Six years into his administration, President Obama has apparently not given up on the "hope" that was a major theme of his first run for president.
What else but undying optimism could explain the president's hope for the Texas congressional delegation expressed in his visit to their state this week.
Speaking of his conversation with Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in which the president asked the governor to lobby that delegation on behalf of the $3.7 billion in additional funding to address the border crisis, the president said:
"I urged the governor to talk to the Texas delegation, which is obviously at the heart of the Republican caucus both in the House and has great influence in the caucus in the Senate. If the Texas delegation is in favor of this supplemental — which, by the way, does not include some things that I know many of them object to around dealing with undocumented workers who have been in this country for quite some time — this is just a very narrow issue, this supplemental, in terms of dealing with the particular problem we have right now — if the Texas delegation is prepared to move, this thing can get done next week."
That has a snowball's chance in Houston of happening, of course. The influential Texas delegation members have made few statements suggesting that they are prepared to support the president's emergency funding request.
Instead, they blame the president for the crisis, saying his 2012 executive action that allowed some young people in the U.S. illegally to remain is a magnet for the surge. They also accuse him of not securing the border.
Rep. Pete Sessions, chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, reflected the view of other House Republicans in a statement Thursday:
"Yesterday President Obama stopped in Dallas where he discussed the ongoing crisis at the border and his ideas for how to solve it. Unfortunately, the problem is one of his own doing and his so-called solutions are not sufficient to put an end to this crisis. Instead of proposing productive solutions, President Obama has requested $3.7 billion dollars to enforce policies that have not worked. Instead of throwing more money at the problem, we should solve our underlying problems at the border and put an end to this crisis once and for all."
The situation was no better on the other side of Capitol Hill. Sen. John Cornyn, second in the Senate's GOP hierarchy, has led GOP criticisms of Obama's decision to not visit the Texas border himself. Reacting to Obama's comments, Cornyn said: "Texans do not need a lecture from a man who refuses to even see the crisis firsthand. President Obama can fund raise and issue statements, Texans will work to solve the problem."
Texas' junior senator, Ted Cruz, also didn't say anything that would inspire the Obama administration's confidence in his support. "I would suggest the only response that will stop this humanitarian disaster is for President Obama to start enforcing the law, to stop promising amnesty ..." Cruz said on the Senate floor.
Obama, the pragmatist that he is, certainly knows that no amount of lobbying by Perry will get Republicans in Texas' congressional delegation to support his emergency funding request, especially given congressional Republicans' emphasis on cutting, not increasing, spending. So what's going on?
"Obama was trying to see if that kind of public pressure might shake them loose," said Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas government professor. "I think he doesn't expect it [to lead to the GOP to agree with him] any more than we do, but he thought it was worth a shot."
Buchanan says the Texas delegation has said repeatedly they don't trust Obama to use the money well. He says he thinks the president understands the odds are against it, so he wanted to create a record of his costing out what it would take to address the problem and his offering a solution.
"Then he can make the case, as he's been doing, that he's dealing with a do-nothing Congress and that he will do whatever he can through executive action [to respond to the crisis]," he said.
On Thursday, during a speech on the economy in Austin, Obama served up a few lines to make that point: "You know, it is lonely, me just doing stuff. I'd love it if the Republicans did stuff too."
The president reiterated that sentiment further when he spoke of the Senate immigration bill that the House has refused to take up.
"The House Republicans, they haven't even called the bill. They don't even want to take a vote on the bill," Obama said. "They don't have enough energy or organization or I don't know what to just even vote no on the bill. And then they're mad at me for trying to do some things to make the immigration system work better. So it doesn't make sense."
A baby who generated great excitement last year because it appeared she had been cured of HIV is infected with the virus after all, health officials say.
This discovery is a setback for the child known as the "Mississippi baby." It also complicates efforts to test what had seemed like a promising new treatment for infants born with HIV.
The Mississippi Baby was born to an HIV-positive mother in 2012. The mother had not received prenatal care, so wasn't identified as being positive for HIV until she was in labor. To stop the baby's infection, doctors tried an aggressive combination of drugs right after she was born.
Normally HIV-infected infants would stay on the antivirals for life. But in this case, the mother stopped bringing the child to the cllinic after 18 months. When the two showed up again, five months later, the mother said she had long since stopped giving the baby medicine. But blood tests showed no signs of HIV infection.
Was it a cure? Hopes were high.
Thousands of babies are born to infected mothers every year, mostly in poor countries, and it would be wonderful if a strong dose of medicine at the time of birth could eradicate the virus from their bodies.
The news from Mississippi generated a lot of optimism. But Dr. Hannah Gay, who had treated the baby at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, remained on the lookout for HIV infection.
"Ever since we discovered this case in 2012, we've known that was a possibility," she said in a conference call yesterday.
The baby was not put back on anti-HIV drugs, but doctors kept checking her for signs of infection every six to eight weeks. More than two years elapsed with no sign of the virus.
"So, last week was one of those regularly scheduled visits," Gay said. "The child came; she had no abnormalities on physical exam."
But blood tests showed that the baby had an active HIV infection. The virus had emerged from some mysterious hiding place in her body.
"It felt very much like a punch to the gut," Gay said. "It was extremely disappointing."
"We had been very hopeful that this would lead to bigger and better things," she said. And she also is disappointed "for the sake of the child, who is now back on medicine and expected to stay on medicine for a very long time."
Based on the child's story, the National Institutes of Health had planned a huge study involving more than 700 other HIV-infected newborns. The strategy is to treat them with a powerful drug combination at birth and, assuming they show no signs of infection, take them off drugs altogether at the age of 2.
"The study is still in play," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "But we're now just taking a close look at it ... to make sure that with the study we do it in an ethically sound way, and we get some answers to important questions."
But bioethicist George Annas, at Boston University's School of Public Health, says in his view this study will not pass ethical muster.
"To the extent that the justification for doing the trial is this one HIV-free child, and now it turns out that the child does have HIV, the trial should be stopped," he told NPR.
Annas says we have an extra ethical duty to children.
"We can't put them essentially in harm's way without some very good reason to think that they're going to benefit."
The study designers will have to grapple with that issue as they continue to look for ways to treat children facing a hard future with HIV infections.
A declining number of reporters are stalking the hallways of the nation's statehouses.
That's according to a Pew Research report released Thursday. The study found that the number of full-time statehouse newspaper reporters declined by more than a third between 2003 and 2014. There are now just 164 full-time newspaper journalists reporting on the bills, protests and politicians in the nation's 50 state capitals.
Though the report sought to specifically measure newspapers' staffing trends, it also offered a snapshot of the 1,592 full- and part-time journalists covering state politics across a variety of news platforms.
Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research and a co-author of the report, said the surveys and interviews conducted for the report captured a grim feeling among reporters.
"The biggest thing we heard was a sense of loss when it comes to the focus on statehouse reporting," she said. "This clear sense again and again and again of loss."
Mitchell noted that the fate of the statehouse press corps has been largely tied to the fortunes of the newspaper industry as a whole, which in recent years has faced depressed circulation and tightening resources and staffing.
But journalists surveyed in the study emphasized that state politics coverage had taken a particularly heavy blow, with a 35 percent reduction in full-time staff since 2003.
"You can lay off your statehouse reporter or you can lay off somebody covering your town that is nearer and dearer to people's hearts," Susan Moeller, a news editor at the Cape Cod Times, told the researchers. The Massachusetts newspaper cut its two-person statehouse bureau during the recession.
Mitchell added that state political coverage offers newspapers the opportunity "to do more with less," relying more on wire services like the Associated Press and testing out efforts in shared news coverage — the report points to an agreement between the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, which now share a bureau in Tallahassee.
"But it also carries some potential downsides," she said. "In general, fewer voices and less truly local coverage."
The report also notes a growing trend of "newsmakers becoming news producers," with political leaders circumventing a leaner press corps to instead send out their political messages, unvetted, via the Internet. Another Pew Research report found broad support for the news media's "watchdog" role, with 68 percent of respondents believing that press criticism kept their political leaders in check.
Still, the report points out that as newspapers have faltered, new players have risen in statehouse press rooms: in particular, "nontraditional" outlets focusing on digital news, high-priced "insider" coverage, and news with an unabashedly ideological spin.
In Albany, N.Y., Politico-owned Capital New York, a digital news publication, has grown to become the largest presence at the state capitol, its five-member staff larger than The New York Times and the local Times Union, both of which have three full-time reporters. The nonprofit Texas Tribune now has the nation's largest statehouse bureau, with 15 reporters based at the state capitol in Austin.
All told, nontraditional publications now employ 126 full-time statehouse reporters, or 17 percent of the total.
Radio journalists, meanwhile, currently constitute about 9 percent of full-time statehouse reporters — 31 of them work for public radio.
There are things you could quibble about in the array of nominations announced today for the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards.
No best drama series nomination for CBS' The Good Wife, though several stars got acting nods. No acting nomination for Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany, though she plays about eight different roles on BBC America's clone-focused adventure drama. No best variety show nod for John Oliver's increasingly stellar Last Week Tonight on HBO. And a best TV miniseries nod for A&E's dreadful Bonnie and Clyde?
But nitpicking aside, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences did a pretty good job of recognizing the growing wealth of great material now available on TV and online, handing significant nominations to newcomers such as HBO's True Detective and Silicon Valley, FX's Fargo and Netflix's Orange Is the New Black.
The big tallies went to HBO's Game of Thrones, which earned a whopping 19 nominations, despite the fact that many of its actors were not nominated in the top acting categories. AMC's Breaking Bad also scored big for its final season last year, earning 16 nominations total.
But the flood of nominations also revealed a few telling lessons about this year's Emmy process for anyone willing to pay attention.
Here's a quick list:
Lesson 1: Strategic nominating pays off. FX saw its strategy of submitting its most groundbreaking shows as miniseries pay off, with the TV adaptation of Fargo earning 18 nods and its anthology series American Horror Story getting 17 nominations in a category with much less competition.
The lack of competition in comedy also helped Netflix's Orange is the New Black, which scored 12 nominations, including three nods in guest acting categories for Natasha Lyonne (Nicky Nichols), Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes) and groundbreaking transsexual actress Laverne Cox. (Slating those women in the guest actress category may have been another sly move to compete in a less crowded field).
Lessons 2: Emmy is finally ready to acknowledge high-quality new series when they are new. Despite Emmy's history of rewarding the same faces year after year, the new crop of nominees reflects an undeniable influx of new, high-quality shows. HBO's True Detective may be the best example, earning nods as best actor in a drama for stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. HBO took a risk, nominating the new show as a drama series rather than a miniseries — since the cast will be different next season, either category could apply — but McConaughey's star power now makes him the closest to a sure thing in the Emmy race.
True Detective also earned a nomination as best drama series, joining established shows such as Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and Mad Men.
The list of best comedy series nominees also saw two newcomers, with Orange is the New Black and HBO's Silicon Valley joining The Big Bang Theory, Louie, Modern Family and Veep. So this year at least, Emmy managed to shed a bit of its reputation for picking the same favorites all the time.
Lesson 3: Emmy does still love its traditions. So ABC's Modern Family is poised for a historic fifth win as best comedy series, while Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons could earn a fourth win as best comedy actor. Allison Janney, who has won past Emmys on The West Wing, was nominated as supporting actress in a comedy for CBS's Mom and as guest actress in a drama for Showtime's Masters of Sex.
Likewise, Fargo star Martin Freeman was nominated as best actor in a miniseries for the FX show and best supporting actor in a miniseries for his work on the BBC's Sherlock. When Emmy likes a performer or show, it is the gift which keeps on giving.
Lesson 4: The divide between film and TV is nearly gone. Movie stars like McConaughey, Mark Ruffalo and Billy Bob Thornton each earned their first Emmy nominations today (for True Detective, HBO's film The Normal Heart and FX's Fargo, respectively). They join a list of high-powered movie actors who have found Emmy gold in TV performances, including Julia Roberts, nominated for best supporting actress in a miniseries or movie for The Normal Heart; Jane Fonda, nominated for guest supporting actress in a drama for HBO's The Newsroom; and Jon Voight, nominated as best supporting actor in a drama for Showtime's Ray Donovan.
When you've got Oscar-winning actors lining up to try ambitious TV, any star left who turns up their nose at the small screen just isn't paying attention.
Lesson 5: Diversity grew for some groups, others not so much. Scandal star Kerry Washington, who broke barriers as a black woman leading a TV drama, was nominated for best actress in a drama. She joined nonwhite actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, Cicely Tyson, Andre Braugher, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Don Cheadle, Joe Morton and Reg E. Cathey in key nominations.
Two shows featuring lots of nonwhite actors — HBO's Treme and Lifetime's TV movie The Trip to Bountiful — were also nominated in major categories. But nearly all these nominations involved black actors, leaving out Hispanic and Asian performers. Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife, Mindy Kaling from The Mindy Project and Lucy Liu from Elementary were all left out of major acting categories. Even Emmy's reliable Latina nominee, Modern Family's Sofia Vergara, was edged out of the supporting actress comedy category this time.
Lesson 6: Some snubs still hurt. No James Spader for The Blacklist or Matthew Rhys from The Americans. No Dean Norris from Breaking Bad or Jeffrey Wright from Boardwalk Empire. No Maslany. No major nominations for The Walking Dead. All this proves Emmy still has a little work to do.
We'll all learn how many of these lessons translate into Emmy wins when the show airs at 8 p.m. Aug. 25 on NBC, hosted by Seth Meyers. But so far, it seems like an awfully good start.
It's one of those stories that start in the middle. Midflight from Washington, D.C., to Denver on Monday, pilot Gerhard Brandner hit some bad weather that forced him to land in Wyoming. It was a mundane delay like most others. His Frontier Airlines plane was grounded on a tarmac in Cheyenne.
That's when the pilot made a decision that made him a national hero.
"I figure out, well, I'm getting hungry; I'll bet you the folks be hungry back there, too," Brandner says. "So I called Domino's."
Because the flight was delayed about 90 minutes, he figured there was plenty of time for the delivery. "I told them I had to feed 160 people. You know, I think they send me like 50 pizzas or so: half cheese, and the other was cheese and pepperoni."
About 30 minutes into that delay, the plane's somber mood broke, according to passenger Nadia Kouri. That's when she heard Brandner's announcement.
"He came on and said, 'Frontier Airlines is known to be the cheapest airline in the States, but your captain is not cheap. So I ordered pizza,' " Kouri tells All Things Considered.
Brandner adds, "After I announced that, I heard applause from the back of the aircraft. And I believe people were pretty happy because they were hungry, too."
Now, in case you're imagining a car with a Domino's sign speeding onto the tarmac, Brandner clears things up: "I mean, they don't deliver to the plane. They got to deliver it to the airport outside security, and then I got the pizzas through security onto the plane."
Brandner has been called a national hero — with good reason — but he remains humble about the whole thing. "Once they set foot on my airplane, they're my responsibility. And if that includes feeding them, so be it."
But Kouri says Brandner clearly went above and beyond.
"It was not something that was the pilot's obligation in any way," she says. "It was just out of the kindness of his own heart. And it wasn't even sponsored by the company. So it was just a moment of kindness."
Here's where this story of heroism flirts with tragedy — or, at least, a bit of a bummer: Brandner's order wasn't sponsored by Frontier. He paid for the pizza out of his own pocket.
And the bummer goes even deeper. Brandner admits, "Actually, I did not get to enjoy any of the pizza because we were getting busy again for the flight from Cheyenne to Denver."
The passengers arrived in Denver just after midnight, bellies full of carbs and cheese. They thanked Brandner as they came off the plane, but no one saved him a slice. He says, laughing, "It was all gone — they were hungry!"
Though he never got any himself, Brandner's sacrifice has earned him a fitting nickname: "Captain Pizza."