March 9, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
03/09/2023 | 56m 43s | Video has closed captioning.
March 9, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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03/09/2023 | 56m 43s | Video has closed captioning.
March 9, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening, and welcome.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
GEOFF BENNETT: And I'm Geoff Bennett.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: President Biden works to sell his newly unveiled budget to the American people and a divided Congress.
AMNA NAWAZ: The CEO of Norfolk Southern faces congressional scrutiny over the toxic aftermath from the major train derailment in Ohio.
GEOFF BENNETT: And the families of several Americans held in Iran press for a meeting with the White House to help secure their loved ones' release.
HANNAH SHARGI, Father Imprisoned in Iran: I really hope President Biden hears his cries and meets with us and does what he has continuously said he's going to do and bring them home.
(BREAK) GEOFF BENNETT: Welcome to the "NewsHour."
Lawmakers are making thousands of political and financial calculations this evening after President Biden released his $6.9 trillion budget plan for 2024.
AMNA NAWAZ: The White House proposal calls for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to invest in the working class.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: My budget is about investing in America and all of America, including places and people and folks who've been forgotten.
Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they're invisible.
I promise you I see you.
AMNA NAWAZ: The White House plan anticipates the gap between what the country takes in and what it spends will grow next year to $1.85 trillion.
NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to break down the highlights and to make dollars and cents of it all.
Nice to see.
TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Hi.
AMNA NAWAZ: See what I did there?
TAMARA KEITH: You got a budget put in right up on top.
AMNA NAWAZ: Right at the top.
Listen, Tam, as you know, the president often says budgets are a reflection of the authors' values.
What does this budget tell us about this president and the White House?
TAMARA KEITH: This is a pretty decent preview of what we can expect him to run on for president in 2024 with his anticipated reelection campaign.
This is also a lot of what he ran on in 2020, when he ran for president last time.
And so what you see is a lot of spending.
This is not what you would call an austerity budget.
He isn't getting the nearly $3 trillion in deficit savings that the White House has been touting for days by cutting spending in a big way.
What he's doing is putting money into programs that he believes the -- will make life easier for everyday Americans, things like paid family leave, childcare, universal pre-K, also funding for border security.
A budget is a big, huge document that covers the waterfront of every part of the American government.
And President Biden has a lot of ideas in there.
AMNA NAWAZ: Well, you mentioned that $3 trillion.
And that has been the headline from the White House, that this will reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over a decade.
Does the math back that up?
TAMARA KEITH: The math does back up that they are cutting the deficit by $3 trillion.
However, let's add some context to that, which is that the government will still spend a lot of money, and there were -- there will still be deficits every single year in that 10-year window.
And by the end of that 10-year window, the debt-to-GDP ratio, which is something that budget watchers pay a lot of attention to - - that's the national debt as compared to the size of the U.S. economy.
It -- the debt will exceed the size of the U.S. economy at a level not seen since immediately after World War II.
That's according to an analysis for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
So it is -- it is both a budget that cuts the deficit and also a budget that continues to have deficits and continues to add to the national debt.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, here's what we see.
We see Democrats largely saying they want to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Republicans are saying, well, the country actually brings in enough.
We are simply spending too much.
And, just yesterday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he is ready to negotiate, to a point.
Take a listen.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I do not believe raising taxes is the answer.
I have had this discussion with the president.
Personally, if you look at the revenue that's coming into America today, it's higher than any 50-year average.
We have only topped this two other times that we have met -- the same time.
But our expenses are much higher.
AMNA NAWAZ: Tam, is there any indication that either side is ready to compromise on this?
TAMARA KEITH: Well, not really not yet, though compromise is probably going to be inevitable if the debt ceiling is going to be raised and if the government is going to be funded, and if, in the long term, programs like Medicare and Social Security are going to continue to be fully funded and viable.
But President Biden, hearing that the speaker was upset that he hadn't met with him and hadn't negotiated yet, topped his speech today saying: Well, the speaker says he wants to meet with me.
I said I'd meet with him again when he shows me his budget.
So show me your budget.
Really, what we should think of these documents as, it's a political document.
It is also an opening volley in what is going to be a high-stakes battle between House Republicans and the president of the United States and Democrats.
AMNA NAWAZ: You mentioned Medicare and Social Security.
Those become top-line issues every time we talk about this.
House Republicans call for cuts.
I don't think we can remind people enough where the money does go.
When you take a look at federal spending, that blue chunk there is mandatory spending.
You see Medicare and Social Security make up about half of that.
The green section there is discretionary spending, and military and defense spending makes up just a little less than half of that.
So, to your earlier point, Tam, do we have any sense, when Republicans are saying we have to make cuts, where those are going to come from?
TAMARA KEITH: Well, Republicans have said that they don't want the cuts to come from defense.
And they have also said they don't want the cuts to come from Medicare and Social Security.
So you take that giant pie, and you cut it down to a much smaller piece of the pie.
And that's where they would need to get all of their cuts from.
And they're saying that they want the balance - - the budget to balance over the next 10 years.
So that would require massive cuts, to the point where people would definitely notice.
But just as the White House budget is pretty abstract and dead on arrival in Congress, a Republican budget, if they release one or when they release one -- and I think it's still in the if stage -- that is also not going to become law.
So, as I say, there's a back-and-forth.
This is a conversation that's happening.
And these are -- these are vision documents.
AMNA NAWAZ: So here we are now.
We have the president's budget, right?
Congress is up.
Those very real pressures you mentioned.
They have to raise the debt ceiling by this summer.
How do you see this unfolding in the weeks ahead in a body that's not known for meeting deadlines?
TAMARA KEITH: Not known for meeting deadlines, but the debt ceiling, although it's not clear exactly when the X-date is going to happen, sometime in the late summer likely, that is a real deadline.
That is a real deadline with real consequences if it isn't raised.
So I think that there are going to be negotiations, but my guess is that the real hard negotiations, the serious talks probably aren't going to happen until it gets much closer to the deadline.
AMNA NAWAZ: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.
Tam, always good to see you.
Thanks for being here.
TAMARA KEITH: Good to be back with you.
GEOFF BENNETT: In the day's other headlines: Russia launched its biggest barrage in a month all across Ukraine.
The assault included 81 missiles, plus exploding drones, and killed at least six people.
Hundreds of thousands more lost power.
In this Eastern Ukrainian village, residents pick up the pieces of what's left after Russia's latest punishing bombardment.
Olha Babashkina's home is still standing, but uninhabitable.
OLHA BABASHKINA, Ukrainian Resident (through translator): They are destroying our city.
Every day there is shelling.
And here are the results.
I go to bed and don't know if I will wake up the next day.
GEOFF BENNETT: Today's wave of attack struck across Ukraine, civilians again in the crosshairs and dying, villages that had so far been spared the worst of the fighting now in ruins.
In the capital, Kyiv, explosions reported at this electric power plant and in this residential neighborhood.
Nearly half of the city was left without heat.
LIUDMYLA, Ukrainian Resident (through translator): I am fed up with it, can't withstand all this.
How can they do this?
MAJ. GEN. IGOR KONASHENKOV, Russian Ministry of Defense (through translator): The goals are achieved.
All assigned targets were hit.
GEOFF BENNETT: Moscow says it launched a massive retaliatory strike in response to an attack last week in Russia's Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine.
But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it terrorism and remained defiant.
In a social media post,he said -- quote -- "We will all together ensure the invincibility of Ukraine.
We are working.
We will win."
Ukrainian soldiers are mostly working to defend Bakhmut, the site of the longest battle since the beginning of the war.
While most of Russia's strikes today were hundreds of miles from the front, they also struck Zaporizhzhia, home to Europe's largest nuclear plant.
It lost power for several hours for the sixth time since the start of the war.
So far, the U.N. atomic agency has failed to forge a deal with Moscow to create a safe zone that would prevent shelling.
Director-General Rafael Grossi urged immediate action.
RAFAEL GROSSI, Director General, IAEA: How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen?
This cannot go on.
I am astonished by the complacency.
GEOFF BENNETT: But more than a year into the war, there are no signs yet the fighting will stop.
Russia says today's barrage was retaliation for attacks on Russian territory last week that it blamed on Ukraine.
The streets of Israel were alive with protests again today against a plan to overhaul the courts.
This time, demonstrators clashed with police in Tel Aviv and flooded major roads to the main international airport.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to be airlifted there to leave on a trip abroad.
Meantime, three Islamic Jihad gunmen died in a shoot-out with the Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank.
Police said the gunmen opened fire as security forces hunted suspects for attacks on Israeli soldiers.
It came as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Austin said he urged everyone to de-escalate.
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. Secretary of Defense: The United States also remains firmly opposed to any acts that could trigger more insecurity, including settlement expansion and inflammatory rhetoric.
And we're especially disturbed by violence by settlers against Palestinians.
GEOFF BENNETT: Later, a crowded street in Tel Aviv erupted in chaos when a Palestinian attacker opened fire.
Police said he shot and wounded three people before he was killed.
Back in this country, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spent last night and today in a Washington hospital.
His office said he suffered a concussion when he fell at a private dinner Wednesday night.
McConnell is 81 years old.
He's expected to be hospitalized under observation for a few days.
The Senate has confirmed President Biden's choice of Danny Werfel to lead the IRS.
Today's vote was 54-42, mostly down party lines.
Werfel pledged not to expand audits of businesses and households making under $400,000 a year.
The FBI is investigating whether hackers accessed personal data on members of Congress, plus staffers and their relatives.
Officials announced it late Wednesday.
Social Security numbers, names and addresses may have been exposed in a cyberattack on a health insurance marketplace.
In economic news, General Motors announced buyout offers for its 58,000 white-collar workers in the U.S. And, on Wall Street, stocks dropped again on worries about interest rates.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 543 points, nearly 1.7 percent, to close below 32255.
The Nasdaq fell 2 percent.
The S&P 500 was down more than 1.8 percent.
And still to come on the "PBS NewsHour": an American detained in Iran speaks out from behind bars; the former head of the National Institutes of Health discusses the White House plan to eradicate hepatitis C; and we look at ways to be a smarter shopper amid rising grocery bills.
The CEO of Norfolk Southern faced intense questioning from senators today following last month's toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
During the Senate hearing, lawmakers focused their questions on railroad safety and preventing future derailments ALAN SHAW, President and CEO, Norfolk Southern: Norfolk Southern will get the job done and help East Palestine thrive.
GEOFF BENNETT: On Capitol Hill today, an apology from the head of one of the nation's largest railroads, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.
ALAN SHAW: I want to begin today by expressing how deeply sorry I am for the impact this derailment has had on the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities.
GEOFF BENNETT: Norfolk Southern facing scrutiny since last month's derailment of dozens of cars on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, some carrying toxic chemicals.
Days later, a controlled burn of vinyl chloride to prevent an explosion sent flames and smoke into the sky.
That prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents.
Today, a local emergency official said that Norfolk Southern was absent at critical meetings about that planned release.
ERIC BREWER, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Department of Emergency Services: I think this confusion was probably a result of a lack of communication from Norfolk Southern.
GEOFF BENNETT: Residents in East Palestine remain concerned about their health following the chemical exposure.
DEBRA SHORE, Environmental Protection Agency: I can share some good news with you.
GEOFF BENNETT: During the hearing, EPA officials said testing so far shows only low levels of hazardous chemicals known as dioxins.
For his part, Shaw promised some specific safety changes and pledged to send the community more than $20 million.
ALAN SHAW: Just this week, we announced several new initiatives to enhance safety, which included more hotbox detectors across our network, partnering with other railroads to share best practices.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): The devil is in the details.
GEOFF BENNETT: Senator Bernie Sanders accused the company of putting profits over safety and its workers' rights.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Will you make that commitment right now to guarantee paid sick days to all of your workers?
That's not a radical demand.
It really is not.
Will you make that commitment, sir?
ALAN SHAW: Senator, I share your focus our employees.
I will commit to continuing to discuss with them important quality of life issues with our local craft colleagues.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: With all due respect, you sound like a politician here, Mr. Shaw.
GEOFF BENNETT: This week, the National Transportation Safety Board launched a special investigation into a number of Norfolk Southern's issues, including its safety culture.
It's investigating five incidents since December 2021, three of which involved employee deaths.
There were more derailments in the last week, one near Springfield, Ohio, on Saturday with no casualties, another at an Ohio steel plant, killing a conductor, and one today in Alabama involving roughly 30 train cars.
Senators also criticized the federal government for being slow in communicating potential health risks to the East Palestine community.
SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): You can't address fear and mistrust by printing by pointing residents to an EPA Web site filled with fact sheets and press releases.
GEOFF BENNETT: Government data shows more than 1,000 derailments last year, though a decline in recent years.
Senators say they want safer railroads and are pushing for bipartisan legislation to regulate an industry they say enjoys lavish benefits.
That includes Ohio's J.D.
Vance, a Republican who's become an unlikely ally with Ohio's other senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown.
They're working on a bill calling for more inspection and tougher fines.
VANCE (R-OH): This is an industry that enjoys special subsidies that almost no industry enjoys.
This is an industry that enjoys special legal carve-outs that almost no industry enjoys.
GEOFF BENNETT: Today, the Norfolk Southern CEO stopped short of endorsing that legislation.
For a closer look at these issues and the investigation into Norfolk Southern, we're joined by Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Thank you for being with us.
And have you, in your investigation, been able to determine why Norfolk Southern has had so many derailments of late, especially in Ohio?
JENNIFER HOMENDY, Chair, National Transportation Safety Board: Yes, Ohio is something -- we actually looked at the record of some of the major freight railroads in Ohio.
And it's interesting to note that CSX operates twice the track mileage as Norfolk Southern, but Norfolk Southern has a greater number of accidents per 1,000 miles.
Each of these accidents are very different.
We are investigating six now involving Norfolk Southern, and we will review a seventh one that occurred back in October.
There are -- that's a lot in a short period of time, but it's tough to say there's a commonality among all of them, because they're all very different.
GEOFF BENNETT: The NTSB investigation into the East Palestine derailment so far has found that there was an overheated bearing on the 23rd car that caused the derailment.
So, you have established the what.
Have you learned more about the why and the how?
JENNIFER HOMENDY: Well, that's right.
The easiest thing to find -- or the fastest thing we will find is the what.
Now we have to dig into the why and how, which is getting a lot of factual information from Norfolk Southern.
And it will require a lot of digging and constant requests for information, which our investigators are doing right now.
In addition, we are testing the pressure relief valves on the DOT-105 tank cars that were carrying the vinyl chloride, the five tank cars carrying vinyl chloride.
And a lot of that testing is going on through next week.
So there is a lot of work that our investigators are currently conducting.
GEOFF BENNETT: In talking with railroad union members, they really point the finger at cost-cutting by these major rail companies and the reduction in work force.
I was told that, in some cases, safety inspections in the rail yards aren't even done by humans.
They're done by some sort of automated process.
What's your assessment of that?
JENNIFER HOMENDY: That's exactly what we're going to look at.
This week, we announced a special investigation into Norfolk Southern, where we're going to look at the organization as a whole and the safety culture.
And part of that is looking at what's occurring, whether it's cost-cutting, or staffing, or training, or how they're conducting their inspections and maintenance.
We want to look for commonalities across the organization, the company as a whole, to see if there are greater concerns within the company and make some recommendations on that.
GEOFF BENNETT: The train that derailed in East Palestine had two crew members and a trainee.
I spoke to Alan Shaw, the CEO, some weeks ago and asked him, if that train had only had one crew member on it, which is what the railroads had wanted, that the problem would have been exponentially worse, as bad as it was.
Have you been able to come to some sort of assessment or determination on that issue in particular?
JENNIFER HOMENDY: Not on that issue.
We have in the past recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration collect data on crews, the number of crew members, when accidents occur.
I don't know if they're collecting that now.
But what I will say is, the crew did nothing wrong in this derailment.
In fact, they followed procedure, which was uncoupling the railroad from the railcar -- or - - I'm sorry -- the locomotive from the railcars, and moved the locomotive up about a mile to make sure that they were safe.
One thing I do want to give some credit to the Federal Railroad Administration is, yesterday, they came out with a notice of proposed rulemaking that there -- will be published in the federal register for providing train crews with emergency escape breathing apparatus.
That's a recommendation we have had on the books since 2005, when two Norfolk Southern trains -- a Norfolk Southern train collided with a parked Norfolk Southern train on a siding and released chlorine gas, killing eight people, including a locomotive engineer.
So we're happy that they're moving forward on that front to protect crews.
GEOFF BENNETT: What are the next steps in your investigation?
And how long will it take to wrap up?
JENNIFER HOMENDY: So, we're in the fact-finding phase of the investigation right now.
That does take some time, because we are requesting information from different entities.
And then we will follow up on that information.
That could take about three months.
Then we will move into the analysis phase of the investigation, where we will start taking those facts and conducting an analysis to determine how this happened, and we will present a number of findings, a probable cause, but including some contributing causes, and some safety recommendations to various entities, like DOT, or Department of Transportation, and Norfolk Southern, and possibly even to the response community, to prevent this from reoccurring.
We are going to have an investigative hearing, a very rare hearing, in East Palestine in June.
And we hope to wrap this up within the next 12 to 18 months.
With that said, the NTSB does regularly issue urgent safety recommendations where we feel something is needed to address safety throughout the railroad system.
GEOFF BENNETT: So it won't take 12 to 18 months for you to make recommendations; you can make those recommendations along the way?
JENNIFER HOMENDY: That's right, at any time.
And we have done that many times in the past across all transportation modes, and I suspect that we're going to do that here as well.
GEOFF BENNETT: Jennifer Homendy is the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Thanks for your time.
JENNIFER HOMENDY: Thank you so much.
AMNA NAWAZ: In an unprecedented move, an American detained in Iran has given an interview from inside the notorious Evin prison.
Siamak Namazi has been held for more than seven years.
And he spoke by phone to CNN and PBS' Christiane Amanpour.
SIAMAK NAMAZI, Held Prisoner in Iran: I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued, and deals fall apart, or I get left abandoned.
Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help, and bring us home.
And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures.
So, this is a desperate measure.
I -- I'm clearly nervous.
AMNA NAWAZ: Namazi is one of three American citizens held by Iran.
Environmentalist Morad Tahbaz was detained in 2018, as was businessman Emad Shargi.
Shargi was sentenced without a trial in 2020 to 10 years in prison for espionage.
His sister Neda Sharghi and one of his daughters, Hannah Shargi, join me now for an exclusive interview.
Welcome to you both.
Thank you so much for being here.
HANNAH SHARGI, Father Imprisoned in Iran: Thank you for having us.
NEDA SHARGHI, Brother Imprisoned in Iran: Thank you.
AMNA NAWAZ: So you heard Siamak Namazi there speaking from inside the same prison where your father is held, your brother is held.
He said it's dire.
He is desperate.
His voice was breaking as he was speaking.
Neda, what was it like for you to hear that interview?
NEDA SHARGI: It was heartbreaking.
I mean, I imagined him being only doors away from Emad and Morad.
And I just think it was so courageous of him to do that interview.
And, frankly, I just -- the risk he took to do it, he shouldn't have to take that risk.
He should have been brought home a long time ago.
All three should have been brought home.
And the least President Biden can do is at least meet with the families, as he requested.
AMNA NAWAZ: And did you watch the interview or listen to it?
HANNAH SHARGI: I didn't watch that interview, because I find it hard knowing that my dad is going through the same situation.
I didn't want to be upset before doing this interview.
But all I could say is how much I respect Siamak for doing that and how desperate the three of them are to be home.
And I really hope President Biden hears his cries and meets with us and does what he has continuously said he was going to do and bring them home, finally, after all these years.
AMNA NAWAZ: We know that the Iranians didn't know about the interview.
They would have been caught by surprise when this did air.
Are you worried that your dad could face repercussions as a result of this?
HANNAH SHARGI: I mean, I'm worried every day.
But as Siamak said, this is a necessary measure that he had to take to get the president's attention.
I wish it didn't have to come to this point.
And I just hope that they're safe and that it pays off, this risk that he took pays off.
AMNA NAWAZ: Have you heard from Emad since the interview aired?
NEDA SHARGHI: No, we have not, no.
But we hope to be able to hear from him tomorrow.
And, before that, we hope to be able to hear from the White House to have them say that they have listened to Siamak's interview and they want to meet with us right away.
AMNA NAWAZ: There was this press conference today.
The Namazi family held it.
The daughter of Morad Tahbaz, another detained American, was there.
Your family was not.
Can I ask why not?
NEDA SHARGHI: Sure.
Our three families are very close.
We have a chat together all the time.
And everything we do is really in coordination with one another, and for the benefit of the cause of bringing all three men home.
If I had done that press conference, I wouldn't be able to be here today.
It's hard to get press.
And so we wanted to make sure that we were able to expand Siamak's message far and wide.
So, we're hoping that President Biden hears this, watches this show tonight and responds to Siamak's words and calls our families and meets with us.
AMNA NAWAZ: You know, when it comes to the efforts to release the detained Americans there, there were reports last month of indirect talks between the Iranians and the Biden administration to arrange some kind of prisoner exchange and secure their release.
Have you heard anything about those talks or any possible deal in the works?
NEDA SHARGHI: I mean, what I see in the media is what you see in the media.
And those reports, to me, are speculation.
And I can't waste my time focusing on things that I don't know if they're true or not.
I'm just Emad's sister.
I'm not a policymaker.
I'm a mother of three.
My job is to get my brother home.
And what I know will bring him home is one person.
And that's President Biden.
And in order to convince him to do that, we have to sit in front of him and have the chance to talk to him.
That's what's real.
That's what's accurate.
Everything else is speculation.
AMNA NAWAZ: Hannah, the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, was asked about this interview, asked about the case of your father as well, today.
He repeated, it's a priority for the administration to free the Americans, they're committed to it.
He said it's a cruel practice for the Iranians to hold them this in this way.
And he says: "We're going to do everything we possibly can to bring them home."
What is your sense of the progress to free your dad?
HANNAH SHARGI: I mean, we have heard for years that this is a top priority to bring my dad and Siamak and Morad home, but how am I supposed to believe that this is actually a priority when the president won't even meet with us, when we can't even have those 15 minutes?
I mean, we live 2.9 miles from the White House.
We could be there in 15 minutes any opportunity that he is free.
So how am I supposed to believe that my dad is going to be home, when we can't even sit down with the president?
That's what I want.
I want to talk to my president about my dad.
I want to tell him how scared we are and how this is such a time-sensitive matter.
We don't have the luxury of time.
My dad was almost killed in the fires in Evin in October.
And that could happen tomorrow.
It could happen the next day.
We need them home now.
And we can't continue to wait around and hear that it's a priority.
I need to see that it's a priority.
And I need my dad on a plane back to Dulles Airport as soon as possible.
AMNA NAWAZ: April will mark five years... HANNAH SHARGI: Yes.
NEDA SHARGHI: Yes.
(CROSSTALK) AMNA NAWAZ: ... he was detained.
What have those five years been like?
HANNAH SHARGI: It's been hard.
I mean, it's been terrible living in fear every single day.
The first year he was there,I didn't talk to him once.
It's been really difficult for our family.
And we are have done everything we can.
But, as my aunt said, we are not politicians.
And the person that's going to make this decision is the president.
And I know he's an empathetic person.
He's a father, he's a son, he's a brother.
He is someone that has the ability to bring our dad home, and I want to be able to sit down in front of him and tell him how scared I am and how much I need my dad.
I'm 24 years old.
My dad has missed five years of my life, and I don't want him to miss more.
I don't want him to miss my wedding, my kids being born.
And that's what I think about at night.
That's my fear.
So, we need this action to happen now.
AMNA NAWAZ: Neda, you have clearly been asking for this meeting with the president.
It sounds like there's no progress on that front just yet.
But you said you want him to know who Emad is.
What do you want to say to him about your brother?
NEDA SHARGHI: My brother is a wonderful, ordinary, normal American citizen who needs to be at home.
He's from Washington, D.C.
He lives down the street from the White House.
So, I want him to know that Emad is an ordinary citizen, American citizen, like Morad, like Siamak.
And I shouldn't be the one that has to remind the president that his priority should be and is supposed to be the safety and security of American citizens like my brother, like Morad, likes Siamak.
AMNA NAWAZ: Hannah, if you could say something directly to the president now, what would you say?
HANNAH SHARGI: I would say I need my dad home.
Please use every tool you have at your disposal to bring him back, to bring Morad and Siamak back.
I would ask him to put patriotism above politics and let this be his legacy, bringing innocent Americans home, like he did with Brittney Griner, like he did with Trevor Reed.
Bring my dad, Emad, home now, please.
AMNA NAWAZ: Hannah Shargi and Neda Sharghi, the daughter and the sister of detained American citizen Emad Shargi in Iran, thank you so much for being here.
HANNAH SHARGI: Thank you.
AMNA NAWAZ: And you can watch Christiane Amanpour's full interview with detained American Siamak Namazi on "Amanpour & Co." tonight at 11:00 p.m. on PBS.
Check your local listings.
One part of President Biden's budget focuses on attacking a disease that's almost completely curable with drugs, hepatitis C. Roughly 2.4 million Americans still have hepatitis C, a viral liver infection.
Untreated, it can lead to chronic illness, liver cancer and death.
But drugs made available since 2013 cure hep C in 95 percent of patients, yet all kinds of barriers remain over cost and access.
The president is asking for $5 billion to expand rapid testing, access and treatment.
Dr. Francis Collins, the former director of the NIH, is now a special projects adviser to the president on this.
And I spoke to him earlier this week before the budget was released.
Dr. Collins, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, Former Director, National Institutes of Health: Glad to be here with you.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, let's set the table a little bit, because we don't often get to talk about hepatitis C, but it does disproportionately affect certain populations.
So, who is most at risk, and why?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Hepatitis C is transmitted through the blood.
And so there are Baby Boomers who got blood trends fusions back before we knew how to test for this virus, and they also now are infected, and many of them don't know it.
But, more recently, it's oftentimes people who've shared needles, or a tattoo needle can be also the way this passes.
And it can be passed from mother to child.
So, it's a mix of folks, many of them, though, in marginalized communities who don't at the present time have great access to health care, which is one of the reasons we need a program if we're going to actually take advantage of this historic moment.
We can cure these people.
AMNA NAWAZ: When you talk about testing, I noted there you said most people don't know they're infected.
Something like 40 percent of people do not know that they're infected.
Why the barriers to testing?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, it's complicated and expensive, and the logistics aren't great.
Right now, the test requires going in one time to see if you have antibodies against the virus.
That says you have seen it at some point.
But some people cure themselves.
Then you have to come back for the test.
Do you have the virus now?
That's an RNA test.
And that usually takes a while for the results to come back.
And then you got to come back the third time and start on the pills.
And most people who are in difficult circumstances have trouble with three visits.
And our medical care system doesn't do so well either at making that easy.
And, oftentimes, there's barriers.
You have to see a specialist.
I don't think, in this circumstance, a specialist is needed, but that's the way a lot of the systems are.
So there are a lot of things getting in the way of what should be a much easier process.
If we had a test -- and we're going to make this happen -- that's point of care, that is, you come in, you have a simple finger stick, it says, oh, you have active infection with hepatitis C, 30 minutes later, here's your pills, you're starting on your cure today.
AMNA NAWAZ: In a single visit.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: One visit.
AMNA NAWAZ: The cure you mentioned, there is a cure.
AMNA NAWAZ: These in most cases are curable.
Is cost one of the reasons the cure has been out of reach for most people?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: That's a big part of it, but not the whole thing.
Yes, the cost has been quite high.
The cure has been available for about seven or eight years.
It's one of the most major dramatic achievements of medical research for a couple of decades to have this direct-acting antiviral medicine.
It knocks out the virus, but it doesn't knock out anything in the host, one pill a day, 12 weeks, 95 to 97 percent cure, and virtually no side effects.
I mean, it is almost miraculous for a disease that has taken so many lives.
But it was initially priced very high, about $90,000 per patient.
That's still pretty high at about $24,000 per patient.
And if you're trying to run a Medicaid clinic or a clinic for people who have no insurance, or people in prison, where the incidence is pretty high because of the interaction with the drug trade, you just can't figure out how to pay for it.
AMNA NAWAZ: I want to ask you about those prisons, though.
You mentioned overcoming the barriers to testing and to getting treatment into more people's hands .There was this investigation that looked into the prison system and found state governments were just failing to care for people in their custody, not testing them, because they didn't want to have to treat them, in some cases, just refusing to treat people who they knew were infected.
How do you overcome those barriers?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Talking to a lot of the people who run those prisons, they feel terrible about this, but they can't afford right now in the current system to actually offer the treatment.
And so they basically try not to even test, because, if they have tested and they're not doing anything, that almost makes you feel worse.
They're looking for a way forward.
That's what this proposal is from the Biden administration that is being rolled out now, a five-year plan to make the drug available essentially for free to prisons, to Medicaid clinics, to the community health centers that deal with the uninsured, to people on the reservation, to people in opioid treatment centers.
But we have to come up with a way to make that happen, which is a pretty creative model that some would call a subscription model.
I can tell you more about it.
I think it's the way to solve this.
And it's already been successfully done in a couple of states.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, it's a five-year plan based on a sort of subscription model, as you describe it.
How does that work in the community level?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, Louisiana piloted this.
The idea here is kind of like Netflix.
In fact, people refer to this as the Netflix model.
When you sign up for Netflix -- I'm not advertising for them -- you pay one payment, and then you can binge all you want with whatever they have to offer.
So the idea is, you pay the drug company a lump sum, which has to be negotiated.
And there are two companies, so there will be some competition.
And then they have to agree to make the drug available for free from that point on to people in prison, people in the community health centers who are uninsured, people on Medicaid, people on the reservation.
And you end up driving the cost per patient down, as they did in Louisiana, dramatically.
And everybody wins, because the company, right now, they're not making any money selling these drugs to those groups because nobody can afford it.
They come out OK, but, more importantly, all those people now get treatment that can be afforded.
AMNA NAWAZ: You have had successful pilot programs.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Yes.
AMNA NAWAZ: You're building -- you want to build off of that.
But you mentioned it's a five-year plan.
It's also a $5 billion plan, at a time when there is a brewing debate over spending cuts in Congress.
How likely are they to back this?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, I hope people will look at it carefully and see that, although you do have to pay something up front to do the testing and deliver the drugs and the health care, if you look downstream, in terms of the dollars you save from people who now will not need a liver transplant, will not need that treatment for liver cancer -- and this is the most common cause of liver cancer.
Over the course of 15 or 20 years, you more than pay -- you more than make up for what you had to pay.
This is actually deficit reduction.
You just have to scale it out over time.
Even in 10 years, that starts to kick in.
AMNA NAWAZ: I hope you don't mind my asked me, Dr. Collins.
You do come to this work with your own personal experience in forming it.
Would you mind telling us about that?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Oh, my brother-in-law, Rick (ph), just a wonderful human being who is a friend to everybody, a wonderful husband to his wife, he had hepatitis C. Never was quite clear how he got it.
And he developed liver failure, ended up having to have a liver transplant, which was really hard to get.
Transplants are so hard now.
And then he turned out to have liver cancer, and he died, a terribly awful, difficult death.
This was just a couple of years before the cure became available.
I don't want anybody to go through what Rick went through or what Rick's family went through, including me, my wife, his wife, that it's totally preventable now.
If we're a country that cares about all of our people, even those who've had rough times, how can we look at this and then walk away?
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Francis Collins, special project adviser for President Biden, thank you very much for being here.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Glad to be with you.
GEOFF BENNETT: And we will be back shortly with some tips on how to keep your grocery bills low at a time when prices keep climbing.
AMNA NAWAZ: But, first, take a moment to hear from your local PBS station.
It's a chance to offer your support, which helps keep programs like this one on the air.
GEOFF BENNETT: And for those staying with us, we take another look now at an adaptation of "The Hours," which opened last year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Jeffrey Brown reports for our arts and culture series, Canvas.
JEFFREY BROWN: The real-life English writer Virginia Woolf in 1923 in a suburb of London.
Sung by Joyce DiDonato, she fights the demons in her head as she struggles with an idea for a novel.
Laura Brown, sung by Kelli O'Hara, a fictional housewife in 1949 Los Angeles barely surviving a sense of meaninglessness to her life.
And Clarissa Ward in New York City at the end of the 20th century on a day her dear friend dying of AIDS will take his life, and she will contemplate the course of her own, sung by soprano Renee Fleming.
RENEE FLEMING, Opera Singer: You have got an incredibly interesting story about three women from different periods and their complicated lives, their sexuality, their -- there's suicide, there's mental health, there's pretty much everything in it.
And opera can do this without any problem, kind of taking three different periods and putting them together, because it's the music that connects everything.
JEFFREY BROWN: The music is by 50-year-old Kevin Puts.
And days before opening, he was intently watching and listening at a rehearsal.
This is his fourth opera.
The first, "Silent Night," won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.
In "The Hours," he's worked with librettist Greg Pierce to adapt the 1998 novel by Michael Cunningham, also a Pulitzer winner, which was made into a star-studded film four years later by director Stephen Daldry, and which itself was inspired by Virginia Woolf's classic 1925 novel, "Mrs.
For lovers of different art forms novels, films, operas, it offers a way into thinking about what each can do.
With opera, two characters from different times can share the stage and sing with, almost to, one another.
For Puts, who's composed everything from solo to orchestral music as well, this taps into his love of large-scale storytelling.
KEVIN PUTS, Composer: It's that I love storytelling in music.
I love evoking certain things, emotions, situations through music.
I think that's the kind of most amazing thing that music can do, to first introduce the three stories of "The Hours" and sort of establish different musics for each of those, and then gradually begin to blur the lines between them and have them overlap in a way that only music can.
YANNICK NEZET-SEGUIN, Metropolitan Opera Conductor: Bringing new opera is my passion.
JEFFREY BROWN: Met opera conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin says he loves the collaborative aspect of opera, especially when he can work with a living composer.
YANNICK NEZET-SEGUIN: We play so many dead ones.
(LAUGHTER) YANNICK NEZET-SEGUIN: We play so many Mozart and so many Verdi operas and so many Wagner operas.
JEFFREY BROWN: You're not knocking Mozart and Verdi are you?
YANNICK NEZET-SEGUIN: No, I love them.
But, sometimes, you -- oh, you wish that you would be able to ask them questions.
And, often, I make a joke with the orchestra.
I say, one day, I'm going to ask Verdi, is it in heaven or in hell?
I don't know.
But I'm going to ask Verdi what he means, but hopefully not too soon.
Now we have Kevin Puts.
We have Greg Pierce.
And we're reminded how the music that's written, especially in opera, is a living element.
JEFFREY BROWN: Opera as a living art form, and one that can engage contemporary issues.
RENEE FLEMING: Every time I work on a new piece with a composer, I say, listen I want to sing words that are relevant to me in my life, that sound like I could be singing them and should be singing them.
JEFFREY BROWN: You, Renee Fleming.
RENEE FLEMING: Exactly.
At this stage of my life, I said, I want to sing something that means something to me.
JEFFREY BROWN: In "The Hours," Renee Fleming saw it, a story of women as artists, friends, lovers, mothers.
Here, it's the smallest pieces of daily life, buying flowers, for example, that somehow raise the biggest questions about life itself.
Underlying all of this, the knowledge that the real Virginia Woolf would take her own life in 1941 at age 59.
RENEE FLEMING: Every single person who's in this opera has a really interesting role and a tale to tell.
And the stories are relevant.
We're in a mental health crisis in this country that is -- in the world, actually, that is unprecedented certainly in my lifetime.
And I fear for young people, and especially because it's hitting them so hard.
YANNICK NEZET-SEGUIN: If the audience recognizes themselves on stage, they're going to relate to the story.
I believe that this then can bring more people to the opera, not just because we want to have more people in our seats, but because we believe in the mission of opera, that is, to convey those messages and collectively have a cathartic experience that can give us hope.
JEFFREY BROWN: Kevin Puts, who also teaches at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, says tapping into that mission and the contemporary possibilities for opera is attracting a new generation of composers.
KEVIN PUTS: The fact that so much new opera is happening in this country, not only at the Metropolitan Opera, but in companies all over the country, my students all want to write operas.
When I was a student, I had no interest in doing that, because I thought, well, who's going to perform it?
Maybe I will write an orchestra piece and try to get an orchestra.
Even that would be difficult.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
KEVIN PUTS: But, these days, it's a real possibility.
JEFFREY BROWN: At opera's end, in a gorgeous trio, Puts shows what opera can do, finally bringing the three women fully together, the hours of one day, three lives.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
GEOFF BENNETT: "The Hours" will return to the Met next year, but you don't have to wait until then.
You can watch it here on PBS' "Great Performances" on March 17.
Check your local listings.
AMNA NAWAZ: If you have been to the grocery store lately, it's hard to miss.
Consumers are having to eat the cost of higher food bills.
While overall inflation is down after hitting a decades' high last year, grocery prices were still 11.3 percent higher this January compared to the same time in 2022.
To help consumers make the most of their food budget, digital video producer Casey Kuhn decided to put together some tips, including a quiz.
It's good to see.
CASEY KUHN: Hi, Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, tell me,why did you decide to do this?
CASEY KUHN: So, to be honest, when I saw my husband bringing home brand-name items from the grocery store, in this economy, I said no.
So, I thought, we have covered inflation and higher food prices, but I really wanted to make something that would be engaging and help our viewers have some news you can use.
And my mom taught me these shopping tips, but I turned to some experts to help.
This video is for people who hate to go grocery shopping, people like my dad, my husband, and my boss.
Grocery shopping is an acquired skill, at least for some.
For others, it's a miserable chore, putting you in competition with other shoppers looking for the ripest avocado.
But it is how we put food on the table.
Beth Moncel started the cooking blog Budget Bytes after the 2008 recession.
BETH MONCEL, Founder, Budget Bytes: I had nothing left that I could cut back other than food, so I started really breaking down the costs of the food that I was cooking and eating.
CASEY KUHN: She has a lot of advice on how to navigate shopping at the grocery store, where prices fluctuate and always seem to be getting higher.
BETH MONCEL: It's a really easy way to save money or manipulate your budget.
It's just based on what you choose to buy and what you choose to cook or not.
AMNA NAWAZ: OK, Casey, so you, along with others on the digital video team, put together this quiz, right?
CASEY KUHN: Right.
Huge shout-out to Jenna Cohen and Megan McGrew, who helped build this quiz from scratch.
AMNA NAWAZ: Shout-out to them.
To be clear, I have already taken this quiz.
I got four out of five right, which kills the perfectionist in me.
But let's kind of go through this.
Now, the premise is, I'm going to make a homemade pizza, I have to buy the ingredients, right?
And the first question is how to pick the base.
CASEY KUHN: Right.
So you have the option of choosing raw pizza dough or a premade crust.
AMNA NAWAZ: OK, and I picked the premade crust, right, the frozen one, which was wrong.
CASEY KUHN: OK, so that was wrong because it's the more processed option.
And when you're buying something that's more processed, you're paying for that convenience.
And if you buy the raw pizza dough, it's kind of one more step to make it to a crust.
I will say, this was a very divisive question on the Internet.
A lot of people really would prefer to pay more for the convenience, rather than save the money.
AMNA NAWAZ: Which is often the case, right?
OK. Now, on the next question, we want to add the cheese, right?
And I chose the block of cheese, which is correct.
I was thinking I could get more of my money there, right?
But tell me why.
CASEY KUHN: Well, you're exactly right.
Yes, you get more cheese per dollar if you buy the whole block vs. the process shredded cheese, kind of like what we were talking about before.
And kind of a big giveaway for this quiz is, if you look at one item, one thing on the sales tag, the price per ounce, you're always going to get it right, because if it's a lower price per ounce, it's going to be a better deal.
And that's true in the grocery store too.
So that's kind of one big takeaway I'm hoping people have, is, if people start comparing the price per ounces in the grocery store, it's -- it really does make a huge difference.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, even if you pay more, the item is more expensive, you're getting more for your money.
CASEY KUHN: Exactly.
AMNA NAWAZ: And that's the point, right?
CASEY KUHN: Exactly.
AMNA NAWAZ: It's a great quiz.
I hope more folks take it.
Digital video producer Casey Kuhn, thanks to you and your team so much.
CASEY KUHN: Thank you, Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: And you can watch the entire video and take the quiz yourself by going to our Web site.
GEOFF BENNETT: And there's a lot more online, including a story about why people who have been incarcerated and are diagnosed with cancer often struggle to get care after they are released.
AMNA NAWAZ: And join us again here tomorrow night, when we will speak with former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson about the GOP's priorities and why he is considering running for president.
And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
GEOFF BENNETT: And I'm Geoff Bennett.
Thanks for being with us.
Have a great night.