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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The White House announced President Trump has nominated Kirstjen Nielsen for secretary of homeland security. She is currently deputy chief of staff at the White House. Nielsen worked for then Secretary John Kelly at Homeland Security, and then moved with him when he became White House chief of staff.

    North Korea fired off a new verbal assault against President Trump today. The country’s foreign minister charged that the president has — quote — “lit the wick of war.”

    Ri Yong-Ho told a Russian news agency: “We need to settle the final score, only with a hail of fire, not words.”

    Meanwhile, U.S. B-1 bombers flew new drills with South Korean warplanes over the Korean Peninsula.

    China is vowing to protect its territorial claims in the South China Sea, after a U.S. warship sailed near disputed islands. The destroyer USS Chafee passed close to the Paracel Islands yesterday to assert freedom-of-navigation rights.

    In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry denounced the move as a violation of China’s sovereignty.

    HUA CHUNYING, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, China (through interpreter): The relevant U.S. warship’s actions violated Chinese laws and related international laws, seriously undermined China’s security interest, and endangered the lives and safety of the personnel of both countries on the front line. The Chinese government will continue to defend its interest with firm measures.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: China claims almost all of the South China Sea and the islands there as its territory.

    A scandal engulfing Japan’s Kobe Steel deepened today. The company has admitted falsifying data about the quality of its aluminum and copper products, which it sells to hundreds of manufacturing companies. Now the Japanese government is urging Kobe to clarify just how far the problem went. General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and Boeing, among others, say they’re investigating if the materials pose a safety risk.

    The prime minister of Spain demanded today to know if the region of Catalonia has proclaimed its independence. Last night, Catalan officials signed what they called a declaration of independence, but the Catalan president said that it won’t take effect for several weeks.

    Today, addressing Spain’s Parliament, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy again rejected any talk of secession.

    MARIANO RAJOY, Prime Minister, Spain (through interpreter): Ladies and gentlemen, on October 1, the government of Catalonia wanted to carry out an illegal referendum. It was the last chapter in a political strategy devised to impose on Catalan society and all Spaniards an independence that few want and is good for nobody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Rajoy went on to say, there’s no constitution in the world that recognizes the right to self-determination.

    In Kenya, new confusion, and protests, over a rerun of the presidential election. Police in Nairobi fired tear gas today to disperse more than 1,000 opposition supporters. They were demanding election reforms. Opposition leader Raila Odinga is boycotting the election unless he is guaranteed a fair count. But Parliament today declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner.

    Back in this country, police in Baton Rouge have arrested 10 people in a fraternity death at Louisiana State University; 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver died last month after a night of drinking. His blood-alcohol level was more than six times the legal limit. Eight of the suspects are LSU students. All of them face misdemeanor hazing charges. One is also charged with negligent homicide.

    President Trump today threatened TV broadcast networks over their news coverage. It came as he denied an NBC report that he’d wanted a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also denied the report. The president condemned what he called fake news and suggested it is time to challenge the networks’ licenses for broadcast stations.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 42 points to close near 22873. The Nasdaq rose 16, and the S&P 500 added four.

    The post News Wrap: Trump names Kirstjen Nielsen to lead Homeland Security appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Boy Scouts of America troop members attend a Memorial Day weekend commemorative event in Los Angeles, California, May 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) - GM1E95Q0EL202

    Boy Scouts of America troop members attend a Memorial Day weekend commemorative event in Los Angeles, California. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn.

    The Boy Scouts board of directors said Wednesday it would open some of its programs to girls, including the path to the prestigious title of Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest rank.

    The change marks a major shift for the century-old establishment. The Boy Scouts of America said its decision is an important evolution in how it meet the needs of families and their children, but the move has previously sparked criticism from the female-focused Girl Scouts of the USA.

    Here’s what we know about the decision — and what it means for scouting.

    The new plan: Starting next year, the Boy Scouts will create separate boys and girls Cub Scout dens, its smallest unit. Those dens can be combined to create Cub Scout packs. Older girls may enter a new program as early as 2019 which will qualify them for the Eagle Scout rank.

    Girls were previously able to participate in certain existing programs, including the Venturing and Sea Scouts, but could not pursue the Eagle Scout ranking. Many girls have tried to join Boy Scouts over the years, all unsuccessfully, The New York Times noted as it chronicled a group of five California girls trying to join the organization in 2015.

    Another girl, Sydney Ireland, attracted media attention earlier this year for being an unofficial boy scout in Manhattan’s Troop 414, something she’s done since she was four years old. Ireland told WNYC that she regularly went with her brother to Cub Scout meetings. Today, Ireland, 16, has petitioned the Boy Scouts to allow her and other girls to become official members.

    In a Change.org petition, Ireland explained why she thought girls ought to be allowed into Boy Scouts:

    “I cannot change my gender to fit the Boy Scouts’ standards, but the Boy Scouts can change their standards to include me. I am determined to be an Eagle Scout. It isn’t just a hobby, it’s access to some of the best leadership training there is,” she wrote. “Unfortunately for me and half the country’s population, we are excluded from most of these amazing opportunities for no reason other than that we are female. That’s why I’m calling on the BSA to end the discriminatory ban against young women and girls, and allow all children to participate in the Boy Scouts and earn the Eagle Rank.”

    Why the policy changed: The Boy Scouts of America said it made the decision based on months of research and information from girls, parents and members of the institution.

    “The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women,” said Boy Scouts chief scout executive Michael Surbaugh said in a statement. “We strive to bring what our organization does best – developing character and leadership for young people – to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

    The organization has faced criticism for years on its positions on sexual orientation and gender (as chronicled here by the Los Angeles Times). Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the Boy Scouts’ decision in January to allow transgender participants. The group ended its controversial ban on openly gay scouts in 2013 and on gay Boy Scout leaders in 2015.

    “The Boy Scouts say their decision is informed by research from over the summer and the months proceeding,” said New York Times reporter Niraj Chokshi, who spoke with Girl Scout leadership following Wednesday’s announcement. But the Girl Scouts were “blindsided by the decision,” Chokshi said.

    What about the Girl Scouts? Both the Boy and Girl Scouts emerged out of World War I and have historically maintained a close relationship. But, in August, a letter was made public in which the president of the Girls Scouts accused the Boy Scouts of a “covert campaign to recruit girls” and undercut Girl Scout participants.

    “I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts,” Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the Girl Scouts, wrote to Boy Scouts president Randall Stephenson.

    The letter calls the Boy Scouts of America “reckless” in “thinking that running a program specifically tailored to boys can simply be translated to girls.”

    In a statement released Wednesday night, the Girl Scouts said “At Girl Scouts, we are the girl experts, and for more than a century we have provided millions of girls opportunities for adventure, inspiration, and valuable mentoring.”

    It continues:

    The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs.

    How many Boy and Girl Scouts are there? There were 1.8 million Girl Scouts in 2015, and 2.3 million Boy Scouts in 2016.

    Boy Scout participation is down from 2.6 million in 2013, with about 4 million in the early 2000s. Girl Scout total membership — including youth members and adult volunteers — dropped 11.6 percent from 2012 to 2014. It has dropped 3.8 million members, or 27 percent, since 2003.

    “More than 100,000 Scouting units are owned and operated by chartered organizations,” according to the Boy Scouts website — 70 percent of them by faith-based organizations, which have at times been criticized for placing too much emphasis on religious beliefs.

    How are the programs different? Aside from the groups’ gender divide, a 2011 Sage Journal Gender and Society study found that Boy Scouts are led away from artistic interests, while Girl Scouts are discouraged from scientific studies, though the Girl Scouts have been increasing focus on science and math in recent years. This year, it added 23 new STEM and outdoor badges. Additionally, Girl Scout activities are more group-oriented, while Boy Scouts are more often individual.

    The highest award for Girl Scouts is a Gold Award, which fewer than 6 percent of Girl Scouts achieve. Boy Scout’s highest rank is that of Eagle Scout. About 5 percent of Boy Scouts, more than 2 million, have earned the Eagle Scout rank since 1912.

    “The Boy Scouts would argue that the skills they teach boys will apply to both girls and boys,” Chokshi said. However, Chokshi said the dens are still single gender and the lack of description for the older girls’ program leaves questions unanswered. Also, older groups could decide to be single gender, as could the dens.

    What’s next? Supporters of the decision applauded the Boy Scouts of America on its inclusiveness and holding to its main values to support youth needs.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose congregations are major sponsors of Boy Scout troops, said in a statement that they “recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States.”

    “The Church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide,” Mormon Church spokesman Eric Hawkins told the PBS NewsHour.

    “Kiwanis International and Boy Scouts of America have a strong partnership that goes back to the 1950s. We share a priority in our work to shape the next generation of leaders,” Stan Soderstrom, executive director of Kiwanis International, said in an email to the NewsHour. Kiwanis partners with the Boy Scouts, with clubs sponsoring 710 units of scouts and more than 18,000 youths. Soderstrom told the NewsHour that the organization “values inclusiveness and looks forward to continuing our partnership with Boy Scouts of America.”

    Meanwhile, the Girl Scouts say “the need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today—and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success.”

    “We’re committed to preparing the next generation of women leaders, and we’re here to stay,” the group’s statement says.

    “The Girl Scouts see it as a threat to their territory and the Boy Scouts are saying ‘we are offering another option,’” Chokshi said. “Depending on how it plays out, we will see how targeted it was at the Girl Scouts.”

    The post The Boy Scouts say they will now admit girls. Here’s what that means. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Nearly 8,000 firefighters are struggling against wildfires across Northern California tonight, as winds kick up again.

    Officials report more than 20 fires have left at least 21 people dead and consumed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.

    We begin with a report from Mina Kim of PBS member station KQED.

    MINA KIM, KQED: As the sun rose today, Sylvia Parkinsons (ph) surveyed the ash and burned metal that was once her home in Santa Rosa.

    WOMAN: Nothing left. There’s my steps coming right through my front patio that goes around. You can see my fireplace. It’s just amazing. There’s nothing left. You know what I did save? I saved our wedding rings. It’s the one thing I grabbed.

    MINA KIM: Dozens of homes in Parkinsons’ Coffey Park neighborhood were swallowed by the fast-approaching fires that broke out Sunday night. And today, Sonoma County officials ordered new evacuations.

    ROBERT GIORDANO, Sheriff, Sonoma County, California: If you have a place to go, go. The less people here, and the less people we have to evacuate, the better of we’re going to be.

    MINA KIM: Yesterday, winds from the south spread the flames north, but the winds shifted today and turned gusty again, pushing the fires south.

    In nearby Napa County, officials ordered evacuations for nearly half of Calistoga, a town of 5,000 people. Firefighters there say they, too, are bracing for windy, low-humidity conditions that fuel fires.

    BARRY BIERMANN, Fire Chief, Napa County: We are expecting some extreme fire behavior and growth of our incidents currently. And that is going to lead us to challenges.

    MINA KIM: All told, more than 20 fires are burning across Northern California. None are close to being contained, and most, if not all, are still spreading.

    Back in Coffey Park:

    MAN: There had been this pile of drop cloths, because my son was going to paint the house over there that’s no longer there.

    MINA KIM: Steve Smith and his wife also evacuated Sunday night after waking to the smell of smoke. They came back today to find their home spared, only because a passerby had stopped to hose it down.

    Ten minutes down the road, at the Benovia Winery, co-owner Mike Sullivan was trying to keep things running.

    That’s your home?

    MIKE SULLIVAN, Co-Owner, Benovia Winery: Yes.

    MINA KIM: Oh, my gosh. It’s not even recognizable as a home.

    MIKE SULLIVAN: No, it’s not.

    MINA KIM: He’s staying at the vineyard, after their home just up the hill was burned to the ground.

    MIKE SULLIVAN: Just this incredible noise that was nothing. It had to be fire. And so I ran back to the house. I woke up the kids, and we all left. We left within three minutes.

    MINA KIM: Many others among Santa Rosa’s 175,000 residents are now staying with friends and family or at shelters.

    KATHY RUIZ, Santa Rosa Resident: I don’t know how long I’m going to be here or what’s happening at home. And that’s what I’m starting to think about now, is, am I going to have a home to go back to?

    MINA KIM: Desperate family members and friends are also searching for loved ones, with hundreds reported missing.

    ROBERT GIORDANO: So, we’re running roughly 380 still unaccounted for. But, as you can, as the numbers change, we are finding people.

    MINA KIM: In Southern California, another big fire has been burning near Anaheim since Monday, but improved conditions have allowed 1,600 firefighters to contain just under half of the blaze.

    Governor Jerry Brown surveyed the overall situation today from the state’s fire operations center.

    GOV. JERRY BROWN, D-Calif.: This will be tens of billions. So we have got to get ready to deal with this situation, and then prepare for others that will follow in the years to come.

    MINA KIM: And in Washington, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, promised action on additional disaster funding.

    REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, R-Calif., House Majority Leader: It will take time to control these fires. But we will begin to rebuild.

    MINA KIM: Meanwhile, as the fires continue to burn, there are growing health concerns. Officials warn that heavy smoke and ash could trigger asthma, bronchitis and other breathing problems. They’re advising people in affected areas to stay inside when possible.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That was reporter Mina Kim.

    I spoke to her just a short time ago, and began by asking about concerns over the number of people who are missing.

    MINA KIM: Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said that there are about 380 people unaccounted for after they were able to locate 150. But there seems to be some confusion with the numbers, because earlier this year the sheriff had reported that 670 were missing.

    So the sheriff acknowledged the discrepancy in the numbers and said that he was going to try to clear that up at the next briefing. He does remain hopeful that a significant number of those who are missing, it’s because they are unable to communicate with loved ones that they are safe because of the limited cell phone service here, and also the fact that there are thousands who still remain without power.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We know the toll was very serious. And you were telling us you were there when they discovered someone who had not made it.

    MINA KIM: Yes, so we were at a mobile home park here in Santa Rosa called Journey’s End.

    And while we were there, police started cordoning off one of the burnt mobile homes. And then they told it was because they believe a body was in the rubble. So, while, you know, law enforcement officials are optimistic that it’s related to communication problems, there will definitely be some who are missing because they were unable to survive this fire, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Mina, this hits close to home. You have your own home in Napa County, and the fire, you were telling us, has gotten very close to you.

    MINA KIM: Last night was a tough night for Napa County, especially in the area west of the city of Napa. They had to expand the evacuation zone there significantly because the winds have shifted.

    And as you can probably tell now, the winds are picking up here in Sonoma County. And it just underscores the volatility of the situation here. This fire, Judy, is very far from being under control.

    And, in fact, the sheriff’s department has stopped limited escorts that they were doing earlier today to allow people to retrieve medicines and other critical provisions, because they’re just too worried that it’s getting too dangerous now with this wind.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Clearly a long way to go before this is resolved in any way.

    Mina Kim, thank you very much.

    MINA KIM: You’re welcome, Judy.

    The post Hundreds are missing as out-of-control California fires burn appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna, California October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake - S1AEUJBPYNAB

    Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, talked to House members behind closed doors Monday. File photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake.

    WASHINGTON — One of Facebook’s top executives met Wednesday with House members investigating the company’s Russia-linked ads and told them the social media giant is serious about dealing with the issue.

    Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, told lawmakers behind closed doors that the company is working hard to ensure Americans “understand what the propaganda is that they may or may not be reading,” said House Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, who is leading the House intelligence committee probe.

    Wednesday’s meetings are ahead of a Nov. 1 House Intelligence Committee hearing at which Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to testify. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also holding an open hearing with the three companies that day.

    READ MORE: Political research firm behind Trump-Russia dossier subpoenaed by House intelligence committee

    Investigators have recently focused on the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media and have pressured Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, to release any Russia-linked ads. Facebook recently provided three congressional committees with more than 3,000 ads they had traced to a Russian internet agency.

    Facebook has said those ads focused on divisive political messages, including LGBT issues, immigration and gun rights, and were seen by an estimated 10 million people.

    Conaway, R-Texas, and the top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, met with Sandberg in the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Sandberg also held a separate meeting with Schiff, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

    Schiff said Sandberg wanted to calm members of Congress, who were initially concerned that the company was reluctant to share information and to ensure that foreign governments don’t wage information campaigns in U.S. elections.

    Sandberg said, according to Schiff, that Facebook is “determined to take whatever steps are necessary to ferret out foreign actors creating fake identities and using their platform.”

    MORE: What’s been happening in the Russia probe? Here’s what we know

    He said Sandberg also indicated the company wants the help of the intelligence community to identify who may be using Facebook for those reasons.

    Conaway and Schiff said after the meeting that they expect to eventually release the Facebook ads. That’s a break from the Senate intelligence committee, which had said it won’t release them. Facebook has also declined to make the ads public.

    “My personal bias is that we’ll do that as quickly as we can,” Conaway said, adding that they probably wouldn’t release the ads before the Nov. 1 hearings.

    Both men said that in the end, voters need to be more aware of the type of information they are seeking out.

    “You and I as voters are responsible for where we get information and how we trust it, and whether we trust it,” Conaway said.

    Sandberg also was expected to meet Thursday with the Congressional Black Caucus. Some members of the caucus have been critical of Facebook over the ads, many of which had racial themes.

    One member of Congress who viewed the ads said that of about 70 that person had viewed, all of them had racial themes. The person said the ads were meant to inflame all sides, with some showing white police officers beating black people. The member declined to be named because the ads aren’t yet public.

    The post Facebook’s Sandberg meets with lawmakers about Russia probe appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Donald Trump gestures as he walks through a neighborhood damaged by Hurricane Maria with first lady Melania Trump as the president tours hurricane damage in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico in an October trip to the island. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Donald Trump gestures as he walks through a neighborhood damaged by Hurricane Maria with first lady Melania Trump as the president tours hurricane damage in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico in an October trip to the island. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is criticizing hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and says the government can’t keep federal aid there “forever.”

    Trump criticized the U.S. territory in a series of tweets Thursday. He says there is a “total lack of accountability” and “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.”

    The president adds: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

    The House is on track to back Trump’s request for billions more in disaster aid, $16 billion to pay flood insurance claims and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.

    Hurricane Maria struck Sept. 20. It has killed at least 45 people, and about 85 percent of Puerto Rico residents still lack electricity.

    READ MORE: How you can help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico

    The post Trump says Puerto Rico can’t get aid ‘forever’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A 2003 aerial photo of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Andy Dunaway/USAF via Getty Images

    A 2003 aerial photo of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Andy Dunaway/USAF via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has no current plans to increase the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In fact, it can barely sustain the existing force, which is decades old and is in some respects almost decrepit.

    The arsenal is far from being in the “perfect shape” that President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants to see under his watch. That is why the government is planning to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a top-to-bottom “modernization,” or replacement of the three major categories of nuclear weapons — as well as their command and control systems — in coming decades.

    Those new weapons would replace, not add to, currently deployed forces such as the 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch in underground silos in North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

    Trump was asked during an Oval Office photo shoot whether he sought a big increase in the size of the nuclear force, as NBC News reported.

    “No, I never discussed increasing it,” he said. “I want it in perfect shape.” He suggested he thinks the U.S. already has enough weapons. “We don’t need an increase, but I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation,” he said, apparently referring to replacing weapons and support systems that have grown old.

    “I want to have absolutely perfectly maintained — which we are in the process of doing — nuclear force,” he said. “But when they said I want 10 times what we have right now, it’s totally unnecessary.”

    An in-depth review of the U.S. nuclear force and the strategies and polices that underpin it has been under way since April. The study, ordered by Trump and known as a nuclear “posture” review, is unlikely to be completed and made public before the end of the year, but it already is steering away from any major buildup in the size of the arsenal, officials familiar with the discussions say.

    Instead, the focus is on maintaining the basic shape of a modernization plan Trump inherited from President Barack Obama, with possible adjustments, and on ways to reverse a long decline in the Energy Department’s ability to build and sustain nuclear warheads, according to several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

    Judy Woodruff sits down with Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn.org and Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union to discuss a meeting between Trump and his military advisers over nuclear weapons, Corker’s warnings about the president and more.

    The Pentagon review also is looking at the possibility of developing lower-yield nuclear weapons that proponents say would give the president additional options for responding to nuclear threats. Others say such weapons would make nuclear escalation more likely.

    The U.S. has an estimated 4,000 nuclear weapons, of which about 1,800 are deployed on missiles and at bomber and fighter bases, according to Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists. The others are held in reserve. The exact number of active and reserve weapons is an official secret.

    The U.S. is constrained by a 2010 arms deal with Russia known as New START, which limits each country to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. As of Sept. 1, the U.S. reported that it had 1,393 and Russia had 1,561; both are required to be at or below the 1,550 mark by February 2018. That limitation will expire in 2021, however, unless an extension is negotiated.

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis took the unusual step Wednesday of issuing a public statement saying the NBC report that Trump had called for an increase in the nuclear arsenal was “absolutely false.”

    Public expectations about the direction of U.S. nuclear weapons policy are important because they can affect the credibility of U.S. commitments to arms control treaties and the durability of promises to U.S. allies like South Korea and Japan who count on protection under an American nuclear “umbrella.” Some would argue that it also could influence the thinking of leaders like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who sees his country as under siege from the United States and threatened by its long nuclear reach.

    Trump’s previous comments about nuclear weapons have caused confusion and concern in some quarters. Last December, for example, he suggested he favored expanding the nuclear arsenal.

    “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he said then.

    Trump has threatened to destroy North Korea should it attack the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

    The U.S. has no shortage of nuclear firepower, even if it has suffered recently from too few resources and in some cases a decline in morale among those responsible for operating and securing the weapons.

    “I know the capability that we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive,” Trump said.

    READ MORE: Trump disputes NBC report that he wanted a big increase in U.S. nuclear weapons

    The post Pentagon has no plans to boost size of nuclear arsenal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    White House Senior Advisor Steve Bannon attends a March roundtable discussion held by President Donald Trump with auto industry leaders in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    White House Senior Advisor Steve Bannon attends a March roundtable discussion held by President Donald Trump with auto industry leaders in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The multiplying tentacles of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal have touched a former president, a former presidential candidate and now a former presidential adviser.

    Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House chief strategist and current head of Breitbart News, is the latest politico touched by the scandal. Bannon, whose website has hammered Democrats for accepting Weinstein’s political donations, himself profited from a relationship with the movie mogul, in an ill-fated joint venture more than a decade ago.

    Bannon served as chairman of a small company that distributed DVDs and home videos, and went into business in 2005 with The Weinstein Co., led by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob. The Weinsteins became 70 percent owners of the now defunct venture, Genius Products.

    The connection highlights the breadth of a scandal that has tainted an array of leading Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who were friendly with Weinstein and accepted his campaign donations.

    Clinton and Obama have both issued statements denouncing Weinstein’s actions in the wake of The New York Times’ reporting about his serial sexual assaults on women. Other leading Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have announced plans to donate his campaign contributions to charities.

    Bannon was not immediately available to comment, according to a spokeswoman.

    The ties to Weinstein open Bannon up to charges of hypocrisy given Breitbart’s intense focus on the scandal and its political fallout. In recent days the site has featured a blog with live updates on the story; headlines calling out Obama, Clinton and top Democrats for their ties to the producer; and stories attacking other news outlets for failing to cover the scandal with the same ferocity as Breitbart.

    On Tuesday, The New Yorker reported new allegations of rape, which Weinstein has denied. Judy Woodruff talks to Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker to learn more about the revelations.

    The connection between Bannon and Weinstein began more than a decade ago when Bannon, who had been a Goldman Sachs banker, was dabbling in Hollywood investments. Transcripts of investor conference calls at the time show Bannon enthusing about the business opportunities with the Weinsteins.

    “We are extremely honored to be in business with the new Weinstein Company,” Bannon told investors in one such call, declaring that “the Weinsteins have the most impressive track record in the film industry” and that “Bob and Harvey are two of the most prolific studio heads in the history of Hollywood.”

    Ultimately, Genius Products ended up in bankruptcy in 2011, but not before Bannon reported substantial revenues from the venture. His company Bannon Strategic Advisers had a consulting agreement worth $500,000 with Genius Products in 2006, and he was awarded bonuses of more than $200,000, according to SEC filings. Bannon also was awarded stock options in 2005 that were valued at well over $1 million at the time.

    Weinstein has been fired as co-chairman from The Weinstein Co. The company’s board of directors has strongly denied that it knew about Weinstein’s behavior, which allegedly stretched back decades.

    The post Former Trump aide Steve Bannon had ties to Harvey Weinstein appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter delivers cargo to the hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship is underway in support of humanitarian relief operations to help those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy Danny Ray Nunez Jr./U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

    An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter delivers cargo to the hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship is underway in support of humanitarian relief operations to help those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy Danny Ray Nunez Jr./U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The House is on track to backing President Donald Trump’s request for billions more in disaster aid, $16 billion to pay flood insurance claims and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.

    Thursday’s hurricane aid package totals $36.5 billion and sticks close to a White House request, ignoring — for now — huge demands from the powerful Florida and Texas delegations, who together pressed for some $40 billion more.

    Yet President Donald Trump criticized the U.S. territory early Thursday, saying it shouldn’t expect federal help to last “forever.” In a series of tweets, the president said “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes” and blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and “a total lack of accountability.”

    He tweeted: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

    A steady series of disasters — massive flooding in Texas, hurricane damage in Florida, and a humanitarian crisis in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico — could be putting 2017 on track to rival Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of disasters ever. Katrina required about $110 billion in emergency appropriations.

    The bill combines $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency with $16 billion to permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance program pay an influx of Harvey-related claims. Another $577 million would pay for western firefighting efforts.

    Up to $5 billion of the FEMA money could be used to help local governments — especially Puerto Rico’s central government and the island’s local governments — remain functional as they endure unsustainable cash shortfalls in the aftermath of Maria, which has choked off revenues and strained resources.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is traveling to Puerto Rico on Friday. He has promised that the U.S. territory will get what it needs, but most of the island remains without power, and many of its more isolated residents still lack drinking water.

    “It’s not easy when you’re used to live in an American way of life, and then somebody tell you that you’re going to be without power for six or eight months,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico as a non-voting member of Congress. “It’s not easy when you are continue to suffer — see the suffering of the people without food, without water, and actually living in a humanitarian crisis.”

    For a working class community outside San Juan, schools have become spaces of refuge where people can access food, medicine and psychological support. Special correspondent Monica Villamizar reports.

    Republicans controlling Congress, who had protracted debates last year on modest requests by former President Barack Obama to combat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system, are moving quickly to take care of this year’s alarming series of disasters, quickly passing a $15.3 billion measure last month and signaling that another installment is coming next month.

    Several lawmakers from hurricane-hit states said a third interim aid request is anticipated shortly — with a final, huge hurricane recovery and rebuilding package likely to be acted upon by the end of the year.

    “Another tranche is coming in maybe two, three weeks,” said Rep. Pete Olsen, R-Texas. Olsen said several members of the Texas delegation won assurances from Ryan that more money is on its way.

    “I’m counting on the next supplemental adding the funds for Texas,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.

    Democrats embraced the package which was before lawmakers Thursday. It includes an estimated $1 billion added by the House Appropriations Committee to address California’s ongoing wildfire disasters, a priority for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    READ MORE: Wildfires are sweeping through California. Here’s what you need to know

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    President Donald Trump signed his executive health order today. Watch the president’s remarks in the player above.

    BWASHINGTON — Frustrated by health care failures in Congress, President Donald Trump directed his administration Thursday to rewrite some federal insurance rules as a beginning of renewed efforts to undermine “Obamacare,” the program he’s promised to kill.

    “With these actions, we are moving toward lower costs and more options in the health care market,” Trump said before signing his directive in the Oval Office. Trump said he will continue to pressure Congress to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

    Some experts said the White House plan could undermine coverage on the ACA’s insurance marketplaces, particularly for people with health problems. That would happen if healthy people flock to lower-cost plans with limited benefits.

    Other experts said Trump’s proposals appear to be modest and would have limited impact.

    The steps the president outlined Thursday will take months for the federal bureaucracy to finalize in regulations. Experts said consumers should not expect changes for next year.

    One of the main ideas from the administration involves easing the way for groups and associations of employers to sponsor coverage that can be marketed across the land. That reflects Trump’s longstanding belief that interstate competition will lead to lower premiums for consumers who buy their own health insurance policies, as well as for small businesses.

    Those “association health plans” could be shielded from some state and federal insurance requirements. But responding to concerns, the White House said participating employers could not exclude any workers from the plan, or charge more to those in poor health.

    Other elements of the White House plan include:

    —Easing current restrictions on short-term policies that last less than a year, an option for people making a life transition, from recent college graduates to early retirees. Those policies are not subject to current federal and state rules that require standard benefits and other consumer protections.

    —Allowing employers to set aside pre-tax dollars so workers can use the money to buy an individual health policy.

    “This executive order is the start of a long process as the gears of the federal bureaucracy churn, not the final word,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

    It’s also unlikely to reverse the trend of insurers exiting state markets. About half of U.S. counties will have only one “Obamacare” insurer next year, although it appears that no counties will be left without a carrier as was initially feared. White House officials said over time, the new policies will give consumers more options.

    Democrats are bracing for another effort by Trump to dismantle “Obamacare,” this time with the rule-making powers of the executive branch. Staffers at the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury have been working on the options since shortly after the president took office.

    On Capitol Hill, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump “knows very little” about health care policy or legislation. She said she was unfamiliar with the details of the executive order, “but I do know it’s a sabotage of the Affordable Care Act.”

    But Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said Trump is taking “bold action” to give patients “the freedom and flexibility to choose the health care plan that works best for them.”

    As Trump himself once said, health care is complicated and getting his way won’t be as easy as signing a presidential order.

    State attorneys general and state insurance regulators may try to block the administration in court, if federal regulations are seen as a challenge to state oversight authority.

    Experts say the executive order won’t premiums for 2018, which are expected to be sharply higher in many states for people buying their own policies.

    Sponsors would have to be found to offer and market the new style association plans, and insurers would have to step up to design and administer them.

    “This just isn’t a revolution to insurance markets,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum. “It’s a policy change. What we’ve got isn’t working, so we might as well try something else.”

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was at the White House ceremony, and Trump honored him by handing him a pen used to sign the order. Paul was among the handful of GOP senators whose opposition scuttled the most recent effort to repeal Obama’s law. Congressional Republicans have moved on from health care, and are now focusing on tax cuts.

    About 17 million people buying individual health insurance policies are the main focus of Trump’s order. Nearly 9 million of those consumers receive tax credits under the Obama law and are protected from higher premiums.

    But those who get no subsidies are exposed to the full brunt of cost increases that could reach well into the double digits in many states next year. Many in this latter group are solid middle-class, including self-employed business people and early retirees. Cutting their premiums has been a longstanding political promise for Republicans.

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    The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in front of its headquarters in Paris, France. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

    The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in front of its headquarters in Paris, France. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

    PARIS — The United States said Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and need for “fundamental reform.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit.

    While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the announcement by the State Department on Thursday rocked the agency’s Paris headquarters, where a heated election to choose a new chief is underway.

    The outgoing UNESCO director-general expressed her “profound regret” at the decision and tried to defend the reputation of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions.

    The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh on policy behind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

    In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited U.S. belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”

    Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel will also withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

    He said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans.

    Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, praised Washington’s move as heralding “a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.”

    “UNESCO has become a battlefield for Israel bashing and has disregarded its true role and purpose,” Danon said in a statement. The organization’s absurd and shameful resolutions against Israel have consequences.”

    Several U.S. diplomats who were to have been posted to UNESCO this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs. In addition, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.

    The lack of staffing and funding plans for UNESCO by the U.S. have been accompanied by repeated denunciations of UNESCO by senior U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

    U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and that it was not discussed with other countries but was the result of an internal U.S. government deliberation.

    The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said the U.S. is notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

    Chris Hegadorn, the U.S. Charge d’Affaires and ranking U.S. representative to UNESCO, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that the decision to pull out was linked to “the unfortunate politicization of the mandate of UNESCO, where anti-Israel bias has been a major factor and something the US has been struggling to address.”

    “The accrual of arrears since 2011 since the admission of Palestine as a member state had been mounting,” he added.

    Many saw the 2011 UNESCO vote to include Palestine as evidence of long-running, ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

    UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, called the U.S. departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. She said the U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now to better fight “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism.”

    She defended UNESCO’s reputation, noting its efforts to support Holocaust education and train teachers to fight anti-Semitism — and that that the Statue of Liberty is among the many World Heritage sites protected by the U.N. agency. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls in poor countries and in scientific fields and to defend media freedom, among other activities.

    UNESCO’s executive board plans to select its choice to succeed Bokova by Friday in a secret ballot.

    It’s not the first time the U.S. has pulled out of UNESCO: Washington did the same thing in the 1980s because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003.

    Hegadorn said the U.S. would remain a force at the cultural agency in the same way as it was from 1984 when the country withdrew under President Ronald Reagan.

    The U.S. informed Bokova it intends to stay engaged as a non-member ‘observer state’ on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

    “We will be carefully watching how the organization and the new director general steers the agency,” Hegadorn said. “Ideally, it steers it in way that U.S. interests and UNESCO’s mandate will converge.”

    Lee reported from Washington. Edie Lederer contributed from New York and Aron Heller contributed from Jerusalem. Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

    The post U.S., Israel to exit UN agency over alleged anti-Israel bias appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, delivers a speech during a 2017 visit in Paris, France, at a start-up companies gathering. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

    Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, delivers a speech during a 2017 visit in Paris, France, at a start-up companies gathering. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

    NEW YORK — A top Facebook executive says ads linked to Russia trying to influence the U.S. presidential election should “absolutely” be released to the public, along with information on whom the ads were targeting.

    Previously, Facebook declined to make the ads public. While Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, now favors the release, she didn’t say Thursday when the company would do so.

    The company disclosed last month that it found ads linked to fake accounts — likely run from Russia — that sought to influence the election. Facebook says these ads focused on divisive political issues, such as immigration and gun rights, in an apparent attempt to sow discord among the U.S. population. The ads included promoted events and amplified posts that show up in users’ news feeds.

    Facebook has turned over the ads — and information on how they were targeted, such as by geography or to people with a certain political affiliation — to congressional investigators. Congress is also investigating Russia-linked ads on Twitter and Google.

    In an interview with the news site Axios on Thursday, Sandberg said Facebook has the responsibility to prevent the kind of abuse that occurred on its service during the election. She said Facebook hopes to “set a new standard in transparency in advertising.”

    But she also said that had the ads been linked to legitimate, rather than fake, Facebook accounts, “most of them would have been allowed to run.” While the company prohibits certain content such as hate speech, it does not want to prevent free expression, she said.

    “The thing about free expression is that when you allow free expression, you allow free expression,” Sandberg said.

    The move comes as critics and lawmakers are increasingly calling for the regulation of Facebook and other internet giants.

    Sandberg is meeting with elected officials in Washington this week ahead of a House hearing at which executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to testify. Sandberg is no stranger to Washington. Before her time at Google and later Facebook, she worked for Larry Summers, the treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

    Sandberg said Facebook didn’t catch these ads earlier because it was focused on other threats, such as hacking. Facebook, she said, does owe America an apology.

    “What we really owe the American people is determination” to do “everything we can” to defend against threats and foreign interference, Sandberg said.

    Sandberg didn’t say whether she believes Facebook played a role in electing Donald Trump as president, as critics have said it did by allowing the spread of fake news on its service.

    She said only that the role Facebook plays in elections “go beyond any one campaign, any one country.”

    Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has backtracked from calling the idea of Facebook’s influence on the election “pretty crazy.”

    READ MORE: Google uncovers ads bought by Russian operatives, report says

    The post Top Facebook executive says company will release data on Russia-linked ads, but doesn’t offer more details appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    As part of the study, a mother plays with her child at the Princeton Baby Lab. Photo by Elise Piazza

    As part of the study, a mother plays with her child at the Princeton Baby Lab. Photo by Elise Piazza

    Mothers across languages change the timbre of their voice in similar ways when they speak to babies, Princeton University neuroscientists report today in the journal Current Biology. This finding will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach children.

    Timbre is the flavor of music and speech. It’s not a distinct pitch or loudness, but rather the unique collection of frequencies produced by a person or instrument. Timbre is what makes sound distinct: It’s why you can tell a violin from a guitar even if they are playing the same note, or Bob Dylan from Jimi Hendrix even if they are both singing “All Along the Watchtower.”

    Timbre is tied to the physical structure of the object producing the sound. Certain tones resonate more fully on a violin than on a guitar, and that resonance allows overtones to color the sound in different ways. You can see the different resonances due to the shape of objects in this video of a classic experiment called a Chladni plate (Mind your ears!):

    Each person’s voice box is also an instrument with a unique timbre, though it is malleable and can shift slightly. To imitate the distinct, nasally voice of Donald Duck, says lead author Dr. Elise Piazza, “I might draw back my lips and tighten the back of my throat to create a different tone color.”

    It is known that mothers in many languages raise their pitch, slow down their speech and repeat phrases more often when they are trying to attract a baby’s attention. This is known as infant-directed speech, and Piazza and her colleagues wondered if it might cause shifts in timbre as well.

    To test this, the team collected snippets of adult-directed and infant-directed speech from 24 mothers as they either talked to an adult interviewer or interacted with their baby. They chose only mothers in order to minimize the range of audio frequencies they had to deal with (though, the team believes the results extend to fathers as well).

    “We usually Skype with my parents,” was one phrase spoken to an adult interviewer, while another phrase spoken to an infant was, “Let’s not eat the kitty cat.” You can almost hear the difference just by reading those quips.

    LISTEN: Phrases of adult-directed and infant-directed speech from a participant of the study.

    To quantify the change in timbre, Piazza and her fellow researchers converted the recorded sound into spectrograms, a measure of the strength of audio frequencies over time. These spectrograms were then analyzed by a statistical model that produces something called Mel-frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCC).

    An MFCC scan is like a vocal version of a fingerprint. It deciphers the strength of audio frequencies while taking into account how the human ear hears sounds. For example, our eardrum cannot distinguish frequencies that are very close together, so we perceive them as one tone. We also perceive high-pitched and low-pitched tones as sounding quieter than middle pitches all played at the same strength. As a result, it can reveal how the makeup of vocal frequencies — timbre — is perceived by others.

    An example of a spectrogram. Here, a male voice is saying the phrase “nineteenth century”. Photo by Wikimedia.

    An example of a spectrogram. Here, a male voice is saying the phrase “nineteenth century”. Photo by Wikimedia.

    Comparing the MFCCs of infant-directed phrases to those of adult-directed phrases, the researchers found a shift in timbre across ten different languages. Piazza says it’s tough to characterize, but “it likely combines several features, such as brightness, breathiness, purity, or nasality.”

    Using this data, the team wrote a machine learning algorithm and trained it to use timbre to classify whether a particular phrase was infant-directed or adult-directed.

    “We were most surprised that this timbre shift between adult-directed and infant-directed speech exhibited such a consistent pattern across such diverse languages,” Piazza said. “In addition to English, we included Spanish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, French, Hebrew, Mandarin and Cantonese.”

    This consistent pattern across languages was picked up by their algorithm even when the training data set only had English phrases. The reverse was true too. When they trained the algorithm with other languages, it was able to use timbre shifts to classify speech in English.

    “That classifier is really effective,” Dr. Anne-Michelle Tessier said, a linguist with the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development who was not involved with the study. But it is hard to tell if infants are as good as machines at picking up on these patterns, she said.

    Piazza thinks it is likely that we are. “Previous studies have shown that babies can perceive timbre differences between musical instruments,” she said. “Future work will be needed to determine exactly how babies perceive and use this information, and whether babies can pick up on this shift even in foreign languages.”

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    Tessier agreed that this research clearly indicates that our brain is tuned to discerning language, even from an early age: “Babies are really focused on attending to speech around them, and noticing and storing patterns and distributions in that speech.”

    While the researchers intend to continue exploring this newfound phenomenon, Piazza thinks the find might prove useful for educational purposes. She envisions “having virtual teachers or cartoon characters imitate infant-directed timbre to optimally engage with babies.”

    “Our work also invites future explorations of how speakers adjust their timbre to accommodate a wide variety of audiences, such as superiors, political constituents, students, and romantic partners,” Piazza said.

    A version of this story appeared on Miles O’Brien Productions.

    The post A mother uses a similar tone with babies, no matter the language appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — White House Chief of Staff John Kelly insisted Thursday he’s not quitting or being fired — for now.

    “Unless things change, I’m not quitting, I’m not getting fired and I don’t think I’ll fire anyone tomorrow,” the retired Marine Corps general and former secretary of homeland security told reporters at the daily White House briefing as reports swirled that he’s frustrated as the provocative president’s top aide.

    “I don’t think I’m being fired today, and I’m not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving,” he said.

    The extraordinary statement drew a bit of laughter, but it reflected serious turmoil in the top ranks of the White House that has persisted since the Donald Trump was inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president.

    As the president churned out tweets that have been factually inaccurate and started or continued feuds, many of his original top aides have left or been fired. Gone is Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus; press secretary Sean Spicer, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, to name a few.

    Reports have emerged that Kelly is unhappy in the job as Trump’s legislative agenda stalls, as Trump picks fights with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem and as Trump blames Puerto Rico for its ongoing misery after Hurricane Maria,

    Kelly’s extraordinary statements are the latest examples of Trump administration officials professing their loyalty publicly Trump, refuting reports that suggest problems in the chaotic administration.

    Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly reiterated his support for Trump after reports that he had called the president a “moron.”

    WATCH: Trump names Kirstjen Nielsen to lead Homeland Security

    The post WATCH: John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, says he won’t quit or be fired ‘unless things change’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    CORAL GABLES, FL - JANUARY 07:  Pediatrician Dr. Amanda Porro M.D. delivers a flu vaccination to an infant's leg during his visit to the Miami Children's Hospital on January 7, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  announced that in the United States the virus that causes the flu is particularly bad this year and has hit most parts of the United States, with 43 states experiencing "widespread" flu activity and six others reporting "regional" flu activity.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

    CORAL GABLES, FL – JANUARY 07: Pediatrician Dr. Amanda Porro M.D. delivers a flu vaccination to an infant’s leg during his visit to the Miami Children’s Hospital on January 7, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that in the United States the virus that causes the flu is particularly bad this year and has hit most parts of the United States, with 43 states experiencing “widespread” flu activity and six others reporting “regional” flu activity. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

    Three years ago, Michelle Bell’s son struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts. But the working mother in Tupelo, Mississippi, couldn’t afford the help he desperately needed.

    As an insurance clerk at a pediatrician’s office, Bell made too much to qualify for Medicaid (“I want to work and earn my way”) yet too little to pay for her company’s health insurance premiums, co-pays and prescriptions.

    The cost of residential behavioral treatment in Olive Branch, Mississippi — 86 miles from home — amounted to $1,000 a day for two weeks, far beyond what the family could afford. But in the late 1990s, her son qualified for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a then-new federal program that provides matching funds to states to cover children whose families aren’t eligible for Medicare but don’t earn enough to pay out of pocket, either.

    “If I didn’t have insurance, we would still be paying for it for the rest of our lives,” she said.

    Michelle Bell stands with her sons, ages 9 and 19 and her daughter, age 11, during Easter. All of her children have been covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program. Photo courtesy of Michelle Bell

    Michelle Bell stands with her sons, ages 9 and 19 and her daughter, age 11, during Easter. All of her children have been covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Photo courtesy of Michelle Bell

    For the past 18 years, at her job in the pediatrician’s office, Bell has sorted through stacks of medical claims like her own as if she’s solving a puzzle. She thrives on the challenge. Insurance can be tricky to figure out — for her and the families trying to gain or use their coverage, she says. It’s been made more complicated for many families since Congress got sidetracked by efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and missed its Oct. 1 deadline to fund CHIP, which covers 8.3 million children nationwide with low-cost health insurance.

    As a result, 31 states and the District of Columbia may run out of federal dollars for the program by March 2018. Mississippi is one of them.

    “It’s easier to provide good health in children than to fix medical problems in older people that were preventable in childhood.”

    Like millions of families who qualify for CHIP, Bell earned too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private health insurance premiums for her children, ages 9 and 11. CHIP made health care affordable for Bell’s family, whose kids are among more than 87,000 enrolled children in Mississippi. But until Congress acts, her puzzle is missing a piece.

    Each week at the clinic where Bell works, pediatrician Nikki Ivancic says more than 300 children receive care — half through Medicaid and another 15 percent through CHIP. Ivancic blames Congress’ lapsed vote to approve CHIP’s funding because members “got so wound up in repeal and replace bills, this just fell by the wayside.”

    With the Senate in recess this week and the House of Representatives out the next, time to find a fix is running out — along with the public’s patience. In a recent poll from the PBS NewsHour and Marist, 78 percent of U.S. adults said they disapproved of the way Congress has handled health care reform.

    Ivancic, who is president of the Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says her clinic and its patients haven’t yet felt the effects of indecision on Capitol Hill. But she said she doesn’t know what patients will do after March if Congress fails to act. Without coverage through CHIP, Ivancic said she thinks states would be forced to slash dental, mental health and preventative care benefits, which could spiral into bigger, costlier problems as children grow older.

    “It’s easier to provide good health in children than to fix medical problems in older people that were preventable in childhood,” Ivancic said.

    Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who established the program with Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1997, put forward legislation — the KIDS Act of 2017 — to keep the program afloat for another five years, at a cost of $8.2 billion. A summer filled with attempts to dismantle Obamacare drained time and resources from passing other legislation, even CHIP, which has enjoyed bipartisan support for years, said Joan Alker, who directs the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. Negotiations over Graham-Cassidy amendments to Obamacare consumed the days before the voting deadline for CHIP’s federal funding, and House Republicans postponed their vote after Democrats disagreed with how to fund the program, The Hill reported.

    The Senate Finance Committee released a statement from Hatch on Oct. 4 where he said the KIDS Act “is an important step toward ensuring the children and families who rely on CHIP do not see a lapse in health coverage” and that he was committed to advancing the bill “in a fiscally responsible manner to provide certainty for this critical, bipartisan program.”

    Senate leadership have not announced when a vote could happen, but it is not expected in the next week when senators return from recess.

    If Congress doesn’t resolve the program’s funding, “we’ll start to see consequences,” Alker said. Utah already has frozen new enrollment, she said, adding that Nevada has warned it may soon send out notices. In July, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission reported that Minnesota, the District of Columbia, Arizona and North Carolina are projected to run out of money by December.

    The uncertainty for the program comes at a time when 95 percent of U.S. children have health insurance, the highest in the the nation’s history, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported in June.

    “We don’t want kids to be uninsured,” she said. “It exposes families to medical debt and economic insecurity.”

    Federal coffers fund 100 percent of Mississippi’s CHIP program, said Therese Hanna of the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, adding that if those dollars are lost, children whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid will hurt the most. Generally, the program’s complex funding formula offers 65 to 85 percent back in federal money for every state dollar spent, so it’s difficult to know when states will run out of money, Alker said. And if this state of limbo persists for a few months, she said the gains the nation has reported in achieving near-universal health care coverage for children will slip away.

    “We don’t want kids to be uninsured,” she said. “It exposes families to medical debt and economic insecurity.”

    In September, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program’s total enrollment would shrink to 2 million children by 2027, with Medicaid, individual marketplace-based and employer health insurance absorbing most children currently enrolled.

    “CBO anticipates that if lawmakers did not provide additional funding for subsequent years, all state CHIP programs would terminate at some point during fiscal year 2018,” the report warned.

    Back at the clinic in Tupelo, Michelle Bell said she hopes lawmakers in Washington preserve the program. Out of the $1,600 she earns each month, along with her husband’s disability check, $750 covers rent for her family’s home. If she had to pay for health insurance premiums without CHIP, Bell said she would be out another $700, leaving little wiggle room for groceries, utilities and gas money. She said she won’t panic — yet: “They may pull it through, but if they don’t, I don’t know where my kids will be.”

    The post 8 million kids could lose health insurance if the CHIP program isn’t renewed. Here’s what that looks like in one state appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now some perspective on the presidency of Barack Obama and the election of Donald Trump.

    Hari Sreenivasan has this latest addition to the NewsHour Bookshelf.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election was historic for many reasons, but, for all the firsts, the eight years of the Obama administration also fueled a backlash that strengthened many of the political and social divisions within the country.

    Now comes some perspective on those years.

    “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” is a collection of essays from National Book Award winner and national correspondent for “The Atlantic” magazine Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    He joins me now.

    So, let’s start with one of the things you talked about in the epilogue. You called Trump first white president. And from the president’s responses to Charlottesville, to the NFL protests, to his word choice in responding after Maria, how do you process all that?

    TA-NEHISI COATES, Author, “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy”: Well, it’s really predictable, as far as I could see.

    When I use that title for the president, it’s not to identify any physical feature, you know, hair, eye color or fairness of skin or anything like that. Obviously, we have had plenty of presidents that checked white on their census form.

    But the difference with President Trump is that he was able to make the identity and the entire program of a black president, who preceded him, central to his own identity and his own program. Birtherism, for instance, is where his political campaign began.

    In addition to that, if you look at some of the data in terms of who his base is, what his base believes, I think he’s pretty much living out exactly what the core of his base actually asks for.

    So, I wasn’t particularly surprised by that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You had an essay, and part of one of the essays in here is kind of the limits on — the limits that existed on the Obama presidency.

    Are there any limits that exist on the Trump presidency?

    TA-NEHISI COATES: That is a great question. I haven’t seen them yet. I haven’t seen them.

    I’m sure there’s something he could do that would be completely unacceptable.

    But I have to say, you know, being caught on tape bragging about, you know, grabbing, molesting, sexually assaulting a woman, I think a lot of people thought that was a limit.

    You know, I think there have been several things that have happened. And I think one of the scary things about this moment right now is, is that those moments are slowly — or, immediately, you know, quickly broken down.

    What happens for the next president and the president after that? What is the message about norms for the presidency after this?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You say eight years in power is part of it, and then the American tragedy is another part.

    When you look at the statistics for black Americans, they didn’t necessarily prosper under Obama.

    TA-NEHISI COATES: Right.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Black middle-class wealth is staggeringly low. Black homeownership is at record lows.

    TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. I have no sort of defense of Obama on that score.

    And I think one of the things he — like, when I think about credit, the big thing I think about actually is the criminal justice system. I think, at the end of his term, even though there are folks who would say — and I think they’re pretty much right — that he waited to the end to use his power of clemency, he granted clemency to more folks in federal prison than all of his predecessors combined, some ridiculous number of people.

    The ability to see disturbances in Ferguson, and have the Justice Department actually go down there and investigate those disturbances and produce reports, that’s something that’s sorely missing now.

    You’re correct, though. He didn’t get to the deeper set of problems. And I’m kind of mixed on whether it’s fair to hold him to account. We have a wealth gap in this country between black and white of about — for every nickel an African-American family has, a white family has a dollar.

    That is a huge, huge chasm. Perhaps he could have done more to close that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I ask that partly because there is this sort of almost kind of a meme that says, well, the first black president existed. Black families should be doing pretty well.

    And even now, there is almost a tying in to kind of celebrity exceptionalism. We just saw, even after the NFL, the comments of these athletes, they should be so lucky as to have the privilege to earn these millions of dollars.

    TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right.

    Well, there’s a lot there. The first thing that I would say is that that situation that I just outlined for African-Americans, where you have a 1-20 ratio in terms of wealth, that didn’t come from one white president. That’s the succession of several white presidents over the course of centuries.

    That’s how we got there. It wasn’t the act of just one. And so the expectation that one would undo it, I think, is a bit unfair.

    In regards to the celebrity exceptionalism of the NFL athletes, what’s so amazing about that is, this is — nobody feels the same way about the owners. It’s presumed that the owners, who are billionaires to the athletes’ millionaires, earn their money, but the players should be grateful for their millions.

    And I don’t really understand that. It’s not presumed that they actually worked for anything, you know? And so it’s a very, very different standard being that is applied there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We see really, even in just these eight years, we see your writing style evolve.

    TA-NEHISI COATES: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And, probably, you saw that evolve.

    Is it also strange to recognize now that, given that you are a published author, you have had these essays, that people kind of forget about your lean years that you introduce us to in the early part of the book?

    (LAUGHTER)

    TA-NEHISI COATES: Well, nobody knew. So I can forgive people for forgetting.

    I think, like, what is difficult is those lean years are the core of my identity. I have been writing now for 21 years. And the majority of that time was spent in lean years. And so that’s, like, how I see myself.

    But it’s very clear that, when I go into that world, that other people don’t see that. And it’s probably unfair to expect them to see that. But, for me, like, I have difficulty seeing what they see. I guess I should say that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, you have got a Black Panther comic series. You have got a screenplay, some sort of secret novel you’re working on.

    (LAUGHTER)

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I just — I wonder, is your gaze elsewhere? Are you thinking about the world now as critically as you might have been in the last eight years?

    TA-NEHISI COATES: I don’t think I am, to be honest with you, Hari, to be straight with you. I don’t think I am.

    This was a — these last eight years, it was the culmination of a long journey that really started for me in West Baltimore, where I looked at, you know, my neighbors and my family, and saw how they were living. And then I would cut on the TV and see how the broader country represented itself and see how different it was.

    And I always wondered why. And I think I have some pretty good answers now. And I guess I probably have a set of questions now that either need to be answered in other forms or about other things totally.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Ta-Nehisi Coates from “Atlantic” magazine.

    The book is called, “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.”

    Thanks for joining us, Hari.

    TA-NEHISI COATES: Thanks so much.

    The post Ta-Nehisi Coates on the unfair expectation that one black president could undo inequality appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Producer Harvey Weinstein in September 2014.

    Producer Harvey Weinstein in September 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

    Long before starmarker Harvey Weinstein was ousted over accusations of sexual misconduct and assault — behavior that stretched back decades and affected dozens of women, first reported by the New York Times and the New Yorker — the Hollywood producer found time to defend big-name directors accused of sexual abuse.

    In 2009, Weinstein circulated a petition calling for the release of Roman Polanski. The Academy Award-winning director at the time had been arrested in Switzerland and was facing extradition, two decades after he pled guilty in 1978 to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, and then fled to Europe to avoid more jail time in the U.S.

    In an op-ed that year in the Independent, Weinstein wrote that he was “emailing everybody I know” to keep Polanski out of jail, and argued the filmmaker was a “humanist” who had been made into a “scapegoat.”

    “This is a miscarriage of justice,” he wrote.

    Weinstein added that he’d lobby then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for help, a Hollywood actor who himself had been accused of groping multiple women on movie sets and studio offices without consent. (Schwarzenegger initially denied the allegations but later said he had a tendency to get “rowdy” and apologized to anyone he “offended.”)

    In an interview not long after his Independent op-ed, Weinstein reiterated to the Los Angeles Times that he thought Polanski was misunderstood, as was the industry. “Hollywood has the best moral compass,” he said.

    The petition Weinstein circulated to release Polanski was signed by numerous other film industry leaders and actresses, including Asia Argento, an Italian actress and director who said this week that Weinstein once forced oral sex on her.

    Director Woody Allen reacts to reporters questions at an impromptu press conference at Manhatten Federal Court January 12 after Allen appeared at a hearing on the custody of his children following the breakup of his relationship with actress Mia Farrow. Credit: Reuters

    Director Woody Allen reacts to reporters questions at an impromptu press conference at Manhatten Federal Court January 12, 1993, after Allen appeared at a hearing on the custody of his children following the breakup of his relationship with actress Mia Farrow. Credit: Reuters

    The petition was also signed by Woody Allen, a director who had been plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2003, Allen’s ex-wife Mia Farrow alleged that the filmmaker sexually abused his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. Dylan also later asserted that Allen abused her. Charges were never filed, and Allen denies it happened.

    It turns out that Weinstein helped out Allen at the time, too. In 1994, fresh off of Farrow’s allegation, Allen “was shunned by Hollywood’s movie community,” the LA Times wrote, but his career was rehabbed with the help of Weinstein.

    (Ronan Farrow, Farrow and Allen’s 29-year-old son, was the reporter who broke some of the more serious allegations against Weinstein in the New Yorker this week. Farrow is estranged from Allen.)

    The LA Times reported that Allen’s deal with the studio TriStar Pictures had been cut off prematurely, and his future looked uncertain. Then Weinstein’s company Miramax signed him. “Shunned by Hollywood means nothing to Miramax,” Weinstein told the paper. “We’re talking about a comic genius.”

    The Allen film Miramax took on in ‘94, “Bullets over Broadway,” went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations and win one. The Weinstein Company, the production company that succeeded Miramax, distributed many more of Allen’s movies.

    On Wednesday, after some two dozen women had come forward to make sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein, including A-list and lesser-known actresses, the Mercury News asked whether the careers of other accused Hollywood men, including Polanski and Allen, could survive the renewed attention to sex abuse in the industry.

    The post How Harvey Weinstein came to the rescue of other alleged abusers in Hollywood appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: what’s been called a textbook case of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

    That is how the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights describes what has befallen the Rohingya ethnic minority. In a new report, the U.N. agency said government forces and Buddhist extremists have executed — quote — “a well-organized, coordinated and systematic campaign of human rights violations” against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

    An estimated 520,000 have fled their homes for neighboring Bangladesh.

    Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, called for national unity today and said she had created a committee that will oversee all international and local assistance.

    We turn now to Eric Schwartz. He was assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration. He is now president of Refugees International. He recently returned from Bangladesh. And Daniel Russel he was a career Foreign Service officer and served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He’s now a senior fellow at the Asia Society.

    And we thank you both for being with us.

    Eric Schwartz, to you first.

    You just did return from Bangladesh just a few weeks ago. What was your main takeaway?

    ERIC SCHWARTZ, Refugees International: My main takeaway, both for policy reasons and moral reasons, is, we have to come to grips with the enormity of these crimes.

    A population larger than Atlanta, larger than Miami has been forced out of their homes in a matter of five weeks. The testimonies we received were heartbreaking, of systematic firebombing of villages, people being shot systematically when they tried to flee, cases of sexual violence that, as a father of two girls, was one of the most difficult sets of testimonies for me to hear.

    And so the starting point for me has to be absolute outrage. And we have to recognize the enormity of this situation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Daniel Russel, I don’t think anyone doubts that this is going on, despite the denials of Myanmar’s government. And we know there has been discrimination against the Rohingya for a very long time.

    But what is the source, the explanation for this kind of violence against them by the majority?

    DANIEL RUSSEL, Asia Society: Well, the context, Judy, is a series of very longstanding ethnic insurgencies and hostilities between communities.

    But, to Eric’s point, look, the starting point may be outrage, but we can’t stop there. We have to collaborate to find a way to stop the violence. This is an appalling humanitarian crisis. We have to find a way to protect the displaced people and engineer their safe return and to design a pathway for the two communities to live and work together.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to get to that in just a minute.

    But, Eric Schwartz, I still want to understand what explains the extreme violence that’s being visited upon these people.

    ERIC SCHWARTZ: Well, first, with all due respect to Danny’s comment, the idea that insurgency is the route of the problem in Rakhine State is nonsense.

    This is not insurgency. There are parts of Burma where there are insurgent issues. This is not an insurgency-driven conflict. This is a pretext that the military has given us, by all evidence.

    But I agree, this is the result of decades of discrimination against a Muslim minority population in a back to Buddhist-majority country. And it goes back for decades. And, unfortunately, the civilian leadership has not been very helpful in addressing this issue of discrimination.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Daniel Russel, during the Obama administration, was there knowledge that this kind of thing was going on, could be going on, when the opening was created to Myanmar?

    DANIEL RUSSEL: Yes.

    There’s been, over the span of many decades, tremendous tension and cyclical outbreaks of violence between the Rakhine community and the Rohingyas.

    The civilian government under Aung San Suu Kyi is the first administration in Burma in decades to try to come to grips with this problem.

    But Aung San Suu Kyi has only been in power for 18 months. The constitution doesn’t give her authority over the military. And there is no solution to the problem that doesn’t involve helping to ensure that there is civilian authority exercise over the armed forces.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Eric Schwartz, there are a lot of questions about Aung San Suu Kyi and why she hasn’t been more outspoken about this violence. What is your understanding of why she has not been?

    ERIC SCHWARTZ: Well, I think you would have to ask her why.

    But my concern is that, while it may be understandable that she is not going to be the pointy edge of the spear against the military’s action, but it’s very tragic and unfortunate that she served to be an apologist for the military. She made statements on September 19 about the fact that there was no discrimination in education or health care in Rakhine State.

    She said that they wanted to find out whether there was evidence of human rights violations, a sort of willful ignorance. Now, I think the real question is, what do we do?

    Unless the international community is prepared to take strong measures, sanctions against the military, a demand that Aung San Suu Kyi’s willingness to take people back, which is an articulated willingness, is matched with a willingness to have international observers in Rakhine. Otherwise, nothing is going to happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Daniel Russel, what would you add to that? What does the international community need to do, and what more can Aung San Suu Kyi do?

    DANIEL RUSSEL: This is a country which, less than 10 years ago, refused international assistance in response to Cyclone Nargis, which was devastating to the country, because of the degree of paranoia and isolationism, xenophobia.

    So it’s no small matter politically for Aung San Suu Kyi to work to help build conditions that will allow for the safe return of the Rohingya, allow for a pathway to citizenship, and allow for development of this impoverished area, all of which she said that she seeks to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is a horrific situation now. And I know we are going to continue to watch it.

    Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

    Daniel Russel, Eric Schwartz, thank you.

    ERIC SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Judy.

    DANIEL RUSSEL: Thank you.

    The post What can stop the extreme violence against Rohingya Muslims? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Since the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed on Capitol Hill, President Trump has repeatedly taken steps to undercut and undermine the law, which he calls a nightmare for the American people.

    In recent weeks, those steps have included shrinking the enrollment season for the individual insurance market, substantially cutting money for programs that sign people up, threatening to cut subsidies for insurers, and exempting more employers and businesses from providing birth control coverage.

    Today, the president signed an executive order that could trigger the biggest changes yet.

    William Brangham has the story.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The president’s executive order makes two principal moves.

    It changes the rules over what are called association health plans. Those would allow some small businesses to buy cheaper insurance plans that provide fewer benefits and protections. It also expands the time frame for what are known as short-term insurance plans, which are usually used by people as a bridge between jobs.

    Under the Obama administration, these plans could last for just three months. President Trump expanded those plans to a year.

    Critics argue these changes will pull in younger, healthier people out of the ACA marketplace, leaving behind older, sicker people, who will then face higher prices and fewer options.

    The president, however, today argued these changes were crucial to help save an already troubled marketplace.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Premiums have gone skyrocketing. But, today, one-third of all the counties in America have only a single insurer selling coverage on an exchange. And next year, it looks like nearly half of all counties in our country. Think of that. All of the counties, one-half will have only one insurer. And many will have none.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: These changes, of course, come just weeks before the next round of enrollment for the ACA begins.

    So, what does this means for health care policy in America?

    We turn to Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. He’s a senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center and was a health care policy adviser for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And Andy Slavitt, he’s also a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center. And for two years, he served as acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama.

    Gentlemen, welcome both to you — to the NewsHour.

    Andy Slavitt, I would like the start with you.

    Today, you said about this executive order, you described it as long on propaganda, short on details, plenty of sabotage.

    I wonder if you could explain.

    ANDY SLAVITT, Bipartisan Policy Center: Yes. Well, thanks for having me on, William.

    I think what’s important to understand is, the executive order is a first step in trying to do by fiat what Congress refused to do in repealing the ACA.

    It essentially, as you described it, will set up two pools, a set of rules for insurers who will be lightly regulated and be able to offer insurance products that don’t have to contain the services like maternity services, and then the other pool of services, which will be the ACA plans, which will, because they will also sit right aside the other plans, we know what will happen.

    The prices of those plans will go up, and it will make it much more expensive for folks to get coverage.

    So, we’re going to have to see the details. This first step, though, looks exactly like what we expected.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Avik Roy, I know you have been a critic of the Affordable Care Act in the past.

    I wonder what you made of the president’s move today.

    AVIK ROY, Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity: I would say this executive order is kind of like raindrops on a rhinoceros.

    It’s not going to have that much effect at all. The executive order, the piece of it that talks about these association health plans that allow small businesses to pool together to form larger pools, that already exists.

    There are groups called professional employee organizations, or PEOs, that can do that already, that can pool small businesses to buy health insurance in bulk. So, that’s not really going to have that much of an effect on the market. And the point about these short-term plans, all the president has done here is revert back to the rules that were in place a year ago under President Obama. It was only as the president, the last president, President Obama, was leaving office, that they restricted the length of these plans to 90 days. Before that, you could buy these plans up to 364 days.

    All the president has done here is revert to those preexisting rules.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Andy Slavitt, well, you heard this, raindrops on a rhinoceros. Why are you so concerned about that, if it is so minor?

    ANDY SLAVITT: Yes, I think what’s going to happen — and we have some experience with this — is that, look, if you’re young and healthy and a 27-year-old male, insurance prices will come down for you.

    And I think if that that’s one of the things you’re trying to solve for, you know, you will have more options. That is not really, though, our biggest challenge right now. And if President Trump is really concerned with bringing premiums down, what will happen is, if you’re — if you have anybody sick as a small employer, or if you are in an ACA plan, and the people who are young and healthy are going to these 364-day plans, which is basically a loophole, then your premiums are going to get more and more expensive.

    So, these are not actions today, to be clear, that are in any way going to help people afford coverage. They’re going to help some people get lower-cost, lower-quality plans, and they’re going to leave other people in trouble.

    And that’s why the American Cancer Society came out very strongly today and said that they believe it endangers millions of cancer patients and their families.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Avik Roy, what do you make of that, that the trend here, if you provide these cheaper plans that are enticing to younger, healthier people, those people will move out of the ACA marketplaces and create this two-tiered system, where sicker, older people are in one, younger healthier people are in the other?

    AVIK ROY: Well, and this is such an important point. So, I’m glad you asked the question.

    People who are the younger and relatively healthier people, that actually is a huge policy problem under Obamacare. There are millions of people whose premiums who have doubled or tripled, on average, because of the regulations in Obamacare. So, they do need some kind of relief.

    This executive order only provides really a limited amount of relief. In terms of the question about sicker people and how they get coverage, if their income is eligible for subsidies on the Obamacare exchanges, the value of the tax credits, the value of the financial assistance they get is going to expand even if the premiums go up.

    So they won’t be affected at all. So, this is actually a way to provide relief to millions of people who are now priced out of the market, while actually preserving protections for those who want them in the traditional Obamacare exchanges.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Andy Slavitt, isn’t the concern there, though, that insurance companies will then pull out of those markets?

    ANDY SLAVITT: That’s right.

    I think the CBO estimated in the past that if something like this, which was an amendment proposed by Ted Cruz, were to make it into the final bill, what President Trump was talking about today, where some of the markets only have one insurer, many of them would abandon the post and say, it’s really not worth it for us to offer coverage anymore.

    So, while I respect Avik’s point, the reality is, at any income level, the ability to get access to these products is going to go away. Remember, before the ACA, the majority of women in the country could not get maternity coverage unless they got it through their employer.

    Mental health likewise is going to be in very, very short supply. So this is something that I think is going to create public health challenges very significantly, if it’s allowed to be implemented.

    Now, again, remember, this is just a direction from the president. We’re going to have to see what happens when this goes to the departments, and to see if they can find a way that’s indeed legal and complies with state regulations to put some of these things forward. And I’m not so sure that it is.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Avik Roy, what about this concern that we know, when people buy health insurance, they often don’t really look at the details of their plans? And if there is the creation of a lot of plans that have less protections and less coverage, that people may buy them, think that they’re covered, but then find out when they get sick that the policy really doesn’t protect them.

    Do you worry about that at all?

    AVIK ROY: I think it’s a useful point.

    Yes, you should have plans where people understand what they’re buying. But that is different from saying the federal government should determine in a very narrow way the only kind of insurance you can buy. Basically, the way Obamacare works is, you can buy any pickup truck you want, as long as it’s green, or any car you want, so long as it’s a green pickup truck.

    So, there’s very limited choice in the kind of insurance you can buy. And so, yes, it’s important to have a consumer-friendly structure, so that people can understand what they’re going to buy, but it’s also important to have choice in the kinds of insurance you can buy, because if you don’t have choice, you don’t have competition, and you have much higher costs.

    And that’s the problem that Obamacare has faced over the last four years.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Avik Roy, Andy Slavitt, thank you both very much.

    AVIK ROY: Thank you.

    The post How Trump’s executive order affects health care plans and prices appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria remains very slow, and outright alarming for anyone on the island. It’s also increasingly the subject of a political fight with the president.

    P.J. Tobia begins with this report.

    P.J. TOBIA: It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Maria blasted the length of Puerto Rico, and the people of the U.S. territory are just beginning the long journey to recovery.

    JULIA RIVERA, San Lorenzo Resident (through interpreter): Well, we are hoping they will build us a new bridge, because the road to get out of here is very uphill. It takes like an hour-and-a-half or two hours to get out of here.

    P.J. TOBIA: As they struggle, the political fight over their fate is escalating. President Trump has mentioned the cost of rebuilding Puerto Rico, as when he visited the island nine days ago.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you have thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we have spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine.

    P.J. TOBIA: Today, the president tweeted: “We cannot keep FEMA, the military and the first-responders in Puerto Rico forever.”

    The president has also repeatedly traded verbal fire with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. She’s publicly criticized the federal response as too slow.

    In her own tweet today, Cruz slammed Mr. Trump’s latest words as unbecoming of a commander in chief. She said he seemed to be acting more as a hater in chief.

    Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, has generally made approving statements of the federal effort. Today, in response to the president, he tweeted: “The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our nation.”

    Later, the White House chief of staff, General John Kelly, addressed the dust-up.

    JOHN KELLY, White House Chief of Staff: Our country will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done, but the tweet about FEMA and DOD, read, military, is exactly accurate. They are not going to be there forever.

    P.J. TOBIA: Meanwhile, most Puerto Ricans are a long way from returning to normal lives.

    As of this week, more than 80 percent are still without power. Just 37 percent of cell phone towers on the island have been restored to service, and nearly 6,000 people remain in shelters, unable to return to what’s left of their homes.

    Nearly 40 percent of the island’s residents still don’t have access to drinking water. And even for those who do, fears are building about the safety of that water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned on Wednesday that some people may have been getting water from hazardous Superfund sites, and it also reported raw sewage is seeping into waterways in places like Catano on the northern coast.

    It raises the prospect of disease outbreaks.

    BRUCE OTERO, Cataño Resident: It’s very difficult for the people around here,. Besides whatever they lost here, they’re also — they are not healthy.

    P.J. TOBIA: On top of that, there’ve been reports of hoarding and black marketeering. Governor Rossello has ordered an investigation of aid distribution. And he warns there will be hell to pay for any who mishandle the effort.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m P.J. Tobia.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A short time ago, I spoke with the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, who was at the Convention Center in San Juan.

    Governor Rossello, thank you very much for talking with us.

    Were you upset when you saw President Trump’s tweets today?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ, Puerto Rico: I wanted clarification.

    And that’s why I called immediately to the White House to make sure that we got some clarification on what the statements meant. You know, we have heard the president, the vice president. They had come over here to Puerto Rico and established a commitment to be with Puerto Rico for the long haul.

    So, the response was in the affirmative. I spoke to Chief of Staff General Kelly, and he expressed that, yes, that they will be here for the long haul. Yes, they will treat U.S. citizens that live in Puerto Rico equally to those that live in Texas and in Florida and in other parts of the United States. So, I called upon him for clarification, and we got it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do you interpret what the president meant when he said FEMA can’t and others can’t be there forever?

    Have you been given a limit on how — on the time and resources they’re prepared to spend?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: My job is not to interpret. That’s why I asked directly. I asked directly what it meant.

    They said that they meant that in the context of any recovery effort that would be quicker, that would reach their people to normalcy would be better.

    Of course, our situation is very complex here in Puerto Rico. I know that the president, state governors, and congressmen understand this. And that is why we need all of the resources and all hands on deck at this juncture.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One other question about that.

    The president also tweeted, Governor Rossello, that this was a crisis, a financial crisis of Puerto Rico’s own making. And he went on to say that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, electric grid was a disaster before the hurricane.

    Do you agree?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Well, we did have — we were in a fiscal crunch. There is no doubt about that.

    We have a fiscal oversight board in Puerto Rico. I arrived in office about eight months ago and started working on a fiscal plan that was very aggressive, that would empower our economy to grow.

    But it is true there were some — a lot of fiscal limitations and challenge, but we were addressing them. But, certainly, there was weak infrastructure. And that’s why I’m asking, for us, instead of rebuilding, putting back the same grid over again, let’s take this moment to invest that capital into making a better grid, making Puerto Rico look as it should, not as it looked in the past.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there are now reports, Governor, of people hoarding supplies, of maybe there being a black market, of local politicians favorites.

    How much of that is going on, and what are you doing about it?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Well, two things.

    We heard about that and immediately took action. Here’s what we did. We started deploying National Guard to all of the municipalities to help with the distribution, in case it was a circumstance where the mayors were just not executing properly.

    Secondly, we sent out certain people from our Treasury Department to make accountability of what was being distributed. And, thirdly, I ordered investigations from the federal prosecutor and our Department of Justice to investigate if there were, in effect, hoarding by public officials.

    And my petition was clear. If there is hoarding, there was going to be hell the pay by those officials. I should state — I should state that a lot of the mayors and a lot of the local leadership is doing a phenomenal job, but certainly, if some are not, and the resources are getting there and they’re not being distributed to the people, you know, severe actions needs to be taken.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Separately, Governor, you have come under some criticism for understating the problems that your hospitals face. Can you set us straight on that?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ:  I’m not understating it.

    As a matter of fact, I think we have a significant problem with our hospitals. We have been able to elevate it — elevate them to functionality, so that they can have, you know, running water, electricity, and so forth.

    But it is a very frail system, Judy. And it’s going to take a long time to reestablish it. That’s why the proper resources to come to Puerto Rico are essentially. Certainly, public health emergencies and assuring the people that they have access to good quality care in hospitals is a longer-term potential problem.

    We want to make sure we address them. The status of our system is frail. It depends on energy. We have generators empowering most of those hospitals. And that’s just not a sustainable solution. So, what we are focusing on, on this now immediate run is to make sure that we can reestablish a fully functional hospital system, and not only the hospitals, but dialysis centers, the homes for the elderly, and so forth.

    So, it is by no means a system that is doing well. It is stabilized somewhat. But if we don’t act appropriately and with the proper resources, it is a system that could collapse.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Governor, there is some suspicion that has been out there the death toll, which I believe now at 45, could be much higher than that. Could that be the case?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ:  It could be the case.

    And we have been saying this since the death toll was about 16. Then it went up to 30 and so forth. Right now, we’re making all of the assessments to make sure that we have all the information from our forensic centers, from our hospitals, from — you know, from the different towns to make sure we have access to that direct and indirect death list of — or death toll from the hurricane.

    So we’re updating it as quickly as possible. We have meetings every day with the different stakeholders. And, of course, our hope is that it doesn’t rise too much. But, certainly, after a devastating hurricane such as this, Category 5 hitting the whole of the island, we’re estimating hundreds of thousands of houses completely destroyed here in Puerto Rico.

    You have to brace yourself for the reality that that number could certainly increase.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Governor, we certainly wish you the very best with the ongoing recovery efforts.

    Governor Ricardo Rossello, thank you.

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Thank you so much, Judy.

    The post White House is committed to long-term Puerto Rico recovery despite Trump tweets, says Gov. Rosselló appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The House of Representatives has passed a $36 billion relief bill for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires. More than half that funding goes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including up to $5 billion to help Puerto Rico.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We have got to do more to help Puerto Rico rebuild its own economy, so that it can be self-sufficient, but at the moment — and it’s why I’m there tomorrow — at the moment, there’s a humanitarian crisis that has to be attended to.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: What we’re talking about now is emergency relief. There’s going to have to be relief right now. There’s going to have to be recovery. And that’s a whole other, shall we say, budget.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill also earmarks about $16 billion to cover flood insurance claims in Texas and Florida. And nearly $600 million will go toward fighting wildfires.

    President Trump signed an executive order today aimed at promoting greater choice in health insurance plans. It lets small businesses form associations to offer scaled-back plans at lower costs. They’d be exempt from Obamacare requirements to cover so-called essential benefits.

    We will report on this in detail later in the program.

    The president has formally nominated White House official Kirstjen Nielsen to be his new secretary of homeland security. She’d worked for then-Secretary John Kelly and moved to the White House with him when he became chief of staff.

    Mr. Trump introduced Nielsen today, and praised her experience. He said there will be no on-the-job training for her.

    The U.S. Justice Department today singled out five jurisdictions around the country for allegedly giving sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. The city of Chicago and surrounding Cook County, Illinois, plus New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, now face an October 27 deadline.

    They have to show they’re cooperating with immigration officials, or they risk losing federal grants.

    The U.S. and Pakistan today announced the release of an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children. They’d been held five years by the militant Haqqani Network, linked to the Taliban. Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were shown in two hostage videos after being captured in Afghanistan in 2012.

    Relatives learned of their release today in Ontario, Canada.

    LINDA BOYLE, Mother of Released Hostage: We were told the wonderful news that our family had been rescued. And then, 20 minutes later, we were allowed to actually talk with Josh. That’s the first time in five years we got to hear his voice. It was amazing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Details on how the family was freed were not immediately available. But President Trump said it shows many countries are starting to respect the United States again.

    Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas announced a new attempt today to heal a 10-year breach. Hamas agreed to return control of Gaza to Fatah by December 1. Fatah already controls the West Bank. The agreement was brokered by Egypt and it was signed in Cairo. It also calls for reopening a key border crossing with Egypt.

    The United States is formally withdrawing from the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO. The State Department says that the decision take effect at the end of next year. Washington halted funding for UNESCO in 2011 after it voted to recognize Palestine as a member state.

    Experimental gene therapy to treat a rare form of blindness moved a big step closer to federal approval today. Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended the approach. It improves vision in patients who go legally blind because of defective genes. The FDA has until mid-January to make its decision.

    And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 32 points to close at 22841. The Nasdaq fell 12, and the S&P 500 slipped four.

    The post News Wrap: House approves $36 billion for U.S. disaster relief appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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