September 23, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
September 23, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: boosting the vaccine.
A CDC advisory panel approves a third dose of Pfizer's shot for Americans most vulnerable
to developing severe cases of COVID-19.
Then: border crisis. A top diplomat resigns, protesting what he calls the Biden administration's
inhumane treatment of Haitian immigrants in Del Rio, Texas.
And politics and the high court. Justice Stephen Breyer shares some of what goes into his thinking
about his retirement considerations and weighs in on concerns the Supreme Court is too political.
STEPHEN BREYER, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: You are there not for the Democrats,
not for the Republicans, not for the party of the president who appointed you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
JUDY WOODRUFF: The effort to vaccinate millions of Americans against COVID-19 is moving toward
a new phase tonight.
An advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today recommended booster
shots of the Pfizer vaccine for people 65 and older, for nursing home residents, and
those between 50 and 64 years old with underlying health issues.
Amna Nawaz has more.
AMNA NAWAZ: That's right, Judy.
The CDC panel did vote against recommending a third shot for those considered high risk
because of occupational setting. This all comes after the FDA last night granted emergency
use of Pfizer boosters for vulnerable populations.
For perspective on all of this, I'm joined by Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo. She is a physician,
epidemiologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thanks for making the time.
So, the CDC panel recommends this Pfizer booster for a wide swathe of Americans. It's fair
to say the group they said no to, basically all adults who they consider high risk because
of their jobs. What did you make of that decision?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO, University of California, San Francisco: Yes.
It's important to know that many people are at high risk because of their jobs. But, really,
they're at high risk because of having an exposure to coronavirus and having repeated
exposures to coronavirus, not necessarily from having a severe outcome.
And I think that's what they were looking at the data. But, importantly, for all of
those individuals, they would be covered by the broader CDC recommendation, in particular,
if they're older or if they have an underlying chronic condition.
AMNA NAWAZ: Now, we know that these recommendations right-hand binding. So, do you think that
states could interpret them differently and maybe even lower the barrier for boosters,
depending on their own vulnerable populations?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Right.
I think what you will see here, because my understanding is that it's mostly going to
be self-attestation -- that is, we're trying to lower the barrier so individuals can self-identify
in order to get their boosters.
What you will see, I suspect, is a lot of people who are anxious to have the boosters
who have already been vaccinated will rush out to get them. And I think what the question
is, is how individual states really focus efforts on making sure they get the word out
to people who are additionally vulnerable because of occupation or because they might
not understand or hear the CDC message as it's delivered today.
AMNA NAWAZ: Now, we should clarify, we're just talking about the Pfizer vaccine. That
was the only vaccine up for discussion today.
It's about 100 million Americans or so who have gotten both doses of that particular
vaccine. We know Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are requesting that same emergency approval.
But what do you make of the way that they're rolling this out one vaccine at a time? Is
that going to lead some confusion to the rollout?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Absolutely.
I think that the CDC and the FDA are following the science. And, unfortunately, the science
comes in, in fits and starts and piecemeal. The challenge is, of course, in the messaging
because I think, for many Americans, it will be the question, well, I got Moderna or I
got J&J. What should I do?
And, there, we don't yet have guidance from the CDC on what to do. I think the urgency
is there to help have a unified message for all adults on what to do if you're six months
out from your vaccination.
I think there's particular urgency for J&J, where we know the efficacy has been a little
bit lower, to get that second dose for the one-shot vaccine into people. And I suspect
that's what you will see more discussion and urgency around in the coming weeks and months.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, this part stood out to me from the panel debate today.
We should remind people that 55 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated.
The data they presented today show that people who are already vaccinated have a very high
interest in getting a booster shot, right?. Seventy-six, 80 percent of those people say
they want to get that third shot.
But among the unvaccinated, there was data that showed the need for a booster could make
those people less likely to get vaccinated at all. What does that say to you about the
push for boosters?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: I know that was a very distressing part of the presentation
today, because, ultimately, even though we want to protect those who are most at risk
for severe outcomes -- and that is the effort and the spirit behind the booster recommendation
today -- we ultimately don't have good control in this pandemic unless we get first and second
dose shots into those who are not yet vaccinated.
And I think you see in the debate today and in the messaging the real need to both emphasize
that people who are not vaccinated get the vaccine and worry, concern that the very fact
of approving a booster might lead those people to misunderstand the message that they don't
need to get the vaccination at all.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, in the minute or so we have left, just want to ask you about
where we are right now, because the states that do have those lower vaccination rates
are seeing higher average COVID deaths.
Nationwide, the U.S. is reporting over 2,000 daily deaths. That's the highest seven-day
average since March. Have those numbers peaked? Where are we?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Right.
I think what we're seeing today is exactly this play out. We have these highly effective
tools in the vaccines, but we haven't been able to get them into as many people as is
necessary to really turn the tide in this pandemic.
The boosters are going to help. They're going to help those who are most vulnerable to severe
outcomes. But our path forward, especially as the data suggests today and the urgency
of the crisis today, really is to make sure that we get as many first and second doses
into as many people as possible. That's the path forward.
AMNA NAWAZ: That is Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the University of California, San Francisco,
joining us tonight.
Thank you so much for your time.
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: African leaders appealed to rich nations today not
to give booster shots before others obtain a first dose.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Namibia's president called it vaccine apartheid. South Africa's
president pointed to a stark disparity.
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, South African President: It is an indictment on humanity that more
than 82 percent of the world's vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while
less than 1 percent has gone to low-income countries.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We will take a closer look at vaccination efforts in Uganda later in
The U.S. special envoy to Haiti resigned in protest today over expelling Haitian migrants
back to that troubled nation. Daniel Foote called it inhumane and counterproductive.
U.S. officials say that 1, 400 Haitians have been expelled. About 4,000 remain near Del
Rio, Texas. And thousands have been returned to Mexico or released in the U.S. We will
take a closer look after the news summary.
A shooting today in Tennessee left two dead, including the gunman, and 12 wounded. It happened
at a grocery store in Collierville, about 30 miles east of Memphis. Police say the shooter
opened fire, and then turned the gun on himself. There was no word on a motive.
In Louisiana, a federal grand jury indicted former state policeman Jacob Brown for beating
a Black man with a metal flashlight in 2019. He's accused of violating Aaron Bowman's civil
rights. It is one of several investigations involving beatings of Black men by Louisiana
Democratic congressional leaders now say they have a framework deal to pay for a huge spending
measure covering social and environmental programs. They gave no details today. And
there's no agreement on the final size of the bill.
Party leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said they still favor $3.5 trillion.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We're finalizing on the outlays side, so, if we need more,
we need less, that will impact the choices we make there. But this was great progress.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Party progressives and moderates remain divided over how big the spending bill
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule to sharply limit the use
of coolant gases known as HFCs. The goal is a reduction of 85 percent in the next 15 years.
HFCs help cool refrigerators and air conditioners, but scientists say they help fuel global warming.
California is now the first state to bar Amazon and other giant warehouse employers from punishing
or firing workers over productivity quotas. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill on Wednesday.
Backers say the quotas can drive up workplace injuries.
On Wall Street, stocks rallied again as concerns eased about Federal Reserve policy. The Dow
Jones industrial average was up 506 points to close at 34764. The Nasdaq rose 155 points.
The S&P 500 added 53.
And an ancient clay tablet was repatriated to Iraq today. The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet
is 3, 500 years old. Officials say it was illegally imported to the U.S. in 2003, and
wound up in the private Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Federal agents seized
it in 2019.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": one country's desperate battle to fight the Delta variant
amid a scarce supply of vaccines; Justice Stephen Breyer on his new book about why the
Supreme Court isn't as political as some believe; the United States and the European Union are
teaming up to tackle climate change; and much more.
As we reported, Daniel Foote, who was the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, resigned in protest
today, putting the spotlight again on the Biden administration's handling of mostly
Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas.
Our own Yamiche Alcindor broke the story of the special envoy's resignation, and she joins
So, Yamiche, hello.
What more do we know about his decision? What was behind it?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the former envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, essentially said that
he didn't have a voice in this administration. He said that he was ignored.
He also said he didn't want to be connected to what he saw as cruel and inhumane policies.
He said that it was wrong to be deporting Haitians back to Haiti, because that island
nation is facing a number of crises, including the aftermath of the political turmoil, the
assassination of the president, as well as an earthquake that hit the country last week.
I want to -- last month, rather.
I want to read part of Daniel Foote's letter, because it was a blistering letter.
It said, in part: "I will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive
decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees. The collapsed state" -- and he's referring
to Haiti -- "is unable to provide security or basic services. Or more refugees -- and
more refugees will fuel further desperation and crime."
So there he is saying that Haiti is actually being harmed by sending back -- the United
States sending back Haitian migrants. He also said that the United States shouldn't be supporting
and backing the current prime minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, saying instead that he
said that the United States should be working with civil society, which is something that
we have told our viewers over and over again, which is what the civil society has been pleading
with the Biden administration to do.
That said, officials in the Biden administration have been pushing back very hard on Daniel
Foote. They have been saying that his allegations are false, that he's miscategorizing why he
was -- why he's resigning.
The secretary of state, as well as the deputy secretary of state, the White House press
secretary, they all say that his views were valued, they were heard; they just were not
I also spoke to a senior administration official who said Daniel Foote never actually raised
objections to Haitians being deported or to their treatment on the border.
That being said, that's something that, of course, Daniel Foote takes issue with.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Yamiche, you were telling us you have also been in touch with a number
of Haitian leaders, Haitian activists, who have been very critical of the Biden administration's
response to all this.
What are they saying? And what is the administration saying to that?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, there's a lot of outrage.
People are saying that this is cruel, the way that the United States is treating Haitian
migrants. I talked to one activist. His name is Alix Desulme. He's a councilman in North
Miami, Florida. And he's also the chairman of the National Haitian American Elected Officials
Here's what he had to say:
ALIX DESULME, National Haitian American Elected Officials Network: They need to find a solution
for those who try to get here, to treat them fairly. We don't know what's the difference
between this administration and the previous administration.
So this is not what I think anyone has signed up for.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: He also said that President Biden's silence on this speaks volumes.
And I pushed the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, on this specific issue, on President
Biden not speaking out. Here's what she said.
Why is he not using that bully pulpit to speak out forcefully himself on the treatment of
JEN PSAKI, White House Press Secretary: His point of view is also reflected in the actions
that have been taken through the administration, including the investigation, including the
change in policy.
The secretary of homeland security oversees these efforts, and has been quite outspoken
and quite visible on what steps we should take moving forward. And he certainly may
still speak to it.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: So that was the White House press secretary talking about a number of
Part of the policies that change it is that the Department of Homeland Security has now
launched an investigation into those images of Border Patrol agents on horseback using
reins against migrants. They're also suspending right now the horse patrol unit in Del Rio,
So that is a big change that they announced today. That being said, activists want to
see so much more done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Really interesting.
Finally, Yamiche, what is known about what's going on right now at that Del Rio crossing
in Texas, where many of these migrants still are? And what happens next?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: They're -- at its peak, the migrant camp was at 14,000 people living
in squalid conditions with no food, with very little access to water.
Now it's down to about 3,000 or 4,000 people, officials say. They also say, though, that
deportations are going to continue. These repatriation flights, there have been 13 of
them to Haiti so far, that they're going to continue because of Title 42, which is a Trump
era law connected to public health.
That being said, the administration has also said that some families, some young children,
some pregnant women, that they're going to be allowed to stay in the United States. And
sources tell me that the majority of these migrants are actually being allowed to stay
in the United States now.
But we will have to watch to see if there's any other policy changes, because activists
are saying the way that some of these migrants are being treated, they're being treated like
slaves, they say. And that's, of course, a big accusation. But it's an accusation made
out of passion and outrage.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Such a fast-moving story. And I know you are continuing to stay on top of
Yamiche, thank you very much.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Thanks so much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yesterday's announcement by the Biden administration that is donating
500 million doses of COVID vaccine to developing countries aims to address the lopsided global
distribution of vaccines.
In Africa, Uganda is still struggling to vaccinate its most at-risk groups. So far, there have
been more than 120,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 and just over 3, 100 deaths. But the real
numbers are likely much higher.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Kampala.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It is a rare and random-event in Uganda, a vaccination site that actually
has vaccines. About 200 AstraZeneca doses were dispensed to people like Eunice Mwinike,
who'd tried before and failed to get a shot.
EUNICE MWINIKE, Uganda: I tried once. Then I waited for three months. Then it came.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: College instructor Joseph Okiror got his shot because teachers are getting
JOSEPH OKIROR, Professor: I feel I'm lucky, because I deal with a lot of students. And,
as a result, I made it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They are among the few. Only 2.3 percent of the country's 44 million
people have received their first dose. The wait for a second stretches weeks beyond the
recommended eight to 12 weeks.
Some of the country's vaccines have come from COVAX, the U.N.-backed sharing initiative
whose supply has fallen far short of its goals. The government's plans to purchase directly
from India fell through after that country stopped exporting vaccines amid its own devastating
So, vaccination sites sit empty, hastily brought into service whenever doses arrive, many of
them donations from Western countries and China, consignments varying by brand, many
from surpluses nearing their expiration date.
DR. JANE RUTH ACENG, Ugandan Minister of Health: We appreciate the dose-sharing. We do appreciate.
But it doesn't begin even to address the needs.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng is Uganda's minister of health.
DR. JANE RUTH ACENG: Other countries are thinking about a third dose, a booster dose. And we
are just beginning to say, how do we get teachers vaccinated? Should the African continent that
has been so marginalized in vaccine distribution sit back and say, let us close our economies
and wait for vaccines to come in?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In April 2020, with many countries experiencing infection surges, Uganda
implemented a strict lockdown, shutting down schools, most travel, even religious gatherings.
That appeared to contain the virus, until the Delta variant emerged in June. Most of
Uganda's cases and some 3, 100 deaths have occurred since, overwhelming the spartan health
care system, until the government clamped down with another six-week lockdown.
DR. ELIAS KUMBAKUMBA, Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital: It was very severe. We had about
30 patients in the hospital. And, yes, it was straining, because there was -- it wasn't
set up specifically to manage that kind of volume of COVID patients.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Elias Kumbakumba is on a COVID task force at the main government
hospital in Mbarara, Uganda's second largest city. \
How many ventilators do you have?
DR. ELIAS KUMBAKUMBA: We have 10, but a few of them, I think about three, are not as functional
as they should be.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And this is a hospital that is serving four million.
DR. ELIAS KUMBAKUMBA: Four million people in the region and beyond.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Most of those people would find it hard to even get to this hospital.
Transportation is a barrier for over half the population who earn less than $2 dollars
a day, on days they actually work.
And during the lockdowns, work and transportation became even more scarce. Private providers
may live closer, but, for many, they are unaffordable.
Dr. Charles Kasozi says he's tried to keep his prices affordable in his modest dispensary,
catering to low income neighbors near the town of Entebbe. At the peak, he had 20 COVID
patients and struggled to obtain oxygen and medication.
How much does it cost to ventilate a patient with COVID?
DR. CHARLES KASOZI, Saint Anthony Polyclinic: It may cost two to three millions, per day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Two to three million?
DR. CHARLES KASOZI: Per day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That's between 600 and 800 U.S. dollars per day.
So you think a lot of people die in their homes?
DR. CHARLES KASOZI: Some people died in their homes, because they cannot pay their hospital
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Stories are rife of price-gouging in private hospitals.
ALLANA KEMBABAZI, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights: Before you're treated, you
must present a land title, which most Ugandans just can't...
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To pay for the care?
ALLANA KEMBABAZI: Yes, but before they even touch your patient, some would ask for land
title, a huge deposit.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Allana Kembabazi, a Yale-educated attorney and activist with Uganda's Initiative
for Social and Economic Rights, says Ugandans have been failed twice.
ALLANA KEMBABAZI: By the international community, because we just couldn't get the vaccines
in sufficient amounts that we needed, but also by our own government, which should have
taken more measures to strengthen our public health systems.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Uganda received more than $800 million in foreign assistance to cope
with the COVID crisis, much of it in the form of loans from agencies like the World Bank.
Critics say the government's been less than transparent about how that money was or is
being spent. The government has also come under fire for being out of touch with the
widespread suffering here. One recent example, the purchase of new vehicles for Uganda's
500-plus members of Parliament.
ALLANA KEMBABAZI: When you're telling teachers and you're telling parents, you can't send
your kids into school until all the teachers are vaccine, until all kids after above 12
are vaccinated, so where are your priorities?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Health Minister Aceng contends that's not the issue.
DR. JANE RUTH ACENG: We have the money. We have had the money from the outset. COVAX
will tell you, you will get vaccines between now and 2022 December.
I think the answer to this is for Africa to invest in its own vaccine production.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Several African nations are able to manufacture vaccines. The hurdle?
Trade negotiations over the transfer of intellectual property rights and also the export of some
ALLANA KEMBABAZI: The idea that we're all in this together, it was just a lie.
Are you going to close your boundaries forever? Are your people never going to travel? How
do they think this disease spreads?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Without vaccines, Uganda's has imposed lockdowns. Minister Aceng says
these are not only unaffordable anymore; they're unenforceable.
DR. JANE RUTH ACENG: Everybody's tired. The focus of most people has now moved away from
survival, in keeping safe from the pandemic, to economic survival, where I need to get
food on the plate.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Of the survivors, she and others say none will pay a heavier price
than children in a country where half the population is younger than 14.
At the vaccination site, sisters Deborah and Winnie, 11 and 12, sell bananas, so they may
eat each night.
STUDENT (through translator): I loved studying.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What was your favorite subject?
STUDENT (through translator): I liked mathematics and social sciences.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government hopes to reopen schools in the weeks ahead, but these
sisters and millions of others, their families financially wiped out, may not return soon,
Another troubling sign, child labor, which had been declining for two decades in Uganda
and elsewhere, saw an increase in 2020, a trend the U.N. says is getting much worse
We will explore that issue in my next report.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Fred de Sam Lazaro in Kampala.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred's reporting is in partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the
University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Justice Stephen Breyer heads into a new Supreme Court term soon, facing a docket of hot-button
issues and pressure from progressives to retire.
I spoke earlier today with the court's senior liberal justice about his new book, "The Authority
of the Court and the Peril of Politics."
Justice Stephen Breyer, thank you very much for joining us.
You have written six other books, but none of them were this size, a book you can hold
in one hand, somehow less intimidating than the book you pick up from a Supreme Court
Who are you trying to reach?
STEPHEN BREYER, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: I wanted to reach the high school
students, college students, law school students, and, in particular, people who are not lawyers,
but who are interested at least in how I have seen the court work over 27 years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You posit in the book, Justice Breyer, that the court at a -- even in this
fraught political time, that the Supreme Court of the United States has managed to maintain
its authority with the American people.
And, at one point you cite a Pew poll in 2019 that showed 62 percent of Americans had a
favorable opinion of the court. But there is a Marquette University Law School poll
out just this month that shows approval of the court is at 49 percent.
STEPHEN BREYER: Then it went down. But polls go like that.
And the question -- the one difference, I think, between the court, if I had to pick
one, and other government institutions is, we move on a different time frame. We have
a slow time frame. I think our cases are not well-decided, usually, unless we have time
to think about it.
And if you were there, you would discover the same thing. Instead of having to get out
something in two hours, you would have two months or three months or four months. And
lots of other people have worked on this case. And you have a lot of briefs and a lot of
information. And you sit back and digest it and try to see a bigger picture.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And it's on that basis, among others, that you argue that the court is not
You cite cases in recent years that didn't go, you said, as one might thought, based
on which president nominated which justice.
But we did just see, Justice Breyer, a majority of the court allow a clearly unconstitutional
law to take effect in the state of Texas that violates the rights of women. The majority
even rejected the chief justice's alternative, temporarily blocking it from going into effect
until lower courts could take a look.
What about that?
STEPHEN BREYER: Well, it was a procedural decision. It wasn't -- they didn't speak,
no one did, on the merits of the Texas law.
And on that procedural decision, I dissented, along with the chief justice and others. And
the reason was just what we have been talking about. It was an important case, even procedurally,
on those emergency matters. And so four of us thought we should take more time.
Now, that was really the issue. And five thought, no, we should go ahead. And there we are.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Procedural, and yet it has real-life, human consequences for women in
the state of Texas.
STEPHEN BREYER: I could not agree with you more. That was one of the reasons I wanted
to take it easy, time. My own dissent was, block the law until we can have the time to
figure out just what is going on.
Now, that I -- of course, I think I'm right. I think I'm right whenever I dissent, I think
- - I always think I'm right. That's why I write what I write. But no one in the United
States is going to get decisions that he or she likes all the time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You argue -- so much to ask you about in this book, Justice Breyer.
You write early on that the news media partly responsible, you say, for changing public
perceptions of the court. But what about the court itself, the decisions the court makes?
I mean, the court has made the decision, for example, to take up the 15-week Mississippi
abortion ban, which you're going to be hearing in December, even when a very conservative
lower court had found that unconstitutional. The Supreme Court made the decision to take
STEPHEN BREYER: Four votes takes it.
And so I can't really go into -- I can't even tell you who were the four. So you're not
sure. And maybe you are fairly sure, but nonetheless, it's in -- what's in their minds, what's in
JUDY WOODRUFF: But my point is, that's a court decision to tackle that.
STEPHEN BREYER: It's a court decision that four people grant cert.
If it's to grant a full hearing, it takes four people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in that vein, coming up this term, you have the Mississippi case.
You have a New York guns case. You may have an affirmative action case.
Won't the court itself be responsible for how the public sees it, if we see -- if we
end up seeing a series of one-sided decisions on these -- some of these hot-button cases
like this just in the next few terms?
STEPHEN BREYER: Well, of course the court will be responsible.
But what that means, to me, is, there are large numbers of hot-button cases. I mean,
think of the Warren court and its efforts to desegregate the South. Think of Justice
Brennan and the major cases that he wrote on free speech. Think of the New Deal court
that was making changes of really a dramatic nature.
Think of the court after the Civil War compared to the court before the Civil War. There are
very long periods of time where the court does change its outlook. And looking at that
kind of thing, it's not exactly what the ordinary person means by political. It's not that they're
junior varsity politicians.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You and Justice Amy Coney Barrett are both now speaking publicly about how the
Supreme Court is not political.
But if someone's a Democrat or an independent, and they see a Republican denied even a Senate
vote for a very qualified candidate like Merrick Garland, if they then see the Senate rules
change so that a Republican nominee, Neil Gorsuch, can be confirmed, then a partisan
vote confirmed right -- what, a week, less than a week before a presidential election,
confirms Republican appointee Justice Barrett, that sounds like a political stacked deck
to many Americans.
STEPHEN BREYER: That is one of the most amazing things, because I agree with you 100 percent,
that the process, the process of appointing a judge -- me, too -- it seems very political,
But what's an astounding thing -- and I have learned that over more than the 27 years -- is
when a man or woman puts on a judicial robe - - I mean, I put on that robe many years ago.
And one of the great mores of both the Supreme Court and the lower court -- and you absorb
it over time -- is, it's a great honor to be a federal judge. It is a great privilege.
And one of the things that comes along with that privilege is that you are there not for
the Democrats, not for the Republicans, not for the party of the president who appointed
JUDY WOODRUFF: You also write, Justice Breyer about the danger of trying to remake the court,
adding justices, making other changes.
The question comes up about term limits for justices. Why doesn't it make sense for at
least our United States Congress, for a president to look at that? There's -- as you know, there's
a commission looking at it right now. Given...
STEPHEN BREYER: Well, term limits, the term limits, I have said often quite a lot, for
over a period of years, I see no objection really to term limits, if they're long.
You don't want to short term, because you don't want the person in that job thinking
about his next job. But if they're long terms. I don't think there'd be a big difference.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there any other change to the court that you think, in your mind, would
not do harm to the to the institution?
STEPHEN BREYER: I haven't thought -- what I said about the term -- about the -- expanding
the court is, I said, you have to think carefully about it.
And I want people to think about it before they jump into something like that, in light
of the history. Primarily, that history is in there because I want people to understand
how long a time it's taken in our history before people are willing to accept courts
as making decisions that normally they should follow.
And, indeed, that's part of a rule of law. That's a little abstract. But we have 301
million people in this country holding themselves together, every race, every religion, every
point of view. Why? Because they will accept this document, the Constitution, as setting
forth a rule of law for resolving many, not all, disputes among them.
Now, it's better than the alternatives. That's what Churchill said, or somebody said. And
they're sure right, because the alternatives are violence and war and all kinds of trouble.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's not in the book, but I want to ask you about your future.
STEPHEN BREYER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you have said you won't answer questions about it, but you have said
that, as of now, you have no plans to retire.
My question is, after 27 years on the court, what time frame are you talking about? In
the coming year? Are you saying you don't plan...
STEPHEN BREYER: Well, what I actually have said, which I'm happy -- not happy, but I'm
certainly willing to repeat, but I mean, I have said that it's in my mind that, of course,
there are many different considerations.
And I haven't made up my mind definitely just exactly when. But I don't want to die on the
court. And, before then, I would like to retire. And just when that will be, I have not fully
decided. And I think this isn't the place or the time where I want to go into it in
JUDY WOODRUFF: Have you spoken with other justices about that?
STEPHEN BREYER: That's one of the things I haven't answered yet.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How about, have you spoken to President Biden about it?
STEPHEN BREYER: That's one of the things. If I start down that road: "Who have you talked
to about it?"
JUDY WOODRUFF: The idea -- you and I were just speaking about this. The idea of retiring
for anyone is a difficult question.
STEPHEN BREYER: Oh, well, it might be much nicer for me personally if there were a long
time limit. I wouldn't have to worry about this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you have known others who've wrestled with the decision.
Do you think there's a right way to think about it and a wrong way?
STEPHEN BREYER: I have looked at what people have done in the past.
Now, I have gone beyond what I said.
STEPHEN BREYER: But I just -- I will go that far. I will say, I have looked at what people
have done in the past.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Including other justices?
STEPHEN BREYER: Oh, those are the ones who are most relevant, yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Justice Breyer, do you think it makes a difference, when you step down,
whether there's a -- not only a Democrat in the White House, but a Democratic majority
in the Senate?
STEPHEN BREYER: Yes, probably.
I mean, I don't know for sure. No one ever knows. And to what extent you take that kind
of thing into account, it's a personal decision. Justice Scalia, Justice Rehnquist have said
you do take that kind of thing into account. Others have been more reluctant to do it.
So it's in the mix.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the mix.
STEPHEN BREYER: Good.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... finally, about the court.
And that is, the court consists almost entirely of justices who graduated from Harvard or
Yale Law School, almost entirely of justices who've been appellate court judges.
No one since Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has faced a voter. Do you think it would be healthy
for the court, good for the country...
STEPHEN BREYER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... to have justices face...
STEPHEN BREYER: Yes.
I mean, look at Justice Black, a great justice. He'd been a senator. Earl Warren had been
a governor. Harold Burton had been the mayor of a city. And you don't want all one thing
or another thing, but having a mix of backgrounds, a mix of different experiences, other things
being equal, is good for the court, in my opinion.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Justice Breyer, thank you very much.
The book is "The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics."
STEPHEN BREYER: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The top American and European climate envoys met in Washington today to
coordinate their efforts ahead of a major climate summit.
Nick Schifrin sits down with the envoys for their first joint interview.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The climate crisis is here. You can see it in the extreme weather, from
floods to fire.
You can see it in the data. The U.N. warns the world that, unless the world acts faster
than it's already promised, temperatures will rise to catastrophic, irreversible levels.
The U.S. calls the upcoming climate summit the last chance for the world to avoid disaster.
For more on that, I'm joined by John Kerry, the president's special envoy on climate,
and his European counterpart, Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission.
Welcome, both of you, to the "NewsHour."
JOHN KERRY, U.S. Special Envoy For Climate Change: Thank you.
NICK SCHIFRIN: John Kerry, let me start with you.
There have been three decades of negotiations on climate change, and the bottom line is,
emissions have gone up. Does that suggest, at the end of the day, the world has approached
this in the wrong way?
JOHN KERRY: Yes.
It has not raised the ambition to the level that we need to. The scientists are clear
now. We have a certain period of time, this decade, within which we have to implement,
make and implement key decisions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
Happily, on the good side, the United States, the E.U., the U.K., Japan, Canada, have all
made commitments of reduction of emissions that do put us within range of keeping the
1.5-degree limit in warming, to keep that alive.
But unless we are joined by other countries with sufficient levels of ambition in this
next decade, to race towards the 45 percent or greater reductions that the scientists
have called for, we're in trouble.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Frans Timmermans, are we in trouble?
FRANS TIMMERMANS, Executive Vice President, European Commission: We are.
But we can fix it. That's the good news. But it had to come to this. It had to come all
this erratic weather patterns, to all the tornadoes and storms and failed harvests,
before people understood how serious the situation is. But we can still fix it.
NICK SCHIFRIN: We're sitting here in Washington, and I want to ask you a little bit about American
And I'm struck by something that an Indian official said to you, Mr. Kerry, recently.
What happens if the next Republican president once again pulls out of the Paris climate
So, Frans Timmermans, let me start with you. Are you worried about that? Is the U.S. a
reliable partner on climate?
FRANS TIMMERMANS: Yes, I think it is, and it will be.
By the way, I'm not so sure there will be a next Republican president. But that's another
discussion. Even if there is, corporate America is moving in the right direction at lightning
speed. And, as I know, the Republican Party usually listens quite well to corporate America,
and they will have to wake up and smell the coffee. And I'm pretty confident it is going
NICK SCHIFRIN: The U.S. is not on track to meet its own goal of cutting emissions of
28 percent by 2025.
What does it say, John Kerry, about the U.S.' commitment to climate change that the president's
agenda on climate, frankly, can be stopped by a senator who happens to have a lot of
ties to coal and gas?
JOHN KERRY: I think everybody understands that this is a critical moment.
And more and more Republicans on the Hill are beginning to try to hunt around for some
way to be able to respond to this. But on your former question, I think it's impossible
for any future politician to reverse what the private sector is going to be investing
in remarkably heavily.
Ford Motor Company, GM have committed by 2030, 50 percent of the cars we're selling are going
to be electric. I don't think any politician would stand up and try to reverse the trillions
of dollars that are going to begin to move and are moving in this direction.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Let's move to China.
This week, Xi Jinping spoke at the U.N. General Assembly, promised that China would stop funding
coal plants around the world as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
But China's own addiction to coal remains very strong. China burns half of the world's
Frans Timmermans, let me start with you. Is China doing enough?
FRANS TIMMERMANS: Well, China is moving in the right direction, which is good news. We
didn't hear that for a bit.
And China clearly understands that, for its own survival, for its own opposition in the
future, it needs to wean itself off coal. The only question is, at what speed?
And I think both U.S. and Europe are trying to convince China to move faster than they
had anticipated so far. Nobody's doing this to do us a favor. Everybody's doing this because
they understand they need to do it for themselves, including China, although I believe that,
from a U.S. and E.U. perspective, we would like them to move a bit faster than what they
have done so far.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Xi Jinping has promised to reach peak emissions by 2030, become carbon-neutral
by 2060. As you just said, both of you have called for China to move faster. Beijing wants
Would the U.S., John Kerry, be willing to give some concessions, whether on major grounds,
like Xinjiang or South China Sea, or remove sanctions that were currently recently imposed
on solar panels, in order to get Chinese cooperation climate?
JOHN KERRY: Well, our presidents talked just a few days ago.
President Biden and President Xi had a very, very constructive conversation. I was privileged
to be there. And President Xi embraced the idea of getting some things done together
and moving on climate.
Obviously, both countries have concerns about other issues. That's -- everybody in the world
knows that. But our presidents originally stated that climate stands in a special place.
It's about the survival of the planet. Every country has its own urgency for dealing with
it. And it cannot be held hostage by any of those other issues.
You're not going to have a tradeoff of one thing for climate and then give up something
that's a matter of principle. Those things are going to have to be argued out between
our presidents, discussed between our presidents.
What I'm confident of is this. I know this, and so does France. President Xi is serious
about this. He understands the implications for China. He is already presiding over a
country that is the largest producer of renewables in the world, that has deployed more renewables
than anybody in the world.
And the population of China wants cleaner water, cleaner air, safety and security with
respect to the climate crisis.
NICK SCHIFRIN: I know you described the conversations between Presidents Biden and Xi, but let me
ask you about what you have just experienced, in terms of China coupling climate with all
the other policies.
You were just in China, and you were forced to talk to the foreign minister via video
link. The official who did meet with you in person lectured you and said that you -- quote
- - "were guilty of strategic miscalculation" because climate could not be decoupled from
China's other requests.
JOHN KERRY: That was a very recent turn of events that we were very up front about.
But that was at a point in time where there had been not a lot of communication between
the administration and China. We were sort of operating on a separate track.
And, since then, the presidents have talked. And there was a very clear understanding that
we need to try to make some progress on the climate issue.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Part of this is about helping developing countries become more resilient.
President Biden increased the pledge of the United States. But the bottom line is that
the industrialized world is short of $100 billion of its pledge.
Frans Timmermans, what stops developing countries from saying, hey, you haven't done enough
when you arrive in Glasgow?
FRANS TIMMERMANS: Well, they will be saying that we haven't done enough. But we're trying
to get there. And I think we will get very close.
And I also believe that developing countries are discovering for themselves that, just
by saying that we haven't done enough, and, through that, stopping the process, doesn't
help them either. So we need to keep them on board. We need to engage with them.
I was just -- I'm just coming back from a meeting with the small island states in Antigua.
And if you see the suffering already now, we have an urgency here that we need to address.
And we will get close to the 100 billion. We will have to look beyond that.
And we will also -- it's not just about the public money we put on the table. It's about
the investment we make possible. It's about the technology we transfer to them. It's about
the transition we help them make.
So, I think there's a case to be made that we can come close together with the developing
countries. They're looking for this cooperation. And I think we can really conclude on a positive
note in Glasgow.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Frans Timmermans, John Kerry.
JOHN KERRY: Thank you.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you very much to you both.
FRANS TIMMERMANS: Pleasure.
JOHN KERRY: It's good to be with you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a look at artist Roberto Lugo, who puts family, tradition, and historical
figures like Harriet Tubman at the center of his work.
Special correspondent Jared Bowen of GBH-Boston brings us this report from New Hampshire,
as part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
JARED BOWEN: In mugs and plates and urns at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire,
we find the porcelain DNA of artist Roberto Lugo.
ROBERTO LUGO, Artist: In this exhibition, I have images of protests, of historical figures
like Angela Davis and Black thought and people that have really inspired me to make me who
I am. And I couldn't be that without those people.
JARED BOWEN: This show, as the title explains, is the ceramicist bringing us his joy for
a career literally shaped around culture, his own roots in graffiti and his love of
ROBERTO LUGO: Here's my mother with her granddaughter teaching her how to make pasteles, which is
a Puerto Rican dish.
And then there's the image of a family in the '60s, which is my family, my grandma with
the bouffant and getting ready for church. And in some ways, I think this table is like
SAMANTHA CATALDO, Contemporary Art Curator, Currier Museum of Art: He's thinking about
his culture, where he comes from, people that influence him.
JARED BOWEN: Contemporary art curator Samantha Cataldo says she's drawn to how Lugo takes
centuries of prized porcelain tradition from Europe and Asia, only to upend it with his
SAMANTHA CATALDO: Using this historic form of pottery, porcelain especially, which traditionally
would have kings and queens, and very much within a Western and white narrative, to put
someone like Harriet Tubman or himself or the rapper Missy Elliott onto a piece of pottery
is really making a statement, like: I belong here. My culture belongs here.
JARED BOWEN: What do you make of how open he is and how much autobiography there is
in his work?
SAMANTHA CATALDO: Yes, Roberto's work is very vulnerable.
JARED BOWEN: So was Lugo himself, when, as a young art student of Puerto Rican descent,
he was bluntly told he didn't fit in.
ROBERTO LUGO: I feel judged exhaustively. And that's one of the things that drove me
to make the work I did, because when I was in a class, and there's a photograph of me
and someone just says, this looks like a Mexican gangster, you know?
And it was this, like, moment where I'm sitting there making pottery and I'm like, no matter
what I make, this is how people are going to see me if I'm involved in the work. And
so I started making work to counteract that.
JARED BOWEN: Which has meant depicting life the way he sees it, including tea time, for
Lugo, a very foreign concept.
ROBERTO LUGO: When I took my first pottery class, I'd never drunk tea from a teapot,
An so I see all these students around me making teapots and making teacups. And I'm thinking
to myself, like, how much tea do these people drink, you know? And I didn't understand it.
I'm not sure if people realize that, like, when a person of color that grows up where
I did, when I'm having tea, there's all these things that come into my mind. And it can't
just be about tea, because of my experiences, you know?
So, like, I will look at certain shapes, and it will remind me of other things. Like, when
I look at a spout, I also think of a gun trigger because of the ghetto that I grew up in.
JARED BOWEN: The artist's singular vision has landed him in museum collections. He's
been awarded the prestigious Rome Prize, and he's collaborated with celebrities and fans
like actor Seth Rogen.
But Lugo is most mindful of his roots. He can often be found working with his and other
communities, giving away work, teaching kids and working with veterans. And he has a name
ROBERTO LUGO: It's sort of this idea that I'm the village potter.
JARED BOWEN: Because Lugo wants to be a connector of people and art. He asked the Currier Museum
to place his work atop or alongside its own historic pieces. His urn featuring Bob Marley
rests on an 18th century table.
ROBERTO LUGO: People can see that all these things can coincide and be beautiful.
And that's really the hope, is that when people see themselves reflected in the narrative
of a person of color, then they grow closer to that.
JARED BOWEN: Much the same way Lugo found himself connected to this painting in the
Currier's collection. It's by white folk artist Grandma Moses, and reminds him of his parents'
upbringing in Puerto Rico.
ROBERTO LUGO: I think there is this, like, sense of displacement I have always felt as
a Puerto Rican growing up and always hearing about my parents and the farm life.
These kind of paintings, like, almost transport you there, where you feel like you're comfortable
however you are there, like working on the farm. And I just love that about these pieces.
JARED BOWEN: It's a shared experience for the artist, who's learned it takes a village
to be the potter.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jared Bowen in Manchester, New Hampshire.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Such an inspiration.
And on the "NewsHour" online right now: Louisiana residents hit hard by Hurricane Ida, Tropical
Storm Nicholas, and repeated disasters over the years now face a new mental health crisis
brought on by the toil of the storms. Experts say communities of color and people living
in poverty are the most at risk of lingering trauma that can have devastating effects.
This is all 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 see you soon.
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