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

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    Tipis on the outskirts of the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest camp are seen through concertina wire from a police outpost near Cannon Ball, North Dakota on January 29, 2017. Photo by Terray Sylvester/Reuters

    Tipis on the outskirts of the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest camp are seen through concertina wire from a police outpost near Cannon Ball, North Dakota on January 29, 2017. Photo by Terray Sylvester/Reuters

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will now grant the final easement to finish construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven (R) announced Tuesday.

    “[T]he Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Sen. Hoeven said in a statement.

    The senator said this latest move would allow Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, to complete the project, “which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream.”

    Hoeven spokesman Don Canton told the Associated Press that this meant the easement “isn’t quite issued yet, but they plan to approve it” in a matter of days.

    On its official Facebook page, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said Tuesday’s announcement was “disappointing,” but “unfortunately not surprising.”

    The tribe also wrote that the senator’s announcement didn’t mean it was a “formal issuance of the easement.”

    “It is notification that the easement is imminent. The Corps still must take into consideration the various factors mentioned in the Presidential Memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement,” the tribe wrote.

    “If and when the easement is granted, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will vigorously pursue legal action,” the tribe added.

    [Watch Video]

    The Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline were put on hold during the Obama administration. But new executive orders by President Trump begin putting them back on track, as part of efforts to undo former President Obama’s legacy. How do these moves fit into the broader Trump agenda for energy and the environment? William Brangham talks with Valerie Volcovici of Reuters.

    Approval of the easement would reverse the Army Corp’s decision in December to halt construction of the 1,172-mile oil pipeline under a reservoir north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Then, the federal agency said it wouldn’t approve final permits for the project until further environmental review. The Army also said it would explore alternate routes for the $3.8 billion project.

    Last week, however, President Donald Trump signed executive actions that sought to expedite these reviews, helping to clear the way for the construction of several oil pipelines, including the Dakota Access project.

    “I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it’s out of control,” Trump said on the same day he signed these execution actions.

    Following news of the pipeline’s green light, Rep. Kevin Cramer released a video statement on Twitter that praised the Army’s decision, adding that he was “grateful” for the Trump administration.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    “President Trump has proven to be a man of action and I am grateful for his commitment to this and other critical infrastructure projects so vital to our nation,” the North Dakota Republican said in a statement.

    Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, told the NewsHour in November that the pipeline was going to be built under a Trump presidency.

    The Standing Rock Sioux recently made a call for demonstrators to leave the North Dakota encampment that has been the site of months-long protests against the pipeline. Camp organizers also initiated a clean-up effort this week to prevent waste left behind by the protesters from contaminating nearby water sources.

    READ MORE: What’s next in the fight against Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines?

    The post Army Corps poised to approve Dakota Access pipeline, senator says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) testifies before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) testifies before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    A key committee vote on Health and Human Services cabinet nominee, Rep. Tom Price, stalled Tuesday amid charges from Senate Democrats that he has misled the public about issues in his financial background. Democrats are demanding fuller explanations, and Republicans are vowing to break the committee impasse.

    Here are some of the issues still swirling around Price:

    Insider deal or just good fortune? Kaiser Health News reported Jan. 13 that Price got a sweetheart deal this year on a penny stock in an Australian drug company, and Democrats grilled him about it at his confirmation hearing. The Georgia Republican said he first invested in the company after discussing it in 2014 with Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a major stakeholder in Innate Immunotherapeutics. The opportunity this year to buy more stock in a private placement was “available to every single individual that was an investor at the time,” Price testified. His account was called into question again Monday in a Wall Street Journal report. Company chief executive Simon Wilkinson confirmed that a limited number of U.S. investors were offered the private placement, which was discounted by 12 percent, according to company documents. U.S. investors who bought in included Price, Collins, Collins’ chief of staff and a former Buffalo congressman, records show. Senate Democrats want more details.

    How much was the stock really worth? Price testified that he fully disclosed his Innate Immunotherapeutics investments to the House Ethics Committee. Yet the Senate Finance Committee staff discovered in its review that he had undervalued his stock holdings and asked him to correct the filing. Records show Price upped his estimate of the stock’s value from $50,000 to $100,000, as reported in a December disclosure, to the actual market value of $100,000 to $250,000. Price called the discrepancy a “clerical error.”

    An ethics probe that Price forgot to mention: Price checked “no” when asked in a Senate Finance Committee questionnaire if he had ever been subject to an ethics complaint or investigation. But the committee staff reminded him that he had. In 2010, the Office of Congressional Ethics looked into a lunch hosted by Price’s campaign committee, offering one-on-one meetings between Price and lobbyists working on a financial reform bill that the congressman would vote on the next day. The ethics office referred the issue to the House Ethics Committee to determine whether Price improperly solicited campaign funds. The House Ethics Committee found no wrongdoing in 2011. Price said answering “no” was an inadvertent mistake.

    Intervening with health officials, including for a top campaign contributor: Price has written dozens of letters to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration, and scheduled phone calls on issues as diverse as stem cell treatment oversight to a hot pepper ingredient in pain creams. One intervention was for a Georgia company that later became a top campaign contributor, Kaiser Health News reported last week. Price wrote to CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner concerning the reimbursement for a skin graft made by a biotech company in his district, MiMedx. The Medicare pay raise that followed was a “real win” for the company that uses discarded placentas to make wound-healing products, according to the company CEO’s statements to investors. Asked about the matter, an HHS spokesman and former Price staffer defended the lawmaker as only acting “to improve the lives of American people.”

    Did Price’s actions boost the value of his investments? Senate Democrats have questioned whether Price took official actions that could boost the value of health stocks in his portfolio. Time Magazine reported that Price bought as much as $90,000 in stock in six pharmaceutical firms before leading a legislative effort that would benefit the companies’ bottom line. Also, CNN reported that Price invested in the medical device firm Zimmer Biomet before leading another legislative push that could have helped that firm. Price’s team has disputed the CNN account. Price maintains that all of his investments were picked by his broker, with one exception — Innate Immunotherapeutics.

    Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, wrote a letter Monday calling on Price to provide communications on the stock buys and documents that would “determine how much control he actually exercised over his investments in the health care sector.”

    This story was published by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.

    The post Democrats say Cabinet choice Tom Price ‘misled’ the public. Here’s what we know appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    FILE PHOTO - Retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as defense secretary in Washington, U.S. January 12, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo - RTSWJVZ

    Retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as defense secretary in Washington, U.S. January 12, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/File Photo/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — By visiting Japan and South Korea on his first official overseas trip, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is seeking to reinforce key alliances after President Donald Trump’s campaign-trail complaints that defense treaties disadvantaged the United States.

    The visits also reflect the urgency of concerns on both sides of the Pacific about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, inherited a North Korea problem that has grown more worrisome as the communist nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un, claims progress toward fielding a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States. Former Secretary of State John Kerry said in early January the U.S. may need “more forceful ways” of dealing with North Korea if it develops a ballistic missile of intercontinental range.

    Mattis, who entered office hours after Trump on Jan. 20, took off from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland before daybreak and is due to arrive Thursday in Seoul, where he will meet with his counterpart, Defense Minister Han Min Koo, amid a swirl of political turmoil. President Park Geun-hye was impeached in December and the constitutional court is reviewing whether to formally end her rule. Later in the week, Mattis is to hold talks in Tokyo with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and other senior Japanese government officials.

    North Korea is expected to be at or near the top of Mattis’ agenda. Beyond its long-range missile aspirations, the North already has missiles capable of hitting South Korea as well as U.S. bases in Japan.

    Trump said during the campaign that while he supports the alliances with Japan and South Korea, he would not rule out abandoning them if they refuse to pay more for their own defense. “It could be that Japan will have to defend itself against North Korea,” he told a campaign rally in August. The first foreign leader he met as president-elect was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; they’ll meet again in Washington on Feb. 10.

    Mattis has said little in public since taking office. But he has left no doubt that America’s security alliances, including those in Asia, are a top priority. He is the first recently retired military officer to serve as defense secretary since George C. Marshall in 1950-51 during the Korean War.

    Pentagon chiefs regularly visit South Korea and Japan, reflecting their status as U.S. treaty allies. Chuck Hagel, who visited the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea as defense secretary in September 2013, said in an interview that Mattis is making the right move.

    “It was a smart decision” to visit these allies early, Hagel said. He believes officials in Tokyo and Seoul are wondering: “Can we rely on the U.S.? What is the future here?”

    The U.S. has about 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea and about 50,000 in Japan.

    Hagel said Tokyo and other U.S. allies in Asia have been particularly upset by Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of a Pacific Rim trade initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama’s effort to strengthen U.S. economic ties in the region.

    Kent Calder, director of Asia programs at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, said Mattis could bolster Japan’s confidence by explicitly reaffirming that disputed East China Sea islands are covered by the U.S.-Japan defense treaty. The islands are controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkaku, but also claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu.

    China’s regional role and military modernization will also loom over Mattis’s meetings in Seoul and Tokyo. All are hoping to persuade China to use its influence over North Korea to contain or curtail Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

    Mattis said at his Senate confirmation hearing the U.S. should do whatever it takes to stop North Korea from acquiring a nuclear-capable missile of intercontinental range.

    “It’s a serious threat,” he said.

    Anthony Ruggerio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a foreign policy think tank, said Mattis could advance U.S. security interests by encouraging Tokyo and Seoul to improve their bilateral relations, which are strained by disputes.

    “While the two of them may have issues with each other, they need to be unified against North Korea,” Ruggerio said.

    Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.

    The post New Pentagon chief seeks to reassure Asian allies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    US President Donald Trump takes the oath of office with his wife Melania and son Barron at his side, during his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    US President Donald Trump takes the oath of office with his wife Melania and son Barron at his side, during his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Seldom do 12 days of governing come with such rapid-fire action, reaction and consequence.

    The pace of action over the course of President Trump’s first days in office meant that just as Americans started digesting one news item, the next was rolling out at full-speed. Today the headlines are focused on the president’s pick for the Supreme Court, along with his executive order limiting refugees and citizens from seven other countries from entering the United States. Here’s an attempt at putting a haze of action into clear focus, day by day. With links.

    Inauguration Day – Within hours of giving his 16-minute inaugural address, the new president signed his first executive actions, directing agencies to waive the Affordable Care Act when possible and freezing all regulations that were in the pipeline under President Obama.

    Day two. January 21 – President Trump traveled to the CIA, where he spoke to a cheering group in front of the agency’s memorial wall and lambasted the press over reports of the inaugural crowd size. New press secretary Sean Spicer mistakenly backed up the president’s claims that photos of the crowd were distorted. Spicer also correctly pointed out that the press was wrong about the placement of an MLK, Jr. bust in the Oval Office. The Interior Department was told to stop tweeting, after Trump objected to photos of the inaugural crowd.

    Day three. January 22 – Senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway made headlines by saying Spicer used “alternative facts.” She also announced that Mr. Trump will not release his tax returns.

    Day four. January 23 – Actions ramp up. Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TransPacific Partnership, deployed the anti-abortion Mexico City Policy and froze federal hiring. Additionally, his administration froze grants at the EPA. Sean Spicer took on a new tone. And the president falsely claimed in a meeting with congressional leaders that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election.

    Day five. January 24 – Five more executive actions come from President Trump, including moves easing the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as a requirement that all pipelines be made with American materials only.

    Day six. January 25 – The president tweeted that he will launch an investigation into voter fraud. He also signed significant executive orders, directing the building of a border wall and increased deportation measures.

    Day seven. January 26 – In his first sit-down interview, the president said he believes torture works. And the president of Mexico canceled his planned visit to Washington. Mr. Trump said it was a joint decision. Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated the president wants a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico, then said that was only one option to pay for the border wall.

    Day eight. January 27 – The president hosted a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May. He said he still believes torture works but he will defer to his defense secretary on the issue. The New York Times reported that some close to Trump are registered to vote in two states. In the late afternoon, the president signed an executive order barring refugees from Syria indefinitely, and temporarily blocking all immigrants from seven countries (including Syria).

    Day nine. January 28 – In response to the immigrant ban, protests erupted at airports around the country, making news even in pop culture magazines. At the White House, the president signed an order detailing that chief strategist Steve Bannon will sit on top security decision groups.

    Day 10. January 29 – The president defended his immigration order. The White House clarified it (re:Green Card holders), while some Republicans expressed concern. The president called two Arab leaders, and pushed for “safe zones” in Syria.

    Day 11. January 30 – After she refused to defend his order about refugees, President Trump fired the acting attorney general. Earlier, he signed an order requiring that for every new regulation, two more must be revoked.

    Day 12. January 31 – Congressional Democrats step up criticism and cause delays for several of Trump’s cabinet nominees. Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly went to the Capitol to answer lawmakers’ questions about the refugee order and insisted he did know details before it was announced. In a prime-time address, President Trump nominated conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, 49, would be the youngest member on the court and is already drawing fierce opposition among many Senate Democrats.

    The post A blur of a week in politics, slowed down appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general after angry exchanges between Republicans and Democrats.

    The 11-9 vote was along party lines. All the panel’s Democrats voted against the nomination.

    The Alabama Republican is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. Republicans have been strongly supportive of their colleague, arguing that he will follow the law and maintain traditional independence from President Donald Trump, if needed.

    Democrats have expressed doubts that he would be able to say no to the president since he was one of his earliest and strongest defenders in the presidential campaign.

    They also expressed concerns about whether Sessions would be committed to civil rights, a chief priority of the Obama administration.

    The post WATCH: Senate Judiciary Committee votes to approve Sessions for Attorney General appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 31, 2017.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX2Z35S

    Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque and Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are standing united behind President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and bracing for a protracted fight with Democrats over a conservative judge similar in philosophy to the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Gorsuch, a Denver-based judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, “has an impressive background and a long record of faithfully applying the law and the Constitution.” One after the other, Senate Republicans echoed the leader, describing Gorsuch as a well-qualified jurist.

    With Vice President Mike Pence by his side, Gorsuch was planning to meet with McConnell on Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

    If confirmed, the 49-year-old Gorsuch, whose nomination was announced Tuesday night, would be the youngest justice on the court and could be shaping decisions for decades.

    Democrats signaled they will challenge the choice, insisting that Gorsuch, the Ivy League-educated son of a former Reagan Cabinet official, prove to them he is a mainstream nominee. Democrats are still furious with the way Republicans treated former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the open seat last year, refusing to even grant a hearing or a vote to Judge Merrick Garland in Obama’s final year in office.

    Instead, the seat remained empty for 10 months and the court operated with eight justices as McConnell maintained that the next president should make the nomination.

    “This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the court,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

    Merkley suggested before the nominee was announced that he will hold up the nomination and force Republicans to find 60 votes for confirmation. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority.

    Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York hasn’t officially said whether he would back a filibuster, the procedural maneuver that would require 60 votes. But he said after the nomination was announced that the Senate “must insist” on 60 votes, meaning McConnell will need bipartisan support. And any senator can move to filibuster.

    Democrats are under intense pressure from liberal groups and the party base to challenge every Trump nominee. As the nomination was announced, hundreds were protesting at Schumer’s Brooklyn home, pressuring him to vote against Cabinet picks and block the Supreme Court nominee.

    Like Merkley, a handful of Democrats came out in immediate opposition to Gorsuch. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said Gorsuch has sided with large companies over workers, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who said Gorsuch’s rulings haven’t favored American workers or women’s rights. Brown and Warren are up for re-election in 2018.

    Warren’s Massachusetts colleague, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, also said he will oppose Gorsuch. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden indicated he would as well, citing Gorsuch’s stand against laws that allow terminally ill people to end their lives.

    Schumer is in a tough position. As liberal groups and Democratic voters angry about Trump’s election victory press him to lead the loyal opposition, he must also be mindful of 23 Democrats and two independents up for re-election in 2018, including 10 in states won by Trump.

    Some of those senators could face blowback from voters who see Democrats as obstructing Trump’s pick. And some might decide to vote for Gorsuch.

    Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he had little sympathy for fellow Senate Democrats feeling pressure to support Trump’s nominee because they’re running for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won. Manchin is among those up for re-election I n 2018.

    “I didn’t come here to say, ‘Oh my goodness, if I don’t do this, I might not get re-elected,'” Manchin said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He’s said he will examine Gorsuch’s record and make “a determination of whether to provide my consent.”

    Several other Democrats were also noncommittal.

    Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat up for re-election next year in the Republican-leaning state, said he looks forward to “sitting down with Judge Gorsuch, looking him in the eye, asking him tough questions, and finding out if he shares our Montana values.”

    McConnell said he hoped all senators — Democrats included — show Gorsuch fair consideration and respect the outcome of the presidential election “with an up-or-down vote on his nomination, just like the Senate treated the four first-term nominees of Presidents Clinton and Obama.”

    The Republican leader made no mention of his treatment of Garland, whom Obama nominated in March after the sudden death of Scalia in February. The reference to an “up-or-down vote” was an acknowledgment of the challenge McConnell faces.

    If McConnell fails to secure Democratic support to move the nomination, he’ll come under intense pressure to blow up Senate rules and remove the filibuster, a move that would lower the threshold for approving Supreme Court nominees. Even Trump has suggested that McConnell scrap the rules.

    The conservative Judicial Crisis Network has said it will spend $10 million to ensure Trump’s pick is confirmed. The group launched its first ad buy within hours of Trump’s announcement, airing ads in Montana, Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri, all states where Democrats are up for re-election and Trump won.

    The post Senate GOP united, Democrats skeptical of Trump’s Supreme Court pick appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2YJ34

    Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state is headed toward Senate confirmation after several Democrats crossed party lines to back the former Exxon Mobil CEO.

    The vote on Tillerson, scheduled for Wednesday, comes as tension builds among congressional Republicans and Democrats over Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said the order would be a litmus test for Trump’s remaining Cabinet choices, and that any who refuse to reject the “horrible” new policy should be opposed.

    But Democrats lack the numbers in the Senate to block Tillerson from becoming the nation’s chief diplomat. Republicans hold a four-seat advantage and during a procedural vote Monday on the nomination, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia cast their ballots for Tillerson. They’re unlikely to change their minds.

    Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also supported Tillerson. The nomination needs only a simple majority to be confirmed.

    Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was sure whether Tillerson would steer Trump toward a coherent foreign policy or whether he might be a “yes man, enabling the risky, chaotic whims of a demagogue president who is leading us on a march of folly.”

    The opening days of the Trump administration have seen little of the honeymoon period new presidents usually experience. The chief battleground has been Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking refugees worldwide and anyone from seven Muslim-majority nations.

    With liberal groups pressing them to fight Trump, Democrats used delaying tactics on Trump nominees on Tuesday. It’s one of their limited weapons as the congressional minority to hamper the GOP.

    Several other votes were planned Wednesday to get Trump nominees approved by committees, clearing them for confirmation in the full Senate.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee intended to vote on Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general. Democrats scuttled a planned vote Tuesday in the wake of Trump’s decision to fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Several Democrats said they had no confidence Sessions would be able to stand up to Trump.

    Republicans said they would try anew to push two Trump nominees through the Senate Finance Committee, a day after Democrats said both men had lied to Congress about their financial background and blocked those votes.

    Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is Trump’s pick for health secretary, a post that would place him at the lead of Republican efforts to erase former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Democrats cited a newspaper report that officials of an Australian biomed company said Price received a special offer to buy their stock at reduced prices, despite Price’s congressional testimony that the offer was available to all investors.

    Democrats said a bank run by wealthy financier Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s designee for treasury secretary, used a process for handling home foreclosures that critics have associated with fraud.

    Both men and congressional Republicans said they’d done nothing wrong.

    A vote also was planned in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s state attorney general in line to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

    In his current position, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    Like Trump, Pruitt has cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats in his Senate confirmation hearing in January, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

    “I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

    Trump’s pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., faced a vote by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a critic of Mulvaney’s previous stands on Pentagon spending, has yet to commit his support.

    Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

    The post Trump’s secretary of state pick headed for Senate approval appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Steven Mnuchin, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's reported choice for U.S. Treasury Secretary, speaks to members of the news media upon his arrival at Trump Tower in New York, U.S. November 30, 2016.   REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSU0HJ

    Steven Mnuchin, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s reported choice for U.S. Treasury Secretary, speaks to members of the news media upon his arrival at Trump Tower in New York City on Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — In the latest intensification of partisan hostilities, Republicans rammed President Donald Trump’s picks to be Treasury and health secretaries through a Senate committee on Wednesday with no Democrats present after unilaterally suspending panel rules that would have otherwise prevented the vote.

    By a pair of 14-0 roll calls, the Senate Finance Committee approved Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be Health and Human Services secretary and banker Steve Mnuchin to become Treasury secretary. Both nominations must be confirmed by the full Senate.

    The GOP’s show of brute political muscle came shortly before a testy session of the Senate Judiciary Committee at which lawmakers approved Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be attorney general. Later Wednesday, the full Senate planned to vote on confirming Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO, as secretary of state.

    Republicans and Democrats have battled virtually nonstop since Trump entered the White House 12 days ago over his refugee ban, his firing of the acting attorney general and GOP plans to erase former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

    With Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress for the first time in a decade, the GOP display of strength seemed to signal that the party will do all it can to block Democratic attempts to frustrate them.

    Democrats had boycotted Wednesday’s abruptly called Finance Committee meeting, as they’d done for a session a day earlier, demanding more time to question the two men about their past financial practices.

    READ NEXT: Democrats say Cabinet choice Tom Price ‘misled’ the public. Here’s what we know

    Before approving the two nominees, the committee’s Republicans voted 14-0 to temporarily suspend a rule requiring at least one Democrat to be present for any votes. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the Senate parliamentarian had approved the extraordinary tactic and blamed it on Democrats, saying their boycott was “one of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen” and “a nefarious breach of protocol.”

    In a written statement, top Finance panel Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon said, “It’s deeply troubling to me that Republicans on the Finance Committee chose to break the rules in the face of strong evidence of two nominees’ serious ethical problems

    In a letter, Finance panel Democrats sent to Hatch early Wednesday, they wrote that they were not attending meetings because “both nominees have yet to answer important questions that impact the American people” about their financial backgrounds and submitted questions for them to answer. They also cited “significant concerns that both Mr. Mnuchin and Congressman Price gave inaccurate and misleading testimony and responses to questions to the Committee.”

    In confirmed by the full Senate, Price would lead Republican efforts to erase Obama’s health law. Democrats cited a newspaper report that officials of an Australian biomed company said Price received a special offer to buy their stock at a reduced cost, despite Price’s congressional testimony that the offer was available to all investors.

    Democrats also said a bank run by Mnuchin used a process for handling home foreclosures that critics have associated with fraud.

    Both men and congressional Republicans said they’d done nothing wrong.

    Separately, the Judiciary committee used a party-line 11-9 vote to send Sessions’ nomination to be attorney general to the full Senate. At that session, Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, argued angrily over previous committee testimony and Franken complained that his integrity had been abused.

    Democrats had scuttled a planned vote Tuesday in the wake of Trump’s decision to fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Several Democrats said they had no confidence Sessions would be able to stand up to Trump.

    Wednesday was just the latest instance of building tensions among Republicans and Democrats over Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees.

    But Democrats lack the numbers in the Senate to block Tillerson from becoming the nation’s chief diplomat. Republicans hold a four-seat advantage and during a procedural vote Monday on the nomination, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia cast their ballots for Tillerson. They’re unlikely to change their minds.

    Democrats boycotted a planned vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s state attorney general in line to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. The vote was postponed.

    In his current position, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    Like Trump, Pruitt has cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats in his Senate confirmation hearing in January, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

    Another panel postponed a vote on Trump’s pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., as Democrats asked for more time to read the nominee’s FBI file.

    Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

    The post GOP suspends Senate rule, muscles Trump picks through panel appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), left,  is welcomed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) prior to testifying before a confirmation hearing  Jan. 24. On the second day of a boycott from Democrats, Orrin led a vote to suspend committee rules and advance Price to a full Senate vote. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), left, is welcomed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) prior to testifying before a confirmation hearing Jan. 24. On the second day of a boycott from Democrats, Orrin led a vote to suspend committee rules and advance Price to a full Senate vote. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    It was the most pivotal and decisive Senate hearing of the Trump administration so far. But the room was relatively empty. Just a few reporters made it.

    With relatively little public notice, Senate Finance Committee Republicans voted Wednesday morning to approve two of President Donald Trump’s hotly debated cabinet nominees: Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price, Trump’s pick for the Department of Health and Human Services. For a second day, all Democrats on the committee declined to attend, leaving Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, without the single Democrat required for the committee to take votes.

    Hatch and Republicans were able to move the nominations forward by voting to suspend that rule for the morning. It was a virtually unprecedented step, one Hatch said was approved by the Senate Parliamentarian.

    NewsHour was among the few outlets to make the hearing. Listen to an impromptu Q&A between Hatch and PBS Newshour’s Lisa Desjardins after the committee adjourned.

    Mnuchin and Price will now head to the full Senate for a vote.

    The post Why Sen. Orrin Hatch suspended committee rules to advance Trump nominees appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    FILE PHOTO - CIA Director David Petraeus speaks to members of a Senate (Select) Intelligence hearing on "World Wide Threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington in this January 31, 2012 file photo.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo - RTSSWIE

    CIA Director David Petraeus speaks to members of a Senate (Select) Intelligence hearing on “World Wide Threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington in this January 31, 2012 file photo. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former CIA Director David Petraeus says President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees is blocking a senior Iraqi military official from traveling to the U.S. to meet with his American counterparts.

    Petraeus is testifying Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

    He’s telling lawmakers that Gen. Talib al-Kenani, commander of Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, can’t meet in person with officers from U.S. Central Command. The command in Tampa, Florida, oversees U.S. military operations against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

    Petraeus also says al-Kenani’s family lives in the United States because of threats they face in Iraq.

    But Petraeus didn’t dispute the need for Trump’s order. He says the long-term effects of the policy will be determined by whatever changes are made to the immigration system.

    The post Petraeus says Trump order is blocking Iraqi general from US appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    White House press secretary Sean Spicer will hold a briefing with the press Wednesday. He is expected to take questions regarding President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, a nomination that Democrats have said they will challenge.

    You can watch the briefing in the player above.

    READ MORE: Every executive action President Trump has taken (so far)

    The post WATCH LIVE: Spicer expected to take questions on SCOTUS nominee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 31, 2017.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX2Z35S

    Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged Majority leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday to change the rules of the Senate if necessary to swiftly push through his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. Trump’s words immediately escalated what’s shaping up as a feverish partisan battle over the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

    Trump’s endorsement of a scenario known on Capitol Hill as the “nuclear option” came the morning after he announced Gorsuch’s nomination.

    “I would say, if you can, Mitch, go nuclear because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web,” Trump said at the White House.

    McConnell has not said whether he might invoke the nuclear option if minority Democrats block Gorsuch’s confirmation, as several already are threatening to do. But the Senate leader has said repeatedly that, one way or another, Gorsuch will be confirmed.

    The nuclear option would mean unilaterally lowering the threshold needed to approve Gorsuch from 60 to 50 votes, so that Republicans could use their 52-vote majority to put him on the court without Democrats’ consent.

    Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday around the same time Trump made his views known, McConnell said he expects to see Democrats “giving the new nominee a fair consideration and up-or-down vote just as we did for past presidents of both parties.”

    What McConnell didn’t say was that he refused last year to allow even a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Instead, the seat remained empty for 10 months and the court operated with eight justices as McConnell maintained that only the next president should make the nomination.

    Democrats remain furious over Garland’s treatment. But their divisions were already on display Wednesday even as Gorsuch made the rounds on Capitol Hill accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, earning warm praise from McConnell and other Senate Republicans.

    A handful of Democrats did announce their opposition to Gorsuch, 49, a Denver-based judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals whose conservative legal philosophy is seen as similar to that of Scalia. They argued that the Ivy League-educated son of a former Reagan administration official is outside the mainstream.

    “This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the court,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

    Merkley said even before the nominee was announced that he would hold up the nomination and force Republicans to find 60 votes for confirmation, a position that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has endorsed.

    But other Democrats were holding off, saying Gorsuch deserved a fair hearing.

    “I think that he is owed what Judge Garland never got which is a full hearing, a chance for the American people over several days to better understand his views on the Constitution and a wide range of the rights that are central to our Republic,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Judiciary Committee member.

    The committee will aim to begin hearings on Gorsuch in about six weeks, according to a spokeswoman for the panel’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

    Schumer and other Democrats are under intense pressure from liberal groups and the party base to challenge every Trump nominee. As the nomination was announced, hundreds were protesting at Schumer’s Brooklyn home, pressuring him to vote against Cabinet picks and block Gorsuch.

    A handful of other Democrats joined Merkley in immediately opposing Gorsuch. They included Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said Gorsuch has sided with large companies over workers, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who said Gorsuch’s rulings haven’t favored American workers or women’s rights. Brown and Warren are up for re-election in 2018.

    Schumer is in a tough position. As liberal groups and Democratic voters angry about Trump’s election victory press him to lead the loyal opposition, he must also be mindful of 23 Democrats and two independents up for re-election in 2018, including in 10 in states won by Trump.

    Some of those senators could face blowback from voters who see Democrats as obstructing Trump’s pick.

    “I’m anxious to meet with Gorsuch. I’m anxious to hear his views. I’m anxious to read more about him. I will make a decision. I think he needs a vote, should have a vote,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., among those up for re-election, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

    Trump’s choice of Gorsuch marks perhaps the most significant decision of his young presidency, one with ramifications that could last long after he leaves office. Gorsuch would restore the court to the conservative tilt it held with Scalia on the bench. But he is not expected to call into question high-profile rulings on abortion, gay marriage and other issues in which the court has been divided 5-4 in recent years.

    For some Republicans, the prospect of filling one or more Supreme Court seats over the next four years has helped ease their concerns about Trump’s experience and temperament. Three justices are in their late 70s and early 80s, and a retirement would offer Trump the opportunity to cement conservative dominance of the court for many years.

    AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

    The post Trump urges Senate to change rules, push through court pick appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Steve Bannon, appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump, arrives Jan. 20 for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool.

    Steve Bannon, appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump, arrives Jan. 20 for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool.

    WASHINGTON — People are beginning to pay more attention to the man behind the curtain.

    It is a mark of Steve Bannon’s extraordinary sway in the Trump White House that a man who has spoken so little in public over the past two weeks is getting so much credit — and blame — for what’s going on.

    The conservative media executive’s fingerprints are on virtually every significant move taken by President Donald Trump, from Trump’s sweeping order to suspend the country’s refugee program and block visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

    Trump raised eyebrows and hackles when he gave Bannon a seat on a powerful National Security Council.

    Bannon’s early moves to consolidate power haven’t come without pushback.

    In a phone call Monday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Acting Secretary of State Tom Shannon asked the White House to take a back seat in cleaning up confusion caused by the chaotic rollout of the immigration order, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about internal government discussions.

    [Watch Video]

    Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek and Mark Leibovich of the New York Times Magazine join John Yang to discuss Trump’s selection of Reince Priebus as chief of staff and Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor.

    Still, the extent of Bannon’s influence was underscored by Trump’s striking decision over the weekend to add his name to the roster of the National Security Council, not typically the province of political advisers.

    “Steve’s the main ideological mover of the administration. He’s the chief ideological officer and he has a strong point of view,” said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a friend of the president. “I think the bond is their world view.”

    The 64-year-old Bannon shares Trump’s business and media experience, as well as his dramatic flair. He’s a fellow disruptor who helped Trump capitalize on the populist anger and frustration that propelled them both to the White House.

    Rarely seen or heard during Trump’s campaign, Bannon is now a fixture.

    If Trump is moving quickly to overthrow the established order, Bannon is the one fomenting rebellion.

    If White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is there to maintain order and focus, Bannon is there to wage war.

    “He wants to be the intellectual, strategist bomb-thrower,” says former House Speaker and informal Trump adviser Newt Gingrich, who sees Bannon as the perfect ally to the president in disrupting the status quo. “He does not want to be the guy who makes the trains run on time.”

    Bannon has cultivated a near-diabolical image in his rare, headline-making interviews.

    READ MORE: Critics worry Steve Bannon’s White House perch will empower fringe voices

    He recently told The New York Times he sees the media as “the opposition party,” and advised the press to “keep its mouth shut” after it underestimated Trump.

    “Darkness is good,” he told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after Trump’s win. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

    As Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, Bannon had a hand in crafting the president’s inaugural address and in selecting his Cabinet. He’s bringing in aides from the conservative Breitbart media empire where he ruled before Trump tapped him to direct his campaign.

    Trump’s move to add Bannon to the National Security Council has drawn howls from Democrats and even some Republicans. Bernie Sanders called it “dangerous and unprecedented.” Republican Sen. John McCain called it a “radical departure” from recent history. Former Clinton adviser Robert Reich called Bannon “nuts and malicious.”

    Former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who introduced Trump to Bannon in 2011, says the two got to know each other as Trump appeared multiple times on Bannon’s Breitbart radio show over the ensuing years.

    “They believe in each other’s agendas, which is why they have grown so close,” says Bossie.

    Still the two are an unusual match. While Trump is not an avid reader, Bossie describes Bannon as “a carnivore of books” who’s always reading and talking history — ancient Greece, the Civil War, World War II and more.

    Bannon took over Breitbart News after the sudden death of its founder in 2012 left people wondering what would become of the website. By then, the former U.S. Navy officer and Harvard MBA had left behind Goldman Sachs and investment banking, capitalized on an entertainment deal that left him with a share of “Seinfeld” royalties, founded an institute to ferret out government corruption and created a number of his own films, including paeans to Sarah Palin, the tea party movement and Ronald Reagan.

    Under Bannon’s guidance, Breitbart grew into one the right’s most powerful voices as it took on establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan. Critics, however, accused Bannon of allowing the website to become a platform for the white nationalist sentiments of the alt-right — a charge Bannon has denied.

    His politics appear to skew closer to European, right-wing views than the typical American conservative agenda. He’s described himself as an “economic nationalist” and has long advocated for closing off the nation’s borders. We’re in the midst of an “outright war,” he’s said, “between “jihadist Islamic fascism” and the “Judeo-Christian West.”

    Critics see more self-interest than devotion to conservatism in Bannon’s history.

    “He’s really good at ingratiating himself to prominent people,” says Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor who’s now a Bannon critic. Shapiro lists Palin, former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and website founder Andrew Breitbart as past subjects of Bannon’s attention. After Breitbart died, adds Shapiro, Bannon began using the website to promote Trump — “and then he was able to use that to enter into the halls of power.”

    Another critic, Ben Howe, a filmmaker and conservative blogger who once considered Bannon a mentor and friend, says that while Bannon cultivates the unassuming, rumpled look in public, “he’s nothing like that behind the scenes,” talking nonstop and screaming at those who cross him.

    Bannon, he says, “just looks at Trump as a good vehicle to get into power so that he can accomplish his objectives.”

    The post How Steve Bannon became a fixture in the White House appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo by Getty Images

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    MILES O’BRIEN: Now: the toll of cervical cancer and recent findings that suggest its death rate is higher than we thought.

    That’s the focus of our weekly segment the Leading Edge.

    Estimates had shown more than 4,000 women in the U.S. die from cervical cancer each year, and that the death rate dropped dramatically over past decades. But an analysis published in the journal “Cancer” found the mortality rate is higher than previously thought, and it is significantly higher among African-American women.

    The findings were particularly concerning because cervical cancer can often be prevented through better screening, and the HPV vaccine can prevent some cases.

    Dr. Jennifer Caudle is a family physician and an assistant professor at Rowan University. She has been writing about these findings and the implications for her clinical practice, and she joins us now to tell us a little bit more.

    Dr. Caudle, good to have you with us.

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE, Rowan University: Thanks so much.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Tell us what’s new about this study.

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: Well, I think it’s actually quite profound.

    As a family physician myself, as a woman myself, I thought that the results of the study were actually quite staggering. Basically, researchers found that we’d been underestimating the levels of cervical cancer mortality.

    And not only that, but we have also been underestimating the amount of racial disparities that exist in cervical cancer mortality. So, basically, the problem is bigger and worse than we thought. And I think that it’s actually quite significant.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, so, let’s, first of all, talk about the underestimation in general.

    How could something like that happen? This was a study of studies, taking a second look at numbers, right?

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: That’s right.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And what did they find that others overlooked?

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: Right. Well, that’s a great question, because the key here — and I always say the devil is in the details.

    The key with this particular study is, they took into account whether a woman had a hysterectomy or not. Now, when we talk about hysterectomy, a complete hysterectomy often is when a woman has her cervix removed.

    And, if you can imagine, if a woman doesn’t have a cervix, her chance of getting cervical cancer is slim to none. That, along with the fact that black women tend to have a higher prevalence of hysterectomies, you can see how both of those factors, when they’re actually taken into consideration, can cause the results that we saw.

    So, basically, when researchers looked at whether a woman had a hysterectomy or not, we found that our prior results actually had been underestimated, and more women had cervical cancer mortality rates, higher rates, and more racial disparities that than we thought.

    MILES O’BRIEN: So, you really don’t have to be a scientist to realize that, if you remove the group of people who don’t have a cervix at all, you are going to have a different set of numbers.

    But let’s — help us understand a little bit more about why African-American women might disproportionately be affected.

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: Right.

    And I’m really glad that we’re talking about this. When I wrote my op-ed piece, you know, I was speaking as a family physician, but also as a black woman. And racial disparities in health care, it’s not new. Unfortunately, we see racial disparities in health care in cervical cancer here, but also in many other cancers and other conditions.

    But one of the things that we’re looking at is why exactly these racial disparities exist. And, yes, there are many organizations that have been working on this sort of topic globally. And there’s not one answer.

    But we do think there might be some reasons why black women have higher rates of cervical cancer mortality, some of those being access to care, the ability to get screened early, to get screened period, the type of cancer that black women get vs. white women, and the types of treatments that are offered.

    So, those are some of the things that have been posed as possibilities as to why we see the discrepancy. But the bottom line is, it’s unfortunate. And it’s something we have to keep talking about.

    MILES O’BRIEN: This is a particularly poignant one for those of us here at the “NewsHour.” Of course, in November, we lost Gwen Ifill to gynecological cancer, a different kind of gynecological cancer.

    In the case of cervical cancer, I know it’s very difficult for families who are affected, because, with screening, and in some cases a vaccine, it can be prevented.

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: That’s right.

    And that’s, I think, one of the most important points here, is, as we’re looking at the global issue of why are there racial disparities, why are there higher mortality rates than we thought, we also need to look at what we do have.

    And you’re right. We have a screening tool to screen for cervical cancer. That’s the Pap smear, along with the HPV Testing. We also have the HPV, or human papilloma virus, vaccine. That was made available in 2006, and it is indicated for young women.

    It doesn’t protect against all strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, but it does protect against many of them. And the hope is that, in further years, we’re going to see the benefit of that vaccine.

    MILES O’BRIEN: As we speak here in Washington, the Trump administration, Congress appears poised to reverse Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.

    What should we do about that?

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: We know the Affordable Care Act provided care to maybe some millions, 20 million or so people. And the question is, what’s going to happen if that changes and how it changes?

    And there are so many question marks that we don’t have. One thing I know, as a family physician, though, is that we have to — whatever system we go to next, whatever — however Obamacare changes or doesn’t change, we need to make sure that people still have access to quality and affordable care.

    And we need to make sure that we’re really reinforcing preventative services, because things like colonoscopies, and Paps, and mammograms, not only do they save lives, but they save money down the line.

    And that’s one of the things that we’re talking about here with cervical cancer screening is, we have got to make sure that these preventative services are there.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Dr. Jennifer Caudle, thank you very much for your time.

    DR. JENNIFER CAUDLE: Thank you.

    The post Why is cervical cancer killing many more African-American women than we thought? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    fire1

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Nearly half of the world’s population, three billion people, cook using stoves that burn wood or charcoal.

    That seemingly harmless act is silently killing millions every year because of regular exposure to harmful smoke. An international alliance is on a mission now to reduce those deaths by distributing 100 million cleaner stoves around the world.

    But some health experts doubt whether those new stoves can truly save lives.

    As Hari Sreenivasan reports in a story produced with Global Health Frontiers, researchers in Ghana are trying to find the answer.

    DR. KWAKU POKU ASANTE, Kintampo Health Research Center: Most of our communities and households in Ghana, and actually in Africa, are rural by nature, and therefore they depend on wood to cook their food, to heat their water.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Kwaku Poku Asante is the head of research at the Kintampo Health Research Center of the Ghana Health Service. He’s leading a study on the effects of wood smoke on the health of women and children in rural Ghana.

    DR. KWAKU POKU ASANTE: The women who do commercial cooking with the traditional cookstoves, they get a very large amount of smoke coming out of the wood. And, sometimes, you see them with their kids on their back, and that is really a problem.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Household air pollution from the burning of biomass fuel, like wood and charcoal, is known to cause respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, as well as chronic pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.

    DR. KWAKU POKU ASANTE: I’m really committed to this, because millions of people die from these illnesses, and we have to do something about it. We have to stop it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Abena Yawson is a public health physician with the Kintampo Health Research Center.

    DR. ABENA YAWSON, Kintampo Health Research Center: This is the pediatric ward for Kintampo Municipal Hospital. You can see it’s very busy.

    This baby was admitted because of fever and cough. The mother noted she was breathing with difficulty, and we actually have diagnosed the child as having bronchial pneumonia. She’s using charcoal in a traditional cookstove to cook. And there are times that, when she’s cooking, and she’s fanning the fire, she coughs, because she gets to inhale smoke.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Pregnant women and their children face the most risk from these diseases, and the objective of this study in Kintampo is to look at the impact of household air pollution on low birth weight and pneumonia among about 1,400 pregnant women and their children in 35 communities in the study area.

    Professor Darby Jack at Columbia University is a partner with the Ghanaians on the project, supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

    DARBY JACK, Columbia University: We recruit women during pregnancy, and we give them a clean-burning cookstove, either LPG, which is the propane or butane, the same thing you probably cook with in your backyard grill, or a stove called the BioLite, which is an efficient biomass burning stove, and can reduce emissions by about half.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The study measures exposure to carbon monoxide from the cookstoves and to small particles in the smoke, particulates that can penetrate deep into lungs and enter the bloodstream.

    DARBY JACK: So, we deploy personal monitors that mothers can wear and the children can wear for 72 hours at a time.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: At regular intervals, exposure monitors are collected and their data is downloaded.

    DARBY JACK: We set out to test two hypotheses. The first is that reducing exposure to household air pollution will increase birth weight. And then the second hypothesis is that reduced exposure will reduce the rate of pneumonia in the first year of life.

    The core questions here are, how clean is clean enough? And then, number two, what technologies will bring us there?

    DR. KWAKU POKU ASANTE: We are not in a position to recommend any of the stoves that we have tested. That will be left with the policy-makers. Ours is to generate the evidence.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The evidence is still incomplete, but results so far are encouraging.

    DR. ABENA YAWSON: I’m sure all the household actually might have gotten high exposure to smoke because of how close it is also to the building that they live in. And this is what the woman was using until the BioLite was given to her.

    She actually enjoys cooking with the BioLite because she doesn’t get sore eyes after cooking, and the coughs that used to be very frequent with the traditional cookstove are also not there. So, the baby hasn’t been ill since birth.

    He has very good reflexes. He’s pink. He’s not pale. So, he’s looking generally very beautiful and healthy.

    Bye-bye.

    DR. KWAKU POKU ASANTE: I would like to see, in the next decade, to see the burden of pneumonia come down and also to see people use improved cookstoves.

    I would like to see a commitment from other partners, if we show the evidence that the use of improved cookstoves reduces the burden of many diseases.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And there’s another benefit to be expected from improved cookstoves. Women and young girls spend hours every day gathering wood for fuel. Released from that burden, they could spend more time going to school or caring for their children.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

    The post Can a cleaner cookstove save lives? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch meets with Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX2Z75T

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    MILES O’BRIEN: Now, for a closer look at the man who could shape the conservative direction of the U.S. Supreme Court for decades to come.

    A national TV audience looked on last night as Judge Neil Gorsuch summed up his judicial philosophy.

    NEIL GORSUCH, Supreme Court Nominee: It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Gorsuch was schooled at Columbia University, obtained a Harvard law degree, and then a degree at Oxford. He clerked for then-Justice Byron White and Justice Anthony Kennedy, who still serves on the court. And he practiced law privately before joining the Department of Justice.

    Then, in 2006, President Bush nominated him to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver. He won unanimous Senate confirmation. In the decade since, Gorsuch has made his mark in several notable cases, especially on religious liberty. He sided with the Hobby Lobby challenge to Obamacare, ruling for religious organizations opposing a contraceptive mandate.

    In that decision, Gorsuch, along with two other judges, wrote: “For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance, both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability.”

    If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia. Last night, Gorsuch called Scalia a lion of the law. Now, at age 49, Gorsuch has a chance to bring that same legal philosophy to bear for decades to come.

    And to dig into what we know about that legal philosophy, we are joined by two longtime Supreme Court watchers, Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for NPR, and Marcia Coyle, chief Washington correspondent for The National Law Journal and a NewsHour regular.

    Thank you both for being with us.

    Nina, let’s begin with you.

    We will look at a landmark case, the Hobby Lobby case, which gets into religious freedom, rights of employers vs. employees. That’s a real shorthand version of it.

    I’m going to read you a little passage from a ruling that was authored by him in a lower court, obviously.

    He says this: “It is not for secular courts to rewrite the religious complaint of a faithful adherent, or to decide whether a religious teaching about complicity imposes too much moral disapproval on those only indirectly assisting wrongful conduct.”

    So, in this case, what happened as a result is that a small, closely held company wasn’t forced, as part of the Affordable Care Act, to provide birth control to its employees.

    What can we read into that as far as it might relate to other rulings, which would come to the high court?

    NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: This was a dissent that Gorsuch authored, and he was vindicated by a 5-4 vote on the Supreme Court.

    And what those who are concerned about his nomination would say, I think, is that, if you apply this rationale to, for example, gay rights, you could imagine that, very easily, that he would side with business owners who don’t want to serve gay people, business owners who might not want to employ gay people, despite laws to the contrary.

    It could involve lots of different kinds of civil rights laws. And that is really the tension here that is going to provoke a considerable debate.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Marcia, obviously a big issue, is there a specific case in the pipeline that we know of that might rise to the level of the Supreme Court that might test his feelings on this?

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Absolutely.

    In fact, there’s a case pending in the court — the court hasn’t decided whether to take it up or not — that involves a bakery that didn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. And the claim here is that to do so would violate their religious beliefs.

    So, this is something that civil rights organizations are concerned about. There have been other cases around the country involving photographers who wouldn’t photograph a same-sex wedding because of their religious beliefs.

    And I think, as Nina just said, Judge Gorsuch’s dissent here does give some concern to these civil rights organizations as to how far you can take not only his comments, but the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Everybody is curious about Roe v. Wade, of course, Nina.

    Haven’t seen anything where he has weighed in, in this realm. But he did write a book in 2006 on euthanasia and assisted suicide, very much opposed to it. Can we interpret anything out of that book and his philosophy there and apply that to how he might interpret the law? What do you think?

    NINA TOTENBERG: Well, in the book, he talks about the value of human life, but, at the same time, he makes the argument that individuals should be able to refuse treatment even if it leads to their death.

    I don’t think you can say he’s written on point in any legal decision about this. Certainly, his vote will not make the difference, as long as the rest of the members of the court remain the same. It will still be a 5-4 vote upholding Roe, or the core of Roe, as the court put it.

    And just this year, we saw Justice Anthony Kennedy write — be the fifth and decisive vote in a case that struck down the newest wave of attempts to limit access to abortion. And as long as he’s there and the other members of the court remain the same, it’s not going to change.

    But if he leaves or Justice Ginsburg, who is almost 84, leaves, or if Justice Breyer, who is 78, leaves, it will make a difference. And then that would open the door. At that moment, a second Trump nominee would open the door to the possibility of reversing Roe.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Marcia, would you concur with that?

    MARCIA COYLE: I would. I think his book is a very heavily researched, very nuanced approach to the issue of assisted suicide.

    And I think, as Nina said, he comes down on personal autonomy, but doesn’t seem to favor government legalizing assisted suicide. And definitely in terms of the politics of the court on Roe v. Wade, his vote will not make a difference right now. The next — if the next justice leaves, particularly Justice Kennedy or someone on the left side of the bench, then we could face an overturning of a 44-year-old precedent.

    MILES O’BRIEN: So, Nina, with all that in mind, what is the strategy from the Democrats’ side of the Senate as it approaches this nomination?

    NINA TOTENBERG: Well, it’s a rather exquisite calculus that they have to make, because they don’t have the votes to prevail, at least at the moment. Let’s assume that there’s a — the confirmation hearing is uneventful, relatively speaking, and we are where we are today.

    Well, I imagine most Democrats are going to vote against this nominee, but they don’t have the votes to defeat him outright. Then the question is, do they filibuster? Well, if they filibuster, the Republicans could, as say they, go nuclear, and abolish the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees.

    And what they’re really worried about, I suspect, is not this nomination, but the next nomination, which could change the balance of the court for generations to come. At the same time, though, Democrats in the Senate are under enormous pressure from the left flank and from their own constituents in the Democratic Party who are out in the streets, who are outraged by everything that has gone on in the last two weeks, the first two weeks of the Trump administration.

    And in much the way that the street, the Republican street led the Republican Party in the election this year, the Democratic street is leading the Democratic Party in the Senate.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Marcia, are they going to go nuclear?

    MARCIA COYLE: I don’t know. I’m not sure they have a coherent strategy at the moment.

    I think, sometimes, we also put too much emphasis on the abortion issue. I’m sure the Democrats and their supporters, the marchers who were here during the Women’s March on Washington, there were many other issues that they see that may be coming to the Supreme Court as a result of President Trump’s executive orders, and perhaps future actions as well.

    And so the stakes are — in terms of the Supreme Court, are much higher than just abortion. And I also sense there is still a lot of anger on the Democratic side of the Senate in the way that President Obama’s nominee was treated, Judge — Chief Judge Merrick Garland. There’s some sentence of wanting to have payback for that.

    But we have to wait and see.

    NINA TOTENBERG: I have to say that I have talked to a lot of Democrats today, and my sense is that the — on all of these issues, their constituents are more angry than they are, and they were pretty mad about the way Merrick Garland was treated in their view. They were furious, but not as furious as their constituents are.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Nina Totenberg, Marcia Coyle, two of the best court watchers in the land, thank you both very much.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump arrives aboard the Marine One to greet the remains of a U.S. military commando killed during a raid on the al Qaeda militant group in southern Yemen on Sunday, at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware, U.S. February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX2Z8HS

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    MILES O’BRIEN: In other news today: President Donald Trump made a surprise trip to honor the first U.S. serviceman killed in combat since he took office. Chief Special Warfare Officer William Ryan Owens, a Navy SEAL, died Sunday in a raid on al-Qaida installation in Yemen.

    The president and his daughter, Ivanka, flew to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, as the remains returned. The ceremony was kept private, at the family’s request.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House also issued a warning today to Iran. It follows the Islamic Republic’s test launch of a ballistic missile this week. The president’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, came to the White House Briefing Room this afternoon to address the issue.

    MICHAEL FLYNN, National Security Adviser: President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration, as well as the United Nations, as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: White House officials said later that they are reviewing how to respond.

    Meanwhile, Iran’s defense minister confirmed the missile firing, but he said — quote — “We will not let any foreigner meddle with our defense issues.”

    MILES O’BRIEN: A U.S. watchdog agency is warning that the government of Afghanistan now controls less than 60 percent of its territory. The special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction says that’s down 15 percent from 2015. Government forces have retreated in the face of Taliban and Islamic State militants.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Britain’s departure from the European Union, Brexit, is one step closer to becoming reality. The House of Commons voted today to authorize the beginning of formal talks with the E.U. The bill now goes to committee, before a final vote in the full Commons next week. It also requires approval by the House of Lords.

    MILES O’BRIEN: President Trump’s immigration order will not apply to green card holders, so they don’t need waivers — that word from the White House today. Legal permanent residents were thrown into confusion when the order was issued. Officials later said they’d be granted waivers. Today, the president’s spokesman said that’s not necessary.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: We have interpreted the guidance to all of these agencies to both the acting secretary of state, the acting attorney general, and the acting secretary of homeland security that the guidance is that all individuals responsible for the administration implementation of this order, that that doesn’t apply.

    They no longer need a waiver, because, if they are a legal permanent resident, they won’t need it anymore.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has a new boss. Career CBP official Ronald Vitiello got the nod. The border agents’ union backed President Trump in the election, and supported Vitiello.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: House Republicans moved today to rescind regulations from President Obama’s final days in office. Their first vote overturned a December rule that barred dumping coal mining debris into nearby streams. The Congressional Review Act allows recisions of rules imposed since last June. It also bars similar regulations in the future.

    MILES O’BRIEN: President Trump’s pick to lead the Veterans Department says letting vets see private doctors might help cut long wait times. David Shulkin is currently the VA’s top health official. He told his Senate confirmation hearing today that he supports partial, but not full, privatization.

    DAVID SHULKIN, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Nominee: There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options, but the Department of Veteran Affairs will not be privatized under my watch. If confirmed, I intend to build a system that puts veterans first, and allows them to get the best possible health care and services wherever they may be, in the VA or in the community.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Shulkin also cautioned that it could take years to fix the wait time problem for good.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Army Corps of Engineers confirmed today that it has begun reviewing an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline in part of North Dakota. A spokesman said that doesn’t mean that permission for use of the land has been granted. President Trump says he wants the pipeline completed. Protesters have vowed to fight any decisions with legal action.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Volkswagen will pay $1.2 billion in its latest settlement over emissions cheating. The German automaker filed documents in federal court in San Francisco last night. It agrees to fix or buy back almost 80,000 cars with larger diesel engines. An earlier settlement provided $15 billion to owners of 500,000 cars with smaller diesel engines.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged today. It said it wants more time to monitor economic progress.

    And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained almost 27 points to close near 19891. The Nasdaq rose nearly 28, and the S&P 500 added a fraction.

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    pence-woodruff-interview

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we turn now to my interview at the White House today with Vice President Mike Pence. It’s his first since assuming the office.

    I began by asking the former Indiana governor how he thinks the first few days have gone, a time some have described as turbulent.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I think we’re off to a great start. The American people are seeing in President Trump a leader who is keeping his word to the American people.

    We like to say we’re in the promise keeping business. And literally from the first day of this administration we’ve been working to put into effect the policies that the president campaigned on, and that we really do believe will strengthen America at home and abroad.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, big announcement last night. The president announced his choice to fill that vacancy on the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch. I think virtually everybody agrees he is imminently qualified to be on the court.

    Democrats are pointing out, so is Merrick Garland, imminently qualified. But Republicans didn’t give the hearing for nine months. Why is this different?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, first let me agree with you strongly that Judge Neil Gorsuch is exceptionally qualified to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. He actually was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate for the 10th Circuit a decade ago.

    And has an academic career that spans from Columbia to Harvard to Oxford. And yet he’s a man of the West, a fourth-generation Coloradan. And I think he brings practical, real-word experience, but an extraordinary intellect to succeed, not replace, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

    And I know the president’s grateful that Judge Gorsuch is willing to step forward. And I think it’s one more example of President Trump keeping his word to the American people to appoint to the court someone who will be faithful to the Constitution and apply the law as written.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But if Republicans weren’t willing to hold a hearing for nine months for President Obama’s pick for that vacancy, why should Democrats do the same thing?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, we understand there’s some angst. And I talked to Republican and Democrat members of the Senate about last year. But it was a vacancy in an election year.

    And I think it’s important to remember that the court itself, the federal government itself belongs to the American people. The decision that the majority made is essentially to put the direction of the court and the appointment of this justice in the hands of the American people. And they did that.

    And in President Trump they elected someone who’s committed to appoint someone in the tradition of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He did that last night. And I think the very broad and bipartisan support that you’re witnessing for Judge Gorsuch is a reflection both of his character, of his career, but also a gratitude that President Trump has followed through and did exactly what he said he would do one more time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So Democrats say they are going to look at his record, they have a lot of questions. They want to see if he’s in the mainstream. If they decide to slow this down, this process down, should the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, go ahead and change the rules? So that instead of 60, which it is now, votes required, it would only take 50, the so-called “nuclear option”?

    We know the president said this morning “Go ahead and go nuclear” he said to Sen. McConnell. Do you think that’s what he’ll do?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: President Trump and I, and our whole administration are extraordinarily enthusiastic about the opportunity to see Judge Gorsuch confirmed by the Senate. It’s one of the reasons why I accompanied him to Capitol Hill today to get those conversations started.

    But let me also say we’re very heartened by the response now of seven Democrat members of the Senate who said that they believe the judge deserves an up or down vote.

    And I do believe that as Judge Gorsuch travels across Capitol Hill in the weeks ahead, sitting down with Republicans and Democrats, they’re going to see what the president saw. Someone who is a first-class intellect, a fourth-generation Coloradan, and someone who in a fair and impartial way is going to uphold the Constitution and apply the law as written.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you know …

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We believe that he’ll get that same level of consideration that the nominees in the first term for President Clinton received, the nominees for President Obama received in their first term.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you don’t think the Senate Majority Leader McConnell will have to resort to the so-called nuclear option?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I’m hopeful that he doesn’t. I’m hopeful that he doesn’t. The president and our entire team are committed to supporting Judge Gorsuch’s nomination.

    But I do believe that when you look at those first term nominations of President Clinton …

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: … and of President Obama, none of those were filibustered. All four received broad bipartisan support. And all were considered and resolved in the Senate in a matter of 60 to 70 days.

    I do believe that once members of the Senate in both parties have a chance to sit down with Judge Gorsuch we’re going to see the same bipartisan support.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to turn now to the immigration executive order that was issued over the weekend.

    We looked this up and since 2001, 9/11, 82 percent of the fatal attacks by Islamic extremists in this country were committed by either legal permanent residents or citizens. The rest were committed by people who were not from these seven countries that this ban applies to. So is this the right answer?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I believe it is. President Trump has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people. And he made it clear in this election, particularly in the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris where individuals had used a refugee program to gain access to that country.

    The president made it clear that we were going to pause. We were going to implement extreme vetting. And focusing on countries that the Obama administration and the Congress have identified as being problematic, being in many ways compromised by terrorism. Having a pause that ensures the people that are coming into the country don’t represent a threat to our people or to our communities is of paramount importance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though they’re not a country from which those who perpetrated terrible acts come?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, the reality is, is there’s a — as you’ve seen American forces on the move overseas just in the last week, and the loss of life of a courageous Navy Seal. …

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Yemen.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We are in a struggle against radical Islamic terrorism, al-Qaida and ISIS. The president, in his campaign for office, made it clear that he would make a priority of confronting radical Islamic terrorism abroad. But also adding new measures to ensure that individuals would not be coming into this country with the motivation to harm our people. And we really do believe that this temporary pause with regard to the countries other than Syria, temporary pause where we evaluate our screening process and ensure that people coming into the country don’t represent a threat is appropriate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to pick up on what you said because a number of even Republican senators, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, former CIA Director Michael Hayden have said their concern is that by doing what the administration has done it’s going to not make this country safer, but it’s going to encourage those overseas who are trying to recruit new people into the jihadist movement..are going to use this as an excuse and say, see, we told you the U.S. doesn’t like anybody who is Muslim.

    In other words, they’re saying it’s going to have the opposite of the intended effect.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I’m aware of those comments. But I respectfully disagree with them.

    I truly do believe that President Trump making decisions to pause our various immigration programs and refugee programs for a period of time so that we can ensure that there are new safeguards in place, just as Secretary Kelly described this week, is in keeping with the expectation of the American people.

    And I have to tell you, having been a governor and now having the privilege to serve as vice president, it heartens me to know the passion that President Trump has for ensuring our system of immigration, the way people come into this country is operated in a way that puts safety and security and the well-being of every American, regardless of their race or creed, first and foremost.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you not only have, as I said, bipartisan senators making some of these comments but a thousands people who work at the State Department have signed a letter saying they think this is going to lead to the country being less safe.

    We heard the press secretary at the White House, Sean Spicer, say if they don’t — if they’re not on board, don’t stay in your job. Is that how you view this? Their dissent?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, obviously there’s a history of — and a tradition even within the State Department for dissenting opinions. And I can tell you, working with President Trump closely and seeing the way he operates as a leader, he’s always interested in a broad range of opinions. But make no mistake about it. We want in this administration people that share the president’s vision for a safer America. For a stronger America. For a more prosperous America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So they should leave?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: And I believe, as Secretary Kelly laid out in that press conference this week, that people are getting a better sense of the direction, the focus of this executive order. We’re making sure that all due process rights of individuals are respected. All orders from courts that have been imposed in recent days are being respected. But Secretary Kelly, with his vast background in military, is bringing his abilities and his judgment to bare to implement that order in a way that I believe is a great source of comfort and confidence for the American people. But let’s be clear again. This is what President Trump said he was going to do in the election. And what the American people have seen in these early days of the administration is that President Trump is a man of his word.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly. You, the president and others have said this is not a ban on Muslims. It’s very specific to these countries. But there are those out there who are reading this as the beginning of what they fear will be a religious test. Are you confident that this is not going to lead to some sort of religious litmus test for people coming into this country? That America will continue to welcome people of all faiths?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Oh, I’m very confident of that. Our religious liberty, our religious pluralism is a hallmark of America, celebrated by our people and reflected on all over the world.

    And I think the focus of the president’s action here is very clear. And that is identifying countries that the Obama administration and the Congress have confirmed lack the kind of internal safeguards so we can know who these people are for certain who are seeking to gain admission to our country.

    It’s just simply appropriate for us to pause and to look at everyone who’s applying to come in from those areas that have been compromised by terrorism. And ensure that the people, as the president says, the people that come to this country love this country and want to be a part of our communities and our nation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a quick follow to that, there are voices coming from the Capitol, members of Congress who are saying they were not adequately consulted. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas was saying the president needs to consult with Congress. Yes, some staff was brought in, but there needs to be more consultation.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I will tell you that in the early days of this administration we’ve been engaging very rigorously on a broad range of issues with members of the Senate. And we’re going to continue to prove those efforts its — with Republicans and Democrats — in the course of the president’s consideration of his nominees of the Supreme Court, he dispatched me to Capitol Hill to talk with Republicans and Democrats. He met with Republican and Democrat leaders in the Oval Office.

    I think what you’re going to continue to see on an increasing basis is more consultation, and more input. But at the end of the day, the American people are going to continue to see strong and decisive leadership from President Trump that I think will make America great again.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Moving through a lot of reporting in the last few days about Steve Bannon, the adviser to the president, having more influence than anyone else now on the president. And looking at his background, running Breitbart News, being an advocate of limiting immigration, keeping out people from the United States who are not in his view welcome here. Are you comfortable with the amount of influence Mr. Bannon has?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I’m very comfortable with the fact that there’s only one person in charge of the Trump administration. It’s President Donald Trump.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right …

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: But we value Steve Bannon’s input. Here’s an individual serving in a war, a captain in the United States Navy, a partner at Goldman Sachs, successful businessperson who brings a strong perspective into discussions.

    But to be around President Trump, I can tell you Judy, it’s very dynamic. He leads by asking questions. He asks for input from everyone in the senior circle and a lot of people outside the circle. And then he makes decisions. I think the action that people are seeing in these early days is just the beginning. I think it’s a prelude to the kind of energetic and decisive leadership the American people haven’t seen for a while in the Oval Office. And I’m honored to be a small part of it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Three very quick questions. The border wall with Mexico. There was talk of a 20 percent tax. Is that going to happen?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We’re working right now with the Congress on tax reform legislation. I expect it’ll come this spring. And we’ll do part of the president’s commitment to get this economy moving again.

    But make no mistake about it. Whether it be our negotiations with countries in bilateral trade agreements, or whether it be in developing reforms of our tax code, we are determined to support the president’s vision to take the incentives out that make it attractive for companies to pull up stakes like in my home state of Indiana, and leave and take jobs out of the country down to Mexico and elsewhere.

    We really believe that we can bring about changes in the tax code that will make America more attractive for investment and job creation and business. But the president has also made it very clear that he wants to put — he wants to put new elements in the tax code that are going to have companies pay a price if they decide to take jobs out of the country and then sell their goods back into the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly about priorities. A lot of talk about tax cuts. You just mentioned that. About infrastructure, and about health care. Not just getting rid of the Obamacare plan, but replacing it. Is one of those a priority over the other?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The president made very clear to leaders in Congress from right after the election that repealing and replacing Obamacare will be the first priority of this administration. We’ve been working very closely with leaders of the House and Senate to formulate a plan that will happen simultaneously.

    That’s the other piece of this that’s very important. The president made it clear that he expected Congress, while they take action to repeal the most corrosive elements of Obamacare, the taxes, the mandates, things that are suppressing job creation and driving up the premiums for working families across the country. But he made it very clear that in the very same breath he wants to see the Congress bring forward the kind of replacement plan both through legislation — and we’ll support through executive action — that will create a better health care system that expands consumer choices and drives down the cost for health insurance for every American.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Final question. The tone coming from this administration. You — folk out there who voted for President Trump and for you, polls are already showing they’re very happy with what they’re seeing. At the same time, in the president’s inaugural address, you could argue the immigration order, some of the president’s tweets, there’s a sense that it’s not a — there’s not an effort to reach beyond the base, people who supported this president and you originally. Is that the message you want the American people to have right now? That it’s not going to be an outward-looking, inviting in message? That it’s going to be more of a, you know, we’re going to continue to talk to those who sent us here?

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I think there’s two messages coming out in these early days, Judy. Number one is President Trump is going to keep the promises he made to the American people through decisive executive action and through legislation.

    The other message is the same one he delivered on election night, that he’s committed to being the president for every American. I’ve sat in that Roosevelt Room in the West Wing where he’s brought in people, labor union leaders recently, to sit down with people who largely did not support him in the campaign and said how can we work together?

    I was there in New York when he brought together high tech executives, many of whom actually strongly supported our opponent in the election. And he simply sat down and said how do we make it more possible for you to create more good-paying jobs in the United States? I think as time goes on it’s going to be more apparent to more Americans. President Trump is going to be president for everyone.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Mike Pence, we thank you very much for talking with us.

    VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thank you, Judy.

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    Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch (C) arrives for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX2Z6SZ

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump has named his Supreme Court nominee, and now the battle begins for his confirmation.

    Senators form both political parties began lining up today, and Mr. Trump warned Democrats not to filibuster.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The president was out early today, touting the man he wants on the high court, Neil Gorsuch.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He is just a spectacular man. I think he will be a spectacular — you tell me, how would they go about opposing him? He’s perfect in almost every way.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That at a meeting of conservative and business groups, from the Chamber of Commerce, to the National Rifle Association, to the National Right to Life Foundation. Mr. Trump vowed to push through Gorsuch, and, if Democrats filibuster, he said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should do what it takes.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, if you can, Mitch, go nuclear, because that would be an absolute shame, if a man of this quality was caught up in this web.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The so-called nuclear option, considered a monumental change in rules, would allow the Senate to confirm a nominee with a simple majority, rather than 60 votes.

    Senator McConnell met with Gorsuch on Capitol Hill today. On the Senate floor, no mention of the nuclear option. But McConnell stressed that Democrats supported Gorsuch to be a federal appeals judge in 2006.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: He was confirmed without any votes in opposition. That’s right, Madam President, not a single Democrat opposed Judge Gorsuch’s nomination. Not Senator Barack Obama, not Senator Hillary Clinton, not Senators Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said any talk of a rule change should be off the table.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: The answer shouldn’t be to change the rules of the Senate, but to change the nominee to someone who can earn 60 votes; 60 votes produces a mainstream candidate.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Already several Democrats said they will try to hold up Gorsuch’s confirmation, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, among others.

    Many are still outraged over the Republican refusal last year to consider Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. As it stands, all 52 Senate Republicans are expected to support Gorsuch. They need at least eight other votes to get to 60. One possible factor, 23 Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018, including 10 in states that Mr. Trump won last November.

    The Senate did vote today to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. And the nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, made it out of committee on a straight, party-line vote.

    In an extraordinary hearing, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspended their rules to push through nominees for treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, and health and human services, Tom Price, that after Democrats boycotted and froze the committee, which requires at least one Democrat be present.

    In response, Republican Chairman Orrin Hatch moved to suspend that rule.

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Elsewhere, Democrats delayed committee votes on the nominees to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, and Office of Budget and Management, Mick Mulvaney.

    Meanwhile, two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, broke ranks to say they wouldn’t vote for Mr. Trump’s choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

    SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: I’m concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify and assist with those challenges.

    LISA DESJARDINS: No Democrats have said they will vote for DeVos. If all other Republicans back her, she would end up with a 50-50 vote and Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie.

    And that critical vote on Betsy DeVos is expected Friday — Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, you reported a moment ago that Mr. Gorsuch, Judge Gorsuch, hit the ground running. They feel pressure to get this thing moving quickly?

    LISA DESJARDINS: They do. This is an incredibly aggressive timeline.

    Judy, today, Mr. Gorsuch had six meetings at the Capitol, five of those with Republicans. Interesting, that’s approaching the total number of Republicans who ever met with Merrick Garland just today. Republicans are trying to define him as middle of the road. Democrats, of course, are not so sure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, you also referred to 10 Democrats who you said are — suggested are important to this process. What do we know about them?

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. That’s a pivotal group.

    We already know one of those Democrats, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, is a no vote on Mr. Gorsuch. So that leaves nine more for the eight votes the Republicans would need. They have to get almost all of them. Most of them are holding back, not really tipping their hand yet, but I talked to perhaps the most critical one, Joe Manchin of West Virginia today.

    Interesting, Judy, he told me he has some real concerns about Mr. Gorsuch. Specifically, he said campaign finance. Mr. Gorsuch has ruled against stricter campaign finance, and Joe Manchin said that that’s a concern of his.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Lisa, turning to the Cabinet, when does it look as if, if you know, the president is going to get all these Cabinet choices confirmed?

    LISA DESJARDINS: I love that question, because I have to tell you the atmosphere up here is nothing like I have ever experienced. It’s such a frenzy. But that’s the bottom line. Right?

    I think, given the way Democrats are handling things right now, blocking, delaying, questioning as much as they can, I think it will be weeks before President Trump could see all of his Cabinet nominees in place.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins reporting for us from the Capitol, thank you, Lisa.

    The post Political battle begins for Gorsuch confirmation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump attends an African American History Month listening session at the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017.  Photo by Carlos Barria/REUTERS

    U.S. President Donald Trump attends an African American History Month listening session at the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/REUTERS

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them — comments the White House described as “lighthearted.”

    The White House said Thursday that the comments, in an excerpt obtained by The Associated Press from a transcript of the hourlong conversation, were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”

    The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details publicly, described the conversation as “pleasant and constructive.”

    “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

    The comments came last Friday in a phone call between Trump and Pena Nieto. The excerpt from the transcript did not detail exactly whom Trump considers “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark.

    The Mexican government said “the negative statements” reported in the AP story “did not occur during” the call.

    The remark offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump’s remarks suggest he is using the same bravado with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

    Eduardo Sanchez, spokesman for Mexico’s presidential office, said the conversation was respectful, not hostile or humiliating. “It is absolutely false that the president of the United States threatened to send troops to Mexico,” Sanchez said in an interview with Radio Formula on Wednesday night.

    The Mexican Foreign Relations Department had earlier told The AP: “The negative statements you refer to did not occur during said telephone call. On the contrary, the tone was constructive.”

    The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

    A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to the AP. The person was not authorized to provide the excerpt publicly and gave it on condition of anonimity.

    The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

    Mexico’s foreign relations department said the report was “based on absolute falsehoods.”

    Americans may recognize Trump’s signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.

    Political analyst and former presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar noted Pena Nieto had seen his low approval levels improve, as Mexicans rallied around him for publicly challenging Trump in the border wall dispute.

    The latest remarks could undercut that, if Pena Nieto is viewed as “weak,” he said.

    Trump has used the phrase “bad hombres” before. In an October presidential debate, he vowed to get rid the U.S. of “drug lords” and “bad people.”

    “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” he said. The phrase ricocheted on social media with Trump opponents saying he was denigrating immigrants.

    Trump’s comment was in line with the new administration’s bullish stance on foreign policy matters in general, and the president’s willingness to break long-standing norms around the globe.

    Before his inauguration, Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, breaking long-standing U.S. policy and irritating China. His temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, aimed at reviewing screening procedures to lessen the threat of extremist attacks, has caused consternation around the world.

    But nothing has created the level of bickering as the border wall, a centerpiece of his campaign. Mexico has consistently said it would not pay for the wall and opposes it. Before the phone call, Pena Nieto canceled a planned visit to the United States.

    The fresh fight with Mexico last week arose over trade as the White House talked of a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally to finance the wall after Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped his Jan. 31 trip to Washington.

    The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.

    Trump tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — a real estate executive with no foreign policy experience — with managing the ongoing dispute, according to an administration official with knowledge of the call.

    At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump described his call with Pena Nieto as “friendly.”

    In a statement, the White House said the two leaders acknowledged their “clear and very public differences” and agreed to work through the immigration disagreement as part of broader discussions on the relationship between their countries.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.

    The post White House: Trump comments on Mexico ‘lighthearted’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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