PBS NewsHour for December 13, 2018 - Part 1
<Show: PBS NEWSHOUR>
<Date: December 13, 2018>
<Head: PBS NewsHour for December 13, 2018 - Part 1>
<Sect: News; International>
<Byline: Amna Nawaz, Malcolm Brabant, Nick Schifrin, James Mates, Judy
<Guest: Christine Brennan, Gregory Johnsen>
<High: A partial cease-fire in Yemen could help end a brutal war, as the
U.S. Senate takes a symbolic vote condemning Saudi Arabia. Outgoing
Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp reflect on their
elections, their time in Congress and what their party needs to do next.
The last ship in the Mediterranean helping migrants ceases operations due
to political pressure by European governments, leaving many stranded. A
new report details how USA Gymnastics leadership ignored allegations
against convicted child abuser Larry Nassar. One woman went from high
school dropout to the Federal Reserve Bank.>
<Spec: Federal Reserve Bank; Women; Larry Nassar; Abuse; Crime; USA
Gymnastics; Immigration; Europe; Claire McCaskill; Heidi Heitkamp; Yemen;
War; Senate; Congress; Politics; Donald Trump; Government>
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I`m Judy Woodruff.
On the “NewsHour” tonight: a starting point -- how a partial cease- fire in Yemen could help end a brutal war, as the U.S. Senate takes a symbolic vote condemning Saudi Arabia.
Then, outgoing Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp reflect on their elections, their time in Congress and what their party needs to do next.
Plus: The last ship in the Mediterranean helping migrants ceases operations due to political pressure by European governments, leaving many stranded.
VICKIE HAWKINS, Doctors Without Borders: The Aquarius has saved around 30,000 lives over the last three years, people that without that dedicated search-and-rescue capability on the Mediterranean Sea would otherwise have died as they undertook that perilous journey.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight`s “PBS NewsHour.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States Senate is challenging President Trump`s approach to Saudi Arabia on two fronts. Senators voted today to recommend ending support for the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen. That came amid news of a partial cease-fire agreement.
Separately, the Senate directly blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
We will have a full report after the news summary.
In the day`s other news: The president denied that he ever told his former personal lawyer to violate campaign finance law. Michael Cohen is going to prison for arranging payments, in 2016, to conceal Mr. Trump`s alleged sexual affairs.
But in a FOX News interview today, the president insisted Cohen acted on his own.
DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That`s why you pay them a lot of money, et cetera, et cetera. He is a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do any incorrect or wrong. And he understands that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, it`s reported that candidate Trump attended a 2015 meeting on how The National Enquirer might bury negative stories about his relationships with women. The Wall Street Journal and NBC News say Mr. Trump joined Michael Cohen and The Enquirer`s publisher at that meeting.
A woman accused of acting as a covert agent for Russia pleaded guilty to conspiracy today in a plea bargain. Maria Butina appeared in federal court in Washington. She admitted trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and set up back channels with American conservatives. Butina`s case is separate from the special counsel`s Russia investigation.
Police in France say they killed the accused gunman in the Strasbourg shootings. Officials say Cherif Chekatt died in a shoot-out there tonight. Security forces had been hunting him since Tuesday`s rampage that killed three people at a Christmas market.
Britain`s Prime Minister Theresa May was back at it today, asking the European Union for changes in a Brexit deal. This comes after she survived a no-confidence vote in her own party.
James Mates of Independent Television News has our report.
JAMES MATES: The warm glow of victory last night over the plotters at home may not have lasted long, as Theresa May moved straight to the next battle in Brussels.
She had come to ask, perhaps even to plea, for the legal guarantees she needs to get the withdrawal bill through Parliament. France`s President Macron just the first to say that legally binding commitments won`t be forthcoming.
“I think it`s important to avoid ambiguity,” he said. “We can have a political discussion, but we can`t reopen a legally binding agreement.”
Mrs. May has been making the case, explaining what she needs and why. They will discuss a response among themselves at dinner this evening without her. They will also talk about how to step up their preparations for a no-deal Brexit that looks ever more possible.
One of the reasons Theresa May may not get what she`s asking for here is a feeling among other leaders that, whatever they offered her, it wouldn`t be enough to get the withdrawal agreement through Parliament. They have watched the debate in London in the last few weeks, and optimism that this will all be wrapped up in the new year is pretty thin on the ground.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That report from James Mates of Independent Television News.
There`s new violence in the Middle East. A Palestinian shot and killed two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank today. Two other people were wounded, and the Israelis launched a manhunt, sealing off roads into Ramallah. Later, the army said soldiers killed a man who tried to ram them with his car. On Sunday, a premature Israeli baby died after another attack, and troops killed the suspected gunman.
China has confirmed it now that it has two Canadians in custody for allegedly endangering its national security. Michael Kovrig -- Kovrig, rather, is a former diplomat who lives in Hong Kong. Michael Spavor runs tours of North Korea.
Their detention follows Canada`s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese tech executive. She faces possible extradition to the United States on charges of violating sanctions on Iran.
Back in this country, the U.S. Congress gave final approval to overhauling its handling of sexual harassment claims. The new rules hold lawmakers personally liable for settlements, and eliminate a cooling-off period before victims can file suit.
California Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier said it`s high time for a change.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), California: Time is finally up for members of Congress who think they can sexually harass and get away with it. They will no longer be able to slink away with no one knowing that they have harassed. There will be transparency, and members will be held accountable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The measure goes now to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.
A federal appeals court panel has upheld an injunction against changes in federal birth control rules. The Trump administration wanted to let more employers opt out of providing women with free contraception. Today`s ruling came from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
And, on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 70 points to close at 24597. The Nasdaq fell nearly 28 points, and the S&P 500 slipped a fraction.
Still to come on the “NewsHour”: a partial cease-fire could be a starting point to end the brutal war in Yemen; two outgoing senators discuss their time in office and the gridlock among lawmakers; the last migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean ceases operations following pressure from European governments; and much more.
We return to the war in Yemen, and efforts to end it.
In Sweden today, the first fragile steps towards a possible resolution, as United Nations-brokered talks resulted in an agreement on a cease-fire.
And in the U.S. Senate, as Nick Schifrin reports, the Saudi role in Yemen, and America`s support for its top Arab ally, was subject to tough judgment.
And a warning: Some images in this story may be disturbing to some viewers.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Three thousand miles from the front lines, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called today a breakthrough.
ANTONIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General: This is a critical element for the future political settlement to end the conflict.
NICK SCHIFRIN: It`s been more than four years since the two sides started fighting, Shia Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, who seized the capital, Sanaa, and the internationally recognized Sunni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the U.S.
After one week of talks, the two sides agreed to reduce the fighting in Taiz. Armed Houthis will withdraw from the ports of Salif and the Ras Isa oil terminal, and, most importantly, a fire in Hodeidah, the epicenter of the most intense fighting and the port that accepts the vast majority of goods and humanitarian aid.
Mohammed Abdul-Salam led the Houthi delegation.
MOHAMMED ABDUL-SALAM, Houthi Delegation Leader (through translator): We have made very large concessions, and these concessions we made are for our Yemeni people, because Hodeidah is the only remaining corridor to rescue Yemen from starvation, famine and the catastrophic events in the event of continued military action.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But those military actions continue, and Yemen is already starving. The United Nations says over half of Yemenis face severe acute food insecurity.
For years, special correspondent Jane Ferguson has covered Yemen, and this summer smuggled herself into Houthi-controlled areas. Today, she said the humanitarian crisis is even more dire.
JANE FERGUSON: Twenty million people here are in need of food aid. That`s up from eight million from when I was last here in these rebel-held areas in June of this year. And that`s an indicator of how fast the situation here has been deteriorating.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Every 10 minutes, a Yemeni child dies. Since the start of the war, Save the Children estimated 85,000 children have died. And that makes many in Yemen skeptical that peace talks can end the violence or allow Yemenis to resume normal lives.
JANE FERGUSON: Many people have given up hope of any possibility that they would work because there have been so many failed attempts to get both sides of this war to sit down together in the past.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Seven thousand miles away, for the first time today, a bipartisan group of senators voted to end U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition.
The U.S. sells the kingdom its weapons and provides targeting assistance and intelligence. It also used to provide midair refueling. That assistance has been questioned in the past, but senators` criticism accelerated after a Saudi hit squad murdered and dismembered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who`d been critical of Saudi leadership.
New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez:
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), New Jersey: Saudi Arabia has joined a sinister clique, along with North Korea, Russia, and Iran, in its assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. A few more weapons purchases cannot buy our silence.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The CIA says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely ordered Khashoggi`s murder.
Today, the entire U.S. Senate went further in a resolution led by its sponsor, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), Tennessee: This is now unanimously, unanimously, the United States Senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a strong statement. I think it speaks to the values that we hold dear.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But President Trump has defended Mohammed bin Salman and made Saudi Arabia the center of his Middle East policy, from fighting radicalism to Middle East peace, to confronting Iranian regional proxies such as Hezbollah.
Today, away from cameras, Secretaries of State and Defense Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis briefed the House on the administration policy. And Republican Senator Marco Rubio warned today`s Yemen vote would help Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), Florida: They`re not just agents of Iran. They have launched rockets, ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia after civilian populations, including efforts to kill members of the Saudi royal family and government leadership.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Ultimately, the Senate actions are symbolic. The House won`t debate the Yemen bill, and the White House wouldn`t sign it into law.
But Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy said pressure from the Senate echoed in Saudi Arabia and led to today`s cease-fire announcement.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), Connecticut: The progress on the peace negotiations is not coincidental to this vote. And the concessions that were made by the Saudi side in the negotiations this morning wouldn`t have happened if it wasn`t for the pressure that the United States Senate put on those negotiations.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And to talk about those negotiations and the Senate actions today I`m joined by Gregory Johnsen. He has lived in Yemen, visited Yemen many times over the past 15 years, and is the author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America`s War in Arabia.” He was also a member of the U.N. Security Council`s panel of experts on Yemen.
Gregory Johnsen, thank you very much for being here.
GREGORY JOHNSEN, Author, “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America`s War in Arabia”: absolutely.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Let`s just start with Senator Chris Murphy there at the end.
Did Senate pressure help lead to today`s agreements in Sweden?
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Yes, I think they certainly had an impact.
I mean, the unfortunate truth of what`s happening in Yemen right now is that war and fighting is much easier than peace. And so the U.S. Senate -- and we should be clear, Saudi Arabia was not in the room. These were only negotiations between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels.
But that pressure I think, is an attempt by the Senate to change that calculation.
NICK SCHIFRIN: So, I have talked to some people who agree with you and say, yes, the Saudi-led coalition, the government that was in the room today, did make some concessions in part because of that external pressure, but also other people who say, well, wait a minute, they were actually interested or willing to agree to this, and it was the Houthi rebels, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who made new concessions in the last few days.
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Right.
I think what we see right now is that, for both sides, for the Houthi rebels, for the internationally recognized government of Yemen, for the Saudi-led coalition, right now, there`s very little domestic pressure on any of these different actors.
So there aren`t body bags coming back to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi leadership is, by and large, insulated from the shortages of this war, whether it be medicine or food. They`re not being targeted and killed.
So what needs to change is, there needs to be concentrated and sustained international pressure to change the behavior of the parties.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And the administration`s not doing that, so the Senate really is some of the source of that pressure.
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Right.
The Senate is the only one that can do it. As we said, this is symbolic. And so we will see if the new Congress in the new year takes this up again.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Let`s talk about some of the specifics that were agreed to today.
Hodeidah, the port that accepts 80-plus percent of all goods and aid that comes into Yemen, also the epicenter of a lot of the fighting, how significant is the agreement there? And how -- and can it hold, both the military aspects of it, but also the revenue distribution that comes from the port?
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Yes, that`s a -- that`s a great question.
So, first, we should be clear this is just a first step. And it`s incredibly, incredibly fragile. So what we`re talking about is, we have a text that`s -- the text that they have agreed to is basically a page-and-a- half. And there`s a lot of ambiguity written into this text on basically what security forces are going to be left in the port of Hodeidah, as well as in the city of Hodeidah.
The Houthis are right now in the city. The agreement calls for a cease-fire, calls for the Houthis to withdraw. But then security is going to be taken over by what the agreement says are local security forces. Are these people aligned with the Houthis? Are these people aligned with the government? It`s not at all clear.
And my concern is that perhaps both sides that signed on to this read the same sentence, but came away thinking two different things.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And that ambiguity extends to revenue distribution from the port, right?
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Absolutely.
So, right now, the agreement calls for all revenue from the port -- and, right now, the Houthis make about a third of their income from goods that are coming in through the port. The agreement says that all revenue will go to the central bank in Yemen.
The problem is, there are two central banks in Yemen, one under the control of the Houthis and one under the control of the government. And it`s not at all clear, at least from the text, which one is going to receive the money, and then how that money is going to be distributed.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Quickly, Taiz, which is either the second or third biggest city in Yemen, it`s been under siege for years. The agreement today could open a humanitarian corridor that`s important?
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Yes.
So, the Taiz agreement has actually less details than the Hodeidah agreement. And what`s different in Taiz is that there`s so many different actors that are fighting. Al-Qaida is there. ISIS is there. There are a number of different militia groups. There are so many different parties and so many different really groups with guns.
Today`s agreement was only between two of those. And it`s not at all clear, if only two people or two sides sign onto this agreement, if it`s an agreement that can actually hold on the ground.
NICK SCHIFRIN: So questions about whether the agreement can hold, questions about the ambiguity of the language.
But, zooming out, how significant is this day? It`s been more than two years since the two sides sat down, let alone made these kinds of agreements.
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Right.
So, in the short term, it`s a good first step. So, this special envoy, the U.N. special envoy, had trouble getting these two sides in the same country just a few months ago.
But, really, traditionally, in Yemen, and even in this war over the past four years, the difficulty has not been getting the sides to agree to different things. It`s been getting them to implement the agreements and actually having a lasting cease-fire that leads to a negotiated peace.
And I think, unfortunately, in Yemen, we`re still a long way off from that.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Gregory Johnsen, thank you very much.
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Thanks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The 2018 midterm election results lead to an influx of new female lawmakers coming to Washington, most of them Democrats.
But, in the year of the woman, two prominent female senators, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, are packing up their Washington offices this week and heading back to the Midwest after bruising reelection losses last month.
In a wide-ranging and revealing conversation earlier today, they shared their thoughts on Washington`s dysfunction, working with the president and the future of the Democratic Party.
But I started by asking them if the sting has lessened any and how they`re handling the setback.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), Missouri: Listen, I`m a competitive person. And, obviously, it stinks to lose. And of course I didn`t want to lose.
But I feel great about what`s around the corner, and I feel good about the time I have spent in the public eye. And I am definitely ready to move on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about you, Senator Heitkamp?
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), North Dakota: Oh, I think I`m sadder than Claire. But she had six more years to do amazing things on behalf of the people of Missouri and this country and to be a role model.
It would have been nice to get six more years. But, with that said, both of us have lost before, so we know what that feels like.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while it`s still fresh in your mind, Senator McCaskill, what lessons learned from this experience? I mean, I know you can`t condense a whole campaign into a few sentences, but what...
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Well, this is Donald Trump`s Republican Party. And Donald Trump camped out in my state.
And he had some manufactured optics, but a real television drama around the caravan. The spectacle around the Kavanaugh nomination, regardless of whether you felt he should have or shouldn`t have been confirmed, it was a spectacle.
And that really amped the enthusiasm in my state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about in North Dakota?
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: One thing that we discovered in North Dakota, where we used to have swing voters -- people would vote -- even if they were Republican, would consider voting for a Democrat who was successful and actually achieving results for the state -- that dissipated.
And, you know, early on in the campaign, my opponent said, she can never win because she`s a Democrat. And I think that the election proved that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But I want to ask you both about some of the arguments you were making during the campaign.
Senator McCaskill, you were spending a lot of time talking about health care, among other things, preexisting conditions. Why didn`t that work or resonate enough with voters?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think it did with many voters.
I think that`s why we set a record for the number of votes that a Democrat`s ever received in a midterm election in Missouri. But what resonated more with most people in rural areas was that they believe in Donald Trump.
And they thought that, because I was a Democrat -- and, frankly, Judy, one thing that we have got to be realistic about now is that long service and experience in elective office is not a positive anymore. It`s a negative.
And my opponent used that very effectively against me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Heitkamp, you were talking a lot about the tariffs. You have got farmers in the state of North Dakota, soybeans affected by the tariffs.
You made that argument. It didn`t -- it wasn`t enough.
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: Well, I think in part, because of the way soybeans are marketed, about half of them were already sold, and so it wasn`t going to affect this year`s crop, and we knew that.
But I think, more importantly, with the trade aid package, people felt like he had their back, the president was going to make it right. And, you know, people trust this president in rural America, even against what is obvious to me their political interests or their economic interests.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You said voters in your state voted against their own economic interests?
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: Sure. That always happens.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But that says the voters don`t understand what`s going on. I mean, is that what you`re saying?
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: Because we have different priorities.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: And, also, I think it`s very unfair to ever look down your nose at these voters. They are frustrated. They have worked hard. They have played by the rules, and they`re not doing as well as their parents.
They don`t feel like the dignity of their work is being respected or recognized. They think my party, our party has been too fixated on identity politics and cultural politics, and not enough on who they are and their frustrations and angst.
And give the marketer-in-chief credit. He may have a tortured relationship with the truth, but he tapped into that vein of anger and frustration of a lot of working-class voters, particularly in rural areas.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does this say about the Democratic Party? You two worked at times with him. There was no payoff there then for that, to put it very crudely.
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: I would say it this way: There was no payoff for results.
I could go through North Dakota`s economy and show the single most important things that happened in almost every sector, I provided leadership on and was able to deliver.
What it tells you is that we have become incredibly tribal. You know, in rural America, people feel like they have been forgotten. But their concern, as reflected in this election, is a mile higher than that. It`s about the cultural changes in the United States of America and how that basically reflects their position.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let`s talk just for a moment about the institution that you`re leaving, the Congress, the United States Senate.
How well is it working? Are the American people getting what they should be getting from this institution?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: You never want to kick something that you love in the teeth as you walk out. So I want to be measured in what I say.
But the year I came to the Senate in 2007, we voted on 306 amendments. This year, we voted on 36. The power has been centralized in leadership. Bills are being written behind closed doors, instead of in committees. Giant omnibuses are being plopped on our desks, and the lobbyists on K Street know more about what`s in them than we do.
There has really been a disintegration of this notion that this is a deliberative body. We have got to get back to the notion that, if you`re strong enough to be a United States senator, you got to stand up and take some tough votes, because we aren`t going to solve tough problems unless we take tough votes.
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: Yes, I think that from the time that I got here, what I really felt is that we`re in a culture of failure.
And to add to what Claire just said, we`re afraid to do really big things, because we`re afraid of failure. And part of that is an inability of people to see a goal or a result as the purpose, as opposed to winning for your party or sticking someone in the eye on any particular issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do you change that? Or can you change that?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Well, I don`t think it`s going to change much as long as Mitch McConnell is the leader. You know, and I`m not saying our side`s been perfect. We contributed to this kind of degradation of the notion that we could debate things in the Senate and vote on a variety of issues.
But he really sees everything through the lens of, how do I protect Republican members of the Senate and how do I get more Republican members of the Senate? He is a very political leader. He is not a policy leader. He`s very animated on how you win elections so that he can be majority floor leader and stay majority floor leader.
Well, you do that by controlling everything, and by only allowing votes that are going to hurt Democrats and not hurt Republicans. So it is -- it`s kind of this, you know, tail wagging the dog that we got into in the Reid years, and now it`s been taken to a new art form, witness Merrick Garland, in the McConnell years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It`s like a zero-sum game.
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP: You only have power as a group. That is what the United States Senate is.
And until you learn and figure out how to make things work as a group, you will continue to fail, and you will continue to reap the rewards in the public eye for that failure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do Democrats come back, in terms of the presidency and in terms of the Senate?