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

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said that, thanks to him, U.S. infrastructure will “once again be the envy of the world.”

    Right now, the country’s infrastructure is being “laughed” and “scoffed” at, and highways take too long to build, he said at a visit to the Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Friday. He said at a round table discussion with White House and state transportation officials that his administration is working to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects across the country.

    The current process “painfully slow” and “unnecessarily burdensome,” and it’s hurting the economy, he said.

    He announced a new council aimed at helping project managers navigate red tape and an online dashboard that will allow the tracking of major projects through the approval process.

    It remained unclear exactly how he wants to fund the projects beyond vague talk of public-private partnerships, teaming with states and streamlining the approval process.

    During his appearance at the DOT building, the president flipped through binders that he said contained pages of “nonsense” paperwork for an 18-mile road in Maryland, and then tossed them onto the floor.

    The binders containing environmental impact statements landed with loud thuds.

    President Trump was highlighting the time, money, paperwork and other hurdles it takes to get major projects like roadways and bridges approved. Some are aimed at protecting the environment and insuring community input.

    The post WATCH: Trump touts $1 trillion infrastructure plan at DOT appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Getty Images

    My father died nearly 10 years ago, and it was Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” that pulled me through.

    At first, I wanted to hide in a foxhole, isolated with my own emotions as I processed the loss of my father. I withdrew from college and friends and would, on some occasions, drag a chair to the far corner of the backyard and cry.

    Several books helped me navigate the process of grieving, but it was Didion’s memoir, which documented the year following her husband’s death, that offered the most solace. I’ve since read the book every year since my father’s death, long enough to memorize its passage about how “grief comes in waves.”

    This week, the NewsHour asked its staff for recommendations of books or poems that helped them survive a period of loss. In their own words, here are 10 suggested reads for those who are grieving.

    “Gathering the Bones Together,” by Gregory Orr

    "The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems" Credit: Copper Canyon Press

    “The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems” Credit: Copper Canyon Press

    This poem is the perfect distillation of the sense of loss, grief and darkness in the moment; best I’ve ever read. Written as he reflected on having accidentally killed his brother in a hunting accident when they were young boys.”

    — Morgan Till, foreign affairs senior producer

    "A Prayer for Owen Meany" Credit: Harper Collins

    “A Prayer for Owen Meany” Credit: Harper Collins

    “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving

    “Within a year of my mother’s death I read Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I wasn’t consciously looking to cope with my grief, though Irving has long been a favorite of mine for the way his characters deal with sudden, random loss of one kind or another.

    I unexpectedly came across a passage that so completely explained what I was feeling that I’ve since shared it with friends who’ve lost loved ones:”

    “When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

    — John Yang, correspondent

    “H is for Hawk,” by Helen Macdonald and “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White

    "H Is For Hawk" Credit: Grove/Atlantic and "The Once And Future King" Credit: William Collins Sons and Co.

    “H Is For Hawk” Credit: Grove/Atlantic and “The Once And Future King” Credit: William Collins Sons and Co.

    After my stepfather died, I picked up naturalist Helen Macdonald’s book “H is for Hawk,” which is about how, after her father died, she dealt with it by learning to train a deadly bird of prey. Training a goshawk was a kind of escape for her, which was an impulse I understood. In “H is for Hawk” you also learn that T.H. White, who famously wrote the Arthurian novels, was a falconer. It was after this that I reread White’s book about King Arthur as a young boy, called “The Once and Future King.” I love this passage in there:

    “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

    –Elizabeth Flock, reporter and producer, arts

    “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi

    "When Breath Becomes Air" Credit: Random House

    “When Breath Becomes Air” Credit: Random House

    “My sister died suddenly when I was six and she was 19. Over the last three decades, different books, songs and movies spoke to me as I learned to carry her loss. A book that I recently found helpful was ‘When Breath Becomes Air.’ The perspective that book conveys — a thirty-something man in the prime of his life preparing to succumb to terminal cancer — provides solace to the people he leaves behind. It’s a voice we don’t always have the luxury of hearing or the courage to listen to, but Kalanithi reminds readers to share life with loved ones until the final moment comes calling and to summon the strength to carry their memories forward.”

    –Laura Santhanam, data producer

    “In Blackwater Woods,” a poem by Mary Oliver

    "New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1" Credit: Beacon Press

    “New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1” Credit: Beacon Press

    “For me this poem reminds me that in the grand scale of time, our short blip of existence is fleeting, but that doesn’t mean we should disengage from loving and caring for others and for the planet fully. Instead, it argues that we should engage completely and recognize that each moment we have is rare and amazing. While that makes saying goodbye harder, it’s because we spent the time we had the most fully. It’s a reminder to me to live in the moment and not fret about abstractions in the past or future — a reminder to love completely. And a reminder to me that earth will live on when humans disappear, and that there is different type of beauty in the long term growth and energy of a life-harboring planet.”

    –Dave Berndtson, broadcast news assistant

    The Harry Potter series

    “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” Credit: Scholastic

    “When I’m grieving I turn to the Harry Potter series. They envelop me in the comfort of my childhood and allow a full escapism. I can escape with whichever one I’m in the mood for or read the entire series – yet again – if I really need to feel comforted. There’s something about turning to the books I read as a kid that help me push through grief, particularly these because they explore grief, death and love so much.”

    –Alison Thoet, anchor assistant

    Writing on your own

    “I tried Joan Didion’s ‘Year of Magical Thinking.’ It didn’t work for me. The most cathartic was writing it down. It took two days after the cremation at a hut on the coast and then I let all 5000+ words out. I haven’t read it since. Maybe I will when I hit the 10-year mark. It sucks less with time, but different things suck now about it: grandfather’s absence, etc. It’s a crappy club to gain membership to earlier than your peers but admission to it was beyond my control.

    –Hari Sreenivasan, correspondent

    “Sea Fever,” by John Masefield

    "Salt-Water Poems & Ballads" Credit: Wentworth Press

    “Salt-Water Poems & Ballads” Credit: Wentworth Press

    This poem is a beauty that helped me with the loss of my father, who was in the OSS in WWII, and the CIA from its inception to 1973; he also always loved to sail. There is a pragmatism and joy in ‘Sea Fever’ that I feel embodies my father’s spirit. It was a way for me to share with the guests at his funeral and his memorial a piece of who my father was. I still have his sextant. He knew how to sail by the stars for navigation, and he believed in sailing four hour watches through the night, because that’s how it’s done. Sea Fever explains a hard life well lived, and how the call of the sea pulls the sailor back. I see myself as that last companion, the laughing merry rover, seeing my father off on his last voyage, to a rest he well deserved. I truly believe in celebrating the life and not mourning the death.”

    –Bill Swift, Student Reporting Labs

    “You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life,” by Jen Sincero

    “You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life" Credit: Running Press

    “You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life” Credit: Running Press

    “My great grandma would send me inspirational quotes every other morning, and I depended on them to get through the day. She died in October, and after that I drifted to this book to feel that same stimulation of encouragement. I wanted to read something that didn’t make me sad — and would redirect my thinking. Self help is a genre I’m not too familiar with, but this book reads unusually raw and honest. And it forces you to confront how an unfulfilled life can lead to depression. This book gave me great advice.”

    –Courtney Norris, producer

    READ MORE: 19 summer books that will keep you up all night reading

    The post 10 things to read when you’re grieving appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump reacts while addressing a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX39W61

    U.S. President Donald Trump reacts while addressing a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst – RTX39W61

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump refused Friday to say whether his private conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey were taped — a matter at the heart of conflicting accounts of what passed between them — and asserted that nothing in Comey’s testimony to the Senate showed collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice.

    “He’s a leaker,” Trump said dismissively. “Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction.” He further denied ever asking Comey for his “loyalty,” contradicting Comey’s detailed allegations. “No I didn’t say that,” Trump stated abruptly, taking questions after meeting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

    Earlier, Trump, who had refrained from tweeting all day Thursday — even as Comey accused his administration of spreading “lies” and suggested Trump had attempted to influence the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — struck back in an early-morning tweet.

    “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication,” Trump wrote, suggesting that Comey, who was under oath at the hearing, had committed perjury.

    READ MORE: Trump declares ‘total vindication’ in tweets on Comey

    Trump also seized on Comey’s revelation that he had directed a friend to release memos he’d written documenting his conversations with the president to a reporter.

    “…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump wrote at 6:10 a.m.

    Trump also retweeted a comment from attorney Alan Dershowitz, who had written: “We should stop talking about obstruction of justice. No plausible case. We must distinguish crimes from” political “sins.”

    Although Comey refused to say to senators whether he thought Trump had obstructed justice, he suggested that matter would be considered by the special prosecutor recently appointed to investigate links between Trump associates and Russians — hardly a statement of vindication for the president.

    Trump faced journalists at the White House on Friday afternoon in a joint news conference with the president of Romania, a NATO partner. Before that, he spoke at the Transportation Department about his plan for improving the country’s roads and bridges.

    What does Comey’s testimony mean for the Russia probe?

    Trump had stayed unusually quiet on Thursday, refraining from weighing in on the testimony gripping the country both on Twitter and at several public appearances. Instead, Trump let his lawyer do the talking for him.

    But the self-imposed silence didn’t last.

    In his first congressional appearance since being abruptly fired by Trump last month, Comey detailed months of distrust of the president and bluntly asserted that Trump had fired him to interfere with the probe of Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign.

    He said that he’d carefully documented his interactions with Trump because he worried Trump would misrepresent them, and accused the administration of spreading “lies, plain and simple” about the reasons for his firing.

    Comey’s testimony underscored the discord that had soured their relationship. He painted Trump as a chief executive dismissive of the FBI’s independence and made clear that he interpreted Trump’s request to end an investigation into the former national security adviser as an order coming from the president.

    The questions James Comey didn’t answer in the Senate hearing

    Comey also revealed that he’d orchestrated the public release of information about his private conversations with the president in an effort to further the investigation.

    Trump’s private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, seized on the admission, casting the former FBI director as one of the “leakers” set on undermining the Trump administration.

    The attorney is expected to file a complaint with the Justice Department inspector general about the revelation next week, according to a person close to the legal team who agreed to speak before the filing on condition that the person’s name is not used.

    Kasowitz also maintained that the testimony made clear that Trump “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.”

    READ MORE: Important takeaways from Comey’s Senate hearing

    While Trump’s staunchest supporters have tried to paint Comey’s testimony as vindication for the president, few Republicans who don’t work for Trump stepped in to defend the president’s version of his contacts with Comey.

    Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, said Congress needs to obtain any tapes the president might have of his dealings with the former FBI director. She called Comey an “honorable individual.”

    “I found him to be credible, candid and thorough,” Collins said of Comey on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

    Collins, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, said Comey’s motivation “may have been a good one.” But, she said, he was wrong to leak his notes to the public and should have given that document to her panel.

    Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Julie Bykowicz and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

    The post Trump won’t say if conversations with Comey were taped appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The U.S. Capitol Building is seen shortly before sunset in Washington, U.S. May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Zach Gibson - RTX36B6A

    The Senate side of the U.S. Capitol Building. In 2018, Senate Democrats will defend 11 seats in states that President Donald Trump won last year. File photo by REUTERS/Zach Gibson

    Democrats are coming off a crushing defeat in last year’s presidential election. In addition to losing the White House and making only modest gains in the House and Senate, the party lost seats at the state and local level. Republicans hold 33 governorships, and full control of 25 state legislatures.

    And yet, Democrats are feeling optimistic about their chances in the 2018 midterm elections, thanks to the GOP’s early struggle to enact its agenda in Congress, President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings, and the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

    “There’s definitely been more enthusiasm, people at events, more grassroots involvement, and people involved,” said Stephen Webber, the chairman of the Missouri Democratic State Committee.

    But while Democratic strategists and party leaders are hoping to make gains next year, they face a number of formidable challenges, especially in the Senate.

    Thirty-eight Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018, including 11 from states that Trump won last year. Democrats acknowledge that it’s a tough map.

    READ MORE: At D.C. forum, Democrats look towards 2020, but can’t get past Trump

    Since the election, liberal groups like Swing Left and Indivisible have sprung up across the country to protest the Trump administration’s agenda and back Democrats running for office in states like Missouri, where Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill could face a tough reelection battle next year.

    The grassroots activism is partly why Democrats are eyeing 2018 as a potential opportunity to pick up seats. The party is also hoping to capitalize on a GOP policy agenda — including health care and tax reform — that many voters on the left oppose.

    “Republicans are pursuing an agenda that’s incredibly toxic with the midterm voters,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein.

    U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), asks questions during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.  Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

    U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is one of 11 Senate Democrats facing re-election next year in states Trump carried in 2016. File photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

    Several special elections for open congressional seats this year have provided some insight into how the 2018 midterms will play out. Democrat Jon Ossoff finished first in a crowded race for a moderate Georgia district, forcing a runoff that’s taking place later this month between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel in what has turned into the most expensive U.S. House race ever. Both sides had spent $30 million on the race through early May, breaking the previous record for a House race of $29.6 million spent on a Florida seat in 2012.

    A Democrat finished a close second in deep red Kansas, and Rob Quist came within six points of beating his Republican opponent in last month’s race for Montana’s at-large congressional seat, in a state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

    But while the special elections were closer than expected, suggesting a surge of enthusiasm on the left, Republicans still won all three races.

    Wile the special elections were closer than expected, suggesting a surge of enthusiasm on the left, Republicans still won all three races.

    The GOP has struggled to recruit top-tier candidates. Republican Montana Attorney General Tim Fox was widely considered to have the best shot at unseating Tester, but he appears to no longer be interested in the race. In Indiana, GOP Rep. Susan Brooks was seen as the party’s top candidate against Donnelly, but she has said she’s not interested in running as well.

    But there is still plenty of time for Republicans to recruit candidates ahead of the midterms. And Republicans argued there were early signs that the GOP would be in better shape next year than Democrats suggest.

    “Voters can see Republicans are getting results in job creation, growing the economy, and keeping our families safe,” said Bob Salera, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “That will be the difference when they head to the polls.”

    Montana’s close race, which included a physical confrontation near the end between a reporter and the eventual winner, Republican Greg Gianforte, should give anyone planning to run against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) pause, said Chris Meagher, the Montana Democrats’ senior communications advisor.

    Tester is one of the 11 Democratic senators up for reelection in states that Trump won, but Meagher said national politics won’t dictate the state’s senate race.

    “Montanan voters vote for the individual person, not the party line,” Meagher said. “They know Jon and they like Jon.”

    Republican candidate Karen Handel and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff exchange words moments before Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election debate at WSB-TV studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 6, 2017.  REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry - RTX39CQA

    Republican candidate Karen Handel and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speak at a June 6 debate in Georgia’s special election. Photo by REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

    Democrats made similar arguments in other red states where the party is defending seats in 2018. Trump won Missouri by 19 points, nearly doubling Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s margin of victory there in 2012. Still, Webber said Missourians are nervous about the Trump administration’s policies on health care, public education, and agriculture.

    “A lot of communities are dependent on agriculture exports, and one of our biggest customers is Mexico,” Webber said. “There’s a real concern that Trump’s blustering will lead Mexico to purchase corn from Brazil instead of Missouri.”

    Like McCaskill and Tester, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., faces reelection next year in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Trump won Indiana by 19 points, part of the wave of support across the Midwest that helped him win the White House.

    READ MORE: Is socialism in the United States having a moment?

    Just a month after the election, Trump flew to Indianapolis and promised to keep a Carrier Corp. factory from moving to Mexico. Trump announced a deal with Carrier to save about 800 of the factory’s jobs — and touted the agreement as proof that he was delivering on his campaign promise to create jobs and grow the economy even before he took office.

    But in May, United Technologies, which owns Carrier, announced that the factory was shutting down, with hundreds expected to lose their jobs.

    “Trump is nothing else but a showman,” said Jeff Harris, an Indiana-based Democratic strategist. “He can make promises but there is little follow up.”

    Still, Harris said Trump’s economic message remained popular in Indiana and elsewhere across the country, including among moderate voters who could help decide close races in 2018.

    “It will be an uphill climb for Democrats in red states,” Harris said. “Incumbents can reach out to moderates and open-minded Republicans. It all comes down to personality.”

    The post Red state Democrats think their 2018 chances are improving appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Brian, a queer Rwandan in Canada is photographed here as a part of the Limit(less) project.

    Mikael Owunna grew up in Pittsburgh not knowing many other LGBTQ Africans like him.

    The Nigerian-Swedish American photographer said like many of the people he interviews and photographs, he often heard growing up that being LGBTQ was caused by overexposure to Western culture and that it was not traditionally African, “despite the fact that people we would now identify as ‘LGBTQ’ have existed in African communities since precolonial times,” he says. Owunna’s new documentary photography project, “Limit(less),” sets out to debunk the myth that being LGBTQ is “un-African.”

    The project, which began more than three years ago, explores how LGBTQ African immigrants in USA, Canada, Sweden and the Caribbean use fashion to bridge the gap between their dual identities. At the moment, he’s featured more than two dozen of those immigrants on his website.

    Colonization, as well as an an influx of Western pastors and preachers, left much of Africa with “violent homophobic and transphobic sentiments,” Owunna said. While there has been a considerable amount of work around discovering Western-driven homophobia within Africa, there are fewer studies on African members of the LGBTQ community who have left the continent. Owunna believes that through fashion, LGBTQ Africans are visually deconstructing the idea of what it means to be both African and a member of the LGBTQ community. He hopes that his project will “add to this body of work and connect the dots between the experiences of LGBTQ Africans on the continent and those across the diaspora.”

    “I want to capture what does self-love and healing looked like for LGBTQ African immigrants,” Owunna says. “I wanted to capture that as part of my own healing process.”

    This fall, Owunna is expanding his project further into Europe, a mission for which he has launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.

    Below, see some of Owunna’s images, along with quotes from the people he’s photographed.

    “Bisexuality sometimes feels less accepted, because people would rather you ‘make up your mind and just choose,’ or ‘get over this phase …'” –Gesiye, a bisexual/queer Nigerian-Trinidadian, living in Trinidad.

    “I’m a hard femme with an hourglass silhouette, a goodwill budget and a firm grasp of anti-capitalist rhetoric. I wear whatever makes me feel comfortable and powerful and safe.” –Netsie, a queer Ethiopian-Namibian, living in the U.S.

    “I’ve always been around white LGBTQ people and they didn’t really see me as queer. Also, being a femme woman and not being a lesbian hasn’t helped either. I’m seen as “unreliable” because I’m attracted to men as well, even though I’ve been out since I was 12 and discovered my attraction to girls long before boys and other gender identities.” –Juliet, a queer Ugandan-Rwandan living in Sweden.

    “I love to represent my Africanness, especially in white queer spaces since there is this notion, mostly from white queers, that Africanness and Queerness does not go hand in hand.” –Samuel, a queer Ethiopian living in Sweden.

    “To the queer Africans that would be shunned by their community, family and/or country; to the queer Africans that are in desperate need of an answer and feeling lost as to where to look for it: I know the feeling.” –Mai’Yah (second from the right), a queer Liberian living in the U.S.

    “I’m black, I’m African. My ancestor, my roots are not coming from this hate culture of the diversity and homophobia that the colonizer brought to us.” –Toshiro, a queer/bisexual Ivorian living in Canada.

    “On my best days, I’m serving dementor who has eaten all the souls she needs to get her life back lol. But I also channel some pink princess looks when I’m feeling cute and deceptive.” –Kim, a trans Burundian living in Canada.

    “As I got older I realized there was a certain power in being ‘different.’ I have access to a culture and community that the majority of my peers didn’t. Starting in university, I started to embrace all facets of who I am because that’s what I need to survive.” –Taib (center), a queer Ethiopian-Kenyan living in Canada.

    “I tend to incorporate a lot of Afro-centric elements to my clothing … but also keeping it simple and cute when I need to face capitalism.” –Sizwe (right), a queer Burundian living in Canada.

    Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. Read more here.

    The post How one photographer is challenging the myth that being LGBTQ is ‘un-African’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks to reporters about recent revelations of President Donald Trump sharing classified information with Russian Officials on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. May 16, 2017.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RTX363NO

    Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says it’s “nonsense” that the administration believes it can ignore requests for information from individual members of Congress, including Democrats. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein – RTX363NO

    WASHINGTON — A Republican senator told President Donald Trump it’s “nonsense” that the administration believes it can ignore requests for information from individual members of Congress, including Democrats.

    Democrats have criticized the administration’s recent interpretation of its obligations when it comes to answering queries from Congress. A legal opinion issued by the Justice Department on May 1 said the authority for official inquiries of executive branch programs and activities may be exercised only by the full Republican-led House or Senate, committees and subcommittees, or their chairmen. Individual requests do not “trigger any obligation” for the administration to accommodate, according to the opinion.

    Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats have a right to be upset. In a letter to Trump released Friday, Grassley said the president is “being ill-served and ill-advised” on the obligation for providing agency information to lawmakers.

    In all, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer listed 102 inquiries that he says have gone unanswered.

    Grassley said that unless Congress explicitly tells the executive branch to withhold information based on committee membership or leadership position, then there is no legal or constitutional basis for doing so.

    “Shutting down oversight requests doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp,” Grassley said.

    The tension between lawmakers and the executive branch over requests for information occurs no matter who is president. Hardly a hearing goes by without a lawmaker reminding an agency chief of an outstanding request for information. But that tension has certainly grown with Trump in the White House. Recent inquiries from Democratic lawmakers that have gone unanswered, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, include:

    • A letter from Sens. Tom Carper and Claire McCaskill seeking information from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about security concerns stemming from Trump’s “reported use of his personal, unofficial smartphone.”
    • A letter from Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Udall seeking from the president the list of members at the Trump Organization’s Mar-a-Lago Golf Club in Florida.
    • A letter from six Democratic senators to White House counsel Don McGahn and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushing for answers on the role that businessman Carl Ichan is playing in shaping policy.

    In all, Schumer listed 102 inquiries that he says have gone unanswered. He thanked Grassley for stepping in.

    “We believe the administration has a responsibility to be responsive to oversight requests regardless of party,” Schumer said.

    The legal memo spelling out obligations was provided to White House attorneys by Curtis Gannon, acting assistant attorney general. It states that the executive branch has historically exercised discretion in determining whether and how to respond to requests from individual lawmakers.

    “In general, agencies have provided information only when doing so would not be overly burdensome and would not interfere with their ability to respond in a timely manner to duly authorized oversight requests,” Gannon wrote.

    READ MORE: Trump won’t say if conversations with Comey were taped

    The post Grassley tells Trump he can’t ignore requests for information from Congress appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.

    Tonight, we continue our week-long theme of hearing from people with disabilities and how they deal with the challenges of everyday life.

    Reid Davenport is a documentarian whose films focus on people living with disabilities.

    His latest project is called “Through My Lens.”

    REID DAVENPORT, Documentarian: I have cerebral palsy.

    I would like people to see that my diagnosis is not my biggest obstacle. My biggest obstacle is people’s responses to my diagnosis.

    QUESTION: Do people, do you find, underestimate you?

    REID DAVENPORT: I mean, I have been underestimated my whole life.

    And when that happens, you instantly figure out who not to waste your time with. The people who gawk at me on the streets remind me of the profound ignorance in the world. And I don’t mean to sound preachy, but it really affects my life, and, in turn, I’m sure, affects many other people with disabilities.

    I cannot underestimate how strong and how prevalent these stigmas surrounding disability in the media are. There needs to be more filmmakers with disabilities, so they can experience the catharsis that I have been able to experience.

    There is still such exclusion in society, that, for me, if I am the first person to bring disability to your purview, then we have such a long way to go.

    My name is Reid Davenport. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on seeing the world through my lens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Reid Davenport, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

    And I hope everyone watching this segment will share it with you someone you know.

    The post Why the world needs more filmmakers with disabilities appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Tony Awards are this Sunday, and one of the Broadway shows nominated for best play is “Oslo.”

    It’s a drama that takes a deeper look at what went into the historical Middle East peace accords and their relevance today.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story from New York.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The world saw this, the historic 1993 handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, brought together at the White House by President Bill Clinton.

    What we didn’t see was this:

    ACTOR: You will achieve nothing because your negotiating model is fundamentally flawed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The nine months behind-the-scenes secret negotiations that led up to the Oslo accords.

    ACTOR: This is our chance to make a difference.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In the play “Oslo,” playwright J.T. Rogers has taken real people and events and, with dramatic license, imagined his way into history.

    J.T. ROGERS, Playwright, “Oslo”: Sneaking into the royal households in Norway, the Palestine Liberation Organization illegally meeting with Israelis, drinking together, talking about their children in the middle of winter, and you think, as a storyteller, that’s manna from heaven.

    ACTRESS: A million Palestinians, most of them without regular electricity or water, crammed into an area 25 miles long, but only a few miles wide.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Roger’s way in was through the little-known behind-the-scenes role of a Norwegian couple, social scientist Terje Rod-Larsen played by Jefferson Mays, and diplomat Mona Juul played by Jennifer Ehle.

    They served as facilitators in a series of high-stakes, highly secret talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

    ACTRESS: There, in that moment, for us, it began.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The real Mona Juul is now Norway’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Her husband, the real Terje Rod-Larsen, now heads the International Peace Institute and continues to work on various crises around the world.

    He joined us in New York on stage recently at Lincoln Center Theater, where Oslo is being performed.

    TERJE ROD-LARSEN, Peace Negotiator: Just a handful of people knew about what was happening on the Palestinian, Israeli and the Norwegian side. I think most people had the impression at the time that this was something which was very quickly concocted in the White House, and not something which was created laboriously, seven days a week, 24 hours over nine months.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Does it capture the art of negotiating and of your role pulling together the negotiations?

    TERJE ROD-LARSEN: Yes, I think it does, actually, because we defined very strictly our role to be the facilitator of the talks and the go-between between the parties, and basically telling the parties, it’s your problems. You have to find a solution to it. It’s not our job. It’s your job.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We watch the face-off between Ahmed Qurei and Uri Savir, the top Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, played by Anthony Azizi and Michael Aronov.

    ACTOR: In my country, we see you as terrorists and murderers who wish to drive us into the sea.

    ACTOR: In my country, we see you as a savage nation whose army shoots our children for sport!

    JEFFREY BROWN: Over time, the two slowly get to know and respect one another.

    ACTOR: Thank you. I admire your passion.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The so-called Oslo accords agreed to by the real negotiators included the first formal mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and set the guidelines of what to this day is referred to as the peace process.

    In the play, the two Norwegians, their actions at times secret even from their own government, keep the talks going. And under director Bartlett Sher, the actors literally keep the play moving along, 60 scenes through several cities all on one stage set.

    JEFFERSON MAYS, “Terje Rod-Larsen”: Welcome to backstage at the Vivian Beaumont.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I spoke to Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle before a recent performance.

    JEFFERSON MAYS: Terje Rod-Larsen came in to speak to the company about the double, sometimes triple game of diplomacy. And when he was talking about it, it struck me as being very theatrical. And the diplomats are as much …

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really, not far from what you do, huh?

    TERJE ROD-LARSEN: No, no. There were diplomats. A good diplomat is, I think, very much like a good actor, in that extremely sensitivity to the other people in the room, and is called upon to play-act at certain points.

    JENNIFER EHLE, “Mona Juul”: It has an element of a spy thriller.

    I think people come in sometimes thinking, I don’t know what I’m going to see, three hours of a historical political drama. And — but it’s got a sort of binge-watch sort of hook that gets in you, and you really just want to keep going.

    JEFFERSON MAYS: You said every character in this play speaks their subtext. There is no subtext.

    JENNIFER EHLE: There is no subtext. It is about ideas. It’s about facts and it’s about narrative, an incredible narrative drive, when you have characters who are only saying exactly what they mean.

    JEFFERSON MAYS: I will tell you a secret. I was nervous at first to meet those two, first members of the PLO I had ever been face to face with. They’re not the demons I was expecting.

    JEFFREY BROWN: An agreement and great hope, but it didn’t last.

    The following years brought more suffering, death and enmity that continue to this day.

    But Terje Rod-Larsen, the ever-optimistic peace negotiator, says the Oslo accords did have a lasting impact, including the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, a peace between Israel and Jordan that has held, and more.

    TERJE ROD-LARSEN: What we are seeing today is difficult, but without these institutions, it would have been gangland and complete chaos today. So it has benefited Palestinian and Israelis alike.

    When President Trump visited the Palestinians, he visited the Palestinian president, which springs out of the Oslo accords. If he brings the parties together again, a premise for any talk has to be the only signed agreements which are there, which are the Oslo accords.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As for “Oslo” the play taking on such world-shaking history, playwright J.T. Rogers cited a pretty good precedent.

    J.T. ROGERS: Shakespeare’s plays are entertaining and bawdy and sexy and politics and life and death, and he’s pretty good.


    J.T. ROGERS: I think that — I think it’s odd to me that current events or larger political things are not approached more in the American theater, only because it’s such great red meat for us; 1,200 people a night sit here like around a campfire and hear the same story and ask themselves the same questions.

    And that’s — only the theater can do that, no TV, no Netflix, only the theater.

    ACTOR: During the demonstration in support of the Oslo accords, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated.

    JEFFREY BROWN: “Oslo” received seven Tony nominations in all, including for its two lead actors and as the year’s best play.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown at Lincoln Center Theater in New York.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, let’s continue the conversation about James Comey.

    David, we heard today what the president thinks of it. He said he thought the former FBI director vindicated him, but he also was telling lies. What did you think?

    DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: I thought Trump actually had some points.

    I think one of the things we heard on the criminal side, it wasn’t a bad, not a terrible day for Donald Trump. James Comey seemed to suggest that there was no — maybe — cast some doubt at least the idea there was a lot of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign or even a lot of conversations.

    I think what Trump did to James Comey, clearing the room and asking him to lay off on Flynn, was scandalous, I think terrible, but probably not something that would rise to the level of impeachment in any normal presidency.

    So, to me, on the criminal front, not a disastrous testimony for Donald Trump. On the cultural front, on the moral front, kind of disastrous. The thought that he lied is pretty strong. We do know, because of what Comey said yesterday, there’s going to be a lot more investigations.

    And every time there’s some sort of independent or special investigation into the White House, it can swallow a White House up not only for months, but for years. The Whitewater investigation went on for seven years.

    And so I think what’s going to happen is, you are going to have a continued administration that’s dysfunctional, that is under investigation, that is distrustful, and a president who’s obsessed, not with policy, not with anything constructive, but with this sort of warfare.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of James Comey and what he had to say?

    MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I thought James Comey was believable.

    I thought he was compelling, in large part because, Judy, he admitted his flaws. He did not present himself as Galahad or some profile in courage. He acknowledged the fact that the pressure of being one-on-one with the president just in the White House, that he had not said to the president it was inappropriate. He said he hadn’t been strong enough.

    But what was most revealing to me of all the hearings, Republicans — and I do want the say one word to the senators. I mean, they didn’t do soliloquies. They didn’t do seven-minute statements followed by a question, do you agree? I thought — and they didn’t show rank partisanship, I felt, and that there was a seriousness led by Chairman Burr and Co-Chair Warner.

    But what impressed me most of all was that, while Republican senators were willing to come to the defense of the president, a point David made, that there wasn’t obstruction of justice on his part or whatever, none of them challenged Director Comey’s direct statements the president lied and that he was a liar, and that that is why he had to memorialize each meeting with the president, each conversation with the president, because he feared that the president would lie.

    And nobody said, no, wait a minute, this is George Washington. This is a man, a total — he does have a reputation for exaggeration, hyping, and some would say not a totally consistent relationship with the truth and reality.

    And I think that’s a real problem for him. The fact he wasn’t under investigation is significant, but, ironically, nobody asked him, and Director Comey didn’t volunteer, whether, as a consequence of what happened in his meetings at the White House, that he may now have opened himself up to some investigation, he, the president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. And, as we reported earlier, David, the president said today he sure — he would be glad to or would be willing to speak under oath to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, about what happened.

    But given what you and Mark are saying, does Comey now come out with his credibility intact?

    DAVID BROOKS: I think so. I think he’s a careful witness. He was a very believable witness, as Mark said.

    And I think what we saw in the Comey testimony was really a clash of cultures. James Comey is an institutional man. He serves the FBI. He believes in a government of laws. He believes in following the procedures and norms that really govern any organization.

    We are a nation of laws. Donald Trump lives in an entirely different cultural universe. He is more clannist, believing in clan, believing in family, believing in loyalty, not recognizing objective law, not recognizing the procedures that is really how modern government operates.

    So when Paul Ryan and other Republicans say, well, Donald Trump just didn’t know the rules because he’s an innocent at this, he’s a newbie at this, that’s insufficient. It’s not only that he doesn’t know the rules, but at all along and throughout his presidency, he has sort of trampled on the rules almost as a matter of policy, as a matter of character, because he doesn’t believe in that kind of relationships.

    It’s all personal loyalty, not about laws and norms and standards. And I do think, eventually, down the road, that is going to be a continual source of problem for him, that he’s continually violating the way we do our government.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, what about the — David brought it up.

    Speaker Paul Ryan said — essentially gives the president a pass, saying, well, he’s new to Washington, doesn’t know how government works, he’s not a man of government.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he’s an enormous child, and we just — we don’t have the same rules for him.

    It was less than fatuous. It was dishonest and misleading on the part of the speaker. And you cannot say that. This man has been running for president. He is president. If you have any — he is a graduate of Wharton, although I would like to see the director of admissions at some point come forward and explain his knowledge of American government from his experience at the University of Pennsylvania.

    But you can’t use these kind of excuses, Judy.

    Just picking up on what David was saying, what is fascinating about the Comey testimony, if you listened to it — I listened to every word of it — is that Donald Trump — David mentions loyalty. Loyalty to Donald Trump is one way. Every one of the co-authors who has worked with him on any of his books has agreed on one thing. He is a man without any friends.

    He could not name a friend. The one person that he’s shown any sense of loyalty to — he shows none to the people around him — is General Mike Flynn. And it’s curious. What is it about that relationship? What was it that Mike Flynn did or was doing or that Donald Trump is concerned that he might say?

    And he said, in the course of the conversation, other satellites, referring to people who worked with him on his campaign other satellites, if they were involved, go after them. You know, that’s OK. But could you go easy on Mike?

    And the idea of clearing out the room, clearing out the — the attorney general of the United States walking out. I mean, Jeff Sessions had a terrible day yesterday, and so did Reince Priebus, the chief of staff of the White House, when it was revealed that they left the president alone, left the FBI director one-on-one with the president and, for, obviously, purpose that the president wanted special favors.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, he was saying go easy on — lay off of Mike Flynn and tell the world that I’m in the clear.

    MARK SHIELDS: I’m in the clear. That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, so it comes down to he said vs. he said, and you were saying a minute ago, this could drag on for years.

    How much damage has been done? You’re talking — I hear you referring to the culture. How much damage is being done to this president?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think modest damage around the country. As we just heard, around the country, it wasn’t as big a story as it was in Washington.

    I was at O’Hare Airport trying to watch it on TV. I couldn’t find any TVs that had the hearings on. They were all on sports channels. So, I’m not sure, politically, immediately.

    But I do think the scandal here, the fact Trump will probably be investigated for obstruction, and maybe Sessions will be investigated, and once these investigations started, they go on forever. The Whitewater started as a land deal. And then, when it started, Monica Lewinsky was an unknown person in college.

    And then it turned into the Monica Lewinsky scandal. They go on for years and they spread out. And what happens within the administration is, nobody knows who’s being investigated. Nobody knows who is saying what under oath.

    And if Donald Trump is really willing 100 percent to testify under oath, he’s very naive about what that process means, about what happens when you start shifting your stories, what happens when you start talking the way Donald Trump normally talks, which is imprecise, at best.

    And that sort of thing is bound to get an administration in trouble. And I think that will become the rising tide that will not destroy this administration, but it’s going to be a long, slow entanglement in the culture of crisis and the culture of scandal.

    MARK SHIELDS: Let me give you an immediate problem that they have, Judy.

    There’s a gubernatorial race in Virginia. Virginia, New Jersey have off-year elections. And Tuesday is the primary in Virginia. And the lieutenant governor, a rather mild-mannered pediatric doctor, surgeon, is running on a slogan and a TV ad that says, do not let this narcissistic maniac, Donald Trump, which tells you two things.

    One, sort of where — we have debased the dialogue and debate in America. Why is he doing it, though? He’s running it because he’s challenged by a former congressman, Tom Perriello, who is backed by an awful lot of Obama people, in Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren.

    And why is he running this way? Because, in Virginia, among Democratic voters, according to the Quinnipiac poll, Donald Trump is 95 percent unfavorable and 3 percent favorable. So that’s what Republicans are facing right now. They cannot embrace him, because he’s going to be Typhoid Mary in November of 2018.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, as you and Mark just heard in Hari’s interview with those reporters from Nevada and Indiana and West Virginia, they’re saying, you know, a lot of people are going about their lives and a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump are just not paying much attention.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think that’s generally true.

    There has been slippage among Republicans since he was inaugurated. Republican support is down 7 percent. Among those who are really strongly supporting him, it’s down a little more. And so there’s been some slippage. It’s a slow erosion.

    I think, right now, he can only — he is at 39, or whatever it is, percent approval rating.


    That is bad, but it’s not cataclysmic, especially among his base. So the problem is right now not a mass public erosion of support. Right now, the problem is in Washington, where he actually has to govern. The senators, as Mark said, did a very good job. But there is a huge wall of difference between a lot of those Republican senators and the Trump administration. And they are not going to be getting any closer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: Just, Judy, one point David made about the interest.

    The Nielsen ratings just came out. There were 19.5 million people who watched that daytime. It began 7:00 on the West Coast. All right? That’s a big audience, Judy. Compare it, there were 20 million who watched Sunday night’s NBA final between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. That’s a turnout.

    And a lot more people obviously saw the news and the clips and the reports and this show. And so I think, you know, it’s not the same thing as, you know, war coverage or whatever, but there is real interest in this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, I hear — just quickly, I hear both of you saying it’s right now mainly in Washington, but that’s going to filter down, that’s going to have an eventual effect on how people view this.


    We could have had a day where the Trump administration really was in like Titanic-like peril, if there had been some testimony about collusion, if there had been some really strong, repeated push for him to obstruct justice. But we didn’t have that. And so we’re looking more long-term now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, see you next Friday. Have a great weekend.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Millions of Americans tuned in to watch former FBI Director James Comey testify before Congress yesterday.

    But, as Hari Sreenivasan explores, what they saw differed widely, often depending on where they live.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We look at the reaction across the country to the Comey hearing, the Russia investigations and President Trump’s first few months in office with Jon Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent, who joins us today from California, Ashton Marra of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Brandon Smith with Indiana Public Broadcasting.

    Ashton, let me start with you.

    Millions of people watched this in D.C. Quite a few watched President Trump on the Rose Garden today deny what former Director Comey said. How does this compare to the reaction in your community? Were people paying attention to this?

    ASHTON MARRA, West Virginia Public Broadcasting: I think in West Virginia, generally, there is the same kind of — there’s the same level of attention as there is kind of generally across the country.

    But I will say, Hari, that a lot that’s happening in Washington is being overshadowed by what’s happening here at the local level in West Virginia. We’re about 19 days away from a government shutdown. And if lawmakers don’t approve a budget by June 30, that means all state workers get laid off, there’s no more funding for any government services.

    And so what’s happening at the local level for West Virginians is a much bigger issue than what’s going on in Washington.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Jon Ralston, all politics local? Is that the case in Nevada as well?

    JON RALSTON, Editor, Nevada Independent: Well, to some extent. Our legislature just ended. But the shadow of Trump is over everything, as you know.

    They did a lot of things in reaction to Trump, the legislative leaders. It’s controlled by Democrats here. We have a Republican governor who is not that Trump-friendly. They passed some bills to try to codify the Obamacare here. They sent out a lot of press releases about Trump.

    Nevada’s an unusual state, to put it mildly, as all of you know, but we also are one of the few states to go completely Democratic in 2016. Went for Clinton. The legislature turned. We had two Republican congressional seats flip to the Democrats.

    So there is not — it’s not exactly Trump-friendly territory in the first place. But I think that all politics is local here, in the sense that people are reacting to what just happened in the legislature, what kind of education policies were passed.

    And, of course, the big issue here, which nobody is talking about elsewhere, is, we have a new legalization of marijuana and a pot tax, which overshadows a lot of things.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, we will get to those issues in a second.

    Brandon Smith, people outside the reporter class, the bubble that you’re in at the statehouse, were they watching? Were they tuned in?

    BRANDON SMITH, Indiana Public Broadcasting: Not nearly in the kind of — with the fervor you saw in the nation’s capital.

    Here, it was — I think, as Ashton mentioned, it’s just sort of viewing this same way they viewed everything coming out of Washington, D.C., these last few months. Certainly, walking around the statehouse yesterday, which is where I work, you heard the audio of the Comey hearing coming out of a lot of offices.

    And it was on at the lobbyist bar across the street. But beyond that, no, people weren’t paying nearly as close attention.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Brandon, staying with you for a second, what are people in Indiana paying attention to?

    BRANDON SMITH: Well, it’s a couple big things, one, the economy.

    This is a heavy manufacturing state, which is partly why Donald Trump’s message of bringing American jobs back, referencing Carrier, which had said that it was pulling out of Indiana and all of that, people care about that here. They pay a lot of attention to that here, that and health care.

    This is a state that went through its own version of Medicaid expansion with Mike Pence’s HIP 2.0, which is what he called Indiana’s program. And that has enrolled 400,000 Hoosiers in the program. And if that gets taken away, that’s a lot of people losing out on affordable health care. And that’s something people here really care about.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ashton Marra, Medicaid expansion also something in West Virginia, but there is also a lot of talk about coal jobs. The president uses that opportunity whenever he gets…

    ASHTON MARRA: Right.

    The president came and visited the state before the Republican primary last year, and he came to talk about coal and to show his support for the coal industry, and, since he’s taken office, has continued talking about putting coal miners back to work in West Virginia.

    I will say that the state, you know, we’re on the edge of this fiscal cliff, essentially, but in the past couple of months, we have seen a rebound in the coal industry and a really small increase in the amount of money we’re bringing in from the coal severance tax.

    So, at the local level, what West Virginia voters see is, we voted for someone who said he was going to put miners back to work, and then just as recently as yesterday, one coal mine in Southern West Virginia announced, hey, we’re going to open our doors again and put some 300 coal miners back to work.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Jon Ralston, besides the pot tax, what else are people in Nevada paying attention to?

    JON RALSTON: Well, you mentioned the Medicaid expansion. This is a state that did expand Medicaid. We had a Republican governor, one of the few to expand Medicaid.

    There is now a bill sitting on his desk that has gotten a lot of national attention already that would be Medicaid for all, in other words, universal health care in the state of Nevada. There’s a lot of emotion behind that. It’s no telling yet whether the governor is going to sign it. I think it’s 50/50 at best, maybe leaning slightly against it.

    Health care is a big issue in Nevada. We have had a lot of uninsured. The Medicaid expansion helped hundreds of thousands of Nevadans. And now you have our U.S. senator, Dean Heller, the only Republican incumbent running in a state that was won by Clinton, going all over the map on Medicaid expansion, first saying that he wants to phase it out, then coming back today and correcting that and saying, well, he’s not so sure.

    And so that issue of Medicaid expansion and whether we will be the only state in the state in the country to have Medicaid for all if the governor signs that bill is a huge issue here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I want to ask all of you a question about the level of support that exists for the president among those voters that stuck with him in the polls.

    Recent polling from The Washington Post on ABC on Wednesday reveals a majority, 56 percent of Americans say Trump is interfering with the Russia investigations, rather than cooperating. His approval ratings are relatively low right now.

    Brandon, let me start with you.

    BRANDON SMITH: Well, Indiana is as much Trump country as you are going to find. He won the state here by 19 points in 2016.

    And I’m sure that number isn’t as strong as it was in November, but it’s still pretty strong here. I think that the overriding sense among Hoosiers is, a lot of this stuff is distraction or it’s not Donald Trump’s fault, but it’s distracting from the real work, and so they’re still counting on him to fulfill his promises.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ashton Marra?

    ASHTON MARRA: Yes, I think the same is true here in West Virginia.

    President Trump won the state at the largest majority that’s ever happened over a Democratic candidate. And so I think, for the most part, Trump supporters in West Virginia are still Trump supporters, and they feel that way because of the things that are happening that we have already talked about, things at the local level, like this small bump in the coal industry.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Jon Ralston, Nevada being a purple to blue state?

    JON RALSTON: Yes, Nevada, as you know, Trump lost here by a couple of points.

    You have essentially three states here. You have the two urban areas of Reno and Las Vegas. Then you have rural Nevada, where Trump won in a landslide. They’re the kind of people where if Donald Trump shot somebody on Las Vegas Boulevard south of the Strip, they would still support him.

    The urban area of Las Vegas, three-quarters of the vote sometimes is very, very Democratic, not Trump country. And then we have the swing county of Washoe County, which is Reno and Sparks, which is more closely divided. But I think that that leans a little bit Democratic now when it comes to presidential races.

    So it’s three states. I don’t think anyone’s views are changing because of what’s happened so far.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, well, all three of your states have Senate contests in the midterms coming up, so I’m sure we will check back in with you.

    Brandon Smith, Ashton Marra, Jon Ralston, thank you all.

    BRANDON SMITH: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: President Trump dove back into the diplomatic row over Qatar, where 10,000 U.S. troops are stationed. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab states have cut ties with the Persian Gulf kingdom.

    At his Rose Garden news conference today, Mr. Trump praised the Saudis and said Qatar must do more to fight extremism.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level. The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding. They have to end that funding and its extremist ideology in terms of funding.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just an hour earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had taken a very different tack. He urged the Saudis and others to ease what he called a blockade of Qatar. He said it’s hindering U.S. military efforts, including against the Islamic State group.

    The president also did today what he had not done at NATO meetings last month. He said he absolutely supports the alliance’s Article 5. That provision requires NATO members to defend one another in the event of an attack. Mr. Trump also called again for member states to spend more on defense.

    Iranians paid tribute today to the 17 people killed in Islamic State attacks on Tehran, and their leaders blamed the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. At a mass funeral ceremony, the speaker of Parliament speaker lit into U.S. lawmakers for moving ahead with new sanctions against their country hours after Wednesday’s deadly attacks.

    ALI LARIJANI, Speaker of Parliament, Iran (through interpreter): As the Iranian nation was engaged in conflict with terrorists at the Parliament, the American Senate, with ultimate shamelessness, passed a law against the Iranian nation and in support of terrorists. Doing this proved that America is the great international ISIS.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry announced that 41 people have been arrested for suspected links to the attacks.

    In Iraq, ISIS took credit for a suicide attack today that killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens more. Officials say the Sunni militants staged the bombing at a crowded market in a mainly Shiite city south of Baghdad.

    U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning said that she wanted to show the human toll of the war in Iraq, and that’s why she leaked thousands of classified documents. Manning spoke in her first interview since being released from military prison last month. She told ABC News that she felt obligated to expose civilian casualties, While serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

    CHELSEA MANNING: We’re getting all this information, and it’s just death, destruction, mayhem. And, eventually, you just stop — I stopped seeing just statistics and information. And I started seeing people.

    I have accepted responsibility. No one told me to do this. Nobody directed me to do this. This is me. It’s on me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The transgender soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning is now appealing her conviction.

    Meanwhile, a federal contractor employee charged with leaking classified information will stay in jail until her trial. Reality Winner was denied bond yesterday in Georgia. Prosecutors warned that she might have taken other classified documents.

    Newly elected Congressman Greg Gianforte will plead guilty to assaulting a reporter. A Montana prosecutor says that the Republican will make the plea deal Monday to a misdemeanor charge. Gianforte allegedly knocked down a reporter for The Guardian newspaper the day before last month’s special election.

    On Wall Street, blue chips rose, but tech stocks sold off. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 89 points to close at 21272, a new record. The Nasdaq fell nearly 114 points, and the S&P 500 slipped two.

    And the stage is now set for Japan’s Emperor Akihito to step down. Parliament today adopted a law authorizing the first abdication in 200 years. Akihito has indicated that he wishes to retire, citing his age, 83, and declining health. The law clears the way for Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend to the throne.

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    President Donald Trump speaks at the Infrastructure Summit with Governors and Mayors at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RTX39PW1

    President Donald Trump speaks June at the Infrastructure Summit with governors and mayors at the White House in Washington, D.C. President Donald Trump on Friday accused James Comey of lying to Congress and said he was “100 percent” willing to testify under oath about their conversations. Photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas.

    WASHINGTON — Punching back a day after his fired FBI director’s damaging testimony, President Donald Trump on Friday accused James Comey of lying to Congress and said he was “100 percent” willing to testify under oath about their conversations.

    Trump cryptically refused to say whether those private exchanges were taped — a matter at the heart of the conflicting accounts of what passed between them at a time when Comey was leading an FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and its ties to the Trump campaign.

    WATCH: James Comey testifies in Senate hearing on Russia

    He asserted that nothing in Comey’s testimony to the Senate pointed to collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice.

    “Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction,” Trump said.

    He further denied ever asking Comey for his “loyalty,” contradicting Comey’s detailed sworn testimony about a private dinner the two men had in the White House.

    “No I didn’t say that,” Trump stated abruptly, taking questions at a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Rose Garden. Asked if he would make that denial under oath, he said: “100 percent.”

    Trump’s aides have dodged questions about whether conversations relevant to the Russia investigation have been recorded, and so did the president, in series of teases.

    “Well, I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future,” Trump said. Pressed on the issue, he insisted he wasn’t “hinting anything,” before adding: “Oh you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer, don’t worry.”

    Grassley tells Trump he can’t ignore requests for information from Congress

    The House intelligence committee sent a letter Friday asking White House counsel Don McGahn whether any tape recordings or memos of Comey’s conversations with the president exist now or had existed in the past. The committee also sent a letter to Comey asking for any notes or memos in his possession about the discussions he had with Trump before being abruptly fired last month. The committee is seeking the materials by June 23.

    Comey told the Senate intelligence committee Thursday about several one-on-one interactions with the president, during which he said Trump pressed him to show “loyalty,” to back off on the FBI investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and to disclose that Trump himself was not under investigation.

    Comey said he refused on all points, told senators of the detailed memos he had written after his conversations with Trump and said he hoped those conversations were taped because he is confident of their veracity.

    Standing with the president of Romania, a NATO partner, Trump at last confirmed his commitment to the alliance’s mutual defense pact, Article 5, uttering words he deliberately did not say when he spoke at NATO’s gathering in Belgium last month. On Friday he said he was “committing the United States to Article 5.”

    WATCH: President Trump, Secretary Tillerson take different stances on Qatar

    He also accused Qatar, a key U.S. military partner, of funding terrorism “at a very high level,” and said solving the problem in the tiny Persian Gulf nation could be “the beginning of the end of terrorism.” It was a forceful endorsement of this week’s move by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to cut off ties to Qatar, but a very different message from the one delivered just an hour before by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson had called on the Arab nations to immediately ease their blockade on Qatar.

    Trump also saluted the United States’ relationship with Romania and praised its contribution to the global fight against terror.

    The president had previewed his attacks against Comey in an early-morning tweet that broke his previous day’s silence on his favorite social media megaphone.

    “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication,” Trump wrote. It was a stunning accusation, suggesting that the former FBI director had lied to Congress, while under oath.

    He also seized on Comey’s revelation that he had directed a friend to release contents of memos he’d written documenting his conversations with the president to a reporter.

    “…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump wrote at 6:10 a.m. He derisively repeated the “leaker” moniker when speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden.

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

    Trump’s private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, seized on Comey’s admission that he had orchestrated the public release of the information. Kasowitz is expected to file a complaint with the Justice Department inspector general next week, according to a person close to the legal team who agreed to speak before the filing on condition that the person’s name is not used.

    Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, both said Thursday they believed Comey’s account of the events.

    “And I think you saw today the overwhelming majority of the intel members, Democrats and Republicans, feel that Jim Comey is credible. Even folks who have been his critics don’t question his integrity, his commitment to the rule of law and his intelligence,” Warner said.

    Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Mary Clare Jalonick, Josh Lederman and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other major story: One headline in London said it all, “Mayhem,” the morning after a ballot box drubbing for British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: It was a painful reckoning for a prime minister whose election gamble failed in a stunning fashion. But after meeting with the queen, Theresa May insisted she will carry on.

    THERESA MAY, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: I will now form a government, a government that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: May had hoped the snap election would boost Conservative dominance in Parliament, and give her a stronger hand in negotiating Britain’s exit with the European Union. Instead, the Tories lost 13 seats in the House of Commons. The opposition Labor Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, gained 32 seats.

    THERESA MAY: I had wanted to achieve a larger majority, but that wasn’t the result that we secured. And, as I reflect on the results, I will reflect on what we need to do in the future to take the party forward.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: At Westminster, a demonstrator wearing a May mask laid flowers on a mock grave, amid rising calls for the prime minister to resign.

    Labor leader Corbyn led the charge.

    JEREMY CORBYN, Leader, Labour Party: It was her campaign, it was her decision to call the election, it was her name out there, and she was saying she was doing it to bring about strong and stable government. Well, this morning, it doesn’t look like a strong government, it doesn’t look like a stable government, it doesn’t look like a government that has any program whatsoever.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Corbyn’s success came in part from cooperating with the grassroots campaign normalization momentum, which took advice from Bernie Sanders’ volunteers.

    Adam Klug is a national organizer.

    ADAM KLUG, National Organizer, Momentum: You build up relationships with people on the doorstep. You listen to them. You communicate your ideas effectively and help train people on persuading people of why Labor’s policies made sense.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But May’s opponents aren’t the only ones questioning her role. Anna Soubry is a Conservative member of Parliament.

    ANNA SOUBRY, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party: This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party and we need to take stock, and our leader needs to take stock as well.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Will Conservatives go as far as removing May from power?

    Anand Menon, a professor at King’s College London, says it depends on several key factors.

    ANAND MENON, King’s College London: Firstly, the availability of someone else who can command support in the party, secondly, the scale of opposition in the party to her, and, thirdly, whether or not the members of the parliamentary party think it’s better to try and get rid of her now or have a period of calm where things can bed themselves in after the election, before maybe trying to do a leadership election next year.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: May has been criticized for running a lackluster campaign. It was marked by a proposal to force elderly people to pay more for their care and her decision to skip a televised debate. Then came the terror attacks in Manchester and London, which refocused the race on security, and May’s role in cutting police ranks.

    And there’s Brexit. The U.K.’s withdrawal talks with the E.U. are due to begin in just 10 days.

    JOHN SPRINGFORD, Director of Research, Center for European Reform: This was certainly a rejection of Theresa May’s very tough Brexit strategy where she was going to cleave a lot of the links between the U.K. and the E.U.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: John Springford is director of research at the Center for European Reform.

    JOHN SPRINGFORD: There’s only about 18 months left to negotiate the Brexit deal, and if, say, we have another three or four months while the government is formed or we have fresh elections, then there’s much less time. And so the E.U. then has an awful lot of power towards the end of the negotiating process.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: For now, May needs a coalition partner to form a governing majority in Parliament, most likely Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The group is pro-Brexit, but well to the right on social issues.

    There’s broad agreement across the political spectrum that Theresa May is living on borrowed time. The Labor Party believes that her coalition of convenience with Northern Ireland’s DUP is unsustainable and that there will be a new general election in the not-too-distant future.

    Mrs. May wants to remain in office for the next five years, but most analysts agree that the Conservative establishment will terminate her premiership when the time is right and they will select another candidate to lead them into the next general election — Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Malcolm Brabant, in London.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The high-stakes struggle between President Trump and fired FBI Director James Comey is our top story again tonight.

    The president has answered Comey’s Senate testimony with outright denials, new talk of possible tapes, and a pledge to tell his story under oath.

    William Brangham has the story.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No collusion, no obstruction. He’s a leaker.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The president publicly broke his silence about James Comey’s testimony today in a Rose Garden news conference with Klaus Iohannis, the president of Romania.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were very, very happy, and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said. And some of the things that he said just weren’t true.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The fired FBI director yesterday testified several things: that he took detailed notes of his conversations with the president to protect against Mr. Trump lying about what was said. He said he leaked some of those notes last month, hoping to prompt the naming of a special counsel.

    JAMES COMEY, Former Director, FBI: I need to get that out into the public square.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He did tell President Trump several times that he wasn’t specifically under investigation. And Comey testified, the president pressured him to end the probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

    QUESTION: He did say under oath that you told him to let the Flynn — you said you hoped the Flynn investigation, he could let go.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I didn’t say that.

    QUESTION: So he lied about that?

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I didn’t say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn’t say that.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The president also denied asking Comey for a pledge of loyalty. And he was asked directly if he has recordings of their conversations as he’s hinted before.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I’m not hinting anything. I will tell you about it over a very short period of time. OK?

    QUESTION: When will you tell us about the recordings?

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Over a fairly short period of time.


    QUESTION: Are there tapes, sir?

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don’t worry.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Conservative media conservative news outlets and a number of Republicans backed Mr. Trump over Comey.

    House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows:

    REP. MARK MEADOWS,  R-N.C.: I think it was actually a day that vindicated the president, when you have Director Comey three times saying that he wasn’t under investigation.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Republican Senator Susan Collins, who’s on the Intelligence Committee, said Comey was wrong to leak his notes, but she defended him as well.

    SEN. SUSAN COLLINS,  R-Maine: I found him to be credible, candid and thorough. It doesn’t mean that every memory he has is exactly right or that there aren’t different interpretations. But he testified under oath.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This led to another question for the president.

    QUESTION: So, he said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One hundred percent.

    QUESTION: So, if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that …


    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you, Jon.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: On the other side of the aisle, Democrats pounced on Comey’s claims about the president.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

    REP. NANCY PELOSI,  D-Calif., House Minority Leader: I think there’s no question he abused power. Whether he obstructed justice remains for the facts to come forward. And that’s what we want, are the facts.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, leaders of the House Intelligence Committee asked Comey for his notes and memos. They also asked the White House for any memos or recordings of the meetings, if they exist.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m William Brangham.

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    Portuguese PM Costa, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, Greek PM Tsipras, U.S. President Trump, Hungarian PM Orban and Britain's PM May pose for a family photo during a NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels

    (L-R) Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, U.S. President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Voktor Orban and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May pose for a family photo during a NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says the United States is committed to the mutual defense of NATO members, casting aside concerns that his failure to mention the commitment last month weakened the alliance.

    Trump said Friday that he was “committing the United States to Article 5.” That article in the NATO treaty says an attack on one member is an attack on all members and binds the allies to come to that country’s defense.

    European countries and others expressed concern last month when Trump did not mention the clause in a speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels. In that speech, Trump demanded that allies live up to a pledge to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. He did not specifically mention Article 5, which has only been invoked once, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    “I’m committing the United States to Article 5,” Trump told reporters at a news conference Friday with visiting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. “Certainly we are there to protect, and that’s one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force. But yes, absolutely, I’d be committed to Article 5.”

    READ NEXT: NATO chief welcomes Trump’s view that group is not ‘obsolete’

    The White House later reaffirmed the commitment in a statement announcing that Trump will visit Poland next month as part of his second foreign trip. It said that in addition to showing America’s support of Poland, the trip will also emphasize the president’s commitment to strengthening NATO’s “collective defense.”

    Trump’s omission in Brussels raised concerns on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. White House aides said the president’s support was implied even though he deliberately did not utter the words.

    Still, allies had questions about Trump’s belief in the value of NATO, which he had termed “obsolete” during the presidential campaign.

    On Friday, Trump noted that only a handful of NATO’s 29 members — Montenegro joined just this week — were meeting the 2 percent pledge. But he said the U.S. would abide by its treaty obligations.

    “We’re going to make NATO very strong,” he said. “You need the money to make it strong. You can’t just do what we’ve been doing in the past.”

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    Composite reconstruction of 300,000-year-old fossils from the site of Jebel Irhoud in Morocco. Researchers say the fossils are the earliest known remains of Homo sapiens. Image via Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig

    The year was 1961. A barite mining operation at the Jebel Irhoud massif in Morocco, some 100 kilometers west of Marrakech, turned up a fossil human skull. Subsequent excavation uncovered more bones from other individuals, along with animal remains and stone tools. Scientists’ best guess was that the remains were about 40,000 years old and represented African versions of Neandertals. In the decades that followed, researchers shifted their stance on the identity of the remains, coming to see them as members of our own species, Homo sapiens—and they redated the site to roughly 160,000 years ago. Still, the Jebel Irhoud fossils remained something of a mystery, because in some respects they looked more primitive than older H. sapiens fossils.

    Now new evidence is rewriting the story of Jebel Irhoud once again. A team led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany has recovered more human fossils and more stone tools, along with compelling evidence the site is double the age experts previously believed it to be. The researchers describe their findings in papers published this week in Nature.

    If the fossils do in fact represent H. sapiens, as the team argues, the finds push back the origin of our species by more than 100,000 years and challenge leading ideas about where and how our lineage evolved. But other scientists disagree about what, exactly, the new findings mean. In a way, far from tidily solving the puzzle of our origins, the Jebel Irhoud discoveries add to mounting evidence that the dawning of our kind was a very complicated affair.


    The reconstructed composite reveals a short, modern-looking face paired with a long, low braincase that calls to mind archaic humans. Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig

    Experts have long recognized that H. sapiens got its start in Africa. Up to this point, the oldest commonly accepted traces of our species were in Ethiopia: 195,000-year-old remains from the site of Omo Kibish and 160,000-year-old fossils from Herto. Yet hints that our species might have deeper roots had come to light. For instance, a skull with some modern characteristics from Florisbad, South Africa, was dated to 259,000 years ago—but the skull was assigned to a more primitive species, Homo heidelbergensis, and the date was never widely accepted. Clues have also come from studies of DNA recovered from human fossils. In 2016 researchers led by Matthias Meyer, also at Max Planck, reported that they had recovered DNA from fossils at the Spanish site of Sima de los Huesos that indicated H. sapiens split from its closest evolutionary relatives, the Neandertals, more than 500,000 years ago, implying an older fossil record of H. sapiens remained to be discovered.

    To that end, Hublin and his colleagues have unearthed fossils of several other individuals from a part of the Jebel Irhoud site that the miners had not disturbed in the 1960s. Their finds included skull and lower jawbones as well as stone tools and the remains of animals the humans hunted. Multiple dating techniques indicate the stratigraphic layer from which the fossils and artifacts were recovered dates to between 350,000 and 280,000 years ago.

    Analyzing the sizes and shapes of the Jebel Irhoud bones, the researchers found that the form of the face, lower jaw and teeth was distinct from Neandertals and other archaic humans. In these features the Jebel Irhoud remains resembled H. sapiens. The braincase, however, lacks the round shape characteristic of modern humans and instead has the elongate shape seen in archaic humans. Such differences in braincase shape are associated with differences in brain organization. All things considered, the team concluded the Jebel Irhoud remains represent “the very root of our species, the oldest H. sapiens ever found in Africa or elsewhere,” Hublin said at a press teleconference. The remains reveal a group that did not have all of our hallmark traits yet but whose form could have gradually evolved directly into that seen in people today, he and his colleagues report in their paper describing the fossils.


    Lower jawbone from Jebel Irhoud is nearly complete. Human fossils from this time period in Africa are exceedingly rare. Photo via Jean-Jacques Hublin, Leipzig

    The discovery “allowed us to envision a more complex picture for the emergence of our species, with different parts of the anatomy evolving at different rates,” Hublin said. Some parts, such as the face, attained their modern form early on; others, including the brain, took longer to reach the modern condition. He added that the findings do not imply Morocco was the cradle of modern humankind. Instead, taken together with other fossil discoveries including the Florisbad skull, they suggest the emergence of H. sapiens was a pan-African affair. Hublin said that by 300,000 years ago, early H. sapiens had dispersed across the continent. This dispersal was helped by the fact that Africa was quite different back then—the Sahara was green, not the forbidding desert barrier that it is today.

    The Jebel Irhoud discovery coincides with findings from a separate study of ancient DNA made available this week on the bioRxiv preprint server ahead of peer review and publication. Carina Schlebusch and Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden and their colleagues analyzed seven H. sapiens genomes from South Africa, from people who lived between 2,000 and 300 years ago. The researchers found that the groups to which these individuals belonged diverged more than 260,000 years ago, which would mean our species is at least that old. “The two new papers certainly complement each other,” observes evolutionary geneticist Alan Rogers of the University of Utah, who was not involved in either study. “The Jebel Irhoud paper tells us modern human morphology is older than we had thought. The Schlebusch et al paper says modern human populations have been separate for nearly this long.”

    Not everyone is ready to accept the claim that the Jebel Irhoud fossils necessarily belong to H. sapiens, however. Paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison says their modern-looking traits might not actually reflect a connection to our species. He notes the analysis by Hublin and his colleagues did not compare the Jebel Irhoud remains with fossils from Spain dating to more than 800,000 years ago that belong to a species called H. antecessor. “There is an archaic human population with facial morphology that resembles modern humans in many ways, and it is a lot older than Jebel Irhoud,” he says of H. antecessor. “Maybe Jebel Irhoud was evolving into modern humans, but another possibility is that it is retaining facial morphology from an H. antecessor–like population that may have been the last common ancestor of Neandertals and later African archaic humans.”

    Indeed the new fossils “raise major questions about what features define our species,” observes paleoanthropologist Marta Lahr of the University of Cambridge in England. “[Is] it the globular skull, with its implications on brain reorganization, that make a fossil Homo sapiens? If so, the Irhoud population are our close cousins.” But if, on the other hand, a small face and the shape of the lower jaw are the key traits, then the Jebel Irhoud find could be one of our actual ancestors—and thus shift the focus of scientists who study modern human origins from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean—Lahr says.

    Either way, the new discoveries seem poised to fan debate over who invented the artifacts of Africa’s Middle Stone Age (MSA) cultural period, which spanned the time between roughly 300,000 and 40,000 years ago. The archaeological record shows that during the MSA early humans across Africa and Eurasia moved away from making clunky handaxes to crafting more portable cutting tools using so-called Levallois methods for shaping stone. Researchers disagree about whether this new technology arose once and spread across the Old World as early humans dispersed or whether different populations invented the technology independently. And because the oldest MSA artifacts predated the oldest known H. sapiens fossils, experts had reason to believe that multiple species made MSA tools.


    Stone tools from Jebel Irhoud show people in North Africa had so-called Middle Stone Age technology by 300,000 years ago. Photo via Mohammed Kamal, MPI EVA Leipzig

    The new findings could change the equation, however. “I don’t believe the MSA is evolving independently all over the place, and the Irhoud date firmly places the earliest MSA within the sapiens lineage (or with sapiens itself depending on how the nomenclature issue settles), rather than before it,” Lahr says.

    Other experts are cautious about linking the MSA to a particular species. “We have the potential for other lineages to still be on the landscape,” explains archaeologist Christian Tryon of Harvard University. “I’m hesitant to go straight from archaeology to species, particularly at 300,000 years ago, when [Homo] heidelbergensis and others may still have been running around.” Recently researchers dated fossils of Homo naledi, a small-brained human species whose remains have been found in South Africa, to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago—meaning it was among the other humans on the scene during the MSA.

    “The big story right now in human evolution is that Africa 250,000 years ago was not what we thought it was, and the formation of African modern human populations from that time period was a very complicated process,” Hawks says. “I think that people had this assumption that once you knew modern humans evolved in Africa, that solved everything. That assumption led to the notion that whatever African fossil record there was must be the ancestors of modern humans. It turns out that’s massively oversimplified. There are several different lineages of archaic humans, Homo naledi and others, that genetics is suggesting must have existed. And we don’t know how most of the fossils fit. That’s where Jebel Irhoud is—we now know its age, but we still don’t know how it fits in.”

    The new finds “make the picture nicely complicated,” Tryon agrees. “I like a messy story and this contributes to it.” But it also means the scientists chasing the origins of our own species have their work cut out for them. Sometimes the most familiar things are also the most mysterious.

    This article is reproduced with permission from Scientific American. It was first published on June 8, 2017. Find the original story here.

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    Former FBI Director Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington

    Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The FBI chief he fired called the president a liar, but the response from many Republicans was a collective shrug. The GOP still needs Donald Trump if it has any hope of accomplishing its legislative agenda and winning elections, and it’s going to take more than James Comey’s testimony to shake them.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday boasted of the GOP’s accomplishments under Trump thus far, and promised more to come, making no mention of Comey in a speech. A group of House conservatives discussed taxes and the budget, with no reference to Comey or the federal investigations into Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

    Elsewhere, there were few outward signs of concern from the top Republican officials, donors and business leaders who gathered largely behind closed doors in Park City, Utah, for a conference hosted by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

    “The people in this room, who give money to the Republican Party and who are focused on helping get Republicans elected, they do it because they believe in an agenda,” Spencer Zwick, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s fundraising chief, said in an interview. As for the Comey testimony, “there’s nothing we can do about it,” Zwick said.

    It all underscored what’s become a hardening dynamic of the Trump presidency: Republicans on Capitol Hill and off are mostly sticking with the president despite the mounting scandals and seemingly endless crises that surround him.

    Though some are privately concerned, and frustration is regularly voiced about the president’s undisciplined administration and the distractions he creates, Republicans have scant incentive to abandon him now. Trump’s signature remains key to the still-nascent GOP agenda, and he has the ability to appoint judges to lifetime appointments, a thrilling prospect for conservatives.

    And, despite Trump’s low approval ratings nationally, his core base of supporters remains firmly behind him. Those voters will be key to the GOP’s success in next year’s midterms when Republicans will be defending a fragile majority in the House and looking to pick up seats in the Senate, thanks to a favorable map that has a large group of Democratic incumbents up for re-election in states that voted for Trump.

    “I think the last 24, 48 hours were all good for the president, confirmed he was telling the truth all along, that he wasn’t under investigation,” GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said Friday, referring to Comey’s confirmation that he had informed Trump that the president wasn’t being personally investigated.

    [Watch Video]

    Comey also bluntly accused the Trump White House of lying, asserted that Trump asked him to back off an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and contended that Trump fired him in an effort to change the course of the Russia investigation. But Republicans chose to ignore those things and focus on the aspects of Comey’s testimony on Thursday that were favorable to Trump. Trump himself, appearing alongside the president of Romania on Friday, attacked Comey and said some of his testimony wasn’t true.

    “I think he was exonerated,” GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Friday of Trump. “He said that he wasn’t under investigation and indeed that was verified.”

    Ryan and other Republicans explained away Trump’s interactions with Comey as the understandable blunders of a Washington neophyte.

    “It’s no secret to anybody that this president is not experienced in the ways of Washington, of how these investigations work,” said GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who sits on the intelligence committee. “When you have the FBI director telling you three times you’re not the subject of an investigation and you ask him, ‘would you please announce that publicly’ and he refuses, I can understand why the president would be frustrated by that.”

    Outraged Democrats argued that Comey had laid out all the elements of an obstruction of justice case, even as Democratic leaders tried to tamp down calls for impeachment coming from some liberals, including some members of Congress. Chances that Republicans themselves would initiate or even consider impeachment proceedings were zero, and that will change only if the Justice Department special counsel on the case, Robert Mueller, delivers a verdict they cannot ignore whenever his investigation concludes.

    To be sure, not all Republicans were so quick to dismiss Comey’s testimony and the Russia investigation.

    The Tucson Weekly published quotes from what it said was a private talk by GOP Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona to the Arizona Bankers Association last week. McSally, who represents a closely divided district targeted by Democrats, expressed concerns that the House majority could be at risk partly because of “distractions” from Trump and his tweets.

    “Any Republican member of Congress, you are going down with the ship. And we’re going to hand the gavel to Pelosi in 2018,” McSally said, referring to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “The path to that gavel being handed over is through my seat. And right now, it doesn’t matter that it’s me, it doesn’t matter what I’ve done. I have an ‘R’ next to my name and right now, this environment would have me not prevail.”

    A litmus test comes in two weeks when voters choose a new House member in a competitive Georgia district, where a GOP loss would unnerve some two dozen incumbents like McSally.

    The post Many in GOP unshaken by Comey’s testimony against Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Research scientist Dan Galperin holds vials marked "Zika" at Protein Sciences Inc. where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus in Meriden

    Research scientist Dan Galperin holds vials marked “Zika” during his work on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein at the research laboratory where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, U.S., June 20, 2016. Picture taken June 20, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    Zika has faded from the headlines like a mosquito’s dying buzz.

    Puerto Rico declared its outbreak over this week. Brazil said its emergency was over in May. In the United States, summer approaches with little discussion of the virus outside public health circles.

    But the risk the insidious pathogen poses to a pregnancy hasn’t gone away, and public health authorities are grappling with how to get the message out to pregnant women. Despite public confusion over whether Zika remains a public health threat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to warn women who are pregnant to avoid traveling to wide swathes of Latin America and the Caribbean.

    “People are just going to have to accept that as part of the new reality,” Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s global migration and quarantine division, told STAT in an interview. “Until we have better prevention tools, we’re just facing this as part of the new normal.”

    “If this were my daughter, I would want her to know and I would caution her not to go there at this time. And that’s tough medicine. I understand that.”

    For most people, Zika infection is mild, if that. It’s believed that as many as 4 of 5 who are infected don’t experience any symptoms.

    But infection in pregnancy carries a life-altering risk to the developing fetus. The virus is neurotropic — it gravitates to and attacks key cells in the developing central nervous system. Microcephaly — an abnormally small head and often an underdeveloped brain — is the most obvious of Zika’s harms. But a range of defects including brain tissue destruction as well as visual and hearing deficits are seen in babies born after prenatal infection.

    Some of the defects are profound and are not problems these children will outgrow. And the risk is not small. New data on Zika-infected pregnant women from the U.S. territories found 5 percent of those pregnancies were affected.

    Researchers studying the virus fear other, more subtle problems will only become apparent as children infected in the womb start lagging, developmentally, behind their peers.

    Public health officials have been desperate to try to prevent these kinds of birth outcomes since Zika’s link to birth defects was first recognized. And that hasn’t changed as the public’s sense of alarm over the Zika outbreak has subsided.

    But officials know they’re up against a challenge in trying to keep this issue on the radar of the people who need to pay attention.

    “Last year, health experts were concerned that the media overstating the threat from Zika would make ongoing messaging to manage the actual level of risk more difficult. That’s where we are now,” said Sandra Mullin, a New York-based risk communications consultant.

    “Zika, West Nile virus, and other mosquito-borne diseases that once seemed urgent and novel and captured the attention of the news media and policymakers now face the fatigue of other chronic conditions and diseases that present similar challenges for public health communicators.”

    Cetron said if peak transmission in a place has passed but some low level spread of the virus remains, the risk of contracting Zika may be low. But with such devastating consequences, the CDC isn’t thinking about downgrading its warnings.

    “Even a low level risk, especially for something which is often difficult to recognize, may constitute a really serious public health outcome for this narrow segment of the population.”

    The World Health Organization concurs.

    “It’s a tricky one, this,” Dr. Anthony Costello, WHO’s director of maternal, child, and adolescent health said of Zika, the only known mosquito-transmitted virus to cause birth defects.

    That’s an understatement. The WHO tries to quantify the Zika risk by grouping countries and territories as follows: those where spread is new and where there is ongoing transmission; those where the virus has circulated for a while and hasn’t stopped; those where transmission appears to have stopped but could resume; and those where the conditions for spread exist — in other words, the right mosquitoes — but the virus hasn’t been found.

    There are 148 locations on the list. The first two categories, which pose the highest risk, include 58 and 20 countries and territories, respectively.

    “Obviously with pregnancy, you’re going to take extra caution. And if people don’t need to travel [there], the advice to be absolutely cautious would be not to,” Costello said.

    Likewise, advice to people of child-bearing age isn’t changing either, he said. The WHO recommends couples who have been to places where they might have contracted Zika wait six months before trying to conceive.

    Cetron said the CDC’s travel advice, found in its regularly updated Yellow Book or in the location-specific advice it lists on its website, sometimes urges pregnant women to take special care. For instance, the agency cautions pregnant women against traveling to places where they can contract malaria, because it can be more dangerous during pregnancy.

    That’s the way Zika will likely be handled going forward, Cetron said. It has become another one of the things pregnant women have to guard against.

    “Many pregnant women won’t like giving up alcohol for nine months of pregnancy or other kinds of accommodations pregnant women make on behalf of their unborn child in order to get a healthy start,” he said.

    “I think it’s difficult, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I wish it were different.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on June 9, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post ‘Part of the new reality’: Despite confusion, Zika warnings are here to stay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    bee study

    A bumble bee searches for pollen during a spring day in New York, May 23, 2012. Bee numbers have plummeted in the U.S. but a new study in Detroit suggests the city’s large amount vacant land may have led to higher numbers. Photo By Brendan McDermid

    Detroit has lost more than half of its population since the 1950s, leaving thousands of lots abandoned in of the city’s urban core as once-plentiful jobs in the auto industry were lost to automation and the economy plummeted.

    It’s a scenario seen a multitude of Rust Belt cities, though many of them are beginning to make slow progress toward respective comebacks.

    But a study released by the University of Michigan in May appears to show those economic struggles may have also created positive ecological influences for a portion of Detroit, where researchers found higher bumblebee populations than less-urbanized areas of the state.

    “The less we do, the better the bees are.” — Naim Edwards, program manager for Voices for Earth Justice in Detroit

    Researchers say the study, published May 17 in the journal Royal Society Open Science, gives strong evidence that thousands of vacated residential properties in the Motor City may have led to the increases in bumblebee populations, potentially due to the lack of humans, many of whom use pesticides and herbicides and mow their lawns.

    Paul Glaum, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan and one of the authors of the study, said he and his colleagues studied 30 urban farms and gardens in five Michigan cities to collect the data, with an increase in the number of bees appearing only in Detroit. It was an unexpected finding because “there’s such a strong decline outside of Detroit in even less-urbanized areas,” he said.

    “But then once we sampled in Detroit, we found a particularly surprising uptick in the amount of bumblebee abundance and in bumblebee diversity,” Glaum said. “And because bumblebee nests all start either right on top of or under ground, we are hypothesizing that it has a strong connection to the high amount of vacancies in Detroit.”

    What is considered “vacant land” can vary based on method, but Glaum said that the research team’s metrics determined that roughly 33 percent of Detroit is considered vacant. As land begins to return to nature in Detroit, wild bumblebees may have more opportunities to create nesting sites and find flowers for food.

    bee study

    Researchers collected samples at 30 urban farms and gardens in five Michigan cities. Shown here is one site at the Art Center Community Garden in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Paul Glaum

    The study also found that urbanization appears to influence female and male bees differently, possibly due to behavioral differences between the sexes, Glaum said. Declines in bumblebee abundance and diversity because of increasing urbanization were propelled entirely by female workers but male bumblebee numbers were not affected by urbanization, the study notes.

    Bees are crucial pollinators that buoy U.S. agriculture and maintain healthy ecosystems, but their numbers have plunged in North America in recent decades. Research shows part of the problem is the use of pesticides and herbicides on large agricultural tracts of land. But Glaum said less is known about bee populations in urban areas.

    Naim Edwards, a program manager for Voices for Earth Justice in Detroit who helped Glaum and his research team secure locations for the study, said depending on the parameters used anywhere between a third and a fifth of the city is made up of vacant land on property once utilized for residential or industrial purposes. Large swaths of parkland left unattended by city maintenance have also “gone back to nature,” he said.

    “When you see it in on the ground there’s a very suburban and rural feel in different parts of the city,” Edwards said. “So in a lot of ways it kind of shows what happens when humans get out of the way.”

    Edwards, who also has a graduate degree from the University of Michigan’s Department of Ecology and Evolution, said Voices for Earth Justice Detroit promotes gardening and sustainable use of land, soil and water in the city, with several thousand urban farms and gardens found on more than 15 percent of the vacant land.

    “You have bees living in lawns and lots and dead trees,” he said. “These are things we might remove from our built-in living environments. And gardens are providing food and resources for the bees. The less we do, the better the bees are.”

    Kevin Boehnke runs an 800-square foot urban garden with his wife in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and took part in the bumblebee study. He said while Ann Arbor has less suburban sprawl than Detroit, the core of the city has been growing fast along with the number of urban gardens.

    While Glaum’s research team did not see the kind of bumblebee abundance and diversity in Ann Arbor as they did in Detroit, Boehnke said the increase in urban gardens is helping to contribute “with pollinators and biodiversity.”

    “It’s really nice to see that not only do we have all these kinds of community benefits but there’s also these ecological benefits being provided with these varieties of plants where bees can make homes,” he said.

    Glaum said he wants to continue his research on bees in urban settings, but in the meantime he wants the bumblebee study to contribute to reimagining how cities can be used.

    “Even though individual action is really important, as we learn in the study, the physical layout of the landscape is a huge driver for the ability of these bees to survive and succeed in an environment,” he said. “I think those are fascinating places to create new ideas for urban centers and what it means to integrate human development with what we consider the natural world. And maybe kind of erase some of the walls we built between those two worlds.”

    The post Is Detroit’s vacant land helping bumblebees bounce back? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump’s beliefs about global warming remain something of a mystery, his actions make one thing clear: He doesn’t consider it a problem for the federal government to solve.

    Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal was just his latest rapid-fire move to weaken or dismantle federal initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, which scientists say are heating the planet to levels that could have disastrous consequences.

    Trump is waging war against efforts to curb U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. He’s done that through executive orders targeting climate change programs and regulations, massive proposed spending cuts and key appointments such as Scott Pruitt as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency.

    To what degree Trump will succeed remains to be seen. Despite the fanfare of his Paris announcement, including a pledge that his administration will halt all work on it, formally removing the U.S. from the accord could take more than three years. Rescinding the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s signature measure to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, likely would require three years. Trump’s budget, which would slash funding for climate research and assistance to cities preparing for weather-related calamities, needs approval from Congress, where resistance is strong.

    Still, the sharp change in course is being felt in ways large and small, down to the scrubbing of climate change information from federal agency websites. Environmentalists are predictably outraged. Even some Republicans are taken aback.

    “This is a repudiation of 45 years of steady improvement in the enforcement and rigor of laws to protect the environment in the U.S.,” said William K. Reilly, who led the EPA under President George H.W. Bush and is chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund.

    Trump’s administration reversed Obama’s moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal mining, joined with Congress to kill protections of streams from coal mining waste, stopped tracking the federal government’s carbon emissions and withdrew a requirement for more emissions data from oil and gas facilities. A rollback of automobile fuel-economy standards is under consideration. His proposed 2018 budget would cut climate and energy research spending in numerous agencies, including a two-thirds reduction at EPA.

    Trump is hardly the first president accused of favoring businesses over the environment. His belief in easing the regulatory burden on them is firmly in the Republican mainstream.

    What sets him apart is his zealousness and public dismissiveness of the scientific evidence showing the Earth is warming and man-made carbon emissions are largely to blame.

    “This is more extreme than any previous Republican president – this is their old set of sentiments on steroids,” said David Doniger, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s no orderly, reasonable inquiry into whether something makes sense and should be left in place.”

    At one point, Trump labeled global warming a “hoax” concocted by the Chinese to gain an economic edge over the U.S. Aides recently have sidestepped questions about whether he accepts the widely held scientific view about climate change.

    A White House statement issued this past week in response to questions from The Associated Press did not specify whether Trump believes the planet has been steadily warming, or say to what extent human activity such as burning of fossil fuels is responsible.

    “The president believes that the climate is always changing – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Pollutants are part of that equation,” the statement said.

    “The Trump administration is laser focused on clean water and clean air but also on better jobs for more and more Americans …,” it added. “America cannot stand by and have the rest of the world take our wealth and tax dollars to clean up their own environment while American businesses and American families suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a diminished quality of life.”

    Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who led the administration’s EPA transition team, said Trump and key advisers don’t necessarily reject climate science but don’t believe the threat “should be placed in the list of the top 50 things we should be worried about.”

    Frustrated climate researchers say the opposite is true. They point to record-setting high temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms – trends that models suggest will only worsen.

    But attacks on such findings from climate change doubters have taken their toll. Public trust in mainstream science and other institutions has eroded, and lines between fact and ideology have blurred, said David Victor, a Brookings Institution specialist on energy security and climate.

    Trump could encounter trouble if his retreat from the climate fight doesn’t restore lost jobs in coal mining and energy production, Victor said.

    The president has made reversing the decades-long decline in coal mining the central tenet of his environmental policy, blaming federal regulations for job losses. Federal statistics show coal mining accounted for only 51,000 jobs nationally at the end of May, up just 400 jobs from the prior month.

    Many economists say technology and cheap natural gas are the biggest causes of the coal industry’s slump. But Trump’s focus on regulations remains popular in coal country.

    “We support the direction the administration is going,” said Betsy Monseau, CEO of the American Coal Council. “It’s very important to us over the longer term to preserve a path for coal and coal utilization in this country.”

    The post Trump wages battle against regulations, not climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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