tv PBS News Hour PBS November 21, 2013 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> ifill: it's the most sweeping change in a generation in how the senate does your business, as the democratic majority voted to end filibusters on most presidential nominations. good evening. i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. also ahead, afghan president hamid karzai complicated a key security agreement with the u.s., telling tribal leaders it should not be finalized until next year. >> ifill: plus, some familiar faces look back at the assassination of president john f. kennedy. >> the air was filled with the most incredible screaming. it was like choirs all singing out of tune. >> woodruff: robert macneil and jim lehrer were both there 50
years ago, covering that fateful day in dallas. >> what the kennedy assassination did for me was forever to keep me aware of the fragility of everything. three rounds fired in 15 seconds changed the course of history. >> woodruff: those are just some of the stories we're covering on tonight's pbs newshour. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: ♪ ♪ moving our economy for 160 years. bnsf, the engine that connects us.
>> and by the alfred p. sloan foundation. supporting science, technology, and improved economic performance and financial literacy in the 21st century. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and friends of the newshour. and... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> ifill: the senate's long- festering fight over filibusters came to a head today. majority democrats pushed through a rules change making it easier to force action on presidential nominees. before, it took 60 votes; now, it will take 51. democrats said it will end gridlock, republicans say it's an abuse of power. we will hear some of the debate and talk to two senators right
after the news summary. wall street rallied past a new milestone today on signs of improvement in the job market. the dow jones industrial average added 109 points to close above 16,000 for the first time. the nasdaq rose nearly 48 points to close at 3.969. afghan president hamid karzai urged tribal elders today to support a security deal with the u.s. it would keep thousands of american troops in afghanistan for another decade. but karzai said he will leave the signing of the agreement to his successor next year. the u.s. special representative on afghanistan will join us later in the program. an apparent u.s. drone strike in pakistan has killed another senior figure of the haqqani network. police said he was one of three top militants who died when missiles blasted an islamic seminary. there's been a series of recent attacks on haqqani leaders. the afghan group is allied with the taliban.
the geneva talks on curbing iran's nuclear program made little headway today. the u.s. and five other powers are trying to reach a draft agreement with iran to ease some economic sanctions if tehran freezes its nuclear efforts. but iran's deputy foreign minister said this morning there'd been a loss of confidence since the last round, earlier this month. >> i'm not in a position to go into the detailings of that but they have some differences and those differences are on issues still there. >> reporter: including sanctions? >> on s >> ifill: later, the iranian official met with the european union's top diplomat and emerged saying, "we regained some of our lost trust." we'll talk to margaret warner, in geneva, later in the program. this was another bloody day in iraq, where a series of bombings killed nearly 50 people. more than half the victims died
in a truck bombing at an outdoor market 90 miles northeast of baghdad. more than 5,500 iraqis have been killed since the wave of violence began eight months ago. a new flood of syrian refugees is surging across the border into lebanon. it started friday, when syrian troops launched an offensive in a mountainous region north of damascus. a u.n. official says more than 13,000 people have fled to lebanon since then, including 500 families last night alone. aid agencies are scrambling to find shelter for them. there's word that an 85-year-old american is being held in north korea. according to his son, merrill newman visited pyongyang as a tourist last month. the korean war veteran was taken from his plane by a uniformed officer just before his flight home. the u.s. special envoy for north korea was asked about the incident, in china today.
>> well, we've seen those reports. i have to say at the outset what i can't do is comment in any specificity about them because we do not have a privacy act waiver and we, of course, are calling on north korea as in the case of mr. kenneth barry who has now been there for over a year, to resolve the issue and to allow our citizens to go free. >> ifill: bae is a christian missionary. he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what north korea called "hostile acts." the state of alabama granted posthumous pardons today to three of the so-called "scottsboro boys." charles weems, andy wright and haywood patterson were among nine black teenagers falsely convicted of gang-raping two white women in 1931. all served time. one man was pardoned earlier, and convictions against five others were overturned. a federal jury in california has ordered samsung electronics to
pay apple $290 million for copying iphone and ipad features. a previous jury had awarded apple $1 billion, but the judge ruled the panel miscalculated, and she ordered a new trial. samsung is expected to appeal this latest verdict. federal regulators are ready to allow cellular calls during u.s. flights. the federal communications commission proposed today to let airline passengers make calls and send text messages above 10,000 feet. the f.c.c. votes on the proposal next month. hundreds of activists walked out of u.n. climate talks today over lack of progress. nearly 200 nations are meeting in warsaw, poland, to lay the groundwork for a climate pact in 2015. they've been stymied by disputes over making rich countries pay for losses when poor nations suffer. the meeting ends tomorrow. still ahead on the newshour: sweeping changes in the senate; the u.s. point person with
afghanistan; margaret warner in geneva on the iran nuclear talks; and robert macneil and jim lehrer reflect on the kennedy assassination. >> ifill: today's long- threatened senate shakeup will force drastic change on how the chamber does its business and break a growing logjam over the confirmation of the president's judicial nominees. today's 52-48 vote overturned decades of senate precedent. it was opposed by all republican senators and three democrats. the presiding senator, vermont democrat patrick leahy, made it official. >> so, under the precedent set by the senate today november 21, 2013, the threshold for cloture on nominations-- not including those to the supreme court of the united states-- is now a majority.
>> ifill: since 1975, it's taken 60 votes to overcome filibusters against presidential nominees, but today majority leader harry reid invoked the so-called "nuclear option," allowing confirmation with a simple majority. republicans, he said, have abused the process. >> the american people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock. in the history of our country, some 230-plus years, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. half of them have occurred during the obama administration. >> ifill: republicans disputed the numbers. minority leader mitch mcconnell insisted the senate has confirmed 215 of president obama's nominees and rejected only two. >> this was nothing more than a power grab in order to try to advance the obama administration's regulatory agenda, and they just broke the senate rules in order to exercise the power grab.
so, i would sum it up by saying it's a sad day in the history of the senate. after today, advise and consent probably means to them 100% consent. >> ifill: democrats have threatened to change the rules before, but matters finally came to a head this week when republicans blocked three nominees to the powerful u.s. circuit court of appeals in the district of columbia. they include patricia ann millett, an appellate lawyer in washington; georgetown university law professor cornelia pillard; and federal district court judge robert wilkins. at the white house, president obama applauded the vote. he said both parties have misused filibusters over the years but that republicans have been especially "reckless and relentless." >> but today's pattern of obstruction, it just isn't normal. it's not what our founders envisioned. a deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything no
matter what the merits just to re-fight the results of the election is not normal, and, for the sake of future generations, we can't let it become normal. >> ifill: the new, simple- majority rule applies to nominees for federal judgeships and federal offices. it will still take 60 votes to defeat filibusters of supreme court nominees and legislation. the rules change inflamed debate today on capitol hill. i spoke a short time ago to two lawmakers in the middle of it, republican senator ron johnson of wisconsin and democratic senator jeff merkely of oregon. senators, welcome. explain how this came to a head today. this is a discussion we've had for a long time, this discussion about filibuster reform. starting with you, senator merkley. >> you bet. this is all about to restore the constitutional framework of the balance between the benches of government. the senate is supposed to service advice an consent on nominations but it's not supposed to be able to
systematically undermine the executive branch and the judicial branch and what brought this to a head today was a decision by the minority that they were going to block any nominee-- no matter qualifications, no matter their high character-- if the president -- if they were nominated by president obama. and that type of approach was just completely unacceptable. >> ifill: senator johnson, on the losing side of this today, is this that the way you saw, is that the way you saw, about president obama's nominees? >> no, again gwen, that is very sad day for the senate. basically senator harry reid and his colleagues on the democrat side have basically broken the rules of the senate to change the rules and this wasn't about president obama no, ma'am getting his nominations. the vast majority-- well in excess of 95% to 98% of his nominations-- have been approved in a pretty expeditious basis. this is just a blatant power grab i guess to probably change the subject off the disaster is the'm pleplt station of the
health care law but also to pack the d.c. circuit court which is going to be the regulating court of -- basically the deciding court of all these regulations for obamacare and all the regulations that president obama is going to be implementing through his regulatory agencies because he can't pass them as laws. >> ifill: let me ask you and then senator merkley as well the basic questions from many people watching this who don't know about nuclear options. they want to know what was the virtue in having a 60-vote threshold in the first place and what is the disdisadvantage of getting rid of it. >> first of all the advantage is advise and consent. 6-what consent is there if you have to agree to every nominee is since 2009 we've approved more than 200 of president obama's judicial appointments and only blocked two so that's an incredibly high rate of
approval so at some point in time the minority does have to have some rights if the advise and consent clause has any meaning what is over. >> ifill: senator merkley, you want to weigh on that? >> you bet. the tradition has been up-and-down votes with rare exceptions. but what we've had instead? s in the history of the united states of america there have been 23 filibusters of district court nominees. 20 of those have been by the republican minority during president obama's presidency. 20 out of 23 in our entire history. we can take those same statistics and go to area after area. this perpetual war on president obama has to come to an end. it's not serving the american people. the american people want us solving problems on the floor of the senate, addressing the issue of living wage jobs. addressing the issue of low employment. addressing the issue of the high expense of college. what they don't want is our time wasted throughout the entire year on perpetual filibusters of nominees. >> ifill: senator merkley, the
president, whose name you keep invoking, when he was a senator in 2005 said there should be -- that the rules are the rules and you shouldn't be changing them in midstream. what's different now >> well, let's take 2005. in 2005 a deal was reached by a group of seven republicans and seven democrats. the deal was that there would be no change in the rules if the democrats agreed to only filibuster for rare exceptional circumstances. those being terrible problems with character or experience. this deal was completely honored by the democrats. in fact, they didn't filibuster a single judge thereafter under the bush administration. but immediately upon the republicans becoming the minority party they broke the deal and the statistics i've given you just reflected that. they didn't break it just on judicial nominees. they did it on executive nominees as well. now, harry reid and the leadership have repeatedly tried to restore the social contract, restore the understanding of filibuster only on rare
exception. but that hasn't been possible. >> ifill: let me ask senator johnson on the flip side of this which is that senator mcconnell, now the minority leader, also in 2005, argued that there should be up or down votes on nominees. that's when there was a republican president. what's different now? >> well, again, i just got here in 2010. under the rule of senator harry reid and the fact of the matter -- the reason the senate is so dysfunctional is because of his leadership or lack of leadership. we haven't passed an appropriation bill in the senate in over two that's a dysfunction. all this talk about filibuster, it's not real filibuster because senator harry reid fills up the amendment tree, doesn't allow republicans to offer any amendments, he files cloture and then then accuses us of doing filibustering. i realize this is arcane senate rules, the dysfunction is all about senator harry reid's utter lack of leadership and just totally not able to actually is
the senate function and respect minority rights whatsoever. this is a raw power grab and you saw what happens last time the democrats had total power in the senate. we passed obamacare. america is experiencing the disaster of that law right now. >> ifill: let me ask you both this question which i guess is what i was getting to. does whether you think this is a good idea-- these rules changes are a good idea-- depend on whose ox is being gored? that if you're in the minority you want up or down votes and if you're in the majority -- or if you're in the majority you want up or down votes and if you're mi or inty you want to have the 60 vote threshold. is that what this comes down to senator merkel? >> well, let's recognize what is happened in america which is much more polarization. so in the past when there was an understanding of the rare use of the filibuster it worked because senators worked together across the party boundary. but now what we have is a situation for many senators that
their base demands that they exploit every rule in order to obstruct any bill from the democrat side or any nominee from the democratic president. that change has resulted in many senators who said in 2005 that they would always support up and down votes wherer in the minoritytor majority. but when they were in the minority they changed their position because their base demanded it. it's unfortunate, it reflects a bigger problem in society but within that structure it is our responsibility to make this senate serve the american people and enable it to take on those big challenging issues facing america, improving the base for the american family to the success of the middle-class. >> ifill: senator johnson, what about the whose ox is being gored question? >> well, we already have one chamber of the congress that's ruled by the majority. that's the house. the senate was supposed to be more deliberative. it's supposed to protect the minority rights. senator robert byrd has to be rolling over on his grave based on what his democratic colleagues have done today. this is a very sad day and, you
know, the fact of the matter is the way the rules in the senate should be changed is an incredibly bipartisan way before the start of every congress by the a two-thirds vote. that's how you get bipartisanship. that's how you start healing this divide that really, really began with the totally partisan vote around obamacare. that split our parties. that split this nation and it hasn't been healed yet and today's action certainly isn't helping heal that division. it's widening it. it's a very sad day for the united states senate and america. >> ifill: that's what i was going ask you both as a final question. do you feel like the senate is more divided today than before? senator americaly. >> division of the senate was that there would be a cooling saucer. what's why we have staggered terms and six years. but no one intended for the senate to be a deep freeze. but that's what it's come with the abuse of the filibuster. what i slope that both sides will see the success of improving the function of the senate that will flow from
today's action and will join together in bipartisan ways to take on the dysfunction on the legislative side which there's so much hope for by the american people. >> ifill: final word, senator johnson? >> well, the senate is in deep freeze because senator harry reid doesn't move bills, doesn't bring appropriation bills. that's the primary function of congress to authorize appropriate funds for the federal government activity. senator harry reid is not doing those things. basically digging his heels, making sure that obamacare becomes the permanent law of the land. again, we're understanding the exact -- the harmful consequences of majority rule until the senate and obamacare is exhibit a from that standpoint. >> ifill: sounds like a cooling saucer might be in order at this point. senator ron johnson, republican, senator jeff mercury, democrat, thank you both for joining us. >> great to have you. >> take care now. >> woodruff: tensions escalated today between the united states and afghanistan, one day after both sides announced they had reached an historic agreement paving the way for the u.s. to leave forces in that country beyond 2014.
>> ( translated ): my trust with america is not good. >> woodruff: afghan president hamid karzai opened a meeting of tribal elders in kabul with a blunt assessment of his often testy relations with the u.s. still, he urged the loya jirga to endorse a new security agreement, allowing thousands of american troops to stay another ten years in training and support roles. >> ( translated ): the security agreement will give us the opportunity to move from a transitional process to a stable process. as we are in a pullout process, this withdrawing of foreign troops from afghanistan should be a happy process. if the foreigners leave afghanistan unhappy, it will be very dangerous for us. i hope you get my point. >> woodruff: then, toward the end of his hour-long speech, karzai threw a new curveball; he called for delaying the actual signing of the agreement until after next april's presidential election. the u.s. had wanted a deal signed last month. in washington, state department spokeswoman jen psaki said the
u.s. is "seeking clarification." >> we've been very clear, as the secretary was when he was in kabul just last month, that in order to create certainty, in order for the united states and our nato allies to plan, we must do this as quickly as possible. otherwise, it puts the planning of post-2014 presence at risk. >> woodruff: the proposed agreement has several key provisions. among them, granting u.s. troops immunity from prosecutions in afghan courts and barring americans from raiding afghan homes except under "extraordinary circumstances." in addition, president obama sent a last-minute letter to karzai promising the u.s. will respect afghan sovereignty and the dignity of citizens in their homes and private lives. in response, karzai today underscored his country's expectations.
>> ( translated ): if americans would like to sign the bilateral security agreement, in return, we ask them to provide us with stability and peace. i am sure peace is in their hands. >> woodruff: foreign combat forces are already under a deadline to depart afghanistan by the end of next year. without a security agreement, all u.s. troops will leave, just as happened in iraq when baghdad failed to sign a similar agreement in 2011. that would leave nearly 350,000 afghan security forces without further u.s. military training and funding. the loya jirga will debate through sunday. its decisions are not legally binding, but, either way, the afghan parliament would still have to ratify the agreement. to help us understand this back around forth and the need for a
deal is james dobbins, he is the obama administration's special representative to afghanistan and pakistan. ambassador dobbins, welcome to the newshour. >> thank you. >> so what is the timetable for this deal? president karzai is saying it wouldn't be signed until april. the administration wanted it done last month. which is it? >> well, the two sides agreed last november that we would do this within a year and we continue to believe it's important to achieve that timetable. we're pleased that we were able to reach agreement within that time frame on the text and we're hopeful that the loya jirga will give a positive signal. we're pretty confident that the afghan parliament will also review this and it will be positive and we do expect that it will be signed expeditiously thereafter. we think that's important both because we have our own need to plan for our future commitment or lack of commitment if it's -- if the agreement is never concluded.
all of the other participants in i.s.a.f.-- there's some 40 of them-- they need to plan and their plans are dependent on our plans. and finally, afghanistan is going to a very difficult, delicate election at a time of considerable uncertainty and we feed to provide the maximum degree of certainty and the background about the international presence, about the american commitment. >> woodruff: so just to clarify: delaying the signing until april doesn't jeopardize this? >> i think delaying the signing to april will make it much more difficult for us to make our commitments. it will make it more difficult for -- make it virtually impossible for other countries to make their commitments. i think it will have a long-term deleterious impact on the scale of international assistance to afghanistan. >> woodruff: so you're trying to get them to change his mind? >> besides that, it's a two-round election and it's not necessarily over in april. it could extend several months beyond that because if the first round doesn't produce a clear winer there will be a second
round. >> woodruff: so it sounds like you're trying to get them to change his mind and make it sooner. >> absolutely. >> woodruff: the reports are, ambassador dobbins, 8,000 to 12,000 mostly u.s. troops staying in afghanistan another decade until 2024 in a training and counterterrorism mission. is that what the u.s. wants? >> the president hasn't made any decision on the numbers of the american troops. we do intend that we would probably the largest contributor in an allied force. the force would be in a non-combat role, train, assist, and advise. there would balance a small american counterterrorism force that would be stationed under this agreement. but the bulk of the troops will be in the train-advise-assist and would be a nato force with the united states as the largest single contributor but with a significant number of other countries contributing. >> woodruff: but you're talking in the thousands of u.s. troops.
>> potentially. >> woodruff: and you said not a combat role but counterterrorism so they'd be armed. they'd potentially be putting their lives at risk. >> i think the counterterrorism element will be relatively small compared to the train-advise-assist. afghanistan remains a dangerous environment and, yes, small forces will be assuming some degree of risk. but u.s. casualties are way down already because afghans are in the lead and at the point we're talking about, the afghans will be comprehensively undertaking the defense of the country. >> woodruff: what is the argument to the american people that they should support an agreement that keeps any number of u.s. troops in afghanistan for several more years? up to ten more years. >> well, we continue to want to deny afghanistan as a launch point for international terrorism. the taliban continue to be linked with al qaeda. if the taliban were able to come back, seize control with some or most or even all of the country,
you would again have a regime linked to al qaeda and prepared to facilitate those kinds of attacks. and we now believe that we can do it with much smaller commitment because we have raised and trained and helped support an afghan army and police force of about 350,000. but we don't believe that we can afford to abandon afghanistan all together. >> woodruff: the agreement also has language in it, though, that puts limits on what u.s. troops can do in terms of not going, for example, into private homes unless there's an urgent reason to do so. how much of a disadvantage is that? >> the agreement actually pretty much describes what we're already doing. afghan troops are in the lead. we don't go into afghan homes. we sometimes accompany afghan troops that go into afghan homes if they have reason to search the home. so the things that we're precluded from doing in the
agreement are by and large things we've already ceased doing and after all we want these roles to be assumed by the afghans. we don't want to continue to have to do them ourselves. >> woodruff: ski because that specific language is in the agreement. the afghans were -- felt very strongly that it should be in. >> right. right. >> woodruff: finally, option dorr dobbins, among other thing what is president karzai said today was he said "my trust with america is not good." again, for americans to see their troops committed to a country where the relationship between the leaders -- or at least on the part of president karzai towards the united states is shaky at best, how do you -- how do you explain that to the american people? >> well, president karzai is not going to be president of the country more than another four months, approximately. four to six months depending on whether the election goes into a second round. afghanistan is a democracy, it's holding elections.
i think we will judge afghanistan's attitude toward our forces and toward our commitment by what the loya jirga-- which is currently meeting-- decides. and perhaps equally importantly what the parliament ultimately decides when this agreement is submitted to them. at this point we anticipate strong support this both forms. >> woodruff: you do expect strong support? >> yes. >> woodruff: and a new lead we are a better attitude towards the united states? >> well, at this point there are 11 candidates. the entire political class of the country is engaged as candidates or supporting candidates. i think several of the candidates have already said they would sign this agreement if president karzai didn't. we don't want to postpone signature to that point. so i don't want to characterize, you know, the individual candidates. we're not backing any one of them. but i don't think there's any of them we couldn't live with.
>> woodruff: ambassador james dobbins who was the administration's special representive to afghanistan and pakistan, thank you. >> my pleasure. >> ifill: hopes to reach an interim deal over iran's nuclear program were tempered by tough words and few positive ones in geneva today. chief foreign affairs correspondent margaret warner is covering the talks for us. i spoke to her a short time ago. margaret, good to see you. everybody around the table in geneva seems to be talking about some version of trust. what happened today? >> what happened today, gwen, is one we've got a news blackout. i'd say two new dynamics emerged. the two sides are definitely talking about the substance. that is, they have a text in front of them, a draft, and they're trying to iron out the differences. but the new dynamic is the only substantive talks taking place are between the iranian foreign minister saa reef and the
e.u./u.n. co-chairman of these talks catherine ashton. and i was told by the iranians that that was at iran's insistence. they don't want a situation where they agree to something, they think they've agreed to something and some other foreign minister flies in the way the french did last time and raises objections. and a european source confirmed to me tonight that that was the case. that was iran's insistence. >> ifill: so it's fair to say secretary kerry is not there. do we know if he's coming? >> no. and early in the day there was a lot of buzz-- and you certainly saw security guys preparing for all kinds of foreign ministers to fly in. but tonight the sense very much is t could go into the weekend. talks have ended. they ended around 9:00 between ashton and zarif. ashton has to cogo back and consult with her six countries, including the u.s. >> ifill: senate majority leader harry reid said in washington he is going to put off any further senate action on whether sanctions should be increased
against iran until after the holiday, after thanksgiving. was that the kind of deal, the delay, kerry was looking? >> well, it was going into these talks but it still was not a reassuring signal and here's why: what harry reid-- who has successfully bottled up any attempt to pass new sanctions through parliamentary maneuvers-- was saying today is "come december 9 when we're back all bets are off and, in fact, we're going to move a bill, a bipartisan new sanctions bill through the senate." the house has already passed one. the iranians have said if that happens as far as they've concerned -- during negotiations if that happens then negotiations are really -- they haven't said over but pretty impossible because rouhani, the president, the new president, is going to be under such pressure from the supreme leader and hard-liners at home. and so this -- you know, you can say, it buys them two weeks but it adds a sense of urgency to these talks. an iranian told me tonight that
isarif, too, is under pressure at home and he pointed to the t.v. monitor that showed zarif and ashton sitting down in a meeting and he said "just look at his body language." and it's true. i've seen him in person several times and he is not as warm and expansive in his attitudes here as he was before. he's under pressure to produce and this iranian very much involved with the delegation said "if this -- if they don't get a deal this time, it's not even clear zarif will be allowed to return." and, of course, as we discussed last night, judy and i did, secretary kerry and president obama are under pressure in the u.s. also. >> ifill: is there any way of knowing whether we're closer or farther away? >> i would say we're closer than yesterday when they didn't even talk about substance, what's clear now is the process they were talking about-- quote/unquote-- had to do with the insistence that they were only going to deal with one person. so they're probably closer.
they're still talking and they're talking on substance but there are several outstanding issues as we know. this so-called iranians' insistence on the right to enrich. there is some indication from both the u.s. and iranians, they've figured out a way to finesse it which is the u.s. will have one understanding and the iranians will have another and zarif said "we don't need the world to recognize our right to enrich." which is a softening of their position. but there are a lot of others. some of the one it is french were headline on. and the real issue is now that the iranians have come back with their counterproposals on certain parts of the consensus text, can the six foreign ministers-- u.s. through the french-- stick together and the french foreign minister had you have to words when asked if there was a deal possible. he said "it's all a question of firmness and right now the iranians can't accept what the six want." well, the six are going to have to make some further decisions here and that's the outstanding question. >> ifill: at least the
conversations will still continue. we are glad you are there watching them. margaret warner for us in geneva. >> thanks, gwen. >> woodruff: the assassination of president john f. kennedy on november 22, 1963, shocked this nation to the core and rattled the world. our own robert macneil and jim lehrer were both on the ground in dallas, covering the president's visit that day. and although they would not formally meet for years, these two journalists crossed paths multiple times. i talked with them recently about the day and its aftermath. >> it's been one of those days that a reporter finds himself musing about when he's half asleep sometimes on a plane. your mind drifts as you prepare for the big story: what is likely to happen at this moment and that? sometimes your mind drifts to the most extreme thing that could happen and you hastily dismiss it because the most
extreme thing never does happen. >> woodruff: the day started out drizzly and cool. for robin macneil it was a milestone. his first presidential trip as an nbc white house correspondent. he was assigned to cover president john kennedy's speech in dallas that afternoon, an anticipated rebuttal to the president's conservative critics. city officials beefed up security ahead of the visit. the previous month in dallas, united nations ambassador adlai stevenson was met by angry right-wing protestors to spat on him and struck him with signs. and thousands of anti-kennedy flyers accusing the president of treason had been distributed downtown in the days before his arrival. despite that backdrop, supporters turned out in droves outside the president's hotel in fort worth that morning where thofs give a speech before heading to dallas. it was a breakfast event for the
chamber of commerce and first lady jackie kennedy stole the show, receiving a standing ovation upon her arrival. >> a few years ago i said that -- i introduced myself in paris by saying i was the man who accompanied mrs. kennedy to paris. i'm getting somewhat that same sensation as i travel around texas. >> when we got on to the press plane, the press plane flew to dallas in seven minutes. at that time the tradition on the press plane was stewardess as we called them in those days immediately left the gate and came down with a tray of bloody maryss. and i had a bloody mary. >> woodruff: on a seven-minute trip? >> yes. and i was still tipping up the glass and the ice and a little lemon thing and it was bumping against my noses a we landed in dallas. that's how short it was. >> woodruff: among the crowd waiting at love field was jim lehrer, then a reporter for the dallas "times-herald."
>> i was checking the telephone line back to the city desk downtown and the man said "are they going to have the bubble top on the presidential limousine?" because i had done advanced stories in the newspaper about the kennedy visit. and the idea was if the weather was bad there would be a bubble top to protect the kennedys from the rain. and it had rained that morning in dallas. so i put the phone down, i go down to the ramp and there were six cars, six or seven cars. all the cars, the official cars in the motorcade and the presidential limo was one of them and the bubble top was up. and the bubble top was a one quarter inch thick plexiglas and it was designed strictly -- it wasn't bulletproof. >> woodruff: not bulletproof. >> a lot of people thought it was but it wasn't. at any rate, the secret service agent was standing at the top of the ramp i happened to know and i said to him "mr. soros, i see the bubble top is up. rewrite wants to know if it's
going to be up during the thing." and i'll never forget this, he looks up at the sky and it's clear and he says "well --" and he yells down with an agent with a two-way radio and he says "check it downtown stwh? what's it like down town? " and then he says "clear downtown." and the agent that i'm talking to then yells to the other agents who were in charge of the motorcade "lose the bubble top." so they take the bubble top down. >> woodruff: air force one descended that morning with more than 2,500 people watching. >> the kennedys got out and they were a remen are dent site. remen are dent site. and when she got off air force one with the bright brilliant sun that day shining on her gleaming black air and the pink outfit she was wearing the whole atmosphere was one of something glowing with extra light. then they put a big armload of
blood red roses in her arms against the pink suit and it was -- the images and the color hurt the eyes. and it was the students there holding the confederate flag and a texas flag. >> there were very positive signs that people in the crowd were, for the most part -- it's amazing that you didn't -- what did you look like then? >> i looked about 50 years younger. (laughs) >> woodruff: the presidential motorcade started its journey toward downtown dallas. the press buses not far behind. more than 150,000 people lined the ten-mile-long route. >> it looked like a flooded river and you wondered how the cars -- how the motorcade could go through. but the atmosphere was really extraordinary. i mean, it was -- the radiance on the faces of the people, the absolute delight in seeing the kennedys was so apparent. >> woodruff: then tragedy. at 12:30 p.m. central standard time-- shortly after the
presidential limousine turned on to elm street to make its way through dealey plaza-- president kennedy and texas governor john connolly were struck. you heard a shot? >> heard a bang and we all said "was that a shot? was that a back snir" and there were two shots much closer together. "bang, bang." very close and i said "those are shots!" and i got up. i said "stop the bus." and i got out of the bus and the air was filled with the most incredible screaming. it just -- it was like -- it was like choirs all singing out of tune. just the most amazing sound. and anyway, i looked and there were people running up a grassy slope, or the grassy knoll as it came to be known, including policemen. and there are people lying on the grass covering their children with their bodies and i thought they'd seen some gunman, they're chasing him so i ran up the grassy knoll behind them and i thought "i better call nbc,
shots fired." >> woodruff: the first building he saw was the texas book depository where a young man in shirt sleeves directed macneil to a telephone inside. >> it was not known if the shots were aimed at the president. repeat, it is not known if the shots were aimed at the president. this is robert macneil, nbc news in dallas, texas. >> woodruff: after reporting a short nbc radio spot, macneil had to figure out a way to get to the hospital. >> i stopped a car that came along, it was a young man delivering cake boxes or something. i said "the president's been shot, i'll give you five bucks if you drive me to parkland hospital." five bucks was five bucks then. i kept saying "never mind the red light, never mind the police." >> reporter: outside parkland hospital, a stunned crowd began to gather and was absorbing the news. >> there was a visiting room there and there were two coin-operated phones on the wall and i grabbed one of them and i had it for the rest of the
afternoon. and various interns and doctors and people would hold it for me as i went off to find other stuff. >> we are expecting momentary lay telephone call, that's why i'm seated here with this telephone here from nbc's robert macneil. >> woodruff: with nbc anchors frank mcgee and chet huntley on the line, macneil spoke in phrases repeated by mcgee and patched live into living rooms around the nation. >> and last rites of the church have just been administered. >> woodruff: 30 minutes after the planned start of the president's speech at the dallas trademark, acting white house press secretary matt kill duff made the announcement from a makeshift briefing room in a nurses' classroom. >> he died of gunshot wounds in the brain. >> woodruff: hours later, back at love field, secret service agents loaded president kennedy's casket on to air force one. shortly afterward, vice president lyndon johnson took
the oath of office aboard the plane with mrs. kennedy at his side. meanwhile, lee harvey oswald has been apprehended at the texas theater in southwest dallas after police discovered empty rifle shells by the sixth floor window of the book depository where he worked. it was not until years later in the book "the death of a president" that historian william manchester would identify that young man in shirt sleeves, the one who told macneil was to find a phone as oswald himself. unknown the manchester and a report not published by the warren commission, the secret service concluded that oswald had actually talked to pierce allman, a dallas radio reporter. but it has always been a "what if" moment for macneil. >> when they talked about a connection in the book depository and a man being arrested after a policeman had been shot and that he worked in
the book depository i thought "oh, my god, that's where i went and i wonder if --". >> woodruff: back at dallas police headquarters, oswald was hauled in for questioning. >> i didn't shoot anybody, sir. i haven't even been told what i'm here for. >> i was there just as they brought in oswald. i wrote his name down, i still had a notebook. i'm one of those people to ask "did you shoot the president?" >> i was also in the police station that evening and doing reports for nbc and i saw oswald paraded back and when he said "i didn't kill anybody, i'm just a patsy." >> and the guy standing next to me who i did not know at the time was jack ruby. it wasn't until sunday when he shot oswald and i saw the picture and i said "holy smokes! there is lee oswald. he's been shot! he's been shot! lee oswald has been shot! there's a man with a gun. it's absolute panic here in the basement of dallas police
headquarters. >> nbc was on the air when it happened and my friend and colleague the late tom pettitte was the one who said "he's been shot, oswald's been shot." and somebody at nbc said "go live" at that moment when oswald was brought out. >> he is lying very pale. >> woodruff: oswald was brushed to the hospital but died less than two hours later. what about the -- the oswald piece of this? the person who was behind it. so many theories since then about whether it was one person, whether it was not. does your having been there, been so close to what happened, given you a strong feeling one way or another? >> i ran down every conspiracy theory and i covered the warren commission stuff and all that and i came away with this view, judy, that i was unable to -- in my own mind looking at it
professionally i was unable to conclude that there was a conspiracy. i was always prepared to entertain the possibility that oswald did not act alone. now we sit here 50 years later, no story has developed that to my satisfaction, at least, that shows beyond any -- that goes beyond showing the possibility, real possibility, that there was conspiracy. >> all i can contribute to this is a question in my own mind what made me run up the grassy not after getting out of the bus? why did dallas policemen run up there? because somebody thought they heard something up there over the overpass at the top of the grassy noel. and where where? there is conspiracy theories that posited another gunman. grass owe knoll and the single bullet theory and all this stuff.
i assume that dallas policemen were as experienced as anybody could be in hearing gunshots echoing off buildings in an urban atmosphere. somebody heard something that made them run up there and that's all i can contribute. i haven't seen anything that is real evidence of a conspiracy. >> woodruff: back in washington just minutes after oswald's death in dallas president kennedy's flag-draped casket entered the rotunda of the u.s. capitol. the following day, an estimated one million people lined the streets of washington as the state funeral procession wound its way from the capitol to the white house. to st. matthew's cathedral. and finally to arlington
cemetery. >> for three days all my emotions were frozen. it was, oh, god, what a story? how do i do this? where do i go next? it wasn't until the funeral on monday and i was still in dallas and with the nbc crew i went up to the top of the grassy knoll and there was a small little gathering of flowers and notes and things where it happened, sort of like beginnings of what became a worldwide form of mass grieving. and while we were filming, an old man came along and he sat down near where i was on a kind of stone bench and he took out a transistor radio and put it down and at that precise moment the black watch regiment and band were passing a microphone in the parade. and i simply burst into tears. just the sound of the bagpipes
and everything-- my cultural background. >> woodruff: you're canadian. >> it was so strange. i had only a few days before in the south lawn of the white house watched as the same black watch regimen then paraded up and down while president and mrs. kennedy sat on the south portico with their children on their laps watching this and i had two children at that time exactly the same age, a girl and a boy the same age as carolyn and john-john. and i don't know whether that contributed but it all just flooded out of me. >> in our case at the "times-herald" every one of us worked around the clock for two, three days. and then when the funeral this walked down pennsylvania avenue and all that and suddenly everybody was just running and then suddenly absolutely silent.
and we all started crying. and it was just -- it was disbelief what i took away and have taken away and it still overrides everything i have done in journalism since. what the kennedy assassination did for me was forever keep me aware of the fragility of everything. that on any given moment something could happen. i mean, my god! if they could shoot the president -- and >> and that president. >> that president. just like that on a beautiful sunshiney day, my god, three rounds fired at 15 seconds changed the course of history. that if it could happen once it could happen again and again and again. and when i later became city editor of that same newspaper i had a rule that every phone that
rang in that newsroom got answered because you never knew who was on the other line. >> woodruff: what do you think -- just to wrap that up. what do you think is the long -- the enduring view of the people of dallas about what happened? >> well, at first there was shame and embarrassment and grief for what had happened and that it had happened in their city and all of that. but in some ways it was a marching-off spot, too, for a lot of people in dallas who had tolerated intolerance and said "we're not going to do that anymore." and it made a big change. in a lot of people. >> woodruff: seven years after the assassination city leaders asked if lehrer would write an inscription on a kennedy memorial in dealey plaza on behalf of the people of dallas. >> it probably is the most memorable lasting words i've
ever written in my life or ever will write. >> woodruff: a half century after his death, the kennedy memorial in dallas continues to honor the life of the 35th president of the united states. president obama has ordered all flags flown at half-staff tomorrow in honor of president kennedy. online you can watch my full conversation with robin and jim and you can read a series of essays on kennedy and the legacy he left behind. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day. senate democrats pushed through a rules change making it easier to stop filibusters against most presidential nominees. it will now take 51 votes instead of 60. and afghan president hamid karzai urged tribal elders to support a security deal that allows thousands of u.s. troops
to stay on. he said he'd leave it to his successor to sign the pact next year. on the newshour, james dobbins, a special representive to afghanistan, said specials are urging karzai to reconsider. >> woodruff: on the newshour online right now, leigh-ann anderson's fourth-grade science class trades in textbooks for hands-on experiments. she calls it "lab before blab," and it's working. see how on our "science" page. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. >> ifill: and that's the newshour for tonight. on friday, paul solman reports on wall street's record breaking week. i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow with mark shields and david brooks, among others. thank you and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
>> the william and flora hewlett foundation, working to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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