PBS NewsHour full episode, Sept. 29, 2021

PBS NewsHour full episode, Sept. 29, 2021

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AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening. I'm Amna Nawaz. Judy Woodruff is away. On the "NewsHour" tonight: high stakes. The president's economic agenda hangs in the balance, as negotiations intensify between Democrats on Capitol Hill and the White House.

Then: getting the vaccine. A former FDA commissioner on the latest strategies to ramp up America's low vaccination rates. And saving the sequoias. Crews scramble to contain wildfires threatening to torch some

of the oldest trees in the world. CHRISTY BRIGHAM, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: Two thousand years of living history. They're ancient beings, and they're dying before our very eyes. And what really gets to me is that we're not acting fast enough. AMNA NAWAZ: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) AMNA NAWAZ: It's a high-stakes puzzle that the White House and key congressional Democrats are still trying to solve: how to secure enough votes in the U.S. House to pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure

bill tomorrow, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised. Early today, some holdouts among House progressives, unsatisfied with the status of another larger bill that's still in the works. That could put trillions more towards climate, health care and other domestic initiatives. As the president himself gets more involved in these talks, Yamiche Alcindor has been following it all. She joins us now from the White House. Yamiche, good to see you. Thanks for being here. So let's talk about what the president's doing. What are some of his efforts that he's doing

right now to try to unite Democrats? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, there is an intensifying feeling of urgency here at the White House tonight, as President Biden is scrambling to try to get Democrats united between these two big infrastructure bills, $1 trillion as the bipartisan bill, and then, of course, a $3.5 trillion bill that Democrat-supported right now, even though not all the Democrats are on the same page. The president was supposed to be in Chicago today talking about vaccine mandates, talking about companies that have adopted vaccine mandates, but, instead, he postponed that trip, signaling that he needed to be here to talk to lawmakers. In just the last hour, he was talking to both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. And I'm told in those meetings with lawmakers, including

Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin, that the president is really doing two things. He's, one, explaining to senators and to lawmakers, here's what my legacy is. Here's what my agenda is. Here's what my wants for the American people are. The second thing he's doing is saying, what can I do to try to get you to yes? What can I do to try to get you on board with this plan for these two big bills to pass together? Then come the White House staff. Now, they were on the Hill today meeting with Senator Sinema. And some of the White House staff are White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, as well as top aides Steve Ricchetti, Brian Deese, Louisa Terrell.

These are names that might not be familiar to people, but they are really the brain trust that's behind this really effort to try to get the White House and all of its efforts to get the lawmakers on the same page. I'm also told that Senator Sinema looks like she's a senator who is more likely to say yes, even though that $3.5 trillion package, it might shrink down $2.5 trillion or even $2 trillion. I'm also told that Senator Manchin is the one that is the harder sell here. And just in the last hour, Senator Manchin put out a statement that did not sound like he was getting any closer to that reconciliation bill, supporting it.

He put, in part, spending trillions of dollars, in his words, is like -- quote -- "fiscal insanity." He also wrote that Democrats should not -- quote -- "vengefully tax the wealthy." That, of course, is in stark contrast to what progressives have been saying, so a lot here with the president at the center of it. AMNA NAWAZ: Yamiche, the pressure is building. There is that self-imposed deadline. Speaker Pelosi said that vote on infrastructure is happening tomorrow. What's the sense in the White House today? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the president is under enormous pressure. The next 24 hours is going to be critical for whether or not President Biden can really get this done, because Nancy Pelosi has said that she wants to bring that bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House floor because she's promised that, if it has the votes, it will go to the floor.

Now, here's what the House -- here's what the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said just a few hours ago, talking about the intensity of this moment. JEN PSAKI, White House Press Secretary: The president, just to give you an update, is going to be working around the clock the rest of today, overnight, into tomorrow morning. And we're going to be working in lockstep with Speaker Pelosi. The president has been clear about his commitment to getting both pieces of legislation passed, both of them through. So, right now, what we're navigating through and we're working through is how we can get agreement, of course, 50 votes in the Senate on a reconciliation package. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said that this was a -- quote -- "precarious" and important time in the Biden presidency. This, of course, is his whole agenda hanging

in the balance. He has promised transformational change. He ran on the idea that he was the dealmaker, that he could use his decades in service in government to get a deal done. Now whether or not that actually happens will be the biggest test of his presidency here. So, you heard in the White House press secretary really doubling down on this idea that the president understands the moment and wants to get this done.

AMNA NAWAZ: Big day at the White House. Yamiche Alcindor is covering it all. Thanks, Yamiche. To get now a perspective from Capitol Hill. I'm joined by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He's the number two Democrat in the Senate. He joins us now. Senator Durbin, thanks again for making the time. Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

Let's start with where we are right now. You have heard the latest on the statement from your colleague Senator Manchin, saying he's not convinced that money needs to be spent right now. And you have also -- we have a statement from the House progressive leader, Pramila Jayapal, saying, after Senator Manchin's statement, she thinks even more people would vote against the infrastructure bill tomorrow. So, I will ask you, where are things now? Is there any chance this passes tomorrow? SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Well, there's a certain amount of turmoil here. And it has to do with the fact that we have four major pieces of legislation that are hanging over us on Capitol Hill, first and foremost, to keep the government open. I think

that's going to happen tomorrow. There will be some constructive votes in the Senate. And I think we're going to get it done. The second one, of course, is the debt ceiling. And that has an October, mid-October deadline to it. So we have a little time. But I certainly hope we get beyond this default strategy of

Senator McConnell, holding up this important measure that directly impacts the American economy. Then we have the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed handily in the Senate, which sits in the House waiting for the ultimate outcome on the reconciliation bill, so that Nancy Pelosi can put together a coalition of all Democrats to pass both. What's holding up the reconciliation bill? Two senators, and you have identified them in your story already. I don't know which is closer, not in the latest negotiations

directly face to face with him. But I would say to my colleagues, you have the power. Now use it to do something constructive for this country. Make your mark on this negotiation. You have that opportunity, but close the deal.

It's time to close the deal, I'd say to both of them. AMNA NAWAZ: So, Senator, do I understand you correctly? You are not directly talking to either Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema? Is that right? SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: The president is directly talking to both of them. And the leaders are talking to them. And members of the leadership and staff are addressing issues that they raise.

So, it isn't as if all of us are in the room together pounding this out. There are conversations on the floor with each of them about the status of things. But the actual negotiations are most important, so the president's own meetings with these people. And this president is committed to this in a way I haven't seen since the Affordable Care Act under President Obama. AMNA NAWAZ: So, where are you now in terms of where a top-line number could end? Do you have any sense of what they would back? They're kind of setting the ceiling, right?; 3.5 trillion is too high for them. What's

your floor? How low would you go? SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: That's -- that really is -- we had a meeting this week to discuss just what that meant. And each time we drop that number -- and this is over 10 years, incidentally, and it's all paid for by increasing the tax rates on the wealthiest in America, those making over $400,000 a year and corporations that are not being taxed. So we pay for it. But the net result of dropping that number from 3.5 to 3 or 2.5 or even lower means that we have to make an evaluation of the programs that are included in reconciliation. What

do we invest in? What do we give up on? Are we going to have child care, which workers, particularly women and mothers, across this country tell us they desperately need? Are we going to have pre-K education for kids to get them ready in school? Are we going to extend it to the K-14, so people are equipped that have the talents and skills to have a productive life in our 21st century economy? Each one of these decisions means we have to change it. For example, on Medicare, are we going to expand it to dental care, eyeglasses? AMNA NAWAZ: Right. Senator, if I may, it doesn't sound like you're any closer to a top-line number in those talks? SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: No, I'm not -- I can't tell you that I have heard that number. We're waiting for it, because everything follows from it. AMNA NAWAZ: Let me ask you while I have you about that debt ceiling vote that you mentioned.

We know your colleagues in the House are working to pass a clean debt limit vote. Even if they do, once it makes it to the Senate, you need 10 of your Republican colleagues to break ranks to back it. Have you talked to any of them who have said they would do that? SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, of course, we have talked to them, and particularly, for example,

the senators from Louisiana, both Republicans. There's disaster in this bill. And they desperately need it, and I want them to have it. We asked them to join us. And, so far, they're still considering it, but haven't done it. Aid for the Afghan refugees. How many speeches were made by Republicans, as well as Democrats,

about standing behind these men and women who risked their lives for America? Those are basic things that we need to do in this bill. I will just tell you this. This is the first time I can remember that the Republicans have imposed a filibuster on the debt ceiling. This is unconscionable to think that that extraordinary vote is needed for something that should be that basic in terms of our responsibility. AMNA NAWAZ: Senator, before I let you go, I need to ask you about this Texas abortion law. I know you called it outrageous when it first came out. And you have called for hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on that law, but also more broadly about this shadow docket, right, the emergency decisions the court often makes.

What do you hope to accomplish in a hearing? Shouldn't you be moving forward on legislation to codify some of those abortion rights? SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that the committee is going to consider legislation. But, remember, it's an 11-to-11 membership on that committee. And we're working on bipartisan bills where we can. And on the hot topics, like abortion and gun control, obviously, there's very little chance of bipartisanship.

But the point of the hearing today was the fact that the Supreme Court is increasingly using the shadow docket, which means they make momentous decisions, life-changing decisions, and don't issue any opinion to justify what they have decided. And that has been taken to task not only by the three liberals left on the court, but Justice Roberts. He said this Texas statute was one that we shouldn't give an automatic stay, so that they can proceed with the appeals. So we brought up the particulars on the Texas abortion statute today. Interestingly enough,

not a single Republican defended the specifics of that Texas statute on its merits. They were all arguing the issue of abortion, which, of course, is very controversial. AMNA NAWAZ: That is Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, joining us tonight. Senator Durbin, thank you. Always good to see you. SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Thank you.

AMNA NAWAZ: In the day's other news: The CDC stepped up its COVID-19 warnings to pregnant women with a formal advisory urging vaccinations. It underscores what agency officials announced on Tuesday, that only 31 percent of pregnant women have had their shots, and rates for minorities are even lower. The agency says the vaccines carry no increased risk of miscarriages. We will focus on vaccine misinformation after the news summary.

U.S. military leaders spent a second day today trying to explain to Congress what happened in Afghanistan. At a House hearing, General Mark Milley blamed years of bad decisions. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed the U.S. pullout hurt Afghan morale, but he said

American troops could not stay on. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. Secretary of Defense: I support the president's decision to end the war in Afghanistan.

I did not support staying in Afghanistan forever. There is no, was no risk-free status quo option. I think that the Taliban had been clear that, if we stayed there longer, they were going to recommence attacks on our forces. AMNA NAWAZ: Democratic lawmakers defended President Biden's decisions. Republicans again accused him of lying when he said no one urged him to keep 2, 500 troops in Afghanistan. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is out with a new statement condemning the Biden administration. He says there's been no change in U.S. policy and that offers of new talks are just a cover.

That comes after the North fired what it called a hypersonic missile out to sea on Tuesday. Those kinds of weapons can to fly at five times the speed of sound, but it's not clear that the North's missile actually did. In Japan, meanwhile, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is now in line to become prime minister. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party chose him today as its new leader. That sets him up to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down.

In Tokyo, Kishida vowed to do more to fight the COVID that has crippled Japan's economy. FUMIO KISHIDA, Leader, Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (through translator): Coronavirus measures, I will put my all into it and work very hard to tackle it. The hearts of the Japanese people have been broken into pieces because of the coronavirus. I want everyone to regain a will where they can feel that they can work hard and be one team to take on the national coronavirus crisis.

AMNA NAWAZ: Parliament is expected to vote Kishida in as prime minister on Monday. An overnight battle at a prison in Ecuador has left at least 100 people dead. Officials say rival gangs fought for hours with guns, knives and explosives. Some of the victims were beheaded. It'S the latest in a series of bloody prison riots in Ecuador this year. The British government rolled out a reserve tanker fleet today to deal with a fuel shortage. And officials ordered soldiers to start driving tankers to compensate for a driver shortage and panic buying. There were indications that gasoline is finally arriving at some filling

stations. Many others still had long lines of cars waiting for gas. Cities across China are now in a second week of electric power cuts. The ruling Communist Party ordered them in a bid to rein in soaring power consumption and meet targets for carbon emissions. A number of cities are under rolling blackouts, including Shenyang in the northeast. That's left shop owners and others looking for ways to cope. YANG CHANG, Storekeeper (through translator): Our store didn't suffer as much as others because we don't use as much electricity. But it's very inconvenient if we don't have

water. The power and water supply is integrated. So, when power is cut off, it does affect our lives. AMNA NAWAZ: The power cuts are also closing factories and threatening more global supply chain chaos.

And back in this country, Wall Street struggled again to make headway. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 90 points to close at 34390. The Nasdaq fell 34 points. And the S&P 500 gained six. Still to come on the "NewsHour": a closer look at President Biden's plans to increase taxes on the wealthy; crews scramble to contain wildfires threatening California's sequoias; scientists raise the alarm, as the U.S. declares multiple species extinct; and much more.

Well, YouTube today announced it will remove videos that spread false information about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 and any other commonly used vaccines. Accounts associated with several prominent figures, such as Robert Kennedy Jr., who spread false claims, will also be removed. As William Brangham reports, it's part of an ongoing fight against misinformation. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's right, Amna. Misinformation has certainly increased vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. It's partly why America

now lags behind many industrialized nations in vaccine uptake, with just 56 percent of the country fully inoculated. For the latest on our vaccination efforts, I'm joined now by Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He ran the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019, and he is a member of Pfizer's board of directors. He's just out with a new book called "Uncontrolled Spread" about why the virus hit America so hard and what we can do to stop it doing so again. Dr. Gottlieb, great to have you back on the "NewsHour." So, YouTube says, OK, we're going to start cracking down on these sites, we're going to kick them off for anyone that is publishing misleading or false information about the vaccine. What do you make of the move? Is this going to help, or is the horse already

out of the barn? DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, Former FDA Commissioner: Well, look, I think it's late to be doing this. I think that the social media platforms do have a responsibility to provide some editorial supervision on what goes on their sites. I applaud the move that they're taking. We need to recognize that this information isn't just being exchanged between individuals.

There are deliberate efforts under way to spread objectively false information and information designed to confuse people and deceive them about the vaccines. There was a report earlier this year about the Russian government being behind some these efforts. And so this is quite deliberate, quite organized in certain respects. And I think the social media platforms have a responsibility not to be conduits for this kind of deliberate misinformation. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And, as I mentioned, we know that this is having some effect on people's hesitancy to take the vaccine. The Biden administration, when they looked at our relatively low vaccination rates, said -- I mean, after a long time of resisting mandates, they said, OK, we are going to institute mandates, employer mandates.

Did you think that that policy made sense, policy-wise, to get more Americans vaccinated? DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, we first should recognize the extraordinary accomplishment, including of the Biden administration, getting people vaccinated. Fully 78 percent of people over the age of 18 have at least one dose of vaccine. Most

of them will complete the series. So we have done a lot of good work getting people vaccinated. Vaccinating the next 2 percent of the population is going to be a lot more difficult than it was to vaccinate the first 20 percent. The people who are holdouts are holdouts for a reason. Some of them are more reluctant

to take the vaccine. Some of them are harder to reach. So this is going to be a hard campaign getting additional Americans vaccinated. In terms of the mandates themselves, I think the administration is well within their prerogative to mandate vaccination among the federal work force. I also think health care workers should

be required to get vaccinated, given the risk that it could pose to those they're trying to provide care for. I think when you're putting mandates on private businesses, that gets into territory where we're going to start to create divisions across society. People are going to oppose those kinds of mandates when you're mandating on private businesses. That turns something that's

furtively political, the issues, the debate around vaccination, into something that's subjectively political, where now you're going to a politicians literally running against those mandates. So, just as I don't believe governors should be preventing private businesses and local communities from imposing mandates, I don't think the federal government should be stepping in to impose those requirements on small businesses. I think that this is going to become too much of a tense ground now that we're mandating this on smaller and medium-sized businesses. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I mean, thus far, we have seen, at least in the initial reports, that most of the companies that have enacted this mandate, even though it's not fully out yet, have had relative success. Like, they have seen their numbers tick up. Do you think, I mean, partisanship aside, that it might actually have the goal as intended, which is to save more lives? DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Look, I think it will save more lives, and I think you will get

more people vaccinated. But to the extent that these are collective decisions -- and I believe the decision to get vaccinated isn't just an individual choice. There's a collective element to it, because your decision not to get vaccinated is putting at risk people in your community. So, to the extent that they are collective decisions, I think the far preferable approach would be let the communities make those decisions. So let businesses make that decision their own, because they believe the only way to protect their work force or their customers is through vaccination. Let a local school board make that decision. I recognize that that's not always feasible, that you have a lot of holdouts, you have a lot of businesses resisting this. So I understand why the administration stepped in to try to

force these decisions. But to the extent that they're doing that, they're now creating a political battleground around vaccinations, that you're going to have other people opposing it. And the question is, how much are we going to pick up in terms of increased vaccination? I said we're at 78 percent of adults right now. I believe we would have gotten easily to 80 percent just on a normal trajectory. So, where are we going to end up, maybe at 85 percent, a little bit higher? So you might pick up a couple of extra percentage points in terms of the amount of Americans, adults, that are vaccinated, but you're going to pay a consequence for that in terms of turning this into more of a political debate.

So, we have to carefully weigh those competing interests. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I want to ask you about vaccinating kids. We know Pfizer, on which you -- on the board which you sit, just submitted its data for 5-to-11-year-olds. How likely do you think that that will be approved? And when do you think kids might start getting vaccinated in this country? DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Right. So, the company started submitting clinical data yesterday. They're going to continue

to submit data to the agency. It's sort of a rolling submission. I think that on -- that you could see a vaccine available for children ages 5 to 11 as soon as the end of October. If it slips a little bit, I think sort of the base case may be by mid-November. Obviously,

it's subject to FDA's careful review of that data and the agency agreeing that the data supports authorization of the vaccine. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA, thank you very much. DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.

AMNA NAWAZ: President Biden's ambitious economic agenda is still taking shape on Capitol Hill, but the plans call for unprecedented spending, new energy infrastructure, more child care help, and expanded Medicare and health care coverage. It also calls for tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations. We get to views now on what this could all mean for the U.S. economy.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize-winning economist. From 1997 to 2000, he was senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank. He now teaches at Columbia University. And Michael Strain is the director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He's also an opinion columnist for Bloomberg.

Welcome to you both, gentlemen. Thanks for being here. Professor Stiglitz, I will come to you first on this. The details of the plans are still being worked out. Wherever they end up, we're talking about a massive amount of spending, spending that the president says is necessary for the country, necessary for the economy right now. Do you agree? Is it necessary, or is this just something Democrats want? JOSEPH STIGLITZ, Professor of Economics, Columbia University: No, it is necessary.

You know, there are many things about America that are different from other advanced countries. We have the lowest life expectancy, a life expectancy that is -- actually was declining in the years before the pandemic, but has taken a real fall. We have one of the lowest labor force participation rates, the fraction of the population who is actually working, of the working age population of any of the advanced countries. The median income, the people in the middle, is lower than in other advanced countries. So there are many problems that we're facing. And, unfortunately, we have not confronted

them for a very long time. Anybody that visits other countries and sees our infrastructure, relative to the other countries' infrastructure, realizes that we have a lot of gaps there, too. AMNA NAWAZ: And so you see the spending as it's outlined here, that would address all the problems you just laid out? JOSEPH STIGLITZ: It would be a beginning of addressing them. I don't make any pretense that it really fully addresses them, but it -- we have postponed addressing some of our key issues for a very long time.

And I'm really welcoming this effort to begin doing something about these huge problems that we face. AMNA NAWAZ: Michael Strain, what's your view? Do you agree this is necessary right now? MICHAEL STRAIN, American Enterprise Institute: I don't think it's necessary. I certainly agree that addressing some of the problems that Professor Stiglitz enumerates is necessary. The United States has serious challenges. The question is whether or not President Biden's plan would address those challenges and would address those challenges in the best way. Take one part of the plan that's received quite a bit of attention, a program that would give a monthly income to households with children. This program would help low-income Americans

to pay the bills, but the vast majority of the money that would be spent would go to households above the poverty line, including households that are making $200, 00, $300,000, $400,000 a year. It is not necessary to give a household making 300 grand a year a check every month. Another big part of the plan would be to expand the Medicare program. We should be trying to provide health security to Americans, but simply putting billions and billions of dollars into Medicare, a program whose finances are already unstable, doesn't really bring health security to the Americans who really need it.

So I think there are some good goals here, . And I agree with Professor Stiglitz that America has challenges that need to be addressed. I'm just not sure this plan addresses those challenges in an efficient way or in the best way. AMNA NAWAZ: Well, Michael, let me just follow up on that.

What about this argument that some of those investments that you see as excessive right now, child care, the tax credits, for example, the health care coverage, that those are short-term investments now that will also lead to long-term economic growth? Do you agree with that? MICHAEL STRAIN: I don't think that long-term economic growth would be strengthened by giving a monthly check to households making a comfortable six-figure income. And I don't think economic growth would be strengthened by putting more money into the Medicare system. There are -- there are goals in this program that would contribute to the economy. So, one of the program's objectives is to increase the accessibility and affordability of child care.

That would help people to participate in the work force, and that would help the economy to grow. I think we need to -- we need to debate the specifics of the child care proposal. What the president wants to do is essentially subsidize demand for commercial day care. That's one way to increase access to child care. I would be much more interested in seeing how we can increase the supply of providers, to see how we could help families to have child care in the evenings and on weekends, when many lower-income Americans work and when commercial day care centers are not open. AMNA NAWAZ: Professor Stiglitz, I'd love you to respond briefly to one point that Michael raised, which was this idea of no limits on some of this spending, child care tax credits, for example.

Should there be more limits on those kinds of investments in the bill? JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, the basic thing is that in the bill that was passed when Biden first became president that provided child care -- child credits, tax credits. And that one provision enabled the reduction of childhood poverty by 50 percent in one year. But that was only a one-year provision. And so I'm giving this as an illustration that we -- for such a large fraction of American young people, growing up in poverty, inadequate conditions to make them productive in the future, if, in one year, we could reduce that poverty rate by 50 percent, imagine what we could do if we made a commitment to do this over the long term. And that is the basic core of what is being proposed in Biden's plan. Let's make sure that fewer American children grow up in poverty. And if that happens, we will have a more productive economy in the future.

AMNA NAWAZ: Professor, what about how to pay for this? We see that the Biden administration wants to raise taxes on people who make more than $400,000 a year and on corporations. Is that going to cover this kind of investment? JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Yes. So, there are other provisions, like closing some of the loopholes which undermine the effectiveness of our tax rate. One of the striking things about our tax code is that it's not progressive. The people at the very top are paying a tax rate of just over 8 percent on their total income. Well, ordinary people are paying a much higher tax rate. So there's an awful lot of money that can be raised by making our tax system fairer.

AMNA NAWAZ: Michael, what do you say to that? What are your concerns about raising taxes in that way to pay for these investments? MICHAEL STRAIN: The president has a few goals. He wants to spend a lot more money. To his credit, he wants to raise taxes to pay for that spending, rather than run up deficits. And he wants to combat climate change. It seems to me that an obvious way to advance all three of those goals is to put in place a carbon tax. A carbon tax would raise a lot of revenue. A carbon tax is, in my view, the best way we have to address climate change and to encourage innovation in alternative sources of energy. And a carbon tax could fund many of the programs the president wants to -- wants to spend money on without the negative effects that come from increasing taxes on income.

AMNA NAWAZ: Michael Strain, before we let you go, I need to ask you about the debt ceiling, because you have spoken directly to Republicans in your latest op-ed about this who are not joining in the effort to raise that ceiling right now. Your latest op-ed was titled: "Raise the Debt Ceiling, Republicans. You'll Be Glad You Did." Why should they listen to you? MICHAEL STRAIN: I think Republicans have a responsibility to raise the debt ceiling. The debt is a bipartisan problem. Both parties are responsible for the fact that there's

a gap between federal spending and federal revenue. And so I think it's the responsibility of both parties to increase the debt ceiling. Moreover, I think, by putting so much pressure on Democrats to increase the debt ceiling on their own, without any Republican support whatsoever, including a promise not to filibuster a debt ceiling increase that is passed under the Senate's regular order process, Republicans are making it a little more likely that the president's spending programs is larger, it happens -- it happens sooner then I think would be ideal.

So there's a economic argument here, and then there's a political argument. AMNA NAWAZ: And we will be following both in the days ahead. That is Michael Strain from the American Enterprise Institute and Professor Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University joining us tonight. Thanks to you both. JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Thank you. MICHAEL STRAIN: Thank you.

AMNA NAWAZ: California's giant sequoias can live for thousands of years, but scientists say they have rarely seen the kind of intense fire that have swept the state in recent years. The KNP Complex Fire is just 11 percent contained and is burning across nearly 50,000 acres, including treasured groves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. And another fire is blazing in Sequoia National Forest to the South. The national parks are closed to visitors, but special correspondent Cat Wise got a firsthand look on a recent media tour with officials.

CHRISTY BRIGHAM, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: We're standing up on the slope, and the fire came from below, and those are the conditions that, if the weather had been bad, would have generated running crown fire, and could have carried the flames up into the canopy of these trees. CAT WISE: At the smoke-filled entrance to Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, the proud sentries known as the Four Guardsmen still keep their watch. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: They're probably 2,000 to 3,000 years old. These trees have survived

hundreds of previous wildfires. CAT WISE: Scientists like Christy Brigham feared the ancient trees wouldn't survive the KNP Complex Fire, which has been burning dangerously close to the trees for weeks. Fire crews wrapped the bases of the Guardsmen in a flame-retardant foil to protect them. And Brigham says longer-term efforts of prescribed burning, where crews set controlled fires to help thin the forest and clear debris, helped save these national treasures from destruction.

This is a place of majestic giants. These trees are some of the oldest and largest living organisms on the planet. And, today, the air is thick with smoke from fires all around us. While some areas of the park have had prescribed burns for the last six decades, others are a tinderbox.

CHRISTY BRIGHAM: This area was at risk because of how dense this forest is. Those branches are 100 feet off the ground. But in this new kind of fire, you can get crown fire into a crown that high. CAT WISE: A new kind of fire, with greater intensity and higher flames than Brigham says the mighty trees have had to withstand. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: What we're seeing is 100-foot flame lengths, what's called running crown fire, where the fire gets into the crown and moves from crown to crown, instead of on the ground, and that is crazy. CAT WISE: Farther into the park, we come upon the crown jewel of the sequoias, General Sherman, thought to be the largest tree in the world.

So, Christy, General Sherman is still standing. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: Thank goodness. CAT WISE: His massive 36-foot base is also wrapped in the foil. MAN: It's not just aluminum foil. It's got that fiberglass backing.

CAT WISE: While General Sherman remains safe, fires have been burning in several other sequoia groves in the park, and staff haven't been able to reach those areas yet. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: The wrapping that we saw today and the raking, those are all things we never had to do because we did not have high-severity fire. CAT WISE: It's an alarming trend. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: We really are seeing impacts of climate change that these parks and models did not predict until 2050 or 2080 at the earliest. And they are happening now.

The drought that California had 2012 through 2016, it was incredibly severe in the Southern Sierra, where we are right now, killed 5.8 million trees. That many dead trees really changes fire behavior. And that's what we're seeing. CAT WISE: Those impacts are coming at an unnaturally fast pace. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: We cannot have huge swathes of land converting from forests to shrubs overnight. The plants and animals can't adjust to that. Things we care about, clean air,

clean water, they will be detrimentally affected, they will be negatively affected by those rapid, large-scale, abrupt changes. CAT WISE: Last year's Castle Fire killed 10 to 14 percent of the entire population of giant sequoias, which only grow in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: When we got the drone footage, the helicopter footage, we all cried. We had

never, ever seen anything like that. And when we finally hiked out there in the spring and saw it in person, people were hopeful, like, oh, maybe it won't be as bad as it looked from the helicopter. And we hiked out there eight miles, no trail. And it's devastated, black dirt, almost no seedlings, entire sequoias turned to sticks. That is what can happen if we do not prepare beforehand. CAT WISE: A year later, two sequoias are still burning from the Castle Fire.

CHRISTY BRIGHAM: We used our helicopter. We dumped water on them. They're still burning. And if unless we get a heavy winter, a regular winter that really dumps snow, cools them down, gets the wood fully saturated, I don't know when they're going to stop burning. That is climate change. CAT WISE: Mark Morales has been overseeing efforts to fight this year's KNP Complex Fire. He says the decades of prescribed burning in the park are paying off. But the sheer

number of wildfires that have burned across the West this year means resources are limited. MARK MORALES, Southern Area Blue Incident Management Team: We're trying to figure out where we can go put lines, what resource is needed, whether it's a bulldozer, a hand crew, an engine crew. And so, if you don't have those resources available, you have to decide, where can we go? So you may not be able to put people in the highest-priority areas. CAT WISE: Given the challenges, Morales is proud of his crew's progress battling the fire. But he says the relentless pace takes its toll. MARK MORALES: They have been at this for an extremely long time. And so they're at the

-- not even at the end of a very long season. So, cumulative fatigue is an issue for all of the leadership on those crews that they have to constantly assess. It's been a tough season. CAT WISE: And they aren't yet out of the woods. ROBERT YORK, Berkeley Forests: After a fire, it regenerates and then it grows very fast.

CAT WISE: In a sequoia grove used by U.C. Berkeley for research that hasn't burned in 100 years, Robert York points out the potential for the kind of destructive fire that happens when too much fuel piles up on the forest floor. ROBERT YORK: When I look at this forest, what I'm thinking about is, oh, there hasn't been a fire here in a long time. And, therefore, there hasn't been a fire that could essentially clean out all of the logs and the sticks that are on the ground.

I also think about how difficult it might be to have a good fire at this point, because there's so much fuel. That's going to create more intensity for when a fire does occur. This is an area that was burned with a prescribed fire in 2012. CAT WISE: It's a paradox: Bad fires that burn too hot and too high can be lethal for sequoias, but the trees do need some fire to release seeds from their cones. And the years-long Western drought and hotter temperatures are threatening the viability of those seeds.

ROBERT YORK: So, if we continue to have hot and dry springs, even if we do get dispersal of seeds, if they don't have adequate soil moisture, they're not going to survive, and there's going to be failures of giant sequoia seedlings. CAT WISE: So, York is looking at ways to do more prescribed burning and even plant new sequoias. ROBERT YORK: They're a strong species in many ways. And it gives me hope that they're going to persist under some pretty variable conditions in the future. But I also think that they

will probably need some help. I know that they will need some help. CAT WISE: Christy Brigham agrees that the ancient sequoias will struggle to survive without some help. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: The action has to happen before the wildfire comes. And the problem

is, when it's not burning, people don't feel the urgency. We need to do the prescribed burning and the restorative thinning before the fire gets there. CAT WISE: Out of the ashes she hopes will rise a new sense of urgency to protect these pillars of living history. CHRISTY BRIGHAM: We do think of them as being immortal, and that is one of the things we love about them. They're like superheroes, right? Nothing can kill them. They live forever. They have been here 2,000 years.

But they are being killed. They're being killed by actions that we have taken, by climate change. Two thousand years of living history. I mean, they're ancient beings. And they're dying before our very eyes. And what really gets to me is that we're not acting fast enough. CAT WISE: A reminder that even some of the world's most resilient organisms can be casualties of climate change.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Cat Wise in Sequoia National Park. AMNA NAWAZ: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed moving 23 animals and plants off the endangered species list because they're now extinct. John Yang has more now on what experts are calling an accelerating crisis. JOHN YANG: Amna, perhaps the most best known of the species now deemed to be gone forever is the ivory-billed woodpecker.

For decades, it had been thought to be already extinct and was chased throughout the American South by bird watchers and hunters. Other species on the list, he Bachman's warbler songbird and a group of birds and bats found only in the Pacific Islands. The list also includes some fish and freshwater mussels.

Tierra Curry is a senior scientist at the Center For Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group that works to protect endangered species. Tierra, thanks so much for being with us. Before this, 11 species had been on the endangered list, have been declared to be extinct. And

now, today, 23, they're proposing to add to that list. What has driven the extinction of these 23 species? TIERRA CURRY, Center For Biological Diversity: So this is the single largest batch of species that are being proposed for delisting due to extinction in history. And you can kind of look at them in groups. The freshwater mussels, a lot of them went extinct because of the construction of dams across the Eastern U.S. that started all the way back in 1914. But mussels have really long lifespan. Some of them can live to be

100. So the dams began the extinction process. And then, when their habitat shrank, pollution and other things affected the mussels. For the Hawaii species -- we lost eight birds in Hawaii -- the real story there is invasive species, either goats or pigs that ate the vegetation that they needed or invasive species that preyed on them directly, like rats and mongooses and feral cats. And then climate change came into play because it brought diseases that are mosquito-borne into habitats where they hadn't been before. And that was kind of their downfall.

JOHN YANG: What are the implications of species going extinct like this? TIERRA CURRY: Well, it means we have made a mistake that can never be corrected. We have lost beings that we share the planet with that are gone forever. And it means that the ecosystems where they lived are never going to be the same again. Like, freshwater mussels filter water. They provide food for other animals. They stabilize the riverbanks. They do so many ecosystem services for us. And now we have diminished that capacity because we have lost them.

JOHN YANG: Are there natural forces that lead to extinction? I mean, you talked about sort of the manmade effects that have led to the extinction of these 23. But are there natural forces as well? TIERRA CURRY: There are. And the difference with what's happening now is, the natural background rate has been accelerated by 100 to 1,000 times. So, for freshwater species, they're going extinct 1,000 times

more rapidly than they would in the natural rate because of changes we have made to the environment. JOHN YANG: There's a U.N. study that says a million species are at risk of becoming -- or at risk in the coming years. What can be done to reverse that or what can be done to protect those species? TIERRA CURRY: Everything.

A lot of people hear that a million species are at risk of extinction, and they feel hopeless. But we can save a million species and change the tagline to, we saved a million species from extinction. A lot of it comes down to funding. Their habitat needs to be protected. They need monitoring. We need to address things like water pollution and invasive species and direct exploitation of wildlife. But we can't do all of these things. Like, we don't have to lose any more species to extinction if we act to save them.

JOHN YANG: Since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, I believe that 54 species have been removed from that list because their populations have recovered, and 48 others have been moved from endangered to threatened. Is the Endangered Species Act working? TIERRA CURRY: It's absolutely working. The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals on the list. And it's amazing, given that it's never gotten the funding that it needs to fully recover species. So, yes, the law works, and it needs more funding. JOHN YANG: You also talked about -- in the causes, you listed climate change as one of them. How big a factor is that?

TIERRA CURRY: It's an enormous factor. Climate change threatens life on Earth as we know it. It threatens wildlife and humans. And so other factors also drive extinction, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, overexploitation. But now climate change is overarching all of those. JOHN YANG: Tierra Curry of the Center For Biological Diversity, Thank you very much. TIERRA CURRY: Thank you.

AMNA NAWAZ: Well, as the saying goes, there's no business like show business. But for 18 months during the pandemic, there was basically no business in Broadway theaters. Jeffrey Brown recently visited the theater districts artisans, who are playing a key role in Broadway's return. It's all part of our arts and culture series, Canvas. JEFFREY BROWN: The green suit, worn by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the musical "Hamilton." Miranda

told the costume designer it should be -- quote -- "the color of money." Crystals and mirrors on Elsa's ice dress from Disney's "Frozen." From "Phantom of the Opera," what else? The mask. They are defining images of contemporary Broadway. But even live in the theater, you don't get to see them like this. BRIAN BLYTHE, The Costume Industry Coalition: What I think is so great about this is that when you're sitting in the fifth row or the 10th row or in the balcony, you're never this close... JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, that's for sure.

BRIAN BLYTHE: ... to the costumes, to the point where you can see the amount of craftsmanship, the workmanship and the details that go into each one of these. JEFFREY BROWN: Brian Blythe helped put together this exhibition called Showstoppers!. He's a founder of The Costume Industry Coalition, a group of more than 50 small businesses that make these amazing garments, like this dress from "Wicked."

Can I touch it? BRIAN BLYTHE: I will let you touch it, yes. (LAUGHTER) JEFFREY BROWN: Why do you do all of this underneath in such exquisite detail? BRIAN BLYTHE: Because they're living in this fantasy world. You know, they're in Emerald City. And when an actor puts this on, they become the character. That's how they realize

their character, is through their costume. JEFFREY BROWN: But starting in March of 2020, no characters, no costumes, no shows. Now, gradually, tentatively, the spectacle is coming back. The musical "Six" was supposed to open the same day Broadway shut down in 2020. The six,

by the way, are the wives killed by Henry VIII. Now they have come to life onstage. And opening night recently was sold out. GIANNA VAN ROUENDAL, Theatergoer: This is my first Broadway show back, which is very exciting. And I think it will be so inspiring. JACK NIX, Theatergoer: We are just thrilled for Broadway, and we cannot wait to see "Six."

And we will be back to see a bunch of shows. JEFFREY BROWN: "Six" is one of 15 Broadway shows reopening throughout September. Twenty more are set to open before the end of the year, with patrons masked and required to have proof of vaccination or negative test results to enter theaters. Charlotte St. Martin is president of The Broadway League, a trade group representing theater

owners. CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN, President, The Broadway League: We said from day one we will not open unless we feel we can keep the audience, the cast and crew safe. They might be a little bit sensitive about the Delta variant, but we're trying to spread the message that we're safe, we're secure, and all of the magic they loved about Broadway is still there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Magic and money. Broadway is a business with a large behind-the-scenes ecosystem fed by ticket sales, with every production employing scores of workers crucial to making the show go on. And then there's its wider impact on the city. CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: We're responsible for 97,000 jobs in this city, and 80 percent of the tourists that are coming here for pleasure give Broadway as their number one, two or three reason for coming to the city. So we need to be open not just for us, but to bring New York back.

BRIAN BLYTHE: We lost over $26.6 million in gross revenue in 2020. And we have incurred an immense amount of debt during the pandemic. JEFFREY BROWN: Showstoppers!, occupying an out-of-business sporting goods store on 42nd Street, was conceived as a fund-raiser, with ticket sales benefiting costume workers. According to Blythe, they face a collective debt of $3.5 million. In an industry where nothing but the best will do, some of the people who make these costumes took part in the exhibition.

Camilla Chuvarsky is a theatrical milliner she makes hats. CAMILLA CHUVARSKY, Lynne Mackey Studio: I think there's a bit of a false perception with costumes that they're not as well-made as everyday garments. And, in fact, the opposite is true. They have to hold up through eight shows a week and still look beautiful the entire time, because, when you're going to Broadway, more than regional theater, what you're paying for is the production value. JEFFREY BROWN: The pandemic, she says, forced some to leave the industry or retire early, revealing just how fragile some of the costuming trades are.

CAMILLA CHUVARSKY: There are a lot of techniques and skills that really are passed down through training on the job and that a lot of people don't know and would honestly be lost. If some of these shops closed, there's knowledge that would just vanish, because it is so particular to the industry. JEFFREY BROWN: Another behind-the-scenes art form, fabric painter.

Hochi Asiatico has worked on Broadway for 25 years, painting everything from the most detailed patterns to a character's sweat. A painter for a Broadway show, most people probably don't know there is such a thing. HOCHI ASIATICO, Owner, Hochi Asiatico Studio: No, people don't know. And they just get the feeling of something. And I think they get into the character. But, really, the painting is very important for the development of the character.

JEFFREY BROWN: Asiatico hand-painted these robes, set in the early 19th century, for the play "Golden Child." HOCHI ASIATICO: So, we had to research the colors that were available at the time and the style of the time. Also, we wanted them to look a little bit embroidered. So we have to consider the distance on stage, how the lighting works.

JEFFREY BROWN: The people we met are now back at work making costumes for productions. But will the audience return? With tourism still down in New York City... OPRAH WINFREY, Producer/Philanthropist: This is Broadway. JEFFREY BROWN: ... Broadway League has a new $1.5 million ad campaign narrated by Oprah.

OPRAH WINFREY: This is the return of something truly spectacular. JEFFREY BROWN: Strategically targeting those within a car drive. And, as we saw recently, those who are coming are glad to be back, even amid continuing uncertainty. AUDRIANNE SPEIDEL, Theatergoer: I'm loving the fact that the shows are back and being able to come and see as many shows as possible. So, yes.

WOMAN: And please let Broadway open, please. AUDRIANNE SPEIDEL: Right. JEFFREY BROWN: For now, at least, it is. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in New York. AMNA NAWAZ: And some late news tonight. A Los Angeles judge decided today that Britney Spears' father, Jamie Spears, should be suspended as conservator of her estate. The singer and her attorney had been petitioning to end her

father's control over her fortune and personal life after 13 years. The judge called the conservatorship a -- quote -- "toxic environment." And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Amna Nawaz. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you for joining us, please stay safe. We'll see you soon.

2021-10-03 07:05

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