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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: an explosive claim and lawsuit alleging the White House had a role in pushing a false news story about a death in Washington, D.C.

    The story goes back to the unsolved murder of a young staff member working for the Democratic National Committee named Seth Rich, who was shot early one morning in July 2016.

    It’s a complicated story. Jeffrey Brown is here to help unpack it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier this spring, FOX News aired a story suggesting Seth Rich was murdered after he had leaked thousands of e-mails to WikiLeaks. In fact, there was no evidence linking Rich to the leaks or his murder to the WikiLeaks case.

    FOX News retracted the story a week later. The initial story relied on a former police detective, Rod Wheeler, who’s also a longtime paid commentator for FOX News. But Wheeler has now filed a lawsuit against FOX, alleging he was misquoted in the story, and that he was used as a pawn to deflect attention away from the Russia probe.

    Wheeler says he worked with a Trump supporter named Ed Butowsky and that the two of them met with then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer a month before the story ran. He further alleges that the president himself reviewed a copy of the FOX story before it was made public.

    Today, the White House denied his claim about the president.

    David Folkenflik broke this for NPR and joins me now.

    David, welcome to you.

    Tell us first about Ed Butowsky and what in essence Rod Wheeler is claiming set this all in motion.

    DAVID FOLKENFLIK, National Public Radio: Well, Ed Butowsky is an voluble investor, wealth management consultant down outside Dallas, Texas.

    He’s been a talking head, unpaid, on FOX News and FOX Business about financial matters, and a reliable, outspoken voice in support of President Trump and his agenda. He announced in February — he goes to the Rich family and says, I’m going to help you be able to afford to have a private investigator solve this mystery of who killed your son and arranges for Rod Wheeler to do it.

    He presents himself as a good samaritan who says he’s struck emotionally by, this but Wheeler alleges — and I got to say, his lawsuit has an extraordinary degree of supplemental material to support it — Wheeler alleges that Butowsky had an agenda all along, that what Butowsky wanted to do, working hand in glove with a FOX News reporter named Malia Zimmerman, from the outset, that he wanted to prove that Seth Rich in some ways was linked to leak of DNC e-mails, and, indeed, that there may have been a cover-up and that somehow Democratic operatives or figures may have been involved in some way in Seth Rich’s death.

    So you have a guy — excuse me — you have a guy who basically is saying that FOX News, as a news organization and a Trump backer, are working in concert to try to arrive at a preconceived narrative and story, rather than simply following a journalistic effort to figure out what the facts are.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And he’s claiming actually even more, right, that this was coordinated perhaps with the White House, this meeting with Sean Spicer and the allegations that President Trump himself might have looked at the script or known about the story.

    DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Right. Let’s disentangle what we know from what we don’t know.


    DAVID FOLKENFLIK: What we know is that it is confirmed that all three men, Sean Spicer, at that time the White House press secretary, Ed Butowsky, the investor and backer, and Rod Wheeler, the investigator, all say that they were there April 12 at a relatively brief, maybe 10-, 15-minute meting — excuse me — April 20 — this meeting at which Butowsky and Wheeler unpack for Sean Spicer what it is they have learned in this investigation into Seth Rich.

    And Sean Spicer told me last night that he took the meeting as a courtesy, that Butowsky was a friend from Republican circles, and that he was happy to give him an ear for a brief meeting. Butowsky says it wasn’t really a meeting about that at all, that he was simply trying to help Wheeler see if he could find a job, something that both Wheeler and Spicer say is just not true.

    But what is clear is that, from the e-mails and voice-mails and texts an other materials subsequently, is that Butowsky invokes the White House, invokes powerful people and, yes, even invokes the idea that President Trump has read drafts of the FOX story before it goes to FOX News’ site or on the air, and that he wants it out there.

    And while that’s not been proven, it’s certainly was a pressure point from Butowsky to Wheeler that Wheeler believed was true.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And just to bring it up to date, Butowsky said to you — now says to you that some of those texts or the claim of a connection to the White House was a joke or was a put-on or he was overplaying it.

    And the White House, as I said today, says that there is nothing to that, nothing to the connection with President Trump.

    DAVID FOLKENFLIK: You know, Butowsky in person comes off as a guy who says, oh, we’re friends, we’re pals, we joke, we tease, that’s all this was. Wheeler was joking about wanting to work at the White House. I was joking about saying that President Trump took an interest in this.

    It is not, I must say, the tenor that you get from reading the transcripts, voluminous, of text messages, voice mails, e-mails, and recorded conversations that Wheeler and his attorneys are providing in this lawsuit, this defamation lawsuit against Butowsky, FOX reporter and so on.

    This is a conflict of narratives that are going to have to be played out in court. But Wheeler, I must say, has an unusual degree of material to support his interpretation, his contention. And there is no doubt that Butowsky enjoyed invoking the kind of circles that he seemed to run in or seemed to want to be perceived of as running in.

    We don’t have proof that Donald Trump ever saw them. And, as you say, Sean Spicer said to me last night he didn’t think that ever occurred, and he said he didn’t really understand the nature of the meeting that he had. He took it out of courtesy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, David, finally, what is Fox’s response? They’re the target of this lawsuit from Mr. Wheeler.

    DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, they dispute hotly the idea that they defamed Wheeler. They say that they listened to Wheeler’s complaints, but also talked to Malia Zimmerman, the FOX News reporter, and that they don’t have concrete evidence to prove that he was misquoted.

    They don’t, though, make an affirmative defense of the journalism that emerged. You know, it seems currently the best-case scenario would be that somehow they would be able to show that Rod Wheeler had allowed or affirmed the idea that the reporter could attribute quotes to him that he hadn’t actually said.

    Either way, that’s not good journalistic practice. I think you’re seeing FOX a little bit back on its heels because this story is not defensible. And I think that’s why it was retracted back in May.

    What you haven’t seen from FOX is a full accounting of what went wrong, and our story this morning of the lawsuit has forced FOX to come forward and try to be a little bit more forthcoming.

    JEFFREY BROWN: David Folkenflik of NPR, thank you very much.


    The post What we know about a Fox News defamation lawsuit and allegations of a White House connection appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House played defense again today after new information surfaced on Monday night on the administration’s handling of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign.

    The latest story suggests that the president personally intervened.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House Press Secretary: The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information he had.

    LISA DESJARDINS: What did the president know, and say, about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer? The Washington Post reports that President Trump was more involved than the White House and his attorney originally let on.

    This starts with the Trump Tower meeting last summer that included Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Flash-forward a year. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, at the G20 summit, learned The New York Times is about to report the story. They huddled to craft a response.

    According to The Post, they wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later. But The Post reports that on Air Force One flying back to the U.S., the president overruled his advisers. The Post writes that the president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times described the meeting as unimportant and unrelated to the campaign.

    That quickly was contradicted by Trump Jr.’s own e-mails showing he’d promised damaging campaign material on Hillary Clinton. The Post story of the president’s role in his son’s statement conflicts with what his lawyer said last month.

    JAY SEKULOW, Attorney for President Donald Trump: I do want to be clear. The president wasn’t involved in the drafting of the statement and didn’t issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.

    LISA DESJARDINS: White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said today that the president didn’t dictate anything, but did weigh in. And she maintained he never misled.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The statement that was issued was true. There are no inaccuracies in the statement. I think what the bigger question is — everybody wants to make story about misleading. The only thing I see misleading is a year’s worth of stories that have been fueling a false narrative about this Russia collusion.

    LISA DESJARDINS: What is true or false remains a question for investigators. At least one Senate committee plans to interview Donald Trump Jr. next month.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to walk us through some of the legal questions raised by The Washington Post report, we are joined by Peter Zeidenberg. He was a federal prosecutor for nearly two decades, and was a deputy special counsel involved in the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity.

    Peter Zeidenberg, welcome to the NewsHour.

    So, now that the White House has confirmed that the president was involved, weighed in, as the press secretary said, in this statement by Donald Trump Jr. to the public, what effect does this have on this investigation?

    PETER ZEIDENBERG, Former Federal Prosecutor: Well, it’s going to generate a lot of interest, I’m sure, from the special counsel, who is going to want to know who was involved in that whole process, everyone on that plane who was weighing in, whether they were actually physically on the plane or they were — according to The Post story, they were opening or calling in.

    So, all those people are going to — the special counsel is going to want the interview and find out what was going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How much does it matter, Peter Zeidenberg, that the White House press secretary said today, yes, the president weighed in, as a father would, but then just a few weeks ago the president’s attorney said, no, the president didn’t have any involvement in this?

    PETER ZEIDENBERG: Well, you know, lying to the public is not a crime. But what is going to be of interest is the motivation behind this.

    Now, the administration keeps saying that this meeting was inconsequential, it’s a nothing burger, who cares. But the account of it they don’t want to tell — at least from a prosecutor’s standpoint, the question would be, well, why are they trying to divert attention to what was really happening, or why are they misleading about what was really going on with this?

    I mean, the whole thing highlights the problem with having, from a lawyer’s perspective, having subjects conversing about an investigation while it’s ongoing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does the fact that we now know that the president himself appears to have been part of this conversation, part of a decision about what to say, and that the version changed over the next few days, does that have a material effect here?

    PETER ZEIDENBERG: Well, it could, because, by all accounts, this is a potential on obstruction of justice investigation involving the president, involving, for instance, the firing of James Comey.

    And so this incident, in and of itself, is not illegal. It’s not illegal to lie to the press or to lie to the public. But you’re looking for motivation if you’re a prosecutor, and you’re looking for trying to weave together a narrative of facts.

    And it’s suggestive that there is a cover-up going on about a fear of what would happen if the public were to find out about this case. And that’s how the firing of James Comey would fit into that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, a narrative. So, if someone is asking, was there a legal line that was crossed, what’s the answer to that?

    PETER ZEIDENBERG: Well, it’s not so much that there’s a legal line crossed. It’s just another piece of evidence, another piece of the puzzle from the prosecutor’s standpoint.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if you are Robert Mueller and you’re working on this, what are your questions? What other questions are you going to have right now?

    PETER ZEIDENBERG: Well, you’re going to want to know how this story evolved and what the perspective of all the different people were.

    And there’s a whole question that, because all these people and the way they had this conversation, it’s probably not a privileged conversation, as opposed if they were just speaking with their own counsel.

    So, again, it paints a picture which is really — it may not be true, but from a prosecutor’s standpoint, whenever you have subjects of an investigation sitting down together, literally, and coming up with a story, what it looks like is obstruction of justice. And that’s why attorneys always tell their clients who are under investigation, don’t talk about the case with anyone involved in it. Don’t talk about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if we — we hear a lot about how presidents are immune from laws that other people are subject to. How do we know at this point whether the president himself could be in any legal jeopardy?

    PETER ZEIDENBERG: Well, we don’t know, but from what we have heard, it certainly appears that there is an ongoing case of obstruction of justice, again, involving Comey, if not other things.

    So it’s — the whole scenario as it’s described in The Post story, unnecessarily put a whole bunch of people at legal risk for — you know, for no good reason. And whether it’s — the impression is certainly problematic at best.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Peter Zeidenberg, the story continues to unfold. Thank you very much.

    PETER ZEIDENBERG: Thank you.

    The post Trump reportedly dictated son’s statement about a Russian meeting. Here’s what a prosecutor thinks. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a rare and unexpected appearance in front of news reporters today, commenting on tensions around the world.

    He said neither he nor the president were — quote — “happy” with new sanctions Congress imposed on Russia.

    And on North Korea, Tillerson said the United States’ options are limited and that the U.S. is looking to apply peaceful pressure on Pyongyang.

    REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: And we’re trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy, we are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that, at some point, they will begin to understand that, and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The secretary of state also acknowledged some differences he has with President Trump, including over the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

    REX TILLERSON: He calls late at night on the weekends when something comes into his head and he wants to talk. He may call me at any moment, at any time. But it is a very open relationship, and it’s one in which I feel quite comfortable telling him my views.

    And he and I have differences on views on things like JCPOA and how we should use it. We have differences, but I think, if we’re not having those differences, I’m not sure I’m serving him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tillerson brushed aside speculation that he is frustrated and looking for a way out of the State Department.

    The U.S. Senate’s top Republican left open the door slightly for another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. GOP health care overhaul legislation failed by a narrow vote last week, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that his party is still examining its options. He did, however, reject President Trump’s call for Republicans to change Senate rules and reduce its 60-vote threshold to eliminate filibusters.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL,R-K.y., Majority Leader: I mean, it’s pretty obvious that our problem on health care wasn’t the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Republicans. There are not the votes in the Senate, as I have said repeatedly to the president and to all of you, to change the rules of the Senate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the Republican chair of the Senate’s Health Committee wants to pass a one-year extension of federal payments to insurers. President Trump has threatened to halt those payments, but Democrats and others say the move would hike premiums.

    Majority Leader McConnell also said today that the debate on raising the nation’s debt ceiling could stretch until September. The Treasury Department says that September 29 is the last day it will be able to pay the government’s bills. The White House says that it is important to raise the debt ceiling — quote — “as soon as possible.”

    The Senate has confirmed Christopher Wray as the next director of the FBI. Senators OKed the former Justice Department official overwhelmingly, 92-5. He takes over the agency after President Trump fired James Comey in May, amid the investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

    In Pakistan, lawmakers have picked a new prime minister, but the length of his term is uncertain. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is a loyalist of Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified as premier last week for concealing assets. Abbasi won an overwhelming majority in parliament, but he represents a ruling party that wants him to serve only until Sharif’s younger brother wins a National Assembly seat, and can take over.

    SHAHID KHAQAN ABBASI, Interim Prime Minister, Pakistan (through interpreter): Whether I am here for 45 hours or 45 days, I am the prime minister and I am not here to keep the chair warm. Rather, I am here to work. I will do the work of 45 months if I remain for 45 days. The process of democracy is back on track. It wasn’t derailed. No one ran away. No one broke off from the party.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Abbasi also dismissed the corruption allegations against Sharif, and said the Pakistani people don’t accept his disqualification.

    At least 29 people are dead in Afghanistan, after a suicide attack at a Shiite mosque. It happened in the western city of Herat during evening prayers. A local lawmaker said he was told that one attacker fired on worshipers before blowing himself up, but it wasn’t clear whether there was a second attacker.

    Back in this country, President Trump’s comments on policing have come under fire from the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Last week, Mr. Trump suggested that officers do away with practices like protecting suspects’ heads as they’re put into police cars. But in a weekend e-mail to his agency, the acting DEA director, Chuck Rosenberg, who was appointed during the Obama administration, said the remarks — quote — “condoned police misconduct.”

    On Wall Street, banks and technology companies pushed stocks higher today. The Dow Jones industrial gained 72 points to close at 21963. The Nasdaq rose 14 to close at 6362, and the S&P 500 gained six points.

    The post News Wrap: Tillerson talks Russia sanctions, ‘peaceful pressure’ on North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A student walks through the University of Texas campus in Austin. Photo by Jon Herskovitz/Reuters

    A bombshell report in The New York Times Tuesday night revealed that the U.S. Justice Department plans to investigate and sue colleges over their affirmative action policies in admissions.

    The Times cited an internal announcement to the Justice Department’s civil rights division that seeks lawyers for a project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

    For supporters of affirmative action in college admissions, the news was a shock. Just over a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the admissions policies of the University of Texas at Austin, which include consideration of race and ethnicity. Many college leaders feared, prior to the decision coming down, that affirmative action was endangered. But the decision — just three years after another Supreme Court decision upholding affirmative action — assured many that colleges could continue to consider race in admissions.

    Critics of affirmative action have never abandoned their hope that the Supreme Court might some day revisit the issue, and a new lawsuit was filed against UT just weeks ago. But the backing of the U.S. Justice Department could give that movement new strength.

    Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action, told the Times he welcomed the new campaign by the Justice Department. “The civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination, and it is frequently the case that not only are whites discriminated against now, but frequently Asian-Americans are as well,” he said.

    Advocates for diversity in higher education told Inside Higher Ed via email that they were concerned by the Justice Department’s apparent new campaign.
    Dan Losen, a lawyer who is director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that he found the Justice Department’s action deeply distressing.

    “This is another example of how the administration is dismantling the Department of Justice, turning core constitutional protections upside down and the concept of remedying discrimination on its head,” he said. “What do you expect from a president that makes openly bigoted remarks about Mexican-American judges, has boasted about assaulting women, has a history of engaging in racially discriminatory housing practices and is fighting to ban entrants to our country based on their religious background? Make no mistake, the Trump administration’s positions are consistent with his bigoted statements and historical track record. Further, he hired Jeff Sessions to run the DOJ despite Sessions’s own horrible track record on civil rights, and over the objections of every known civil rights group and nearly half the Senate.”

    Indeed, when the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity urged the U.S. Senate to oppose the nomination of Sessions as attorney general, it cited — among other things — a comment he made in 1997 about affirmative action. At the time, he said of affirmative action, “I think it has, in fact, been a cause of irritation and perhaps has delayed the kind of movement to racial harmony we ought to be going forward [with] today. I think it makes people unhappy if they lost a contract or a right to go to a school or a privilege to attend a university simply because of their race.”

    The diversity group’s letter said Sessions’s view distorts affirmative action in implying that colleges are accepting or rejecting candidates based on race alone. Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the association, said that she saw Tuesday’s announcement as “tragic,” adding that “it is our hope that this turnabout will not have a chilling effect on collegiate programs that have been supported by the Supreme Court.”

    Michael A. Olivas, director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston, said, “Mr. Trump’s record in higher education is hardly exemplary, and his unfortunate rhetoric on racial relations has convinced many whites that they have been disadvantaged by people of color — despite all the evidence to the contrary.” As for the law, he said that the Supreme Court “has ruled that modest uses of affirmative action are allowable, and that is the law of the land.”

    Art Coleman, managing partner of Education Counsel and the author of numerous briefs defending affirmative action in higher education, said the Justice Department shift “has the potential to be very significant.” But he also noted via email that “we have strong, affirming (including recent) U.S. Supreme Court cases that embrace higher education’s diversity goals and limited race-conscious measures designed to help advance those goals. So, this is counter to recent court trends.”

    Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University at Newark and co-editor of Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society (Princeton University Press), said, “We need to keep our focus on cultivating the diverse talent in our country — we can’t be a prosperous democracy and leave the growing talent pool on the sidelines. Let’s not get distracted from our social responsibility by efforts to pit groups — we all need opportunity and we all depend on each other’s talent.”

    And Stella M. Flores, an associate professor of higher education at New York University who has written extensively about inequality in American education, said that the Justice Department should be looking elsewhere.

    “We know two key findings from educational research over the last 10 years in regard to this issue: 1) an overreliance on test scores as the key predictor of college success is a tenuous and often ineffective strategy; and 2) there are positive educational benefits of diversity to all students that extend beyond the classroom,” she said. “As the nation continues to diversify at unprecedented levels and becomes more globally connected and interdependent, keeping the principle of the positive educational benefits of a diverse student body/college campus is one of the most certain strategies for ensuring the nation stays at the top of their social and economic prosperity levels. It would be more helpful to put more civil rights emphasis in examining issues of inequality in the nation’s K-12 public system, which have long-term effects on college success outcomes. This would increase the opportunity levels of all students — from the poorest of white students in addition to other underrepresented minority students.”

    Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, said that the Supreme Court decision last year provided “a strong reaffirmative of carefully limited consideration of race as one among a number of factors in admitting students to selective colleges seeking the realize the extensively proven benefits of diversity.”

    But he also noted that the Supreme Court in a series of decisions has affirmed that right when colleges document that they have considered a range of ways to promote diversity and have evidence that some consideration of race in admissions is needed for that goal.

    Said Orfield, “Colleges need to document and carefully justify their programs, and the University of Texas and the University of Michigan did so successfully. For the moment this is basically a politically motivated effort to throw sand in the gears and frighten colleges to end something the huge majority of selective universities believe to be a basic educational need.”

    Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education. Read the original story here.

    The post Report: Justice Department plans to target affirmative action appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The United States Capitol is seen prior to an all night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill in Washington

    The United States Capitol is seen prior to an all night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — There wasn’t a dramatic public break or an exact moment it happened. But step by step, Senate Republicans are turning their backs on President Donald Trump.

    They defeated an Obamacare repeal bill despite Trump’s pleas. They’re ignoring his Twitter demands that they get back to work on the repeal measure. They dissed the White House budget director, defended the attorney general against the president’s attacks and passed veto-proof sanctions on Russia over his administration’s objections.

    They’re reasserting their independence, which looked sorely diminished in the aftermath of Trump’s surprise election win.

    “We work for the American people,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said Tuesday. “We don’t work for the president.”

    Those are surprisingly tough words from a Republican whose state Trump won easily less than a year ago. But after six months of controversies and historically low approval ratings, it’s clear Trump isn’t commanding the fear or respect he once did.

    Some Republicans no doubt are giving voice to long-held reservations about a man whose election was essentially a hostile takeover of their party. But it is notable that the loudest criticism is coming from the Senate, where few Republicans are burdened with facing an electorate anytime soon. The situation is different in the House, where most Republicans represent conservative districts still loyal to Trump. For those lawmakers, the fear of facing a conservative primary challenger, possibly fueled by angry Trump followers, is real.

    In the most remarkable example of public Trump-bashing, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is taking aim at the president and his own party in a new book, writing that “unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication” and marveling at “the strange specter of an American president’s seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians.”

    [Watch Video]

    The criticism from Flake is especially striking since he is one of just two GOP senators facing competitive re-election races in next year’s midterm elections, the other being Dean Heller of Nevada. The other 50 Senate Republicans are largely insulated from blowback from Trump’s still-loyal base, at least in the short term, since many of them won’t face voters for several years.

    That is likely contributing to their defiance, which is emerging now after an accumulation of frustrations, culminating in the failure of the health care bill Friday. In particular, senators were aghast over Trump’s recent attacks on their longtime colleague Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator who is now attorney general and facing Trump’s wrath over having recused himself from the investigation into possible collaboration between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina deemed Trump’s treatment of Sessions “unseemly” and “a sign of great weakness on the part of President Trump.” The comments were echoed by other Republican senators.

    Then, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former House member, suggested on a Sunday show that the Senate must pass health care before doing anything else. No. 2 Republican John Cornyn didn’t hesitate to go after him.

    “I don’t think he’s got much experience in the Senate as I recall, and he’s got a big job,” Cornyn said. “He ought to do that job and let us do our jobs.”

    READ NEXT: After failed Senate vote, will Congress give these new health care ideas a chance?

    The ill will flows both ways. At Tuesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointedly blamed lawmakers for the president’s failures to deliver. “I think what’s hurting the legislative agenda is Congress’ inability to get things passed,” she said.

    Trump has been ignoring past warnings from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stay out of the Senate’s business, tweeting relentless commands in the wake of Friday’s failure on health care that the Senate should eliminate the filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to move forward on much major legislation.

    “Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!” the president said over Twitter.

    That ignored the fact that Republicans tried to pass the health care bill under rules that required only a simple majority.

    So Republicans, in turn, ignored Trump.

    “It’s pretty obvious that our problem on health care was not the Democrats,” McConnell said drily on Tuesday. “We didn’t have 50 Republicans.”

    Some Republicans say Trump and his administration only made it harder to pass health care by ineptly pressuring Sen. Lisa Murkowski with threats from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about consequences for her state, which rankled the Alaska senator. She proceeded to postpone votes in the Energy committee she chairs on a group of administration nominees, while saying it was for unrelated reasons, and voted “no” on the health bill.

    “I think most Republican senators have their own identity that’s separate from the president,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. “If you look at the elections last fall, almost every Republican senator who was up for re-election ran ahead of Trump and that’s not a fact that’s lost on Congress.”

    The House has been a friendlier place for Trump. Republicans there pushed through a health care bill in May.

    “For the most part our caucus is still in support of the president,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky. “That doesn’t mean we agree with everything he says and does, but we still support his agenda, his presidency, and we’re not going to fumble the ball.”

    In the Senate, though, lawmakers and the president appear to be going their separate ways, with some senators talking as though Trump is almost irrelevant.

    “Ever since we’ve been here we’ve really been following our lead, right?” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. “Whether it was the Supreme Court justice or the Russia sanctions bill, attempting to do health care and obviously we did so unsuccessfully, and now we’re moving on to tax reform, but most of this has, almost every bit of this has been 100 percent internal to Congress.”

    Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin contributed.

    The post Senate Republicans slowly turning their backs on Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

    WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are unveiling a new set of trade policies aimed at appealing to working-class voters and regaining advantage on an issue Donald Trump seized to great effect during last year’s presidential campaign.

    Some of the proposals being rolled out Wednesday sound like talking points straight from Trump, including renegotiating NAFTA and strengthening “Buy America” policies. Despite his rhetoric on those issues, Trump has taken limited steps so far, although he did formally pull the U.S. out of a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact that Congress probably wouldn’t have approved anyway.

    “For too long, big corporations have dictated how trade deals and foreign acquisitions are negotiated and the American worker has been left without a seat at the table,” according to the Democrats’ trade blueprint. “As a result, many of these deals have boosted corporate profits, but for many hard-working Americans, these same policies have led to shuttered factories and lower wages.”

    The trade policies being announced Wednesday are the second roll-out in Democrats’ new “Better Deal” agenda, which House and Senate Democrats are proposing ahead of the 2018 midterms. Last week Democrats unveiled the overall agenda and made public the first three planks, which focused on creating more jobs, cracking down on corporate monopolies and lowering prescription drug prices.

    On trade, Democrats are proposing a new American Jobs Security Council to review and potentially halt foreign purchases of U.S. companies. Chinese state-owned enterprises are increasingly entering U.S. markets by purchasing American companies, but the reverse doesn’t usually happen because of restrictions in China on U.S. investments, according to supporting documents.

    Democrats also envision a new “independent trade prosecutor” who would be empowered to investigate unfair trade practices outside the unwieldy World Trade Organization process, and recommend retaliation in the form of restrictions to U.S. market access.

    And Democrats call for renegotiating the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, with the goal of achieving more American jobs and higher wages, and enforceable labor standards. Trump has also called for renegotiating NAFTA, a deal he bashed ceaselessly on the campaign trail, and a couple weeks ago his administration outlined its goals for doing so, some of which overlap with the Democrats’ ideas.

    The Democrats also call for strengthening “Buy America” provisions in taxpayer-funded projects. Trump, too, has harped on the “Buy America” theme even as it’s been revealed that some of his own products and those marketed by his daughter Ivanka’s fashion line were manufactured in other countries.

    READ NEXT: Yes, trade with China took away blue-collar jobs. And there’s no getting them back.

    Overall, the Democrats’ trade proposals underscore the influence of the party’s liberal wing in pushing it in a populist direction that rejects multinational trade deals in favor of more protectionist policies that elevate U.S. workers’ interests. Indeed trade had been seen as an area where Trump and congressional Democrats could work together, since Trump is more aligned with Democrats on the issue than with the traditional Republican free-trade approach.

    But such cooperation has not materialized as it’s become apparent that Trump and Democrats are unlikely to work together on anything except where strictly necessary.

    The post Democrats aim to regain advantage on trade from Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) announces the 2018 budget blueprint during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

    Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) announces the 2018 budget blueprint during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 18, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who as a powerful committee chair has championed cutting safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, announced Wednesday that she will run to become the next governor of Tennessee.

    In her video announcement, Black touted a record that included passing anti-abortion legislation and opposing a state income tax when she served in the Tennessee General Assembly.

    “I wasn’t afraid to stand up to the weak-kneed people in my own party when I had to,” she said. “I believe in secure borders and tough choices in cutting spending and beating the liberals instead of caving in to them.”

    About one in four Tennesseans is enrolled in TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program, while one out of six residents receives food stamp assistance.

    READ NEXT: Even without Congress, Trump can still cut Medicaid enrollment
    Black, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is the latest candidate to join the growing field seeking to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam by winning the November 2018 general election. Republican candidates State Sen. Mae Beavers, state House Speaker Beth Harwell, businessmen Randy Boyd and Bill Lee are also running. Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is seeking the Democratic nomination, while state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is also expected to join that race.

    Black has been a strong ally to Republican leadership in the House since her election 2010, and was named interim chair of the Budget Committee in January when President Donald Trump nominated Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to become secretary of Health and Human Services.

    The budget plan faced opposition from both hard-core conservatives and more moderate Republicans even as it advanced through Black’s panel last month on a party-line 22-14 vote.

    “Both parties in Washington have failed to abide by a simple principle that all American families and small businesses do — that we must live within our means,” Black said after the vote. “Balancing the budget requires us to make tough choices, but the consequences of inaction far outweigh any political risks we may face.”

    To many Republicans, the most important element of the plan is the procedural pathway it would clear to allow them to pass an overhaul of the tax code later this year without fear of a blockade by Senate Democrats.

    National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers called Black’s work on the Budget Committee “pivotal.”

    “Diane Black is a force of nature, and is simply unstoppable,” he said in a statement.

    Black won the Republican nomination for the 6th Congressional District race by a mere 400 votes in 2010. Her tea party-styled opponent, Lou Ann Zelenik, ran TV ads criticizing Black for state Senate votes that provided $1 million in state contracts to Aegis Sciences, the drug testing company owned by her husband.

    Aegis sued Zelenik for defamation, but a judge dismissed the case and a state appeals court later upheld the ruling. Zelenik ran against Black again in 2012 but was handily defeated. Another tea party aligned candidate, former state Rep. Joe Carr, lost his primary challenge to Black by 32 percentage points last year.

    While serving as a state lawmaker, Black was a major sponsor of legislation to put a proposed constitutional amendment before the voters to pave the way for stricter abortion regulations in Tennessee. Black and her husband helped push that constitutional amendment toward a 53 percent approval in 2014 with a late $500,000 contribution.

    A legal challenge to the referendum is pending in the federal courts.

    The state’s gubernatorial primary will be held on Aug. 2, 2018.

    The post Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black to run for Tennessee governor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump speaks to departing White House interns after posing for a photograph with them July 24 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

    White House officials say President Donald Trump has signed a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed what he called a “seriously flawed” bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, pressured by his Republican Party not to move on his own toward a warmer relationship with Moscow in light of Russian actions.

    The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad. The law also imposes financial sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

    Trump said the law will “punish and deter bad behavior by the rogue regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang” and enhance existing sanctions on Moscow.

    The president had been reluctant to proceed with the bill, even after it was revised to include some changes that American and European companies sought to ensure that business deals were not stifled by new sanctions. Trump has expressed frustration over Congress’ ability to limit or override the power of the White House on national security matters, saying that it is complicating efforts to coordinate with allies — a sentiment he expressed in Wednesday’s statement.

    Last week, the House overwhelmingly backed the bill, 419-3, and the Senate rapidly followed its lead on a 98-2 vote. Those margins guaranteed that Congress would be able to beat back any attempt by Trump to veto the measure.

    The president said Wednesday that he signed the bill “for the sake of national unity.”

    “The bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” Trump said. “By limiting the executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together.”

    WATCH NEXT: Tillerson talks Russia sanctions, ‘peaceful pressure’ on North Korea

    Trump’s talk of extending a hand of cooperation to Russian President Vladimir Putin has been met with resistance as skeptical lawmakers look to limit his leeway. The new measure targets Russia’s energy sector as part of legislation that prevents Trump from easing sanctions on Moscow without congressional approval.

    Those limits, backed by Republicans as well as Democrats, resulted from lawmakers’ worries that Trump might ease the financial hits without first securing concessions from Putin. Republicans refused to budge even after the White House complained that the “congressional review” infringed on Trump’s executive authority.

    Moscow responded to a White House announcement last week that Trump intended to sign the bill, ordering a reduction in the number of U.S. diplomats in Russia.

    Top members of Trump’s administration voiced their unhappiness with the bill anew this week, echoing his sentiments that it poses more diplomatic hindrances than solutions.

    “Neither the president nor I are very happy about that,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday of the sanctions bill, which he had urged lawmakers not to approve.

    “We were clear that we didn’t think that was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that’s the decision they made,” he said.

    Tillerson conceded that he is unable to show that the U.S. has fulfilled Trump’s objective of a new, more cooperative relationship between the former Cold War foes, noting only modest efforts in Syria as a sign the nations share some common goals. While he said Americans want the U.S. to get along with the nuclear-armed power, he did not address other concerns at home. U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of meddling in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump.

    “The situation is bad, but believe me — it can get worse,” Tillerson said.

    Vice President Mike Pence, traveling Tuesday in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, sought to reframe the sanctions as a “further sign of our commitment” to counter Russian aggression in the region.

    “The president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia: A better relationship, the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused the sanctions to be imposed in the first place,” Pence said. “And not before.”

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle celebrated the passage of the sanctions bill.

    “It’s long overdue,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said of Trump’s decision to sign the bill nearly a week after it cleared Congress. “Hope we’ll send again a strong message to Russia that we can’t have interference in our elections going forward.”

    Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he hadn’t read the statement Trump issued announcing that he’d signed the sanctions bill. But Corker, who shepherded the legislation through the Senate, appeared indifferent to Trump’s criticisms. “Somebody pointed it out,” Corker said exiting the Senate chamber after a vote. “That’s fine.”

    Associated Press writers Richard Lardner and Josh Lederman contributed to this report from Washington.

    The post Trump signs ‘seriously flawed’ Russia sanctions bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday embraced legislation from two Republican senators that would place new limits on legal immigration and seek to create an system based more on merit and skills than family ties.

    Trump joined with Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to trumpet the bill, which has so far gained little traction in the Senate. The president said if approved the measure would represent “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”

    The president has made cracking down on illegal immigration a hallmark of his administration and has tried to slash federal grants for cities that refuse to comply with federal efforts to detain and deport those living in the country illegally.

    But he has also vowed to make changes to the legal immigration system, arguing that immigrants compete with Americans for much-needed jobs and drive wages down.

    Trump’s public support of the bill puts him at the center of efforts to make changes to the legal immigration system, with a focus on a skills-based system that the bill’s supporters say would make the U.S. more competitive, raise wages and create jobs.

    Perdue and Cotton introduced the legislation in February. It would change the 1965 law to reduce the number of legal immigrants, limiting the number of people able to obtain green cards to join families already in the United States.

    The bill would also aim to slash the number of refugees in half and eliminate a program that provides visas to countries with low rates of immigration.

    Cotton told reporters the bill would double the number of green cards available to high-skilled workers and would not affect other high-skilled worker visa programs such as H1-B and H2-B visas. The Trump Organization has asked for dozens of H-2B visas for foreign workers at two of Trump’s private clubs in Florida, including his Mar-a-Lago resort.

    The White House said that only 1 in 15 immigrants comes to the U.S. because of their skills, and the current system fails to place a priority on highly skilled immigrants.

    But the Senate has largely ignored the measure, with no other lawmaker signing on as a co-sponsor. GOP leaders have showed no inclination to vote on immigration this year, and Democrats quickly dismissed it.

    “The bottom line is to cut immigration by half a million people, legal immigration, doesn’t make much sense,” said Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York, who called it a “nonstarter.”

    Trump said the bill would create a new points-based system for applicants seeking to become legal permanent residents, or green card holders, favoring those who can speak English, financially support themselves and offer skills that would contribute to the U.S. economy. A little more than 1 million green cards were issued in 2015.

    In a nod to his outreach to blue-collar workers during the campaign, Trump said the measure would prevent new immigrants from collecting welfare and help U.S. workers by reducing the number of unskilled laborers entering the U.S.

    “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first,” Trump said during an event in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.

    During a much-hyped speech last August in Phoenix, Trump talked tough on illegal immigration — warning that “no one” who entered the country illegally would be safe from deportation.

    Lost in the bluster was a vow to reform the legal immigration system “to serve the best interests of America and its workers.”

    “Within just a few years immigration as a share of national population is set to break all historical records,” he said at the time, arguing that immigration levels should be kept within “historical norms” as a share of population and that immigrants should be selected based on their likelihood of success in the U.S. society, based on merit, skill and proficiency.

    Some immigrant advocates have criticized the proposal, saying that slashing legal immigration would hurt industries like agriculture and harm the economy.

    “Our system is broken, but the response should be to modernize it, not take a sledgehammer to it,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a group of business leaders, mayors and others backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform.

    Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

    The post WATCH: Trump, GOP senators announce new immigration plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Acting and former federal, state and city public health officials will share their insights about the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, where they’ve made progress and what challenges they face next during a panel discussion Wednesday in Baltimore.

    The panel begins at 3:50 p.m. ET. Watch live in the player above.

    Alison Stewart of The Atlantic will moderate the conversation, “Battling Opioids: Lessons from the Front Lines,” which will feature:

  • Nicole Alexander-Scott, Director, Rhode Island Department of Health
  • Michael Botticelli, Executive Director, Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, Boston Medical Center
  • Josh Sharfstein, Associate Dean, Public Health Practice and Training, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Leana Wen, Commissioner of Health, City of Baltimore
  • On Monday, the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, said in an interim report that President Donald Trump should declare a national state of emergency over the crisis, which killed an estimated 59,000 people last year, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

    Prescription opioids tripled between 1999 and 2015, the Centers for Disease Control reported last month. Nearly 50 percent of opioid misuse starts with prescriptions from family members or friends, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported Monday.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions was also expected to address the crisis Wednesday morning, during a speech at the at the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio.

    Ask the experts your questions during a 12:15 p.m. Twitter Chat and follow the conversation at 3:50 p.m. online here on the PBS NewsHour.

    The post WATCH LIVE: What public health officials have learned about the opioid crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A National Park Service (NPS) Ranger looks up at the Statue of Liberty on the 130th anniversary of the dedication in New York Harbor, in New York City. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    A National Park Service (NPS) Ranger looks up at the Statue of Liberty on the 130th anniversary of the dedication in New York Harbor, in New York City. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    On Monday, just hours after President Donald Trump said there was “no chaos” in his closest circles, Anthony Scaramucci was unceremoniously edged out as communications director. He lasted less than two weeks on the job.

    This sudden departure is the latest in a long line of staff shakeups in Trump’s nearly 200 days in office.

    Three days before Scaramucci’s departure, Trump announced that former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly would become his chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. And a week before that, Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an exit, too.

    As politicos monitor 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.’s ever-changing roster, here are five important stories that likely got lost in the White House shuffles.

    1. National Park Service employees punished for involvement in sexual harassment scandal, as new cases emerge

    Ranger John Kerr keeps travelers a safe distance of at least 100 meters away from an approaching black bear in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 20, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart (UNITED STATES) - RTR2O7PR

    A park ranger at Yellowstone National Park is seen keeping travelers a safe distance away from an approaching black bear in 2011. At least 10 employees of Yellowstone National Park will be punished for perpetuating a culture of sexual abuse in the park’s maintenance division, along with other ethics violations, the National Park Service said last week. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart (UNITED STATES) – RTR2O7PR

    At least 10 employees of Yellowstone National Park will be punished for perpetuating a culture of sexual abuse in the park’s maintenance division, along with other ethics violations, the National Park Service said last week.

    Last year, an investigation by the Montana Pioneer detailed how the division at Yellowstone, a premiere destination within the national parks system, had become a “men’s club.” An employee said a pattern of “abuse, exploitation, predatory sexual behavior, and reprisals” had plagued the park from 2011 to 2015.

    Four months ago, a report by the Inspector General confirmed that kind of mistreatment of female employees along with the misuse of government credit cards, the Associated Press reported last week; a NPS spokesman did not detail to the AP whether the punishments being handed down were for harassment or the mishandling of money.

    The news comes on the heels of another report of sexual abuse at the De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida. A manager at the park is accused of inappropriately touching a female employee and abusing his power. The report, released thanks to a FOIA request by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, has been sent to NPS, the AP reported.

    Why it’s important

    Last year, after interviews with 50 victims of harassment and abuse across the NPS system, The Atlantic declared “The National Park Service has a big sexual harassment problem.”

    The report from Yellowstone’s maintenance division was one of dozens of similar reports across the country last year, from Yosemite and the Grand Canyon to lesser-known parks like De Soto in Florida.

    There are several reasons for this, Lyndsey Gilpin writes in the Atlantic: “a murky internal process for reporting and investigating complaints; a longstanding culture of machismo that dates to the agency’s foundation; and a history of retaliation against those who speak out.”

    Almost a year after complaints were first lodged about the maintenance division of Yellowstone, many are still wondering: What’s being done about it? And: Is it enough?

    The punishments being handed out this week appear to be part of a policy overhaul the parks service highlighted at a Senate committee hearing last month.

    Acting NPS Director Michael Reynolds told lawmakers the system has created an ombudsman’s office to deal with employee complaints and also plans to hire a sexual harassment prevention and response coordinator. They’re creating a zero tolerance culture from the top down, he said, including by shortening the timeline in which employees must complete sexual harassment training.

    They’re also carrying out a “comprehensive” employee survey to gauge workers’ experience and areas in which the system can improve. Results are expected by the end of the summer, Federal News Radio reported. (A separate survey of seasonal employees was also launched last month).

    Sexual misconduct is being addressed elsewhere in the government, too. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has launched a listening tour to reassess Obama-era policies about sexual assault on campus, though, as Politico noted, “she offered few clues about what those changes would be, when they might happen or how she would balance the rights of victims against those of the accused.”

    2. A South African child born with HIV has remained virus-free for nearly nine years

    A child wears a cross over a top featuring the image of the late Nkosi Johnson, one of the youngest victims of the HIV epidemic and died in 2001 from the disease, during the launch of the 5-Day countdown ahead of the AIDS2016 International Conference, at the orphanage Nkosi's Haven, which was named after Johnson, in Johannesburg, South Africa July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko - RTSHP0Q

    A child wears a cross over a top featuring the image of the late Nkosi Johnson, one of the youngest victims of the HIV epidemic who died in 2001, in Johannesburg, South Africa. A South African child who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007 has spent roughly nine years in remission without the assistance of drugs. Photo by REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.

    A South African child who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007 has spent roughly nine years in remission without the assistance of drugs, researchers announced last week.

    Doctors first diagnosed the 9-year-old with HIV at one month old, CNN reported. The child went through 40 weeks of antiretroviral treatment, or ART, a combination of medicines that can’t eliminate the virus but can slow its growth, according to the National Institutes of Health. The child has been virus-free since, according to blood tests.

    The South African child is among 143 infants who received the antiretroviral treatment, researchers reported at the 9th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Paris.

    “To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of sustained control of HIV in a child enrolled in a randomized trial of ART interruption following treatment early in infancy,” one of the lead researchers, Avy Violari from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, told the NIH.

    Scientists reported a similar case in 2015 in France, where an infant diagnosed with HIV in 1996 has continued to control the virus without drugs, TIME reported.

    The reasons behind the child’s sustained control of the virus are still unclear, Violari told the BBC.

    “We don’t really know what’s the reason why this child has achieved remission – we believe it’s either genetic or immune system-related,” she said.

    Why it’s important

    More than 1.8 million children were living with HIV in 2015, according to the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). Fewer than half of those children had access to life-saving medical care.

    Researchers hope to use this particular case as a springboard for understanding how the immune system controls HIV as well as how to advance future antiretroviral therapy.

    3. In an apparent mix-up, Mississippi police shoot and kill the wrong man while serving a warrant

    Last week, authorities in Southaven, Mississippi, fatally shot Ismael Lopez after they attempted to serve a warrant at the wrong home address.

    The family’s attorney, Murray Wells, said his firm comissioned an independent investigation into the shooting, announcing Friday that the 41-year-old mechanic was struck by a single bullet to the back of his head. A coroner’s report has yet to be released.

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

    DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion did not dispute the claim that Southaven officers raided the wrong house. Police had intended to arrest Samuel Pearman on an assault charge Sunday, after the Tate County Sheriff’s Office requested assistance in a domestic abuse dispute. Pearman lives across the street from the Lopez residence.

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

    The City of Southaven has not provided further details on the circumstances of the fatal shooting, saying that the city was “diligently gathering details at this time” and wouldn’t provide further comment until the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has completed its investigation.

    Making things more complicated, Champion’s account differs from that of the victim’s wife. Champion said Southaven police officers first knocked on door of the Lopez residence, looking to confirm the correct location.

    Champion said two police officers fired their weapons when the Lopez’s dog charged out of the house, after Ismael Lopez pointed a gun at officers. According to Champion, Lopez failed to comply with orders to lower his weapon.

    The Lopez family’s attorney, however, said police shot through the door, adding that bullet holes could be seen through the door of the home. Wells said two weapons were in the house, but that neither of them were near Lopez’s body.

    Wells told reporters that it was “troubling to learn that not only this man died, but that this man died running away from people who were trespassing on his premises after he was in bed lawfully.”

    Why it’s important

    This Mississippi shooting is a reminder that the conversation over police use of force shouldn’t necessarily be seen through a black-and-white lens.

    Blacks and Hispanics have police encounters at disproportionately higher rates than other groups, but, as Kenya Downs reported for the NewsHour last year, police killings within brown communities can go underreported.

    “In American history, racial conflict has largely played out in black and white. But the history is much more complicated, [leaving] out Native Americans, as well as Asians and Hispanics,” Aaron Fountain, historian of youth activism at Indiana University, told the NewsHour last year. “Americans don’t see any kind of historical context when Latinos are victims of state violence, despite the fact that there is historical context there,” he said.

    Still, though police shootings happen more often in communities of color, experts point to a substantial number of deadly police encounters with white people, too, such as the fatal shooting of an Australian woman in Minnesota last month.

    4. Family of intersex child settles first major lawsuit over gender surgery

    M.C. Crawford was born with both female and male genitalia. When he was 16 months old, still in the foster care system, the doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina performed genital surgery. He had not yet met his adopted parents. Though doctors said that “either sex of rearing” could be possible, they opted for an operation that would identify M.C. as female.

    As he grew older, though, M.C. identified as a boy.

    The Crawfords say that as a result of the surgery, M.C., now 12, has incurred pain, psychological damage and a mountain of medical bills. Last week, his family settled with the hospital that conducted genital surgery on their son, resolving the first major lawsuit on the controversial use of the procedure on intersex children. In a statement, the hospital “denied all claims of negligence.”

    Why it’s important

    Roughly 1 in every 2,000 babies is intersex, born with mixed sex characteristics. Intersex is a broad category that encompasses various conditions, including M.C.’s rare condition.

    For decades, doctors have performed genital surgery on intersex infants to make their genitalia appear more typically male or female. But a growing number of intersex activists have protested the surgery, saying that they are medically unnecessary and psychologically damaging. The Associated Press reported last week that the American Medical Association is considering a proposal to discourage the procedure altogether.

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

    When a motion to dismiss the Crawfords’ lawsuit was denied by U.S. District Judge David C. Norton in 2013, it was the first time that a federal court had concluded that a medically unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on an intersex child could be a violation of the Constitution. While the family recently settled out of court — $440,000 to be delivered over 16 years — intersex activists see the case as a promising step.

    “It’s the only lawsuit we’re aware of that’s become public at all,” Bo Laurent, founder of the Intersex Society of North America, told BuzzFeed News. “More and more, surgeons are going to realize that they’re at risk of these suits. Nobody can say this was uncontroversial standard practice. It is controversial.”

    Last week, Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group, issued a report alongside intersex advocacy group interACT calling for Congress to ban medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. The report concluded that the results of genital surgery are “often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and there are generally no urgent health considerations at stake.”

    5. The Vatican shuts off its fountains as Italy deals with a historic drought

    A woman walks next to a fountain in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi - RTX3CSAS

    A woman walks next to a dry fountain in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The Vatican turned off all fountains last week as Italy deals with a historic drought. Photo by REUTERS/Max Rossi.

    Aside from the Pope and the Sistine Chapel and the early Raphael frescoes, visitors to the Vatican come for its hundred ancient fountains — especially those in St. Peter’s square, some of which are a half millennia old.

    Last week, the Vatican turned them all off — the first time officials there recall doing so, CNN reported.

    “The drought that is affecting the city of Rome and the surrounding areas of the capital has led the Holy See to take measures to save water,” the Vatican wrote in a statement.

    (For its part, the Vatican also reminded visitors to be responsible tourists).

    Why it’s important

    Italian olive oil producer Francesco Suatoni checks an olive tree in his plantation in Amelia, central Italy June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile - RTX3BHWI

    Italian olive oil producer Francesco Suatoni checks an olive tree in his plantation in Amelia, central Italy June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile – RTX3BHWI

    Dry fountains may be trivial to some, but outside of the Vatican, throughout the rest of Rome, tourists and locals rely on them as a water source, drinking from open-air spigots along the city’s narrow streets and some of its most popular tourist attractions.

    Officials turned some of those off last week, too, as the capital and the region that surrounds it reels from two consecutive years of historically low rainfall, Reuters says.

    Turning off fountains is one way city leaders, and those in the Vatican alongside it, have tried to fight the drought. Another may be rationing water in the city, which is home to 3 million residents.

    Without water, regrettably, there’s no wine — nor much of the rich agriculture that Italy produces for its own country and the rest of the world.

    CNN noted that two-thirds of the country’s farmland has been affected by the lack of rain and blazing heat, according to Coldiretti, an Italian farmers’ lobby. They expect to lose $2.3 billion because of it.

    Like in California, the drought and heat are sparking wildfires to the north of Italy, too. More than 10,000 people were evacuated from the French Riviera last week.

    “We’re winning the fight” against fires along the Mediterranean coast, one firefighter told The Guardian. But the conditions make more fires possible at any moment, he said.

    READ MORE: 5 important stories that are not about the health care vote

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    FILE PHOTO - A combination of two photos shows U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg

    A combination of two photos shows U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin as they arrive for the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/File Photo/Reuters

    President Donald Trump signed a bill Wednesday morning that will impose sanctions on Russia, a response to its interference in the 2016 election. But the president also released a signing statement that called the legislation “seriously flawed.”

    Trump said the bill, which also enacts sanctions on Iran and North Korea, limits his ability to negotiate and “makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people.”

    MORE: Trump signs Russia sanctions bill

    He added that he signed it “for the sake of national unity” and that he hopes relations between the U.S. and Russia will improve.

    Read Trump’s full statement below.

    Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Signing the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”

    Today, I signed into law the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which enacts new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. I favor tough measures to punish and deter bad behavior by the rogue regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang. I also support making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.

    That is why, since taking office, I have enacted tough new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and shored up existing sanctions on Russia.

    Since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on Executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies.

    My Administration has attempted to work with Congress to make this bill better. We have made progress and improved the language to give the Treasury Department greater flexibility in granting routine licenses to American businesses, people, and companies. The improved language also reflects feedback from our European allies – who have been steadfast partners on Russia sanctions – regarding the energy sanctions provided for in the legislation. The new language also ensures our agencies can delay sanctions on the intelligence and defense sectors, because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies.

    Still, the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together. The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.

    Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.

    Further, the bill sends a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior. America will continue to work closely with our friends and allies to check those countries’ malignant activities.

    I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

    The post Read Trump’s full statement on why the Russia sanctions bill is ‘seriously flawed’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Attorney General Jeff Sessions will talk about the opioid crisis with police and family members of those killed by the epidemic during a speech Wednesday at the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio.

    Sessions is scheduled to begin speaking around 11:45 a.m. ET. Watch live in the player above.

    In Ohio, opioid overdoses kill eight people every day, according to WOSU. Nationwide, the epidemic killed 59,000 people last year, according to a New York Times analysis.

    Earlier this week, a commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency over the crisis.

    “By declaring a state of emergency, the president would put the full weight of his office behind this emergency,” Christie said Monday.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post WATCH: Sessions discusses opioids with Columbus police appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FILE PHOTO: Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo - RTX3D81N

    Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas has been nominated by President Donald Trump for a position at the State Department. File photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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

    1. Unpopular At Home, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback Nominated For State Dept. Post — 7/27. The Republican Governor also served in the U.S. Senate for 14 years. — KCUR
    2. Kootenai County GOP condemns sanctions, praises Russia for resisting ‘progressive globalist agenda’ — 7/26. An Idaho county Republican Party bucks their Congressional delegation, arguing that Russian sanctions are a step closer to war. — The Spokesman-Review
    3. N.E. fentanyl deaths ‘like no other epidemic’ — 7/27. New England’s DEA special agent explains how fentanyl made its way to the Northeast. — Boston Globe
    4. Charlie Dent’s War — 7/28. The leader of the moderate Tuesday Group navigates his relationships with the president and the Freedom Caucus. — Politico
    5. The Rise and Fall of the “Freest Little City in Texas” — 7/31. Facing high taxes and big government if it became an incorporated town of San Antonio, a rural Texas town chose a different path. — Texas Observer

    READ MORE: 5 overlooked politics stories that are worth your time (July 19)

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

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    old Hand women on bed patient

    Poor women are four times more likely to be jobless by the end of treatment than their better-off peers, according to a study published Monday in Health Affairs. Photo by srisakorn/via Adobe

    Older people are dying on the job at a higher rate than workers overall, even as the rate of workplace fatalities decreases, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal statistics.

    It’s a trend that’s particularly alarming as baby boomers reject the traditional retirement age of 65 and keep working. The U.S. government estimates that by 2024, older workers will account for 25 percent of the labor market.

    Getting old — and the physical changes associated with it — “could potentially make a workplace injury into a much more serious injury or a potentially fatal injury,” said Ken Scott, an epidemiologist with the Denver Public Health Department.

    Gerontologists say those changes include gradually worsening vision and hearing impairment, reduced response time, balance issues and chronic medical or muscle or bone problems such as arthritis.

    In 2015, about 35 percent of the fatal workplace accidents involved a worker 55 and older — or 1,681 of the 4,836 fatalities reported nationally.

    William White, 56, was one of them. White fell 25 feet while working at Testa Produce Inc. on Chicago’s South Side. He later died of his injuries.

    “I thought it wouldn’t happen to him,” his son, William White Jr., said in an interview. “Accidents happen. He just made the wrong move.”

    READ NEXT: I was successful and recognized. Now, at 64, I can’t get an interview.

    The AP analysis showed that the workplace fatality rate for all workers — and for those 55 and older — decreased by 22 percent between 2006 and 2015. But the rate of fatal accidents among older workers during that time period was 50 percent to 65 percent higher than for all workers, depending on the year.

    The number of deaths among all workers dropped from 5,480 in 2005 to 4,836 in 2015. By contrast, on-the-job fatalities among older workers increased slightly, from 1,562 to 1,681, the analysis shows.

    During that time period, the number of older people in the workplace increased by 37 percent. That compares with a 6 percent rise in the population of workers overall.

    The workplace fatality rate for all workers — and for those 55 and older — decreased by 22 percent between 2006 and 2015. But the rate of fatal accidents among older workers during that time period was 50 percent to 65 percent higher than for all workers.

    Ruth Finkelstein, co-director of Columbia University’s Aging Center, cautions against stereotyping. She said older people have a range of physical and mental abilities and that it’s dangerous to lump all people in an age group together because it could lead to discrimination.

    She said she’s not sure that older workers need much more protection than younger workers, but agreed there is a need for all workers to have more protection. “We are not paying enough attention to occupational safety in this country,” she said.

    The AP analysis is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census for Fatal Occupational Injuries and from one-year estimates from the American Community Survey, which looks at the working population. It excludes cases where the cause of death was from a “natural cause,” including a heart attack or stroke.

    AP also examined the number and types of accidents in which older workers died between 2011, when the bureau changed the way it categorized accidents, to 2015:

    — Fall-related fatalities rose 20 percent.

    — Contact with objects and equipment increased 17 percent.

    — Transportation accidents increased 15 percent.

    — Fires and explosions decreased by 8 percent.

    “We expect that there will be more older workers increasing each year and they will represent a greater share (of the fatalities) over the last couple of decades,” said Scott, the Denver epidemiologist. “This issue of elevated risk is something we should be paying close attention to.”

    An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found in 2013 that 44 percent of older Americans said their job required physical effort most or almost all of the time, and 36 percent said it was more difficult to complete the physical requirements of their jobs than it was when they were younger.

    William White Jr. said his father had been working in the same Chicago-based warehouse for over a decade and was a manager when he fell to his death on Sept. 24, 2015.

    “My dad was the best at what he did. He’s the one who taught me everything I know,” the 26-year-old Chicago resident said. “He went up to get an item for the delivery driver and the next thing you know he made a wrong move and fell. The job is fast-pace and everybody is rushing.”

    Thomas Stiede, principal officer for Teamsters Local 703, said White knew the safety procedures and he can’t understand why White didn’t wear a safety harness. “He was a very conscientious employee,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

    Testa Inc. was fined $12,600 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to provide safety training. The company declined to comment for this story.

    The same year White died, the fatal accident rate in Illinois for older workers was 4.5 per 100,000 workers, 60 percent higher than the comparable rate for all workers.

    In most states, the fatal accident rates for older workers were consistently higher than comparable rates for all workers.

    Nevada, New Jersey and Washington had the greatest percent increase in fatal accident rates for older workers between 2006 and 2015.

    The three states with the biggest percent decrease were Hawaii, Oregon and Vermont.

    Eight states saw their overall workplace fatality rate drop, even as the rate for older workers increased: Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah and Washington.

    In two states — North Dakota and Wisconsin — the trend was reversed; older worker accident rates decreased while the accident rate overall increased.

    In metropolitan areas, Las Vegas ran counter to the national trend.

    In 2006, the fatal accident rate among older workers in the Las Vegas metropolitan area was lower than the rate among all workers. But by 2015, the rate of deaths among older workers more than doubled even as the rate among all workers declined.

    Transportation accidents account for a large portion of fatal workplace incidents among both older workers and workers in general.

    In one such incident, Ruan Qiang Hua, 58, died last Nov. 21 from injuries suffered in a forklift accident at Good View Roofing and Building Supply warehouse, according to the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After a bag of mortar fell from the pallet, Qiang backed up and rolled off a ramp. The forklift tipped over and Qian was crushed when he jumped off.

    The agency fined the San Francisco-based company $62,320, saying it had failed to ensure that forklift operators were competent and wore seat belts.

    The company is appealing the penalties, according to OSHA.

    Records show that Hua was not properly trained or certified as a forklift operator. Video of the incident showed he was not wearing his seatbelt. Other video from the worksite showed that other forklift operators also had not used their seat belts and that the employer failed to install a curb along the sides of the ramp to prevent the lifts from running off the ramp. The company declined to comment.

    In California, the 2015 rate of fatal accidents was 3.4 per 100,000 workers for older workers, 60 percent higher than the rate for all workers.

    The AP analysis showed that older workers were involved in about 1 in 4 fatal workplace accidents related to fires and explosions from 2011 to 2015.

    In April 2014, Earle Robinson, 60, and other employees were doing maintenance work at Bryan Texas Utilities Power Plant, about 100 miles north of Houston, when there was a loud explosion. Workers called 911 and pleaded for help.

    “He’s in bad shape. He’s got a lot of facial burns,” according to a transcript of the 911 calls. “He’s got some pretty bad burns.”

    Robinson was taken to a hospital in Houston and died days later. The company declined to comment for this story.

    The year Robinson died, the fatality rate among older workers in Texas was 6.1 per 100,000 workers — 43 percent higher than the accident rate for all workers.

    The National Center for Productive Aging and Work is pushing for changes in the workplace to make it safer for older workers. The year-old center is part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

    “We advocate to make workplaces as age-friendly as possible,” said co-director James Grosch. For example, increased lighting helps older workers whose eyesight has weakened with age.

    He said the center is emphasizing productive aging, looking at “how people can be more productive, how their wisdom can be leveraged in a workplace.”

    Maria Ines Zamudio is studying aging and workforce issues as part of a 10-month fellowship at The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which joins NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The fellowship is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

    The post Older people dying on job at higher rate than all workers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Are we a nation divided? Filmmaker Jennifer Crandall doesn’t think so. For her new project, “Whitman in Alabama,” Crandall spent two years crisscrossing the state and asking Alabamians to recite Walt Whitman’s iconic poem “Song of Myself.” The goal: to learn more about the people who lived there — and also to find the threads that tie them, and all of us, together.

    The result is a deeply affirmative, wise, strange and sometimes funny set of 52 mini-documentaries or episodes, each dedicated to a different verse. In these videos, Whitman is recited in the most unlikely places: in a drug court, on a baseball field, at a skate park, on a farm, in a plane.

    Crandall said she had the idea of capturing Southern voices reading a poem by a “dead Yankee” to try to “actualize that we are all writing this poem together.”

    Perhaps the best-remembered line from “Song of Myself” is “I am large, I contain multitudes,” and Crandall hits this point home in the diversity of her subjects. A young girl from a Birmingham hip hop dance crew reads a verse on womanhood. An older man and his wife off Route 43 read about faith from their front porch. A judge in Scottsboro does a sort of call-and-response with his defendant on identifying as the poor or convicted. And a mother on a family farm, surrounded by her children and animals, recites lines on living beside beasts.

    “The South is part of who we are, and we need to turn our gaze toward the South or else we’ll lose part of who we are,” Crandall said. “It’s a way more complex place than anyone outside the South gives it credit for.”

    Crandall also hopes the readings will help illuminate the broader American identity, by using a text that is about both the individual and the universal. “Whitman allows us to seem large, allows for differences between us,” she said. “It’s an avenue to understand our own identity.”

    Below, watch several of the “Whitman in Alabama” episodes; see more at WhitmanAlabama.com.

    “Song of Myself” Verse 1 by Virginia Mae Schmitt

    “Song of Myself” Verse 43: On The Road

    “Song of Myself” Verse 37: John Graham & Chris Freeman

    Born in Ethiopia and raised in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Haiti, part Chinese and part white, Jennifer is asked more often than not, “what are you?” Not finding the answer to that question simple, or easy, Jennifer became a journalist and filmmaker so she could explore themes of identity and connection. She worked at The Washington Post where she created the Emmy nominated video series onBeing. With “Whitman, Alabama,” Jennifer returns to that question, “what are you?” while hoping to raise the volume on voices from the American South. Her previous work has received a Knight-Batten Special Distinction Award for Innovation, an Online News Association Award for Innovation, awards from the White House News Photographers Association and recognition from the American Film Institute.

    The post What these Southerners reciting Walt Whitman verses can teach us about America appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is expected to address new immigration legislation unveiled by President Donald Trump and two Republican senators at a Wednesday news briefing.

    Sanders is expected to speak around 2:30 p.m. ET. Watch live in the player above.

    The legislation would place new limits on legal immigration. It would seek an immigration system based on merit and skills instead of family connections.

    Trump said at an Ohio rally last month that he was working with Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to “create a new immigration system for America.”

    WATCH: Trump, GOP senators announce new immigration plan

    He rolled out that system with the senators Wednesday at the White House.

    White House officials say the bill will aim to create a skills-based immigration system to make the U.S. more competitive, raise wages and create jobs.

    Perdue and Cotton introduced a bill in February that would change the 1965 law to reduce the number of legal immigrants.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post WATCH: White House addresses immigration legislation in news briefing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    The Department of Education plans to overhaul its system for federal student loan servicing for the third time in the last year, officials announced Tuesday.

    It will scrap a plan Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled in May to award servicing of all federal student loans to a single company. Instead, the department will award separate contracts for database housing, system processing and customer service functions to one or more companies possibly handling direct interactions with borrowers. The department plans to deliver, meanwhile, on creating a single web portal for borrowers to make payments on student loans regardless of their borrowers — a change promised by the Obama administration last year and long sought by student advocates.

    “Doing what’s best for students will always be our No. 1 priority,” DeVos said. “By starting afresh and pursuing a truly modern loan-servicing environment, we have a chance to turn what was a good plan into a great one.”

    Current loan-servicing contracts are set to expire in 2019, but a department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said officials fully expect to have the procurement completed and contracts awarded before then. That’s possible, she said, because of work already put into the process.

    It’s not clear how many of the consumer protections included in two separate Obama administration memos last year — such as requirements for specialized outreach to high-risk borrowers — would be incorporated into the new procurement process.

    “By starting afresh and pursuing a truly modern loan-servicing environment, we have a chance to turn what was a good plan into a great one.” — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

    The plans to have the new contracts awarded before current contracts expire met with immediate skepticism from some observers.

    “We don’t know the details of the new plan, or whether it will retain the strong borrower protections included in the first version, but restarting the process midway will absolutely mean delaying any future improvements for borrowers who deserve a better experience now,” said Clare McCann, the deputy director for federal higher education policy with New America’s education policy program and a former Obama administration official.

    The Office of Federal Student Aid contracts with multiple private companies, nonprofit servicers and state-based organizations to manage federal student loans. The four major servicers are Navient, Great Lakes Educational Loan Services Inc., Nelnet and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

    DeVos has taken heat since May from members of Congress and representatives from the loan-servicing sector over the plan to pick a single servicer that would hire subcontractors to collect loan payments. Department officials at the time argued that the plan would make oversight of servicers by the government more efficient.

    But the proposal found critics among both Republicans like Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who argued that the system would remove choice and competition, and Democrats like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who warned against creating a federal contractor “too big to fail.”

    Blunt and Warren were part of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation ahead of the department’s announcement Tuesday to block the single-servicer plan. Their bill would instead require the participation of multiple loan servicers.

    Wayne Johnson, the chief operating officer at the Office of Federal Student Aid since July, said the department’s new procurement plan would allow for the introduction of the most up-to-date technology and practices from the private sector into the loan-servicing system.

    Blunt and Warren were part of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation ahead of the department’s announcement Tuesday to block the single-servicer plan.

    “When FSA customers transition to the new processing and servicing environment in 2019, they will find a customer-support system that is as capable as any in the private sector,” he said in a statement. “The result will be a significantly better experience for students — our customers — and meaningful benefits for the American taxpayer.”

    Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and chairwoman of the House education and workforce committee, has been a frequent critic of the Office of Federal Student Aid. A spokesman for Foxx said the department made the right decision to cancel the single-servicer proposal.

    “Mr. Johnson is well aware of Chairwoman Foxx’s concerns with the FSA’s mismanagement, and moving to a single servicer does not resolve these concerns or promote competition in the marketplace for borrowers and taxpayers when it comes to repaying student loans,” the spokesman said. “Chairwoman Foxx looks forward to working with Johnson, Secretary DeVos and her colleagues in Congress to find a legislative solution that that ensures high-quality service to borrowers.”

    A task force from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators about a year ago examined challenges for borrowers in the student loan servicing system.

    “One of the biggest challenges we identified is the fact that there were multiple servicers with multiple systems,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA.

    NASFAA was not committed to a loan-servicing system involving either one or multiple servicers. Draeger said the group’s highest priority is ensuring borrowers have the same experience paying student loans regardless of their servicer.

    Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education. Read the original story here.

    The post DeVos abandons plan to award federal student loan servicing to a single company appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    This image shows early embryos two days after co-injection with a gene editing technology called CRISPR. A new study shows by editing at the time of fertilization, each new cell in the developing embryos was uniformly free of a heart disease-causing mutation. Photo by Oregon Health & Science University

    This image shows early embryos two days after co-injection with a gene editing technology called CRISPR. A new study shows by editing at the time of fertilization, each new cell in the developing embryos was uniformly free of a heart disease-causing mutation. Photo by Oregon Health & Science University

    So long space race. Hello CRISPR race.

    As rumored last week and published formally Wednesday, geneticists in Oregon have become the first to genetically edit human embryos in the U.S. with the ever-popular CRISPR/Cas9 technique. Their work corrected a lethal heritable mutation in an embryo, a promising advance for parents who want conceive without passing a disease to their child. Similar research was conducted in China two years ago.

    The Oregon research stands out, because unlike the Chinese projects, the team bypassed a downplayed flaw with CRISPR. This glitch can introduce unwanted changes to DNA, known as off-target mutations. Left unchecked, these off-target mutations could harm a resulting babe in unknown ways.

    But the team did not solve the problem of off-target mutations for good, and their methods must overcome serious hurdles before CRISPR is ready for use in humans.

    Pizza is good

    Say you want to fix a mutation in your sperm or eggs’ DNA, so it doesn’t get passed on to your children. And for the sake of our example, let’s say your genetic code is made of regular words, rather than As, Ts, Gs and Cs. Your mutation reads as “pizza isn’t good” — a travesty if ever there was one.

    Congress and the National Institutes of Health have banned the use of federal funds for gene editing research in human embryos. But the current study circumvented the latter restrictions by using self-raised funds and grants from private foundations.

    To edit a mutation using CRISPR, you’ll need three things: an enzyme called Cas9, a set of compounds called guide RNAs and a DNA template.

    The Cas9 enzyme does the heavy lifting. It cuts out the mutation — “isn’t — from your DNA. Cas9 is escorted to the mutation by the guide RNAs. They recognize the sections adjacent to the mutation — “pizza” and “good” — and orient the Cas9, so it can clip out the mutation.

    But you can’t just leave a gaping hole in your genome. Your cells have machinery to repair such breaks in your DNA, but they need a template to copy from. Scientists can engineer small pieces of synthetic DNA that feed into these repair systems, like feeding paper into a printer. And if those artificial DNA strands say “pizza is good” then that’s what gets copied into your genome.

    Correcting Humans

    That’s what the Oregon team aimed to do with a mutation in the gene called MYBPC3.

    “This gene mutation is one of the most common causes of hereditary cardiomyopathy, which is a heart condition that can lead to sudden cardiac death in young people,” Paula Amato, a reproductive endocrinologist at Oregon Health & Science University who co-led the landmark study published Wednesday in Nature, said at a press briefing. “It’s prevalent in certain ethnic populations.”

    Your MYBPC3 gene builds thick and thin “wires” that allow your heart muscles to contract. Normally, humans inherit two healthy copies of this gene from their parents. One copy comes from mom (“pizza is good”), the other from dad (“pizza is good”). But MYBPC3 heart conditions, which affect 1 in 500 people, are autosomal dominant — meaning just one abnormal copy from a parent (dad’s “pizza isn’t good” + mom’s “pizza is good”) is sufficient to cause the disease.

    Amato and her colleagues recruited a man who had this disease, due to having one abnormal copy, and used his sperm to fertilize eggs from 12 healthy women donors. Right after combining sperm and egg in petri dishes, the CRISPR components — Cas9, guide RNAs and synthetic DNA template — were injected into the mix.

    CRISPR ultimately corrected the mutation in 72 percent of the resulting embryos. “All the cells in the [corrected] embryos contain two normal copies of the gene,” Amato said. (They all had two copies of “pizza is good”).

    3D-printed model of CAS9, a DNA-cutting enzyme that features in the CRISPR gene editing system. Photo by NIH Image Gallery

    3D-printed model of CAS9, a DNA-cutting enzyme that features in the CRISPR gene editing system. Photo by NIH Image Gallery

    This huge achievement was bolstered by their experiments yielding zero off-target mutations — accidental changes to the genomes outside of the MYBPC3 gene. Off-target mutations are inherent to CRISPR because the guide RNAs can sometimes lead the Cas9 enzyme to the wrong location.

    “We found that typically Cas9 [enzymes] cleave the human genome at about 90 sites,” said Jin-Soo Kim, a genomicist at the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea, who co-led the Nature study. But there are multiple types of Cas9. Kim said their project got lucky by choosing a variety of Cas9 and a set of guide RNAs that were highly specific to the MYBPC3 mutant gene.

    “Using whole genome sequencing [on the embryos], we did not observe any off-target effects,” Amato said.

    Not ready for designer babies

    Case closed? Can this technique be used to save the world from this debilitating disease and many others? Not so fast.

    “I think we have room to improve,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a stem cell biologist at Oregon Health & Science University who led the research. He wants to achieve 100 percent efficiency in correcting the mutation among embryos, rather than the 72 percent they saw.

    Moreover, their synthetic DNA templates did not work, which surprised the team. As the embryos went about filling the gaps made by CRISPR, their repair machinery pulled in the healthy copy of the MYBPC3 gene provided by the mom’s eggs, rather than the synthetic strands.

    The Oregon team’s technique can only be harnessed in situations where at least one parent can offer a healthy set of genes. Photo by MIKI Yoshihito/via Flickr

    The Oregon team’s technique can only be harnessed in situations where at least one parent can offer a healthy set of genes. Photo by MIKI Yoshihito/via Flickr

    That’s both exciting and problematic. It suggests the Oregon team’s technique can only be harnessed in situations where at least one parent can offer a healthy set of genes, such as cystic fibrosis or the breast cancer mutation BRCA.

    But there are many inherited diseases — like sickle-cell anemia — in which both parents pass on a mutant copy of a gene to an embryo. Doctors and scientists would absolutely need their synthetic DNA templates to work in these cases.

    These kinks would need to hammered out before CRISPR can be approved for medical use, said Jessica Berg, a law and bioethics professor at the Case Western Reserve University Schools of Law and Medicine in Ohio. As a result, CRISPR techniques, including the one from the Oregon study, are years from being used as actual treatments in patients.

    “So you’re not going to be able to say, “Listen I got the technique to work sometimes, and sometimes I got disaster,” Berg said. “That might work for a petri dish. That’s not going to work in babies.”

    Some states prohibit all forms of embryonic research, but there is wiggle room on the national stage. Congress and the National Institutes of Health have banned the use of federal funds for gene editing research in human embryos. But the current study circumvented the latter restrictions by using self-raised funds and grants from private foundations.

    That loophole raises questions of whether or not a private company, a foundation or rich individual in the U.S. could advance human tests without federal oversight. The answer is yes and no.

    If you’re a rich individual or privately funded, there is technically nothing to stop you from advancing research with CRISPR in humans.

    Berg said the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t currently regulate CRISPR, but the agency does have strict criteria ensuring that a medical technique does no harm before it is used in pregnant women, human fetuses and neonates. The National Academies of Science agreed on a set of guidelines that they finalized earlier this year. Any treatment — developed privately, publicly or otherwise — would need to adhere to the FDA’s criteria for it to be sold in the U.S., which is the largest drug market on the planet.

    But if you’re a rich individual or privately funded, there is technically nothing to stop you from advancing research with CRISPR in humans. Mitalipov, for instance, said his lab would be open to moving the technology overseas where regulations on basic experiments on genetic editing in embryos are more relaxed.

    “We would be supportive of moving this technology in different countries, [because] these mutations are pretty common in the human population,” Mitalipov said. He cited the UK as one possible destination, given the island nation has approved the use of genetic modification on embryos for mitochondrial diseases. Moreover, this mitochondrial replacement therapy is technically banned in the U.S., but that didn’t stop a pair of U.S. based parents from traveling overseas to receive the treatment.

    Though there’s no international body in place to regulate such globetrotting. But Berg said most countries, from a regulatory standpoint, aren’t being cavalier about manipulating genetics when it comes to pregnancy. “Everyone is being cautions about making sure we have all the cards in place,” she said.

    Berg’s main concerns, and those of the researchers in Oregon, lie with the safety of mothers and children.

    She is also less worried about the idea of designer babies or eugenics at this point. Complex traits — like intelligence, athletic performance, height, eye color and skin color — are dictated by dozens if not hundreds of genes. Right now, scientists can barely edit one gene at a time, even with a technology as sophisticated as CRISPR.

    Berg’s main concerns, and those of the researchers in Oregon, lie with the safety of mothers and children.

    But the payoff could be huge. Amato raised a case of an older woman with an MYBPC3 mutation who visited her clinic. The patient wanted a child, but was worried about passing on the disease, so Amato attempted preimplantation genetic diagnosis. That’s where doctors use in vitro fertilization (mix eggs and sperm in petri dishes), screen the embryos for mutations, then only implant ones without genetic defects inside the mother.

    Older women tend to produce eggs with more genetic abnormalities, on top of whatever traits they’re born with. As a result, Amato’s patient had zero candidates for implantation after multiple expensive rounds of IVF. The embryos either carried MYBPC3 defect or other deleterious mutations. Relying on the luck of the draw, even with preimplantation genetic diagnosis, wasn’t enough.

    “You’re talking about very small numbers, and multiple cycles to get normal embryos,” Amato said. By removing MYBPC3 mutations from the equation, the CRISPR technique developed by Amato and company would increase the odds of success.

    “We could have rescued some of those embryos,” she said.

    The post U.S. scientists are fixing genetic defects in human embryos. Should you be nervous? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Christopher Wray is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    Christopher Wray is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sworn in Christopher Wray as the new FBI director.

    Wray calls the appointment the “honor of a lifetime” and says he is humbled and excited to serve.

    Wray was picked by President Donald Trump to succeed James Comey, who was fired in May amid an FBI investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    Wray was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate earlier this week.

    In a statement, Sessions says Wray “has the experience and the strength of character that the American people want in an FBI director.”

    Wray was a high-ranking Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration and has spent the last decade in private practice.

    The post Christopher Wray sworn in as FBI director, succeeding James Comey appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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