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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  November 14, 2013 7:00pm-8:00pm EST

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captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> that's on me. i mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law. >> ifill: in an extended news conference, a contrite president offers a temporary fix to those losing their health insurance and confronts other issues dogging his second term. good evening. i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. also ahead this thursday, the grim recovery efforts continue in devastated parts of the philippines, but the picture is still one of loss and despair. >> ifill: we have the first tv interview with the new head of the bureau of alcohol, tobacco,
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firearms and explosives. b. todd jones talks about the challenge of reigning in gun violence. >> we're really operating with 20th century technology in the 21st century. >> woodruff: and robert macneil returns to talk about his latest novel. >> ifill: 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.
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>> 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... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: president obama moved today to put out a political firestorm and let people keep their existing health insurance policies for now. he said the government will suspend the requirement that individual plans meet minimum standards at least for one year. it's up to insurance companies to decide if they'll go along. in the white house briefing
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room, the president acknowledged the outcry by the public and politicians, and said he bears much of the blame. >> i think it's fair to say that the rollout has been rough so far, and i think everybody understands that i'm not happy about the fact that the rollout has been, you know, wrought with a whole range of problems that i've been deeply concerned about. i completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it. and to those americans, i hear you loud and clear. i said that i would do everything we can to fix this problem, and today i'm offering an idea that will help do it. already, people who have plans that pre-date the affordable care act can keep those plans if they haven't changed. that was already in the law.
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that's what's called a grandfather clause that was included in the law. today, we're going to extend that principle both to people whose plans have changed since the law took effect and to people who bought plans since the law took effect. now, this fix won't solve every problem for every person, but it's going to help a lot of people. there is no doubt that people are frustrated. and i think it's legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general. and, you know, that's on me. i mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law. and we should have done a better job getting that right on day one, not on day 28 or on day 40. i am confident that by... by the
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time we look back on this next year, that people are going to say, "this is working well, and it's helping a lot of people." but my intention in terms of winning back the confidence of the american people is just to work as hard as i can, identify the problems that we've got, make sure that we're fixing them-- whether it's a web site, whether it is making sure that folks who got these cancellation notices get help. we're just going to keep on chipping away at this until the job is done. on the web site, i was not informed directly that the web site would not be working as... the way it was supposed to. had i been informed, i wouldn't be going out saying, "boy, this is going to be great." you know, i'm accused of a lot of things, but i don't think i'm stupid enough to go around saying "this is going to be like shopping on amazon or
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travelocity" a week before the web site opens if i thought that it wasn't going to work. and the american people, those who got cancellation notices, do deserve and have received an apology from me, but they don't want just words. what they want is whether we can make sure that they're in a better place and that we meet that commitment. and by the way, i think it's very important for me to note that, you know, there are a whole bunch of folks up in congress and others who made this statement, and they were entirely sincere about it. there is no doubt that our failure to roll out the a.c.a. smoothly has put a burden on democrats, whether they're running or not, because they stood up and supported this
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effort through thick and thin. and, you know, i feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them. there have been times where i thought we were... got, you know, slapped around a little bit unjustly. this one's deserved, all right? it's on us. but we can't lose sight of the fact that the status quo before the affordable care act was not working at all. if... if the health care system had been working fine and everybody had high-quality health insurance at affordable prices, i wouldn't have made it a priority. we wouldn't have been fighting this hard to get it done, which is why when i see sometimes folks up on capitol hill-- and republicans in particular-- who
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have been suggesting, you know, "repeal, repeal, let's get rid of this thing," i keep on asking, well, what is it that you want to do? are you suggesting that the status quo was working? because it wasn't, and everybody knows it. it wasn't working in the individual market, and it certainly wasn't working for the 41 million people who didn't have health insurance. but it is complicated. it is hard. but i make no apologies for us taking this on because somebody, sooner or later, had to do it. i do make apologies for not having executed better over the last several months. >> woodruff: the nation's health insurance companies quickly answered that the president's offer comes too late. the industry's main trade group, america's health insurance plans, issued a statement that said: and in congress, house speaker john boehner rejected the plan
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even before the president announced it. >> of course, no one can identify anything the president could do administratively to keep its pledge that would be both legal and effective. now, let's be clear. the only way to fully protect the american people is to scrap this law once and for all. there is no way to fix this. >> woodruff: the house is expected to vote tomorrow on a republican bill that lets existing plans stay in force. we'll hear from two house members on all of this right after the news summary. more aid trickled in to the central philippines today, a week after a catastrophic typhoon hit. the pace was expected to increase greatly now that the u.s. aircraft carrier "george washington" has arrived on the scene. meanwhile, the stricken city of tacloban carried out its first mass burial. we'll have reports from the
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philippines in a few minutes. president obama is urging congress to hold off imposing new sanctions on iran. he said today that if negotiations with iran fail, "the sanctions can be ramped back up." margaret warner will have much more on the effort to win over skeptical lawmakers later in the program. in iraq, new bombings targeted shiites during a major religious holiday, killing at least 41 and wounding more than 100 others. the worst was in a town northeast of baghdad, where a suicide bomber blew himself up amidst a group of worshippers. no one claimed responsibility, but al qaeda in iraq has launched many similar attacks. a top u.s. counterterror official warned today that al qaeda in iraq is stronger than it's been since 2006. matthew olsen is director of the national counterterrorism center. he told a senate hearing that the militants are exploiting "increasingly permissive security environments in iraq," and he warned other al qaeda affiliates are spreading.
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>> the threat level, as we look at the threat, is more disbursed geographically. the threat is... has moved out from the afghanistan-pakistan border region to broad swaths of areas that are largely ungoverned across north africa and the middle east. so, in some ways, it has... it has become more significant from a geographic perspective and more complicated from an intelligence perspective. >> woodruff: still, olsen said the threat of another 9/11-style attack on the u.s. is lower than it was in 2001. the nominee to chair the federal reserve is defending the central bank's stimulus efforts. janet yellen faced her senate confirmation hearing today. she said the economy still needs help, and she gave no indication of when the fed might curtail its stimulus program. there'll be more on the yellen hearing later in the program. the former boston crime boss, james "whitey" bulger, was sentenced today to two life terms in prison.
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he'd been found guilty of 11 murders during the 1970s and '80s, as well as extortion and money laundering. bulger said nothing at all as the judge pronounced the sentence, and he left the court without looking at his supporters. afterward, prosecutors and defense lawyers spoke outside the courthouse. >> james bulger deserves nothing less than to spend the rest of his life in jail for the harm, the pain and the suffering that he has caused to so many in this town. >> there are a number of important issues that he still thinks need to be told. there's evidence and witnesses that he thinks should be made public, and, in pursuit of that goal, he will appeal his case. >> woodruff: bulger is 84 years old. he fled boston in 1994. he was captured in california two years ago. an ohio man has been convicted in a $100 million charity fraud case. a cleveland jury found john donald cody, who also goes by
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bobby thompson, defrauded donors in 41 states. he'd been charged with looting his florida charity, the u.s. navy veterans association. cody faces up to 67 years in prison. two secret service agents were removed from president obama's security detail for alleged sexual misconduct. the "washington post" reported today the supervisors sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate. one was a senior supervisor, who also attempted to force his way into a woman's room at a washington hotel. this report comes a year after the agency dealt with a prostitution scandal in colombia. on wall street, the dow jones industrial average gained 54 points to close at 15,876. the nasdaq rose seven points to close at 3,972. still ahead on the newshour: response to the president's health care fixes from two members of congress; the scope of suffering widens in the
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typhoon-ravaged philippines; janet yellen sails through her confirmation hearing to head the fed; a newsmaker interview with the new leader of the a.t.f.; how congress might complicate the iran nuclear talks; and robert macneil returns with his latest book. >> ifill: again, to the president's health care plan. >> ifill: in the senate, some democrats are pushing their own legislation, including louisiana senator mary landrieu. >> the president's announcement this morning was a great first step and we will probably need legislation to make it stick. my bill is a permanent solution. we're going to be working to see how that can be shaped to make it real, hold the promise and support the affordable care act. >> ifill: but how did today's
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presidential mea culpa go over in the house? for that, we turn to two members of the house: democratic congresswoman jan schakowsky of illinois; and republican congressman james lankford of oklahoma. jan that cow ski, you just heard what mary landrieu had to say in the senate. what do you think? do you think what the president did today was you have? >> we had a democratic caucus. the reaction was approving of the president's plan. i think people felt that this was was a good fix and you know when you start something like this there are going to be changes that we need to make and felt that this was a good idea and so i think the response has been very, very positive on the part of the democrats that we're dealing with something that we have been hearing from our constituents about and there's nothing to be ashamed of when you try and fix something that already has so much promise for millions and millions of americans who have been denied health insurance in the past. >> ifill: except i keep hearing democrats, ms. schakowsky, say
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this is a good first step, this should be a permanent fix, this should be a permanent rollback. do you think that that might gather some speed? >> well, the democrats are going to offer a response to the legislation that the republicans are offering tomorrow. that's still in the works, but we certainly do think that the president has made a move in the right direction. i can't tell you because i don't know right now what we're going to be doing in the house. but i want to tell you, you played part of john boehner. one other thing he said is that we have the best health delivery system in the world. i'm sorry. with 41 million people with no insurance and many more that are denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions, i don't think so. we need the affordable care act. >> ifill: mr. lankford, when you talk to your constituents in oklahoma, do you get a sense that they would accept the fix the president put forward snowed >> we're trying to figure out how the fix works. the insurance companies have come out and said this fix won't
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work for us, it does a couple things. one is the president laid out a mandate to say if the companies are going to present this same insurance they had last year, first thing they have to do is they have to advertise for other competing companies that are on the exchanges and tell their people that they're offering the policy to that hey, here's what we don't but the exchanges do. companies are not going to step out and say "hey, here's another company that has a better product or a different product that ours." that's nonsensical. it's one thing to say we're going to compete, it's another to say you can come back and compete but at a disadvantage. that's the problem the president came back and said. yes companies can come back but we'll strap them down with more regulations. that's not helpful. >> ifill: is your concern that this fix isn't enough or that it's putting on a bandage on a bad product. >> two things. one is i'm not sure it's legal yet. the law is very clear on it. he's just basically saying we're going to ignore that part of the law. that's not what the executive
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branch is set to do. the legislative branch creates the laws and it has to be fulfilled. the democrats now two terms ago in congress created a law that this president is now saying this part of the law doesn't work so we're going to ignore it. legally you can't do that. so we're trying to figure out where he's getting the legal authority to do it. the second thing is it create this is unstable environment where companies are trying to figure out what's the regulatory environment, how do i do this? they're not going to take the risk if they don't know what to take the risk on. >> ifill: jan schakowsky, it was remark to believe see the president apologize at such great length today in the white house briefing room. did you find that that is something that maybe could have happened a couple of weeks ago? >> well, i think as soon as we saw that the rollout of the web site in particular was really, really -- what do you call it? whacky, difficult, you know he's already taken responsibility for that. but you know what i fear? that we miss the big picture. parents of children with autism were on the hill today and their message was "thank you.
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we don't to worry anymore." and women are going to do so much better. and especially women who may have breast cancer and men who have cancer are -- this is what this law is about. it's not about the insurance industry being able to offer this or that, although we want to make it as easy as possible for people to access a policy that they haven't been able to get before. >> ifill: but if the insurance companies and state insurance commissioners like washington state say they don't know what to do about the fix, isn't that significant? >> no, because i think they'll figure that out. this is going to happen over the next couple weeks and i think that all of these things in a brand new plan are absolutely going to roll out over time and finally going to be able to bring to the american people what they haven't had for decades. the constant worry about pre-existing conditions, that goes away. bankruptcies that have been caused by unaffordable policies, that goes away. this is a big deal for the american people and we can't go
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back to the old totally dysfunctional non-system that we had before. >> ifill: mr. lankford, how would you define the big picture that might be missing in this conversation? obviously your colleague defines it differently. >> sure. there are a couple big challenges here. we have around five million people in have received a letter that said "you're canceled." those are people on the individual policies and small businesses that had grouped together with other small businesses that the affordable care act made those things illegal. that small businesses couldn't group together in associations. so we have lots of small business owners out shopping for insurance, they go to the web site to try to get insurance and they can't. as of yesterday, even, the administration and all the i.t. folks in front of our hearing couldn't say whether they would have the web site done even by the 15th of december which means we have people that currently have insurance will not have insurance in january and they're going to have a gap in coverage. that's an issue. the separate issue deals with these insurance carriers and whether you're going to get coverage that you like or whether you can keep the coverage that you had in the past. obviously those rules are
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shifting. it was by design that people would lose their old insurance and step into what the president talked about the grandfathering that's in there, the grandfather was if you had the exact same insurance you had in 2010 and it never changes, whether it's 2020 or 2014, it doesn't matter, it's going to change, it's going to be grandfathered off. so while he can say this was a glitch, the web site was a glitch, losing your insurance was by design to push you into this other policy. now they're trying to back up and say maybe that was a mistake, that's a legislative fix that we have to do and as far as cancer patients and such, we're getting just as many contacts now from people that found out they had coverage, they've lost th at coverage, whether they're in a small business or an individual, the new coverage that's offered doesn't provide their same cancer doctor so they have to start all over again with a cancer physician and go through the paperwork and testing and everything else. it's a real problem for a lot of people that have serious health issues and so the issues with this is is not can we do something and should we do something? yes, we should.
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it lease with this was the something we should have done and how much trauma it has created for our economy and families. >> ifill: jan schakowsky, there have been a lot of man and woman hours extended on congressional hearings looking backward on what went wrong, why the rollout was so rocky, why the president had to apologize so profusely. do you think it's worth it trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong before you move forward? >> all of the complaint wes hear-- and i was in the hearing today-- is part of a 3.5 year non-stop well-funded relentless campaign to undermine the affordable care act and never to offer any kind of comprehensive alternative. never to come up with a plan that actually would put people in coverage and make sure that they have their health care they needed. so that hasn't stopped. and we still haven't seen any kind of real plan. just an attack on obamacare. and i also want to say that those policies, a lot of them only covered you if you were healthy.
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once you got sick, many of those policies are junk policies. >> ifill: let me direct the same we do mr. lankford which is whether this is worth looking back at or tells us about something very in the future. >> oversight is very important. whether it's a democrat or republican, both sides. we have a responsibility to the taxpayer and the people in our district. the web site itself, for instance, $600, million has been spent on something that didn't work. they cannot tell us how much more they're going to spend. they're poring in additional contractors that are no-bid contracts that they're poring into this process. they don't know how they'll fix it, how long it will take to fix it, how much it will cost and they couldn't even tell us who was in charge at the beginning. that's a simple oversight issue to say why was this done this way? and it's important for us to learn from in the past. it's also important because it affects families. everybody gets into the politics of republicans, democrats, who's up, who's down. the reality is people in our districts have been harmed by this. there are people that really their life has turned upside down, did it have to happen this way? and we should examine that. >> ifill: congressman james
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lankford of oklahoma, january schakowsky of illinois. thank you both so much. >> woodruff: the central philippines struggled for another day under the weight of its developing humanitarian crisis, and the aid isn't coming fast enough for many. we have two reports from independent television news. we begin with john sparks in tacloban.
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the mounting demands of others. >> things aren't working. people are desperate. >> i'm trying to fix them first and this is what i'm trying to get out -- to get the news out, what we need here are more warm bodies who start doing manual labor. >> in a city where many are going hungry, there are signs of progress and manual labor at a local warehouse today. volunteers preparing for the first delivery of food aid. and a national government minister was there to oversee it. we spoke to the mayor this morning and he said the national government wasn't doing enough, there weren't enough people on the ground. there simply weren't enough men here. >> maybe that's more of a political statement from him than a statement in reality.
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why don't you go to the city and see what's functioning there versus what the national government is doing. >> well, the national government calls this the rice brigade and we caught a lift on one of the first trucks into tack low ban. it's taken seven days to organize but the first batch of food and water is on the move ready for distribution to people who desperately need it. it's not a simple process. splintered trees and precarious power lines slowed our progress and the authorities worried our cargo would get hijacked. but we made it to the first dropoff point. is this the first time you've received food? >> ( translated ): yes, just now. it's the first assistance we've got. >> reporter: she said we could follow her home. and we were astonished by what we saw.
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amelia sarinas and her mother and four children don't have a choice and they'll do what they can to survive. how much food have you had over the last couple of days? >> this is the only one. this is the first time. >> reporter: there is much fortitude here where the living co-exist with the dead. the relief effort has begun, but it will take months or even years to resurrect this community. >> woodruff: for many in the central philippines, water and food are not enough. mark austin of independent television news was out in tacloban this evening and met a doctor who's not sure he can keep his patients alive without additional medical supplies. >> reporter: tonight, in this wasted land of skeletal trees and hungry people, they are fending for themselves as they have done every night since the storm did its worst here. decent people of a broken city
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turned by catastrophe into scavengers. a city of death, where they turn their backs on the bodies which still lie uncollected in the streets. earlier, when we sheltered from a storm at a local hospital, this is what we found. water pouring through smashed roofs, flooding corridors, where tacloban's sick and injured lie awaiting treatment. this is not outside the hospital, but inside. the hospital's director tells me he would immediately evacuate all the patients and condemn the building, but they have nowhere else to go. as a result, the intensive care neo-natal unit is now in the hospital chapel. these are the babies of the storm, one born on the 8th of november, the very night it raged. the lack of supplies and medicines and the danger of infection mean many may not survive. >> it's very distressing. if this is not corrected immediately, there could be babies dying.
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>> reporter: you think some of these babies will die? >> yes, if this is not corrected properly, immediately. >> reporter: i met lowena mubag, who gave birth to her baby today. but her injuries and blank stare only hint at her horrific story. on the day of the storm, five of her children drowned. her nurses are doing their best for her. >> what has been lost is... lost. now that we are... those who are alive should go on, should go on. we have to survive. we have to go have hope as long as the sun is shining. we have to have hope. >> reporter: it is difficult to overstate how miserable things are at this hospital. like the city itself, it is living a nightmare. >> ifill: as washington debated health care fixes and the world coped with the philippine disaster, the woman who could
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become the most powerful banker in the world appeared on capitol hill today. janet yellen, who would succeed ben bernanke as chairman of the federal reserve, appeared to move one step closer to confirmation, but not without scrutiny. newshour congressional correspondent kwame holman reports. >> i very much appreciate your candor and transparency. >> you see, the committee has the utmost respect for you. >> reporter: janet yellen, the fed's current vice-chair, got a warm welcome before the senate banking committee, and she quickly turned to making the case that the economy still needs the fed's stimulus efforts. >> the federal reserve is using its monetary policy tools to promote a more robust recovery. i believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy. >> reporter: since late 2008, the fed's been buying mortgage- backed securities and treasury
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bonds, now at a rate of $85 billion a month. the goal is to keep interest rates low and encourage growth. some republicans worry it's all gone too far and that the massive bond buying has inflated stock prices and real estate values. alabama's richard shelby cited the record size of the fed's bond holdings, now $3.8 trillion, or almost a quarter the size of the nation's total economic output. >> looking back in history, recent history-- the last 30, 40, 50 years-- have you noticed any portfolio of the fed approaching what it is today? >> not of the federal reserve. >> that's what i mean. >> but other central banks. >> i'm asking you about the federal reserve of the united states of america. >> no, i have not, senator. >> okay. >> reporter: others warned that while investors are benefiting greatly from low interest rates, retirees who depend on interest payments are hurting. republican mike johanns of nebraska.
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>> i think the economy has gotten used to the sugar you've put out there, and i just worry that we're on a sugar-high. and that is a very dangerous thing for the little person out there who's just trying to pay the bills and maybe put a buck away for retirement. >> if we want to get back to business as usual and a normal monetary policy and normal interest rates, i would say we need to do that by getting the economy back to normal. and that's what this policy i hope will succeed in doing. >> reporter: yellen gave no indication of when the fed might scale back on its bond buying, known as "quantitative easing." on the democratic side, elizabeth warren of massachusetts complained the fed still isn't doing enough to limit the size and dominance of big banks. >> the truth is if the regulators had done their jobs and reined in the banks, we wouldn't need to be talking
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about quantitative easing because we could have avoided the 2008 crisis altogether. >> reporter: yellen agreed with the need to increase monitoring of the financial system. she also noted that the government shutdown and debt ceiling brinksmanship have hindered efforts to boost the economy. looking ahead, yellen pledged to continue the push by outgoing fed chairman ben bernanke for greater transparency in what the fed is doing and how. >> woodruff: now to our newsmaker interview with b. todd jones, the new director of the federal bureau of alcohol, firearms, tobacco and explosives. the agency, charged with keeping track of the nation's 300 million guns, lacked a permanent head for the last seven years. jones was appointed shortly after the tragic shooting at sandy hook elementary in
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newtown, connecticut, and confirmed in july. i spoke with him this afternoon at the bureau's headquarters here in washington. director todd jones, thank you for talking with us. >> well, thank you for being here. >> woodruff: in your confirmation hearings to become the director of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives you call this an agency in distress. others have called it the neglected stepchild of federal law enforcement. they've called it bureau under siege. how do you see it now that you're here? >> i call it a resilient law enforcement agency. i have the privilege of serving in an acting capacity for two years which gave me the benefit of getting to know the people, getting to know the organization better, and also identifying some immediate actions that we wanted to take and it's -- 24 months has gone by really fast. >> woodruff: the a.t.f. hadn't
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had a permanent director for seven years before you took the job. you have a budget that is -- yes it's grown, but it's not nearly as fast as the budgets of the f.b.i., the drug enforcement agency. it's been pointed out your number of agents smaller than many city and municipal police departments, sheriff's departments. how are you managing? >> i've got a good team. having good people is always important. you know, we have the benefit of a very experienced special agent work force, but we are on the cusp of losing a generation of agents, so to speak, so it's absolutely critical that we have the opportunity in short order to rebuild our work force cadre in a way that makes sense and will allow us to function for the next ten years. >> woodruff: but how strapped do you feel for resources? >> ate jeff an organization-- whether it's in the justice department or treasury-- they
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may do with what they've got, done a lot with very little. our work force per capita has remained pretty static over the history of the bureau, which is 40 years now as a stand alone bureau. >> woodruff: of course, one of your principal priorities has to do with guns. let's the talk about that for a minute. the n.r.a., the rest of the gun rights lobby has worked very hard since the a.t.f. was created to limit your budget and among other things, to say that you should not have the ability in a large sense to go after guns that are used in crimes. that are used in the commission of crimes. how much has that affected what you're able to do here? >> we have an area of expertise in the firearms realm that was really statutorily given to us in 1968. the gun control act was a pivot point for this organization and over the years we've assumed additional jurisdictional
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reaches, arson, explosives. but at the core of what we do is really to regulate the legal commerce in firearms and to work to enforce the gun control act. when those firearms migrate into the black market or the illegal market. and that's a tall task. >> woodruff: but at the same time, we know that, again, thanks to the work of the gun rights lobby, there's not even a computerized system to keep tack of guns. that are used in the commission of crimes how much does that hamper the work that you do here? >> well, ironically, i think we have been able to do the job. not as well as we could because we're really operating with 20th century technology in the 21st century. there are things that we could do, fully aware that it is against the law for us to do anything approaching a national gun registry and that's been the fact since the firearms owner protection act.
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so we have a lot of folks in martinsburg, west virginia, who are very responsive to our gun trace program. could we do it better with a little bit more open mindedness and less of a fear factor that we're going to do something that would violate the law? yes. are we doing the job right now that we need to do? yes. >> woodruff: well, i ask you, because as you know, you know these statistics better than i do, from 2004 to 2007 the rate of lost or stolen guns rose -- 2011 the lost or stolen guns rose to 175,000 firearms unaccounted for. that was the a.t.f.'s responsibility. >> well, -- >> pelley: i'm asking, was it the a.t.f.'s responsibility? >> you know, like any other legal commerce here there are vulnerabilities in the system. one of the fundamental things that we're very much aware of is the volume of firearms in this country. the legal commerce in firearms, the business of the firearms
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industry is such that, you know, there are 300 million firearms in this country. some of those firearms have migrated from legal non-prohibited persons non-prohibited licensed businesses into the black market. and unlike a loaf of bread or anything else, there's no expiration date on a gun. and so one of our challenges is to really figure out ways to drain that illegal crime gun pool and that's very difficult because the convergence of that very deeply held belief in the second amendment constitutional rights of americans-- as the supreme court has stated in recent case law-- that second amendment right we don't believe should butt up against our responsibilities for public safety. because our focus really is on that illegal crime gun pool. >> woodruff: meanwhile, there is a new worry in law enforcement.
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in fact, the bureau just put out i guess a warning this week about plastic guns which are becoming more and more available but they can evade metal detection. how big a worry is this? >> ten years ago i don't think people were thinking about 3-d printing capabilities, but as computer power increases and innovation kicks in, the 3-d printing capabilities that allow people to create weapons with computer-assisted programs and literally within a matter of hours create a gun is a challenge. and for us right now it's running up against the sun setting of the undetectable firearms acts which scheduled to sun set at the end of this year. and that's converging with this technological leap that is raising public safety concerns for us. >> woodruff: just quickly, what needs to be done? >> well, i think that the
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congress needs to look at that statute and not let it lapse and look at maybe ways to enhance what's on the books because, again, that's an older statute and it was primarily driven so that metal detectors could detect metal and firearms so that they could create some level of safety. >> woodruff: the director of the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives. todd jones, thank you very much. >> thank you. >> ifill: president obama also used his news conference today to warn congress against imposing new sanctions on iran while diplomatic options remain. as the u.s. negotiating team prepares to return to geneva for a third round of talks next week, administration officials say they can still force iran to freeze its nuclear program. at the white house, the president said no new sanctions are needed.
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>> if, in fact, we're serious about trying to resolve this diplomatically-- because no matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, are always difficult-- then there's no need for us to add new sakss on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them the table in the first place. >> ifill: the behind the scenes struggle between the white house and congress could drive the outcome of the geneva talks. chief foreign affairs correspondent margaret warner says it's been quite a vigorous one. margaret, behind the scenes it seem what is the president was trying to do-- as he was with health care today-- is mollify the democrats. >> that is one of his main problems, gwen. there's strong sentiment on the hill to step up pressure on iran during these talks and it's coming not just from republicans but from some leading democrats like foreign affairs committee
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chairman bob menendez. the two issues are they could either impose new sanctions or, as bob corker wants to do, strip the president of his ability to waive even existing sanctions under existing law. the administration says if that happens president obama will have nothing left to deal with in geneva next week. his negotiators won't, because even the modest easing they're proposeing, that they proposed last week say unblocking some funds that are -- this iranian money held in foreign accounts, he can't do if his hands are tied on the waivers. so that's why you saw a full-court press this week. vice president biden, secretary kerry, up on the hill in private briefings. >> ifill: and they were saying that we aren't lifting oil sanctions or banking sanctions. so what is driving the objections to even the potential of a deal? >> i'd say distrust on two fronts. distrust of iran given its long record of deception and there is such a record. and negotiations and distrust of the administration or a mistrust
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that this administration is so eager for a deal that it is ready to give away leverage and the final factor is definite pressure from israel, from prime minister netanyahu, from israel's friends on the hill and outside of the hill to not head down the slippery slope of easing sanctions until you get a deal that ends all-- all-- iranian enrich. >> ifill: is anything that the president said-- his statement that we played at the white house-- is this getting traction among the people who were his target audience? >> well, he said what secretary kerry was saying yesterday in this private briefing which is -- you know, which is look, not only that they're not necessary, it's that it will undercut our ability to pursue diplomacy and that that's a dangerous step to go down and that we are negotiating a tough deal. this is what secretary kerry was saying privately. but that if you do this to us it
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will undercut iranian president rouhani at home against his hard-liners and it will shake the confidence of both the iranians and our own allies that this president has the power to make a deal. from what i heard from members in that meeting, senator bob corker i spoke to late yesterday he said it was totally frustrating and disappointing, totally unsatisfying. he said it was 80% emotion, only 20% details. that secretary kerry's attitude was "trust us, we're negotiating a tough deal" and didn't give us any detail. and senator menendez said in more restrained language much the same today. >> ifill: so nothing, the ball has not moved. but they're still listening to, as you pointed out, people from abroad who are calling and they're still listening to who else? >> well, there is -- right now i think the dynamic is there's a very short time fuse. the administration wants their negotiators to get to geneva with this big a hand as they already have. they feel that they've settled
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their issues with the french, so that isn't really what they're as most worried about. they want to be able to get to geneva without the hill doing anything to clip its wings and they were so concerned about the revolt among democrats this week that there was even talk in the administration and among its friends about a plan "b," that if we -- if dems need to vo yes on something, maybe as long as we can forestall this striping the waivers part that we might agree to a sanctions bill that doesn't take effect for six months. >> ifill: that's the middle ground. >> that's the middle ground. the administration does not like it. i was told by a senior official that that's a slippery slope to them and a hill aide said to me that there may be a compromise where they give him another week to ten days but not the two months he was asking for. >> ifill: sounds like a week full of slippery slopes. >> and more to come. >> ifill: margaret warner, thanks.
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>> woodruff: finally tonight, the return of a character, and the return of one of our own. the character is julia, the heroine of the new novel, "portrait of julia." the author is indeed our own robert macneil, longtime anchor and executive editor of the newshour. this is his fourth novel and continues a story begun in his earlier "burden of desire." he talked with jeffrey brown this afternoon in our new york studio. robin, welcome. >> thank you. >> brown: so first this character of yours, julia, first brought to life some 20 years ago. >> right, right. >> brown: was she playing around in your head all these years? demanding to come back? >> i think so. she's been gestating for a long time. to me she's fascinating the. and this book, as it begins, she's a 28-year-old widow of three years from the first world war. i grew up in my first -- i was born in 1931, 12 years after the
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first world war ended and all my early childhood was in the sort of leftovers of that atmosphere from the first world war, the war to end all wars. >> brown: well, that is so much of the context of this book, right? it is the -- a new world beginning. millions are dead and it is a kind of modern world emerging and these characters are trying to negotiate it. >> trying to negotiate it, yeah. when nothing is as it was or nothing seems as it was for young women in the european countries there are too few men because a generation was lost in each of those countries-- germany, france, england in particular. america and canada, where this is first set, come out of this more optimistic than the europeans do. in canada it even had the first world war had a role in beginning to inspire canadians to seek their own national autonomy away from the british empire because the tremendous losses of the first world war.
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60,000 dead out of a total population of eight million. it was just stunning. and however they came out of it optimistic and seeking a new relationship with britain and that led the other doe minuteian of the british empire very gradually to what is now the british commonwealth. >> brown: so julia is a painter herself and this is a portrait of julia and it is a literal portrait being done of her by a historical character >> j.w. murray, a canadian paint we are whom she had studied in paris briefly before the war. he painted a portrait of they are then-- nude but reticent-- which her husband before he died was so embarrassed by that she had to keep in the a cupboard in the bedroom. and she thinks it's -- it's a source of great pride to her that so accomplished a painter
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would be wanting to do her portrait again is but she uses the painting of the portrait to tell him a lot of what led up to why she's down there in the south of france. >> brown: and you, the author, use painting and art as a way to tell your story because a lot of this is about -- i mean, there are interesting -- real characters in here. matisse, a lot of famous painters. but there's the issue of representation in art. there's a sort of modernism in art. there's a lot going on there. what interested you about it? >> well, from early childhood -- well teenage childhood. in my high school in ottawa, canada, there was the assembly room where we met a lot there was one of his -- maurice's paintings enlarged and reproduced and i looked at it almost everyday in my high school years and gradually i became more interested in -- he i think is undercelebrated and
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it wasn't my aim but it would be nice if he were rediscovered a little bit, i think. he was a very, very good painter. the french thought in the turn of the century and up until 1920 the french thought he was one of two of the greatest north american painters and, of course north american-- a yadian and american-- crowded paris at the time. the center of modern painting. >> brown: so you have to changing world after world war i you have to world of art. these things -- you as the novelist but also i'm thinking of you as the news man i know for many years, you're using some -- you're grounded in some historical fact. and then what happens? >> well, what happens is i think one of the lessons we learn in life-- and it's an old lesson, but each of us has to learn it individually-- and that is that in human relations, particularly sexual relations and so on,
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there is the person you might most trust and feel most comfortable and easy with isn't necessarily the person your heart is going to fall for. and dealing with that -- it's an old story, it's the subject of many books over the centuries. >> brown: lot of great novels. >> but it's individual to each character. and in her character she, trying to be the modern woman and trying to be very honest with herself about everything which in itself to me is an interesting phenomenon. how honest can you be with somebody you love? >> brown: what compels you to write six in >> i don't know. i mean, i had the itch long before i became a journalist. i thought i was going to be a writer of fiction. it didn't work out because i was trying to write plays and they weren't very good plays and then i had to earn a living. but it's -- it's always remained there in the background. the -- saul bellow said "fiction is the higher autobiography."
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and it's interesting where pieces of your own life and your own wishes or disappointments or hopes or anything come out as fiction. like that character julia herself. who is she somewhere does she come from. i know where she came from. i was brought up during the second world war. my mother was alone for five years. canada was in the war for five years. my father was away at sea fighting the battle of the atlantic and i know what my mother went through in terms of anxiety and hope and disappointment and fear and everything else. so while i was writing that story in a memoir of mine i remember going into my wife and saying "what would it have been like for a woman waiting for her husband to come back from france in the first world war when everything was so much more constricted even then the second world war period. and this woman came out of that. >> brown: and the woman is julia. the book is "portrait of julia."
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robert macneil, thanks so much. >> jeff, thank you very much. >> woodruff: jeff continues his conversation with robin online. find that on our "art beat" page. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day. president obama offered a one- year fix for millions of americans losing their health insurance coverage, and he said he has to "win back some credibility" on the health care law and other issues. more aide trickled in to the central philippines six days after a catastrophic typhoon hit. and janet yellen, the nominee to chair the federal reserve, defended the fed's economic stimulus efforts at her senate confirmation hearing. >> woodruff: on the newshour online right now, see where your state ranks in enrollments in the new health care markets so far. we have an interactive map on our homepage. and british economist andrew smithers argues against janet yellen's appointment and the fed stimulus policy she's defended. you can find his column on "making sense." all that and more is on our web site,
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>> ifill: and that's the newshour for tonight. on friday, congress responds to the president's new health care rescue plan with ideas of its own. i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening with mark shields and david brooks, among others. for all of us here at the pbs newshour, thank you and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> my customers can shop around; see who does good work and compare costs. it can also work that way with healthcare. with united healthcare, i get information on quality ratings of doctors, treatment options and estimates for how much i'll pay. that helps me and my guys make informed decisions. i don't like guesses with my business and definitely not with our health. that's health in numbers. united healthcare.
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>> bnsf railway. >> and 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
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