April 25, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
04/25/2023 | 57m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
April 25, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
Get extended access to 1600+ episodes, binge watch your favorite shows, and stream anytime - online or in the PBS app.
Already a WFSU member?
You may have an unactivated WFSU Passport member benefit. Check to see.
04/25/2023 | 57m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
April 25, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
GEOFF BENNETT: And I'm Geoff Bennett.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: President Biden makes his reelection campaign official, betting his accomplishments and vision for the country will negate concerns about his age.
AMNA NAWAZ: The humanitarian situation in Sudan deteriorates further amid an uneasy cease-fire.
GEOFF BENNETT: And singer, actor, and activist Billy Porter on his return to music and on becoming unapologetically himself.
BILLY PORTER, Singer/Actor/Activist: You know, art creates critical thinkers.
And critical thinkers are leaders, not followers.
(BREAK) GEOFF BENNETT: Welcome to the "NewsHour."
President Joe Biden formally announced today that he is running for a second term.
That message came in a three-minute video that contrasts his agenda on issues like reproductive rights and the economy with his potential Republican opponents.
AMNA NAWAZ: The video comes four years to the day from when he announced his 2020 presidential run.
In today's announcement, President Biden echoed familiar themes from that campaign.
He said the country is still in a battle for the soul of the nation and that democracy is at stake in 2024.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Freedom, personal freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans.
There is nothing more important, nothing more sacred.
That's been the work of my first term, to fight for our democracy.
But, you know, around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms, cutting Social Security that you paid for your entire life, while cutting taxes from the very wealthy, dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books.
AMNA NAWAZ: At 80 years old, Mr. Biden is already the oldest president in history and enters the race underwater with many voters.
Our "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll out today shows his approval rating at 41 percent, with 50 percent disapproval.
To dive into what comes next for the president and his campaign, our White House correspondent, Laura Barron-Lopez, joins us now from the White House.
Laura, good to see you.
So, President Biden, it's fair to say, has a record to run on from the early years of his presidency.
But the message today was much more focused on what's at stake, not what he's done so far.
Is that going to be a core campaign message moving forward?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: The campaign message, Amna, to is going to be two-pronged.
The sources close to the White House that I talked to today said that they wanted this announcement video to be forward-looking, to be presenting a choice, rather than a referendum on the president.
And a key element of this, of course, we know, is about the threats to democracy.
In 2020, when Biden launched his campaign, he used images from the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, this time around using imagery from the January 6 insurrection, and arguing that, rather than moving more towards the center, Republicans, along with leading candidate former President Donald Trump, are moving more towards extremes, particularly on LGBTQ, transgender issues, on abortion, on guns, but also on embracing political violence.
But, Amna, that doesn't mean that the president is not going to run on his record.
The people that I talked to today said that he is very much going to be talking about that big infrastructure law, prescription drug reform, as well as climate change.
AMNA NAWAZ: Laura, as you know, there's been a lot of speculation about when he would announce.
He is now officially in the race.
So what can we expect in the way of a campaign schedule, where he will be holding events and when?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: In the short term, Amna, not much is going to change.
So the president will be going out across the country in his presidential capacity, like we saw today, when he spoke to the building trades unions in Washington, D.C. JOE BIDEN: Our economic plan is working.
We now have to finish the job.
But there's more to do.
And you're leading the way, shovels in the ground, cranes in the air, factories opening, all those jobs being recreated.
Folks, we have created more than 12 million new jobs, more jobs in two years than any president has created and in a four-year term, because of you!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: So, you heard there, Amna, that the president was making the economic case for his reelection.
But, in addition to that, we aren't going to be seeing much other than stops like that in his presidential capacity, as well as some fund-raising events.
But the big campaign events, the big campaign rallies, he and Vice President Kamala Harris are not going to be holding until 2024.
AMNA NAWAZ: You mentioned Vice President Harris.
We should also note she was featured pretty prominently in that announcement video today.
What do we know about the role she's going to be playing in that campaign?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: She's going to be, of course, featured very prominently, particularly on the issue of abortion rights.
We have seen that Harris has taken a leading role here for the White House on abortion rights, as well as gun safety.
And those are two big issues that the campaign really believes are going to be key to young voters.
That's a really important voting bloc here for the president, Amna, because I have talked to a number of Democrats, including pollsters, who say that without young voters turning out in the same numbers is 2020, President Biden can't win reelection.
AMNA NAWAZ: All right, that is our White House correspondent, Laura Barron-Lopez, reporting for us tonight.
Laura, thank you.
Good to see you.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Thank you.
GEOFF BENNETT: For more on President Biden's reelection effort, we're joined by two Democratic Party strategists, Jim Messina, who ran Barack Obama's winning reelection campaign in 2012 and is the CEO of The Messina Group.
And Celinda Lake is with us.
She's the president of Lake Research Partners and a pollster who worked with Joe Biden's campaign in 2020.
It's great to have the both of you with us.
And, Celinda, President Biden's announcement video suggests that he will run less on his record in office and more against what he perceives as Republican MAGA extremism.
Is that enough to counter voters' concerns about his age?
There's this NBC News poll that asks the question, should Joe Biden run for office?
Seventy percent of all the respondents said no.
That number among Democrats stands at 51 percent.
CELINDA LAKE, Democratic Pollster: Well, let me say, first of all, I think that's the fool - - most foolish polling question out there, because a lot of people that say no want to protect him from what they think is a very hard road ahead.
But if age is the worst thing they have to say about Joe Biden against Donald Trump, who is basically the same age, we're in great shape.
I think that what he did in the video today is lay out a very powerful contrast.
And it was very related to his theme about the soul of the nation.
But the idea that the MAGA Republicans are taking away our freedoms is a very powerful contrast.
And I think, in the campaign -- every day, he runs on his record as president, but in the campaign, setting up this contrast, as Joe Biden himself says, make it a referendum, talk about the alternative, let's not talk about the almighty, is a very important goal.
And that's how we won in 2022.
That's how we're going to win in 2024.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, Jim, what about that?
Because President Biden defined much of his campaign in 2020 and the lead-up to this reelection bid, he defined it by who he is not, Donald Trump.
Is that sufficient when you're asking voters for a second term in office?
JIM MESSINA, Former Obama White House Deputy Chief of Staff: Well, look, to win, the most important thing is you have a contrast.
You can't run someone against no one.
And Celinda has it right.
Don't compare him to the almighty.
Democrats want to pretend we're going to have another Barack Obama just walk out of the woodwork.
And the truth is, Joe Biden is going to be our nominee.
He should be our nominee.
He's been a very successful president.
And we got to stay focused on Donald Trump.
And it looks like the Republicans are going to be crazy enough to nominate Donald Trump.
So that's a piece of it.
We need a clear contrast.
But, to your question, the second piece is, we have to have a forward-looking message about the future.
And that's why I agree with Celinda.
I love the video today, because we talked about freedom.
We talked about words that the Republicans have tried to have as their own.
And Joe Biden's now on the offense on things like freedom, on women's rights, on other things that put Republicans squarely on the defense and set us up for the contrast that we have to have.
AMNA NAWAZ: Celinda, can I ask you more broadly about the Democratic Party and what this says right now?
Because we have to remember, back in 2020, then-candidate Biden sold himself as a bridge to the next generation of leadership.
And you know there are a lot of other senior Democrats out there who do have presidential aspirations, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg and Gavin Newsom.
What does this say about the bench?
Does it say the party doesn't believe that anyone else could win in '24?
CELINDA LAKE: Oh, no, I think there are lots of people who could win in '24.
But we have a really good president who already beat Donald Trump.
Why would we abandon that?
And he is a bridge president.
But why would he jump off the bridge in the middle of the road?
He's going to finish the job.
He's going to get to the other end of the bridge.
And then we're going to have a ton of great Democrats.
And we have them already in the Cabinet, in governorships, in the vice presidential office.
We have a very strong bench.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jim, if I can follow up on that with you, I want to get your take, because I do wonder if you think this undercuts some of those other up-and-coming leaders, the bench in waiting, as it were.
The reelection launch says that there's a battle for the soul of the nation.
Any extremism expert will tell you this is not a battle won in the next four years or five years or 10 or 15 years.
Does this say there's really no other Dem to lead in this battle right now?
JIM MESSINA: No, it just says Democrats want to win.
And, with the exception 1988, when -- in the last 40 years, when a president hasn't run for reelection because of whatever reason, term limits, et cetera, the other party has won.
Democrats look at this and say, Joe Biden has already beaten Donald Trump, he can beat him again.
He's been a very successful president.
Let's keep on keeping on.
And let's develop that bench.
In the Cabinet is a great place to be in the bench.
As a governor is a great place.
No one's going to go anywhere.
And, in four years, everyone and their dog can run.
Celinda and I can run.
And we will just have at it.
But, right now, the party is going to be unified behind Joe Biden.
GEOFF BENNETT: Jim, I want to draw on your experience working on the Obama reelection effort back in 2012, because there are Biden advisers who say that this effort for President Biden will mirror what Barack Obama did in 2020 -- in 2012, and that there might not be any rallies until the new year, at least not until Republicans have settled on a presumptive nominee, and that the White House intends to use official events to get out the president's message.
How can President Biden best leverage the office of the presidency and the bully pulpit that comes with it, as you see it?
JIM MESSINA: By doing exactly what he's doing, by doing his day job every day to the best of his abilities.
I think the White House has been really smart.
They're on a 31-city tour right now in their manufacturing tour, going to all these places, talking about the things Joe Biden's done to build manufacturing, to catch up to China on some of the silicon issues, et cetera.
That's what he should do.
He should do his day job, let the Republicans have their crazy primary and, next year, go straight at it.
But right now, just be the president of the United States and stay laser-focused on your job.
GEOFF BENNETT: Where's President Biden most vulnerable, do you think, Celinda?
CELINDA LAKE: I think he's most vulnerable, as is the party, on the economy.
And I think the direction of the economy is the single most important thing we need to focus on.
And that's why the economic tour is great.
And that's why he's going to be working on the economy every day.
And his point is, we have done -- he's been a record great president, but it's not good enough.
It's not good enough until everybody has the freedom to thrive in their families, as well as to make their own personal decisions.
AMNA NAWAZ: Lots more to talk about.
We thank both of you for joining us.
CELINDA LAKE: Thank you.
AMNA NAWAZ: Come back soon.
We will talk again.
That's Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, and Jim Messina, CEO of The Messina Group.
GEOFF BENNETT: In the day's other headlines: Washington state became the country's 10th state to ban a number of semiautomatic rifles, including AR-15s, the weapons used in many mass shootings.
Democratic Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill today and said, inaction in the face of gun violence is unacceptable.
JAY INSLEE (D-WA): These weapons of war of assault weapons have no reason other than mass murder.
Their only purpose is to kill humans as rapidly as possible in large numbers.
And I will say this.
AR-15s should not be idolized.
They should be prohibited.
GEOFF BENNETT: Two gun rights groups immediately filed legal challenges to the new law in federal court.
A state investigator in Alabama testified today that a barrage of 89 bullets killed four young people at a birthday party earlier this month.
The gunfire erupted at a dance studio in Dadeville as a sweet 16 celebration was under way.
The investigators said at least seven guns were fired.
The testimony came at a hearing for three of the six suspects charged with murder.
A new danger has emerged in the fighting and chaos in Sudan.
The World Health Organization reports one of the factions has seized a national lab holding everything from polio to measles to cholera.
It warned of a huge biological risk if the germs get loose.
Meantime, a cease-fire largely failed.
And people in Khartoum waited to board buses to flee the city.
Others have said they have no hope of leaving.
ASMAA HAMAD, Khartoum Resident (through translator): There's no water, no power, nothing essential for people to use.
We have been sitting here in the street like this for four days.
There have been unbelievable amounts of people rushing to board buses.
But how are we supposed to pay thousands for the bus tickets?
GEOFF BENNETT: The fighting has also spread beyond Khartoum into the Western Darfur region.
There's word tonight that Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have killed the organizer of the Kabul Airport bombing back in August 2021; 13.
U.S. troops and some 170 Afghans died in that attack during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal.
The Associated Press reports the Islamic State figure behind the bombing was killed in the Taliban raid this month.
In Northwestern Pakistan, the death toll has reached 17 in Monday night's explosions at a police complex.
More than 50 people were injured.
The blasts heavily damaged a munitions warehouse.
Investigators said today there's no evidence of a militant attack, they blamed an electrical short-circuit.
A Japanese spacecraft's attempt to land on the moon apparently failed today.
Ground controllers in Tokyo watched a live animation of the unmanned lander descending, but they lost contact when it was just 33 feet from the lunar surface.
It would have been the first moon landing by a private company.
And, on Wall Street, stocks had their worst day in a month, fueled by disappointing corporate profits and falling consumer confidence.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 344 points, or 1 percent, to close at 33530.
The Nasdaq fell 2 percent.
The S&P 500 was down 1.5 percent.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": former President Trump faces trial in a rape and defamation case brought by author E. Jean Carroll; a comprehensive review of how the U.S. handled the pandemic lays out the lessons learned; and we remember the life and career of the legendary performer Harry Belafonte.
AMNA NAWAZ: Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese are fleeing to neighboring countries to escape violence that's killed more than 400 people in the last week-and-a-half.
And, as Nick Schifrin tells us, aid agencies are warning, the humanitarian situation is increasingly dire because of a political fight that's been brewing for years.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, the U.N. agency that coordinates humanitarian affairs warned that it had to pull back from parts of Sudan, as a country of 45 million copes with shortages of water, food and access to medicine.
The U.S. and others are trying to end the fighting between General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the armed forces, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, comprised of former militias that committed the genocide in Western Sudan's Darfur region that killed more than two million people.
The two men were supposed to help return the country to civilian rule demanded by the 2019 pro-democracy popular uprising.
One of those who participated in that uprising is writer Muzan Alneel, who joins me now from Khartoum.
Muzan Alneel, thank you very much.
Welcome back to the "NewsHour."
As we just said, there's a humanitarian crisis.
What are the conditions that you, your neighbors, and millions of Sudanese face today?
MUZAN ALNEEL, Sudanese Researcher and Writer: The situation right now is that, for 11 days, we have been under heavy fighting, and there are around 10 million people living in this city, most of them under the poverty line, most of them without any stable access to electricity or water.
The electricity network is followed by the e-banking system that many depend on to get food or be able to evacuate their families from Khartoum.
It has also fell apart.
The telecommunication has fell apart.
People are just trying to survive this.
We see Sudanese people restoring to popular and mutual aid, which is the only thing that they have.
And the street is being used now by the people to form networks in their neighborhoods to know where the water is, to be able even to run some of the health centers, instead of those hospitals that are impossible to reach right now.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And those popular efforts, they're led by the resistance committees, right, the same committees that helped the revolution in 2019, sustain it through the coup in 2021 up until today, right?
MUZAN ALNEEL: The tactics that we learned from the resistance committees that we are using to network, to have mutual aid, to be able to evacuate ourselves and evacuate our families and our loved ones, and even help evacuate and help provide food and medicine to people.
The concept of mutual aid mutual is what sustaining the people, not the international aid diplomats who called for a realistic approach by partnering with the -- with the criminals NICK SCHIFRIN: Well, let me ask about the politics of this moment.
The last time we spoke a few years ago, our segment was followed by an interview I did with the then-U.S. special envoy to the region, who argued that the generals who are fighting in the streets right now had to be at the table, part of the negotiation process.
Do you think that the U.S., the international community accommodated them, helping lead to the violence we see today?
MUZAN ALNEEL: That was definitely accommodating them, legitimizing them, giving them the platform that they needed to have all their international deals and their stronger ties with the within the region.
We were asked to be realistic after a massacre and accept those war criminals.
We were asked to be realistic after a coup.
And we are even, I think, will be asked to be realistic after a war, because I'm hearing news of some sort of negotiation, that they want to bring them back into -- into ruling or bring back whatever kind of political process they called it, that, basically, to bring back the same old agreement that brought us all that we are going through right now.
NICK SCHIFRIN: What's been your response, as you have seen U.S. special operations forces fly into the capital to evacuate U.S. diplomats?
We have seen the U.N. have to pull back, other countries spend time at the airport with their militaries trying to pull out civilians, as millions in Sudan face these dire humanitarian conditions.
MUZAN ALNEEL: My priority are the people most in need.
And those are the poorer of the Sudanese people.
And they are getting help from themselves and from mutual aid, from resistance committees, and from neighborhood networks that are forming themselves to govern themselves and somehow provide for themselves.
That's what I focus on.
So, when I think about whatever evacuation efforts that are happening, good for them.
Flee out of a war zone.
It's not good to be out in a war zone.
It's not good if your country is turned into a war zone, and you have nowhere else to run.
But the fact that they didn't even consider to bring any sort of medical support with them, any sort of medical equipment or medicines that are in -- we're in dire need.
They were sending airplanes and not even sending medicines to us.
Like, it's absurd to even follow what they're doing.
There isn't one place that will tell you, these are the needs and here's where you can, like, send your donation.
No, it's a -- it's decentralized.
And everyone's trying to figure out what's happening in their neighborhood.
And that is what's working for us right now.
There is no U.N. agency that is here to support.
There is no international organization that is here to support.
We are supporting ourselves.
So, try to support us, but please use all the meeting rooms you have to get them to stop the war zone.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Muzan Alneel, thank you very much.
MUZAN ALNEEL: Thank you.
AMNA NAWAZ: A civil trial is under way over a magazine columnist's allegation that former President Donald Trump raped her more than two decades ago.
Political correspondent Lisa Desjardins takes a look at the lawsuit and the assault allegations against the former president.
And a warning: This story contains details of those sexual violence allegations.
LISA DESJARDINS: It is the latest legal battle involving former President Trump.
E. Jean Carroll, a magazine advice columnist, has accused Trump of raping her in the mid-'90s.
In a civil lawsuit filed in New York, Carroll is seeking unspecified damages for the alleged assault.
She also accuses Trump of defaming her character.
The trial is expected to last for one or two weeks.
Carroll says the assault took place in a dressing room inside Bergdorf Goodman, a New York department store.
Here is how she described it to CNN in 2019.
E. JEAN CARROLL, Trump Accuser: He pulled down my tights.
And it was a fight.
It was a -- I want women to know that I did not stand there.
I did not freeze.
I was not paralyzed, which is a reaction that I could have had, because it's so shocking.
No, I fought.
And it was over very quickly.
It was against my will, 100 percent.
LISA DESJARDINS: Carroll revealed the story 20 years after she says it happened in her 2019 memoir.
She can go to court now because New York lawmakers passed a new state law allowing victims of abuse to file civil lawsuits against attackers, even if the statute of limitations has run out.
The former president has repeatedly denied that he raped Carroll, and accused her of lying.
In an interview with The Hill, he said Carroll was -- quote -- "not my type."
He also previously claimed that he had never met Carroll, but her attorneys have provided the court of a picture of them talking at an event in the '80s.
Trump is not expected to testify in this trial, but two other women who have accused Trump of assault have been cleared to do so.
Jessica Leeds alleged Trump groped her on the flight in 1979.
And "People" magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff has accused him of groping her in 2005 at Mar-a-Lago while she was there to interview him.
More than two dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.
He has charged that the stories are fabricated and politically motivated.
Carroll's defamation accusation is part of a separate suit filed in D.C. That has been indefinitely delayed.
Today, in Manhattan, a jury was selected, and both sides presented opening arguments in this case.
Washington Post reporter Shayna Jacobs covers two of New York's federal court districts and was in the courtroom today.
And she joins us now.
Shayna, take us into the courtroom.
What did each side seem to indicate about their approach to this case?
SHAYNA JACOBS, The Washington Post: Each side presented a vastly different version of events.
On Carroll's side, her attorney said that Carroll was violently assaulted in the dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s and that she fled from the store, told -- immediately told two close friends and kept it secret for decades because she was terrified that Trump could ruin her life and ruin her career.
At the time, he was a very, very prominent real estate professional.
And, obviously, his profile only rose since then.
Trump's attorney says this entire thing was made up, and that Carroll and her two friends actually colluded to come up with a story because of a political vendetta against him once he -- once he was elected.
LISA DESJARDINS: The judge in his case is known for being no-nonsense, trying to move things along.
Help us understand the judge and the jury here, including how the judge is keeping the jury safe.
And how in the world do you pick a jury that is neutral about Donald Trump?
SHAYNA JACOBS: So, not even the judge knows their identities.
They are known only by their assigned juror number.
There was not much biographical information made public during the voir dire process.
And they will also be picked up off-site by courthouse staff and driven to the courthouse, so that they don't even have any chance of interacting with anyone outside the building or in the hallway.
They're really very, very protected from any possible interaction with someone they're not supposed to see or speak to.
And, again, not even the judge has their identities in front of him.
So it's basically as private as it -- private a process as it could possibly be.
LISA DESJARDINS: And on the question of neutrality, I saw that jurors were asked if they have been to rallies, those kinds of things.
Is that how they did that?
SHAYNA JACOBS: Yes, I mean, it was posed to the entire room of potential jurors.
And instead of going one by one and asking that, anybody who had been to a rally, anybody with an affiliation, really with sort of like more extreme group on the spectrum, both left and right -- some of the names that were thrown out were Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnon, Antifa.
So they were asked, are you a member of or are you affiliated with any of these groups?
And I believe nobody raised their hand to that question.
If they had raised their hand, I imagine they'd have been dismissed.
LISA DESJARDINS: What does Ms. Carroll need to show here in this civil trial to be successful in her lawsuit?
What does she need to prove?
SHAYNA JACOBS: E. Jean Carroll, yes, she has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, which is really essentially means more likely than not, that she was -- that she suffered harm as a result of this, emotional harm, and that her career in her life, livelihood was damaged, that she suffered reputational damage as a result of what Donald Trump said, really, though, specifically, just what he said last year in a social media post, which mirrored comments he made to reporters in 2019 when this first came out.
So it's sort of like a duplicate set of defamation charges.
There's a separate lawsuit still pending in an appellate court for the older defamation claims from 2019.
But she is -- this trial does contain defamation and battery allegations related to the alleged assault.
LISA DESJARDINS: The former president has given some testimony and deposition.
He's not expected, I don't think, to be a live witness yet, but do we know if he will be in the courtroom?
Or what does that look like?
SHAYNA JACOBS: His attorney has not -- last I saw -- I did leave a little bit before the proceeding ended.
But last I saw and heard, his attorney, Joe Tacopina, has not fully committed either way.
He did tell the jury that he expected they would hear his videotaped deposition from last year.
So, all indications are that he's not going to testify.
I -- that still leaves open the possibility that he might appear in the courtroom just to physically be there at one point or another.
But we have not heard any definitive thing that would lead us to believe he will -- he will be there in the next few days or next week.
LISA DESJARDINS: Shayna Jacobs with The Washington Post, thanks for joining us, especially when you're on deadline.
SHAYNA JACOBS: Thank you.
GEOFF BENNETT: Why the U.S. fared so badly during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when compared to similar nations, was supposed to be one of the many questions examined by a national COVID-19 commission.
But that commission was never launched.
William Brangham talks with the co-author of a new report out today that hopes to start that reckoning.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There are still so many questions about America's response to COVID.
Could the U.S. have better contained the virus in the very early days?
Did so many schools and businesses have to close for so long?
Why was America's death toll so high?
This new investigative report from a consortium of public health and scientific experts does credit the fast development of the lifesaving vaccines, but it also points to many tragic failures.
One example, it notes that, if the U.S.' death rate was similar to other European nations, in the first two years of the outbreak, and estimated half-a-million Americans wouldn't have died during that period.
The report is titled "Lessons From the COVID War: An Investigative Report."
Philip Zelikow was one of the leads on that.
He's currently a professor of history at the University of Virginia, and he was executive director of the 9/11 Commission.
Phil Zelikow, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
PHILIP ZELIKOW, Co-Author, "Lessons From the COVID War": Thanks.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Near the top of your report, you write that this was a war that the U.S. fought without an army and without a battle plan.
How is that possible that we did that?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: We pass programs.
We appropriate money.
You have science and money, but you don't have preparedness.
I mean, suppose someone comes into the emergency room, and they're gasping for air, and you don't know what to do.
And then someone hands you an emergency medicine textbook.
And someone says, well, here, here's $10,000 if you will save this person's life.
What you really want is, like, well, tell me what to do.
And train me to do it, and give me the tools I need to do it.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And let's hopefully have spent that money to buy those supplies earlier.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Yes.
If you're not really ready at that moment, bad things are going to happen in that emergency.
Well, we had a national emergency, and we weren't prepared.
A lot of countries were prepared more than we were.
A lot of countries are organized for emergencies differently than we are.
And what was striking to us is, we're the country that prided ourselves on, we're the practical problem solvers.
We know how to get things done, Berlin airlifts, Marshall Plan, D-Day.
And then here we are once again finding kind of a collective national incompetence at practical problem-solving.
And so that's why we wrote this report, because we think, if people will understand what really happened, from origins to Warp Speed, from warning to medical countermeasures, they will actually see that this is fixable.
It doesn't have to be like this.
There's all kinds of low-hanging fruit about ways we could be better prepared and rebuild trust in government, instead of losing it.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Could you tick through some of the particulars?
Are there -- are there specific things that you would point to, like about testing or data gathering, that you think were real problems for us?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, we were flying blind all through the pandemic.
Even though we have magnificent electronic health records and hospitals and health care systems, which don't share these records, even with each other in a given city for proprietary reasons and regulatory reasons that are highly fixable, actually, we flew blind unnecessarily.
China has more gene sequencers at the low go level than we do.
Take the example of testing.
Testing is a really interesting case.
Everybody's heard the story that maybe that CDC botched the test.
We didn't have enough tests.
They weren't produced at scale.
But suppose we'd had enough tests.
Suppose we'd had 10 million tests in warehouses.
We had no strategy for how to use the tests.
Do you use the tests for biomedical surveillance?
Do you use them to open up 10,000 drive-through centers so anxious citizens can find out if they're sick?
Do you use them for point of care testing in nursing homes?
Do you use them to help you reopen schools and make workers feel safe?
Well, then, for every one of those things, you actually then, OK, how many tests does that need, used in what way, coordinated with the FDA to get the clearances, coordinated with the financing.
Then you see, even if 10 million tests are in the warehouse, if you don't have a strategy for what to do with those tests, you're going to fail again.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Help me put former President Trump's role in all of this.
One of your co-authors referred to him as a -- quote -- "comorbidity" in this crisis.
How do you see the former president's role?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, a comorbidity is a condition that increases the risk of death or illness.
And Trump's executive leadership made things worse.
There is no denying that.
But a key point of our report is, this is not another book all about the back-and-forth and shouting of the Trump administration, because the core problems went much deeper.
We went into a 21st century pandemic with a health system fundamentally designed in the 19th century.
There is no national public health agency in America, not really.
We have hundreds of different state and local entities that are designed for a different era, for different kinds of problems.
In all sorts of ways, we were just not really ready, no matter who was the president.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Your report really documents this terrible culture clash that we went through as a nation, which was this, to us the sort of gross terms, the science -- trust the science, follow the science, versus the libertarian, open everything up, get schools, prioritize the economics of it all.
You argue that culture clash didn't have to occur, that it was largely the result of poor leadership that led us to that schism.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: That's a great point.
The -- a lot of people think that, gee, everything was so partisan and polarized, that that's why we failed.
In fact, we show mainly the story is just the opposite.
It's because folks didn't know what to do, because there was kind of a -- I mean, even the public health authorities thought they were just going to be closing things for a few weeks.
And they had no plan for what to do after that.
Because folks didn't know what to do, because there was this void, then all the toxic politics flows in.
That's what invited and then aggravated the polarization, because then you then have people on each side with their statements of faith.
Follow the science wasn't really a guide to what to do.
What you need are practical toolkits to reopen schools and make people safe.
We closed schools much longer than most other countries in the world, because we never developed the practical toolkits to reopen them, which should have been available probably by the fall of 2020.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This book is full of so many lessons, as you say, that we could implement, low-hanging fruit, as you describe them.
Do you think that there is any real appetite to do those things, to fix those things?
Because it does seem, as you document here, that neither political party seems interested in doing that.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: You know, one of our members was telling me that she really found reading the book, rereading it, empowering, because you go into this, you feel this is dismal and hopeless, there's nothing we can do.
And you begin to get into a fatalistic mind-set.
Well, let's just put this behind us, as if this was a bad storm.
When you read the book, it's kind of empowering because you see, ah, there all these things we can do.
I think the reason we're not doing those things is because no one has really done this analysis.
No one has really shown the way, it's doable, here's what we can do, and developed an agenda.
There is no movement to do anything to make our health system stronger coming out of the pandemic.
That's not because people don't care about it.
I think it's because they don't really know what the public agenda should be and what to do.
And it's into that void that we wrote this report with this tremendous group of people who joined me in doing this work.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The report is called "Lessons From the COVID War: An Investigative Report."
Philip Zelikow, great to have you.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Thank you.
GEOFF BENNETT: Billy Porter is an unforgettable presence, both on stage and on screen.
It was just announced that he's playing James Baldwin in an upcoming biopic.
He's also returning to his musical roots, releasing a new album nearly 30 years after his first and embarking on his first nationwide headlining tour.
We look at his journey to this moment for our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Billy Porter is a multi-hyphenate artist who won an Emmy for his portrayal of ballroom emcee Pray Tell on the groundbreaking series "Pose," a Tony and a Grammy for best actor in a musical for his role as Lola in "Kinky Boots."
He is in rare company of those who have earned three of the EGOT awards, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, and he has emerged as an LGBTQ activist known for never holding back.
BILLY PORTER, Singer/Actor/Activist: Art is political inherently.
Historically, as artists, we get to speak truth to power, always.
GEOFF BENNETT: Porter and I met recently in New York City, where he is rehearsing for his tour and sat down for a conversation at that Republic Records Studio.
BILLY PORTER: Art is very Trojan horsey, right?
You can do things and you can say things as an artist that you can't as a politician.
And it cracks open people's minds.
You know, art creates critical thinkers.
And critical thinkers are leaders, not followers.
GEOFF BENNETT: When he first hit the scene in 1997 as an R&B singer, Porter says he had to hide the authenticity he has since become known for.
Twenty-six years later, you are now embarking on your first national music tour.
Is it fair to ask what took so long?
BILLY PORTER: Well, you know what took so long.
(LAUGHTER) BILLY PORTER: You know.
I -- in 1997, the world and the music business was very homophobic, very often violently so.
And I was -- and even in that moment, I was participating in the don't ask, don't tell policy of my life.
And I was showing up being as straight as I could, so that I could eat.
And I was made to feel like I failed at that.
All these years later, I go back and look at my music videos.
I was actually good at it.
I was good at being straight.
And the universe made it so that it didn't work, so that I could come back all this time later in the fullness of myself.
So what took so long was that.
Blessedly, I had all of these other creative outlets that I could exist in, and I leaned into all of that.
And 25 years later, I'm one award away from an EGOT.
I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I have a production company.
I work all the time.
So, when my first album imploded, I realized, oh, I had failed as someone else.
I will never do that again, I said to myself.
So that's when I chose my authenticity.
GEOFF BENNETT: Do you feel vindicated now?
BILLY PORTER: I don't like vindicated.
GEOFF BENNETT: OK. BILLY PORTER: Because vindicated, yes and.
Vindicated has a negative connotation.
GEOFF BENNETT: Wow.
The culture had to catch up to you.
BILLY PORTER: The culture had to catch up to me.
The world had to catch up to me.
Everybody told me that my queerness would be my liability, allies and haters alike.
And it was.
For decades, it was.
GEOFF BENNETT: Now he is not holding back with his new album, "Black Mona Lisa."
BILLY PORTER: Now I get to come back to the mainstream music industry on my own terms, and as I started working with writers and producers who now actually listen to me and want to help me and my vision, as opposed to the first time around when I did it.
GEOFF BENNETT: The lead single, "Baby was a Dancer," is a celebratory anthem meant for the dance floor.
There are a couple of lines in here that I want to read to you.
"Every preacher told her she's a sinner.
Every teacher told her she won't make it because she moved ahead of her time."
Is that autobiographical?
BILLY PORTER: Of course, it is.
The whole album is autobiographical.
I grew up in the church.
They cursed me from their pulpits and said I'd never be blessed.
AIDS is an abomination.
You know, all of that stuff that comes in that space, right?
You know, I'm calling myself she.
I'm referring to myself in the third person.
Queer people, we mix up the pronouns all the time.
You know, it's a pronoun world now.
So, I'm referring to myself in the third person.
And even the teachers.
I went to drama school at Carnegie Mellon, and I was almost kicked out of the program, because... GEOFF BENNETT: Really?
BILLY PORTER: In the first semester of my sophomore year, because the voice and speech teacher said that my speaking voice was too high for the American stage and I would never work.
That was based on what they had seen.
This was 1987.
We had three archetypes, the James Earl Jones patriarch, the Denzel Washington sex symbol, and the Eddie Murphy genius clown.
And they were only trying to do their job, right?
In retrospect, I have compassion, because they were only trying to do their job.
There aren't many spaces, particularly arts, education spaces, that know how to train firsts of anything.
They know how to train people to enter the market that already exists.
GEOFF BENNETT: OK. BILLY PORTER: But they don't know how to train a first.
I was a first.
GEOFF BENNETT: Also a pioneer of gender-defying fashion, Porter's Porters red carpet looks are custom couture works of art.
It all started with the 2019 Oscars.
BILLY PORTER: The Oscar dress was just me being me.
And it changed the face of fashion forever.
It's a touchstone that will go down in history.
I went to the Oscars in an antebellum tuxedo gown.
As a cisgendered man, it had never happened before.
And since then, it's changed fashion.
GEOFF BENNETT: Yes.
I remember the 2020 Grammys, where you wore that hat with the motorized crystal curtain.
Where do these ideas originate?
And do you feel pressure to have to top what you have already done?
BILLY PORTER: No, I don't feel pressure.
I'm just being myself.
And what I love about the process is, I have an amazing team.
It's like we come together, we talk about things, we talk about ideas.
Best idea in the room always wins with me.
You know, I come from the theater, so I'm very collaborative.
I'm not a micromanager.
And the things show up.
GEOFF BENNETT: Billy Porter has left his mark on Broadway, fashion, television, and music, building loyal, sometimes separate fan bases along the way.
So how do you then navigate having all of those different audiences, meeting all of those different sets of expectations?
BILLY PORTER: I'm trying to figure that out.
And I think and I hope that it's this return to the mainstream music space that will do that because music is the universal language.
You know, existing in all of these spaces, they don't necessarily -- these creative artistic spaces, they don't always speak to each other.
So my hope is that now I can wrangle them all together through the music.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, what should people expect at a Billy Porter show?
BILLY PORTER: A celebration of life, love, joy, hope.
It's like church.
It's like gay church.
(LAUGHTER) GEOFF BENNETT: And you were raised Pentecostal.
BILLY PORTER: And I was raised Pentecostal.
GEOFF BENNETT: So, when you say church -- yes, OK. BILLY PORTER: Yes.
I just want to give the world a big bear hug.
You know, we have been through so much recently, this collective trauma that we have been inside of.
And nobody is OK. And that's OK. And my hope is that my message will be healing.
We need a healing.
And I have been singing my whole life, and I know that music is healing.
It's really, really healing.
GEOFF BENNETT: Billy Porter's concert tour kicks off this Saturday.
AMNA NAWAZ: And finally tonight: A giant in the world of performance and activism has died.
We look at the breadth and impact of Harry Belafonte, whom the president today called a groundbreaking American who used his talent, his fame, and his voice to help redeem the soul of our nation.
It was Harry Belafonte's signature hit in a long career and life defined by much more than music.
Belafonte rose to fame with the 1956 "Banana Boat" song, earning him the nickname King of Calypso.
Born in Harlem to Caribbean parents, he grew up in poverty during the Depression, but went on to win and Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, singing everything from "Calypso," to spirituals, to protest songs.
His third album, "Calypso," was the officially certified album by a solo performer to sell more than a million copies.
HARRY BELAFONTE, Musician: Don't be like that, baby.
AMNA NAWAZ: Belafonte broke barriers on the stage and screen as well, one of the few Black leading men in the 1950s and unafraid of tackling taboo themes like race.
Even in a racially segregated America, the handsome, husky-voiced Belafonte became a sex symbol with fans nationwide.
But he grew tired of acting, eventually turning down jobs he described as racially neutered.
By the 1960s, he was publicly more politically active.
In 2011, he spoke about that journey with Gwen Ifill.
HARRY BELAFONTE: My activism really started the day of my birth, born from Caribbean parents in New York City.
My mother was overwhelmed by America.
She came here with hopes and ambitions that were never fulfilled.
AMNA NAWAZ: Belafonte recalled the spirit of 1930s America.
HARRY BELAFONTE: At that time, there was a lot of talk about white supremacy and Hitler and democracy, and America was mobilizing for this great campaign.
And the whole world was caught up in it.
What attracted me to the arts was the fact that I saw theater as a social force, as a political force.
I kind of felt that art was a powerful tool, and that is what I should be doing with mine.
AMNA NAWAZ: Belafonte lent his vote his voice to the black-led civil rights movement, marching alongside his friend Martin Luther King Jr.
He reflected on the first moment he met Dr. King in this 2018 interview with "NewsHour"'s Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
HARRY BELAFONTE: I listened to him, and I was just absolutely struck with the way in which he presented his case to the Black religious community, condemning them for being not more engaged in the social destiny of Black people.
AMNA NAWAZ: As civil rights protests unfolded in 1968, Belafonte guest-hosted "The Tonight Show" for a week, the first Black man ever to host a late-night show.
His guests included Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy.
His activism over decades knew no bounds.
HARRY BELAFONTE: The fight for freedom.
AMNA NAWAZ: Campaigning to end apartheid in Africa, mobilizing support to end HIV/AIDS, and serving as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.
In 1985, he helped gather global superstars to record "We Are the World."
The song raised to $64 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.
Belafonte also faced criticism for meeting with leftist leaders like Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
But he never stopped speaking out against racism in America.
HARRY BELAFONTE: The struggle is still going on.
The cruelty of the enemy is as great as ever.
AMNA NAWAZ: And he criticized Democrats and Republicans along the way, in 2006 calling then-President George W. Bush the greatest terrorist in the world for invading Iraq.
Belafonte carried his mission to promote peace well into his later years, reflecting on his work and life in 2011.
HARRY BELAFONTE: Eleanor Roosevelt just walked into my life.
And she turned it around.
Dr. King called me on the phone one day.
Malcolm X knocked at the door one day.
Nelson Mandela, he and I had an exchange of letters while he was in prison.
And just these things kept emerging.
And, each time, I saw opportunity to become involved in what their struggle and our struggle was about, and felt I would make as big a difference as I could.
AMNA NAWAZ: Belafonte's publicist said he died of congestive heart failure today at his home in New York.
He was 96 years old.
It's like he lived many lives in the one he was given.
What a loss.
GEOFF BENNETT: Yes.
He was as tireless as he was brilliant.
And he was successful and impactful in so many different facets of American life, an exceptional, exceptional life.
Remember, there's a lot more online, including Gwen and Charlayne's full archival interviews with Harry Belafonte.
That's at PBS.org/NewsHour.
AMNA NAWAZ: And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
GEOFF BENNETT: And I'm Geoff Bennett.
Thanks for joining us, and have a good evening.