claims made in the December report. It has not commented publicly about the most recent round of allegations, which were raised at a shareholders meeting that drew protests last week.

    The hospital chain paid out just under $7 million in 2012 to settle similar allegations about a Virginia youth psychiatric care facility, Ars Technica reports.

    Why it’s important

    “Because psychiatric hospitals are reimbursed for each day that a patient stays, extending patients’ stays can drive up a hospital’s revenue. But billing for treatment that is not medically necessary can constitute fraud. And for patients themselves, who are needlessly held in locked facilities, the experience can be devastating,” Buzzfeed’s Rosalind Adams writes.

    It’s a similar debate to the one surrounding for-profit prisons, which the Department of Justice tried to phase out last year; President Donald Trump’s administration is looking to bring them back. Critics of both systems argue that institutions whose directors seek ever-increasing revenues put profit above patient and inmate care, which makes filling beds more important than treatment and rehabilitation.

    After Buzzfeed’s December investigation, lawmakers called for more scrutiny. The most recent developments suggest the government is delivering.

    UHS stock dropped about 5 percent after Buzzfeed’s most recent report, MarketWatch reports. And earlier this month, the Oregon Health Authority blocked the company’s plans to build a psychiatric hospital. It’s not clear when the government’s investigations will conclude.

    2. Students in Oklahoma are going to school fewer days than their peers

    Students and teachers sit and eat together in this file photo at the Washington Elementary School cafeteria in Washington, Okla. Photo by Michael S.Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

    Students and teachers sit and eat together in this file photo at the Washington Elementary School cafeteria in Washington, Okla. Photo by Michael S.Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

    In Oklahoma, state budget cuts mean that many schools have transitioned to a four-day academic week, the Washington Post reports. State schools are also facing larger class sizes, fewer art and foreign language classes and in some cases, for those who can’t afford them, no textbooks.

    This comes, the Post reports, “as lawmakers have cut taxes, slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue in what some Oklahomans consider a cautionary tale about the real-life consequences of the small-government approach favored by Republican majorities in Washington and statehouses nationwide.”

    Why it’s important

    A Newcastle Public Schools bus is seen parked in Newcastle, Oklahoma April 6, 2016. The Newcastle schools are planning to reduce the school week to four days next year as a result of a nearly $1 million budget cut. REUTERS/Luc Cohen - RTSEOHN

    A Newcastle Public Schools bus is seen parked in Newcastle, Oklahoma April 6, 2016. The Newcastle schools are planning to reduce the school week to four days next year as a result of a nearly $1 million budget cut. REUTERS/Luc Cohen – RTSEOHN

    Oklahoma ranks 49 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for public school teacher salary and 44th on expenditures per K-12 student, according to a recent report by the National Education Association.

    Nearly one-fifth of the state’s 513 school districts have switched to a four-day school week. It’s a strategy other states have also turned to in budget crises, Paul Hill, a professor at the University of Washington Bothell, told the Post. The long term academic implications of such a shift are unknown, he said.

    Some students welcome the extra day off. But it usually means more stress for working families who must struggle to find — and pay for — extra child care, and for poor children who get most of their meals from school. (The “overwhelming majority of students” in Oklahoma schools with four-day weeks qualify for subsidized meals, the Post says.)

    State education funding will remain at current levels next year, which means the four-day school week will likely continue. Lawmakers say the federal budget proposed by President Donald Trump could also put more pressure on local funding.

    3. Hospitals across the country are running out of a crucial medication

    Bicarbonate solution is seen at a plant in Spain. Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images.

    Hospitals are running out of Bicarbonate solution, one of hospitals’ most versatile antidotes. Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images.

    Two of the country’s largest drug suppliers have run out of sodium bicarbonate, one of hospitals’ most versatile antidotes. And it could be months before doctors get access to it again, the New York Times reports.

    The simple solution, made from the same baking soda you stock in your kitchen for muffins and cookies, helps patients whose blood has become too acidic. It’s used for everything from chemotherapy treatments to failing organs and skin pinched by stitches.

    Few alternatives are available, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists says. And those that are can be hard to find.

    Why it’s important

    A nurse holds a bag of saline at Intermountain Healthcare's Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah April 1, 2014. Moving to offset shortages of a common saline used in hospitals and dialysis centers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday that it will temporarily allow Fresenius Kabi USA LLC to distribute normal saline from its manufacturing facility in Norway.  REUTERS/George Frey (UNITED STATES - Tags: HEALTH) - RTR3JIXV

    A nurse holds a bag of saline — which suppliers have also run out of in recent years — at Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah. Photo by REUTERS/George Frey.

    “The shortage of sodium bicarbonate solution is only the latest example of an inexpensive hospital staple supply dwindling to a critical level,” the Times’ Katie Thomas writes. “ In recent years, hundreds of generic injectable drugs have become scarce, vexing hospital administrators and government officials, who have called on the manufacturers to give better notice when they are about to run short.”

    There are 50 drugs on the FDA’s shortages list. But advocacy groups and nonprofits say that number, in reality, can creep over 100. A report from Medill News Service last year showed that hospitals were also running low on common drugs like vitamin E, morphine, sodium chloride (salt water), dextrose (sugar) and electrolyte fluids.


    Doctors interviewed by Medill blame the shortage on Group Purchasing Organizations, which buy drugs in bulk for hospital groups.

    Others interviewed by the Times pointed to problems with source ingredients and sparse investment in the manufacturing processes that produce these drugs.

    Whatever the cause, doctors are having to make hard choices.

    “Does the immediate need of a patient outweigh the expected need of a patient?” one doctor told the Times. “It’s a medical and ethical question that goes beyond anything I’ve had to experience before.”

    The FDA doesn’t require drug companies to have a backup plan or stock emergency supplies when it runs out of a certain medication. But some doctors say it should.

    4.Taiwan’s top court clears way for same-sex marriage

    Supporters hug each other during a rally after Taiwan's constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, in Taipei

    Supporters hug each other during a rally after Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, in Taipei, Taiwan May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTX37CD8

    Taiwan’s highest court on Wednesday cleared a path for the country to make history as the first Asian nation to allow same-sex partnerships.

    The Constitutional Court in Taipei ruled on Article 972 of the country’s civil code, which specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman. It found the article violated the constitution’s guarantee of equal rights and freedom of marriage.

    The exclusion of same-sex couples was a “gross legislative flaw” that is “incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the freedom of marriage as protected by Article 22 of the Constitution,” according to a press release the court issued Wednesday.

    Now, the country’s government has two years to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation. If it does not, same-sex couples will still be able to marry beginning in 2019.

    Why it’s important

    A protester shouts slogans during a rally to urge Taiwan's parliament to consider a bill that could legalize same-sex marriage outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei October 5, 2014. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang (TAIWAN - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR48YR6

    A protester shouts slogans during a rally to urge Taiwan’s parliament to pass a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Photo by REUTERS/Pichi Chuang.

    Twenty-two countries currently allow same-sex couples to wed, though none are in Asia, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

    In China, being gay was illegal until 1997 and considered a psychiatric disorder under guidelines from the Chinese Psychiatric Association until 2001.

    Taiwan has long been considered a progressive leader when it comes to LGBTQ issues. It outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and education, and since 2011, school textbooks have included information on LGBTQ issues. In 2014, Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior removed a requirement for transgender people to undergo surgery and psychiatric assessments before changing their identification documents. And Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen expressed support for same-sex marriage during the presidential campaign.

    Now, LGBTQ activists hope the decision will prompt lawmakers to include same-sex couples in all existing laws around marriage — but some worry the government will create a special status granting only partial rights to those couples.

    The court’s decision also resonated far beyond Taiwan’s borders with Asian families in the U.S., who said it could encourage others to seek same-sex marriage rights in their home countries.

    5. New images from NASA’s Jupiter mission showcase the planet’s marvel and mystique

    This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced color, and stereographic projection.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

    This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

    When NASA’s Juno mission made its way toward Jupiter last July, scientists thought they knew what to expect.

    But new results are now challenging what researchers originally believed about the planet.

    “What we’re finding is anything but that is the truth. It’s very different, very complex,” Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute, told The New Scientist.

    The new findings include the discovery of massive cyclones hovering over Jupiter’s poles, storms that prove to be much more turbulent than scientists originally predicted. NASA’s spacecraft captured evidence of the weather located at the top and bottom of Jupiter last year, The New Scientist reported. The results were published in the journal Science and Geophysical Research Letters; NASA announced the new findings during a news conference Thursday.

    Bolton, Juno’s chief scientist, told CNN the astounding images showcase the plant’s unpredictable nature.

    “We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” Bolton said. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

    Juno also revealed the planet’s magnetic field is 10 times stronger than Earth’s strongest magnetic field.

    Why it’s important

    Juno’s next big data dump is expected in July, when it passes by the Great Red Spot, a zone of consistent high pressure that produces gigantic storms.

    It’s one of the many more pieces of data Juno still has to collect. Which means we’ll learn much more about the planet, including information that could settle a debate about what exactly is in Jupiter’s core.

    The post 5 important stories that were overlooked in last week’s news frenzy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade arrives at The White House in Washington, D.C. after visiting Trump National Golf Club U.S., May 14, 2017. REUTERS/Zach Gibson - RTX35TZ3

    The White House late Wednesday posted on its website ethics waivers granted to four ex-lobbyists and numerous others who have joined government. In all, the White House has granted 14 ethics waivers. Photo by REUTERS/Zach Gibson.

    WASHINGTON — Michael Catanzaro, a former oil and gas lobbyist, can help shape the Trump administration’s energy policies. Shahira Knight can weigh in on retirement matters even though she previously worked for Fidelity, a financial company specializing in retirement services.

    The White House late Wednesday posted on its website ethics waivers granted to four ex-lobbyists and numerous others who have joined government. In all, the White House has granted 14 ethics waivers.

    The disclosures come after a tussle between the Office of Government Ethics and White House lawyers. Other executive branch agencies and departments, such as Treasury, State and Defense, are expected to share similar information with OGE by Thursday. The Office of Management and Budget responded to the OGE’s request for data last week by saying it had issued zero waivers.

    As part of his pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington, President Donald Trump prohibits senior officials hired into the executive branch from working on “particular” government matters that involve their former clients or employers for two years. President Barack Obama placed similar restrictions on his employees — and granted ethics waivers. His White House also posted those exceptions on its website.

    The Trump administration waivers include four for former registered lobbyists. The rest are for other employees whose new government duties may overlap with their previous private jobs. Several are “blanket” waivers for groups of employees.

    READ MORE: White House wants to halt ethics office’s inquiry into ex-lobbyists in administration

    The White House waivers were vetted by White House counsel Don McGahn and Stefan Passantino, the chief ethics officer. The White House says it only grants waivers if those lawyers find it’s too impractical for the person to recuse from the ethics issues triggered by their past work.

    “To the furthest extent possible, counsel worked with each staffer to recuse from conflicting conduct rather than being granted waivers, which has led to the limited number of waivers being issued,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

    Some waivers cover the highest-profile White House employees.

    For example, there’s a “blanket” waiver saying all presidential appointees “may participate in communications and meetings with news organizations regarding broad policy matters.” That clears the way, ethically, for Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former chief executive and now Trump’s chief strategist, to ring up reporters at the news site.

    That’s important because Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a liberal-funded pro-transparency group that has lodged many complaints against the Trump administration — had argued in a complaint that Bannon was violating the ethics pledge by speaking with his former employees.

    Another waiver explicitly allows Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, to contact and interact with clients of her political polling company.

    Joshua Pitcock, who had been Indiana’s sole lobbyist in Washington and now serves as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, is permitted under a waiver to stay in the room when matters involving Indiana arise.

    “It is important that you be able to communicate and meet with the State of Indiana, and disqualification from such meetings or communications would limit the ability of the Office of the Vice President to effectively carry out Administration priorities,” his waiver says.

    Catanzaro and Knight have drawn some of the most intense scrutiny of government watchdogs because their new jobs seem to closely align with their private-sector lobbying. That raised questions about how they were able to circumvent Trump’s ethics rules.

    Catanzaro and Knight have drawn some of the most intense scrutiny of government watchdogs because their new jobs seem to closely align with their private-sector lobbying. That raised questions about how they were able to circumvent Trump’s ethics rules.

    The answer is spelled out in the new documents: They obtained waivers.

    As a lobbyist for CGCN Group, Catanzaro’s clients included Devon Energy, an oil and gas company based in Oklahoma, and other energy providers. In the Trump administration, he’s a special assistant to the president, focusing on energy policies.

    Catanzaro’s duties can include “broad policy matters and particular matters of general applicability relating to energy and environmental policy issues,” according to his waiver. “The Administration has an interest in you working on covered matters due to your experience and expertise on these issues.”

    The post White House says it granted 14 ethics waivers to staff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A new law in Oregon makes it easier for transgender people to update their birth certificates. Photo by Flickr user torbakhopper

    SALEM, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown has signed a bill that will make it easier for transgender people in Oregon to shield any updates they make to their birth certificates, a process typically conducted through the court system without privacy from public view.

    The measure, which takes effect next year, makes Oregon the second state after California to adopt laws specifically designed to help mitigate potential discrimination against transgender individuals from employers, landlords or anyone else who is otherwise able to dig up birth-record changes through public record.

    The new law eliminates the requirement that changes to someone’s name or gender identity must be posted publicly by the courts. It also allows court cases involving gender identity changes on birth records to be sealed.

    It’s a minor tweak to state law that could have a big impact on the local transgender community, says 59-year-old Stacey Rice, executive co-director of Q Center, a Portland community support center for LGBTQ individuals.

    Rice is a transgender woman but still hasn’t been able to change her North Carolina birth records after 17 years because she hasn’t undergone a sex-change operation, which the state says must also be confirmed through a notarized letter from their doctor. The same requirements apply for driver’s licenses, although Rice got it done anyway thanks to the kindness of a North Carolina DMV employee years ago.

    “I was going to have a driver’s license that has my female face on it, my female name, but it’s still going to say ‘M’ and let’s say I get pulled over for some reason and maybe a police officer looks at it and says ‘what’s going on here?’ that was terrifying,” Rice said.

    READ NEXT: The complications of ID for non-binary people — and how it could change soon

    HB 2673 passed the Democratic-controlled Oregon Legislature earlier this month with some Republican support at a time when, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, the nation remains largely divided as to how to balance LGBTQ rights and religious freedoms.

    This year about 30 states introduced roughly 130 anti-LGBTQ bills, about half last year’s figure, according to the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. Most of the measures have died, but legislatures in South Dakota, Alabama and Texas passed bills providing protections for faith-based adoption agencies that do not want to place children with gay or lesbian adoptive parents.

    Opposite scenarios are playing out in other states like Nevada, where GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a law earlier this month banning “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth. And this week, Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia agreed to co-sponsor the federal Equality Act, which would give that community civil rights protections.

    READ NEXT: Nation’s first known ‘intersex’ birth certificate issued in New York City

    Oregon wasn’t always a welcoming place for gay rights. Voters approved a measure banning same-sex measure in 2004. It was overturned a decade later.

    For Oregon, Brown said in emotional remarks that the transgender equity bill carries broader significance in the aftermath of last week’s deadly stabbings of two men trying to defend two teenage girls from racial and religious slurs on a Portland light-rail train.

    “Hate and discrimination have no place in our Oregon,” Brown said.

    Brown, herself a bisexual, became the nation’s first openly-LGBTQ elected governor last November and Democrat Tina Kotek is the first openly lesbian House Speaker.

    Associated Press reporter David Crary in New York contributed to this story.

    The post Oregon governor signs transgender equity bill into law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The U.S. embassy building is seen in Tel Aviv

    The U.S. embassy building is seen in Tel Aviv, Israel January 20, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Stepping back from a campaign promise and incurring Israeli ire, President Donald Trump acted Thursday to keep the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv for now instead of moving it to Jerusalem, a cautious move aimed at bolstering prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

    Trump avoided a step that threatened to inflame tensions across the Middle East and undermine a push for peace before it even started. Still, the White House insisted Trump was merely delaying, not abandoning, his oft-cited pledge to relocate the embassy.

    “The question is not if that move happens, but only when,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

    The praise from Palestinian and Arab leaders and the protest from Israelis showed just how far Trump has shifted from the unwavering support for Israel’s policies that he expressed during the 2016 campaign. As president, Trump has proceeded cautiously, hoping to preserve his ability to serve as an effective mediator for one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

    The decision is a blow to Israeli hard-liners and their American backers who have long urged the United States and others to build their embassies in Jerusalem. Israel considers the holy city to be its capital and insists the city must not be divided; Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital for a future, independent state.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Trump’s move had damaged prospects for peace by preserving “the Palestinian fantasy that the Jewish people and the Jewish state have no connection to Jerusalem.” Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a senior member of government, accused Trump of “a surrender” to pressure from Arab and Muslim nations.

    [Watch Video]

    “The time has come to put an end to this farce,” Steinitz told Army Radio.

    Palestinian leaders cheered the move and said it improved the atmosphere for future negotiations by demonstrating Trump’s seriousness about the process. Hussam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy in Washington, said the move “gives peace a chance.”

    “We are ready to start the consultation process with the U.S. administration,” he said after Trump’s announcement.

    Trump had faced a Thursday deadline to determine how to proceed. Under a 1990s law passed by Congress, the president must move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem or the State Department loses half its funding for overseas facilities. But the president can waive the law if asserting that a waiver is in U.S. national security interests.

    Presidents of both parties have consistently renewed the waivers for six-month stretches. The last waiver was signed by former President Barack Obama six months ago.

    “For all the rhetorical flourishes, the president is conducting a very traditional approach to Arab-Israeli peacemaking,” said Robert Satloff, who runs the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “From Trump, who may have ideas about breaking the mold and ‘the art of the deal,’ this is a very conventional traditional way of going about narrowing the two sides, bringing them back to the debate and avoiding anything that might upset one or the other side too much.”

    Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged matters separating the Israelis and Palestinians. Each side stakes claims to a city that plays a central role in Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

    During his visit to Israel last month, Trump visited the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site that sits just steps from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, revered in Islam. Both are in the Old City, part of east Jerusalem.

    Israel has controlled the western part of Jerusalem, home to most of Israel’s government institutions, since gaining independence in 1948. Two decades later, Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War and annexed it, though without international recognition. The long-standing U.S. position is that Jerusalem’s fate must be worked out through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

    Trump had been lobbied heavily by Mideast leaders, notably Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan, to sign the waiver and prevent further instability and unrest in the region. Trump heard that message directly from Arab leaders last month when he visited Saudi Arabia at the start of his first overseas trip as president.

    Abdullah in particular expressed deep concern that moving the U.S. Embassy would spark unrest among his country’s large Palestinian population. Government spokesman Mohammed Momani said Jordan welcomed Trump’s decision and believed it sent an important message.

    “We see the decision as a reflection of deep understanding of the issue, and shows how much the Administration values the advice of its allies,” Momani said.

    U.S. officials say the process of moving the embassy would take at least six months and involve major adjustments in security, office and housing space and staffing at both the existing facility in Tel Aviv and the consulate general in Jerusalem. Building a new complex in Jerusalem could take even longer.

    Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, Josef Federman and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Karin Laub in Jericho, West Bank, contributed to this report.

    The post Trump declines to move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, for now appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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