PBS NewsHour full episode, June 24, 2021

PBS NewsHour full episode, June 24, 2021

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: We have a deal. JUDY WOODRUFF: The road ahead. The president and a bipartisan group of senators agree on a nearly $1 trillion plan to update the nation's critical infrastructure. Then: a tragic collapse. At least 99 people are missing after a condominium building crumbles

near Miami Beach. Plus: COVID's toll. The pandemic causes the largest drop in life expectancy since World War II, with communities of color disproportionately hit. And critical race theory -- why a battle in one Virginia school district illustrates the growing national controversy over teaching race in public schools.

All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: We have two lead stories tonight, the tragic collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Florida, next to Miami Beach, has rescue workers scrambling to find at least 99 unaccounted-for people in the rubble, while, here in Washington, President Biden's push for a sweeping infrastructure bill has taken a giant step forward today. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins with that story. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: At the White House, a rare presidential appearance in the driveway to announce a big bipartisan deal.

JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: We had a really good meeting. And to answer your direct question, we have a deal. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The agreement came after President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators settled on a framework for an infrastructure bill, in a compromise that both sides are praising. SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): And I'm pleased to see today we were able to come together on

a core infrastructure package -- this is not non-infrastructure items -- without new taxes, and with the commitment from Republicans and Democrats alike that we're going to get this across the finish line. SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): No one got everything they wanted in this package. We all gave some to get some, because what we did was put first the needs of our country.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The total price tag of the package is $1.2 trillion over eight years. Over five years, it's $973 billion. Overall, there's $579 billion in new spending. As Republicans wanted, it focuses more on traditional items, like roads, bridges, broadband, and the power grid, among other areas. So, the scope of this deal is much narrower than President Biden's initial $2.2 trillion proposal. But President Biden insists Democrats will pass a separate deal with their infrastructure

priorities aimed at families and communities. JOE BIDEN: But if only one comes to me, I'm not -- if this is the only thing that comes to me, I'm not signing it. It's in tandem. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The framework does not include money for so-called human infrastructure that many Democrats want, from childcare to climate change to anti-poverty efforts.

Progressives, led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, are demanding that those items be addressed simultaneously in a separate bill. It would advance through a budget process known as reconciliation that requires only a simple majority in the 50/50 Senate. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut: SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I think it is way too small, paltry, pitiful. And I will insist on a second package that not only addresses more roads and bridges and tangible assets, but also human infrastructure. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was equally blunt. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There ain't going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have

the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Late today on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was encouraged by the day's progress, but he criticized Democrats and President Biden for insisting that the bipartisan deal be passed along with a Democrat-backed reconciliation bill. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues

and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: But a real assessment of whether it can get the 60 votes to pass is unlikely until after the Senate returns from a two-week recess that begins tomorrow. JUDY WOODRUFF: And Yamiche joins us now from the White House, along with Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol.

And, Lisa, to you first. We know senators who were part of have spent many weeks trying to come up with this deal. Give us some of the details of what exactly is in here. LISA DESJARDINS: Judy, this is a huge moment. Now, this bill does have a long road ahead. This hasn't crossed the finish line yet. But this is a very big victory for bipartisanship in an age of with divide. And, also, this

would be, if it goes through, the largest single transportation bill in American history. So let's talk about what's in it really quickly. A lot. At the top, some of the biggest categories, roads and bridges, over $100 billion for those, another $100 billion-plus for rails and public transportation.

Now, there is also in this bill a number of categories on climate. And it depends on how you add up the math, But it's between $15 billion and $60 billion. That's everything from electric vehicle charging stations to mitigations for our coastlines, dealing with ecosystems, addressing the effects already of climate change. And then, finally, one thing I want to highlight, $55 billion for clean water and pipes. That's for things like changing out lead pipes that are still in so many parts of America. Judy, I could go on and on. This bill has a lot of money for the power grid, for airports,

for our ports at sea, for ferries, for broadband. It is a massive bill. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, you -- as you and others are pointing out, it is not as much as the president originally wanted. But there's still a lot of money in here. How are they going to pay for it? LISA DESJARDINS: This was the toughest part of reaching this point in the deal. And I have to tell you, we just got the official release from senators laying out how they pay for it. Judy, there are no dollar figures next to the categories. Fortunately, I was able to get a copy of what the dollar figures were from one of the senator -- from a senator who saw that.

And some of the biggest pay-fors are things like taking unspent COVID money and using that, also changing how the IRS operates, helping boost the IRS, so it could collect more taxes, enforce, basically, the law on tax cheats. I think overall, Lisa Murkowski put it well. It's a smorgasbord of pay-fors. There are no tax increases in this. This is what Republicans wanted. But when you do that, that means that there are a lot of things in here that are in the gray area, kind of questionable math that I think we will be looking at for a long time to come.

I want to just give a sense quickly of the scope of this bill. This is really what brought everybody together. If you look at the most recent large transportation bills, the last three, for example that you see, look at the one today. It is almost twice as much as the biggest bills previous to this. How did this come together? One last anecdote. I'm told by senators in the room, Judy, that,

yesterday, things were so tense, this almost fell completely apart. Senator Jon Tester of Montana, went in the room, put his hands down and said, "Guys, we have to get this big boy done." And then everyone sort of took a breath and did find a way to get it across this initial finish line. JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting about Senator Tester's role, Senator Tester of Montana. So, Yamiche, we heard a lot from President Biden on the campaign trail when he was running for president. He wanted infrastructure passed. Tell us more about his role in getting to where we are today and where this goes from here.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, this bipartisan infrastructure bill, this huge bill, is like President Biden catching his white whale. He had said over and over again on the campaign trail that he was going to be for bipartisanship, that he was going to be working across the aisle. And now you have this mood here at the White House today of real jubilance, of feeling like here is President Biden proving people wrong. And that's why we saw the president do a couple rare things today. Just a few feet away from me is the White House driveway. We never see the president come up to the microphones that

are usually stationed there. But, this time, the president swaggered up with Republicans and Democratic senators and announced that there was a deal. You could see the happiness in his face. And then, of course, he held that impromptu press conference, explaining how they got to this deal, explaining all of the different things that were in it. Now, I have been talking to White House sources, and they underscore that this bill, they think, is transformational. And to put it into even more context here, in 1956, under President

Eisenhower, the Interstate Highway System was constructed. And, in today's dollars, that would be over $500 billion. This bill tops that. So that is what the White House is wanting to underscore here today. And when it comes to the president's role, he was very, very engaged. The president, before he left for Europe for NATO and the G7, he underscored that he wanted to get a deal done. When I came back, I talked to White House officials immediately, and

they said that their prospect was better than when the president left. And that tells you that the White House was on Capitol Hill doing this work, ironing out these numbers in the details. JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Yamiche, is there an early sense there at the White House of what this could mean for the rest of the president's agenda? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, that is the big question. And it's the question that I put to the president

today when he held that impromptu press conference at the White House in the East Room. And I told -- I asked the president, what does this mean for voting rights or for police reform? What have you learned in working with Republicans that informs the way forward? And he told me that this really is about the idea that he wants to try to push forward with all of his different agenda items. But he also said that he was focused in some ways really on voting rights. He said -- he

made some news today, saying that he's going to be touring the country on voting rights. When I talk to White House officials, though, they say caution when it comes to whether or not other bipartisanship will come through this. But when -- even when you look at this deal, we have to remind people that the timing here is still in flux. There was some talk of it being in September or possibly in the fall. So there's a real question about how the president is going to get Democrats on that reconciliation bill. So, even as the president is thinking about what's next, we have to underscore that

Democrats still have some work to do on really getting this two-track system all the way through. But bipartisanship lives today, Judy. And that is something that is rare to say here. JUDY WOODRUFF: A head-turning day at the White House. Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.

LISA DESJARDINS: You're welcome. JUDY WOODRUFF: And for the view from inside the West Wing, I spoke a short time ago with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Jen Psaki, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you for... JEN PSAKI, White House Press Secretary: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you for being here. Why did the president agree to this? It is a lot smaller than the package he originally proposed. JEN PSAKI: Well, it is, Judy, because he believes that compromise isn't a dirty word, and that it's important to find ways to work together where there can be agreement, even when you reserve the option, as he has done, of moving alone where there isn't agreement. But he likes this package. And this package has a lot in it that he's excited about, because

it's a historic investment in infrastructure, the largest investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak, the largest investment in public transit in 100 years, if not more. It will make sure that kids have access to clean drinking water, that broadband is expanded across the country to rural communities and lower-income communities. There is a lot to be excited about here. You also, though, heard him, Judy, make clear today that he wanted to see this package move forward in tandem with -- through the -- with the budget reconciliation package, which will include the American Families Plan, key priorities that are also vitally important to him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in doing that, he's taking a risk, because, at this point, it's not clear you're going to get 50 Democrats on board for that so-called reconciliation big spending plan. And, in the meantime, you have, for example, environmental advocates who are out there saying, we were counting on President Biden to be with us on some of these environmental measures that didn't make it into this final bill. What do you say to them? JEN PSAKI: I'd say first that this bill has a lot that is going to help protect our climate in it. It has investments in E.V. charging stations, key tax credits. It will make our

infrastructure climate-resilient. It will also rebuild and remove lead from pipes and drinking water around the country. He believes that good-paying union jobs can be done, can be created in a way that is good for our climate. He also made clear today, Judy, that he wants to do more and that he is going to be a climate president, continue to be, and they can rely on him. So, he wants more in terms of tax credits. That's something he's going to keep pushing for in this next package that's going to move forward. And he is going to keep fighting

until he signs both of them and has them on his desk. JUDY WOODRUFF: But isn't he also risking the strengthening of home care workers, which is something that he said was essential originally in this package? JEN PSAKI: It is absolutely essential. It's going to be in the reconciliation package. And that's something that he's going to work every single day, work his heart out to get passed and get done. As you noted, we need 50 votes. We need all of our Democrats to stand together. That's something we're going to keep working on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In terms of how this gets paid for, you're looking for the IRS to lean a lot harder on people who haven't been paying all their taxes. You're looking to get $100 billion. How do you know, why are you confident that the IRS can do this? They have been asked to do this before. JEN PSAKI: Well, we need to give them -- invest in them and make sure they have the resources to do it. They're very understaffed. They're underfunded. And we have been -- we know, from our economists and working closely with experts in this area, that if we give them additional resources and support that they need, that they can recoup funding that will help us pay for these important investments. JUDY WOODRUFF: Jen Psaki, what is the president going to be saying to Democrats who are reluctant right now to sign on to that other, again, so-called reconciliation bill, a lot of money for his other priorities? JEN PSAKI: The president is going to say that there are key priorities here that are -- shouldn't be seen through a partisan lens.

It's important to make sure we have universal pre-K available to kids across the country, that two years of community college is something that is made possible, that we extend the child tax credit for an additional five years to make sure that we're giving family the help they need. These are things that the American people support, they want. There's an important discussion, negotiation that will happen among Democrats about what this final package looks like. But the president will keep fighting for the key components that were in his American Family Plan and his budget he proposed just a few months ago. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, what are the prospects -- do you really believe that this leads to more bipartisan agreement, or is this a one-off? JEN PSAKI: Here is to hoping, Judy. The president came in. He believes that the people, American people, elected him to work

when you can in a bipartisan way, see where you can find common ground. That's how he approached this. That's how we ended up at this big historic day today. And he will look for opportunities to do that for priorities moving forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jen Psaki, press secretary to President Biden, thank you very much. JEN PSAKI: Thank you, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia was one of 21 senators to negotiate the bipartisan infrastructure framework that was announced today. Senator Warner was also at the White House meeting today with the president. And the senator joins me now.

It's so good to see you again. SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Thank you, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: It is not often, Senator Warner, that we see Republicans and Democrats agreeing on anything. How significant was this announcement? SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, I think it was very significant.

I think it showed, again, that Joe Biden knows how Congress works. His White House team was involved with the 10 of us who were really engaged on a daily basis for the last couple of weeks. And both sides had to give up certain things they wanted. But the product we have, $576 billion of new federal spending on infrastructure, is a record investment. And we're not just talking about roads and bridges. We're talking about broadband. We're talking about resiliency for coastal communities from rising sea level. We're talking

about making our grid a lot smarter. We're even -- we're even including investments for electric vehicle charging stations, electric buses. And, frankly, the whole bus industry is going to go electric. Are they going to be made -- just think about all the school buses. Are they going to be made in China,

or are they going to be made here? We have taken a major down payment on all of these items. And I would just point out very quickly that this is not -- this is a big deal, but I would point out, just two weeks ago, the Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, put together a $250 billion bill to deal with China and take on issues like semiconductors. And I will remind your viewers that I came back on your show back in November and December, when this same, for the most part, bipartisan group came up with the last COVID package. So, I agree there's a lot of places we're pretty dysfunctional, but, at least on this item, I think we have made great progress. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Senator, we are now seeing, and as -- we just spoke with Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, who underlined this for us -- the president is insisting that he's only going to go along with this bipartisan plan if he also gets a big package of spending through the so-called reconciliation method.

That means 50 Democratic senators are going to have to sign on to that. We're already hearing from the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who is saying the president has reneged on what he originally said. What do you say to Republicans who are looking at this? SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, as somebody who sat in the White House today with the president,

the president made absolutely clear that he supported this package and wanted it done. He also made very clear to all of us -- and I'm on the Budget Committee, so I will be in the middle of this one as well -- that there were a whole lot of things that the president wanted on issues like childcare, on human capital investment, on cleaner energy tax credits that he didn't get in this legislation, and that he was still going to fight for those. So, there was no -- there was no mystery that there was going to be another issue to be dealt with, and that there are certain things, like the fact American businesses now pay the lowest percentage of corporate taxes of any of the 35 industrial nations. I was a

business guy for a long time before I went into politics. But being the bottom of the barrel in terms of some businesses paying their fair share, that's not right. So I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and say, where can we make our tax code fairer? And what are some of the other items... JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

SEN. MARK WARNER: ... that didn't get included in the infrastructure package that will come back in reconciliation? I think it was just an acknowledgment of reality. I would love to have some of my Republican friends deal with the reconciliation issues as well. But we went into this infrastructure conversation where they had already said, we're not going to touch taxes in any way. It's a little hard to talk about new spending when you don't touch taxes. JUDY WOODRUFF: Two quick questions, but important ones.

SEN. MARK WARNER: Sure. JUDY WOODRUFF: One is, do you believe there will be 50 senators to support this spending package that the president says he has to have, or this doesn't go forward? SEN. MARK WARNER: I think there will be 50 senators that will support a plan to raise some additional revenues and take on parts of the president's agenda. I don't think there may be 50 senators that will agree to some of the numbers that are being thrown around by some of my more progressive colleagues. But I think they understand that.

You know, that's part of this next negotiating process. JUDY WOODRUFF: And in terms of Republicans, are they going to stick with this agreement once they see that it has to be accompanied by this big spending measure that's passed only with Democratic votes? SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, Judy, I have been at this for weeks on end. It's been a lot of hours. There's never been any doubt that we were going to come back to reconciliation. As a matter of fact, one of the arguments that the Republicans made was, gosh, guys, let's do this in a more reasonable fashion. Let's do this with the kind of policy agenda that

they can agree to, because, if they don't, as one Republican senator said, I had a -- my negotiating position was a little bit tough if I say no and you guys are just going to go off and do it on your own in a much more extreme way. So, there was no lack of understanding that there was going to be a second step. Whether Leader McConnell will try to torpedo this effort, I hope not, because I think, going forward, I think we're going to have many more than 11 Republican senators who we have got signed up. I think we will get 20 or 25. I think that's important for the American public, but I also think it's important -- and President Biden made this point today, and Senator Collins and I also reaffirmed it -- that the rest of the world, our adversaries, like Putin in Russia and President Xi in China, are arguing to the rest of the world, you know what, American democracy just doesn't work that well anymore. I would argue this -- putting points on the board in a broad bipartisan way for infrastructure, important for the economy, important for jobs, but also important in terms of echoing President Biden's message that America's leadership is back and that we can be counted on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, thank you so much for joining us. SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: Our second major story tonight is in Miami, where rescuers searched the ruins of a beachfront condominium building after it collapsed before dawn. At least one person was confirmed killed, but nearly 100 were missing. John Yang reports.

JOHN YANG: Chaos early this morning in Miami-Dade County when part of a 12-story condo building suddenly collapsed. It happened around 1:30 a.m. in Surfside, Florida. Emergency crews rushed to the scene to search for people trapped in the rubble. The catastrophic destruction became more apparent as daylight broke. This is what part of the building looked like before, housing about half of the building's 130 units, now just a pile of rubble. CHARLES BURKETT, Mayor of Surfside, Florida: The building has literally pancaked. There's just feet in between stories where there were 10 feet. That is heartbreaking because it

doesn't mean to me that we're going to be as successful as we would want to be to find people alive. JOHN YANG: Search operations continued, as many residents remained unaccounted for. A reunification site for residents and relatives was set up at a nearby community center. Some embraced one another. Others wept.

Nicolas Fernandez has friends who live in the building. NICOLAS FERNANDEZ, Florida Resident: I came running here. And I'm trying to see what's going on. And when I saw the building, like, I'm just hoping that I'm dreaming.

JOHN YANG: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis toured the scene. GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): TV doesn't do it justice, I mean, it is really, really traumatic to see the collapse of a massive structure like that. JOHN YANG: As the search for survivors and victims continues, the search for the cause of the collapse begins. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang. JUDY WOODRUFF: And for the very latest on this, we're joined now by phone now with the mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, whom you just heard in John's report.

Mayor Burkett, thank you so much for talking with us. Please tell us, what is the very latest on the search for survivors? And, again, we are so sorry for the loss. CHARLES BURKETT: Thank you. The latest is, is that we have our resources completely focused on pulling people out of the rubble. And we will continue to do that until that job is done. There's no time limit on that. We will just continue to do that until we finish. We have had a couple of setbacks today. The weather did not cooperate as much as we would

have liked, but we're back on track right now, and we're running at full force. JUDY WOODRUFF: There have been news reports of sounds coming from the rubble. Can you confirm that that's the case? CHARLES BURKETT: Well, listen, we were out there. I was out there at 2:00 this morning,

so it's been -- it's been a long day of stops and starts. The dogs got here around 4:00 in the morning. We did have some hits, which is good, but not enough. You know, we did find a little boy in the rubble, which you probably are aware of. And we have had other meaningful hits, although the work continues right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A little boy alive? CHARLES BURKETT: A little boy alive, 10 years old. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mr. Mayor, is there a sense, do you have the materials you need, the people you need to pursue this as aggressively... (CROSSTALK) JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead. CHARLES BURKETT: Well, I will tell you that I have had a call from the president of the United States. Both of our United States senators have called me, Scott and Rubio. The governor has been here. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is here, and the mayor of Dade County

has been here on scene. The resources are unbelievable. We're not short on resources. We're just a little short on luck right now. And I'm hoping that's going to change. JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there any information at this point, Mayor Burkett, on what might the cause have been? CHARLES BURKETT: So, you know, this is America. This is the United States. We're a First World

country. Buildings do not fall down like this. These two buildings went down not unlike what we saw in 2001. It was just horrific. And it's almost -- there are no words for it, except that we're dealing with it. And we're going to stay on it until the job is done. The answer to your question is, is, no, we don't have any information on why this happened, other than a couple of theories. But now is not the time for those theories. Now is the time to save lives, and that's what I intend to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just in connection with that, we can understand that. We -- there are also reports that the building was about to undergo refurbishing having to do with the structure. Can you add anything to that? CHARLES BURKETT: I don't know that that's completely accurate. I do know that they were re-roofing the building. And, as you know, buildings are re-roofed all the time, and they don't fall down. So it's hard to imagine that that was the impetus.

I mean, there was obviously something seriously wrong here. And we need to get to the bottom of it. And we will. That, I promise. But, right now, we're focused 100 percent on saving lives

and pulling people out of that rubble, because that's all that matters. We're going to do it 24 hours a day, and we're going to do it around the clock until it's done. JUDY WOODRUFF: No question about it, that is the priority, Mayor Charles Burkett of Surfside, Florida.

And, again, our thoughts are with everyone in the community. CHARLES BURKETT: Thank you for your help. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: A moment of reckoning in Canada grew even darker. Indigenous groups announced investigators have found some 600 graves where a school once stood. The Roman Catholic Church ran the school for Indian children in Saskatchewan from 1899 to 1997. Last month, 215 sets of remains were found at a similar site in British

Columbia. President Biden pledged today that thousands of Afghan interpreters for the U.S. military will be evacuated as American forces leave. Some 50,000 Afghans could be relocated to

other countries, pending entry to the U.S. It is fear their lives could be in danger once the U.S. withdrawal is completed. The Associated Press reports the pullout will be largely finished in two weeks. The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has officially announced a select committee will investigate the January assault on the U.S. Capitol. Democrats had wanted

a bipartisan commission, but Senate Republicans blocked that. Today, Pelosi said that Congress can't wait any longer to get the full story of January 6. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It is imperative that we establish the truth of that day and ensure that an attack of that kind cannot happen and that we root out the causes of it all. The select committee will investigate and report on the facts and the causes of the attack. And it will make -- report recommendations for the prevention of any future attack.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's not known yet who will serve on the new committee or how long the investigation will last. A state appeals court today suspended Rudy Giuliani from practicing law in New York. The court condemned his false claims as President Trump's attorney that the 2020 election was stolen. Lawyers for Giuliani said they will appeal. President Biden hit the road today to push COVID vaccinations. His visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, followed word that the nation will miss his goal of vaccinating 70 percent of U.S. adults, at least partially, by July 4.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to require that municipal workers be inoculated. The mandate takes effect once a vaccine has full federal approval. Right now, vaccines are being dispensed on an emergency basis. The Biden administration has extended a ban on evictions for another 30 days to -- excuse me -- to July 31 to help those unable to pay rent during the pandemic. But the CDC said today that this is to be the final extension. Realtors and landlords from Alabama and Georgia have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the moratorium.

And on Wall Street today, stocks got a push from news of the bipartisan infrastructure agreement in Washington. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 322 points to close at 34196. The Nasdaq rose 98 points to yet another record high. The S&P 500 added 24. Still to come on the "NewsHour": how the pandemic caused the largest drop in life expectancy since World War II; the growing national controversy over teaching race in public schools; and much more. A troubling new study has found that, between 2018 and 2020, U.S. life expectancy decreased by the biggest margin since World War II.

And, as William Brangham reports, the COVID-19 pandemic took an outsized toll in the United States compared to other similar high-income nations. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Judy, as a whole, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by nearly two years, but for Black and brown Americans, the toll was even worse. Among white Americans, life expectancy dropped by 1.4 years. But for Black Americans, it fell by 3.2 years, and, for Latino Americans, lifespans dropped by almost 3.9 years.

And what's more, when you compare these declines to other similar nations, like France, Israel, or the Netherlands, the drop in the U.S. was more than eight times higher. Dr. Steven Woolf is the lead author of the study just published in a British medical journal. He's director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth

University in Richmond. Dr. Woolf, very good to see you. Really a striking study that you have put out. For people who don't follow longevity

trends the way you have, a nearly two-year decline in life span, how significant is that? DR. STEVEN WOOLF, Virginia Commonwealth University: It's massive. That level of decline, for people like us who study these data, is so large, that we haven't seen this kind of decline since World War II in 1943. To give people some perspective, a few years ago, there was a fair amount of press coverage about declining life expectancy in the United States. We had a period of three consecutive years where life expectancy was declining, at the same time that it was climbing in other countries. When that decline was happening, it was declining by 0.1 years each year. And it was very worrying. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Point-one, and now we're talking about one point.

DR. STEVEN WOOLF: One-point-nine. Yes, exactly. So, this is considerably more. And, as you said, that's about eight-and-a-half times the average decrease that we have seen in peer countries. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I want to get to that comparison about peer countries in a second. But, first off, as I mentioned, the racial disparities, again, are -- just seem so glaring in this report. What do you attribute that to?

DR. STEVEN WOOLF: Well, we have been tracking racial disparities in health for generations now. These -- we anticipated a difference in the decrease in life expectancy for people of color, but we were really horrified by the magnitude, 3.3 years in African Americans,

3.9 in Hispanic Americans. And what jumps off the page when we see data like this is systemic racism. This is at the heart of why it is that, generation after generation, people of color have experienced different health outcomes. Skin color is not a biological reason for people to have higher death rates. And race is really a social construct. So, really, what we're seeing is the effect of decisions and policies society has produced that limit opportunities for good health among people of color. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And, certainly, we saw that during the pandemic play out. And -- but,

as you're describing, that happened even prior to the pandemic. About those comparisons to those other countries, these are countries that have similar health systems. They're wealthy countries. They are affluent, in -- comparable to us in so many ways. And yet we are doing so much worse than they are. How do you explain that? DR. STEVEN WOOLF: Well, it's a trend that's been under way for many years. It actually began in the 1990s.

And it's not for lack of spending on health care. We spend an enormous amount of health care -- on health care in this country, compared to other countries, and have so for a long time. But, as a doctor, I will tell you that health care only accounts for about 10 percent to 20 percent of our health outcomes. Our health is really shamed by our social and economic

conditions, where we live and our environment. And that's where we're falling short compared to other countries. Our health care system could be better, but what's really driving the gap between the United States and other countries is really a lack of investment in our people and in social capital. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Can you tease that out a little bit more? Because I think that that's a connection people often forget, that they're -- that we are -- the term of art, I know, is social determinants of health. But, for a lay audience, what do you mean by that? DR. STEVEN WOOLF: We mean things like lack of education, income, stable jobs, a livable

wage, stable housing, and being in a neighborhood environment that's good for your health. That actually matters far more to our health than what doctors and hospitals do. The public doesn't typically think of those as public health issues, but some of the topics in earlier segments about infrastructure and human capital investments, and even the housing instability are, in our view, public health policies. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And it certainly seems that remedying those is more than just a vaccine that will help us put this particular virus at bay. I mean, I know we talk about getting

back to normal all the time, but it sounds like maybe normal is not the best thing to be. DR. STEVEN WOOLF: Yes. Yes, we're delighted to see the pandemic receding into the rearview mirror, but normal is not a good place for us. As I have already said, Americans are dying earlier than people in

other countries. We're sicker than people in other countries. And that gap is widening. So not doing anything about it is only going to make matters progressively worse. And the legacy of systemic racism is with us still, regardless of whether the pandemic is over with. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We talked -- touched about this briefly, but the role that the opioid epidemic played, that certainly receded from the headlines, but we know that that continued as a major driver. Is it your sense that, once we stop focusing so much on the virus, we will realize that that too is still an undercurrent in our country? DR. STEVEN WOOLF: Well, it's important to know it did not go away. And, in fact, it

looks like overdose deaths have increased during the pandemic. Having said that, though, although opioid deaths and drug overdoses are the leading cause of rising mortality rates in much of our population, there are many other health conditions that -- where American health status is also deteriorating. It's a systemic problem going on in our country that's causing the health of Americans to fail relative to our peers. And solving the opioid epidemic, as important as that is, will not get the system problems resolved. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I know this is a complicated question, but are there obvious policy remedies that come out of this? I mean, it seems like this is another glaring red warning to our society that it's not about just a virus. Do you have any suggestions for policy-makers as to how we help dent this? DR. STEVEN WOOLF: The solutions to this health inequity problem really relate to policies

that, as I said, people don't think of as medicine or public health. Investments in broadening access to education, providing good 21st century jobs, especially for parts of the country that have struggled the most with job loss and where many of these death rates are increasing the most, and dealing with the inequities that people of color and low-income communities have been struggling with for many years is going to do far more to address this problem than spending more on doctors and hospitals. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Steven Woolf, thank you very much for being here. Thanks for coming in. DR. STEVEN WOOLF: It's a pleasure. JUDY WOODRUFF: Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America's past and present by looking at the role of systemic racism, what we have just been discussing.

But the very term itself, critical race theory, has become a political flash point across the country, especially when it comes to how to teach young people about justice and equity in America. As Amna Nawaz reports for our Race Matters series, the debate over its potential role in school curricula has set off a firestorm that has roiled school districts and state legislatures nationwide. AMNA NAWAZ: Next year, Jamison Maddox will be a senior here in Loudoun County, Virginia. His favorite subject is history, even though he felt Black history was lacking. JAMISON MADDOX, Student: I think there could be some things that happened in history that should have been taught. AMNA NAWAZ: In school, do you -- did you learn about the Tulsa massacre? JAMISON MADDOX: No.

AMNA NAWAZ: Did you learn about Juneteenth? JAMISON MADDOX: No. AMNA NAWAZ: Do you feel like those are things that should be taught as part of your formal education? JAMISON MADDOX: Yes, definitely, definitely. AMNA NAWAZ: Jamison's mother, Vanessa, agrees. VANESSA MADDOX, Parent: This is American history. All of it should be taught in certain contexts and also age-appropriate. AMNA NAWAZ: Maddox, who works as a job recruiter, and her husband, raised both their sons in this affluent Northern Virginia suburb over the last two decades.

Last year, as the national racial reckoning resonated here, Vanessa joined a Facebook group pushing what they see as anti-racism efforts in school. VANESSA MADDOX: When I saw the anti-racist parent group, I'm like, OK, I got to be in that. AMNA NAWAZ: What spurred you to join that group in the first place? What has that been like? VANESSA MADDOX: There is a definite need for a group like this. I like to be surrounded by like-minded, fair-minded, equitable people. You don't have to think like me. You don't have to be like me, but you do have to be anti-racist.

AMNA NAWAZ: Not everyone in Loudoun County sees it that way. IAN PRIOR, Parent: There were parents that were just sick of it. They were just sick of constantly being told, if you don't agree with me, then you're a racist. AMNA NAWAZ: Ian Prior's two daughters are in elementary school here. He's a former Trump administration Justice Department spokesman now leading a group called Fight For Schools, a political action committee pushing back on equity and inclusion measures. IAN PRIOR: We're not about not teaching history. We're about teaching history in an objective

way that is not represented as America is systemically racist. AMNA NAWAZ: When you're looking not at individual acts of racism, but the systemic racism that exists within America's educational institutions, what would you suggest be done right now? IAN PRIOR: So, there's a balancing act here of making sure that there's equal opportunity for all, that we're committed to meritocracy, but also that, when we are trying to figure out how to deal with any kind of social problems, we do not overstep and overreact. WOMAN: Here's two signs right there. AMNA NAWAZ: Parents who agree with Prior are now part of a growing chorus opposing what's known as critical race theory, or CRT, often a graduate level framework that examines how the legacy of slavery and segregation in America is embedded in legal systems and policies. The thing is, critical race theory isn't being taught here. But that didn't stop dozens of

parents from flooding a recent school board meeting to protest it. WOMAN: The critical race theory has its roots in cultural Marxism. It should have no place in our school. MAN: I will do everything I possibly can to fight to the bitter end until you prove to me that you are not teaching my children that they are racist just because they're white. AMNA NAWAZ: That outrage echoes messaging ricocheting across right-wing media.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX News: Critical race theory is racist. MAN: I don't see critical theory, race theory in our Declaration of Independence. AMNA NAWAZ: Much of this can be traced back to a September 2020 directive by then President Trump, instructing agencies to identify and halt funding of anti-bias training for federal employees that suggests -- quote -- "The United States is an inherently racist or evil country."

On his first day in office, President Biden used an executive order to revoke the Trump administration's action. JALAYA LILES DUNN, Director, Learning for Justice: When I hear the talk of critical race theory, I immediately get a signal as an alarming system for me, because it is a misrepresentation and misuse of the word. AMNA NAWAZ: Jalaya Liles Dunn is the director of Learning for Justice, which offers resources for teachers to create anti-bias learning experiences. JALAYA LILES DUNN: Culturally relevant, anti-racist instruction model is needed. We need a classroom

set up, so not just instruction, but we also need a space that lets children know, you are welcome here. An inclusive education is a space where we all are at the table together. We all hear everyone's story. AMNA NAWAZ: The debate over which stories are included and how they're taught has fueled push back. Critical race theory is now being leveraged as a catch-all phrase by opponents of equity and inclusion efforts in public education. In May, House Republicans denounced it at a Capitol Hill press conference.

MAN: Critical race theory is a divisive ideology. AMNA NAWAZ: As did former President Trump at the North Carolina GOP Convention this month. DONALD TRUMP, Former President of the United States: The Biden administration is pushing toxic critical race theory and illegal discrimination into our children's schools. AMNA NAWAZ: Nationwide, Republican lawmakers are now legislating on the idea. According to Ed Week, as of June 18, 25 states have introduced bills or taken other steps to restrict education on racism and bias. That includes five states, Texas, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, where bills have already been signed into law.

Arizona's proposed bias teaching bill could mean a potential $5,000 penalty for teachers. Texas' bill, effective September 1, says teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events. And, if they do, they must -- quote -- "strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference."

Some educators, meanwhile, are holding Teach the Truth rallies, fighting what they call unwarranted legislation. VALERIE WOLFSON, Teacher: I think we're raising up future voters who will not have a well-rounded perspective on their own community and society. AMNA NAWAZ: Valerie Wolfson teaches eighth grade social studies in New Hampshire, where a new bill would prohibit so-called divisive concepts related to sex and race from schools. VALERIE WOLFSON: Teachers would be under pressure for severe censorship or fear of that public judgment. It's set up for people to report on you. And...

AMNA NAWAZ: And it could have a chilling effect on what people teach in their classrooms? VALERIE WOLFSON: Completely. Completely. AMNA NAWAZ: Back in Loudoun County, we sat down with school superintendent Scott Ziegler. SCOTT ZIEGLER, Superintendent, Loudoun County Public Schools: We have said for months now we are not teaching critical race theory in our schools. We're not using any type of program to -- quote -- "indoctrinate" or convert our children. Our equity work is all about doing what is best for children.

AMNA NAWAZ: That equity work was implemented after outside probes found Black and brown students disproportionately disciplined in Loudoun County, facing racial insults and racially motivated violence, and students of color harmed by school practices. SCOTT ZIEGLER: What was decided at that time was, we need to endeavor on a program, a systematic program to help our teachers with this, to give them the knowledge and understanding, so they can have conversations around race, very open and very honest and sometimes very tough conversations, so that they can make our schools better for students. AMNA NAWAZ: The district put anti-bias training in place for teachers, the majority of whom are white. That was back in 2019. Ian Prior's group launched this year, in 2021. The superintendent says there is no critical race theory being taught here. Why are you

arguing against something that's not being taught? IAN PRIOR: No one is saying they're teaching critical race theory in Loudoun County public schools like it's physics or chemistry. It's being implemented through teacher trainings. And that ultimately drips down to how they teach our students. And it's not a subject, but it's a way of viewing the world. AMNA NAWAZ: Vanessa Maddox says she and other parents will continue to push for equity in schools and a more inclusive education around American history.

VANESSA MADDOX: The opposition groups are saying, we don't care if you teach Black history or other parts that haven't been taught. We just don't want you to say that all white people are evil. That's not what equity states. That's not what we're saying. We're saying that all history

should be taught, regardless of race. AMNA NAWAZ: The school year in Loudoun County has just ended, but the debate over what next year will look like is far from over. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz, in Loudoun County, Virginia. JUDY WOODRUFF: Jubi Arriola-Headley is a Black queer poet and first-generation American whose work explores themes of manhood, vulnerability, and joy. His debut collection of poems, "Original Kink," was recently released. And, tonight, he gives his Brief But Spectacular take on the call to write and the world that has shaped him.

It's part of our arts and culture coverage, Canvas. JUBI ARRIOLA-HEADLEY, Poet: Sometimes, when I'm writing a poem, I don't feel entirely as if I'm writing it alone. I always have on my shoulders Phillis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston. I'm writing for untold numbers of people. This poem is called "Transubstantiation."

"The nerve of you to think you could vesper hogs' hooves into feast, that hymns could be coaxed into hip-hop, that wool would kink and rope and lock into something resembling God, that you could stand the lash or the late shift without wilting, spirit legacy from the spaces between the words, speak in a voice that booms, not breaks. Hope. Fix your face to smile like your teeth wasn't butter yellow. Be better than bitter. Be roiling in joy. Be."

The more I read this poem, the more I feel I'm channeling the thoughts and feelings of hundreds, thousands, millions of voices that we won't ever hear. I come from a long line of Barbadians from the Caribbean who loved to tell stories. I am the first person in my family to be born in the United States. I was also, since the age of 11, aware that I was something that I wasn't supposed to be. I was gay. I didn't

have the strength at 11, 12, 13, 14 to stand up and be my authentic self with my father. And it wasn't until I got into college that I felt like I had any positive role model to sort of show me how I could navigate the world in this queer body. I just was overcome with this imperative to write a book.

But then poems started coming. And it became a conversation about living in a fat Black body when the world tries to thug and predator and criminalize that body, about how vulnerability is key to preserving your own authenticity and humanity. That is maybe my definition of vulnerability, taking the risk of being known and hoping to be loved regardless. My name is Jubi Arriola-Headley, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on being me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can see all of our Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief. And on the "NewsHour" online: Many of the millions of workers forced out of a job by the pandemic have been slowly returning to work. But, in many cases, they're looking to new industries altogether, either by necessity or by choice. We hear from people across the country about how the pandemic has changed the way they work and what they look for in a job, and how that might change the market. You can read more on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour.

And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.

2021-06-27 09:13

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