JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: mixed messages.
President Biden warns a Russian invasion of Ukraine is still distinctly possible, despite Moscow's claims that it is pulling back some of its troops.
Then: courting justice.
We take a closer look at the life and legal work of a California state Supreme Court justice who now appears to be on President Biden's short list for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
And changing communities.
As the Black population of Minnesota grows, African Americans and African immigrants coalesce to amplify their voices.
QORSHO HASSAN, Teacher: We have really created this network, per se, of knowing who we are, respecting our differences, but also really understanding that we are powerful together.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
(BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: President Biden has put the nation on notice: A war in Ukraine, even without direct U.S. involvement, could be expensive for American consumers.
This afternoon, the president again appealed to Russia's leadership to pursue the path of diplomacy, and he laid down a stark warning to Moscow not to threaten the U.S. and its allies.
He also said that Russia's military has amassed 150,000 troops on Ukraine's border, able to invade at any moment.
Nick Schifrin begins over coverage.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, President Biden laid down a warning to Russia, and a rallying cry to America.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Let there be no doubt: If Russia commits this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to respond.
We do not stand for freedom where it is at risk today, we will certainly pay a steeper price tomorrow.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Biden spoke just a few hours after Russian soldiers loaded tanks onto flatbeds for what the Russian military called relocation away from Ukraine's border.
MAJ. GEN. IGOR KONASHENKOV, Russian Ministry of Defense (through translator): Units of the western and southern military districts that have completed their missions will start moving back to their garrisons today.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But military analysts say these tanks were already away from the front, and it's not clear where they're going.
They represent only a tiny number the Russian troops deployed all around Ukraine's southern, eastern, and northern borders.
President Biden said today those troops could still invade.
JOE BIDEN: We have not yet verified that Russian military units are returning to their home bases.
Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.
And the fact remains, right now, Russia has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine in Belarus and along Ukraine's border.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And for the first time, President Biden warned that any war in Ukraine could increase gas and oil prices in the U.S. JOE BIDEN: To be clear, if Russia decides to invade, that would also have consequences here at home.
But the American people understand that defending democracy and liberty is never without cost.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But Russian President Vladimir Putin also suggested today, while the U.S. and NATO hadn't met Russian demands, diplomacy remained alive.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator): There are some points we are not only ready to discuss.
In fact, it was we who suggested our partners discuss them, regarding European security, certain weapons systems, missiles, military transparency.
NICK SCHIFRIN: President Biden brought up the same issues and urged Putin to follow the diplomatic path.
JOE BIDEN: The United States has put on the table concrete ideas to establish a security environment in Europe.
We're proposing new arms control measures, new transparency measures, new strategic stability measures.
We will not sacrifice basic principles, though.
Nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity.
They have the freedom to set their own course and choose with whom they will associate.
NICK SCHIFRIN: That is a reference to Ukraine's NATO ambitions.
NATO has reinforced its eastern flank with U.S. and European soldiers, an attempt to deter any war in Ukraine from expanding into NATO.
JOE BIDEN: And make no mistake: The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.
We are not seeking direct confrontation with Russia, though I have been clear that, if Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully.
And if Russia attacks the United States or our Allies through asymmetric means, like disruptive cyberattacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But Ukraine has long feared Russian cyberattacks.
And, today, the Web sites of Ukraine's two largest state banks and the Foreign and Defense ministries were hacked.
And, in Moscow, Russian lawmakers gave Putin more leverage.
The lower chamber voted to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine in the Donbass, Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian-backed separatists have fought the Ukrainian military since 2014.
VICTOR VOLODATSKY, Russian State Duma Member (through translator): Today, we don't trust the Kyiv regime.
Ukraine is now led by fascists and supporters of Anglo-Saxon countries.
By making this proposal, we do only one thing.
We offer protection to the people.
NICK SCHIFRIN: U.S. officials fear that claim of protection could be used for offensive military action.
Today, Putin was noncommittal.
But, standing next to the German chancellor, he used specific language to say Russian allies were already being killed.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator): In our assessment, what is happening now in the Donbass constitutes genocide.
NICK SCHIFRIN: As for the assessment of whether war is any less likely today, U.S. officials call the Russian messages mixed.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We now get two perspectives on all of this.
Leon Panetta was secretary of defense and director of the CIA during the Obama administration.
He also served as White House chief of staff during the Clinton presidency and earlier as a member of Congress.
And Angela Stent, she was on the State Department's policy planning staff during the Clinton administration and served as a top U.S. intelligence officer focusing on Russia during the George W. Bush administration.
Her latest book is "Putin's World."
And she is now a professor at Georgetown University.
Welcome to both of you to the "NewsHour."
Secretary Panetta, to you first.
The message that President Biden delivered today, how should the American people read that?
LEON PANETTA, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense: I think it's a very important message to send at this point in time.
Look, we're at a pivotal time here and a dangerous time with regards to the United States, with regards to the Ukraine, with regards to our allies and Russia.
And what happens here will tell us a lot about the future.
And so it was important for President Biden to send a very tough, clear, concise, and honest message to Russia that the United States and our allies remain strong, remain unified, and, if they decide to invade, that they will pay a heavy price.
That's a very important message for Putin to hear at this point in time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Secretary Panetta, is this -- it your sense that the president was doubling down on what he has said before?
Is he underlining it?
I mean, how do you read what came from the president today that's different from what he has said before?
LEON PANETTA: Well, I think it's obvious that, in dealing with Putin, you have to deal with him from strength.
For too long, Putin has read weakness on the part of the United States and, as a result of it, took advantage of that in Georgia and the Crimea, in Syria, and against the United States in a cyber war.
What's happening today is that the United States and our allies are drawing a line that makes very clear to Russia that if they decide to invade, they will pay a very heavy price.
That's a very important line to set with Putin.
And I think, because of that, I think we have, in many ways, disrupted his strategy.
He likes to operate in the dark, and now he has to operate in the open, and that makes it much more difficult for him to have his way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Angela Stent, having studied Vladimir Putin for as long as you have, how do you believe he will receive this message that the West is drawing this line, that the U.S. is serious, that it is not going to meet aggression by just sitting back?
ANGELA STENT, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University: Well, I think President Biden today reiterated a message that he has already sent to President Putin.
You know, on the one hand, we have all been responding to Putin's agenda since he presented these two treaties in December and demanded concessions on NATO enlargement and NATO drawing to where it was in 1997.
So, in that sense, he can sit there and see us running around responding.
But I think he has inadvertently united the alliance in a way that it hasn't been united for many years.
It's really heartening to see NATO unity on all of this.
And even on the questions of sanctions, where there are some differences with Europe, we're pretty united in a tough response.
So I think that may have caused him to think twice about what he wants to do, although there are some people who argue that he never really meant to invade anyway and that he did this in order to get us to the negotiating table.
We're only going to know that in a week, in a few days' time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But if -- so, your -- again, your interpretation is that this message coming from President Biden, coming from NATO may have Vladimir Putin rethinking what he's going to do?
ANGELA STENT: Well, it may also make him realize that there are real negotiations on offer.
I mean, today, when he was speaking, he sounded as if he took that very seriously, and that he may get -- he may feel he can now get more concessions, even though he may not get what he wants in terms of NATO making guarantees never to enlarge.
So he may now think that this puts him in a bargaining position that could be advantageous for Russia as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And back to you, Secretary Panetta, Leon Panetta.
In terms of drawing a line, we have seen the United States draw lines before that then it was not prepared to back up.
How much does it matter that the West fulfills what it says now will be the consequences if Putin and the Russians move aggressively - - further aggressively into Ukraine?
LEON PANETTA: It's absolutely essential that, when the United States and now with our NATO allies have drawn a line, that they stick to that line, and implement what they say they're going to do.
And I don't have any question right now that both the United States and our allies will implement very tough economic sanctions that will have an impact on Russia and its economy.
They have already taken steps to provide defensive weapons to reinforce our NATO position with our forces and to continue to support the Ukraine with training and other assistance at this moment in time.
So I think we have shown that we are going to stick to what we're saying, and that's a very important signal to send not just to Russia, very frankly, but to China and to our other adversaries.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to Angela Stent, is this a message that Vladimir Putin is likely to be intimidated by?
I mean, how much punishment can he, is he prepared to take?
ANGELA STENT: I don't think he's going to be intimidated by this.
I mean, the Russians, I think, have already factored in the sanctions.
They may not realize the full repercussions of them, but they do have over $600 billion in hard currency reserves.
They have China who will back them up, even though I think China would prefer that there not be an invasion.
I don't think he's intimidated by that, and I do believe this -- what kind of sanctions are imposed if there is a military incursion will depend on what kind of military incursion it is.
And if it is more limited just into the area where you already have Russian portions, in the Donbass, I don't think he will get the same robust reaction from all of our allies.
If it's an all-out assault on Kyiv, then I think you would.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to Secretary Panetta, I mean, some people are looking at what's going on right now and have the sense that Vladimir Putin is holding the West by a string, that he's threatening one thing, not moving, saying, I will do this, I will do -- leaving everyone guessing.
How long can -- how much can the West afford to, frankly, have that situation go on?
LEON PANETTA: Well, that's right out of Putin's playbook.
That's what he's been doing for years.
You know, he is KGB.
And he operates pretty much as a former KGB agent, which is to basically assume that everybody's after him and that what he's going to do is try to undermine the United States and our allies.
That's where he's coming from.
Look, we're not going to change Putin.
You know, we passed that point a long time ago.
But when you're dealing with a bully, it's very important in dealing with a bully to make clear that he can't have his way.
And I think, if we can do that, that perhaps we might open up a period here where Russia and the United States and our allies can, in fact, negotiate some real important steps related to security both for Russia and for the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Angela Stent, finally, how possible do you think that is, knowing - - again, knowing -- having studied Putin as much as you have?
ANGELA STENT: So, I think it is possible that we could sit down with the Russians and talk about more general security issues, arms control, and things like that.
But I do think that we should also recognize this is going to be a long, drawn-out process.
If there is no invasion this week or next week, it doesn't mean that the problem is over.
The Russians can continue to intimidate Ukraine, to make demands, and to move their troops back and forth.
So this is -- we're talking about a much longer-term discussion about what European and Euro-Atlantic security architecture look like over the next decades.
And that will take a lot of grit and attention to it.
And we won't be able to be distracted from it, or we shouldn't be.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly has our attention right now.
And it looks like it will continue, certainly for the near future.
And we thank both of you for joining us tonight.
Angela Stent, Secretary Leon Panetta, thank you.
LEON PANETTA: Yes, thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: A new trial began for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a prison where he's already jailed for parole violations.
He now faces charges of fraud and contempt of court.
But, at today's proceedings, Navalny refused to back down.
ALEXEI NAVALNY, Russian Opposition Leader (through translator): I'm not afraid of the decision of the court, Russia's Federal Security Service, the prosecutor's office or everyone else.
I'm not afraid, because I consider it humiliating to be afraid of all this.
It's bad to live and accept all this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Navalny's allies say that he could get another 15 years in prison if he's convicted and that the Putin government wants to keep him locked up for as long as possible.
The families of nine victims in the Sandy Hook school shooting agreed today to settle with gun manufacturer Remington Arms for $73 million.
The company made the rifle used to kill 20 first-graders and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
The families sued over the weapon's marketing.
We will take a closer look later in the program.
Britain's Prince Andrew will settle a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by an American woman, Virginia Giuffre.
Court documents say that he's agreed to make a substantial donation to Giuffre's charity for victims' rights.
The prince has denied that she was trafficked to him as a teenager 20 years ago by the late Jeffrey Epstein.
In -- in Canada, rather, Ottawa's police chief resigned today, amid criticism for failing to end protests over pandemic restrictions.
Truckers have tied up the city for more than two weeks.
Meanwhile, the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, reopened after protesters left voluntarily.
Police also said the blockade of a border crossing near Emerson, Manitoba, is ending.
Back in this country, the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration.
The vote was 5046, with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed.
Both sides pointed to his previous stint as FDA commissioner under President Obama.
SEN. STEVE DAINES (R-MT): As FDA commissioner during the Obama administration, Mr. Califf showed blatant disregard for the unborn and for the health and safety of women and girls when he weakened safety and reporting requirements for a dangerous chemical abortion drug.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): I urge all of my colleagues to give families across the country the peace of mind and give the hardworking staff at the FDA the experienced, Senate-confirmed leadership it needs by joining me in confirming Dr. Califf today and working with him and the FDA to continue protecting families across our country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The FDA has not had a permanent commissioner in more than a year.
A former Minneapolis police officer accused of violating George Floyd's civil rights testified in his own defense today in st. Paul, Minnesota.
Tou Thao is one of three men accused of failing to prevent Floyd's murder.
He testified that his job was crowd control, so he did not intervene as Floyd was pinned by the neck.
A federal jury in New York has rejected Sarah Palin's libel suit over a New York Times editorial.
Today's verdict came a day after the judge ruled against Palin.
He found that she failed to prove that The Times acted maliciously when it wrongly linked her statements to a mass shooting.
The former Alaska governor said today she is disappointed.
Her lawyer said they are considering an appeal.
KEN TURKEL, Attorney for Sarah Palin: These aren't the kind of decisions you're going to make overnight.
If I had to guess, do I think we will appeal some issues relating to this process, yes.
But we will have further on that down the road.
You know, when you will find out is when we file a notice of appeal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The New York Times said the verdict reaffirms that public figures should not be allowed to use libel suits to intimidate news organizations.
A new federal report finds sea levels along America's coastlines could rise as much in the next 30 years as they did in the entire 20th century.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects increases of up to a foot as the planet warms.
Along the Gulf Coast, the rise could be a foot-and-a-half.
In economic news, the U.S. Labor Department reports that inflation at the wholesale level jumped 9.7 percent in 2021.
But that didn't seem to be a drag on Wall Street today.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 422 points, 1 percent, to close at 34988.
The Nasdaq rose 348 points.
That's 2.5 percent.
The S&P 500 added 69.
That's 1.5 percent.
And at the Winter Olympics, Russian Kamila Valieva took the lead in the women's individual figure skating competition after the short program.
The 15-year-old was allowed to compete, despite a positive drug test last December.
The International Olympic Committee says that, if she medals, there will be no ceremony until her case is resolved.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": what the Sandy Hook settlement with a major gun manufacturer might mean for gun control; the Trump Organization's accounting firm cuts ties over dubious financial statements; Western states face a bleak future amid the worst drought in more than 1,000 years; plus much more.
As we reported, families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre reached a historic settlement with the manufacturer of the rifle used in that attack.
Experts say the $73 million settlement is a landmark development, because the gunmaker agreed to release specific documents for the first time.
John Yang has the story.
FRANCINE WHEELER, Mother of Ben Wheeler: Today is not about honoring Ben.
Today is about how and why he died.
Today is about what is right and what is wrong.
JOHN YANG: Francine Wheeler's son Benjamin was one of 26 students and educators murdered in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
She said today's settlement is the first piece of accountability in nearly 10 agonizing years.
FRANCINE WHEELER: Our legal system has given us some justice today, but David and I will never have true justice.
True justice would be our 15-year-old healthy and standing next to us right now.
JOHN YANG: The agreement ends litigation from families of nine victims alleging that gunmaker Remington, whose Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle was used in the massacre, knowingly and negligently marketed military-grade weapons to unstable people.
In 2020, Remington filed for bankruptcy a second time.
In addition to the financial settlement, Remington will release thousands of pages of internal documents, including marketing plans.
Parents, including Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among those killed, said that was key.
NICOLE HOCKLEY, Co-Founder, Sandy Hook Promise: For eight long years, we have continued our fight to hold Remington accountable for its role in prioritizing profit above safety and using reckless marketing techniques to appeal to at-risk and violence-prone young men.
JOHN YANG: While federal law gives broad immunity to gunmakers, the lawsuit used an exemption for challenging marketing practices.
Josh Koskoff is one of the lawyers for the families.
JOSH KOSKOFF, Attorney for Sandy Hook Families: From the beginning, it was just -- it was not about money.
It was about finding out, getting answers, learning about these decisions.
And a linchpin of this settlement is that it allows these families the rights to share the information as to what they learned.
JOHN YANG: As the families spoke today, the deep pain from that dark day a decade ago remains.
MARY D'AVINO, Mother of Rachel D'Avino: This is a picture of Rachel, and we still feel her spirit, but, every single day, we miss who Rachel would be.
VERONIQUE DE LA ROSA, Mother of Noah Pozner: My little boy, Noah, never came home from school that day.
I invite you all to imagine: One moment we had this dazzling, energetic 6-year-old little boy, and, the next, all we had left were echoes of the past.
JOHN YANG: A past that still haunts them, as they hope today's settlement could help prevent others from suffering as they have.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The longtime accounting firm of former President Donald Trump has cut ties with him, saying it could no longer stand by a decade of financial statements they prepared for the Trump Organization.
Lisa Desjardins has more.
LISA DESJARDINS: The accounting firm, Mazars, told the Trump Organization in a letter that financial statements from 2011 to 2020 should - - quote -- "no longer be relied upon" and said that the company should inform others that the documents are not reliable.
This news comes amid ongoing criminal and civil investigations into the former president's financial assets.
Andrea Bernstein is an investigative reporter and author of "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power."
She has long reported on Trump's finances for NPR, and joins me now.
Andrea, OK, translate this for us.
What exactly is this accounting firm saying in their accounting language, and how significant is this in their long history with President Trump and his Trump Organization?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, Author, "American Oligarchs": It is significant.
And it's significant because Donald Trump is no stranger to accusations of financial fraud.
There have been congressional investigations.
There have been previous investigations.
There was an indictment last June by the Manhattan district attorney.
And his accountants have stood by him.
And we learned yesterday due to a court filing that they are no longer standing by him, that they say they have an irreconcilable conflict of interest, and that they cannot stand behind almost a decade's worth of financial statement.
That's a big deal.
Millions of dollars in loan decisions and other decisions were made in part on the basis of those statements.
And now the accountant says they can't be considered reliable, and you need to tell everybody who's seen them that same fact.
LISA DESJARDINS: What does this mean for the multiple investigations facing both the former president and his organization, all of which center around financial fraud?
Do we know what this means?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Well, not exactly.
But it is a sort of -- a signal flare.
What it tells us is that -- and we do know members of this accounting firm, Mazars, have been pressed for information, documents.
There's been testimony before a criminal grand jury.
And so it suggests a couple of things.
It suggests that they're under a great deal of pressure.
And, also, it really says something that the president's -- the former president's longtime accountants are making this public statement about him at this moment, where we know the Manhattan district attorney is actively engaged in an ongoing grand jury investigation into whether there was further criminality, further fraud at the Trump Organization, and the New York attorney general is investigating whether the Trump family business failed to pay its share of New York taxes.
It's not a moment where you want the accountant to say, we're not standing by the statements we issued over 10 years.
LISA DESJARDINS: The Trump Organization hasn't been shy about handling league matters in the past.
How are they reacting to this?
What are they saying?
What is the former president saying?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: So, there was a key line in the letter.
And the accountants said, we did not conclude that the statements are not reliable.
And the spokesperson for the Trump Organization leaned into that, and they said, well, that is a vindication, and it means both the district attorney and the attorney general should drop their cases.
This is a familiar, to me, Trump Organization and Trump legal response, to say something vindicates them that does not vindicate them, and, therefore, everyone shall move on.
So far, in these two cases, at the tactic has not worked.
LISA DESJARDINS: Another Trump trademark, however, is, he has long bragged about his ability to brag, openly declared himself smart for finding ways around paying taxes.
So, I'm curious, a big-picture question here.
How hard is it to prove fraud against someone like former President Trump or the Trump Organization?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Well, so we don't know what the New York attorney general is going to do.
We don't know what further steps the Manhattan DA is going to do.
But we do know from what has been charged that the district attorney has gathered a great deal of evidence that the former -- the financial -- the chief financial officer for the Trump Organization and two Trump companies deliberately did not pay U.S. taxes, according to the indictment.
Now, they have pleaded not guilty.
But what the charge is, is that, for 15 years, including while Donald Trump was the head of the U.S. government, his eponymous company, according to the indictment, cheated the U.S. government.
That is quite a chart.
Now, again, they have denied all the charges and the president himself has not been charged with any crimes.
LISA DESJARDINS: Do you think, then, going forward here, are we still -- are we facing years before we understand kind of what all of this means?
Or where are we in these cases?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Well, I don't suspect years.
I mean, we do know we have already a great deal of information in the civil investigation.
This is an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
And because the Trump Organization has resisted turning over information, has resisted getting testimony, her office has put a great deal of evidence into the public record.
In addition, in the separate criminal matter that is brought by the Manhattan district attorney, the judge in that case indicated he wants there to be a trial in September.
So, what we could see is the specter of the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization and the former president's companies being on trial for criminal fraud just as we are turning into the 2022 midterm election season.
LISA DESJARDINS: No shortage of fascinating drama in the business world surrounding former President Trump.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Indeed.
LISA DESJARDINS: Andrea Bernstein -- Andrea Bernstein, thank you so much for joining us.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As President Biden examines the records of potential Supreme Court nominees, we continue our series of profiles of the women we believe are on his short list, tonight, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, who, unlike some of the other top contenders, has never faced questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Geoff Bennett has our report.
GEOFF BENNETT: It's a title Leondra Kruger already knows well, justice.
While she'd be the first Black woman to join the court, being the first is a position she knows well too.
Kruger grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, both parents doctors.
Her mother immigrated from Jamaica, her father the son of European Jewish immigrants.
She attended an elite prep school, where she played the cello and was editor of the school paper.
That led to undergrad at Harvard and then Yale Law School, where she became the first Black woman to serve as editor in chief of The Yale Law Journal.
RENATO MARIOTTI, Former Federal Prosecutor: At the time, I didn't even understand what a trailblazing selection she was.
GEOFF BENNETT: Renato Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor who attended law school with Kruger.
RENATO MARIOTTI: I cannot imagine herding a more difficult set of cats than herding the editors in The Yale Law Journal.
It really speaks well to her ability to work well with others and build a consensus.
GEOFF BENNETT: Even as she was breaking barriers, Mariotti says the effects of racism were still very clear.
RENATO MARIOTTI: There's a cab that passed her up, even though she was in a business suit hailing a cab right in front of me, and came and stopped by me instead.
And I remember I opened the door for her to get in and get into my cab that I had hailed.
And she gave me this look that I didn't understand at the time.
I can imagine that it's just part of what she's had to go through her entire life.
GEOFF BENNETT: Kruger's first job at the Supreme Court was as a clerk for the late John Paul Stevens, the long-serving liberal justice.
She later recalled the advice he gave his former clerks on his 99th birthday.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER, California State Supreme Court: Always work hard and do your best.
GEOFF BENNETT: Years later, she entered the courtroom again, this time as an advocate, representing the U.S. government in the Solicitor General's Office for both Republican and Democratic presidents.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER: Mr. Chief justice, and may it please the court.
GEOFF BENNETT: She argued 12 cases before the justices, more than any other Black woman in history.
NEAL KATYAL, Former Acting U.S.
Solicitor General: She is so smart, so careful, so meticulous, so poised.
GEOFF BENNETT: Neal Katyal named Kruger his deputy when he served as acting U.S. solicitor general in the Obama administration.
He sat in the chambers during 10 of Kruger's cases.
NEAL KATYAL: I was blown away by her ability to take withering criticism, pause, smile, and answer it head on.
She clearly had the respect of every justice on the Supreme Court.
GEOFF BENNETT: That poise under pressure was seen in one of the most high-profile cases she argued for the government, at issue, religion and employment discrimination.
The position she argued has become a potential red flag for conservatives, who fear she could be hostile to religious liberty.
Both conservative and liberal justices sounded skeptical during those arguments.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER: We think how the inquiry plays out in particular cases may be... ANTONIN SCALIA, Former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: that's extraordinary.
ELENA KAGAN, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: I too find that amazing.
GEOFF BENNETT: And a unanimous court decided against the Obama administration.
After leaving the Department of Justice, she moved back to California, appointed to the state Supreme Court by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.
Her confirmation hearing lasted just 35 minutes.
And she was unanimously confirmed by the committee, which included then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER: I, Leondra Kruger, do solemnly swear... GEOFF BENNETT: When she took the bench in January 2015, she was just 38 years old, one of the youngest justices in state history, and just the second Black woman.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER: It is a responsibility to approach each case with an open mind and with an awareness that the court's decisions matter in ways that are manifold to the lives of the people that we serve.
MAN: All rise.
GEOFF BENNETT: On the bench, she's seen as a moderating voice.
MARGARET RUSSELL, Santa Clara University School of Law: She often writes unanimous opinions, so it doesn't mean that she's always in disagreement.
But her reputation, in addition to being brilliant and well-accomplished, is of being more at the center.
GEOFF BENNETT: An analysis from the California Constitution Center at U.C.
Berkeley School of law says she's been the median justice on the court and proceeds from a neutral approach that produces equivalent proportions of relatively liberal and conservative results.
She's authored opinions on issues, including access to police body camera footage, police searches of vehicles at traffic stops, and the death penalty.
CHIEF JUSTICE TANI CANTIL-SAKAUYE, California Supreme Court: She's immensely talented and is the right pick for this position.
GEOFF BENNETT: Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, herself appointed by former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, says Kruger is respected by her colleagues on the bench and works to find common ground.
CHIEF JUSTICE TANI CANTIL-SAKAUYE: She's a consensus builder, and she does it with an open mind and fairness, and she does it respectfully.
Even though there might come a time in the case where you may depart from her reasoning or she from yours, it's never unreasonable.
It's never outlandish.
It's always understandable.
GEOFF BENNETT: An approach she says would benefit the U.S. Supreme Court.
MARGARET RUSSELL: Good luck with that.
That's not going to happen.
I think that this court is very strongly divided.
And the best of consensus-building personalities will not be able to get over some chasms in interpretations of the Constitution.
The divide is clearly there.
GEOFF BENNETT: One potential hurdle for a nomination, the rise from state court directly to the Supreme Court is rare.
SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, Former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: I do so swear.
GEOFF BENNETT: It hasn't happened since Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER: The U.S. Supreme Court, like the California Supreme Court in matters of state law, is a court of last resort.
GEOFF BENNETT: But, for Kruger, it's exactly that experience in California that helps shape how she sees the role of the U.S. Supreme Court.
JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER: The United States Supreme Court's job is to help provide answers and advance the understanding and development of the law.
GEOFF BENNETT: As the president considers who to appoint, this is the second time Kruger has found herself on Biden's radar.
She was previously offered the job of solicitor general, but turned it down.
NEAL KATYAL: She thinks of herself more as a judge and less as an advocate.
GEOFF BENNETT: If she finds herself at the top of Biden's list again, a lifetime appointment and a place in history might be harder to turn down.
What's the significance, as you see it, of Justice Kruger being the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court?
CHIEF JUSTICE TANI CANTIL-SAKAUYE: We in the judiciary, more than any other branch of government, we rely on the public's trust and confidence.
And in order to have that, we, I think, must reflect the diversity of the people whose lives we are intruding upon.
It makes it important that people know that we know what's happening to them we can understand.
And so it's a first that will build dreams.
It's the kind of first that will be self-affirming, like, yes!
GEOFF BENNETT: At 45 years old, she'd be the youngest nominee in more than 30 years and be in a position to influence the direction of the Supreme Court for decades to come.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Geoff Bennett.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And in case you missed our earlier reports, you can learn more about Leondra Kruger and two other women we believe are likely on the president's short list at PBS.org/NewsHour.
The so-called megadrought that's afflicting the American West is the worst in 1,200 years.
That's according to a study published yesterday.
It has dried up water supplies, threatened ranchers, and fueled wildfires.
William Brangham explains more.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's right, Judy.
Last summer, two of the largest reservoirs in North America, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, reached their lowest-ever recorded levels.
Megadroughts have come and gone in the past, but this current one, now 22 years long, is being driven largely by human-caused climate change.
According to the study, our warming atmosphere has made this drought much worse, 40 percent worse, and it's likely to continue.
The new study was just published in the journal "Nature Climate Change."
And its lead author, Park Williams, joins me now.
Park, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."
Could you just tell us a little bit more about the historic nature of this drought?
I mean, 1,200 years, that this is the worst that we have seen, how do you go about proving something like that?
PARK WILLIAMS, University of California, Los Angeles: Well, in the early 1900s, tree ring scientists in Arizona discovered that tree rings actually correspond to drought in the Southwestern United States, and, in fact, after more work was done across most of Western North America.
Trees are very sensitive to drought.
And so the widths of their annual tree rings that grow within the tree trunks actually corresponds almost perfectly to the amount of water that the trees had available to them.
From that research, the scientists realized that, back in the medieval period, between about 800 and 1600 A.D., there were repeated major drought events that they termed megadroughts.
We used the tree ring records, along with climate observations, to try and tell, how bad has been -- has the drought of the 2000s been relative to these megadroughts of the medieval period?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So how is it -- when you say that climate change is making this particular megadrought that we're in significantly worse, how do you go about proving that part of it?
PARK WILLIAMS: Well, we do an analysis called a counterfactual analysis, where we basically study the world without climate change.
And the way that we do that is, we use climate models to tell us what the human-caused climate change has been over the last century.
And then we recalculate what the climate records would have been without those human-caused climate trends.
We can then calculate what the soil moisture balance would have been like in this counterfactual world where climate change never occurred.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, if you took out humanity's impact on the atmosphere, all the gasses that we have put up there in the last several hundred years, would we still be experiencing out West a significantly dry period?
PARK WILLIAMS: It would be a significantly dry period, even without human-caused climate change, because of just regular old bad luck.
The tropical Pacific Ocean has been in a cold state for a lot of the last 22 years.
That means kind of La Nina-like, and that usually means drought for the West.
But those La Nina conditions have not been really extreme.
And so we show that, of the drought that was observed, about 40 percent of that drought severity is explained by human-caused climate change.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One other thing that I'm struck by in your report is that, even when the West gets significant snow or rain, that, because of the warming atmosphere and the warmed Earth, that that water, each drop of rain, each snowflake is not as effective as it used to be.
Can you explain that?
PARK WILLIAMS: Sure.
We're all familiar with this concept, actually, if we have houseplants.
If you turn up the heater in your house, and you don't give your plants more water, then they're going to dry out faster.
The same thing happens in the real world.
Global warming is like turning on the heater in the atmosphere.
The atmosphere's demand for moisture actually increases.
And so plants and soil lose moisture more quickly in a warmer world than they would in the cooler world.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So for people who say, well, December in January in California, they got a ton of rain, they got a ton of snow, that ton of rain and ton of snow just didn't do as much to replenish the aquifers and the entire landscape.
PARK WILLIAMS: The West has really been experiencing dry conditions for the vast majority of the last 22 years.
Of the last 22, 18 have been drier than average.
Just four have been wetter than average.
And so we might have a wet month or even a wet year, but it's going to take a sequence of several really wet years to make up for the giant water deficit that's accumulated over the last couple of decades.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, I know that the majority of your work is about looking into the past.
But, going forward, what does this research indicate it means for us?
If we know that the temperatures are continuing to climb, greenhouse gases, emissions are continuing to climb, what does that mean for the West?
PARK WILLIAMS: Well, we have two really important lessons, one from tree ring records and one from climate modeling.
The tree ring records tell us that, if the future is anything like the past, then water in the West is going to be like a yo-yo.
There will be very dry periods, and there will also be very wet periods.
Climate modeling tells us, though, that the average year is getting drier and drier.
Now, no year actually matches the average, but the yo-yo going up and down is going to be slowly sliding down an escalator toward drying conditions.
And that means that future droughts will be increasingly likely to be worse than ones we have experienced in the past.
And when it does inevitably get wet, those wet periods very likely will not last as long as they would have historically.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Park Williams at UCLA.
The most recent study is in the journal "Nature Climate Change."
Always good to see you.
Thank you very much.
PARK WILLIAMS: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Three high-profile police killings of Black men in the past two years have led to ongoing conversations about racial justice in Minnesota.
There has also been noticeable solidarity between the state's African American and African immigrant populations.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Qorsho Hassan's second grade classroom at Echo Park Elementary is a diverse tapestry, students whose families are Native American, Nigerian, Mexican, Pakistani.
The school, located in the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville, is less than 40 percent white.
QORSHO HASSAN, Teacher: Jackson, how would you describe the word culture?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today's lesson is about honoring that diversity.
QORSHO HASSAN: Am I American too?
QORSHO HASSAN: Yes, I'm American too.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It's the kind of exercise that was rare for much of Hassan's own upbringing, as the daughter of Somali immigrants, going to school in suburban Columbus, Ohio.
QORSHO HASSAN: The students didn't look like me.
My teachers didn't look like me.
I was hyper-visible.
And so what I wanted from my teachers were for them to be affirming and caring and loving.
And I hardly found that in my school experience.
If you hear something that is racist or that doesn't make sense, you can interrupt it.
You can say, hey, stop, that's not OK. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hassan learned to embrace her dual identity as both Somali and Black, something she tries to instill in her students with similar backgrounds.
Historically, she notes, there's been tension between African immigrants and African Americans.
QORSHO HASSAN: We have really created this network, per se, of knowing who we are, respecting our differences, but also really understanding that we are powerful together.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Minnesota remains predominantly white, but its non-white population has grown over the past three decades.
It's about 24 percent today.
Blacks have been a large part of that growth, including substantial immigration and refugee resettlement from across the African continent.
And they have become far more engaged in politics and civic activism.
In 2020, Esther Agbaje became the first Nigerian American elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
A Harvard law school graduate, her work in the legislature has largely centered on issues of racial and social justice, particularly in housing.
REP. ESTHER AGBAJE (D-MN): This is a state that, as you has worked on that ethos of what works best for a white middle-class people, rather than thinking about, what about everyone else we're leaving behind, if that's the only subset we're thinking about?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Agbaje's parents moved to Minnesota from Nigeria, and experienced America not Only as foreigners, but also as people of color.
REP. ESTHER AGBAJE: I grew up with the sense of knowing that there's -- yes, there's different races across America, and yes, as a Black person, you tend to have to prove yourself a little bit more, and then, even as a foreigner, you have to work even harder to be able to be in these spaces.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Agbaje says her parents, like many other African immigrants, heard negative stereotypes about Black Americans.
Journalist and Ph.D. Student Ibrahim Hirsi, a Somali immigrant himself, says those depictions were reinforced by a key American export, Hollywood movies.
IBRAHIM HIRSI, Journalist and Doctoral Candidate: Sometimes, it's, they don't want to work, they're lazy people.
Sometimes, a majority of them are criminals or drug dealers.
They live in neighborhoods that are very dangerous, and you should not be going around them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the negative stereotyping went both ways.
JAMES BURROUGHS II, Children's Minnesota: I grew up watching Tarzan.
And Tarzan showed me a white guy going through the jungle of Africa with Africans who didn't look like they were very sophisticated.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: James Burroughs has worked on diversity and equity issues in Minnesota for decades.
He's now with the Children's Minnesota health system.
MAN: Witnesses say it was an all-out melee.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 2013, he was working for Minneapolis Public Schools when a brawl erupted at a local high school.
JAMES BURROUGHS II: Some students had escalated a food fight into a physical altercation.
There were a large number of African students, mostly Somali students, and a large number of African American students who seemed to be on opposite sides of the fight or altercation.
And, at that time, we realized that we probably need to do something differently.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Burroughs had frequent and public meetings with Somali leaders and community members.
JAMES BURROUGHS II: We talked about how we needed to work together and learn from each other about those myths and misinformation we got as kids, and basically learn about each other, our culture, our business acumen, our educational acumen, and move forward together.
And our kids, our young people needed to see that as well.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With time, Ibrahim Hirsi says, youth whose parents came from Africa began to forge their own identity.
IBRAHIM HIRSI: Young people are saying, maybe we are Africans, right?
We come from these different spaces.
But, at the end of the day, there are no differences between us and African Americans.
REP. ESTHER AGBAJE: When people of color, and especially Black people, face the police, it doesn't matter what country you may have come from.
They're not checking for your last name.
They're not checking for your accent.
They just see Black skin.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, when Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May of 2020: JAMES BURROUGHS II: You saw folks with hijabs on in the march.
You saw folks that were Liberian in the George Floyd March.
You saw folks from Kenya in the George Floyd March.
You saw lots of white people in the George Floyd March.
So, it brought people together to say, I don't want this happening to me or occurring in the future.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Teacher Qorsho Hassan went to the protests too.
And Floyd's killing had an impact on her mother, who was raised in Somalia and paid relatively little attention to issues of race.
QORSHO HASSAN: My mom watched the video, and was just in tears, primarily because of how George Floyd was calling out to his mother.
That really tugged at our heartstrings.
And it was just a moment of realizing that students, kids, children, are ready for these conversations and they need places and spaces to unpack them.
And if we disregard their feelings and how they're processing information, we are doing them a huge disservice.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hassan won the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award in 2020.
QORSHO HASSAN: Receiving that title validated who I was and how I connect with students, with all students, not just Somali students or Black or brown, and how I uplift and affirm their voices.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And those voices are now being amplified at the state capitol by people like Ester Agbaje.
REP. ESTHER AGBAJE: Saying that there's only one piece of the pie that we're allowed as Black people, and so then we have to fight among ourselves with that piece, and it's like, no, there's a whole -- there's a whole pie.
We all can get a slice.
We all deserve that slice.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Agbaje has joined other African immigrants and African Americans in the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, now more than 20 members' strong.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Fred de Sam Lazaro in the Twin Cities.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Fred's reporting is in partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
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.