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PBS NewsHour full 9:00pm episode Dec 18, 2019

PBS NewsHour full 9:00pm episode Dec 18, 2019

JOHN YANG: Good evening. I’m John Yang. Judy Woodruff is away. On the “NewsHour” tonight: REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Article One is adopted. JOHN YANG: The House of Representatives impeaches
a President for only the third time int the nation’s history. We break down tonight’s historic vote and
what it means, and what to expect as impeachment enters a new phase.A day for history. Then: on the ground in California ahead of
tomorrow’s “NewsHour”/Politico Democratic presidential debate, where climate change
is a top concern for Golden State Democrats. And stepping toward the future — medicine
at the edge of current knowledge sparks hope for those paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. SUSAN HARKEMA, University of Louisville: You
put weight back on the legs, you get them extended, you get the trunk upright, and the
spinal circuitry says, oh, I know what that is.That’s standing. I know how to do that JOHN YANG: All that
and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.” (BREAK) JOHN YANG: President Trump has been impeached
tonight, making him just the third president in history to receive that rebuke. Tonight, the House of Representatives approved
two charges brought by the Democrats, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The near party-line tallies followed a day
of long debate. Our coverage begins with congressional correspondent
Lisa Desjardins telling us about how this momentous day unfolded. WOMAN: The House will be in order. LISA DESJARDINS: Perhaps it was a specter
of history. MAN: Today marks a sad day for America. LISA DESJARDINS: Or the high stakes involved. REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (D-FL): This president,
elected by the American people, has violated his oath of office and violated the rule of
law. REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): The president is, as
we speak, abusing his power and placing himself above the law. LISA DESJARDINS: Or perhaps a sense that the
die was already cast. REP. PHIL ROE (R-TN): Since Donald Trump was elected
in 2016, Democrats have been on a crusade to stop him by any means. LISA DESJARDINS: In the House chamber today,
weeks of fiery words over hypothetical impeachment turned somber and serious when lawmakers faced
the reality. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I solemnly and sadly
open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States. LISA DESJARDINS: Speaker Nancy Pelosi wore
a large broach of the House mace, a symbol of the power of the speaker of the House,
as she charged that the president has undermined his office. REP. NANCY PELOSI: If we do not act now, we would
be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless
actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice. LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats laid out their
argument, that President Trump abused his power, using his office to pressure Ukrainian
President Vladimir Zelensky into opening investigations that would help Mr. Trump politically. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts: REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-MA): Our inquiry is simply
to answer the following question: Did President Trump and his top advisers corruptly withhold
official government actions to obtain an improper advantage in the next election? We now know, through the hard work of our
investigative committees and because of the president’s own admission, that the answer
to that question is yes. LISA DESJARDINS: And Pramila Jayapal of Washington
state. REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): The president told
us himself on national television exactly what he wanted from the phone call with President
Zelensky. He came onto the White House lawn and he said,
I wanted President Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens. He solicited foreign interference before,
he is doing it now, and he will do it again. The president is the smoking gun. LISA DESJARDINS: But Republicans portrayed
President Trump as the victim here, offering several counterarguments, first assailing
Democrats’ evidence as incomplete. Tom Cole of Oklahoma: REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): My colleagues in the majority
believe they have proven their case. Let me be clear. They have not. The entire premise of these articles of impeachment
rests on a pause placed on Ukrainian security assistance, a pause of 55 days. The majority has spun creative narratives
as to the meaning and the motive of this pause, alleging the president demanded a — quote
— “quid pro quo” — unquote — but with no factual evidence to back it up. LISA DESJARDINS: Argument two from Republicans,
that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats are motivated by politics, not principle. Utah’s Chris Stewart: REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): This vote this day is
about one thing and one thing only. They hate this president. They hate those of us who voted for him. They think we’re stupid. They think we made a mistake. They think Hillary Clinton should be the president,
and they want to fix that. That’s what this vote is about. They want to take away my vote and throw it
in the trash. LISA DESJARDINS: And Florida’s Ross Spano. REP. ROSS SPANO (R-FL): The American people see
through this sad charade for what it is, an attempt to undo the 2016 election, based on
hearsay and opinion, not fact. This is incredibly divisive and has lowered
the bar for what future presidents will face. I strongly oppose the articles before us today,
and I hope that we will finally move past this nightmare! LISA DESJARDINS: The rhythm of the day was
partisan, but the tone was less caustic than recently, even as Republicans repeated the
president’s bottom line. REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): This impeachment is a
total joke and a total sham. LISA DESJARDINS: And Democrats repeated that,
for them, this is about principle and protecting the future. REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): To my friends on the
other side of the aisle, I say this: This is not about making history. This is about holding a lawless president
accountable in the way our framers intended. LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump responded
at his own event, a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached. (LAUGHTER) (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) DONALD TRUMP: The country is doing better
than ever before. We did nothing wrong. LISA DESJARDINS: But, near the end of the
debate, closing speakers for each side threw more sparks. REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): This impeachment asks
whether we are still a republic of laws, as our founders intended, or whether we will
accept that one person can be above the law. REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): He is president today. He will be president tomorrow. And he will be president when this impeachment
is over. Elections matter. Voters matter. And, in 11 months, the people’s voice will
be heard again. LISA DESJARDINS: More than 10 hours after
the first gavel, the House took the historic votes, first the article of impeachment accusing
the president of abuse of power. REP. NANCY PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 230,
the nays are 197. Present is one. Article one is adopted. LISA DESJARDINS: Then the second, charging
Mr. Trump with obstructing Congress. REP. NANCY PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 229,
the nays are 198. Present is one. Article two is adopted. LISA DESJARDINS: And there you have it, John,
just moments ago, that — those two historic votes, saying the president should be impeached
and removed from office. That is what House — the House of Representatives
has decided. Those articles will be forwarded to the U.S.
Senate. We do not yet know when we. JOHN YANG: Lisa, let me ask you about the
vote. The Republicans held together. There were no Republican votes in favor of
either article of impeachment. What about the Democrats? LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. There were some noteworthy change — there
were some noteworthy breaks, just a few. Number one, that vote present, the number
one vote, that was Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Then the two — there were two Democrats who
voted no on both articles, Jeff Van Drew, who represents essentially Southern New Jersey,
including Atlantic City, and also Collin Peterson, who represents Western Minnesota. Both of them have Trump districts. And, in fact, Congressman Van Drew is expected
to switch parties very soon and become a Republican. He spent near the entire — the entire debate
on the Republican side of the chamber, technically voted as a Democrat, but he voted with Republicans. And we do expect that to be his new party
soon. JOHN YANG: Tulsi Gabbard voting present. Tulsi Gabbard, of course, briefly ran for
president. Has she explained why she voted present? LISA DESJARDINS: She did. And I was in touch with her spokesperson,
and just a few minutes ago got a statement from them. It’s an interesting statement, and it is of
some length. She writes that she feels that the president’s
supporters are wrong to say that he did nothing wrong. Clearly, he did do something that needed to
be addressed. But, on the other hand, she writes that the
president’s opponents insist that, if we do not impeach him, the country will collapse
in dictatorship. She says that is also too extreme. She said she voted present because, instead,
she wants to censure the president, not remove him from office. She believes that what’s happening now is
both parties sort of playing politics. She says she wants to heal the divide, not
further the divide, and she believes this impeachment vote, yes or no, would further
the divide. Obviously, many Democrats will have a problem
with this. Some who I spoke to leaving the chamber were
shaking their head at her vote. But she has a significant explanation for
why she made that decision. JOHN YANG: Lisa, this has been a long and
momentous day. You have seen every second of it up there,
literally a front row in the House gallery overlooking the House chamber. What was it like? Give us a sense of what it was like to be
in that chamber, what it was like to be on the Hill today. LISA DESJARDINS: This was a day like no other
I have experienced on Capitol Hill. For the bulk of the day, John, it really was
so quiet, and it almost seemed anticlimactic. In fact, it did seem anticlimactic, up until
just the past, let’s say, hour-and-a-half. That was the first time that we saw the majority
of the House come together, listen to speeches, listen to the final speakers for each side. And that was the first time we also heard
those speakers really kind of elevate their tone and sound like they were at a historic
event. After that, once the voting happened, there
was an incredible electricity in the room. I don’t know if viewers could notice, but
they did something unusual. Instead of having the normal electronic vote,
members of Congress had to go to the front, to the well, we call it, to the dais, and
hold up their voting cards, pass in red or green voting cards. So, what you had was a very dramatic scene,
a huge crowd, dozens of members of Congress, all crowded in together, trying to get their
votes in, raising their hands, green and red, all of them watching the vote board. It was something. And there was a feeling of electricity and
drama that we had not felt previous in the day. JOHN YANG: Lisa, stay right there. I want to bring in the rest of our marathon
panel, who has been here at the desk this very long day, “NewsHour” foreign affairs
correspondent Nick Schifrin, who has anchored our special coverage, Mieke Eoyang, vice president
of the National Security Program at Third Way, which is a Washington think tank. She’s a former House Intelligence Subcommittee
staff director when the Democrats were in the majority. And Michael Allen, managing director at the
advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies, he was staff director of the House Intelligence
Committee when the Republicans had the majority. Nick, let me start with you. You have been listening to the — to the president
at this campaign rally. What more is he — has he been saying as we
have been — as we have been talking? NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, I mean, just to make the
first point, it is remarkable that we are watching a president speak as he’s getting
impeached. He had three main points, which tie into what
some of the Republican talking points were on the House floor today. Number one, he said, they’re trying to impeach
me from day one. That’s something that we heard Republicans
talk about all day. He talked about the politics of this for a
while. He called it a political suicide march. He said it was an eternal mark of shame on
the Democrats and that tens of millions of voters next year will vote Pelosi out of office,
so that argument, that this was going to be a political loser for the Democrats. And then he spent a lot of time on this. He called — he said that this was an illegal
impeachment. And he said that Democrats were declaring
their deep hatred and disdain for the American voter. He used the words trying to nullify the ballots
of tens of millions of patriotic Americans: “Democrats do not believe that you have a
right to select your own president.” And, John, he used that as a segue to 2016,
not only 2020, but 2016. Of course, he won Michigan, where he was tonight,
by 10,000 votes, 0.3 percent. It helped him get into office. And so what a lot of Trump allies are saying
tonight, are pointing out, as Bob Costa pointed out earlier, that President Trump is worried
about his name, right? His name has been so important to the business,
and his name will now always be associated with impeachment. But, two, as we saw from the letter that he
sent to Speaker Pelosi yesterday, the language here today, the language his allies have used,
it is clear that the president is going to use impeachment, not only tonight, not only
yesterday in that letter, but going forward in this election year that is about to start. We have never, of course, seen a president
impeached and then run for reelection. He is clearly deciding to embrace this idea
as this is a loser for the Democrats and a winner for him. JOHN YANG: Michael Allen, as Nick says, he
is now an impeached president, but he’s also a president running for reelection, and he’s
going to have to campaign with this. How does he handle that? Do the Republicans see this as something they
can use against the Democrats? MICHAEL ALLEN, Managing Director, Beacon Global
Strategies: One, I think the Republicans are relieved that, just about eight weeks into
this, we haven’t seen any more support go for impeachment than was at the very beginning
of this. Second, this is going to test sort of President
Trump’s ability to sort of deny the rules of political physics. He’s always the one that’s able to jujitsu
an issue and turn it to his advantage. Here, he has the most grave levy that could
be put upon him, almost, by the Constitution, and that’s impeachment. Can he turn this into a political winner? Well, we have got about 11 months to see how
he does it. JOHN YANG: And, Mieke, how do the Democrats
handle this? MIEKE EOYANG, Third Way: Yes, what you saw
today is the Democrats calling out to history, making this a very somber tone. What they’re clearly trying to do here is
win over swing voters. And what you see in the polling on this is
that Democrats have a slight edge in the case that they’re making with independents, with
women, with the suburban voters. These are the voters who gave them the victory
in 2018 and who’ve actually really helped the Democrats in a number of these gubernatorial
races in deep red states. So, I think there’s a sense from the Democrats
that the Republicans’ combative tone is not working with that group of voters, and that
they are trying to make a case that calls out to common American values. JOHN YANG: Lisa — Michael, Lisa was talking
about the transmission, actually the — when the articles of impeachment gets sent to the
Senate, which would trigger — trigger the trial. Apparently, there is some talk among the Democrats
that they want to use this as leverage, that they want to see if they can get — negotiate
favorable terms for the trial. And, if they can’t, they’re not going to send
them at all, so there will be no trial, the president wouldn’t be acquitted, and he would
just carry the scarlet I, as it were, of impeachment without the acquittal. Is that something that would play, do you
think? MICHAEL ALLEN: I would be really surprised
if Nancy Pelosi fell for that. If I were — I am a Republican. And you see Mitch McConnell out there always
arguing that the Democrats are trying to obstruct all legislation. If I were him, I’d love to have the talking
point that the Democrats are so obstructive that they can’t even pass over their own articles
of impeachment to the United States Senate. JOHN YANG: And, Mieke, this now goes to the
Senate, where the Republicans are in control, where the Republicans have the majority. How — what is the challenge now for the Democrats,
given the fact that everyone is — assumes that the president will be acquitted? MIEKE EOYANG: The challenge that the Democrats
are facing here is that Mitch McConnell will set the terms of this debate in the Senate. But he actually has to watch out for his center
flank. He’s also worried about being able to control
the gavel at this next election. And he has a number of vulnerable Republican
senators sitting in states that went to the Democrats last cycle who are up for reelection,
people like Senator Cory Gardner, Senator Susan Collins, who need to be seen as more
impartial, as taking their job as senators seriously. You have a couple of other senators who have
said that they have concerns about railroading this through, Mitch McConnell (sic) in Utah,
Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. So, there’s a — there’s an appeal that Democrats
can make there to say, we need a fair process here. We want to hear from these witnesses that
didn’t come before the House. If this isn’t a fair trial, we need to hear
from those witnesses. JOHN YANG: It’s been a long day. I think you said Mitch McConnell of Utah. MIEKE EOYANG: I’m sorry. JOHN YANG: I think you meant Mitt Romney. MIEKE EOYANG: Mitt Romney. JOHN YANG: Mitt Romney of Utah. Talk also about the — what the Democratic
leader, Chuck Schumer, is doing with this letter asking for White House witnesses. MIEKE EOYANG: Yes. So, Chuck Schumer, who’s the leader of the
Democrats, sent a letter to Mitch McConnell saying, we should have a fair process here. We should model that on the bipartisan approved
procedures of the Clinton impeachment. And we should hear from some of these witnesses,
the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the president’s national security adviser,
John Bolton, people who were fact witnesses who got direction directly from the president,
and who didn’t appear before the House because they were resisting subpoenas that the House
had issued. JOHN YANG: I understand Lisa Desjardins on
the Hill characteristically has got some — some new information for us. (LAUGHTER) JOHN YANG: What’s going on, Lisa? LISA DESJARDINS: Well, I have to give credit. We have a big team on the Hill tonight — for
us, anyway. We’re small, but scrappy. Our excellent producer Saher Khan is at Speaker
Pelosi’s news conference right now and is telling me that the speaker has said she will
not transmit the articles of impeachment tonight. She does plan on doing it at some point. But, notably, the speaker is saying — did
say in her press conference that she is considering the idea that she wants to think about how
the Senate is going to handle its debate. She also has said that she doesn’t like the
idea that the Senate leader is in cahoots with the president. So, it seems that Pelosi is at least considering
the idea of holding onto these articles of impeachment briefly perhaps. At least she’s holding her cards close to
her vest, and thinking about her next move. She will not be transmitting articles of impeachment
tonight, and she is thinking about if she can influence the way the Senate handles the
next step. This is a remarkable and unprecedented step,
if she decides to take it. So, it’s something we’re going to have to
pay very close attention to. JOHN YANG: Good information. Of course, as they — the old saying of the
Hill is that the real rivalry is not Republicans and Democrats. It’s the House vs. the Senate. Nick, remind us how we got here. We got here because of a phone call about
aid to Ukraine. And how much about this — of this issue,
of this policy about Ukraine have we heard, or has this gotten forgotten, lost in the
shuffle? NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, the policy on Ukraine,
of course, is the source of impeachment, but it is the politics of the day that dominated
the discussion. But it is important to remind people that
there is a policy here, and that it is life and death for some people. Ukraine is the only country in Europe at war. And the Trump administration, two years ago,
took major steps to try and improve Ukraine’s ability to deter and defend itself against
Russian-backed separatists in the east. The Trump administration sent more aggressive
weapons, sent more money, and generally improved the efforts to combat corruption inside Ukraine. And that was the Trump administration policy
until this year. And then there was a Trump — President Trump
personal policy or Rudy Giuliani policy, and that changed things. They questioned military aid. They changed the focus on corruption more
specifically to Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of Ukraine’s largest energy
company while his father was running policy in the Obama administration, and a discredited
theory that Ukraine was somehow involved in 2016. And so the freezing of military aid that led
from there, the withholding of the White House meeting for Presidents Zelensky, the new Ukrainian
president, was the Trump administration policy vs. President Trump’s policy. And those withholdings, that freezing is what
Democrats have used to try and say the president abrogated national security. Republicans say, well, wait a minute, the
aid was released eventually, and corruption in Ukraine is a big deal; the president was
just worried about corruption overall. JOHN YANG: To our Cal Ripken of panels, Nick
Schifrin, Mieke Eoyang, Michael Allen, and our all-star on the Hill, Lisa Desjardins,
thank you very much. As we have been saying, today’s House proceedings
are only the third time that body House has debated impeaching a president. So, where does all this fit in the historical
context? Beverly Gage is a professor of history and
American studies at Yale University, which is where she is tonight. Professor Gage, thanks so much for joining
us. The historical aspect of this, how does what
is going on now compare with previous impeachments, not so much with the specifics of what the
presidents are being charged or the allegations against the president, but the political environment,
the political struggles around these proceedings? BEVERLY GAGE, Yale University: We have been
a moment like this a few times in American history, so, in the 1860s, the Andrew Johnson
impeachment, of course, Watergate in the 1970s, and then the impeachment of Bill Clinton in
the 1990s. And I would say what they have in common is
that, in each of those cases, we saw very particular battles about very particular events. The actual charges that were brought in impeachment
proceedings were about very specific acts, but they all took place within maybe a larger
set of political conflicts. And those political acts, those acts that
were so central to the impeachment proceedings really tended to fit into narratives that
critics certainly already had about each of these presidents. And I think that’s the case with Trump as
well. JOHN YANG: Is there something you can see
about the differences in the political atmospheres, that sort of the criticisms that were already
present about the way that those presidents have responded to what was going on and how
their parties responded to what was going on? BEVERLY GAGE: Yes, I think our best point
of reference is really Watergate in the 1970s, which is long enough ago to see some pretty
big differences and really structural changes that have happened in American politics. You know, in certain ways, Trump and Nixon
are quite similar political figures in terms of their personalities, their combativeness
toward their political critics. But I think we’re in a very different atmosphere
in a lot of ways. If you look at the 1970s, the parties had
a lot more overlap in terms of ideology. They were a lot less national, so the structure
of the parties was different. The structure of the media was really different. There wasn’t any FOX News, and there wasn’t
anything like Twitter, where the president was able to really directly get his message
out. And you see a lot of other structural differences
already in kind of how impeachment proceedings are going along. We’re seeing a lot less use of the courts
now than we saw under Nixon. And, of course, politically, one of the one
big questions is how is this going to affect the 2020 election. Both in the 1970s and the 1990s, you were
talking about presidents who had already been elected to second terms. And, here, we have this big reelection really
hanging over the entire affair. JOHN YANG: You talk about Watergate. It was the Republicans who told President
Nixon it was time to go. But then, in the more recent cases, President
Clinton and President Trump, we have had their parties rallying around their president. Does that speak to the nature of the allegations
against them, or does that speak to the political atmosphere of the times? BEVERLY GAGE: I think it speaks to a little
of each. We do have a story of Watergate in which that
was a very, very long process, from the middle of 1972, when the burglary actually happened,
all the way through to August of 1974, when Nixon finally resigned. And, actually, for most of that time, the
Republican Party stuck very fiercely with Nixon, as the Democrats did with Clinton and
as the Republicans appear to be doing with Trump as well. I think what happened in 1974 is really that
Nixon had taken a stand that he had not participated in the burglary, he had not participated in
the cover-up. And so, when the tapes finally came out showing
that, in fact, he had quite explicitly been lying, that was a genuine shock to many of
his Republican allies. And, at that moment, but very, very late in
the process, they suggested they were going to turn on him. Trump has taken a very, very different approach
to the whole thing by saying, yes, of course I did the things that you are suggesting that
I did, but they are perfectly fine. So we might have new revelations — and, in
fact, I think we will as this continues — but it’s a very different strategy, very different
set of tactics coming out of the White House. JOHN YANG: In the first 220 years of this
nation, we had only one president face this — face an impeachment proceeding. Now we’re having the second in about 20 years,
and the third in about 45 years. What does that say? What — as a historian, what do you think
that says? BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I think it’s partly that,
after the Johnson impeachment, the particular politics of Reconstruction were so specific
to that moment, what was happening in the Republican Party, the reentry of the South,
that it didn’t have a lot of parallels over the next century and didn’t tend to look to
impeachment for an option. Of course, since Nixon, we have seen these
three sets of impeachment proceedings, Nixon, Clinton and now Trump. And I do think they have fed on each other
a little bit. Some of it is just that the pace of our politics
is different, but we are seeing heightened levels of partisanship, and the fact that
we’re getting a little bit of a kind of tit for tat situation. Though a lot of people in the end recognize
the legitimacy of Watergate, there was always a core of Republicans who felt that it was
a witch-hunt, an unfair attack on the presidency. Some of those folks were the ones who went
on the attack against Bill Clinton. And then, of course, the Clinton impeachment
really set a precedent for a highly partisan set of processes that now different people
are looking back to as their primary point of reference. JOHN YANG: President Clinton, of course, acquitted
in the Senate. It looks like that President Trump will probably
be acquitted in the Senate. Has the nature of impeachment changed? Has it now become not this rare event, but
become a tool in the partisan arsenal? BEVERLY GAGE: I think that that’s partly a
fair characterization. I mean, one of the strange things about our
history of impeachment is that, actually, it’s never worked. So, Johnson was impeached, but stayed in office. Nixon was about to be impeached, but he resigned,
so didn’t go through the full impeachment and trial process. Bill Clinton was, in fact, impeached and put
on trial, but also remained in office. And so I think we are seeing it being used,
to some degree, as a partisan tool. But we’re also seeing it, you know, as a check
for rule of law, for other more principled aspects. But it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be
terribly effective in terms of removing the president from office in this case, as it
really hasn’t been in the past. JOHN YANG: Beverly Gage of Yale University,
thank you very much. BEVERLY GAGE: Thanks a lot. JOHN YANG: There is other news tonight. A federal appeals court struck down part of
Obamacare today, but it stopped short of throwing out the entire law. The three-judge panel in New Orleans today
agreed with a lower court in Texas that the individual mandate to buy health insurance
is unconstitutional. Congress had already gutted that provision. The rest of the law goes back to the lower
court for further review. A New York judge has dropped state charges
of mortgage fraud against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. That indictment was widely seen as an attempt
to keep Manafort in prison even if President Trump pardons him for his federal crimes. Manafort is now serving a seven-year sentence
for those convictions, which are linked to the Russia investigation. In Australia, unprecedented summer heat gripped
the continent for a second day. The nationwide average temperature on Tuesday
was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest on record. Today, temperatures in some places reached
118. The heat wave has helped fuel dozens of wildfires. Elsewhere, children played in fountains, and
many families took to local beaches. Experts said the readings are extraordinary
by any standard. DEAN NARRAMORE, Australia Bureau of Meteorology:
It’s incredible, these national average maximum temperature records. We normally only break them by just a very
small margin, but we broke the previous one back in January 13 by 0.6 of a degree. JOHN YANG: Meanwhile, in Russia, Moscow saw
unusually warm temperatures, despite the onset of winter. It was almost 43 degrees, when it is usually
in the 20s. That made it the city’s warmest December 18
since 1886. Back in this country, immigrants claiming
asylum in the United States may face more restrictions. A new federal regulation would bar asylum
claims from anyone convicted of illegally reentering the country, committing domestic
violence, or driving drunk. It is the Trump administration’s latest effort
to curb the flow of migrants. The proposal is subject to public comment
before it can take effect. The Trump administration laid out proposals
today to allow the importation of cheaper drugs from abroad. One rule would let states bring in brand-name
drugs from Canada under federal oversight. The other lets manufacturers import cheaper
versions of their own drugs from any country. It is still unclear when the proposals would
go into effect. Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot signed a merger
deal today to form the world’s fourth largest automaker. The new company will produce more than 8.5
million cars a year, with revenues of nearly $190 billion. The companies said they plan to invest more
in low-emissions and new driving technologies. On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial
average lost 27 points to close at 28239. The Nasdaq rose four points, and the S&P 500
slipped one point. Still to come on the “NewsHour”: on the ground
in California, where Democratic voters are getting a close look at their party’s presidential
candidates; a breakthrough treatment for spinal cord injuries offers results once considered
impossible; and students from around the country share their questions for the candidates in
tomorrow’s “NewsHour”/Politico debate. California is the nation’s most populous state,
and with more than 400 delegates at stake, it’s a big prize in the Democratic presidential
primary. This year, state officials have moved up voting
to March 3, Super Tuesday. National correspondent Stephanie Sy traveled
to Southern California to hear what voters there have to say. STEPHANIE SY: Around picnic tables and kitchen
counters, California voters are torn between hope… ELIAS ALVARADO, California Democrat: I am
very confident that we will move in a better direction. STEPHANIE SY: … and fear. JOIS HOFMANN, California Democrat: I’m really
fearful for our democracy. STEPHANIE SY: Among this set of Democrats
in the Los Angeles suburb of South Whittier, the talk is grounded in the experience that
comes from a life long lived. JOIS HOFMANN: So, I’m with a candidate who
is being realistic. STEPHANIE SY: These are voters less moved
by vision and big ideas, but attentive to policy specifics. WOMAN: We want our private insurance. ELIAS ALVARADO: I like the fact that people
should have options. STEPHANIE SY: Kathie (ph), Elias, Jois, and
Jan are all undecided, but former Vice President Biden feels like a safe fallback. JOIS HOFMANN: We need someone who can defeat
Trump. And, right now, I’m certainly leaning with
Biden, although I’m such a strong feminist, it hurts me. WOMAN: Will I be voting on March 3 in the
primary? STEPHANIE SY: At a millennial phone bank event
in Westwood, a stark contrast. The under-30 voters are more interested in
who inspires them, and most have made up their mind. RACHEL BRACKER, California Democrat: I have
my candidate that I have chosen, Pete Buttigieg. WOMAN: I think I’m going to support Elizabeth
Warren. STEPHANIE SY: For decades, the state of California
has been mostly an afterthought for Democratic presidential primary candidates, but, this
year, with its earlier primary, the Golden State could be decisive. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, Annenberg School for
Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California: Voters will get their
vote-by-mail ballots the night of the Iowa caucuses. SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), Presidential Candidate:
Hello, Los Angeles! STEPHANIE SY: It’s why, more than in the past,
candidates have been coming to the state courting voters and holding rallies, not just fund-raisers,
says longtime political analyst Christina Bellantoni. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: We used to vote in June. And by doing it in March, the idea was that
you’re right after the first four traditional voting and caucusing states. You can have a significant impact. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), Presidential Candidate:
The candidate who wins here, in the largest state in the country will, in all likelihood,
win the nomination. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) STEPHANIE SY: But the most populous state
is notoriously difficult to run a campaign in. It’s a lot of ground to cover and a unique
set of challenges. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Reaching that number
of voters is just so expensive. I mean, you could spend $20 million on television
ads in California and not really make a dent. STEPHANIE SY: But, despite the hurdles, many
Californian Democrats, like working mom Amanda Nottke, are energized. AMANDA NOTTKE, California Democrat: I mean,
I’m excited. We’re spoiled for choice in a lot of ways. STEPHANIE SY: Amanda was among a small contingent
of Senator Elizabeth Warren supporters gathered for a Sunday morning beach cleanup in Santa
Monica. There’s been a lot of talk about which candidate
would do better in the general election, a progressive candidate or a moderate. Where do you fall when it comes to electability? ANDY HATTALA, California Democrat: I want
someone that is electable. But I feel like Elizabeth Warren is the best
of both worlds. She’s smart. She has plans. She is a progressive. But I think she also knows the Senate and
she knows Congress and she knows how to get things through. STEPHANIE SY: And back at the phone bank in
Westwood, Rachel Bracker says this is a pivotal moment. RACHEL BRACKER: It feels like we’re kind of
on the cusp of something, where our country can either go towards a more progressive future,
where we’re doing things like addressing climate change, addressing health care, and addressing
a growing college, an automobile, and home debt, or we’re going to ignore those issues
and go towards the sort of isolationist, less united country. STEPHANIE SY: A recent poll by The Los Angeles
Times found Democratic primary voters in California ranked climate change as their number one
priority for the next president. MATT VALDIVIA, Wildfire Victim: The climate
— climate is getting worse every year. Every year, as it’s getting hotter, we’re
not getting rains as much anymore. STEPHANIE SY: Matt and Wendy Valdivia, who
live in San Bernardino County, are one of thousands of Californians who have been impacted
by devastating wildfires. MATT VALDIVIA: That’s my house starting to
go up in flames. STEPHANIE SY: They lost their home a little
over a month ago in the Hillside Fire. The memories are still raw. MATT VALDIVIA: So I just — I saw it right
there just completely engulfed in flames. And it was burned to a crisp. STEPHANIE SY: So it was a total loss? MATT VALDIVIA: Total loss. Total everything. Everything was gone. WENDY VALDIVIA, Wildfire Victim: Like, what
was all that for? But, I mean, we’re alive. STEPHANIE SY: Matt and Wendy lost irreplaceable
letters to their children and photos stored on a stranded laptop, but they also lost the
sense of security they thought they had gained when they purchased their first home. They had saved up for two years to buy the
house. MATT VALDIVIA: It’s still almost check to
check with everything that has to — that goes within a family. You know, you have got your mortgage, and
then the prices in California aren’t cheap either, you know? And that just keeps rising and rising. You got your — your health care is rising
and rising. WENDY VALDIVIA: Insurance is too. Everything is — you need insurance for everything. STEPHANIE SY: The Valdivias face the kind
of systemic challenges that make Senator Bernie sander’s message resonate with them. MATT VALDIVIA: He’s been there through a fight
for a lot of things that weren’t popular. STEPHANIE SY: Matt calls himself a hard-core
Bernie supporter, but like all the Democrats we spoke to, he agrees the 2020 election is
about more than any single candidate. And for many voters, like Jan Baird, the bottom
line is clear. JAN BAIRD, California Democrat: I hate to
say this, but the most important quality is that they can beat Trump. That sentiment you just heard from Jan Baird,
you will hear from a lot of California voters. They feel conflicted between supporting the
Democratic candidate they really like and supporting the candidate they think can beat
President Trump in 2020. There is a lot of anxiety about a repeat of
the 2016 election here. And that’s why the debate that “PBS NewsHour”
and Politico are hosting tomorrow night here at Loyola Marymount University is being closely
watched. A lot of undecided voters want to hear from
these candidates to see who they will back in the end — John. JOHN YANG: And, Stephanie, moving California
up in the primary calendar means it is going to be the first big diverse state to test
the candidates’ appeal. STEPHANIE SY: It is the biggest state on Super
Tuesday, and it is the most diverse state. A lot of Latin — Latino voters here, a lot
of Asian-American voters here. And there is not a single candidate that voters
of color here are coalescing behind. I will say that the latest polls do show that
Senator Sanders has an edge with Latino voters. JOHN YANG: And California is also interesting,
because so many of the policies that the Democratic candidates are debating right now have actually
been enacted out there. STEPHANIE SY: Yes, I like so say, John, that
California is sort of a laboratory for progressive policies. They have the governor’s mansion. They have a supermajority in the legislature
here, so that has meant, the last two years, they have passed a lot of progressive legislation. They have stricter emissions controls for
vehicles here. They have stricter gun control. They recently passed a bill protecting gig
economy freelancers, which is still being debated in this state. So what you see is a lot of the big ideas
that we will hear candidates talk about in the debate tomorrow night actually being enacted
in this state. And, for that reason, Californians like to
think of themselves as trendsetters. JOHN YANG: Stephanie Sy at the site of tomorrow
night’s “PBS NewsHour”/Politico debate. Stephanie, you’re going to be part of our
PBS coverage tomorrow night; is that right? STEPHANIE SY: Yes, I will be part of the preshow,
the halftime show, and the post-show, along with my colleagues. I hope everyone tunes in. JOHN YANG: Preshow starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern,
and, remember, the full debate starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on PBS stations. Roughly 300,000 people in the United States
have suffered spinal cord injuries, life-changing events with far reaching-effects. But, as William Brangham reports, new research
out of the University of Louisville is giving dozens of paralyzed people the prospect of
regaining some of what they have lost. It’s part of our series Breakthroughs on the
Leading Edge of science. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For the last 10 years, this
is the only way Kent Stephenson has been able to get around. He has a severe spinal cord injury, no feeling
or movement below his chest. So, what you’re about to see is something
that shouldn’t be possible, because doctors told him his legs would never work again. And yet, today, he’s back on his feet, struggling
and straining to relearn how to take steps again. Let’s back up. In 2009, Stephenson was a semi-pro motocross
rider. But one day at practice, he took a jump, his
bike seized up, and he crashed. As he was rolled into the hospital on a gurney,
he got a glimpse of a future he’d never imagined. KENT STEPHENSON, Suffered Spinal Cord Injury:
Opened my eyes, and you could see the ceiling, and it was metal, and you could see the reflection
of myself. And that was when it really hit me, because
one of my boots was still on for some reason. I don’t know why they didn’t take it off,
but I was like, oh, boy, I cannot feel that. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Stephenson had destroyed
two vertebrae in his back. Doctors said he’d be in a wheelchair for the
rest of his life. His career was over. KENT STEPHENSON: I mean, that was my dream
since I was little, was to go do that, race that pro circuit and do all that. And it was — I mean, it was like, heck, yes,
let’s go, because everything was in place, and then everything changed that day. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But, in 2010, he enlisted
in an experimental research program at the University of Louisville. The traditional view has been that when someone
like Stephenson has such a bad injury, the signal between his brain and his spinal cord
is permanently severed. But Susan Harkema — that’s her in red — directs
spinal cord injury research at the University of Louisville and the Frazier Rehab Institute. She wondered whether there was more to it
than that. SUSAN HARKEMA, University of Louisville: When
a person has a spinal cord injury, as devastating as that is, it’s only where the bone is broken
that the neurons die. But there’s millions of neurons below that
are still alive and can function under the right conditions. And then we know all the neurons in the brain
are still there. It’s just that communication network that’s
broken. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Harkema and her colleagues
ran a series of experiments using what’s known as an epidural stimulator, a device typically
used to treat pain. Implanted near the base of the spine, it delivers
a small electrical current. They wanted to test the idea that this current
could restore some of that spinal communication. But when Stephenson got his implant, he thought
the whole thing sounded pretty far-fetched. I know, the whole time, you’re just thinking,
like, come on, guys, we know what the answer of this is. KENT STEPHENSON: Yes. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It ain’t going to happen. KENT STEPHENSON: You know, the little gremlin
over here on my shoulder, yes, he’s like, what are you — you’re wasting your time. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That was, until something
remarkable started to happen. This video is from 2011. That’s Stephenson there. He’d just had his stimulator implanted. Remember, he hadn’t moved his lower body in
years. But now he’s going to try. KENT STEPHENSON: Up. Down. WOMAN: Awesome. KENT STEPHENSON: Oh, man, I mean, it was — my
mom was in the room. And I was there. We got all eye-watery and everything. I mean, I was like, oh, boy, you know, now
what? Where’s this going to go, you know? (LAUGHTER) KENT STEPHENSON: Because I have just been
told from day one that you just traumatically injured your spinal cord. It’s done. You know, there’s nothing. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Harkema acknowledges she
too was stunned at these results. She and her colleagues don’t exactly know
how or why this all works. The theory is, even with the most severe spinal
injuries, some pathways remain intact, and the stimulator helps amplify the signal from
the brain through the spine to the limbs. Then, to augment this effect, they use intense
physical therapy to recreate what it physically and mentally feels like to walk again. SUSAN HARKEMA: You put weight back on the
legs, you get them extended, you get the trunk upright, and the spinal circuitry says, oh,
I know what that is. That’s standing. I know how to do that. And then the circuits for standing relearn
again. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Nearly two dozen others
have been implanted with stimulators through this program. Twelve are now able to stand upright with
support. Two have been able to walk assisted over flat
ground. One managed to walk nearly a quarter-of-a-mile,
with breaks, over the course of an hour. Other programs in Switzerland and the Mayo
Clinic in Minnesota have produced similar results. Of course, it’s all easier said than done. Training, in many cases, takes more than a
year. Marissa Kirkling has had her implant since
last summer. After a car accident last year left her paralyzed
below the chest, she too had been told this would never happen. WOMAN: One, two, three. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She’s in the early days
of learning to stand again. And she’s the first to admit it’s really hard. MARISSA KIRKLING, Suffered Spinal Cord Injury:
You have to be thinking. As I keep talking, I kind of get a little
off — focused off my legs. I’m losing them. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, am I distracting you
here? Should I go away? MARISSA KIRKLING: No, you’re OK. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She’s got to concentrate
on every single muscle, her posture, where her feet are, not to mention answer my questions. MARISSA KIRKLING: Before my accident, you
know, you don’t have to really think. Like, you’re standing there right now. You don’t have to think, oh, squeeze your
glutes, toes up, heels to the floor. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, you’re thinking all
those thoughts right now? MARISSA KIRKLING: Yes. I am, like head up straight, neck back, shoulders
back, yes, so — because if you don’t think about them, you’re going to — I’m going to
buckle. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But the benefits for her
go beyond standing. Spinal cord injuries also impair some people’s
ability to regulate their blood pressure. Kirkling says hers would drop so suddenly,
even getting out of bed was a challenge. MARISSA KIRKLING: Then you pass out, and then
it’s like you’re out, and then you just come back. And then you just have to try again. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And that would happen several
times during an average day? MARISSA KIRKLING: Yes. Yes. It’s just — you could be at the grocery store
or the mall shopping, just sitting there watching a movie. It doesn’t matter. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But the epidural stimulator
also improves this function. Now Kirkling is off most of her blood pressure
medications, and she can get through most days without passing out. She’s also regaining her ability to sing,
something else her accident robbed her of. Of course, there are still plenty of other
open questions. Dr. Ali Rezai is a neurosurgeon and director
of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University. DR. ALI REZAI, West Virginia University: It’s
interesting and it’s exciting, but there’s a lot of constraints that we need to look
at, in terms of, not every — it doesn’t work in everybody. So we have got to understand, why is it? I think being able to just get rough movements
is very exciting, no doubt, but we need to translate that into functional, practical
applications. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Beyond that, Rezai says,
there’s the issue of scalability. DR. ALI REZAI: A lot of these studies across the
world have large teams, neurosurgeons, neuroscientists, neurologists, dozens of people. And the patients have to come to the hospital
or to the clinic. We need to translate that to the home. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Harkema acknowledges this
research is still just the tip of the iceberg. SUSAN HARKEMA: We need to look at the process
differently right now. Regardless of epidural stimulation, whether
it should be a treatment or not, we know people can recover. I mean, that’s clear. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For Kent Stephenson and
his wife, who were babysitting their niece when we visited, it’s meant dreams of an expanding
future. KENT STEPHENSON: One of my questions right
out of the gate in the back of my mind was, can I have kids? You know, the physical fitness that I have
gotten back from being part of the stimulator program, it gives me that instillment that
I could be, you know, the utmost father that I was going to be before or after injury. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For Marissa Kirkling, it
not only means the possibility of one day standing and walking on her own, but regaining
the ability to do something she loves. (SINGING) WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For the “PBS NewsHour,”
I’m William Brangham in Louisville, Kentucky. JOHN YANG: After a historic turnout from Generation
Z in last year’s midterm elections, Democratic presidential candidates are heavily courting
young voters. Our Student Reporting Labs project reached
out to teens around the country to find out what issues they care about and what questions
they’d like to hear the candidates answer at tomorrow’s “NewsHour”/Politico debate. HASKELLE TRIGUE WHITE, Student: My name is
Haskelle Trigue White. I’m from Beaverton, Oregon. And the question I have for the presidential
candidates at the next Democratic debate is about gun violence. As a high school student, I am terrified every
day that my school will be next. What are you going to do to stop school shootings? KATE CASPER, Student: My question to the Democratic
candidates is, to those Republicans at home who are dissatisfied with the current state
of the Trump administration, what can you say to them to show that you would be a president
for all the people, not just those within your party? SAM OSWALD, Student: My name is Sam Oswald
from Salt Lake City, Utah. And my question for the Democratic candidates
is, how will your faith influence your actions in the White House? PHYLICIA BAILEY, Student: My name is Phylicia
Bailey from Mount Clemens, Michigan. And my question for the candidates is, what
can you do about lowering the cost of college tuition? ARELY HERNANDEZ, Student: How many refugees
should the United States take in? And how would you balance the humanitarian
concerns of migrants and border enforcement? ITZEL LUNA, Student: If DACA were to end,
what would you do to help those people that are no longer being protected? MARJINA HAGUE, Student: Are they going to
keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are they going to continue funding a war that’s
been going on for almost two decades now? JOSEFINA OWUSU, Student: How will you put
an end to mass incarceration, and how will you put an end to white terrorism and hate
crimes in the United States? CAMERON MARTIN, Student: How can you take
on the billionaire class if you yourself are taking monies from billionaires? LAUREN LARSEN, Student: The national debt
has doubled in the last decade to over $22 trillion. Young people of my generation are expected
to bear the burden of national debt. Why do we have to pay the price of your promises? MIKA FREUND, Student: What actions will you
take to protect women’s rights? For example, are you going to prevent restrictive
abortion laws? HUNTER AKINS, Student: The question I would
like to ask the Democratic candidates is how they plan to deal with big pharmaceutical
companies and the current prices of medicines, such as EpiPens and insulin? IMAAD ALI, Student: Should funding for mental
health illness be increased for research purposes? I’m a high school student, and student stress
is a really big thing. Student stress can cause depression, anxiety
and a lot of other medical issues. DANIEL DEMING, Student: If elected, how would
your environmental policy address states that have economies largely based upon the fossil
fuel industry? ANGELINA HUNT, Student: My name is Angelina
Hunt. I’m from Alexandria, Virginia. And my question for the Democratic candidates
is, in a time where there’s a lot of political division in our country, if you were elected
president, what would you do to heal that divide? JOHN YANG: Good questions. You can find a preview of tomorrow’s “NewsHour”/Politico
debate online. We will be posting stories and analysis all
the way through the debate. That’s on our Web site, And that is the “NewsHour” for tonight. I’m John Yang. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the “PBS NewsHour,” thanks and see you soon.

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