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News Wrap: Unaccustomed to severe cold, South braces for deep freeze

January 28, 2014 at 9:27 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama delivers his 2014 State of the Union address tonight, and he will highlight executive actions aimed at jobs and wages. As White House video showed Mr. Obama working on the speech, aides said he’s set to order a higher minimum wage for future federal contract workers of $10.10 an hour.

The plan met with praise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID, D-Nev.: I think we will find at the State of the Union tonight, the president has decided that Republicans are obstructing everything and they will continue to do so, so he’s going to have to some things on his own. And I agree with him. He needs to use his administrative authority, his executive authority to start doing some things for this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans dismissed the minimum wage move as window dressing. House Speaker John Boehner says it has a very narrow scope.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: This affects not one current contract. It only affects future contracts with the federal government. And so I think the question is, how many people, Mr. President, will this executive action actually help? I suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will preview the president’s speech with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney right after the news summary.
Arctic air descended on the Deep South today, bringing bitter cold to millions who aren’t used to it. Snow, ice and subzero readings stretched from Texas to Virginia. Snowfall began to slow and snarl major interstates around Atlanta, and shoppers emptied shelves of shovels and other cold winter gear.
But as they waited for the worst, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory conceded the region is never ready for such weather.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY, R-N.C.: We have got to be honest that we don’t have these storms very often, so the equipment needed or the equipment level of capacity isn’t as great as comparison to New York or Connecticut or New Hampshire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the Midwest endured another day of windchills that reached as far down as 50 below. The huge storm also forced airlines to cancel about 3,000 commercial flights nationwide.

In Egypt, ousted President Mohammed Morsi went on trial on charges of organizing mass prison breaks during the 2011 revolution. State TV showed Morsi pacing inside of a soundproof glass-encased cage, visibly angry and shouting at the judge. After five hours, the trial adjourned until February 22.

The fifth day of the Syrian peace talks negotiations broke off, with little to show for the effort. Syria’s foreign minister charged that the U.S. has sabotaged the Geneva conference by resuming deliveries of non- lethal supplies to rebels. The State Department said the Syrian government has poisoned the talks by continuing to block aid to the besieged city of Homs.

Protesters in Ukraine won new concessions today. The country’s prime minister resigned, and Parliament repealed anti-protest laws that sparked 10 days of violence. Still, opposition leaders insisted again that President Viktor Yanukovych must also resign. We will get a full report on the developing situation in Ukraine later in the program.

Thailand is going ahead with parliamentary elections this Sunday, despite fears of violent protests and an opposition boycott. The country’s election commission had called for delaying the vote, but the government rejected the idea today.

PHONGTHEP THEPKANJANA, deputy prime minister, Thailand (through translator): If we postpone the election, will the problems go away? You can see that the problems obstructing the election cannot be solved even if we postpone it. The people who are causing trouble didn’t say they would stop if it is postponed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The opposition has occupied parts of Bangkok and demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resign immediately.

Wall Street’s jitters over emerging markets calmed today, and stocks turned higher after three days of losses. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 90 points to close at 15,928. The Nasdaq rose 14 points to close near 4,098.

A voice that shaped American folk music for several generations is gone. Legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger died in a New York City hospital last night at 94. Seeger helped spark a national folk music revival and lent his voice to Vietnam protests and other causes, with hits such as “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” — Jeffrey Brown explores his life and music later in the broadcast.