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

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    U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he leaves the Oval Office while departing for vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey, from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTS1AG2K

    After six months of infighting, investigations and legislative failures, President Donald Trump is trying to combat new signs of weakness in his Republican base and re-energize his staunchest supporters. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    WASHINGTON — After six months of infighting, investigations and legislative failures, President Donald Trump is trying to combat new signs of weakness in his Republican base and re-energize his staunchest supporters.

    White House officials have been urging the president to refocus on immigration and other issues that resonate with the conservatives, evangelicals and working-class whites who propelled him to the Oval Office. The president has ramped up his media-bashing via Tweet, long a successful tactic for Trump, and staged rallies hoping to marshal his base to his defense.

    The effort underscores Trump’s shaky political positioning not yet seven months into his presidency. Trump has remained deeply unpopular among Democrats, and there are signs that his support among Republicans may be softening. His advisers are aware that a serious slip in support among his core voters could jeopardize hopes for a major, early legislative accomplishment and would certainly increase Republicans’ worries about his re-election prospects.

    White House counselor Kellyanne Conway acknowledged the concerns Sunday on ABC, saying the president’s approval rating “among Republicans and conservatives and Trump voters is down slightly.”

    “It needs to go up,” she said.

    MORE: Can Trump pursue a conservative agenda?

    In a Monday morning tweet, Trump dismissed his adviser’s statement. “The Trump base is far bigger & stronger than ever before,” he wrote on Twitter. He later insisted that his support “will never change!”

    But polling doesn’t support Trump’s claim. A recent Quinnipiac University survey showed the president’s approval dipping into negative territory among whites without college degrees — a key group of supporters for the president. The percentage of Republicans who strongly approve of his performance also fell, with just over half of Republicans saying they strongly approved of Trump. That’s down from the two-thirds of Republicans who strongly approved of the president’s performance in June.

    Just one-third of all Americans approved of his job performance, a new low in the poll.

    The president’s struggles already have prompted public speculation about his political future. The White House pushed back angrily Sunday against a New York Times report about Republicans preparing for 2020 presidential race that may not include Trump. The report described Vice President Mike Pence as laying groundwork in case Trump does not run. Pence called the report “disgraceful.”

    The chatter has been fueled by Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to shepherd health care legislation through Congress, the drip-drip of revelations about his associates’ ties to Russia and the churn of turnover and turmoil at the White House. The president’s advisers have tried to drown out the bad news by focusing on his agenda.

    “They are telling him just enact your program,” Conway said of the president’s base. “Don’t worry about a Congress that isn’t supporting legislation to get big ticket items done. And don’t worry about all the distractions and diversions and discouragement that others, who are trying to throw logs in your path, are throwing your way.”

    MORE: The difference between illegal leaks and inconvenient leaks

    In a televised event at the White House last week, the president endorsed legislation that would dramatically reduce legal immigration to the United States. The bill is unlikely to ever become law, but that mattered little to Trump’s advisers. Their barometer for success was the reaction from conservatives like commentator Ann Coulter, who called the White House’s embrace of the controversial legislation “the best moment of the Trump presidency since the inauguration.”

    Immigration is expected to continue being a focus for Trump in the coming weeks, including a push for the border wall. Officials also are weighing a more public role for White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, a favorite of Trump backers whose hard-line immigration policies irritate some congressional Republicans.

    The appointment of White House chief of staff John Kelly also fits in to that effort. While Kelly was brought in primarily to bring much-needed discipline to the West Wing, officials note that he, too, is viewed favorably by some Trump loyalists for his early execution of the administration’s immigration policy as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly’s appointment was particularly welcomed by senior strategist Steve Bannon, who has taken on the task of ensuring Trump doesn’t drift from the promises he made to his base during the campaign.

    Several White House officials and Trump advisers insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the ways the administration is moving to shore up support for the president.

    READ MORE: What it’s like to be President Trump’s White House photographer

    Like Trump’s embrace of the legislation curtailing legal immigration, some of what the president has to offer his core supporters is more show than substance. In late July, Trump announced on Twitter that he was banning transgender people serving in the military — a policy shift sought by social conservatives — despite the fact that the Pentagon had no plans in place to enact the change. The policy is now being crafted.

    Alice Stewart, a conservative who worked for the presidential campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said Trump is right to make overtures toward his coalition of loyal supporters, even if some of his moves are incomplete.

    “I think people realize half a loaf is better than none,” Stewart said.

    Mitch Harper, a former GOP state legislator and Republican activist in Indiana, said Trump will get credit from conservatives even for partial measures simply because he is “articulating things that they have not heard anyone articulate in a long time.”

    And what about the results? Harper said Trump supporters “are willing to wait.”

    Indeed, even some of Trump’s advisers still marvel at the loyalty of the president’s supporters. For now, conservatives are pinning the blame on Washington’s failure to get health care done not on Trump, but on the handful of Republican senators who blocked legislation aimed at overhauling “Obamacare.”

    “I think on health care the president is viewed as someone who did everything they could,” said Matt Schlapp, who heads the American Conservative Union.

    Associated Press writers John Raby in Huntington, West Virginia, and Catherine Lucey in Bridgewater, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

    The post At 200 days in office, Trump looks to loyal voters as agenda stalls appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump warned North Korea that it could face “fire and fury” after a new report Tuesday said U.S. intelligence believes Pyongyang has successfully produced a nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.

    Washington’s alarm over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s pursuit of a nuclear capability has intensified after the North conducted two tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.

    The latest report that it has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead would mean North Korea has passed a key threshold in becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.

    “North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said during a briefing on opioid addiction at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

    Japan’s Defense Ministry concluded in an annual white paper released Tuesday that “it is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads.” Japan, a key U.S. ally, is also a potential target of North Korean aggression.

    A report in The Washington Post on Tuesday went further. The newspaper said U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that a decade after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion, Pyongyang has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, including by intercontinental missiles — the type capable of reaching the continental U.S.

    The Post story, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, said the confidential analysis was completed last month by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The U.S. also calculated last month that North Korea has up to 60 nuclear weapons, the Post said, more than double most assessments by independent experts.

    Officials at the agency would not comment Tuesday on the report. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has not commented.

    The U.N. Security Council this weekend slapped its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea over its latest test of a ballistic missile that could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon. Despite the rapid tempo of these tests, uncertainty has lingered over the isolated nation’s ability to couple such a missile with a nuclear device.

    Those uncertainties appear to be receding.

    READ MORE: Reports: North Korea may have nuclear warhead that fits inside a missile

    The post WATCH: Trump warns North Korea of ‘fire and fury’ if threats continue appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pharmacist Jim Pearce fills a Suboxone prescription at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program in Boston, Massachusetts January 14, 2013. Suboxone is an opiate replacement therapy drug used to help treat opiate cravings and withdrawal. Drug overdoses have overtaken AIDS-related causes to become the leading cause of death of homeless adults, according to a study of homeless residents of Boston who received treatment from the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, though its broad conclusions apply to homeless populations in many urban parts of the United States, the study's author and homeless advocates said. Photo by Brian Snyder/REUTERS

    Pharmacist Jim Pearce fills a Suboxone prescription at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program in Boston. Suboxone is an opiate replacement therapy drug used to help treat opiate cravings and withdrawal. Photo by Brian Snyder/REUTERS

    “A crippling problem.” “A total epidemic.” “A problem like nobody understands.” These are the words President Trump used to describe the opioid epidemic ravaging the country during a White House listening session in March.

    The percentage of people in the U.S. dying of drug overdoses has effectively quadrupled since 1999, and drug overdoses now rank as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

    Drugs do exist to reverse opioid overdoses or treat long-term opioid addiction. But while opioids have become easier and easier to obtain through illicit markets and sellers on the dark web, a drug that could save countless lives has become increasingly out of reach.

    Consider the addiction treatment drug, Suboxone. Patents and other exclusivities on the basic version of Suboxone expired some time ago, yet the price remains sky-high, and access problems persist. Oral film strips now cost over $500 for a 30-day supply; even simple tablets cost a whopping $600 for a 30-day supply. The cost alone puts the medication out of reach for many.

    I study the pharmaceutical industry, and I see how drug companies are able to play games that keep competition out and prices high. Lack of access to addiction treatment drugs like Suboxone can be traced, in part, to the soaring prices, access problems and anti-competitive conduct that has become business as usual in the pharmaceutical industry across the board.

    Patent incentives

    Pharmaceutical companies have brought tremendous advances in medicine. I believe they should be adequately compensated for the enormous amount of time and resources needed to develop a new drug. Our intellectual property system is designed to do just that, rewarding companies that bring new drugs to market with a competition-free period – 20 years from the patent application date – during which they can recoup their profits.

    After this defined period, generic versions of the drug are supposed to appear on pharmacy shelves, bringing down prices to levels that can be borne more easily by consumers and the health care market generally.

    Brand-name companies, however, engage in myriad games to make sure theirs is the only version of the drug on pharmacy shelves, long after generics should have joined the ranks.

    Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC, departs the U.S. Capitol after appearing before a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on "Developments in the Prescription Drug Market Oversight" on Capitol Hill in Washington February 4, 2016. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

    Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC, departs the U.S. Capitol after appearing before a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on “Developments in the Prescription Drug Market Oversight” on Capitol Hill in Washington February 4, 2016. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

    Martin Shkreli, the infamous pharmaceutical industry CEO responsible for hiking the cost of his company’s lifesaving drug from $13.50 to $750 overnight, once tweeted that “Every time a drug goes generic, I grieve.”

    And it is not just a case of a few bad apples. Complex schemes to hold off generic competition are widespread throughout the pharmaceutical industry, as I have found in my research.

    The games pharma plays, sort of like Monopoly®

    Legislators on both sides of the aisle have decried sky-high drug prices, but it can be hard to pin down the specific behavior to address. Pharmaceutical game-playing has grown over the decades into a multi-headed monster, with a new tactic popping up as soon as the old one is cut off. My colleague and I set out to clearly identify and expose these various games in our book, “Drug Wars: How Big Pharma Raises Prices and Keeps Generics Off the Market.

    Lack of access to addiction treatment drugs like Suboxone can be traced, in part, to the soaring prices, access problems and anti-competitive conduct that has become business as usual in the pharmaceutical industry across the board.

    One game we analyzed involved the filing of petitions at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that raise unfounded or frivolous concerns in an effort to delay generic competitors.

    Some of the petitions were just stunning to us. For example, some petitions soberly ask the FDA to require, well, what it already requires, such as ensuring that the generic drug product is stable and has an appropriate shelf life. Other petitions tie the application up in knots for reasons that are hard, even for the FDA, to discuss with a straight face.

    For example, the company that manufactures the blood pressure medicine Plendil filed a petition asking the FDA to delay approval of generics by citing concerns over how different types of oranges in orange juice might affect absorption of the medication and demanding additional information on the juice used in the clinical trials.

    Although 80 percent of these petitions are eventually denied, it takes time and resources for the FDA to review each petition.

    Citing concerns over citizen petition games, Congress recently required the FDA to respond to such petitions within five months, but a five-month delay for a blockbuster drug can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (The Federal Trade Commission recently filed an antitrust suit against Shire ViroPharma for attempts to hold off competition related to its gastrointestinal drug Vancocin, a campaign that included 24 filings related to a single petition.) Congress also gave the FDA the ability to summarily deny petitions when appropriate, a power that the FDA has failed to use even once.

    By parsing through 12 years of FDA data, we found that out of all citizen petitions filed, the percentage of petitions with the possibility of delaying generic entry doubled since 2003, rising from 10 percent to 20 percent. Thus, in some years, one in five petitions filed at the FDA on any topic, including tobacco, food and dietary supplements, had the potential to delay generic competition.

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    Moreover, we found that 40 percent of such petitions were filed a year or less before the FDA approved the generic, indicating that companies are using these petitions as a last-ditch effort to hold off competition.

    There are plenty of other games to play, as well. For example, generic applicants need samples of the brand-name drug to show the FDA that their version is equivalent; some brand-name companies flatly refused to sell samples to generic companies.

    Another common tactic involves making tiny modifications to the dosage or formulation of a drug just as the original patents are about to expire. This strategy, known as “product hopping,” allows the drug company to obtain a brand-new set of patents on their “new and improved” version of the drug.

    Even if the patents are overturned – and studies show that generics convince courts to overturn the majority of patents they challenge – the process again takes time.

    Much of the attention is focused on patents, but the 13 regulatory exclusivities that the FDA doles out also play help create competition-free zones. These offer months or even years of additional protection, by taking steps such as carrying out pediatric studies or developing drugs for rare diseases termed “orphan drugs.” Drug companies have stretched these systems to the point at which the costs to society far outweigh the benefits.

    The crippling cost of medicine

    One can understand the motivation – delaying entry of a generic competitor for even a few months can translate into billions of dollars in extra revenue for the brand-name company. Thus, drug companies string out games that obstruct and delay competition, one after another. As I noted when testifying before Congress about such strategies, “A billion here, a billion there; that adds up to real money.”

    In 2015, 80 percent of the profit growth of the 20 largest drug companies resulted from price hikes. And drugs are vastly more expensive in the U.S. than abroad. (The liver failure drug Syprine, for example, sells for less than $400 a year in many countries; in the U.S., the average list price is US$300,000. Gilead’s hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, reportedly sells for the equivalent of $1,000 abroad – in the U.S., it sells for $84,000.)

    The industry can do this, in part, because unlike the demand for other goods, the demand for pharmaceuticals is highly inelastic. Consumers will continue to pay for the drugs that can save their lives, even if it breaks the bank.

    The impact on addiction treatment

    Nowhere is the pain of these games more troubling than in the market for opioid addiction medicine.

    In September, I testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee at a hearing about the state of competition in the markets for addiction medicine, noting that, while “Open and vigorous competition is the backbone of U.S. markets…we are not seeing that in the market for addiction medicine.”

    Pharmaceutical companies often argue that high profits are needed to fund development of new drugs, some of which don’t make it to market.

    “The competitive market is structured to take maximum advantage of savings from brand competition,” testified Anne McDonald Pritchett, vice president, policy and research for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

    However, open and vigorous competition is certainly not what the manufacturer behind the addiction treatment drug Suboxone had in mind when it combined several games to fight off generics appearing on the horizon. These games included product hopping (shifting the market to a new form of the drug just as the exclusivity expires so pharmacists cannot fill the prescription with a generic), refusing to cooperate with generic companies on safety plans, and petitioning the FDA to impose safety measures on generic versions that were never required for the brand-name version.

    The opioid addiction epidemic is a complex problem, and there are no simple answers. One thing, however, is certain. The U.S. system should not reward companies for blocking generic competition. When we do that, the American public pays the price.

    Robin Feldman is a professor of intellectual property at the University of California, Hastings. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The Conversation

    The post Column: How Big Pharma is hindering the fight against the opioid epidemic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    While vacationing at his New Jersey golf club, President Donald Trump hosted a “major briefing” Tuesday on the nation’s opioid crisis.

    Last week, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis said in its interim report that the president needs to declare a national state of emergency to create a more urgent response to what they called a public health crisis. On Thursday, there was speculation that Trump would issue that declaration when he held a campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia, a town whose 49,000 residents that have been hard-hit by the opiate epidemic. Trump made no such declaration but did cheer as West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said he would leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican.

    Before the briefing began Tuesday in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump reiterated his commitment to fight the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, emphasizing the need for law enforcement to crack down on drug-related crimes and prevention of drug misuse.

    “We’re going to have a tremendous team of experts and people that want to beat this horrible situation that has happened in our country — and we will,” Trump told reporters. “We will win. We have no alternative.”

    Later in the day, when asked by reporters why Trump was not yet declaring a national emergency as his commission recommended, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the president was certainly taking the issue seriously.

    But “most national emergencies that have been declared in the area of public health emergency have been focused on a specific area, a time-limited problem — either an infectious disease or a specific threat to public health. The two most recent that come to mind are the Zika outbreak and Hurricane Sandy. So we believe that at this point, the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis, at this point, can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency,” Price said, while adding that “all things are on the table for the president.”

    Kellyanne Conway, counsel to the president, said along with discussing medication and treatment, Tuesday’s briefing also looked at how to better educate doctors.

    “No state has been spared, and no demographic group has been untouched,” Conway said.

    Along with Price and Conway, others who attended the meeting included First Lady Melania Trump, Price, White House Chief of Staff and General John Kelly, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Kirstjen Nielsen with Department of Homeland Security, Andrew Bremberg of the Domestic Policy Council, Reed Cordish, Robert Porter, acting drug czar Richard Baum and Nina Schaefer from Department of Health and Human Services. No members of the opioid commission appeared to be in the room.

    Public health officials share growing concern about the opiate crisis, which killed 59,000 people last year, according to data analysis from the New York Times.

    On Tuesday morning, before he announced he would speak, Trump tweeted a report from Fox & Friends about a new study that says overdose deaths have been underreported.

    The post WATCH: Trump vows to beat opioid crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the American Health Care Act during a visit to the Harshaw-Trane Parts and Distribution Center in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston - RTX30LSP

    When he served as governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence sometimes used his personal email for state business. An attorney for Pence said he has turned over all the emails from his personal account. File photo by REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

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

    1. Texas Republican Bucks His Party To Block ‘Bathroom Bill’ — 8/3. The Texas House speaker is drawing ire from his Republican colleagues as he pursues bipartisanship. — KUT
    2. Republican And Democratic Groups In Talks With Encrypted Messaging Company — 7/31. Both sides of the aisle make plans to secure their communications after multiple hacks in 2016. — BuzzFeed News
    3. Florida’s Trump critics are all over cable TV, but paying a price — 8/4. A significant number of Republican anti-Trump pundits are Floridians. — Tampa Bay Times
    4. South Carolina governor candidate Catherine Templeton’s ‘proud of the Confederacy’ remarks stir controversy — 8/2. The comments come two years after the Confederate flag was taken down from the Statehouse. — Post-Courier
    5. After 6 months, Pence has now turned over all state-related AOL emails, his attorney says — 8/4. As governor of Indiana, Pence sometimes used his personal email for state business. — Indianapolis Star

    READ MORE: 5 overlooked politics stories that are worth your time (Aug. 2)

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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now resuming our weeklong series on books, we turn to a novel that upends the traditional narrative.

    Jeffrey Brown has this addition to the NewsHour Bookshelf.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A family falls apart. A woman and her two sons are preparing to begin a new life. That’s the simple outline of “Transit,” a novel gaining acclaim for its writing and for its approach to storytelling.

    It’s the second in a planned trilogy.

    Author Rachel Cusk joins me now. Welcome to you.

    RACHEL CUSK, Author, “Transit”: Hi.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I purposefully wrote that introduction to say a woman prepares to start a new life, instead of she’s starting a new life.

    My sense is that we’re sort of in the middle, or in transit, so to speak. Does that seem right to you?

    RACHEL CUSK: Yes, I mean, the title of the novel is very suggestive of that.

    I mean, she’s trying to reattach herself to life.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Literally.

    RACHEL CUSK: Yes, for her children, and that being a very, very sort of difficult and long-drawn-out process practically and psychologically.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, there’s the literal rebuilding of a house and then there is the rebuilding of a life. So, change, or the desire, or the question of whether it’s really possible is one of your themes.

    RACHEL CUSK: Yes. Yes, and also how — how you choose what will reflect you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What does that mean?

    RACHEL CUSK: The book deals with the sort of collapse in middle life of these rather institutionalized ways of being, marriage, parenthood, and to exit from those things suddenly is a — can represent a great loss of personal reality.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, construction of a house and construction of a life and construction of a novel.

    This is a novel in which we learn about the main character, Faye, through the encounters she has with people in her daily life. And that’s about it, right, no back story, no development, no plot in the normal sense, if I can use that word.

    RACHEL CUSK: I guess I tried to write a novel that honored the plotless-ness of life itself, and…

    JEFFREY BROWN: Is that how you thought of it, the plotless-ness of life itself?

    RACHEL CUSK: A little bit.

    I mean, again, it’s this theme of loss of meaning, loss of personal reality that made me reexamine, I suppose, the novel as a form and to realize how much it’s still in a sense rooted in a quasi-Victorian idea of storytelling, and that relies on an awful lot of prior knowledge and omniscience, you know, the idea of a narrator who is a sort of godlike, all knowing sort of presence…


    RACHEL CUSK: … who has fate, the story, the ending, the things that are going to happen completely in their hands.

    And I think there’s a degree to which humans sort of believe that that presence exists also in their own lives, that there’s some narrative that is your life, your story, that somebody somewhere is shaping or controlling.


    RACHEL CUSK: And the realization that that’s not so, which, as I say, might be a midlife crisis, it might be depression, it might be divorce, but, anyway, the feeling that things are not going as you sort of planned or wanted, that I guess caused me to really try and find a new way of constructing a book.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In each chapter, for example — you were talking about constructing a house.

    So, Faye meets with a builder, right? And it’s all a conversation. But in that conversation, there is a real story that unfolds through the builder about his life, about changing London, about all kinds of things.

    RACHEL CUSK: Well, in the end, you know, I wanted to write a novel that, as I say, had no prior knowledge in it, that anyone walking past could see and hear, you know, the same things that the novel sees and hears.

    And, you know, at the heart of that is my true belief that there is a story, there is a form, and it’s a form that human beings have an absolutely innate grasp of. They know how to tell stories about themselves, the story of themselves. It’s the thing that you’re taught to do, you know, from the minute you can speak, and you come home and tell your parent what your day was like at nursery.

    And you realize that certain things you say may — if you say this thing, people laugh. If you say that thing, they don’t quite understand you. And so we’re honing that from the beginning. And that, to me, is the story. That’s all there is.

    So, that’s sort of what the book is. It’s a sort of patchwork quilt, I suppose, of those narratives.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the novel is “Transit.”

    Rachel Cusk, thank you very much.

    RACHEL CUSK: Thank you.

    The post In ‘Transit,’ novelist Rachel Cusk tells story of rebuilding a house and a life appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight, we turn to one of the most controversial issues in higher education today, sexual assault on college campuses.

    The U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is considering dialing down federal guidance for how colleges and universities should handle sexual misconduct investigations. It’s a move that’s dividing school administrators, survivors and even the accused.

    That’s the topic for our weekly education segment, Making the Grade.

    Our William Brangham has more.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We’re talking about the interpretation of Title IX. That’s the 1972 law meant to prohibit sexual discrimination at federally funded schools and colleges.

    In 2011, the Obama administration issued new requirements for how those schools should handle investigations into sexual assaults on their campuses.

    Survivors and advocates had long argued that administrators weren’t doing enough to deal with an epidemic of these assaults. A 2016 Justice Department survey showed that one in five women said they’d been sexually assaulted in college. The Obama administration wanted to address that.

    Here’s how then Education Secretary Arne Duncan described their effort:

    ARNE DUNCAN, Former U.S. Education Secretary: Today, for the first time ever, an administration is releasing guidance under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 explaining how schools and colleges should deal with sexual violence.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of the more controversial changes was that the department urged schools to now use a lower standard of evidence in investigating these cases, using a — quote — “preponderance of evidence” that a sexual attack had occurred.

    Schools began changing their policies. Those that didn’t were threatened with the loss of federal funding. Victim advocates, like Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, celebrated the new guidance.

    FATIMA GOSS GRAVES, National Women’s Law Center: Forty-five years after Title IX first banned sex discrimination in education, you finally have colleges and universities paying more attention, trying to take the steps that are necessary to have campuses that are safer, and to ensure that sexual assault isn’t an issue that’s just swept under the rug.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But others, like Cynthia Garrett of Families Advocating Campus Equality, argue that the increased pressure on schools tipped the scales of justice against the accused.

    CYNTHIA GARRETT, Families Advocating Campus Equality: I think that the guidance that Obama — the Obama administration issued went too far the other way. And, as a result, there are colleges terrified to rule in favor of accused students or find them not responsible.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Taking a fresh look at the rules, last month, new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos convened listening sessions with sexual assault survivors, school administrators, and even students who’d been accused of sexual violence.

    BETSY DEVOS, U.S. Education Secretary: No student should feel the scales are tipped against him or her. We need to get this right.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Critics rallied outside the department’s headquarters, demanding DeVos not rescind the Title IX guidance from the Obama years.

    Adding to the controversy, Candice Jackson, DeVos’ acting head of the Office for Civil Rights, said that nearly all sexual assault allegations fall into the category of — quote — “We were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation.”

    Jackson later apologized for her comments.

    Survivors and their advocates fear this sentiment signals that the department will rescind the 2011 guidance or simply not enforce it.

    Michelle Anderson is the president of Brooklyn College.

    MICHELLE ANDERSON, President, Brooklyn College: If Betsy DeVos rescinds the 2011 guidance, campuses are left adrift about how to respond to the mandates of Title IX. And the campuses need that guidance in order to perform effectively, in order to respond to the needs of students.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There’s no sign yet as to what the Department of Education plans to do.

    For more on all this, we turn to Anya Kamenetz. She’s the lead education writer for NPR.

    Welcome back to the NewsHour.

    ANYA KAMENETZ, NPR: Thanks, William.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, before we get into the nitty-gritty of this, the cases that we’re talking about here, the assault cases, are an allegation where one student has made against another student, and it’s the schools, not law enforcement, that are adjudicating this.


    And a lot of people feel like that’s really the heart of the issue, because the Obama administration’s guidance was attempting to get schools, colleges, to take a stronger stance in adjudicating these claims.

    And a lot of people might say, well, shouldn’t that be law enforcement’s problem? But the argument was that, under Title IX, this is a civil rights matter, because it has to do with female students and other victims’ ability to have equal access to educational opportunity.

    Schools might say, well, we don’t have the infrastructure to necessarily investigate these claims or the fact-finding. And then some critics of the policy as well from outside say, yes, there’s not necessarily the same standards of evidence for an investigation when a school looks at a claim vs. law enforcement.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And the criticism of what the Obama administration did was that by tying these investigations to federal money, and by lowering the evidentiary standard, that you’re basically making a very strong incentive for schools to convict someone who is accused.


    So, with this statement, the Obama administration sort of created a national standard of preponderance of the evidence. Some colleges have used that standard before, but the bottom line is, they’re forcing a compliance mentality on the colleges by saying, we think that, in order to be good colleges with regard to sexual violence, that you have to follow these rules, one, two, three.

    Some victims’ advocates were very much in favor of that. And others, including some legal scholars, said this is overreach by the federal government. That’s certainly the position that DeVos and the Trump administration seem to be taking.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Currently, are schools and universities happy with this circumstance?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: I think that there’s a variety of opinions.

    Unfortunately, sexual violence is endemic on campuses. And so the feeling among colleges is, nobody wants to be singled out. And so some might say that having a single standard of investigation and what the federal government considers to be a strong standard, then colleges can point to that and say, we’re in compliance, we’re doing the right thing.

    Other colleges might say — resent having this thrust upon them. And it’s hard to say where colleges might fall on that.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, we don’t know exactly what Betsy DeVos and the current Education Department is going to do, but kids are going to start going to college pretty soon now. What do you think that this whole conversation is going to mean for them going forward?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: I think the messaging around this is really important, because, ultimately, sexual violence, it claims victims. It’s a common situation, unfortunately, common on campuses, but it’s also a school climate issue.

    It has to do with how a young woman and even a young man feels about what party they’re going to go to. If they’re going to be doing a certain activity after hours, can they walk alone? And I think that those safety issues are going to be on students’ minds as they go back to campus, and certainly on parents’ minds as well.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Anya Kamenetz of NPR, thank you so much.

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Thank you.

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    Singer Glen Campbell performs on stage at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 6, 2011, as part of a farewell concert tour following his diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn/File Photo

    Singer Glen Campbell performs on stage in 2011 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, California, as part of a farewell concert tour following his diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease. Campbell has died at age 81. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn/File Photo

    Glen Campbell, the “Rhinestone Cowboy,” country music legend, hitmaker, and TV star, is dead at 81.

    “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist … following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease,” the singer’s family said in a statement.

    In his six-decade career, Campbell won four Grammys and sold millions of records. His often romantic and sentimental country-pop hits, driven by his smooth tenor, layered arrangements, and twangy guitar, included “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Southern Nights,” “Try A Little Kindness,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and “Galveston.”

    But perhaps his most intimate song was his last, released in 2014. Titled “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” it chronicled the singer’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis he announced to the public in 2011.

    In the vein of Loretta Lynn’s “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” and Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt,” the song’s lyrics grapple with mortality: “I’m still here, but yet I’m gone / I don’t play guitar or sing my songs / They never defined who I am / The man that loves you ’til the end / You’re the last person I will love / You’re the last face I will recall / And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you.”

    Julian Campbell, an American music producer who co-wrote the song, told the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that the lyrics came out of something Campbell said after his diagnosis:

    [Campbell] had a hard day of people asking him about Alzheimer’s and how he felt about it. He didn’t talk too much about it, but came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know what everybody’s worried about. It’s not like I’m going to miss anyone, anyway.’

    The song, the last Campbell ever recorded, was written for the documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” which follows the singer-songwriter’s 151-show farewell tour and the way he and his family dealt with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The song’s music video includes family photos, scenes from hospital visits and of Campbell’s last appearances on stage.

    In 2015, Tim McGraw performed the song in Campbell’s honor at the Oscars.

    “Music utilizes all of the brain, not just one little section of it,” Campbell’s wife, Kim, told Rolling Stone Country before McGraw’s performance. “Everything’s firing all at once. It’s really stimulating and probably helped him plateau and not progress as quickly as he might have. I could tell from his spirits that it was good for him. It made him really happy. It was good for the whole family to continue touring and to just keep living our lives. And we hope it encourages other people to do the same.”

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the opioid crisis in the United States.

    President Trump addressed the issue today with a team of advisers meeting in New Jersey. It’s a problem touching all corners of the country.

    As the mayor of Nashville, Tennessee, Megan Barry has dealt with an increase in the number of overdose deaths in her city.

    But, last month, it took a very personal turn.

    Lisa Desjardins has more.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Mayor Megan Barry’s 22-year old son Max died a week-and-a-half ago after an apparent overdose. She spoke about her son’s death publicly for the first time yesterday, when she returned to work.

    She’s encouraging families to have frank conversations about addiction.

    And Mayor Barry joins me now from Nashville.

    Thank you for joining us, and our very sincere condolences for your loss.

    MAYOR MEGAN BARRY, Nashville, Tennessee: Yes, Lisa, thank you.

    LISA DESJARDINS: This opioid epidemic is so often told in statistics, but I would rather hear a little bit about your son. Can you tell us a little bit about him?

    MEGAN BARRY: Sure. Sure.

    Max was a wonderful kid. He was full of energy. He had just graduated from the University of Puget Sound this summer and was looking forward to the rest of his life.

    And you’re right. There are lots of statistics out there, but when it happens to your own child, it’s not a statistic.

    LISA DESJARDINS: I’m wondering. You have been in civic life for a decade. You have been mayor for two years now. And, of course, you have got a personal story here.

    When did it first come to your attention that the opioid epidemic was indeed a broad crisis in your community and in your life?

    MEGAN BARRY: We have seen those numbers in our own community ticking up over the last several years. And, in fact, in this last year, we have equipped all of our first-responders with Narcan, so that they can have that drug available when they are — they find somebody who is experiencing an opioid overdose.

    And we have also been focused on trying to make sure that we have more education by hiring some folks with our Public Health Department to address this opioid crisis. But, again, all of these issues and these things that we’re doing really hit home for me two weeks ago Saturday, when it was actually my own family that was impacted.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Looking at this crisis nationally, you can really see the rise in recent years. Going back from 1999, from then until 2015, the Centers for Disease Control say that the amount of opioid prescriptions in this country quadrupled.

    Also during that same time period, you can see that the amount of overdose deaths from opioids similarly quadrupled. Of course, it’s ticked up even more in recent years because of the addition of fentanyl.

    This is a very complicated question of access to addictive drugs and also overdose. How do you deal with that, and what are the gaps, what are the resource needs that you have in Nashville?

    MEGAN BARRY: Well, one of the things that we definitely need are more resources. We need treatment beds. We need access for individuals who are experiencing addiction to have treatment options.

    And that’s been one of the conversations on a national level. My son did go into rehab last summer. And he was able to go because he had health insurance.

    LISA DESJARDINS: One of the things that some people have called for is the declaration of a national emergency and waivers allowing more communities to use Medicaid for substance abuse.


    LISA DESJARDINS: Is that something you see there? Is that something you think a national emergency could help in your community?

    MEGAN BARRY: I think a national emergency declaration would absolutely help in our community, because it is a national emergency.

    Tennessee was number 10 last year in the amount of drug overdoses, and so it’s not just about Nashville. It’s about all of our communities. This is an urban and suburban and rural problem. And it crosses all families, and it crosses all economic spaces, and it is just — it is a crisis.

    LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump today was focused on this issue. That’s one reason we’re talking about it with you today.

    But he declined to declare a national emergency, but he did instead talk a lot about police, about ramping up law enforcement, about increased prosecutions, enforcing longer jail sentences.

    Do you think that sort of law-and-order approach is something that would help in your community?

    MEGAN BARRY: I don’t think that we’re going to arrest our way out of this.

    I think that it has to be much more broad and comprehensive, and that means making sure that we treat this like what it is, a disease, giving people access to help and giving them access to treatment beds.

    LISA DESJARDINS: I notice that you al are trying to hire an addiction specialist for Nashville.

    MEGAN BARRY: We are.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Has it been easy to find one? I know there are shortages in some parts of the country of counselors and people to deal with this crisis.

    MEGAN BARRY: We’re in the process of interviewing right now.

    And you’re absolutely right. We need more of those folks and we need more resources. So, we look forward to filling that position, and more positions as we need them.

    LISA DESJARDINS: I wish I could say you’re in a unique position, but I think more and more of our lawmakers have personal experiences like you do.

    And I’m wondering what your experience and what your son’s experience has given you in terms of how you look at this crisis.

    MEGAN BARRY: Well, we decided right away that we wanted to be transparent and honest about Max’s death.

    And we don’t want his death to define his life, but we also have to have an honest conversation about how he died. And you’re right. This has impacted my family, but it impacts a lot of families.

    I can’t tell you how many people have shared their grief story with me, where they have never talked about how their son or their daughter died before. But now they feel like they can. And that’s part of it. We have to have these frank conversations with our kids.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Has it helped you to talk about this, this last week, this last few days?

    MEGAN BARRY: I’m not sure what helps.

    All I know is that if there’s a parent or a friend out there who is seeing something in their own child or a friend, to make sure that they are reaching out to them, because that is going to be the best way to get them into treatment. These conversations have to be had.

    And if I can spare one family the pain and grief that we’re going through, I hope I can.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville, thank you so much for joining us.

    MEGAN BARRY: Lisa, thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A record number of Kenyans voted in their country’s general elections today.

    Battling it out for the presidency, the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, and the veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Both men are the sons of the country’s first president and first vice president, respectively. And both men were leaders when post-election violence rocked the East African nation a decade ago, raising fears today that the country could see a return to fighting.

    From Nairobi, special correspondent Colin Cosier reports.

    COLIN COSIER: At Machakos bus station in Nairobi, people are leaving town.

    MAN: We are afraid of electoral violence. The outcome of the elections are known. So us guys are just playing it safe. We don’t want to risk our lives.

    COLIN COSIER: They’re heading back to tribal homelands. And it seems a good number of those leaving are opposition voters.

    ISSAC CHISIKA: We want change. Surely, we want change. We want our country to be — to remove impunity, you see?

    COLIN COSIER: This is a problem for the opposition, who fear supporters are moving away from where they’re registered to vote.

    OCHIENG’ JUMA, NASA Voter: Even if we stop them, they will go and book another bus.

    COLIN COSIER: But not everyone is leaving. Just across town, the opposition was out in force for its last big rally on Saturday.

    Kenya’s election has become a surprisingly close race. The opposition believes it’s the strongest it’s been in years. And you really get the sense here that they think there is a chance.

    The man inspiring that hope is Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition leader who’s competing in his fourth, and perhaps last, presidential election.

    RAILA ODINGA, Opposition Leader: This is a revolution for change in our country. And the change will come on the 8th Tuesday election.

    COLIN COSIER: He faces tough competition from President Uhuru Kenyatta, leader of the ruling Jubilee Party.

    PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA, Kenya (through interpreter): Let’s compete on policy grounds and not hate-mongering of our people against each other.

    COLIN COSIER: Kenyan politics tends to align along tribal lines. After allegations of rampant fraud, the 2007 elections erupted into widespread ethnic violence.

    Over 1,000 people died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Raila ran for president that year, and Uhuru, a young leader, backed the then-incumbent. In the heart of Nairobi lies Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. The violence that tore through here 10 years ago is fresh in the minds of some residents.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): When the fighting broke out, I had a young child called Obama. The main problem I experienced was that my child ate more tear gas than food because we couldn’t get food. Life was hard.

    COLIN COSIER: This election, she’s worried again.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): The way I see it now, if things change and Raila becomes president, I don’t foresee people fighting. But I see that, if they announce Uhuru, I see war.

    COLIN COSIER: But not everyone fears history repeating itself.

    Murithi Mutiga is a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

    What are the chances of seeing a repeat of violence this election?

    MURITHI MUTIGA, International Crisis Group: It’s understandable why so many are concerned, but it’s also worth pointing out a lot has changed since the last outbreak of violence in 2007. The new constitution that came into place spreads power and resources much more evenly.

    COLIN COSIER: In 2013, Uhuru was facing charges in the International Criminal Court over the 2007 violence. He won that election against Raila, and the charges were later dropped. This year, Uhuru is campaigning as the development candidate, while Raila promises to reduce the cost of living.

    In the park outside of the opposition rally, two young men from Uhuru’s Kikuyu tribe peacefully show differing loyalties. Twenty-year-old John Mugo is voting for Uhuru.

    JOHN MUGO, Jubilee Voter: My tribe doesn’t impact on what I do, on what I vote. I’m a Kikuyu, but I don’t vote for a tribe.

    COLIN COSIER: While 25-year-old Vincent Kimani is backing Raila.

    VINCENT KIMANI, NASA Voter: My vote, it’s not about tribe. It’s about a better nation, because I believe, when you work together, good things can happen.

    COLIN COSIER: A record number of Kenyans registered to vote in this election. And with the opposition warning of vote-rigging, the question is, will either candidate be willing to concede defeat? Long lines and a cold drizzly morning didn’t stop Nairobi’s voters from turning out early and in large numbers.

    MAN: It was good. Yes, everything was good.

    MAN: It is disappointing, because we came here very early in the morning, the wee hours in the morning, and almost like five hours in the line.

    WOMAN: I’m glad I voted, and I hope we’re going to have a peaceful election.

    COLIN COSIER: Kenya’s history of alleged electoral fraud means all eyes are now on the voting system. The integrity of that system took a blow last week when a top electoral official was mysteriously murdered, allegedly tortured.

    International observers are watching closely. Former Secretary of State John Kerry led one such monitoring group.

    JOHN KERRY, Former U.S. Secretary of State: Given what’s happened in the past and given the stakes for the future, it’s a very, very important election, and clearly the citizens of Kenya are taking it very, very seriously.

    COLIN COSIER: Kerry’s former boss President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, released a statement calling for a peaceful and credible election, and to reject violence and incitement.

    Opinion polls have the candidates in a very tight race, but the only poll that counts is this one, the vote. The challenge for Kenya now is to prove that the elections are free and fair.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Colin Cosier in Nairobi, Kenya.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a look at a yet-to-be-released climate change report making headlines for what it tells us about the current state of science and politics.

    The New York Times, which acquired a draft of the document, reports today that among its key findings are that evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans, and that — quote — “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change.”

    The Times also reports that scientists are expressing concerns that the Trump administration has yet to indicate how or whether it will act on the findings.

    For more, we turn to New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman, who wrote today’s article.

    Lisa Friedman, welcome to the NewsHour.

    And we should say that, late today, the White House put out a report saying that it didn’t understand why the story was necessary, that it hasn’t made a decision on the release of this report.

    But setting that aside for a moment, who commissioned this report? Where did it come from?

    LISA FRIEDMAN, The New York Times: Sure. Thanks for having me.

    This report is part of what’s called the National Climate Assessment. It comes out every four years. It’s congressionally mandated. And the larger report, this National Climate Assessment, will presumably come out next year.

    This special report started under the Obama administration, and it was designed to be a state-of-the-science report, to tell us what we know about climate change, what we know about climate science, what we know about how it’s affecting us here and now in the United States.

    So, it’s important to note that hundreds of scientists have commented on this study, but the White House has until August 18 to decide what to do with it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I just cited a couple of the key findings, I guess, from this report, but what would you say the significance of it is? What’s in there that’s new and that matters that we hadn’t heard before?

    LISA FRIEDMAN: I think a couple big things, one of which is that this report finds that half of the temperature rise that has occurred in the past four decades can be linked to human activity.

    You know, that’s something that directly goes against what we hear from many members of the administration. We have heard many members of the administration say that climate change exists, that the climate is changing, even saying that humans have a role to play, but that the science is unclear about how much humans are contributing to climate change.

    This report, done by scientists at 13 federal agencies and outside the government as well, says, effectively, no, we do know how much humans are affecting climate change — pardon me — how much humans are affecting temperature rise.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so there are significant findings in here.

    And what I think is also interesting is a number of the scientists you talked to who contributed to this report or who are aware of it have a concern about whether it is going to be released. Tell us what their concern is.


    Well, like I said, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has until August 18 to decide whether or not this goes forward. If it does go forward, it will publish sometime this fall.

    You know, what I have heard from a number of scientists is that, as the date approached, there was increasing concern that the report would either be suppressed or changed. So far, there has been no evidence of that.

    So far, many scientists tell me that there has been very little direction, in fact, from the White House about the report altogether. In fact, our reporting also notes that people who do not believe in the established science behind climate change are also worried that this report and the broader National Climate Assessment will come out, because they fear that there are not enough people paying attention to this at the White House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And for those — well, for those in the first category — and I will ask you about the other ones next — is the concern that there won’t be actions taken at the federal level? What is the main concern if it’s not made public?


    This report doesn’t offer policy prescriptions. This is not political in any way, this report. This is a study of the science. And, you know, what I have heard from the scientists is that the real worry, if it’s not made public, is that it won’t be useful to people on the ground.

    They tell me that the people who really use this report are city planners, are people in places like Florida who are trying to figure out how to best assess sea level rise around Miami Beach, people who design building codes to make them more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather.

    Those are the folks who use this kind of report the most. And the concern overwhelmingly was that, if it’s not widely shared, these folks would never see it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And was that a — that was a widely held concern?

    LISA FRIEDMAN: I spoke to several scientists, yes, who are concerned that this report wouldn’t get out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so when the White House issues this report today and says this is a draft, it’s still in the internal phase, we have days to go, it is the case that they don’t — as you said several times now, they don’t have to make a decision yet.

    LISA FRIEDMAN: That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, by your report being out there and these scientists speaking through it, they’re making their concerns known.

    LISA FRIEDMAN: You know, a lot of people talked to me about this being a test case.

    This is the first major federal climate science report that has been issued under the Trump administration. And all eyes are on this administration to see how they handle it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going the leave it there and continue to watch this story, as I know you will.

    Lisa Friedman with The New York Times, thank you.

    LISA FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

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    FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing about the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in 2013. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the day’s other news: There’s word President Trump has exchanged private messages with Robert Mueller, the special counsel for the Russia investigation. USA Today reports that Mr. Trump has sent messages of — quote — “appreciation” through his attorney to Mueller. The president has publicly called the Russia probe a — quote — “witch-hunt” and was said to be considering firing Mueller.

    At least seven people are dead, after a powerful earthquake rocked Southwest China. The quake struck near a national park in Sichuan Province. More than 80 people were injured. Separately, further north — or further south, I should say, rescue crews worked to find survivors of a landslide caused by heavy rains. At least 23 people were killed there.

    In South Africa, embattled President Jacob Zuma survived yet another vote of no-confidence today. Zuma’s been dogged by allegations of corruption and a sinking economy. He would have had to resign if the motion had succeeded. Members of Parliament voted in a secret ballot.

    Afterwards, Zuma celebrated with supporters.

    PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA, South Africa: I have just come to say thank you to all of you. Those comrades, those comrades who were in Parliament needed the support from the membership and supporters.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Zuma’s term continues until elections in 2019. His party is expected to replace him as its leader in December.

    The U.S. says that an unarmed Iranian drone came within about 100 feet of an American warplane today. It happened in the Persian Gulf, as the plane prepared to land on an aircraft carrier. The Pentagon says that it was the 13th unsafe or unprofessional interaction between U.S. and Iranian maritime forces this year.

    Venezuela’s new Constitutional Assembly has passed a decree declaring itself superior to other branches of government. The order bars the opposition-controlled Congress and other agencies from taking actions that would interfere with the body’s laws.

    Meanwhile, foreign ministers from 14 countries gathered in Peru to address the crisis. But Venezuela’s foreign minister said they were just pawns of the U.S.

    JORGE ARREAZA, Foreign Minister, Venezuela (through interpreter): That persecution of Venezuela, the constant siege, the constant attempt to topple a legitimately elected government, well, it’s become common, but it has entered a much stronger phase. Now they meet in subgroups to provide the political groundwork to U.S. imperialism to keep pushing.

    Today, it is Venezuela, but tomorrow it might be any of our countries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, a U.N. report released today says that Venezuela’s armed forces were responsible for 46 deaths since April.

    Back in this country, the Justice Department is now backing Ohio’s method for purging voter rolls, a reversal from the Obama administration. The matter is before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a filing yesterday, the government said that Ohio’s system for removing inactive voters is legal. But civil liberties groups say the process unfairly blocks eligible voters.

    Google has fired the engineer who wrote a memo criticizing the company’s gender diversity program. The note, which sparked an uproar, suggested men may be more biologically suited for tech jobs than women. Google’s CEO denounced the memo in an e-mail yesterday.

    On Wall Street, the president’s comments on North Korea sent stocks lower today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 33 points to close at 22085. The Nasdaq fell 13, and the S&P 500 dropped six.

    And two passings of note in the arts world. Country music icon Glen Campbell has died. He sold more than 45 million records and won six Grammys, famous for hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman,” Campbell became a fixture at the top of music charts and on radio and TV in the 1960s and ’70s. In 2011, Campbell announced that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He died today in Nashville at the age of 81.

    READ MORE: Glen Campbell’s last song chronicled his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease

    And Broadway star Barbara Cook also died today. She was known for her prolific career in musicals and cabaret and her soprano vocals. Barbara Cook was 89.

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    Al Sharpton leads a "Justice for All" rally in downtown Washington D.C. to protest against police brutality and the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths, amongst others. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

    Posters are seen at a “Justice for All” rally in downtown Washington D.C. to protest against police brutality and the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths, amongst others. Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images.

    Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown.

    The police shooting deaths of these six African-American men have sparked intense debate across the country about police use of force and racial bias in fatal police shootings.

    According to an analysis by The Washington Post, 963 people were fatally shot by police in 2016. So far this year, 606 people have been shot and killed by police.

    About 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police were black, according to the Post’s analysis. Another look at the data earlier this year by Mother Jones found that black men between the ages of 18 and 44 were three times as likely as white men the same age to be killed by the police.

    Today, three years since Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, what have we learned about race and police shootings? What’s changed — and what hasn’t?

    At 1 p.m. ET Wednesday, the PBS NewsHour (@newshour) will host a Twitter chat with Paul Butler (@LawProfButler), a former federal prosecutor and leading criminal law scholar of race and the policing of black men, and Steve Rich (@dataeditor), the data editor at the Washington Post, who has helped compile the newspaper’s database on police shootings. We’ll discuss the latest data and answer your questions about police shootings.

    Have questions? Tweet them using #NewsHourChats

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: North Korea may have taken a fateful step forward on the path towards being a nuclear weapons power. The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded the North Korean regime has developed a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles, which are believed capable of striking not only South Korea and the immediate region, but also the United States.

    Speaking in New Jersey this afternoon, President Trump had tough words for Pyongyang.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

    He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And, as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

    Thank you. Thank you.

    WATCH: Trump warns North Korea of ‘fire and fury’ if threats continue

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Joining me now to look at today’s developments are Wendy Sherman. She served as undersecretary of state for political affairs from 2011 to 2015 under President Obama. She helped to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal. She was also part of the Clinton administration team that negotiated with North Korea over its nuclear program in the 1990s. And Melissa Hanham, she works in the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

    Melissa Hanham, I’m going to start with you because you work on issues like this.

    Tell us, what exactly is this capability that it now appears is confirmed that the North Koreans have?

    MELISSA HANHAM, Middlebury Institute: Sure.

    So, for some time,we have tracked North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons capability in the open source. I work at Middlebury, where we only have access to open source information. That is what’s not classified.

    But even in the information available to us through photographs, through video, and through public statements, we have been able to see that there’s a strong probability that North Korea already had a warhead that could fit on the tip of actually several of its missiles.

    We do that first by looking at the images to see if there is any fakery or Photoshop being done, and then by measuring objects inside the photos. The thing we couldn’t prove is whether the warhead that North Korea showed off in 2016 in March was real or not, because we can’t see into the inside of it.

    And while that sort of silver orb had some realistic features, there were other things that were kind of strange. But the fact that the DIA now that says that they have this capability really kind of confirms what we had been expecting.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it doesn’t like this comes as a complete surprise to you.

    If this is the case, if it’s confirmed, what does exactly that mean the North can do in terms of striking another country?

    MELISSA HANHAM: Well, so, just this past month, they have launched an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile known as Hwasong-14.

    And in their test, they used what’s called a lofted trajectory, which means they launched the missile very high trajectory and then had it come down not too far from its origin point. But the total distance traveled demonstrates that it could reach most of the U.S. states and it may indeed actually put New York and Washington, D.C., at risk, depending on how heavy its payload was.

    So if they can indeed put a kind of compact warhead on the tip of this missile, then probably what they’re doing is making a weapon to deter the United States from coming to the aid of its allies in the region, South Korea and Japan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Wendy Sherman, assuming this capability is what it looks like it is, what does that mean from a strategic standpoint?

    WENDY SHERMAN, Former State Department Official: Well, it’s very concerning, for sure, but not unexpected, Judy, whether the DIA is correct, because this is not a community …


    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Defense Intelligence Agency.

    WENDY SHERMAN: Yes, the Defense Intelligence Agency.

    It’s correct or not, because it’s not a community assessment yet, it appears, it doesn’t really matter because we knew that sooner or later they would be able to create small warhead. This could go on the ICBM that Melissa talked about. They still have some guidance issues probably of that missile. They probably have a reentry problem with that missile, but they’re making progress at quite a rapid pace.

    It is right for the U.S. government to be concerned. It is right for Americans to be concerned. It was a very good step that was taken at the U.N. to have a 15-0 unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council to impose more onerous sanctions on North Korea, but that won’t be enough. There are many other pieces to this puzzle to get them to come to a negotiating table in seriousness.

    And it will probably take quite a bit for us to get to that point.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it possible, Wendy Sherman, to know what the intentions of the North are?

    WENDY SHERMAN: I think we have all known that the intention is to survive.

    Kim Jong-un wants his regime to survive. They want to deter the United States. They believe the United States is the only country capable of really doing them in, because not only do they have nuclear weapons now, but they also have a very real conventional army and conventional artillery, which could pose catastrophic damage on our ally and partner Seoul — in Seoul in South Korea, and in Japan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Melissa Hanham, back to you.

    Is there any sort of consensus in the research community about what the North is prepared to do, what its intentions are?

    MELISSA HANHAM: Well, measuring their capabilities is a lot easier than measuring their intent, unfortunately, and intent can change.

    One remark that I do find interesting is, in recent KCNA statements, when they discussed the Hwasong-14, the intercontinental ballistic missile …

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is a news agency in the North.

    MELISSA HANHAM: … they made a statement — and I’m paraphrasing here — that they would never give up their nuclear weapons or their missiles unless the U.S. stops its threatening behavior and definitely removes the nuclear threat from North Korea.

    I may be hanging a lot on that word “unless,” but it’s possible they’re leaving a cracked door open. The U.S. has been responding to North Korea primarily with sticks, sanctions, strategic patience, these kinds of things.

    It may be time — and I can say this because I’m an academic, and I can put far out there — I can put ideas out there — but it may be time to give them a small nudge.

    I thought Rex Tillerson’s statement that the U.S. wasn’t out to overthrow the regime might have been a good start, although, with today’s Trump remarks, that may all be out the window again. But I would prefer to see them at the negotiating table.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s what I was going to ask Ambassador Sherman about.

    It was just a few days ago that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said, we’re prepared to sit down and talk to the North. But then you just heard President Trump saying, if they do anything more threatening, they will be met with fire and fury.


    I think we don’t have a coherent policy here that we’re being — we’re seeing implemented. We have the sanctions, as Melissa pointed out. It’s good to have sticks. It’s important, because it won’t stop their program, but it might say, you have got a choice to make here. You can either get on the path of negotiating, or you won’t be able to survive as a regime because your economy will go to hell in a handbasket, because you will be a pariah in the world, because you will not get what you want out of this, you won’t get safety and security.

    But that also means you have to signal that you will have an open channel, which Secretary Tillerson did. But, today, the president of the United States’ comments have really quite literally blown up that possibility for the moment, because the North will not be able to back down from its position when they hear the president of the United States say, in fact, we do have a hostile action coming your way.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Wendy Sherman, I just — I know we have had discussion after discussion on this program about what are the possibilities between the United States and North Korea?

    And the question comes now, now that we know they have this capability — or it appears that they have this capability, what are the mechanics even in place for the two sides to have a conversation, to talk to each other, to try to climb down from this place that it appears where we are?

    WENDY SHERMAN: Well, I think there is a possibility and a way to get there.

    China is certainly a critical player in that, in their conversations with North Korea. That may be true for Russia as well, and I think it was very important that China and Russia were on this U.N. Security Council resolution, that the Chinese foreign minister really implored North Korea to stop its behavior and to get back to the negotiating table, and Prime Minister Lavrov said the same thing.

    Judy, we have to use all of our tools at our disposal, the carrots, the sticks, and everything else we can think of, including working very closely with South Korea and Japan, because they are already at risk today in ways that we are not yet at risk.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are going the leave it there, but, of course, everyone is left with many, many more questions, as we sit here this evening.

    Wendy Sherman, thank you. Melissa Hanham from the Middlebury Institute, thank you.

    The post Reports suggest North Korea making missile-ready nuclear weapons. What should the U.S. do? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An aerial view of the Naval Base in Guam on Sept. 20, 2006. Photo by U.S. Navy via Reuters

    An aerial view of the Naval Base in Guam on Sept. 20, 2006. Photo by U.S. Navy via Reuters

    North Korea says it is examining its operational plans for attacking Guam to contain U.S. bases there.

    The army said in a statement distributed Wednesday by the state-run news agency that it is studying a plan to create an “enveloping fire” in areas around Guam with medium- to long-range ballistic missiles. The U.S. territory is home to Andersen Air Force Base.

    The statement says the move is in response to a recent U.S. ICBM test.

    It comes as President Donald Trump says North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it makes any more threats to the U.S.

    A Japanese defense paper and a U.S. media report Tuesday said North Korea may have successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.

    Security and defense officials on Guam say there is no imminent threat to people there or in the Northern Mariana Islands after North Korea said it was examining its operational plans for attack.

    READ MORE: Guam tells citizens there is no imminent threat from North Korea

    The speaker of the Guam Legislature says he hopes the island can defend itself in the event of an attack from North Korea.

    Benjamin J. Cruz tells The Associated Press in a telephone interview, “We’re just praying that the United States and the … defense system we have here is sufficient enough to protect us.”

    Cruz calls the threat “very disconcerting,” saying, “It forces us to pause and to say a prayer for the safety of our people.”

    Rena Chang, who owns a hair salon in the tourist area of Tumon, says: “That’s so scary. My heart is pumping right now.”

    Reports: North Korea may have nuclear warhead that fits inside a missile

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    FILE PHOTO: Navy vessels are moored in port at the U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Guam March 5, 2016. Major Jeff Landis,USMC (Ret.)/Naval Base Guam/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - RTS1AYM8

    FILE PHOTO: Navy vessels are moored in port at the U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Guam. Photo by Major Jeff Landis,USMC (Ret.)/Naval Base Guam/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS.

    Security and defense officials on Guam say there is no imminent threat to people there or in the Northern Mariana Islands after North Korea said it was examining its operational plans for attack.

    Guam’s Department of Homeland Security and Office of Civil Defense say they are monitoring North Korea with U.S. military and government officials.

    Guam’s Homeland Security Adviser George Charfauros says officials there are confident “the U.S. Department of Defense is monitoring this situation very closely and is maintaining a condition of readiness.”

    It comes as President Donald Trump says North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it makes any more threats to the U.S.

    READ MORE: North Korea says it’s studying a plan to attack Guam

    Charfauros in his statement Wednesday morning urged calm and said defenses are in place on Guam and its neighboring Pacific islands for threats such as North Korea.

    Meanwhile, Benjamin J. Cruz, the speaker of the Guam Legislature, told The Associated Press in an earlier telephone interview, “We’re just praying that the United States and the … defense system we have here is sufficient enough to protect us.”

    Cruz calls the threat “very disconcerting,” saying, “It forces us to pause and to say a prayer for the safety of our people.”

    Reports: North Korea may have nuclear warhead that fits inside a missile

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    12/8/1950-ORIGINAL CAPTION READS: Hardly a magazine reader is unfamiliar with the name of Norman Rockwell and his engaging human interest paintings. It takes many hours of concentrated work in his studio to produce these popular illustrations.

    The Berkshire Museum is selling several pieces from Norman Rockwell, seen in his studio, in order to stay afloat, a decision that has caused controversy in the arts community. Credit: Bettmann / Contributor.

    When the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art (MASS MoCA) opened a new facility in June, it became one of the largest exhibition spaces in the country. But on the other side of Berkshire County, another museum is selling off some of its most prominent art pieces in order to stay afloat.

    In a highly-criticized decision, the Berkshire Museum will sell 40 pieces from its collection of more than 40,000 works to help pay off some of the $1.15 million deficit the museum has accumulated over the past decade. (It will also go toward plans to remodel and create an endowment). In a statement to the local paper last month, museum executive director Van Shields argued that without a change in finances, the museum would be out of money in less than eight years.

    Among the pieces the museum plans to auction off are two paintings by beloved Americana painter and one-time Berkshire resident Norman Rockwell, who donated the paintings to the museum more than half a century ago. His family has expressed concern about the sale.

    The Berkshire Museum is also selling works by Alexander Calder, an American sculptor known for his wire mobiles, and paintings by renowned landscape artists Albert Bierstadt and George Inness.

    Sotheby’s, who will be auctioning off the Berkshire Museum’s pieces, told the NewsHour that initial auctions will take place in November, though catalog information will be available to the public the month before. The auction house declined to state prices for individual pieces, but said it expected to raise $50 million from all auction sales.

    READ MORE: Can a contemporary art mecca anchor this once-industrial town?

    When it announced the sale of these pieces, the Berkshire Museum had also just announced its ambitious plan to reinvent the museum, called “New Vision.” The plan includes a $20 million renovation and the creation of a $40 million endowment.

    They’re both part of the museum’s plans to evolve into a interdisciplinary museum that would invest more in connections between science, history and the arts. The museum has a said it is eliminating works that no do not serve interdisciplinary purposes, including “Old Master” and 19th-century European paintings as well as impressionist, modern and contemporary art.

    The 40 pieces headed to auction were “deemed no longer essential to the the Museum’s new interdisciplinary programs,” the museum said in a release provided to NewsHour. It is a process down as “deaccession” — one that is controversial in the art community.

    The Berkshire Museum will sell 40 pieces of more than 40,000 works to help pay off some of the $1.15 million deficit the museum has accumulated over the past decade.

    When the Delaware Art Museum sold off pieces of art to help pay off a debt in 2014, for example, the Association of Art Museum Directors responded by issuing a sanction against the museum. Members of the association were barred from loaning art to the Delaware Art Museum or otherwise collaborating with them.

    When Detroit was filing for bankruptcy in 2013, the city also considered the sale of art pieces from its namesake Institute of the Arts. But the state’s attorney general decried the move, calling the art a “trust for the people.” Ultimately, state rescue funds along with private donations stopped the sale.

    As for the Berkshire Museum, the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors have criticized the plan for deaccession, saying in a joint statement that museum collections were “held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset.”

    Locally, the reception has been more mixed. Laurie Norton Moffatt, head of the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum, urged the Berkshire Museum to rethink its plans, especially to sell Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop.” Moffatt called the 1950 oil on canvas, which depicts the view into a barbershop, and served as the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in April, 1950, “a unique masterpiece and one of Rockwell’s very best paintings.”

    Moffatt also pointed out that Rockwell had gifted the piece the museum for the people of Berkshire County to enjoy. The Berkshire Museum was founded in 1903 by Zenas Crane, a man inspired by grander American museum institutions of various genres.

    The museum has said the sales will go forward. Mass MoCA director John Thompson supported the plan, noting in an op-ed to the Berkshire Eagle that the museum “has barely survived on a crimped, insufficient budget.” He wrote the only thing more difficult than selling off art would be closing the museum for good. Moreover, if the museum did not move forward with its sale, he said, it would have to shrink in size or reduce programming.

    But members of the Rockwell family — who also wrote a letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle earlier this month — argued pieces like the “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” should be kept at a public institution so that many can still enjoy it.

    The other Rockwell piece to be auctioned is “Blacksmith’s Boy — Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop),” a 1940 oil on canvas that was also printed in the Saturday Evening Post.

     Norman Rockwell Museum.

    In several letters to Rockwell thanking him for the donation, the director of the Berkshire Museum wrote he was “delighted to have it” and that they had become “great favorites on view.” Credit: Norman Rockwell Museum.

    Rockwell, who lived and worked in the Berkshires for 25 years, up until his death, donated the paintings to the museum in 1959 and 1966, respectively. According to Stephanie Plunkett, deputy director and chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Rockwell had a relationship with Stuart Henry, then the museum’s director, who allowed Rockwell to store works at the museum due to his lack of space in his small studio. In several letters to Rockwell thanking him for the donation, Henry wrote that the museum was “delighted to have it” and that they had become “great favorites on view.”

    “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” was last displayed at the Berkshire Museum from January 2013 through October 2015. “Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop” was on view from October 2015 to July 2017, according to the museum. Both remained a part of the collection but were not consistently display due to space limitations — something the museum’s new plan aims to make room for.

    A third Rockwell piece, “Portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower,” which also ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1952, will remain in the Berkshire Museum’s collection.

    The post Should museums be able to sell their art? This museum says its future depends on it appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FILE PHOTO - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at a Harden County Republican party fundraiser in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, U.S. on June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo - RTX3BWYY

    FILE PHOTO – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at a Harden County Republican party fundraiser in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, U.S. on June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo – RTX3BWYY

    President Donald Trump scolded his own party’s Senate leader on Wednesday for the crash of the Republican drive to repeal and rewrite the Obama health care law, using Twitter to demand of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “Why not done?”

    Trump fired back at the Kentucky Republican for telling a home-state audience this week that the president had “not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”

    The exchange came less than two weeks after Senate rejection of the GOP effort to scuttle President Barack Obama’s health care law, probably McConnell’s most jolting defeat as leader and Trump’s worst legislative loss. The House approved its version in May, but its Senate failure — thanks to defecting GOP senators — marked the collapse of the party’s attempt to deliver on vows to erase Obama’s statute it’s showcased since the law’s 2010 enactment.

    “Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so,” Trump tweeted. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”

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

    Trump had repeatedly used Twitter to pressure McConnell to find the votes to approve the health care bill, even saying hours after its failure that GOP senators “look like fools.”

    But his tweet Wednesday was an unusually personal reproach of the 33-year Senate veteran, who is deeply respected by GOP lawmakers.

    Trump will need him to guide the next major Republican priority, a tax system overhaul, through the chamber. And he might be a useful White House ally as investigations progress into collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

    For his part, McConnell’s statement was surprising because he is typically among the capital’s most guarded politicians. When it comes to criticizing Trump, he’s seldom gone further than saying he wishes he would stop tweeting, and often refused to chime in when Trump made widely condemned comments during last year’s campaign.

    McConnell told the Rotary Club of Florence, Kentucky, on Monday that people think Congress is underperforming partly because “artificial deadlines, unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating, may not have been fully understood.”

    Trump had repeatedly used Twitter to pressure McConnell to find the votes to approve the health care bill, even saying hours after its failure that GOP senators “look like fools.”

    He added that 52 is “a challenging number,” a reference to the GOP’s scant 52-48 Senate majority. “You saw that on full display a couple of weeks ago,” when McConnell failed to muster a majority to push three different Republican health care plans through the chamber.

    McConnell’s Kentucky remarks also drew a tweet from Dan Scavino Jr., the White House social media director.

    “More excuses,” wrote Scavino, one of Trump’s more outspoken loyalists. “@SenateMajLdr must have needed another 4 years – in addition to the 7 years – to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

    Also joining the fray was Fox News Host Sean Hannity, a close Trump ally.

    “@SenateMajLdr No Senator, YOU are a WEAK, SPINELESS leader who does not keep his word and you need to Retire!” Hannity tweeted.

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

    Hard-right conservatives have long assailed McConnell for being insufficiently ideological.

    Before taking office and after becoming president, Trump spoke often of moving legislation erasing Obama’s law rapidly through Congress. On Jan. 10 — 10 days before taking office — he told The New York Times that Congress could approve a repeal bill “probably sometime next week,” and a separate replacement measure would be passed “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”

    Top congressional Republicans also fed expectations for quick work, placing health care atop their 2017 agenda. In January, House leaders unveiled a schedule calling for action by late March, and McConnell said in March that he wanted Senate passage by the April recess.

    Congress has begun its summer break without passing any major legislation. It has passed bills buttressing veterans’ health care and financing the Food and Drug Administration, and the Senate confirmed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

    McConnell told the Kentuckians that lawmakers should be judged when the current two-year Congress ends in January 2019.

    Hours before Trump tweeted about McConnell, the president took his side when he tweeted his endorsement of Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., for next week’s Senate GOP primary. McConnell has backed Strange in that multi-candidate race.

    Yet one loyal Trump supporter donated $300,000 this month to a political committee backing a primary opponent of Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. Flake, expected to get establishment GOP backing, faces a competitive race next year and is one of the biggest thorns in the president’s side.

    Robert Mercer’s check marked the “first major gift” this cycle to the committee backing Senate candidate Kelli Ward, said Doug McKee, chairman of Kelli PAC. Mercer has helped fund the vigorously pro-Trump Breitbart News.

    AP writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report.

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    FILE PHOTO - U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017. To match Special Report USA-STUDENTLOANS REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo - RTX3CTS9

    U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who marks six months in office this week, alienated many African-Americans in February when she described historically black colleges as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

    WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday distanced herself from her comment earlier this year about the nation’s historically black colleges and universities being pioneers of school choice, saying that in the past “there were no choices” for African-Americans in higher education.

    “When I talked about it being a pioneer in choice it was because I acknowledge that racism was rampant and there were no choices,” DeVos said in an interview with The Associated Press in her office at the Education Department. “These HBCUs provided choices for black students that they didn’t have.”

    DeVos, who marks six months in office this week, alienated many African-Americans in February when she described historically black colleges as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” In May, she was booed while attending the commencement ceremony at a historically black college in Florida.

    “My intention was to say they were pioneering on behalf of students that didn’t have another choice. This was their only choice,” DeVos said. “At the same time I should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country.”

    The Trump administration and DeVos have come under criticism from civil rights advocates for undoing some civil rights protections, including rescinding Obama-era federal guidance that instructed schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice and President Donald Trump calling for banning transgender individuals from serving in the military.

    DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor and long-standing school choice activist from Michigan, said that she has spent her career campaigning on behalf of minority children.

    “That’s where my heart has been for three decades is to really empower and allow all families the same kind of opportunities I’ve had for my kids,” she said.

    At the same time, DeVos acknowledged that she could have done more to reach out to African-American communities around the country to make her position more clear.

    “I’ve had these conversations with some of the African-American organizations that represent higher education, but probably not as explicitly as I am right now,” DeVos said.

    READ MORE: Justice Department denies broad move against college affirmative action

    The NAACP and the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education did return requests for comment about DeVos’ remarks.

    The issue of minorities’ access to higher education remains controversial today. The Justice Department said last week it would conduct an inquiry into how race influences admissions at Harvard University after a coalition of more than 60 Asian-American groups brought a complaint alleging the school uses race as a factor in admissions and discriminates against Asian-Americans by holding them to a higher standard.

    DeVos said her department was not involved in that process and added that this “has been a question for the courts and the courts have opined.”

    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 allow colleges to 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.

    Asked whether race should play a role in college admissions, DeVos said it is already being considered in the selection process.

    “Well, they are looking at that, that is a factor today,” DeVos said referring to college admissions officers. “I am not going to debate that, I am not going to discuss that.”

    But DeVos said the key to giving students equal access to higher education lies in elementary and secondary school.

    “It is not fair to think that when students transit through a K-12 system that is not preparing them for beyond, that somehow we are going to waive a magic wand and things are going to be perfect for them at the higher-ed level,” DeVos said.

    “So I’ve always said: What we should really be talking about is what are we doing to ensure that every single child no matter their family income, no matter their racial background, no matter their zip code has equal opportunities to access a quality education.”

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