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News Wrap: European Leaders Meet Again to Save Euro From Collapse

December 8, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Leaders from across Europe gathered in Brussels today for a two-day summit to plan how to save the euro from collapse. Before they arrived, the German and French leaders went to Marseille, France, to press fellow European conservatives to agree to closer economic and political ties.

We have a report from Gary Gibbon of Independent Television News, reporting from Brussels.

GARY GIBBON: Another EU summit starts with apocalyptic language and market tremors. They can’t go on like this. That’s the message of the eurozone leaders. All 17 signed up in principle to imposing tighter rules on themselves, so they don’t run up chronic debts.

David Cameron arrives under pressure to claw back something big in return for letting the eurozone countries draw closer.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: We need obviously to get that stability in the eurozone that is good for European countries, good for Britain as well, but also we need to protect Britain’s interests.

GARY GIBBON: He wasn’t in Marseille to hear President Sarkozy warn that Europe desperately needed success at this summit.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, French president (through translator): Europe is faced with an extremely dangerous situation. If we want to find an agreement — and this is an absolute necessity — then we must have the courage to come up with the right diagnosis.

GARY GIBBON: He said the euro needed new rules and, if Europe couldn’t agree on that, it might never agree on anything.

Chancellor Merkel issued what sounded like a pretty direct appeal to David Cameron not to wield his veto, as the eurozone countries try to tighten the rules governing their economies and draw closer together.

ANGELA MERKEL, German chancellor (through translator): I also ask for understanding from those who do not have the euro or who do not yet have the euro. We who have the common currency need to send a signal that we are well-equipped and are willing to work together, more so than we might have done in the past.

GARY GIBBON: David Cameron believes staying outside the euro keeps Britain economically flexible and relatively safe. Many gathering here think that this summit could ultimately prove to be a turning point, eurozone crisis the moment when full European integration was embraced.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The European uncertainty sent stocks on Wall Street sliding. In the final minutes of trading, word came from the EU summit that Germany had rejected some draft measures. And, earlier, the European Central Bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the second month in a row. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 198 points to close above 11,997. The Nasdaq fell more than 52 points to close at 2,596.

Former U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine testified before his old congressional colleagues today over the role he played in the downfall of the securities firm MF Global. Corzine was CEO of the now bankrupt company that had more than a billion dollars of clients’ money go missing.

His appearance before the House Agriculture Committee was the first time he’s spoken publicly since the firm went bankrupt.

JON CORZINE, (D) former New Jersey governor: I simply do not know where the money is or why the accounts have not been reconciled to date. I apologize, both personally and on behalf of the company, to our customers, our employees, and our investors. I truly know they are bearing the brunt of the impact of the firm’s bankruptcy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Corzine said he felt obligated to testify as a former member of Congress, even though he could have invoked his right to silence. This was the first time in over 100 years Congress has subpoenaed a former U.S. senator.

Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nominee to a new consumer watchdog agency today. Richard Cordray didn’t receive enough votes to move forward toward confirmation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers from shoddy lending and mortgage practices.

Before the vote, Democrats argued for Cordray, whereas Republicans said their issue is with the agency itself, not the nominee.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: They’re stopping a vote on this very, very qualified man. They’re not blocking this nomination because of any fault, real or perceived, in this candidate. He has bipartisan support and is eminently qualified. He has a long history of protecting consumers.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., minority leader: All today’s vote is about is accountability and transparency. It’s a debate about whether we think Americans need more oversight over Washington or less. So, once again, Democrats are using the Senate floor this week to stage a little political theater. They’re setting up a vote they know will fail, so they can act shocked about it later.

HARI SREENIVASAN: After the vote, President Obama told reporters there was no reason Cordray shouldn’t be nominated. He vowed to keep fighting for the nomination, and left open the possibility of a recess appointment.

Attorney General Eric Holder came under heavy criticism today over what the Justice Department knew about the gunrunning program called Operation Fast and Furious. It attempted to track illicit gun purchases in the U.S. as they made their way to Mexican drug cartels. Nearly 2,000 weapons went missing in the effort, and many of those weapons recovered were involved in crimes.

Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder expressed regret and said it was a regional decision to use the so-called gun-walking tactic.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. attorney general: Allowing guns to walk, whether in this administration or the prior one, is wholly unacceptable. The use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable, and it must never happen again. Now, although the department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Justice Department has replaced three officials who played key roles in the operation, and the department’s inspector general launched an investigation.

But Republican lawmakers said that simply wasn’t enough and called for more firings.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, R-Wis.: The American people need the truth. They haven’t gotten the truth from what has been coming out of the Justice Department in the last year, and they were relying on Congress to get the truth.

Now, you’re here today — and, again, I appreciate your being here today — as a way to get the truth. But the answers that you have given so far are basically saying, well, gee somebody else did it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Holder said he is prepared to make other personnel changes and would consider lawmakers’ requests.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he is comfortable with how the Air Force has handled the remains of America’s war dead. A Pentagon spokesman told reporters that, today — that today after a Washington Post report found the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 troops were dumped in a Virginia landfill.

But, today, an Air Force spokesman said none of the families of the 274 individuals wanted to be notified if more remains were found.

LT. GEN. DARRELL JONES, U.S. Air Force: I can understand their concerns. And our concern is, we do not want to do anything to increase the angst or reopen a wound of a family that said, you know, we have come to closure. We have the remains of our loved one. We have buried our loved one or interred them according to their family traditions. And we don’t want to do anything to open that wound.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We will have more on this story at the end of the program.

The Obama administration has plans to boost the number of job opportunities for disabled workers. The Labor Department has proposed a requirement that at least 7 percent of federal contractors’ work forces include employees with disabilities. Disabled Americans currently have an unemployment rate of 13 percent. The rule is now subject to a 60-day public comment period before it is considered for final approval next year.

In the presidential race, Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign began directly criticizing his competitor, Newt Gingrich. For his part, Gingrich said he will keep his campaign focused on remaining positive.

Meanwhile, Jon Huntsman took both the front-runners on during a speech in Washington. He said Romney will say anything to win, and suggested Gingrich is a Washington insider.

More than 20 fuel tankers were set on fire in Pakistan today. Unknown assailants fired rockets at a terminal for the tankers near the southwestern city of Quetta. The tankers have been stuck there, awaiting the reopening of the border crossing. It was closed in late November, after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani troops. The route is used to ferry fuel and other supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.