JIM LEHRER: But, first, the other news of the day.
Here’s Hari Sreenivasan in our newsroom.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. Senate today confirmed Ben Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. The final vote was 70 to 30, after the nomination easily passed a key procedural test.
Supporters and opponents clashed over Bernanke’s handling of the financial crisis and Wall Street bailouts.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-Vt.: The American people want change in the way our financial institutions run. The American people want change at the Fed. And I believe the American people want a new chairman or chairwoman at the Fed. Now is the time to say to the American people: We hear you. We are going to bring about change.
SEN. JUDD GREGG, R-N.H.: He deserves credit for having been willing and courageous enough to have made these types of decisions. And that was the type of leadership we needed, strong, definitive leadership at a moment of acute crisis. That’s what Chairman Bernanke gave our nation. He deserves to be confirmed just for that action alone.
HARI SREENIVASAN: No Fed chairman nominee has ever been rejected by the Senate, but today’s confirmation vote was the closest yet.
Senate Democrats also pushed through an increase in the federal debt ceiling. The vote was 60 to 39, along party lines, to increase the government’s borrowing authority by nearly $2 trillion. Democrats still had the 60 votes, since Republican senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts has yet to be seated. The Senate also approved a so-called pay-as-you-go measure to rein in spending. The House has approved a similar proposal.
An international gathering convened in London today aimed at finding a way to end the war in Afghanistan.
The conference officially opened this morning with foreign ministers and delegates from 60 nations. President Hamid Karzai started by announcing he’s ready to reconcile with the Taliban.
HAMID KARZAI, president, Afghanistan: Moving towards peace, reconciliation and reintegration is what Afghans agree on. We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist networks.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The outreach took the form of inviting insurgents to a council of elders, a loya jirga to be held early this year.
At the same time, conference nations pledged at least $140 million to help Taliban fighters who lay down their weapons. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton said this plan was meant to appeal to insurgents driven more by economic need than ideology.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: Among the decisions made today was to establish a peace and reintegration trust fund to support the government of Afghanistan’s efforts to draw disaffected Taliban back into society, so long as they renounce violence, renounce al-Qaida, agree to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And U.N. officials reported, some Taliban leaders have already held secret meetings with a U.N. representative on laying down their arms.
More than 100,000 foreign troops are now fighting in Afghanistan, including 70,000 Americans. President Karzai warned, it could take five to 10 years for a complete handover to Afghan control. But Western leaders pushed for a tighter timetable.
DAVID MILIBAND, foreign secretary, Britain: The intention is for some provinces to transition by late 2010, early 2011, on the road to meeting President Karzai’s commitment that half of Afghanistan’s provinces would have Afghan security leadership within three years and the whole of Afghanistan be within Afghan security leadership within five.
HARI SREENIVASAN: There was also protest outside the conference in London. Demonstrators called for the immediate withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and the ouster of the pro-Western government.
ABDUL WAHID, protester: This conference is a colonial conference. It’s a conference, it is planning the future of the Muslim world, so that the regimes that are still there, the Karzai regime, the Zardari regime in Pakistan can continue to serve Western interests in the region.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And former Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah warned, doubts about the Karzai government will undermine any chances for progress.
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: The goodwill of the international community is appreciated. The fact that it’s taking place, it will bring focus on Afghanistan. But I don’t think that it will meet the expectations of the people of Afghanistan, nor those who are attending.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The world leaders will meet again in Kabul later this year at a summit aimed at bolstering the Afghan government.
The Taliban dismissed the conference in advance, insisting its fighters will not be won over with money.
Wall Street resumed its slide today, after disappointing forecasts from technology companies. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 115 points, to close at 10120. The Nasdaq fell 42 points, to close a 2179.
Ford Motor Company has posted its first annual profit in four years. The automaker recorded a $2.7 billion gain in 2009. It said it expects to stay in the black through 2010. Ford was the only major Detroit automaker that didn’t accept federal rescue money.
The man accused of killing an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, confessed to the crime in court today. Scott Roeder is charged with first-degree murder. On the stand, he repeated his earlier confession. He said he gunned down Dr. George Tiller last May to stop abortions and save the unborn.
SCOTT ROEDER, defendant: From conception forward, it is murder. It is not man’s job to take life — or it is our heavenly father’s. He is our creator. He gives and takes life. It is never up to man to take life, only in cases of self-defense or defense of others.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The defense wanted to argue the killing wasn’t murder, but voluntary manslaughter. But, late today, the trial judge announced he will not allow the jury to consider the manslaughter charge.
Those are some of the day’s main stories. I will be back at the end of the program with a preview of what you will find tonight on the “NewsHour”‘s Web site.