February 22, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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02/22/2023 | 56m 45s | Video has closed captioning.
February 22, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening, and welcome.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
GEOFF BENNETT: And I'm Geoff Bennett.
On the "NewsHour" tonight, we report from the front lines in Ukraine as Russia launches new offensives ahead of the invasion's one-year mark.
AMNA NAWAZ: Senator Elizabeth Warren weighs in on the economy, immigration, and her plan to shore up Social Security.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): If we simply said that you're going to pay Social Security on all of your income, even if you are a billionaire, we can extend the life of Social Security to 2095.
GEOFF BENNETT: And Judy Woodruff begins her series America at a Crossroads, looking at some of the country's political divisions.
(BREAK) GEOFF BENNETT: Good evening, and welcome to the "NewsHour."
President Biden wrapped up his four-day trip to Poland and Ukraine, as we near the anniversary of Russia's invasion.
AMNA NAWAZ: Mr. Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to suspend participation in the nuclear arms control treaty a -- quote - - "big mistake."
At a meeting with Eastern European leaders in Warsaw, the president reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine and NATO allies.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: It's even more important that we continue to stand together.
You know better than anyone what's at stake in this conflict, not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom of democracies throughout Europe and around the world.
AMNA NAWAZ: Meanwhile, in Russia, President Putin attended a patriotic rally and urged his country to support Russian troops in Ukraine.
He also held talks with China's top diplomat and Russia's foreign minister in Moscow to underscore deepening ties between the two nations.
GEOFF BENNETT: And in the day's other headlines: A massive winter storm is bearing down on a huge swathe of the Western and Northern U.S.
It's threatening historic snowfall, strong winds, and bitter cold temperatures.
Today, it prompted the closure of hundreds of schools and the cancellation of more than 1,500 flights.
John Yang has our report.
JOHN YANG: Overnight in Utah, drivers faced treacherous roads and a deluge of snow on their windchills.
It's part of a powerful storm system cutting across much of the continental United States.
This morning, more than 50 million Americans were under winter weather advisories.
In Minnesota, the National Guard geared up for what could be nearly two feet of snow.
MELVIN CARTER, Mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota: We are bracing for what is likely to be one of the largest snowstorms in Minnesota history.
JOHN YANG: St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter warned residents to stay home and plan ahead.
MELVIN CARTER: Our ask to all residents is that you prepare now.
That means limiting nonessential travel and working from home whenever possible.
It means making sure that we have essential supplies, including food and medicine, for the week.
JOHN YANG: The storm left its mark on California, winds ripping down trees and power lines, cutting electricity to more than 100,000 people.
Some are predicting record snowfall in the Golden State, even at lower elevations.
UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.
DANIEL SWAIN, Climate Scientist, UCLA: The widespread nature of the potential for sea level snow is unusual.
It's almost a slam dunk there will probably be snowflakes at sea level and significant snow even up at 1,000 feet.
JOHN YANG: As the storm presses east, snow and ice are expected to hit New England tonight.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.
GEOFF BENNETT: Prosecutors in California today charged the man suspected of killing a Roman Catholic Bishop with murder.
Auxiliary Bishop David O'Connell was shot to death Saturday in his home east of Los Angeles.
The suspect, Carlos Medina, is the husband of O'Connell's housekeeper.
Authorities say they're working to identify the motive.
If convicted, Medina could face life in prison.
Palestinian officials say a rare daytime Israeli army raid killed at least 10 Palestinians and wounded more than 100 others.
It happened in Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military said the operation targeted three suspected militants wanted in several shootings.
Palestinians pulled bodies out from under a building that was reduced to rubble.
It was one of the bloodiest days there in nearly a year.
Back in this country, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a second bid this week to hold social media companies accountable for what their users post online.
The case raised questions about Twitter's role in the 2017 Islamic State attack on a Turkish nightclub.
Justices appeared to side with Twitter, casting doubt that the platform knowingly provided - - quote -- "substantial assistance" to an act of terrorism.
A daughter of civil rights leader Malcolm X has filed notice that she intends to sue the FBI, the CIA, and other government agencies for $100 million for the wrongful death of her father.
Ilyasah Shabazz says new information has come to light that alleges a conspiracy and a cover-up in her fathers assassination.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ, Daughter of Malcolm X: For years, our family has fought for the truth to come to light concerning his murder.
And we'd like our father to receive the justice that he deserves.
GEOFF BENNETT: The announcement came yesterday on the anniversary of Malcolm X's 1965 assassination.
A preview of the new Broadway revival of the musical "Parade" about a Jewish man falsely accused of murder opened last night to antisemitic protests.
The protesters held banners and harassed theatergoers outside ahead of the performance.
In a statement, the producers of "Parade" said -- quote -- "If there is any remaining doubt out there about the urgency of telling this story in this moment in history, the vileness on display last night should put it to rest."
And stocks were mixed on Wall Street today.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 84 points to close at 33045.
The Nasdaq rose 15 points and the S&P 500 shed six.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": a new poll gives insights into the political headwinds the 2024 presidential contenders could face; a political dissident freed from Nicaragua discusses his country's slide toward authoritarianism; and Judy Woodruff looks at the stark political divisions across the country.
With less than a year until the first primaries of the 2024 presidential contest, the battle lines are becoming clearer, and so is the field of candidates.
Lisa Desjardins takes stock of where the race stands.
LISA DESJARDINS: That's right, Geoff.
As President Biden readies a reelection campaign, potentially, his would-be Republican opponents are figuring out which voters could back them.
It's the focus of a new "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll.
Domenico Montanaro is senior political editor and correspondent at NPR.
And he's here to walk us through some of the results.
It's great to see you again.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, Political Editor, NPR: Good to be back, Lisa.
LISA DESJARDINS: Let's start with Mr. Biden, who is considering his reelection campaign or not.
What do these numbers say about him?
DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, I think everyone widely expects that Biden is going to run for reelection.
LISA DESJARDINS: Yes.
DOMENICO MONTANARO: And I think that that's actually had a big effect on Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who in this poll now for the first time are saying, a majority saying that they feel like their best shot in 2024 is with Biden, and not with someone else.
You can see Biden's approval rating is now up to 46 percent, ticked up a bit after his State of the Union address.
He's also up to 49 percent with registered voters.
The 46 percent is the highest he's been in a year.
The 49 percent is the highest he's been since the Afghan withdrawal, so good news for President Biden as he's heading into what's going to be, expected to be a campaign reelection.
LISA DESJARDINS: And how's he doing with independents?
DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, so, that's his one big vulnerability still.
This is a group that he won in 2020.
He's only got a 36 percent approval rating with independents.
That is still a problem and a thing that the White House is going to be targeting, looking at.
And it's why you heard in the State of the Union address a message that was so targeted seemingly to the center.
LISA DESJARDINS: Let's talk about the other presidential reelection candidate, of course, former President Donald Trump, who today was in East Palestine, Ohio, the site of that train derailment, of course, there making a pitch, saying he was trying to help out the community, talking about his criticisms of the Biden administration.
What do these numbers tell us about President Trump?
DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, it's not as rosy a picture for former President Trump?
He wants the job back to be president, but there are a whole lot of Republicans who are likely going to try to stop him from getting that job.
And what this poll finds is that there is actually an appetite for some other Republicans to try to get in, because you can see 52 percent of Republicans said that they want someone else.
They think someone else gives them the best chance to win; 42 percent say Trump, but that 52 percent, we're looking at people looking at potentially someone like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
LISA DESJARDINS: We're going to come back and talk about him in a minute.
But I want to also note that there are other someone elses seeing this opening, including, last night, we had a new Republican announce a candidacy on FOX News, Vivek Ramaswamy.
He is a businessman.
Here's what he had to say.
VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), Presidential Candidate: We are in the middle of this national identity crisis, Tucker, where we have celebrated our diversity and our differences for so long, that we forgot all of the ways we're really just the same as Americans bound by a common set of ideals that set this nation into motion 250 years ago.
And that's why I'm proud to say tonight that I am running for United States president to revive those ideals in this country.
LISA DESJARDINS: Ohio businessman, founded a pharmaceutical company and investment firm as well.
He's running on what he says his anti-wokism.
He's using that kind of phrase.
But I think a lot of folks when they say someone else, at the top of that list from polling right now is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
What do we see about him in this poll?
DOMENICO MONTANARO: Right.
And I think the biggest issue for Trump when you look inside these numbers of people saying that they don't want him or don't think that he's the best fit for 2024, he's really struggling with white-collar voters, people who make more than $50,000 a year, people who are college graduates.
And these are all people who DeSantis is actually doing well with.
When you look at Trump's numbers and DeSantis' numbers, it's like they're mirror images of each other when you look inside their favorability ratings.
You can see, with voters without a college degree, Trump does better.
Voters with college degrees, DeSantis does better.
Less than $50,000 a year, Trump does better.
More than $50,000 a year, DeSantis does better.
And with those Republican-leaning independents, that's where Trump really struggles.
He's at 50 percent -- 57 percent favorability, with that group, but really the dislike of Trump is what's so much higher than for DeSantis.
And DeSantis has a lot to prove Look, this is very early.
We have to say that there is room for a anti-Trump candidate who can appeal to those white-collar workers.
But the problem is, how many of them are going to get in?
If they flood the zone, a multicandidate environment is something that could ultimately help Trump because he does have a share of the pie.
Used to say in 2016 that it seems like it's made of titanium.
Maybe the metal has melted a little bit, but he still has a very sizable chunk of Republicans.
And if a lot of other Republicans flood the zone, it could give Trump an easy path to the nomination.
LISA DESJARDINS: Someone getting attention as well, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
He was in Iowa today.
He hasn't announced yet.
But this poll does ask about someone who did announce, which is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and also someone who presumed is interested, former Vice President Mike Pence, What do we say briefly about those two?
DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, two things on each of them.
Haley, the biggest issue for her is that 46 percent say that they're unsure about her.
It means she's got a lot to prove.
Pence, really not as well-liked as either DeSantis or Trump.
And that includes with white evangelical Christians, who are supposed to be Pence's base.
LISA DESJARDINS: Haley more room to grow, though.
We will see what happens.
Domenico Montanaro, thank you so much.
DOMENICO MONTANARO: Thank you for having me.
GEOFF BENNETT: And our thanks to Lisa Desjardins.
Tomorrow, we will have more results from our poll, including views on some of the biggest issues facing Congress, like the debt limit and aid to Ukraine.
And you can, of course, read more of the poll's findings on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
AMNA NAWAZ: As we approach the one-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a look at the ground war and the front lines.
Ukraine and the U.S. say Russian forces have launched offensives in three areas of Ukraine's Eastern Donbass region.
With support from the Pulitzer Center, Nick Schifrin and videographer Eric O'Connor visited all three parts of the front, starting at one of the most southern points on the front line, Novosilka.
And a warning: Some images in this story are disturbing.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The road to Ukraine's 1st Tank Brigade front-line position is bumpy and tense.
We're escorted by a sergeant, who tells us to stay low and move fast.
OK, let's go.
Trees provide the best cover.
Our guide calls ahead about our position using code words.
They refer to us as ants.
And so we go marching in single file on the same path Ukrainian soldiers take past the craters.
The Russian line is only a mile-and-a-half.
We have just heard an explosion nearby, so we are just a little taking cover.
Right now, we're trying to walk along the tree line, so that we're not too visible.
Trying to get to these Ukrainian trenches down the road here.
How are you?
Trees may conceal, but don't protect from the incoming.
The trench is the safest defense.
Ukraine's front line is 700 miles' long, this trench, just one small section, 1,000 feet, eight-feet-high, and where this unit has deployed for 3.5 months.
Ihor is the platoon commander.
He joined the military in 2014 after the initial Russian invasion.
He was recalled a year ago this week.
IHOR, Platoon Commander, 1st Tank Brigade (through translator): They're trying to attack our direction and to push through our defenses.
And we are not letting them do that.
We are holding our position.
We're doing everything possible to not let this happen.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Have they launched frontal assaults against these trenches?
IHOR (through translator): With small groups, three to four tanks and infantry.
They are attacking with artillery, as you can hear.
Their artillery is working.
That's how they do it.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Ukraine's infantry is tasked with the always vital, sometimes terrifying mission of holding the line.
Not all of them have made it.
IHOR (through translator): We have had wounded.
We have had killed.
It's a difficult subject.
I don't want to talk about it.
NICK SCHIFRIN: You don't want to talk about it.
IHOR (through translator): It's difficult to talk about.
I don't want to talk about it.
Any other questions?
NICK SCHIFRIN: Ihor lives where he fights.
He tries his best to keep out the cold.
Everyone here seizes a quiet moment when they can.
He has faith that Ukraine can win, but he predicts it will take years.
IHOR (through translator): The world should know that, while we're fighting the enemy here, the world is safe.
And the whole world should help us with everything they can and provide us with weapons to ensure this doesn't happen in their countries.
We're capable of stopping the enemy here.
Just give us the weapons.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Tanks are this unit's primary weapon.
The region is flat.
For Kyiv to have any chance to push through Russian lines, it says it will need more modern tanks.
But 26-year-old Yehor's T-64 tank was originally built in the 1970s.
YEHOR, 1st Tank Brigade (through translator): They are old.
And because they are old, they break all the time.
You don't have confidence that your tank is going to work tomorrow.
For us to advance, we need new weaponry, because these tanks are twice as old as I am.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Until new weapons arrive, all this unit can do is use it's armor like it uses its trenches, to hold the line against a larger Russian force.
YEHOR (through translator): In order to destroy the enemy and be more effective in our offensive, we need heavy weapons.
Without tanks, we're not doing anything right now.
It's not easy to destroy a stationary firing position, even a machine gun.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And Russia has a web of stationary positions.
They still control 20 percent of Ukraine.
And they have spent months digging in.
Russian trenches, vehicle barriers, and tank traps fill Ukraine's south and east.
They run all the way up to the northern part of the eastern front, where we visited next.
Russia controlled this land just a few months ago.
So, to prevent a Ukrainian counteroffensive, they mined the fields that we drove through.
MAN: Which direction is the Russians?
WOMAN: In front of us.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The 103rd Brigade's mortar unit positions itself as close as possible to Russian troops and as deep into a forest.
The more isolated, the harder to target.
The commander is a 46-year-old whose call sign is Kalina, a berry on Ukraine's coat of arms.
The front line here hasn't moved an inch since they arrived nine months ago.
Do you have the weapons you need to be able to fight effectively?
KALINA, 103rd Brigade (through translator): No.We don't have enough weapons.
We don't have a large enough caliber.
The largest that we keep is 82 millimeters, and we need at least 120 millimeters.
We keep telling our commanders about this, but, right now, no one is providing those to us.
NICK SCHIFRIN: They have been fighting for one year, but that doesn't mean it feels normal.
Their patch is the Lviv lion, Kalina's hometown in the country's far west.
Did you think you would still be here one year later?
KALINA (through translator): No, I have never thought I would spend so much time here.
I'm not young.
I'm not fit for the army.
I thought they would just train me and let me go home.
But it all happened in a different way.
And now were here.
NICK SCHIFRIN: They use drones to spot Russian targets, and then 20 rounds in about three minutes.
They adjust the mortar back to the original target and repeat.
But they admit they're limited by the quantity and quality of their ammunition.
And that means the best this unit can do as well is hold the line against the Russian troops they continue to target.
The next day, we headed to the outskirts of Russia's primary goal, Bakhmut.
U.S. officials downplay the city's importance, and have raised with Ukraine falling back to higher ground to defend larger cities.
But Ukraine calls Bakhmut a symbol of resistance and a gateway to the rest of Donetsk province.
The city has been largely abandoned or destroyed.
And the fighting has been fierce, targeting Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group.
The U.S. assesses it has taken 30,000 casualties.
Wagner's owner, who's close to Putin, posted this photo this morning identifying the bodies as those killed just yesterday.
The Ukrainian soldiers fighting for back out have witnessed some of the most brutal battles of the last year.
OLEXANDER (through translator): They are sending their soldiers as cannon fodder.
We target their equipment and their soldiers, but they keep coming and coming and keep dying and dying and even then keep coming and coming.
NICK SCHIFRINI: Olexander leads a 93rd Brigade artillery unit.
There are other units with more advanced equipment, but the vast majority are like this one.
Their self-propelled artillery is also from the 1970s.
The brigade gave us this video from a surveillance drone of what it said was its artillery hitting its target.
They and everyone here say the commute is worth it.
Olexander: This place is strategically important.
But first and foremost, this is our land.
And every inch of our land is of the utmost importance because people are dying for it.
If we give up, Bakhmut, we would be giving up so many lives of those who've been defending it for such a long time.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Have you lost men?
Have you lost friends?
Olexander (through translator): We've all lost someone in this war.
And keep losing.
That's how it goes.
This is war.
Senior You can't do anything about it.
But these are all losses that cannot be prevented.
They just happen because people kill people.
NICK SCHIFRIN: On the front lines.
Ukraine knows the price it will continue to have to pay, how many men it will continue to lose.
For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Nick Schifrin outside Bakhmut, Ukraine.
AMNA NAWAZ: Consumer protection drove Elizabeth Warren's academic work, launched her entrance into politics, and served as a central plank in her 2020 run for president.
In President Biden's State of the Union address earlier this month, he pledged to tackle something long on Warren's issue list, junk fees.
She joins me now to discuss that effort and if these priorities can become policies in a divided Congress.
Senator Warren, welcome back, and thanks for joining us.
Before we get to junk fees, I just want to ask you about a little bit of news on the immigration front this week, which was, yesterday, the Biden administration proposed a new rule that critics say is basically a revival of President Trump's so-called transit ban, which would bar people from seeking asylum if they have come through another country before arriving at the Southern border.
As you know, you opposed that policy under President Trump.
You said it goes against America's laws and our moral commitment.
Do you feel the same way today?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): So, look, I am always concerned when we are not opening ourselves and staying in line both with federal law and with our moral responsibilities.
But I also want to underscore the other part of this, that the president and his administration are clearly looking for alternative ways to deal with people who want to come to the United States and who are looking for sanctuary here.
This program is one way to try to do that to make sure that people don't have to take a long, expensive, dangerous trip in order to ask for help.
Let's face it.
The bottom line is, Congress needs to put in place comprehensive immigration reform.
In the meantime, the president is trying to meet our responsibilities, and to do it through administrative action.
And I'm glad that they're out there trying different parts.
I just want to make sure that we continue to live up to our moral responsibilities and international law.
AMNA NAWAZ: Well, to that point, Senator Warren, critics would say this does not live up to the promise of a safe, orderly and humane practice.
And, in fact, these are the same versions of policies that Mr. Trump put into place.
Do you disagree with that?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, this is why I said I am concerned.
If the point here is to bar people from being able to apply for help that international law says they can apply for, then that would be a terrible mistake for our country.
I want to see us do -- meet our moral responsibilities and our responsibilities under international law, but to try to do it in ways that do not force people to take long, dangerous, expensive trips, where they put themselves and their children at risk.
And that's what the president, I think, is trying to find that line.
It would be better if Congress were willing to take that on.
But, so far, the Republicans have blocked us on that.
AMNA NAWAZ: I do want to ask you about junk fees, which we know President Biden raised in his State of the Union address.
There does seem to be shared bipartisan frustration over things like families having to pay more for -- to fly together, have seats together or paying too much for Taylor Swift concert tickets.
Is there a bill, though?
That's the question.
Is there a bill and can it get through a divided Congress?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, so I'm going to push back on this just a little bit.
I'm not sure we need a bill for much of this.
I want to applaud the agencies that are starting to step up in this area.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stepped up and said, what do you mean you're charging $30 for a late credit card fee -- credit card payment?
There's not much additional risk associated with that.
I think that should be down around $8.
How it is that the banking regulators are stepping up and pressure from Congress, so that they are reducing the charges on check overdrafts.
Department of Transportation, come on, step up on this idea of charging fees for families to be able to sit together.
So I want to start with the notion that a lot of these junk fees basically fit under the idea that there's one advertised price for the service or for the good.
Same thing with hotels, right?
AMNA NAWAZ: Right.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: But, because of the junk fees, it actually costs $5 more or $10 war or $25 more.
AMNA NAWAZ: Senator, you and Senator Bernie Sanders just proposed a plan to shore up Social Security, raising the top rate of both income tax and capital gains tax for only people making more than $250,000 a year.
There's another argument here.
People say why not just raise the retirement age?
People are living a lot longer than they used to?
What do you make of that?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, every time I hear somebody say, just raise the retirement age, I think to myself, boy, there's somebody who didn't work construction for all of their life.
There's somebody who didn't have to pick up little kids as a kindergarten teacher or preschool teacher.
There's somebody who didn't work as a nurse all their life helping patients in and out of bed and helping roll people over.
In other words, just because people are living longer does not mean that you can still do those hard jobs at 65, 70, 75.
But, also, think of it this way.
If we simply said that you're going to pay Social Security on all of your income, even if you are a billionaire, we can extend the life of Social Security to 2095.
Plus, we can increase Social Security payments by $200 a month.
I mean, look, bottom line is, this is math and values.
And the math is that if, we simply bring in a little more revenue, we can actually make the Social Security system work on through the rest of this century.
But it's also about values, how we're going to do that.
Is it more important that we protect the wealthy and the well-connected, so that they don't have to pay taxes on their million-dollar incomes, multimillion-dollar incomes?
AMNA NAWAZ: Well, Senator, what about that or -- pardon the interruption -- or what about that?
What about eliminating the benefit for people of higher incomes?
Would you support that?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Why eliminate the benefit?
Why not just have people pay taxes?
That's the notion of a tax system in the United States.
And that is, as your income goes up, you pay more in taxes.
Believe me, they will still be earning a whole lot more, but pay Social Security taxes on that as well.
That way, we don't have to increase taxes on America's middle class, on America's working families, and we don't have to cut benefits.
In fact, we can raise them.
AMNA NAWAZ: I want to ask one more question looking forward to next week, because the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan.
It's a plan you really pushed to make happen.
But if it's struck down, millions of borrowers, for the first time in nearly three years, may have to start repayments on those loans.
Is that something they should start preparing to do?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, I have no doubt that the president has the legal authority to cancel this debt.
My concern is whether the Supreme Court is going to apply the law or they're going to play politics.
When Donald Trump was president, he canceled billions and billions and billions of dollars of interest rate payments that were -- canceled them, didn't defer them, canceled them.
And not one Republican, not one court lifted a hand to say there's any problem.
They said, of course, he's legally entitled to do this.
The president of the United States now is also legally entitled under the law to cancel this debt.
And keep in mind who's going to be helped by this.
We now know that 90 percent of the people who are going to get help from this debt cancellation make $75,000 or less.
It means that, if this goes through, half of all Latinos are going to see all of their debt wiped out and about a third of African Americans, people who worked hard, who 40 percent of them did not end up with a college diploma, but who got out there and tried.
And the consequences of their having tried, when they came from families that couldn't just afford to write a check in order to pay for college, is that they are getting crushed by this debt.
The president has designed a plan to help get people out from underneath that debt.
The law lets him do that.
I just hope the Supreme Court and the Republicans stay out of the way.
AMNA NAWAZ: That's Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts joining us tonight.
Senator Warren, thank you, as always, for your time.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you.
GEOFF BENNETT: Earlier this month, Nicaragua exiled hundreds of political prisoners to the U.S. All of them and dozens of other Nicaraguans were stripped of their citizenship by a government that has become increasingly authoritarian.
At Washington's Dulles Airport, a day of joy and a moment of relief and reunion.
Juan Sebastian Chamorro is one of more than 200 Nicaraguan political prisoners freed earlier this month and flown to the U.S. JUAN SEBASTIAN CHAMORRO, Former Nicaraguan Political Prisoner: I was sentenced to 13 years in prison, without any proof.
GEOFF BENNETT: Nicaragua has been under U.S. sanctions for decades, but officials say the release was a unilateral decision by President Daniel Ortega.
DANIEL ORTEGA, Nicaraguan President (through translator): We are not asking for anything in return.
It is a matter of honor and for them to take their mercenaries away.
GEOFF BENNETT: The people he calls American mercenaries include students, human right defenders, and opposition leaders who were arrested for challenging his rule.
They were released, but forced into exile.
The government revoked their citizenship and that of 94 more Nicaraguans who Ortega calls - - quote -- "traitors to the motherland," including one of the country's best-known writers, Sergio Ramirez.
SERGIO RAMIREZ, Nicaraguan Writer (through translator): This has no basis in any legal standards.
It violates them.
But we have received infinite solidarity from around the world.
GEOFF BENNETT: Once a close ally of President Ortega, Ramirez was a prominent figure in the 1979 Sandinista revolution.
He served as vice president during the 1980s in the first Sandinista government led by Ortega, but broke with him in the 1990s over his excessive grip on power.
SERGIO RAMIREZ (through translator): What I remember is a shared leadership in the revolution to create a common project for the country.
That project can be judged either way today.
But it was a project, and that's what Nicaragua is missing now.
GEOFF BENNETT: Nicaragua was at war with the Contras, a U.S.-backed rebel group that fought to eradicate communism, when Ortega came to power in 1984.
He was then defeated in 1990 by opposition candidate Violeta Chamorro, another close ally who had defected from the Sandinista party.
CYNTHIA ARNSON, Woodrow Wilson Center: But you see defections after defections.
GEOFF BENNETT: Cynthia Arnson is a distinguished fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center.
CYNTHIA ARNSON: There were people who -- in the Sandinista movement who had embraced the anti-authoritarian, anti-repressive aspects of the Sandinista movement and became gradually disaffected as the -- as Sandinismo became much more associated with a personalistic dictatorship around Daniel Ortega.
GEOFF BENNETT: Ortega was elected again in 2006 and vowed to never lose a future race.
He abolished presidential term limits.
At one point, he embraced the private sector and brought government growth.
But then came a decade of what U.S. officials call sham elections and crackdown on dissent, then more intimidation.
More than 2,000 NGOs and at 50 media outlets shut down.
Political opponents poised to run against him in the 2021 elections were arrested.
CYNTHIA ARNSON: Even if you can believe public opinion polls seem to desire a change, Ortega is not going to allow that.
And that is why he imprisoned so many people in advance of the November 2021 elections.
GEOFF BENNETT: But, with their release, there's now renewed hope, however faint, for a return to democracy.
I spoke recently with Felix Maradiaga, a former Nicaraguan presidential candidate and political prisoner who is now exiled in the U.S.
He spent nearly two years in captivity.
And we spoke about his experience inside one of the country's most notorious prisons.
FELIX MARADIAGA, Former Nicaragua Political Prisoner and Opposition Leader: For years, even before I became a politician, I was a human rights defender, an academic.
I focused most of my life in post-conflict reconstruction, civil society.
I met with other former political prisoners around the world.
But having experienced that myself, it's even today something hard to something hard to describe.
I was in a small cell of the first day -- to be exactly, the first 84 days.
I was officially disappeared, in the sense that the government did not allow my family, my lawyers, or anyone to know about my whereabouts.
GEOFF BENNETT: How were you able to endure that, 84 days in solitary confinement, most of it spent in complete darkness?
FELIX MARADIAGA: I used my faith as my source of strength, prayer, meditation.
But, mostly, I was convinced that my wife had become a relentless advocate for my freedom and the freedom of all political prisoners, as we had agreed, because I knew that, at some point, I was going to be arrested, and also my convictions, my principles.
I got into Nicaraguan politics to pursue a basic human rights in Nicaragua.
GEOFF BENNETT: On February 9, the Ortega government released you and 221 other political prisoners.
Take us back to that moment, that moment you realized that you were free.
FELIX MARADIAGA: They asked us to dress in civilian clothing, and then we were put on a bus, handcuffed with our heads looking down.
So we did not know what was the direction of the bus.
Suddenly, about 40 minutes later, we arrived at the Managua airport, and we were asked to sign a paper.
It's a -- basically a one-liner saying that we voluntarily would leave the country towards the United States.
And only then we learned that we had been expelled from the country and sent into exile.
However, we did not know that we had been stripped from our nationality.
We learned that upon landing in Washington.
But watching, seeing U.S. diplomats traveling from Washington to Managua to free us, to welcome us into an airplane, it's something that I can only define as truly the shining city on the hill.
So, I need to -- and I feel I need to thank the American people for welcoming us.
GEOFF BENNETT: What does your release signal or suggest about the stability of the Ortega regime?
Does it signal weakness on their part?
FELIX MARADIAGA: Absolutely.
It signals that everything in his playbook has not worked so far.
He tried, as he did with me and many others, to beat us.
I was severely beaten in two occasions.
He put us into prison, as he did with hundreds of political prisoners prior to our release.
And we continued to fight in a nonviolent way.
So, he used banishment as his last resort.
GEOFF BENNETT: What are conditions in Nicaragua right now for everyday citizens living under the Ortega regime?
FELIX MARADIAGA: From what I have learned, the situation is very hard, in the sense that everyone who issues an opinion, everyone who tweets or to even uses private messaging to speak a private opinion is subject to arrest.
The police has full control of Nicaraguan information and the way in which people exchange information.
I think that it can only be compared to a sort of a tropical North Korea.
Even private companies are requested to present a list of people that have been involved in any type of opinion against the government.
Newspapers are shut down.
University students are expelled out of universities because of their political ideas.
It is something unheard of in Latin America.
And, more recently, over 300 people stripped from their nationality, something that is against international law.
GEOFF BENNETT: Secretary of State Tony Blinken called the release of you and other prisoners, he says it's "a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in this country."
President Ortega has been in power for more than a decade.
There's nothing to suggest that he's going anywhere anytime soon.
What do you think comes next?
FELIX MARADIAGA: Well, as we have seen in other cases of Latin America, there's always the possibility that dictators will remain there for a while.
But I also know that there are many, many Nicaraguans who are committed to our nonviolent, peaceful, democratic struggle for a new Nicaragua, a new Nicaragua in which even Sandinista supporters are -- will be welcome to be part of a new nation.
Nicaragua has had cycles of violence precisely because those who are former political prisoners, as Ortega himself was a prisoner in the 1970s, once they are free, they become what they used to hate.
In our case, we made it very clear that we want to break that cycle of violence.
We want to establish freedom and democracy in our country.
So we will go back, and we will continue to work for that Nicaragua that we love.
GEOFF BENNETT: Felix Maradiaga, thanks so much for your time.
We really appreciate it.
FELIX MARADIAGA: Thank you.
AMNA NAWAZ: For the last several weeks, Judy Woodruff has been digging into one of the most pressing issues facing our nation, deep divisions and distrust in some American communities.
Tonight, she begins with a look back at our recent history and some of her own to try to better understand the nature of the divides we face and why this moment feels different.
It's part of her new series, America at a Crossroads.
PROTESTER: What do we want?
JUDY WOODRUFF: From fights over our rights...
PROTESTERS: Our rights are not up for debate!
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... to defining who we are...
PROTESTERS: Immigrants are welcome here!
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... what we believe...
PROTESTERS: We, the people, will not comply!
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... and what we teach our children...
PROTESTERS: Shame on you!
Shame on you!
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... America is a house divided.
And, in many ways, it always has been.
Would you agree with Governor Carter, Dr. Cretch (ph), that it is difficult to find qualified women?
JUDY WOODRUFF: I first came to Washington in 1977 to cover Jimmy Carter, the former governor and peanut farmer I had followed as a local news reporter in Georgia, where I spent my teenage years.
RONALD REAGAN, Former President of the United States: Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. President, how concerned are you that...
I stayed in Washington after Carter's landslide loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980 through six more administrations, trying to better understand how our government works, what motivates our leaders, and how their decisions affect hundreds of millions of Americans across the country.
What happened today, Jim, was that a feud that has been simmering for weeks between Democrats and a group of conservative Republicans finally reached a boiling point.
It all started... Over that time, I have watched partisan disagreements grow increasingly hostile.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): Always delighted to yield to our distinguished speaker.
REP. THOMAS P. O'NEILL (D-MA): You deliberately stood in that well before an emptied House and challenged these people, and you challenged their Americanism.
And it is the lowest thing that I have ever seen in my 32 years in Congress.
BARACK OBAMA, Former President of the United States: The reforms -- the reforms I propose it I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
REP. JOE WILSON (R-SC): You lie!
(AUDIENCE BOOING) DONALD TRUMP, Former President of the United States: How stupid are our leaders?
How stupid are these politicians?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: That means Congress doesn't vote -- I'm glad to see... JUDY WOODRUFF: To the point that, today, there is an unwillingness to work with or often even talk to the other side to confront our shared challenges.
MAN: The debt debate in Washington heated up with the federal government set to hit its legal limit on borrowing in less than a week.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Rising distrust by the public in our big institutions from the federal government and public health officials to journalists.
DONALD TRUMP: We are a nation that no longer has a free and fair press.
Fake news is all you get.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We have watched partisan battles that undermine our ability to deal with real problems.
Much of the federal government was dark after Congress failed to agree on a stopgap funding bill.
Shocking acts of violence directed at our political leaders.
MAN: Giffords remains sedated three days after being shot in the head at point-blank range.
LISA DESJARDINS: For at least five minutes, gunshots crackled across the Northern Virginia baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, was severely beaten with a hammer this morning.
And even attempts to subvert the machinery of democracy itself.
JOHN YANG: Chaos erupted at the U.S. Capitol today, when pro-Trump demonstrators breached barricades and pushed their way inside.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Our current and former presidents of both parties acknowledge that something has changed over time.
JOE BIDEN: But we didn't have many people playing on the fears of the American people.
It has gotten too mean.
It has gotten too personal and gotten too divisive.
GEORGE W. BUSH, Former President of the United States: So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to fear, anger, resentment.
That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I have long wanted to better understand what has been happening, the forces driving us apart, and what can be done to overcome them.
And that is what this series, America at a Crossroads, will be about.
To begin, I want to ask the most basic questions: How divided are the American people and how different our divisions today from what we have seen before?
How are you?
Good to see you again.
To find out what survey data show, I visited the Pew Research Center, the nonpartisan think tank in downtown Washington that's studied public opinion, demographics, and social issues for decades.
Carroll Doherty and Jocelyn Kiley design and analyze polls that Americans take online each year, revealing how people think and feel about a range of issues and how those feelings change over time.
CARROLL DOHERTY, Pew Research Center: The country is more divided certainly along partisan lines, than we have seen it.
There have been divisions in the past along other lines, but this is a moment where the divisions are deeper than ever and the intensity of dislike for the other side is probably deeper than ever as well.
JOCELYN KILEY, Pew Research Center: I think it is fair to say, on virtually every domain you can think about, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is bigger than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
And so when I say that, I mean, on, say, immigration, on abortion, on gun policy, on size of government.
There have always been partisan gaps on these issues, but they are all wider than they used to be.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That is true not just of the American public, but of its leaders as well.
JOCELYN KILEY: If you go back 30 years ago or so, there were a sizable share of Democrats in Congress who were more conservative than the most liberal Republican, and vice versa, a sizable share of Republicans who were more liberal than the most conservative Democrat.
That hasn't been the case for nearly 20 years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It also shows up in presidential approval ratings, which have fallen sharply since the 1950s for both parties.
CARROLL DOHERTY: It used to be that people would reserve their judgment about the new president.
There would be a lot of "don't know"s if you asked about a new president.
And now people go to their partisan corners a lot more quickly in terms of evaluating a new president.
So there is not as much of a honeymoon, as we used to call it in the old days.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that also due to people feeling part of their party and their party is opposed, so, therefore, they are opposed?
CARROLL DOHERTY: Yes, they are, exactly.
So, for Biden and Trump, it's very -- people make their judgments very quickly, again, on the basis of their own partisanship.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is another trend that really worries Doherty and Kiley, the degree to which people from one side not only disagree with, but actively dislike those on the other.
CARROLL DOHERTY: It is not new that Republicans have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party and vice versa, but these very unfavorables is what we are focused on here.
And these are the sort of intensely negative.
And you see that tripling just about between 1994 and 2022 on the Republican side and a huge spike on the Democratic side as well.
And so the shares of people who have this intense dislike for the opposing party has grown so much over the past 20 or 25 years.
JOCELYN KILEY: We have asked for and while these questions about different traits.
And you can see in this graphic that, for instance, 72 percent of Republicans say that Democrats are more dishonest than other Americans, and 64 percent of Democrats say the same about Republicans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Carroll, it is striking.
You look at the numbers.
CARROLL DOHERTY: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just, in 2016, 35 percent of Democrats thought Republicans were immoral.
Today, it is 63 percent.
And Republicans, it has gone from 47 to 72.
CARROLL DOHERTY: It is quite striking.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jocelyn, from a polling point of view, from an researcher, academic point of view, what is striking about that?
I mean, we are talking, I don't know, 22, 20 -- less than 30 years that this has happened.
JOCELYN KILEY: I think one way to think about this is that people have internalized partisan identity maybe in a way that we didn't really see, say, three decades ago.
So it is about issues.
It's about emotions.
And they kind of feed on each other, meaning, as you see the other party further apart on issues, you are less likely to socialize with them.
You're less likely to have them in your friend groups.
And, therefore, maybe you are a little bit more likely to have negative stereotypes about them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that is what I wanted to ask you.
Who is pushing this?
Where -- who is the instigator in all of this?
Is it Washington pushing the American public, or is it the American public pushing Washington?
JOCELYN KILEY: Yes.
(LAUGHTER) JOCELYN KILEY: It's both of those things.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's both.
JOCELYN KILEY: It really -- it really is both.
And we can -- you can think about the role of the media in this too.
CARROLL DOHERTY: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.
JOCELYN KILEY: Over this time period, we started to see more fragmentation of media, so people who tend to be more likely to get their news from places that show them the kind of news they are interested in, the rise in cable news, the rise in social media.
And so I think it would be very difficult to say this is top-down or bottom-up.
It is a mix of both of those.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Add to that list a country that is rapidly changing demographically, extremely high levels of inequality and very low trust in government, regardless of who is in power.
JOCELYN KILEY: We talk about the ways the two partisan coalitions are growing more demographically distinct.
They are also growing more distinct in terms of their issue positions and then also in terms of how they feel about one another.
And each one of those contributes to each other.
CARROLL DOHERTY: Is this pattern just going to continue?
Are we just going to see this get more and more intense over time, this partisan antipathy, this partisan hostility, leading to perhaps negative consequences for the country?
JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is what I will be diving into over the next two years, trying to better understand the roots of our disagreements, where policy differences end and where you might call identity politics begin, and asking Americans from all walks of life how we can move forward towards solutions.
LILLIANA MASON, SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University: Well, decades ago, we disagreed over things like the role of government or the size of government or what we wanted the government to be doing.
And with those types of divisions, we can find a compromise.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In my next report, I will speak with political scientist Lilliana Mason to try to understand how our identities and our politics became so intertwined and what that means for our challenges ahead.
LILLIANA MASON: What we are seeing today is, the divide is much more about our feelings about each other.
We are angry at one another.
Democrats and Republicans don't trust one another.
And these types of feelings are not the kind of thing we can compromise with.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For the "PBS NewsHour," I am Judy Woodruff in Washington.
AMNA NAWAZ: And we will have Judy's second installment of America at a Crossroads next month right here on the "NewsHour."
AMNA NAWAZ: And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight.
Join us again tomorrow for a look at the latest battleground over reproductive rights.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
GEOFF BENNETT: And I'm Geoff Bennett.
Thanks for being with us.