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- 07/30/14--21:46: _White House signals...
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- 07/31/14--15:02: _UN human rights chi...
- 07/31/14--15:06: _News Wrap: Ukraine ...
- 07/31/14--15:10: _Holder: DOJ needs C...
- 07/31/14--15:20: _Divided House GOP d...
- 07/31/14--15:29: _Will strengthening ...
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- 07/31/14--15:36: _Are Israel and Hama...
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- 07/31/14--15:52: _Twitter Chat: Is so...
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- 07/31/14--16:54: _Border crisis spend...
- 07/31/14--17:22: _Boehner pulls House...
- 07/31/14--18:02: _Congress sends VA o...
- 07/31/14--18:18: _Congress approves h...
- 08/02/14--11:18: _Watch Kentucky’s Fa...
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- 07/30/14--21:46: White House signals growing frustration with Israel in Gaza conflict
- 07/31/14--14:34: AP: Israel, Hamas agree to 72-hour cease-fire
- 07/31/14--15:02: UN human rights chief accuses Israel, Hamas of war crimes
- 07/31/14--15:10: Holder: DOJ needs Congress’ support to reduce immigration backlog
- 07/31/14--15:20: Divided House GOP delays recess to find agreement on border bill
- 07/31/14--15:36: Are Israel and Hamas violating international laws of war?
- 07/31/14--15:48: Bluegrass festival keeps Colorado town afloat after flood
- 07/31/14--15:52: Twitter Chat: Is social media a weapon in modern warfare?
- 07/31/14--16:12: Mortgage servicers go to extreme lengths to skirt new regulations
- 07/31/14--16:54: Border crisis spending bill fails to pass the Senate
- 07/31/14--17:22: Boehner pulls House border bill amid conservative revolt
- 07/31/14--18:02: Congress sends VA overhaul to White House
- 07/31/14--18:18: Congress approves highway bill before hitting the road for recess
- 08/02/14--11:18: Watch Kentucky’s Fancy Farm picnic stump speeches
- 08/02/14--14:23: Study: ‘Footprint’ of 2010 Gulf Oil Spill may be worse than thought
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration condemned the deadly shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza Wednesday, using tough, yet carefully worded language that reflects growing White House irritation with Israel and the mounting civilian casualties stemming from its ground and air war against Hamas.
The U.S. frustrations were compounded by a flurry of Israeli media reports this week that appeared aimed at discrediting President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who spent days trying to negotiate an unsuccessful cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. In unusually blunt language, a State Department spokeswoman on Wednesday repeatedly described one of the reports as “complete crap.”
The developments injected fresh tension into the often fraught relationship between Obama and the Israeli government, while also highlighting the president’s willingness to take a tougher line against the longtime U.S. ally than some of his predecessors or lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
While Obama and other top officials consistently state their support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire, the White House has been making increasingly strong statements about the Palestinian civilians dying in Israeli attacks. Officials have also directly called on Israel to do more to prevent the casualties.
More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in three weeks of fighting, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. More than 50 Israelis have also died in the clashes.
The White House escalated its rhetoric yet again on Wednesday by condemning the shelling of the UN school that was sheltering displaced Palestinians. While the administration did not publicly assign blame for the attack, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “all available evidence” pointed to Israel and the Israeli military acknowledged that it fired back after its soldiers were targeted by mortar rounds launched from the vicinity of the school.
“We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council. She also condemned “those responsible for hiding weapons in the United Nations facilities in Gaza” — a nod to Israel’s charge that Hamas is housing arms in those facilities.
Yet their relationship appeared to be on the upswing last year when Obama made his first visit to Israel as president. The trip was well-received in Israel and the resumption of U.S.-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians quickly followed.
But those talks collapsed earlier this year amid U.S. frustration with both sides of the intractable conflict. The current bout of violence quickly followed, sparked by the deaths of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
Kerry, who expended a significant amount of personal capital on the peace talks, has also stepped in to try to orchestrate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Yet his efforts failed to make any progress and his departure from the region last weekend was accompanied by stringing criticism in Israeli media reports.
Ari Shavit, a columnist for Israel’s leading liberal newspaper Haaretz, said Kerry put a proposal on the table that amounted to a “strategic terrorist attack.” Others accused Kerry of aligning himself too closely with Hamas and being dismissive of Israel’s demands.
On Tuesday, an Israeli media report appeared to cast Obama in the same light with the release of what was alleged to be a transcript of Obama’s weekend call with Netanyahu. Both the Israeli government and the Obama administration vigorously denied the authenticity of the transcript.
“It’s complete crap,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. She sidestepped questions about who the U.S. held responsible for the reports, but said it was clear that the intention is to hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
“I don’t know toward what end. I don’t know who did it,” she said. “But I don’t know what other conclusion you can draw from that.”
The administration’s charged language is in contrast to the posture from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are pressing the White House to take no action that pressures Israel to halt its military operations. Lawmakers are also seeking to push through a $225 million missile defense package for Israel.
Even as the White House raises concerns about the civilian casualties, the administration is helping Israel resupply its ammunition stockpiles. A defense official said the U.S. offered to provide mortar rounds and grenades from a depot it maintains in Israel as part of a routine effort to use up older stock and replace what is there with newer ammunition.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, about the Gaza crisis Wednesday. Hagel’s spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Yaalon thanked Hagel for U.S. financial support for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, and Hagel reiterated U.S. concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.
The post White House signals growing frustration with Israel in Gaza conflict appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
NEW DELHI — Israel and Hamas have agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza to start Friday morning for 72 hours, although Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned that the lull in violence did not guarantee an end to the conflict.
“This is not a time for congratulations or joy or anything except a serious determination — a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead,” Kerry said in New Delhi, where he was meeting with Indian officials. “This is a respite. It is a moment of opportunity, not an end.”
The U.S. and the United Nations announced the cease-fire in a joint statement.
Israeli and Palestinian delegations were expected to travel immediately to Cairo for talks with the Egyptian government aimed at reaching an end to the conflict, now more than three weeks old.
“It is up to the parties — all of them — to take advantage of this moment,” Kerry said. “There are no guarantees. This is a difficult, complicated issue.”
During the cease-fire, Kerry said Israel will be able to continue its defense operations to destroy tunnels that are behind its territorial lines. The Palestinians will be able to receive food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and travel to their homes. The time also will be used to make repairs to water and energy systems.
“We hope this moment can be grabbed by both parties, but no one can force them to do that,” Kerry said.
The joint statement said the U.S. and U.N. had gotten assurances that all parties to the conflict in Gaza had agreed to an unconditional cease-fire during which there would be negotiations on a more durable truce.
“Israel has to live without terror and tunnels and rockets and sirens going on through the day,” Kerry said. “Palestinians have to be able to live freely and share in the rest of the world and live a life that is different from the one they have long suffered.”
The Palestinian delegation is expected to include members of Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization and cannot be negotiated with directly. So if the Israelis and Palestinians meet face to face, the Hamas members will not participate in those talks.
The Egyptians will be the go-between for all of this and will help coordinate, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t allowed to discuss the issue publicly by name.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the cease-fire announcement was the result of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s trip recent trip to the region “but also 48 hours of extremely active diplomacy at all levels from the secretary-general to his senior advisers talking to key regional players as well as Robert Serry, who is in Jerusalem, talking to his counterparts.”
Serry is the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
U.S. Mideast envoy Frank Lowenstein and others were expected to go to Egypt for the Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Mathew Lee and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.
The full statement is below:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release July 31, 2014
Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Ceasefire Announcement in Gaza
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and United States Secretary of State John Kerry announce that the United Nations Representative in Jerusalem, Special Coordinator Robert Serry, has received assurances that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
This humanitarian ceasefire will commence at 8 am local time on Friday, August 1, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended.
During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place.
We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire.
This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence. During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, and restocking food supplies. Overdue repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period.
Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately be going to Cairo for negotiations with the Government of Egypt, at the invitation of Egypt, aimed at reaching a durable ceasefire. The parties will be able to raise all issues of concern in these negotiations.
We thank key regional stakeholders for their vital support of this process, and count on a continued collaborative international effort to assist Egypt and the parties reach a durable ceasefire as soon as possible.
# # #
JUDY WOODRUFF: There was late word Thursday from the U.S. and U.N. of an unconditional 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. It’s set to start Friday. And all parties have agreed to it. This comes after 23 days of fighting, the death toll on each side now surpassing the last Gaza conflict five years ago; 1,422 Palestinians and 59 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have been killed this month.We look at the events of the day leading up to the cease-fire announcement. Plumes of smoke mingled with sunrise above Gaza City. Mosques were once again a target. Remnants of one stood amid its own rubble following an Israeli airstrike.
Elsewhere, firefighters doused flames after another strike reduced homes to a debris-filled crater. And in Northern Gaza, 30 people, mostly children, were evacuated from a United Nations school after Israeli tank shells landed nearby, this a day after 19 people died when Israeli shells struck a similar school sheltering more than 3,000 Palestinian refugees.
But warning sirens also blared in Israel. The Israeli military said more than 60 rockets were fired at Israel from within Gaza today. Moderate injuries were reported. Three-and-a-half weeks into this latest Israel-Gaza war, the U.N. human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes, but she reserved her harshest words for Israel.
NAVI PILLAY, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: The shelling of houses directly means a violation of Israel’s obligation to protect the right to housing, the right to food, right to clean water of Gazans, even as — under its obligations as an occupying force.
And, therefore, I would say that they appear to be defying, deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, in Washington, the White House press secretary, while defending Israel, said it needs to do more to protect civilians.
JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brushed aside such comments after a security cabinet meeting.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter): So far, we neutralized scores of terror tunnels and we are determined to complete this mission with or without a cease-fire. Therefore, I won’t agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to finish this important task.
JUDY WOODRUFF: To supplement the ongoing campaign, the Israeli military today called up another 16,000 reservist forces. It also released two videos. The first, it claimed, showed militant rockets being launched from populated areas of Gaza towards Israel, the other, footage of a tunnel entrance and weapons purportedly discovered in a Gaza Strip mosque by Israeli Defense Forces. Narration claims IDF personnel fought with five militants at the site.
The post UN human rights chief accuses Israel, Hamas of war crimes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: A team of investigators finally reached the Malaysia Airlines crash site in Eastern Ukraine today. The Ukrainian military suspended its offensive against pro-Russian separatists for a day so they could get through. The experts were escorted by armed troops and armored vehicles. One of their tasks is to bring back victims’ remains and personal belongings. Dozens of bodies have yet to be retrieved.
The head of the Dutch recovery mission recounted the day.
PIETER-JAAP AALBERSBERG, Head, Dutch Recovery Mission: We also succeeded today in salvaging DNA samples from 25 victims. We now also have the personal belongings of 27 victims in our possession. The belongings and the DNA samples were in the mortuary in Donetsk and have been handed over to the Dutch and Australian experts.
GWEN IFILL: All 298 passengers and crew members aboard the flight were killed when a missile brought the plane down two weeks ago.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Seven hundred and twenty-nine people in West Africa have now died from the worst Ebola outbreak on record. The World Health Organization estimates 57 of those deaths happened over a three-day time period last week. U.S. health officials warned Americans not to travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
And travelers around the globe were under new scrutiny. In China, airports began screening passengers’ body temperatures using thermal scanners.
GWEN IFILL: Stocks plunged on Wall Street today, erasing nearly all of this month’s gains. It was largely attributed to jitters over Europe’s economic woes and a jump in U.S. labor costs. The Dow Jones industrial average posted its first monthly decline since January, plummeting 317 points to close at 16,563; the Nasdaq fell 93 points to close above 4,369; the S&P 500 lost 39 points to close at 1,930, its worst day since April.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Argentina slid into its second debt default in 13 years today. The country failed to reach a deal with bondholders in down-to-the-wire emergency meetings last night in New York. The hedge funds want full payment plus interest to the tune of a billion-and-a-half dollars. That left the future of the South American nation’s economy in question. It is already in a recession, has a shortage of dollars, and has one of the highest inflation rates in the world.
GWEN IFILL: The director of the CIA has apologized to Senate leaders for searching their office computers earlier in the year. An internal CIA investigation found officers improperly accessed a classified computer network as they prepared a report on the CIA’s interrogation program.
Agency Director John Brennan said he’s convened an accountability board to look into the matter.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Congress raced towards a shifting finish line it its effort to get out of town for an August recess. The House rejected the Senate version of a bill that would fund transportation projects through the end of the year. Instead, representatives sent their own $10.8 billion plan back to the Senate to fund it through next May.
And an immigration bill in the House faltered, forcing Republicans to regroup and not leave for recess yet. We will have on how the border funding bill unraveled later in the program.
GWEN IFILL: The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld two controversial state laws today. It ruled a Republican-passed law requiring photo identification at the polls is legal, even though that law is currently blocked in federal court. And it upheld the 2011 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers. That law led to a recall election for Republican Governor Scott Walker and sparked massive protests.
The post News Wrap: Ukraine suspends offensive to allow investigators access to MH17 remains appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: From voting rights to border control to the death penalty, the Department of Justice holds the reins on any number of critical issues central to the national debate.I sat down with Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department today to talk about some of them.
Thank you for joining us, Mr. Attorney General.
As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, you watched yesterday as the House voted to give the speaker the right to sue the president. What were you thinking when you saw that happen?
ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: Well, I thought that I was witnessing something that was more political than legal.
There’s not much to that lawsuit. This is something that I would be surprised if a court finds that there is standing. And I certainly don’t expect that, at the end of the day, that the plaintiffs are going to win that case.
And I think it’s really kind of unfortunate. The president has indicated a willingness to work with Congress, but he’s also indicated that where Congress will not act — and they have not acted at historic levels — that he has to do the work of the American people. And so he’s done things that are necessary, that are legal, and that the American people want to see done.
GWEN IFILL: At the same time as the House has been chastising the president for overreaching, today, they’re having some trouble coming up with, as we speak, a vote on the border crisis, on the migrant issues.
The question I guess I have for you is, the speaker has said there’s more the president can do. Is there more the president can do?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, there’s more the president can do, but — there’s more that we can do in the executive branch, but there’s a fundamental need for us to have the funds to do these kinds of things.
I want to surge immigration judges to the border. I want to have more immigration judges at the border to process these kinds of cases. But that requires money. We estimated it would take about $3.7 billion. The Senate seemed to be moving at around the $3 billion mark. As we speak, the House is having a problem coming up with $600 million.
These things cost money. And at some point, we have to make decisions about what is in our national interest. The president, I think rightly, has made that determination that dealing with the situation on the border is of national consequence and, therefore, it should involve a national response. And that involves expending money.
GWEN IFILL: This has been a problem, this question of immigration judges at the border, at least since 2006, when Attorney General Gonzales was here. Why has it taken so long? Has it always been money?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, it’s not always that.
We certainly need more money to hire more judges. And we have increased the number of judges that we have. But the backlog that we have is unacceptably high. We need more resources. We need to be able to train more judges. So that’s something that we’re working on, but we need support of Congress in order to get us to the place where we ultimately want to be.
GWEN IFILL: Assuming that Congress doesn’t give you the money you asked for, how would you prioritize the needs at the border right now? Is it border security, as they asked for? Is it immigration judges that you asked for, or something else, something to deal with the needs of all these children who are crossing the Rio Grande coming from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, if we don’t get the congressional support that I think is absolutely needed, we will do the best that we can, we will scramble, and we will get immigration judges there in some form or fashion.
We will probably have to use technology, television, to have judges in remote locations. We will certainly make sure that border security is assured. And we will make sure also that whoever is crossing the border is treated in a fair and humanitarian way.
We will do that with the resources that we have, but the reality is that we can certainly do a much better job and do the job the American people expect if we have the resources that we have requested.
GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, you expressed your intent to speak on behalf of plaintiffs in the Wisconsin voter I.D. case and in Ohio as well.
Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld that law and said it is constitutional. What role can or should the federal government have in that at this point?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, the federal government has a unique role in making sure that every citizen has the right to exercise that most fundamental of American rights, the right to vote.
The ’65 Voting Rights Act is something that we all hold dear. It was gutted by the Shelby County decision, but left certain parts of the Voting Rights Act in place. We have used Section 2. And the plaintiffs in the case in Wisconsin used Section 2 to bring a successful voting rights case brought in a federal district court, where a federal judge made the determination that the claims were valid, in fact said that — could not find one instance where the state could show that there was an instance of voter fraud, which is kind of the underpinnings of the lawsuit, of the defense to the lawsuit in Wisconsin.
So we’re going to use Section 2, as we have in other states, in North Carolina, in Texas. We will use it in Wisconsin, or we will support those suits in Wisconsin and in Ohio as well.
GWEN IFILL: So does this mean going beyond just filing friend of the court briefs?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, at this point, I guess with regard to what we have done in Wisconsin and Ohio, we’re just filing briefs. Cases have already been filed, but we are using Section 2 in other places, in North Carolina and in Texas. Those cases have been filed and are to be adjudicated.
GWEN IFILL: I want to ask you about something else, which is — so much happening this week, but, in this case, you have been tasked with coming up with a death penalty review.
We have watched this series of botched executions in many states around the country because of the use of a certain cocktail of drugs and its availability. And there’s a lot of debate about why. But the question is whether the federal government has a role here to intervene in what is basically a state role.
ERIC HOLDER: Well, we are certainly looking at our own protocol in the federal government. There’s not been a federal execution since 2003. There’s essentially been a moratorium.
And we’re in the process, pursuant to the directions of the president, in looking at the protocol that we would use, the cocktail, the drugs that would be used if there were a federal execution. But I’m greatly troubled by what happened in Oklahoma and in Arizona.
And there may not be a legal requirement for transparency and talking about, describing the drugs that are used. But you sometimes have to go beyond that which is legally required to do something that is right. And for the state to exercise that greatest of all powers, to end a human life, it seems to me, just on a personal level, that transparency would be a good thing, and to share the information about what chemicals are being used, what drugs are being used.
And it would seem to me that would be a better way to do this.
GWEN IFILL: Why isn’t there legal recourse? Why isn’t there a way of enforcing that or standardizing it?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, I’m not saying that there isn’t. But I’m saying, regardless of whether there is or is not, I take note of the fact that Justice Kennedy made the determination that the execution could proceed in light of — in spite of the fact that a request was made for information about the drugs that were being used.
And I’m saying in spite of, you know, whether I agree or disagree with Judge Kennedy and wherever the courts may end up, there is an obligation, it seems to me, on the part of the executive branch that’s charged with that responsibility to be forthcoming about the mechanisms, the means by which this most serious of executive branch actions can be carried out.
GWEN IFILL: Where does the death penalty review that you have undertaken stand right now?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, it’s still under way.
We have people from our Civil Rights Division, our Criminal Division, various other components within the department looking at our protocol and taking into account what we have seen happen in the states recently, as we try to work our way through how the federal government is going to impose the death penalty.
GWEN IFILL: The Justice Department has had its flubs along the way, including flawed forensic work at the FBI which has led to dubious outcomes for people who were sentenced.
How do you hold states accountable, when the federal government has had its own problem being held accountable?
ERIC HOLDER: Well, we certainly admit when we have made mistakes. And when that was identified as an issue, the problem at the FBI lab, what I ordered was a review done to make sure that those mistakes could be corrected and try to identify all people who had been affected by those mistakes, make sure also that going forward we don’t make those kinds of mistakes again.
The federal government has had — made mistakes, but where we find mistakes, we admit those mistakes, we correct them. And I think we set an example for the states. They should make the same kind of inquiries. Where they have made mistakes, they should correct them as well.
And then we have certain supervisory responsibilities that we have to exercise, as a result of the supremacy clause, looking at what the states are doing. And to the extent that we find states making mistakes, we will point them out and try to work through those things in a voluntary way, to the extent that we can. And if we can’t, then we use our — the power that we have to bring lawsuits.
GWEN IFILL: Should citizens who support the death penalty worry that you’re using these questions about administration of drugs and lethal injections as a way of just undercutting the entire approach, the whole idea of the death penalty?
ERIC HOLDER: No. We are doing what the president has asked us to do.
And it is a limited review of the death penalty and how it is imposed, when it is imposed. It is the law of the land. It is the most serious thing that I do as attorney general. I have to make determinations about when we will seek the death penalty. And I have done that as attorney general. Even though I am personally opposed to the death penalty, as attorney general, I have to enforce federal law.
GWEN IFILL: Attorney General Eric Holder, thank you very much for your time.
ERIC HOLDER: All right. Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: My conversation with the attorney general also previewed a speech he plans to give tomorrow in Philadelphia about sentencing reform. You can find that portion of the interview online.
The post Holder: DOJ needs Congress’ support to reduce immigration backlog appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As we heard, it was a confusing day on Capitol Hill, with deep divisions over immigration and what can be done to address a surge of migrant children flooding across the border.Federal agencies handling the crisis say they will run out of money in mid-August if nothing is done. And lawmakers are about to leave town for a five-week recess.
NewsHour Capitol Hill producer Quinn Bowman reports on today’s political seesaw.
WOMAN: All time for debate has expired.
QUINN BOWMAN: The first sign of trouble came midday, when Republican leaders abruptly called off a vote on their border bill.
But less than two hours later, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy informed lawmakers there still could be a vote, which led to this exchange with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, Majority Leader: I want to advise all members that additional votes are possible today.
REP. STENY HOYER, Minority Whip: We’re going to have to call some members back. They already left, on the representation that this was the last vote of the day. I would imagine you have some members that are in that category themselves.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think it is possible to advise all members that it is possible to have votes later today. I’m hopeful that, by late this afternoon, we will be able to notify the time of it.
QUINN BOWMAN: In a statement, GOP leaders said they will continue to work on solutions to the border crisis. But they added, “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.”
With near-unanimous Democratic opposition, Republican leaders needed the support of the vast majority of their members, but many voiced skepticism of the proposal in advance of the vote.
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama:
REP. MO BROOKS, R-Ala.: We can easily solve this problem by spending as little as $30 million a year with respect to the illegal alien children because we know that that is how much it costs to fly every illegal alien child back to their home country and reunite them with their families.
QUINN BOWMAN: The measure offered by GOP leaders would have cost $659 million over the next two months. That total is far less than the $1.5 billion House Republicans initially sought. Of that, some $400 million would have gone to the Department of Homeland Security to boost Border Patrol operations.
Another $197 million had been targeted for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with caring for the children. The House plan also sought to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by President George W. Bush. It required that unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico and Canada receive a hearing before deportation.
The top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, called the new proposal mean-spirited.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: But let’s give the children a fair shot. Let’s do better than this. It is not a statement of values. It is a statement of meanness.
QUINN BOWMAN: In order to entice some conservative lawmakers to support the spending plan, GOP leaders also proposed a vote to defund President Obama’s deferred action program. That policy, implemented by the president in 2012, protects undocumented immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. as children.
Speaker Boehner said his members wanted to make clear to the president that they wouldn’t accept any more unilateral steps.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: And when the president takes these actions, he will be sealing deal on his legacy — legacy of lawlessness.
QUINN BOWMAN: In the end, that wasn’t enough to sway wary conservatives.
On the other side of the Capitol, meanwhile, senators continued debate on a $2.7 billion plan put forward by Democrats, $1 billion less than the president’s request. That proposal includes spending for additional detention facilities and more immigration judges to process migrants. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version doesn’t tweak the 2008 trafficking law.
But, with little sign of an agreement, both sides today traded blame.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called on the president to step up and lead.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Minority Leader: Congress can’t do it without your leadership or your engagement. It’s literally impossible to do this without you. So pick up that phone you keep telling us about. Call us.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: Take a position!
QUINN BOWMAN: Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont accused Republicans of standing in the way of progress.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It is so much easier not to do anything. Just let it sit there and say, oh, it must be President Obama’s fault. Oh, it must be the Senate’s fault. Oh, it must be somebody else’s fault. Or maybe it’s the fault of these 6- and 7-year-old children who are trying to escape being killed or molested.
QUINN BOWMAN: With sharp divisions on both sides of the Capitol, lawmakers appeared set to leave for a five-week recess with no resolution to the border crisis.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on today’s events, The Washington post’s Ed O’Keefe joins us from Capitol Hill.
So, Ed, what a scene. The House Republican leadership had said they wanted a bill to deal with the border, but they couldn’t get it. What happened?
ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post: Well, they pulled that bill very quickly, unexpectedly, earlier this afternoon, surprising everyone, including several members, as you heard, who had already headed for the airports.
But after a revolt of a handful of Republicans in, let’s say, more purple districts, places like California, New York, Pennsylvania, areas with growing Latino populations, also, they confronted Kevin McCarthy and the speaker on the floor of the House and said, no, we cannot leave Washington without having voted or at least trying to vote on something.
And so they were dragged into the basement of the Capitol for an emergency meeting. More than an hour later, they emerged to say that they will stay overnight here in Washington, have another meeting tomorrow, and probably vote on something at some point on Friday.
In essence, Judy, there was a deadline, there was a due date. The House didn’t meet it, and so the teacher is keeping them overnight, and they are going to have to try again tomorrow.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is this issue important to the Republican House leadership?
ED O’KEEFE: Well, it’s important for a few reasons, one, for the broader political argument of responding to President Obama, who asked for the money and who Republicans say has created this crisis by not doing certain things.
Also, you run the risk of having the president go out and do other executive actions over the course of the August recess, and then Republicans would turn around and say, well, here he goes again doing things on his own without talking to Congress. And yet the White House in this case could turn around and say, well, you had an opportunity to do so and you didn’t.
And that’s a valid argument. And there are dozens of Republicans in swing districts in states like California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida, New York, that if they go home having at least not voted for something very well could now face more perilous reelection fights come November.
I talked to Blake Farenthold, who is a Republican, a pretty rank-and-file and loyal Republican from Texas who represents a districts with a growing Hispanic population. And he said, look, I have got town hall meetings all next week. If I go back without their having done something, without having voted on something related to this issue, he said — quote — “I will have some explaining to do.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you also have conservative Republicans who are saying, absolutely, that I only don’t want to give this money to the president. They don’t want to give the president the ability to expand this — this, if you will, amnesty program for children, the so-called dreamers, expanding that to these other children coming across the border.
ED O’KEEFE: That’s right.
And we have seen all sorts of division in the Republican ranks over the years, whether it’s on fiscal policy, now on immigration policy. And this is part of the reason why we have not yet seen this House, this Republican-led House, vote on significant immigration legislation, because the differences are just so big, that they haven’t been able to bridge the divide.
And so, somehow, tonight, overnight, Republican leaders are supposed to meet with that group of Republicans who say, no, unless you’re shutting down the deferred action program for those immigrants that President Obama put in place a few years ago, unless you’re doing like sending National Guard troops to the border or fortifying physically parts of the border, they can’t vote for it.
And, yet, on the flip side, there are other Republicans who are in sensitive and difficult reelection fights where doing that kind of thing might be a bridge too far. It’s a very difficult situation. It’s an early test for the new leadership team. With Eric Cantor gone now, Kevin McCarthy has risen to the majority leader position, and it puts him in a tricky position as he starts his new job.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But it does look like a vote tomorrow morning?
ED O’KEEFE: That is our latest guidance. The Senate is going to finish up its work tonight on a host of issues. And we will see whether or not the House can get it done and allow members to go home.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post, we thank you.
ED O’KEEFE: Take care, Judy.
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GWEN IFILL: One issue that did attract bipartisan support this week on Capitol Hill was a proposal to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses. Last night, we heard from two senators who sponsored the bill. But some in the world of higher education are pushing back.Hari Sreenivasan explores some of that criticism.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Legislation would create steeper penalties for schools that fail to investigate reports of assault. It also features provisions to change the culture on some campuses, including requiring colleges and universities to designate confidential advisers who would provide support and information to victims. That includes guidance on how to report the crime to local law enforcement.
Universities would also have to conduct annual surveys about students’ experiences with sexual assault and publish those results online.
Anne Neal is the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
So, we have on the program because you don’t think this legislation will help solve what we know is a serious problem.
ANNE NEAL, American Council of Trustees and Alumni: Well, that’s right.
It is a serious problem. And we should all be deeply concerned about rape and sexual assault. But I think the question really is, where should the onus be to deal with this problem? This legislation and other actions that we have seen coming out of the Department of Education and from the vice president’s office would essentially put the onus on our colleges and universities.
And, quite frankly, we have a criminal justice system, we have police departments. And it’s our contention that that’s where the onus should lie. We have this criminal justice system. And rather than trying to make our colleges and universities an extension of law enforcement, let’s put the responsibility of where it should be in the police room and in the courts.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You have said that this actually duplicates reporting, that there are already laws on the books that say the universities have to report these crimes.
But, as Senator Claire McCaskill last night pointed out, that there seems to be a significant underreporting problem. Let’s take a listen.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-Mo.: The more startling statistic is that 40 percent of the college campuses in the country have not investigated a single case of sexual assault in five years. And we know that this is a silent epidemic on our college campuses.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Your response to that?
ANNE NEAL: Well, I think, again, we want transparency, and we clearly want universities to report what’s happening.
But our experience has been that, if you allow shadow justice systems on the campus, or if you allow the information to stay on that campus, rather than going to enforcement authorities, that you’re more likely to have the university hiding what’s happening than being forthright about it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is the shadow system, just for folks out there that haven’t been paying attention?
ANNE NEAL: Well, again, in this, you see that we have a system which has investigators trained on college campuses, bureaucracies that are envisioned by this legislation that would require folks on our university campuses essentially to be investigators, jurors, executioners.
They’re the ones that are going to be looking into alleged violations. And what we’re saying is that colleges and universities are many things and they have many expertise, but engaging in law enforcement is not one of them, and that’s why it’s so important that we insist that the alleged victims report their problems to law enforcement, and that the university make it very clear that that is where the onus lies.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, are you concerned as Senator Kelly Ayotte was on the program last night, about the self-policing problem, at some of these universities, justice is not being served with their own infrastructures in place?
And let’s take a listen to the clip.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R-N.H.: It’s being investigated inconsistently.
We also found that, in some instances, athletic departments were investigating them, which is totally inappropriate. There needs to be the best practices, full investigation. And, obviously, victims need to be supported, which is not happening.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Your response?
ANNE NEAL: That absolutely supports the point that the colleges and universities are not equipped to do good investigations and essentially to be asked to be law enforcement officials.
That’s why we think the proper focus is in our police departments and our courts, which is where students should go. If they have been raped, if there has been a sexual assault, it needs to be treated as a crime. This will allow us then to give colleges and universities time to do what they do well, which is not serving as law enforcement, but in dealing with education.
I think it’s important to remember that the sexual assault problem that we’re seeing doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and it in large part is because of a lack of academic seriousness on our college campuses, whether it’s curricula that are anything goes, heavy drinking that we see, binge drinking that we hear about a lot, the fact that many students start school on Tuesdays and end school on Thursdays.
Is it any wonder that we have a drinking problem and the sexual assault that comes with it? And it’s time our academic administrators start focusing on the educational problems and not be forced into this difficult position for which they’re not equipped to be law enforcement officials on their campuses.
HARI SREENIVASAN: How much of your concern is cost-driven, in terms of how much it will cost to let’s say roll out the survey every year or train the confidential advisers?
ANNE NEAL: Very good question. And I think this is a serious, serious concern for colleges and universities.
We know President Obama has regularly raised concern about the rising cost of colleges and universities. And so I think we have to ask ourselves, what are things that colleges and universities are equipped and prepared to do, and therefore to bear those costs? And what would it be better for other institutions and other organizations to do?
And I think this is exactly one of those. Let’s put colleges and universities back in focusing on education, rather than having to expend vast resources, which are quite limited, as we all know, on training of the various bureaucrats who are going to have to be dealing with students, training trauma advisers, training Title IX coordinators?
I mean, the list of various bureaucrats that we are going to be adding to our college campus grows on and on, at a time when we’re already seeing administrative costs skyrocket.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Anne Neal is the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
Thanks so much.
ANNE NEAL: Thank you.
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Attorney General Eric Holder told PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill on Thursday that he’s worried about the criminal justice system relying on so-called big data, in some states, for its drug sentencing. States should, the attorney general said, base a sentence on a person’s conduct and not on factors such as education level, neighborhood background, among others as a predictor to determine a person’s likelihood to repeat a crime.
“Using group data to make an individualized determination, I think, can result in fundamental unfairness,” Holder said.
In January, the attorney general proposed a plan that would reduce drug sentences for those involved with minor drug crimes and remove mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, a change that would help alleviate overflowing U.S. federal prisons.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: With the late-breaking news of a humanitarian cease-fire due to take effect within hours, we return now to the ongoing battle between Hamas and Israel and questions being raised about whether either side is violating the laws of war.
Joining us are retired Lieutenant Colonel Gary Solis. He had a 26-year career in the Marine Corps, served two tours in Vietnam and became a military lawyer and judge. He’s now on the faculty at both George Washington and Georgetown University law schools. And retired Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Corn, he had a 22-year career in the Army, where he served as a lawyer. He’s now a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston.
And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.
To you first, Colonel Corn. We want to talk about both sides in this conflict. Let’s start with Hamas. What is it that you believe Hamas is doing that violates international law?
LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN (RET.), South Texas College of Law: Well, I think the two most obvious examples are the deliberate attack on civilian population centers, with apparently no effort to target specific military targets in Israel.
Just firing missiles in the direction of Israeli population centers is a clear violation of the law. And the other is locating their vital military assets within the midst of the civilian population in an apparent attempt to make it more difficult for the Israeli Defense Forces to target those assets, which is also a clear violation of the law.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what international law are you referring to?
LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN: Well, the international law that I’m referring to — and I’m sure my friend Gary will refer to — we call the law of war, or it’s often called international humanitarian law.
And it’s one of the oldest bodies of international law. Many of these rules are codified in treaties that are binding on nations throughout the world, including the Israelis. And even the rules that are not applicable as a matter of treaty law apply to all parties to a conflict as a matter of what we call customary international law.
And there is almost universal agreement that these rules apply to all sides of this conflict, the Israelis and Hamas collectively.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Colonel Solis, you’re general — you’re nodding. You generally agree that these are laws that this discussion is based on?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS (RET.), The George Washington University: Yes, entirely agree.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what about his point that when it comes to Hamas — he made two points, that they are deliberately firing into civilian areas, that civilians are the target, and, number two, they are commingling what are called military assets, weapons, rocket launchers with their own civilians?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: I think that Geoff is entirely correct. And of course we much see the same thing going on in Israel.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about Israel in a minute. But essentially you are two — the two of you are in agreement about what Hamas is doing?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: We are.
I think Hamas is clearly in violation of law of armed conflict, international humanitarian law, for the very reasons that Geoff has mentioned.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, no ifs, ands or buts?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: No.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.
Well, let me turn to how you view, Colonel Solis, how you view Israel, because I know you — as you just said, you believe Israel is also violating international law.
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: Yes, I’m afraid so.
I think that Israel is violating the core principles of the law of armed conflict, of distinction and proportionality. That is, they’re not distinguishing between military objectives and civilian objects and civilians themselves.
And in regard to proportionality…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just back up. Can you expand on what you mean by that?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: Distinction?
Yes. The law of armed conflict says that parties to a conflict, be it an interstate conflict or a non-interstate conflict, in other words, a state on one side and an armed opposition group on the other, in such conflicts, the parties are bound to target only civilians — excuse me — only combatants, and not target civilians purposely or civilian objects, either one.
To do so is a violation of distinction, perhaps the principal, core concept in the law of war, and Israel is doing that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying they’re not making that distinction and they should be.
Colonel Corn, what about that point about what Israel is doing?
LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN: Well, I would have to respectfully disagree with my friend Gary.
I think, first off, we don’t have enough information to conclusively to establish that Israel is violating even the principle of distinction or proportionality. Both of these principles are applied in a fact- and situation-specific context.
I think there have been incidents that raise concern that there may be violations. But we have to know more details about why targets were attacked. We have to have more details about what was in proximity of those targets. Did Hamas have military assets embedded in civilian areas?
And maybe even the possibility that there were mistakes made, that a round went off course or that a soldier or a pilot simply made an error. What I would say is, I think we see an overall effort on the part of the IDF to apply the law in good faith. They have issued more warnings than I can think of any professional military organization issuing in an urban attack, to my knowledge.
They embed military lawyers at every level of battle command to advise commanders on their obligations. So I think we have to be a little bit cautious about reaching that conclusion at this point.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Colonel Solis, so he’s saying, number one, there’s not enough information and, number two — well, you heard him. I won’t repeat it.
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: No, I disagree with Geoff.
I think that the facts that we have seen on the ground, the statements from the U.N., the photographs we have seen are indicative of a unit, of a command that is not overly concerned with distinction. And I think the Israelis have the ability to be much more discerning in their targeting. And they are not, in my opinion.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you think they have the ability to be more discerning?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: Because their weaponry is more sophisticated and more advanced. They have drones in the air. They have helicopters in the air.
They know where they are firing their weapons. And although artillery is not a pinpoint system, it has the ability to home in on specific targets, which ability is not being exercised fully.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Colonel Corn, what about that?
LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN: Well, first off, I think if the facts play out and establish that, there needs to be an investigation. And individuals who violate these rules should be held accountable by the Israelis themselves.
But I would note that this is the most difficult type of combat that any military can engage in. Every military commander is trained from inception to avoid close combat in an urban environment at all costs. The fact that the Israelis have put ground troops into this environment, I think, indicates how serious they see this strategic objective.
But it also means that this is an incredibly complex and difficult tactical environment. And you cannot just look only at the effects of combat, because that can provide a distorting effect on the analysis. You have to look at the entire situation to decide whether or not there was a violation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You want to respond to that quickly? And then I have a final question.
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: No, I just — I simply disagree with Geoff. I believe that there is sufficient evidence of an awareness of proportionality and its disregard by the Israelis. And I believe that is evidenced by the facts on the ground.
JUDY WOODRUFF: When a conflict is under way, as it has been there for more than 20 days, how much does it matter whether laws, international laws are being violated? Are — is one side or another going to be held accountable, do you believe, Colonel Solis?
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: I believe that they will not, at the end of the day, although the violations, in my opinion, are clear.
And that’s because the U.N. Security Council will have a member, the U.S., who will exercise a veto should Israel be brought before them. And I don’t believe that the ICJ is going to take up this case, nor is the ICC, the International Criminal Court.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me.
Colonel Corn, should one side or another be held or both sides be held accountable?
LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN: Well, first off, I think it’s clear that international law matters. That’s why we’re talking about this on this venue.
That’s why the international community is so concerned about what’s happening, because they’re focused on the law and the expectations of compliance with the law. I agree with Gary that it’s unlikely that there be an international criminal accountability for these actions.
But I don’t think that means there won’t be accountability. I tend to believe that, if the Israelis conclude, after the conflict, after they review everything, that some of their commanders acted improperly, that they will take action against them, and they have done that in the past. I’m not sure Hamas will be subjected to any responsibility.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Colonel Geoffrey Corn, Colonel Gary Solis, we thank you both.
LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN: Thank you.
LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: Thank you.
The post Are Israel and Hamas violating international laws of war? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, the story of a flood, fiddles and a town’s survival.
Jeffrey Brown traveled to Colorado for our story.
JEFFREY BROWN: The song is called “Little Rain,” but it’s about a very big rain and its aftermath, the flooding of the town of Lyons, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rockies last September.
K.C. Groves is in the band Watergirls, formed after the disaster.
K.C. GROVES: We were trying to address what happened and also represent, you know, the — our strengths and even strength of spirit and our joy even that we still had in this town, but still express the gravity of what happened.
JEFFREY BROWN: What happened is something that no one here had ever seen, the St. Vrain River jumping its banks. Video shot by local residents captured the scene, as the river divided Lyons into a series of islands, cutting off this small town of 2,000 from the world for three days.
One person died; 200 houses were damaged.
Musician David Tiller talked to the NewsHour just after he was evacuated.
DAVID TILLER: Seeing the faces of the houses blown on and realizing that there was nothing salvageable, really, that — nothing of the house that I could tell that may be salvageable, I don’t even know how to describe it.
JEFFREY BROWN: In all, 20 percent of Lyons’ housing stock was lost and the town suffered some $50 million in damages.
But a lot has changed since then, and music has been a big part of it. Nine months ago, this small valley in Lyons was a flooded lake. Against the odds, it’s once again one of the nation’s leading and longest-running bluegrass festivals.
The RockyGrass Festival is an annual celebration of bluegrass, attracting some 5,000 people and major figures from this musical world for 42 years. Festival director Craig Ferguson lives on the ground, and last September, as the evacuation order came, he left in a hurry in the middle of the night.
When he returned, he found his land, his business, that is, and his house under four feet of water. Much of it later turned to mud filled with debris that had been carried downriver.
CRAIG FERGUSON, President, Planet Bluegrass: We took over 1,000 big dump trucks full of gravel, and silt and sand out of here.
JEFFREY BROWN: A thousand dump trucks?
CRAIG FERGUSON: Over 1,000.
JEFFREY BROWN: Wow.
CRAIG FERGUSON: And that took us — they were just going around the clock for two months. We had four backhoes and two excavators out here for six months.
JEFFREY BROWN: Ferguson says he was determined that the show would go on.
RockyGrass is about the music, of course, but it’s also about the community of performers and audience members who come year after year. And for this small town, it’s an important business engine.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JEFFREY BROWN: So getting it up and running had economic, as well as psychological meaning.
CRAIG FERGUSON: I think really having RockyGrass open to a sold-out audience is kind of a signal to the town. Or I know a lot of people in town are excited that, OK, we can start having fun again.
JEFFREY BROWN: The festivities began every morning at 10:00 a.m. with a mad dash, a friendly running of the tarps set to the very non-bluegrassy “William Tell Overture” to claim prime real estate for the main acts, among those, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and banjo master Bela Fleck and his wife and fellow banjo player, Abigail Washburn.
They have both performed widely in separate ensembles, but are now teamed up for the first time. Like other RockyGrass veterans, they were determined to return after the flood.
BELA FLECK: There was a lot doubt that the festival was going to happen at all. It was a real important year to come back and do something.
ABIGAIL WASHBURN: To be a part of this incredible community that has, against all odds, found a way to reclaim this land and turn it into the festival site that it once was.
JEFFREY BROWN: It all looked and sounded great.
But there was also this, the so-called Homeless Band, a pickup group of musicians and their children who lost their homes in the flood and all these months later are living in temporary housing, uncertain what happens next. Gary McCrumb was playing banjo and singing. But a few days earlier, he had shown us where his house once stood.
GARY MCCRUMB: The front door used to be right here.
JEFFREY BROWN: Unlike many others, McCrumb actually had flood insurance, but that covered just half his losses.
GARY MCCRUMB: They only pay for the part that actually touched the water, which was 3.5 feet in my house. So, all the drywall above that, they won’t cover.
JEFFREY BROWN: McCrumb says he’s also frustrated waiting for permission from the town to rebuild.
Most of the houses that were damaged were built before strict government regulations were in place about building in floodplains. In order to qualify for federal aid, the town must now diligently enforce those rules, but that red tape has led to lengthy delays in issuing permits.
GARY MCCRUMB: It’s the middle of the summer. And here in Colorado, there’s only so many weeks that we can build because of the harsh weather that comes in October. And I hope to have a house that’s enclosed like this by that time. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.
DANNY SHAFER: The river’s right here. It’s a lot of mixed emotions.
JEFFREY BROWN: Musician Danny Shafer lived with his family in a mobile home in this field that had been a trailer park.
DANNY SHAFER: With the festival happening this weekend, it almost appears like Lyons is back to normal, and it’s not at all. There’s a lot of people misplaced, a lot of people that are in debt, don’t know whether they are going to come back.
JEFFREY BROWN: The flood wiped out all 30 trailers in the park. Today, it was being used a as lot for the music festival. Its future is unclear, but sitting on a floodplain, one thing it likely won’t be is a trailer park.
Shafer wants to stay in Lyons, but now must pay double his old rent.
DANNY SHAFER: Lyons is a town made of lots of different kinds of people, people of all kinds of economic situations. And that’s wonderful. And it stands a chance to be changed severely.
JEFFREY BROWN: That’s a fear we heard from everyone here, including mandolin player K.C. Groves, who’d organized a fund to help musicians after the flood.
K.C. GROVES: I think that’s the biggest concern, more than where the roads are going to go or who’s going to get the new sidewalk, which houses stay, which houses go. I think the biggest concern really is that it’s going to lose its charm, its small-town feel. I think a lot of the artists and musician community feel like they might be priced out of living here.
JEFFREY BROWN: And a lot of people came here for that in the first place, huh?
K.C. GROVES: A lot of people came here for that in the first place. And now those rentals are harder to find. And to buy a place, it’s — that is a struggle.
JEFFREY BROWN: For this weekend, though, the focus was on the strength and vibrancy of that community, especially through its music. RockyGrass, the festival, lives on. And, so too, sang the Watergirls, does Lyons.
WOMEN (singing): And you can watch us stand our ground, but you can’t take our town.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
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— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) July 15, 2014
It’s not surprising that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been using his account on the social media site to garner support for Israeli actions in the conflict in Gaza. By purchasing sponsored tweets, a feature of the site typically used by advertisers, he ensures that his messages appear in the feeds of more Twitter users, not just those who follow his account. This strategy is just one example of the evolving role of social media in war and conflict.
The use of social media as a tool in times of war, uprising and military conflict is nothing new. Extremist groups such as the Islamic State group, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, have incorporated the use of social media into their broader military strategy. During the Arab Spring, Twitter was both a catalyst for social unrest, demonstrations and revolution, and a valuable resource for journalists reporting on the situation.
Social media can be used to circulate true information in the face of censorship. It can also cause false information to go viral. It has powered revolutions, but it is also used to expand the reach of violent extremists. What is the role of social media in modern warfare? How has this changed as the medium evolves? What responsibility do sites such as Facebook and Twitter have to regulate (or restrict) users’ promotion of military actions?
We invited you to weigh in in a Twitter chat. John Little (@BlogsofWar), who blogs about international relations and national security on his website Blogs of War, and PBS NewsHour foreign affairs producer @PJTobia participated as guests. Read a transcript of the conversation below.
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WASHINGTON — Companies overseeing millions of mortgage loans appear to be skirting new federal regulations and legal settlements intended to stop them profiteering at the expense of troubled homeowners.
They are selling or have sold nearly nonexistent insurance agencies — in some cases with no offices, no websites and only a single registered agent — in multi-million dollar deals, as new rules prohibit them from collecting commissions on insurance they force homeowners to buy.
The deals illustrate how regulators are still wrestling with messy banking practices more than six years after the housing market’s collapse. They also mean that newly sold insurance agencies have an incentive to compel struggling homeowners to buy costly policies, to justify the high sales prices commanded when the insurance agencies were sold.
The deals involve “force-placed insurance,” a type of backup property insurance meant to protect mortgage investors’ stake in uninsured properties. Standard mortgages require borrowers to maintain homeowners insurance and authorize the loan’s servicer to buy coverage when borrowers don’t. If the borrowers don’t pay for the new insurance, servicers foreclose on their properties and stick the bill to mortgage investors.
Even before the housing boom, mortgage servicers found ways to profit from buying insurance with other people’s money. Insurance carriers paid banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup to buy policies at inflated prices, according to an investigation by New York’s Department of Financial Services. To hide this “kickback culture,” as New York regulators described it, some servicers created virtual insurance agencies and disguised illicit payments as commissions.
New rules by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, investigations by state regulators and class-action settlements now prohibit servicers from collecting commissions on such insurance policies, and the country’s biggest brand-name banks have renounced the practice.
But some of the largest subprime mortgage servicers in the country — companies that handle the troubled loans most likely to be subject to the insurance policies — appear to skirt those rules or have already made profitable business arrangements that comply with them.
Because people tend to stop paying insurance when they’re struggling to keep up with their mortgage, the collapse of the housing market after 2007 turned the practice into a multi-billion dollar industry. In many ways, force-placed insurance’s rise reflected the behavior that fed the housing bubble: After profiting from putting borrowers in homes they couldn’t afford, mortgage companies were profiting from inflated insurance bills they assigned to homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
The country’s second largest non-bank mortgage servicer, Nationstar Mortgage Holdings Inc., has been trying to sell an insurance agency for roughly $100 million, according to people familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sale.
Nationstar’s insurance agency, Harwood Service Co., has no website and no independent offices. The switchboard operators at Nationstar’s headquarters in Lewisville, Texas, said they haven’t heard of it. Employees of Assurant Inc., the insurance carrier whose policies Harwood sells, say the company is “just the name used when Nationstar refers us business.”
Harwood’s only registered insurance agent, a Nationstar consultant named Dennis DiMaggio, initially told The Associated Press he was semi-retired. Asked how he could run a $100 million business in semi-retirement, DiMaggio ended the call then later said he had been joking.
Nationstar’s first attempt to sell its affiliated insurance agency fell through early this month after the AP raised questions about the deal, prompting New York’s Department of Financial Services to look into the deal.
“We have some concerns with the proposed transaction,” said Matt Anderson, a spokesman for the financial regulator, four days before the expected buyer withdrew. Nationstar is still seeking to sell the insurance agency, said one person who is familiar with its efforts but not authorized to discuss its business affairs.
Nationstar declined to discuss details of Harwood’s business. Assurant Inc. also declined to discuss its relationship with Nationstar. The insurer said it complies with the federal government’s new rules against affiliate commissions but “may pay commissions to unaffiliated agents in compliance with laws and regulations for work performed.”
In court, however, Assurant and Nationstar have not defended their arrangements. Earlier this month, the companies reached a deal to settle a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida that alleged Harwood exists solely to “funnel profits ” to Nationstar at borrowers’ expense.
If Nationstars’ attempts to sell Harwood are successful, the deal would render the agency immune from bans on commissions — much as a similar agency owned by the country’s largest subprime mortgage servicer already is.
That servicer, Ocwen Financial Corp, oversees more than one-quarter of the country’s outstanding subprime loans, according to data from trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance. Last March, Ocwen sold off a force-placed insurance affiliate called Beltline Road Insurance Agency as part of an $86 million deal with Altisource, a company spun out Ocwen in 2008, led by former Ocwen executives and partially owned by Ocwen’s founder.
The deal closed the same month that the Federal Housing Finance Agency formally proposed banning commissions and New York reached a legal accord with Assurant, OCwen’s principal force-placed insurer, banning payments to affiliates like Beltline. By selling the company to Altisource, however, Ocwen got cash upfront — and handed the lucrative business of collecting commissions to Altisource, a company characterized in financial filings as a related party.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Ocwen noted that it had only owned the insurance agency for a short period after acquiring it along with the assets of a smaller mortgage servicer. Ocwen no longer collects any commissions from Beltline and sold the agency to Altisource solely because the agency didn’t fit in with Ocwen’s business model, the company said. Altisource, which does collect commissions on Ocwen’s force-placed insurance, did not return calls and emails from the AP over several weeks seeking comment.
Ocwen and Nationstar service roughly 5 million home loans. The third-largest servicing company, Walter Investment Management Corp., paid $53 million on 147,676 such insurance policies on its portfolio of 1.95 million loans in the first three months of this year, according to its Securities and Exchange Commission filings. If Nationstar and Ocwen were billing for policies at the same rate, their practices could be affecting more than 350,000 borrowers nationwide.
It’s unclear how or whether the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the industry’s principal U.S. regulatory agency in Washington, will respond to such sales. In a statement, it expressed concern about the deals but said it could not stop servicers from selling their insurance agencies.
“If servicers are circumventing the Enterprise lender-placed insurance requirements, we will work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to address it,” the agency said.
Walter disclosed in its SEC filings that rules banning commissions will cost it roughly $20 million a year and said it is “actively looking at alternatives” to giving up the cash. A spokeswoman, Whitney Finch, declined to explain further but said the company will comply with all rules and regulations.
Another company, Carrington Mortgage Services LLC of Santa Ana, California, didn’t sell its insurance agency. It just agreed to let someone else collect the profits.
In an Irish bond prospectus filed last year, Carrington’s parent company disclosed that a buyer had paid it $21.25 million in late 2012. If Carrington doesn’t send back at least that amount to the agency’s buyer in commissions, it will have to give back some of the money it received.
Carrington executives denied that its obligation to deliver $21.25 million of commissions would in any way affect homeowners or mortgage investors, and noted that it is not subject to the finance agency rules because it services loans owned by private investors. In its Irish prospectus, however, Carrington warned that some regulators believe the commissions “may constitute an improper ‘kickback’,” and added: “Should any regulator decide to take action, we may be forced to pay restitution.”
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WASHINGTON — A bill to address the crisis of unaccompanied migrant youths arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has died in the Senate on a procedural vote.
The 50-44 vote Thursday night fell short of the 60 votes needed to waive a point of order raised by Republicans against the $3.5 billion bill.
The action came hours before the Senate adjourns for a five-week recess.
House Republicans are still working to pass a border bill in the House, but even if they succeed the legislation will not go anywhere.
That means Congress is heading out for its summer recess without acting to deal with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who’ve been arriving at the border from Central America.
The Senate bill also included money for wildfires and Israeli defense.
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WASHINGTON — Once more, the tea party forced House Speaker John Boehner to blink.
Minutes from a vote on legislation to deal with the immigration surge on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hours from scheduled adjournment for the summer, a conservative revolt left the speaker with no choice but to pull his border bill from the floor.
Most House Republicans were eager to pass the $659 million measure and tell voters back home they acted on the border crisis, which is suddenly registering as a top concern in polls three months before midterm elections.
But a core group of conservative lawmakers, some of the same holdouts who forced the government shutdown last fall, were unpersuaded.
Reluctant to give President Barack Obama any money for a problem they believed to be of his own making, and unconvinced that there would be a political price for inaction, the lawmakers strategized with firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz over pizza and held fast against Boehner’s entreaties.
It wasn’t enough even when Boehner bent to their demands and agreed to hold a separate vote on legislation aimed at reining in Obama’s ability to take executive actions on deportations.
Not long after, Republicans gathered in the basement of the Capitol for an emergency meeting.
Several members raced back from the airport for the conference and had already changed into polo shirts and jeans.
They wanted to move forward, but what would change?
“I’m hoping some people will grow up,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.
Boehner took the unusual step of delaying Congress’ summer recess, which had been scheduled to begin on Friday, and House Republicans agreed to meet again in the morning to see if they could find a bill that could pass.
In the Senate, meanwhile, a much different bill to spend $2.7 billion to address the border crisis died on a procedural vote as expected, and senators prepared to adjourn for recess. So even if the House did succeed in passing a bill Friday, there was no prospect for reaching a deal to send a bill to Obama’s desk.
Even so, most House Republicans insisted they wanted to act.
“The American people expect us to do our jobs,” said moderate GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. “We have both a border and humanitarian crisis to deal with, and they expect us to take action, now.”
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, an author of the border measure, said she was expecting changes that would make parts of the legislation more specific, such as detailing who would pay for deploying the National Guard.
“Overall, we all agree we should stay until we get a vote,” she said.
Yet there was no guarantee Boehner would prevail as some conservatives appeared set to remain unmoved to the end.
“I think by doing something, all we’re doing is taking Obama’s nightmare for ourselves,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
The disarray arose over what most view as an urgent humanitarian issue, the stream of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing illegally into South Texas. Most are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, where towns are beset by gang violence. They are seeking to reunite with family members and drawn by rumors that once here they would be allowed to stay.
Many Republicans blame Obama administration policies for that perception, particularly a 2-year-old program that has granted work permits and relief from deportation to more than 500,000 immigrants brought here illegally as kids. The Obama administration disputes that claim.
Conservatives want to repeal Obama’s deportation relief program as part of any border bill. Boehner’s proposed solution to vote separately to block Obama from expanding it — as White House officials have indicated they are contemplating — didn’t go far enough for them.
The House bill “fails to meet this test and therefore must be opposed,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., credited by many lawmakers and aides with causing as much trouble for the bill as Cruz.
“Jeff Sessions is probably held in higher esteem than the Alabama football coach and the Auburn football coach put together,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
Democrats relished the GOP chaos and openly mocked the apparent influence of Cruz, R-Texas, over the House GOP, referring to him as Speaker Cruz. Meanwhile, House Republicans chafed.
“I think we’ve seen this game before,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is close to House GOP leaders. “Any time the groups come out and start to score about these issues, then senators get involved and they start having meetings and then they all sit together and sing ‘Kumbaya’ and stop any progress.”
The events took place as Boehner inaugurated a new leadership team on the very day that outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, unexpectedly defeated in his primary race by a conservative upstart, was stepping down from his post.
Incoming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., facing his first test as leader, said: “I wouldn’t want to be here if it was easy.”
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Donna Cassata, Andrew Taylor and David Espo contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON — Congress has passed a landmark bill to help veterans avoid long waits for health care and fix other problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Senate easily approved the $16.3 billion compromise measure Thursday night, a day after it was overwhelmingly passed by the House. The measure now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The bill provides $10 billion in emergency spending to enable veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at VA hospitals and clinics or live more than 40 miles from one of them to obtain care from a private doctor.
The legislation also includes $5 billion to hire more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion for opening 27 new VA clinics across the country.
WASHINGTON — Congress has approved a bill to prevent a 28 percent cut in federal highway and mass transit aid at the height of the summer construction season.
The Senate voted Thursday night for a House-passed measure to augment the federal Highway Trust Fund with in infusion of $10.8 billion from the general Treasury — enough to keep the fund solvent through May. The Transportation Department set Friday as the date the fund would no longer be able to provide all the aid promised from incoming gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.
The two houses played legislative ping pong with the issue in recent days over what critics called a “gimmick” to fund the measure by letting companies defer government-required contributions to their employees’ pension plans. The bill now goes to the president.
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What is the Fancy Farm picnic? The Washington Post has as comprehensive explainer, that gives a great overview of Kentucky’s most important political event of the year.
The parties bus in their faithful and thousands of pounds of mutton are served up alongside raucous campaigning and politicking at the gathering. This year, 15,000 are expected to attend the famous picnic, held at the St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Ky.
PBS local station KET brings us a live look at today’s main events at the 134th Fancy Farm gathering, including stump speeches by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his challenger, Democrat Alison Grimes. KET’s Bill Goodman and Renee Shaw will provide pre- and post-event analysis with political observers.
Biologists have discovered that the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill is making a deeper impact on marine life than they had predicted.
As NewsHour’s Murrey Jacobson reported last year, the oil spill captured the world’s attention for polluting the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, shutting down area businesses — including fisheries and beaches — and fouling marshes and wetlands. Three companies were involved: oil giant BP; TransOcean, which operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig; and Halliburton.
Pennsylvania State University researchers recently found two partially dead, deep sea coral reefs 22 kilometers east of the site of the spill, according to a study released this week.
Before these findings, biologists only knew of one reef that was damaged by the oil spill. The reef was closer to the surface and only 14 kilometers south west of the site where 210 million gallons of oil gushed into the the Gulf of Mexico over a period 87 days.
“The footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated,” Charles Fisher, who led the study, told ThinkProgress.
BP scientists published a response to Monday’s paper, arguing that PSU researchers “prematurely linked” the oil found on the coral reefs to the 2010 oil spill, when it could have come from other sources including underwater landslides or natural oil and gas seeps.
PSU researchers defended their study and emphasized that their testing proved that the oil found on the reefs was the same as the oil from the spill.
The study includes two theories that could explain how these more distant reefs were damaged by the oil spill.
The first theory is that a plume, or cloud of undersea oil droplets, traveled deeper and in a different direction than scientists previously believed.
The second possibility is that oil on the surface of the water sunk and landed on the reefs as a substance called “toxic marine snow.” Scientists say toxic marine snow is formed when chemical dispersants, used to prevent oil spills from reaching coastal environments, cause the oil to form droplets that fall hundreds of feet below the surface.
Deep sea reefs are crucial for underwater ecosystems. In addition to providing habitats for dozens of species, the reefs also participate in carbon and nitrogen cycling processes and shelter the eggs of fish and sharks.
Fisher said the discovery of additional damaged reefs indicates that the deep sea is still responding to the 2010 spill’s damage.
“It seems like its been along time [since the spill], but the deep sea is a slow-moving environment. The water temperature down there is 4 degrees Celsius… Things change slowly. So it could be a while before things are fully recognized in the wider Gulf,” he said.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: We’re joined once again tonight via Skype from Jerusalem by Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times. So what do we know about these planned negotiations in Egypt?
JODI RUDOREN: Well, two things. I mean, first of all, these negotiations were part of the plan that Secretary of State John Kerry and the head of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon arranged to have this 72-hour cease-fire, during which talks would commence on the larger, more substantive agreement to end the fighting. That fell apart, as you mentioned, yesterday when Israel resumed its attack after being confronted by militants who came out of a tunnel. They killed two soldiers and seemed to have captured an officer, so that whole thing fell apart.
The Palestinians decided to go ahead and go to Cairo, but the Israelis, they haven’t definitively said they’re not going, but it seems fairly clear they’re not. So it’s unclear what the point of those talks exactly is going to be, but, you know, longer term, if there is going to be any resolution of this beyond just them tiring themselves out, it is going to happen in talks in Cairo.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, has the intensity on the ground or the Israeli response changed after this missing soldier?
JODI RUDOREN: Yeah, significantly in the southern border town of Rafah, which is near where the tunnel was. There’s been a really aggressive assault, maybe the most aggressive of this whole campaign. My colleague Ben Hubbard was on the ground today in the western side of town, which is the kind of opposite side of town from where the action was. All sorts of people had evacuated there. The hospital in the east side of town had been hit, so there was no hospital functioning in Rafah. People were getting treated at clinics.
He said that there were a lot of bodies that were being preserved in, like, kitchen-type freezers, because there was no room in any morgue. He said it was a very desperate situation there, and they have been under intense air and artillery shelling overnight and, I think, through to some of today. It was quiet, I think, during the daylight.
In other parts in Gaza, the operation seems to have cooled down some. The military informed residents of the northern town of Beit Lahiya that they could go back to their homes and it would be safe, so they may be done operating in the north. So it’s not an overall picture of increase.
HARI SREENIVASAN: There seems to be some back and forth on exactly who has been killed. Israel came out today and said that 47 percent of those killed in Gaza may be terrorists or would be terrorists. Gazan human rights groups say 80 percent of those killed are civilians.
JODI RUDOREN: Yeah, I think it’s not definitive and certainly, it’s hard to tell in the middle of the battle. I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure because, partly because the definition of what a militant is in Gaza is a little bit fluid. It’s not like you enlist necessarily in the military and get a uniform and a badge number. They do have, you know, military training and uniforms and ranks and things like that. But there are lost of other people whom the Israelis might consider part of the militia who the Palestinians might not. And so I think these are imperfect analyses at best.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times, joining us via Skype from Jerusalem, thanks so much.
JODI RUDOREN: Thank you.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The fate of tens of thousands of people, many of them children, who entered the United States illegally remains unresolved tonight. Before adjourning late last night the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a measure that would speed deportations, but the Democrat-led Senate did not take up the bill before leaving for the summer recess and the House measure has little chance of success there.
What comes next? For more we’re joined tonight from Washington by Christina Bellantoni. She is Editor in Chief at Roll Call. So what happens next? For the next five weeks as Congress is in recess, do all of these people who are in detention centers now just stay there?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: No, there’s not a limbo. The president had the news conference yesterday where he said he would be forced to take matters in his own hands even though Congress has been critical of him doing so on other matters including immigration.
So what the White House told me this morning, an administration official said that they’re going to take $405 million, that’s much, much less than the House approved and less than the president has initially asked for. And they are going to transfer that down to help ease either deportation proceedings or have facilities down at the border for housing these child migrants or ways that they could speed up some of the processes or make it a bit more smoothly.
But that money is coming from other places. They are taking the majority of it, $270 million from federal emergency management funds that would deal with any sort of disaster relief. And you might recall that when the president first asked Congress for this emergency spending more than a month ago, he actually included a lot of money for wildfire relief, and so in addition to not having that funding put in place they are taking money from other disasters.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So this becomes a source of contention for states that might be, say, for example, in hurricane alley, saying wait a minute, some of our funds might be diverted to deal with this crisis in the border states in the south.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Sure, or tornadoes or a drought, which is a big issue in Texas. So it allows for some money to go down to help Texas National Guard to alleviate some of the issues. It’s also important to point out that some of the numbers that we’re see coming across the border, we get a little bit of a delay in that reporting, and the crossing by child migrants are actually down because it’s the hot summer month, and so you’re seeing fewer and fewer come across the border. The numbers are still far up from previous years, but they are down over recent months, but that doesn’t mean that the problem is going to go away.
And when Congress comes back in September, the Senate will probably easily dispatch the House’s bill, but we don’t know for sure how that’s going to play out. They might come up with some sort of compromise middle ground and the president will have already of transferred that money. So they could end up funding it more close to the level that he initially asked for.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And how much of this plays into the re-election campaigns of some of the members of Congress that are heading back, just to get this particular piece of legislation through where it is now?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: That’s a central question that our journalists at Roll Call are looking into. Where talking to members back home in their districts. What are they hearing from their constituents? Are they paying attention to this issue? Do they care? Meanwhile, you’ve got a lot of foreign policy crises that is also generating a lot of attention and concern among Americans. It’s less than 100 days from the midterm elections.
But the other element that’s playing out here is that immigration advocates are really stepping up pressure on the White House, urging them to take even broader action when it comes to deferred action for so called “dreamers.”
And so the president has held some meetings, these immigration advocates have said it sounds as if he might even be willing to expand what it did in 2012 through executive action. So, those issues are playing out at the exact same time.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christina Bellantoni from Roll Call, joining us from Washington, thanks so much.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Thank you.
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