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

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    President-elect Donald Trump appears with retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly outside the main clubhouse after their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in November. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump appears with retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly outside the main clubhouse after their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in November. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security says closing the border to the “illegal movement of people and things” will be his top priority if confirmed.

    Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly outlined his priorities in a detailed questionnaire to senators. The questionnaire was released Tuesday ahead of Kelly’s confirmation hearing later in the day.

    Kelly embraced Trump’s call for a strong border wall with Mexico. He said that achieving his top priority of shutting down illegal movements “starts with physical obstacles like a border wall and supporting surveillance technologies.” He said it will also require constant patrols from federal and local law enforcement.

    The confirmation of Kelly, a retired Marine general, is almost assured, but members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will likely use the hearing to debate the tough immigration and border security policies that were centerpieces of Trump’s presidential campaign.

    Kelly is one of several retired generals tapped for top positions by Trump. That has raised some concerns about undue military influence in his administration, weakening the American tradition of civilian control of government.

    But Kelly is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, and his military experience is applicable to his Homeland Security role. He’s the former head of the military’s Southern Command, based in South Florida, which routinely works with the Department of Homeland Security to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling. The military command has also partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a part of Homeland Security, to help rescue unaccompanied child immigrants trying to make their way from Central America to the United States alone.

    In the questionnaire, Kelly said he is committed to telling “truth to power.” The commitment addresses concerns that some lawmakers have about the president-elect’s willingness to take in points of view that clash with his own.

    Kelly told the committee that his that his greatest successes during 40-plus years in the military are: “taking care of my people, speaking ‘truth to power,’ and successfully completing every mission I have ever been assigned.” He said he has worked with many senior U.S. officials during his career.

    “I never hesitated to disagree with any of them, or make difficult recommendations when appropriate,” Kelly said.

    Also, in newly released ethics disclosures, Kelly said that if confirmed he will resign positions with multiple consulting and government contractor firms and defense contractor DynCorp. Kelly listed his salary with DynCorp, a company awarded a 2016 contract from DHS to train Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as more than $166,000.

    In a statement prepared for the Senate hearing, Republican chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin praised Kelly as having a “deep knowledge and understanding of the grave security threats facing our nation and the sacrifices that are required to keep us safe.”

    Kelly joined the Marine Corps in 1970. He is a battle-hardened, blunt-talking veteran who served three tours in Iraq. He was also the highest-ranking officer to lose a child in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in November 2010 in Afghanistan.

    Kelly would be the fifth person to lead the department, which includes agencies that protect the president, respond to disasters, enforce immigration laws, protect the nation’s coastlines, stop drug smuggling and secure air travel.

    Kelly, in his statement for the committee, said he has a “profound respect for the rule of law” and as secretary “will always strive to uphold it.” That is likely to resonate with Republicans, who have complained that President Barack Obama has been too lax in his enforcement of immigration laws and have generally supported Trump’s proposals.

    Trump has vowed to deport millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, focusing first on criminals. Kelly is likely to be asked his views on how to accomplish that.

    Trump pledged during the campaign to build a border wall — and have Mexico pay for it — though since winning the White House he has softened his stance on both the kind of barrier he wants and how it will be financed.

    Last week, Republicans suggested the wall could be paid for from regular spending legislation authorized by Congress. Trump insists that Mexico would reimburse the United States for the costs, but Mexico says it will not do so.

    READ MORE: A guide to this week’s confirmation hearings: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerman and more

    The post Trump’s pick for Homeland Security cites border protection as top priority appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet on Obamacare at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet on Obamacare at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump pushed Congress Tuesday to act swiftly to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, and follow up quickly with a replacement. House Speaker Paul Ryan, after talking with Trump, announced that the House would aim to take both steps “concurrently.”

    The push for speed and coordination came as growing numbers of Republicans expressed concerns about GOP leadership’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement in hand, even though the party has had more than six years to come up with one.

    Trump made his comments in an interview with The New York Times.

    “We have to get to business. Obamacare has been a catastrophic event,” Trump said.

    Under the congressional timetable, procedural budget votes set for later this week in the House and Senate will put the repeal process in motion. But the vote on repealing Obamacare isn’t expected until mid-February at earliest; a full replacement hadn’t been expected until months or even years later.

    Trump seemed confused about that schedule, telling the Times that the repeal should be “probably sometime next week,” and “the replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”

    Despite his imprecision, Trump was clear that he put an imperative on speed for both repealing and replacing the law. That contradicts the approach sketched out by GOP leaders who’ve described a transition period of months or years between repealing the law and replacing it with something else.

    But even before Trump’s comments Tuesday, the notion of a lengthy transition period was running into problems on Capitol Hill from Republicans anxious about waiting too long between repealing the bill and replacing it.

    Ryan addressed reporters Tuesday morning and described a new goal.

    “It is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,” Ryan said. “We’re going to use every tool at our disposal, through legislation, through regulation, to bring replace concurrent along with repeal, so that we can save people from this mess.”

    That may be easier said than done. Under arcane budget rules in the Senate, Republicans will likely be able to use their slim majority to push through repeal legislation without Democratic votes. But they would need Democrats’ help to write a replacement bill. Ryan indicated Tuesday Republicans would try to get around that obstacle by passing some elements of the replacement bill using fast-track Senate rules, too.

    Ryan announced the new plan to lawmakers Tuesday morning before discussing it with reporters. “He said we’re going to be doing it concurrently with the repeal. He said he had a conversation yesterday with Donald Trump, and they’re on the same page,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida.

    GOP lawmakers, particularly House members who face voters every two years, are eager to repeal and replace the mammoth health law before the 2018 midterm elections, and some are frustrated that having finally grabbed the reins of power in Washington, the party is unprepared to act.

    “We’ve been at it now for six years and it’s time for us to produce a replacement plan and hopefully we’ll do that in the very near term,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who’s among a group of Republicans pushing for a delay in the repeal bill to allow time to write a replacement.

    Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed.

    READ MORE: Analysis: GOP united on repealing Obamacare, but disagree on how to replace it

    The post Although GOP don’t have a replacement, Trump urges quick action on Obamacare repeal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    On July 27, 2004, the freshman senator from Illinois stepped onto the stage at the Democratic National Convention and delivered a vision for a country not divided by partisan politics.

    “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America. There’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

    His words captured the nation’s attention, launching then-Sen. Barack Obama on a meteoric path to the White House.

    Since that day, the president has given countless other speeches, often appealing to Americans’ better selves. And tonight, 10 days before he leaves office, the president will give his farewell address.

    In preparation, we look back at some highlights from his speeches over the years.

    Nana Adwoa Antwi-Boasiako contributed to this report.

    The post Before President Obama says goodbye tonight, rewatch his best speeches appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Don't stay in a position that doesn't pay you what you're worth. Photo by Tetra Images via Getty Images. Related words: job interview, jobs, coworker

    If the value of a contract or agreement is high, it’s always worth reading every word, writes Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Tetra Images via Getty Images.

    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

    In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

    Question: I interviewed for a part-time job and it went so well that they called me an hour later to offer me the job. Before I accepted, I verbally negotiated a higher hourly rate than was offered in the job posting and was pleasantly surprised by their final offer, which I accepted.

    The next day, they emailed an offer letter that included a monthly salary instead of the hourly rate they agreed to. I was so excited to accept the position that I did not catch the difference when I signed the letter and started the job. They set the monthly salary based on four weeks per month instead of 4.333 weeks per month (or instead of the standard 2,080/1,040 hours per year for FT/PT jobs). The error means I am now making $200/month, or $2.30/hour, or $2,400/year, less than the original hourly rate they verbally offered in our negotiations that I accepted.

    It took me a month to catch the mistake. When I brought it to the attention of my managers, they looked into it. About a week later, they called me in for a meeting and said they were very sorry. They admit they made a calculation mistake when submitting my position to payroll, but the department directors (the “higher ups”) were now telling my managers that they would not allow my salary to be adjusted to the original higher rate offered.

    My managers said they were told that the rate I was verbally offered was too high for the type of position I was hired for and that their “hands were tied by bureaucracy.” So now I’m stuck making a significantly lower rate than I expected and agreed to.

    Was that original verbal rate that was offered binding in any way, especially if my managers (who hired me) admit that is the rate they offered and meant to pay me? I know I made a mistake too in not checking the math in the offer letter and am kicking myself for it now.

    Nick Corcodilos: I’m sorry to hear you thought you were getting one deal, but got stuck with another. There are several issues here. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

    Does it really matter at this point?

    First, you should find out whether the state you work in is an “employment at will” state. If it is, your company can fire you “at will” at any time for any reason or no reason. Think about this and you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter whether a job offer is binding. They could correct the offer if required by law and fire you five minutes (or 30 seconds) later.

    Read agreements carefully

    Few people actually read agreements and contracts — they skim and sign. This is not prudent.

    As you’ve noted, this is on you, because you read and signed the offer. Few people actually read agreements and contracts — they skim and sign. This is not prudent. If the value of a contract or agreement is high, it’s always worth reading every word. My further advice is, wait a day before you sign anything. See if any issues percolate in your mind in the meantime. Don’t be in a rush. I never sign on the spot, especially if there’s an emotional component to the matter — and getting a job offer (especially one you really want) is certainly an emotional experience. That’s when we make mistakes.

    Get it in writing

    I give you credit for negotiating a better deal than was offered. Not all people are capable of that. But until a deal is in writing and signed, it’s not successful, and it’s not real — mainly because what’s in writing supersedes anything said orally. Now, a good lawyer might be able to get an oral agreement enforced, but that can be costly. It’s up to you whether you want to get legal advice and/or representation.

    Your managers are jerks

    Your bosses agreed to pay a rate that “was way too high?” This one is on them. Unfortunately, this happens too often during hiring. One level of management doesn’t know or approve of what another level is doing. That’s a company to run from — it’s a sure sign of poor management.

    Don’t wait another month to let this sink in: Your bosses are jerks. They admitted the error — good for them. But real responsibility means eating the cost if they gave their word. They should have corrected their error, although I don’t believe they are bound to do so legally. Again, this is something for a lawyer if you want to pursue it.

    The hiring managers are jerks because they should have verified the pay increase before making a commitment to you, and the higher level managers are jerks, because they aren’t backing up the managers that report to them. When the chips are down, a good company shows integrity — it doesn’t make excuses.

    Your employer is a bureaucracy 

    If your bosses’ hands are “tied by bureaucracy,” why are they working there? It means they lack authority to do their jobs. Getting out of a promise by saying your organization is a bureaucracy is to admit your organization is not worth working for.

    While I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, I don’t think the oral offer the managers made is binding, because you signed a different offer afterwards. That’s on you. But it doesn’t mean what this company has done is excusable. I don’t think your choice now has anything to do with what’s binding or legal. Your choice now is a judgment: Are these the kinds of people you want to keep working with?

    That’s not a rhetorical question.

    What now?

    You made a mistake, and they made a mistake. I could argue that you should keep the job, because you accepted it as it was written. I could also argue they should raise your pay to what they promised — it’s how they induced you to take the job.

    But at the end of the day, your new employer is making excuses: It’s the bureaucracy’s fault, the higher offer was never really approved to begin with, the higher-ups are saying no, and the hiring managers are not in control.

    You must judge for yourself given your circumstances, and you must learn a lesson about oral and written agreements. But I think you must also decide whether these are people you want to keep working with.

    If you decide to leave, my advice is to do what they’re now doing — smile, be agreeable, pretend everything’s hunky-dory — and start a quiet but diligent search for a better employer. If you’re going to leave, I recommend “Parting Company: How to leave your job” — it’ll help you manage your transition and keep you out of further trouble. Take a look at some tips from the book here: “Protect yourself from exploding job offers.”

    Dear Readers: Who is at fault here — the reader or the employer? Have you ever been taken in by a job offer that wasn’t what you agreed to? What is your advice to this reader?

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask the Headhunter: I think my employer cheated me on salary appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    This photo taken in 2009 shows veteran British journalist Clare Hollingworth speaking to AFP in Hong Kong. She scooped the world by breaking the news in 1939 of Germany's invasion of Poland. Photo by Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

    This photo taken in 2009 shows veteran British journalist Clare Hollingworth speaking to AFP in Hong Kong. She scooped the world by breaking the news in 1939 of Germany’s invasion of Poland. Photo by Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

    Clare Hollingworth, the British war correspondent who scooped the world in reporting the Nazi invasion of Poland, died in Hong Kong today. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong announced her death at the age of 105.

    Her biggest scoop came at age 27, just days into her rookie reporting career. Hollingworth was reporting in southern Poland for Britain’s Daily Telegraph when she decided to investigate what was happening across the border.

    Clare Hollingworth in the 1930s. The Hollingworth Family

    Clare Hollingworth in the 1930s. The Hollingworth Family

    Using a borrowed British consulate official’s car, she drove into German-occupied territory. As she recounted in her autobiography, she saw tanks, armored cars and artillery massing, as well as the burlap screens on the side of the road to hide military vehicles.

    She wrote, “I guessed that the German Command was preparing to strike to the north of Katowice and its fortified lines and this, in fact, was exactly how they launched their invasion in the south.”

    She was right.

    Three days later, she heard the roar of German tanks advancing on Poland and landed her second major scoop. But when she called the British Embassy in Warsaw, the diplomat she spoke to refused to believe her. To prove it to him, she held her telephone out her bedroom window so he could hear the hum of the tanks.

    Hollingworth was born on Oct. 10, 1911, in Knighton, England, into a middle-class family. Her father’s interest in battle sites, that they’d frequently visit, fueled her own interest in war. An intrepid and determined journalist, Hollingworth spent much of her career on the front lines of major conflicts, from the Middle East to North Africa to Vietnam, where she had several close calls.

    Image via Reuters

    Image via Reuters

    Over her career she wrote for many British publications, including The Economist, the Manchester Guardian and the Daily Express. Her road to reporting came via her work at a British refugee charity in Poland, where she sometimes wrote articles about the looming war in Europe.

    A great-nephew, researching Hollingworth’s 2016 biography, said he only recently discovered she helped arrange visas for as many as 3,000 refugees fleeing from the Nazis to Britain. Her knowledge and contacts in Poland led her to ultimately be offered a stringer position for the Telegraph.

    Image via Reuters

    Image via Reuters

    Hollingworth rounded out her career in China, as the Telegraph’s first resident correspondent in Beijing, then known as Peking. She ended up in Hong Kong where she lived the last four decades of her life.

    There, she was a longstanding fixture at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where people read newspapers aloud to her after her eyesight failed.

    The post Journalist who broke the story of start of World War II dies at 105 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams delivers opening remarks in this courtroom sketch at the trial of Dylann Roof, who is facing the death penalty for the hate-fueled killings of nine black churchgoers, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Sketch by Robert Maniscalco - RTX2XJHA

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams delivers opening remarks in this courtroom sketch at the trial of Dylann Roof, who is facing the death penalty for the hate-fueled killings of nine black churchgoers, in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by REUTERS/Sketch by Robert Maniscalco

    A federal jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black parishioners in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof was convicted on Dec. 15 on 33 federal charges, including hate crimes. He is the first person sentenced to die for a federal hate crime.

    Jurors began deliberations earlier on Tuesday, taking a little less than three hours to unanimously decide he would receive the death penalty.

    Roof, acting as his own attorney, called no witnesses in the sentencing phase of his trial. Charleston’s The Post and Courier reported that he offered a “disjointed” statement from a single piece of paper.

    “I still feel like I had to do it,” said Roof, the 22-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist.

    “If I was really filled with as much hate as I allegedly am, wouldn’t I just say, ‘Yes, I hate black people?’” Roof said. “Wouldn’t it be fair to say the prosecution hates me because they are trying to get the death penalty?”

    READ MORE: Why hate crimes are so difficult to convict

    In his closing arguments , Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson reminded jurors of the testimony they heard of the bloody scene left at the church after the shooting and shared personal stories about the victims.

    Police reports indicated Roof sat with a group of churchgoers at the historically black church for close to an hour before pulling out his gun.

    After being arrested and interrogated by FBI, Roof said he wanted to start a “race war.”  

    Roof still faces a separate state trial for the crime. Those charges also come with the possibility of the death penalty.

    The post Dylann Roof receives death penalty from federal jury appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 01/10/17--14:11: The art of saying goodbye
  • First Lady Michelle Obama delivers her final White House speech on  Jan. 6, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla and Getty Images

    First Lady Michelle Obama delivers her final White House speech on Jan. 6, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla and Getty Images

    President Obama gives his public valediction tonight at 9 pm ET in Chicago. Much has been forecast (see our Politics Monday segment last night), but here we thought we’d quickly provide some examples of farewells done well.

    Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939. Short, moving and sincere.

    Douglas MacArthur, April 19, 1951. MacArthur has long been a lightning-rod, controversial figure. But returning from service in the Pacific and following years of clashes with President Truman, his farewell address to Congress is an example of how to find quotable moments when you say goodbye.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jan. 17, 1961. This is a good example of focus in a departing message. In Mr. Eisenhower’s case that was a warning about the growth of the defense/military-industrial complex post World War II.

    Michelle Obama, Jan. 6, 2017. It is with some thought that we highlight such a recent speech. But First Lady Michelle Obama, especially in the past turbulent year, has proven herself to be one of the most powerful speakers in the country. And a tough, interesting comparison point for her husband.

    The post The art of saying goodbye appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gestures while entering the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 10, 2017. Photo by  Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gestures while entering the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 10, 2017. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump is reviving long debunked attempts to link vaccines to autism, meeting with a vocal skeptic to discuss chairing a commission on vaccination safety — a move that alarmed child health experts.

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. met with Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday, and told reporters that he had agreed to lead the effort, whatever form it takes.

    “President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said, adding that “we ought to be debating the science.”

    To pediatricians, there’s nothing left to debate.

    “Vaccines have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are the most significant medical innovation of our time,” Drs. Fernando Stein and Karen Remley of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement Tuesday.

    Scientists have ruled out a link between vaccines and autism. But Kennedy, the son of the late U.S. attorney general and senator, has long argued that vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal may cause autism, and has advocated for parents to more easily opt out of childhood vaccinations.

    Trump also has voiced vaccine skepticism, on Twitter and during one of the primary debates when he said that autism has gotten “totally out of control.” In that debate he went on to say, “I am totally in favor of vaccines, but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.”

    A Trump spokeswoman said late Tuesday that while he “enjoyed” his conversation with Kennedy, he had not yet commissioned a panel.

    “The president-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time,” said Hope Hicks.

    Those are views unsupported by scientific evidence and dismissed as conspiracy theory by experts who find their revival alarming. Vaccination prevents millions of deaths around the world each year. Once common childhood killers can return if support for immunization wanes: During a 2015 measles outbreak that started at Disneyland, many who fell ill were unvaccinated.

    Repeated scientific studies in the U.S. and abroad have found no evidence that vaccines in general or those with thimerosal cause autism. That preservative has been removed from routine childhood immunizations; while it remains in some flu vaccines, there are thimerosal-free versions.

    “The science has spoken. Thimerosal is a dead issue,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a critic of anti-vaccine groups. “It is concerning. You have as a president-elect a science denialist.”

    Beyond thimerosal, research has discredited concerns that children get too many vaccines at once.

    “Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease,” said Stein and Remley of the pediatricians’ group. It’s not just children who gain, they noted: Widespread vaccination lowers the spread of disease that also threatens the elderly or people with weak immune systems.

    lt’s not clear what Kennedy described as a “commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity” would do.

    Already, there is a National Vaccine Advisory Committee that advises the government on vaccine safety and other issues, in addition to regulation and oversight by scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics offered to work with the incoming Trump administration “to share the extensive scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of vaccines.”


    Lemire reported from New York.

    The post Trump pegs vaccine skeptic to run safety commission, alarming doctors appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: using the power and appeal of the arts to boost low-performing schools.

    Arts frequently get cut from school curricula due to money and time, but a pilot program around the country is trying to use music, performance and other arts in dozens of schools to motivate kids.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story. It’s part of our weekly series on Making the Grade.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Making music and using the arts to build math and other skills, that’s the theory here at the ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy, a public charter school in New Orleans, not long ago, one of the lowest performing schools in Louisiana, a state ranking near the bottom in the nation.

    It’s a school now showing measurable signs of educational advancement.

    Why does the singing help you do math?

    STUDENT: Because, at my old school, when we didn’t have any songs for multiplication, we — like, half my class used to get, like, unsatisfactories, because they didn’t remember it for multiplication. But now that I’m at this school, and I’m singing songs, I can memorize it more.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A floor above, an eighth grade social studies class uses the musical “Hamilton” to make history come alive.

    Teacher Areonne Howard:

    AREONNE HOWARD, ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy: I’m obsessed with “Hamilton,” and so the rap battles were just a perfect way to bring them into what a debate actually is and how to do it.

    It triggers their listening skills, too, and their writing skills, because they’re going to have to write their own, and so that we provided a model for them, but they love it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Samantha King works for KID smART, a consulting company that’s helped craft the curriculum here and at other schools.

    SAMANTHA KING, KID smART: The general idea of arts integration is to appeal to different modalities of children’s learning. So they get to get up and use perhaps skills and things that they love or are drawn to, theater, dance, visual arts, music. And we find that, when you put both things together, it sticks. I mean, they remember things. It’s in their body memory.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Kathy Fletcher is national director of Turnaround Arts.

    KATHY FLETCHER, National Director, Turnaround Arts: The idea is really simple, and it is that the arts in education can be used not just as a flower, something to do after math and science scores are up, but actually as a reform strategy, something that really can help to reach and teach and engage children.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Turnaround Arts is a 5-year-old program created by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. It’s the first federal effort to use arts education as a tool to boost achievement in the nation’s lowest performing schools.

    Seventy percent of its funding comes from foundations and the private sector. Turnaround began in eight schools around the country. The number recently rose to 68 in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

    KATHY FLETCHER: In the decades past, the first thing to get cut when budgets are going are the arts. And I think a lot of people thought that families would get their own art lessons and dance classes.

    And there’s about six million kids in this country who are in public schools, charter schools, who don’t have those opportunities, so they don’t get any arts in school. And to have something that positive and that joyful to kick-start literacy and a lot of the other core content subjects, it just seems like a smart way to teach.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That strikes a personal chord in the Turnaround artists, accomplished professionals who volunteer their time to work with students and teachers.

    At ReNEW Dolores T. Aaron Academy, we watched actress Alfre Woodard, singer Graham Nash and our own David Brooks, The New York Times columnist, in action.

    ALFRE WOODARD, Actress: So, let me hear the sound it makes. Ah. Never hold sound in.

    STUDENT: I have been watching the news.

    DAVID BROOKS: And just remember to take your time. You’re going to want to, like, rush through because you will be a little nervous. But if you can stop and breathe, it will seem long to you, but it will seem great to everybody else.

    GRAHAM NASH, Musician: Can you feel the vibrations in the guitar? Listen, put your hands on the body.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Woodard, known for award-winning film, stage and television roles, is a veteran of the program.

    Why is this work important?

    ALFRE WOODARD: Somebody showed up for both of us. That’s why we’re here. Art completes not only the education, but it completes the human being, our ability to create, and to express that creation.

    And we also have all the visuals now of channels in your brain opening up when you’re doing a particular discipline. So, once we had that, we wanted to come into schools, put it to the test.

    GRAHAM NASH: You know, this particular school, it was one of their very first projects. And when they first came here, the windows were blacked out and the skylight was blocked off and the rats were running along the top of the wall. And now look at it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, but never forgets his bleak childhood in post-World War II England.

    GRAHAM NASH: I like to go into a thing not knowing exactly what’s going on, but I will turn that, then I will deal with whatever it is. Right?

    So, one of the kids comes up to me, and he goes, you know, Mr. Nash, we have rewritten your song “Chicago,” and here it is. And we’re going to teach it to you.

    (Singing): Won’t you please come to New Orleans just to dance?

    I went, OK, let’s go, you know, because you can either stop it right there and say, look, you can’t rewrite my song, blah, blah, blah, or you can just go with it and see what happens. And when you choose that moment, that’s when the world opens up and all kinds of opportunities come your way.

    JEFFREY BROWN: An independent evaluation of the original eight Turnaround schools conducted showed early success. Half the schools improved their attendance rates. The average improvement in math proficiency was 22 percent and reading close to 13 percent.

    And discipline problems fell. At ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy, for example, suspensions were down 51 percent. And the kids themselves?

    New Orleans ninth grader Jared Mullens has seen his own turnaround through the arts.

    JARED MULLENS, Student: I will be thinking, what more can I achieve in life, instead of just stopping at this point? When I’m in the arts, I’m focused.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Last spring, he found himself at the White House singing for first lady Michelle Obama, an early backer of Turnaround Arts.

    Months later, in New Orleans, he sang to a packed crowd of a different sort, a high school gymnasium filled with students, teachers, parents and Turnaround artists.

    Turnaround Arts will expand to 20 more schools next fall. And in a step to ensure its future, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington will help manage and host the program.

    From New Orleans, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

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    U.S. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and their daughter Malia leave the White House as they depart for Chicago, Illinois, in Washington, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2YDNM

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama will deliver his farewell address to the nation this evening before a room full of supporters in Chicago.

    We discuss a little of the Obama legacy and look ahead to tonight’s speech with two historians, “NewsHour” regular Michael Beschloss, and Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard University.

    And we welcome both of you back to the “NewsHour.”

    Michael, let me start with you.

    How often do presidents give farewell addresses?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Well, George Washington began the tradition, but it’s really been more a thing of modern times begun by Harry Truman, who did one from the Oval Office when he retired in 1953.

    But they don’t always work. The ones that really work are when you have the sense that the president is sort of leveling with you in a way that perhaps he wasn’t able to during his four or eight years in office. So, he’s saying something that you haven’t heard before with new candor.

    And the other thing is that when he says something that sounds as if it’s a lesson he’s learned that perhaps he didn’t know before. The best example of this, Eisenhower in 1961, said, worry about the military industrial complex.

    It was something that he had been increasingly worried about for a long time, but this was the first time he said it to the public.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Annette Gordon-Reed, of course, it’s speculation, but why do you think President Obama wants to do this?

    ANNETTE GORDON-REED, Harvard University Law School: Well, he’s in an interesting position.

    The election didn’t turn out the way he probably thought it was going to turn out. This is a chance to cement his legacy and talk about the kinds of things that he wanted to do as president. And he is facing a situation where people might try to undo a good amount of that.

    So, I think this is a good way for him to sort of lay a template, perhaps, for historians later on, even though that’s almost an impossible thing to do. But I think it’s a way for him to talk about his legacy, to sort of say to the American people what was important to him, what he thinks he accomplished as president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael, there is some reporting over the last few days that the president may be rethinking how he wants to spend his post-presidency, given the outcome of the election. Could this be part of that?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Might very well be. He might spend a lot more time replying and criticizing things that Donald Trump may be doing as president.

    And if that’s true, he’s got to have some kind of foreshadowing of that in this speech tonight. One thing everyone will be wondering is, what is his current thinking about Trump? Right after the election, he seemed quite moderate about it, hoping perhaps to coax Donald Trump to make more moderate appointments and more moderate policies than he was expecting to.

    But that’s all over now. So, if Barack Obama gets through this speech and there’s not some, you know, genuine statement from him saying, you know, the country has to worry a little bit about what the new president is doing and, you know, perhaps think about a different direction, then I think we may not feel that he’s really leveling with us in the way that other presidents have.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Annette Gordon-Reed, the White House did release just a small portion of what the president is going to say.

    It’s basically he’s saying — he talks about the beauty of democracy and the experiment itself, government. He said, “This is a great gift our founders gave us, the freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil and imagination.”

    But is Michael right, he’s going to need to say more than that about what he’s got in mind for the future, or else people may be disappointed?

    ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Well, I think we’re in unchartered waters here.

    We have a president who has never held office before. This is one of the things that was apparently one of his attractions to people. We don’t know what to expect. And so I think Michael is right. We really do expect to have him say something that indicates what kind of role he’s going to play after he leaves office, because we’re in an unprecedented era, and the president has to be different perhaps.

    The post-presidency has to be different, not just matter of a person getting their library together or whatever. When he’s talking about the experiment, the American experiment, the question is, how does it continue in this particular moment? And so I expect he will say something like that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, is there — I mean, looking at what presidents have done through history, post-presidency, have their actions been affected by the outcome of the election?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: They sure have.

    I mean, Eisenhower said that, when Kennedy defeated his vice president, Nixon, he felt as if he had been hit in the solar plexus by a baseball bat.

    And so I think, in Barack Obama’s case, if we hear him tonight not saying essentially I didn’t expect to finish my presidency giving this office over to a successor who wants to destroy much of what I have tried to do and who is in many ways almost the opposite of me, if he just sort of plays cool, as if sort of he’s unruffled by that, the best Obama speeches have been — and this is true of most presidents — when you really feel that you are hearing his inner monologue.

    If this is too rhetorical, if he’s trying too hard to imitate, let’s say, George Washington’s farewell address, this will not be a success tonight.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Annette Gordon-Reed, how much have presidents in the past have been able to sort of, I don’t want to say tinker with their legacy, but, say, shape their legacy post-presidency?

    I’m thinking about Jimmy Carter, but I — but there are other examples.

    ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Well, Jimmy Carter has done a wonderful job with his legacy and sort of changing what people think about him in his post-presidential years.

    But, for the most part, it’s very difficult to set your legacy, because every generation of people asks different questions and is concerned about different things. So, a president could say, oh, this is what I want people to focus on, but other generations aren’t really as concerned about that.

    So, it’s — you know, it’s a gamble. They do the best they can do, but historians are going to do what they’re going to do and write what they’re going to write based upon the needs of their particular generation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Michael?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Annette is absolutely right.

    We cannot be spun, or at least we’d like to think that we cannot be. And the presidents who are trying to — too overtly to try to say, here is what you historians and what you later Americans should think of my presidency, 30 or 40 years later, they look silly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Annette, the fact that he’s doing it in front of an audience of supporters, we have not always — we have not seen many presidential speeches in that form, have we?

    ANNETTE GORDON-REED: No, we have not.

    But this is a special moment, and he’s in a special place, the place where he began his life as a public servant. And so it’s fitting that he would be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Annette Gordon-Reed, thank you very much. Michael Beschloss, we thank you both.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: We will be listening.

    ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Glad to be here.

    Yes, we will be.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we want to add that, before the president’s address tonight, we hope you will head to our Web site, where we have put together some of the most memorable moments from President Obama’s speeches over the years. That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City July 16, 2015. With Obama are Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels (R) and correctional officer Ronald Warwick. Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.      REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTX1KKQX

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: As president, Mr. Obama made a pledge to shine a light on mass incarceration and criminal justice issues. Among other things, he has used his executive power to grant clemency to more people than any other president in modern history.

    As part of our series The Obama Years, the “NewsHour”‘s Hari Sreenivasan begins our coverage.

    NORMAN BROWN: “Dear Norman, I wanted to personally inform you that I will be granting your application for commutation.”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Norman Brown is reading the letter from President Obama that gave him his life back. For 24.5 years, he was in federal prison for selling drugs in Washington, D.C., specifically six counts of distributing cocaine. It was his third strike, and that meant life without parole.

    NORMAN BROWN: I never thought that I would get no more than maybe 15 years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While he was in prison, his parents, his grandmother, his brother all died, his children grew up, and the men sentenced with him were released.

    NORMAN BROWN: I wanted to get out to prove to people that I had a monster sentence, but I wasn’t a monster.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Brown took classes, taught others, earned certificates for trade skills and was a model prisoner.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is my strong belief that, by exercising these presidential powers, I have the chance to show people what a second chance can look like.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The president explained his motivation this year at a lunch with clemency recipients, including Brown.

    In 2014, Mr. Obama began a large-scale clemency project, reducing the sentences of mostly nonviolent drug offenders, after his administration’s efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system failed in Congress the previous year.

    NORMAN BROWN: And being an example for you all is a part of my duty.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Brown has been out for a year now. He mentors kids in the juvenile justice system as a volunteer for the Washington Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and helps former prisoners like him re-enter society.

    NORMAN BROWN: It’s about growing up.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Steve Wasserman of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys defends the strict sentencing guidelines that put people like Brown behind bars for so long.

    STEVEN WASSERMAN, National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys: When you look at recidivism rates in this country, they range anywhere from 50 to 75 percent. The statistics would indicate that a large number of them will reoffend. And they will reoffend in a variety of different ways, which will victimize people, the public. And that’s where our core concern is.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama has received more than 35,000 petitions for clemency in the past eight years. He’s granted 1,324; 1,176 of those are commutations that simply shorten a sentence; 148 are presidential pardons, which forgive a person’s conviction and reinstate civil liberties, like voting.

    There are still 12,000 commutation petitions awaiting a decision before the end of Obama’s term.

    Darrin Perkins has filed for one. In 1993, he was sentenced to life without parole on conspiracy charges for distribution of crack cocaine in Washington, D.C. Mandatory guidelines in effect at the time made it difficult to sentence him with anything less than life in prison without parole.

    Perkins’ family still lives in the same D.C. neighborhood and has stood by him for the almost 26 years that he’s been locked up. His youngest child, Brandi Patterson, was born after Perkins’ incarceration.

    BRANDI PATTERSON: My dad’s been in jail for 26 years. I think that he’s definitely served his debt. He’s paid his debt to society. And he wasn’t able to see his children grow. And I feel like the little bit of time that he does have left with us, that he should be able to experience it physically.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Perkins’ eldest son, Delonte Simon, knows his father was far from perfect, but wonders what life would be like if his arrest never happened.

    DELONTE SIMON: Me and Brandi talked about, if our father was out, how would we be or how would things be with our family? Would we be the same people? Would our family be as strong as it is now? What, we don’t know. But, at the end of the day, everything happens for a reason.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Even the judge who sentenced him to life sent a letter to the president saying he would have imposed a shorter sentence if the law had allowed it.

    Perkins told the “NewsHour” in an e-mail from prison that he will continue to fight for his freedom, but is unsure what a Trump administration will mean for his future.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: I am the law and order candidate.


    HARI SREENIVASAN: President-elect Trump has been silent on his plans for clemency, but his pick for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, made it clear in a 2014 press release that the current administration has overstepped. Sessions called the president’s sentencing reform efforts — quote — “a thumb in the eye of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, court and prison personnel.”

    Wasserman says the reason why President Obama is granting massive amounts of clemency are the major problem.

    STEVEN WASSERMAN: He’s granting essentially mass commutations simply because he disagrees with the law as duly passed by Congress. And we believe that that is an historical break from previous presidents’ exercise of that power.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While Perkins and his family wait and hope to receive a letter from the president…

    NORMAN BROWN: “I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around.”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: … Norman Brown knows the responsibility that comes with it.

    Even the president in his letter tells you people are going to doubt you, whether you are reformed, whether you can live a clean, good life. I mean, it’s a challenge.


    And I wouldn’t want to let him down. I wouldn’t want to let — because to let him down means that the process of clemency doesn’t work. And I say that because of the fact that, if we are not given a second chance, that means a lot of us who have talents that society can use will just dry-rot in jail.

    And society needs what we have to offer. Yes, we made a mistake, but who hasn’t?

    “So, good luck. Godspeed. Sincerely yours, President Obama.”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” Hari Sreenivasan, Waldorf, Maryland.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And in addition to the president’s record on executive clemency, we wanted to take a broader look at his overall record on criminal justice reform.

    William Brangham has that look.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Obama often points out that the U.S. is 5 percent of the world’s population, but has over 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. His administration has tried various initiatives to change that reality. But how successful has that effort been?

    I’m joined now by Wesley Lowery. He’s a reporter for The Washington Post who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on policing, and he’s the author of the book “They Can’t Kill Us All.” And I’m joined by Bill McCollum. He’s a former congressman from Florida and former attorney general of the state. He’s now a lawyer in private practice.

    Welcome, gentlemen, to you both.

    Wesley Lowery, I would like to start with you.

    One of the things that is one of the most dramatic efforts that the Obama administration has made is the Department of Justice intervening in local police departments to try to stamp out what they see as abuses there. This has happened in almost two dozen police departments around the country.

    Broadly speaking, can you tell us, what are they trying to do, and how successful has that effort been?

    WESLEY LOWERY, The Washington Post: What we see in these cases has been a very aggressive Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

    And so what they would do in a case like Ferguson or Baltimore is send federal investigators to that town, to that city to conduct investigations. They would request reams of data. They would dig through internal documents.

    And what they were essentially doing is preparing a prosecution document, these reports that you would see, in which the Department of Justice would lay out their case for litigation. They would argue that a police department is violating the civil rights of its residents, whether it be through traffic stops or through use of force. And it would lay those things out, essentially with the threat to sue the city and sue the department.

    In order to prevent that lawsuit, many of these departments and these cities would enter what are called federal consent decrees, and so — in which the city and department agree to a certain set of reforms and agree to some type of federal monitoring for a period of time, something the Obama administration has used very aggressively in order to try to force change to departments that otherwise might not have seen it, because what we have to remember is, the federal government actually has very little power over local police departments, based on kind of our system of government.

    Policing is a small government, local issue. This is one of the few ways that the federal government can actually make the police in your town or your city behave differently.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Bill McCollum, I wonder what your take on that is. What is your sense of how the Obama administration has handled its efforts to reform police in the country?

    BILL MCCOLLUM, Former Florida Attorney General: Well, I don’t think, first of all, that the need of reform of police is very strong. But they have gone into a few communities. I don’t doubt that, out of the thousands of local police and sheriff’s departments, there are some that need some kind of attention.

    But the biggest problem I see with the Obama administration’s approach is that it’s all civil rights-focused. It doesn’t recognize the fact that the police overall do a terrific job and need more support. Their morale is at an all-time low today around the country as a result of, frankly, the president’s lack of leadership or his misdirection in that leadership in the face of some very serious incidents that I think did need some attention.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Wesley Lowery, in defending his own record, the president this weekend cited that we have seen historically low levels of crime during his presidency. Can the president take credit for that? He is taking credit for it, but is that a legitimate thing to claim?

    WESLEY LOWERY: You know, it is certainly accurate and true that we are seeing some of the lowest levels of crime in the history of the United States of America. The Obama years are some of the most peaceful years in American history as it relates to crime.

    I think New York City just had the least violent year in its modern recorded history. Now, that means very little to a family living in West Englewood, Chicago, right, or in Englewood, or in many of the neighborhoods in Baltimore and even here in D.C.

    And so we have — what we have certainly seen is that the majority of the country has become safer, and yet the places that are dangerous have become more dangerous.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Bill, one of the other things that President Obama has taken great effort at is trying to reduce what he believes is an epidemic of mass incarceration.

    He has signed laws that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, change these sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine vs. powdered cocaine. What do you make of that effort over the past eight years?

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Well, I think he’s right to try to reduce the differences between crack and powder cocaine. I don’t have a problem with granting clemency on a case-by-case basis. As attorney general of Florida, that’s something that I did. I was part of the clemency board that met every month.

    But I do believe in minimum mandatory sentences. I do believe in deterrence that is going to come out of a determinate sentencing. When I was on the Crime Subcommittee in Congress several years ago, we didn’t have that. And instead, we had judges that were widely varied in the kind of sentencing that they did. And the messaging was terrible.

    And one of the reasons that we do have this lower crime rate today is because we have locked up a lot of the bad guys for long sentences, and we have seen fewer of them out on the street to commit those crimes.

    I fear that we’re going back into a new cycle, where everybody is saying, hey, let’s turn everybody out, and you haven’t rehabilitated anybody in prison.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Wes Lowery, obviously, we’re coming to the end of the Obama administration. And the Trump administration has signaled at least in several of his potential appointees a different tide.

    What do you think we’re likely to see in this next administration?

    WESLEY LOWERY: Well, I certainly think we’re going to see a very different tenor and tone from the administration. We have already begun to see this in terms of how many of these issues are framed, right?

    So while, for example, President Obama or Eric Holder was much more likely to be talking about something such as a police shooting or community distrust, President-elect Trump and his incoming attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have shown they are much more likely to talk about things such as supporting police officers, so-called war on police, and the idea of, you know, ridding things of violent crime.

    I think very often, in our partisan political lens, we talk about either one of those things or the other one of those things, when, in reality, most police chiefs who you talk to will note that both of those things are things that deteriorate the relationships between police and communities. Right?

    In the Trump administration, it is going to be fascinating to see what the posture of the DOJ is towards these issues, not just policing, but criminal justice broadly. In Jeff Sessions, you have an attorney general who is one of the people who on the Hill has prevented the criminal justice reform package that has been proposed by a bipartisan set of senators and congressmen from happening.

    And so it is going to be very interesting to see what, if any federal leadership on — in terms of either walking back mandatory minimums, which has been a major focus of the Obama administration, issues of clemency, and then also issues of kind of data collection. It is going to be very interesting to see what, if at all is pursued by the Trump administration in those spaces.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Bill McCollum, last to you. What do you think the Trump administration will do in this regard?

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Well, I like to think they are going to return to the policies that the Reagan and Bush administrations of the ’80s and early ’90s did.

    And that was to look at examples like Boston’s policing, where they did community policing, and take examples and say, look to local governments, here’s some money, federal money. Go do it, like the police block grants that were given out years ago, not without some strings, but basically saying, we want you cops back out on the streets, walking those beats, instead of being afraid to do your job, which they are today.

    And I would like to see and believe that they’re going to also focus on the black community and the Hispanic community and the minorities. That’s where I think President-elect Trump has said he’s going to do things.

    And the best thing he can do is to address the black-on-black crime, Hispanic-upon-Hispanic crime, the gangs that are there, to try to prevent the crime in the first place and deter it, and then, of course, arresting those who really are the ones that are making the trouble.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Bill McCollum, Wesley Lowery, thank you both very much.

    WESLEY LOWERY: Thank you.

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    FILE PHOTO: Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani attends Iran's Assembly of Experts biannual meeting in Tehran, Iran March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo - RTX2YB24

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: On Sunday, one of the founders of the Islamic Revolution in Iran died at age 82.

    Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani helped to lead the 1979 uprising, and went on to serve both as the powerful speaker of the parliament and as Iran’s president in the 1980s. He was also a mentor of their current president, Hassan Rouhani, who will be up for reelection this May.

    Joining me now to discuss Rafsanjani, his influence and Iran going forward is Karim Sadjadpour. He’s a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Karim, thank you for being back with us.

    KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace: Thank you. Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What made Rafsanjani the influential figure that he was?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: Well, to begin, he was a close confidant of the father of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.

    And I think what was unique about Rafsanjani was that he was always the cleric in Iran who was interested in putting the country’s interests, namely, its economic interests, before revolutionary ideology.

    But he ultimately lost that battle against the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who always believed that the revolutionary ideology should come first.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as you wrote, you have written in the last couple of days, he helped to put Khamenei, the current ayatollah, in power, but almost immediately started trying to get him out of power. It’s a fascinating story.

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: It really is. I call it Shiite Shakespeare, like a Shakespearian epic, because he was the kingmaker.

    He made Khamenei supreme leader in 1989, thinking that he could — he would be weak and pliant and Rafsanjani could control him. And I think he spent the last three decades of his life trying to wrestle power back from Khomeini, unsuccessfully.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They were two very different men, weren’t they? Why was one successful and the other one wasn’t ultimately?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: Well, I think, ultimately, what was — what made Khamenei successful is, I think he understood an important Machiavellian rule, which is, in authoritarian regimes, it’s much more important to be feared than to be loved.

    So, Khamenei very carefully over the last couple decades had cultivated the military, the Revolutionary Guard, and so that was deeply helpful to him. At the same time, whereas Khamenei had a reputation for being financially clean, Rafsanjani and his family had a terrible reputation of being economically corrupt, which provoked a lot of popular resentment against them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Resentment, and yet you’re telling us his death means a great deal for Iran.

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: Well, yes, he was one of the pillars, the last two remaining pillars of the 1979 revolution who played a very important role as a mentor to the younger generation of technocrats, and, as you mentioned, President Hassan Rouhani.

    And he was kind of a counterweight against more radical forces in Iran. I think that obituary writers are very confused about Rafsanjani, because, on one hand, he was someone who had blood on his hands. He ordered the killing of dissidents and intellectuals within Iran. He was implicated in terrorist operations overseas.

    But, at the same time, in the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he was more moderate than his peers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that was my next question: How moderate was he truly?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: So, in a Western liberal context, he wasn’t a Jeffersonian democrat, but in the context of Iran, as I said, he favored putting the country’s economic interests before revolutionary ideology, which meant things that — that he was supportive of detente with the United States.

    He was supportive of a cordial relationship with Saudi Arabia. And he differed on these issues of revolutionary ideology, in contrast to the supreme leader.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I think we mentioned he was a mentor to the current president, President Rouhani.

    So, what does it mean now that he’s gone from the scene? What do you expect to see in the months to come?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: I think May 2017 will be the first litmus test. That’s Iran’s presidential elections.

    I think we have learned in the United States that predicting presidential elections even…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We have learned that.

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: We have learned — even in a democratic system is difficult, let alone in an opaque, authoritarian system like Iran.

    You know, I made the comparison, I make the comparison with Bill Clinton. Rafsanjani was an elder statesman of Iranian politics. He served as president of the country. But his political — he didn’t have a political future. He had a prominent past.

    And so I ultimately don’t think that this is a game-changer for Iran, in that the powers that be currently, the supreme leader, the Revolutionary Guards, are going to remain the main powers that be. But, you know, an influential counterweight against them has now been removed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Karim Sadjadpour, thank you very much.

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Judy.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace "2017 Passing the Baton" conference in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RTX2YBOI

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This morning, I sat down with outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He was one of many Obama administration officials participating in an event called Passing the Baton, focused on a smooth transition between administrations.

    I began by asking him just how smoothly the transition to the Trump team is going.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Well, it’s going pretty smoothly because there’s not an enormous amount of it.

    There are some people that have been in the building for a period of time. But, you know, quite candidly, I think there has not been a lot of high-level exchange at this point in time. I’m still expecting to meet with my successor at some point in the near term.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You haven’t met with him yet?

    JOHN KERRY: No, I haven’t met with him yet.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you expect to?

    JOHN KERRY: I do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What are the one or two things that you wish you had known in the very beginning that you only learned later and maybe painfully?

    JOHN KERRY: What troubles me a little bit is that people are not separating a remarkable transformation that is taking place globally naturally from things that we’re really responsible for.

    Let me give you an example, Arab Spring. We didn’t start the Arab Spring. We couldn’t have stopped the Arab Spring, particularly with respect to Syria. And I think there are some things that might have been able to have been done.

    But that had nothing to do with the red line. And let’s make that absolutely clear, folks. President Obama never retreated from his red line. He never changed his mind about his readiness to bomb Assad to make it clear, you don’t use chemical weapons, never. There’s a mythology that’s grown up around this.

    One of the greatest challenges we all face right now, not just America, but every country in the world, is, we are living in a factless political environment. And every country in the world better stop and start worrying about authoritarian populism and the absence of substance in our dialogue, if you call it that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What can the U.S. do about that?

    JOHN KERRY: Well, we’re going to have to fight for it.

    I think a lot of people are struggling with the, what do you do about it? If policy is going to be made in 140 characters on Twitter, and every reasonable measurement of accountability is being bypassed, and people don’t care about it, we have a problem.

    And it’s not just our problem here in the United States. It’s all over the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Kerry also called for a new Marshall Plan to help countries in critical regions around the world educate their exploding youth populations and prevent them from being radicalized.

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    FBI Director James Comey testifies to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on “Russia’s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX2YD5X

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The nation’s top intelligence officials appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, just days after the release of a report on the alleged role of Russian influence during the 2016 election and intrusion into both Democratic and Republican networks.

    Margaret Warner reports.

    SEN. MARK WARNER (D-Va.): Now, in any of your careers, have you ever seen this level of Russian interference in our political process? And we will start with Director Comey, and just go down the line.

    JAMES COMEY, Director, FBI: No.

    MAN: I have not.

    MAN: No.

    MAN: No.

    MARGARET WARNER: It was a unified response from America’s top intelligence officers in their first public appearance since releasing an unclassified report describing a coordinated Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

    The report released Friday determined with — quote — “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of American political organizations, focused on Democrats, that it was designed to aid president-elect Donald Trump and discredit his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and that stolen information was then delivered to WikiLeaks, and other groups, which published it online.

    The report stopped short of providing the evidence underlying those judgments. That remained the case today, with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper saying, to disclose more would jeopardize sources.

    JAMES CLAPPER, Director of National Intelligence: We are very dependent on — given the nature of intelligence work to start with you, very dependent on you, as our overseers, to look at that yourselves on behalf of the electorate.

    MARGARET WARNER: Committee chair, Senator Richard Burr, also said he would investigate leaks to the media about the report in advance of its release.

    FBI Director James Comey declined to say if there is an investigation into whether the Russian government communicated with anyone in the Trump team. That raised eyebrows with some members.

    JAMES COMEY: In a public forum, we never confirm or deny a pending investigation.

    SEN. ANGUS KING (I-Maine): The irony of your making that statement here, I cannot avoid, but I will move on.

    JAMES COMEY: Well, we sometimes think differently about closed investigations.

    But you asked me if I had any pending investigations, and we’re not going to talk about that.

    MARGARET WARNER: That was a veiled reference to Comey’s decision to speak publicly before the election about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

    Also at question, whether the hacks altered the outcome of the election. The Trump team has characterized the report as saying the hacking had no effect on the election results. But, in fact, the report explicitly said it made no judgment on that. It did say there is no evidence that voting machinery or counting was affected.

    CIA Director John Brennan also said he had recently discussed the hacking with his Russian counterpart.

    JOHN BRENNAN, Director, CIA: And told him clearly that if Russia was doing this, they’re playing with fire. He denied any type of activity along these lines, but I made it very clear to him that, basically, we’re onto them.

    MARGARET WARNER: Separately, a group of 10 senators from both parties introduced legislation seeking to broaden sanctions on Russia.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.

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    Dylann Roof, who is facing the death penalty for the hate-fueled killings of nine black churchgoers, makes his opening statement at his trial in this courtroom sketch in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., January 4, 2017.  REUTERS/Sketch by Robert Maniscalco - RTX2XJHE

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: A federal jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white supremacist represented himself, but he presented no case and didn’t ask the jury to spare his life.

    Afterward, one man whose sister was killed called the verdict a hollow victory.

    MELVIN GRAHAM, Brother of Victim: My sister is still gone. I wish that this verdict could have brought her back, but it can’t. But what it can do is just send a message to those who feel the way he feels that this community will not tolerate it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Roof is the first person sentenced to die for a federal hate crime. He still faces murder charges in state court.

    President Obama is back home tonight in Chicago for his farewell address to the nation. He is expected to reflect on his eight years in office before an audience of thousands of supporters. In a Facebook post today, he previewed his message, saying — quote — “We have reaffirmed the belief that we can make a difference with our own hands, in our own time.”

    PBS will have special live coverage of the president’s speech later tonight.

    The man in line to be the next secretary of homeland security says building barriers along the Mexican border is not enough. Retired Marine General John F. Kelly had his Senate confirmation hearing today. Among the questions: What about President-elect Trump’s promise to build a border wall?

    GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), Secretary of Homeland Security Designate: Certainly, as a military person that understands defense and defenses, a physical barrier, in and of itself, will not do the job. It has to be, really, a layered defense.

    If you were to build a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you would still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, by observation devices.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kelly also said he doesn’t support the idea of a registry for Muslims or for other religious groups.

    In Afghanistan, nearly 40 people died today in a pair of bombings that rocked Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility. The blasts erupted near the Afghan parliament complex during evening rush hour. In addition to the dead, more than 70 others were wounded.

    Thousands of people in Northern California remain under evacuation orders tonight, as heavy rain and snow roll over the region. Even police vehicles got stuck in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where up to 10 feet of snow was falling, and even ski resorts had to shut down.

    Elsewhere, flooding in Sonoma County is now the worst in a decade, forcing officials to open a Sacramento dam for the first time since 2005.

    Wall Street mostly marked time today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 32 points to close at 19855. The Nasdaq rose 20 points, and the S&P 500 was unchanged.

    And the newly crowned champions of college football are back home in Clemson, South Carolina, tonight, after an epic victory over Alabama. The Tigers scored last night with one second left on the clock to win 35 to 31. It was a rematch of last year’s title game, when Alabama won.

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    U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) takes his seat to resume his testimony during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for his nomination to become U.S. attorney general on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX2YD47

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s opening day of confirmation season for team Trump.

    And Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, was leadoff man. He went before colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, defending his views on race and civil rights and, at times, separating himself from the man who chose him.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions walked into his hearing to some as a longtime, accomplished senator unfairly accused of prejudice, to others, as an extreme conservative who stokes racial divide.

    In his opening remarks, the attorney general hopeful laid out his theme to both sides, saying he would put the law above his own views.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, Attorney General-Designate: I have always loved the law. It is the very foundation of our great country. It’s the exceptional foundation of America.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But Sessions’ politics and view of the law have sparked furious opposition.

    In 1986, accusations of racially insensitive remarks and actions led the Senate to reject him for a federal judgeship.

    SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee: And the committee has received letters of opposition from 400 different civil rights organizations, 1,400 law professors.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Today, ranking Democrat California’s Dianne Feinstein opened by pointing to fears that Sessions wouldn’t enforce laws fairly to all. Sessions insisted the accusations were all false.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: This caricature of me in 1986 was not correct. I have become United States attorney. I supported, as the civil rights attorney said, major civil rights cases in my districts.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The hearing was interrupted regularly by protesters raising an array of concerns, from civil rights to immigration to marijuana policy. Committee Democrats like largely withheld fire today, instead focusing on questions about major issues like abortion.

    SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You have referred to Roe vs. Wade as — quote — “one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time” — end quote. Is that still your view?

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: It is. It is law of the land. It has been so established and settled for quite a long time. And it deserves respect, and I would respect it and follow it.

    LISA DESJARDINS: This was Sessions’ refrain: His view hasn’t changed; his job would. Similarly, on same-sex marriage.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: The five justices on the Supreme Court, a majority of the court, has established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America. And I will follow that decision.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And on waterboarding.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any form of torture in the United States by our military and by all other departments and agencies.

    LISA DESJARDINS: It was on immigration, an issue where Sessions will have tremendous power, that he took a staunch stand.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I do believe that if you continually go through a cycle of amnesty, that you undermine the respect for the law and encourage more illegal immigration into America. I believe the American people spoke clearly in this election. I believe they agreed with my basic view.

    LISA DESJARDINS: One question was asked by both parties: How would Sessions handle any cases involving President-elect Trump and his family? Sessions insisted he would resign, rather than do something unlawful.

    Later, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked about Russia.

    SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-R.I.): Will the Department of Justice and the FBI under your administration be allowed to continue to investigate the Russian connection, even if it leads to the Trump camp and Trump interests and associates?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Sessions didn’t answer directly, and brought up another country.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: If there are laws violated and they can be prosecuted, then of course you will have to handle that in an appropriate way. I would say that the problem may turn out to be, as in the Chinese hacking of hundreds of thousands of maybe millions, of records, it has to be handled at a political level.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Sessions told the committee he would recuse himself on cases involving Hillary Clinton’s email, but asked if he’d recuse himself from any Trump investigations?

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I would review it and try to do the right thing as to whether or not it should stay within the jurisdiction of the attorney general or not.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And we may see more drama and strong words tomorrow. That’s when there will be witnesses for and against Mr. Sessions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa, thanks, along with other nominee confirmations.

    So, Lisa, separately today, the president-elect told The New York Times in an interview that he wants Republicans in Congress to replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, at the same time or very shortly after they repeal it. How does that square with what Republicans are thinking and planning to do?

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s certainly been the other big headline on Capitol Hill today. It is at odds with the direction Republicans had been going in. Right now, the repeal itself seems likely to happen some time perhaps by the end of January, at its fastest, and replacement, Republicans haven’t agreed on a timeline for that, some of them looking at even maybe this summer.

    But now we have had word from the House Republican Speaker Paul Ryan today, saying he hopes to add in some concurrent elements of the replace as they repeal. I think, all in all, Judy, this is sort of the longtime Republican leaders in Congress coming, perhaps clashing with to some degree the new Republican president to be.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just quickly, Lisa, this could mean a delay in the repeal vote?

    LISA DESJARDINS: No, I don’t think so, but I think what it means, it will be very difficult to meet Donald Trump’s timeline of an immediate repeal. The repeal itself is probably still weeks away.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you.

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    It has been six months – 168 days, to be exact – since the last time President-elect Donald Trump conducted a news conference. The drought is expected to end at 11 am Wednesday, when he will hold his first formal news conference since July, in New York. It will come during the second day of Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet choices and the night after President Obama delivered his farewell address in Chicago.

    NEW YORK — Hours before his first news conference as president-elect, Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted U.S. intelligence agencies, blaming them for leaking unsubstantiated reports on his relationship with Russia and demanding, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

    A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that intelligence officials had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter. Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings last week, the official said.

    Media outlets reported on the document late Tuesday, and Trump quickly took to Twitter to denounce it as “fake news.” He suggested that he’s being persecuted for defeating other GOP presidential hopefuls and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.

    “I win an election easily, a great ‘movement’ is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS. A sorry state!” he tweeted early Wednesday. “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

    The topic appears certain to come up at the previously scheduled new conference Wednesday morning. The news conference had been designed for Trump to discuss whether and how he plans to avoid conflicts of interest with his global business empire.

    Trump is certain to face questions about what role he believes Russia played in the election year hacking of Democratic groups — interference the intelligence community says was intended to help the Republican defeat Clinton.

    A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, denied allegations that Russia has compromising material on Trump. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed news reports as a “complete fabrication and utter nonsense.” He insisted that the Kremlin “does not engage in collecting compromising material.”

    Trump’s news conference is also expected to include questions about how he plans to disentangle himself from his family-owned international real estate development, property management and licensing business. Trump had originally planned to outline those steps at a mid-December news conference, but the event was delayed, in part because of the complexity of the matter.

    Last week, Trump told The Associated Press that there was a “very simple solution” to his potential business conflicts. He’s said he will not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization, but has not made clear whether he will retain a financial interest in the company.

    Trump has sporadically taken questions during the transition, popping out of the gold-plated elevators at his eponymous Manhattan skyscraper to address reporters for a few minutes or greeting the media on the driveway of his South Florida club. But those encounters have all been brief, leaving many details of the president-elect’s policy positions unclear.

    Trump has supplemented the short press sessions with a steady stream of 140-character tweets, weighing in on everything from the intelligence community’s track record to actress Meryl Streep’s critical remarks about him at the Golden Globes. The president-elect also used Twitter to stunningly suggest the U.S. should boost its nuclear capabilities, another one of the vague policy pronouncements that could come up Wednesday.

    Less than two weeks from taking office, Trump is also confronting the reality of implementing his sweeping campaign promises, including building a wall along the nation’s southern border and having Mexico foot the bill. Trump’s team is considering relying on an existing law that authorizes fencing — and the U.S. taxpayer money to bankroll it — at the border. Trump still insists, however, that Mexico will eventually pay for any projects.

    Trump and Republican lawmakers are also grappling with how to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, a long-sought GOP goal. Some Republicans have suggested delaying a replacement measure, though Trump told the New York Times Tuesday that he wants to take that step “very quickly or simultaneously” with the repeal.

    The president-elect has not specified what he believes should be included in a new health care law.


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     President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago on Jan. 10. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago on Jan. 10. Image by Jonathan Ernst via Reuters

    CHICAGO – In his final major speech before leaving the White House, President Obama on Tuesday marked the country’s progress since he took office on a range of social and economic fronts, but warned Americans not to become complacent in the face of the racial and class divisions put on display in the 2016 election.

    At turns wistful and workmanlike, Mr. Obama touched on the major themes of his presidency, from health care to marriage equality to the economic recovery accomplished on his watch.

    After eight years in office, Mr. Obama said, he still believed in the power of “ordinary people” to bring about real change. “And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government,” he said.

    “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”

    But, noting that “progress has been uneven,” Mr. Obama stressed that more work needs to be done. And though he rarely mentioned his successor by name, Donald Trump’s election hung in the air.

    “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back,” Mr. Obama said.

    It was an emotional night for the thousands of supporters who lined up hours in advance for the chance to see Mr. Obama one last time before he steps down from office.

    The event took place at the McCormick Convention center, in the same hall where Mr. Obama spoke on the night of his 2012 re-election, and not far from Grant Park, where he addressed supporters after winning the presidency four years earlier.

    WATCH: The best of Obama’s speeches

    “I was in tears” when Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, said Keniesha Charleston, 37, who attended the Grant Park speech and showed up on Tuesday for the president’s farewell address. “I was like, I can’t believe we have an African-American president. I was just overjoyed,” said Charleston, who is black.

    Now, eight years later, Charleston said she was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that Mr. Obama was about to leave office. “I have a lot of mixed emotions right now,” she said. “I’m going to miss him.”

    Montas Ivanauskas, 22, an immigrant from Lithuania, began waiting online at 2 a.m. Monday morning for a chance to get a ticket to see Mr. Obama speak. He said the wait was worth it, even though he could not see the president from his spot near the back of the hall.

    “Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”

    But Ivanauskaus and other supporters said the excitement of seeing Mr. Obama was mixed with anxiety over Trump’s victory.

    “It’s kind of scary,” Kamiah Mitchell, 18, a Chicago native and freshman at DePaul University, said of Trump’s election. Mitchell said she wasn’t ready to see Obama go.

    “Because I’m African-American, when he came in, he made me feel like I can do anything,” she said. “He set a great example for us.”

    Obama spent a lengthy portion of his speech on race, addressing the topic head on in way that he rarely has in the past eight years.

    “After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” Mr. Obama said.

    “All of us have more work to do,” he added. “After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps, while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

    The blunt talk about race represented a break from the farewell speeches of past presidents.

    Most of George W. Bush’s farewell speech in 2009 was devoted to the threat of terrorism, and his administration’s efforts to protect the nation from danger.

    Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Bush recalled the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and his decision to start the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush acknowledged that there was a “legitimate debate about many of these decisions,” a nod, perhaps, to the American public’s frustration with his foreign policy, and his own sinking popularity. Bush left office with approval ratings hovering around 30 percent.

    But Bush defended his belief that promoting freedom around the world was one of the United States’ chief responsibilities. “We must reject isolationism,” Bush said in his speech, adding that “retreating behind our borders would only invite danger.”

    The remarks stand in sharp contrast to the worldview espoused by Trump, the Republican Party’s most influential leader since Bush. They also offer a reminder of how quickly politics can change. Trump opposes U.S. intervention abroad, and has called for measures to close the country’s borders.

    At the same time, Trump’s fascination with the military — echoed by the number of former generals who he has named to senior positions in his administration — marks a departure from another outgoing Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, who famously warned of the growing influence of the military-industrial complex in his farewell speech in 1961.

    Unlike Eisenhower and Bush, who focused on a few central themes in their farewell speeches, Mr. Obama chose to cover more ground in his final major speech as president.

    He spoke about climate change, national security, terrorism and other topics. Still, he kept returning to the issue of equality, and his hope that Americans would continue to push for social and economic change.

    “This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America,” Mr. Obama said. “You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace.”

    Before Mr. Obama spoke, a slide show of photographs from his years in office played on scoreboards above the stage: the president lounging with his youngest daughter, Sasha, on the White House lawn; playing basketball with an aide; walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

    But the photographs also captured some of the most painful moments of Obama’s presidency, among them the mass shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut in 2012, and the attack at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 that killed nine African-American parishioners.

    Just hours before Mr. Obama’s speech, Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, was sentenced to death. Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is the first person to receive the death penalty for a federal hate crime.

    The verdict, coming on the same day as Mr. Obama’s farewell speech, underscored the racism that persists in America today, eight years after the country elected its first black president.

    Still, Mr. Obama said he remained “more optimistic” at the end of his presidency than he had been when he took office.

    “I do have one final ask of you as your President, the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago,” Mr. Obama said. “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream the confirmation hearing for ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, on Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. ET

    WASHINGTON — Friend of Russia and foe of sanctions in his corporate life, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, is an unorthodox choice for a Republican White House. He may feel perfectly at home in Trump’s iconoclastic administration.

    READ MORE: A guide to this week’s confirmation hearings: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and more

    Likely to face pointed questions from both sides of the aisle at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Tillerson represents a break in a longstanding tradition of secretaries of state with extensive military, legislative, political or diplomatic experience. Yet his supporters, including former GOP grandees Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, point to the oil man’s lengthy career as a senior executive in a mammoth multinational company as proof he has the management and negotiating skills to succeed as America’s top diplomat.

    Democrats and even traditional GOP hawks are expected to zero in on Tillerson’s role in orchestrating business deals with Russia, which led to President Vladimir Putin awarding him the Order of Friendship in 2013. Exxon and its subsidiaries’ activities in Iran and Iraq, and his environmental views are also likely to be covered, as are suspicions that Tillerson’s focus will be driven by corporate interests at the expense of the nation’s.

    The severity of any challenge to Tillerson’s nomination is unclear. Already, some leading Democrats who met privately with him have voiced relief at his views on Russia, climate change and trade, even if they appear not to mesh with those of the president-elect.

    Russia is sure to be foremost on everyone’s mind. With allegations of Russian interference in the presidential election roiling the nation, several lawmakers have spoken about scrutinizing his and Exxon’s two-decade relationship with Putin and others in Moscow.

    In prepared opening comments for his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson sought to allay fears about his ties to Russia, saying the former Cold War adversary “poses a danger” that must be taken seriously.

    “We must also be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia,” he will say, according to a statement from the Trump transition. “Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia.”

    At the same time, Tillerson plans to say that an absence of American leadership opened the door to Russia’s increasing assertiveness, according to the prepared remarks. He will also call for an “open and frank dialogue” with Moscow and urge that Russia be held accountable for transgressions.

    “Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options,” he will say. “Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.”

    Yet, Tillerson opposed sanctions championed by both Democrats and Republicans on Russia imposed after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The sanctions banned the transfer to Russia of advanced offshore and shale technology, and Exxon was ordered to stop drilling in the Kara Sea, leaving the site’s potential riches untapped. Tillerson’s main Russian business partner, Rosneft boss and close Putin confidant Igor Sechin, was added to a U.S. sanctions blacklist. Exxon ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

    “We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensibly and that’s a very hard thing to do,” Tillerson said at Exxon’s annual meeting in 2014.

    That position is far from conventional wisdom in Washington, especially among members of Congress, but gained traction in some circles after the Obama administration conceded that more than a half-century of penalties on Cuba had failed to change Havana’s policies.

    Moscow, for its part, hasn’t been swayed by the sanctions, refusing to yield Crimea or to drop its support for a low-level insurgency in eastern Ukraine. But the penalties have caused economic damage to Russia, largely because of the participation of European countries with which it has significant trade relationships.

    Tillerson’s responses on sanction matters will be closely scrutinized, particularly as they relate to Russia.

    The nomination could hit a snag if Tillerson doesn’t acknowledge that Russia interfered in the presidential election, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday.

    “Hacking the one party is an attack against all parties,” the South Carolina Republican told reporters. He said: “Bottom line is, if you don’t want to do anything about what Russia did, if you don’t believe they’re a good candidate for additional sanctions, I think a lot of people are going to look at you as not having the judgment for the job.”

    Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, said he expects members to grill Tillerson about supporting more and tougher sanctions against Russia. Cardin is supporting such legislation.

    “There’s going to be a great deal of interest as to whether Mr. Tillerson understands that he is no longer going to be CEO of Exxon Mobil but that he’s going to be secretary of state,” Cardin said.

    Progressive groups have their own agenda. They’re seeking to rally opposition over Exxon’s environmental record, deals with nations having poor human rights records and possible conflicts of interest. Exxon valued Tillerson’s compensation in 2015 at $27.3 million, most of it in stock, and he is set to receive a $180 million retirement package from Exxon.

    Tillerson, 64, has acknowledged the Earth’s climate is changing, average temperature is rising and greenhouse gas emissions increasing. But he has said the subject remains a complex area of scientific study and Exxon in the past sought to undercut evidence of climate change even as its own scientists recognized the changes as early as the 1970s.

    –BY MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

    Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream Day 2 of Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. ET

    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, used strong words in the first day of his Senate confirmation hearings to deny any hints of a racist past. On day two, a group of black lawmakers will speak out against his nomination — including New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, who will take the rare step of testifying against a current Senate colleague.

    Booker’s testimony underscores Democratic unease with the Alabama Republican, who was rejected for a federal judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee three decades ago amid accusations of racial impropriety.

    READ MORE: A guide to this week’s confirmation hearings: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and more

    Sessions on Tuesday called those accusations “damnably false,” denying that he had ever called the NAACP “un-American” and saying he had never harbored racial hostility. He said the allegations — which included that he had referred to a black attorney in his office as “boy” — are part of a false caricature.

    “It wasn’t accurate then,” Sessions said. “It isn’t accurate now.”

    Sessions has solid support from the Senate’s Republican majority and from some Democrats in conservative-leaning states, and is expected to easily win confirmation. Still, he faces a challenge persuading skeptical Democrats that he’ll be fair and committed to civil rights, a chief priority of the Justice Department during the Obama administration, as the country’s top law enforcement official.

    Republicans on the panel defended Sessions, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz describing how Sessions helped secure convictions in a 1981 murder of a black teenager when he was a federal prosecutor. Two Ku Klux Klan members, Henry Hays and James Knowles, were arrested and convicted.

    “I know we need to do better, we can never go back,” Sessions said. “I am totally committed to maintaining the freedom and equality that this country has to provide to every citizen, I can assure you.”

    Booker calls his opposition “a call to conscience” and said he didn’t make the decision to speak at the hearing lightly.

    “The attorney general is responsible for ensuring the fair administration of justice, and based on his record, I lack confidence that Senator Sessions can honor this duty,” Booker said.

    Senate officials searched and could find no other case in the country’s history when a sitting senator testified against a colleague picked for a Cabinet post.

    Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, is also expected to testify against Sessions. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, also will be appearing, as will David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Sessions also will have advocates in the hearing room Wednesday, including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

    As Sessions was questioned Tuesday, protesters repeatedly interrupted the proceedings. Some loudly called Sessions a racist, and two were dressed as members of the Klu Klux Klan. They were quickly hustled out by police.

    In his testimony, Sessions laid out a sharply conservative vision for the Justice Department he would oversee, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the “scourge of radical Islamic terrorism.” He vowed to stay independent from the White House and stand up to Trump when necessary.

    He also distanced himself from some of Trump’s public pronouncements.

    Sessions said waterboarding, a now-banned interrogation technique for which Trump has at times expressed support, was “absolutely improper and illegal.”

    Though he said he would prosecute immigrants who repeatedly enter the country illegally and criticized as constitutionally “questionable” an executive action by President Barack Obama that shielded certain immigrants from deportation, he said he did “not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States.”

    Trump earlier in his campaign called for a temporary total ban on Muslims entering his country but has more recently proposed “extreme vetting.”

    And Sessions asserted that he could confront Trump if needed, saying an attorney general must be prepared to resign if asked to do something “unlawful or unconstitutional.”

    He also promised to recuse himself from any investigation there might be into Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom he had criticized during the presidential campaign. Trump said during the campaign he would name a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s use of a private email server, but he has since backed away. The FBI and Justice Department declined to bring charges last year.

    Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and before that served as Alabama attorney general and a U.S. attorney.

    He’s been a reliably conservative voice in Congress, supporting government surveillance programs, objecting to the proposed closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility — a sharp departure from Obama’s Justice Department — and opposing a 2013 bipartisan immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.


    The post WATCH LIVE: Day 2 of testimony for Jeff Sessions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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