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News Wrap: Obama vows to nominate ‘indisputably’ qualified Scalia successor

February 16, 2016 at 6:50 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Good evening. I’m Gwen Ifill. Judy Woodruff is away.

On the “NewsHour” tonight: Presidential candidates descend on South Carolina and Nevada before voting this weekend. We get the latest from the trail.

Also ahead: growing anti-Semitism in Denmark and Sweden, where Jewish families are increasingly under attack.

And how slow Internet speeds slow learning for Mississippi high school students.

PAM ODOM, Bruce Upper Elementary: There’s a large portion of them that have never been out of a 60-mile radius of this town. And if our technology is slow, I can’t expose them to anything.

GWEN IFILL: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”


GWEN IFILL: President Obama vowed today to nominate someone — quote — “indisputably qualified” to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Senate Republicans are insisting he forego a nomination fight in this election year. But after a Southeast Asian summit in California, Mr. Obama said he intends to do his job, and senators should do theirs.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are a lot of Republican senators who are going to be under a lot of pressure from various special interests and various constituencies and many of their voters to not let any nominee go through, no matter who I nominate.

But that’s not how the system’s supposed to work. That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work.

GWEN IFILL: Separately, court officials announced Justice Scalia will lie in repose in the court’s Great Hall on Friday. The funeral will be Saturday.

From the Gulf Coast to New England, a winter storm system whipped up trouble overnight. Millions along the Eastern Seaboard faced a treacherous morning commute, after freezing rain coated roads with ice. The same front sent tornadoes ripping through parts of the Gulf Coast late Monday, damaging homes in the Florida Panhandle and Mississippi. But in the West, California and Arizona faced another day of record heat.

The U.S. and Cuba signed a deal today to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in 50 years. It’s the latest step in normalizing relations. As early as this fall, American carriers could offer 110 flights a day between the U.S. and Cuba.

In Mexico, Pope Francis urged clergy to battle the drug violence that’s devastated the country. He took that message to Morelia, capital of a southwestern state ravaged by decades of gang warfare. Speaking to a packed stadium, Francis exhorted priests and nuns not to give in to moral paralysis, what he called the devil’s favorite weapon.

POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): What temptation can come to us from places often dominated by violence, corruption and drug trafficking in the face of suffering and vulnerability? What temptation might we suffer over and over again when faced with this reality? I think we can sum it up in one word: resignation.

GWEN IFILL: This was the second-to-last day of the pontiff’s Mexico tour. Tomorrow, he visits prison inmates near the Texas border.

The U.N.’s Human Rights Office sharply criticized China today for an ongoing crackdown on dissent. It urged Beijing to release more than 250 human rights lawyers and activists arrested since July. The office also pointed to the disappearance of five Hong Kong publishers who opposed the Chinese government.

Four U.S. journalists arrested in Bahrain have been released. They were detained Sunday, covering the anniversary of the 2011 Shiite uprising. Today, the Americans were formally charged with joining an illegal gathering. Later, they flew out of the island nation, after the U.S. Embassy intervened.

Heavy fighting in Northwestern Syria clouded prospects for a temporary truce today. Government forces and allied groups backed by Russian airstrikes kept pounding away near the nation’s largest city.

Alex Thomson of Independent Television News filed this report, including some images that may be disturbing.

ALEX THOMSON: The suburbs of northern Aleppo, cluster bombs from aircraft. The closer we get to any proposed cease-fire on Friday, the less likely it looks.

Across the battlefield, the Russia-Syrian-Iranian forces have never had it so good. Why talk peace when maybe, just maybe, you can wrap up the entire war?

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria (through interpreter): They say they want a cease-fire within a week. Well, who is able to assemble all these conditions or requirements within a week? No one. Who will talk to the terrorists if the terrorist organizations refuse a cease-fire? Who will hold them accountable?

ALEX THOMSON: No wonder Assad talks war, because across Northern Syria, from Homs to the country’s most populous city, Aleppo, the Syrian army, with Russian air support and Iranian-backed militias, wants to surround and take all of Aleppo whilst moving north to seal off the border to Turkey to cut rebel support lines.

Rebel fighters in Aleppo, but for how much longer? Down in Damascus, the U.N. talked today about getting humanitarian aid into some areas tomorrow. Well, they talked about it. Aleppo is unlikely to see it happening.

Today, they dug a baby alive from his obliterated family home there. Then they found his elder brother, also somehow still living.

GWEN IFILL: Amid the fighting, Syrian Kurds advanced near the Turkish border. But fearing they plan to seize Turkish territory as well, Turkey shelled the Kurdish fighters.

An Egyptian diplomat who rose to U.N. secretary-general died today. Boutros Boutros-Ghali served as the world body’s first chief from Africa from 1992 to 1996. His term was marked by tension with the U.S. and then-President Bill Clinton, as well as criticism of the U.N. response to genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was 93 years old.

Four major oil producers pledged today to cap production, in a bid to support prices. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Qatar said they’d limit output for the year to the levels of last month if other countries follow suit. It’s unclear if Iran will agree. The Islamic republic wants to ramp up oil exports now that sanctions have eased.

Wall Street rallied for a second day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 222 points to close near 16200. The Nasdaq rose 98 points, and the S&P 500 added 30.

And the music world has doled out bragging rights for another year. California rapper Kendrick Lamar took home five Grammys last night in Los Angeles, the evening’s biggest haul. Pop superstar Taylor Swift won for album of the year. And ” Hamilton” Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda accepted the Grammy for best musical theater album.

Still to come on the “NewsHour”: candidates feeling the pressure bring the heat four days before the next primary; a push for convenience stores to provide healthier food options; refugees and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe; the Jon Stewart of Egypt; and much more.