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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: Here to flesh out this story is Diana Henriques, who has been chronicling it from the beginning. She's a reporter for The New York Times and she's the author of a book about the Madoff case, "The Wizard of Lies."

    Diana Henriques, welcome back to the NewsHour.

    You have been following very closely, among other things, the effort to recover as much of the money Madoff stole as possible to get it back to people who lost the money. How is that process going?

    DIANA HENRIQUES, The New York Times: Well, I think here at year five, we can say it has been extremely slow, extremely complicated and for the victims extremely frustrating.

    We're not even halfway through the major compensation program, the one being administered through the bankruptcy court, which, as you mentioned, Judy, has raised about $9 billion. About half of that has been distributed. The rest is being held back in reserve because of a tangle of litigation issues that are still pending.

    There's an entirely separate fund being operated through the Justice Department that is about $2.2 billion. That just got up and operating last month. The claims period doesn't end until February. So, for these victims, many of whom were already in retirement when Madoff's fraud was exposed, they are getting older and more upset about the prospects of ever recovering anything, even where they are eligible to recover.

    And many thousands are not eligible, either because they weren't investors directly with Bernie or because they didn't lose cash principal. They just lost paper wealth they thought was theirs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're talking to a number of these victims. What kinds of things are they telling you?

    DIANA HENRIQUES: Well, the victims who have been sued by the trustee for the recovery of cash that they took out thinking it was their own money, but which was actually money Bernie had stolen from someone else, those victims are really living a nightmare.

    They -- one victim told me that it was like facing a test in school where you're not prepared, and you know it's coming. They live in a constant state of anxiety, worried about what's going to happen to that litigation.

    For other victims, many are moving on. They're making a point of finding a smaller and simpler, but satisfying life. But we both know that there are a lots of victims for whom the anger and the frustration are still souring the years that they have left. So it's very much a mixed bag, I think, but not much of it happy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you're talking to the victims. You have also maintained communication with Bernie Madoff himself over the years.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were telling us that you found that his attitude, the tone you hear coming from him has changed since he's been in prison. Tell us about that.


    It actually has changed fairly recently, Judy. For the first several years of our communications -- we were exchanging regular e-mails and letters, occasional phone calls -- he was very careful to always include a fairly extension -- extensive expression of regret, acknowledging his guilt, acknowledging the people he had hurt and the people he had betrayed, whose trust he had betrayed.

    But now, in our more recent conversations over about the past year, that rhetoric is gone. He is very bitter towards his victims. Beyond irony, he sees them as greedy. He sees them as expecting too much from this compensation process. And his remorse has really shrunk down to the very profound and deep remorse that he feels for the wreckage he made of his family's life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, separately from all of this, we know there's a trial going on of Madoff's associates, a lot of interesting testimony coming out there. Tell us what you're hearing, what you are learning from that that we should know about.

    DIANA HENRIQUES: Well, it is a fascinating trial. It is the government's first opportunity to present the evidence it has for proving the proposition that this fraud began long before Bernie Madoff says it did.

    He insisted when he pleaded guilty that the fraud began in 1992 and that he was an honest money manager until then. The evidence presented in trial has made that even less believable than it already was. I was very confident in writing "The Wizard of Lies" that the fraud began at least by the mid-'80s.

    The evidence in trial this past week brought it back to the mid-1970s. At least some fake trading, bogus trades were being done even in the mid-'70s. So the government has made good on planting its flag on the start date of this fraud.

    I have also learned the incredible detail that Madoff invested in this cover-up. I said to a colleague in court, you know, this is really the Faberge egg of Ponzi schemes, every tiny detail that Madoff paid attention to, making sure that the font, the typeface on some of these forged documents was exactly perfect...


    DIANA HENRIQUES: ... that websites that were created were perfect. So, it's been quite enlightening.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It's been enlightening. What a story. It just doesn't seem to come to an end.

    Diana Henriques of The New York Times, thank you.

    DIANA HENRIQUES: Thank you.


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    A Senate employee walks through the Capitol Crypt at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    It's not often the Senate works through the night.

    But Republicans -- still fuming because the Democrats who control the chamber forced through a rule change to speed up the confirmation process for presidential nominees -- have worked to throw a wrench in the works and slow it down as much as they are able.

    The Morning LineThe protest against the so-called "nuclear option" is a planned strategy to respond to what Democrats did before Thanksgiving recess. Basically, the GOP is refusing to "yield back time" on debates, even when there isn't a real debate happening.

    The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe breaks down the details.

    Republicans warned when Democrats voted to change the rules that they would use all other procedural tactics at their disposal to slow the consideration of nominees, including declining to yield back hours of time set aside for each nominee, as historically has been the practice.

    After the vote on [Chai Rachel] Feldblum [on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], the process will continue throughout Thursday and into Friday, with procedural and final confirmation votes on four nominees to serve on U.S. district courts in Montana, New Hampshire and New York; on Deborah Lee James to serve as secretary of the Air Force; Heather Higginbottom to serve as the deputy secretary of state for management; and Anne Patterson, to serve as an assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.

    At some point Friday, the Senate will consider the nomination of Jeh C. Johnson to serve as the next homeland security secretary. Aides said the Senate likely would break overnight Friday and return Saturday afternoon for a final vote on Johnson's confirmation.

    And the New York Times Jeremy W. Peters details the early-morning vote to confirm Cornelia T. L. Pillard to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit:

    Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, kept the Senate in session through the night and early morning, and has vowed to continue calling round-the-clock votes through the weekend if Republicans continue to delay the process.

    Under the body's rules, the minority party can force the Senate to use all of the time required for debate on any given nomination. In the case of Ms. Pillard, the amount of time allotted was 30 hours. Shortly after 1 a.m., the Senate confirmed her by a 51-44 vote.

    The Senate will vote Thursday morning on other nominations. An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quipped each of the votes is on a "wash, rinse, repeat" cycle.

    "If we are forced to run out all the clocks, it will take us until Saturday afternoon(ish) to work through this list," the aide noted.

    But the major focus of Thursday's activities is a scheduled vote on the budget compromise hammered out by chairpersons Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray.

    Politico's Glenn Thrush examined in detail Speaker John Boehner's challenge as the Ohio Republican blasted conservative groups for opposing the deal. Initial reports ahead of that vote said that Republican leadership aides are confident the measure can clear the House.

    Still, a big sticking point remains whether Congress will extend unemployment benefits, something Democrats have clamored for. The House also is debating a measure to extend funding under the farm bill, which is still tied up in negotiations, until Jan. 31.

    Republicans want to see money put in place to patch Medicare payments to doctors, known as the "doc fix," and Democrats contend they should get the unemployment insurance extension as part of that deal.

    White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that President Barack Obama "will continue to advocate for this." He added:

    "There have been a few previous occasions where we've come down to the wire like this, and through the President's cajoling and advocating we've gotten some congressional action. It remains to be seen if that will happen in this case, but that's certainly something that we're advocating for."

    The fragile agreements could be impacted by the unemployment insurance fight. We'll be watching how it develops as the House attempts to pass the budget compromise before the Friday deadline and get out of town for the holidays.

    And Senate Republicans could always slow down the process once the measure gets to that chamber.

    On the NewsHour Wednesday, anchor Judy Woodruff fielded a debate between Democratic former Obama administration "car czar" Steven Rattner, Republican former George W. Bush administration adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Heritage fellow Romina Boccia.

    Each panelist agreed that the budget deal is not ideal. "But if you look inside this agreement, not everything is about budget dollars. Sometimes, it's policy that matters," Holtz-Eakin said. "So we are going to ask new federal employees to make higher contributions for their pensions."

    Watch the segment here or below:

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    The year 2013 had many defining moments. The Roman Catholic Church ushered in a new pope, the number of Syrian refugees crossed the 2 million mark, and the Philippines endured the thrashing of a super typhoon.

    Tell us which world event -- including any we didn't highlight here -- affected you the most this year in the comments section.

    'We have a pope'

    Pope Francis held a peace vigil for Syria at St. Peter's Square in Rome in September. Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

    It took cardinals only two days of meeting in the Vatican to determine the successor of retiring Pope Benedict XVI. On March 13, as the telltale white smoke erupted from the Sistine Chapel, word came out that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the Catholic Church's next pope -- the first Jesuit and the first from South America. He took the name Pope Francis.

    Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter described Pope Francis on that day's PBS NewsHour as "doctrinally conservative" and a "simple and humble man" who decided to forgo the mansion residence for a small apartment when he became archbishop of Buenos Aires.

    On Dec. 11, Time magazine named Pope Francis its person of the year.

    Snowden admits to NSA leaks

    Edward Snowden pictured here in YouTube video.

    On June 9, former contractor for the National Security Agency Edward Snowden revealed in The Guardian that he was responsible for exposing the NSA's top secret surveillance programs.

    The drip-drip of new information, particularly about the United States monitoring the communications of foreign government leaders, posed a diplomatic challenge for the Obama administration throughout the year.

    P.J. Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs and now a professor at George Washington University, and Philip Mudd, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, discussed the fallout from the revelations on the Oct. 25 NewsHour.

    Iran's overtures

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a bilateral meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City in September. Photo by Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images

    After being elected president of Iran on June 14, Hassan Rouhani immediately presented a more moderate tone and open attitude on nuclear negotiations in television appearances and in direct communication with President Barack Obama.

    On Sept. 24, he told the U.N. General Assembly that nuclear weapons "have no place in Iran's security and military doctrine." Iran and other countries later negotiated an interim deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

    Morsi's ouster

    Egyptians celebrating the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi hold a portrait of Army Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

    Mohammed Morsi was Egypt's democratically elected president for just over a year before the military removed him from office on July 3. His detractors said Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party were engaged in a power grab and were unresponsive to the opposition.

    Morsi's removal ignited violent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations and raised questions about what it might mean for other Islamist movements.

    Following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government, the party's spokesman Gehad El-Haddad, who was on the run from police, told NewsHour chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner about the unfair trials and killings of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

    By the end of 2013, Egypt was working on a new constitution and gearing up for presidential elections slated for 2014.

    Yasmin Al Tellawy, a freelance journalist and photographer, provided the footage of Tahrir Square celebrations in our Instagram video.

    The little prince of Cambridge

    It's a baby boy for the duke and duchess of Cambridge. Photo by Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images

    In 1982, the world watched as Prince Charles and Princess Diana emerged from St. Mary's Hospital in London cradling their firstborn son, William Arthur Philip Louis. This year on July 22, William and Catherine, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, had their own baby boy, George, at the same hospital and under the same international spotlight.

    Syrian refugees hit 2 million

    Syrian refugees live in a makeshift tent camp in Ankara, Turkey. Photo by Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

    The exodus of Syrians fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq continued unabated this year. The U.N. refugee agency said Sept. 3 that the number of registered Syrian refugees surpassed the 2 million mark. About half of the refugees are children, according to the United Nations.

    The NewsHour visited several surrounding Middle Eastern countries straining from the influx of refugees, including Lebanon and Jordan's Zaatari camp.

    The war between the government and rebels took a grisly turn when a chemical attack on Aug. 21 killed hundreds of Syrians. In response to the use of deadly sarin gas near Damascus, the Obama administration explored the possibility of a pinpoint strike on Syria's chemical weapon delivery system.

    President Obama told the NewsHour's Gwen Ifill on Sept. 9 that a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons strike in Syria is "overwhelmingly my preference."

    Russia brokered a deal that led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreeing to give up the country's chemical weapons. By Oct. 31, Syria had destroyed all of its declared chemical weapons facilities. Under the deal, Syria has until the middle of 2014 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.

    Typhoon pummels the Philippines

    Kevin Frayer/Getty Images Residents of Tacloban in the Philippines survey the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

    The strongest typhoon in the Philippines' recorded history hit the island nation on Nov. 8, washing away homes and roads and killing more than 5,000 people. The Philippines government and relief workers mobilized to help the millions made homeless and in desperate need of food and water.

    Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the government's National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground, a commercial online weather service, discussed what made Typhoon Haiyan such an intense storm.

    Farewell, Madiba

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died this year at age 95, is seen here in March 1999. Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

    On Dec. 5, anti-apartheid activist and South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela died after struggling with lung ailments that started after he was jailed for sabotage and treason earlier in life.

    Former NewsHour correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault looked back at the life and times of the man affectionately known as "Madiba".

    Tell us your top world event in the comments section. View all of our World coverage.

    Follow @NewsHourWorld

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    By Jesse Appell

    Fulbright Scholar and comedian Jesse Appell has been our far-flung correspondent in China this year. Most recently, he appeared on the Business Desk writing about China's theme song, exposing the economic desperation underlying the country's avid consumption. But he's more widely known for his fall 2012 "Gangnam Style" parody -- "Laowai Style"-- which racked up more than a million views within its first month on Youku, China's version of YouTube. His music video was so popular in China, Appell was invited to perform his routine live on Chinese TV -- but not before the TV studio tried to censor his lyrics. Appell fought back, getting to keep two of the three censored lines, and share his message about the commonalities between the Chinese and a foreigner (laowai) like himself living in Beijing.

    Now, Appell is back with another rap music video explaining the development of the Chinese economy -- this one set to "Mo Money Mo Problems." That should be a good hint as to the theme of the song. It's as catchy as "Laowai," and given that first video's success, if you care about being in-the-know, about pop culture or China's economy, it's not to be missed. Here Jesse elaborates on how he got the idea for the song and what it means.

    Jesse Appell: Earlier this year, I sat at a café in Beijing, listening to '90s rap searching for insight into the nature of the Chinese economy. All of a sudden, my iPod played the classic song "Mo Money Mo Problems" featuring P. Diddy.

    Diddy may not be a published author in the field of economics or have an advanced degree like Dr. Dre, but his lyrics nonetheless go a long way toward describing how China has developed: "The more money we come across, the more problems we see."

    Money has meant both progress and problems for China. Indeed, as an economy, China is a chimera, one where the Qing Dynasty and modernity exist side by side. Crossing the street in Beijing means dodging both Mercedes and rickshaws. This confusing juxtaposition of old and new simultaneously bolsters and strains Chinese society.

    MORE FROM JESSE APPELL: China's Theme Song: Can I Swap GDP for Disposable Diapers?

    When it comes to development -- or "Fazhan," in Chinese -- sometimes the good and the bad are so closely interrelated it is hard to tell them apart. In P. Diddy parlance, mo money has meant mo cars, but also mo pollution. For better or worse, it goes like this: mo money, mo fazhan.

    "Mo Money Mo Fazhan," I thought to myself. "That could be a rap song." Thus was born a bilingual rap song chronicling the economy of China from the late Qing Dynasty to the modern day.

    As an intercultural comedian, a good deal of my work seeks to allow people to understand China a bit better through humor. So aside from giving me an excuse to wear a bike chain with a massive wooden carving around my neck, I wanted to use comedic rap to reflect the amazing changes in China, both its blessings and its curses, and above all, communicate the frenetic pace of economic modernization that dominates the country's national identity.

    We start back in the late 1800s, when China was ruled by the Qing Emperor and was falling apart at the seams:

    Late Qing, no bling Feudal society all up in this place... Railroad protests, Imperial pressure, How's a player gonna develop his economy?

    A fair question. Indeed, up through the socialist period, the economy was in a shambles -- a century of war and revolution eventually placed Mao Zedong and the Communist Party in the seat of power, and upon the death of Mao in 1976, the economy was arguably not much further advanced than it had been during the Qing dynasty.

    MORE FROM JESSE APPELL: Self-Censorship on Chinese TV: An American Comedian's Experience

    But change -- like the second verse of the song -- kicks off with a bang:

    Then we've got my Bro Deng Xiaoping The man was 4'11'' of ice cold bling... He made the SEZs (Special Economic Zones) to raise the GDP To get the PRC into the G20 Attract the MNCs (Multinational Corporations) but keep the SOEs (State-owned Enterprises) This is "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics."

    In a few quick decades, the reforms of the diminutive Deng began the rapid expansion of the economy. The reforms were termed "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics," a delightfully vague phrase that gave the government license to introduce capitalist policies without needing to formally address decades of pro-socialist, anti-capitalist rhetoric.

    Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were established to make China a part of the international economy. High-rises went up overnight as a floodgate of trade and investment poured into these special areas. One such zone, Shenzhen, has grown from a tiny fishing village in 1979 to a metropolis of 11 million.

    But even as capitalism took hold, vestiges of the old way of doing things remained. With one hand, China beckoned to multinational companies, inviting investment, while with the other hand, it shielded the massive communist-era state-owned enterprises, which monopolize industries such as oil, banking and mining. This dichotomy defines the confusing mix of capitalism and communism that continues to this day.

    MORE FROM JESSE APPELL: Poor is the New Rich in Viral Video from Expat in China

    Growth spread like wildfire through the '80s and '90s, from the coast inland:

    Build roads to Xinjiang and trains to Tibet Rebuild the Great Wall and dam the Yangtze Incorporate Hong Kong, don't talk about Taiwan... You know it's on when you say "Economic Reforms."

    In these circumstances, the new and the old began mixing in the ways that make modern China such an interesting image:

    We've got fake DVDs and smartphones, 3D, 3G, and Three Kingdoms dramas, We've got migrant workers selling fake iPhones, Sons of Nouveau Riche bragging 'bout their second homes...

    The modern, the ancient; the rich, the poor... all of these things exist within eyeshot of one another on any given street in Beijing. Illegal workers line the streets at night markets, trying to make a few extra bucks by hocking electronics arrayed on grimy carpets, while the sons and daughters of the new rich display their wealth by any means necessary.

    Technology and culture collided, with interesting ramifications. Urban China has the same 3D and 3G technology as the West, and they use it not just to watch Hollywood movies, but also to re-create Three Kingdoms historical dramas as well, making their own culture appear flashier and more vibrant than ever. This is the fabric of modern China, a confusing mélange of money, history and cultural pride.

    Some may say macroeconomics and rap don't mix. And they have a point -- rap traditionally examines microeconomic issues, such as the purchasing of luxury goods and non-traditional markets such as drugs or guns. Nevertheless, even those bearish on China (in rap lingo, we call these people "haters") must admit that China and the West are enmeshing themselves together, and in the process something new is being created. With "Mo Money Mo Fazhan," that "something new" happens to rhyme.

    Jesse's video parody of "Gangnam Style" went viral in China and briefly flared up here in the U.S. as well.

    This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight. Follow @paulsolman

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  • 12/12/13--10:30: How do you get your news?
  • Graph courtesy Reuters Institute

    In the modern media landscape, Americans have a wide range of resources to consume news. But how does the way we get our news compare to the rest of the world? The 2013 Reuters Institute Digital News Report revealed the most popular news platforms by country.

    It turns out that the U.S., United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Japan are similar in their preferences, The Atlantic concluded. In these countries, online news and TV are most popular. When respondents were asked what their main source of news was, each medium collected between 30 and 40 percent of answers.

    However, results in France and Germany varied from the rest of the pack. In France, 57 percent of respondents reported that TV was their main platform for news. And in Germany, the more traditional news sources of print and radio still claimed 31 percent of responses when combined.

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    Map courtesy U.S. Census Bureau

    The richest counties in America surround the nation's capital, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday. Of the top ten richest counties in the U.S., six are located in Virginia and Maryland.

    The Washington Post's Reid Wilson reported on the data, writing, "The Washington area has reigned at the top of the most affluent counties for years, in large part because it has so many residents with college degrees working at professional jobs."

    The poverty rates in these counties are also much lower than the national average. Lucinda Dalzell of The Census Bureau explained that the high income and low poverty rates are consistent with other East Coast counties that surround major cities.

    However, Northern Virginia stood out among other regions in terms of income level. "Northern Virginia alone accounted for about one-fifth of the nation's 50 highest-income counties," said Dalzel. Falls Church, Va., topped the list with a median household income of over $121,000, although it is not technically a county. Wilson points out that the Census Bureau ranks independent cities along with counties in this data even though the counties could be much larger.

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    BREAKING: North Korea's official news agency reports Kim Jong Un's uncle has been executed as a traitor.

    — The Associated Press (@AP) December 12, 2013

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    "12 Years a Slave" earns seven Golden Globe nominations.

    Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" and David O. Russell's "American Hustle" lead this year's Golden Globe Awards nominations with seven nods each.

    McQueen's harrowing film about a man forced into slavery and the daily brutalities that confronted him is up for Best Drama. And Russell's 1970s conartist comedy is a contender for Best Musical or Comedy.

    In November, PBS NewsHour talked to "12 Years a Slave" screenwriter John Ridley about how he exposed the humanity of these characters in living in an inhumane world.

    The full nominee list is posted on the Golden Globe site.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A hard-fought deal to set the federal government's spending for the next two years moved toward approval in Congress tonight.

    NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

    MAN: The House will be in order.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The House was gaveled into session, intent on finishing the budget deal before leaving for Christmas. Lawmakers from both parties said the agreement wasn't perfect but a step in the right direction.

    Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chairing the House Budget Committee, helped craft the proposal.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: This is good government. It's also divided government. And to make divided government work, you can't ask each other to compromise a core principle, because we don't do that here. We ask each other to find some common ground to advance the common good. And that's what this agreement does.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The deal would pare away $63 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts, in their place, $85 billion in targeted cuts, plus increased revenues including higher airline security fees to be achieved over the next decade.

    The bill doesn't extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, to the dismay of many Democratic lawmakers.

    Jim McGovern of Massachusetts:

    REP. JIM MCGOVERN, D-Mass.: Let's not turn our backs on the most vulnerable in this country. It has become unfashionable in this Congress to worry about the poor. It has become unfashionable to stand up for these programs just to help people get by. This is the holiday season. Have a heart.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans argued jobless benefits should be handled separately.

    Georgia's Rob Woodall:

    REP. ROB WOODALL, R-Ga.:The gentleman knows that anything short of a bipartisan, bicameral solution is showboating for those folks who are hurting, not doing a daggone thing to help them. We don't need showboating in this institution, Mr. Speaker. We need results.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans also faced pressure from outside conservative groups opposed to the deal, but, for a second day, Speaker John Boehner rebuked them.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It's not everything I wanted, but when groups come out and criticize an agreement that they have never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those -- those actions are.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate is expected to take up the budget measure next week, before leaving for the holidays.


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    In our news wrap Thursday, the Senate held an all-night session, which continued through the next day, over the president's judicial nominees. Republicans slowed the proceedings in retaliation for new restrictions on their filibuster power. Also, the U.S. cracked down on companies and individuals for evading Iran sanctions.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We take a second look at the budget deal working its way through Congress with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray.

    She served as the lead negotiator on behalf of Democrats in reaching an agreement.

    Senator Murray, thank you for joining us.

    Americans have spent the last few years watching nothing but gridlock and fighting in Washington. Why should they believe this -- this budget is a good deal or even that it matters?

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-Wash.: Because the budget agreement that Chairman Ryan and I have put together brings certainty to the American people, their families, our businesses, and our economy for the next two years.

    It says that we agree on what our budget numbers are. We have replaced some of the damaging consequences of sequester that were hurting our economy and hurting families. And we do a really good step forward in reaching a bipartisan agreement in a divided country. I think that is a really important step forward for our nation's finances, but also for our nation's trust of this democracy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know there were a number of things that members of your own party, the Democrats, wanted in this agreement. Among other things, they wanted there to be extended insurance for the long-term unemployed, 1.3 million people who have been out of work. How hard was it for to you accept a deal that didn't include that?

    PATTY MURRAY: Well, when Congressman Ryan and I began work on the budget, the extension of the unemployment insurance wasn't expected to be part of our budget agreement.

    But, because we are now at the year's end with very little time left, we had hoped at the end of the time to add it to it. We were not able to do that. That's something I wanted to do. It's something I believe we will do. The leader of the Senate has told us that we will take that up very quickly, as soon as we get back, right after the 1st of the year and try and pass that bill. I strongly support that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as I understand it, the bill also extends cuts to Medicare providers for an additional two years. How comfortable are you with that?

    PATTY MURRAY: Well, this is an agreement that Congressman Ryan and I came together on.

    There are parts of it that I am not happy about. There's parts he's not happy about. But that's what compromises take. It takes all of us swallowing hard in a tough economy. When we want to get people back to work and we want to bring certainty and we want to show that a democracy can work, sometimes, you have to say OK to things you don't really like. That's what this agreement is about. But that's how we have to put agreements together today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I hear you. At the same time, given how hard it was -- and forgive the siren there -- given how hard it was, Senator, to put this smaller deal together, do you really believe that it's possible to do a much bigger deal that addresses the main drivers of the deficit, addresses things like tax reform?

    PATTY MURRAY: You know, Judy, that's actually a discussion that Congressman Ryan and I started out with when we were first give this task to find an agreement.

    Both of us agreed that our Congress was broken, that it was -- we were unable to find agreement anywhere. And one of the things we needed to show is that we can find agreement. And if we took off the big issues right now and focused on what we could agree on today, we would show and bring back respect and trust of each other, so that we can deal with the bigger problems, whether it's tax reform or entitlements, or whether it's immigration reform, or whether it's the farm bill, or any of the challenges we have.

    We needed to reestablish the trust in ourselves, in Congress, but also reestablish the trust to the American people that we can do the job we were sent here to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet...

    PATTY MURRAY: That's what we hope this agreement provides, is a pathway for the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet we're watching a tremendous amount of backlash against Congressman Ryan in particular among conservatives in his party. Some of them, they're not only criticizing him. Some of them are calling him the equivalent of a traitor.

    Does that spell a good climate for reaching a bigger agreement in the future, do you think?

    PATTY MURRAY: Well, first of all, the House is passing their budget right now with a very strong majority of Republicans and Democrats. I think that gives everybody the backing to recognize that you don't have to kill the negotiator. You don't have to kill compromise, that, in this country, that if you support something that moves us forward, regardless of that you may not like some of it, you may not love it, but it moves us forward, is exactly how a divided Congress is supposed to work.

    I hope the credence of that allows us to get the larger issues we need to face.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, we can report, Senator, that the House has passed the budget overwhelmingly. We don't have the final numbers yet. But we know that it's passed.

    Tell us how hard it was, or was it, for you and Congressman Ryan, who come from very different ends of the ideological political spectrum, to come to trust each other.

    PATTY MURRAY: Well, I think we both came into the negotiating room with the same sense of frustration, that our country was broken, our democracy was broken, something we both believe in, which is the legislative process, was broken, and we had an opportunity to heal that.

    And as we worked through this negotiation on the tough days, when we were really saying how are we going to get past some issues, we reminded ourselves of that. And that allowed us to make some tough decisions and get to where we are today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How did you -- but how did you come to trust one another?

    PATTY MURRAY: Well, Congressman Ryan and I come from very different political spectrums.

    And we both agreed at the beginning that we could sit in a room and debate the hot political topics of the day, or we could set those aside and find out where we agree. We started out having breakfast many months ago here in the Congress to talk about our families and what motivated us and what we cared about. We have spent time jabbing each other on our football teams and our fishing expertise and have learned, you know, to trust and respect each other.

    I don't agree with Congressman Ryan on everything, but I do respect him for what he believes in. And I think he would say the same for me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you -- and do you think this is a model for future -- for Congress to be able to come together on other tough issues like immigration, like -- go ahead.


    PATTY MURRAY: This is a model for how a democracy works when you have a divided government. You find people that you can trust. You set aside the hot issues and you find common ground. That's what our framers expected when they set this up.

    You come to Congress, you fight for what you believe in, but at the end of the day, you have to make this country work. That's what leaders are supposed to do. That's what Congress is supposed to do. And I think that's what this budget agreement is trying to set an example for.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But that wasn't happening before this.

    PATTY MURRAY: No. We have spent too much -- too much time in our own corners screaming at each other. That is part of the political process. I get that. It is part of what you do, is fight for what you believe in when you come here.

    But, at the end of the day, when you are elected, you are elected to find common ground and to find a way to move forward, whether you are in a divided government or not. And that's where we are right now. And that's what we have to work with, and that's how we have to move forward.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Patty Murray, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, we thank you.

    PATTY MURRAY: Absolutely.


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    GWEN IFILL: With deadlines looming ever closer for new insurance coverage at the start of the coming year, the Obama administration announced a series of changes late today. It includes allowing individuals to pay their premiums, or even part of them, on the last day of the year for coverage starting the next day. And there will be an extension of a special insurance pool for people with preexisting conditions.

    Jeffrey Brown gets the details on what people need to know.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The administration also asked insurers to be lenient with late sign-ups and other problems. And all this covers as the large insurance Aetna announced that it will not extend or reinstate some individual plans that are being canceled under the Affordable Care Act.

    Alex Wayne covers all this for Bloomberg News and joins me now.

    And welcome, Alex.

    First, a brief overview of today's moves. Why these latest steps? What are they aimed at?

    ALEX WAYNE, Bloomberg News: Sure.

    Well, the administration is trying to confront a number of problems that they either didn't anticipate when they were working on implementing this law or that they anticipated and didn't address in advance. So they have got a problem with enrollment. It's a bit anemic right now.

    They're only about half the pace they need to be to get the seven million people that they said they wanted to enroll by the end of March. They have also had a problem with canceled health insurance plans. They have had apparently many more people than they thought face cancellations at the end of this year, anywhere between 1.5 to maybe four million or five million people in the country.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So one of the things that they're doing is, they're asking insurers to give some leeway to people who miss or are late with a premium.

    ALEX WAYNE: That's right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Explain the problem there.

    ALEX WAYNE: Sure.

    Right now, you have until December 23rd to sign up for coverage that would be effective on January 1. The administration said today you don't have to pay for that coverage until December 31. There are a lot of dates here. And then they...


    JEFFREY BROWN: They keep moving.

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes, exactly. They do keep moving.

    They also said today that they -- they basically asked insurers, please, would you allow people to pay even later than December 31? So, for example, Aetna said that people who sign up for coverage that starts January 1, they won't actually have to pay until January 8.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, another move was -- and this was for people with very severe health conditions -- was...

    ALEX WAYNE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: ... to help to give them some relief. Now, explain the -- explain the problem there, and how many people are we talking about?

    ALEX WAYNE: Right. It affects about 85,000 people who are very ill.

    Back in 2010, when Congress passed this law, they created this program. It was called a high-risk pool at the time. Now it's called a preexisting conditions insurance plan that is designed to cover these people until 2014, when the new coverage reforms kick in, and insurers are forbidden from denying coverage to sick people.

    That program is about to expire at the end of the month. But many of these people maybe have not been able to find alternative coverage yet. The administration is concerned that they would face a coverage lapse. Their PCIP, their preexisting...


    JEFFREY BROWN: And these are people who really need -- really need it.

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes. They're sick. They can't go a month without coverage.


    ALEX WAYNE: So the administration wanted to do this to make sure they don't -- they don't face any kind of a gap.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, now, also in the leaning-on-insurance category is to cover people retroactively even if there has been an error in their application.

    ALEX WAYNE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And this is, of course, because there have been a lot of errors. Right?

    ALEX WAYNE: There have been a lot of problems with the exchange so far, right?


    ALEX WAYNE: So they said that people who tried to apply before December 23 and faced some sort of a glitch, a technical error or bug, will have what they call a special enrollment period to try again.

    And if they succeed during that special enrollment period, whenever it is, their coverage will be effective retroactively to January 1.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned Aetna earlier...

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: ... as a company saying today that it would move one of those deadlines. I mentioned Aetna in the introduction in a different light.

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us about -- about its move -- its moves today.

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes.

    Well, Aetna said today that there they're not going to extend current policies for people who have coverage today, an Aetna plan today. You are going to have to sign for a new plan that meets all the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Is this a surprise?

     ALEX WAYNE: It's -- it's a little bit of a surprise. I believe they're the first publicly traded big insurance company to say this.

    But, already, several states have said that they're not going to allow insurance companies to extend old plans. Some experts refer to these plans sometimes as junk insurance. Maybe they don't cover all the benefits the Affordable Care Act requires. Some of these plans are actually good coverage, though.

    Whatever the case, they're not going to be extended in a lot of states, including California, Washington and a few others.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I wanted to ask you, finally, you asked a very fraught question at this press conference today...

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: ... which was whether it might be the case that on January -- at the beginning of all this, whether more people actually lose their coverage than will gain coverage.

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes, and they didn't give me much of an answer.

    Because of these problems they face, enrollment has been anemic for Obamacare. And all of these current plans are being canceled. They really face a situation where on January 1, more people may have lost coverage than actually have signed up under Obamacare. They wouldn't promise today that that won't happen. And we won't really know until January 15, or thereabouts, when they announce how many people actually signed up in December.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We really won't know, because a lot of this still is so much in play even in the next few weeks?

    ALEX WAYNE: Yes, and because the administration doesn't give updates on enrollment, except once a month, basically in the middle of the month.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Alex Wayne of Bloomberg, thanks so much.

    ALEX WAYNE: Thank you.


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    #TBT: 10 years ago, @BritneySpears topped our Zeitgeist as the top-trending search term. Who will it be this year? pic.twitter.com/ARspcBjvGw

    — A Googler (@google) December 12, 2013

    NewsHour Extra has teamed up with Google and Meograph for the #MyZeitgeist challenge. They're giving students across the country the chance to submit videos that showcase moments in 2013 that had the greatest impact on their young lives.

    The deadline for submission is midnight Dec. 14.

    Support Your Local PBS Station

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to Syria.

    In the past week, we have taken a close look at the weakening of the Free Syrian Army and the rise of Islamist fighters in the war-torn country.Now, as the U.S. and Britain pull back, there are serious questions about whether moderates fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad can survive.

    DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: What has occurred here in the last couple of days is a clear reflection on how complicated and dangerous this situation is and how unpredictable it is.

    GWEN IFILL: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel summed things up today after the U.S. and Britain cut off non-lethal aid to Western-backed rebels in Northern Syria.

    The action came after other insurgents from the Islamic Front seized weapons warehouses in Bab al-Hawa, near the Turkish border.Hagel said U.S. military gear, from supply trucks to communications equipment, must not fall into the Islamists' hands.

    CHUCK HAGEL: This is a problem, I mean, what has occurred here, a big problem.And we're going to have to work through it and manage through it with General Idris and moderate opposition.

    GWEN IFILL: General Salim Idris commands the Western-backed rebels, but he's been forced to flee Syria in recent days.Today, though, his supporters insisted he invited the Islamic Front to intervene and take the warehouses back from an al Qaeda group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.

    KHALED SALEH, Syrian National Coalition:The Islamic Front came in, managed to push ISIS back.And they're waiting for General Salim Idris' group to come and take control over the warehouses.

    GWEN IFILL: The internal splintering among rebel groups has made it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to find a reliable partner to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from office.

    Arizona Senator John McCain said today the Obama administration is to blame, saying in a statement: "This catastrophe is a direct result of the absence of American leadership.The deteriorating conflict in Syria continues to grow into a threat to U.S. national security interests, and, unfortunately, the administration has no realistic policy to address it."

    The latest developments come just one month before a Syria peace conference is scheduled to begin in Switzerland.

    So, might evidence of a weakened opposition derail those Geneva peace talks?

    For that, I'm joined by Murhaf Jouejati, an opposition activist and professor of Middle East studies at the National Defense University in Washington.He was born in Syria.And Joshua Landis, director of the center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and editor of the website Syria Comment.

    Mr. Jouejati, was the administration, was the Obama administration wise to pull back?

    MURHAF JOUEJATI, National Defense University:It wasn't wise to pull back.It should reverse the trend that has been taking place for some weeks now, which is the weakening of the moderate rebel forces and the rise of the extremist forces.

    And the way to reverse this is to support the moderate forces.These are the allies of the United States.These are the democratic forces calling for democracy in Syria.So, again, it is an unfortunate decision that was taken by the United States, although it may be understandable, given the nervousness of the U.S. with regard to the extremist groups in Syria.

    GWEN IFILL: With the splintering within the opposition forces themselves?


    The opposition forces are moderate to less moderate to radical.And it is the moderate forces we should concentrate on and support in view of democratizing Syria.

    GWEN IFILL: Joshua Landis, what is your take on the administration's action?

    JOSHUA LANDIS, University of Oklahoma:Well, I think it is vindication of Obama's policy of careful -- trying to stay out of Syria, because there are now many factions in Syria fighting.

    And we see this as not just a war between Assad and rebels.It's between Islamists, al-Qaida, some moderate factions.The Kurds have the northeast, known the northeast.If the United States picks -- tries to pick a side and make a winner, it is going to have to fight many different -- on many different fronts.

    This is something the American public doesn't have the energy or the money to spend on.And most of your show here is about budget problems in Washington.This is a very expensive and difficult endeavor.America's not -- and cannot do it.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, pardon me, but you heard what John McCain said, which is the problem here is that the United States didn't bring enough to this fight.

    JOSHUA LANDIS: You know, this is what -- this is -- look it, we went into Iraq, and in three weeks we destroyed Saddam Hussein, criminalized the Baath Party, got rid of the army, and handed over the country to the rebels that we were supporting, or the opposition we were supporting, without them having to fire a shot.

    And what happened?Over the next three years, the country split into civil war.Everybody radicalized.And the American army was strained to its very core trying to hold that country together.We spent over $3 trillion to do it.And it's barely -- 6,000, 7,000 people were killed in political violence in Iraq last year.

    You know, everybody told us Iraq would be a cakewalk, people would kiss us.And, you know, the pundits got Iraq totally wrong.And I think they're getting Syria wrong too.Syria was going to lead towards Islamism, just the way every other Arab spring country has led toward Islamism.It is the dominant...


    GWEN IFILL: I have to let Professor Jouejati respond to that.

    MURHAF JOUEJATI: If the United States doesn't support the moderates in Syria, yes, the Islamists will gain the upper hand.And it will be a battle between a dictator who has killed 126,000 of his people, who has gassed his people.

    It will be a battle between him and the extremists.At any rate, the United States, if it doesn't support the democratic forces in Syria, the moderate forces, that means it is going to have to intervene later on, but a time not of its choosing.

    GWEN IFILL: Do you assume that, in pulling back this non-lethal aid -- there is still humanitarian aid that is going on.Apparently, there is a small covert arms sales or arms transit that is still going on.Do you interpret that as the first step to the United States getting out of the way and letting Assad stay in office?

    MURHAF JOUEJATI: Well, look, that would be very dangerous for a United States who has been calling for the ouster of Assad, for him to go, that has drawn red lines because of the chemical weapons he has used to suddenly reverse its position.

    It would tarnish the credibility and the reputation of the United States.The United States has national security interests to advance here, its own.And it can only do that through the democratic forces in Syria, not allowing Assad to rule anymore.He is a dictator that has killed 126,000 of his people.

    He is a man who has made seven million refugees.And in proportion to the United States, that is 100 million American refugees.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Joshua Landis, why -- why would this -- why -- first of all, do you think that this first step is the first of several -- of a permanent step away of U.S. involvement, leaving Assad in power?And what is the other option for the U.S. here?

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, you know, most people in Washington, most of the official Washingtonians, are saying that Assad has to step down, but there's going to be a political solution.

    And yet no one has a plan to make Assad step down.He says he's not going to do it.Who is going to make him step down?Nobody is going to do it, unless it's going to be American Marines.And I don't think that Obama -- everything points that Obama is not going to do that.

    So, if you are going to get a cease-fire in a country, you are going to have to have people from Assad's side and people from the rebel side sitting down together.And that's going to require at Geneva that the Saudis and the Iranians, the Russians and the Americans and the Turks all come together and decide that they're not going to fund their factions and begin to come up with some kind of road map that they can see for how they can limit the damage, stop arms from flowing in, stop money from flowing in on both sides, both to Assad, to the rebels.

    And they're going have to be cease-fire lines.And what that ultimately means, I don't know.But it's to the going to be democrats winning in Syria.They have shown themselves to be way too weak.And there is going to be a messy process that, hopefully, over time one can develop towards a happier constitutional Syria.But, in the meantime, we're going to have to deal with a lot less than that.

    GWEN IFILL: Joshua Landis, Professor Jouejati, just said this has to be worked out at the negotiating table in Geneva.

    Does today's withdrawal , not only of the U.S., but British involvement, does that make that more or less likely to happen?

    MURHAF JOUEJATI: Less likely.

    It sends the wrong message to everybody.It sends the message to Assad that the Americans are weak and are not going to supply their allies.It sends a message to the radicals of the same thing.And it sends a message to the democratic forces that the United States is not going to be the ally we thought it was in pursuing democracy.

    What is going to happen in Geneva is that Assad, given today and today's decision, is going to make even less concessions that he would have had otherwise.

    GWEN IFILL: Murhaf Jouejati and Joshua Landis, thank you both very much.

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Thank you.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This month, President Obama is expected to announce changes in how the National Security Agency conducts surveillance.

    Tonight, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner kicks off a series of conversations with lawmakers on the scope of NSA spying and what, if anything, should be done to restrict it.

    She starts with some background.

    MARGARET WARNER: The boxy, one million-square-foot complex rising from the Utah desert outside Salt Lake City, ringed by heavy security and code-named Bumblehive, is the latest data mining center of the National Security Agency, or NSA.

    It's built to process the vast troves of data being vacuumed up by the NSA worldwide, from phone calls, texts, e-mail, Internet searches and social media. The work of the super-secret spy agency, headquartered just outside Washington, D.C., has grown dramatically since the 9/11 terror attacks.

    But the details of its operations, which, by law, focus on foreign intelligence, remained largely a mystery, until early June, with the publication of reams of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Among the most explosive revelations? That the NSA had collected from U.S. phone companies the so-called metadata of millions of calls, the numbers, location and duration involving not only foreigners, but many American citizens.

    The president quickly sought to reassure the American public.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program's about. By sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.

    MARGARET WARNER: But the revelations continued to mount over the summer, and in the fall came word that the U.S. was eavesdropping on leaders of allied governments, including the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany: I have made it clear to the president of the United States that spying on friends is not acceptable at all. I said that when he was in Berlin in July and also yesterday in a telephone call. It's not just about me, but about every German citizen.

    MARGARET WARNER: Days after that, the president announced a review of the NSA's surveillance activities.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we have seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand. And that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing.

    MARGARET WARNER: This past Monday, eight U.S. tech giants, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook, wrote an open letter to the president calling for reforms.

    The letter said the NSA's aggressive surveillance was trampling on individual rights and was damaging their companies' business prospects overseas.

    The president has two panels now reviewing NSA policy, with their reports and recommendations expected by year's end.

    One of the lawmakers most well-versed in these programs is Michigan Republican Congressman and former FBI agent Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I spoke with him last night in his office.



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     MARGARET WARNER: Chairman Rogers, thanks for joining us.

    REP. MIKE ROGERS, R-Mich.: Thanks for having me.

    MARGARET WARNER: As you know, the president is reviewing NSA surveillance policy. Whatever changes are going to happen are coming out later this month.

    If he were seeking your counsel, what is the most profound thing you think he needs to address?

    MIKE ROGERS: Part of the problem with where we're at is that we're fighting perception about what people think is happening vs. what's actually happening.

    And so that's been our biggest challenge on the education piece. So, I think the first round, we all want to agree that these programs have kept Americans safe. They have kept our allies safe. There are multiple levels of oversight that no other intelligence service in the world has, like the United States intelligence oversight, between the courts and the Congress and the inspector general, and then the FBI, the Department of Justice. I mean, you name it. It has it all.

    So I think what we can do is have some confidence-builders for the American people to look at this and understand, ah, one person can't run off and listen your phone call or read your e-mail. None of that is happening.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, are you saying the president needs to maybe bring more transparency, do exactly what's being done, who is doing it, and what the safeguards are?

    MIKE ROGERS: I think that would be incredibly helpful for the president to do that.

    MARGARET WARNER: But isn't there then a tension between that and how much you want to divulge or he wants to divulge?

    MIKE ROGERS: Well, absolutely.

    I do think that we can talk about some of the oversight that we have on certain aspects of the program, certainly the business records portion, the metadata on business record -- phone records. That certainly, I think...


    MARGARET WARNER: That is the sort of bulk collection of phone records, who you called, when you called, and the length of the call, that kind of thing?

    MIKE ROGERS: With the exception, we don't know who you are or where you live. Right? It's just a bunch of phone numbers that we use as a foreign nexus to terrorism.

    So, a foreigner in Afghanistan or Pakistan that we assume is a -- and have good credibility that is a terrorist has a phone number of a U.S. number, you want to be able to make that nexus. That is really what that database is.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the balance, though, between protecting the security of this country against terrorist threat and the sort of affirmative protection of civil liberties has gotten out of whack?

    MIKE ROGERS: I don't think we're out of whack.

    We could always improve. I would never say never in that regard. In the metadata collection, there has been no willful use to misuse the privacy of just your phone numbers, not even your name.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yes. There seems to be no limit really on what data they can collect. And even the president said, we have to ask at some point whether the technology has outpaced the laws and protections that are in place.

    MIKE ROGERS: Well, I think the technology is keeping up with our adversaries' interests to do harm to the United States and to use systems to communicate.

    And here's what I think is a big part of it. And we constantly review this, by the way. We want to be able to make sure our laws are consistent with technology and where we are in 2013 vs. 1947, when the National Security Act was written.

    But you think about where we are. So, in today, in the networks in the United States of America, over 80 percent of them are private networks, which means the NSA doesn't monitor them. There is no wholesale monitoring. They're not reading your e-mails. They're not listening to your phone calls. That's simply not happening.

    MARGARET WARNER: The Europeans are extremely upset with the Snowden revelations about the degree to which they're being surveilled.

    MIKE ROGERS: Right.

    Well, first of all, the hypocrisy in this debate has been shocking to me from our European allies. As I have often said, it's good to remind ourselves that espionage is a French word, after all.

    And so, when you look at the intelligence services of our allies in the European Union, they are alive and well and aggressive. And some notion that the information that we have been collecting over time hasn't benefited our allies is just simply not true -- some 54 different attacks thwarted just by our business record metadata collection. And another program that we use to collect information has been shared with our allies and stopped terrorist attacks in Germany.

    MARGARET WARNER: And you know that to be the case?

    MIKE ROGERS: I absolutely know that to be the case.

    And here's the good news. Now so do they. And so, sometimes, the politicians were saying this and not realizing that something else was going on in sharing information and cooperation.

    MARGARET WARNER: As the big U.S. Internet giants just said this week, I mean, Yahoo! and Google and Facebook, the perception in Europe now is that doing business with our companies isn't safe, and they can't trust us, and it's hurting their business.

    Is this something the president has to do something to address, to redress, and what could he do?

    MIKE ROGERS: I think we lost the P.R. war in the front, but it's really important to understand that, again, France just passed a law to make it easier to go after servers in their own country.

    All of the European Union now is saying, well, maybe we should have servers only stationed in our country. Well, guess what? That means that their standard of oversight, their standard of protection is very different than ours. And we do have multiple layers of oversight that they don't have.

    MARGARET WARNER: Coming back to the U.S., the PEN writers group did a survey of 250 professional writers. It just came out this week.

    And a quarter of these writers said they feel inhibited. They are censoring themselves in what they discuss in e-mail, and the research they do, especially if it involves anything overseas. Does that -- as someone who has always believed individual liberties, does that concern you?

    MIKE ROGERS: Yes, the attitude certainly does.

    And I -- you know, that's mortifying to me that they would feel that that would be an issue that the government would be interested in, candidly. Even they're engaged into some issue that may be even questionable, if it's a political issue, and you are expressing yourself, you need to feel comfortable that you can do that in the United States. That -- we should never lose that.

    MARGARET WARNER: Some members of Congress, at least on the Senate side, feel that they have been misled about -- by the head of the NSA, by the director of national intelligence about how much data is being collected on Americans, metadata, whatever you want to call it.

    Do you feel that there's been any either misleading, willful or otherwise, about the extent of that?

    MIKE ROGERS: I know, as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, we have had this information. We have been briefed on it. We have had opportunities to ask questions on it.

    I supported these programs. We had some differences. We worked them out. Were there problems that we found? Yes. But we worked with them in the appropriate channels, classified channels to fix them, like you would expect us to do as members of the Oversight Committee.

    But, at the end of the day, I supported them when nobody knew about them. And I support them now.

    MARGARET WARNER: Chairman Mike Rogers, thank you.

    MIKE ROGERS: Yes. Thank you.


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    GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, we mark the one-year anniversary of the Newtown massacre. An afternoon vigil held at the Washington National Cathedral today commemorated not just those killed in the Connecticut shootings, but also other gun-related homicides throughout the year.

    It included a performance by singer Carole King, a candle-lighting ceremony, and remarks by family members.

    That included Gilles Rousseau, the father of Lauren Rousseau, a teacher killed at the elementary school one year ago.

    GILLES ROUSSEAU, father of Newtown victim: We are here today with the common goal of remembering our loved ones, and seeking to make our world a safer place. Acts of kindness and efforts to promote just cause are the best way to keep the memory of the victim of gun violence alive.

    GWEN IFILL: And that brings us to our report from Newtown, where families have been struggling to deal with their losses and the issue of gun violence.

    Residents asked members of the news media to stay away on the actual anniversary, but two families agreed to sit down with Hari Sreenivasan last month.

    Here's Hari's story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Twenty first-graders gunned down in their classrooms, six adults killed trying to protect them.

    One year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, parents struggle to make sense from a senseless act of violence.

    For Nicole Hockley, the mother of 6-year-old Dylan, who was killed that day, the grief of the past 12 months has been unimaginable.

    NICOLE HOCKLEY, mother of Newtown victim: This has been the most awful, the most surreal year of my life.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, as you approach this dark anniversary, what's -- what's going through your mind?

    NICOLE HOCKLEY: The one-year mark, the six-year mark, it doesn't change anything. It's a passage of time, but at a time and place where time doesn't really have much meaning for me, because it's just one more day that Dylan's not in my arms. And that's not going to change.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But what Hockley is hoping to change is the likelihood that a horrific scene like the one that played out at Sandy Hook one year ago will never happen again.

    NICOLE HOCKLEY: Being in this situation, I have to make something good come from it. So, this year is all about -- has been very much about learning things that I never thought I would have to learn about.

    It's been about tackling problems and grief from a perspective that I never thought that I would ever experience. It's been a time of sorrow, but also of growth, and just trying to find my way for myself and my family to reinvest ourselves in this new life and find a way forward and through it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It is a journey that has led Nicole Hockley into a year of advocacy. To find solutions to the kind of violence that took her youngest son, Hockley and other grieving families formed the Sandy Hook Promise.

    NICOLE HOCKLEY: It is a sad honor to be here today.

    It's been one month since I lost my son Dylan and 25 other families lost their loved ones. At times, it feels like only yesterday, and at other times, it feels as if many years have passed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Almost immediately, the parents were swept up in a national debate around gun policy.

    NICOLE HOCKLEY: Before last month, I had never made a case to a legislator. We approached the Connecticut legislature with love and logic, and they listened. They responded with respect and the strongest gun responsibility legislation in the nation.


    NICOLE HOCKLEY: My way of grieving is to be active and to ensure that this isn't just a senseless tragedy. This is my way of honoring Dylan and the others that died and providing him a legacy. I'm never going to know what sort of adult he could have been, because he was 6.

    But if I can help him be associated with a positive change that saves the lives of others, then that's a meaningful legacy to have, and that's what I'm committed to delivering.

    MARK BARDEN, father of Newtown victim: We're still trying to this. Did it really happen?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Working side by side with Hockley to help deliver that change are Newtown parents Jackie and Mark Barden. The Bardens lost their youngest son, Daniel, at Sandy Hook Elementary.

    A comment from their oldest son set them on their course.

    MARK BARDEN: It was our 13 year old son, James. And he said, "I would like to see no other family ever have to go through this again."

    And we thought, if we had the opportunity to have some influence in that, then we sure would. We have said from beginning with Sandy Hook Promise we want to be known as the town where tragedy turned to transformation. We'd like this to be the place where positive change, positive, meaningful, lasting change started.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Since young James' early comment, the couple has included their children, even taking them to the White House for spring break.

    Your kids seem very close, too.

    JACKIE BARDEN, mother of Newtown victim: Yes, they're very close.

    MARK BARDEN: They were very close. They used to all sleep in the same bed, if they could.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, do you go through phases where you are seeking out photographs, and other phases where it's too difficult to look at them?

    MARK BARDEN: You know, you do want to connect with him and look at photos, but you can't for too long. It's like, it's too much. I guess maybe some day we will.

    JACKIE BARDEN: Some days, it's better than others.

    MARK BARDEN: But even then, sometimes, I could just...

    JACKIE BARDEN: See all of his little freckles?

    MARK BARDEN: Yes. Yes. It makes me think of when I used to check his little teeth after he had brushed them. And I would check them. And then I would kiss his little mouth, and he would still have the minty -- all the toothpaste. I loved that. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The Bardens found themselves in the middle of a heated national debate around guns that culminated last spring when federal legislation to expand background checks for gun owners failed. The defeat was widely seen as stalling momentum gained by gun control advocates.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington, but this effort is not over.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Were you disappointed when federal legislation didn't go through?

    MARK BARDEN: Yes, we were disappointed. But what we're setting out to do is bigger than just that. We're looking to reset the conversation. We're looking to make people think about this differently.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To reset the conversation, the Sandy Hook Promise team emphasizes that this is not a discussion about gun control; it's about ways to prevent gun violence.

    MARK BARDEN: Hari, I think the traditional approach has been top-down. Go yell and scream at your legislator and get them to vote the way you want them to vote, and -- and implement laws that will force everybody to abide by that. I think that's maybe not working.

    ALYSSA MILANO, actress: A year ago, in the wake of unthinkable violence against our children, we came together as a nation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The new strategy is to appeal to directly to parents with star power from Hollywood, in the hopes of avoiding contentious political battles. Instead, the group plans to identify and support prevention programs that address the causes of gun violence.

    JACKIE BARDEN: It is really not political. It is just about thinking about, you know, we all have children, and what do we need to do in order to make this a safer environment for our children? I think, once you throw the politics out, it becomes simpler.

    NICOLE HOCKLEY: We're not just about guns, and we're not just about legislation. We are rising above the politics, and we're looking at the causes of gun violence, particularly mental wellness and community.

    And other groups haven't done that to date, and I think this is a new way for people to engage in something that they haven't engaged before. And everyone is aware that we have a problem with gun violence in this country, but they feel helpless and not know what to do. They feel, it's too political, it's too hard, it's too much of a fight.

    Well, we're saying, it doesn't have to be any of those things. This is about a conversation and community-based solutions that we can deliver ourselves and help prevent this.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Nicole Hockley says her family will continue to take things day by day, and she remains optimistic about the future.

    NICOLE HOCKLEY: After 12/14, what I saw was a nation really come together in a way that I had not seen happen before, that sense of outrage, but also that sense of love and compassion. And the conversation has changed slightly over this year, but it's still alive and it's still there.

    And people that had never been engaged in issues before decided to become engaged in this, decided that, enough is enough, it's time to do something. And I'm really hoping that, through the one-year mark and going forward, we can reignite that sense of togetherness in this country and come back together.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So far, more than 262,000 people have visited their Web site and taken the Sandy Hook Promise.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, whatever your position is on guns, Gwen, you have to admire the strength of these parents.

    GWEN IFILL: And our thoughts and our prayers actually go out to these families as they approach this anniversary.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They do.


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    House Speaker John Boehner speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Since John Boehner became speaker of the House in 2011, the Ohio Republican has attempted, with varying success, to appease tea party members within the GOP conference and the outside groups that helped sweep them into office. On Thursday, Boehner signalled an end to the détente, charging his conservative critics with "misleading" their supporters and losing "all credibility" in opposing the bipartisan budget deal announced earlier this week.

    The Morning Line"Frankly, I think they're misleading their followers. I think they're pushing our members in places where they don't want to be. And frankly, I just think that they've lost all credibility," Boehner told reporters Thursday.

    But the criticism did not end there, as Boehner called out conservatives for pushing the party into the failed effort to defund the health care law that resulted in a politically damaging shutdown of the federal government. "Most of you know, my members know, that wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people that -- one of these groups stood up and said, well, we never really thought it would work," Boehner said, before punctuating the statement with the line, "Are you kidding me?"

    Asked if he wanted conservative groups to "stand down," Boehner responded: "I don't care what they do."

    The comments sparked a fierce backlash on the right.

    The co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, Jenny Beth Martin, charged Boehner's leadership was the problem, not the influence from outside groups. "Frankly, Mr. Speaker, continuously making promises and then breaking them is how you lose credibility with the American people. Pitting your colleagues against their constituents is how you lose credibility with your conference. Not upholding conservative principles is how you lose credibility with the voters who will find someone else if you are not willing to do your job."

    The president of FreedomWorks, Matt Kibbe, said Boehner's issue was not with conservative groups like his, but with the "millions of individual Americans who vote Republican because they were told the GOP was the party of small government and fiscal responsibility."

    The lead negotiator of the compromise for Republicans, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, said the deal was the best that could be achieved under divided government.

    "Elections have consequences, Mr. Speaker," Ryan said on the House floor Thursday. "And I fundamentally believe -- this is just my personal opinion -- I know it's a slightly partisan thing to say -- to really do what we think needs to be done, we're going to have to win some elections. And in the meantime, let's try and make this divided government work."

    As the GOP civil war played out, the House approved the two-year budget outline Thursday night on a 332 to 94 vote, with 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats voting in favor of the deal. Of the 94 "no" votes, 62 came from the Republican side of the aisle, though there were no defections among senior GOP leaders. There were 32 Democratic "no" votes.

    The agreement would roll back $63 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts and replace them with targeted reductions and increased revenues through higher fees and pension contributions from newly-hired federal workers. It also removes the prospect of another government shutdown soon after lawmakers return to Washington in the new year.

    Democrats blasted Republicans for not including in the proposal an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, although that was not enough of a deterrent to stop most members of the party from supporting the package.

    "Let's not turn our backs on the most vulnerable in this country," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "It has become unfashionable in this Congress to worry about the poor. It has become unfashionable to stand up for these programs just to help people get by. This is the holiday season. Have a heart."

    The package now heads to the Senate, where Republicans are slow-walking as many votes as they can in protest of the Democrats' forced rule changes last month.

    The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe explains the confirmation battles and why senators are likely to be in session all weekend.

    Congressional aides expect the budget measure to pass, despite growing opposition from Senate Republicans. Meredith Shiner and Niels Lesniewski of Roll Call describe it as the "ideal political scenario."

    Most GOP senators facing primary challengers in 2014 have either declared their opposition to the framework or are expected to do so in the coming days, which perhaps creates for them the ideal political scenario: Congress puts itself on track to avoid a shutdown by setting appropriations levels for the next two years that have bipartisan support while these Republicans get to tout their conservative bonafides in breaking with the party.

    The reporter duo adds, "It's hard to see the deal achieving the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture without Republican appropriators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Neither of the two moderates would commit when asked about the Ryan-Murray legislation as the House voted Thursday."

    On the NewsHour Thursday, anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed Sen. Patty Murray, the budget chairwoman and co-architect of the deal with Ryan. Murray fiercely defended the compromise as what happens when two opposing political views come together for the greater good.

    Watch Kwame Holman's report here or below:

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    Friday the 13th for the 113th CongressIt's Friday the 13th, in 2013 for the 113th congress. Here are 13 things that went terribly wrong this year for our nation's lawmakers (or right, depending on which side you're on). Photo by Getty Images

    As the House of Representatives wraps up its last day of legislative session on Friday the 13th, members exiting Capitol Hill will be wise to avoid every black cat and ladder they encounter. After the year they've had, lawmakers cannot afford any more bad luck.

    2013 was a rough year for the people running the U.S. government. The 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive group of senators and representatives in recent history. President Barack Obama's second term also had a difficult start, from confronting the "red line" in Syria's civil war, to fixing a broken health care website. So we've rounded up some of the year's "unluckiest" moments for the federal government. Read on, and let us know any we missed in the comments below:

    1. Backing Away From the Cliff

    At the dawn of 2013, dark clouds began to circle the House and Senate as legislators struggled to avoid going over the feared "fiscal cliff." At 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, just hours after the 2001 Bush tax cuts expired, the House passed a compromise bill to delay widespread federal spending cuts known as sequestration. The bill passed the Senate at 11 p.m. that night, and the nation narrowly avoided what many argued would be financial chaos. But, the final compromise fell short of actually settling any long-term budget battles. Jeffrey Brown analyzed the agreement with three experts in a discussion that foreshadowed discussions to come throughout the year. Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget told the NewsHour, "It really feels like we have a political system that is not up to making difficult choices and solving hard problems and compromising."

    2. Expiration of Payroll Tax Cut

    While the nation avoided falling off the fiscal cliff, some other financial legislation wasn't immune to gravity. The deal that kept the U.S. from financial catastrophe failed to extend the 2010 payroll tax cut. This meant that the majority of Americans saw their taxes increase this year. The NewsHour's Vanessa Dennis developed this graphic detailing how Americans' take-home pay will decrease in 2013 depending on one's household income.

    3. Sequestration Nation

    In March, Congress once again faced the automatic spending cuts it extended back in January. However, this time Congress failed to extend the deadline and the cuts, known as sequestration, took effect. Jeffrey Brown assessed the broad effects of the cuts with reporters from different parts of the country. The NewsHour also took a look at how the sequestration affected biomedical research, the arts, and Virginia's military region.

    4. The White House Stumbles on Gun Control

    After the December 2012 tragedy in Newtown, Conn., 2013 started off with an ambitious gun control plan from the White House. Vice President Biden joined Hari Sreenivasan and a group of interested Americans in a Google Hangout in late January, to discuss firearms and the realities of gun control.

    The White House's efforts drew strong criticism from the National Rifle Association and some gun owners. In April, Democrat-sponsored gun control legislation that included background checks and a ban on assault weapons failed in the Senate, revealing limits to the White House's legislative influence. Gwen Ifill looked at what happened with National Shooting Sports Foundation's Lawrence Keane and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

    5. Freedom of the (Associated) Press?

    In May, the Associated Press learned that the Justice Department secretly gathered 20 reporters' phone records while investigating leaks in the administration, igniting a backlash against the White House. At this point the White House was forced to engage in damage control, and Judy Woodruff spoke with White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri about the administration's next move.

    6. Not in My House

    Congressional gridlock was a theme of 2013 and it is exemplified in bills that were unable to make their way through both chambers. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act but Speaker John Boehner did not bring the bills to the floor in the House of Representatives. However, Boehner blamed the Senate Democrats for the lack of productivity this year, arguing that the House passed more bills than the Senate, including the Defense Authorization Act. Ray Suarez discussed the failure of the immigration bill with two members of the House Judiciary Committee.

    7. The Farm Bill Rots on the Vine

    Significant cuts in food stamps went into effect this November with the House and Senate's failure to reach a consensus on a farm bill. A new farm bill is overdue, which addresses agriculture policies as well the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps. A stopgap has been put in place, but there's still a danger of an economic "dairy cliff" which would send milk prices to $8 a gallon across the nation. Both chambers agree that cuts should be made to food stamps but they disagree on the amount of funds to cut from SNAP. Jeffrey Brown facilitated a discussion on the effects of the SNAP cuts between Ellen Teller of the Food Research and Action Center and Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation.

    8. Crossing the "Red Line"

    In August 2012, the president said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons was a "red line" for the U.S. that, if crossed, would warrant an American response. One year later in August 2013, it became clear that the regime had used chemical weapons against its own citizens. President Obama was then faced with the challenge of upholding American credibility. But polls showed the majority of the U.S. public had little desire to get involved in Syria. The president spoke with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff as speculation mounted about his next move.

    After declaring the necessity of a limited strike against Syria, the president made a surprise decision to call on Congress to approve the military action. Despite attempts to make his case to Congress and the American people, the president faced staunch opposition to military involvement in Syria, alongside criticism for passing the decision on to Congress. However, a diplomatic solution took shape at the final hour, allowing the administration to avoid the decision of what to do, should Congress reject a strike. Mr. Obama then told the NewsHour that a diplomatic solution was "overwhelmingly my preference." The PBS NewsHour developed a cheat sheet for the Syrian conflict summing up the major issues and developments in the civil war.

    9. Rock Bottom

    2013 was a record-breaking year for Congress and the president, but these were not records to brag about. Approval ratings for lawmakers hit rock bottom. Only nine percent of Americans approved of Congress in November, the lowest number Gallup had recorded in its history. Mr. Obama's approval ratings also took a hit this year. John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics, surveyed 18-29 year-olds and told the NewsHour that "the president's approval rating has decreased by about 11 points across board over the last year," even among groups that typically support him.

    10. The Faux-libuster

    At the end of September, with a government shutdown looming on the horizon, some Republicans saw an opportunity to take down the president's signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Cue freshman Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz took to the Senate floor in a marathon speech that was not actually a filibuster. Cruz agreed to stop at a certain time prior to taking the floor and his 17-hour speech (which also included some stand-ins by other senators) did not stop the government funding bill from coming to a vote. The NewsHour rounded up some of the faux-libuster highlights, which included a recitation of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs & Ham."

    Pic of @SenTedCruz daughters as he reads them Green Eggs & Ham. #MakeDCListenpic.twitter.com/UXqFg0xrPB

    — Jason Johnson (@jasonsjohnson) September 25, 2013

    11. The Senate Goes Nuclear

    The Senate reached its breaking point this year over the issue of confirming presidential judicial nominees. Democrats claimed that Mr. Obama faced an unprecedented number of attempts to block the confirmations of his nominees. In November, Majority Leader Harry Reid had enough. Reid invoked the so-called "nuclear option," changing the Senate rules so that a simple majority could override a confirmation filibuster, lowering the threshold from 60 votes. Shortly after the Senate went nuclear, Gwen Ifill spoke with two Senators from each party about the rule change.

    12. ERROR: Page Not Found, and Your Plan is Canceled

    On Oct. 1, the website at the center of the president's signature legislation, Healthcare.gov, went live. The site was plagued with glitches and breakdowns from the start. The administration has since waged an uphill battle trying to fix the site and recover from the public media disaster that followed the rollout. The broken website highlighted flaws of government contracting, caused administration officials to apologize for the botched rollout, and reignited a debate about federal health insurance. And shortly after the botched rollout, news broke that millions of Americans were receiving cancellation notices from their healthcare providers, due to new requirements rolled into the Affordable care act. The NewsHour has covered these issues extensively, speaking to technical experts, analyzing the political fallout, and profiling the experiences of individuals with health care reform.

    13. SHUTDOWN

    A year plagued by government dysfunction culminated in a government shutdown. For 16 days in October the federal government shut its doors, employees were furloughed, national parks were closed, and all non-essential government services were halted. House Speaker John Boehner told the press that the Democrat's demands on the government funding bill would be "unconditional surrender" for the Republicans.

    Norm Ornstein and former GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia joined Judy Woodruff to analyze the congressional gridlock that caused the shutdown. After Congress reached a deal on the eve of the debt ceiling deadline, Stuart Rothenberg and Susan Page joined the NewsHour to discuss the outcomes of the agreement to reopen the government.

    What other debacles plagued the government in 2013? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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    US Daniel Levinson, left, shows a picture of his father, ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, during a press conference with his mother Christine at the Swiss embassy in Tehran in December 2007. Photo by Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

    An American who vanished nearly seven years ago in Iran was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission that, when it came to light inside the government, produced one of the most serious scandals in the recent history of the CIA -- but all in secret, an Associated Press investigation found.

    The CIA paid Robert Levinson's family $2.5 million to head off a revealing lawsuit. Three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined.

    The U.S. publicly has described Levinson as a private citizen.

    "Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran," the White House said last month.

    That was just a cover story. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts - with no authority to run spy operations - paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian regime for the U.S. government.

    Details of the disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson, who is from Coral Springs, Fla. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.

    There is no confirmation who captured Levinson or who may be holding him now. Although U.S. authorities have investigated possible involvement of drug traffickers or terrorists, most officials say they believe Iran either holds him or knows who does.

    The AP first confirmed Levinson's CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home.

    The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association.

    There has been no hint of Levinson's whereabouts since his family received proof-of-life photos and a video in late 2010 and early 2011. That prompted a hopeful burst of diplomacy between the United States and Iran, but as time dragged on, promising leads dried up and the trail went cold.

    Immediately after Levinson's disappearance in March 2007, the CIA acknowledged to Congress that Levinson had previously done contract work for the agency. But the agency had no current relationship with Levinson and there was no connection to Iran, the CIA assured lawmakers.

    But in October 2007 Levinson's lawyer discovered emails between Levinson and his friend Anne Jablonski, who worked at the CIA. Before his trip, Levinson had told Jablonski that he was developing a source with access to the Iranian regime and could arrange a meeting in Dubai or an island nearby.

    Problem was, Levinson's contract was out of money and, though the CIA was working to authorize more, it had yet to do so.

    "I would like to know if I do, in fact, expend my own funds to conduct this meeting, there will be reimbursement sometime in the near future, or, if I should discontinue this, as well as any and all similar projects until renewal time in May," Levinson wrote.

    There's no evidence that Jablonski ever responded to that email. And she says she has no recollection of ever receiving it. She said she had no idea he was going to Iran.

    In a later email exchange, Jablonski advised Levinson to keep talk about the money "among us girls" until it had been officially approved.

    Jablonski signed off: "Be safe."

    Levinson said he understood. He said he'd try to make this trip as successful as previous ones. And he promised to "keep a low profile."

    Levinson's flight landed on the Iranian island of Kish late the morning of March 8, a breezy, cloudy day. He checked into the Hotel Maryam, a few blocks off Kish's eastern beaches. Levinson's source on Kish, Dawud Salahuddin, has said he met with Levinson for hours in his hotel room. The island is a free-trade zone, meaning Americans do not need a visa to visit.

    Salahuddin was an American fugitive wanted in the killing of a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. Since fleeing to Iran, Salahuddin had become close to some in the Iranian government, particularly to those seen as reformers and moderates.

    The hotel's registry, which Levinson's wife has seen, showed him checking out on March 9, 2007.

    What happened to him next remains a mystery.

    Once the Senate Intelligence Committee saw the emails between Jablonski and Levinson, lawmakers demanded to know more. That touched off an internal CIA investigation, which discovered that the agency's relationship with Levinson had been unusual from the start.

    Instead of e-mailing his work product to the CIA, he mailed packages to Jablonski's home in Virgina. His correspondence was primarily with Jablonski's personal email account.

    Jablonski said the analysts simply wanted to avoid the CIA's lengthy mail screening process.

    "I didn't think twice about it," she said in an interview.

    The Illicit Finance Group also didn't follow the typical routine for international travel. Before someone travels abroad for the agency, the top CIA officer in the country normally clears it. That way, if an employee is arrested or creates a diplomatic incident, the agency isn't caught by surprise.

    That didn't happen before Levinson's trips, former officials said. He journeyed to Panama, Turkey and Canada and was paid upon his return, people familiar with his travels said. After each trip, he submitted bills and the CIA paid him for the information and reimbursed him for his travel expenses.

    Nobody who reviewed the intelligence or reviewed the contract ever flagged this as a potential problem, investigators found.

    The whole arrangement was so peculiar that CIA investigators conducting an internal probe would later conclude it was an effort to keep top CIA officials from figuring out that the analysts were running a spying operation. Jablonski adamantly denies that.

    The internal investigation renewed some longtime tensions between the CIA's operatives and analysts. The investigators felt the analysts had been running their own amateur spy operation, with disastrous results. Worse, they said the analysts withheld what they knew, allowing senior managers to testify falsely on Capitol Hill.

    Investigators blamed Jablonski and fellow analyst Tim Sampson for not coming forward sooner. But the analysts said the evidence had been hiding in plain sight. All the information Levinson provided was uploaded to a shared server for others to see. The invoices had been submitted and paid.

    The analysts felt they were being blamed as part of an internal CIA power struggle.

    Sampson said he was never aware of Levinson's emails with Jablonski or the Iranian trip.

    "I didn't even know he was working on Iran," he said. "As far as I knew he was a Latin America, money-laundering and Russian organized crime guy. I would never have directed him to do that."

    Sampson offered to take a polygraph. Jablonski says she has consistently told the truth.

    Recently, as the five-year statute of limitations concluded, FBI agents interviewed her again and she told the same story, officials said.

    In secret Senate hearings from late 2007 through early 2008, CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes acknowledged that the agency had been involved in Levinson's disappearance and conceded that it hadn't been as forthcoming as it should have been, current and former officials said.

    Once the internal review was complete, the CIA gave the family a $2.5 million annuity, which provides tax-free income, multiple people briefed on the deal said. Neither side wanted a lawsuit that would air the secret details in public.

    U.S. investigators said they believe Iranian authorities, if they have Levinson, must know about his CIA ties. Levinson wasn't trained to resist interrogation. U.S. officials could not imagine him withholding information from Iranian interrogators, who have been accused of the worst types of mental and physical abuses.

    In an October 2010 interview with the AP, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran at the time, said his country was willing to help find Levinson. But he appeared to suggest he knew or had suspicions that Levinson was working for the U.S. government.

    "Of course if it becomes clear what his goal was, or if he was indeed on a mission, then perhaps specific assistance can be given," Ahmadinejad said. "For example, if he had plans to visit with a group or an individual or go to another country, he would be easier to trace in that instance."

    In late 2010 and early 2011, Levinson's wife Christine received a proof-of-life video and photos that the U.S. hoped signaled Levinson's captors were willing to negotiate. U.S. and Iranian officials met several times in secret, but to no avail.

    In March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement saying the U.S. had evidence that Levinson was being held "somewhere in southwest Asia." The implication was that Levinson might be in the hands of terrorist group or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, not necessarily in Iran.

    U.S. intelligence officials still believed Iran was behind Levinson's disappearance, but they hoped Clinton's statement would offer a plausible alternative story if Iran wanted to release him without acknowledging it ever held him.

    Then, a surprising thing happened.


    Nobody is sure why the contact stopped. Some believe that all Iran wanted was for the United States to tell the world that Levinson might not be in Iran after all. Others believe Levinson died.

    Iran denies any knowledge of Levinson's whereabouts and says it's doing all it can.

    "If any help there is that I can bring to bear, I would be happy to do so," Ahmadinejad said in an AP interview in September 2012.

    In June this year, Iran elected Hassan Rouhani as president. He has struck a more moderate tone than his predecessor, sparking hope for warmer relations between Iran and the West. But Rouhani's statements on Levinson were consistent with Ahmadinejad's.

    "He is an American who has disappeared," Rouhani told CNN in September. "We have no news of him. We do not know where he is."

    At home in Florida, Christine Levinson works to keep her husband's name in the news pushing the Obama Administration to do more. Last year, the FBI offered a reward of $1 million for information leading to the return of her husband. But the money hasn't worked.

    In their big, tight-knit family, Bob Levinson has missed many birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and grandchildren.

    "There isn't any pressure on Iran to resolve this," his wife said in January, frustrated with what she said was a lack of attention by Washington. "It's been much too long."

    Story written by The Associate Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman

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