JUDY WOODRUFF: The new chair of the Federal Reserve Bank signaled today she’s largely keeping the policies of the man she replaced. Janet Yellen made her first public comments since taking over last week from Ben Bernanke. She told a congressional hearing that the Fed will keep interest rates low and gradually reduce stimulus efforts as long as the economy improves. And she played down the January drop-off in job creation.
JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve: We have to be very careful not to jump to conclusions in interpreting what those reports mean. There were weather factors. We have had unseasonably cold temperatures that may be affecting economic activity in the job market and elsewhere.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yellen’s testimony went over well on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 193 points to close well over 15,994. The Nasdaq rose almost 43 points to close at 4,191.
Some of the nation’s leading tech firms joined an international protest today against U.S. government surveillance. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others sent a letter to President Obama and Congress. They urged an end to collecting bulk data from Internet communications, and they call for greater oversight of surveillance programs.
The House of Representatives voted this evening to raise the national debt ceiling again with no strings attached. Nearly all of the chamber’s 200 Democrats supported it, while most Republicans were opposed. That came after Republican leaders gave up on a different strategy.
NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio.: Speaker of the House: Let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants.
KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker John Boehner gave way this morning to President Obama’s demand to raise the debt limit through March of 2015, minus any conditions sought by Republicans.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Our members are not crazy about voting to increase the debt ceiling. Our members are also very upset with the president. He won’t negotiate. He won’t deal with our long-term spending problems without us raising taxes.
KWAME HOLMAN: Boehner and his fellow leaders had hoped to add a provision reversing a cut in military pensions, but the Republican rank and file reportedly balked.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: We will let the Democrats put the votes up. We will put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.
KWAME HOLMAN: As for the military pension issue, it will have to be dealt with in separate legislation.
In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid applauded the Republican decision today.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader: I hope this commonsense approach will continue throughout the year, so we can actually get some things done. Boehner has said that he’s going to pass a clean vote on not defaulting on the debt. If they do that, I’m confident we will move over here as quickly as we can.
KWAME HOLMAN: Later, there was word the Senate might vote to raise the debt ceiling tomorrow. That would be well in advance of the February 27 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for Congress to act, or risk having the federal government default.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What forecasters call a potentially catastrophic winter storm was sweeping snow and ice into the Deep South today. President Obama declared a state of emergency for Georgia. There, the storm threatened to drop a crippling layer of ice, knocking out power for days. Supermarket shelves emptied in Atlanta, although the city got mostly rain at first. Airports from Dallas to Charlotte canceled almost 900 flights.
The U.S. may wait for the next president of Afghanistan to sign an agreement leaving some U.S. troops there past 2014. So far, President Hamid Karzai has refused. And today’s Wall Street Journal reports U.S. officials doubt he will ever change his mind.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed as much today, telling a Senate hearing, “I don’t believe that President Karzai is going to sign it.”
The Syrian peace talks made little apparent headway today in Geneva. In Washington, President Obama said the two sides are far from stopping the violence and reaching a political transition.
Still, after meeting with French President Francois Hollande, Mr. Obama said, for now, at least, he doesn’t see a military solution.
BARACK OBAMA, president: We are continuing to explore ever possible avenue to solve this problem, because it’s not just heartbreaking to see what’s happening to the Syrian people. It’s very dangerous for the region as a whole, including friends and allies and partners like Lebanon or Jordan that are being adversely impacted by it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On a separate issue, the Syrian ambassador to Russia said the worst of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile will be removed by March 1. The Assad regime already missed two deadlines.
China and Taiwan held historic talks today and hailed a new chapter in their relations. Envoys for the two sides met in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing. It was their highest-level session since the mainland came under communist rule in 1949. Beijing still regards Taiwan as a renegade province, but tensions have eased as trade between the two has grown.
In the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it was a big day at snowboard and ski jump venues. A spoiler alert: Tune out for a moment if you don’t want to know who won just yet. In the men’s halfpipe, American Shaun White lost his bid for a third gold, and failed to medal. A Swiss snowboarder won. And Germany’s Carina Vogt won the Olympics’ first-ever women’s ski jumping competition.
Shirley Temple Black, the darling of Depression-era Hollywood, died overnight at her home near San Francisco. As Shirley Temple, she started dancing at the age of 2 and acting when she was only 3. From 1935 to ’38, she was America’s top box office draw, and even had an alcohol-free drink named after her. Her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” came from the film “Bright Eyes.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: The actress retired from the screen at the age of 21 and, in later life, went on to Republican politics and a diplomatic career, serving as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Shirley Temple Black was 85 years old.