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

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    U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he leaves a Made in America roundtable meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX3C4VE

    U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he leaves a Made in America roundtable meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. July 19, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — One of President Trump’s personal attorneys says that Trump’s private legal team is not looking into the question of whether the president can pardon himself.

    Jay Sekulow tells reporters in Denver, “We’re not researching it because it’s not an issue.”

    Sekulow also says there are no discussions about pardons among the president’s private legal team. The White House has been buffeted by an intensifying series of investigations into Russian meddling in the U.S. election last year and possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

    Sekulow, appearing in Denver Saturday night, was responding to questions from reporters about Trump’s tweet earlier Saturday that he has “complete power” to grant pardons.

    “I don’t know where this came from. There is nothing to pardon,” Sekulow said.

    The post Trump lawyer says there’s no pardon discussion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn reacts during an interview with Reuters in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 12, 2017. Photo by Eason Lam/ Reuters

    Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn reacts during an interview with Reuters in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 12, 2017. Photo by Eason Lam/ Reuters

    LANSING, Mich. — Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn’s plan to build a display panel factory in the U.S. has sparked a flurry of lobbying by states vying to land what some economic development officials say is a once-in-a-generation prize.

    It’s not just jobs that are up for grabs — possibly 5,000 alone at the plant and potentially thousands more at other unspecified U.S. operations the company intends to launch. Luring Foxconn to build the country’s first liquid-crystal display factory would signal that the Midwest, which has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs in recent decades, can diversify into again producing high-tech consumer gadgets often assembled in Asia.

    The hunt for Foxconn is fluid and largely secretive, with Rust Belt governors and state officials declining to even confirm their interest due to non-disclosure agreements and Foxconn not elaborating much on why it will expand its U.S. footprint. But Foxconn, the biggest contract assembler of smartphones and other devices for Apple and other brands, has listed seven states with which it hopes to work. It’s expected to announce plans to develop operations in at least three states by early August.

    In two, the wooing of Foxconn has spilled into public view. Michigan lawmakers this month passed job-creation tax incentives, including one for companies that add at least 3,000 jobs that pay the average regional wage. Wisconsin legislators are considering new incentives, too.

    Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana and Texas also appear to be in the mix for some sort of investment from Foxconn, which bought Japanese electronics brand Sharp last year. An examination shows positives and negatives in each state:


    WISCONSIN: Republican Gov. Scott Walker has close ties to the White House, and President Donald Trump said during a visit to Wisconsin that “we were negotiating with a major, major incredible manufacturer of phones and computers and televisions and I think they’re going to give the governor a very happy surprise very soon.” House Speaker Paul Ryan met with Foxconn officials and hopes the company will build its big plant in his southeastern Wisconsin district, which isn’t far from Chicago. Right-to-work Wisconsin has a manufacturing incentive that provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit equal to 7.5 percent of reported income, nearly eliminating all corporate tax liability. Like some other states, it struggles to provide enough trained workers for available jobs.


    MICHIGAN: Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has made Michigan more business-friendly by slashing business taxes, eliminating a machinery tax and boosting trades training. The auto state boasts the most engineers, per capita, and tax changes and loosened union requirements help it compete. But a decision to reduce tax incentives has kept it out of the mix for large-scale business expansions, say economic developers. The new “Good Jobs” incentives worth $200 million annually will let qualified companies keep employees’ state income tax withholdings for 10 years. High electricity rates may be a hindrance, and some lawmakers have criticized the working conditions at Foxconn’s factories in China.

    [Watch Video]

    PENNSYLVANIA: In January, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said Pennsylvania was a leading candidate for the factory, but that the company was also in discussions with other states. Gou’s talk of hiring 50,000 workers for all of the company’s U.S. operations has been met with some skepticism because the state’s 2013 announcement that Foxconn would add 500 jobs at a high-tech manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania hasn’t panned out. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf touts the state’s low energy costs, major shipping ports and proximity to six of the 10 largest U.S. markets. Pennsylvania has an existing $1,000 tax credit per job created, but its corporate tax is high compared to those in other states. Business groups say it’s difficult to find skilled workers in Pennsylvania and the state can be slow in issuing permits.


    OHIO: Like other states, Ohio hasn’t publicly disclosed any incentives it might offer Foxconn. Republican Gov. John Kasich made a hastily arranged trip to Japan in early June to pursue undisclosed business opportunities — the same weekend the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan were also there. Kasich hypes an improved business climate that includes the elimination of corporate income taxes and tangible personal property taxes on businesses, regulatory streamlining, and extensive higher education and workforce training networks. Despite recent economic improvements, Ohio was forced to close a projected $1 billion budget gap last month.


    INDIANA: Republicans crow about cuts to the corporate tax rate and a favorable regulatory climate. But perhaps the biggest advantage Indiana offers is its central location, a recent $4.7 billion investment in infrastructure and comparatively low wages. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other governors have generally been willing to push generous tax incentive packages. The right-to-work state in 2015 passed a religious objections law that critics contended would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people. A backlash, including from big business, prompted legislators to change it, but Indiana took a big public relations hit and the episode remains a black eye.


    ILLINOIS: Illinois has no tax incentive program, but lawmakers hope to adopt one soon that would be similar to one the state used to have and would give tax breaks for creating and retaining jobs. Illinois has a central geographic location and an enviable transportation network, with international access by air from Chicago airports, a solid rail network and water access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The state’s finances, however, are a mess. After two years without a state budget due to an impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led Legislature, legislators finally passed one this month by overriding the governor’s vetoes. It included increases in the income and corporate taxes.


    TEXAS: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott can offer incentives to job creators. Texas is about as pro-business as they come. After the Great Recession, Texas led the nation in economic growth, though it has fallen back due to the prolonged slump in oil prices. Former Gov. Rick Perry relished traveling to recruit major employers to Texas, even if it meant stealing jobs from other states. His successor, Abbott, has made fewer such trips but has aggressively continued Perry’s “Texas is open for business” pitch to top companies. Its Sun Belt location used to be a plus, but Texas has been punished by droughts in recent years. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Legislature has begun embracing policies backed by social conservatives that top companies say is bad for business.

    Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois; Mark Scolforo and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennslyvania; Brian Slodysko in Indianapolis; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas contributed to this report.

    The post U.S. states vie for big Foxconn display panel factory appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    California Governor Jerry Brown attends the International Forum on Electric Vehicle Pilot Cities and Industrial Development in Beijing, China June 6, 2017. Photo by Thomas Peter/ Reuters

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown’s aggressive plea for lawmakers to renew California’s signature climate change law proved fruitful this week, bolstering his credibility as a world leader in the fight against global warming.

    It also again showcased the Democrat’s political skill in Sacramento, where just months earlier he helped convince the largely Democratic Legislature to raise gas prices to pay for road and bridge projects through a tax hike.

    Next up: Fulfilling a pledge to tackle California’s affordable housing crisis when lawmakers head back to the Capitol in August. After that, he will keep promoting an ambitious slate of climate policies in the state and beyond, and work at home to secure the future of lofty efforts to build a bullet train and re-engineer the state’s water system.

    READ NEXT: To keep their artists, cities explore affordable housing

    Brown, 79, pursues projects that will exist long after he leaves the governor’s office but resists the word “legacy” at every opportunity. Longtime observers say his win on the cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions, and how he spends the last 17 months of his final term, will inevitably shape how he’s remembered. Brown previously served two terms as governor ending in the early 1980s.

    “Without question, it’s a victory for him on several levels,” Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor of public policy communication at the University of Southern California, said of the deal on cap and trade, which puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires polluters to obtain permits to release greenhouse gases. “He denied that this was about his legacy, but it was.”

    Beyond California, Brown is a special adviser for a U.N. climate conference in Germany this November. He’s also planning a global climate conference in San Francisco next year and leading an alliance among states, cities, businesses and others to help the United States meet the goals of the global Paris climate agreement after President Donald Trump pulled out.

    “There is a lot of work to be done in California, but there’s a lot of persuasion and encouragement needed throughout the whole world,” Brown told The Associated Press in a Wednesday phone interview.

    To help win a climate deal, the governor pledged to work with lawmakers on an affordable housing agreement before the year’s end. Rent prices in the state have risen faster than incomes, and roughly 1.5 million homes are lacking for low-income renters.

    Fixing the crisis has proved a near intractable issue in the Capitol, with lawmakers rejecting a housing plan that Brown put forward last year.

    The governor has long argued for streamlining regulations that can stifle construction before providing more money for building projects. But now he’s agreed to pursue long-term funding as part of a deal, a commitment that may have secured additional Democratic votes on cap and trade.

    “There’s no magic wand for housing prices,” Brown said. “That is not an easily solved matter.”

    As Brown’s tenure wraps up, two of his signature, but troubled, infrastructure projects are looming large: construction of a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco and two giant tunnels to carry Northern California water to the south.

    [Watch Video]

    Brown has aggressively pushed for the bullet train since taking office for the second time in 2010 despite critics complaining about its high cost to taxpayers and whether it’s even necessary. Its price estimates have skyrocketed from $40 billion to $64 billion, and future funding is not certain.

    A chunk of money for rail that comes in from cap and trade could be renegotiated in 2024 due to a constitutional amendment passed by lawmakers this week. If voters approve it, lawmakers will get a clean slate on determining how that money is spent.

    Dan Richard, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Board, acknowledges the difficulties of getting lawmakers to spend money on a project that won’t provide immediate results. Construction is underway for a segment connecting San Jose to Bakersfield, scheduled to be operational in 2025.

    “We’re talking about committing public dollars right now to something that does not have immediate benefits,” Richard said. But, he added, “in seven years I’m less concerned about being able to make the argument.”

    Meanwhile, the $16 billion project to reroute California’s water from north to south through two giant tunnels is awaiting key federal and state approvals after winning early support in from federal wildlife officials.

    The state also is battling with water agencies over who will pay for what parts of the project. But Brown expressed confidence the project will move forward — and that his successor will see its benefits.

    “This project is teed up in a way that it never has been before, and it will proceed within the next 15 or 16 months,” he said. “So I think the next governor, whether they’d like to talk about it or not, I think there will be a strong inclination to stay the course.”

    The post California governor turns to housing, rail after climate win appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Police forensics officers work on a crime scene where eight people were found dead in San Antonio

    A police officer works on a crime scene after eight people believed to be illegal immigrants being smuggled into the United States were found dead inside a sweltering 18-wheeler trailer parked behind a Walmart store in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. July 23, 2017. Photo by Ray Whitehouse/Reuters

    Nine men died and dozens of people were wounded from extreme heat packed into a tractor-trailer outside a San Antonio Walmart on Saturday night in what federal authorities are calling a case of smuggling.

    The U.S. Department of Justice has taken into custody James Mathew Bradley, Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida and has said it will issue a criminal complaint on Monday.
    Without specifying where they came from, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus at a press conference said that 38 people were packed inside the tractor-trailer, including two children, without air conditioning. The Department of Justice later clarified that there were 39 people, having found someone in the woods Sunday morning.

    A Walmart employee called police for a welfare check Saturday night after someone left the truck and asked them for water. Temperatures that day were expected to rise to 101 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

    San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said that the people who were found alive had heart rates of 130 beats per minute at the time and that 20 of them were suffering from severe heat-related injuries, maybe even brain damage, with eight in less-critical condition.

    Surveillance tapes show a number of vehicles had been coming throughout the night and picking up individuals from the truck, which was parked just off Interstate Highway 35, about 2.5 hours north of the Mexico border.

    McManus initially called it a case of human trafficking and at the end of the conference said that this “is not an isolated incident.”

    “This happens quite frequently. Fortunately we came across this one, fortunately there are people who survived,” he said.

    But by Sunday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security had taken the lead on the investigation and referred to it as a case of smuggling, releasing a statement by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan.

    “By any standard, the horrific crime uncovered last night ranks as a stark reminder of why human smuggling networks must be pursued, caught and punished,” Homan said.

    Homeland Security initiated 2,110 human smuggling investigations, resulting in 1,522 criminal convictions, in fiscal year 2016.

    The post 9 dead, dozens more found in hot truck as authorities investigate human smuggling appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Honolulu fire

    The Marco Polo apartment building after a fire broke out in it in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 14, 2017. Photo By Hugh Gentry/Reuters

    HONOLULU — A high-rise fire recently claimed the lives of three people in Honolulu, and the apartment building where the blaze broke out had no fire sprinklers.

    The tower overlooking Waikiki was constructed in 1971, before sprinkles were required for new construction in the city, a trend echoed in major cities across the U.S.

    While most cities mandate sprinklers in newly built high-rises, many older residential towers lack the safety measure. Here’s a look at policies in some of the country’s largest cities:


    New York City requires older office buildings taller than 100 feet to install sprinkler systems. Residential high-rise buildings must install sprinkler systems if the building undergoes significant renovations, according to the city Department of Buildings.


    High-rise buildings — except residential dwellings — constructed before 1974 are required to be retrofitted with sprinklers. Residential buildings erected before 1943 that are at least three stories high must have sprinklers in some areas, including stairways and hallways, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.


    For older high-rise buildings, most commercial towers are required to be retrofitted with sprinklers, but residential buildings are not, according to the city Department of Buildings.

    READ NEXT: Fire in London apartment building leaves 12 dead, dozens hospitalized


    All high-rise commercial buildings and residential buildings — except privately owned condominiums — must have sprinklers, according to the Houston Fire Department.


    A city ordinance requires commercial buildings, but not residential buildings, to be retrofitted with sprinklers, according to the city Department of Licenses and Inspections.


    Sprinklers must be installed in all residential and commercial high-rise buildings, regardless of age. There’s one exception: In residential high-rises with condominiums, only the common areas are required to have sprinklers, according to the city fire department.


    The city had a sprinkler retrofitting law, but it was taken out of the municipal code, said Larry Trame, assistant fire marshal for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The department is pushing to reinstate the law, but it is facing pushback over the cost.


    City officials say there are 89 high-rise residential buildings, including 23 with partial sprinkler coverage and three with none. Dallas does not require older residential buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers, according to the National Fire Sprinkler Association.


    All high-rise buildings — including residential — were required to be retrofitted with sprinklers beginning in 1983. There were only 11 such buildings at the time, and they were given three years to comply. But it took a decade to get them all done, said Ray Simpson, the city’s deputy fire marshal.


    In 1993, San Francisco required retrofitting high-rise commercial buildings and tourist hotels with sprinklers. But the requirement excluded residential and historic buildings, according to the city Department of Buildings.

    The post Few U.S. cities mandate sprinklers in old residential towers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Palestinians pray just outside Jerusalem's Old City in protest over Israel's new security measures at the entrance to the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City

    Palestinians pray just outside Jerusalem’s Old City in protest over Israel’s new security measures at the entrance to the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City July 23, 2017. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

    Israel installed security cameras at the entrance of a holy site in Jerusalem on Sunday, a potential signal that Israeli officials are considering alternatives to the metal detectors that sparked days of protests.

    The cameras join metal detectors as part of a growing security apparatus that is seen by Palestinians as an attempt by Israel to control their access to the shrine, known as Harim al-Sharif to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews.

    The metal detectors were installed on July 16, two days after three Israeli Arabs stationed in the site killed two Israeli police officers. Following the shooting, Israeli officials closed the site for the first time in decades. When it was reopened, metal detectors had been set up at five of the eight entrance gates used by Muslims.

    As of Sunday, the metal detectors remain in place. Israel has yet to comment on the new cameras.

    There have been nightly protests since the metal detectors were installed. On Friday, the holiest day of the week for Muslims, thousands of Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli troops responded to the stones and firecrackers thrown by Palestinians with live rounds and tear gas. Three Palestinians were killed and dozens were wounded.

    Later, three Israeli civilians were stabbed to death in the West Bank by a Palestinian attacker. At least one Palestinian died on Saturday.

    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday, before the cameras were installed, that he would “freeze” all ties with Israel until all security measures were removed. Top Muslim clerics called for a total boycott of the site until it was restored without security measures, saying the presence of metal detectors threatened the sacred site’s delicate stability.

    Now, rather than enter Harim al-Sharif, many Palestinians are choosing to pray in the street.

    The East Jerusalem site is managed by an Islamic organization based in Jordan, called the Waqf, but Israel largely maintains control of security. The shrine looms large over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sitting at the heart of the city that Israel has occupied for 50 years since it was annexed after the Six-Day War.

    Palestinians have a longstanding opposition to increased security at Harim al-Sharif. Last summer, Jordan backed off plans to install security cameras to the site after Palestinian activists objected.

    The UN Security Council plans to discuss the unrest on Monday.

    The post Israel installs cameras to holy site amid protests over security measures appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    dark web

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  The U.S. Justice Department, in partnership with European investigators, has shut down two of the world’s largest Websites on what is known as the Dark Web.  The black market sites were allegedly purveyors of illegal drugs, guns, and hacking tools, according to federal charges announced on Thursday.

    “Wired” magazine reporter Andy Greenberg is covering the case and joins me now to discuss it.

    So, first of all, how significant were these busts?

    ANDY GREENBERG, REPORTER, WIRED MAGAZINE:  Well, this is definitely one of the largest blows, law enforcement blows to the Dark Web in a very long time.  Not only in temps of scale, because the biggest of these sites called AlphaBay, had ten times as many illegal product listings as the Silk Road, if you remember the Silk Road with the original sort of Dark Web markets.

    But also, they took down another site, Hansa, which was the third largest Dark Web market.  And before they took it down, they controlled it for a full month, so they were able to observe a lot of what was happening in that underground market and probably identified thousands of its users who may now be arrested.

    SREENIVASAN:  So, when one of these sites went down, did all of those users move to the other site?

    GREENBERG:  Well, this was kind of the trap that the international forces — this is actually, you know, the FBI, the DEA, Europol and the Dutch police, all working together.  They took control of the third largest site, and then weeks later shut down the very largest site, and that sort of sent all of the largest site’s users, AlphaBay’s users, flocking to that other site, so they’re able to watch them register, able to watch them do some transactions, probably gain the identifying details of many more users that way.  That was certainly part of their intention and I think it also created a kind of psychological impact.  There is a fear in the Dark Net that the cops are everywhere.

    SREENIVASAN:  So, are these users — I mean, they don’t use their real names, but if they’re buying and selling products, then those physical products have to go someplace in the real world, like a mailing address, right?  If you’re buying drugs, you physically have to get control of it.  Does that mean that now, the police or the different authorities say now I know I’ve got your address?

    GREENBERG:  Well, in theory, when you buy drugs on the Dark Web, you encrypt your address and then you send that encrypted address to the seller of the drugs, so that only he or she can decrypt it and see your actual — where you live.  But lots of users are careless.  I would say the majority of users from what I’ve seen on the Dark Web forums don’t encrypt their addresses.

    SREENIVASAN:  You know, this reminds, and you mentioned Silk Road.  When that went down, we thought that was going to have a big impact, but this is an economy that sort of moves on, right, two other, three other sites pop up.  So, what happens now?

    GREENBERG:  Well, this is definitely not the first of these takedowns and none of them have taken a permanent bite out of the Dark Web.  You know, the Silk Road in 2013, the second Silk Road, the sort of sequel site was taken down in 2014.  Each time, the Dark Web bounces back in large part because people are addicted to drugs and the demand doesn’t go away.  If they can only or most easily obtain the drugs they want through the Dark Web instead of from the streets, then they are going to come back and they have every time.

    SREENIVASAN:  So, does this mean that the authorities have a way to crack Tor which everyone thought was this totally encrypted safe way to communicate anonymously?

    GREENBERG:  We don’t know how at least the third largest site in this takedown was cracked.  The first largest site, AlphaBay, the administrator of the site actually posted his e-mail address in the welcome message to the site it turns out in 2014.  That was the first clue that allowed authorities to start tracing him back to his home in Thailand, arrested him.  He actually committed suicide in a Thai jail.

    So, in that case, it doesn’t seem that there was any kind of Tor break that was necessary.  But in another cases, it does seem that law enforcement has broken Tor.  Each time Tor usually figures out what went wrong, it patches that flaw so it becomes secured again.

    SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Andy Greenberg of “Wired Magazine”, thanks so much.

    GREENBERG:  Thank you.

    The post How a global sting took down two major dark web markets appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Trump participates in the commissioning ceremony of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The White House said today President Trump supports the bill working its way through Congress to toughen sanctions on Russia for meddling in last year’s election and for its military aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The bill, which also contains new sanctions for Iran and North Korea, would limit the president’s ability to end the sanctions on his own.

    “New York Times” reporter Matt Flegenheimer joins me now from Washington to discuss the legislation.

    Matt, let’s first talk about what’s in these sanctions.

    MATT FLEGENHEIMER, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: It’s essentially, I think, some of these we’ve seen against other countries, obviously, this is a package that includes North Korea and Iran as well. Essentially on the Russia front, singling out corrupt actors who sort of undercut American interests, to those who supplied arms to the Assad regime in Syria, cyber security issues obviously, including during the elections last year. So, it’s casting a pretty wide net here.

    SREENIVASAN: And this is — it also includes, I mean, Congress has kind of baked in this, in these sanctions bill, that the president couldn’t necessarily undo them on his own.

    FLEGENHEIMER: Right. I mean, that’s really the piece of this the Democrats have been most adamant about and they’ve gotten buy in from Republicans as well. If you step back, it’s really quite remarkable to think that six months into an administration with majorities form Republicans in both chambers of Congress, that you are seeing essentially a handcuffing of a sitting president on an issue so central to the sort of public understanding of this president with Russia. And essentially the message is that he cannot be trusted not to sort of undo these sanctions that at this point have pretty broad bipartisan support among both parties in Congress.

    SREENIVASAN: So, by the time this gets through a vote on Tuesday, this is also going to include sanctions against Iran and North Korea, which are also things that have kind of a bipartisan consensus. It makes it very, very tough to veto it.

    FLEGENHEIMER: It does and the White House has been very supportive for months of toughening sanctions against those two countries. So, it does make it a difficult position for him.

    I mean, the White House has acknowledged privately I think for a few weeks from now that it’s pretty untenable politically in this environment for him to veto. Today for the first time as you said, we’ve seen them signal that he would actually support this.

    SREENIVASAN: The president, and actually many presidents have said, you know, this is a purview of the presidency. This should be my right to be able to do this, this is my executive power. In this piece of legislation, it’s kind of at least in these particularly sanctions, we are seeing that power limited.

    FLEGENHEIMER: Sure, and President Trump is certainly not the first president to chafe at any kind of shackles put on him in foreign policy by Congress. And again, having Republicans in Congress whom the administration has lobbied for months now against these measures really makes this a pretty extraordinary in moment of the Republican Congress this early in the administration, setting this check against president, when they’ve been often disinclined to confront him.

    SREENIVASAN: And there were disagreements at least on the House side when this bill got there. And what were those compared to what already had passed through Senate?

    FLEGENHEIMER: It was a combination of things. Initially, Speaker Ryan and the Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy raised concerns about sort of technical issues with which chamber originates bills that have to do with raising revenue. There is some other concerns concerning American businesses, a lot of oil and gas companies lobbied against these measures, arguing that it would undercut their profits, defense contractors as well.

    So, you saw a little bit of a tweak on that in the House version of this. Not certainly what the White House had hoped to get out of this bill once it moved through the Senate in the first place.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Matt Flegenheimer of “The New York Times”, joining us from Washington — thanks so much.

    FLEGENHEIMER: Thanks, Hari.

    The post Trump may sign bill to toughen Russian sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    trump putin

    FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. Photo By Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday President Donald Trump would sign a sweeping Russia sanctions measure, which the House could take up this week, that requires him to get Congress’ permission before lifting or easing the economic penalties against Moscow.

    Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the sanctions package as early as Tuesday, and the bill could be sent to Trump before Congress breaks for the August recess. The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the newly appointed White House press secretary, said the administration is supportive of being tough on Russia and “particularly putting these sanctions in place.”

    “We support where the legislation is now, and will continue to work with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.”

    READ NEXT: Some senators urge House to pass Russia sanctions bill ‘as quickly as possible.’

    Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced Saturday that they’d settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea. The sanctions targeting Russia, however, have drawn the most attention due to Trump’s persistent push for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin and ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

    “North Korea, Iran and Russia have in different ways all threatened their neighbors and actively sought to undermine American interests,” according to a joint statement by California Republicans Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, and Ed Royce of California, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman. The bill the House will vote, they said, “will now exclusively focus on these nations and hold them accountable for their dangerous actions.”

    The White House had objected to a key section of the bill that would mandate a congressional review if Trump attempts to terminate the sanctions against Moscow. Top administration officials said the provisions infringed on the president’s executive authority and tied his hands as he explores avenues of cooperation between the two former Cold War foes. But Sanders said the White House was able to work with the House and Senate to “make those changes that were necessary.”

    Lawmakers included the review because of wariness in both parties over Trump’s affinity for Putin. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Trump has been unwilling to respond seriously to Russia’s belligerence, “leaving Congress with the urgent responsibility to hold Vladimir Putin accountable.”

    McCarthy had pushed to add the North Korea sanctions to the package. The House had overwhelmingly passed legislation in May to hit Pyongyang with additional economic penalties, but the Senate had yet to take up the bill. The Senate last month passed sanctions legislation that targeted only Russia and Iran.

    Although the legislation has widespread support, the bill stalled after clearing the Senate more than five weeks ago due to constitutional questions and bickering over technical details.

    The House and Senate negotiators addressed concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia’s energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow’s benefit. The bill raises the threshold for when U.S. firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses.

    McCarthy and Royce said other revisions resolved concerns that the sanctions could have unintentionally complicated the ability of America’s European allies to maintain access to energy resources outside of Russia.

    The congressional review requirement in the sanctions bill is styled after 2015 legislation pushed by Republicans and approved in the Senate that gave Congress a vote on whether then-President Barack Obama could lift sanctions against Iran. That measure reflected Republican complaints that Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress.

    According to the bill, Trump is required to send Congress a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate a particular set of sanctions. Lawmakers would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow the move or reject it.

    The North Korea sanctions bill included in the package bill cleared the House by a 419-1 vote, and House Republicans became frustrated the Senate didn’t move quickly on the measure given the vast bipartisan support it received. The measure bars ships owned by North Korea or by countries that refuse to comply with U.N. resolutions against it from operating in American waters or docking at U.S. ports. Goods produced by North Korea’s forced labor would be prohibited from entering the United States.

    The sanctions package imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would apply terrorism sanctions to the country’s Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo.

    The post Russia sanctions bill that defies Trump is set for key vote appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Yankee Stadium, sim Carnival, gouache on paper, 32×45. Painting by Sheri Crider

    Sheri Crider wants to know why Americans want new and shiny things — and what they do with the rest.

    It’s a question she has asked for years, going back to when she was using drugs and alcohol, experiencing homelessness and serving time, a period where she felt cut off from the rest of society.

    Today, as an artist and entrepreneur, she is an inaugural recipient of a Right of Return fellowship for formerly incarcerated artists and finds herself asking the same thing from a much different standpoint.

    “I’ve had the privilege of being on both sides of the table,” she said. “I’ve been the person shackled to other people in a van and realizing that you can’t participate in culture, and you can’t just go to the store. All those privileges have been stripped from you.”

    She received $20,000 for the fellowship, funded by the Soze Agency, a business based in New York that works on creative campaigns for nonprofits.

    Crider started drinking at 11 years old and by high school, she was using other drugs. From 1985 to 1993, she served about a dozen short sentences on drug-related charges and for violating probation, and did several stints in court-ordered drug treatment programs.

    At one of those programs in Casa Grande, Arizona, in the late 1980s, a counselor there asked her: What do you like to do, and what are you good at?

    “No one had ever really asked that question,” Crider said. Talking to the counselor, she remembered being praised for her art in fourth grade, when she was chosen to attend advanced art classes in Phoenix. It was a crucial moment, she said.


    Georgiadome & Mercedes-Benz Park, gouache on paper, 32×46. Painting by Sheri Crider

    Within six months, she had enrolled in community college and would eventually transfer to the University of Arizona, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts. At the University of New Mexico, she earned a Master of Fine Arts while studying sculpture and developed a fascination with building.

    In 2001, after she graduated, Crider became a licensed contractor and started working in construction, where she “became witness to the horrendous exploitation of materials,” she said. “With the accelerated nature of construction and development, there’s not even time to thoughtfully reuse materials. It’s just complete abandon.”

    That awareness — of how to reuse materials and even buildings — would become central to her work.

    In 2008, Crider opened the SCA Contemporary Gallery, an organization that sought to give free exhibition space to artists, in the Wells Park neighborhood of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Eight years later, she moved the gallery to a building that formerly housed M & J’s Sanitary Tortilla Factory, a popular restaurant for more than 30 years. The gallery kept the restaurant’s name out of respect for its role in the community. Now, it houses 15 artist studios, exhibition and fabrication space and a residency program.

    Alcove 4-14

    “Tower” appears at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Courtesy of Blair Clark. Sculpture by Sheri Crider

    Her installation “Drift #1,” co-produced with local artist Nina Dubois, took materials at a local landfill and used them for a large sculpture that have appeared at exhibits in New Mexico and Philadelphia. In particular, doors are discarded much more frequently than people may expect, she said.

    “In one week at this small local door store, there will be at least 250 doors that are abandoned. The majority of them are due to fashion. They’re out of style,” she said.

    Her recent series “Obsolescence + Opulence” also addresses these ideas with paintings of large public arenas like the Barclays Center in New York City and Meadowlands in New Jersey. Stadiums, Crider said, are spaces where Americans of diverse backgrounds mingle for a common interest — but also where some of the country’s starkest inequalities are on display, as their construction can push out low-income communities and exploit workers.

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    Rio Olympic Stadium, gouache on paper. Painting by Sheri Crider

    In one painting, Crider reimagines the Rio Olympic stadium as a refugee camp, mirroring the reality of Olympic hockey and baseball stadiums in Greece that have been repurposed as camps for refugees. The series debuted at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe in 2016.

    In all her work, “I try to circle back to how capitalism pulls at us, that we need all of these things,” she said. Buying a new car, for example, can feel like “a brief moment of perfection in the context of this huge, messy world we live in. You have this reassuring moment that, okay, everything’s okay. … It takes us away from the messiness of being human.”

    Soon, her work will expand to address incarceration directly. For the fellowship, she proposed “La Migracion,” an installation of wooden birds made from repurposed church pews that will be presented alongside stories from immigrants incarcerated at a local detention center. The project will also donate money to the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.


    Barclays Center, World’s Fairs Towers, gouache on paper, 32×46. Painting by Sheri Crider

    For another upcoming project, Crider has organized a two-week sketchbook exchange between local artists and young women in the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center. She hopes it will help build connections between those who are incarcerated and others in the community.

    “I want to give them at least … the ability to ask themselves questions, to be the author of their own lives,” she said.

    The post This artist turns construction waste into sculptures and paintings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A gondola is pictured in the Grand Canal (Canale Grande) in Venice lagoon with the Campanile belltower in Venice

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Venice is a world class wonder. A city built on more than 100 small islands, connected by a maze of bridges and canals. The largest is the Grand Canal with its famous Rialto Bridge. Over the centuries, Venice has stood the test of time, but today this island city is under siege like never before…from “rising” seas and a “flood” of tourists.

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: The fact that we are still waiting for any kind of solution of these problems of tourism and flooding is deeply depressing.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Historian Monica Chojnacka was born in Venice and proudly calls this city her home.

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: That was the step you got on when you got off of your gondola or your boat to get into the house.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: But she’s concerned about its future.

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: This is a step that, of course, when it was built was never designed to be submerged in water. Now it’s always underwater even in this relatively low tide.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: “Acqua Alta,” meaning high water, has always been a fact of life here. Several times a year, high tides and storm surges flood the city, especially the famous Piazza San Marco. The worst flood occurred in November 1966, when the Venice lagoon rose more than six feet above sea level.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: After the deluge, the city designed an alert system which has kept pace with the times.

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: What happens is we are alerted via an app as well as text messages and in addition, we have sirens that are blasted through the city.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Those warning sirens are coordinated from this command center on the Grand Canal. A siren is followed by pitched whistles. One whistle means about 12% of the city will be flooded, water is ankle deep, and shopkeepers barricade their doors. Two whistles means the water will be higher. Almost one-third of the city will be flooded.

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: Three means run for the hills, because it’s going to be high!

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Venetians generally take “Acqua Alta” in stride. Like the manager of the Gran Caffe Lavena, Massimo Milanese. He showed us pictures of his cafe during a recent flood. Tables and chairs sitting in the water.

    MASSIMO MILANESE: See the special doors here.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Like others in the Piazza, he has flood doors to protect his business. He took us behind the cafe, where those flood doors are stored.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So the water can actually get this high?

    MASSIMO MILANESE: The maximum that I saw — this.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Whoa. So just a couple of inches more, and this would have been useless.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: He also keeps waterproof boots on hand for his employees.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Acqua Alta events are usually less than boot high, last just a few hours, and the city cleans up and goes back to normal. But floods also eat away at the soft, permeable bricks that sit above the foundations of the buildings. Over time, Venetians have raised their doorways and in some cases abandoned their ground floors. But the flooding is getting worse as the water level in the Adriatic Sea and Venice Lagoon rises due to climate change. The sea level alone has risen five and half inches since 1900, according to city officials.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The Italian government does have a plan to protect Venice. It’s called the MOSE project. Conceived in the 1970s, it’s a series of 78 underwater gates secured to the floor of the Venice lagoon. During especially high tides, they will be pumped with air and rise to the surface to block rising water from reaching the city. Four giant barriers across three inlets are scheduled to be operational by 2019.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Is MOSE able to defend Venice?

    DARIO BERTI: Yes, MOSE will be able to protect the city of Venice from exceptionally high water. That means water that exceeds three-and-half feet above sea level.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So this is what the gate looks like when it’s down?

    DARIO BERTI: Yes, this is the gate when it it standing on the bottom of the inlet.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Dario Berti is engineering and production manager with the company building the MOSE project. Construction began in 2003, testing, in 2013.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: If this is the first project of its kind, how can you be so sure that it’s going to work?

    DARIO BERTI: Well, this is the result of years and years of planning and experiments on models, trials in tanks. It’s been tested in all possible conditions. So, we’re certain it will work.

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: One question about the MOSE project, these seawalls is whether it will be effective?

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: If it will be effective? They’ve spent billions of Euros on it. Shouldn’t it be effective?

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: Yes, the latest estimates are between 5 and 6 billion Euros having been spent on this project. Certainly a portion of that money has not gone towards the building of the project but rather towards payoffs to local and regional politicians and business folk. Three years ago, about 35 of our leading citizens were arrested along with our mayor.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The mayor of Venice was arrested?

    MONICA CHOJNACKA: The mayor of Venice was arrested as well on charges of corruption connected to this project.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: A verdict on the case of that former mayor is expected this fall. Considering the corruption scandals, environmental scientist Jane Da Mosto says the Italian government should have gone back and reviewed the engineering and scientific basis for MOSE.

    JANE DA MOSTO: There hasn’t been any kind of technical review about whether or not they are doing the right thing, and that I do find seriously alarming.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Da Mosto is executive director of a nonprofit group called “We are here Venice,” which is trying to raise awareness of the challenges facing Venice.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So there’s a lot of concern among Venetians that the work at MOSE isn’t being done properly?

    JANE DA MOSTO: It’s not just amongst Venetians. Articles have been published in national newspapers, international journals. They have a problem about sand going into the indentations in the lagoon floor, where the panels then have to lie back down again. They found that the hinges, they’ve started corroding much sooner than they thought they would. They also keep delaying when they say it’s going to be ready. Not a good sign.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: MOSE engineers say they are addressing the issues of sand obstructing the barriers and of rusting hinges.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: But Luca Zaggia, from the Institute of Marine Sciences National Research Council of Italy, warns assuming they work, there’s a limit to how many times the defensive flood barriers can be deployed before they damage the lagoon.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: How many times can you raise the flood barriers in a year?

    LUCA ZAGGIA: We say 10 times a year is the best amount. Maybe 15 or 20 but no more.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: But the climate is changing. The water level is rising. What happens 20 years from now, 30 years from now? Is that still going still to be the case?

    LUCA ZAGGIA: No. Sure. We will close more frequently. Up 100 times a year.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: 100 times a year? What is that going to do to the lagoon?

    LUCA ZAGGIA: It will be a terrible disaster for the ecosystem. Stagnation first and then contamination and growth of microalgae.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: It sounds very harmful.

    LUCA ZAGGIA: Yeah, it is. You can have massive deaths of fishes in summer.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Most tourists are oblivious to the barrier system and seriousness of the flooding problem. They are busy taking selfies, marveling at the beauty of this car-free city, or trying to escape from the summer heat, like these tourists from Ireland we found in the shade of the tower in Piazza San Marco. They had no idea, until we told them, this plaque marks the historic flood of 1966, when the water level was so high, their children would have been neck deep.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The 25 million tourists who visit every year are actually another major threat to Venice. Souvenir shops and high-end boutiques catering to them have replaced vegetable stands, hardware stores, and other shops necessary for daily life. Housing prices have soared with speculators buying up property to rent to tourists. As a result, Venetians are moving away. At the end World War Two, there were 150,000 full-time residents of Venice. Now, there are only 54,000.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: On some days, there are actually more tourists than residents, and that upsets Venetians like Matteo Secchi.

    MATTEO SECCHI: The Venetian way of life is at risk, simply because we’re vanishing. There’s always fewer of us. We’re losing our culture. Because when a Venetian leaves the city, he doesn’t just leave the city, he leaves a way of life and culture.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: In this fragile city, some residents say huge tourist cruise ships are making matters worse. Tommaso Cacciari is the founder of the group “No Grandi Navi,” meaning ‘No Large Ships.” It wants to ban large cruise ships from entering the Venice lagoon.

    TOMMASO CACCIARI: There’s a mass amount of water that pushes back and forth. It’s called siphoning. It’s like an accordion that sucks the foundation of the city. There’s no concrete under here. There’s mud, soft material that gets sucked out.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: This pier, he says, rebuilt seven years ago is already showing signs of damage from the cruise ships.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: When they pass by, they create this huge pressure that basically sucks the sediment out from underneath us and actually lowers the foundation. You can see it really right before your eyes here with these bricks here.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The cruise ships employ five thousand Venetians, but the Venice Port Authority says only about a quarter of their passengers get off them and spend money in the city. Reining in the ships and the tourists is one challenge humans can control. Controlling the seas is not. Which is why Marine scientist Luca Zaggia is putting his faith in the MOSE project to save Venice for future generations.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So the system must work. The alternative is what?

    LUCA ZAGGIA: The system must work. We have no alternatives at this point. It has to work.

    The post Climate change challenges sinking city of Venice appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accompanied by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), speaks with the media about the recently withdrawn healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington

    U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accompanied by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), speaks with the media about the recently withdrawn healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate will move forward with a key vote this week on a Republican health care bill but it’s not yet known whether the legislation will seek to replace the Affordable Care Act or simply repeal it, the third-highest ranking Republican senator said Sunday.

    Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will make a decision soon on which bill to bring up for a vote, depending on ongoing discussions with GOP senators. Thune sought to cast this week’s initial vote as important but mostly procedural, allowing senators to begin debate and propose amendments. But he acknowledged that senators should be able to know beforehand what bill they will be considering.

    “That’s a judgment that Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote,” Thune said, expressing his own hope it will be a repeal-and-replace measure. “But no matter which camp you’re in, you can’t have a debate about either unless we get on the bill. So we need a ‘yes’ vote.”

    He said the procedural vote will be held “sometime this week.”

    The Republican-controlled House in May passed its version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

    Senate Republicans are now considering two versions of similar legislation, one that would repeal and replace, and another that would simply repeal Obamacare with a two-year delay to give the Senate more time to agree on a replacement.

    Both versions encountered opposition from enough GOP senators to doom the effort, but McConnell is making a last-gasp attempt this week after President Donald Trump insisted that senators not leave town for the August recess without sending him some kind of health overhaul bill to sign.

    In the Senate, Republicans hold a 52-48 majority. They can only afford to have one of their senators defect and still prevail on a health bill. That’s because Republican Sen. John McCain is in Arizona dealing with brain cancer, while Democrats are standing united in opposition. Vice President Mike Pence would cast a tie-breaking vote.

    Thune said no matter the outcome of the upcoming vote, senators would continue working to pass health legislation no matter how long it took, having promised voters they would do so.

    “We are going to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said, arguing that it was better if done sooner rather than later. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

    Still, at least two Republican senators Sunday appeared to reaffirm their intention to vote against the procedural motion if it involved the latest version of the GOP’s repeal-and-replace bill.

    Moderate Susan Collins of Maine said she continued to have concerns about reductions to Medicaid and criticized the Republican process, saying lawmakers were being unfairly kept in the dark. Under McConnell’s plan, 22 million more people would become uninsured by 2026, many of them Medicaid recipients. She wants to hold public hearings and work with Democrats.

    “We don’t know whether we’re going to be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill, a new version of the Senate bill, or a 2015 bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act,” Collins said. “I don’t think that’s a good approach to replacing legislation that affects millions of people.”

    READ MORE: ‘Repeal now, replace later’ could have an immediate impact on consumers

    Conservative Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would only support a repeal-only bill. That version would reduce government costs but lead to 32 million additional uninsured people over a decade. At least three senators including Collins have previously expressed opposition to that plan.

    “The real question is what are we moving to? What are we opening debate to? Last week, Senate leadership said it would be a clean repeal … and I think that’s a good idea,” Paul said. “The other alternative is the Senate leadership bill that doesn’t repeal Obamacare, is Obamacare light and is loaded with pork. … I’m not for that.”

    Thune appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” Collins was on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and Paul spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    The post Ahead of key vote, details of GOP health bill still unknown appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner denied Monday that he colluded with Russians in the course of President Donald Trump’s White House bid and declared he has “nothing to hide.”

    Behind closed doors, Kushner spoke to staff members of the Senate intelligence committee for nearly three hours at the Capitol, then made a brief public statement back at the White House.

    “Let me be very clear,” he said. “I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”

    Kushner left without taking questions. In an 11-page statement, released hours before the Capitol session, he detailed four contacts with Russians during Trump’s campaign and transition. It aimed to explain inconsistencies and omissions in a security clearance form that have invited public scrutiny.

    Read Jared Kushner’s prepared statement to the Senate intelligence committee

    In the statement, Kushner said that none of his contacts, which included meetings at Trump Tower with the Russian ambassador and a Russian lawyer, was improper.

    Kushner arrived Monday morning at a Senate office building, exiting a black sport utility vehicle and greeting photographers with a grin and a wave. When he left, he responded to shouted questions, saying the interview went “great.”

    In speaking to Congress, Kushner — as both the president’s son-in-law and a trusted senior adviser during the campaign and inside the White House — became the first member of the president’s inner circle to face questions from congressional investigators as they probe Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump campaign. He is to meet with lawmakers on the House intelligence committee Tuesday.

    Kushner’s appearances have been highly anticipated, in part because of headlines in recent months about his interactions with Russians and because he had not personally responded to questions about an incomplete security clearance form and his conversations with foreigners.

    Kushner’s appearances have been highly anticipated, in part because of headlines in recent months about his interactions with Russians and because he had not personally responded to questions about an incomplete security clearance form and his conversations with foreigners.

    “I have shown today that I am willing to do so and will continue to cooperate as I have nothing to hide,” he said in the statement.

    The document provides for the first time Kushner’s own recollection of a meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. to talk about secure lines of communications and, months earlier, of a gathering with a Russian lawyer who was said to have damaging information to provide about Hillary Clinton.

    In the document, Kushner calls the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.

    Emails released this month show that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., accepted the meeting with the idea that he would receive information as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. But Kushner says he hadn’t seen those emails until recently shown them by his lawyers.

    Kushner said in his statement that Trump Jr. invited him to the meeting. He says he arrived late and when he heard the lawyer discussing the issue of adoptions, he texted his assistant to call him out.

    “No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted,” he said.

    READ MORE: Kushner adds at least $10M in assets to revised disclosure

    Kushner also denied reports he discussed setting up a “secret back-channel” with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. But he did detail a conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December at Trump Tower in which retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then-incoming national security adviser, also attended.

    During the meeting, Kushner said he and Kislyak talked about establishing a secure line for the countries to communicate about policy in Syria.

    Kushner said that when Kislyak asked if there was a secure way for him to provide information on Syria from what Kislyak called his “generals,” Kushner asked if there was an existing communications channel at the embassy that could be used to convey the information to Flynn.

    “The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred,” the statement said.

    Kushner said he never proposed an ongoing secret form of communication.

    Flynn attorney Robert Kelner declined comment when asked about Kushner’s characterization of the meeting.

    Kushner also said he met with a Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, at the request of Kislyak but that no specific policies were discussed.

    Kushner explained that his application form for a security clearance form was submitted prematurely due to a miscommunication with his assistant, who had erroneously believed the document was complete.

    He said he mistakenly omitted all of his foreign contacts, not just his meetings with Russians, and has worked in the last six months with the FBI to correct the record.

    READ MORE: Senate Democrats ask to review Kushner’s security clearance

    In addition, Kushner described receiving a “random email” during the presidential campaign from someone claiming to have Trump’s tax returns and demanding ransom to keep the information secret.

    Unlike every other major presidential candidate over the last 40 years, Trump didn’t release his tax returns during the campaign. Since taking office, he has continued to refuse.

    Kushner said he interpreted the late October email as a hoax and that the email came from a person going by the name “Guccifer400.” The name is an apparent reference to Guccifer 2.0, an anonymous hacker who has claimed responsibility for breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems.

    Kushner said the emailer demanded payment in Bitcoin, an online currency. Kushner says he showed the email to a Secret Service agent, who told him to ignore it.

    Trump Jr. and Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was also at the June 2016 meeting, were scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. But on Friday their attorneys said they remained in negotiations with that panel. The two men are now in discussions to be privately interviewed by staff or lawmakers, though the GOP chairman of the committee, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, has said they will eventually testify in public.

    The president took to Twitter on Monday to repeat his criticism of the investigations, and reiterate allegation against his former opponent and included a swipe at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was the subject of a scathing public rebuke by Trump in a New York Times interview last week.

    “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” the president also tweeted.

    The post WATCH: ‘I did not collude with Russia,’ Kushner says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People arrive to cast their ballot for 2016 elections at a polling station as early voting begins in North Carolina, in Carrboro, North Carolina, U.S., October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake - RTX2PR63

    People arrive to cast their ballot for 2016 elections at a polling station as early voting begins in North Carolina, in Carrboro, North Carolina, U.S., October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake – RTX2PR63

    CONCORD, N.H. — A federal judge on Monday cleared the way for President Donald Trump’s commission on election fraud to resume collecting detailed voter roll information from the states.

    The commission asked states last month to provide publicly available data including registered voters’ names, birth dates and partial Social Security numbers, but it later told them to hold off until a judge ruled on a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

    U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in the District of Columbia, denied the advocacy group’s request to block the data collection in a ruling that commission vice chairman Kris Kobach called “a major victory for government accountability, transparency and the public’s right to know about the integrity of our elections processes.”

    “The commission requested this publicly available data as part of its fact-gathering process, which is information that states regularly release to political candidates, political parties and the general public,” said Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas. “We look forward to continuing to work with state election leaders to gather information and identify opportunities to improve election integrity.”

    READ MORE: What could Trump’s election commission do with voter data?

    The privacy group had argued that the commission should have completed an assessment of privacy concerns before making the request. The judge found that the group had standing to make that argument but said the commission is not an agency and therefore is not required to do such assessments. The judge also found the group failed to show that its members would be harmed by the data collection.

    “The only practical harm the plaintiff’s advisory board members would suffer … is that their already publicly available information would be rendered more easily accessible by virtue of its consolidation on the computer systems that would ultimately receive this information on behalf of the commission,” the judge said.

    She did not say that any states must comply with the commission’s request.

    The privacy group said it will be watching closely to see what the commission does next.

    “The commission cannot evade privacy obligations by playing a shell game with the nation’s voting records,” EPIC president Marc Rotenberg said.

    READ MORE: A Trump commission requested voter data. Here’s what every state is saying.

    Similar lawsuits are pending in Texas, Florida and New Hampshire. The New Hampshire lawsuit, brought by two lawmakers and an American Civil Liberties Union chapter, was put on hold pending the outcome of the Washington case.

    Trump, a Republican, created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May to investigate his allegations, offered without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. At the panel’s first meeting last week, he questioned the motives of states that have refused to comply with the commission’s request, suggesting they had something to hide.

    Before the commission paused data collection earlier this month, an Associated Press count of states’ responses found 17 plus Washington, D.C., didn’t plan to provide any information. Election officials in some of those states questioned the commission’s intent to search for voter fraud; in some states, the main concern was voters’ privacy. Thirty states said they would provide limited information that was considered public already. And some of those states said the commission would have some hoops to jump through such as paying for the data or filling out additional request forms.

    Alabama, Hawaii and Idaho had not announced decisions about whether to comply.

    The post Judge clears way for Trump election commission to collect voter data appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    (Original Caption) Illustration shows Tantalus, Sisyphus and Ixion, three kings from Greek mythology who were condemned by Zeus to eternal tortures in Hades. Tantalus reaches for the unreachable fruit, Sisyphus carries the rock that never gets to the top of the hill, and Ixion is shown on the fiery wheel. Undated illustration.

    This undated illustration shows Tantalus, Sisyphus and Ixion, three kings from Greek mythology who were condemned by Zeus to eternal tortures in Hades. Tantalus reaches for the unreachable fruit, Sisyphus carries the rock that never gets to the top of the hill, and Ixion is shown on the fiery wheel. Image by Getty Images

    “Imagine Sispyhus happy.”

    That’s the title of one of Nicole Sealey’s many poems about life, death and the search for meaning in her debut poetry collection, “Ordinary Beast.” (It is also the final line of a famous 1942 philosophical essay by Albert Camus).

    Imagine the Greek mythical figure, the sentence asks us, pushing his giant boulder up a hill — a seemingly meaningless and ceaseless task. And yet imagine him happy. Imagine Sispyhus content because he accepts, and understands, that life can be both difficult and absurd.

    These existential questions weave through much of Sealey’s new collection, which, she said, grew out of her obsessions, “with life, how we live it and death. That, and: Are we being human to one another? Are we being our best? And how?”

    Nicole Sealey.

    Nicole Sealey. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

    “Ordinary Beast” is also populated by myths, whether stories from ancient Greece or legends from America’s indigenous communities. Sealey employs these myths, she said, to widen a small moment contained within the poem into something more.

    “The collection as a whole does this thing where it connects people and connects things that wouldn’t otherwise be connected,” she said. “To reiterate the fact that we are all interconnected.”

    Questions of life and death (as well as myths) are all in Sealey’s “Virginia is for lovers,” a poem anchored in a small but scary exchange with a friend. While the poem begins at a modern-day gay pride picnic in Virginia, it leaps back in time to a legend about a raid by the Shawnee Tribe. And it ends, as many of Sealey’s poems do, with an image of compassion.

    “I think we are all writing the same poem, which is what it means to be human,” said Sealey. “These questions take a lifetime and we won’t get an answer. I will grow and only add more questions.”

    Below, read “Virginia is for lovers” and listen to Sealey read it aloud.

    “Virginia is for lovers”
    by Nicole Sealey

    At LaToya’s Pride picnic,
    Leonard tells me he and his longtime
    love, Pete, broke up.
    He says Pete gave him the house
    in Virginia. “Great,” I say,
    “that’s the least his ass could do.”
    I daydream my friend and me
    into his new house, sit us in the kitchen
    of his three-bedroom, two-bath
    brick colonial outside Hungry Mother Park,
    where, legend has it, the Shawnee raided
    settlements with the wherewithal
    of wild children catching pigeons.
    A woman and her androgynous child
    escaped, wandering the wilderness,
    stuffing their mouths with the bark
    of chokecherry root.
    Such was the circumstance
    under which the woman collapsed.
    The child, who could say nothing
    except hungry mother, led help
    to the mountain where the woman lay,
    swelling as wood swells in humid air.
    Leonard’s mouth is moving.
    Two boys hit a shuttlecock back and forth
    across an invisible net.
    A toddler struggles to pull her wagon
    from a sandbox. “No,” Leonard says,
    “it’s not a place where you live.
    I got the H In V. H I—”
    Before my friend could finish,
    and as if he’d been newly ordained,
    I took his hands and kissed them.

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

    Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is the author of “Ordinary Beast,” forthcoming from Ecco in fall 2017, and “The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named,” winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her other honors include an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from The American Poetry Review, a Daniel Varoujan Award and the Poetry International Prize, as well as fellowships from CantoMundo, Cave Canem, MacDowell Colony and the Poetry Project. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere. Nicole holds an MLA in Africana Studies from the University of South Florida and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. She is the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation, Inc.

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    Protesters demonstrated in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 2016 as the court weighed whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy.  Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Protesters demonstrated in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 2016 as the court weighed a case on a controversial Texas abortion law. A new state law in Texas on abortion has sparked another legal challenge. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Planned Parenthood and another advocacy group have filed a lawsuit seeking to block parts of a Texas abortion law that would ban what is widely considered the safest method for second-trimester abortions, the latest legal challenge in the state’s ongoing fight over abortion.

    The lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights in federal district court Thursday. It challenges a provision in the law that bans dilation and evacuation, the safest and most common method used for second-trimester abortions.

    The Center for Reproductive Rights is also seeking to add a challenge to the lawsuit over another provision of the state law that requires abortion providers to cremate or bury all aborted embryonic or fetal tissue.

    The law, which was signed by Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on June 6, is set to take effect on Sept. 1. Along with the provisions on second-trimester abortion and embryonic and fetal tissue, it also criminalizes the buying or selling of fetal tissue for research.

    Abbott said the bill is part of a commitment “to protect our vulnerable unborn children,” his office said. But opponents claim the provision is part of a broader effort to restrict access to abortions.

    “The agenda is to criminalize abortion procedures one by one until there are not any safe ways for a woman to end a pregnancy,” said Melissa Fowler, the communications director at the National Abortion Federation.

    The latest legal challenge comes as Texas opened a special session for lawmakers to consider other proposals that would restrict abortion services.

    Overall, 338 new abortion restrictions of varying degrees were enacted by states between 2010 and 2016, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a policy and research organization focused on reproductive health and rights.

    And in the first half of 2017, legislators in six states “introduced measures to ban all abortions, and legislators in 28 states introduced measures to ban abortions under some circumstances,” according to data from Guttmacher. Eleven other states, including Texas, have adopted major abortion restrictions this year, the Institute says

    READ MORE: Trump allowing states to block some Planned Parenthood money

    This latest law in Texas was signed three years after former Republican Gov. Rick Perry backed several laws that restricted abortion providers, including one that resulted in the closure of half of the state’s clinics that perform abortions. Two of those laws were struck down by the Supreme Court last year. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the restrictions, cited those rulings in filing its new lawsuit.

    The latest legal challenge comes as Texas opened a special session for lawmakers to consider other proposals that would restrict abortion services in the state. When Abbott announced last month that the special session would take place, the governor released a list of agenda items that included proposals to ban private insurance coverage for abortions.

    “Texas lawmakers have once again compromised the health and safety of the women they were elected to represent in order to cater to anti-choice special interests and their extremist agenda,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

    Abbott’s office, meanwhile, told NewsHour he was happy with the state’s progress on abortion issues.

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Sunday that banned "sanctuary cities" in the state. Photo taken in 2016. Photo by Mike Stone/Reuters

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an abortion bill into law earlier this year that has sparked a legal battle in the state. File photo by REUTERS/Mike Stone

    The provision in the Texas law that bans the “dilation and evacuation” method of abortion during the second trimester is already banned under the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. That law, signed by President George W. Bush, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.

    John Seago, Texas Right to Life’s legislative director said those decisions opened the door for states to pass more laws aimed at chipping away at Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion.

    “We want to stop the injustice of elective abortion, and the way to do that is to pass these types of bans that are legally dynamic and challenge the heart of Roe v. Wade,” Seago said.

    Reproductive rights groups have long argued that the method is the safest way to perform second-trimester abortions.

    “Our concern is, you have legislators [dictating] what medical procedures can be used if a woman’s health is at risk,” said Sarah Wheat, the chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

    Democrats fought to remove the ban on “dilation and evacuation” from the Texas law but their amendments were struck down.

    Several lawmakers also took issue with the law’s requirement to bury or cremate all embryonic or fetal tissue.

    The Texas Department of State Health Services introduced a regulation last year that required abortion providers to bury or cremate embryonic and fetal tissue. Soon after, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued to block that health regulation, and a federal district court upheld its challenge. As a result, the regulation has been on hold until the case comes before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit later this year.

    In the meantime, state lawmakers included the requirement to bury or cremate fetal tissue in the law signed in June, something the Center for Reproductive Rights is seeking to challenge as part of its latest lawsuit.

    Before the latest lawsuit was filed, Texas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said opponents of the group were gearing up for a legal showdown over the law.

    It’s “going to be a battle in the courts,” Anchia told the NewsHour.

    If the cremation and burial provision in the law goes into effect, it would mark a shift in how abortion providers in Texas dispose of embryonic and fetal tissue.

    If the cremation and burial provision in the law goes into effect, it would mark a shift in how abortion providers in Texas dispose of embryonic and fetal tissue.

    Aborted fetal tissue is typically collected as medical waste and disposed of through state health regulations, said Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute.

    Supporters of the provision have argued against treating embryonic or fetal tissue as medical waste.

    Instead, they say “we are going to treat this like the body of a human being,” Seago said.

    READ MORE: Meet the anti-abortion feminist who had a foot in both marches

    Starting in September, the law will require abortion clinics to contract with funeral homes or other burial service providers to dispose of the tissue. It would also establish a registry of cemeteries and funeral providers who are willing to work with abortion clinics for free or at a low cost.

    The requirement has sparked sharp debate in part because it would force people to undergo abortions to follow the disposal guidelines, even if they don’t want to, can’t afford to or go against a person’s religious beliefs.

    Anchia attempted to add a religious exemption to the law, but failed. According to a letter written by the Texas Medical Association, cremation costs in 2016 were between $1,500 and $4,000, while funeral costs ranged from $7,000 to $10,000.

    Texas isn’t the only state that is fighting a legal battle to enact legislation around disposing of fetal or embryonic tissue.

    Louisiana has a similar law that has also been blocked in court and is pending appeal. Opponents filed a lawsuit in Arkansas over a similar law that is slated to take effect next month. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Indiana blocked a law signed by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence that would have required women to get an ultrasound before seeking an abortion.

    A court case in September will decide the fate of Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic. If the Christian fundamentalist group vying for the closure wins the case, Kentucky will be the first state without any abortion providers.

    The post In Texas, legal battle over abortion law hangs over special legislative session appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump addressed thousands of Boy Scouts at a national gathering on Monday, stressing loyalty while threatening — perhaps jokingly — to fire Health Secretary Tom Price if a crucial vote to repeal “Obamacare'” fails.

    Trump told the Scouts that Price “better get” the votes to begin debate on the legislation Tuesday.

    “Otherwise,” Trump tells the crowd, “I’ll say: Tom, you’re fired.”

    He adds: “You better get Sen. Capito to vote for it.”

    West Virginia Shelley Moore Capito has expressed reservations about the Republican health care bill.

    It’s unclear whether the president was serious or joking.

    Trump is the eighth president to attend the National Scout Jamboree, the organization says. More than 40,000 Scouts, leaders and volunteers are at the 10-day event, typically held every four years. President Barack Obama did not attend during his two terms, although he addressed a 100th anniversary event in 2010 by video.

    Each U.S. president serves as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to the group on Friday. The organization is honoring Tillerson, once an Eagle Scout himself, with the development of the Rex W. Tillerson Leadership Center at the West Virginia summit site.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The battle to dislodge ISIS from its makeshift capital, Raqqa, in Syria is intensifying, as U.S.-backed militia press the offensive.

    But, for years, a group of citizen journalists have documented life inside the city. Their work started when the uprising began in 2011 against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. And it continues today under even more deadly and dangerous circumstances.

    Jeffrey Brown has their story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They call themselves Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

    And last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded the group its International Press Freedom Award.

    Their story is now told in a documentary titled “City of Ghosts.”

    And joining me is the film’s director, Matthew Heineman, and Abdul-Aziz al-Hamza, one of the group’s members.

    Welcome to both of you.

    ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAMZA, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Aziz, I want to — you and your friends and colleagues are not fighters. You were not journalists before all of this started.

    In your own words, what are you? How do you describe yourselves?

    ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAMZA: Before the Syrian revolution, before all what happened in Syria, I was a normal teenager who was studying biochemistry.

    So I had nothing to do with politics. Even my family had like no political background. So I was as any college student anywhere.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And then, when this started, you and your friends felt you had to document it.

    ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAMZA: The way how the Syrian regime and ISIS prevented the international media organizations to come and cover what’s going on, it was like kind of a duty to cover the atrocities of both of them.

    So we decided first with our mobile phones to film the demonstrations. At our own, we developed our skills to document what the human rights violations against the people.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Matthew, many stories are told about Syria, why was this the one you wanted to tell?

    MATTHEW HEINEMAN, Director, “City of Ghosts”: You know, I was really fascinated by this war of ideas, this war of propaganda, this information war between ISIS on one hand and RBSS on the other.

    ISIS uses these slick, almost Hollywood-style videos to disseminate fear across the world and to attract followers and proclaim a safe haven, a paradise for Muslims.

    RBSS and the work of Aziz and his colleagues totally counter that and show the extraordinarily awful human rights violations that they’re committing almost on a daily basis. And, you know, that’s what initially drew me to the film, but the film became much more than that to me.

    It became a — ultimately, it became a story of them fleeing, being forced to flee from Syria, to Turkey, and Turkey to Europe. It became an immigrant story. It became a story of rising nationalism in Europe. It became a story about trauma and the cumulative effects of trauma, so it became much more than that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let’s take a look at a clip that shows a little bit of the work of your group.

    MAN: We are made up to have two groups. The internal group is in Raqqa and is made up of around 17 correspondents. The internal group’s mission is to film, photograph and deliver urgent news.

    The primary mission of the external term group is to communicate with the group inside.

    MAN (through interpreter): Rashidi, go to the door. A girl is going to bring you stuff. She is wearing a deep red head scarf.

    MAN: The internal group then sends us the information.

    MAN (through interpreter): There’s a big airstrike in the north from our correspondent Iyan Issa

    MAN: We, the external group, then distribute it to the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Aziz, the film mostly, necessarily, spends its time with you and your colleagues who are outside Raqqa.

    But those who are inside, who we just saw, how are they able to do their work? And what kind of dangers do they face?

    ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAMZA: So, they are like — in every second and every moment they are like in a dangerous and a risky situation.

    So, they could be killed by ISIS, the airstrikes, the shelling. But they are risking their lives daily to show the reality of what’s going on.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Matthew, you and I talked about your last film, which was really around the border area in the U.S., and the way you told that story, sort of embedding yourself into the violence. This is a little different. Tell me how you made this film.

    MATTHEW HEINEMAN: Yes, so this was a different experience for me.

    I was forced to — I wasn’t able to go to Raqqa. I would be killed instantly. And so I started filming them in Turkey after they were forced to flee, after some of the members of their group were killed.

    And the sort of through-line of the film is basically me with them as they are escaping from safe house to safe house, ultimately landing in Europe.

    You know, I think these issues of ISIS and Syria are so often relegated to headlines and to stats, and I really wanted to put a human face to this topic.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What is the situation now? Of course, the battle for Raqqa is going on, and we read about airstrikes, civilians being hurt.

    What’s the situation for your colleagues?

    ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAMZA: For the people of Raqqa, so they are suffering not only by ISIS, by the airstrike of the international coalition.

    At the same time, the Russians are still bombing the city, the Syrian regime. So, everyone is like bombing the city. The local are besieged between all these sides. The condition is the city, the services are like so bad.

    Everything is getting expensive day after day. People are missing like many things for their necessary lives. And many people were kind of trying to flee the city, but the land mines — so it’s a horrible situation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: With the outcome in Raqqa still so uncertain, do you know whether you will be able to return or to what kind of city you will be able to return to?

    ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAMZA: I hope that one day, I will be able to return to Raqqa, to my city.

    So that’s the reason why I started this group with my colleagues, so to fight for our city, to be able one day to go back and lead the rest of our lives in Raqqa and Syria. So, I don’t want to be like a fugitive anymore.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Matthew, what do you hope people take from this, from your film?

    MATTHEW HEINEMAN: Bombs are not going to fix ISIS.

    This ground war that we’re fighting is not going to end ISIS. ISIS is an idea. And we have to fight this idea with the same tools that they’re using.

    And so I think, you know, we, as a global community, we, as the United States, we as journalists, have to figure out ways to combat ISIS’ ideology, ISIS’ extremist ideology, not just with guns and bombs, but with words, with campaigns like the amazing work that this group is doing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the new film is “City of Ghosts.”

    Matthew Heineman and Abdul-Aziz al-Hamza, thank you both very much.

    MATTHEW HEINEMAN: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As I was starting to say, one clear challenge facing Democrats and Republicans, staying on message, when the president can so quickly stir up a new controversy.

    So, will a shakeup in the White House communications team change all that?

    Our Politics Monday duo is here to weigh in, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Tamara Keith of NPR.

    But because you both were sitting here as I was just talking to Tom Perez, Tam, let’s start by talking about that.

    What do you make of the Democrats’ effort now? You hear him saying, we’re trying to get back to business here, to go to appeal to voters where they are.

    TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes.

    There was a struggle when I covered the Clinton campaign that they had, which he was sort of getting at a little bit, which is the thing where they would want to talk about issues, they would want to talk about policy, they would want to have an affirmative message, and then Donald Trump would do something and they would just slip back into being the opposition to the other person who is running for president.

    And Democrats, I think, struggle with that now in, you know, are they the resistance or are they for something? And today was an effort to sort of begin talking about what they are for, at the same time they’re also talking about what they’re against still.

    WATCH: Trump calls Obamacare ‘death,’ urges GOP to ‘do the right thing’

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What they’re against.

    Amy, can they do this?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes, I think that’s very doable.

    The biggest challenge for Democrats — I think we discussed this the last time — is that they’re the out party, so they don’t set the agenda. The Republicans set the agenda. They have to respond to an agenda that’s being set by the Republican Party.

    The other question is not just so much about the message. They can put together a big messaging strategy, but the messenger matters. And in 2016, it was pretty clear that the messenger that Democrats had wasn’t seen as believable on a lot of these issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton.

    AMY WALTER: The Hillary Clinton campaign had — how many reams of policy papers did you go through, Tam, about all of these issues?

    TAMARA KEITH: I think there were like 10,000 pages of policy …


    AMY WALTER: It’s not that she didn’t and the campaign didn’t have a plan on the economy.


    AMY WALTER: I think it was a million words.

    But not like they didn’t have a plan for the economy. It’s that the messenger wasn’t seen as an effective messenger or believable messenger.

    So, the challenge, I think, for Democrats right now going into the midterm election is finding candidates who fit the districts, who have a message that fits their specific area, and that they’re believable, that they’re authentic.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they say they are — they are saying they recruiting more people to run, at least at the congressional level.

    AMY WALTER: And they are. They are. At the congressional level.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you just heard Tom Perez talking about the state and local races, too.

    AMY WALTER: It’s always the challenge and the good and the bad.

    You have tons of candidates now on the Democratic side either running or talking about running. That means big primaries and that means you don’t know who’s going to come out of a primary, potentially the candidate who doesn’t fit as the right messenger for that district.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meaning?

    AMY WALTER: Meaning that you get somebody in a district that fits that district really well, but loses in a 10- or eight-way primary to a different kind of Democratic candidate. And there is not much that the party can do about that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But they’re going to try, aren’t they, Tam? Because, right now, Tom Perez cited this poll that shows most people think all the Democrats stand for or mostly what they stand for is being against Donald Trump.

    TAMARA KEITH: And they have been pretty loudly against Donald Trump, but you know what?

    It’s a long way out from that midterm election. And there’s a lot of time to actually hear a message. We don’t even know who the candidates are at this point, and the candidates do matter, as Amy says.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, speaking of Donald Trump, Amy Walter, he chose a new communications director late last week, as press secretary and communications director Sean Spicer has now left the White House.

    Anthony Scaramucci out on all the weekend talk shows, saying he loves this president, and that they’re going to have a new approach, and they’re going to be positive and they’re going to do well.

    AMY WALTER: The new approach is a lot like the old approach, which is, let Donald Trump be Donald Trump. You’re not going to manage Trump. I’m not going to micromanage his Twitter account. What works best is when Donald Trump works in the mode that he likes to operate in, as he did in the 2016 campaign.

    The challenge, of course, with any communications shakeup at the White House is that we know that there is one communications director at the White House, and his name is Donald J. Trump. It doesn’t matter who else gets a title over at the White House.

    So, if you think what’s been working right now at the White House has been effective or what they’re doing at the White House has been effective, then you’re going to keep — you’re going to say that’s OK.

    But the fact is, their legislative agenda is stalled. That hasn’t been working. Letting Donald Trump be Donald Trump hasn’t helped with his approval ratings. They’re stuck now somewhere at 40 percent. As we just discussed, it’s not helping in terms of the 2018 midterm elections.

    Democrats are energized, Republicans not as energized. The strategy is basically to keep doing things the way that we have been doing them, but, right now, six months in, it hasn’t been particularly effective.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this look to somebody who covers the White House all the time, Tam?

    TAMARA KEITH: It looks like there’s a new person who, as you said, he talks about loving Donald Trump, about, you know — he definitely will be someone who is a salesman for the president’s message.

    But if you look at the Sunday show appearances, you had Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is the new press secretary, saying one thing. You had Scaramucci saying another thing. And then you had the president of the United States tweeting something somewhere in between.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re still trying to figure this out.

    One of the things going on in the tweeting, Amy, is the president continuing to criticize or to say to Republicans, you have got to come on board with health care. He’s been tweeting about it just a few minutes ago.

    AMY WALTER: He’s been tweeting about it.

    And then, of course, he stood in the White House today and basically put an ultimatum in front of his party that said, you are either with me or you’re not. And the marker has been put right there.

    And so the choice for Republicans tomorrow is, are they going to defy their president, after saying — after he told them this will be in defiance of me?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He said there are going to be consequences if we don’t — if you don’t support this.

    TAMARA KEITH: Meanwhile, he was talking about members of his own party as they, as if it was not — as if they weren’t part of the same team.

    And he was highly critical of senators, saying, if you don’t do this, then you’re breaking a promise and there are consequences. And he made a tiny little aside sort of indicating that he wanted voters to call their senators or get in touch or make it painful for their senators, which is a turn.

    It’s him, the president, publicly advocating for a piece of legislation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just very quickly, he’s also putting pressure on his own attorney general, Amy, in just a few seconds, saying our beleaguered A.G.

    If you’re Jeff Sessions, what are you thinking right now?


    AMY WALTER: Right.

    As with many people in the Trump administration, if you work for him, you have to know that your job is always precarious. There is no ultimate loyalty if you work there. And it’s never clear whether you’re safe or not safe with this president in your job at the White House.

    TAMARA KEITH: And Sessions was at lunch at the White House today and didn’t see the president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hmm. Well, we will leave it at that, Politics Monday.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.

    AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our series of conversations focusing on the road ahead for the Democratic Party.

    Today, Senate and House Democratic leaders left Washington for a stop in Berryville in Northwest Virginia, estimated population around 4,300. It was to roll out a new, more populist message focusing on economic issues. They said it’s what the party needs to win back voters.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: When you lose elections, as we did in 2014 and 2016, you don’t flinch. You don’t blink. You look in the mirror and ask, what did we do wrong? The number one thing we did wrong is not present a strong, bold economic agenda to working Americans, so that their hope for the future might return again.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: That is why, today, Democrats are unveiling an aggressive and ambitious economic agenda, and a bold new promise to America’s working families. From the heartland — these members are from the heartland, but to the suburbs, to the cities, Democrats are offering a better deal, better jobs, better wages, a better future.

    REP. BEN RAY LUJAN, D-N.M.: Voters, constituents want us to focus on them. They want us to understand where they are. And they want us to understand that their wages are not keeping up with their cost of living. And so the more people that are able to have that conversation with the American people, we will be in a stronger place in 2018.

    Americans want to hear Democrats talk about values, not divisions, says Rep. Bustos

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Joining me now to discuss the new agenda, and the way forward for the party, is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    So, how did the Democratic Party get to the point where you have to be reintroducing yourselves to the American people, telling them what you stand for?

    THOMAS PEREZ, Chairman, Democratic National Committee: Well, we have heard across America from people that they don’t know what we stand for.

    And I have been traveling to countries listening. And so what Leader Pelosi, Senator Schumer and others today have been doing is telling people not only what we’re fighting for, but who we’re fighting for.

    We’re fighting for a better future for everyone. We’re fighting to address the most important issue of our time, which is income inequality. We’re fighting and showing people that we believe that everyone has an opportunity, or should have an opportunity, to punch their ticket to the middle class, that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few.

    And, again, we’re not only talking about what we’re fighting for, but who we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for the many, not the few. We’re fighting for an economy that works for everyone.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this different, Tom Perez, from the Democrats’ message before now?

    THOMAS PEREZ: Well, I think — I worked for Ted Kennedy.

    And Ted Kennedy always fought for he called the common man and the common woman. And I think the Democratic Party, we have always been fighting for ordinary Americans, whether it was fighting for the Social Security Act in the 1930s, fighting for Medicare and Medicaid. And we will be celebrating the anniversary of Medicaid and Medicare in a few days.

    Fighting for the Affordable Care Act. Fighting for good jobs. And what we need to do is underscore what we have been doing and tell people how we’re going to continue that fight, because Donald Trump attempted to hijack that message. And we need to tell people exactly who’s fighting for them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is part of the reason you need to do this that the party has been spending — and Democrats — have been spending so much time talking about Donald Trump, criticizing Donald Trump?

    Just today, I got another press release from the Democratic National Committee about Jared Kushner’s meeting with Senate investigators on Russia.

    Have you have been — by you, I mean Democrats — been spending too much time criticizing Donald Trump, in other words, talking about what you’re against, rather than what you’re for?

    THOMAS PEREZ: Well, when we have a vote on the Affordable Care Act repeal tomorrow, it’s important for us to talk about the fact that that’s not a health care bill, it’s a massive tax cut for wealthy people.

    But your point is absolutely well taken, which is we can’t simply be against Donald Trump. We have to be for the values that Senator Schumer, Leader Pelosi and all of us have been talking about.

    And that’s what I do day in and day out. Democrats believe that no one who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty. Democrats believe that, again, health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few, that the secretary of education ought to believe in public education.

    And when I was labor secretary, I was fighting for higher wages, overtime pay for people. I was fighting for retirement security for folks. We were fighting to make sure that people had the skills to compete.

    And the Republicans were always fighting against that. They didn’t want to raise the overtime threshold. They fought our efforts at making sure that anyone who had a 401(k) or an IRA could get the advice they need.

    And what we have to do a better job of as Democrats is tell folks exactly what we have been fighting for and what they have been fighting against.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this fit into the debate that I have been hearing out there?

    On the one hand, you hear I guess you would call them centrist Democrats saying, well, the party didn’t pay enough attention to the Middle America, working-class Americans, it spent too much time on what they call identity politics.

    And then, on the other hand, you have got the more progressive wing of the party saying, no, no, the party forgot about its base, it about minorities, about black voters, about Hispanic voters.

    And you’re hearing two different critiques. How does what you’re saying the party is arguing now, how does it fit into that argument?

    THOMAS PEREZ: Well, I think it’s a false choice to suggest that you either do one or the other.

    And as Dr. King said, the best civil right is a good job. What good is a seat at the counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger? And economic opportunity for everyone is what we have been talking about. And what we have to do a better job of as Democrats is talk about that in every zip code.

    A big part of what we’re doing with the Democratic Party is we’re building a 12-month-a-year organizing presence in every zip code. We have to talk to folks in rural America, urban America, suburban America, because the opioid epidemic is touching all of those communities.

    And we need to tell them that we are the party that’s trying to make sure that we retain access to health care. We’re the party that’s making sure that you have the skills to compete, not only for today’s jobs, but for the dynamic economy and the jobs that will be coming tomorrow.

    That’s what Democrats have been fighting for, and I think that message resonates in every zip code across the country. Everyone wants good public education. Doesn’t matter where you live. And that’s what we’re fighting for.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President Obama himself said that he was partly to blame for the fact that the party didn’t so as much as it should have done, could have been doing at the state level, at the local level.

    Is the party now going to be working actively to recruit and be more present in local communities, in cities?

    THOMAS PEREZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.

    We have changed our mission statement. Our mission is no longer simply to elect the president of the United States. Our mission is to elect Democrats up and down the ticket, from the school board to the Senate.

    And our mission is to be there in every zip code. That’s why we helped two candidates who were running in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago who won special elections in districts that Donald Trump had won.

    We have a 57-state-and-territory strategy. And we have to organize everywhere. And we to have to be a 12-month-a-year party. You can’t just show up every fourth October and call that organizing.

    We have to organize everywhere. And that’s everywhere every year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to come back to the question we were discussing a minute ago. And that is, how much of what people are hearing from Democrats now is anti-Donald Trump?

    How do you both do this, the positive things you’re talking about, and remain this relentless anti-Trump machine that many people think the Democrats are?

    THOMAS PEREZ: Well, we can’t match Trump tweet for tweet, because distracting Donald frequently out there.

    I’m sure, at the G20, everyone was talking about John Podesta’s tweets. And so when you — and then you have this misnamed voter integrity commission, which is a voter suppression commission.

    And we can’t allow all of the relentless conflict and chaos that emanates from this administration to take our eye off the ball. That’s what today was about with Leader Pelosi and Senator Schumer. It was about telling the American people we are the party that’s fighting for a better future for folks, for everyone.

    We’re the party that’s going to make sure that you get that good job that pays a decent wage that allows you to have dignity. And we have to do that. And that’s exactly what I do everywhere I go, Judy, because it is so important to tell people what we stand for and who we stand with.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic Party, thank you very much.

    THOMAS PEREZ: Pleasure to be with you.

    The post Perez: Democrats are fighting for an economy that works for everyone appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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