September 21, 2020 - PBS NewsHour full episode
September 21, 2020 - PBS NewsHour full episode
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: a titan of American law. The country mourns the passing of Supreme
Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as her absence sets up a contentious fight for her
Then: a grim milestone. The U.S. approaches 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. We remember
the victims and examine the path forward.
Plus: fallout. Even after withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the Trump administration
insists on the reimposition of sanctions against Iran, despite rejection from other global
And it's Monday. Tamara Keith and Amy Walter break down the impact of Justice Ginsburg
and the latest on the race for the White House.
All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
JUDY WOODRUFF: The stakes don't come any higher.
The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court
just before a presidential election. Now a battle royal begins, and the outcome could
decisively shift the high court to the right.
John Yang begins our coverage.
JOHN YANG: Flags flew at half-staff over the White House today to honor the late justice
who died Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Inside, behind closed doors, talks intensified,
as President Trump prepares to nominate a successor.
The president said he's narrowed his list of candidates to five, all of them women.
DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: I would say, on Friday or Saturday, I'll be
announcing the pick. It's five women are being looked at and vetted very carefully.
We will pick somebody that is outstanding, very qualified. They're all qualified, but
somebody that is outstanding. And I would rather see it all take place before the election.
JOHN YANG: The president's proposed timing would leave less than 40 days for confirmation
hearings and a vote before Election Day.
No Supreme Court justice has been confirmed that quickly since 1981, when Sandra Day O'Connor
was unanimously approved to be the first female justice a little more than a month after President
Reagan nominated her.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has insisted Mr. Trump's nominee will get a vote
on the Senate floor.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The Senate has more than sufficient time to process the nomination.
History and precedent make that perfectly clear. If our Democratic colleagues want to
claim they are outraged, they can only be outraged at the plain facts of American history.
This Senate will vote on this nomination this year.
JOHN YANG: But it's still unclear if there are enough Senate Republican votes to push
a nomination through. The party controls the chamber 53-47. Just four Republicans breaking
ranks would block the president's nominee.
Already, two of them, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said they
do not support a vote before Election Day.
Democrats slam the scramble to quickly confirm a replacement as hypocritical. In 2016, McConnell
refused to consider former President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace
Justice Antonin Scalia, who died nine months before the election.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Mitch McConnell believes that this fight is over. What Mitch
McConnell does not understand is, this fight has just begun.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOHN YANG: Yesterday, in Philadelphia, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said jamming
a nomination through the Senate would be an abuse of power, and he made a direct appeal
to Senate Republicans.
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), Presidential Candidate: Please, follow your conscience. Don't vote
to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have
Don't go there. Uphold your constitutional duty. The last thing we need is to add a constitutional
crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss, deeper into the darkness.
JOHN YANG: Biden said that, if he wins in November, President Trump's nominee should
be withdrawn and replaced with his own.
Outside the Supreme Court building, a steady stream of mourners paid their respects at
a makeshift memorial.
LEAH KRYNICKY, Washington, D.C.: It was because of the work that she's done that I was able
to have a good job that allowed me, as a single woman, to support myself and to choose to
have a family, to have reproductive choices that allowed me to delay pregnancy until I
was ready for it, and then to choose to do it on my own, to have the confidence that
my job would be OK.
DANIEL HICKEY, Washington, D.C.: The fact that we had a Supreme Court persona who was
dedicated to reason and justice and, I think, balance is something that is imperative in
our judicial system, particularly at the top.
JOHN YANG: Inside, black crepe drapes the entrances to the high court's chambers, Justice
Ginsburg's seat and the bench in front of it.
Ginsburg will lie in repose at the Supreme Court Wednesday and Thursday, placed under
the Portico at the top of the court's front steps to allow the public for outdoor public
viewing amid the pandemic. On Friday, she will lie in state in the Capitol's Statuary
Hall, before a private burial next week at Arlington National Cemetery.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to explore where we are now and what's next, I'm joined by our White
House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, and by our Capitol Hill correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.
So, hello to both of you.
And, Yamiche, to you first.
Exactly how does President Trump want to move forward with this? And what do we know about
who's on the short list?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, President Trump is eager to fill this Supreme Court seat vacancy,
and he has vowed to do so, and Senate Republicans have also vowed to do so.
He plans to make his nomination announcement as early as Saturday, and he wants that person
confirmed onto the Supreme Court before the election.
Republicans are arguing that there are a number of Supreme Court justices who were confirmed
in the number of days that we have from between now and inauguration. They point specifically
to the late Justice Ginsburg, saying that she was confirmed in 42 days, as well as John
Paul Stevens, who was confirmed in 19 days.
That being said, the president says he is going to nominate a woman. And we're told,
the president says that he has five women that are on the final list.
And I want to walk you through what -- who some of those women are. First, there's Judge
Barbara Lagoa. She is a federal Supreme Court - - or -- sorry -- a judge on the federal Court
of Appeals in the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia. In January 2019, she became the first
Hispanic woman on the Florida Supreme Court.
While on the bench, she voted in support of a Florida law requiring former felons to pay
court fees and fines to be eligible to vote. Some believe that that was unconstitutional.
Next is Judge Amy Barrett. She's on the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in
Chicago, Illinois. She's a devout Catholic. And that prompted tough questioning during
her nomination in 2017. And then she's also a former clerk for the late Justice Antonin
Scalia. He was, of course, revered by conservatives.
Next up is Judge Joan Larsen. She's the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in
Cincinnati, Ohio, a former Michigan Supreme Court justice and the University of Michigan
Law School professor, also a former federal prosecutor inserts. And, interestingly, Judy,
she once volunteered for the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden and Bob Dole.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we see that was some years ago.
But, Lisa, meantime, from the Hill perspective, take us through what the timing and the logistics
are of this. Could they actually get this done before the election?
LISA DESJARDINS: Republicans, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's office is stressing that
it is possible to get this done before the election. So, let's look a little bit about
how that would work, what exactly needs to be done.
If you can see this graphic, then you can tell there's -- Friday, this very Friday,
is 38 days from the election. So, a nomination on Saturday would mean 37 days that the Senate
has to make this decision.
What's involved? Well, the nominee would have to submit boxes and boxes of documents. For
example, with the Kavanaugh nomination, there were over one million pages of documents with
In addition, the nominee will likely have to meet with all 53 Republican senators and
perhaps some Democrats as well. All of that needs to happen in the space of just a few
weeks, Judy, because hearings need to happen in the Judiciary Committee. That usually is
at least one week.
Democrats can call for a one-week delay in that. Republicans can override it. But if
they try to go with normal procedure, Judy, what this all means is, there's just a space
of two or three weeks for senators to make a judgment on the Supreme Court nominee, setting
up a vote for the end of September.
And, Judy, where are the votes exactly? John reported on this in his story. But let's look
at where we are tonight exactly. It does take a majority of the Senate to pass a Supreme
Court nominee on the floor, so, 50 votes are needed.
Republicans, as John reported, have 53 members of the Senate right now. That means they could
lose four. As he reported, there are two, Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski,
who are against a vote right now.
So, who are we watching? These three senators, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Cory Gardner
of Colorado, who is up for reelection, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. He has said that,
if he were chairman, he said this summer, he would not hold a hearing on any vacancy.
And, Judy, he spoke to reporters not long ago, and indicated that a statement may be
coming from him tonight. We will be watching.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We will be watching.
And just quickly, Yamiche, what are you hearing from the people you talk to about how this
affects the election?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, this Supreme Court vacancy upends the 2020 election. It puts
the Supreme Court top, top of mind for voters.
It was already something that was going to be, of course, on people's minds. But the
coronavirus and now the Supreme Court, it really underscores the power of the presidency.
And I have been talking to some people who say the president is fund-raising off of this.
He's using a new rallying cry, "Fill that seat."
Democrats I have talked to are worried that this could depress Democrats, or some of them
say that they could also be motivated, because, if this does become a 6-3 majority for Republicans,
Democrats might be going to the polls in higher numbers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, another huge set of issues and aspects of this election to
follow up for both of you.
Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.
And now for a view from the Senate to give us a sense of what's next for Democrats in
their efforts to block a Senate confirmation of the president's choice for the court, I'm
joined by Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
How do you see the legacy of Justice Ginsburg?
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN (D-NH): Well, thank you for having me, Judy.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just a giant, not only in the field of law, where she paved
the way for so many women who came after her to practice law, but in the cases that she
chose to take on and the way she really stood for the proposition that, if people are free
to be themselves, it strengthens all of us.
And I think, for a lot of us, she was also a role model when it came to following a profession
she loved, but also raising a family.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And so when you hear President Trump saying he is going to nominate a replacement,
another nominee for the court, by the end of the week, and the Senate intends to vote,
Senate Majority Leader McConnell says there is going to be a vote soon, what is at stake
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: Well, it kind of takes your breath away, because, when you think
about four years ago, when they made the decision to block any kind of hearings for a nominee
from President Obama after Justice Scalia died, today, they're reversing themselves.
And what I think about a lot is what is at stake here. We're in the middle of a pandemic,
and the Senate Republicans have been attempting, for the last several years, to repeal the
Affordable Care Act, take away protections for people with preexisting conditions.
They haven't been able to do it legislatively. So, now, instead of coming together with Democrats
and crafting another COVID relief package to help people, they are rushing through a
nominee to the Supreme Court because there is a case before the Supreme Court right after
the election that would, in fact, repeal the Affordable Care Act and take away preexisting
So, that is their priority now, and that is what is at stake, is to put -- install a justice
who will take away health for millions of Americans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as I'm sure you know, one of the arguments they're making is that,
historically, when there has been a Supreme Court vacancy in the year of a presidential
election, and you had both the White House and the Senate majority of the same political
party, that 29 times those nominations have gone forward.
So, they are saying there is historical precedent for what they're doing.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: You know, they're coming up with all sorts of arguments to justify
their reversal here.
This election is already under way. People are voting already in early voting in lots
of our states. And, again, the real priorities of the American people here are for us to
come together, pass a continuing resolution to continue to fund the government, and come
together to do what we need to do to continue to address the pandemic.
And it is deeply disturbing to me, as it is to my Democratic colleagues, and I hope it
is to more of my Republican colleagues, that the emphasis here would be on rushing through
This would be a rushed process even if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic. And to
rush this through, in contradiction of the same standards they set four years ago, is
really, as I said, breathtaking.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, as I'm sure you also know, there is inconsistency on the part of
the Democrats' arguments.
Democrats argued four years ago that there should be a vote, and I'm going to quote something
that you said when you were running against your predecessor, Republican Senator Kelly
Ayotte. This is from -- we're going to lift something from a debate you had, and here
is what you said:
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: The Constitution of the United States says that the president shall
nominate a candidate to be a Supreme Court justice and that the Senate shall advise and
It doesn't say, except in election years. It doesn't say except when government is divided.
It says that you need to do your job.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, again, that was from a debate when you were seeking to unseat, to
defeat Kelly Ayotte.
And you made the argument that there should be a vote in an election year, even -- no
matter what the party difference was.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: And then the Republicans changed the rules.
I opposed what they did. They changed the rules. One of the things that we have to be
able to do in this democracy of ours is hold both parties to the same set of rules.
And I think it is critically important that the Republicans hold themselves to the same
standards that they held themselves to four years ago. I think it is important for predictability
in our democracy.
But, again, it comes down to why are they doing this? Normally speaking, you would not
rush a nominee through this quickly. You would not see the president of the United States
making a nomination just a week or so after the death of a justice. And there would be
serious consideration over the course of weeks and months of the nominee.
So, what I keep being struck by is, why the rush? And, again, we come back to the fact
that this is a Republican Senate that has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care
Act for a long time, and they seem to be in a rush to make sure they can install somebody
who is likely to vote in favor of doing that.
The American people, I think, believe that it is reasonable, given these circumstances,
and given what the Republicans did four years ago, to let the next duly elected president
make this nomination after he is inaugurated.
And I hope very much that my Republican colleagues will examine their conscience and decide to
join Democrats in insisting on that procedurally.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, I would just make the point that Democrats in 2016 and Republicans
this year are saying that the court needs all nine justices, all seats to be filled.
So, we're hearing the same argument from different parties.
Right now, though, it looks as if Republicans have the votes to get this through, doesn't
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: That's certainly one of the things we're hearing.
We haven't heard from all of our Republican colleagues. We are urging them, again, to
abide by the rules that they invented in 2016.
And I will also note that, on the question of needing nine justices in case there is
a dispute about the elections, the court currently has a 5-3 majority of conservatives.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meaning -- meaning what? That is still eight justices.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: Meaning, it is still eight justices, but, again, it didn't concern the
Republicans when they changed the rules four years ago.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to leave it there.
Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, thank you.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: Thank you very much. Stay safe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And for the Republican view on the Supreme Court nomination fight, tomorrow,
I will talk to Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.
In the day's other news: The nation neared a somber new milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic,
200,000 deaths. New numbers from Johns Hopkins University also indicated the global death
count is closing in on one million.
We will return to this right after the news summary.
There is another key court ruling in a presidential battleground state. A federal judge today
ruled -- or allowed, rather, Wisconsin to count absentee ballots up to six days after
Election Day. Meanwhile, campaign officials said that Democrat Joe Biden and his allies
began September with $466 million. That is $140 million more than President Trump had.
A former top deputy to special counsel Robert Mueller says the evidence was there that President
Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. But Andrew Weissmann says Mueller would not
say that explicitly because Mr. Trump could not be charged while in office. Weissmann
spoke to The Atlantic ahead of publishing his insider account.
The U.S. Justice Department threatened today to cut federal funding for New York, Seattle
and Portland, Oregon. It follows President Trump accusing the cities' Democratic mayors
of allowing anarchy and violence in anti-racist protests.
But, in New York today, Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed the threat.
BILL DE BLASIO (D), Mayor of New York: This is just another one of President Trump's games.
It's thoroughly political. It's part of his campaign strategy. It makes no sense. It's
not based on the facts in the least. It's insulting to the people of New York City,
and his effort to withhold funding is unconstitutional.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Justice Department says that all three cities have resisted federal
intervention to quell the unrest.
Another tropical system is plaguing the U.S. Gulf Coast. Tropical Storm Beta is due to
come ashore tonight in Texas, and then veer into Louisiana and beyond. It has minimal
winds, but heavy rain has already made rivers out of roadways in Galveston. Ultimately,
up to 15 inches of rain could fall.
On the West Coast, dozens of wildfires are still burning. The Bobcat Fire in Southern
California has doubled in size in a week, fanned by high winds. Flames have scorched
165 square miles of Los Angeles County hillsides.
The U.S. Commerce Department says that it will challenge a California judge's ruling
that delayed a ban on the popular WeChat app. The judge found that barring from app stores
could harm users' First Amendment rights. The ban was to have taken effect today.
On Wall Street, stocks fell on worries about new pandemic lockdowns in Europe and lack
of new stimulus action by Congress. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 509 points,
nearly 2 percent, to close at 27147. The Nasdaq fell 14 points, and the S&P 500 slipped 38.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": the U.S. approaches 200,000 deaths from COVID-19; the
Trump administration insists on the reimposition of sanctions against Iran; plus, Tamara Keith
and Amy Walter break down the political fight following Justice Ginsburg's death.
As the country approaches yet another tragic marker of the pandemic tonight, close to 200,000
Americans dead from COVID and related complications, we're going to widen our lens to look at how
the virus has cut across so many communities in the U.S. and to remember the lives being
William Brangham begins with what we know about the growing toll.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The slow beat of bells at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.,
on Sunday, 200 tolls as the nation approached 200,000 American lives lost to the coronavirus.
It's a daunting number, one that's hard to fully grasp. It's nearly twice as many Americans
who've been killed in every major conflict since the Korean War combined.
So, as the country marks this solemn occasion, we felt it important to take a moment to lay
out what the numbers tell us so far. It's been 242 days since the first reported case
of this novel coronavirus in the United States. Since then, there have been nearly seven million
more reported across all 50 states.
Daily cases have fallen from a peak of more than 70,000 in July to under 40,000 today.
All told, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arizona have seen the most cases
per capita so far. But over the last week, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Utah
have seen the most cases per capita.
New York, which suffered the worst outbreak early on, accounts for more than 16 percent
of all COVID deaths, with roughly 33,000. In New York City, one in every 360 residents
died. New Jersey, California, Texas, and Florida each have seen at least 10,000 people die.
But the five states with the highest death rates in the last week are Arkansas, Mississippi,
Virginia, Florida, and North Dakota. So far in the U.S., the virus has a nearly 3 percent
case fatality rate. More than 90 percent of deaths involving COVID-19 were people over
the age of 55. And more than 40 percent of deaths occurred in nursing homes or assisted
We also know this virus has taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color in this country.
Blacks, Hispanics and Latinos, and Native Americans are more than two-and-a-half times
more likely to get virus than whites. Those same groups are roughly five times more likely
to be hospitalized. And Black Americans are twice as likely to die.
Globally, among these major developed nations, the U.S. has, by far the highest number of
daily deaths. It's a number that will likely to continue to grow as we wrestle with our
national response to this global tragedy.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So sobering.
And, as we reach this devastating milestone, Amna Nawaz has more about the people behind
the number -- Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: That's right, Judy.
Over the last six months, we have tried to capture the heartbreaking and the staggering
loss of life by sharing the names, the faces, and the stories of just a few of the hundreds
of Americans who died each week from COVID-19.
And here they are, 115 mothers, fathers, teachers, nurses, artists and grandparents, from every
corner of the country and every walk of life.
One was Philip Kahn. He was 100 years old, but his family says as lively as ever. He
kept his album of military photos close at hand.
PHILIP KAHN, U.S. Air Force Veteran: I stood next to the Enola Gay, but I didn't know it
had a bomb on it. I didn't know I was four feet from the atomic bomb.
AMNA NAWAZ: An Air Force co-pilot, Kahn fought at Iwo Jima, later taking aerial surveys of
the devastation from U.S. atomic bombs. He settled in New York, worked construction on
the World Trade Center, and became a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
This is Lynika Strozier. Raised by her grandmother, she was diagnosed early with a severe learning
disability, but studied nonstop, and became a researcher at the world-renowned Field Museum
in Chicago. She was at home in the lab or out with friends and she was just 35 years
According to her wife, spreading love and fighting for justice was a calling for reverend
Vickey Gibbs. Her final sermon at her Houston church was an impassioned call to action on
the pandemic and racial inequality.
REV. VICKEY GIBBS, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church: Be the bridge to equality
by demanding and voting in change.
AMNA NAWAZ: Gibbs had a special bond with her grandson, whom she gifted the nickname
Boo. Reverend Gibbs was 57 years old.
Postal worker Jesus Collazos took time to greet every neighbor along his mail route
in Arlington, Virginia. He spent over 20 years in the Postal Service after immigrating from
Colombia. He and his wife raised two children in a home he first discovered along his route.
At 67 years old, he loved to show off his grandchildren on social media, always with
the caption life is good.
Hatsy Yasukochi was the heart of her family-run San Francisco bakery.
HATSY YASUKOCHI, San Francisco: I decorate cakes, I answer the phone, and I wait on customers.
AMNA NAWAZ: She lived by the Japanese phrase gaman , to persevere, enduring imprisonment
with her family in U.S. internment camps in the 1940s, and beating breast cancer as an
adult. The 80-year-old grandmother's bakery walls were adorned with family photos and
Dolly Raper was one of few fluent Cherokee speakers left in the Cherokee Nation and,
according to her family, made the best fry bread in Oklahoma. Known for her generosity,
friends say Dolly was always there with a helping hand. She never complained, not even
when battling breast cancer. The matriarch of her family, Dolly was a mother, grandmother
and great-grandmother. She was 67 years old when she died.
And those stories are just a fraction of the roughly 200,000 American lives lost to the
pandemic so far, leading to questions about how we got here and what can be done now to
save the U.S. from hitting another tragic milestone.
For that, we turn to Dr. Georges Benjamin. He is executive director of the American Public
Health Association, which is a professional group for physicians. And Dr. Megan Ranney,
she's an emergency physician and professor at Brown University.
Welcome to you both. And thank you for being with us.
I'd like to ask each of you this question.
Dr. Ranney, I will start with you, because it is such a milestone. It's a moment for
reflection. And people are struggling with how to process it.
So, I'm going to ask you first, Dr. Ranney, how are you reflecting on this moment, when
we have hit 200,000 American deaths?
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, Emergency Physician, Brown University: So, I first take a moment, as
you just did, to honor all of the lives that have been lost, both those that I have personally
touched in my emergency department, and the hundreds of thousands more across the country,
to also honor their families and their communities and the effect and the holes that those lives
lost are living -- are creating within their communities.
The second thing that I do is, I think about kind of how we got here, and what it is that
we need to do going forwards to keep this horrific number from doubling or tripling
or quadrupling in the months to come.
AMNA NAWAZ: And before we get to how we got here and where we go from here, Dr. Benjamin,
I would love to pose the same question to you, and also to point out another staggering
statistic for context.
When you look at the U.S. death toll, the U.S. makes up about four 4.2 percent of the
world's population, but accounts so far for 20 percent of all COVID-19 deaths worldwide.
Dr. Benjamin, how do you get your head around that number right now?
DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN, Executive Director, American Public Health Association: You know,
I also just first honor the people that tragically have died, and just remind myself that this
If you look at the rest of the world, they showed us a road map of what we should have
done to try to minimize our numbers, and we have not done that.
AMNA NAWAZ: When you look at this pandemic, Dr. Benjamin, we noted there in the piece
before, William Brangham noted in his piece, it is hitting different parts of America very
Depending on where you are and how you live and what you do, this pandemic is either scared
every time the phone rings that someone else is sick or has died, or it seems like a very
abstract headline unfolding in another part of the country.
You mentioned other countries, but when you look at how it is unfolding here, what does
that mean? The fact that it is unfolding so differently for different parts of America,
does that mean that that number, 200,000, resonates differently across the country?
DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN: It does.
It means that each of us have had a different experience, and we're reacting to that different
experience. And I think that's the reason we needed unified national leadership and
a unified national plan that we could roll out into the various communities when they
needed it. That has not yet happened.
I think, as we look to the future, we know what we need to do. The pathway is clear.
The science is clear. And prevention works. But we just have not done it yet.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Ranney, another statistic I want to point out to you, when you look
at the leading causes of death in the United States and the projections experts are making
for this year, it looks as if COVID-19 will be the third leading cause of death in the
That's after heart disease and cancer. You heard Dr. Benjamin just mention we haven't
had a federally led national response. We haven't had testing at the level most experts
say that we need it.
Would having all of those things, any of those things, would that have changed where we are
today, especially when you look at the fact that other countries took many of those steps
and still had to deal with their own surges?
DR. MEGAN RANNEY: Yes, absolutely, we would be in a different place today had we had a
comprehensive national testing strategy, had we had early activation of the Defense Production
Act to both get us testing supplies and to get us personal protective equipment and,
most importantly, had we had consistent, clear public health messaging for the American public
about what to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With those three things put together, we could have had a death toll that was half or a third
of what we're currently facing. We are alone among high-income countries in having the
per capita death rate that we do. We are one of the top 10 countries worldwide in terms
of our per capita death rate.
That is not the place we should be in, given our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
given our scientific prowess, given the National Institutes for Health. This is a failure of
national leadership and a national strategy that has gotten us to this point.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, Dr. Ranney, we can't go back and change what has or hasn't been done.
Very briefly, what needs to happen now? What can be done now so that the death toll doesn't
get as high as you projected it could?
DR. MEGAN RANNEY: Absolutely. I love that question, because this is the moment where
we can look forwards and talk about what we can do as a country and as individual communities.
So, we can insist on adequate testing supplies. We can all mask. There's ample evidence that
universal masking decreases infection rates by somewhere between 60 and 90 percent. That's
an extraordinary number. So, long before there's a vaccine, if we all wear masks always when
we're out in public, we can stop the spread of this virus.
We can also insist on improved national data to inform that public health messaging. And
I will say it again. Unfortunately, the federal government has been behind the curve in terms
of their provision of data so far.
So, academic institutions and nonprofits such as the one that I'm involved with, Get Us
PPE, have stepped in to fill the gap to provide data on where there are PPE needs, who's been
tested, what the positivity rates are, even the spread of COVID within schools. That's
all provided privately, instead of by the federal government.
So, we can support those efforts, and we can do it on a state or community level for now,
while we also put pressure on a national level to try to move our national strategy forwards.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Benjamin, in just over a minute left, I want to put the same question to you.
You heard Dr. Ranney we could see manyfold the death toll we have seen so far. Do you
worry we could see that?
DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN: Yes, I'm very worried about this.
I'm afraid that we just had 200 bells rung, and we're on a trajectory to have to ring
400 bills towards the end of the year, early into next year.
And I think, again, the point is, wearing a mask, washing your hands, keeping your distance,
not getting around in crowds, it's clearly the way to go.
And if I could add one more thing, because we're in flu season, get your flu shot.
AMNA NAWAZ: It's a good reminder for everyone out there.
That is Dr. Georges Benjamin and Dr. Megan Ranney joining us today, as America marks
a tragic milestone.
Thank you very much to both of you.
DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN: Thank you.
DR. MEGAN RANNEY: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, the Trump administration announced additional sanctions on Iran, after
declaring over the weekend that all U.N. sanctions initially lifted by the Iran nuclear deal
had been reimposed.
But that snapback of U.N. sanctions was rejected by much of the international community.
Here's Nick Schifrin.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Judy, the administration calls its policy on Iran maximum pressure, and,
today, it's trying to increase that pressure, but it also increased a showdown with its
An executive order imposes sanctions on Iran if it sells weapons and on anyone selling
weapons to Iran. And the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce sanctioned Iranians
affiliated with Iran's nuclear and missile industries.
That follows what the U.S. calls the snapback of U.N. sanctions over the weekend. These
were the sanctions that were lifted by the signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The
U.S. says U.N. sanctions are now reimposed on Iranian weapons sales, ballistic missile
tests, and enrichment.
But the other members of the Security Council and the other signatories of the Iran nuclear
deal say the U.S. did not have the legal authority to do that because it left the Iran nuclear
To talk about all of this, I'm joined by Elliott Abrams, recently named as the State Department's
special representative for Iran.
Elliott Abrams, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
It is not just the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians who say sanctions have not
snapped back at the U.N. The U.N. secretary-general has written a letter saying that he doesn't
recognize that the sanctions have snapped back.
Does that isolate the U.S. and reduce your ability to enforce these sanctions?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, U.S. Special Representative For Iran: I doubt it.
Sanctions enforcement really doesn't depend on what spokesmen in foreign ministries or,
for that matter, what the secretary-general say.
It depends on thousands of individual decisions by lawyers, bankers, company executives around
the world, who won't want to fall into the trap of U.S. sanctioning.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Let me ask about the other part of my question, which is isolation.
Your critics point out that the E.U. has an arms embargo on Iran, the U.S. has an arms
embargo on Iran, and that the practical impact of snapback was minimal, and it wasn't worth
breaking with European allies.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: I think, if you look at the executive order that the president signed
today, it is even broader than the U.N. arms embargo that did snap back.
It covers more weapons and weapons systems, and allows us to impose sanctions earlier
in the process. They don't have to wait until a weapon is actually delivered.
You know, when I looked last week at the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE and the prime
minister of Israel with the president, we didn't look very isolated, and we don't feel
isolated. And we think that, in fact, these sanctions are going to have a very significant
And what we hear from an awful lot of people, including from the Europeans, for that matter,
is that they wish the U.N. arms embargo had been extended. It was the failure of the Security
Council and the E.U. 3 to extend the U.N. arms embargo that led us to snap back all
of the sanctions.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Since the U.S. left the nuclear deal, Iran has stockpiled more uranium and
is enriching uranium at a higher rate, which means the time that Iran would need to produce
enough material for a nuclear weapon has dropped from 12 months to what experts say is three
to four months today.
If Iran is today closer to a nuclear weapon than it was before the administration left
the nuclear deal, how is that achieving your goals?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: If you look at the JCPOA, it is a pathway for Iran to get a nuclear
Here is what it can do after five years. And we are, of course, five year in. Here's what
it can do after eight-and-a-half years. More. Here's what it can do after 10 years. Here's
what it can do after 15 years. It is a pathway to a nuclear weapon.
And we're saying is, we're going to keep this pressure on until Iran is willing to negotiate
a comprehensive deal that actually closes the door to a nuclear weapon for Iran.
NICK SCHIFRIN: I want to take you back to this summer.
What is the message that Iranian leaders should draw from explosions across Iran, including
at the Natanz nuclear facility? Do you believe that those explosions were accidental or deliberate?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: You're asking me to comment on stuff that gets us close to classified
I think, though, that what they should conclude is that there is a fierce determination on
the part of many people around the world to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.
And a series of U.S. presidents, including President Trump, have said, we will not permit
them to get to a nuclear weapon. Now, these sanctions are another way of delivering the
same message. We are very serious about it, and others in the world are very serious about
it. They will not get to a nuclear weapon.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Does that suggest the U.S. or perhaps its ally Israel were behind some
of these explosions?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: No, it doesn't suggest anything, except that the Iranians are going down a
path that leads nowhere for them or for the Iranian people.
They will not be permitted to get a nuclear weapon. And everything they're doing down
that path only punishes them and the Iranian people, because this is something that, again,
a series of presidents from both parties have said with the greatest possible clarity, this
will not be permitted.
They're not acting like a country that's given up on its nuclear ambitions, not at all.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And, finally, in the time I have left, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad
Zarif today said that the book wasn't closed on the chapter of the killing of Iranian General
The U.S. has said that that killing reestablished deterrence. Does Zarif's line mean that deterrence
has not been reestablished?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: I took Zarif's comment as a direct threat, which is a remarkable thing
to have coming from the foreign minister of any country.
I mean, the president has already responded to their threats. And I think what it shows
you is that even the foreign minister of Iran is actually now in the business of threatening
terrorist attacks. It's pretty disgraceful.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Elliott Abrams, special representative for Iran, thank you very much.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not only left the country in mourning.
It has shaken up the presidential campaign with just six weeks left until Election Day.
To explore the new dynamic, we turn to our Politics Monday duo. That's Amy Walter of
The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" and Tamara
Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."
So, before I turn to you for comments, two things I want to let our audience know.
Number one, it is reported that, reliably, the president met with Amy Coney Barrett,
the appellate court judge, who is one of the people he's considering for appointment to
the Supreme Court.
And, separately, Lisa Desjardins wanted me to say to everyone that what she wanted to
say was that there could be a Senate vote by the end of the month of October. So, that's
And, with that, I'm going to turn to you, Tam, and ask you, how has what's gone on with
Justice Ginsburg, the fact that the president says he's going to nominate somebody right
away, they're pushing for a vote, how is this changing, affecting the presidential campaign?
TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Well, certainly, it is affecting the oxygen level
in the political universe, because Supreme Court fights -- and this will be a fight,
as the past couple have been -- Supreme Court nominating fights take all of the oxygen.
They block the sun. Pick your analogy. They are big, huge political events. And you can
see that already happening. I mean, this is a day when coronavirus has killed 200,000
Americans. We have hit this grim milestone, or are very near it, and it is not the top
story, because there is a Supreme Court vacancy, though Joe Biden today did try to turn the
focus back to coronavirus and other campaign issues.
But the reality is that this is going to be a huge focus right up until the election,
because the process is going to take that long.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, how do you see this changing the presidential race?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: So, Judy, since the beginning of January, we have
had an impeachment. We are still in the middle of a health crisis pandemic. We have had an
We have now the potential for a Supreme Court fight right before the election. Donald Trump's
approval ratings at the beginning of January were about 42 percent, 43 percent. Today,
they're 42 percent, 43 percent.
And the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in January of 2020 had Joe Biden up over Donald Trump
50 to 40 percent. This weekend, they put out a new poll. This is pre -- the poll was in
the field before Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, but had the race at 51-43.
In other words, it seems as if, Judy, at any moment, one of these one-in-a-lifetime events
is going to upend the trajectory of this race, opinions of the president, and it simply doesn't.
I think we have an electorate that is already supercharged, super engaged. These people
are going to show and up vote across the country no matter what. I do agree with Tam that it
definitely puts focus on the Supreme Court. So, it moves it off other issues.
But, honestly, in watching you speak with Senator Hassan and hearing the former vice
president today on the campaign trail, I don't know if it is such a great idea for the president
and for Republicans to have to talk about health care going into the final stretches
of this campaign.
Remember, health care was the issue Democrats used to really beat them successfully in 2018.
And there are no signs that health care is better for Democrats -- I'm sorry -- better
for Republicans this time around.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
And, Tam, I think a lot of the -- some of the assumption going in was that Republicans
would want to make this about reproductive rights, about abortion.
Just quickly, the reporting is that Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has been chairman
of the Judiciary Committee, a major figure on that committee for many years, is saying
he now is favor of going ahead with a vote. There was some question about what he would
But, Tam, how much does it affect the election whether this vote, they try to rush a vote
and get it done before the election, vs. waiting until after?
TAMARA KEITH: Yes, I'm not sure what difference it will make.
Certainly, in 2016, the idea of a court vacancy hanging out there and the election deciding
who would fill it was a very important part of the election for President Trump. He put
out that list of nominees back -- or potential nominees back in 2016, and it helped him shore
up the court among evangelical voters.
But what happens this time, I'm not really sure, and whether it happens on the front
end or the back end of the election, if Republicans are determined and have the votes to get it
done, it may not matter who wins in November in terms of this particular seat.
I will just say, though, that Democrats are energized. In the about 30 hours after Ruth
Bader Ginsburg's death, ActBlue, which is a fund-raising platform used by Democratic
candidates and causes, raised $100 million. That is a stunning amount of money. It's more
than double their largest single day before that.
So, money sometimes indicates where energy is. There's a lot of energy on the Democratic
side, and you can use that money. You can use that money to compete up and down the
JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of money being put on the Democratic side right now.
But, Amy, what about this question, just quickly, of before the election, a vote before or after
the election, and then the Senate races, a number of Republican incumbents who are in
tough races this year?
AMY WALTER: Right.
We have a lot of Senate Republicans who already know that they are tied to President Trump's
fate. If he loses their state, they are unlikely to win. So, the better he looks, the better
their chances, which is why you're seeing most of those Republicans who are up this
year getting behind -- or -- yes -- that are up this year getting behind the president.
One person who's come out against this, of course, is Susan Collins in Maine, but she's
always in that pickle, where she's going -- no matter what she says or does, folks who support
Trump in that state think she's wishy-washy.
Folks who have supported her in the past, especially independent voters in Maine, now,
because of her vote for Kavanaugh, say, even if she holds off for supporting it before
the election, or even if she says she won't support it during the lame-duck, we don't
know that we trust her enough -- I saw a voter quoted as saying that -- trust her enough
to think that she will follow through on that.
So, she's the one who's really caught most in that vice.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there are several other Republican senators we're waiting to hear
from, Tam, certainly Mitt Romney of Utah, Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
It's expected, as Amy said, they will back the president. But we don't know. We don't
TAMARA KEITH: Yes. And the magic number is four.
If four Republicans break off from the president, then this nomination -- and it's in the abstract
right now as to who it would be -- the nomination could be sunk.
We also don't know what will happen in the hearings. It may not matter what will happen
in the confirmation hearings. But there have, at times, been confirmation hearings that
changed the course or the trajectory. I will just say that, in 2018, a number of moderate
Republicans learned that there's no badge of courage that you get for separating yourself
from President Trump.
Democratic voters aren't going to support you and give you a cookie for straying from
the president. You still have an R next to your name. And if you lose the president,
he will tweet against you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
So -- and just quickly, Amy, we have seen Cory Gardner in a tough race in Colorado,
Joni Ernst. One of you may have mentioned her, both of them sounding like they're going
to be with the president.
AMY WALTER: Yes, absolutely, and Thom Tillis us in North Carolina as well.
And, again, all of the -- what all of those senators have in common, Judy, they came in,
in 2014. And so they don't have as much of an identity that's separate from the political
environment. As I said, how they do is tied very much to how the president does. And they
want to make sure that, if his voters are excited, and they get out and vote, well,
they're going to remember to vote for the Republican down-ballot too.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Many political calculi, or whatever the plural of calculus is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I will let you guys straighten me out on the math.
Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both. We appreciate it.
TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the "NewsHour" online, where photojournalist Sebastian Rich visited
U.N. peacekeepers in Cyprus to see how they are adapting amid the coronavirus.
You can find his images on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff.
Join us online and again here tomorrow evening.
For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.
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