HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. economic growth at the end of 2009 was the best since 2003. "NewsHour" correspondent Kwame Holman has that story.
KWAME HOLMAN: The latest on the economy came shortly before the president left for a day trip to Baltimore to talk up job creation. The Commerce Department reported the gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. It marked the second quarter of growth in a row.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Just to give you a sense of perspective there, that's the fastest economic growth in six years. And it's a stark improvement over the rapid and terrible decline that we were experiencing one year ago.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president welcomed the news as he toured the Chesapeake Machine Company in Baltimore. But he warned again that tough times are a long way from over.
BARACK OBAMA: Even though the storms of the past two years are starting to lessen, the wreckage that's been left behind remains. While the Recovery Act has created and saved two million jobs, this recession has cost us seven million jobs. So, there's still a big gap, still a big hole that we have to fill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Indeed, 10 percent of Americans still are out of work, a level not expected to recede before the end of the year. And slow consumer spending still could cause the economy to weaken again.
In response, the president called for $33 billion in tax credits for small firms that hire new employees. He previewed the plan in his State of the Union address.
Democratic leaders in Congress have signaled they already are moving on a jobs bill. Senate Democrats said they will have a plan by next week. And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said his chamber could act quickly as well.
In the meantime, the president reviewed the situation late today with his embattled treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. He's come under growing criticism over financial bailouts, including a contentious congressional hearing this week.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Stocks fell today, despite the report of the surging growth in the fourth quarter. Wall Street focused more on signs the surge may be short- lived. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 53 points, to close at 10067. The Nasdaq fell more than 31 points, to close at 2147. Overall, this was the market's worst month since last February. The Dow ended with a loss of 3.5 percent. The Nasdaq fell more than 5 percent.
Toyota moved today to begin fixing a gas pedal problem that has forced it to stop selling most models in the United States. The pedals can stick, forcing the car to accelerate out of control. The Associated Press reported new parts are being sent first to factories. The problem affects about 4.2 million vehicles in North America, Europe, and China. Toyota is a "NewsHour" funder.
Three more Americans have been killed in Afghanistan. That makes 29 this month. A NATO announcement today said the latest fatalities were two U.S. troops and one civilian. There were no details on how they died. And Afghan officials reported six Taliban fighters were killed in a seven-hour shoot-out in the southern city of Lashkar Gah. Militants occupied a vacant building near an army barracks and machine-gunned government offices. It was similar to an assault in Kabul two weeks ago.
In Britain today, former Prime Minister Tony Blair made his long-awaited appearance before a British commission investigating the Iraq war.
PROTESTER: Blair lied!
PROTESTERS: Thousands died!
HARI SREENIVASAN: Blair had to avoid more than 150 protesters outside a London convention hall and chants of "Jail Tony" and "Blair lied, thousands died." But once he took his seat inside, Blair defended his decision to have Britain join the U.S. in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
TONY BLAIR, former prime minister, Britain: The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that, after September the 11th, if you were a regime engaged in WMD, you had to stop.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Indeed, the former prime minister said there were strong fears that Saddam Hussein already had, or was working hard to obtain, chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.
TONY BLAIR: So far as understanding the decision I took -- and, frankly, would take again -- if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction, we should stop him. That was my view. That was my view then. That is my view now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The five-member panel pressed Blair on exactly when he offered to support then-President Bush in the invasion of Iraq. Previous witnesses had claimed it was in 2002, more than a year before parliament approved military action.
PANELIST: Do you think you gave him any commitments?
TONY BLAIR: The only commitment I gave, and I gave this very openly at the meeting, was a commitment to deal with Saddam. Now, we could deal with it...
PANELIST: So, you were at one that you had to deal with...
TONY BLAIR: Absolutely.
TONY BLAIR: And that wasn't a private commitment. That was a public commitment.
PANELIST: So -- so, you were agreed...
HARI SREENIVASAN: The former leader acknowledged some errors, but it wasn't enough for relatives of some of the British troops killed in Iraq. WOMAN: I'm really disgusted in him, the way that he spoke.
MAN: He's a traitor to his country, to his soldiers. And he -- but -- and he won't be brought to justice. He's not -- you know, he's not going to pay for it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This is Britain's third investigation into the Iraq war, which resulted in the deaths of 179 British troops. The British withdrew from Iraq last year.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $10 billion to research new vaccines for the world's poorest nations. It more than doubles the amount the foundation has already given to vaccine research. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made the announcement today at the world Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
BILL GATES, founder, MICROSOFT: Today, we're announcing a commitment over this next decade which we think of as a decade of vaccines having incredible impact. We're announcing that we will spend over $10 billion on vaccines. That will help invent new vaccines. That will help get some new vaccines out. And that will help increase the coverage.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The goal is to make sure 90 percent of the children in poor nations are immunized. For the record, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is a "NewsHour" underwriter.
A jury in Wichita, Kansas, has convicted an abortion opponent of murder for killing an abortion provider last May. The panel deliberated just 37 minutes today before returning the verdict against Scott Roeder. He admitted gunning down Dr. George Tiller inside a church in Wichita last May. He faces a mandatory life sentence. Tiller was one of the only doctors in the U.S. performing late-term abortions.