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

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    Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaks with reporters ahead of a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RTS1A4ZA

    Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was one of the three Republican senators to vote against the “skinny” repeal of Obamacare last week. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.


    Andy Slavitt, the acting head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at the end of the Obama administration, has been a tireless opponent of Republican efforts to repeal his former boss’ signature health care law. Last week, after three Republican senators voted against approving the so-called “skinny” repeal bill, Slavitt tweeted that he would be taking a weeklong break from the social media platform.

    One commenter on this news said, “I will believe this when I see it.” That was his wife, Lana.

    Medical, senior and health care research groups overwhelmingly opposed the various bills that the Senate hatched — in secret and with virtually no public debate. They, too, are looking for some relaxation in August. But Congress will be back in session in September, so these groups will be recharging their batteries.

    They also will be nervously checking President Donald Trump’s tweets, which so far have indicated he will do whatever he can to help Obamacare fail and thus force Congress to act. And don’t forget that the Senate will still be in session for two more weeks and that Trump has launched a shame-and-threaten offensive to get Republican senators to take up health care before they go home. To date, there seems little chance Republicans will take up health care again any time soon.

    Republicans are far from finished when it comes to trying to honor their seven-year-old pledge to do away with the Affordable Care Act.

    However, Republicans are far from finished when it comes to trying to honor their seven-year-old pledge to do away with the Affordable Care Act. And don’t forget that the Affordable Care Act provides major financial benefits to Medicare, as well as reducing the share of drug prices that Part D plan holders must pay. Even if direct repeal is off the table for now, you can expect some Republicans to seek to damage the law by using some of the other powerful tools at their disposal.

    Further, the federal budget proposed by the Trump White House includes direct cuts to senior safety-net programs. There also will be continued GOP efforts to give the states significant control over how Medicare and Medicaid funds are spent. Current federal guarantees of payment for covered health expenses would be replaced with block grant programs giving states a say over how much such expenses would be covered and, in time, even whether some expenses would be covered.

    Today, with Capitol Hill’s largely silent and long-postponed summer vacations underway, there is little appetite for re-engaging in nasty policy fights. But when the leaders and their troops are rested, there is little doubt that we will be back at it again. For the time being at least, enjoy your beach reading and favorite libations! And now, because reader questions never take a vacation, here are this week’s answers.


    Anonymous – N.Y.: My wife is 72, but because I’m still working, she’s on my corporate health plan. Of course, our deductible is sky high at $4,000 a year. We put the maximum into our health savings account, $6,500, and the company puts in $2,000. She’s healthy, but has gone into the emergency room twice this year for a stomach issue.

    The first bill included $200 for the ER copay, $109 for a CAT scan and $758 for the doctor’s fee. What really hurts is that doctor’s fee! The doctor who saw her was out of network (and of course, we have no visibility into this or choice about it). I’ve not yet received the bill for the second visit, but we’re afraid this might be something that happens more often going forward.

    READ MORE: Why won’t Social Security give me the retroactive child benefits I’m entitled to?

    If it’s going to cost about $1,000 for an ER visit, does it make sense for her to get Medicare Part B? It seems like two visits to the ER would pay for the yearly premium and then some. What do you think?

    Phil Moeller: You need to do the math, but I agree that Medicare deserves a close look as a preferred alternative to a high-deductible employer plan. I’m assuming here that your family’s overall medical bills would fall short of hitting your deductible. Otherwise, you might still be better off on the corporate plan, because at least your out-of-pocket maximum would protect you.


    Kit-Marie – California:  I am 66 and plan to wait until 70 to begin my own Social Security retirement benefits. I would like to file a restricted application and receive only divorced spousal benefits right now. I was married to my ex for more than 10 years, and he has remarried. I have not. I am concerned and anxious that somehow my own retirement benefits will get triggered when I file for a spousal benefit.

    The Social Security person I spoke with on the phone said all the benefit application forms are the same. He said that I should write out what I want to do in the information area of the application’s “Remarks” box and that would get channeled to the proper place. There was no mention of a restricted application. Do they in fact have an actual form labeled restricted application?

    Phil Moeller: As far as I know, there is no specific form for a restricted application. And I have heard from other readers that their Social Security office and representative were not informed about filing a restricted application. So you are right to be cautious. If it helps, here is Social Security’s own explanation of the right of someone your age to file a restricted application.

    The representative is correct that it’s important to provide a precise description of your restricted filing in the remarks section of the application. I don’t know if there’s any magic to the wording. I would say something like: “I wish to file a restricted application for my ex-spousal benefit and defer filing for my own retirement benefit.”

    I think the best way to proceed is to make an appointment at a local Social Security office and file for this benefit in person.


    Mary Ann – Florida: My mother is 81. She has supplemental prescription drug insurance. Her premiums are high and keep going up, because they told her she had to pay late-enrollment penalties. How can she have late enrollment penalties at 81? She’s been on Medicare since before she was 65 for disability.

    If the late enrollment has to do with not applying for drug insurance on time, then why is she still being assessed for late enrollment penalties after the first year? Something doesn’t seem right.

    Phil Moeller: Unfortunately, Medicare’s Part D drug plans have their own late-enrollment penalties separate from those involving basic Medicare. Adding injury to insult, these are lifetime penalties that will be charged to her forever.

    If your mom’s income is low enough, she might qualify for Medicare programs that subsidize both Medicare and Part D expenses. The State Health Insurance Assistance Program provides free Medicare counseling. Perhaps someone there can help you sort through these programs to see if your mom qualifies.


    James: I am now 64. When Social Security’s 2018 cost of living adjustment (COLA) takes effect, will it increase the amount I will get at age 66 if I retire then? Also, my wife is 53 and may be going on disability for health reasons. Can I claim a spousal benefit at 66 and still let my Social Security keep growing?

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

    Phil Moeller: Annual Social Security COLAs raise the benefit levels — at least in nominal dollars — of both current and future Social Security recipients. The COLA is designed to maintain the real, or inflation-adjusted, value of Social Security benefits. It should have no effect on your decision about when to begin taking benefits.

    If you turned 62 before Jan. 2, 2016, you are grandfathered in under new Social Security laws enacted in late 2015. As such, you may file a restricted application for a spousal benefit when you turn 66 and defer your own retirement filing until as late as age 70, when it will reach its maximum level.


    Lydia – New York: I am 56, disabled and on Social Security disability and Medicare. My boyfriend is 59 and took early retirement. His employer will provide him health insurance until he qualifies for Medicare. Will I lose my Medicare if we marry before he goes on Social Security and Medicare?

    Phil Moeller: Please rest easy! You won’t lose your Medicare, regardless of your marital situation. This is your coverage and is not connected to his. In most cases like your boyfriend’s, his former employer’s plan would only apply to him and would not even be a family plan. But if his plan did allow you to be covered, that would be your choice and not a requirement.

    The post The fight over Obamacare is over — for now. What does that mean for seniors? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Senate Democrats gather on the Senate steps with health care protesters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters

    Senate Democrats gather on the Senate steps with health care protesters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters

    President Donald Trump’s bold threat to push “Obamacare” into collapse may get harder to carry out after a new court ruling.

    The procedural decision late Tuesday by a federal appeals panel in Washington has implications for millions of consumers. The judges said that a group of states can defend the legality of government “cost-sharing” subsidies for copays and deductibles under the Affordable Care Act if the Trump administration decides to stop paying the money.

    Trump has been threatening to do just that for months, and he amped up his warnings after the GOP’s drive to repeal and replace “Obamacare” fell apart in the Senate last week. The subsidies help keep premiums in check, but they are under a legal cloud because of a dispute over the wording of the ACA. Trump has speculated that he could force Democrats to make a deal on health care by stopping the payments.

    The court’s decision is “a check on the ability of the president to sabotage the Affordable Care Act in one very important way,” said Tim Jost, professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia, a supporter of the ACA who has followed the issue closely.

    Because of the ruling, legal experts said, states can now sue if the administration cuts off the subsidies. Also, they said, the president won’t be able to claim he’s merely following the will of a lower court that found Congress had not properly approved the money.

    “We’re not going to wait to find out what Donald Trump wants to do,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is helping steer the states’ involvement. “My team is ready to defend these subsidies in court.”

    [READ MORE: President Trump on tricky legal ground with ‘Obamacare’ threat]

    The Justice Department had no comment. The White House re-issued an earlier statement saying, “the president is working with his staff and his Cabinet to consider the issues raised by the … payments.”

    Trump has made his feelings clear on Twitter. “If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies,” he tweeted early Monday.

    He elaborated in an earlier tweet, “If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies…will end very soon!”

    In a twist, the appeals court panel seemed to take such statements into account in granting 17 states and the District of Columbia the ability to intervene on behalf of consumers.

    The judges’ decision said states’ doubts that the administration could adequately defend their interests in court were fanned by “accumulating public statements by high-level officials…about a potential change in position.”

    “He’s really a terrible client, President Trump is,” University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley said. “The states point to his public statements and say, ‘Are you kidding me? We know the president is poised to throw us under the bus and we know because he said so.'”

    The health law requires insurers to help low-income consumers with their copays and deductibles. Nearly 3 in 5 HealthCare.gov customers qualify for the assistance, which can reduce a deductible of $3,500 to several hundred dollars. The annual cost to the government is about $7 billion.

    The law also specifies that the government shall reimburse insurers for the cost-sharing assistance that they provide.

    Nonetheless, the payments remain under a cloud because of a disagreement over whether they were properly approved in the health law, by providing a congressional “appropriation.”

    House Republicans trying to thwart the ACA sued the Obama administration, arguing that the law lacked specific language appropriating the cost-sharing subsidies.

    A district court judge agreed with House Republicans, and now the case is before the U.S. appeals court in Washington

    If Trump makes good on his threat, experts estimate that premiums for a standard “silver” plan would increase by about 19 percent. And more insurers might decide to leave already shaky markets.

    In Congress, some prominent lawmakers in both parties are saying they hope to provide at least a temporary guarantee for the subsidies before open enrollment season for 2018 starts Nov. 1.

    The post New court ruling complicates Trump’s threat to push ‘Obamacare’ into collapse appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump and White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster board Air Force One as they depart Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., June 16, 2017, before their departure to Miami, Florida. REUTERS/Carlos Barria – RTS17D2P

    The White House says one of President Donald Trump’s top intelligence directors has been fired from his role at the National Security Council.

    Ezra Cohen-Watnick is the latest in a string of shake-ups at the White House and NSC. He became a focal point earlier this year when CIA leaders raised concerns about him with Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

    McMaster moved to replace him, but Cohen-Watnick appealed to Trump’s top advisers, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, who got Trump to intervene to save his job.

    A statement Wednesday says “General McMaster appreciates the good work accomplished in the NSC’s Intelligence directorate under Ezra Cohen’s leadership.”

    It adds that McMaster “determined that, at this time, a different set of experiences is best-suited to carrying that work forward.”

    The post White House fires a top intelligence adviser appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Italy’s Parliament today approved a plan to send a naval task force to Libya to crack down on smugglers who send thousands of migrants on a deadly journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. Italy put stricter rules around rescue ships run by charities in the area.

    Amid this, a ship containing anti-immigrant activists is heading towards Libya on a mission to return migrants.

    From Sicily, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: At Trapani in Western Sicily, the routine rarely varies. Survivors of a disaster off the Libyan coast disembark from a charity ship. The injured and traumatized make landfall first. And then, shielded from the living by a line of hearses, come the dead.

    Save the Children spokesman Rik Goverde:

    RIK GOVERDE, Save the Children: They probably died of drowning, in combination with chemical burns, which is when seawater and fuel, when they react, they get — some bodies were just without skin. It was terrible.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The migrants were lifted from a deflating dinghy by rescuers from the Spanish charity Proactiva.

    WOMAN: I am pregnant. I am dying.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: So far this year, almost 2,400 have drowned in the Mediterranean. Last year, the death toll was 5,000.

    WOMAN: There is 10 dead bodies at the boat. Three jump inside the water. The rest are inside the boat.

    LEOLUCA ORLANDO, Mayor of Palermo, Sicily: It’s a cemetery. It’s a place so full of dead people, is a place that is a shame for the European Union. We cannot say we don’t know what is now happening in front of our eyes.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: At city hall in Sicily’s capital, Palermo, Mayor Leoluca Orlando is exasperated by Europe’s reluctance to share Italy’s burden.

    LEOLUCA ORLANDO: What is sure that, today, some European states, first of all, are responsible for what is happening.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But this new right-wing organization vehemently opposes the mayor’s open-borders agenda. It is militant about what it sees as the threat to Europe’s racial identity from Africa.

    MAN: Every week, every day, every hour, ships packed with illegal immigrants are flooding the European border. An invasion is taking place.

    MAN: This mass migration is changing the face of our continent. We’re losing our safety, our way of life. And we will become a minority in our own country.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: They call themselves the Identity Generation. Trailed by police and opponents in Sicily, they quietly traveled to Cyprus, where a supporter filmed them.

    They believe Europe can stop the influx by emulating Australia’s military strategy of intercepting migrant boats and returning them to the point of departure. They have chartered a ship called the C-Star, and it’s reportedly heading from Cyprus towards the Libyan coast. They say they will return any migrants they rescue.

    Italian Lorenzo Fiato:

    LORENZO FIATO, Italian Identitarian: Since when the NGOs started operating, the deaths in the sea increased. And the illegal immigration became more, more, more a problem. So, breaking the narrative of the NGOs that are literally a taxi service from Libya to Europe is the most important thing to do now.

    PROTESTERS: No borders, no nations! Stop deportations!

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The left-wing campaign group Avaaz signaled its opposition to the extremists by symbolically blocking the Sicilian port of Catania, from where the C-Star had originally been expected to begin its mission to Libyan waters.

    Spokesman Luca Nicotra:

    LUCA NICOTRA: We know they are trying to show their best face.

    We know they are coming from the worst far-right movement all around Europe, some of them with neo-Nazi pasts. We know that, in May, they tried to literally stop one of the boats here in the port.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: That was the Aquarius, jointly operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders.

    Many volunteers insist the presence of rescue ships doesn’t entice migrants to make the desperate journey. They claim the push factors of conflict, intimidation or poverty in their homelands are stronger.

    Dr. Craig Spencer, a public health specialist at Columbia University Hospital in New York, has just spent three months on the vessel.

    DR. CRAIG SPENCER: For me, the question is, is it acceptable to you, is it acceptable to anyone to let someone drown? I hope everyone would answer no, that, no, it’s not acceptable to allow humans, children, even your worst enemy to drown unaccompanied in the middle of the Mediterranean.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But one Sicilian prosecutor is investigating allegations of collusion between the charities and Libyan smugglers.

    Today, a German ship was stopped and searched by the coast guard before leaving the island of Lampedusa. This week, in an attempt to impose more control in the rescue zone, the Italian government has ordered the NGOs to sign a code of conduct.

    Marcella Cray leads the Doctors Without Borders team on the Aquarius.

    One of the accusations that’s sometimes leveled against organizations like yours is that you are in cahoots with the smugglers, that you’re communicating with them, so that you can actually pick these people up at sea. What is the situation?

    MARCELLA CRAY, Doctors Without Borders: Well, what I can say is that in no way, shape, or form have we ever been in contact with any traffickers or anything like. We are patrolling the international waters north of Libya, looking for boats in distress.

    We work with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome, and they’re the ones that direct where we go, which rescues we do, and where we go afterwards to bring the people.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: So there’s never any communication whatsoever?

    MARCELLA CRAY: None whatsoever.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The Aquarius sailed for the rescue zone before the code came into force. Doctors Without Borders has refused to sign. It objects to having an armed police officer on board, and claims lives will be lost by a new rule demanding that ships return to Italy immediately once they have rescued migrants.

    Previously, they could transfer survivors between ships and spend more time in the search-and-rescue zone. Today, the Italian Parliament approved plans to send a small naval task force into Libyan waters.

    The internationally recognized Libyan government asked for help to crack down on traffickers responsible for sending 600,000 migrants to Italy since 2014. The European Union has just pledged to give Italy $120 million to help ease the migration burden.

    But the president of the European Parliament has warned that the E.U. is underestimating the scale of this crisis. Antonio Tajani is predicting that millions of Africans will try to come to Europe in the next five years unless urgent action is taken. He says that the way to discourage them from coming is for there to be a massive program of investment in Africa.

    This center for unaccompanied minors gave a taste of Italy’s problems to the man who wants to replace Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor. Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, now leads the Social Democratic Party as it heads towards September’s German general election.

    And he visited Sicily late last week.

    What do you think about the suggestion that there should be an Australian solution to try to stop the wave of migrants coming across the Mediterranean?

    MARTIN SCHULZ, Chairman, Social Democratic Party of Germany: What we need are systems of legal immigration to make the distinction between attempt to join the territory of the European Union outside the legal frame, and the legal frame, which is giving hope, not a guarantee, but hope. And that’s what’s missing and lacking in Europe.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But do you not think that it’s worth taking away all the vessels because they’re acting as a pull towards Europe?

    MARTIN SCHULZ: I think there’s a lot of activities of the security forces, but at the center of all our activities is, first of all, humanitarian aid.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: At the memorial for those drowned in the Mediterranean, another question for the man campaigning to be the most powerful figure in the European Union.

    Is there anything more that Europe could do to stop the deaths?

    MARTIN SCHULZ: That’s the reason why I’m here. We need a fair share of the responsibilities.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But much of Europe isn’t listening, and isn’t softening either.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in Sicily.

    The post Political clashes over the migrant crisis turn the Mediterranean into a battleground appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Angel Yau performing a gag with Iliana Inocencio, Maya Deshmukh, and Ann Marie Yoo (left to right) behind behind her.

    Angel Yau, a.k.a “Quirky Rice” performs a gag with Iliana Inocencio, Maya Deshmukh, and Ann Marie Yoo (left to right) behind her. Photo by Alex Schaefer

    “I’m looking for my daddy! Where’s my daddy?” the character “Brown Rice” says while sauntering around the stage. She pulls a reluctant white man in the audience front row up from his seat.

    “Join us — for a taste of Asia!” say the four other Asian-American women on stage at Chelsea Theatre in New York. They’re dressed in plaid schoolgirl skirts and Sailor Moon-style bows fitted on white shirts.

    They usher the man to a chair and blindfold him. A slideshow of vaguely Asian and “zen” stock images plays on the projector: intricate lines drawn in the sand, two monks walking in a garden, a fox closing its eyes in a meadow. Then, a mellow cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” begins — but in Japanese.

    This is AzN PoP! — the first all-Asian-American and female comedy group to perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a theater and comedy training ground that claims Amy Poehler as one of its founders and that includes well-known alumni such as Aziz Ansari and Kate McKinnon.

    The five members of AzN PoP! each represent a different Asian country: Japan, India, the Philippines, South Korea and China. Through song and satire, their material skewers the Asian-American experience and takes sharp digs at stereotypes and whitewashing — though disarmingly.

    One song, titled “White Guys,” parodies the stereotype of Asian women preferring to date white men, as the group’s members croon about their respective loves for famous white men such as Guy Fieri and Joseph Stalin. In “That’s Me,” they cheerfully critique the prevalence of the whitewashing of Asian characters in Hollywood, like when white actor Emma Stone came under fire for playing a half-Asian character in “Aloha,” among other recent casting decisions that inspired the viral Twitter hashtag #whitewashedOUT.

    Anna Suzuki had mused about the idea of a Japanese Pop-inspired comedy routine for years. After connecting with the four other women in the show through mutual friends, AzN PoP! was born, taking inspiration from both the Japanese and Korean Pop music industries, called J-Pop and K-Pop, which have become international phenomenons over the last two decades, with their trademark hyper-exuberant song and dance.

    K-Pop in particular has attracted international fans for decades, but the genre gained greater recognition in the West in 2012, when the artist PSY’s music video for the song “Gangnam Style” went viral, breaking the record for most-viewed video ever on YouTube with over 2.9 billion views (until Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” music video seized the top spot on July 10 this year).

    K-Pop’s influence on the group is evident as the comedians bounce around on stage, weaving song and dance with satire, effervescence tinged with acid.

    AzN PoP! performing at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Chelsea. Left to right: Iliana Inocencio, Maya Deshmukh, Ann Marie Yoo , Angel Yau and Anna Suzuki.

    AzN PoP! performing at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Chelsea. Left to right: Iliana Inocencio, Maya Deshmukh, Ann Marie Yoo , Angel Yau and Anna Suzuki.

    “We just watched a lot of the K-Pop and J-Pop videos and that was the thing we saw — nonsensical cuteness,” said Iliana Inocencio, who represents the Philippines and uses the stage name “Baby Rice” in the show. “The first iteration of our show was that, like over-the-top, but to the point where I don’t know if people knew it was satire.”

    While the members say that they’ve seen audiences of all races enjoy the show, they’ve heard from Asian audience members who see their performance as cathartic.

    Biana Consunji, a 32-year-old immigrant from the Philippines, attended the recent show with her partner Evan Engel, who is white.

    “I thought it was hilarious,” Consunji told NewsHour about the “White Guys” song. “A lot of my friends give [my partner] trouble” for being a white man dating an Asian woman. Consunji also found herself connecting with their depictions of the immigrant experience.

    At one point in the show, a member of the group cheerfully pipes, “Let us tell you about our unique and diverse lives! And about our parents who are not white — unlike some of you.”

    With that line, the group bluntly calls out what members of AzN PoP! see as a truth about the New York City comedy community: that it tends to be predominantly white, and that that is reflected in its audiences. The group has had to consider who is in the audience and what they find funny, “and find the balance between pushing it, but also like being accepted by it, too,” said Ann Marie “Competitive Rice” Yoo, who represents South Korea in the show.

    Another part of the 20-minute show digs into more of the nuances of the Asian-American experience — such as inter-ethnic tensions that exist between various Asian countries.

    One recurring gag in the performance is when Maya Deshmukh, who represents India and plays “Brown Rice,” reasserts India’s place on the Asian continent, as another performer doubts the legitimacy of her “Asianness” and thus her place in the comedy pop band. In response, Deshmukh brings out a map of Asia, highlighting the Indian subcontinent’s presence and then naming all of the non-East Asian countries often excluded from conversations about “Asians” and “Asian America.”

    Anna Suzuki, who is the only member to grow up outside the United States, is also the only multiracial member of the group, with a Jewish father and a Japanese mother; she joked that perhaps she was “taking up space for a ‘real Asian.’”

    “Selfishly and as the only biracial person in the group,” Suzuki said, “this is sort of my way to feel more Asian.”

    AzN PoP!’s next performance will be at Upright Citizens Brigade Chelsea Theatre on August 9th. It will also perform at the UCBT in Los Angeles this fall.

    The post This all-girl Asian-American comedy group delivers biting satire with K-Pop cuteness appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what do you do when your job changes, but you don’t agree with the change?

    For one government scientist, it forced him into the role of a reluctant whistle-blower.

    Our William Brangham has our conversation.

    Recently, Joel Clement had been working as a senior policy official in the Department of the Interior. His work included the Arctic and the dangerous climate change posed.

    But, in June, he was reassigned, along with several dozen others, to a completely different position unrelated to his previous work.

    Last week, Clement went public in a The Washington Post op-ed alleging that he was reassigned because of his work on climate change. He said he was now — quote — “a whistle-blower on an administration that chooses silence over science.”

    Joel Clement joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    JOEL CLEMENT, Former Director, Department of Interior Office of Policy Analysis: Thank you, William. Good to be here.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, you were one of several dozen people were reassigned. And you allege that this was because of your work on climate change.

    And I’m curious. Let’s talk a little bit about what that work was that you were doing before you were reassigned. What did you do?

    JOEL CLEMENT: Year, I was — here in Washington, I was the director of the Office of Policy Analysis. I had a team of analysts and economists and scientists.

    And we were looking at a lot of cross-cutting issues, one of which in particular we spent a lot of time on was addressing the risks that climate change poses for the Alaska native communities in the Arctic. They are on these very narrow islands, barrier islands, that are in a very dire situation.

    Because the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the permafrost that locks those islands in place is starting to fall apart. And the sea ice that used to protect them from the oncoming storms and floods during the season of harsh weather has receded during that season.

    So, now these bits of land are not only falling apart under their feet and buildings sliding into the sea, but they’re at the mercy of these storms that come through. And each episode can be quite dramatic.

    And, honestly, we worry very much that one superstorm, and one or more villages could be wiped right off the map.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You argued in your piece that you believed you were reassigned for raising concerns about these communities.

    You wrote — quote — “The Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger.”

    What evidence do you have that that’s really why you got moved?

    JOEL CLEMENT: Well, it’s clear that there’s been an ongoing effort to suppress this climate change stuff, right? We didn’t worry about that as much at Interior, because we work on climate adaptation and resilience issues, right? We’re addressing the impacts that we know are coming, that are baked into the system, no matter what we do, about mitigating greenhouse gases.

    So, I guess, naively, we thought that the focus would be on greenhouse gases and EPA. But, really, in I think it was May, President Trump rescinded an executive order from last December that set up a tribal advisory council and some other boards that would help get this work done.

    That’s when we realized it doesn’t matter whether it’s resilience adaptation or mitigation. They’re coming after anything that has the scent of climate change to it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And what were you doing specifically to raise awareness about this issue that you think put you in the crosshairs?

    JOEL CLEMENT: Well, I spoke very publicly about the issue. I raised it to leadership at the Department of Interior. I raised it with leadership at the White House.

    I spoke on several occasions to the public about it. And just the week before I received the reassignment letter I spoke about it at the United Nations.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Now, a spokesman for the Interior Department says that this move, transferring you from A to B, was completely appropriate. They say it’s — Interior Secretary Zinke said he was going to reorganize the department on day one, and that they argue that you signed up for this job knowing that this was likely going to happen.

    So what is your response to that?

    JOEL CLEMENT: We absolutely know that the Senior Executive Service is a mobile work force. That’s what it was intended for.

    Anyone who becomes an SES, a senior executive, is aware that they could at some point be reassigned, even involuntarily.

    What it doesn’t allow, however, is for the administration to retaliate against employees by reassigning them or try and get them to — to coerce them into quitting their jobs. And it was very clear to me, based on the job they put me in, that that was their intent.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But they never said to you, we didn’t like that you were talking about this or raising this issue? They simply said, we think you’re better positioned to do this other job?

    JOEL CLEMENT: Yes, they actually never said anything. I didn’t talk to anybody. No one reached out before the reassignment, and no one reached out after the reassignment, except to tell me where my new office was.

    And my notice office is in the office, the accounting office that collects royalty checks from oil and gas companies.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s your current job now?

    JOEL CLEMENT: That’s where I sit now. It’s not really a job. I’m a senior adviser, so it’s a job title with no duties, so I think it was understood that I would quit the job before moving.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you see some irony there, that you were working on climate change largely driven by the consumption of oil and gas, and now you’re cashing checks from the oil and gas industry?

    JOEL CLEMENT: Year, the irony is not lost on me, nor is the very clear intent of that reassignment.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You have filed a complaint now with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. What is it you hope comes of this?

    JOEL CLEMENT: Well, I’m going to trust the process. They will do an investigation. I certainly hope that they will then ask the department to reinstate me in my old job, so I can get back to work looking out for these Alaska native communities, looking out for the health and safety of Americans.

    That’s what makes this work meaningful. And, of course, I hope to be able to do that. I also, though, hope that others that are contemplating speaking out realize they do have rights, and they do have a voice, and there’s an opportunity if they need to, if they’re told to do things they don’t approve of or not to do their job, that they should speak out.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Joel Clement, thank you very much for talking with us.

    JOEL CLEMENT: Thank you very much.

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    President Donald Trump shakes hands with John Kelly after he was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, is just three days on the job, and expectations are already high that he will stop the recent churn at the top in the White House and mend fences with Congress following the failure of health care reform.

    We explore all that and more with Karine Jean-Pierre, a veteran of the Obama administration, and Barry Bennett. He was a senior adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.

    And welcome to both of you. Thank you for being with us again.

    Karine, I’m going to start with you.

    General John Kelly, he’s been on the job three days. Has everything changed?

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, Moveon.Org: Well, I think three days is not a pattern for Donald Trump. I think, maybe in three weeks, then we can look back to see if John Kelly can hold up to his distinguished career and being that general that he is and bring everything together.

    But I don’t have a lot of confidence in that. Many people have tried before John Kelly and have failed. And you really just can’t change the man by changing staff. It just is not going to work with Donald Trump. He doesn’t want to be managed. He doesn’t want to be — he wants to be his own chief of staff, his own communications director, and his own chief counsel.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see, Barry Bennett?

    BARRY BENNETT, Former Trump Campaign Senior Adviser: Well, I think that if his mission were to change Donald Trump, that would probably be a failure in the end.

    I think his mission, though, is to make Trump better. Every player needs a coach. This White House team has needed a coach for six months, frankly. And I hope that he is that good coach that they need, an enforcer. Systems, rules, processes all matter. And he seems in his first three days — I know it’s a short time to judge him, but I’m pretty excited about those three days.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there are a few little reports coming out of the White House, Karine. Apparently, the odor to the Oval Office, which was open to just about everybody, or many, is now closed. There’s some discipline there.

    And we’re also noticing the president isn’t tweeting as much. Now, it’s only three days.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Three days.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But maybe he’s having some effect.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: We have to see. I mean, three days is pretty low bar. He is the president of the United States, and we’re saying, oh, yay, three days.

    It just doesn’t — it just hasn’t been Donald Trump’s pattern. We haven’t seen that in the past. There’s been many pivots. Even when Reince Priebus came into the office as chief of staff, people thought, oh, there goes a pivot. When his family moved into the White House, oh, there’s a pivot. That is going to calm him down.

    And it never has worked. So, we will see.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there some secret formula that we haven’t seen staff try or someone try? I mean, Barry Bennett, one of the things that was said about General Kelly is he’s closer to being a peer of President Trump’s.

    BARRY BENNETT: Yes, yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s a general.

    BARRY BENNETT: Great accomplishments.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s had a great career in the military.

    BARRY BENNETT: You know, I think that the — my time in the campaign, if you give him a plan that he buys into, he executes.

    I just don’t think that they were very successful at creating a plan that he was willing to buy into and execute.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say they, you mean?

    BARRY BENNETT: The staff.

    But I think, for instance, if I were General Kelly — and I’m not, thank goodness — but give him some things to tweet about. Have a plan about what happens after you tweet. Here’s an idea. Tweet the White House switch — or switch — the congressional switchboard number. Turn the calls on.

    There are all kinds of things that they could be doing that they’re not. And I hope that General Kelly, you know, orchestrates a new plan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, meanwhile, Karine, what we were talking about earlier with Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin is about the divide between the White House and the Congress over some pretty important matters.

    Lisa was talking about health care, how the president has said just let the Affordable Care Act implode. Some in Congress are trying to do something to regenerate health care reform. And then Nick Schifrin talking about the divide over the Russia sanctions. The president hates it. He signed it, but doesn’t like it.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I think, Judy, if you are a Republican sitting on the Hill in the House or the Senate, or if you’re a Republican sitting in any red state, you would look and expect that you have the control of three branches, that you would be able to get things done, major pieces of legislation.

    And that just hasn’t happened under this White House. So I think that’s pretty troubling for Republicans and anybody who is following all of this and cares about their country, if you’re, you know, in the Republican Party. So that is troubling.

    And also, on the bipartisanship, I think it’s great. I think it’s a great start for them to try and figure out a solution. But if the leaders aren’t there, if Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan aren’t there, it’s just not going to happen.

    And they still have on the table full repeal, and you can’t get anywhere if you’re still talking about talking away health care from millions of people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the questions this raises in my mind, Barry Bennett, is, how much clout does this president have with this — with his party in the Congress, after the failure of the health care reform bill? They spent months trying to make this happen. It hasn’t worked yet.

    BARRY BENNETT: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are they — do they — do they care what the president says to them?

    BARRY BENNETT: Well, the Congress, I have no idea.

    Unfortunately for the Congress, they proved all the Trump voters were right about Congress, right, that Washington is broken, and they can’t do anything. Congress hasn’t solved a serious problem in quite a long time.

    So, to that extent, his base, the Republican Party, pretty much, as a majority, was proven right, that Congress is broken. You know, as the problem escalates, we’re now seeing, you know, rates — as you just reported, rates are rising across the country. There are 19 counties in Ohio that don’t have don’t have a provider.

    California is coming down. As the problems get bigger and bigger, hopefully, more and more people will get serious and we can come to some kind of bipartisan solution. But, up until now, there’s been a total unwillingness for the two sides to work together.

    And, you know, frankly the Republican Caucus in the Senate couldn’t even come together.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Congress did come together to pass these sanctions against Russia, which the president is unhappy with.

    BARRY BENNETT: Yes.

    Well, I think any president would be fairly unhappy with the Congress not giving him his right to lift — you’re taking away the ability to lift sanctions, after some kind of negotiation.

    So, you know, as someone who believes in the power of the office of the presidency, I have a problem with that. I understand — I understand, politically, why they did it. But I don’t think that it helps the power of the presidency to do that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I was going to ask you about something else the president said this week, and that is handling police suspects.

    Karine, we are just about out of time. I know that has caused a lot of pushback, the president basically saying, don’t worry about these suspects when you shove them into the car. Don’t worry about their heads.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: It’s very troubling and concerning what the president said.

    He has to understand, as long as he’s in the Oval Office, his words are going to have a lot of weight. And if you have been watching Donald Trump for the last two years, for decades, you know that he wasn’t joking. You know that he was very serious about what he was saying.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to have to leave it there.

    Karine Jean-Pierre, Barry Bennett, thank you.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Judy.

    The post Can John Kelly meet high expectations at the White House? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, we are beginning a special series on the growing concerns around antibiotics, why there is more resistance to the drugs from so-called superbugs that can be dangerous and even fatal, and why it has been difficult to create a newer class of drugs to solve this problem.

    It is a story that involves the worlds of science, medicine, business and economics.

    So, we asked our science and economics correspondents, Miles O’Brien and Paul Solman, to team up. Their coverage will continue over the next couple of weeks.

    We start with Miles’ report.

    It’s part of our weekly series on the Leading Edge of science and technology.

    Every Sunday night, I put up the pills for a week at a time.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Thirty times a day.

    JANE TECCE: Amlodipine, that’s a blood pressure medicine.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Each and every day.

    JANE TECCE: Prednisone for rejection.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Jane Tecce takes a pill.

    JANE TECCE: This is hydralazine. That’s another blood pressure medicine.

    MILES O’BRIEN: No complaints from her. She’s just grateful to be alive.

    JANE TECCE: I’m grateful. I wouldn’t have gotten to see my grandkids being born and, you know, just see life. So you sacrifice things. So that’s how I look at it. It’s a tradeoff.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In 2011, after years of battling a rare genetic disease, Jane received the heart and kidney of an 18-year-old man at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Her daily pill regimen is designed to stop her body from rejecting the organs, but it was another drug, an antibiotic, that fueled an infection that nearly killed her. A month after her transplants, she contracted pneumonia.

    JANE TECCE: They put me back in, and I was very sick. I knew I wasn’t doing well at all, and a lot of pain. I had pain as if the ribs were affected and things like that, so they started pumping me through the I.V. with a lot of the antibiotics, and I think that was the beginning. By February, I had been diagnosed with the C. Diff.

    MILES O’BRIEN: C. Diff, clostridium difficile, is a so-called superbug, meaning a bacteria that is not easily stemmed by antibiotics.

    In fact, it thrives in people taking the drugs. Each year, superbugs infect more than 2.25 million Americans, killing at least 38,000.

    WOMAN: The first thing you do is, you put on your yellow gown.

    MILES O’BRIEN: At Tufts, doctors who come in contact with patients infected with superbugs like C. Diff must take great precautions. As the list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria grows, this has become a much more common routine.

    So have some extraordinary efforts to prevent the spread of infection from patient to patient. Here, they bombard rooms with ultraviolet light, which causes genetic damage to bacteria, rendering them unable to reproduce.

    Shira Doron is the physician director of the anti-microbial stewardship program at Tufts.

    DR. SHIRA DORON, Tufts Medical Center: We are seeing patients with infections that cannot be treated by any antibiotic on the market. And we’re having to tell patients, we don’t have anything for you.

    And so that makes it really scary and really concerning.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Antibiotics are organic compounds that attack and kill bacteria. They are often derived from microbes found in soil and from mold. That’s where Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered the first true antibiotic, penicillin, in 1928.

    It, and a host of others developed in the decades that followed, revolutionized medicine. But it was no surprise that these miracle drugs would eventually lose their potency. In fact, when Dr. Fleming received the Nobel Prize, he warned of the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself, and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.

    Doctors began using penicillin to treat patients in 1942. Only three years later, they encountered the first resistant bacteria.

    Helen Boucher is a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Tufts.

    DR. HELEN BOUCHER, Tufts Medical Center: Resistance happens naturally. So, bacteria have various mechanisms to survive.

    MILES O’BRIEN: It is survival of the fittest, evolution at warp speed. Bacteria adapt very quickly in the face of the assault. They can learn to strengthen their cell walls to repel the antibiotics. They can develop pumps to expel them. Or they can make enzymes that destroy them.

    DR. HELEN BOUCHER: So, they figure out ways to evade the effect of the antibiotic. And this happens in nature, and it happens faster in the presence of antibiotics.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You sort of make it sound like bacteria are smart.

    DR. HELEN BOUCHER: They’re very smart.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And they are adapting very fast, creating a big public health crisis.

    KIRTHANA BEAULAC, Tufts Medical Center: Unfortunately, these bugs mutate faster than we can come up with new drugs. So, the only realistic strategy is to use the antibiotics that we have better.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Kirthana Beaulac is the pharmacist director of the Anti-Microbial Stewardship Program at Tufts. We met in the central pharmacy, where they store the vast majority of their medications for patients. Here, they see themselves as a last line of defense.

    Prescriptions for antibiotics are carefully scrutinized, particularly the drugs that attack a broad spectrum of bacteria.

    KIRTHANA BEAULAC: It requires constant evaluation of the way we do things, and constant reminders, and really a critical assessment of everything we do every single day to make this — to really make any headway on this battle.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You sound like you’re at war.

    KIRTHANA BEAULAC: Kind of. Yes, this is. This is — we call it the arms race.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In her laboratory, Dr. Boucher and her team are constantly analyzing cultures of bacteria from patients in the hospital, always on the lookout for another mutation, another superbug.

    DR. HELEN BOUCHER: The infection preventionists come to our meetings every day at 11:30. And they are tuned in to be looking for anything, any one case that’s new that requires them to go do investigation. And that’s how we prevent anything from becoming a bigger problem.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The longer bacteria see an antibiotic, the more likely they are to develop resistance. It poses a conundrum for doctors as they weigh the health of an individual patient vs. society as a whole.

    DR. SHIRA DORON: I think there has been a general feeling that it’s better to err on the side of caution, and that caution equals prescribe. And I am trying to impart the message that caution might actually be not prescribing.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The hunt for new drugs to prescribe is not easy. Scientists say they have already picked the low-hanging fruit. New microbes that lead to new antibiotics are no longer easy to find.

    So, we are running out of antibiotics quickly.

    My colleague Paul Solman met with a woman in London who could be the poster child for a post-antibiotic world. Eight years ago, Emily Morris was hospitalized with a E. coli superbug, the first of eight serious bouts with resistant bacteria.

    EMILY MORRIS, Antibiotic Research UK: So, I could have had antibiotics when I didn’t need them, and also because I had so many.

    MILES O’BRIEN: When she was young, she was prescribed antibiotics frequently because of a hereditary condition that makes her prone to urinary tract infections.

    EMILY MORRIS: I was just very lucky, very lucky that a last-resort antibiotic did work. A lot of the time, it doesn’t work. It kills thousands of people a year. And these superbugs, I have been told, they are going to kill more than cancer by 2050.

    MILES O’BRIEN: After we finished shooting, I sat down with Paul Solman to compare notes.

    Emily’s story, that’s a tough one. And I think our heart goes out to her, anybody watching that, thinking this could happen to any one of us. And as I was shooting the story, I was thinking an awful lot about how close I was getting to these nasty bugs. Were you thinking the same thing?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Yes, I’m a little hypochondriacal to begin with. I was now becoming germophobic, washing my hands all the time. I mean seriously.

    MILES O’BRIEN: As a good American, I assumed going into this series that there had to be some kind of silver bullet solution that will get us out of this. But it’s not as simple as that. The drugs just aren’t there, are they?

    PAUL SOLMAN: You would think there’s enormous, essentially insatiable demand for the product, so, obviously, the market is going to provide it.

    But it turns out, it’s not anywhere near that simple. And that’s what the next installment of this series is about.

    MILES O’BRIEN: All right, we will go to the dismal science next time.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I am science correspondent Miles O’Brien.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And I’m economics correspondent Paul Solman.

    The post We are running out of effective antibiotics fast appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to what appears to be a growing tug of war between the White House and Capitol Hill.

    Today, we saw the divides highlighted on two fronts: health care and sanctions against Russia.

    For a closer look at both, we’re joined by our own Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin.

    And we welcome both of you.

    So, Lisa, to you first and Congress.

    There does seem to be a little bit bipartisanship breaking out, but it’s not from the leadership. It’s from other members. What is going on?

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. The death of a partisan leadership-led effort last week has given birth to bipartisanship in both chambers.

    Let’s start with the House, Judy. In the House, we saw yesterday a group of 40 members called the Problem Solvers Caucus, half each party, propose a health care compromise to stabilize the markets, essentially add more funds, but also limit the mandate on employers so fewer businesses would actually have to pay for insurance for their employees. That’s the House.

    On the Senate side, Judy, the entire ball game rests with Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the Health Committee, and his Democratic ranking member, Patty Murray. Talked to both of their staffs today. They will have hearings. They’re going to have a lot of conversations this month.

    The efforts on both sides, Judy, are narrowly tailored on stabilization. But they think that could be where there is agreement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, but if they were not to agree, what would that mean for these insurance markets and for the cost of premiums?

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right, for all of us, and especially those on the individual market.

    We got some new data yesterday from the Department of Health and Human Services. Let’s look at states that might get hit the hardest by increasing premiums. This is what insurers think, they are forecasting they would have to do. Increase premiums by 30 percent in these five states, Judy.

    Notice something else those states have in common? Those were all states won by President Trump. These are red states. That’s the high end, Judy, but most states do expect premium increases, for example, 12 percent in New York. It’s something that is a real concern.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to get to, I guess, to the politics of this, how much of these premium increases are due to the Affordable Care Act, which is what Republicans argue, and how much is due to just the instability of the markets and so forth, which is what the Democrats are saying?

    LISA DESJARDINS: This is the conversation, and it centers around those insurance subsidies, the $7 billion this year that insurers are counting on getting.

    Good policy or not, they’re expecting it. But President Trump hasn’t yet said if he will let that money go all the way through for next year. That creates risk, and some people say that’s why these premium increases are coming.

    But let’s talk to — let’s hear from Senator John Cornyn, Republican on the floor today. He said that Republicans and the president have nothing to do with premium increases.

    SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: The idea that premiums are going to go up 30 percent next year unless something changes is a product of the failure of Obamacare. It’s nothing that this administration has done or will do that has caused that.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And that flies in the face, though, Judy, of what we have heard from states.

    Just one example, let’s go to Idaho. The Republican director of insurance put out this statement, exactly saying the opposite, saying that the increase there in the silver plans were — quote — “due to the potential refusal of the federal government to fund the cost-share reduction.”

    That is the subsidies. He’s saying that is why they have at least some of the premium problem in that state.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just quickly, where is this headed?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Right.

    There is a huge divide between, it looks like senators, Republican senators, who want to fund these insurance subsidies, and a president who hasn’t declared what he’s going to do, but who senators I talked to today very nervous that he may not fund these subsidies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will see how many days are left for Congress to be around and then we will find out how they work this out.

    So, while we’re talking about a division here, Nick, to foreign affairs.

    There’s also a split that burst into the open today when it came to these Russia sanctions. What’s going on with regard to that?

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, this is the first major foreign affairs legislation passed by the Congress, and not only was it passed over the president’s objections, but it was also passed as a way to kind of handcuff the president’s ability to lift sanctions on Russia.

    No president is going to like that. And, in that sense, this is kind of part of a centuries-old tug-of-war between the legislative and executive branches over who controls foreign policy. And President Trump released an initial statement this morning that really speaks to that history.

    He said: “My administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress, and will implement them in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.”

    And the congressional staffers I spoke to today said that is language that Presidents Obama and Bush could have used. The president is trying to keep control over foreign policy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But he went further, as you and I were discussing, and he issued a second statement, much more personal.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Oh, yes.

    This is a president who has a book called “The Art of the Deal,” who thinks that he is the best deal-maker and doesn’t want Congress to impede that. And the second statement he released simultaneously did go more personal toward Congress.

    He said: “Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. 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 can.”

    Now, on the Hill, you have some initial shrugs today. A Democratic staffer told me, can you quote me rolling my eyes? Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said, “It doesn’t matter to me what the president’s statement says.”

    And that sentiment was actually taken a lot further by Russia in its response. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Trump was — quote — “weak” and had been — quote — “outwitted and humiliated” by Congress, which just goes to show, Judy, that it’s not just America that is watching this tug-of-war between the president and Congress.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

    So, divisions over domestic and foreign.

    And thank you both very much, Nick Schifrin, Lisa Desjardins.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Thank you.

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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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now more on that breakthrough in medical research announced today, the first time that a human embryo has been successfully edited in the U.S. to correct an inherited condition.

    The milestone could open the way for future treatments, but it also crosses a line that many have opposed.

    Hari Sreenivasan has more from our New York studios.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The work was done with a technology known as CRISPR.

    Essentially, a team of scientists snipped out the gene that causes a heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Researchers at Oregon Health and Sciences University showed they could erase the mutation not just from the DNA of the embryos, but also made sure the disease wouldn’t be passed on to future generations.

    That’s known as germ-line editing, and there’s been a major debate about whether that could lead to genetic engineering going too far.

    Researchers point out it’s not ready for clinical use. Yet it could lead one day to treating some inherited diseases.

    We examine the breakthrough with Jessica Berg, dean of the Case Western Reserve Law School and professor of bioethics.

    Thanks for joining us.

    So, tell us, how significant of a breakthrough is this that’s just been published?

    JESSICA BERG, Case Western Reserve University Law School: So, in one sense, it is simply the continuation of a line of research which we have been doing for a while about the use of CRISPR in genetic editing in a variety of settings.

    In another sense, it was a pretty significant advance. So, this was the first study that avoided two fairly significant concerns that we’d seen in earlier studies. One of the them was that the editing didn’t always hit just the spot you wanted to edit. So, of course, you might be concerned that you changed other part of the genetic code, and the other being that you couldn’t necessarily get every cell to take up the edit you were trying to achieve.

    Both of those things are important before you move to a clinical setting.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so they addressed both of those in this particular experiment?

    JESSICA BERG: This study was successful in not having either of those two things happen.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK, so, who stands to benefit the most here?

    I mean, in this particular case, we are talking about a heart condition. But could this be applied to the 10,000 different diseases that are on a single gene somewhere?

    JESSICA BERG: So, in theory, this could be applied to any kind of a single-gene defect.

    You know, so, certainly, this would be, you know, an important thing, an important advance for any kind of a clinical trial that you would like to do correcting a single-gene problem.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, that’s where kind of, if you can modify a single gene, I think people are going to be concerned, could you modify it not just to get rid of the bugs, but to sort of add features, if there were, say, eye color or freckles?

    JESSICA BERG: Most of the rest of the stuff is much, much harder.

    Very few things that we code for genetically that we think of designing or changing are things that are controlled by one gene. Most of them have many genes involved and have gene-environment interactions. So we’re pretty far away from being able to do anything where you pick and choose the characteristics to add in.

    The other concern is, this was designed specifically to look at a problem part of the code, remove the problem part, and insert the correct part. Inserting something else on top, so, for example, not taking something else out, or trying to take something else out that’s correctly coded, could lead to all sorts of other problems. And we’d be very, very cautious before we’d want to try anything like that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the big concerns here was that this is not just editing the genes of the specific individual, but that this could change the inherited trait that goes on generation after generation.

    I mean, the National Academy of Sciences met earlier this year and said that we really should reserve this for the absolutely most serious and important conditions, right?

    JESSICA BERG: Yes.

    And I think part of that concern is we don’t know yet all of the implications of what we’re trying to do. And so in those situations, you might want to be cautious and only change things that affect one generation. On the other hand, if you’re thinking from a clinical standpoint, the idea that you would have to correct the same genetic defect in each subsequent generation, or, for example, that anybody choosing to have children knowing they could potentially pass on the genetic flaw might say, well, if you can cure this, why not cure it through all generations?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right, so what are the ethical concerns here?

    JESSICA BERG: So, the ethical concerns relate at various levels. On the first level, if you have concerns about the use of an embryo in a research setting, you will be concerned about this type of research.

    The embryos in question will be destroyed, discarded, or stored indefinitely, and for some people that alone will be a reason to be very concerned.

    The other concerns raised are going to be, how do you get this from the setting it in, a research setting, to a clinical setting? As soon as you start to move forward, you involve other entities. So to actually have this result in the birth of a baby without the genetic flaw, you have got to implant this in a woman.

    As soon as you do that, you’re doing research with pregnant women. What are you going to do when things go wrong? What are you going to do if the developing fetus doesn’t develop normally? That’s going to raise a variety of other ethical questions.

    And then there’s the very interesting question about what happens after the baby’s born. Is this just, they have signed up for a research trial for life, since we have got to follow the child to see what else is going to happen?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: These are all pretty big and important questions, I’m sure, that people will be tackling for quite some time.

    Jessica Berg from Case Western Reserve University, thanks so much for joining us.

    JESSICA BERG: Sure. Thank you so much for inviting me.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: Researchers have successfully repaired a disease-causing gene in human embryos, a scientific first in the U.S. The embryos were never implanted, but the breakthrough is a step towards preventing a list of inherited diseases. The research team targeted a heart defect best known for killing young athletes.

    We will explore the scientific and the ethical ramifications of the development after the news summary.

    President Trump has signed a bill into law that imposing new sanctions on Russia, but he made clear his distaste for the legislation. It punishes Moscow for its 2016 election meddling in this country and also sanctions Iran and North Korea.

    In a statement, Mr. Trump said that the bill is — quote — “seriously flawed, particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.” He said he signed it — quote — “for the sake of national unity.”

    We will examine what the move says about the president’s relationship with Congress later in the program.

    The White House is knocking down news reports the Justice Department is considering lawsuits against colleges over affirmative action. Citing an internal document, The New York Times said the department was taking steps to investigate and sue universities over — quote — “policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”

    The Wall Street Journal late today reported that the Justice Department effort centers around a complaint brought by Asian Americans against Harvard University over its emissions policy.

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the Times’ report.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House Press Secretary: The New York Times article is based entirely on uncorroborated inferences from a leaked internal personnel posting, in violation of Department of Justice policy.

    And while the White House doesn’t confirm or deny the existence of potential investigations, the Department of Justice will always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that race can be used as one factor of many in determining college acceptance.

    Two U.S. service members were killed in an attack on a NATO convoy in Afghanistan today. The Taliban-claimed suicide bombing happened near the southern city of Kandahar. A local official said that a suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into the convoy. The Pentagon gave no information on the number of troops wounded.

    The Trump administration has told Congress that it has all the legal authority it needs to battle the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It says that the law passed after 9/11 to counter al-Qaida is sufficient for the anti-ISIS fight. Some lawmakers say that it should be revised.

    It comes the same day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis were on Capitol Hill briefing senators on ISIS.

    It was a milestone day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 22000 points for the first time, thanks to strong earnings by tech giant Apple. In all, the gain Dow gained 52 points to close at 22016. The Nasdaq fell a fraction of a point, and the S&P 500 added one.

    There’s word that turnout numbers in Venezuela’s election for an all-powerful Constituent Assembly were manipulated. A company that helped with country’s voting technology says official estimates that eight million people participated in the vote are off by at least a million.

    The head of the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly said that the legislature will call for an investigation.

    JULIO BORGES, President of the National Assembly, Venezuela (through interpreter): The National Assembly is changing its agenda so that the main point of discussion becomes this fraud. What has happened in Venezuela is not only a fraud. It was a crime that starts at the top of the electoral system who read a report knowing that the results they were reading were absolutely fraudulent.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The freshly-elected Constituent Assembly is expected to hand embattled President Nicolas Maduro sweeping new powers.

    President Trump’s claims about a pair of phone calls are coming under question. Mexico’s government says that President Enrique Pena Nieto didn’t phone Mr. Trump to compliment his immigration policies, as the president said on Monday. And the Boy Scouts denied that its leaders called Mr. Trump to praise his recent speech before the group.

    In fact, the chief Scout executive apologized for the political rhetoric in the president’s remarks.

    And Britain’s Prince Philip stepped away from public life today. The 96-year-old, who has done more than 22,000 public engagements since his marriage to the queen, made what officials are calling his last solo public appearance, greeting Royal Marines at Buckingham Palace. But the U.K. hasn’t seen the last of the duke of Edinburgh. He will still accompany Queen Elizabeth from time to time.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a call to overhaul immigration. President Trump endorsed today new legislation from Republican Senators David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas that would cut in half the number of people allowed in the nation legally, marking a profound shift in policies that have been in place for half-a-century.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For decades, the United States was operated and has operated a very low-skilled immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants. And it has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president’s senior adviser, Stephen Miller, fiercely defended the policy change at a White House briefing today.

    STEPHEN MILLER, Senior White House Adviser: This is a reality that is happening in our country. Maybe it’s time we had compassion, Glenn, for American workers. President Trump has met with American workers who have been replaced by foreign workers.

    Ask them, ask them how this has affected their lives.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: With us now to explain the proposed legislation is Alan Gomez, reporter for USA Today who covers immigration. He joins me now from Miami.

    Alan, welcome back to the program.

    So, how does this proposal differ from current law?

    ALAN GOMEZ, USA Today: Basically, what this proposal would do is completely upend the way that the U.S. accepts immigrants.

    Right now, about 63 percent of green cards that are given to foreigners are given based on their family ties. In other words, they have somebody here in the U.S. that sponsors them, and they’re able to get that green card.

    What they want to do, what President Trump and Senators Cotton and Perdue are proposing is switching to a system more like Canada, where it’s more based on their economic contributions and how they can contribute to the economy of the country. In Canada, it’s the complete opposite. About 63 percent of the visas — green cards that are given there are based on those economic ties.

    So they want to implement a points-based system, where we rank would-be immigrants based on their education, their technical experience, their job experience, and make our immigration system more focused on what they can do for this country, rather than just having family ties.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, practically, what would the changes be?

    ALAN GOMEZ: Right.

    It would be incredibly — it’s hard to overestimate just what a drastic change this would be. So, right now, if you’re a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor your children, your spouse, your parents, your brothers, your sisters.

    What this program, what this proposal would do would limit is, it would limit it to only your spouse and only your minor children. So that would drastically reduce your opportunities to bring your relatives into the United States. And, again, on the economics — so all those folks could still be eligible to come in, but they would have to pass that test.

    They would have to go through that screening process that examines their ability to contribute immediately to the U.S. economy and favors people with higher educations, with Ph.D.s, with Master’s degrees and those kinds.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And very quickly, in just a word, what are the prospects of this becoming law?

    ALAN GOMEZ: Not very good.

    Senator Cotton introduced this bill back in February. It hasn’t even gotten a committee hearing. And we heard opposition today from immigrants, from Democrats, and even some Republicans who thought it went too far.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan Gomez with USA Today, we thank you.

    ALAN GOMEZ: Thank you.

    Editor’s Note: Alan Gomez incorrectly stated that grandparents and cousins can be sponsored under current law. We’ve changed the text to reflect the correction.

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

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

    The Justice Department said Wednesday it had no broad plans to investigate whether college and university admission programs discriminate against students based on race, seeking to defray worries that a job posting signaled an effort to reverse course on affirmative action.

    News reports of the posting inflamed advocacy groups that believed it would lead to legal action against universities for not admitting white students over minorities with similar qualifications.

    But a day after The New York Times reported the department was seeking current attorneys interested in “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions,” the Justice Department said the job ad was related to just one complaint.

    “The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior administration left unresolved,” spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said. The groups sued Harvard University, saying that school and other Ivy League institutions are using racial quotas to admit students other than high-scoring Asians. Isgur Flores said the Justice Department had received no broader guidance related to university admissions in general and “is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”

    The memo caused much hand-wringing Wednesday, with questions reaching the White House, where spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she doesn’t know whether President Donald Trump believes that white college applicants are victims of discrimination.

    Advocacy groups have been closely watching how Attorney General Jeff Sessions has worked to reshuffle the priorities of the Civil Rights Division, which is not unusual when administrations change. Some groups assumed the job ad marked a continuation of the Trump adminisration’s shift away from its Democratic predecessor in the areas of gay rights, voting rights and investigations of troubled police departments.

    Anurima Bhargava, who was head of the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section during the Obama administration, said any move to investigate affirmative action policies would be a “fear and intimidation tactic” because the Supreme Court has upheld such admissions programs.

    “My very strong sense is that it’s nothing other than politics,” she said.

    [READ MORE: Report: Justice Department plans to target affirmative action]

    But Roger Clegg, a civil rights official during the Reagan era who now runs the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, said it was an encouraging sign.

    “Anytime a university discriminates on the basis of race it ought to creep people out, and it doesn’t make any difference who’s being discriminated against on the basis of race,” Clegg said. “I’m delighted that the Trump administration is doing this.”

    Clegg said conservatives were displeased with what they saw as the Obama administration’s support for race-based admissions by universities.

    The Supreme Court last year upheld a University of Texas program that considers race, among other factors, in admissions, offering a narrow victory for affirmative action. A white Texan who was denied admission to the university sued, but the high court said the Texas plan complied with earlier court rulings that let colleges consider race in an effort to bolster diversity.

    At America’s elite private colleges, many of which have drawn criticism over race-conscious admission policies, incoming classes have become increasingly diverse in recent years.

    Minority students made up more than 40 percent of the freshman classes at nearly all Ivy League schools in 2015, according to the most recent federal data, while only two topped that mark in 2010. At Columbia University, about half of the incoming class in 2015 was made up of minority students, the data show.

    Similarly, top public universities have also become more diverse. At some University of California campuses, for example, nonwhite students made up more than 60 percent of the incoming class in 2015.

    Those changes partly reflect demographic shifts across the country. According to U.S. Census data, close to half of Americans under age 18 are racial minorities, even though 62 percent of the total population is white.

    Matthew Gaertner, an education expert at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute, said that of the 3,000 four-year nonprofit colleges and universities in America, 27 percent consider applicants’ race and ethnicity during the admission process. But Gaertner cautioned that doesn’t simply mean giving certain applicants extra points based on their race. Instead, race is seen as just one of the factors that help admissions officers determine which students would be aligned with the school’s mission and priorities.

    “You cannot place these students into categories and give them boosts based on those categories,” said Gaertner. “However, you can go through an individualized assessment of each applicant via interpretation of their race among many factors, such as whether they play the tuba, their athletic gifts, their interests.”

    Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said the effectiveness of race-conscious admission policies in providing top-notch higher education and fostering diversity on campuses has been demonstrated over decades, while its legality and constitutionality have been maintained by the courts.

    “American colleges and universities are on the right path, and for our country, given its past and hopefully our future, this is the right course,” he said.

    ___

    Collin Binkley contributed to this story from Boston.

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    File photo of Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    File photo of Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations.

    Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.

    The bill would be retroactive to May 17, 2017 — the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.

    “It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations.” — Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

    “It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”

    Mueller was appointed as special counsel following Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, has assembled a team of prosecutors and lawyers with experience in financial fraud, national security and organized crime to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

    Trump has been critical of Mueller since his appointment, and the president’s legal team is looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions by some members to Hillary Clinton. He has also publicly warned Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family’s finances.

    Mueller has strong support on Capitol Hill. Senators in both parties have expressed concerns that Trump may try to fire Mueller and have warned him not to do so.

    “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation,” Coons said.

    READ MORE: Senators craft bill to prevent Robert Mueller from being fired

    Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the Judiciary panel, said last week that he was working on a similar bill that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review. Graham said then that firing Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.”

    The Tillis and Coons bill would allow review after the special counsel had been dismissed. If the panel found there was no good cause for the counsel’s removal, the person would be immediately reinstated. The legislation would also codify existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause, such as a violation of departmental policies.

    In addition, only the attorney general or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter could fire the special counsel.

    In the case of the current investigation, Rosenstein is charged with Mueller’s fate because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters having to do with the Trump-Russia investigation.

    READ MORE: All of the Russia investigations, explained

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    President Donald Trump interacts with reporters as he welcomes Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House in D.C. in May. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Dealt a striking congressional rebuke, Donald Trump grudgingly signed what he called a “seriously flawed” package of sanctions against Russia, bowing for the moment to resistance from both parties to his push for warmer ties with Moscow.

    Trump signed the most significant piece of legislation of his presidency Wednesday with no public event. And he coupled it with a written statement, resentful in tone, that accused Congress of overstepping its constitutional bounds, impeding his ability to negotiate with foreign countries and lacking any ability to strike deals.

    “Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking,” he said scornfully of lawmakers’ recent failure to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law as he and other Republicans have promised for years. “As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

    Still, he said, “despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity.”

    It was powerful evidence of the roadblock Congress has erected to Trump’s efforts to reset relations with Russia at a time when federal investigators are probing Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

    The legislation is aimed at penalizing Moscow for that interference and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad. It bars Trump from waiving the Russia sanctions without first securing approval from Congress, and also imposes new financial sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

    Trump said the law will “punish and deter bad behavior” by the governments of Iran and North Korea as well as enhance existing sanctions on Moscow. But he made no secret of his distaste for what the bill does to his ability to govern.

    “The bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” he said.

    The president continued his criticism on Thursday, stating on Twitter: “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”

    With significant divides on issues like health care and Russia, there appears to be growing tension between the White House and Capitol Hill. Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin join Judy Woodruff for a closer look at both.

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

    Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 campaign with the intention of tipping the election in his favor.

    He’s blasted the federal investigation as a “witch hunt.”

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the president’s concerns over the bill misplaced.

    “Vladimir Putin and his regime must pay a real price for attacking our democracy, violating human rights, occupying Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine,” McCain said. “Going forward, I hope the president will be as vocal about Russia’s aggressive behavior as he was about his concerns with this legislation.”

    Trump’s talk of extending a hand of cooperation to Putin has been met by skeptical lawmakers looking 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.

    Russia wasn’t pleased. Putin responded on Sunday by announcing the U.S. would have to cut 755 of its embassy and consular staff in Russia. And Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an emotional Facebook post Wednesday that “Trump’s administration has demonstrated total impotence by surrendering its executive authority to Congress in the most humiliating way.”

    The congressional review section of the bill that Trump objects to was a key feature for many members of Congress.

    Trump will be required to send a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate a particular set of the sanctions on Russia. Lawmakers would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow him to do so.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed the president’s sentiments that the measure poses more diplomatic hindrances than solutions.

    “Neither the president nor I are very happy about that,” Tillerson said Tuesday. “We were clear that we didn’t think that was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that’s the decision they made.”

    Sean Kane, a former official with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the Obama administration had sought similar wiggle room when negotiating Iran sanctions with lawmakers.

    “These issues have come up before where an administration wants flexibility in place in a deal that would potentially lift sanctions, and Congress wants to tie the administration’s hands in some ways,” said Kane, now at the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed.

    Trump said that Congress had “included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.”

    Last winter, just before Trump was sworn in, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a bill designed to go beyond the punishments already levied against Russia by the Obama administration and to demonstrate to Trump that forcefully responding to Moscow’s election interference wasn’t a partisan issue.

    Action on Russia sanctions didn’t really pick up until late May, when Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, threw his support behind the effort. The bill underwent revisions to avoid inadvertently undercutting U.S. firms or interfering with how European allies acquire energy.

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle celebrated the passage and signing.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the bill sends a “powerful message to our adversaries that they will be held accountable for their actions.”

    But the House’s top Democrat said Trump’s statement calling the bill “seriously flawed” raises questions about whether his administration will follow the law. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Republican-led Congress must not allow the White House to “wriggle out of its duty to impose these sanctions for Russia’s brazen assault on our democracy.”

    Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: Senators move to protect special counsel in Russia probe

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    Young supporters of President Donald Trump straighten their hats as Trump holds a rally at an arena in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Young supporters of President Donald Trump straighten their hats as Trump holds a rally at an arena in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Disapproval of President Donald Trump is rising among white millennials, but it’s still below that of their black, Latino and Asian-American peers, according to a survey released Thursday.

    The GenForward poll shows that whites have joined the majorities of young adults in all racial and ethnic groups in disapproving of Trump’s performance. That disapproval among whites grew from 47 percent in the group’s May survey to 55 percent in its most, which was conducted between June 23 and July 10. Meanwhile, 76 percent of blacks, 68 percent of Latinos and 67 percent of Asians disapproved of him in the last survey — rates that were fairly consistent with the previous one.

    Conversely, Trump’s approval ratings ranged from a low of 10 percent among black millennials to 29 percent among whites in the most recent survey — marks lower than that of the overall population. An ABC News/Washington Post survey of random U.S. adults that was taken at Trump’s recent six-month mark showed he had a 36 percent approval rating, which was the lowest at that point for any president in at least 70 years of polling.

    Sixty-three percent of white millennials also said Democrats should cooperate with Trump and other Republicans

    Vanessa Von Burg, 33, participated in the survey and is among the white millennials who voiced disapproval of Trump. The student who lives in Indianapolis said she isn’t surprised to see the growing dissatisfaction.

    “I never had approval for Trump … and my opinion has gotten worse,” said Von Burg, a California native who added she is in a long-term relationship with an Asian-American man.

    A larger split emerged when respondents were asked if Trump would do what’s right for the country. The latest GenForward survey found that 58 percent of whites said he would most or some of the time, while majorities of black and Latino respondents said he never would.

    There was also a divide in opinion on how elected officials should govern. Sixty-three percent of white millennials said Democrats should cooperate with Trump and other Republicans. Similar majorities of black, Latino and Asian-American respondents disagreed, advocating for “explicit resistance,” the survey found.

    “In the larger discussion of around ‘how do we reach across party lines,’ if there isn’t much agreement among racial groups on how to do it then that makes the conversation that much harder,” Vladimir Medencia, one of the researchers, told reporters during a conference call.

    Von Burg counts herself among those who support cooperation among political parties, but not at the expense of “your morals.”

    Millennials are members of the generation born from the early 1980s to the late ’90s. They also are referred to as Generation Y.

    GenForward is a bimonthly national survey of about 1,800 adults ages 18 to 34 conducted by the University of Chicago that has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It is designed to be representative of the young adult population but pays special attention to the voices of people of color, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of a new generation.

    READ MORE: 5 important stories that have nothing to do with the White House

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    A major new study by an international team of botanists has achieved the best reconstruction to date of an ancestral flower. Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger

    A major new study by an international team of botanists has achieved the best reconstruction to date of an ancestral flower. Photo by Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger

    Although most species of plants on Earth have flowers, the evolutionary origin of flowers themselves are shrouded in mystery. Flowers are the sexual organs of more than 360,000 species of plants alive today, all derived from a single common ancestor in the distant past. This ancestral plant, alive sometime between 250m and 140m years ago, produced the first flowers at a time when the planet was warmer, and richer in oxygen and greenhouse gases than today. A time when dinosaurs roamed primeval landscapes.

    But despite the fact dinosaurs went extinct 65m years ago we have a better idea of what an Iguanodon looked like than of how the ancestral flower was built.

    The oldest flowering fossil, a 130 million-year-old aquatic plant found in modern day Spain.<a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/112/35/10985" >Gomez et al / PNAS</a>

    The oldest flowering fossil, a 130 million-year-old aquatic plant found in modern day Spain. Photo by Gomez et al / PNAS

    This is partly because these first flowers left no traces. Flowers are fragile structures that only in the luckiest of circumstances can be transformed into fossils. And, as no fossil has been found dating back 140m or more years, scientists have only had a limited sense of what the ultimate ancestor would have looked like. Until now.

    A major new study by an international team of botanists has achieved the best reconstruction to date of this ancestral flower. The research, published in Nature Communications, relies not so much on fossils as on studying the characteristics of 800 of its living descendant species.

    By comparing the similarities and differences among related flowering plants, it is possible to infer the characteristics of their recent ancestors. For example, because all orchid species have flowers in which one half is the mirror image of the other (bilateral symmetry), we can suppose that their ancestor must have had bilateral flowers. By comparing those recent ancestors to each other it is then possible to go a step further back in time, and so on, until eventually we reach the base of the flowering plants’ family tree.

    Orchids, like this blue fairy orchid (Pheladenia deformis) are symmetrical. Photo by Kevin Thiele/<a href="https://flic.kr/p/efauQd" >via Flickr</a>

    Orchids, like this blue fairy orchid (Pheladenia deformis) are symmetrical. Photo by Kevin Thiele/via Flickr

    So what did it look like?

    In some respects, the original flower resembles a modern magnolia: it has multiple, undifferentiated “petals” (technically tepals), arranged in concentric rings. At its centre there are multiple rows of sexual organs including pollen-producing stamens and ovule-bearing ovaries. It is hard to resist the temptation to imagine ancient pollinators crawling in this flower, collecting pollen grains while unknowingly helping the plant to produce seeds.

    The ancestor of magnolia. And oak trees, grass, tomatoes, daffodils, and much more. <a href="http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ncomms16047" >Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger</a>

    The ancestor of magnolia. And oak trees, grass, tomatoes, daffodils, and much more. Photo by Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger

    A controversial sex life

    The new study helps to settle the controversy about whether early flowers had separate sexes, or whether both male and female reproductive organs were combined in the same flower. Previous evidence pointed to different answers. On the one hand, one of the earliest diverging lineages of flowering plants, represented nowadays only by a rare shrub from the Pacific island of New Caledonia called Amborella, has flowers that are either male or female. On the other, most modern species combine both sexes in the same flower.

    All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago. Chart by <a href="http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ncomms16047" >Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger</a>

    All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago. Chart by Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger

    The authors of the study settle the question and show that the ancestral flower was a hermaphrodite. This means that early flowering plants could reproduce both as a male and a female. Combined sexes can be advantageous when colonising new environments as a single individual can be its own mate, and indeed many plant species colonising remote oceanic islands tend to be hermaphrodite. Maybe the combination of sexes helped early flowering plants to outcompete their rivals.

    The devil’s in the detail

    Despite the apparent similarity with some modern flowers, their ultimate ancestor has a few surprises up its sleeve. For example, botanist have long thought that early flowers had floral parts arranged in a spiral around the centre of the flower as can be seen in modern species such as the star anise.

    The new reconstruction, though, strongly suggests that early flowers had their organs arranged not in a spiral, but in series of concentric circles or “whorls”, as in most modern plants. The early flower had more numerous whorls, however, suggesting flowers have become simpler over time. Paradoxically, this simpler architecture may have given modern plants a more stable base upon which to evolve and achieve more complex tasks such as sophisticated interaction with certain insects as in orchids, or the production of “flower heads” made of dozens or hundreds of simpler flowers as in the sunflower family.

    Although now we have a good idea of what one of the earliest flowers may have looked like, we still know little about how that flower came to be. The detailed steps leading to its evolution are unknown. Perhaps we will have to wait for the discovery of new fossil flowers spanning the gap around 250m-140m years ago, before we can understand the very origin of what is the most diverse sexual structure on the planet.

    Mario Vallejo-Marin is an associate professor in evolutionary biology at the University of Stirling. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota

    A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp’s planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota Nov. 14, 2014. Photo by Andrew Cullen/Reuters

    LINCOLN, Neb. — The proposed Keystone XL pipeline survived nine years of protests, lawsuits and political wrangling that saw the Obama administration reject it and President Donald Trump revive it, but now the project faces the possibility of death by economics.

    Low oil prices and the high cost of extracting Canadian crude from oil sands are casting new doubts on Keystone XL as executives with the Canadian company that wants to build it face the final regulatory hurdle next week in Nebraska.

    The pipeline proposed in 2008 has faced dozens of state and federal delays, many of them prompted by environmental groups who ultimately persuaded President Barack Obama to deny federal approval in November 2015. President Donald Trump resuscitated the project in March, declaring that Calgary-based TransCanada would create “an incredible pipeline.”

    After all that, a TransCanada executive raised eyebrows in the energy industry last week when he suggested that the pipeline developer doesn’t know whether it will move forward with the project. Paul Miller, an executive vice president who is overseeing the project, told an investor call that company officials won’t decide until late November or early December whether to start construction.

    “We’ll make an assessment of the commercial support and the regulatory approvals at that time,” Miller said in the conference call Friday with investors.

    The company has invited customers to bid for long-term contracts to ship oil on the pipeline. The bidding will run through September.

    An energy expert said the project has been delayed so long it may no longer make economic sense.

    “Frankly, in the current price climate, it’s probably not going to be a going venture unless there’s a massive improvement in technology” for processing Canadian crude, said Charles Mason, a University of Wyoming professor of petroleum and gas economics. Crude oil was trading at around $49.50 a barrel on Wednesday, down from highs of more than $100 in 2014.

    The 1,179-mile pipeline would transport oil from tar sands deposits in Alberta, Canada, across Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines that feed Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

    South Dakota and Montana regulators have approved the project, although there are legal challenges pending in both states. Only Nebraska has yet to give regulatory approval. The rest of the route for the oil to the Gulf would travel an existing pipeline in the network.

    Mason said the biggest economic problem is that synthetic crude from the Canadian deposits is considered a lower-value product because it tends to be heavier, and thus more expensive to refine into gasoline and jet fuel. It’s also more expensive to extract than other oils.

    Producers have also found other ways to ship oil, primarily by train, and many are reluctant to sign long-term contracts with a pipeline that wouldn’t go into operation for several more years, said Jeff Share, editor of the Houston-based Pipeline & Gas Journal, a leading industry publication. Given the difficulties, Share said TransCanada has probably a “50-50” chance of completing the project.

    The five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission is supposed to decide by Nov. 23 whether the project serves the public’s interests, based on evidence presented by attorneys in a formal legal proceeding beginning Monday and a series of public hearings held over the last few months. The elected commission is comprised of four Republicans and one Democrat.

    Environmental opposition to the project has persisted in Nebraska, where opponents say the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region of grass-covered sand dunes, and would cross the land of farmers and ranchers who don’t want it.

    Nebraska law enforcement authorities already have had discussions with their counterparts in North Dakota about how that state handled widespread protests during construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indiana Reservation, said Cody Thomas, a Nebraska State Patrol spokesman.

    Protesters led by Native American tribes and environmental groups flocked to North Dakota last summer to rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and some camped out in bitter cold through early this year, prompting the state to send a large law enforcement contingent that sometimes skirmished with protesters. The pipeline was ultimately completed but legal challenges remain.

    Pipeline opponents in Nebraska said they are wary of TransCanada’s recent statements and don’t believe the company will surrender without a fight.

    “We can’t let our guard down,” said Jim Carlson, a farmer near Silver Creek, Nebraska, who grows corn on the pipeline’s proposed route. “We’ve got to continue to be vigilant and proactive. TransCanada could be doing things just to throw us off.”

    Carlson said TransCanada has offered him $307,000 since the company first contacted him in 2013, but he refuses to sign an easement agreement to grant access to his land. To highlight his opposition, Carlson is installing solar panels on his land directly in the path of the proposed pipeline.

    If the Nebraska commission approves the route, TransCanada can initiate legal proceedings under eminent domain to gain access to the land of holdout property owners. TransCanada has secured agreement with roughly 90 percent of Nebraska landowners along the route.

    The company said that if it decides to go ahead with the project, it would need six to nine months to start doing some of the staging of the construction crews followed by two years of construction.

    WATCH: Seeing impediments to jobs, Trump prioritizes pipelines over environmental protections

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced new efforts Thursday to use technology to improve veterans’ health care, saying the programs will greatly expand access, especially for mental health care and suicide prevention. Veterans living in rural areas will also benefit, he said.

    Initiatives include using video technology and diagnostic tools to conduct medical exams. Veterans also will be able to use mobile devices to make and manage appointments with Veterans Administration doctors.

    “We call it ‘anywhere to anywhere’ VA health care,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said. Shulkin said the goal is better health care for veterans wherever they are. He said existing “telehealth” programs provided care to more than 700,000 veterans last year.

    A medical doctor, Shulkin wore his white coat to the White House announcement, during which he demonstrated the technologies for Trump.

    Trump said, “This will significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health, which is a bigger and bigger request, and also in suicide prevention. It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular.”

    A regulation will need to be issued for these services to be provided anywhere in the country.

    Shulkin, who was the VA’s undersecretary for health in the final years of the Obama administration.

    Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: Can President Trump keep his promises to veterans?

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    Protesters against the Texas state law to punish "sanctuary cities" stands outside the U.S. Federal court in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Jon Herskovitz/Reuters

    Protesters against the Texas state law to punish “sanctuary cities” stands outside the U.S. Federal court in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Jon Herskovitz/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved Thursday to again punish so-called sanctuary cities, this time threatening to deny federal crime-fighting resources to four cities beset by violence if they don’t step up efforts to help detain and deport people living in the country illegally.

    The Justice Department sent letters to cities struggling with gun violence, telling them they will be ineligible for a new program that aims to root out drug trafficking and gang crime unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice before releasing someone in custody who is wanted on immigration violations. The cities — Baltimore, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Stockton and San Bernardino in California — all expressed interest in the Justice Department’s new Public Safety Partnership, which enlists federal agents, analysts and technology to help communities find solutions to crime.

    “By taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement,” Sessions said in a statement that accompanied the letters. “That will ultimately make all of us safer — especially law enforcement on our streets.”

    In the letters, the department asked the four prospective cities’ police departments to show proof of their compliance by Aug. 18.

    The threat marks Sessions’ latest effort to force local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, part of a push to reduce crime he believes is linked to illegal immigration. Sessions has pledged to make fighting street crime the Justice Department’s top priority, but the strategy is putting him at odds with some city leaders, who say the best way to fight crime and build community trust is to keep local police out of federal immigration matters.

    Sessions last week told jurisdictions they need to meet the same conditions or lose out on millions of dollars from a separate program that aims to send grant money to support law enforcement. That move made some local officials more defiant.

    The Justice Department in June tapped 12 cities to receive aid through the Public Safety Partnership, and officials said the four cities that were sent the letters had expressed interest in the next chance at participating. Cities were chosen based on higher-than-average rates of violence and willingness to receive the help and training. Cities that want to be involved going forward will have to show they allow unfettered communication between police and federal immigration authorities, give agents access to jails in order to question immigrants, and provide them 48-hours’ notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.

    WATCH: How a Trump-endorsed overhaul would dramatically change U.S. immigration

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