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Other News: Senate Advances Credit Card Reform Bill

May 19, 2009 at 6:10 PM EST
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In other news, the Senate passed a credit card reform bill that is meant to protect consumers from unfair practices. Senate Democrats also voted to cut $80 million from a war funding bill intended to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to force changes in the credit card industry. The bill would bar companies from raising interest rates on existing balances. That’s unless the cardholder is 60 days behind. And there would be legal limits on marketing cards to people under the age of 21. The president could get a final version of the bill for signature by Memorial Day.

The Senate also voted to allow loaded guns in national parks again; the proposal was attached to the credit card bill. It’s meant to restore and possibly expand a Bush administration policy that a federal court struck down. The House could follow suit by tomorrow.

The president hit a roadblock today in his drive to close Guantanamo Bay prison by next January. He wanted $80 million for that purpose, but Senate Democrats moved to drop it from a war-funding bill. Majority Leader Reid said first they need to hear what happens to the 240 detainees still at Guantanamo.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Senate majority leader: Guantanamo makes us less safe. However, this is neither the time nor the dill — the bill, I’m sorry, to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow a terrorist to be released into the United States.

JIM LEHRER: Reid was the latest Democrat to come out against transferring the suspects to U.S. prisons. Republicans offered an amendment to block any such move, and they welcomed the Democrats’ decision on the funding.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Senate minority leader: Well, they’re certainly coming in the right direction. And I think the American people who are concerned about their own security and safety ought to be pleased that our friends on the other side of the aisle are showing some flexibility on this issue and heading in our direction. I hope they’ll come all the way, and I hope the president will demonstrate the same kind of flexibility.

JIM LEHRER: The money to close Guantanamo was already dropped from the House version of the war-funding bill.

In Afghanistan, the new American ambassador pledged U.S. forces will work to avoid killing civilians. Karl Eikenberry, a retired Army general, spoke in the western city of Farah. Afghan officials there claim U.S. air strikes killed 140 civilians earlier this month. The U.S. military has said the Taliban caused many of those deaths.

Drug-makers will not be able to start on a swine flu vaccine until mid-July at the earliest; that word came from the World Health Organization today. It’s weeks later than previous estimates.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon joined the head of WHO in Geneva, Switzerland. They met with 30 pharmaceutical companies.

The U.S. secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, was also there. She said researchers need more information on the virus.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Health and Human Services secretary: The work on the vaccine is very much underway. And we are at the steps of testing the various strains to see which is the most appropriate to become a vaccine potential or whether we’ll need several.

JIM LEHRER: It takes four to six months to produce a vaccine once the process begins. To date, swine flu has infected close to 10,000 people in more than 40 countries. The global death toll stands at 79.

The astronauts from Space Shuttle Atlantis have finished repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. Over five days, they fixed broken instruments and completed a series of upgrades. Today they released the Hubble back into orbit on its own. The telescope is 19 years old. NASA officials predicted it could last another 5 to 10 years after this final repair mission.

A former top Democratic fundraiser was convicted today of violating federal campaign finance laws. Norman Hsu raised large sums of money for prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign. Hsu was found guilty in New York City of using investment clients to bypass limits on individual donations. He already admitted cheating investors out of at least $20 million.

On Wall Street today, a drop in home construction last month weighed down stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 29 points to close at 8,474. The Nasdaq rose 2 points to close at 1,734.

Historian David Herbert Donald, who chronicled the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, has died. His family announced he suffered heart failure in Boston on Sunday. Donald won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of the abolitionist Charles Sumner and the novelist Thomas Wolfe, but his books on Lincoln became his major legacy.

He recounted a favorite Lincoln story to David Gergen on the NewsHour in 1995.

DAVID HERBERT DONALD, historian: He told the story — in those days, one always told ethic stories — he told the story about the Irishman who had been drinking much too much and had sworn off the liquor.

And so the parade was going through town, and the Irishman shows up at the bar. And he goes to the bar and says, “Bartender, give me a glass of lemonade.” And the bartender looks at him curiously at him. He says, “If you put a drop of whiskey in it unbeknownst to me, I wouldn’t mind.” Lincoln didn’t mind for things to be done unbeknownst to him.

JIM LEHRER: David Herbert Donald was 88 years old.