December 23, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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December 23, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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12/23/2021 | 56m 44s | Video has closed captioning.
December 23, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: a verdict.
The jury finds Minnesota police officer Kim Potter guilty in her manslaughter trial, following the shooting death of Daunte Wright.
Then: Omicron on the rise.
Lines for testing grow, as Americans prepare to come together for the holidays amid surging infection rates.
plus: from Russia with blame.
Vladimir Putin accuses the West of escalating tensions, as Russian troops mass along the Ukrainian border.
All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
(BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: We are following two important stories tonight, the spread of Omicron throughout the country, and the conviction of a former police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed Black man.
We begin with the latter.
A jury in Minnesota found Kim Potter guilty in the death of Daunte Wright, who was shot last spring.
John Yang has the details.
JOHN YANG: Judy, the jury convicted Potter on two counts of manslaughter after 27 hours of deliberations.
Potter shot Wright, who was 20 years old, after reaching for her Taser, but pulling her gun.
The incident began as a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
There was a struggle, as officers tried to arrest Wright on an outstanding weapons warrant.
And then Potter shot him as he tried to flee in his car.
Prosecutors said she was negligent and reckless.
After the verdict, the judge revoked her bail, and Potter was taken into custody.
Under state sentencing guidelines, she could face at least seven years in prison.
Prosecutors have said they will ask for more when she's sentenced in February.
Wright's mother described her emotions.
KATIE WRIGHT, Mother of Daunte Wright: The moment that we heard guilty on manslaughter one, emotions, every single emotion that you could imagine just running through your body at that moment.
I kind of let out a yelp, because it was built up in the anticipation of what was to come while we were waiting in the last few days.
JOHN YANG: The trial stirred a lot of emotions in the twin cities region.
A little while ago, I spoke with "NewsHour" special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro, who was outside the courthouse when the verdict was announced.
Fred, you were out there when the verdict was read.
What was the reaction when the verdict was announced?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Well, John, there was a palpable tension awaiting the verdict, a crowd smaller than the one that we saw just a few months ago in the Derek Chauvin trial, but one no less passionate about what they wanted out of this.
And, of course, as soon as the verdict was announced, there was an eruption of jubilant chanting.
And you might be able to hear nearby here that this celebration has continued and marches around the block.
For many of the activists who came out and kept vigil here during this trial, this verdict sent a message.
ASHLEY DORELUS, Protester: Accountability is what we saw when the jurors gave her guilty.
Officers across the country need to realize that we are no longer asking for them to stop killing us.
We are demanding it.
TANYA JAMES, Protester: They cannot keep killing our Black people and our people of color.
And they're realizing it, because they have got too many allies.
They have got too many people that got their back.
We're not putting up with.
White people ain't putting up with it no more.
I'm not putting up with it no more.
So, yes, this is change.
You're seeing change.
And we ain't done yet.
JOHN YANG: Fred, you mentioned the Derek Chauvin conviction, which took place in that very same courthouse behind you.
What's been the impact on the community of having this trial, and now this conviction, followed so closely on the heels of the Chauvin conviction?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Well, John, the issue of policing, public safety, and police-community relations, relations with communities of color has been front and center and has not receded, like so many issues.
It's, in a weird way, sort of like the pandemic.
It keeps coming back in the form of new issues, whether it was a referendum in November on police reform here in Minneapolis, the trial of Kim Potter.
And we're not quite done with this issue yet, because we have the state trial of the three officers who were charged alongside Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd killing.
And they also face a federal trial.
So this is an issue that will continue to really vex this community in so many ways.
It's not receded from the headlines, and it's not likely to for very long.
JOHN YANG: Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro in Minneapolis, thank you very much.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: John, you're welcome.
JOHN YANG: This case, along with those surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, have highlighted issues of police use of deadly force and accountability.
Shannon Prince is an attorney who focuses on policing policy and restorative justice.
She's with the firm Boies Schiller Flexner.
Shannon Prince, thanks so much for being with us.
On this question of police accountability, what message do you think the jury sent today?
SHANNON PRINCE, Boies Schiller Flexner: Well, I think that the jury sent the message that police are accountable not only for their deliberate acts, but even for accidents that arise from recklessness or unreasonability.
JOHN YANG: And do you think this is going to continue, further these issues along, because this was someone who said they never intended to use deadly force; it was an accident?
SHANNON PRINCE: So, I do think this verdict furthers the cause of police reform, it increases police accountability, and it decreases police impunity.
However, what really moves police reform forward isn't individual verdicts, but policy, and we saw that in a policy that was passed by Brooklyn Center, the town where the incident took place, after Daunte Wright was killed.
They passed an act in part named after Daunte Wright that, among other things, creates an unarmed civilian force to handle non-moving traffic violations of the sort that began this incident.
Now, such forces have been used successfully in other countries, and, hopefully, they will prevent further traffic stops from escalating to violence, as this one did.
JOHN YANG: And talk about this traffic stop.
This is a traffic stop that Potter, Officer Potter, said she would not have made if she was alone, but she had a trainee with her.
What role did race play in that, do you think?
SHANNON PRINCE: So, it's impossible to look into the hearts and minds of other individuals, but we know that data shows that Black people are disproportionately likely to be pulled over by the police, even though white people are disproportionately likely to have contraband in their cars.
Now, the reason Daunte Wright was pulled over was because he had an air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror and expired license tabs.
Some may feel that those minor non-moving violations were actually pretextual.
And it's entirely possible that, if Daunte Wright weren't a black man, Kim Potter and her trainee officer wouldn't have pulled him over for such minor reasons.
JOHN YANG: Much was made about this jury when it was selected, because there was only one black juror.
The others -- there were nine white people and two Asian Americans.
Yet they rejected the defense argument that deadly force was justified in this case.
And they also did not take -- there was -- the prosecutors put in a lesser charge that sort of would invite a compromise.
What do you think that says?
SHANNON PRINCE: Well, I think that it shows, first of all, that Americans of all backgrounds can be counted upon to enact justice, that Americans of all backgrounds are willing to enact justice.
But I think it's also important to know that, although this jury was less diverse than the jury that convicted Derek Chauvin, it is racially proportionate with the local community.
JOHN YANG: The prosecutors are saying that when -- they're going to argue aggravating causes when they -- or aggravating factors when the sentencing comes around, that she endangered the public by shooting Daunte Wright and sort of allowing him to get away in this car while -- when he was wounded, and didn't do anything about it.
What do you make of that?
SHANNON PRINCE: So, that charge goes back to the fact that, when Kim Potter incapacitated Daunte Wright, he drove off, but because he wasn't able to navigate, he ran into an elderly couple, and the husband of that couple was gravely affected by that accident.
And then there's also a second aggravating factor, which is that Kim Potter abused her position of authority as a police officer.
Now, I think that there is evidence to support both of those aggravating factors.
And what happens next is, it has to be decided whether or not they're actually present.
Now, it was Kim Potter herself who have the right to decide whether she wanted the jury or the judge to answer that question.
She waived the right to have the jury decide.
So, that question will go to the judge.
JOHN YANG: Shannon Prince of Boies Schiller Flexner, thank you very much.
SHANNON PRINCE: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now let's turn to Omicron and the rising wave of cases around the U.S.
The new variant is driving a surge in the U.S. Omicron is now present in all 50 states just three weeks after it was first detected here.
Stephanie Sy begins our coverage.
STEPHANIE SY: In Washington, D.C., residents waited in line to get a free COVID-19 testing kit, in preparation for holiday travel.
As the highly transmissible Omicron COVID variant surges... WOMAN: No, just one box per person.
STEPHANIE SY: ... demand for testing is high around the country.
Pharmacies are quickly selling out of at-home tests.
And testing sites in big cities, like New York, have hours-long wait times.
The White House said today it's finalizing plans to secure 500 million at-home rapid tests to distribute for free.
In an exclusive interview with President Biden yesterday, ABC's "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir asked why those kits weren't ordered sooner.
DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: If you go to the pharmacy, we hear this over and over again, empty shelves, no test kits.
Is that a failure?
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: No, I don't think it's a failure.
I think it's -- you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago.
DAVID MUIR: We're nearly two years into this pandemic.
You're a year into the presidency.
Empty shelves and no test kits in some places three days before Christmas, when it's so important, is that good enough?
JOE BIDEN: No, nothing's been good enough.
STEPHANIE SY: For months before Omicron emerged, President Biden pledged to make at-home COVID tests more easily available.
He made this statement in September: JOE BIDEN: We're committing $2 billion to purchase nearly 300 million rapid tests for distribution to community health centers, food banks, schools, so that every American, no matter their income, can access free and convenient tests.
STEPHANIE SY: In the ABC interview, the president said no one could have predicted Omicron and said fully vaccinated and tested Americans should still feel safe to gather.
JOE BIDEN: If you are tested, if you know where you are in terms of having gotten the shots, there's no reason why you can't get together with your family and your friends.
And we couldn't do that last Christmas.
STEPHANIE SY: Meanwhile, another treatment option for high-risk COVID patients is on the horizon.
The FDA today authorized the country's second antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 at home, just one day after Pfizer's Paxlovid was approved.
Molnupiravir cuts COVID hospitalizations and deaths by 30 percent in those at higher risk of developing severe disease.
Merck said it will have 10 million treatment packs available by the end of the month.
And the White House plans to ship three million to states by the end of January.
At busy airports today, many holiday travelers were undeterred by the wave of new cases.
TOM BROWNILY, Resident of Philadelphia: We're both vaccinated fully, and have been since we could be.
And so we follow all the protocols and feel pretty safe.
STEPHANIE SY: But many Americans who have tested positive have seen the pandemic upend their holiday plans for yet another year.
TONY LOUTHAN, Resident of Washington, D.C.: If I test positive, I'm just staying in town, not visiting family.
So, fingers crossed that it's a negative test.
STEPHANIE SY: New infections have reached over 168,000 per day, surpassing this summer's peak; 7,800 people are being hospitalized each day, straining hospitals in the hard-hit Midwest and New England.
And more than 1,300 Americans are still dying each day, a slight increase from previous weeks.
Most of those deaths are attributed to the Delta variant.
Cases are only expected to rise in coming weeks.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There are so many questions about the transmissibility of this variant, its severity and testing availability that is sorely lacking, particularly when compared to the demand.
Katherine Wu is a staff writer for "The Atlantic," where she covers science.
Katherine Wu, welcome to the "NewsHour."
Clearly, this is just still a very difficult time for Americans just on the cusp of a holiday.
Explain to us how this wave with Omicron is different from what we have already seen in this pandemic.
KATHERINE WU, "The Atlantic": Absolutely.
I think the biggest thing to point out here is just this feels like a wave on fast forward.
We're seeing case rates doubling at astounding rates.
We're seeing so many people test positive.
And I think one of the most concerning things about this particular wave is, Omicron has found a much larger susceptible population than Delta did just a few months ago.
We know that vaccinated people are far better protected than those who are unvaccinated against this variant, but it's clear that Omicron can still move fast enough and dodge some immune defenses that it can still infect those vaccinated people and spread out of them.
That means it's really just got a lot more room to move around populations.
And we're seeing the effects of that now.
The big concern here is we are going to see a big wave of cases and possibly enough hospitalizations to overwhelm health care systems.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And so reason to worry for those who are vaccinated and boosted, because, clearly, they are, we are susceptible too.
But we also read, Katherine Wu, that cases may be milder than previous variants.
What do we know about that?
KATHERINE WU: Yes, so this is a really interesting collision between virus and vaccine right now.
I think the first thing to know is that, again, it's not useful to talk about this variant in binary terms, safe or unsafe.
Vaccinated, especially vaccinated and boosted people, are going to be much safer.
We know that, even though this variant can dodge some of the defenses that vaccinated bodies mount, it's not going to overcome all of them.
And that especially means that vaccinated people are especially going to be well-protected against more severe forms of disease.
And maybe we are seeing that already play out.
The world has so much more immunity than it did a couple years ago.
We have progressed so far in such little time.
And it is early days still.
Remember that it takes a couple of weeks for hospitalization data to really manifest.
And this variant has really only been in the global conversation for about a month.
But we are seeing encouraging signs that case rates are not dragging hospitalization rates in quite the lockstep that they were before.
If that continues to pan out, that could be a good sign.
It's not game over for the pandemic.
A small percentage of hospitalizations can still be devastating, because a small percentage of a big number can still be a huge number.
But it is encouraging.
I think what's complicated here is, when we say mild, that's disease.
And disease is an interaction between host and pathogen.
Is it because we as hosts are better defended, so it's milder, or is it because the virus is intrinsically less deadly?
It could be both.
And that's really difficult to untangle.
So people shouldn't take mild for granted.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's an important message.
You and your co-authors have a new piece in "The Atlantic" today, where you say -- among other things, you say, we keep making the same pandemic mistakes over and over again.
Of course, one of the mistakes critics are pointing to has to do with lack of available and easily accessible testing.
Just how far behind is the United States from where we should be with regard to testing?
KATHERINE WU: We are very, very far behind.
And I think this has been a mistake that really - - we really have been repeating since almost day one.
It took the country a very long time to bring tests online to any measurable degree.
And we have really been playing catchup ever since.
We have seen other countries roll out very successfully free testing programs, widely available testing programs, whether it's laboratory tests that use PCR or these home tests that some people can buy for $1 or even get for free in other countries.
Here in the U.S., we're making steps toward having freely available tests, but that's going to take months to kick in, or we're being asked to reimburse tests.
And that is a very cumbersome and limited process.
We are nowhere near flush enough with tests as we need to be.
The Biden administration's plan to roll out 500 million free ones, that sounds like a lot.
But also remember that there are 330 million people in this country.
That's less than two tests per person.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have been thinking about that this week.
And I think one question is, was it realistic for the administration to have, I don't know, had manufactured billions of tests?
Because you're right, 330 million Americans, multiple tests that we need to -- we're told we need to be taking whenever we're about to gather.
It's a conundrum.
KATHERINE WU: It definitely is.
And I think the tricky thing is, we also have to strike this balance for people who are able to access those tests.
Those are vital tools.
But we also have to be humble in the face of a variant that moves this quickly.
A test that's negative in the morning might not hold true by the afternoon.
If the virus is spreading really quickly outside our bodies, it might be moving at quite a rapid clip inside our bodies as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All the more reason why we need more and more tests and, as you say, more than what we have available, so many questions still.
Katherine Wu, thank you so much for your insights.
We appreciate it.
KATHERINE WU: Thank you so much for having me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: The U.S. economy churned out another month of low unemployment and high inflation.
The Labor Department reported new jobless claims held steady at 205,000 last week.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said consumer prices jumped 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier.
Even so, consumer spending rose more than half-a-percent last month.
The Biden administration is looking to help reduce that inflation by easing bottlenecks in the supply chain.
Today, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced more than $241 million in grant funding to improve U.S. ports.
The money is available immediately for 25 projects in 19 states.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it is a worthy investment.
JEN PSAKI, White House Press Secretary: These grants demonstrate rapid action commitments in the Biden-Harris Port Action Plan.
Investing in our infrastructure will strengthen our supply chains, help speed the flow of goods, and lower prices for Americans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Department of Transportation acknowledged that it may take months for consumers to feel the effects from these improvements.
Low mortgage rates and high demand during the pandemic have caused new home sales in the U.S. to jump 12.4 percent in November over the previous month.
That is the fastest pace in seven months.
It's also 14 percent higher than last November.
Sales for previously owned homes also saw a steady increase for the third month in a row.
At least four people were injured in Texas after what authorities are calling a major industrial accident at one of the country's largest oil refining and petrochemical facilities.
A large fire broke out early this morning at the ExxonMobil plant in Baytown about 25 miles east of Houston.
Nearby residents were jolted awake.
SHARON ROGERS, Witness: I heard this huge explosion, boom.
It rocked this whole house, knocked me out of my bed, woke me up.
Scared me to death.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The cause of the incident is still under investigation.
ExxonMobil said the air quality remained safe.
President Biden signed a bill today banning imports of products from China's Xinjiang region over forced labor concerns.
The bipartisan legislation aims to hold Beijing accountable for its abuse of China's Uyghur Muslim minority.
The U.S. government and human rights groups have said it amounts to genocide, but China has denied the claims.
Former President Trump today asked the Supreme Court to block the release of White House records to the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
It is his legal team's last-ditch effort, after a federal appeals court ruled against him two weeks ago.
Mr. Trump insists he has the right to assert executive privilege.
The humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is expected to escalate even more next year.
A new United Nations report out today estimates that 22 million Ethiopians will need humanitarian aid.
That comes amid ongoing conflict in the Tigray region and elsewhere.
the east African country is also facing drought, flooding, disease outbreaks, and locust infestations.
Pope Francis urged Vatican cardinals, bishops, and administrators today to embrace humility this holiday season.
At his annual Christmas address to the Vatican bureaucracy, Francis said their pride and the -- quote -- "glitter of our armor" was corrupting their spiritual lives and the church's mission.
POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through translator): The humble give life, attract others, and push onwards towards the unknown that lies ahead.
The proud, on the other hand, simply repeat, grow rigid.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, the pope removed the head of the Vatican office that oversees the environment, migration, and COVID-19 issues, following the undisclosed results of an internal investigation.
In Hong Kong, the last public memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre is now gone.
The so-called Pillar of Shame at the University of Hong Kong depicted a 26-foot-tall pile of mangled bodies, symbolizing those killed in the violent crackdown.
It was hauled away from campus earlier today.
It is the latest effort to stamp out public memory of the 1989 massacre.
On Wall Street, stocks surged for a third straight day.
The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 196 points to close at 35950.
The Nasdaq rose 131 points.
And the S&P 500 added 29.
And two passings to note tonight.
Legendary American author and essayist Joan Didion died today in New York of complications from Parkinson's disease.
Her writing explored politics and culture and even her own personal grief.
Her memoir "The Year of Magical Thinking" written after her husband's death went on to win the National Book Award.
Joan Didion was 87 years old.
And we will have more on her life later in the program.
And Franklin A. Thomas, the first Black leader of a major American philanthropic organization, has died.
He rose from the streets of working-class Brooklyn to become president of the Ford Foundation from 1979 to 1996.
He restructured the organization and raised both its number of grants and its endowment.
Thomas passed away last night at his home in Manhattan.
He was also 87 years old.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": the fate of federal vaccine mandates now in the hands of the Supreme Court; remembering Joan Didion; plus much more.
The Supreme Court will hold a special hearing on January 7 to consider challenges to two pieces of the Biden administration's strategy to get the pandemic under control.
John Yang returns with this look he recorded earlier on the arguments to come.
JOHN YANG: Judy, at stake are two Biden administration pandemic efforts that lower courts have at least partially blocked.
One is the requirement that big employers make sure their workers are either vaccinated or regularly tested.
The other requires that health care workers at facilities that get federal money are vaccinated.
Together, the two cover about 97 million Americans.
They're being challenged by religious, labor and business groups and some Republican-led states.
Marcia Coyle is chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal."
Marcia, thanks for being with us.
These are oral arguments this court scheduled on emergency petitions.
How unusual is this and how unusual is this whole process?
MARCIA COYLE, "The National Law Journal": It's very unusual, John, unusual because the court has ordered oral arguments.
These cases have come in, as you said, as emergency applications on what is now commonly known as the shadow docket.
And the court generally handles emergency applications without arguments.
And when it issues an order or a decision in those types of cases, it's often very cursory, with little explanation.
So it took is by surprise, yes, and also the day that it will be argued is surprising.
It's on a Friday before the justices sit on the bench for their January argument session.
And I guess that begs the question, why these?
Why the arguments in these cases?
And I have give given some thought to that.
And I think there may be two more reasons, one more important than the other.
The court has taken criticism recently about its handling of emergency applications without full arguments and with cursory decisions, opinions.
But I think, more importantly, it's the nature of these cases, John.
We are still in the middle of a pandemic, one that is surging with a new variant.
And I think that the court knows that these questions are significant, and people need to know, employers need to know, health care workers need to know, and, in fact, we all really need to know if the government can do what it wants to do.
JOHN YANG: And that employer mandate actually is scheduled to take effect on the Monday after the arguments, on the 10th.
Now, what are the justices going to be examining in this case -- these cases?
MARCIA COYLE: John, I think, at their core, these cases are really kind of basic statutory interpretation cases that the justices see all the time, although this is a new one.
It's going to involve basically two statutes that govern the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Department of Health and humans services CMS agency, whether those statutes actually authorize the federal agencies to do what they had -- they plan to do, whether they can require these vaccine or testing rules.
So that's where I think the justices are going to really home in on, whether there is the authority to do this.
JOHN YANG: And since the pandemic began, there have been emergency applications to the Supreme Court on state and local rules about COVID, sort of restrictions on attendants, gatherings of large groups of people, and also recently about state and local vaccine mandates.
MARCIA COYLE: That's right.
JOHN YANG: What's been sort of the approach of the court to these previous cases?
MARCIA COYLE: Well, I think, in terms of the state and local vaccine requirements, the court hasn't been very sympathetic to those who are objecting to those requirements either on religious or other grounds.
There is a bit of division within the court.
More recently, we have seen three justices in particular, Justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch, who are very sympathetic to claims that the vaccine requirements may violate the free exercise of religion.
But, right now, it appears that there are six justices who aren't very sympathetic to challenges.
But -- and this is a big but -- the conservatives on this court -- and there are six of them -- are very skeptical of broad government power.
And we saw that when they considered the eviction moratorium and whether there was authority to extend that moratorium, and the court said, no, there wasn't.
So I think that the -- at least the conservative justices will be looking very closely at the authorizing statutes for the agencies involving President Biden's hope of mandating or requiring vaccines or testing.
JOHN YANG: Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal," thank you very much.
MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, John.
And have a great holiday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, Russia's President Vladimir Putin gave his annual end-of-year press conference, with tough words for both Ukraine and NATO.
It comes as Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine.
Special correspondent Stuart Smith in Moscow begins our coverage.
STUART SMITH: In a marathon four-hour press conference today in Moscow, President Putin blamed the West for threatening Russia.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator): Not one inch to the east is what we were told in the 1990s.
And what happened?
We were duped.
We were brazenly duped.
There were five waves of NATO expansion.
STUART SMITH: After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia says the U.S. made a deal that NATO's troops and weapons would not expand further into Eastern Europe.
Putin says now Russia is defending itself from increasing NATO encroachment.
VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): And now these missile systems are appearing in Poland and Romania.
That's what we're talking about.
You have to understand it's not us who are threatening.
And now you're telling us that Ukraine will also be in NATO.
STUART SMITH: This week, NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance supports Ukraine's sovereignty and -- quote -- "right to choose its own path."
Today, Putin told a roomful of journalists that Ukraine will never join NATO.
VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): We put it straight.
There must be no further expansion of NATO eastward.
What is there not to understand?
Was it us who deployed missiles near the borders of the United States?
STUART SMITH: Putin's remarks come a week after Russia submitted a list of security guarantees it wants the West to agree to in order to withdraw its forces near the Ukrainian border.
The demands include a ban on a Ukraine NATO membership, the removal of NATO forces and weapons from much of Eastern Europe, and a promise to not hold further drills in the region without Russian approval.
Russia's demands would involve a major reconfiguration of European security.
And Vladimir Putin insists on haste, or else an unspecified military response.
That leaves open questions about whether the calls for negotiation and diplomacy are genuine, or designed to fail to justify escalation.
For weeks, Russian military drills and irregular deployments signal they're ready for escalation.
Satellite images show a massive buildup along the Russian-Ukraine border.
And U.S. intelligence produced a map that shows five newly deployed Russian battalion tactical groups north of Ukraine, two newly deployed groups off Ukraine's northeast border, more troops off Ukraine's Southeast, where Russia has invaded in the past, and additional tanks and artillery in Russian-annexed Crimea for a potential of tens of thousands of Russian forces.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Good to see you again.
STUART SMITH: Earlier this month, President Biden told Putin in a video call that Russia faced significant sanctions if it were to invade Ukraine.
Biden told Putin, the U.S. would increase military support to Ukraine.
And the administration said President Biden told Putin that NATO's Eastern allies would receive more U.S. troops and training similar to these 2016 exercises.
This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky joined Lithuania and Poland to call for stronger Western sanctions against Moscow.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, Ukrainian President (through translator): Our common task is to deter the threat posed by Russia and defend Europe from Russia's aggressive policies.
STUART SMITH: The U.S. says the best way to resolve the conflict is to restore Ukraine's border and to return to the Minsk process, agreements that Russia and Ukraine sought to end the war in Ukraine's Eastern Donbass region that began in 2014 between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists.
Putin today said he looked forward to meeting the U.S. in January.
The Biden administration says it is willing to meet with Russia in early January, but the details of the meeting have yet to be worked out.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stuart Smith in Moscow.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more on all of this, we get two views.
Charles Kupchan is a professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
During the Obama administration, he served as senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council staff.
In that job, he traveled to Ukraine six times with then-Vice President Biden.
And Alina Polyakova is the president of the Center for European Policy Analysis.
It's a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote U.S.-European relations and democratic values.
And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."
Charles Kupchan, to you first.
Is Vladimir Putin correct when he says the West and NATO have reneged on the promises they made in the 1990s not to move closer to the East?
He said, in fact, there have been five waves of NATO expansion.
CHARLES KUPCHAN, Former National Security Council Official: Well, exactly what was agreed to in the early days of the end of the Cold War remains an issue of great dispute among historians.
What is clear is what we're seeing today is a culmination of a big dispute that started in the early 1990s during the Clinton administration, when there was a debate about whether NATO should expand eastward toward Russia's borders.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was working in the National Security Council then, and was somewhat skeptical of the enlargement of NATO because of the concern that Putin is now expressing about the alliance moving closer to Russia's borders.
We then did proceed.
President Putin is right.
We have been through a succession of waves.
And, in 2008, NATO declared that Georgia and Ukraine would one day be in line for membership.
I think there are a lot of troubling aspects of Russian behavior, a lot of things to worry about, but Putin is not out of the ordinary in being concerned about NATO expansion into Ukraine.
It's kind of what major powers do.
The United States spent a lot of time in the 19th century getting Britain and France and Spain and Russia out of its neighborhood.
The Soviets deployed missiles to Cuba in 1962.
We didn't like that very much.
There was almost a war over that.
So, major powers don't like get when other major powers bring in military force to their borders.
That's kind of what we're seeing come to a head today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Alina Polyakova, just picking up on that and these points that Charles Kupchan is making, is there justification in the argument that Mr. Putin, Vladimir Putin, is making, that the West has moved too far in his direction, in Russia's direction, and steps need to be taken to correct that?
ALINA POLYAKOVA, Director, Center for European Policy Analysis: Well, thank you so much for that question, Judy.
And Charlie's completely right in outlining the most recent post-Cold War history.
But I think what we have to remember is that, point number one, that, in 2008, during the summit, where NATO said that eventually Ukraine and also Georgia could join NATO, NATO membership is really not on the table at all today for Ukraine or Georgia.
We have to be clear about that.
So, when Mr. Putin says that NATO is looking to expand into Ukraine, that is just completely false.
There's no indication that Ukraine will be joining NATO anywhere in the short- or medium-term.
The second point I think to make here is that it's Russia that has been the aggressor here.
Much of NATO's posture in the eastern flank, in Poland, as well as Romania, changed because Russia invaded and continues to occupy Crimea, and it continues to occupy parts of Ukraine Donbass.
So it was really Russia that has sort of forced this kind of response and forced more security posture from NATO in its eastern flank.
But Ukraine is not a NATO member state, nor is there a clear plan for Ukraine to become a member state anytime soon.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, given this, Charles Kupchan - - and you have been an advocate for diplomatic efforts here.
I mean, do you see the potential for successful diplomacy in all this?
And, by the way, do you think Putin, Vladimir Putin, has made up his mind yet about whether to invade Ukraine?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I don't think that he has made up his mind.
And that's in part because he is going through the motions of trying to have a serious conversation with NATO, with the United States.
It's also the case that this would not be an easy war.
This would be a big war, lots of fatalities on the Russian, as well as the Ukrainian side.
And Putin is pretty good about picking his fights carefully.
I'm not sure if this is a fight that he wants.
I completely agree with Alina that, right now, NATO enlargement to Ukraine is not on the table.
The president of the United States has said as much.
The U.S. and its allies have been careful about not putting high-end high-technology weaponry into Ukraine, because they are sensitive about Russia's concerns.
Russia is the aggressor here.
They went into Crimea.
They took Donbass.
It seems to me that, if there is to be a meeting of the minds, it's that NATO stands by its principle, open door, and countries can choose their future, but they can reassure Putin that, for now and for the foreseeable future, NATO enlargement is not in the cards for Ukraine, nor is Ukraine going to turn into an outpost of NATO force posture.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Alina Polyakova, do you see the realistic prospects that this can be worked out through some sort of diplomatic arrangement, agreement?
ALINA POLYAKOVA: Well, I certainly hope so.
We're facing a potentially devastating situation, a military invasion.
A full-out military war in Europe hasn't happened since really World War II.
And the consequences would be absolutely dire, not just for Russia and Ukraine, but for all of Europe and, as a result, for the transatlantic alliance and NATO, of which the United States, of course, is a member.
So we have to remember what's really at stake here.
And that's why diplomacy really has to be on the table.
I think the United States government has deployed a huge amount of diplomatic resources to try to bring Russia back to the table here.
We have had calls from the U.S. president.
We have had visits from the chief of the CIA.
At all levels of government, there's been a concerted effort to bring Russia into dialogue.
Unfortunately, what we have seen from Moscow over the last several weeks is some clear and worrisome signals that they're not actually interested in a real diplomatic dialogue.
One data point on that is these NATO-Russia, Russia-U.S. treaties, so-called treaties, that Moscow decided to publish very publicly before they were even discussed with the United States and NATO.
This was a very, very unusual step when it comes to diplomatic relations.
And it was taken as a pretext for Russia looking for a complete no from the United States and NATO.
And this would be pretext for a potential invasion.
That's why the situation is quite dire and quite serious.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just in a few seconds, Charles Kupchan, you agree the signals don't look receptive from Moscow?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well, the proposals that Putin put out over the last week are nonstarters, many of them.
The good news is, a conversation will take place.
The United States and Russia look like they're going to be meeting, sitting down at the table in early January.
I think we - - this is the best way to avoid a war that would be neither in the interests of neither Ukraine or Russia nor NATO.
Let's hope that diplomacy prevails.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Charles Kupchan, Alina Polyakova, we thank you both.
Finally, tonight, as we promised, remembering the life and work of author and essayist Joan Didion.
Jeffrey Brown has our appreciation.
JOAN DIDION, Author and Essayist: In certain latitudes, there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.
JEFFREY BROWN: She captured moments in American culture with penetrating clarity and style, from the Manson murders, to the case of the Central Park Five, and then turned those same observational powers onto her own intimate losses and grief.
One of America's most iconic writers, Joan Didion began her career at "Vogue" magazine after winning an essay contest in college, and went on to write for magazines and journals like "LIFE" and "The New York Review of Books."
Her first nonfiction collection, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," chronicled the unraveling of Southern California's social fabric in the late 1960s, what she called America's atomization, the proof that things fall apart.
She went on to publish several more collections of groundbreaking reporting, establishing herself as a leading voice in personal narrative, so-called new journalism.
In a 2017 documentary, critic Hilton Als spoke of her book of essays "The White Album."
HILTON ALS, Writer and Critic: On The Beatles album "The White Album," there's ballads, and there's sound experiments by Lennon.
There are soft sounds, hard songs, instrumental.
She does a very similar thing in that essay, which I find profound.
And, also, it took 10 years.
You couldn't make a cohesive narrative about the times, because the times weren't cohesive.
So she found this way, which is to kind of make a verbal record of the times.
JOAN DIDION: I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself.
JEFFREY BROWN: Didion also published the acclaimed novels "Play It as It Lays" and "A Book of Common Prayer."
Her life was marked by two tragedies.
In the span of two years, she lost her husband and closest literary confidant, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, and then their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne.
She chronicled those shattering losses with a clarity that illuminated truths within the fog of grief, first in "The Year of Magical Thinking," which won the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD in 2005 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and, later, "Blue Nights"" in 2011.
I spoke with her about that book and her writing process.
JOAN DIDION: You could say that was a form of healing, but it's not the form most people depend on.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think of writing as a way of keeping emotional distance, or not?
JOAN DIDION: Well, you do.
Of course you do.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
JOAN DIDION: I don't know any -- it's both a way of keeping a distance and a way of getting close.
There are certain things that you do learn to live -- that you -- that only by living through them do you learn to live through them.
JEFFREY BROWN: And what about understanding them through writing about them?
JOAN DIDION: Through writing about them.
That's how you understand -- that's how you start to understand them.
JEFFREY BROWN: President Barack Obama awarded Didion the National Medal of Arts and Humanities in 2013.
BARACK OBAMA, Former President of the United States: Somebody like Joan Didion, who rightly has earned distinction as one of the most celebrated American writers of her generation.
Decades into her career, she remains one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture.
JEFFREY BROWN: Joan Didion died from complications of Parkinson's disease.
She was 87 years old.
And joining me now is Griffin Dunne.
He's Joan Didion's nephew.
He's an actor and filmmaker and director of the 2017 documentary "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold."
Thank you so much for joining us.
And, first, we send condolences to you and to your family.
I want to start with a famous Joan Didion line.
It's the beginning of that essay "The White Album."
She says: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."
It's a model of her writing.
Is it also how she saw her life?
GRIFFIN DUNNE, Actor and Filmmaker: Completely.
You know, she wrote to find out what she thought.
She -- "The Year of Magical Thinking" was her delving into grief.
And it was the first agnostic book about grief, that she had no intention of it meaning so much to so many people who are -- had lost their loved ones.
But that turned out to be the case.
She had to figure out what she felt about things.
And it was a relationship between her and the typewriter.
That was her dictum from the earliest -- her earliest writings, even at "Vogue."
JEFFREY BROWN: And the writing itself, of course, there's a Joan Didion style that generations of journalists and writers have studied, have emulated.
How do you describe it, what she was doing in her writing?
GRIFFIN DUNNE: Well, it was clearly sparse.
She had a distinctive point of view that was rather controversial at the time, be it about feminism or the Central Park Five, that the rest of the media, it took them a while to catch up to.
She had her own voice.
She -- her own particular perspective on life, on culture, on media, on politics, that -- and heard a voice that other people, it took a while for them to catch on to.
And so her perspective was entirely unique, and greatly appreciated in time by her fans.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what about personally?
What was she like?
And how much was her life tied to her writing?
GRIFFIN DUNNE: Very much.
She would -- one of her most famous essays, when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, were having marital problems, that was her material.
At the time, she was writing for The Saturday Evening Post, and both -- alternately with John, one week, John, and, another week, Joan.
And she was unhappy in her marriage and was considering having a divorce.
So she wrote about it, and then took the copy and handed it to John, who edited it.
So, life was her material.
That was how she wrote.
JEFFREY BROWN: As someone who knew her and then did the documentary, how do you see her legacy?
What is it that you want people watching this to remember about her?
GRIFFIN DUNNE: Well, I have to tell you, today is -- today has been incredible.
There's just been so much love that has come about her toward me and from her fans and the media.
JEFFREY BROWN: It's OK. GRIFFIN DUNNE: I think she will be remembered.
I think she will be remembered for all time.
Her readership has just grown.
I'm so proud that I was able to make that documentary.
It brought a whole new readership, a whole new generation of young people to her work.
And her legacy will be as a woman from the - - with a strong point of view, who came from the West, whose ancestors were homesteaders, and her strength carries on.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Griffin Dunne on the life and legacy of Joan Didion, thank you so much for joining us.
GRIFFIN DUNNE: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And deep condolences to Joan Didion's family.
And thank you for that interview, Jeffrey and Mr. Dunne.
And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
Join us online and again here tomorrow evening.
For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.