tv PBS News Hour PBS January 4, 2017 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc >> woodruff: good evening. i'm judy woodruff. >> stewart: and i'm alison stewart. >> woodruff: on the newshour tonight, the future of health care in the balance-- president obama and vice president-elect pence head to the hill to make their case to lawmakers. >> stewart: also ahead this wednesday, the second part of judy's conversation with c.i.a. director john brennan-- looking ahead to the trump administration's relationship with russia and u.s. intelligence. >> woodruff: plus, from iraq, as the battle for mosul continues, residents flee to camps where security concerns are ripping families apart. >> now all of them might be in official detention facilities, and maybe the moment the operation is done we will see a lot of these people released, but for the moment we don't know that, and all their families know is that they've gone missing. >> stewart: all that and more,
on tonight's pbs newshour. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> ♪ love me tender ♪ love me true we can like many, but we can love only a precious few. because it is for those precious few that you have to be willing to do so very much. but you don't have to do it alone. lincoln financial helps you provide for and protect your financial future, because this is what you do for people you love. lincoln financial-- you're in charge. >> bnsf railway. >> xq institute.
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tonight. both the sitting president and the incoming vice president were there, making their cases for reprieve or repeal. lisa desjardins has our report. >> reporter: at the capitol, president obama and vice president-elect pence were minutes apart in arrival, and light years apart in purpose. mr. obama, in a private meeting with democrats, urged them to defend his signature health care law. >> hello, everybody! happy new year! >> reporter: while a few floors up, mister pence rallied his former republican colleagues in the house to dismantle it. he said afterward that republicans are paying attention to how to avoid ripple effects of repeal, for individuals and the market. >> we're working right now, the white house staff is, on a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place, even
as the congress appropriately debates alternatives to, and replacement of, obamacare. >> reporter: pence said it's too soon for specifics. those who will have to wrestle with the specifics-- rank and file republicans-- insisted they are energized. as for a timeline on a republican replacement plan, trump transition team member chris collins and others offered this. >> we're going to have to, over the next six months, put that pen to paper. >> oh, absolutely. that's our agreed-upon agenda, is to get it done within six months. we're not wholly united on one idea right now, but i would say that we're definitely in a better spot than we were six months ago. >> reporter: this is a good time to explain how republicans plan this repeal. step one, what's happening now, is a procedural move, not the actual repeal yet. both chambers will instruct committees to submit budget ideas by january 27. then, step two: inside those budget resolutions will be the repeal of all, or part of, obamacare. why budget resolutions?
they require just 51 votes in the senate. so those budget plans will be the actual repeal. republicans hope to do that by march. step three is the replacement, and that could come in several pieces. as you heard, many republicans want to propose that within six months. all of those decisions, affecting nearly every american, are politically precarious. president-elect trump himself warned republicans on twitter today to be careful. >> i want to talk to these senate pages over here. >> reporter: president obama did not speak publicly today. instead, democratic leaders in congress gave a fiery news conference, insisting republicans could make things worse, a point highlighted in a new trump-inspired motto: >> the republican plan to cut healthcare, wouldn't make america great again. it will make america sick again, and lead to chaos instead of affordable care. >> reporter: democrats are, of course, in the minority in both chambers, but they were joined by one republican this afternoon. senator rand paul of kentucky
voted against the first procedural move toward health care repeal, citing cost concerns. it passed without him. >> even if rand paul continues to be a no vote, republicans have enough votes to repeal obamacare. cha is not clear is if they have enough votes for any one replacement plan. there will be a lot of maneuvering and speeches over the next couple of weeks, but, alison, what is key to watch for is the decision republicans make as to when the obamacare repeal should take effect-- quickly or over years. alison >> stewart: in the day's other news, the white supremacist who killed nine black church worshippers in charleston, south carolina insisted he is not mentally ill. dylann roof is acting as his own lawyer for the death penalty phase of his federal hate crimes trial. in his opening statement, he said, "there is nothing wrong with me psychologically." he did not address his crimes, and he did not ask to be spared execution. the prosecution argued that roof's actions justify capital punishment. >> woodruff: in turkey,
authorities say they've identified the gunman in a new year's eve nightclub attack that killed 39 people. but, they did not release the name today, and the killer remained at large. turkish police detained 20 suspects linked to the assault, all said to be islamic state militants, including 11 women. and president recep tayyip erdogan addressed the nation, insisting he won't surrender to terrorists. >> ( translated ): nobody's lifestyle is under systematic threat in turkey. we will never allow this. we haven't allowed this since we took the helm 14 years ago. anyone who claims otherwise must prove it with concrete examples. >> woodruff: the islamic state group has said the nightclub attack was retaliation for turkish military operations in northern syria. >> stewart: a military court in israel has convicted a soldier of manslaughter, for killing a palestinian who had stabbed another soldier. sergeant elor azaria shot the attacker, who was wounded,
disarmed and laying on the ground. supporters of azaria clashed with police outside the courtroom today, and prime minister benjamin netanyahu called for israel's president to grant a pardon. >> woodruff: back in this country, president-elect trump announced he has chosen wall street lawyer jay clayton to chair the u.s. securities and exchange commission. jay clayton is noted for his expertise in public and private mergers and public offerings. >> stewart: macy's announced today its cutting more than 10,000 jobs and going ahead with plans to close 68 stores. and on wall street, retailers helped lead the way higher. the dow jones industrial average gained 60 points to close at 19,942. the nasdaq rose almost 48 points, and the s&p 500 added nearly 13. >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour: part two of my discussion with the c.i.a. director-- we talk about the president-elect's distrust of the intelligence community; boys taken from isis-held areas, never to be heard from again;
and much more. >> woodruff: we return to my conversation with c.i.a. director john brennan. last night, we focused largely on allegations of russian hacking of u.s. political operations during the election, and the war in syria. tonight, we begin with concerns raised by european intelligence officials about possible russian intrusion in upcoming elections there, and whether he believes the u.s. is facing a new cold war with russia. >> well, i certainly hope not, and i certainly hope that look out over the next several years the relationship between moscow and washington improves because it is critically important for global stability for the united states and russia to have a better relationship, absolutely, so i fully endorse that. however, we see that there are still a lot of actions that
russia is undertaking that undermine the principles of democracy in so many countries. what has happened in our recent election is not new. the russians have engaged in trying to manipulate elections in europe for a number of years. we see that they take advantage of corrupt politicians. they will fund the parties and groups that support their aims, and so there's active exploitation and manipulation of the political processes. >> woodruff: but some now have the sense that this will all improve under a president trump, that this may have just been a feature of the obama administration. >> i don't think it was a feature of the obama administration. i think it was more a feature of the putin administration in terms of what the russians have been doing over the last eight years, and certainly before that. this is not to say that we cannot find ways to be able to work together, united states and russia. again, i think it's critically important we do. and maybe now with a new administration there will be opportunities to do that. i certainly hope so. but the facts are that the
russians tried to interfere in our electoral process recently, and were actively involved in that. and that is something that we can't countenance because as you point out, there are a number of countries in europe that are going to be having elections in this year, germany, france, and others and there is anxiety among my european counter-parts about what the russians might have up their sleeves in order to promote their objectives in the electoral processes. >> woodruff: he has been very critical of parts of the intelligence community. has the well already been poisoned before he takes office between him and the c.i.a. which he has been particularly critical about. what are your colleagues saying to you about it? >> the professionals at the c.i.a. are very much looking forward to having the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, their capabilities to the incoming administration. president-elect, vice president-elect, and others. every time there's a transition, the c.i.a. recognizes that it
has a special responsibility and obligation to make sure those who have our national security in their hands are going to be as best informed and enlightened as possible about the complexities of world events. i know there have been a lot of things in the media and the press. and i've told our folks, just focus on your work and look forward to the opportunity to breast incoming team." so nothing is soured at this point. and i really do believe that officers are ready and looking forward to this opportunity. >> woodruff: a few other important parts of the world i want to ask you about. north korea, over the weekend, its leader kim jong-un said its country is, "finalizing preparations of a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile" which one assumes-- well, would mark an advance in korea's attempt to build a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the united states. are the north koreans as far look as it sounds like they are? how much should the united states, should the incoming president be concerned about it? >> i think the incoming administration needs to be very
concerned about north korea. they continue to advance their ballistic missile capability, and as kim jong unsaid, at the intercontinental range. they continue to develop their nuclear program in terms of having nuclear capability that they could marry with a ballistic missile and that would be a threat and is a threat to the regional states as well as the u.s. homeland. obviously, the prajectory that pyongyang has been on the last two decades has not been a good path. and we, the united states, along with our partners and allies around the world-- to include china which has an extraordinary amount of influence on north korea-- we need to work together to change that trajectory so north korea does not pose that threat to regional stability, as well as to global stability. >> woodruff: your administration has, in effect, celebrated the nuclear agreement with iran, holding off iran's ability to have a breakout
capability when it comes to nuclear weapons. does north korea represent a failure in that regard? >> well, north korea has been embarked on this for the last couple of decades, it's clear. and there have been a number of steps taken to try to prevent its continued march along this path in terms of sanctions and international program and criticism and isolation of north korea. but ki kim jong-un and his fathr and grandfather before him were on this path. and it's a-- it's an unfortunate failure of the international community to find a way to bring north korea to its senses so that it can focus on the health and well-being and welfare of its people, who are impoverished and for him not to be able to continue to invest in a military capability that is only leading to north korea's continued isolation. >> woodruff: how close is north korea to being able to strike the united states with a nuclear weapon? >> to me, the fact that he has a blisk missile capability and he said he is going on the
intercontinental side of it, and he has a nuclear capability, to me, that's too close. >> woodruff: and what does that mean? i mean-- >> it means that we can not be-- we should not feel comfortable with the continued military capabilities and the growth of those capabilities in north korea that needs to be addressed. >> woodruff: what should president-elect trump, once he's in office and your successor, congressman now mike pompeo, be lying weak worrying about in the months to come, more than anything else? >> i think it's all these things. it's trying to make sure that they understand the complexities of the various challenges that are out there, whether you're talking about a ukraine or iraq or syria or north korea or any of the issues we deal with-- cyber and trump-- these are complex poornz they don't lend themselves to easy and simple
solutions. and also in my experience, the past five, eight years or so, the number of these challenges continues to go up. and so it's not just complexities of these issues. it's the simultaneousity of it. the united states is the global sprp, remains so. and what they need to worry about is how are they going to ensure they're able to monitor what's going on around the world, protect u.s. national security interests-- not overcommit-- and also make thiewr that the policy course that they stake out is one that has near-term interests in mind but also longer term strategic goals and objectives of the united states. >> woodruff: do you believe they're up to that challenge? >> i believe that any administration that comes in i think sometimes is taken aback by the scope, the scale, the complexity of the problems. i was part of the incoming obama administration, and i had served in government before, and i must tell you, once you have that responsibility, it's rather
daunting. >> woodruff: and where will john brennan be? >> i will be on the sidelines finishing up on inauguration day. and this is the absolute best job they could ever imagine. and so this will be my last job in government. but i will be doing what i can to support our national security from the sidelines. >> woodruff: john brennan, the director of the c.i.a., thank you very much for joining us. >> thank you, judy, thank you. >> woodruff: you can watch my entire interview with director brennan at www.pbs.org/newshour. now, we explore the widening rift between the president-elect and the intelligence community. after we recorded the brennan interview yesterday, mr. trump tweeted, "the 'intelligence' briefing on so-called 'russian hacking' was delayed until friday-- perhaps more time needed to build a case. very strange!" that briefing, it was widely reported, was always scheduled for friday. for more on this divide, we turn
to james woolsey. he was c.i.a. director during the clinton administration. he is now at booz allen hamilton, a major defense contractor, and is a senior advisor to the trump transition; and jeffrey smith, a former general counsel at the c.i.a. he currently serves on the department of defense legal policy advisory board. and we welcome both of you to the newshour. so i'm going to start with you, james woolsey. these tweets that we're quoting from donald trump are just the latest in a series of statements he's made dismissing either the c.i.a. or the intelligence agency. what does he-- you're advising the transizing what does he really think of the professionals in the intelligence community? >> i think he's got an open mind. i think we need to have some things take place which haven't taken place yet. he needs to get to know the top people in the agency. i think they need to go the extra mile in order to present things to him in a way that he
wants. he doesn't want the morning briefing, apparently. well, neither did bill clinton when i was director of central intelligence. he read the briefing and asked questions sometimes. so there's not any one way to do that. but the point is that they need to find out what will help him get into this very important job quickly and effectively and plan their presentations that way, rather than complaining, frankly. >> woodruff: jeffrey smith what, do you make of what we've heard, really a streesm critical comments by donald trump about the intelligence community, the c.i.a. and the rest of it gifind them deeply disturbing and potentially very dangerous. they're disturbing because he seems to be saying, "i don't trust the intelligence community." and i don't know quite why he believes that. we all understand they've made mistakes in the past, but i think they've also understand how important it is to get it
right. so i think he's prejudging them a little bit. and i think they're dangerous because he's set in motion all kinds of potential conflicts down the road and some uncertainty with our allies. >> woodruff: it may go further than criticism. we are just tonight seeing, literally, just in the last few minutes, jim woolsey and jeffrey smith, a report in the "wall street journal" that a source close to donald trump, the trump transition, is saying he's looking at restructuring the entire intelligence community, frankly overhauling the c.i.a. is it your understand understanding that that's what he may be up to? >> there's been talk about this not just within the trump transition but around the community now for months, verging into years. part of the reason is the director of national intelligence, which does the sort of chairman of the board job that used to be done by the director of central intelligence, as well as managing the c.i.a., that sort of chairman of the board job was
done more or less by 18, 19 people when i was director back in the '93-'94 time. it's now done in one way or another by 2,000 or 3,000. and there has been a huge surge in numbers of people in the community as a whole, not just at the c.i.a. and i think they're going to, understandably, take a look at that. >> woodruff: jeffrey smith, we don't know-- again, this report just came out from the "wall street journal" and the source is not named-- what would an overhaul like that mean? >> i agree with jim. if the size of the o.d.n.i. staff could be reduced and streamlined, i think that's good. it has become overhead that was largely unnecessary. the story also suggests that c.i.a. should do more in the field. i think that's probably right. but i also think that' that it'e for an administration to come in and take the measure of things
before they start reshuffling everything because a huge amount of effort would be spent on reorganizing things at a time when that energy would be better spent, it seems to me, on address the crises that exist in the world. >> woodruff: i want to come back, jim woolsey to, what donald trump has been saying. he's siding, frankly, appears to be siding with julian assange of wikileaks over the c.i.a., pretty much dismissing the c.i.a., and the entire intelligence community finding that the russians were behind this hacking of the democrats during the election. do we have any precedent for an incoming president of the united states having this much disregard for the entire intelligence community? >> well, i don't know that it's disregard. it certainly is raising issues. there's no doubt about is that. donald trump does that in his own way. he railed issues in a way that turned out to be very successful for him politically, got him elected president of the united
states when virtually everybody that he talked to said you can't raise issues that way. so i think we all need to take half a step back and look at the fact that he handles things like this differently than a lot of other people. >> woodruff: let me stop and ask jeffrey smith what jim woolsey said a few moments ago is the intelligence community needs find another way to come to donald trump. he doesn't like the way the current briefings are structured, they need to find another way to do it. could that be a solution here? >> that could help. however it's done matters less than they need to convince the president, their new boss, that they can be trusted. and he needs to work to develop their trust. this has to be a mutual understanding of trust between both sides because there's going to be some crisis very early in the administration, and the president is going to rely on what he hears from the intelligence community, and if he has been saying before he became president that they can't be trusted, what does he say to the american people now that i'm
relying on them to make recommendations to take action? >> woodruff: jim woolsey, i think that's the question. if something comes up and donald trump declares he doesn't trust the c.i.a., what does that mean. >> some things like that can be surmounted by spend something time together and so forecast. i don't think that's the main problem. the main problem is that i think the entire leadership, not just the president-elect himself, but the entire leadership in the national security area needs to realize that one of the most important things they're going to do in this job is deal with crises of one sort or another. and in crises, it has historically been the case that almost always the first reports are wrong. you cannot deal with them by make a quick judgment based on the first things that you hear, even though they-- if they sound reasonable. we're talking gulf resolution, is one example of something that was taken off of a nonoccurrence. >> woodruff: that sounds like a warning to the incoming administration. what other advice would you
have, just quickly, jeffrey smith? >> mr. trump has had an extraordinary business career, but dealing with sovereign states with nuclear weapons is fundamentally different than building a golf course in scotland. he has to understand that he has huge responsibilities. he has to be extremely careful about what he says. he has to listen to those terrific professionals in the intelligence community, the diplomatic community, the military community. they have to begin to trust him, and he has to begin to trust them. >> woodruff: jeffrey smith, jim woolsey, we thank you both. >> good to be with you. >> thank you, as always. lawye >> stewart: stay with us. coming up on the newshour: protests against senator jeff sessions, donald trump's pick for attorney general; and, the potential for nuclear technology to lower carbon emissions.
but first, for nearly three months, iraqi forces backed by the u.s. have been fighting to re-take the isis-held city of mosul. the militants still hold much of the city, and its nearly one million residents. almost 130,000 people have fled mosul since the battle began. security officials are now trying to harbor the displaced, while also containing the spread of isis, but the process of screening and detaining men and boys who have left to ensure they are not extremists, is fraught and controversial. from northern iraq, special correspondent marcia biggs and videographer eric o'conner report. >> reporter: it's a slow and steady exodus, civilians fleeing the battle for mosul. those who make it to the relative safety of iraqi checkpoints tell harrowing stories. >> ( translated ): a mortar landed on my house and destroyed it, and killed my wife. we had no place to bury her, and now our daughter has no mother. >> reporter: the danger of mosul behind them, they are first screened by iraqis, then boarded onto buses for a journey into
the unknown. >> ( translated ): the shelling destroyed us. all our houses are gone now. nothing remains for us. >> reporter: do you know where you're going? >> ( translated ): i don't know but they are saying they are taking us to the tents. >> reporter: they're heading to one of a handful of camps for internally displaced people, here in iraqi-held kurdistan. it's a long wait. they're facing a bottleneck from previous buses as the newly arrived register and receive supplies, and at every stage, more screening. both iraqi security forces and the kurdish authorities have a mandate to keep members of isis from escaping through the mass of civilians fleeing the battle, and they've gathered intelligence on tens of thousands of isis suspects, creating a database with a list of names. everywhere we went in the camps, we heard the same story. >> ( translated ): i only have one son, they took him 20 days ago we don't know where he is. he went to get gas and they just took him.
he's innocent. ( crying ) >> reporter: aziza says she and her 18-year-old son radwan escaped mosul, only to be ripped apart by local authorities once they arrived at the camp. >> ( translated ): oh my son, i feel safe here but i feel sad that he's not here, the tent is empty. it's been 20 days since they took him. i'm cold and empty without him. >> reporter: this man wouldn't let us show his face, but says his cousin was arrested, based on what he says was the word of an informer in the camp. >> in mosul, we've got thousands of individuals being screened, subsequently being detained, and disappearing. >> reporter: belikis wille is with human rights watch, based in iraq. >> now, all of them might be in official detention facilities, and maybe the moment the operation is done we will see a lot of these people released, but for the moment we don't know that, and all their families know is that they've gone missing. >> reporter: general najim al jabouri is one of iraq's top commanders in the battle for mosul, and his men are the first
line of screening for civilians coming out of isis control. they detain anyone who appears on the list, even though he knows some may not be hardline isis members. >> i hope the prime minister give amnesty to the majority of the people, join isis, but they not kill, they not involved in very bad thing, they just to take some salary to keep them and families from revenge of isis. you know isis have no mercy. >> reporter: they're just trying to stay alive and feed their families. >> yeah, yeah. >> reporter: is there ever anyone that's on that list that you say, "he's just someone who's trying to get by, let's let him go?" >> yeah, sure. sure. but, the judge will decide that. not me. i fight in the field and anyone stand in front of me and fight me, i kill him. but after the field, no.
this the mission of the judge. >> reporter: we traveled south of mosul to qayarra where, under the black cloud of oil fires set by isis, we found one of those judges, whose job is to investigate the cases of isis suspects and prepare them for trial. how many people are on the list? we heard 40,000? >> ( translated ): no, they are more than 40,000 who are not arrested yet. >> reporter: how do you differentiate someone who is just trying to make ends meet in occupied mosul, and someone who is an isis terrorist? >> ( translated ): we have people who are helping us identify the individuals who were just doing their job, without being members of isis. >> the real question for us is, how do you get onto that list? it's allegations that you are affiliated with isis, but they could be made by your neighbor, your neighbor who envies your land or your neighbor who had a feud with you for many years. >> reporter: the judge denies that charges can be based solely on witness testimony but admits
that the system is bogged down. >> ( translated ): it will take a long time to complete these cases. in most of the cases, the victims' bodies are missing. they were kidnapped by isis terrorists, killed and disappeared. we have to find the bodies, but this will prolong the investigations. >> reporter: for the families of those that languish in detention, it's a reminder of abuses against sunnis that took place last spring, when iraqi forces retook fallujah from isis and then allowed shi'a militias to control those villages. >> we know the history of previous operations, and we know that hundreds of people have gone missing. we're not saying "let everybody go." what we're saying is, there are simple things you can do to try to decrease the chance of abuse afterwards. one of those things is informing family members of where their loved ones are; the other is putting out public numbers. why have we not seen the authorities put out a single public number on how many people are being detained in this operation? >> reporter: this is your husband, zaojek? back in the camp, 27-year-old
miad shows me the only picture she has of her husband, ramy. she says they had been here for ten days when he went to camp security to get permission for her to see a doctor, and he never came back. >> ( translated ): the night that they arrested him i waited up till midnight, but he didn't come. i went and asked the camp manager. he said its a normal investigation, and he will be back soon, it will only take a couple of days. that was 17 days ago. i remember they put his name in the database two times and they didn't find anything on him. he was cleared. he doesn't have anything to do with isis. >> reporter: she's here alone with her two children, and her 80-year-old grandmother. diagnosed with uterine cancer, she has special permission to go to her chemotherapy appointments, but like everyone else, is otherwise forbidden to leave the camp. >> ( translated ): i went to the camp security and he didn't give me any information. they just told me, if he is innocent, we will bring him back
to you; if he's guilty, don't ask about him. >> reporter: halkwat rafaat is in charge of security at the camps in this area, in total hosting almost 60,000 people. why they are not allowed to leave the camp? >> because they have been under isis control for more than two years. >> reporter: are you worried that there may be isis fighters hiding inside? >> ( translated ): of course, there are. >> reporter: what do you say to the officials who say, "we've got a real security problem. we can't let them leave."? >> if the screening processes are not working, then improve the screening processes. but once someone's been cleared through that process, it is unacceptable to be holding them in a camp that is essentially being used as a prison. >> reporter: miad says she now wishes she had never left mosul. >> ( translated ): i need my husband by my side. when i am sick he takes care of the kids, and makes sure we have food. but now i have no one, only god and my two kids. my life here is very hard. if i had known they would arrest
my husband, i never would have left my village. >> reporter: some residents held out. iraqi armed forces had cleared this village in north mosul 20 days ago when we arrived, and civilians here chose not to go to the camps. but now that the iraqi army controls this area, checkpoints are everywhere, and no one goes in or out without special permission. they say they're grateful to be rid of isis, but say there is no clean water, no electricity, not enough food. >> ( translated ): we've received food only two times in the last two weeks. we need gas, and oil for the generators. we don't want to go to the camps, we need to stay here to keep what is ours. >> reporter: half an hour later, we were at a former isis bomb factory looking at some vehicles that isis left behind. ( explosion ) we were hustled to a nearby home to wait out the shelling. so we just received a mortar from around 5-6 kilometers away. the general believes that
perhaps one of the civilians that saw us talking to all of the neighbors may have given information to isis that we were here, which is why we have received this mortar. there is no way to know for sure if someone informed on us, but it is a reminder that even in so-called liberated areas, there is still a very real war being fought. those who choose to stay may keep their homes and their dignity, but they now live in a state of limbo between isis and the iraqi army, and with that comes suspicion and danger. eight more rounds hit areas around us that afternoon. this local villager emerged from his home carrying a white flag and begging the army to let him take his family to the next village. he was told to stay in his home. back in the camp, miad may be out of the line of fire, but she faces every day alone. no information, no answers. >> ( translated ): god willing, he will come back to us. i am not the only one. too many others have been taken who have nothing to do with isis.
>> reporter: for now, all she can do is wait. for the pbs newshour, i'm marcia biggs, outside mosul, northern iraq. >> stewart: the confirmation hearings for president-elect trump's controversial pick for u.s. attorney general, alabama senator jeff sessions, is next week, but already his detractors are making themselves heard. the n.a.a.c.p. mounted protests across alabama on tuesday, against the sessions nomination. in mobile, the group's national president cornell brooks and five others staged a sit-in at the senator's local office. they were finally arrested for trespassing, when they refused to leave as the office closed last night. meanwhile, more than 1,100 law professors wrote to leaders of the senate judiciary committee,
and said, in part, "nothing in senator sessions' public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal judge." sessions' own senate career began 20 years ago, but that failed confirmation battle still echoes in this new fight. the n.a.a.c.p. and others cite at least three reasons to disqualify him as attorney general. on voting rights, the group points out his support for stricter i.d. laws and criticism of the 1965 voting rights act. on civil rights: it claims sessions "has repeatedly supported attempts to overturn desegregation." on criminal justice reform: the n.a.a.c.p. highlights his opposition to consent decrees to reform police departments. all of this comes to a head next week, at sessions' confirmation hearings. the big question is, what kind of attorney general could sessions be? for an idea, let's take closer look at his record in the senate, as well as his career as
a prosecutor in alabama. we are joined by john sharp, a reporter for the alabama media group; and sari horwitz, she covers the department of justice for "the washington post." jon, i want to start with you. jefferson boregard sessions iii has never lost an election. so over the course of his career as a prosecutor, as alabama's attorney general, and as a senator, what contributes to his popularity back at home in alabama? >> well, he stayed true to his roots over the years. he's an ultraconservative politician, and he's never really waivered from that. and alabama is one of the reddest of the red states. it is supported a g.o.p. presidential candidate since 1980. it's only getting redder. donald trump's returns on november 8 were the most that a presidential candidate's had in alabama since richard nixon in 1972. so senator sessions has, you
know-- he's been a darling for the conservative movement in alabama. and he has a spotless election record. his conservative viewpoints on anything from gun control to immigration reform to religious liberty has really sold well with the conservative voters here in this state who turn out and dominate on election days. >> stewart: what's an example of a way he stayed true to his roots on the local level? >> back in the early 2000s, the "mobile press register" at the time ran a series of stories about dental services in underserved areas, in small rural counties. and senator sessions, he saw those stories. he was interested in them. and he traveled around to various county where's these clinics were located and people weren't receiving dental services. and, you know, he made quite a high-profile splash at the time, at least on a local level, about wanting to get federal money set
aside for some of these clinics to help support them and provide services for folks at the time that were not receiving them. >> stewart: sari, when sessioning was the u.s. attorney for the southern district of alabama, he was described by one paper as an "in the trenches prosecutor." on the national level, how does he work as a senator? >> well, he's very respected by his colleagues. he's courteous and friendly, and he works well in the senate. he's been there for 20 years. but he's really known for some very extreme views on immigration, hard-line views on immigration. and in some cases, he's actually struck out in opposition to his republican colleagues and spoken out against legislation, especially on immigration, that was supported by his republican colleagues. >> stewart: john, when sessions was up for a federal judgeship in the 1980s, he had some very tough hearings.
there was testimony that he called another attorney, a black attorney "boy," that he joked about the k.k.k., that he had disparaging words about the n.a.a.c.p. and the a.c.l.u. he, obviously, did not get that post. how did that play pack home? >> well, that was an initial setback for senator sessions, but it played-- it played really well back at home. at the time, the people that were opposing senator sessions were some of the big names of the democratic party back then-- ted kennedy, joe biden, senator paul simon from illinois. and folks back home in alabama saw that and looked upon the whole situation as, well, it's us versus them. >> stewart: jim sessions, one of the first senators, if not the first senator to support candidate trump. it's such an interesting mix, you have this down to the roots son of the south. where do they meet? >> you're right. he was actually the first senator in february to endorse
donald trump. they met several years ago. donald trump came to testify on capitol hill, and they really hit it off. they're both-- they both have deeply conservative views. they see the world the same way. they see the world as sort of divided between working class and the elites. senator sessions refers to the elites as "masters of the universe." i think both donald trump and senator sessions see themselves-- they position themselves as champions of the working class. >> stewart: sari, almost two years ago, jeff sessions was on the hill, and he was addressing attorney general candidate loretta lynch, and he said this: >> you'll have to tell the president yes or no on something that he may want to do. are you able and willing to tell the president of the united states no if he asks permission or a legal opinion that supports an action you believe is wrong? >> stewart: sari has jeff sessions ever been in that
position when he's had to go against the grain, when he's had to say no or yes to something like that? >> i remember that moment when he said that to loretta lynch, and he actually ended up voting against loretta lynch, partly because of her answer, which is she supported president obama's executive actions on immigration. jeff sessions himself has gone grancy against the grain, but it's really been in the senate against his own party when he took on views on immigration that were opposed by other republicans. as i said, the republicans backed-- and democrats -- in 2013, backed an immigration bill, and he spoke out strongly against it. so he has gone against the grain when he really deeply believes in something, as he does on immigration. >> stewart: sari, senator sessions has described the attorney general's position as, "he or she set the tone for law enforcement in america." do we have any idea what his tone might be based on his actions as senator? >> you know, it's hard to say how he'll be as attorney
general, but civil rights groups are very concerned-- and this is what we've seen in the last couple of days-- the n.a.a.c.p. staging a sit-in in mobile, alabama. six people arrested. the a.c.l.u. today coming out with a big report critical jeff sessions. they don't take a position a candidate for or against, but very critical because they're worried about what he will be like as attorney general, especially in the area of civil right. they're worried about the civil rights division that under eric holder and loretta lynch enforced strongly the voting rights act and oversight of police departments. the justice department the last couple years has sued many police departments across america and forced reforms and civil liberties for police departments, and they have sued two states-- specifically north carolina and texas-- on the voting rights act. >> stewart: sari horwitz from the "washington post," and john
sharp from the alabama media group, thanks so much. >> woodruff: now, why some engineers and investors are making big bets to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors, while many remain concerned over risks associated with nuclear energy. miles o'brien has the story. it was completed as a co- production with our friends at pbs nova, tied to the january 11 documentary, "the nuclear option," his story is part of our weekly series, "the leading edge." >> reporter: this is where nuclear power began. welcome to idaho national laboratory. it covers a vast swath of high desert nearly the size of rhode island. it is dotted with experimental nuclear reactors that wrote the textbooks on how to generate power by splitting atoms. and now, a new chapter is being written here. >> if we're going to mitigate climate change, we have to think about how to develop new nuclear. >> reporter: laboratory director mark peters says concerns about
climate change have brought his industry out of a long nuclear winter. >> we're restarting a testing infrastructure to start to devep the next generation of nuclear power. so i'm just incredibly excited about the fact that we're finally starting to get a public dialog going, now that it's important to build the next generation. >> reporter: the bush and obama administrations and congress have concurred on that point. together they authorized tens of billions in loan guarantees for nuclear plant construction, and tens of millions in funding to develop what's known as generation-4 technology. >> generation-4 are future reactors that are based on different concepts, different core designs, different coolants. >> reporter: and perhaps his most promising client is an innovator from another industry. microsoft founder bill gates is among a handful of entrepreneurs with seemingly bottomless pockets, making big bets on nuclear power. in a 2010 ted talk, he announced he had co-founded a company
called terrapower. his partner is his former chief technology officer at microsoft, nathan myhrvold. >> we need to have base load carbon-free power, and nuclear is a great example of something that is base load carbon-free power. base load means 7 by 24, day and night, whenever, it's going to be there. >> reporter: terrapower's reactor uses a design that dates back to the first ever nuclear power plant, built here in idaho. it illuminated its first light bulbs in 1951. it's an entirely different design than the vast majority of nuclear reactors currently operating. the fuel was not cooled with water, but rather liquid metal-- sodium mixed with potassium-- which has a lower melting point, absorbs more heat, and has a much higher boiling point than water. it had some inherent safety
advantages over water-cooled reactors, which cannot safely shut down without electricity from the grid to keep cooling pumps running. this is what happened at fukushima in 2011; an earthquake and tsunami caused a station blackout that also destroyed backup generators and batteries. the reactors overheated and three melted down. >> it's now about five minutes until test time. >> reporter: 25 years earlier in idaho, engineers staged a prescient demonstration of the fukushima scenario in a sodium reactor. they deliberately shut off the coolant flow. in a water-cooled reactor, like fukushima, this would have caused an explosion, but this reactor safely shut itself down. >> it reaches a certain temperature and the reaction automatically shuts down and the reactor cools down by itself. >> reporter: sodium reactors do not need the equivalent of premium gas refined, or
enriched, uranium. in fact, terrapower says it can run its reactors on the leftovers from enrichment, depleted uranium. the biggest stockpile in the u.s. is here in paducah, kentucky, at a uranium enrichment plant. >> with our reactors, paducah, kentucky becomes the energy capital of the united states, because paducah alone has enough of this low-level nuclear waste, the depleted uranium, that we could run all of america's electricity needs for 750 years. >> this is a model of the navy's first nuclear powered submarine, the nautilus. >> reporter: the seeds of the decline for liquid metal reactors were planted by admiral hyman rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. >> this is the reactor, the atomic pile. there is uranium in here. >> reporter: he selected nuclear reactors cooled with water to propel the nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine. for utilities, adapting the
nuclear navy technology for use on land offered the fastest path to market. water-cooled nuclear reactors quickly became the norm all over the world. >> i think that there was a victory on the merits here and the other reactor designs did have the opportunity to prove themselves and they fell short. >> reporter: physicist edwin lyman is with the union of concerned scientists. he says the promise of this new generation of nukes should be tempered by the uncertainties. >> some non-water-cooled systems have a lower risk of certain types of accident. but they have greater risks of other kinds of accidents, or they introduce other security or safety issues, so there's really no free lunch here. >> reporter: but the private sector is apparently not dissuaded. a d.c.-based think tank, third way, found more than 40 startups across the u.s. developing advanced nuclear power designs.
these atomic business plans have lured more than a billion dollars in investment. >> i think a lot of it might just be the changing demographics of nuclear engineers that now there are a large number of young nuclear engineers who think, "i have a really good idea. i'm going to raise some funding. i'm going to see if i can do this on my own." >> how much do you have to worry about free fluorine formation? >> reporter: leslie dewan is one of the young entrepreneurs leading this revolution. she became enamored with some nuclear technology first developed 50 years ago at the oak ridge national laboratory. it's called a molten salt reactor. not table salt-- liquid fluoride salts. >> a molten salt reactor uses liquid fuel rather than solid fuel. >> reporter: having uranium dissolved in liquid offers some safety advantages. if the fuel gets too hot, the liquid expands, and the uranium atoms become too dispersed to maintain a nuclear chain
reaction, it shuts itself down. and in the case of a station blackout, like fukushima, the liquid fuel drains into a larger tank where it cools down passively. no electricity needed. at oak ridge, they successfully ran and tested a molten salt reactor for four years and it worked. but building a reactor that can withstand something as corrosive as a very hot bath of salt is a huge engineering challenge. at oak ridge, the funding ended before they could work on that. so the corrosion problem is the focus of early testing for leslie's dewan's startup company, transatomic. >> we can make something that works for five years, that works for ten years, like, that we certainly know. what we are trying to figure out now is whether we can use newer materials or new methods of corrosion control to extend the lifetime of the facility, because ultimately, we care about making this low cost.
if you have to replace your key components every ten years, it's not going to be cheaper than coal. and if it's not cheaper than coal, then it's not worth doing. >> reporter: without a tax, or a cap, on carbon emissions, matching the cost of fossil fuels will likely be an impossible order for these new nuclear designs. >> we don't put a lot of stock in seeing an alternative to water-cooled reactor being developed anytime soon, certainly not quickly enough to make a dent in the greenhouse gas problem. >> reporter: but in idaho, they are pressing forward with urgency. in the u.s., there are currently about 100 nuclear reactors in operation. the majority of them are slated for retirement in the 2030s. what will replace them? wind and solar? not without a breakthrough in battery technology to store power on the grid. >> the fate of the whole planet depends on us renewing our energy system with renewables and with nuclear.
and if we step back from that, we are going to create a tremendous problem for future generations. >> reporter: worries about waste, weapons proliferation and safety nearly derailed nuclear energy in the past. but, the quest to meet rising demand for energy, without wrecking the planet, has put new nuclear technology back on the agenda. miles o'brien, the pbs newshour at the idaho national laboratory. >> woodruff: on the newshour online right now, one of our >> stewart: and that's the newshour for tonight. i'm alison stewart. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. join us online, and again here tomorrow evening, when i sit down at the white house with vice president biden. for all of us at the pbs newshour, thank you, and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
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