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

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    Guns are seen inside a display case in Fort Worth, Texas. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is among the Senate Republicans who say an Obama regulation that would prevent an estimated 75,000 people from owning guns unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms. Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

    Guns are seen inside a display case in Fort Worth, Texas. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is among the Senate Republicans who say an Obama regulation that would prevent an estimated 75,000 people from owning guns unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms. Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Republican-led Senate is moving to block an Obama-era regulation that would prevent an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from being able to purchase a firearm.

    The Obama administration sought to strengthen the federal background check system by including the names of Social Security beneficiaries with mental impairments who also need a third party to manage their benefits.

    With a Republican ally in the White House, the GOP is moving aggressively on gun rights measures. The House earlier this month voted for the resolution blocking the rule. Senate approval on Tuesday would send the measure to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

    Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the regulation unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms. He said that the mental disorders covered through the regulation are filled with “vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard” prohibiting someone from buying or owning a gun.

    WATCH: NRA-backed bill aims to keep guns from the mentally ill

    Grassley cited eating and sleep disorders as examples of illnesses that could allow a beneficiary to be reported to the background check system if they also need a third party to manage their benefits.

    “If a specific individual is likely to be violent due to the nature of their mental illness, then the government should have to prove it,” Grassley said.

    The regulation was crafted as part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen the background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old man with a variety of impairments, including Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, shot and killed his mother at their home, then went to school where he killed the students, adults and himself.

    U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, where a shooter opened fire on Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012, speaks at a 2014 news conference by the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, where a shooter opened fire on Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012, speaks at a 2014 news conference by the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he didn’t know how he could explain to his constituents that Congress was making it easier rather than harder for people with serious mental illness to have a gun.

    “If you can’t manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect that you’re going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm,” Murphy said.

    READ MORE: Gun violence and mental health laws, 50 years after Texas tower sniper

    Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., argued that anyone who thinks they’re treated unfairly can appeal, and are likely to win if they’re not a danger to themselves or others. But Grassley said federal law requires a formal hearing and judgment before depriving someone of owning a firearm due to mental illness.

    “The Second Amendment, as a fundamental right, requires the government to carry the burden to show a person has a dangerous mental illness,” Grassley said. “This regulation obviously and simply does not achieve that.”

    Gun rights groups such as the NRA are supporting the effort to repeal the Obama-era regulation. The American Civil Liberties Union has joined with the NRA in fighting the regulation, as has an independent federal agency charged with advising the president and Congress on government policy. The National Council on Disability said there is no nexus between the inability to manage money and the ability to safely possess and use a firearm.

    The post Senate wants to block rule on guns and mentally ill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A pregnant victim of domestic violence rests in her room at Mutual Ground's shelter in Aurora, Illinois, June 18, 2009. Photo by John Gress/Reuters

    A pregnant victim of domestic violence rests in her room at Mutual Ground’s shelter in Aurora, Illinois, June 18, 2009. Photo by John Gress/Reuters

    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois officials waited more than five months to alert dozens of domestic violence programs that their funding had been eliminated, an omission that has forced layoffs and other cuts at some facilities, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

    No one knows — or is saying — why approximately $9 million in state funding for 62 programs that provide shelter, counseling and advocacy for victims of domestic abuse was left out of a six-month budget that took effect July 1. When providers finally learned they were left empty-handed, they scrambled to make up the lost money by slashing jobs and salaries and expanding client waiting lists.

    Although there is no indication officials intended to slice funding for the domestic violence programs, the money won’t easily be restored in the state’s precarious economic situation. Illinois has operated without a spending plan since July 2015 because of bickering between first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature.

    Rauner will deliver a budget address Wednesday to the General Assembly.

    Michelle Meyer, executive director of Kane County-based Mutual Ground, a 24-hour shelter and counseling center, laid off four people in November after months of not receiving checks — or answers — from the state. They include a case manager and a sexual assault counselor. That’s not counting the six who have left in the last year which Mutual Ground can’t afford to replace.

    “We have no more case managers, who help clients get benefits, housing, child care, accompany them to court,” Meyer said. “There’s nobody to pick up that work. Everybody that we can’t help is put on a waiting list.”

    It wasn’t until Dec. 16 — just two weeks before the temporary budget expired — that Human Services Secretary James Dimas sent a letter to all providers alerting them to the exclusion.

    The program was fully funded in 2015-2016, at $18.6 million, money that was tapped out by late summer. In his letter, Dimas acknowledged “some confusion” about funding in the latest spending plan and promised that it would be fully paid when available.

    Dimas offered no explanation for delayed announcement, and spokeswoman Meghan Powers declined to answer AP questions about the late notice.

    Experienced state vendors know they sign state contracts that make payment dependent on legislative approval. But domestic violence program providers say they submitted budgets to DHS for review and, in some cases, had to amend them before getting DHS contract approval last spring. Without notice that there wasn’t money forthcoming, “They’ve already spent that money and they’re struggling,” said Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

    Of the 62 domestic violence sites that receive state funding, 39 also receive federal money because they provide 24-hour shelters, Smith said. That amounts to about two months’ worth of operations.

    Some agencies are zealously fundraising, although Gretchen Vapnar, executive director of Community Crisis Center in Elgin, lamented, “Most of our donors have already paid their taxes.”

    At the Center for Domestic Peace in Chicago, which provides counseling to offenders, program manager Mike Feinerman said the agency’s highest-paid employees agreed to take a 5 to 10 percent cut in salary after receiving the DHS news.

    Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, a Democratic budget negotiator, saw his House-approved January plan to provide emergency funding of $6.6 million die in the Senate. The state lacks a “consistent message” to vendors and their financial support, he said.

    “They had contracts to do the work and were instructed to proceed and had the rug pulled out from under them,” Harris said.

    Smith said she wasn’t aware late on June 30 when the temporary budget was approved, hours before it was to take effect, that the 800-page document had no domestic violence support.

    “I don’t care how it came down,” she said. “We need to fix it.”

    WATCH: Giving Americans better tools to prevent domestic violence

    The post Abrupt cuts hinder Illinois violence shelters appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A vintage valentine courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    A vintage valentine courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    In these modern times, Valentine’s Day means rushing to get last-minute restaurant reservations, or lurking at the drugstore until heart-shaped cartons of candy get slapped with a sale sticker. But how did we get here?

    There is no single agreed-upon origin story. Some claim the holiday comes from the feast of Lupercalia, a celebration in which men killed goats and dogs, using their hides to whip women who would willingly line up for the fertility ritual. Others assert that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the 3rd century A.D. who officiated marriages between young couples, which had been banned according to the emperor’s military strategy. Valentine’s execution by beheading led to his martyrdom and day of honor.

    Whatever their origins, our current traditions seem far more staid. Americans will spend $30 billion celebrating love today, including on greeting cards, which have been circulating in some form since at least the 15th century.

    If you’re looking for inspiration, the Library of Virginia has a collection of a few hundred postcards and greeting cards dating back to the early 20th century.

    “It’s part of our ephemera collection — or things that were meant to be thrown away,” Dale Neighbors, Visual Studies Collection coordinator at the library, told the PBS NewsHour. According to Neighbors, some of the cards came as private papers.

    “It’s only recently people started to place a value on this sort of thing,” Neighbors said. In recent years, the library has started receiving groups of greeting cards on their own, rather than as part of a cache of other papers. The library also has a collection of holiday cards.

    See an assorted collection of the vintage greetings below:

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

     

    198a9f30a5a88c1a845e7d8b6bfab58a-1

    Courtesy of the Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

    The post Love is fleeting but these vintage valentines are worth keeping appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Mature Couple Meeting with Financial Advisor, money manager, investing selective focus to mature woman signing agreement. Photo by vgajic/Getty Images

    If you’re with a broker or any kind of adviser paid on commissions, you should sever that relationship as soon as possible, writes economist Teresa Ghilarducci. Photo by vgajic/Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: In “How To Retire With Enough Money: And How To Know What Enough Is,” economist Teresa Ghilarducci lays out the financial advice you need to retire comfortably in a neat 100 pages. Below, we have an excerpt from the book that offers tips on money managers and investing.


    If Jane Austen were alive today, she’d probably say that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man or woman in possession of a fortune must be in want of a financial manager. In fact, you don’t even need a fortune: If you’re remotely middle class in America, almost inevitably you’ll get hooked up with an investment adviser. Or, as I like to say, a “Guy.”

    If Jane Austen were alive today, she’d probably say that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man or woman in possession of a fortune must be in want of a financial manager.

    Your Guy doesn’t have to be a guy; some are women. The result, though, is the same. “Jeff called. He wants me to sell some bonds and buy FROOFROO stock. He suggested $10,000 worth, but I said only $5,000.” Or, “My Guy is pretty good. He always calls, and he doesn’t push me into investments.”

    Sounds OK so far, right? But when I ask people how much the Guy costs, they don’t really know. When I ask if he has fiduciary loyalty, they don’t know what that means. When I ask if the investments he puts them in do better than a standard benchmark like the S&P 500 index, again, they don’t know.

    The Guy rarely takes into account anyone’s taxes or debt levels or other real issues about their lives. The Guy lives on commissions. In fact, many Guys are essentially in sales, with a working knowledge of financial terms. Many couldn’t pass a basic financial literacy test.

    READ MORE: Can you guess how many Americans have absolutely no savings at all?

    A definition of terms here: Fiduciary loyalty essentially means an ethical obligation to you, the customer. Helaine Olen, author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry,” explains it this way: If you bought a pair of shoes from a store that had fiduciary loyalty, it would be the store’s responsibility to make sure those shoes really fit you before you left. Similarly, a fiduciary money manager can be sued if he or she doesn’t give you financial advice that’s solely in your interest.

    The news about money managers isn’t all bad. There are fee-only certified financial planners who are independent and free of conflicts of interest. They don’t sell investment products, and they don’t work on commission. Such a professional will charge you up front to create a financial plan, similar to the way a lawyer would charge you to draw up a will. This service might cost you $1,000 or more, but you’ll save money in the long run.

    One caveat here: Fee-only advisers tend to be pretty rare outside cities, so you may have difficulty finding one if you live in a smaller town. However, the good news is that you may not even need a manager. To understand why, you have to understand what passive management and active management are.

    A passively managed fund is one in which the manager takes a hands-off approach, usually by following a stock or bond index. One such stock index is the Russell 3000, which contains the stocks of approximately 98 percent of the investable U.S. market. (In other words, when you invest in a fund that follows the Russell 3000, you are investing in 98 percent of U.S. companies at one time.) Smaller, but better known, is the S&P 500. Introduced by Standard & Poor’s in 1957, it follows the 500 largest publicly traded companies. This index is widely used to measure the general level of stock prices (though the Dow — which contains 30 high-profile stocks — steals all the headlines).

    A fund that tracks the S&P 500, therefore, will mirror the general performance of the stock market overall. You won’t be protected from the usual fluctuations. It will go up and down. But over time, the market has always gained ground.

    READ MORE: How much does it cost to leave the workforce to care for a child? A lot more than you think.

    In contrast, an actively managed fund is one whose manager chooses stocks in an effort to outperform the market. Some managers do succeed at this — for a time. But the statistics show that such hot streaks always end. Studies done on actively managed mutual funds have been clear on this point: Past performance is a very unreliable predictor of future returns.

    Professor Jeremy Siegel explains this in detail in his book, “Stocks for the Long Run.” Using mutual-fund data provided by the Vanguard Group and Lipper Analytical Services, he found that all actively managed equity mutual funds returned an average of 10.49 percent per year for the period 1971 to 2006, whereas the S&P 500 rose an average of 11.53 percent.

    It’s worth noting two things here (as Siegel did). First, the funds benefited from a stellar run for small stocks between 1975 and 1983 (this likely helped actively managed funds — managers find smaller stocks attractive because of their growth potential). Over the period of 1984 to 2006, after the run was finished, actively managed funds returned an average of only 10.8 percent yearly compared with the S&P 500’s 12.26 percent. Second, and more important, the actively managed fund figures don’t reflect the impact of sales and redemption fees.

    It isn’t whether your fund manager can beat the market and for how long; what really chips away at your savings when you invest in an actively managed fund is how much your manager charges.

    And now we’ve arrived at a crucial point: It isn’t whether your fund manager can beat the market and for how long; what really chips away at your savings when you invest in an actively managed fund is how much your manager charges. Passive management can be done very cheaply, by virtue of its hands-off approach. Index funds tend to charge about 0.1 percent of the total investment in fees; they pass the savings on to you. Active management, by nature, costs more. These expenses, likewise, are passed along. Usually, the cost is about 2 percent.

    To illustrate this, let’s say you have $100,000 to invest in a mutual fund. You have a choice: an index fund or one with a fund manager who chooses stocks in an attempt to beat the market. Once you pick a fund, you stay in it for, let’s say, 10 years.

    During those 10 years, the S&P 500 rises by 5 percent a year, and both funds match that in performance. Naturally, the index fund does, because it tracks the S&P. The other fund does it through skilled stock-picking by its manager. (This is statistically unlikely, especially over a 10-year period. In fact, it’s almost certain that an actively managed fund would return less than the S&P 500. But for the sake of argument, we’ll assume that it matches the S&P.) So after 10 years, that $100,000 has grown into $163,000 through the power of compounding.

    Let’s pause here and talk about compounding, because it’s that important. Interest compounding in savings works the same way as the runaway growth of your credit-card balance if you only pay the minimum (only now it’s not quite so “runaway,” since market returns, averaged over time, aren’t as high as credit-card interest rates). But the key point is the same: You earn interest on your principal and interest on your returns, meaning the picture just gets better over time. The earlier you start and the longer you can keep your money invested (meaning no early withdrawals), the more the miracle of compounding works for you.

    READ MORE: This innovative idea can ‘unshackle’ poor people from payday loans and bad credit scores

    So in our example, if you invest $100,000 at 5 percent per year, in 10 years, that money will have turned into $163,000. Except that won’t be the balance on the statement you get in year 10, whether you invested in an actively managed or a passively managed account. It’ll be less than $163,000. Why? Because of fees.

    If you go with an index fund, you’d end up with $161,000. That’s because index funds charge one-tenth of 1 percent of the assets under management, so instead of earning 5 percent, you’re getting 4.9 percent. Because of the math of compounding interest, a 0.1 percent drop in the rate of return leads to a 2 percent drop in total return. In your case, that means you paid about $2,000 over the 10 years to be in the index fund. Maybe that doesn’t thrill you, but remember, an index fund’s 0.1 percent fee is about the best you can do, short of writing to every single publicly traded company and enclosing a check for individual stock certificates that are then mailed to your house and that you then store in a gigantic filing cabinet . . . Yikes.

    Given this, why would you choose an actively managed fund? You shouldn’t.

    But what happens if you chose an actively managed fund? That’s where the math of compounding interest comes home to roost in a big way. Actively managed accounts generally charge up to 2 percent in fees. We’ve seen that in an index fund every 0.1 percent in fees results in a 2 percent reduction in total return over 10 years. So every 1 percent in fees leads to about a 20 percent drop — actually, a bit more, given that we’re dealing with compounding and its snowball effect. With a 2 percent fee structure, you get about 46 percent less in total return from an actively managed account over 10 years. In our example, your $100,000 investment has grown in the actively managed fund to the same $163,000. But the fees charged by your manager over time have eaten up $29,000, so you’re left with $134,000. None of the difference is caused by your fund’s performance; it’s all fees.

    So if, in 10 years’ time, you want to fee-shame yourself about your choice, there’s no shortage of ways you can do it.

    1. I earned 46 percent less than I would have in an index fund.
    2. I got a 3 percent return when I could’ve gotten 4.9 percent.
    3. I earned $34,000 instead of $61,000.
    4. I paid $29,000 in fees when I could have paid $2,000.

    Clear enough? You should also remember one thing: The above example generously assumes that your fund manager matched the market’s performance, getting a 5 percent return. But history tells us that, minus a few lucky streaks, managed funds almost invariably underperform the market. I’m reminding you of that because a mutual-fund manager is going to tell you his fund’s fees are worth it, because his experts’ picks will outperform the market. But the statistics tell a different story. Are there ever managers who beat the market several years in a row? Sure. But research shows high flyers generally last a few years at most.

    Given this, why would you choose an actively managed fund? You shouldn’t. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make. To be absolutely clear: If you’re with a broker or any kind of adviser paid on commissions, you should sever that relationship as soon as possible. Honestly, you would be better off earning the Boy Scouts’ personal finance merit badge and then trusting what you learn from it than using a “Guy.” Simply put: Low-fee index funds are all you need. Vanguard Funds is a one-stop shop in this area. I have no connection to or interest in Vanguard; they just offer an excellent product. You can buy directly from their website.

    READ MORE: Why women over 50 can’t find jobs

    You might be asking, “But what if I have a high net worth?” My answer is the same. Multibillion-dollar funds, like the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, are so big that if they make a move, the world moves with them. They make markets. They need to be buying illiquid assets and private equity, et cetera. You don’t.

    If you still feel that you want someone to guide you through the investing process, get a fee-only adviser and pay up front for a personal plan. If you’re part of a couple, make sure that your partner in life and in finances is comfortable with the adviser you choose. Both parties need to feel secure about a decision this big.

    Six critical questions to ask your Guy

    1. How are you paid? Fee-only advisers receive no compensation from the sale of investment products. All others do. You can’t count on an adviser who gets a significant portion of their pay in sales commissions. Period. Leave if they are not fee-only.
    2. Do you have any conflicts of interest that influence the advice you provide? Financial advisers who are registered representatives get paid to sell insurance or annuity products promoted by their brokers. Ask how they choose the investments they recommend. Ask them directly how they are paid.
    3. Will my assets be housed with an independent custodian — that is, a bank that is not selling the investment products? “Yes” is the only acceptable answer here. Bernie Madoff’s firm did not use an independent custodian. Enough said.
    4. Are your clients similar to me? If your adviser’s typical client is worth $1 million or more and you aren’t rich, think twice. Your adviser may lean toward advice more suited to his or her richest clients.
    5. What services do you provide? If the adviser’s primary service is investment advice and you want a complete financial plan, this adviser is unlikely to be a good match.
    6. Do you act in a fiduciary capacity toward your clients? Leave fast if the adviser doesn’t say yes. You are asking the broker if he or she is obligated to put your interest first, before that of his or her firm. If there is any other answer but a clear yes, grab your wallet tight, and leave.

    The post Column: Do you know how much your financial planner really costs? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen prepares to speak before a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen prepares to speak before a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pointed Tuesday to a solid U.S. job market and economy and said the Fed will likely resume raising interest rates in the next few months. But with uncertainties surrounding President Donald Trump’s proposals, Yellen said the Fed still wants to keep assessing the economy.

    Testifying to a Senate committee, Yellen noted that Fed officials forecast in December that they would raise rates three times in 2017. That would mark an acceleration from 2015 and 2016, when they boosted rates once each year.

    “Precisely when we would take an action, whether it is March, or May or June … I can’t tell you which meeting it would be,” Yellen said in response to a question. “I would say that every meeting is live.”

    Though Yellen didn’t rule out a rate hike at the Fed’s next meeting in mid-March, most economists and investors think the next one will occur in June.

    Until then, the details of Trump’s ambitious proposals — for tax cuts for individuals and businesses, greater spending on infrastructure projects, changes to trade deals and a relaxation of regulations — could remain hazy.

    “With the uncertainty over fiscal policy likely to last for at least another few months, that means the Fed will probably be on hold until June,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

    Other analysts say they think that while three Fed rate hikes will occur in 2017, all of them may happen in the second half of the year.

    In her first congressional appearance since Trump took office, Yellen avoided making critical observations of the president’s economic ideas. During the campaign, Trump was at times harshly dismissive of Yellen. At one point, he had declared that she should be “ashamed of herself” for, in his view, keeping rates low to favor Democrats.

    In her remarks, Yellen did caution that any economic initiatives that significantly swell long-term budget deficits would likely slow growth. But she offered support for part of Trump’s agenda: His efforts to make it easier for smaller banks to lend, in part by liberating them from some rules imposed by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. She said the Fed has been trying to ease the regulatory burden on community banks and is open to doing more.

    Yellen said the Fed’s interest rate policies would evolve, in part, from how spending and tax changes enacted by Congress affect economic growth. Right now, she said, “it’s too early to know what policy changes will be put in place or how their economic effects will unfold.”

    Trump has argued that his economic initiatives can achieve his goal of doubling annual economic growth to 4 percent, up from the tepid 2 percent pace that’s prevailed since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Most economists say 4 percent annual growth is unrealistic given the nation’s slow-growing population and weak worker productivity growth.

    Trump’s new Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, told reporters Tuesday that “there is a tradition of the secretary of the Treasury having ongoing meetings with the head of the Federal Reserve, and I look forward to that now that I am in office, doing that and spending time with her.”

    In her testimony Tuesday — the first of two days marking her semiannual report to Congress on interest rate policy — Yellen reiterated that she plans to serve the final year of her four-year term as Fed chair, which ends next February. She will testify to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday.

    Trump has the opportunity to fill three vacancies on the Fed’s seven-member policymaking board after Daniel Tarullo, a board member who was guiding the Fed’s regulatory efforts, announced Friday that he would resign this spring.

    Yellen told senators that she looked forward to working with new members of the Fed board. She said Fed officials still think rate hikes can occur at a gradual pace. But she cautioned, as she has in the past, that “waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the (Fed) to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting financial markets and pushing the economy into recession.”

    READ MORE: Why the Fed may aggressively raise rates in 2017

    The post Yellen: Expect Fed to resume raising rates in coming months appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Donald Trump (L-R), joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office in January. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Donald Trump (L-R), joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, speaks by phone with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office in January. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The dramatic departure of President Donald Trump’s hard-hitting national security adviser creates a vacuum of power and raises a key question about U.S. foreign policy: Will the pragmatists in the administration now gain clout?

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, both known as levelheaded technocrats, stand to fill some of the void. It would be a shift that would mollify anxious U.S. allies and even Republicans who worry Trump is veering too far from traditional U.S. positions. But the duo will be contending with Steve Bannon, Trump’s influential senior adviser, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who is already playing an outsize role in his diplomacy.

    Trump hasn’t named a replacement for Michael Flynn. Trump asked the former Army lieutenant general to resign Monday night amid revelations he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia while President Barack Obama was still in office. Trump has tasked retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg with filling the role temporarily but is also considering two other retired military leaders to permanently replace Flynn.

    “It’s dysfunctional as far as national security is concerned,” Republican Sen. John McCain said. “Who is in charge? I don’t know of anyone outside of the White House who knows.”

    Critics of Trump’s foreign policy plans are hoping the shakeup leads to a rethink of his desire to seek closer U.S.-Russians relations and a less hostile administration stance on Islam — a tone Flynn helped to set through often inflammatory statements about the religion. Many lawmakers from both parties were appalled to learn that Flynn, in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, discussed with Russia’s ambassador sanctions that the Obama administration was enacting as punishment for Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election.

    Flynn, who in 2015 was paid to appear at a gala for Russian state-controlled television network RT, was the face of Trump’s potential Russia reboot, designed around working with Russia to fight the Islamic State group. In Moscow, Russian lawmakers bitterly mused that American paranoia had forced Flynn out, while analysts there surmised that the Kremlin’s honeymoon with Trump was ending.

    With Flynn out, it could fall to Tillerson to step into the role of chief envoy to Russia. Tillerson, who heads to Bonn, Germany, on Wednesday on his first official trip, is widely expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the trip. He has long experience with Russian leaders and was awarded a friendship honor by President Vladimir Putin when he was Exxon Mobil CEO.

    Much depends on who replaces Flynn. It’s unclear if Trump will go with someone having a similar world view and willingness to upset the status quo. In his brief three-week tenure, Flynn stepped up U.S. rhetoric toward Iran and helped spearhead Trump’s controversial immigration order that sparked consternation and threats of retaliation in the Muslim world.

    “I don’t think it will slow the White House down too much,” said Jim Carafano, a Heritage Foundation scholar who advised Trump’s transition team on foreign policy. Carafano said Flynn’s departure “takes away a trusted voice of the president” but that Trump would turn to other valued national security hands.

    [Watch Video]

    President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has come under fire for pre-inauguration conversations he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Judy Woodruff speaks with The New York Times’ David Sanger and Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA, about Flynn’s actions and what the controversy suggests about the early weeks of the Trump administration.

    That could also mean an expanded role for Bannon, the conservative media executive with outspoken views about Islam who has consolidated immense influence over Trump’s foreign policy. Kushner, the husband of Trump’s daughter, also could broaden his portfolio, which already has him as a prime Trump emissary to key regions like the Middle East and Latin America despite his dearth of diplomatic or government experience.

    Tillerson, too, has elicited concerns about his ties to Putin. But he portrayed himself in a Senate confirmation hearing as well within mainstream U.S. thinking on Russia. And that view is prevailing on policy, at least for now, as the White House said Tuesday it is upholding the sanctions President Barack Obama imposed on Russia over Ukraine and the election meddling.

    Tillerson, who has kept a low public profile since being sworn in, hasn’t commented on Flynn’s departure or on Trump’s early handling of foreign policy.

    But Mattis, speaking to reporters while traveling to a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, said Flynn’s departure “has no effect at all” on him.

    “It doesn’t change my message,” Mattis said.

    Like Tillerson, Mattis has emerged as part of the global reassurance team — Cabinet members familiar to foreign leaders who are easing concerns that Trump will follow through on combative rhetoric about upending U.S. foreign policy. On his first official trip abroad, to South Korea and Japan, Mattis insisted the U.S. wouldn’t abandon its treaty allies despite Trump’s suggestions that Washington would no longer bear the burden of other nations’ defenses.

    “The key question is what is the connective tissue between the president and the actual policy,” said Derek Chollett, who held various national security posts under Obama. “Every president reaches a point where they stop getting listened to. With Trump, it may happen sooner if there’s a sense what he says isn’t actually translated into policy.”

    Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

    WATCH: Is the focus on his staff keeping President Trump from making policy?

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    The UConn women hoist the East Regional championship trophy after a 86-65 victory over Texas in their Elite Eight game on Monday, March 28, 2016, at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. (John Woike/Hartford Courant/TNS via Getty Images)

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A remarkable accomplishment has taken place now in college sports. The women’s basketball team at the University of Connecticut has now won 100 straight games.

    William Brangham has more.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: To put this streak in context, the UConn women haven’t lost a basketball game since 2014. No one has beaten them in over 800 days.

    And inside that span, they also won two of their record four national championships. One analyst called the UConn women — quote — “the most dominant program in the history of college basketball, period.”

    For more on these amazing women and their legendary coach, Geno Auriemma, I’m joined by USA Today’s Christine Brennan.

    Welcome back to the NewsHour.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Great to be here, William. Thank you.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, explain this phenomenon that is these women. How do you explain their dominance?

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, no one saw this coming, if you consider, UConn had won four national championships in a row. And …

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Amazing, in and of itself.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: That’s right.

    And the top three players from that, the seniors who won all four years, all went in the WNBA draft first, second and third. So, of all players coming out of college, they were the best three. They all left.

    So, everyone thought this was going to be a down year for UConn.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A rebuilding year.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Exactly, and expected a loss or two early in the season. And all of a sudden, UConn is playing the best teams in the country, and they’re not losing, and they’re winning and winning and winning.

    And here we are with this legendary 100th victory for a team that is synonymous with winning, but nothing like this. So, I think it’s really stunning, because this was supposed to be, as you said, the rebuilding year, and they have just reloaded.

    And, again, it’s just a great testament to a program and a coach, Geno Auriemma, that is not only just one of the greatest in the history of women’s sports and certainly the best in women’s basketball, but I think in all sports, men’s or women’s.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, if you take the top three players out of your team — and those are the top three draft picks, as you say — how do they do this? Is this — this obviously is a testament to something of the coaching ethos at that school.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Exactly.

    Well, Geno Auriemma will always get three or four of the best basketball players in the country every year, but you only have a team of 12. It’s not like he can pick 100 and have them, stockpile them somewhere in a gym in Storrs, Connecticut, and pull them out when he wants to.

    So, this is the part, William, that is just so amazing to me. Today is the greatest day in women’s sports, until tomorrow.

    (LAUGHTER)

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: By that, I mean Title IX working its magic, coaching, parents caring, the salaries for coaches, the training for girls.

    Everyone knows the girl next door, their niece, their daughter. You see it every day in this country now, such a cultural phenomenon, girls playing sports, and then of course women’s sports as well in college and onward.

    And to think that, at this most competitive time in the history of women’s sports and women’s basketball, that you would have one team dominating like this, it’s truly amazing to me, as a journalist who has covered sports all these years, that this is happening now.

    What it means is, Geno Auriemma is such a great coach. He gets these great players. And then he puts them into a system where he demands that they be teammates. They cannot be rock stars, superstars. Yes, they often — in fact, some of them become.

    He wants them to be cogs in a system that has worked now for several decades. They buy into it, and they have championship after championship to prove it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, I know this is an oft-debated question, but is this kind of a dynasty good for the sport? I have heard it argued both ways. I mean, these women blow their teammates away — their opponents, largely. It this good for women’s basketball?

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I think it’s both good and bad.

    One the one hand, dynasties are fun. We just went through the New England Patriots. People are hoping the Cubs will become a dynasty. Obviously, you talk to a Yankee fan, they love that over the years. As much as people hate the Yankees, people love the Yankees.

    So, I think we’re into dynasties and winning, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, et cetera. I think that’s certainly a headline always in sports. And so, from that aspect, I think it’s a good thing.

    The bad part is, it’s like, OK, this is women’s basketball? Where is the rivalry? Where is the competition? And I think there is concern — and I know I have certainly mentioned it — that, OK, again, at this most competitive time in the history of women’s sports, how is it possible that one team dominates like this? What does it say about the competition? What does it say about the other coaches?

    My sense is that UConn may have a couple more really great years, but the history tells us and our culture tells us they can’t keep this up. And the Marylands, and the Baylors, and the Notre Dames are going to come on like gangbusters in a few years.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Christine Brennan, thank you so much.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Thank you, William.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will take it as a great day for women athletes everywhere.

    The post How UConn women’s basketball became synonymous with winning appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    grade3

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: how a school district in Kansas is grappling with the problems of homeless students.

    PBS special correspondent Lisa Stark of our partner Education Week reports.

    It’s part of our weekly series Making the Grade.

    MAN: Let’s go, let’s go! Keep the ball in bounds!

    LISA STARK: It’s varsity basketball practice at Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and 6’6” senior Malik Cushon is the tallest guy on the team, determined on the court and off.

    MALIK CUSHON, Student: I just had to set my mind to it, had to be focused, real focused to get back where I needed to be.

    LISA STARK: Back from a place he never expected to find himself. A few months ago, Malik had nowhere to live.

    MALIK CUSHON: Me and my mother had a little miscommunication, and one word led to another. I don’t want to get too deep into it, because I still love my mother. But it just wasn’t right at the moment, so she just kicked me out.

    LISA STARK: Did you realize he was homeless?

    PRENTES POTTS, Basketball Coach, Schlagle High School: I didn’t know. I didn’t know.

    LISA STARK: How did you find out?

    PRENTES POTTS: He told me. He told me, told me through a text message.

    LISA STARK: But by the time Malik told coach Prentes Potts what was going on, he was sleeping on a friend’s floor and had missed nearly a month of school, a common problem for homeless students, who are more likely to fall behind and drop out.

    MALIK CUSHON: If I’m jumping from place to place, I’m not as focused on my school work. I got to think about what I’m eating for the night. I got to think about how bills are going to get paid. I got to think about all this extra stuff.

    PRENTES POTTS: It kind of — it blew me away. Excuse me. I’m getting choked up. It blew me away, for the simple fact is, he never communicated anything like that, and his spirits are always so high. You never could tell by looking at him that that is what he was going through.

    MALIK CUSHON: My little sister and my big brother.

    LISA STARK: Malik now lives in housing for homeless youth, and gets services from the school district. Under federal law, districts must identify homeless students, those on the streets, doubled up in motels and shelters, or, like Malik, on their own.

    KERRY WRENICK, Homeless Liaison: Did you do the intake with Ms. Marie?

    LISA STARK: Districts must also have a homeless liaison. Here, that’s Kerry Wrenick. Her job is to make sure homeless students have the support they need to stay in school.

    KERRY WRENICK: We provide educational services to make sure that kids get enrolled in school, get transportation back and forth to school, and then just kind of ensuring that their everyday needs are met.

    LISA STARK: Student homelessness is a widespread problem. Nearly one in four school districts in the U.S. gets federal grant money to help provide services for homeless students. And that money is stretched thin. It amounts to about an average of about $50 per student.

    So, the district also counts on outside help.

    KERRY WRENICK: Everything in here is donated.

    LISA STARK: This room overflows with supplies for homeless students and families.

    This is one of the poorest districts in Kansas. This year, the school district expects to help more than 1,000 homeless students, nearly 5 percent of the student population. Over time, the solution became clear. To help homeless students, they needed to help homeless families.

    KERRY WRENICK: I had to come to the realization that I wasn’t doing enough, that although everything that I was doing was well-intended, I was putting a Band-Aid on things.

    LISA STARK: In 2015, Wrenick put out a call for help; 27 groups responded, nonprofits, civic groups, state agencies.

    DESIREE MONIZE, Avenue of Life: I think the level of collaboration is very unusual.

    LISA STARK: Desiree Monize runs Avenue of Life, a nonprofit that helps low-income families and oversees this collaboration.

    WOMAN: My oldest daughter, her school had referred me to here.

    LISA STARK: Here’s how it works. Once a family is certified by the school district as homeless, they can get assistance through a program called Impact Wednesday. They meet with a case manager, take classes on employment, finance and housing. In return, there’s help finding a job and a home.

    WOMAN: Pay for transportation, food and clothing.

    LISA STARK: The program has taken off.

    DESIREE MONIZE: We piloted last year when the school district opened in August. And the close of year one, we were able to house 58 families, permanently house, and saw a 19 percent reduction in homelessness within the district by the close of year one.

    LISA STARK: And already this school year, 65 families settled in homes, including the family of second grader Daisy Swift, her fifth grade sister, Cece Tiebout, and their mom, Angela Jordan, a hairdresser.

    ANGELA JORDAN, Mother: You guys have everything together?

    LISA STARK: What if the school district program hadn’t been there to help you?

    ANGELA JORDAN: We wouldn’t be here right now. I don’t where we would be. We’d probably be — probably be on the streets or living in our car.

    LISA STARK: Avenue of Life found them this one-bedroom apartment, covered the deposit and one month’s rent. The girls attend their original elementary school, even though it’s not their neighborhood school.

    Federal law requires districts to provide transportation to the school students started the year in, even if they move into permanent housing during the school year.

    KERRY WRENICK: To keep one kid at one school for one year, we just have the best outcome for their learning and their potential to pass and go on to the next grade.

    ANGELA JORDAN: They knew that that was their safe zone, you know, that they could go there and be relaxed and know that they were fine there.

    LISA STARK: These transportation costs do add up. Two years ago, the district spent $450,000 to transport homeless students.

    ANGELA JORDAN: I will see you guys after school.

    LISA STARK: But they reduced that by more than 20 percent last year by finding homes for families.

    WOMAN: Do you have cooking stuff that’s in your hotel?

    MAN: No.

    LISA STARK: Kansas City didn’t start out to rescue homeless families, but that’s just what happened when they focused on saving students.

    What is your goal for these kids?

    KERRY WRENICK: To see them graduate and end the cycle of homelessness. I mean, my greatest blessing would be for Malik to graduate and him never enter the system again.

    LISA STARK: Malik is on track to become the first of his siblings to get a traditional high school diploma. Then his plans include junior college.

    MALIK CUSHON: Just me graduating, walking the stage is going to be a proud moment for us.

    LISA STARK: And a proud moment for the district, which found that fighting student homelessness takes a full-court press.

    In Kansas City, Kansas, I’m Lisa Stark of Education Week for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post To fight student homelessness, this school district helps the whole family appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A man cycles past signs bearing the name of U.S. President-elect Republican Donald Trump in Tel Aviv, Israel November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX2TLPD

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington ahead of a meeting tomorrow with President Trump.

    Special correspondent Martin Seemungal has some background from Jerusalem.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Jerusalem’s Old City is defined by divisions, four quarters, Armenian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, a legacy of conquests and occupations dating back thousands of years.

    Israeli soldiers captured East Jerusalem and the Old City from Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967. Today, Israeli soldiers still control the streets of the Old City and the thousands of Palestinians who live here. It is a tense, often volatile place.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I love Israel. I love Israel.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Enter Donald Trump:

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will move the American Embassy.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Promising to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during his campaign.

    Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, welcomes the news with open enthusiasm.

    His vice mayor, Yitzhak Pindrus, says it is long overdue.

    YITZHAK PINDRUS, Vice Mayor of Jerusalem: Jerusalem is the capital, capital of Israel, the capital of the Jewish nation. It was that for thousands of years. It’s not something that’s going to change. And I’m comfortable with that, and I would be very happy if the embassy will move here.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: No nation on Earth officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. To understand why, you have to go back beyond the ’67 war.

    The United Nations’ 1947 partition created Jewish and Arab states, putting Jerusalem under international control. Israel captured a large part of Jerusalem in 1948, and divided Israeli West Jerusalem from a Palestinian East Jerusalem with a Green Line.

    Despite declaring West Jerusalem as its capital, no country moved embassies there. This is the old Green Line that split Jerusalem in two. Israel annexed the eastern side of the city in the 1980s, illegally, according to international law. And ever since, it’s been trying to erase that sense of division. But the reality remains West Jerusalem is predominately Jewish, East Jerusalem is predominantly Muslim.

    Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. And Donald Trump’s promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem has angered Palestinians.

    Hanan Ashrawi is a senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

    HANAN ASHRAWI, Palestinian Liberation Organization: This is an irresponsible and dangerous move. Don’t even think about it, because you will be inflaming feelings. You will be turning this into a religious conflict. You will be starting a whole new cycle of violence. The U.S. will be seen as complicit.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The Trump administration got the same message from other Arab leaders in the region, and it may have had an impact. The embassy move doesn’t seem so imminent anymore, and may have been shelved for the time being.

    However, there is still a feeling here that the Trump administration favors Israel. Just before the new year, the incoming president tweeted: “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. Stay strong, Israel. January 20 is fast approaching”

    Trump’s tweet came just after former Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Israel for its settlement policy, the last flash point in a tense relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama White House.

    The two leaders clashed repeatedly, the deepest division over Iran. Netanyahu was openly and harshly critical of the nuclear deal that Obama championed. Netanyahu’s right-wing government was criticized often by the Obama administration, particularly on the issue of settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

    A clearly pleased Netanyahu spoke the day after Trump’s victory.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli Prime Minister: You are a great friend of Israel. Over the years, you have expressed your support consistently, and I deeply appreciate it.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: And within days of Trump’s inauguration, Netanyahu announced major settlement expansion plans, 3,000 units in total, the biggest in years. The White House stayed silent.

    Ayelet Shaked is the justice minister and member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party that is pushing settlement building in what the government calls Judea and Samaria, the biblical term for the West Bank. She says Netanyahu’s announcements were made because Donald Trump is in the White House now.

    AYELET SHAKED, Jewish Home Party: Of course it’s not a coincidence. For eight years, the Obama administration refused to any extension in Judea and Samaria. And, actually, in reality, the main cities there were frozen. So, of course we expect that, in a Trump administration, it will be different.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: And there are other indicators of the Trump strong pro-Israel sentiment. President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel is David Friedman, reportedly a U.S. fund-raiser for a West Bank settlement, who believes Israel shouldn’t be forced into a two-state solution.

    President Trump seems likely to appoint Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, viewed as extremely sympathetic to Israel, to negotiate a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

    HANAN ASHRAWI: Now you have settlers and settler supporters in the White House. And it’s unbelievable. It’s incredible.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Dan Shapiro understands very well the complications of trying to broker peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He was the American ambassador here during the Obama years and knows what Kushner is about to face.

    DAN SHAPIRO, Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel: Well, the first thing I would say to anybody given that assignment is, good luck. And I don’t mean that in a joking way. Obviously, anybody who’s worked on this issue knows its frustrations and pitfalls. One advantage he will certainly have is his close relationship to the president.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Negotiations will be even more difficult than usual if the Palestinians feel the new U.S. administration has shifted strongly towards Israel. The early days of the Trump administration were not comforting to Palestinians.

    But when Netanyahu announced another set of settlement building, the White House did react. The first part of the statement signaled a shift in past policy, often critical of Israel on the settlement building issue, saying the administration doesn’t believe the settlements are “an impediment to peace.”

    But then a change in tone: “The construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”

    It was interpreted in Israel as a polite warning. It raised some concern within the Netanyahu coalition. Dan Meridor served as a Cabinet minister under Netanyahu, but left politics because of Netanyahu’s shift to the right. He says, when it comes to Trump, the government shouldn’t assume too much.

    DAN MERIDOR, Former Israeli Cabinet Minister: Because he’s so unpredictable in a way, I wouldn’t bet anything on what may develop. If I were the government, I wouldn’t base any policies on any presumption Trump will go in a set way.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: White House statements and Trump’s recent comments do appear to indicate a change in direction from the first days of Trump’s presidency, more in line with longstanding American policy based on two states for two peoples.

    The two-state solution is critical to peace, because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas still believes it. It remains the foundation of the Palestinian dream.

    Tomorrow’s White House visit by Netanyahu will be watched very closely on both sides of Jerusalem and on the West Bank for any hint of a change in the status quo, one defined for so long by division.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Martin Seemungal in Jerusalem.

    The post Will Trump’s affinity for Israel translate into new policy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSYJB0

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We get reaction now from Capitol Hill to General Flynn’s resignation from two senators who sit on the Intelligence Committee.

    We start with James Risch from Idaho. I spoke with him a short time ago.

    And I started by asking if the Senate Intelligence Committee, with its Republican majority, will investigate General Flynn.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH, R-Idaho: Well, Judy, on the Senate Intelligence Committee, our jurisdiction is and our charge is to oversee all intelligence and counterintelligence activities.

    As such, there’s already been an investigation started on the Russian situation. And, obviously, with what’s happened, that net, I think, is wide enough — not I think — that net is wide enough that it will include the most recent events of the last 48 hours or so.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that means that investigation will definitely be expanded to include specifically what General Flynn talked to the Russian ambassador about?

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: You know, I don’t know where it will lead. Obviously, we’re going to lead it — we’re going to take it as far as we can take it. It’s important for national security that we know.

    Those of us that are in the first branch of government that actually fund these operations and oversee these operations, it’s really important that these kinds of matters be on the table before us when we make the policy decisions that we have to make.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you say whether or not the investigation is going to also look in — or that part of it will be looking into the president’s handling of this, the fact that he was informed about General Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador weeks before he asked General Flynn to step down?

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: You know, that’s a fact that I have seen reported today. I don’t have any independent knowledge that that actually occurred.

    One thing I will tell you is, the White House and the second branch of government is an independent branch of government, and there are certain areas we don’t go into. This is a person that’s very close to the president. He’s not subject to Senate confirmation.

    And when the president is getting information, when he’s being advised by these people, it’s important that all those parties that are acting in the White House have an understanding of confidentiality.

    My point is, I don’t know where this will go in that regard. I know what our sideboards are, and we will stay within those sideboards.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the White House press secretary said today that the president was informed. It has now been announced that the president was informed weeks before Mr. Flynn, General Flynn, was asked to step down.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, if that fact has been confirmed, then it is a fact.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the — it sounds like you’re not saying whether or not the committee is going to look into the president’s handling of this.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, the president’s handling of this, I think, is a matter that is a very delicate situation between two branches of government. And I guess what you’re asking is, what was — how was he motivated?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Why was this done and what have you?

    Boy, that’s an area that I think you would have a very difficult time getting that information to begin with. Certainly, the president wouldn’t be asked about that. And, as a result of that, it would be very difficult to dig into that.

    I think, if we know the facts, that’s what’s going to help us as we do our job and move forward.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the reason I’m asking is because, as you know, there are serious questions about whether President Trump at the time before he was president knew about what General Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about and whether he condoned those conversations.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, I think that’s a different inquiry, as to whether conversations were condoned, depending upon what the content of the conversation was.

    I’m very reluctant to talk about a collision between the two branches of government on something like this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, you started out by pointing out the committee is already looking into the Russian government’s involvement in the elections last year.

    Can you tell us anything about the state of that investigation?

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: I can. It’s just starting.

    We have identified a number of things that we do want to look at. We have done the things that you do as you prepare and start into an investigation. And I have been involved in lots of these on the committee, whether it was Benghazi, whether it was the torture investigation, others that we have done that have not become public.

    And we’re good at what we do. We do have excellent cooperation from the intelligence community generally, from the 16 intelligence agencies. They give us good information and particularly when you know exactly what you’re after. And so we feel comfortable about moving forward with these.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally, quickly, Senator, the White House, the president and his spokesmen are saying what’s most important right now are the leaks that are coming out about discussions, leaks to the news media, and that that’s more important than anything the national security adviser did.

    Do you agree with that?

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, it depends on the actual leak that you’re talking about.

    When leaks are political, they probably don’t do much harm. When they are involved with national security, it is a big problem. For the many years I have been on the Intelligence Committee, I have been concerned about leaks. So have other people.

    I can tell you that, with the great body of intelligence information that is out there, not much of it has leaked out, but even a little bit of it being leaked out is way too much. It is very dangerous. It is un-American to leak. It puts people’s lives in jeopardy, and it really endangers the United States.

    Anyone who would leak national security issues should be ashamed of themselves, and they are not a credit to America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as you pointed out, very little of it is leaked.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Very little of it is leaked, but any can be important and can put people’s lives at risk.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator James Risch with the Senate Intelligence Committee, thank you very much, Senator.

    SEN. JAMES RISCH: Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now for a Democrat’s perspective, and for that, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia.

    I began by asking what he thought the Senate should be doing about General Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador.

    SEN. MARK WARNER, D-Va.: Well, these discussions are very troubling.

    And the first thing we need to do is get to the facts. We have heard reports that he may have been making certain statements that were inappropriate to the Russian ambassador. We have not yet seen those transcripts.

    Once we see the transcripts, then, if they prove as the media has indicated, they would fall into part of the area that the investigation that we are putting forward by the Senate Intelligence Committee that’s looking at contacts between former campaign officials and the Russian government, looking at Russian interference into the election in terms of spreading fake news, and obviously the selective hacking and leaking of information that favored Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton.

    This — General Flynn’s actions would fall within this investigation. And we would need to get to the bottom of it. If the facts are as reported, then I think the committee needs to interview him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you determine if the facts are as reported?

    SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, we understand basic tradecraft.

    And I would — this is one of the things that just amazes me, that someone with General Flynn’s security clearances should know that, if he’s talking to a Russian ambassador, chances are those conversations are monitored. And if they had been monitored, at some point, we need to see the transcript.

    Obviously, something has happened so that — because General Flynn relayed one set of facts, and then, as it became evident that it appeared that there were transcripts, he changed and changed his story and then ended up resigning.

    If the transcripts reveal what the press has said, this raises very, very serious concerns about potentially an American who was not part of an administration at that point actually trying to undermine then President Obama’s sanctions against Russia, those very sanctions which were caused by the Russian interference in our electoral process.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There are also questions, Senator Warner, being raised, as you know, about whether the president knew about the conversations that General Flynn was having at that time, whether he condoned them. How do you find the answer to that?

    SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, that’s further down the path.

    And we have to start with what Flynn said to the Russian ambassador. And it would be extraordinarily troubling — and I hope and pray that it’s not the case that the president was somehow aware of these conversations, the president-elect at that point, because what you, in effect, would be happening would be, you would have someone that wasn’t at that point actually the president trying to undermine the policies of then President Obama, who had put these sanctions in place because, quite honestly, it was the unprecedented action of Russians interfering in our elections.

    I still will always remember the head of the NSA, the head of the CIA, the head of the FBI, the head — the director of national intelligence, all four those individuals testifying in public and private that they’d never seen a foreign government, an adversary, in the case of Russia, try to interfere in such a major way in our elections.

    And if somehow someone was trying to undermine then President Obama’s sanctions against that nation, that would be extraordinarily troubling.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I just talked to Senator James Risch, who is a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee. He said he’s confident that this investigation can be carried out by the Senate Intelligence Committee, that you don’t need an outside independent body, a commission of some sort.

    Are you equally confident?

    SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, that’s my hope.

    And, again, I believe that this — the Intelligence Committee, which has jurisdiction — we’re doing this bipartisan. I think the American public expect us to work on this kind of activity in a bipartisan fashion. We have access. We will get access to most this intelligence.

    And I have said — and the chairman, Richard Burr, has said the same — we’re going to follow this to where the intelligence leads. We are going to follow the facts, no matter where they lead.

    If at any moment in time, though, that there is an effort to try to suppress facts or suppress intelligence, then I and I believe other members of the committee will call for a different kind of investigation, and we might go the route of an independent commission.

    But right at this moment in time, I believe the Senate Intelligence Committee, bipartisan, going after the facts is the right venue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you satisfied right now, Senator, with the progress being made on the rest of this investigation looking overall at Russian influence on the election?

    SEN. MARK WARNER: Remember, we’re looking at three big areas.

    We’re looking at contacts between campaigns and the Russians, both prior to and after the fact, as the case with Mr. Flynn.

    We’re looking at the unprecedented amount of fake news that flooded our news coverage during the election cycle. I don’t think most Americans realize there were literally 1,000 Russian Internet trolls working in a single location in Russia trying to interfere in our elections. And they, I think, had major interference.

    And we’re looking at the selective hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s e-mails and the leaking of that information. We have contacted all our major intelligence agencies and said, we need to see all the raw intelligence. We’re starting that process to look through that intelligence. I wish it could move faster.

    I think, the sooner we get to the bottom of this, the better. And I would even think the administration, if it removes the cloud that is hanging over this administration, I think they would want us to do our job as expeditiously as possible also.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, thank you very much.

    SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you so much.

    The post How deep will the Senate delve into Flynn investigation? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media as retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn stands next to him at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo - RTSYJB6

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, for what we know about what is happening inside the White House at this tumultuous moment, and the real-world effect of this upheaval, we turn to two veteran national security reporters.

    Greg Miller writes for The Washington Post. And Michael Gordon of The New York Times, he wrote the story about Russian missile moves that we reported earlier.

    Welcome, both of you, welcome you back to the program.

    Let me start with you, Greg Miller.

    We have gotten, I think, two different versions over the last 24 hours of what happened to General Flynn since yesterday, was that he was asked to resign. Today, the White House seems to be saying he was forced to resign. What’s the truth?

    GREG MILLER, National Security Correspondent, The Washington Post: I think there is really not much doubt that he was forced and that a number of things forced the White House to make this decision.

    They might not have wanted to do it at that particular moment, but the cumulative total of the headlines day after day on Flynn and what was happening was, I think, too much.

    And I think it really came down to two basic things, one, what he did, and just what he discussed with the Russian ambassador, but, more significantly, how he misled senior officials at the White House, including Vice President Pence, about the nature of those communications.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Greg Miller, staying with you, what’s your understanding of why this was allowed to spiral on, this was allowed to run out as long as it did, three weeks?

    That from the time General Flynn came into the White House, there were questions about these conversations with the Russian ambassador, and here we are over three weeks later. Why did it take so long?

    GREG MILLER: I mean, we’re still waiting for really clear answers to these questions, but the questions are really piling up at this point.

    I mean, we are reporting and others are reporting this afternoon that Flynn was interviewed by the FBI within his initial days of his arrival as national security adviser in the Trump administration, which means that the FBI was already looking at this and putting him — sworn questions to him about his communications with Kislyak.

    And then we know, as we reported last night at The Washington Post, that the acting attorney general warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn had misled Pence and others. And it took until yesterday for the White House to even appear to acknowledge this discrepancy, let alone attempt to clear any of it up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Michael Gordon, as somebody who watches the entire foreign policy establishment in this city, what effect is this having?

    MICHAEL GORDON, Diplomatic Correspondent, The New York Times: Well, it doesn’t help when your American administration is in a state of turmoil.

    You know, today, the head of the Special Operations Command, General Tony Thomas, said something that was really incredible. He said that — in a conference, he said that the — our own government, our American government, was in a state of turmoil, and this was very disconcerting for the military, because they needed stability at home in order to deal with wars abroad.

    So, when your own generals are talking about it, you know it’s having an effect.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael Gordon, as we said, you reported today about the Russians deploying a missile, violating a treaty. The Obama administration had protested, as we know, over a number of years. What does that represent?

    MICHAEL GORDON: This is a very big deal.

    This is — there was a treaty, the INF Treaty, signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which led to the elimination of all intermediate-range American and Russian missiles based on land. And it really sealed the end of the Cold War.

    And what the Russians have now done is developed a missile that — and deployed it. And this is — really flies in the face of the agreement. This is not a technical violation. This is a violation at the heart of the agreement. Right now, it has more political significance than military significance.

    But if they continue deploying these systems, it’s something that the NATO alliance and General — Secretary Mattis is going to be there tomorrow — is really going to have to address.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, Greg Miller, if the National Security Council were functioning under normal circumstances, wouldn’t there have been some reaction to this, some anticipation of it?

    GREG MILLER: I mean, that’s the job of the National Security Council is to try to be a disciplined clearinghouse, gathering the views from across multiple agencies, teeing up decisions that make sense for the president.

    I was told that all members of the National Security Council were summoned for an all-hands meeting at 10:00 a.m. this morning, and that it went for five minutes and it was basically a plea for people to stay in place and not head for the exits yet.

    So, it’s just a state of acute turmoil right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that compare, Greg Miller, to anything you have seen before?

    GREG MILLER: Oh, none whatsoever.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Gordon, what about you?

    I mean, when you look at the picture of what’s going on at the National Security Council, the fact that — and I think you were telling us today, reminding us there is only one person who has been confirmed at the State Department, Secretary Tillerson.

    What is the state of American national security right now, decision-making?

    MICHAEL GORDON: Well, you can’t make a decision about how to approach Russia if you have no deputy secretary of state, you have no assistant secretary for European affairs, you have no undersecretary of defense for policy, and you have no permanent national security adviser.

    This is an important issue, and they simply don’t have the people in place to begin to make intelligent decisions about what policy course they want to steer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Greg Miller, I think the White House would say, well, we have appointed someone as an interim. We are working hard to name a permanent replacement as national security adviser.

    Why aren’t they correct to say, well, this is just a momentary blip, we’re going to get on with business?

    GREG MILLER: I mean, it’s a — if this were in isolation, perhaps you could accept that this were an ordinary blip. But the other problems that Michael Gordon just outlined, in addition to just sort of the — just the appearance of chaos that you see, the images from the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida this weekend, where the Trump officials and Trump himself appeared to be reacting to North Korean missile launch with — by pulling out their cell phones, in view of other guests at the restaurant.

    I mean, across the board, it just looks like a lack of discipline and organization.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Michael Gordon, so, what are you keeping your eye on right now?

    MICHAEL GORDON: Well, I think Secretary Mattis is going to be in Brussels tomorrow with the NATO allies. He’s clearly got to deal with this missile threat, because this is a — strikes at the heart of an agreement that is very much valued, not by the — not only by the NATO allies, but by our Asian allies.

    And so I think, tomorrow, we should at least see at least a glimmer of an American response on this. So, I think that’s the near-term thing to keep an eye on. The longer-term thing is that Mr. Flynn was — seemed to be cozying up to Putin. And now that he’s gone, that might affect our broader policy toward Russia.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Gordon, Greg Miller, thank you both.

    The post National Security Council in turmoil amid Flynn departure appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video link, dedicated to the start of natural gas supplying from mainland Russia to Crimea, in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 27, 2016. Photo by Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: Tensions with Russia are rising on another front. The New York Times reports that Moscow has deployed a new ground-launched cruise missile, ignoring U.S. complaints that it violates a 1987 treaty. The Obama administration objected to the missile during its testing phase in 2014 and 2015.

    Five hundred U.S. troops arrived in Romania today as part of a mission to shore up NATO allies in Eastern Europe. Shipments of American tanks were taken by train to an air base after being unloaded at a Black Sea port. The troops will be stationed there on a rotating basis. NATO has beefed up defenses in Eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

    North Korea has rejected the U.N. Security Council’s criticism of its weekend missile launch. In Geneva today, the North’s ambassador to the United Nations said — quote — “The successful test-launch of a medium-to-long-range missile on February 12 is a part of self-defense measures.”

    But at the same conference, U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood called for international action to stop the North’s missile and nuclear tests.

    ROBERT WOOD, U.S. Special Representative to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament: The United States is committed to holding North Korea accountable for its behavior. We call on all states to use every available channel and means of influence to make clear to the North Korean regime, and its enablers, that these launches are unacceptable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: North Korea’s missile test was its first since President Trump took office.

    Meanwhile, there is word that Kim Jong-nam, half-brother to North Korea’s supreme leader, was assassinated today in Malaysia. A South Korean news channel reports that the attackers were two women. A senior Malaysian government official says that Kim claimed he was hit with a chemical spray at the Kuala Lumpur Airport. He died en route to a hospital, where an autopsy will now be performed. Kim Jong-un has carried out a brutal purge since taking power in North Korea in 2011.

    In the Democratic Republic of Congo, violence surged again in an escalating power struggle. Police raided the home of a religious cult leader who’s called for President Joseph Kabila to step down. Four people died in the raid. Kabila’s mandate in office ran out in December, but he has refused to resign.

    Back in this country, nearly 200,000 people got the all-clear to return to their homes below a dam in Northern California. Helicopters had been bringing in massive white sandbags and cement blocks to plug a 30-foot-deep hole in the spillway. This afternoon, the local sheriff said the danger near the Oroville Dam has eased.

    KORY HONEA, Butte County Sheriff: Evacuation order issued, which resulted in people leaving the area, and we have been keeping them out. But this reduces that to an evacuation warning, and does exactly what you said, allows people to return to their homes, allows people to resume their businesses. But we are telling them that they have to be vigilant.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The forecast is calling for new storms in the Oroville area on Thursday, but officials say they think the dam and spillway can handle it.

    Two more members of the Trump Cabinet have taken their seats. David Shulkin was sworn in today as the new secretary of Veterans Affairs. He easily won Senate confirmation last night. And Linda McMahon was sworn in to lead the Small Business Administration shortly after the Senate confirmed her today 81-19. McMahon was previously head of World Wrestling Entertainment.

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says the Central Bank still means to raise interest rates this year, but it wants to see what the Trump administration does. At a Senate hearing today, Yellen acknowledged uncertainty surrounding the president’s tax and spending plans.

    JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve Chair: Changes in fiscal policy or other economic policies could potentially affect the economic outlook. Of course, it is too early to know what policy changes will be put in place or how their economic effects will unfold.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump has said that his goal is to double economic growth.

    And on Wall Street, bank stocks rallied after Yellen’s remarks, in hopes that higher interest rates will help profits, and that led the broader market higher. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 92 points to close at 20504, another record. The Nasdaq rose 18, and the S&P 500 added nine.

    The post News Wrap: Russia reportedly deployed new missile, ignoring U.S. complaints appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 14, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTSYOQW

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: He served just 24 days, the shortest tenure ever for a president’s national security adviser.

    Now Michael Flynn has been forced out, but the firestorm over his resignation has just begun.

    John Yang reports on this day of turmoil.

    JOHN YANG: President Trump knew since late last month that his Michael Flynn had misled the White House about his telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: We have been reviewing and evaluating this issue, with respect to General Flynn, on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth.

    JOHN YANG: Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the warning came from acting Attorney General Sally Yates, based on an NSA phone intercept.

    SEAN SPICER: The White House counsel informed the president immediately. The president asked them to conduct a review of whether there was a legal situation there. That was immediately determined that there wasn’t. That was what the president believed at the time, what he had been told, and he was proved to be correct.

    The issue, pure and simple, came down to a matter of trust, and the president concluded that he no longer had the trust of his national security adviser.

    JOHN YANG: Flynn had denied publicly, and to vice president-elect Pence directly, that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition. It came out last week that he had.

    Today, Spicer argued Flynn didn’t break the law against private citizens conducting diplomacy.

    SEAN SPICER: There is nothing that the general did that was a violation of any sort. He was well within his duties to discuss issues of common concern between the two countries. I will say it again: What this came down to is a matter of trust.

    JOHN YANG: By last night, Spicer said, the president asked for Flynn’s resignation.

    Today, Mr. Trump ignored shouted questions about Flynn. Instead, he tweeted: “The real story here is, why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”

    SEAN SPICER: It’s not just something that is plaguing the current situation, but it goes back to the Obama administration, the Bush administration, the Clinton administration. When we have government employees that are entrusted with this and then leak it out, that undermines our national security, frankly.

    JOHN YANG: At the Capitol, House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed that Flynn had to go.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: I think the president made the right decision to ask for his resignation. You cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others.

    JOHN YANG: Ryan wouldn’t say if he thinks an investigation is needed. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said: “The situation has taken care of itself.”

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s highly likely that the Senate will investigate.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: The Intelligence Committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election. And they have broad jurisdiction over the intel community writ large. And they can look at whatever they choose to.

    JOHN YANG: Top Democrats demanded an independent probe.

    REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, D-Md.: Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero. That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the Constitution.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: There are potential violations of law here by General Flynn and potentially others. What I am calling for is an independent investigation with executive authority to pursue potential criminal actions.

    JOHN YANG: In Moscow, the Kremlin called it an internal matter for the United States. But hard-line lawmakers like Alexei Pushkov said Flynn was the victim of a witch-hunt.

    Mr. Trump named retired Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg as his acting national security adviser. He’s served as chief of staff for the National Security Council and advised Mr. Trump during his campaign. The leading contenders for a permanent replacement are widely reported to include former Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a retired Navy SEAL, and former CIA Director and retired Army General David Petraeus. Petraeus is currently on probation for revealing classified intelligence to his mistress.

    Spicer said the president did not know that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with the ambassador until acting Attorney General Yates contacted the White House on January 26. Spicer stressed that Flynn’s firing had nothing to do with the phone call itself — Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, John, there are so many threads to this story. Among other things, we’re learning that the FBI interviewed General Flynn very shortly after the new administration took office.

    What are the questions at the White House about — how are they answering these questions about why it took so long, from then until now, for this to unfold, to come out?

    JOHN YANG: What they say is that this had been reviewed for weeks and that it only was in the last night that Mr. Trump decided to ask for his resignation.

    It was also last night that The Washington Post reported this contact from the acting attorney general with the White House. The interview story you mentioned is from The New York Times. They quote current and former officials, unnamed, saying that they found Mr. Flynn to be less than forthcoming in these FBI interviews immediately after the inauguration.

    If officials conclude that he deliberately lied to the FBI, that could lead to a felony charge.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, John, how is the White House dealing with this overall?

    JOHN YANG: They are — they came out today. They made a clean breast of it. They tried to be as forthcoming as they could in the briefing.

    Sean Spicer stressed over and over again this was a matter of trust, that Flynn was doing his job as preparing to be national security adviser by talking to the ambassador. They said it should be no surprise that he was talking about issues of concern to both of them, but they are hoping that they can put this to rest.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Yang at the White House, we thank you.

    And at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, our Lisa Desjardins joins us for the latest from Capitol Hill.

    So, Lisa, we heard a little about this already in John’s report. But what are you picking up there? How are — especially the leadership in both parties, how are they reacting?

    LISA DESJARDINS: The White House may want to put this to rest, but there’s no signs of that happening at the Capitol yet, Judy.

    There are two camps, especially among Senate Republicans. That’s the place to watch. Some, like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, say this should all be folded into an ongoing investigation already under way by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That’s over Russian hacking and Russian manipulation of the elections. We know that will include now questions about General Flynn.

    But that’s only in private, Judy. Other Senate Republicans say this needs to have more light of day. They want public hearings, including a public hearing with General Flynn. That’s a divide for Senate Republicans right now.

    Meanwhile, some other Republicans say the real investigation up here should be into the leaks, not into Mr. Flynn. These are all issues swirling right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, what about the Democrats?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Right. The Democrats came out strong today, as John reported.

    Chuck Schumer, asking for this independent investigation, his folks told me that could include the FBI investigation under way, but only if new Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuses himself. That is a critical point for Democrats. Also, at the same time, they’re asking questions about House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

    He has generally been supportive of General Flynn, said he made a decision to resign. But he’s not investigating. Some point out that Mr. Nunes was himself on the Trump transition team. I asked him about that, asked his office about that. They said he will follow all the leads that he can.

    Meanwhile, Democrats also eager to point out that another national security issue arose with Republicans in the past couple of years when they investigated Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and they see this as somewhat hypocritical.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, so much to follow. Thank you very much.

    The post Democrats demand independent probe after Flynn resignation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) testifies before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination to head the CIA on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2YOC0

    Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) testifies before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination to head the CIA on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met secretly with the CIA chief in the West Bank, Palestinian officials said Wednesday, as they expressed concern over the Trump administration’s suggestion that a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel is optional.

    Mike Pompeo and Abbas held talks Tuesday at the Palestinian government compound in the city of Ramallah, the first high-level contacts between the Palestinian leader and administration officials, said two senior officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters about the meeting.

    The White House and the CIA declined comment.

    One of the Palestinian officials said Abbas briefed Pompeo on Palestinian positions ahead of Wednesday’s White House talks between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    The Palestinian leadership had previously expressed concern it would be sidelined by an administration seen as being closely aligned with Israel.

    The Palestinians were given a new cause for concern when a White House official told reporters in Washington that the two-state solution — a cornerstone of American diplomacy for more than two decades — was not the only option for resolving the conflict.

    The official said Tuesday that Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hopes to bring them together soon.

    But the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the meeting beforehand, said it will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail — and that peace, not a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is the goal.

    It remains unclear if the comments signal a shift away from longstanding U.S. support for Palestinian statehood.

    The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. The contours of a solution emerged in previous U.S.-led talks, including a border based on the 1967 lines that would include mutual land swaps to accommodate some of the larger Jewish settlements close to Israel. A final deal has remained elusive.

    Support for a two-state solution was reaffirmed by representatives of dozens of countries, including the U.S., at an international conference in Paris last month, before Trump’s inauguration.

    Netanyahu is under growing pressure from right-wing Cabinet ministers to abandon a two-state solution — an idea he publicly endorsed several years ago, albeit with reservations.

    Critics say that in any case, Israel’s policy of settlement expansion on war-won land is making such a partition deal increasingly difficult.

    Gilad Erdan, a Cabinet minister and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told Israel’s Army Radio this week that “all the Cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu.”

    Erdan added that Netanyahu should tread carefully in the meeting with Trump, saying “we don’t need to dictate a position to the president of the United States.”

    Far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett warned last week that “the earth will shake” if Trump and Netanyahu declare a commitment to a Palestinian state.

    Palestinian officials warned that the only other acceptable, but unlikely option would be a single state for Israelis and Palestinians, an idea opposed by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians.

    “We believe undermining the two-state solution is not a joke, it is a disaster and tragedy for Palestinians and the Israelis and the whole region,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

    It was not clear if the Trump White House had intended to declare a major policy shift during the hastily arranged briefing Tuesday night.

    State Department officials expressed surprise at the comments and said they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of a two-state solution.

    Netanyahu and Trump are to meet at the White House. They will hold a joint news conference before convening for meetings and a working lunch. The Israeli leader will then head to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

    Trump and Netanyahu are likely to discuss peace efforts, expanded Israeli settlements and Iran — as well as Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

    The embassy move would signal U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would infuriate the Palestinians, who claim the eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.

    Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, and Vivian Salama and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

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    Photo via Getty Images

    End-of-life counseling gained steam for Medicare patients in 2016. Photo via Getty Images

    End-of-life counseling sessions, once decried by some conservative Republicans as “death panels,” gained steam among Medicare patients in 2016, the first year doctors could charge the federal program for the service.

    Nearly 14,000 providers billed almost $35 million — including nearly $16 million paid by Medicare — for advance care planning conversations for about 223,000 patients from January through June, according to data released this week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Full year figures won’t be available until July, but use appears to be higher than anticipated.

    Controversy is threatening to reemerge in Congress over the funding, which pays doctors to counsel some 57 million Medicare patients on end-of-life treatment preferences. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced a bill last month, the Protecting Life Until Natural Death Act, which would revoke Medicare reimbursement for the sessions, which he called a “yet another life-devaluing policy.”

    “Allowing the federal government to marry its need to save dollars with the promotion of end-of-life counseling is not in the interest of millions of Americans who were promised life-sustaining care in their older years,” King said on Jan. 11.

    While the fate of King’s bill is highly uncertain — the recently proposed measure hasn’t seen congressional action — it underscores deep feelings among conservatives who have long opposed such counseling and may seek to remove it from Medicare should Republicans attempt to make other changes to the entitlement program.

    Proponents of advance care planning, however, cheered evidence of program’s early use as a sign of growing interest in late stage life planning.

    “It’s great to hear that almost a quarter million people had an advance care planning conversation in the first six months of 2016,” said Paul Malley, president of Aging with Dignity, a Florida nonprofit. “I do think the billing makes a difference. I think it puts it on the radar of more physicians.”

    Use of the counseling sessions are on track to outpace an estimate by the American Medical Association, which projected that about 300,000 patients would receive the service in the first year, according to the group, which backed the rule.

    Providers in California, New York and Florida led use of the policy that pays about $86 a session for the first 30-minute office-based visit and about $75 per visit for any additional sessions.

    The rule requires no specific diagnosis and sets no guidelines for the end-of-life discussions. Conversations center on medical directives and treatment preferences, including hospice enrollment and the desire for care if patients lose the ability to make their own decisions.

    The new reimbursement led Dr. Peter Sutherland, a family medicine physician in Morristown, Tenn., to schedule more end-of-life conversations with patients last year.

    “They were very few and far between before,” he said. “They were usually hospice-specific.”

    Now, he said, he has time to have thorough discussions with patients, including a 60-year-old woman whose recent complaints of back and shoulder pain turned out to be cancer that had metastasized to her lungs. In early January, he talked with an 84-year-old woman with Stage IV breast cancer.

    “She didn’t understand what a living will was,” Sutherland said. “We went through all that. I had her daughter with her and we went through it all.”

    The conversations may occur during annual wellness exams, in separate office visits or in hospitals. Nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants may also seek payment for end-of-life talks.

    The idea of letting Medicare reimburse such conversations was first introduced in 2009 during debate on the Affordable Care Act. The issue quickly fueled allegations by some conservative politicians, such as former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and presidential candidate John McCain, that they would lead to “death panels” that could disrupt care for elderly and disabled patients.

    The idea was dropped “as a direct result of public outcry,” King said in a statement.

    “The worldview behind the policy has not changed since then and government control over this intimate choice is still intolerable to those who respect the dignity of human life,” he said.

    But in 2015, CMS officials quietly issued the new rule allowing Medicare reimbursement as a way to improve patients’ ability to make decisions about their care.

    End-of-life conversations have occurred in the past, but not as often as they should, Malley said. Many doctors aren’t trained to have such discussions and find them difficult to initiate.

    “For a lot of health providers, we hear the concern that this is not why patients come to us,” Malley said. “They come to us looking to be cured, for hope. And it’s sensitive to talk about what happens if we can’t cure you.”

    A 2014 report by the Institute of Medicine, a panel of medical experts, concluded that Americans need more help navigating end-of-life decisions. A 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 89 percent of people surveyed said health care providers should discuss such issues with patients, but only 17 percent had had those talks themselves. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

    Use of the new rule was limited in the first six months of 2016. In California, which recorded the highest Medicare payments, about 1,300 providers provided nearly 29,000 services to about 24,000 patients at an overall cost of about $4.4 million — including about $1.9 million paid by Medicare.

    The data likely reflect early adopters who were already having the talks and quickly integrated the new billing codes into their practices, said Dr. Ravi Parikh, an internal medicine resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who has written about advance care planning. Many others still aren’t aware, he said.

    Data from Athenahealth, a medical billing management service, found that only about 17 percent of 34,000 primary care providers at 2,000 practices billed for advance care planning in all of 2016.

    The numbers will likely grow, said Malley, who noted that requests from doctors for advance care planning information tripled during the past year.

    To counter objections, providers need to ensure that informed choice is at the heart of the newly reimbursed discussions.

    “If advance care planning is only about saying no to care, then it should be revoked,” Malley said. “If it truly is about finding out patient preferences on their own turf, it’s a good thing.”

    KHN’s coverage of end-of-life and serious illness issues is supported by The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 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 Doctors bill Medicare for end-of-life advice as ‘death panel’ fears reemerge appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    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 - RTX2YOX1

    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/Reuters

    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday issued a sharp ultimatum to NATO Wednesday, telling allies they must start increasing defense spending by year’s end or the Trump administration will “moderate its commitment” to them.

    He did not detail what the United States might do if NATO members failed to fall in line.

    Echoing a demand made repeatedly by President Donald Trump, Mattis said NATO must adopt a plan this year that sets milestone dates for governments to meet a military funding goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product.

    The Pentagon chief called it a “fair demand” based on the “political reality” in Washington.

    “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis told the alliance’s 27 other defense ministers, according to a text of his remarks. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.”

    Attending his first NATO defense ministers’ meeting, Mattis tried to make his case by citing the threat from Russia. The gathering came at an awkward time for the United States, after Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn over Flynn’s communications with Russia before President Barack Obama left office Jan. 20.

    Mattis noted Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the Islamic State group’s hold over parts of Iraq and Syria, and said that “some in this alliance have looked away in denial of what is happening.”

    “Despite the threats from the east and south, we have failed to fill gaps in our NATO response force or to adapt,” he added.

    The warning reflects Trump’s wish for greater sharing of military costs. Trump has rattled European nations by suggesting the U.S. might not defend allies unwilling to fulfill their financial obligations as NATO members.

    Mattis didn’t go as far.

    British’s defense chief, Michael Fallon, said Mattis also appeared to welcome a British proposal to create a road map for increased spending by other countries.

    Along with the U.S. and Britain, the other countries that also reach NATO’s benchmark for military spending are Estonia, Poland and debt-ridden Greece.

    “I have called today in the plenary session for those countries that haven’t met 2 percent to agree to at least increase their budget annually,” Fallon said. “An annual increase that we’re asking them to commit to would at least demonstrate good faith.”

    Asked about Mattis’ ultimatum, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said allies need time to develop plans, and many already are talking about increasing their commitments.

    “This is not the U.S. telling Europe to increase defense spending,” Stoltenberg said. He said all the allies were “looking into each other’s eyes and agreeing that we shall increase spending,” and that any pressure toward making that happen was welcome.

    The United States is by far NATO’s most powerful member. It spends more on defense than all the others combined. The U.S. spent 3.61 percent of American GDP last year, according to NATO estimates — a level that has somewhat tapered off in recent years.

    Germany, by contrast, spent 1.19 percent of its overall budget on defense. Ten countries spend even less, and seven — including Canada, Italy and Spain — would have to virtually double military spending to reach the target. One, Luxembourg, would require a four-fold increase to get close.

    Mattis recognized Europe’s worries and the desire for clarity on America’s commitment to NATO. Trump has criticized the alliance as “obsolete” and repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, stoking fears of a new U.S. approach to Moscow that includes lessened support for European allies near Russia’s border who worry about being the next target.

    In a brief public statement, made while standing alongside Stoltenberg, Mattis called the alliance “a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the trans-Atlantic community.”

    The allies’ interest and concern about the latest furor in Washington was evident as officials crowded around televisions at the NATO meeting to watch Mattis’ initial appearance with Stoltenberg. Ministers immediately clustered around the retired Marine general as he entered the meeting room.

    Stoltenberg said he has spoken to Trump twice by telephone, and received similar reassurance from Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    “They have all conveyed the same message,” he said, adding: “That is, that the United States will stay committed to the trans-Atlantic partnership.”

    Associated Press writer Lorne Cook contributed to this report.

    The post Pentagon chief says NATO members must boost defense spending appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

    A Palestinian woman and her son are seen at the entrance of their impoverished house Feb. 15 in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Their house is near the ruins of a building that was destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants nearly three years ago, in the summer of 2014.

    The post Photo of the day: At home among ruins in the Gaza Strip appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Police vehicles idle on the outskirts of the opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline on Feb. 8 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. A judge will hear arguments Monday in a legal challenge to the pipeline. Photo by REUTERS/Terray Sylvester.

    Police vehicles idle on the outskirts of the opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline on Feb. 8 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo by Terray Sylvester/Reuters

    On Feb. 8 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reversed course and issued an easement allowing the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. That decision followed a presidential memorandum indicating that construction and operation of the pipeline would be in the “national interest,” and set the stage for a final showdown over the pipeline’s fate.

    In response, two Indian tribes, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, filed new motions to halt the pipeline’s construction and operation. After an initial hearing on those motions, the federal judge on the case allowed construction to proceed but will be considering the Tribes’ claims before oil will pass through the pipeline under Lake Oahe. That means, unlike the voices of thousands who joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in protest against the pipeline, the next chapter of this fight will be argued by a few lawyers in the pin drop silence of a federal courtroom.

    Although the details of those arguments will be complex, as a legal scholar focused on Native American law I see the case addressing an essential question at the heart of our legal system: namely, how does federal law and judicial process protect the fundamental values and structure of the Constitution?

    READ NEXT: For Native ‘water protectors,’ Standing Rock protest has become fight for religious freedom, human rights

    The central issues in the case are now whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline and easement illegally interferes with the tribes’ religious beliefs and whether the corps adequately considered the tribes’ water and other treaty rights before issuing that approval.

    Religious Freedom and Restoration Act

    According to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, oil running through the pipeline would represent the fulfillment of a generations-old prophesy, passed down through the oral traditions of tribal members, that warned of a Black Snake coming to defile the sacred waters necessary to maintain the tribes’ ceremonies. Beyond the environmental concerns often at the center of the pipeline protests, the tribe’s motion for an injunction squarely defines final authorization of the pipeline by the Corps as an existential threat: destruction of the tribes’ religion and way of life.

    The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the exercise of religion free from governmental interference. But the Supreme Court, in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association, in 1988 upheld the Forest Service’s approval of a road across an area on federal land sacred to local tribes even while recognizing the road could have devastating effects on their religion.

    Then in 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that the government demonstrate a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means to achieve that interest if its actions will substantially burden religious practice.

    In other words, even if approving the Dakota Access Pipeline served a compelling governmental interest, RFRA may require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to show that the pipeline easement under Lake Oahe would have the least impact on tribal religion. That approach would be consistent with the Supreme Court’s broad application of RFRA in a 2014 case not involving tribal interests or federal lands and may pose a significant challenge to the corps, which considered but rejected a different route that did not pose the same threat to the tribes.

    Both the Corps and company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline argue that the risk of spill from the pipeline is minimal and that the tribes failed to raise these religious concerns in a timely manner. In addition, the Corps contends that, consistent with the Lyng case, governmental action on federal land should not be restricted because of religious concerns raised by local tribes.

    Thus, resolution of the case will turn upon whether the court recognizes the legitimacy of the tribal religious concerns and broadly applies RFRA or, instead, chooses to prioritize federal authority over federal land to the detriment of those concerns. The parties will argue whether the religious freedom issues support an injunction on February 27.

    Arbitrary or capricious decisions?

    In addition to their religious concerns, the Sioux Tribes challenge the Corps’ decisions based on the rights they reserved in treaties made with the federal government in 1851 and 1868.

    The Constitution recognizes treaties as the “supreme law of the land” and, according to a 2016 analysis done by the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior, both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux retain treaty-reserved water, hunting, and fishing rights in Lake Oahe.

    Before reversing course in February, the Corps refused to issue the easement last year in order to further understand and analyze those treaty rights.

    Importantly, federal law generally allows courts to set aside arbitrary or capricious agency decisions. In a February 14th filing, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asks the court to review the Corps’ about-face under that standard and argues that the federal trust responsibility, recognized by the Supreme Court since the early 1800’s, demands more than just a cursory review of tribal treaty rights.

    The parties will be briefing the treaty rights issues into March but the judge is keeping a close eye on Dakota Access’ progress in the meantime.

    The ultimate fate of the pipeline will turn on how the courts recognize the rights asserted by the Sioux Tribes, rights rooted in the Constitution’s values and structure – precisely the type of rights our rule of law and federal courts are meant to protect.

    The Conversation

    Monte Mills is an Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana. He teaches a variety of Indian law courses and works with clinical students on a range of legal matters in the Indian Law Clinic. Prior to joining the faculty at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana, Monte was the Director of the Legal Department for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Colorado, an in-house counsel department that he helped organize and implement in 2005 following completion of a unique two-year in-house attorney training program. As Director of the Tribe’s Legal Department, Monte represented and counseled the Tribe on a broad array of issues, including litigation in tribal, state and federal courts, legislative matters before the Colorado General Assembly and the United States Congress, and internal tribal matters such as contracting, code-drafting, and gaming issues. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The post How will Native tribes fight the Dakota Access Pipeline in court? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked Israel’s prime minister to “hold off” on building Jewish settlements in land the Palestinians claim for their future state, yet held back from explicitly endorsing support for a future independent Palestine.

    After weeks of dancing around the issue of expanded Israeli settlements, Trump made the request to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House preceding their private discussions. It is Netanyahu’s first trip to Washington since Trump became president.

    While Trump’s call echoed that of past U.S. presidents, who’ve considered Israeli housing construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank an obstacle to a Mideast peace deal, the American leader broke with his predecessors on the idea of a two-state agreement. While such an accord may have once appeared to be the “easier of the two” options, Trump said he’d be open to alternatives if the two sides propose something better.

    The two leaders were to discuss peace efforts as well as Iran and Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Relocating the embassy would signal American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would infuriate Palestinians. They claim the eastern sector of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as their capital.

    Trump said Wednesday he’d like to see the embassy moved but that he is studying the issue closely.

    American presidents have struck a delicate balance in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing the close U.S. friendship with Israel and lavishing the Jewish state with bountiful aid. But recent presidents also have called out Israel for actions seen as undermining peace efforts, such as expanding settlements.

    On Tuesday, a senior White House official said Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hopes to bring them together soon.

    It will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the leaders’ session before it took place and spoke on condition of anonymity. Peace, not a two-state solution, is the goal, the official said.

    State Department officials said they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of an agreement establishing an independent Palestine side-by-side with Israel — long the bedrock of U.S. policy in the region.

    Three officials said the department was seeking clarification from the White House’s comments, which came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was having dinner with Netanyahu on Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

    This report was written by Vivian Salama and Jill Colvin of the Associated Press. Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington, Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

    The post Trump urges Israeli premier to ‘hold off’ on settlements appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act. There is enormous interest and concern among benefits executives in what a Republican plan to replace the ACA might look like. Photo by  REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman.

    The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act. There is enormous interest and concern among benefits executives in what a Republican plan to replace the ACA might look like. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took steps Wednesday intended to help calm jittery insurance companies and make tax compliance with former President Barack Obama’s health law less burdensome for some people.

    The moves announced separately by the Health and Human Services Department and the IRS don’t amount to sweeping changes to the Affordable Care Act. That would fall to Congress, where Republicans are struggling to reach consensus over how to deliver on their promise to repeal and replace the health law.

    But the administration’s actions do signal a change in direction.

    For consumers, the proposed HHS rules mean tighter scrutiny of anyone trying to sign up for coverage outside of open enrollment by claiming a “special enrollment period” due to a change in life circumstances such as the birth of a child, marriage, or the loss of job-based insurance. Also, sign-up season will be 45 days, down from the current three months.

    For insurers, the curbs on special enrollment periods are a big item. The industry claimed that some consumers were abusing special enrollment by signing up when they needed expensive treatments, only to drop out later.

    Insurers also would gain more flexibility to design low-cost coverage tailored to younger people. In another move aimed at consumers who move in and out of coverage, insurers would be able to collect back premiums from customers who had stopped paying, then tried to sign up again for another year.

    Separately, the IRS is backing off from a tighter approach to enforcement that was in the works for this tax-filing season.

    Under the law, people are required to have health coverage or risk fines from the IRS — a penalty usually deducted from a taxpayer’s refund. That underlying requirement remains on the books, and taxpayers are still legally obligated to comply, the IRS said.

    But the agency is changing its approach to enforcement. Originally, the IRS had planned to start rejecting returns this year if a taxpayer failed to indicate whether he or she had coverage. Now the IRS says it will keep processing such returns, as it has in the past.

    Many of the law’s supporters consider the coverage requirement essential for nudging younger, healthy people into the insurance pool to keep premiums in check.

    Hours after his inauguration President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to look for ways to ease requirements of the 2010 health care law.

    The IRS said in a statement that it is following through, but “taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe?.”

    Administration officials said the HHS rules will help to stabilize the individual health insurance market for next year. That could buy time for congressional deliberations on the ultimate fate of the health care law. Trump’s health secretary, former Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., was confirmed only Friday.

    The industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans commended the administration, but said in a statement more is needed. In particular, insurers want Trump and Congress to remove a legal cloud over billions of dollars in subsidies that they are obligated to pay to cover deductibles and copayments for low-income people.

    It remained unclear if insurers would be swayed. Only Tuesday, Humana announced Tuesday it will not participate in next year in the government-run marketplaces, where insurer exits have already diminished consumer choice.

    Supporters of the health care law reacted sharply to the administration proposal, saying it would raise costs for consumers and take away choices.

    Murphy reported from Indianapolis.

    The post Trump administration ushers in changes to Obama health law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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