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PBS NewsHour

News Wrap: Former House Speaker Hastert reportedly paid to hide sexual misconduct

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 6.43.59 PM

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback also warned residents of his state to be prepared for high waters, noting that many of the reservoirs are already at flood stage.

President Obama made a last-minute appeal to lawmakers today to extend the authorities of key Patriot Act provisions before they expire at midnight on Sunday. He said a handful of senators are standing in the way of the U.S. government losing surveillance powers that could help prevent terror attacks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don’t want us to be in a situation in which, for a certain period of time, those authorities go away, and suddenly we’re dark, and heaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity, but we didn’t do so simply because of inaction in the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling the Senate back into session on Sunday, just hours before the midnight deadline.

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert has resigned from his law firm, amid federal charges of misconduct.

Multiple media outlets reported today the misconduct involved sexual abuse allegations by an unnamed man. The Illinois Republican was indicted yesterday and accused of agreeing to pay millions in hush money. The indictment itself didn’t describe the misconduct, but it did say that it involved a person Hastert knew from a high school where he taught and coached from 1965 to 1981.

In Iraq today, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for car bombs targeting two prominent hotels in Baghdad. The blasts lit up the night sky last night, killing at least 15 people and wounding scores more. Hours later, daylight revealed how badly the newly renovated hotels had been hit. Windows were shattered and wreckage was everywhere. A third bomb was defused early this morning.

Islamic State militants also targeted a mosque in Saudi Arabia today, killing at least four people. The explosion erupted outside a Shiite mosque in an eastern port city. The suicide bomber, who was disguised as a woman, detonated his explosives as worshipers gathered for Friday prayers. A week ago, a similar attack killed 21 people.

The U.S. has officially removed Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism. Today’s move paves the way for fully restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries after more than five decades.

But, in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said negotiations are still under way to determine when to open embassies in each country.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: There continue to be issues that need to be worked out. In the discussions that were convened last week, there was important progress that was made. I don’t have a time frame to give you in terms of any specific announcement. But that obviously is among the next milestones here, which is the opening of a Cuban embassy here in the United States and the opening of an American embassy on the island of Cuba.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Top Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner immediately lashed out after the terror designation was rescinded. Boehner charged the Obama administration — quote — “handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing.”

U.S. surveillance imagery shows China is putting weapons on one of the islands it is building up in the South China Sea. The Wall Street Journal reported that two motorized artillery pieces are on one of the islands, citing American officials. They said it poses no military threat, but it goes against China’s public statements that the reclaimed islands are for civilian use.

The Obama administration released new biofuel usage targets today, scaling back on how much agricultural product must blend with the nation’s fuel supply. The Environmental Protection Agency announced ethanol in gasoline would increase, but not by as much as set out in federal law. It was a blow to the ethanol and farming industries, who have lobbied for higher levels.

The U.S. economy shrank during the first three months of the year after a harsh winter that kept people at home and businesses closed. That government report had an impact on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 115 points to close at 18010. The Nasdaq fell 28 points. And the S&P 500 dropped 13. For the week, the Dow and S&P lost around a percent, and the Nasdaq lost half-a-percent.

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Why farmers are concerned about EPA’s new rules on protected water


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, the United States changed the way it looks at one our most precious resources, water. The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule about what kinds of waterways it protects, to include things like tributaries.

The change has brought both applause and sharp criticism.

Our political editor, Lisa Desjardins, reports on what this shift means.

SEAN O’BYRNE, Owner, Great Waters Brew Pub: What can I get you guys?

LISA DESJARDINS: Sean O’Byrne owns the Great Waters Brew Pub in downtown Saint Paul, and the main ingredient in the beer he crafts is local well water.

For the past several years, a kind of fear has mounted for him, that some of the protections initially offered by the 1972 Clean Water Act have eroded, putting Minnesota’s great waters at risk.

SEAN O’BYRNE: I’m a little scared at what people are trying to do to it, take some of the teeth out of it.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s why he’s cheering the new rule finalized this week by the Environmental Protection Agency, a rule meant to clarify which bodies of water can be regulated by the federal government.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:

GINA MCCARTHY, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency: We crafted these rules because we have a statue that’s over 40 years old and nobody yet has defined its jurisdiction well. We know we’re seeing waters that are extremely important being degraded or polluted while we sit and think about it.

LISA DESJARDINS: McCarthy says some 60 percent of all streams, tributaries and wetlands in this country were not specifically safeguarded before. Under this rule, they will be.

GINA MCCARTHY: One hundred and seventeen million people rely on those streams that are now tenuously protected or not. And we need to define a strategy to protect them, because people rely on them for drinking water.

KEVIN PAAP, Farmer: This would be an example of the soybean field.

LISA DESJARDINS: But not everyone is cheering the EPA’s action. Kevin Paap farms soybeans and corn on this fourth-generation farm located 90 minutes west of the Twin Cities. He fears the new rule means that some of his irrigation ditches, necessary to drain extra water off his fields, will suddenly be regulated.

KEVIN PAAP: This has got water in it, water running today because we had an inch and nine-hundredths yesterday during the day. So the system is working. It’s taking that excess water out. If this ditch gets classified as water of the U.S., will I require a permit? As we put on our crop protection products, as we deal with replacing nutrients that the crops takes up, I don’t want to have to get a permit if all of a sudden I find a pest out there or a weed outbreak.

LISA DESJARDINS: But ask the EPA about current farming, and the agency insists it won’t be affected.

GINA MCCARTHY: It’s tributaries only. Now there are some ditches that were constructed in a tributary or that have frequent enough flow duration and volume to create these features. They’re called tributaries, not ditches.

LISA DESJARDINS: But a farmer might call that a ditch. To a farmer, that’s an irrigation ditch.

GINA MCCARTHY: The farmers will know very clearly here we are clearly explaining that irrigation ditches are not included. We have clearly said in the rule and beyond this rule adds absolutely no new regulatory or permitting issue for agriculture whatsoever.

LISA DESJARDINS: Farmer Paap isn’t convinced. He thinks this is nothing more than a power grab by a federal agency.

KEVIN PAAP: We’re happy with the Clean Water Act as it was put together in 1972, where it gives that authority to the states. Navigable waters have to be federally regulated because of commerce and things like that.

State waters, whether it’s a wetland, whether it’s an area where there is water in it only a few days the month or days of the year, that’s really the state’s role, the state’s responsibility. We don’t want to see another layer on top. We don’t need two levels of bureaucracy to do the same thing.

JILL BATHKE, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy: Phosphorus and nitrogen are a big problem in Minnesota waterways, and a lot of it comes from agricultural pollution. It also comes from urban development.

LISA DESJARDINS: Environmentalist Jill Bathke says state laws do not provide enough protection, and, if anything, the new EPA rule doesn’t go far enough either.

JILL BATHKE: There are parts of Minnesota where a vast majority of waters are not fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. There are a lot of contaminants in our fish. And there’s a lot of problems with sediment in our waterways. So, there’s a lot of issues with pollution in Minnesota. And there are going to be difficult problems and they are not going to be fully solved by this rule’s release. But it is a step in the right direction towards more clarity.

LISA DESJARDINS: Getting more clarity was what many developers and county officials had hoped for.

Al Forsberg is the director of public works for Blue Earth County in Minnesota. He says confusion over jurisdiction has led to costly delays in past road construction projects.

AL FORSBERG, Director, Blue Earth County Public Works: These pink flags delineate where a wetland is located.

LISA DESJARDINS: Forsberg is about to embark on a $20 million road construction project which will extend into the ditches and wetlands that currently line both sides of the existing road.

AL FORSBERG: We need a clear concise rule so that when folks doing maintenance on roads, constructing roads encounter low areas, they can determine, is this a water of the United States or not?

LISA DESJARDINS: He was sharply critical of the draft proposal the EPA put forward a year ago. The county official says the version that was released this week is better. Still, he worries about a one-size-fits-all plan to govern so many different types of waterways.

AL FORSBERG: To define a water of the United States here is a different chore than defining it in, say, Louisiana with the bayous or the salt marshes out east, Alaska, Hawaii. That’s one of the problems in putting together one definition.

I think a map would solve that. Have the local folks, the state folks and the federal folks work together to develop a map for Minnesota. Then, when we’re planning our construction projects, we can go to this map. These are the waters of the United States. This is where we need to apply for permits.

LISA DESJARDINS: Many in Congress have said the EPA didn’t give enough consideration to farming and construction interests. Three weeks ago, the House voted to block the rule.

Democrat Tim Walz, who represents southeastern Minnesota, supported that bill. His district contains the ninth most productive farmland in the nation. He said this week’s rule is better than the one initially drafted, but is still not perfect.

REP. TIM WALZ, (D) Minnesota: We can’t have poisoned rivers, but we also have to be able to feed the population. So, we must fix this. If we do not fix this and we continue to have water quality issues, we’re going to lose. That’s going to impact production, it’s going to impact health, it’s going to impact all those things.

If we make rules that impede people’s ability to grow food, we’re going to deal with that side of this issue. And so this is one of those that it’s not my side wins, your side loses. We both have to win.

LISA DESJARDINS: The new EPA water rule will go into effect later this summer.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.


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Shields and Brooks on Dennis Hastert charges, Ashton Carter Iraq comments


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So let’s begin, Mark, with this — what we learned yesterday, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert indicted for paying $3.5 million, they said, in hush money to someone because of something that happened a long time ago. Apparently, there are news report today that say it involved sexual misconduct.

What are your thoughts?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, first of all, people who said they knew about it here in Washington are I think speaking emptily, because this comes as a real shock.

At the same time, beyond the allegations and reports, the indictment, the charges, it’s an incredible blow to the Congress. The Congress is just behind loan sharks in public esteem. It’s a blow to politics in general. It’s an indictment of Washington.

Washington is a city of money. It’s a flood of money. This is a man who came to Congress with total a net worth of $270,000. And he’s talking about payout, $3.5 million basically three years after he left Congress. That’s the kind of money that we’re talking about.

But, at the personal level, it’s a terrible tragedy. It’s amazing to me, most of all, when the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich was the speaker, the first speaker in the history of the House to be reprimanded and punished for ethics violations. He’s succeeded by Bob Livingston, who has to resign because of sexual infidelities that are revealed.

And then Denny Hastert takes over, and with this in his background and this knowledge, how he could have done it and taken it with that record out there, the scrutiny, it must have been an incredibly difficult or, I don’t know, what self-delusional time for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We don’t know.

There’s so much we don’t know, David.


First, if the allegations about the contact with the boys are true, well, we have seen that with the Catholic Church. We have seen a disturbing undercurrent in American life, I guess, and maybe in world life, of this sort of thing.

I am struck, as Mark just mentioned, the whole litany of people, especially of that era, who were involved in some scandal or another. Some of it was sexual. Some of it was more financial, even Tom DeLay’s, Speaker Wright. And it was just all concentrated in a lot of people all at once.

Does politics attract such people? I don’t know. Is it prevalent in society? It’s certainly a reminder of original sin. The other thing, though, I did want to say that there are people in American life to whom this has not happened.

And I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.

And so there are people in Washington who do set a standard of integrity, who do seem to attract people of quality. And I think that’s probably true of the current group. I hope it’s true of the current leadership group in Congress. But — so they’re not all involved in scandal.


MARK SHIELDS: David makes a good point. And I agree with him on this administration in particular.

But, Judy, I just think you can’t look at this and not say money. People I know who run for office, there is something they want to do bigger than themselves. And something in this process of raising all that money, of being around all that money, being exposed to it…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Having access to it.

MARK SHIELDS: Having access to it, I think it — you know, I just think it’s corrupting and corrosive.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think I disagree in this case — or in these sorts of cases.

To me, it’s loneliness. The people who are rising, they’re super ambitious. They have relationships with people above them. They have relationships, hierarchical, sort of people below them. A lot of people do not have relationships horizontally. And there’s a lot of people who reach these high political offices, but who are weirdly lonely, weirdly lacking in intimacy skills.

And they sometimes reach for it in the most desperate and sometimes the most disgraceful ways. And I find a lot of — they’re socially awkward in a weird way, even though politicians are in some ways socially super adept.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, again, we should say, allegedly, this was that happened decades ago to Dennis Hastert.

Well, let’s talk about the administration and ISIS in Iraq. David, we saw a bit of a back-and-forth this week. You had the secretary of defense on Sunday saying that the Iraqi army had fallen down on the job in defending the country against ISIS, the Islamic State. You had the vice president quickly calling the prime minister, saying, no, the Iraqi army is doing a great job, the president saying, we’re not doing badly.

What’s going on? How do you read that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, heck of a job, Brownie.

No, what Carter said was absolutely true. There have been cases where a few hundred ISIS fighters were defeating 30,000 Iraqi soldiers. And so they’re not fighting. And the reason they’re not fighting fundamentally is because they don’t believe in their country anymore.

We tried — and I give Joe Biden credit. He will renounce it, but years and years ago, probably 2006, 2007, he had an idea for a loose federal Iraq. And that — in retrospect, that looks to me like a smarter and smarter idea. We have tried to keep this country together, but the Sunnis are not really sharing power with the — the Shias are not really sharing power with the Sunnis. They’re not willing to give the Sunni forces the weapons and other things they need to defeat ISIS.

The political system is still fractured. The soldiers clearly do not believe in that country. The polling, do you feel like an Iraqi, that is collapsing. And so I think we just have to accept — and it’s probably too late for us to have any influence there — that it’s no longer a country that anybody is willing to die for, whereas the Islamic State, those people are willing to die for whatever cause they think they believe in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, is it a strategy that just needs to be completely reworked?

MARK SHIELDS: I think so, Judy.

I’m not sure what the strategy is at this point, beyond some sort of limited containment. And the alternatives advocated of sending 3,000, 10,000 troops is — are beyond foolish. That’s sending too few to fight and too many to die.

But beyond that, Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, reminds me of the great Turkish proverb that he who speaks the truth must keep one foot in the stirrup. He has just spread the ugly truth of what happened in Ramadi. And Joe Biden was trying to make — sort of restore some sense of relationship involved here.

After the experience with Chuck Hagel and the embarrassing treatment of him, mistreatment, if you want to call it, by the White House and the president, there’s no — Ash Carter is bulletproof. They’re not going to try to sabotage or discredit him in any way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fourth secretary of defense under this president.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.

And he’s just — but I think he’s known as a level, direct-talking, and I think this is the case. But I just don’t — I do not see what the — most probably disturbing report this week was that in Palmyra, where ISIS took over in Syria, they’re now providing social services that the Syrian government hadn’t, reminiscent of Hamas.

And all of a sudden, these brutal people are starting to win over popular support among the citizenry. So, I look anywhere for good news, and I don’t find it.

DAVID BROOKS: And what the president has to say is, he called them a cancer. He said he vowed to eradicate them. And does he really think that’s necessary, or does he think, well, we can learn to live with these people because we’re not going to do anything too significant?

We are having these bombing sorties against them, a couple thousand, but nothing — obviously not in any real way that is damaging. There have been a few minor victories here and there, but not in any way that is clearly setting them on their back foot.

So I wish the president would clarify his policy. The policy is either going to be, we really think they’re a threat and we’re going to eliminate them, or where you just don’t care enough to do anything about them. And it’s one of those two things. And he’s sort of stuck in the middle, I would say, right now.

MARK SHIELDS: I do think that Ash Carter was speaking for the military in this case. The military is very resistant to these ideas of 3,000, 10,000 or going in on some sort of a land enterprise again, as we did before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you mentioned, Mark, this is becoming an issue in the campaign.

And let’s talk for a few minutes about 2016, three more candidates jumping into the race this week, Mark, the first one — two Republicans, Mr. Santorum, Mr. Pataki. Senator Santorum served the state of Pennsylvania, Governor Pataki in New York. How do they change the landscape here for the Republican contenders?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Rick Santorum finished second in 2012. He won 11 primaries and caucuses from states as diverse as Colorado and Minnesota to Mississippi and Alabama.

But he did represent a little different view of Republicans. And that’s sort of that blue-collar Republican. He’s for the increasing the marriage, which most Americans are, but Republican ideologues aren’t. And that is — sort of makes him distinct, along with his cultural and religious conservatism and values conservatism. And he’s a national security hawk.

But finishing second, which had led to the nomination by Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, means nothing now. And so he’s fighting to even be on the stage, it strikes me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For the first debate.

MARK SHIELDS: But he’s trying to assemble a coalition that looks an awful lot like the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, sort of cultural and blue-collar conservative and economic populist. And I’m not sure that that is assemble-able, if that’s a word, in the Republican primary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You said it. We will let it be a word.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What about Rick Santorum?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he was a good campaigner and he was a little John the Baptist-style, in that he was the first recent real working-class — as Mark said, working-class Republican.

But now, if you want a working-class Republican, you have got Scott Walker, you have got Marco Rubio. And so the bigger fish are filling that spot. And so that’s been the story with him. He was second in a really weak field. Now the field is a lot stronger, and even the people who were working for him in places like Iowa have drifted off to other people.

And so it’s going to be hard for him to recapture the magic he had. The other interesting case to me is Pataki. If ever there is a moderate Republican running, it would be nice to have a moderate Republican running, just to see what would happen.



DAVID BROOKS: Just to maybe pick up some votes here. How many moderate Republicans are out there?  I suspect there are more than we think.

Pataki, unfortunately, like Huntsman last time, is not the right messenger for that. He’s just not inspiring. When he was finishing his term as New York governor, he wasn’t that popular. And so he’s not going to be a strong candidate. It would be nice to have a strong moderate Republican candidate, just as a testing proposition.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty seconds on Pataki, I mean — yes, on Pataki.

MARK SHIELDS: There’s a tide in the affairs of men, and his time, if there was one, was 2008.

Just — you really have one bite at the apple. His bite was 2008, coming off of having been governor of New York for three terms after 2001, 9/11, having beaten Mario Cuomo. I mean, that was it. And I’m sorry, George, but that position is no longer available.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will talk about Martin O’Malley next week.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.


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Why polls are ridiculous … until they’re not

Reporters use their mobile phones to record potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor
         Jeb Bush as he answers questions after speaking at a business roundtable in Portsmouth, New Hampshire May 20, 2015. Photo
         by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Reporters scramble to photograph potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, last week. Even though he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy, polls give him about a 10 percent share of support among voters. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Yippee. The Republican race is taking shape! The latest poll conducted by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University says so.

There’s former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. There’s also Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. (I use their titles to help you keep them straight. As the race gets even more crowded, you will thank me for this.)

In the poll, each man clocks in at a mere 10 percent.

Not excited? Look deeper, people. When the Quinnipiac pollsters ask which Republican would run best against Democrat Hillary Clinton — all of a sudden Rand Paul and Rubio leap to the head of the pack.

A guest reaches for a flag pin at the Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference
         (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, February 28, 2015. CPAC closes after three days where thousands of conservative activists,
         Republicans and Tea Party Patriots gathered to hear politicians, presidential hopefuls, and business leaders speak, lobby
         and network for a conservative agenda, ahead of the presidential election in 2016. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

A guest reaches for a flag pin at the Rand Paul booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

And there’s more. When you look at the runners up — the candidate voters would most likely choose as a backup — Texas Senator Ted Cruz joins the popular kids.

For now, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former business executive Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal score pretty dismally. Businessman Donald Trump actually comes in first — among voters who say there is “no way” they would vote for him.

And, hey, it could be worse. No one even asked about former New York Governor George Pataki, who is actually an announced candidate.

So many numbers to digest. If they’re lucky, ten of these candidates get to crowd onto a debate stage late this summer — a year in advance of the nominating convention — to elbow one another aside.

But here’s why it’s all so ridiculous.

We don’t have national primaries. Each of these candidates will have to slug it out state by state to even make it to their nominating convention. In the case of the crowded GOP field, they will have to slug it out state by state to even make it onto a debate stage.

This is why we have the spectacle of Fiorina popping up outside Clinton events to denounce a woman she is not even running against yet. Jesse James robbed banks because that’s where the money was; Fiorina stalks Hillary Clinton because that’s where the cameras are.

So it’s OK to read the polls. I do. But there is this caution. Ignore the horse race for now. Except to the degree it dictates chances for survival, it is ridiculous. People with deep pockets read those polls to make sure they are making a wise investment. And people who send cameras to cover press conferences do too. All of this dictates outcome. The rest of us can take a deep breath.

There is plenty of time to decide whether the polls — or the debates alone — will tell the story. Until then, read them — there will be many — but keep a grain of salt handy at all times.

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