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News Wrap: Report on risks fuels hearing on Capitol Hill

November 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The nation’s largest bank admitted today that it misrepresented mortgage-backed securities that collapsed in the 2008 crash. With that, J.P. Morgan Chase agreed to pay $13 billion, the largest settlement ever between a private company and the government. We will hear much more on the details of the settlement right after the news summary.

The problems with the website got a new going over today in Congress.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The law came under fresh fire at the Capitol, with the latest news accounts providing the ammunition. The Washington Post reported private consultants warned in March there were serious risks wouldn’t be ready for its October rollout. Republicans seized on the document at a House hearing.

Louisiana’s Steve Scalise called it damning.

REP. STEVE SCALISE, R-La.: If the president really didn’t know about this, this report says the White House absolutely knew what was going on, and they didn’t tell the president. He ought to be firing these people today.

KWAME HOLMAN: Administration officials said they took action after the report. But Henry Chao, the top technology officer at Medicare, said he wasn’t briefed on the consultants’ findings.

Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy pressed the point.

REP. TIM MURPHY, R-Penn.:  And so, this is a major report that went as high up as the secretary, maybe others — we don’t know — but saying that there were serious problems with this. And you’re saying that even though you were interviewed by this, you didn’t ever have this briefing yourself?

HENRY CHAO, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: No, I didn’t.

KWAME HOLMAN: Chao did say 30 percent to 40 percent of the system that supports the online exchange still needs to be developed and tested.

At a separate hearing, one private security expert warned the health care website has flaws that put consumer data at critical risk, but White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted today the information people give is safe.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: The privacy and security of consumers’ personal information are a top priority. When consumers fill out their online marketplace applications, they can trust that the information that they are providing is protected by stringent security standards.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, House Republicans pressed for Senate Democrats to take up a bill that lets millions of Americans keep their existing insurance plans.

Later, at a business forum, President Obama acknowledged the challenge his health care program now faces.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We are going to have to, A., fix the website so that everybody feels confident about that. We’re going to have to obviously remarket and rebrand. And that will be challenging in this political environment.

KWAME HOLMAN: All of that as the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found the president’s approval ratings and support for the health care law have reached new lows.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A freshman member of the U.S. House was charged today with misdemeanor cocaine possession. According to court documents, Republican Trey Radel of Florida was arrested on October 29 in Washington. If convicted, he faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. This evening, the former TV anchor and radio talk show host said he is profoundly sorry and that he has struggled with alcoholism.

People younger than 21 won’t be able to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products in New York City anymore. Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation today making New York the first major American city to make 21 the cutoff age for tobacco.

Bloomberg said it’s outrageous for cigarette companies and convenience stores to oppose the law.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, mayor of New York: This century, a billion people will die from smoking around the world, and we don’t want any of the people that die to be New Yorkers. That’s the one thing we can do. And the people that try to change the argument to an economic one really ought to look in a mirror and be ashamed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The ban does have its limitations. Teenagers will still be able to possess tobacco, but not buy it.

It turns out the National Security Agency has violated surveillance limits numerous times. The Obama administration released a stack of heavily censored documents overnight showing repeated violations and repeated promises to do better. Today, the chief lawyer for the director of national intelligence blamed complicated technology that amasses vast amounts of information.

A pair of suicide bombings in Lebanon killed 23 people today and wounded nearly 150 others outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut. It was the latest sign that the civil war next door in Syria is spilling over.

We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

Be advised: Some of the images may be disturbing.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The Iranian Embassy was the target, but damage from this morning’s attack spread across the neighborhood. The first blast killed the suicide bomber and possibly embassy guards, but it was the huge car bomb a few minutes later that killed and injured so many people.

Some were hurt because they came out onto their balconies after the first blast to see what had happened, others because they rushed to the scene to try to help people.

NASSER HAIDAR, witness (through interpreter): We work near here. First, I heard a small explosion near the Iranian Embassy. It looked like a suicide bomb. He blew himself up in front of the security. I went to help a guy there, and, within seconds, just 10 meters away, I saw a car exploding. There were many injured and martyrs, so we started to help them.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Such a huge blast conjures terrible memories of the civil war here in Beirut in the 1980s, when attacks and bombs were a daily occurrence. But, worse than that, people here fear that Lebanon is becoming the new front line in the war in Syria.

This was no accidental target. Iran is President Bashar al-Assad’s most fervent supporter. This is a largely Hezbollah area. The young men hanging around are militants loyal to the Shia group that has sent fighters to support President Assad across the border.

FAISAL ABDEL SATTR, political commentator (through interpreter): We can’t separate what happens in Syria from what happens in Lebanon. This blast today contains not only a military, but also a political message, because the Syrian army is winning on the battlefield. It’s also because of the Iranian position on Syria.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Today’s bomb points up what everyone here knows: Lebanon’s peace is in peril. The country’s divisions mirror those in Syria, and the war next door is a growing threat to this fractured, fragile state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Syria, state TV reported the army recaptured a key town along a route linking Damascus to the coast. The village of Qarah lies near the Lebanese border. Its capture closes off an arms-smuggling route used by rebels. This move follows recent army advances around Aleppo and Damascus.

There’s conflicting news on whether the U.S. and Afghanistan are close to a security agreement. The office of Afghan President Karzai said today they have agreed on a framework to govern any U.S. troops who stay on after 2014, but the U.S. State Department said, “We are not there yet.” A meeting of Afghan elders convenes Thursday to consider a possible agreement.

President Obama met with senators of both parties today on Iran and sanctions. The session came a day before negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program resume in Geneva. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said the president asked them to pause on considering additional sanctions for a period of time.

Corker said that seems likely, at least for a few days.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: You can talk about what-ifs, but I think one thing that is for sure, there will be is no amendments that will pass the United States Senate, for sure, until we — relative to this, anyway — until we come back from Thanksgiving.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, the president said he’s not sure if the nuclear talks with Iran will yield an agreement. But Iran’s foreign minister said he thinks there is every possibility of working out a deal in Geneva.

Recovery efforts began in earnest in the Midwest today after Sunday’s barrage of tornadoes and thunderstorms. Early estimates indicated damages could total $1 billion. Today, people combed through wreckage in Washington, Illinois, where hundreds of homes were flattened, and crews across the region worked to restore power to more than 320,000 customers.

The cost of typhoon recovery in the Philippines could come close to $6 billion. A government official estimated today that that is what is needed to rebuild homes, schools, roads and bridges. Meanwhile, much-needed supplies continued to arrive from countries around the world. The U.S. government has now provided $37 million in humanitarian aid.

Wall Street edged lower today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly nine points to close at 15,967. The Nasdaq fell 17 points to close at 3,931.