March 3, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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March 3, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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03/03/2023 | 56m 42s | Video has closed captioning.
March 3, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening, and welcome.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
Geoff Bennett is on assignment.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: Walgreens says it won't sell abortion pills in a handful of states where the medication is still legal, the latest blow to reproductive rights in the U.S. We speak to some of the tens of thousands of prisoners conscripted by Russia to fight on the front lines in Ukraine.
And one of the first Black officers to lead a Special Forces unit receives the Medal of Honor nearly 60 years after first being recommended for the prestigious award.
COL. PARIS DAVIS (RET.
), Medal of Honor Recipient: This medal means a lot.
It means a lot to America to see that we are all capable of doing good.
(BREAK) AMNA NAWAZ: We begin tonight with the war in Ukraine, where the besieged city of Bakhmut appears to be on its last legs.
Russian artillery fire rained down today on the final access routes to the eastern city.
Ukraine's defenders also faced scores of ground attacks.
And the head of Russia's Wagner Group mercenaries claimed the city is almost entirely surrounded.
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, Wagner Group (through translator): The pincers are getting tighter.
If, earlier, the professional Ukrainian army fought against us, today, we see more and more old people and children.
They fight, but their life under Bakhmut is short, one or two days.
Let them leave the city.
AMNA NAWAZ: A victory I'm Bakhmut would mark Russia's first major win in Ukraine in half-a-year.
President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged anew today to support Ukraine as long as it takes.
The leaders met at the White House and said they will continue working in lockstep.
The president also thanked Scholz for keeping up the pressure on Russia.
Israeli troops used to stun grenades and tear gas today to disrupt a rally by Israeli left-wing activists in the occupied West Bank.
It was meant to show solidarity with a Palestinian town that Jewish settlers had attacked on Sunday.
Soldiers pushed protesters to the ground and also blocked busloads of others from the area.
The army said the town is now a closed military zone.
In Belarus, a court sentenced a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner to 10 years in prison.
Ales Bialiatski was accused of helping to finance huge anti-government protests in 2020.
He's already spent 21 months in jail and appeared today in a caged enclosure in court.
One exiled opposition leader called the verdict appalling.
Back in this country, a judge in South Carolina sentenced Alex Murdaugh to life in prison without parole for murdering his wife and son.
The trial of the once prominent lawyer drew national attention, but the jury found him guilty in less than three hours on Thursday.
Today, Murdaugh insisted he was innocent.
He admitted stealing to feed an opioid addiction and lying about it.
Judge Clifton Newman said he lied about the murders as well.
JUDGE CLIFTON NEWMAN, South Carolina Circuit Court: You have engaged in such duplicitous conduct here in the courtroom, here on the witness stand.
And the question is, when will it end?
When will it end?
And it's ended already for the jury, because they have concluded that you continued to lie and lie throughout your testimony.
AMNA NAWAZ: Murdaugh's defense attorneys said today they plan to appeal.
A winter storm system that varied parts of California and snow has now reached the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.
It could bring 18 inches of snow and high winds through Saturday.
Overnight, the front touched off tornadoes in Texas and Louisiana, tearing up trees and cutting power to thousands of customers.
One twister struck near Pickton, Texas, north of Dallas.
RAY WOODARSKI, Pickton, Texas, Resident: Somebody said: "Man, that train sounds loud."
And I said: "That ain't no train.
The train come -- noise is coming from there."
We looked up, and there it was coming straight through the day on woods.
It looked like Moses was parting the Red Sea.
AMNA NAWAZ: No one was hurt in the tornadoes, but high winds were blamed for three deaths today in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
President Biden's doctor says a small lesion the president's chest turned out to be cancerous, but not malignant.
The lesion was removed last month.
Dr. Kevin O'Connor said today a biopsy showed a basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer.
He said no further treatment is needed.
And, on Wall Street, stocks saw their best gains since January as interest rates eased on the bond market.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 337 points or 1 percent to close it 33391.
The Nasdaq rose 2 percent.
The S&P 500 added 1.6 percent.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": one of the first Black officers to lead a Special Forces unit finally received the Medal of Honor; what the annual Conservative Political Conference says about Republican priorities; David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart weigh in on the week's political headlines; plus much more.
The nation's second largest pharmacy chain, Walgreens, said today it will not dispense abortion pills in several states where the drug remains legal.
The decision comes after nearly two dozen Republican attorneys general wrote to the company threatening legal action.
Sarah Varney is a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, joins me now.
Sarah, it's good to see you.
Let's just start with a map, if we can.
I want to show folks the states we're talking about; 21 attorneys general from these states shown here have threatened that legal action.
In many of them, abortion is already illegal or severely restricted.
But, in four, in four shown here, Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana, Walgreens could still legally dispense those pills, but they're saying that they still won't.
So, Sarah, what kind of an impact are we talking about in those four states and for whom?
SARAH VARNEY, Kaiser Health News: Well, the biggest impact I think right now is just to show that these legal threats work.
So, right now, abortion medication is not available in these pharmacies.
You have to get it from a clinician who has a specific registration with the government.
Or you can get it via some telehealth medicine, some telehealth pharmacies.
So it will change nothing on the ground in this moment.
But the idea was to really try and actually allow dispensing of mifepristone in these pharmacies in communities, so that they were more accessible to women in what is typically a very-time sensitive situation.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, if you live in one of those states and you're seeking abortion care, what will be your options?
SARAH VARNEY: Well, you could -- depending on some of the telehealth restrictions in your state, you could do a telehealth appointment with someone outside of the state.
You could order it from an online pharmacy, like Honey Health -- Honeybee Health, rather.
You could order it from Aid Access, which is an organization based in Austria that has been sending them mifepristone and misoprostol into the United States kind of regardless of what's happening with the legality of abortion in your state.
AMNA NAWAZ: We should mention those same Republican attorneys general have also written to other pharmacies, to CVS, Albertsons, Rite Aid, Costco, Walmart, and Kroger, demanding that they also refuse to dispense the medication.
Do we know if they will?
SARAH VARNEY: I have not heard back from CVS yet.
But Rite Aid did say that they would continue to monitor the latest federal and state and legal developments and that they will continue to evaluate whether or not the company is able to dispense mifepristone in those states.
AMNA NAWAZ: And if they do act, if any other pharmacies also decide to take similar action, what does that say to you about the access for these abortion pills?
SARAH VARNEY: Well, these attorneys generals, I mean, particularly somebody like Steve Marshall from Alabama, these are -- these are very aggressively anti-abortion attorneys generals.
In Alabama, for instance, they made the suggestion that, if they couldn't prosecute women who had abortions for homicide, that they might use the state's chemical endangerment law to bring -- to bring charges against women.
So, these attorneys generals are getting very creative in how they are trying to figure out how to stop access to abortion, both in clinics, how to stop the flow of pills into their state.
And they haven't gone so far as to say we need to be searching the mail, which is, of course, run by the federal government.
But they do say in their letter to these pharmacies that, under a different type of Department of Justice, that the DOJ would have a different reading of what's called the Comstock Act, which was a law from the 1800s that's an anti-obscenity law that prevents the mailing of abortion drugs through the mail.
The Biden administration says that's no longer applicable, because, in these states where abortion is legal, that law doesn't apply.
But in their letter, the attorneys general say that, under a different type of Department of Justice, there would be a different reading of that application.
AMNA NAWAZ: Sarah, in the 30 seconds or so we have left, I know you have been reporting on this potential federal judge ruling in Texas as well that could further limit abortion pill access there.
When you talk to advocates for abortion rights, what are they telling you about this moment?
SARAH VARNEY: They're very, very concerned.
I mean, this judge in Amarillo, Texas, he has -- he's a devout Christian.
He is a devout anti-abortion activist.
And I think they're very concerned that, if he were to rule in favor of this Christian legal organization, that mifepristone would disappear off the market in every state in the country.
AMNA NAWAZ: Sarah Varney, senior health correspondent for Kaiser Health News, joining us tonight.
Sarah, good to see you.
SARAH VARNEY: Thanks, Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: Russia has thrown hundreds of thousands of troops into its war in Ukraine and suffered immense casualties.
Some of those personnel are drawn from Russia's prisons, both officially and through a private military company called the Wagner Group.
With the support of the Pulitzer Center, special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky and videographer Yegor Troyanovsky traveled to a Ukrainian prisoner of war camp.
They met with men faced with a stark choice, prison or the front lines.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: This is Artyom.
Three months ago, he was serving a nine-year sentence for murder in a Russian penal colony.
Now he's calling his mother to tell her he's no longer a convict.
He's a prisoner of war.
ARTYOM, Prisoner of War (through translator): Hello.
Hi, WOMAN (through translator): Hello?
ARTYOM (through translator): It's me.
Listen, everything is OK. Don't worry.
I'm OK. Basically, I have been captured in Ukraine, understand?
WOMAN (through translator): But how?
ARTYOM (through translator): It's war.
That's what happens.
WOMAN (through translator): Are you being fed?
ARTYOM (through translator): Everything's OK.
WOMAN (through translator): Are they hurting you?
ARTYOM (through translator): No.
The surprising thing is, the people in Ukraine are OK. SIMON OSTROVSKY: He's not alone.
Artyom, whose name we have changed, is one of tens of thousands of convicts, who have been taken from prisons in Russia since June and thrown into the meat grinder that is the front line of the war in Ukraine.
As he waited in line to use the phone, he told us he had three years of his prison sentence left and was recruited with a promise of freedom and good pay way.
ARTYOM (through translator): These military guys show up in full uniform and say: Here's how it is.
You fight for half-a-year.
If you're alive and well, you get a full pardon, 100,000 rubles per month.
Yes or no?
I say yes.
I figure I can fight for half-a-year.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: Almost immediately, he was transported to an airfield by prison bus and flown to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, where he received about a month of training.
Then he was ordered to storm a village.
ARTYOM (through translator): They point to some coordinates and tell the commander: Go there.
Take the positions and fight.
So we go.
We get there.
Everything is brutal, like war, real brutal.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: After securing a foothold in the village, the convicts were ordered to retreat and were replaced by a different group of soldiers.
Although we weren't able to independently verify Artyom's account, it corresponds to assessments of how Russia is using convicts as expendable fighters thrown at the enemy in human waves.
For many of the convicts being held here, the path from a Russian prison to a Ukrainian prisoner of war camp is very short, because the Russian military uses the convicts as storm troops, and the casualty rate is very high, and so is the rate of capture.
This man was recruited from a prison in the occupied the Donetsk region of Ukraine, and was told he'd merely be used to dig trenches and carry the wounded.
MAN (through translator): Then, when we arrived for our rotation, there weren't enough people and we were forced into a wave.
Our APC was hit.
And we all jumped into the trenches, and they just threw a bunch of grenades at us.
I lost consciousness.
I don't remember anything else.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: When he came to, his leg was gone, and he was a prisoner of war.
But the vast majority of prisoners-turned-fighters have been recruited by this man, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of Russia's foremost military contractor, the Wagner Group YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, Wagner Group (through translator): We're very scrupulous about those who are convicted of sexual crimes.
But we understand that, sometimes, people make mistakes.
Who do we want?
We are looking for storm troops only.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: Last summer, Prigozhin, who's an ex-con himself, started visiting prisons around Russia to offer convicts a chance at freedom if they joined his ranks, and he didn't mince his words.
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN (through translator): The biggest sin is desertion.
No reverse, not one step back.
No one gives themselves up.
In training, you will be told about the two grenades you have to use when you get captured.
MAN (through translator): Yevgeny Prigozhin flew into our prison and talk to the prisoners.
There were 560 people; 220 agreed to sign a contract with the Wagner Group and participate in the special military operation.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: This prisoner had eight years left to serve on a sentence for attempting to sell two kilograms of narcotics, when he signed a contract with the Wagner Group.
After training for seven weeks, he fought just one battle.
MAN (through translator): On January 2, we were given orders to advance 500 meters to the tree line.
There were 10 of us.
As we advanced, we were engaged.
We had only advanced about 70 meters.
Eight of us were killed.
The commander who was wounded called back to our lines, and I ended up being captured.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: Now his greatest fear is being traded to Russia and getting thrown back into battle MAN (through translator): Because I signed a contract, I have still got two months left, according to the contract.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: "NewsHour" had to agree not to show guards' faces or disclose the location of the POW camp to gain access.
The prison is regularly monitored by international observers and appears to be run as a model facility.
The POWs we spoke with told us they were giving interviews of their own free will.
And while we can't be certain they weren't under duress, some of their responses were even defiant.
MAN (through translator): When they came to see us, they said that they were from a private military contractor.
They said they could help us get out of prison early, wash our guilt away with blood, so to speak.
I decided that I was needed not only by my family, but by my country.
So, whatever I'm ordered to do, sorry, but, as a soldier, I'm required to carry it out.
A Russian person must defend their country.
Olga Romanova is the Director of Russia Behind Bars, a prisoner rights group with extensive sources in the Russian penitentiary system.
She told me Wagner alone had recruited as many as 50,000 prisoners to fight in Ukraine as of February of this year.
OLGA ROMANOVA, Director, Russia Behind Bars (through translator): Since February 1, the Defense Ministry has started recruiting from the same prisons as Wagner.
They offer a full Pardon after half-a-year, same as Wagner $140 a day, $50,000 for an injury leaving to a handicap, and $80,000 in case of death.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: What's the social effect that this is having in Russia, given the fact that the people aren't -- that the prisoners aren't serving their full terms?
How is that affecting their victims or the families of the victims of the convicts?
OLGA ROMANOVA (through translator): They could still recruit 150,000 to 200,000 prisoners, in addition to the 50,000 they have already signed up, easily.
And how has Russian society reacted?
No one is sorry.
Everyone prefers it to be the prisoners, rather than their own sons and husbands, naturally.
So this policy is very popular.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: For former prisoners, life as a POW isn't as big an adjustment as it is for ordinary soldiers, who are unfamiliar with the strict regime of a secure facility.
ARTYOM (through translator): This is a prison facility.
If you don't break the rules, everything's all right.
We just got here yesterday, and I haven't seen anything really bad yet.
SIMON OSTROVSKY: The biggest question for them is whether they will end up back in prison in Russia, or back on the front lines of Ukraine, or as free men.
For now, the only thing they're certain of is that they have managed to survive this far.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simon Ostrovsky in Western Ukraine.
AMNA NAWAZ: One of the first Black military officers to lead an elite unit in combat today received the nation's highest award for bravery on the battlefield, righting what advocates say was a decades-long injustice.
Geoff Bennett has the story and a conversation with retired Army Colonel Paris Davis.
GEOFF BENNETT: Recognition nearly 60 years overdue.
(APPLAUSE) GEOFF BENNETT: President Biden today awarding retired Army Colonel Paris Davis the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's most prestigious decoration, for Davis' acts of valor as a commander during the Vietnam War.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Paris, you are everything this medal means, I mean everything this medal means.
And look, you're everything our generation aspired to be.
And you are everything our nation is at our best.
GEOFF BENNETT: Davis, now 83 years old, was one of the first Black officers to lead a U.S. Special Forces team in combat.
On June 18, 1965, Davis, then a captain, led his team, plus 95 South Vietnamese troops, in a predawn raid on a North Vietnamese army camp.
When the raid started, a counterattack forced the group into a rice paddy with no cover.
Every American was wounded, some stranded.
Davis, shot and hit by grenade shrapnel, raced back to rescue his team.
COL. PARIS DAVIS (RET.
), Medal of Honor Recipient: We were sort of submerged in the rice paddy, had been shot twice in the same foot.
GEOFF BENNETT: Davis first spoke of the battle in 1969 on the Phil Donahue show, sharing how he twice refused orders from a commander to withdraw.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: Well, I told him: "Sir, I'm just not going to leave.
I still have an American out there."
GEOFF BENNETT: The combat lasted 19 hours.
His entire team survived.
Immediately after, Davis' commander submitted his name for the Medal of Honor.
But the military lost his paperwork two times, with no record of it ever being submitted.
Davis' team has long argued race played a role.
RON DEIS, Former Special Forces Soldier: It's been emotional, to say the least.
GEOFF BENNETT: Ron Deis, at 79, is the team's youngest survivor.
He's also part of the group of advocates who painstakingly recreated and resubmitted Davis' Medal of Honor paperwork.
What does Colonel Davis mean to you?
RON DEIS: In this past nine years, working with the team to recreate all the documentation it takes for a medal like this, growing very fond of him.
I respected him immensely when I was under his command.
And that's never wavered.
GEOFF BENNETT: We spoke with Colonel Davis the day before the Medal of Honor ceremony.
In June of 1965, Davis was 26 years old, a Black officer leading an all-white unit.
He recalled the day of the attack.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: I remember that the first thing on my mind was to get going.
When you're in a situation that is foreign to you, you take a moment and try to piece it together.
In a war, you don't do that.
GEOFF BENNETT: And you were firing your rifle with your pinkie finger... COL. PARIS DAVIS: That's right.
GEOFF BENNETT: ... because your hand was shattered by a grenade.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: That's right.
Not only that.
The grenade knocked out a couple of my teeth and some other things.
And think about fighting, pulling the trigger with your little finger.
It's slippery, blood everywhere, people dying, a volley of the Air Force dropping bombs, the artillery of firing shells.
And all this is happening, and you got a couple of men down.
GEOFF BENNETT: And you twice disobeyed commands to withdraw, to effectively abandon your men.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: Yes.
Well, it was really interesting, because I'm trying to make a decision of what -- how we can really handle the wounded.
I understand he was a general officer and saying: "Don't worry.
Just leave him there.
And we will get him."
And I'd said: "We're not going to -- we're not going to go."
It probably stopped me from being a general officer, because I had disobeyed an order.
GEOFF BENNETT: Immediately after that, your commander submitted your name for the Medal of Honor.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: Yes.
GEOFF BENNETT: But the paperwork inexplicably disappeared twice.
And there was no record of the file.
It strikes me that you didn't have to wonder much about the reason for that.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: The interesting thing there was, the soldiers ere saying: "What's going on here?"
It brought to the fore racism and the different way whites are treated and Blacks are treated.
They had never, to my knowledge, at that time lost a Medal of Honor citation that was lost by a white guy.
But they did with a Black guy.
And the soldiers knew it.
And so it changed the whole complexion of war, especially when you're out there fighting with them, and they know that it's not right.
And the other thing is, more important than that is the fact that I pulled guard duty.
They thought that that was the thing that separated me from other officers, because, when other officers had teams, they never pulled guard duty, that their lives were on the line when they were pulling guard duty.
Why couldn't I?
The other thing that we did was the fact that NCOs all ran patrols.
I was on some of those patrol, not as a leader, but as a machine gunner.
GEOFF BENNETT: President Biden called you to inform you that you would receive the Medal of Honor.
What was that moment like?
COL. PARIS DAVIS: I don't know if a lot of people know the president.
But, in those five or six minutes -- and he wanted to talk longer -- he was so cordial.
Remember the balloons that were up in the sky.
I mean, that's when I got the phone call.
And we started talking.
And he had read a lot of the things that I was doing, good things, the battles and all that, and just a couple of them, not in detail, but it was enough for me to realize that he knew what was going on.
And so, during the conversation, he would ask about the family and about this and that.
There was a time when he said something about lunch, and I said: "Are you going to pay for it?"
(LAUGHTER) COL. PARIS DAVIS: He said: "Why the hell would I have you there if I would have to pay for it myself?"
(LAUGHTER) COL. PARIS DAVIS: And we talked about the -- we were talking about the White House.
And we had a couple of three really nice jokes there that aren't appropriate right now.
But I will tell you, he's got a sense of humor.
GEOFF BENNETT: How do you think you're going to feel when he puts the Medal of Honor around your neck?
COL. PARIS DAVIS: Well, the one thing that I'm really afraid of doing is crying.
The medal means to the Black race than it means to me.
For so long, we have had this reputation of not being part of America.
I think this medal might settle that.
And I think it's really important for something like this to happen.
Luckily, it's happening to me.
This medal means a lot.
It means a lot to America to see that we're all capable of doing -- doing good.
GEOFF BENNETT: What's it like living for 60 years knowing that you deserved recognition for what you were wrongfully denied?
COL. PARIS DAVIS: The thing that bothered me the most is, the military, knowing that, didn't have the gumption to give me a call to say, hey, we lost it, and we can't find it, and then coming back and said: "We understand that someone put the second narrative in, and we can't find it either."
And I'm saying: "You're telling me you lost the citation twice?"
And they said: "No, no, no, we just can't find it twice."
And I said: "Right."
It was something that doesn't happen.
You can name the number of people that have won the Medal of Honor.
And to lose -- just to lose that, that citation, really pissed me off.
But when -- when you find out, the silence is the word.
No one says anything for 50 years.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, it's all being made right now.
So... COL. PARIS DAVIS: That is.
The other thing you is, I'm happy as a pig in you-know-what that it is going to be President Biden.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, Colonel Davis, congratulations, sir.
It is a real honor to speak with you.
And there are -- there are lots of folks who thank you for your sacrifice, your patience, your diligence, your tenacity, your service.
So, thank you.
COL. PARIS DAVIS: No, thank you.
I really appreciate it.
AMNA NAWAZ: For nearly 50 years, grassroots activists have gathered to hear from GOP leaders at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
As Republicans debate who is the best candidate to help them win back the White House next year, Laura Barron-Lopez reports on what's gaining traction with the party's right flank.
MAN: Look at all the people loving you right here.
Look at Don Jr., Don Jr. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Once a Republican primary season tradition... FMR.
SARAH PALIN (R-AK): They're socialists.
MICHAEL LINDELL, CEO, MyPillow: Paper ballots hand-counted.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: ... speeches to the party faithful at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC... REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Vote for Donald J. Trump!
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: ... is now a platform for white grievance politics, loyal acolytes of former President Donald Trump.
REP. MATT GAETZ: We either get this government back on our side or we defund and get rid of, abolish the FBI, CDC, ATF, DOJ, every last one of them!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: And election deniers.
DONALD TRUMP JR., Son of Donald Trump: I'm the one that's willing to say this stuff because someone has to.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Tomorrow, Trump delivers the keynote speech to close out the conference.
But he's not alone.
All of the GOP's declared presidential candidates are making their case, today, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
NIKKI HALEY (R), Presidential Candidate: I'm running for president to renew an America that is strong and proud, not weak and woke.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: And entrepreneur and activist Vivek Ramaswamy.
VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), Presidential Candidate: I am all in on the America first agenda.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Still, this year, several of the party's leaders, like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, as well as many of the potential presidential candidates, are sitting out.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott are among those who will not be speaking, opting instead to attend a donor retreat in Florida for the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth.
Haley is going to both events.
AL CARDENAS, Former Chair, American Conservative Union: Well, CPAC and the American Conservative Union specifically were the geese that laid the golden eggs for the Republican conservative movement.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Al Cardenas is a Republican strategist and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union, the organization responsible for organizing CPAC.
AL CARDENAS: I don't think that most of the folks coming are conservative.
I think they're populists.
I think they're part of this cancel culture.
I think they're deniers, election deniers.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: CPAC and its current chairman, Matt Schlapp, are facing a new scandal.
In January, Schlapp was accused of groping a GOP campaign aide during the midterm elections, allegations Schlapp denies.
Cardenas says many 2020 hopefuls are skipping the conference for a different reason.
AL CARDENAS: They're not coming either by design or by the fact that they don't want to be participants in a show that is basically laying a crown on Donald Trump's head.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: A recent "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll found that more than half of Republicans say the party would be better off with a 2024 nominee other than Donald Trump.
But, here at CPAC, with this group of the Republican base, it's clear it's still Trump's party.
ANN KATCEF, CPAC Attendee: I think that DeSantis is a possibility for the future, but not now.
Trump deserves to finish what he started.
And we need him.
TROELLA TYZNIK, CPAC Attendee: President Trump is the best president that this nation can have.
Right now, there is not anyone that can wear his moccasins.
JADEN HEARD, CPAC Attendee: We know that Trump was a good president, but we think DeSantis will be a good president.
Like, it's really, like, tough.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Trump has won the CPAC straw poll the last two years, and his influence was present again this year.
Some of his biggest allies, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, had prime speaking slots to push a far right agenda.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I'm going to be introducing my bill, the Protect Children's Innocence Act, that will make it a felony to perform anything to do with gender-affirming care on children.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: In recent weeks, some other would-be candidates like DeSantis have targeted suburban voters, who recently departed the GOP with a tough-on-crime message.
But for the audience at CPAC, the focus on anti-LGBTQ, anti-transgender and a false belief that K-12 schools teach college-level race and ethnic studies resonated the most.
ALEX WALTON, CPAC Attendee: There's been a lot of focus on the past couple of years on some really important issues, like Critical Race Theory and classrooms and the overall content that they're teaching in schools.
That stuff's important.
ANN KATCEF: Woke.
Woke is divisive and... LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: What is woke?
ANN KATCEF: Woke, that's where -- I have got the Critical Race Theory.
You got all the -- woke is broad.
I mean, I -- it's -- to me, it's the Critical Race Theory, the bathroom thing.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: With months before the primary debates begin, Cardenas says the GOP candidates are still honing their messages and finding their own path to the nomination.
AL CARDENAS: You're either going to be a pure-blood, anti-woke, pro-culture wars candidate, or you're not.
And the candidates who decide to jump into the fray, they have got to wait until either Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis fades away before they have a unique chance, I think LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Though some have yet to officially join the race, most of the 2020 hopefuls will be traveling to the critical early state of Iowa in the coming weeks.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barron-Lopez in National Harbor, Maryland.
AMNA NAWAZ: For insights on CPAC, the future of the Republican Party and the rest of the week's news, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.
That is New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.
Welcome to you both.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Hey, Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: Good to see you.
Let's pick up where Laura left off there.
David, it used to see him for a few years the road to the Republican nomination ran through CPAC.
That does not seem to be true this year.
When you look at who chose to go and who chose to stay away, what do you see?
What does it say about the party?
DAVID BROOKS: It's sort of the history of the party over the last 40 years.
Like, Reagan went to -- used to go to CPAC.
But it was like a feint to the populists.
Like, he would go, but he was not really of it.
And then it became the party under Donald Trump.
And now CPAC, partly because of Matt Schlapp's problems, but, partly, it's gone from centrist populism, which was pretty right, to wacky populism.
And so it's moved even further than I would say the mainstream of the party is, thus rendering irrelevant.
What's new is that a candidate used to be able to go to Club for Growth, or CPAC, or American Enterprise Institute, and these were all different wings of the party.
But now you have got to go to one or the other.
And so, if you go to one, you're seen as an opponent of the other wing of the party.
And so that's a sign of the fissures in the party, that you're either sort of on the establishment team or you're on the populist team, but you can't be on both teams, which is a problem for the party.
AMNA NAWAZ: What does it say that Nikki Haley is going to both?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, she's going to try.
(LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: She's going to wind up on the establishment team, I think.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan, we saw some of the folks who chose to go there.
Among them, we're going to see Donald Trump and Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy.
Mike Pence didn't go.
Ron DeSantis didn't go.
If you go to that room, who are you speaking to?
Is it still relevant to some part of the Republican base?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, yes, it is.
There's a reason why Donald Trump is going there.
I mean, those are his people.
Those are his ride-or-dies, if you -- for lack of a better description.
And so it would be a waste of time for Mike Pence to go there or Ron DeSantis or anyone who wants to be a serious challenger to Donald Trump.
And look at the folks that we saw speaking on camera about what they were concerned about, not foreign policy, not economic policy.
I could go back to when we were here with State of the Union night and you made the observation that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the governor of Arkansas, in her response didn't even talk about the economy.
I mean, I remember it was the economy, inflation, job -- and crime were the big issues that Republicans ran on.
Didn't hear any of that there.
So, I think Laura pointed out perfectly that conference is now just about white grievance, and targeting trans kids and anyone who's not like them.
AMNA NAWAZ: We did see Steve Bannon was among those who spoke there.
And, at CPAC today, he went after FOX, he saying they're not pro-Trump enough.
But, just this week, we did see a huge admission in that -- the latest filings and the defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems, that admission from FOX chairman Rupert Murdoch.
He conceded under oath FOX hosts lied about the 2020 election, and he chose not to stop them.
What are the implications of that?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, let's think about how big this is.
Like, I remember, Rupert Murdoch, he started a paper called The Australian a long time ago.
He was a journalist, an actual journalist.
And now he's gotten to the point where you can lie on camera if -- as long as your ratings are OK. And he didn't lie.
They -- those people who lied didn't lie over little things.
They lied about the election results of a presidential election, kind of a major deal.
And we now know they all -- as we all suspected, they all knew what was happening.
And Murdoch is sitting there atop this organization sort of blithely pretending it's not really his problem.
And so he can say it, and he has power over the corporation today.
He owns it.
He could fire Tucker.
He could fire all the people -- all the people who were in on this and whose journalistic integrity has been exposed as zero.
And yet he's still trying to blithely rise above it.
And so it's amazing that we have a major news organization that is inaccurate about a presidential election.
I mean, it's kind of an amazing fact.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Yes.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan, what did you make of that?
It was a big moment in the case that is still unfolding.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Oh, it's huge.
And it was confirmation of something that folks on the left and just folks paying attention kind of suspected, that FOX News, the news is in quotes, that they're out there blatantly telling lies.
But then to see in black and white as part of this case that not only, like, yes, they would say lies on television, but then, behind the scenes, they knew the truth.
And what that says to me is, Rupert Murdoch and his anchors, those people who are peddling in lies, they are insulated from the effect of the lies that they tell.
When you see someone saying, oh, our ratings are going down, and that's going to affect the stock price, so there's no concern... AMNA NAWAZ: You're talking about some of the private messages that were revealed.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Some of the private -- yes, some of the private messages.
AMNA NAWAZ: Yes.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: So that means you're more concerned about your bottom line than the corrosive impact on our democracy and political discourse in this country.
That, to me, was what's really disturbing.
And what's even more disturbing is that FOX News isn't even really covering this lawsuit, which means that their audience, who should know about what's being said about them and about the programming for them, they will never -- they might not ever know what's -- that what they're being told is just a big bunch of lies.
AMNA NAWAZ: I go back to the impact again, though, because their audience, which is in the millions, right... JONATHAN CAPEHART: Yes.
AMNA NAWAZ: ... if you're a loyal FOX watcher prone to distrust any other information source anyway, does any of this make an impact?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, that's the point I was trying to make.
We don't even know if they will even know about this case, as a result.
And even if they do find out, either they might not trust it, or maybe they just don't care.
I don't know.
AMNA NAWAZ: You agree?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
Well, they're losing some viewers to the further right, the Bannons of the world.
So they are -- they are definitely losing viewers.
But my colleague David French made the core point about FOX.
If you're in red America or in rural America, FOX is not just a news organization.
It's your community center.
It's an organization that -- that news organization that pays intense attention, that lots of good news stories about cops and soldiers.
A lot of things that happen in red America that don't get much coverage in the coastal media get a lot of attention in FOX.
And so they -- it's -- the loyalty there is not only about politics, and it's not only about news coverage.
It's just about where people see themselves reflected.
AMNA NAWAZ: There's another big week on a number of fronts for millions of Americans, kind of an interesting window for President Biden and Democrats.
This week alone, we saw President Biden's student loan relief plan challenged in Supreme Court, likely to be struck down.
That expansion of the SNAP food stamps benefits, that also ended this week.
There's a lot of these pandemic era President Biden- and Democrat-backed issues that are being unraveled now that are going to impact millions of people.
Are we hearing enough about that from the president or from Democrats about what they can do to fill those gaps?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Personally, I have not heard a lot about it.
But I would -- let's just shift the framing here and the focus here.
Yes, the president is in office and the Democrats have control of the Senate.
But Republicans have control of the House.
And the president is going to be releasing his budget on March 9, so next week.
I'm sure, in that document, that multipage document, we're going to see all sorts of things about SNAP, maybe something about student loans, but we will see what the president's financial priorities are for the nation and for targeted communities, deserving communities.
My question is, where is Speaker McCarthy?
Where are the House Republicans?
Budgets start in the House.
I cannot tell you what their priorities are.
I cannot tell you what they want to do.
Do they care that the SNAP benefits are canceled?
Do they care?
I think we do know that they are not really big into the student loan forgiveness.
But what are they going to do?
What are their priorities for the real problems and financial pain out there for the American people?
That's a question for Speaker McCarthy.
We're going to know the answer from President Biden next week.
AMNA NAWAZ: David, we know the impact of some of these programs, right?
When it came to the expansion of the child tax credit, for example, millions of children lifted out of poverty.
It ended, millions went back below the poverty line.
What do we think -- what do you think you will hear from... (CROSSTALK) DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think, of all the things Biden did, the child tax credit is the thing I supported most fervently.
It really did reduce -- and actually did reduce childhood poverty.
And yet I was surprised, but the polling, it's not a popular program.
And so I saw a poll where 60 percent of people just said, too expensive, we can't afford it, including 47 percent of Democrats.
And so there is a general distrust of government, a distrust of government programs, a distrust of programs that seem to give people money for nothing, and then a sense that we spent all this money over COVID.
What's happening in the national debt?
And so whether I like it or not, the political realities are, there's not a lot -- as much political pressure as I would have thought to keep the expansion.
On the student loans, I have supported the part of the program that was for Pell Grant kids, where I thought, absolutely, those people deserve their student loans.
I didn't think we should give it to upper-middle-class kids, but c'est la vie.
I still think the Supreme Court should probably strike it down.
I mean, the Constitution envisions -- as Jonathan said, the budget is supposed to start in the House.
The president can't just create a $400 billion program by signing a piece of paper.
That's just not how the system is supposed to work.
So it's possible to both believe in the program and think the president probably should have gone through Congress if he wanted this thing to last.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan, in the few seconds we have left.
I know, we will see the president's budget very soon.
We're also expecting him to announce a reelection campaign at some point.
There are some Democrats who think this should be -- these kinds of issues should be a more central part of his next campaign.
Do you agree with that?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Absolutely.
And as we saw during the State of the Union, remember, his mantra in the State of the Union was, let's finish the job.
And so earning -- the child tax credit, SNAP benefits, student loan, that's all part of, let's finish the job.
And we will we will see how he prioritizes those when that budget comes out.
AMNA NAWAZ: We will see indeed.
We will back here talking about it again very soon.
(LAUGHTER) JONATHAN CAPEHART: Yes.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, always good to see you.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Thanks.
DAVID BROOKS: Good to see you.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Good to see you, Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: And we will be back shortly.
But, first, take a moment to hear from your local PBS station.
It's a chance to offer your support, which helps keep programs like this one on the air.
And for those of you staying with us, we take a second look at a very talented family.
Becoming a poet laureate is a coveted role and a rare honor, rarer still, having two laureates in the same household.
That is the case for a mother and son in Philadelphia.
Jeffrey Brown traveled to the city to learn how the duo is working to bring poetry to a wider public.
This encore story is part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS, Poet Laureate of Philadelphia: Want moves between, or up, or down, or through the bloodline.
Desire is spacious.
Want is in the DNA.
JEFFREY BROWN: Airea D. Matthews is Philadelphia's newest poet laureate.
WES MATTHEWS, Former Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia: I saw his body disfigured, out of place, barbed wire around the neck.
JEFFREY BROWN: Wes Matthews is the city's former youth poet laureate.
They are mother and son, perhaps the first such duo of their kind.
We met recently at their family home.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: When I first got the news last January that I was going to be the poet laureate, we were driving back from Florida.
And I yelled back in the car to him: "Oh, I got the poet laureateship."
And then he yelled back to me and he said: "Legacy."
(LAUGHTER) JEFFREY BROWN: You handed it down.
WES MATTHEWS: I was being -- I was being tongue in cheek.
(LAUGHTER) JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, Wes was the first laureate in the family.
He is the second of four children of Airea and her husband.
A self-described shy child, he came to poetry early on by watching YouTube videos of his mother.
And it became a place to express himself.
WES MATTHEWS: Not everyone who has seen the bar of a cell knows of its coldness.
JEFFREY BROWN: By 2018, at age 17, he was named youth poet laureate by the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Last year, the library named Airea Philadelphia's sixth poet laureate.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: I encouraged you to apply.
Then you encouraged me to apply.
WES MATTHEWS: Yes.
I think that's kind of symbolic of the type of relationship we have as a whole, I mean, this constant encouragement.
JEFFREY BROWN: Airea grew up in a working-class family in Trenton, New Jersey.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: Poetry was not on the agenda or on the forefront of anyone's mind when it came to, what are the possibilities for a career?
What are possibilities to sustain you?
JEFFREY BROWN: She got degrees in economics and public administration, before adding poetry to the mix, first as part of the poetry slam scene in Detroit, and then getting a master's of fine arts at the University of Michigan.
Her 2016 debut poetry collection, "Simulacra," was selected for the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets.
She is now associate professor and co-director of the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: I just try and hold space for the very many me's, you know, the service Airea, the poet Airea, trying to wear very many hats, the teacher Airea, all very different, but working toward the same goal.
JEFFREY BROWN: Her commitment to service is what drew her to the laureate position.
Outside the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, she spoke of wanting to make poetry more available, giving poets new platforms to reach audiences, and bringing poetry to public places for people who don't usually have access to it.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: You might see a public projection.
You might see a poem scrawled on a sidewalk.
The sites that I'm targeting around the city are sites of distress.
It's a redirection.
My hope is that those thoughts redirect and lead to a library, something where you can get a book in your hand.
People may never come in contact with a hard copy of a text, but you can still interact with a text.
It can still interact with you.
And I can say that the literary has changed my life, so I'm hoping that it has the power to do that for other folks.
WES MATTHEWS: I do love Philadelphia.
It's a beautiful city.
I'm glad I have gotten a chance to serve it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Wes Matthews, now a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying anthropology and religion, has also inherited a strong sense of service.
WES MATTHEWS: For me to feel fulfilled, there needs to be something hands-on.
There needs to be something more concrete, where I feel like I can help, and I can serve, and I can be directly involved in the life paths of people, community.
JEFFREY BROWN: He writes and spends time at the campus' Kelly Writers House, editing recordings of readings and performances.
He also works with local students, something that began during his time as youth poet laureate, teaching poetry workshops and music lyric writing.
WES MATTHEWS: It really feels like A full circle of poetry.
It feels like the fulfillment of the poetic impulse for me.
Just like my mother'S YouTube videos and her performances inspired me all those years ago, I still -- I want to be a vector of that inspiration for other people when I can.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: It is possible to fall.
WES MATTHEWS: In terrible love with burning.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: Into jet bile currents.
WES MATTHEWS: Double meters, calinda bomba body's gentle gestures to the drummer.
JEFFREY BROWN: At one event at the Kelly Writers House, Airea asked her son to join her reading her poem "Rebel Fugue."
Some people worry about how many young people are reading these days or taking to poetry.
What do you see?
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: I see very young, brilliant writers who are looking at the world with a critical lens and an artistic lens at the same time.
I think I see this ability to see outside of oneself.
We're in the age of technology where the world is no larger than the screen that sits 10 inches in front of your face.
And I'm seeing these students who are able to interpret a world beyond a screen.
And that feels very encouraging to me.
WES MATTHEWS: There are lot of people who don't think that poetry or music exists within themselves.
They think -- like, a lot of people think of a poet as being this essential, discrete category, like you either have it or you don't.
And I have never viewed it that way.
To write poetry, you need radical encouragement and radical engagement, because it's hard.
It requires observation and it requires that you process observation in a certain way.
But it's beautiful and it's fulfilling and it's feeling.
JEFFREY BROWN: You got that?
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: I did.
JEFFREY BROWN: The radical encouragement.
AIREA D. MATTHEWS: Radical encouragement.
JEFFREY BROWN: Between all their other roles, both Matthews continue their own writing.
Airea's next book of poetry, "Bread and Circus," will come out in the spring.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Philadelphia.
AMNA NAWAZ: Before we go tonight, we want to send our congratulations to the winners of our first student journalism challenge contest.
The top two winners in the video category were students at Frederick V. Pankow Center in Michigan, who produced a story on how career tech education prepares students for life and success after high school, and students at Elizabethton High School in Tennessee for their story exploring why their school was built with no windows.
You can watch both pieces online at studentjournalismchallenge.org.
Congratulations to them both.
Remember, there is much more online, including a quiz that will test whether you are a smart shopper and provide some savings tips to help offset rising grocery prices.
Also, be sure to tune in to "Washington Week," where you will see a familiar face.
My friend Geoff Bennett will be hosting.
That is later tonight here on PBS.
And watch "PBS News Weekend" tomorrow for a look at efforts to safeguard the 99 percent of the world's oceans currently without legal protection.
And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
On behalf of the entire "NewsHour" team, thank you for joining us.