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

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    President Barack Obama speaks about a Supreme Court nominee from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    President Barack Obama speaks about a Supreme Court nominee from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he will reveal his Supreme Court nominee to fill the vacancy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, expecting to choose from a small circle of federal appeals court judges.

    “I’ve made my decision,” Obama said in an email to supporters early Wednesday.

    Obama planned to introduce his pick at 11 a.m. in the White House Rose Garden, setting up a showdown with Senate Republicans who have told the White House not to bother filling the vacancy in an election year.

    In his email, Obama did not identify his choice to replace the Scalia on the nine-member court. But the president said he had devoted a “considerable amount of time and deliberation to this decision” and consulted with outside experts and groups.

    “In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job,” Obama wrote. “I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee.”

    That will be a hard sell because Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

    The Associated Press has reported that Obama had narrowed the list to three appeals court judges: Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the appeals courts in Washington, D.C.; Sri Srinivasan, a judge on that court; and Paul Watford of the appeals courts based in San Francisco.

    In his email, Obama said his nominee will be “eminently qualified” to sit on the nation’s highest court. He said the nominee would understand the limits of the judiciary’s role and “grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.”

    Obama said the White House had “reached out to every member of the Senate, who each have a responsibility to do their job and take this nomination just as seriously.”

    The president told supporters that his nominee “deserves a fair hearing, and an up-or-down vote.”

    The post Obama: ‘I’ve made my decision’ on Supreme Court nominee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico Jan. 8, 2016. Photo by Edgard Garrido/Reuters

    Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico Jan. 8, 2016. Photo by Edgard Garrido/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — One of the guns that Mexican officials say was found at the hideout of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera is associated with Fast and Furious, a failed “gun-walking” operation, according to the Justice Department.

    The department said in a letter to members of Congress that a .50-caliber rifle that Mexican officials sent for tracing after Guzman’s arrest in January has since been connected to Fast and Furious.

    U.S. officials say the weapon was one of 19 firearms that Mexican authorities said was recovered from the hideout and was the only one determined to be associated with the botched sting operation, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives permitted gun-runners to buy weapons in hopes of tracking them and disrupting gun smuggling rungs.

    The rifle was bought in July 2010 in a straw purchase by someone not known to ATF at the time. The buyer was later identified and “became a subject” of the Fast and Furious investigation but was never indicted. The weapon is not known to be associated with any other crime, the Justice Department said.

    A former U.S. official said four other firearms connected to Fast and Furious were found at a hideout in Culiacan, Mexico, where Guzman narrowly escaped capture in February 2014. He was captured about a week later in the seaside resort of Mazatlan.

    The official was briefed on the case but not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    As of January, 885 firearms purchased by targets of Operation Fast and Furious had been recovered, according to the Justice Department. Several of those have been linked to violent crimes, including a 2010 firefight near the Mexican border during which Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.

    “ATF and the department deeply regret that firearms associated with Operation Fast and Furious have been used by criminals in the commission of violent crimes, particularly crimes resulting in the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officials,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik, head of the Justice Department’s legislative affairs office, wrote in a March 15 letter.

    The letter was addressed to Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It follows a request for information on whether firearms tied to Fast and Furious had been found in Guzman’s hideout.

    After escaping from a Mexican prison last year, Guzman was recaptured in January in the western state of Sinaloa after fleeing a safe house through a storm sewer. He remains in Mexican custody.

    Mexican officials initially submitted eight rifles for tracing that they said were recovered from the home in Sinaloa where Guzman was captured. None of those weapons were found to be linked to Fast and Furious, the Justice Department said.

    Later, Mexican law enforcement officials requested a trace on an additional 11 rifles they said had also been seized from the home, but unlike the other eight guns, had been sent to Mexico City prior to submission for tracing.

    The post Rifle found at El Chapo hideout tied to Fast and Furious scandal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan addresses the forum at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan addresses the forum at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman says he “will not accept a nomination” to be the Republican running for president — even if his predecessor, John Boehner, nominated him.

    The possibility of a Ryan nomination at a contested Republican Party convention started when he said in a CNBC interview, “There are a lot of people running for president. We’ll see. Who knows?”

    Former House Speaker John Boehner jumped on the comments, saying he would support Ryan if Republicans can’t nominate any candidate at the convention. His spokesman, Dave Schnittger, said Boehner made the comments Wednesday at a conference in Boca Raton, Florida.

    But Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong moved quickly to quash any talk of Ryan becoming the nominee.

    “The speaker is grateful for the support, but he is not interested,” she said in an emailed statement. “He will not accept a nomination and believes our nominee should be someone who ran this year.”

    SUBSCRIBE: Get the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks delivered to your inbox every week.

    The post Ryan ‘will not accept’ GOP presidential nomination at contested convention appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man checks in at the United Airlines ticket counter at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

    A man checks in at the United Airlines ticket counter at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A Senate panel has approved an aviation policy bill Wednesday after a partisan fight over whether airlines are unfairly gouging consumers with fees for basic services like checked bags, seat assignments and ticket changes.

    The Senate commerce committee approved by a voice vote a bill to continue the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to operate through Oct. 1, 2017. That authority is currently due to expire on March 31.

    The committee’s Democrats led by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., tried to add a provision to the bill to prohibit airlines from setting unreasonable fee prices and direct the Department of Transportation to establish what is reasonable. The amendment failed on a tie, party-line vote.

    Consumers are being “gouged” by excessive fees, but they don’t have any choice but to pay them if they want to get to their destination, Markey said.

    The problem is especially problem severe in rural communities served by only a single airline, Democrats said.

    “When there is no competition, there is bad behavior,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

    Republicans said the provision would be burdensome for airlines and market forces should be allowed to determine fee prices.

    “I don’t think having the Department of Transportation decide what is reasonable or unreasonable is a correct route to go,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the committee’s chairman.

    The bill requires the department to standardize the way airlines disclose fees for basic services so that passengers can more easily comparison-shop the full cost of flights.

    Missing from the bill is any effort to wrest air traffic control operations from the FAA and spin them off into a private, nonprofit corporation. An FAA reauthorization bill that would have privatized air traffic control services was passed last month by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on a mostly party-line vote with Democrats unanimously opposed. The bill has the backing of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and the airline industry, but it was sidelined by House leaders in the face of opposition from other powerful GOP lawmakers and influential segments of the aviation industry.

    The post Airlines dodge legislation aimed at curbing excessive fees appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Denise Scott, 66, of Cleveland, Ohio, gets a subsidy from Medicare to help her pay for some of her prescription drugs. But, next year, some a premium increase may mean some low-income Medicare drug beneficiaries must pay a larger share for their medicine. Photo by Lynn Ischay/Kaiser Health News

    Medicare announced a test program last week to help combat the trend of rising drug prices. Medicare Maven Phil Moeller explains the far-reaching changes. Photo by Lynn Ischay/Kaiser Health News

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, is here to provide the Medicare answers you need in “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Send your questions to Phil.

    In place of our normal dive into the reader mailbag today, I wanted to give you a heads up on a significant announcement the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made last week. It is likely to set in motion far-reaching changes in the way you pay for some and perhaps eventually all of the drugs you buy through Medicare. I say “likely” because the proposal has scads of influential opponents in the medical community and Congress, so its final form and timing are anything but certain. Also, the changes wouldn’t begin until late this year. For these reasons, I’m not going to get too deeply into details today. Rest assured, I will do so when the time is right.

    As I’ve complained repeatedly, Medicare is prohibited from directly negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. This was one of the “free enterprise” provisions that Republicans insisted upon when Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program was enacted in 2003 (the actual Part D plans did not begin until 2006). Preventing Medicare from directly using its powerful leverage to influence drug prices has been a major (but hardly the only) cause of what is now a runaway epidemic of higher drug prices. A government report estimates that prescription drug spending totaled about $424 billion in 2014, up 12.6 percent from 2013, and increased another 8 percent last year to an estimated $457 billion.

    READ MORE: Lower drug prices: Does any candidate have an Rx?

    While no one would accuse the drug industry of taking it easy on consumers when it comes to pricing, the reasons for the increases are not all in the greed department — just mostly.

    The report noted that 10 percent of the increase is due to population growth and another 30 percent caused by a rise in the numbers of prescription drugs we take. A goodly amount of this is undoubtedly due to the industry’s enormous $5 billion annual spending on consumer drug ads. Another 30 percent of the increase was attributed to “economy-wide” inflation, although this is a bit of a head-scratcher, as general inflation has been modest if not nonexistent. The final 30 percent segment was caused by drug prices that increased by more than economy-wide inflation rates and by drug prescribers moving consumers into higher priced medications. This last factor is also one that has been heavily influence by drug companies’ marketing efforts.

    Preventing Medicare from directly using its powerful leverage to influence drug prices has been a major (but hardly the only) cause of what is now a runaway epidemic of higher drug prices.

    To help combat this trend and influence pricing within its limited powers to do so, Medicare announced a test program last week that would change the way some providers are paid for the drugs they prescribe in Part B of Medicare. This is NOT the part of Medicare that covers most drugs. That would be Part D. Part B covers drugs — many expensive ones — that are administered in doctors’ offices or by caregivers in an outpatient setting.

    Annual Part B expenses are less than $20 billion, compared with $140 billion for Part D. But it’s hardly unreasonable to think that changing Part B payments would lead to “tests” of new Part D pricing approaches as well and then perhaps to broader prescription plans for all consumers. Calling this a test is, by the way, disingenuous. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposes that the test will last for five years and be mandatory and that providers (and Medicare beneficiaries) in 75 percent of the country will face pricing changes.

    READ MORE: Big hikes in drug prices make Medicare open enrollment shopping a must

    “Today, Medicare Part B generally pays physicians and hospital outpatient departments the average sales price of a drug, plus a 6 percent add-on,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. “The proposed model would test whether changing the add-on payment to 2.5 percent plus a flat fee payment of $16.80 per drug per day changes prescribing incentives and leads to improved quality and value.”

    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services thinks the current flat 6 percent add-on tilts doctors and other drug prescribers toward using more expensive drugs. The logic is that 6 percent of an expensive drug puts more money in a doctor’s wallet than 6 percent of an inexpensive medication. Including a smaller percentage and a flat payment per drug, the agency says, will encourage doctors to use less expensive drugs that might be equally or even more effective.

    In addition to the pricing shift, the agency also would test a number of other pricing tools, including eliminating consumer cost sharing for Part B drugs, to support the goal of so-called “value based pricing.” This objective is part of a recent law that included provisions to move Medicare away from being a fee-based insurer to one that pays providers for the quality of their care and the improved health of Medicare beneficiaries.

    Later this year, the agency would begin testing the 2.5 percent, $16.80 daily flat-payment approach for some Part B prescribers, while keeping the current 6 percent add-on for others. In 2017, it would split these two groups into four by testing value-based purchasing tools for some providers in each group.

    READ MORE:Your guide to choosing a Medicare drug plan that’s right for you

    Many medical groups, particularly those treating cancer patients and others who take expensive drugs, have issued unusually strong statements of opposition to these changes, saying they will hurt and not help patients by forcing doctors to prescribe less expensive and less useful drugs. The notion that doctors would sacrifice patient welfare for financial gains doesn’t go over so well either.

    In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials, one of those medical groups, the Community Oncology Alliance, said, “we are actively pursuing every legal, legislative, and related option to stop the CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model, which is nothing more than a perverse experiment on cancer care provided to seniors.”

    Many medical groups have issued unusually strong statements of opposition to these changes, saying they will hurt and not help patients by forcing doctors to prescribe less expensive and less useful drugs.

    An earlier letter, signed by more than 100 medical groups, said, “Medicare beneficiaries — representing some of the nation’s oldest and sickest patients — must often try multiple prescription drugs and/or biologics before finding the appropriate treatment for their complex conditions. These patients need immediate access to the right medication, which is already complicated by the fact that treatment decisions may change on a frequent basis. These vulnerable Medicare patients and the providers who care for them already face significant complexities in their care and treatment options, and they should not face mandatory participation in an initiative that may force them to switch from their most appropriate treatment.”

    “There is no evidence,” it added, “that the payment changes contemplated by the model will improve quality of care, and may adversely impact those patients that lose access to their most appropriate treatments. In fact, data suggests that the current Part B drug payment system has been both cost effective and successful in ensuring patient access to their most appropriate treatment, as Part B expenditures remain relatively stable and Part B drugs account for just 3 percent of total program costs.”

    This is a big deal for many reasons. While not doubting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ goal to improve quality and reduce costs, these and other test programs are likely to create very unsettling transition periods.

    Stay tuned and strapped in!

    Clarification: Brady, one of last week’s questioners, described receiving Medicare’s Extra Help benefits to help pay for Medicare and Part B premiums. The Extra Help program is only for Part D prescription drug assistance. The other Medicare support programs mentioned in the answer do involve payments for other Medicare expenses, include Part B premiums.

    The post Get ready for big changes in Medicare drug pricing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said nominating the Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia should fall to the next president. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that the Senate won’t take up the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Just minutes after President Obama introduced Merrick Garland today as his nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans made clear the nomination is going nowhere.

    “It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor moments after the president nominated Garland in a speech in the Rose Garden on Wednesday.

    It’s a controversial position and one that McConnell announced only hours after Scalia died last month. Statements from other Republican senators Wednesday morning indicate they are standing behind McConnell.

    Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been blasting their GOP colleagues for refusing to even meet or consider any Obama pick. Now they have a name to attach to their arguments.

    “I am optimistic that cooler heads will prevail, and sensible Republicans will provide Judge Garland with the fair treatment that a man of his stature and qualifications deserves,” Reid said in a statement. “The American people expect their elected leaders to do their jobs. President Obama is performing his Constitutional duty. I hope Senate Republicans will do theirs.”

    In Garland, Democrats have a veteran judge with a track record of drawing bipartisan support from Senate lawmakers. According to Reid’s office, 32 Senate Republicans, including seven current GOP lawmakers in the upper chamber, voted to confirm Garland to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a 76-23 vote in 1997. Garland became chief judge of the court in 2013.

    Already, clips of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, praising Garland in a speech during his last confirmation fight are are circulating online. Hatch is a senior member of the judiciary committee.

    “I believe that not only is he a fine nominee, but as good as Republicans can expect from [the Clinton administration]. In fact I would put him at the top of the list,” Hatch said in the 1997 speech.

    Despite Garland’s history, Republicans now say they want to focus on the process, not his qualifications. To that end, GOP Senators have been using what they call the “Biden rule” to justify blocking any Obama nomination this year.

    In 1992, then-Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden gave a speech on the Senate floor arguing against President George H.W. Bush nominating someone if a justice retired from the court in an election year.

    “It is my view that if a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow, or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not – and not – name a nominee until after the November election is completed,” Biden said at the time.

    Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Photo by Robin Reid Photography

    President Obama nominated Merrick Garland today to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Photo by Robin Reid Photography

    McConnell cited the Biden Rule today as he defended the GOP leadership’s opposition to Garland’s nomination.

    “The American people may well elect a President who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration. The next President may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filing of this vacancy,” McConnell said.

    Critics have pointed out that there are several examples over the last century of the Senate confirming Supreme Court justices during an election year. Most recently, Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed by a Democrat-controlled Senate in 1988 after being nominated by President Reagan the previous fall.

    House Democratic leaders also chimed in today, calling on Senate Republicans to reverse their position as the White House and allies launched a campaign to pressure McConnell to take up the nomination. Obama announced that Garland will visit Capitol Hill tomorrow to start meeting with senators.

    “President Obama has chosen a respected jurist who embodies wisdom, judgment, and dedication to justice for all Americans,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. “The American people expect Judge Merrick Garland to be given a fair hearing and a timely vote.”

    The post Senate Republicans repeat: No SCOTUS confirmation this year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video by PBS NewsHour

    AUSTIN, Texas — Michelle Obama showed off her vocal chops at the South by Southwest Music Festival but drew a round of disappointed sighs when she told the crowd she has no plans to run for president.

    The first lady made her debut at the Austin showcase of buzzworthy bands and technology on Wednesday, sitting with Grammy winners Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott to talk about girls’ education and empowerment.

    But Mrs. Obama broke into song when reflecting on seven years in the White House. She said “time is almost up” before softly singing some of the Boyz II Men hit “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

    Mrs. Obama says she’ll most miss interacting with people as first lady — but says she has no presidential aspirations of her own.

    “No, no. Not going to do it,” she told the packed convention center crowd in liberal Austin.

    She mentioned her teenage daughters, Malia and Sasha, as two of the main reasons.

    “The daughters of a president. Just think about it. Come on, young people. Not so easy,” Mrs. Obama said. “They’ve handled it with grace and with poise, but enough. Enough.”

    President Barack Obama opened the festival last week with a talk about civic engagement, becoming the first sitting president to attend SXSW in the festival’s 30-year history. He weighed in on Apple’s legal fight against the federal government over encryption, and told a crowd of tech enthusiasts that Republican lawmakers in Texas aren’t interested in making voting easier.

    Mrs. Obama steered clear of hot-button topics. She instead promoted her “Let Girls Learn” initiative, which encourages world leaders to provide education opportunities to an estimated 62 million girls globally who do not attend school.

    She also says she won’t disappear from public view or slow down once she leaves the White House next year.

    “Sometimes there’s much more you can do outside the White House without the constraints, the lights and the cameras, and the partisanship,” Mrs. Obama said. “There’s a potential that my voice can be heard by people who can’t hear me now because I’m Michelle Obama, the first lady. I want to be able to impact as many people as possible in an unbiased way to try to keep reaching people. I think I can do that just as well by not being president of the United States.”

    The post Michelle Obama tells SXSW crowd she won’t run for president appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January 2016, bows during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on Feb. 29, 2016. Warmbier was detained for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda banner from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. Photo by Kyodo via Reuters

    Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January 2016, bows during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on Feb. 29, 2016. Warmbier was detained for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda banner from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to “severe crimes” against the state, the North’s official media said. Photo by Kyodo via Reuters

    An American student was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for committing crimes against the state, the country’s Supreme Court found.

    Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate from Ohio, was convicted of subversion and sentenced in a trial lasting one hour.

    Warmbier was detained in January after he reportedly tried to steal a political banner from a hotel in Pyongyang. At a press conference on Feb. 28, Warmbier tearfully confessed to the act. He stated that he was put up to the task by an acquaintance from a church back home in Ohio in exchange for a used car. He also said that a secret organization at the University of Virginia, the “Z Society,” had also encouraged him.

    On Tuesday, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson met with North Korean diplomats at the United Nations to discuss the release of Warmbier, the New York Times reported. Richardson has travelled to North Korea several times in the past on diplomatic missions to secure the release of American prisoners. Richardson was requested to become involved in Warmbier’s case by Ohio Gov. and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich.

    Kasich’s office released a statement on Wednesday calling for Warmbier’s release: “North Korea should immediately release Otto Warmbier and let him return to his family here in Ohio. His detention was completely unjustified and the sentence North Korea imposed on him is an affront to concepts of justice.”

    With tensions rising between the United States and North Korea over the Asian country’s nuclear weapons and missile activities, Richardson said this will not strengthen prospects of obtaining Warmbier’s release. “My concern now is that the U.S.-North Korean relationship is in very low, negative ebb, and I hope that does not affect a humanitarian negotiation for the release of Otto,” Richardson told The Associated Press.

    The United States and North Korea do not have official diplomatic relations; the case is being handled by the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which handles consular affairs for Americans. On March 3, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the detained student received a visit from a Swedish official the previous day and that the United States is working closely with the Swedes.

    The post North Korea sentences American student to 15 years of hard labor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Candles are pictured outside the Medecins Sans Frontieres headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 7, 2015. The U.S. military took responsibility for a deadly air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, calling it a mistake and vowing to hold people accountable. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    Candles are pictured outside the Medecins Sans Frontieres headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 7, 2015, after a deadly air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — More than a dozen U.S. military personnel have been disciplined — but face no criminal charges — for mistakes that led to the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital that killed 42 people in Afghanistan last year, U.S. defense officials say.

    The punishments, which have not been publicly announced, are largely administrative. But in some cases the actions, such as letters of reprimand, are tough enough to effectively end chances for further promotion. The military has previously said some personnel were suspended from their duties but has given no further details.

    The disciplined include both officers and enlisted personnel, but officials said none are generals.

    The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the outcomes publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said the disciplinary process is nearly complete. It is derived from a military investigation of the Oct. 3, 2015, attack, the results of which are expected to be made public in a partially redacted form in coming days.

    Sandra Murillo, a spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders, said the charity would not comment on disciplinary actions until the Pentagon communicates its decisions directly to the group or makes a public announcement.

    The hospital, run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders in the northern city of Kunduz, was attacked by a U.S. Air Force special operations AC-130 gunship, one of the most lethal in the U.S. arsenal. Doctors Without Borders called the attack “relentless and brutal” and demanded an international investigation, but none has been undertaken.

    Army Gen. John Campbell, who was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time but has since relinquished command, has called it a “tragic but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error.”

    The attack was unleashed as U.S. military advisers were helping Afghan forces retake Kunduz, which had fallen to the Taliban on Sept. 28. It was the first major city to fall since the Taliban were expelled from Kabul in 2001.

    Afghan officials claimed the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban, but no evidence of that has surfaced. The hospital was destroyed and Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym, MSF, ceased operations in Kunduz.

    President Barack Obama apologized for the attack, which was one of the deadliest assaults on civilians in the 15-year war.

    The U.S. command in Kabul said in February that it has expressed condolences and offered payment to more than 140 families and individuals affected by the attack.

    In November the U.S. military provided an outline of what happened. It said the crew of the AC-130 gunship, which is armed with side-firing cannons and guns, had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a different building, 450 yards away from the hospital. However, hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at the hospital even though they saw no hostile activity there.

    Many chances to avert the error were missed, officials said.

    At a November news conference, Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, a spokesman for Campbell, said the actions taken by the U.S. aircrew were “not appropriate” to the threat they faced, suggesting that a number of them could be faulted.

    Campbell and Shoffner said that neither the U.S. Special Forces commander who called in the strike at the request of Afghan forces, nor the U.S. aircrew, was aware that a hospital was being hit until it was too late.

    The main U.S. military investigation was completed on Nov. 15 but has not yet been publicly released. U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and across the greater Mideast, rejected in December an AP Freedom of Information Act request for the report, which it said was approximately 5,000 pages long.

    A separate U.S. report on the incident, obtained last fall by The Associated Press, said the AC-130 aircraft fired 211 shells at the hospital compound over 29 minutes before commanders realized the mistake and ordered a halt. Doctors Without Borders officials contacted coalition military personnel during the attack to say the hospital was “being ‘bombed’ from the air,” and the word finally was relayed to the AC-130 crew, the report said.

    In an interview with reporters last week, Campbell, who is retiring on May 1, said the fall of Kunduz was a surprise — perhaps even to the Taliban.

    “They had no clue they were going to take over Kunduz,” he said. The insurgents had infiltrated a small number of fighters and attacked a prison in the city, he said.

    “They got in the prison and the police just kind of left,” and so the Taliban decided to keep pressing with the help of other Afghan police who colluded with the Taliban and were “bought off,” Campbell said.

    U.S. special operations forces were then sent to the area in support of Afghan forces.

    Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

    The post More than 12 punished for mistaken Afghan hospital attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who left his base in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban, now faces a court-martial. In a newly released transcript, he talks about what happened that day.

    Bergdahl’s civilian lawyer, Eugene Fidell, has been pushing for the public release of documents pertaining to the case, including Bergdahl’s 371-page statement to the Army’s senior investigating officer. Fidell recently released this transcript to the PBS NewsHour and the New York Times.

    Full Transcript of Bowe Bergdahl Statement

    In August 2014, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was questioned by Major Gen. Kenneth Dahl (now a lieutenant general) about the circumstances around his leaving his base in Afghanistan in 2009. One of the legal issues his defense team plans to raise is the final charges include misbehavior before the enemy, which Dahl did not bring up when he spoke to Bergdahl in 2014.

    The story begins before Bergdahl walked off the rural Army outpost in June 2009, launching a 45-day search. Bergdahl said he had a strict, home-schooled upbringing. A natural introvert, he took dance classes to learn how to socialize. He considered Bruce Lee a role model for his physical and mental prowess.

    The now-29-year-old Idaho native said he wanted a job that would make a difference but wasn’t sure how to pursue one. He tried to join the French Foreign Legion — “it was an adventurous-sounding idea” — but after undergoing a physical wasn’t accepted because of his eyesight.

    He next tried the U.S. Coast Guard. “In my mind, it has a very extremely prestigious, honorable mission on American soil.” But boot camp was more intense than he expected.

    “I wasn’t planning on making contact with the Taliban at all. The idea was not to make contact with them but actually to just trail them.” — Bowe Bergdahl
    “I ended up having a panic attack, about three weeks into it.” He was discharged from the Coast Guard. “The fact that I had failed at that, never settled.”

    Because he got an uncharacterized discharge, he was able to reenlist. This time, he chose the Army, thinking he could prove himself among its ranks. His first choice was to be an Army scout, but they only had room for him in the infantry.

    Bergdahl joined with the mindset that he would be part of a team, but he admitted in the interview that he also was aware that if someone had a personal agenda, others could suffer. “As they say in the military, ‘The sh** falls downhill.’”

    He said at the National Training Center in California, he encountered some military leaders he respected, but others he questioned. Privates couldn’t use their cellphones, but sergeants could play the computer game World of War Craft. He spent his days “picking up cigarette butts and trash.”

    At a live fire exercise, even though there were no targets for the soldiers, he was told to “Just burn through your ammunition.” He described squabbles among leaders and conflicting orders. “Everything I saw stayed in the back of my mind.”

    Bergdahl’s initial deployment to Afghanistan was delayed for a few months so he could recover from a staph infection. When he finally joined his unit, for missions that included hunting for improvised explosive devices, he said he witnessed more troubling interactions with subordinates, unfair punishment, pettiness and confusion.

    “When I got there, nobody told me what the security situation was. Nobody told me how active the Taliban are in this area. Nobody told me what the proper guidelines were to dealing with everyday being out there in the field. No one told me anything.”

    After a particularly bad run-in his unit had with a commanding officer, he said, “My platoon was suddenly taking fire from the command.” He was worried they would be sent on suicide missions, and no one would listen to his fears.

    “I am not someone who is going to say, ‘Well, just let somebody else deal with it,’ especially in a situation like that. That could very easily lead to somebody being killed. So I had to come up with a plan.”

    Letter of Diagnosis

    In July 2015, an Army forensic psychiatrist issued a report diagnosing Bergdahl with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition marked by distorted perceptions, eccentric behavior and “magical” thinking, at the time of his alleged misconduct.

    Bergdahl wanted the ear of someone even higher ranking than his battalion commander. He learned that if a soldier disappears, a process kicks in that not only goes all the way up the Army command but the Air Force and Marines as well. “It goes all the way back to the States. It goes to every high point and everybody finds out about it.” And he would get his audience with a general.

    His plan was to trigger the process and in the meantime maybe pick up some intelligence about where Taliban fighters were planting explosives. “I wasn’t planning on making contact with the Taliban at all,” he said. “The idea was not to make contact with them but actually to just trail them.”

    READ MORE: ‘For about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded’

    Bergdahl called the claim that he is a Taliban sympathizer “a complete joke” and refuted the notion that he is a deserter. “You would have to be completely stupid to think that you could desert in the middle of a war zone,” he said.

    He started his journey to the base in Sharana, about 20 miles away, dressed in Afghan garb over his uniform and carrying a few hundred dollars in cash in case he needed it for bribes, when he was picked up by members of the Taliban on motorcycles. There were six of them and they had AK-47s, he said.

    “You are not going to do any Hollywood cool guy stuff at that point,” Bergdahl said.

    U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. Photo by Reuters TV

    Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. Photo by Reuters TV

    They tied him up and took him to a village. “My hands are behind my back. I am kneeling on the ground. They throw a blanket over my head and they leave,” Bergdahl recounted. He tried to nudge off his blindfold with his knee. “I know there [are] kids there because they are throwing pebbles at me and stuff.”

    His captors transferred him from house to house, then village to village. He was taken to a mountain and met Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior Afghan militant. The Taliban took a cellphone video of him.

    In all, Bergdahl was held for nearly five years. He was released on May 31, 2014 as part of a controversial prisoner swap for five Taliban commanders detained at the U.S. jail in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Two months later, at the time of the Army’s interview, he still had a sore back from sitting cross-legged on the floor for most of the five years.

    His court-martial is set to begin on Aug. 8.

    The post For the first time, read Bowe Bergdahl’s explanation for why he walked off base appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (2nd R) leaves the courthouse with his defense attorney, Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt (L), after an arraignment hearing for his court-martial in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, December 22, 2015. Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban prisoner after walking away from his combat outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, did not enter a plea on Tuesday at his arraignment on charges spurred by his disappearance.   REUTERS/Jonathan Drake - RTX1ZSBO

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    GWEN IFILL: A sincere, if misguided, young soldier, or a deserter and even a traitor?

    Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who walked off his post in June 2009, now faces court-martial on charges of desertion and endangering troops.

    Still unclear, what motivated Bergdahl to leave his comrades.

    The “PBS NewsHour” and The New York Times were recently provided with the transcript of Bergdahl’s only interview with the Army’s top investigating officer, in which the sergeant lays out what made him do it.

    Jeffrey Brown has the exclusive details.

    JEFFREY BROWN: May 31, 2014.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This morning, I called Bob and Jani Bergdahl, and told them that, after nearly five years in captivity, their son Bowe is coming home.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release came after the U.S. agreed to free five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay. To some, the announcement brought joy and relief. But others, including soldiers who served in his unit, saw something different.

    JOSH KORDER, Former U.S. Army Sergeant: It’s very frustrating to me to see Bergdahl’s family on the TV being shown to everyone. He’s, at best, a deserter and, at worst, a traitor.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Five years earlier, Bergdahl had served at a remote outpost called Mest Malak in Southeastern Afghanistan. This is one of the post’s observation points on the top of a hill.

    And these are the last known pictures of Bergdahl in the days before he walked off the post. He was captured by the Taliban the day after he left.

    SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL, U.S. Army: All’s I was seeing was basically leadership failure.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Bergdahl had told the podcast “Serial” that leadership problems were endangering his unit, and that he planned to hike to another post to alert a senior Army commander.

    SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL: I was fully confident that when somebody actually took a look at the situation, and when people started investigating the situation, that people would understand that I was right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now there’s more insight into Bergdahl’s thinking. It comes in a transcript provided exclusively to the “NewsHour” and The New York Times by his attorney from an interview Bergdahl gave two months after his release to the Army’s senior investigating officer.

    In it, he speaks of concerns he had with immediate commanders from the very beginning of his enlistment.

    Here, for example, in a passage read by a “NewsHour” producer, he described a platoon inspection before his deployment to Afghanistan.

    PRODUCER: “The sergeant major opens with: ‘I know you all joined because you want to rape, pillage, and kill. That’s why I joined. However, you need to think about counterinsurgency.’ I was a little taken aback by it, because that’s not why I joined.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: Bergdahl’s lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, spoke to the “NewsHour”‘s Dan Sagalyn:

    EUGENE FIDELL, Attorney for Bowe Bergdahl: He takes things literally that are said to him. He came into the Army with some ideals, and he had a notion of what the Army was about and what the environment that he was going to be in with was going to be like. And it sounds to me like he was quite surprised to have this kind of guidance.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Elsewhere in the transcript, Bergdahl talked of his first mission in Afghanistan, a night patrol in which his job was to look for explosive devices. One of his commanders, he told the Army investigator, yelled at him to speed up the search.

    PRODUCER: “Hurry up goes against the common sense. He was just saying, there’s a possible mine field in front of you. Hurry up and go hit a mine. That’s amazing coming from the person sitting back in the car or in the truck. You’re telling me to hurry up in situations I shouldn’t be hurrying. That was my first mission. That was my first experience in Afghanistan. And that basically continued.”

    EUGENE FIDELL: I think that Sergeant Bergdahl expected that his command, that his superiors in the chain of command would be attentive to his personal safety and the personal safety of other members of the unit.

    And the kind of instruction or reaction that he got from a fellow soldier in that particular incident displayed an indifference to personnel safety.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Later, Bergdahl spoke of the possibility he’d be sent on a suicide mission. It was around this point that he decided to leave the base.

    PRODUCER: “What could happen is this battalion commander could see us, my platoon, as this stain on his reputation. Now, sending us on a suicide mission wouldn’t be the first in military history. Somebody doing — somebody giving out an order on personal agendas or off personal grievances, it is not going to be a first in military history.”

    EUGENE FIDELL: Feeling that there was no alternative way to get his concerns about circumstances in the unit and the lack of leadership in the unit, Sergeant Bergdahl concluded that he had to get to a higher echelon. His view was that the way to do that was to walk over land.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Nonsense, says former Army lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Corn.

    LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN (RET.), Former Army Lawyer: His concerns over the unit originated long before he ended up on that combat outpost. So what did he do about it? Did he talk to the chaplain? Did he go see the inspector general? Did he try and see any of the superior officers in the chain of command?

    Those are all options that a soldier has. Is it possible there were decisions or statements where we say, that might have been a little bit cavalier or maybe a subordinate would have been concerned about what they were being asked to do? Of course. This is the nature of the military. It’s the nature of combat operations.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Last July, an Army forensic psychiatrist issued a report diagnosing Bergdahl with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition marked by distorted perceptions, eccentric behavior, and magical thinking.

    Bergdahl’s attorney adds that his client’s problems were known earlier, when he was discharged from the Coast Guard, and that he shouldn’t have been allowed to enlist in the Army.

    EUGENE FIDELL: Sergeant Bergdahl was released prematurely from U.S. Coast Guard boot camp at Cape May, New Jersey, because of a psychological or psychiatric incident. That, in turn, required him to get a waiver in order to be enlisted into the Army. For reasons I’m unable to explain, he was given that waiver. The Army has said, well, we think it was an OK thing to do. That will be an issue at the trial.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Geoffrey Corn says Bergdahl’s mental state could be a relevant factor in the later part of the court-martial.

    LT. COL. GEOFFREY CORN: I think it would be a consideration in sentencing, but it’s no surprise that, when the military is trying to fill the ranks in an all-volunteer force in a time where it’s hard to bring in the number of recruits they need, that they accept greater risk with the people they bring in, although I do find it somewhat ironic that, based on public information that we have seen, that members of his unit thought that, up to this point, he was a fairly good soldier.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, the results of the Bergdahl investigation produced a dramatic split within top Army ranks. The senior Army investigator, Lieutenant General Kenneth Dahl, recommended that Bergdahl not face prison time, saying it would be — quote — “inappropriate.”

    But in December, a higher official, General Robert Abrams, ruled that a court-martial should go ahead. The trial is tentatively scheduled to start in August. If convicted of all charges, Bergdahl could face life imprisonment.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown.

    GWEN IFILL: You can read more about what else Bergdahl told the senior Army investigating officer, including the full transcript itself. All that is on our home page, PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post Why did Bowe Bergdahl leave his post? Army transcript sheds light appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House after being nominated by President Barack Obama (not pictured) to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 16, 2016.       REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTSAQQI

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: If confirmed, he’d become the third justice appointed to the Supreme Court by President Obama. So, who is Merrick Garland?

    To answer that question, we turn to Seth Waxman. He was the U.S. solicitor general under President Clinton, in charge of that administration’s cases before the Supreme Court. He now focuses on Supreme Court litigation in private practice. And Marcia Coyle, chief Washington correspondent for “The National Law Journal” and a “NewsHour” regular.

    And welcome to you both.

    So, Seth Waxman, you have known Merrick Garland since you were in college together. What should we know about him?

    SETH WAXMAN, Former Solicitor General: Merrick Garland is a grand slam nominee for the Supreme Court, not just a home run, but a grand slam nominee.

    He has every qualification to be a truly great Supreme Court justice. He is — he has a very keen intellect. He thinks, writes and speaks very clearly. He is the consummate collegial human being in his personal life and in his professional life. He is a terrific, terrific, and always has been a terrific listener to other people’s views.

    He decides everything very deliberately. He is a very careful person, a very considerate person. I doubt very much that there is anybody who has known Merrick Garland personally or has been a professional colleague or adversary of his that wouldn’t say that this man has all the qualifications to be an important jurist and a valued colleague for the other Supreme Court justices, whatever their jurisprudential views.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s quite an endorsement.

    Marcia Coyle, where does he fit on the ideological spectrum?

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Well, I think his reputation is as a centrist. And he has that reputation because you can’t peg him as always liberal or always conservative.

    He is not, on the D.C. Circuit, always pro-government when agency cases come before him. He’s not always pro-environmentalist, or pro-business. He is in the middle. So, on those types of cases that the D.C. Circuit gets — and that court has a very heavy, steady diet of federal regulatory cases — he is a centrist.

    What we don’t know is how he might rule in sort of the culture war issues that currently are now before the Supreme Court, because he hasn’t had those types of issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Because those are the type cases that presumably don’t come up.

    MARCIA COYLE: That’s right, Judy.

    But it is fair to say that President Obama wouldn’t have nominated someone like Justice Scalia, for example. He nominated Merrick Garland because at least he sees in Merrick Garland, aside from his really unassailable qualifications, someone who shares a similar approach to the law.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you add to that, Seth Waxman?

    SETH WAXMAN: You know, I think Merrick has a reputation for being a centrist, a prudent jurist.

    And I want to say that, you know, since we were in college together, Merrick has had the deserved reputation for being a careful, deliberate, prudent person. I don’t mean to say that he’s timid. He makes decisions, and he makes them when they have to be made, and he makes difficult decisions, but he doesn’t decide anything, he doesn’t decide things in his — with the exception of his decision to marry Lynn, he doesn’t decide things based on emotion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Which he mentioned today at the…


    SETH WAXMAN: And he doesn’t make decisions based on the received wisdom of other people. He doesn’t say, oh, well, all these people that I respect think this, so I should think that.

    You know, Merrick goes back to first principles when deciding things like which ski run to take when we’re skiing together. He is a careful, prudent person. And, you know, honestly, in the 45 years we have known each other, I don’t think that we have ever had a political discussion.

    Nobody would call me politically astute, and nobody would call Merrick politically active. I honestly can say I don’t know what his views are on some of these hot-button issues. I think the president’s decision to nominate him reflects a determination to make an unassailable, merits nomination.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia, how does this — you were telling — you were saying to us earlier this is kind of an unprecedented situation, where the Senate is not only saying we’re not going to hold hearings. Many of the Republicans are saying, we don’t even want to meet with him.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes, that’s true.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this compare with other nominations?

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, it doesn’t compare with any in my past, and I have covered confirmation hearings and nominations since the Robert Bork hearings in 1987.

    Even as controversial as Robert Bork was, the Senate did have a hearing. To say they — some — some senators to say they wouldn’t even meet Judge Garland, I think, is unprecedented, and, you know, personally, a little disrespectful. This is a presidential nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Seth Waxman, finally, you know, it’s already being said that Merrick Garland is a sacrificial lamb, that, given the disposition of the Senate majority, that he isn’t going to get a hearing, that his name is being put out there and it’s going nowhere. Is he prepared — knowing him, is he prepared to be just that?

    SETH WAXMAN: Well, I should say that, as close as I feel to Merrick, I haven’t spoken to him since Justice Scalia passed away. We haven’t had a conversation on this.

    But, based on what I know about him, I can tell you that he is the kind of person who I think feels tremendously honored to have been nominated, to have been even considered by the president. And he doesn’t — he’s not the kind of person who holds a grudge or gets angry or ever displays anger.

    If it turns out that he’s not given a fair, respectful treatment by the Senate, it would be regrettable for the nation, but he will go on being a terrific jurist as the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Seth Waxman, Marcia Coyle, we thank you both.

    SETH WAXMAN: Thank you.

    MARCIA COYLE: Thank you, Judy.

    GWEN IFILL: Now that the president has announced his nomination for the Supreme Court vacancy, the responsibility falls squarely on the Senate to act or perhaps, in this case, not to act.

    I spoke a short time ago to two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, first, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

    Welcome, Senator.

    As you probably are aware, several of your Republican colleagues have said they at least plan to meet with Judge Merrick Garland. Do you plan to?

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah: We’re friends. I would be happy to meet with him any time, but it isn’t going to change the viewpoint.

    And the viewpoint is, is that we ought to put this off until the next election, or until after the election, so that it’s fair to both sides and we get it out of this what really — what really is a toxic presidential election process. It’s just terrible.

    GWEN IFILL: So, you’re saying if this were not a toxic election process, it would be OK for any president to be able to make his nominee?

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, it depends.

    It depends on — you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen after this election, but putting it off until after the election seems to me to be a wise thing to do. It will bring people together better than just trying to ram it through this time.

    GWEN IFILL: Does it seem right to you that this should be about the election process, rather than about the quality of the nominee?

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Yes, look, the quality of the nominee isn’t an issue. The person is not an issue.

    What is an issue is, should we do this during this toxic presidential election process? Because you have seen over the recent years — and the Democrats started this when they really destroyed Bork, who was one of the all-time great legal minds.

    GWEN IFILL: So you’re saying — let me just get this right — that, all things being equal, if this were not an election year, but it was still this president making the nomination, knowing what you know about Merrick Garland, you could conceive of supporting him?

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, I didn’t say that. I’m saying that, you know, we have only had a very few times in history where somebody has been put up during a presidential election year.

    1916 was the last effective time, and that’s when Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes decided to leave the court and run for president. We had one other time when Judge Kennedy was confirmed after — during a presidential year, but he was nominated in the year before, and that only came after the toxic, you know, Bork proceedings, where his reputation was really attacked viciously by Democrats.

    So — and I can tell you this. If the table were turned and this was — and the Democrats are in charge, I guarantee you — or excuse me — Republicans had the presidency, I guarantee you the Democrats wouldn’t do anything different from what the Republicans are doing.

    And I think it’s only right.

    GWEN IFILL: So, since so much of the toxicity, as you describe it, in this election has happened on the Republican side of the competition, do you worry that if a Democrat were elected president, you may have missed a chance to at least hear — hold a hearing for someone you who might actually find more acceptable than a Democrat, the next Democrat might nominate?

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, I think it’s been toxic on both sides, and it’s going to get worse, as far as I can see. So, you know, the Democrat election hasn’t been a walk in the park either.

    But I will tell you one thing I’m tired of. And that is, when it comes to the Supreme Court, we should all be venerating that court and venerating the people on it. And to put them through — put even a good candidate through this toxic process during a presidential election, which really hasn’t been done before in this way, I think, is a tremendous — would be a tremendous mistake.

    And Republicans just aren’t going to do that. Neither would Democrats. If the position was changed and it was the other way around, the Democrats wouldn’t be going ahead either.

    GWEN IFILL: So, what happens next? We just go through the motions for a couple months?

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, I think — I think people ought to start accepting that the Republicans are not going to do this at this time, in this presidential election.

    But there will come a time when it will have to be done, regardless of who is president. And, yes, to answer your question, yes, I would prefer having a Republican president, because I think you will get better judges.

    But, you know, if Mrs. Clinton is elected, she’s certainly going to be able to appoint the judges that she thinks are the better type of judges. And they will be much more liberal than the judges and certainly justices that the Republicans would promote.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, I suppose that’s the gamble then.

    Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, thank you very much.

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, nice to be with you.

    GWEN IFILL: Now we turn to a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota.

    Senator, what do you make of the nominee that was put forward this morning, and, also, the Republican reaction to him already?

    SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), Minnesota: Well, I think he was a great choice.

    I have been hearing about Judge Garland for a long time. He, I know, was in the running for Justice Kagan’s seat, and I think maybe Sotomayor’s. I have heard great things about him from a number of friends, including from Orrin Hatch, my Republican colleague from Utah, who is on the Judiciary Committee.

    I think that this was a great nominee because he’s a consensus-builder. He’s widely respected. And I think that my Republican colleagues who are taking a very unpopular position with the American people, which was not to meet with, not to give a hearing to the president’s nomination, not to do the job that’s there in the Constitution for us to do, to provide advice and consent, I think they’re going to back off of that, and I think we’re going to have a hearing and a vote on Judge Garland.

    GWEN IFILL: What indication do you have that that’s going to happen? They have been as tough and firmer today, if anything, about their — Senator McConnell has, even Senator Hatch has — that this is not going to happen. How do you get around that?

    SEN. AL FRANKEN: Well, for example, the chairman of the committee, Chairman Grassley, has said that he wouldn’t meet with the — any nominee, and, today, he announced that he was going to have a phone call with Judge Garland to discuss a meeting.

    I don’t think you announce that you’re calling — having a phone call to discuss a meeting unless you’re going to have a meeting. So it feels like they’re softening. And I know that there are seven meetings scheduled from Republican senators, including someone as conservative as Senator Inhofe.

    I think that has to do with the unbelievably stellar job that Judge Garland did on the Oklahoma City bombing.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, I certainly don’t have to tell that you saying that you’re open to a meeting is not saying that you’re opening to a hearing or saying that you’re opening to bringing it to a vote on the floor of the Senate.

    SEN. AL FRANKEN: I’m — I’m aware of that.

    What I was saying is, it represents a softening of their position. It represents movement that happened in the first hours after he announced this nomination. So, that seems to be movement in the right direction.

    And I think, you know, the American people have spoken pretty clearly in polls, about 2-1, saying this is a — this is a lousy idea for Republicans not to do what’s in the Constitution, our responsibility in the Constitution, which is provide advice and consent, which we have been doing through hearings since 1916. They refuse to have a hearing, and they refuse to vote on this at their peril.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Franken, you’re a pretty liberal guy. What do you say to progressives who think the president missed an opportunity to make a more liberal pick?

    SEN. AL FRANKEN: I think the president made a wise pick.

    I — the White House reached out to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, asked us what kind of nominee we’d like to see. I said, I want somebody who, at the end of the hearings, the American people will say, “I want nine of those to be the Supreme Court. That’s what I would like. I would like nine of those.”

    And it seems to me, from everything I know and I have heard about Judge Garland, that you would want nine of those.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, thank you very much.

    SEN. AL FRANKEN: Thank you, Gwen.

    The post Who is Merrick Garland? Legal analysts review his record — and his chance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Republican U.S. presidential candidate Marco Rubio announces the suspension of his presidential campaign during a rally in Miami, Florida March 15, 2016.    REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTSAM7A

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the latest on the presidential race of 2016.

    Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump scored big wins in Tuesday’s voting, and hold narrow leads in Missouri, where the races have not yet been called. But their remaining challengers are soldiering on.

    GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), Republican Presidential Candidate: Isn’t it interesting, for the first time, people are getting to see my name, my face, and hear my message, because I labored in obscurity?


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Governor John Kasich got right back to campaigning this morning, hoping for a new lease on political life, after claiming his first win in his own home state, Ohio.

    AUDIENCE: Kasich! Kasich! Kasich!

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kasich’s victory was the only loss last night for Donald Trump. But the New York billionaire steamrolled to victories in Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: We’re going to go forward, and we’re going to win. But, more importantly, we’re going to win for the country. We’re going to win, win, win, and we’re not stopping.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Counting results from Missouri, Trump now has 673 delegates, well ahead of the competition, and more than half what’s needed to win the GOP nomination.

    On CNN this morning, Trump warned of possible trouble if he keeps building strength and then is blocked by fellow Republicans.

    DONALD TRUMP: I think we will win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn’t, and if we’re 20 votes short or if we’re 100 short, and we’re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically. I think it would be — I think you would have riots.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Texas Senator Ted Cruz is Trump’s closest rival, with 411 delegates, despite his failure to come in first anywhere on Tuesday.

    With Florida Senator Marco Rubio dropping out last night, Cruz insisted it’s now a two-man race.

    SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination, ours and Donald Trump’s. Only one campaign has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over again.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former House Speaker John Boehner had said he might back his own successor, Paul Ryan, for president at the GOP Convention. But Ryan said today he wouldn’t accept the nomination.

    DONALD TRUMP: But I think we have had enough.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, FOX News canceled a debate scheduled for next Monday, after first Trump and then Kasich said they wouldn’t attend.

    On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is moving on after a sweep of wins in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio last night.

    HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: This is another Super Tuesday for our campaign.


    HILLARY CLINTON: We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The contests, including still-uncalled Missouri, brought her delegate count to 1,606, more than two-thirds of what is needed for the Democratic nomination. That puts her far ahead of Bernie Sanders, who has 851.

    The candidates now turn toward contests in three Western states next Tuesday, Arizona, Utah and Idaho.

    For more of last night’s results and what’s ahead this campaign cycle we turn to Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, and Reid Wilson, chief political correspondent for The Morning Consult.

    And welcome back to both of you.

    So, let’s start by talking about the Democrats.

    Susan, let’s look at — you have looked at these exit polls last night, what the voters were saying. Are there messages there for Hillary Clinton? What should she take away from what happened yesterday?

    SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Hillary Clinton continues to have challenges we have seen all along in this election cycle. She does very poorly among voters under 30.

    Sanders is carrying them by about 7-1. And she scores poorly on the issue of, is she honest and trustworthy? This is actually a challenge that she shares with Donald Trump. And there are things that she needs to address.

    On the other hand, she probably has — went for five for five, if Missouri goes the way it seems to be going. That’s a big victory, especially after that surprise defeat in Michigan a week ago, when it looked like Sanders might be coming from behind in those — in a big Midwestern state. That didn’t prove to be the case in Ohio.

    So, overall, I think the message for Hillary Clinton is, she is on the verge of having an unstoppable lead in getting the number of delegates she will need to become the first woman ever nominated by a major party for president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Reid, what else do you see in what the results were yesterday?

    REID WILSON, Morning Consult: Susan makes a good point about Donald Trump’s honest and trustworthy problem here.

    We have got two party nomination contests that are nearing an end. Donald Trump has a plausible path to the Republican nomination. Ted Cruz’s is much more troubling. But if we have got a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton general election, both candidates are going to start with extremely high negative ratings, and honest and trustworthy questions from within their own party.

    It’s not just Democrats who don’t like Trump. It’s Republicans, too, who have big questions about him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But on the Democratic side, what — can you read something into this? We keep hearing they believe that many voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. But what is that getting at? What are they saying?

    REID WILSON: Well, Democrats are looking, by and large, for a candidate who can win in November.

    And when you ask them which candidate is most electable, which candidate has the experience to be president, Hillary Clinton wins by leaps and bounds among those candidates, as widely as Bernie Sanders does among younger voters, who are his biggest supporters.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What were you going to add?

    SUSAN PAGE: I was going to say, Hillary Clinton has another problem in this FBI investigation into her use of a private e-mail server when she was secretary of state.

    And I think that bothers some voters and people are waiting to see, what does the FBI conclude? Could she even be indicted? She says that’s not a possibility. But that’s the one thing that gives people some pause. And it gives the Democrats some chills as they go toward — down the path of making her the all-but-certain nominee.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as we showed, she’s way ahead in delegates, Reid, but Bernie Sanders is still in the race. He didn’t do very well yesterday. But he says he’s not going away. But what is his role at this point?

    REID WILSON: Well, Bernie Sanders has the money to continue on. He has got the tens of millions of dollars. He’s been very successful at raising money, especially from small-dollar donors.

    He spent last night in Arizona, which, as we have said, is the next contest down the road, and barely mentioned during his speech last night that voting had happened anywhere else.

    Sanders’ role, though, is still to try to nudge the party to the left. And he has been successful in that, in moving Hillary Clinton to the left on a number of key issues over the last couple of months. Clinton, though, has signaled that she’s sort of wrapping up the Democratic nomination, maybe in her own head, ready to move on to a general.

    She spent all of her victory speech last night talking about Donald Trump, not about Bernie Sanders.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, how much does Hillary Clinton have to continue to contend with Bernie Sanders?

    SUSAN PAGE: Well, last night, she said, congratulations on your vigorous campaign, and then she ignored him. She turned entirely to Donald Trump.

    But the fact is, she probably won’t get over the finish line maybe until early June. And Bernie Sanders will be in this race. Hillary Clinton has a hard argument to make that he needs to get out, because, you know what, eight years ago, Barack Obama was making the same argument to her, and she stayed in until the very end.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, let’s talk about — some more about the Republicans, Reid.

    Donald Trump didn’t win every state. John Kasich won his home state, his first win, in Ohio. But where does Trump sit right now on the road to the nomination?

    REID WILSON: He sits better than anybody else does by a long shot. He grew his lead over Ted Cruz, his nearest competitor, by nearly 200 pledge delegates, once all the final numbers are sussed out from last night.

    And the other two candidates are having to explain more and more how their path forward exists. John Kasich has won so few delegates, that it’s almost mathematically impossible for him to get to a nomination.

    On the other hand, Ted Cruz is trying to force Kasich out of the race. There’s an argument to be made, though, that if the two of them focus on their core voters, very conservative voters for Ted Cruz, more moderate, centrist voters for John Kasich, that that is the only path forward for both of them by denying Donald Trump a majority at the convention in Cleveland.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s interesting, Susan, because you also hear the argument that, if one of them drops out, it becomes a one-on-one, and thus a better chance to stand up to Donald Trump.

    SUSAN PAGE: I know that the Trump people wanted to win in Ohio, and, obviously, that would have been a big victory. But the fact is, you can make the argument that this is helpful to Donald Trump.

    Now, John Kasich is in this race. It denies Ted Cruz what he’s wanted for so long, which is to go head to head against Donald Trump. I think it makes this — I think it makes things easier for Trump in a way. Trump now needs to get, what, about 55 percent, of the remaining convention delegates.

    That is probably a doable number in a three-person race, especially when where John Kasich, it’s really hard to see the state that he wins. I don’t think John Kasich is likely to meet the rule that allows him to be nominated at the convention. You have to have a majority of delegates in eight states.

    He now has one. Only Donald Trump has gotten over the margin only — over that hurdle of being — having a majority of delegates in eight states. So, Kasich, you know, he goes to Pennsylvania today. Pennsylvania doesn’t even vote for a month. There’s a long interval here where I think Donald Trump will be getting convention delegates and John Kasich won’t.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s interesting about the eight states. I think a lot of people have not focused on that.

    But given that sort of interregnum period we’re going into when there are not very many contests, what does Donald Trump need to be doing? You mentioned some of the problems he still has with voters’ perceptions of him.

    REID WILSON: Well, I mean, what he needs to be doing is probably the opposite of what he will do.

    He has been rewriting the playbook of how a modern presidential campaign has been operating for the longest time. I think what he needs to do is to begin convincing voters, especially the centrists and independents who are going to decide this election, that he is, in fact, presidential, that he can do something other than take shots at his opponents or take shots at the media or Megyn Kelly on FOX News or whoever the target of the day is.

    And if he can do that, then I think Hillary Clinton has got something to worry about in November if it’s a Trump-Clinton matchup. As a matter of fact, I think she’s got something to worry about no matter what. Somebody, a friend of mine likened this race, a presidential race to being in a boxing match.

    If you’re fighting another professional boxer, you kind of know where the punches are coming from. But if you’re fighting somebody who is not a traditional boxer, a punch can come from anywhere and lay you out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that how you see it?

    SUSAN PAGE: I think Trump’s biggest problem, though, is that about four in 10 Republican primary voters say, if he’s the nominee against Hillary Clinton, they will look — they will seriously consider a third-party candidate.

    And if that’s the race we have, if it’s Trump vs. Clinton, don’t you think we will have a third-party candidate of some sort? So, I think the first task Trump has to do is to reach out a bridge to these Republican voters before he can have a hope of reaching out to the independent voters who will determine the general election.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So much to contemplate in the coming weeks.

    Susan Page, Reid Wilson, thank you both.

    REID WILSON: Thanks a lot.

    SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.

    The post Another GOP contender bows out; can either party’s frontrunner be stopped? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (L) at his side as he talks about the results of the Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri primary elections during a news conference held at his Mar-A-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, Florida, March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper - RTSAME8

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff.

    GWEN IFILL: And I’m Gwen Ifill.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On the “NewsHour” tonight:

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I said I would take process seriously, and I did. I chose a serious man and an exemplary judge.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama appoints federal Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and Republicans double down on their pledge to block the nominee.

    GWEN IFILL: Also ahead this Wednesday: As the GOP field narrows, Ted Cruz and John Kasich brand themselves as the alternative to Donald Trump. But is it too late?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And an exclusive report on the details surrounding why Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

    EUGENE FIDELL, Attorney for Bowe Bergdahl: Feeling that there was no alternative way to get his concerns about circumstances in the unit and the lack of leadership in the unit, Sergeant Bergdahl concluded that he had to get to a higher echelon.

    GWEN IFILL: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”


    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: Republican Donald Trump warned against trying to deny him the party’s presidential nomination if it comes down to a contested convention. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton padded their delegate leads in Tuesday’s primaries, and their rivals became even longer shots. We will have a full report later in the program.

    GWEN IFILL: The Federal Reserve decided to keep short-term interest rates unchanged today. Policy-makers at the Central Bank said the economy is growing, but still faces risks from abroad.

    Fed Chair Janet Yellen underscored that two rate hikes are still possible this year, depending on economic growth.

    JANET YELLEN, Chair, Federal Reserve: If events continue to unfold in that way, we are likely to gradually raise rates over time. Again, that’s not fixed in stone. We will watch how the economy behaves. We’re prepared to respond if things transpire differently.

    GWEN IFILL: The fed raised it’s key rate in December after years at a record low.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street had been lower before the Fed’s announcement, but stocks rose on the news. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 74 points to close at 17325. The Nasdaq rose 35, and the S&P 500 added 11.

    GWEN IFILL: The state Supreme Court in Ohio gave the green light today for officials to execute a convicted killer again. They tried and failed in 2009 to put Romell Broom to death by lethal injection. After two hours and 18 attempts, the executioners could not find a vein. The court today rejected Broom’s argument that, under double jeopardy, the state gets only one try.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: An American tourist arrested in North Korea was sentenced today to 15 years of hard labor. Otto Warmbier is a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia. He was charged with subversion after confessing he tried to steal a propaganda banner. The verdict came down after just an hour in court, where Warmbier offered a tearful plea to be forgiven and sent home.

    OTTO WARMBIER, American Student: My brother and my sister need me. I beg that you see that I am only human, how I have made the worse mistake of my life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. State Department called the sentence unduly harsh. And in a separate development, President Obama ordered new sanctions against the North over its recent nuclear and missile tests.

    GWEN IFILL: In Nigeria, two women blew themselves up at a mosque, killing at least 24 people and wounding 18. It happened in Maiduguri during dawn prayers. One attacker struck inside the mosque. The second targeted worshipers trying to escape. Officials suspect Boko Haram, the militants trying to carve out their own Islamic State.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A manhunt is under way in Brussels for two suspects with possible ties to last year’s Paris attacks. They fled last night after a police raid turned into a shoot-out. An Algerian man was killed, and investigators uncovered a trove of weapons and ammunition.

    They also found an Islamic State flag. The November shootings in Paris left 130 dead. And, today, French police arrested four people suspected of planning a new attack.

    GWEN IFILL: Brazil’s president and her predecessor moved today to stay ahead of a growing corruption scandal. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was named chief of staff, with legal protections that could keep him out of jail. He’s also expected to help President Dilma Rousseff fight to fend off impeachment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And with apologies to Disneyland, Denmark is now officially the happiest place on earth. The United Nations says so in a new survey of countries based on health data, job security rates and other social and political factors. The United States ranked 13th. Burundi came in last.

    GWEN IFILL: I’m happy enough.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: I guess 13th is OK.

    GWEN IFILL: Still to come on the “NewsHour” senators weigh in on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee; Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s improved path to the White House; an exclusive report on Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl; and much more.

    The post News Wrap: Trump dismisses talk of contested convention; Fed maintains interest rates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama (L) accompanies Judge Merrick Garland after he announced Garland as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C., March 16, 2016.    REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTSAQO9

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    GWEN IFILL: The battle was officially joined today over the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The president formally opened the fray, nominating the head of the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I am nominating chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court.

    GWEN IFILL: The announcement was greeted with applause in the Rose Garden as the president hailed his nominee.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law. He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign onto his opinions.

    GWEN IFILL: That was calculated to make the case that Senate Republicans should at least give Garland a chance.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up-or-down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise, that would be unprecedented.

    JUDGE MERRICK GARLAND, Supreme Court Nominee: This is the greatest honor of my life.

    GWEN IFILL: The judge choked back tears as he thanked the president, and he seemed to make his own appeal.

    JUDGE MERRICK GARLAND: Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life, and it’s the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years. If the Senate sees fit to confirm me to the position for which I have been nominated today, I promise to continue on that course.

    GWEN IFILL: Garland is 63. He left private practice for the Justice Department in 1993, and oversaw its response to the Oklahoma City bombing. President Clinton then nominated him to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was confirmed in 1997.

    At the time, he drew praise from the likes of Republican Orrin Hatch, then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah: He belongs on the court. And I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list.

    GWEN IFILL: That was then. This is now.

    Now Garland is being nominated to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. Republicans fear that confirming him to the high court would create a liberal majority.

    So, within minutes of the president’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went to the Senate floor to double down on his pledge to deny the president as much as a hearing on his nominee.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Majority Leader: The decision the Senate announced weeks ago remains about a principle and not a person, about a principle, and not a person. It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not, not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.

    GWEN IFILL: On the presidential campaign trail, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich seconded that notion, while Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders issued statements of support for Garland.

    Still, that sentiment was far from universal, even among the president’s own party. Civil rights activists and progressives wanted an African-American woman or another minority nominee, possibly Indian-born federal appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan.

    In a “NewsHour” interview today, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett explained the president’s thinking.

    VALERIE JARRETT, Senior Advisor to President Obama: He’s nominated two women to the court before, one of them a Latino woman, so obviously he believes there are lots of people who are qualified. The question isn’t, is the person qualified? The question is, who is the best person for it?

    In this instance, he made the judgment that that would be the chief judge.

    GWEN IFILL: The White House says Judge Garland began making calls to senators this afternoon, and will go to Capitol Hill tomorrow for meet-and-greets. And in spite of the pushback, several Republicans have said they may meet with, if not vote for him.

    We will have a closer look at Judge Garland and hear from both sides in the Senate after the news summary.

    The post Defying Congressional GOP, Obama chooses D.C. judge for Supreme Court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities shared a national strategy and sweeping set of recommendations today intended to prevent as many as 3,000 children from dying this year. Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr

    The federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities shared a national strategy and sweeping set of recommendations today intended to prevent as many as 3,000 children from dying this year. Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr

    As many as eight children die daily in the United States after their parents or caregivers abuse or neglect them, but a plan released today could help protect thousands of young lives.

    A report from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities outlined a national strategy with greater federal, state and local leadership and accountability, better use of data and research to make decisions about children’s welfare and more information-sharing across agencies to support at-risk families.

    And the need for action is gaining urgency, the report says.

    “We live in a child welfare system right now that is heavily reactive.” — Pediatrician David Rubin
    From 2000 to 2010, the number of children who died from abuse and neglect went up, and even today’s estimate is likely a conservative one, says David Rubin, a commissioner and pediatrician at the University of Pennsylvania.

    “We live in a child welfare system right now that is heavily reactive,” Rubin said. “In that context, you’re never going to prevent fatalities.”

    In 2013, an act of Congress created the federal commission to craft a national strategy to prevent fatal acts of abuse and neglect against children. Since then, commissioners have heard testimony from families, social workers, physicians, law enforcement officials and more nationwide about what’s needed to protect children.

    But how?

    According to the report, a consensus among all 12 commission members was that agencies must do a better job identifying and supporting children most at-risk of fatalities and their families, along with sharing electronic data in real time about children and reviewing each time a child suffers life-threatening injuries.

    Combined these are huge factors in figuring out which child is most in danger, explained David Sanders, the commission’s chairman and the executive vice president for Casey Family Programs.

    “It’s clearly possible for us to dramatically reduce deaths,” Sanders said in September. “We have to think about child safety beyond the child protection system.”

    Other recommendations where members reached consensus was for more accountability across agencies and elevating the federal Children’s Bureau within the Department of Health and Human Services, the report said.

    The one recommendation that they did not achieve consensus upon was funding, but they offered four options, the report said.

    “We have to think about child safety beyond the child protection system.” — Chairman David Sanders

    One suggested that Congress should give $1 billion more in funding for child protection services while another plan urged an overhaul in federal funding to offer states and local jurisdictions more flexibility to proactively target needs.

    Ahead of the report’s release, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Texas who helped establish the commission, praised the report and called on state and federal leaders to do more to “give vulnerable children hope,” he said Wednesday in a written statement.

    “The report provides a modest map to prevent child abuse, but we need the political drive to steer these changes into law and avoid lurching from one tragedy to another.”

    Editor’s Note: This report was clarified for agreement on recommendations.

    The post Report outlines how to prevent abuse and neglect to save children’s lives appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photographer Carla da Silva documented a group of young skaters and dancers in London's Stratford Centre. Photos by Carla da Silva

    Photographer Carla da Silva documented a group of young skaters and dancers in London’s Stratford Centre. Photos by Carla da Silva

    Is public space actually public?

    That was the question on photographer Carla da Silva‘s mind one night in East London when she met a group of skaters and walked right into the center of an ongoing debate.

    Silva, who is based in Geneva, was living in London for graduate school when she encountered the group skating at Stratford Centre, a 24-hour open-air development in East London whith smooth floors and open space ideal for skating. The skaters told Silva that they had trouble finding space where they could practice the activity that was, for many of them, the center of their lives.

    “They told me that they had nowhere else to go because there was no proper space for skating,” she said.

    For them, the opportunity to gather and have fun with friends is of as much importance as the practice of the activities itself. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    For this group of young skaters, the opportunity to gather and have fun with friends is of as much importance as the practice of the activities itself. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    Skateboarding spaces are increasingly rare in London, where planned redevelopment of skating centers has resulted in heated legal battles. In one case seen as a victory for London’s skaters, the Southbank Centre’s Undercroft Skatepark — a well-known skating center and hub for the city’s skate culture — was granted protection by the city, halting plans to redevelop the site. For some, this was a harbinger of a renewed relationship between London and the skating community.

    But this group told Silva that they still had few options, and that the skating parks that they could access were not well-lit at night, making for dangerous skating conditions. “Usually they couldn’t use them at night because there was no light,” she said. So they chose the Stratford Centre.

    "This is a place to relax, to forget about everyday problems and express after fourteen hours of work. I come to enjoy a moment of freedom before going to sleep." Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    “This is a place to relax, to forget about everyday problems and express after fourteen hours of work. I come to enjoy a moment of freedom before going to sleep,” one skater told me. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    From October 2014 to last June, Silva photographed the group and interviewed them about what skating meant to their lives. “When they were talking about their activities — it could be skating, rollerblading or even dancing — most of them were saying, ‘That’s my life. That’s all I do. That’s what I like to do. Even if I go to school or if I go to work, I’m always waiting for the moment I’m going to take my skates and go to this space,'” she said.

    The group and its relationship to Stratford Centre is just one microcosm of a larger conversation about the changing definition of what public space means in London, Silva said. In several highly-touted developments in the past few years, land that was previously public has changed ownership to private companies, giving them control over what happens there. Jeevan Vasagar, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote:

    Over the past decade, large parts of Britain’s cities have been redeveloped as privately-owned estates, extending corporate control over some of the country’s busiest squares and thoroughfares. These developments are no longer simply enclosed malls like Westfield in White City or business districts like Broadgate in the City of London — they are spaces open to the sky which appear to be entirely public to casual passers-by.

    Bradley Garrett, a visiting research associate at the University of Oxford, wrote for The Guardian that “all these developments seem to contradict stated city authority goals to increase public space that is actually publicly owned.”

    Even land that is public can be governed by Public Spaces Protection Orders, a set of laws that came into effect in 2014. Using those laws, local officials can forbid activities that are otherwise not illegal, but that they determine have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life” for locals. In at least one city, officials have proposed restrictions on skateboarding under that law.

    Dancers also use this space. They complain that London has shut down all suitable "dance squares" the restrict the opening hours of many dancing halls. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    Dancers also use the space at Stratford Centre. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    For a group like the Stratford Centre skaters, these developments mean being pushed to the side along with the spaces where they can develop a community, Silva said. “They were trying to say, we don’t want to be in the margins of society,” she said. “I think it was also about being part of this community being in the city and looking for some recognition.”

    See more of Silva’s photos below.

    Some of the skaters told Silva that Stratford Centre was where they came to relax and unwind with friends. Photo by Carla da Silva

    Some of the skaters told Silva that Stratford Centre was where they came to relax and unwind with friends. Photo by Carla da Silva

    A regular skateboarder said he would never have met his girlfriend if he had not started coming to the center a year ago. Photo by Carla da Silva

    A regular skateboarder told me he would never have met his girlfriend if he had not started coming to the center a year ago. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    A young rollerblader slaloming with speed and agility between the pedestrians. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    A young roller skater glides with speed and agility between the pedestrians. Photo and caption by Carla da Silva

    The post Photographer enters hidden world of East London skate culture appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail - RTX25GU1

    Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail – RTX25GU1

    This week marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria. The costs of the war are staggering: It has claimed almost half a million lives, wounded close to 2 million people, generated 4.8 million refugees and displaced almost 7 million people within Syria.

    Imagine a conflict that killed off everyone in Atlanta, wounded every single person in San Francisco and Dallas and led everyone in Chicago and Houston to leave the country in search of safety.

    To put these numbers in perspective, imagine a conflict that killed off everyone in Atlanta, wounded every single person in San Francisco and Dallas, led everyone in Chicago and Houston to leave the country in search of safety and drove everyone living in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle from their homes to other cities and states.

    Another way to think of the scale of the war is in terms of population percentages. Imagine if the U.S. had 9.6 million people killed, 32 million wounded, 76.8 million refugees fleeing America and 96 million people displaced from their homes — that would be a catastrophe proportional to what the Syrian people have endured.

    No matter how you think about it, the impact of the Syrian Civil War has been enormous. And unsurprisingly, Syria’s five-year war has unleashed geopolitical chaos.

    READ MORE: Cuba’s semi-untouched markets offer rare opportunity for U.S. businesses

    Yet tentative signs of progress are emerging as negotiators meet this week amid a ceasefire to discuss how to end the violence for good. And in a potentially positive development, Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to withdraw from Syria while the talks were ongoing.

    As we hope for peace half a decade after the conflict’s start, it is also worth peering backward to understand how we got to this point in the first place. It may be surprising for some to learn that a major contributor to the conflict was climate change.

    The suffering and social chaos caused by the drought were important drivers of the initial unrest.

    Starting in 2006, Syria suffered its worst drought in 900 years; it ruined farms, forced as many as 1.5 million rural denizens to crowd into cities alongside Iraqi refugees and decimated the country’s livestock. Water became scarce and food expensive. The suffering and social chaos caused by the drought were important drivers of the initial unrest.

    Climate scientists have argued that global warming very likely exacerbated the historic drought, thanks to potentially permanent changes to wind and rainfall patterns. Thus, even if negotiators do reach a resolution, the underlying strains in the region may be here to stay. In fact, almost half of the countries most at risk of water shortages in the coming decades are in the Middle East or North Africa.

    The sad reality is that supply disruptions are increasingly likely at the same time as the world is facing rising demand for water. The toxic combination of population increases and water-intensive lifestyles, driven by affluence, may lead to devastating price spikes. Expect water wars in the decades ahead.

    READ MORE: Water wars are coming

    But climate change will impact more than access to water. The Pentagon recognizes global warming as a significant strategic threat, saying that it could it could cause “instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability.” Further, the U.S. military fears such disruptions could “create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.”

    The conflict in Syria is a case in point. Consider three developments from the war: the rise of ISIS; the migrant crisis and the resulting political upheaval across Europe; and President Obama’s decision not to enforce the “red line” on chemical weapons — a decision that may come to define his foreign policy.

    The Pentagon recognizes global warming as a significant strategic threat, and the U.S. military fears such disruptions could “create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.”

    The link between climate change and the conflict in Syria is a reminder that decision-makers need to scan widely when assessing risks and opportunities. Methods like scenario planning can force us to thoroughly consider possibilities that at first seem improbable.

    Think of food prices and how they may affect our world. If food prices were to fall 50 percent, who would benefit? Most of the world. Who would suffer? Food producers. Now what if food prices were to rise by 50 percent? Given families in Pakistan and Indonesia spend more than 40 percent of their budgets on food, might a price spike generate unrest in these countries?

    Teasing out the global implications of truly disparate factors is critical for navigating uncertainty. However, in a world of constant information overload, this is easier said than done. Because many of us drown in data and are overrun by stampedes of information, we value focus and the ability to filter away noise. The problem with focus is it assumes we know what matters and that we know what doesn’t, enabling us to ignore what we think of as “noise.” Too often, we filter away signal with noise and miss possible insights.  We throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

    For that reason, we must distract ourselves out of our professional tunnel vision to successfully navigate our radically complex, intertwined world. Given the enormous potential dangers lurking ahead, forcing ourselves to connect seemingly unrelated dots will help to ensure a brighter, safer future for all.

    The post A major contributor to the Syrian conflict? Climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington March 17, 2016. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington March 17, 2016. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan has a message to everyone in the political chattering class who’s speculating that he might emerge as the Republican nominee from a contested convention and save the party from front-runner Donald Trump: “Knock it off.”

    The Wisconsin Republican, thrust into the speakership after predecessor John Boehner was squeezed out, said Thursday that he is not interested in being the savior of a GOP establishment appalled by Trump. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee reminded reporters that he decided more than a year ago to take a pass on a presidential bid.

    “It is not me,” Ryan told reporters. “I thought I was pretty clear.”

    To be sure, Ryan only addresses the idea that he might be named by a brokered convention when asked by the media. He directed his political operation to threaten legal action against a so-called super PAC that was raising money and collecting email addresses in support of an effort to draft him.

    Ryan himself stoked speculation on Tuesday in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood in which he failed to slam the door on the idea.

    “You know, I haven’t given any thought to this stuff,” Ryan told Harwood. “People say, ‘What about the contested convention?’ I say, ‘Well, there are a lot of people running for president. We’ll see. Who knows?'”

    Wrong answer. It sparked a fresh set of speculative media stories.

    Then, on Wednesday, after fresh primary results that kept alive the idea that Trump may not arrive in Cleveland this July with enough delegates to win the GOP nod on the first ballot, Boehner entered the picture.

    “If we don’t have a nominee who can win on the first ballot, I’m for none of the above,” Boehner told the Futures Industry Association conference in Boca Raton, Florida on Wednesday, according to Politico. “They all had a chance to win. None of them won. So I’m for none of the above. I’m for Paul Ryan to be our nominee.”

    Boehner’s remarks cued a fresh round of denials — stronger this time — from Ryan and his camp.

    But on Thursday, the question was the first one asked of Ryan at his weekly news conference. This time he sought to slam the door.

    “Let’s just put this thing to rest and move on,” Ryan said.

    The selection of an establishment candidate at a contested convention would infuriate Trump supporters, and the candidate suggested on Wednesday that riots could ensue.

    Ryan’s message to Boehner?

    “I saw Boehner last night and I told him to knock it off,” Ryan said. “I used slightly different words.”

    Associated Press reporter Andrew Taylor wrote this report.

    The post Paul Ryan wants you to know he is not running for president, so ‘Knock it off’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) announces Judge Merrick Garland of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court  in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington March 16, 2016.        REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTSAQM4

    U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) announces Judge Merrick Garland of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on March 16, 2016. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court commenced courtesy calls with senators Thursday as Democrats began the next phase of their drive to put unbearable election-year pressure on Republicans refusing to consider any Obama pick.

    Under the glare of television lights, Merrick Garland met with Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, a day after Obama finally gave a name, face and judicial record to his effort to fill the vacancy left by last month’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

    “The court would be a lot better off,” with Garland as a justice, Leahy told reporters.

    A meeting with the Senate’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, was scheduled for later in the day.

    But even before Garland — a 63-year-old moderate, a top appellate court judge and former prosecutor — could hold his first session, the Senate’s Republican leader indicated he would not budge from his party’s refusal to consider a replacement for Scalia until the next president takes office in January.

    Stating what he called “an obvious point,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the two parties disagree over filling the vacancy and it is time for lawmakers to turn to other issues.

    “Republicans think the people deserve a voice in this critical decision. The president does not,” he said.

    With the issue coloring this fall’s contests for control of the White House and Senate, Democrats have spent weeks trying to link Senate GOP resistance to a court nominee to opposition also voiced by Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner abhorred by many Republican leaders.

    “Donald Trump won’t make America great again, but he will make Republicans the minority again” in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., mockingly employing the billionaire candidate’s campaign slogan, said as Senate Democrats staged a news conference outside the Supreme Court.

    Earlier, Reid noted McConnell’s opposition to considering any Obama selection, which the GOP leader announced within hours of Scalia’s death and a month before Garland was chosen.

    “That sort of ‘punch first, ask questions later leadership’ is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Donald Trump,” Reid said in a speech at the liberal Center for American Progress. He said McConnell “is sacrificing the Republican majority to allow Donald Trump to pick the nominee.”

    The White House said that after a two-week Senate recess, Garland will meet with the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley has been a chief focus of Democratic attacks for refusing to let the committee hold a hearing for anyone Obama picked, helping to doom the nomination.

    McConnell has refused to meet with Garland. But the planned meeting with Grassley — which his aides conceded could occur — underscored a willingness by a small but growing cadre of GOP senators to say they’d see the nominee, and in some cases take the process even further.

    “I meet with anybody, and that would include him,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

    Flake said if a Democrat were elected president in November, he would want the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination during a postelection, lame-duck session because “between him and somebody that a President Clinton might nominate, I think the choice is clear.”

    Flake’s comment showed how Obama and the leading Democratic presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, have had a good cop-bad cop effect on some Republicans, who consider Clinton likely to make a more liberal selection should she enter the White House.

    GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rob Portman of Ohio also expressed an openness to meeting with Garland. Ayotte and Portman are among a half-dozen GOP senators in competitive re-election contests who Democrats hope will be pressured into backing hearings and a vote on Garland or be punished for their refusal by voters.

    Opposition by most Republicans means Garland’s confirmation remains an uphill climb. One reason for the intense combat over Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement is that Garland would tilt the court’s 4-4 balance in the liberal direction after decades of conservative dominance.

    Garland is chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered just a step below the Supreme Court in its clout because of its jurisdiction over administration policy.

    A Harvard Law School graduate, Garland clerked for liberal Justice William Brennan Jr., an appointee of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. As a federal prosecutor, he oversaw the investigation and prosecutions in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case and the case against Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

    Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Kathleen Hennessey, Mary Clare Jalonick and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

    The post Cranking up pressure, Garland begins Senate visits appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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