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News Wrap: Syria Expelling 17 U.S., European Diplomats

June 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: Syria’s Foreign Ministry announced today it is expelling 17 U.S. and European diplomats from Damascus. The move comes days after Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats over a deadly massacre in Houla.

It underscored the difficulties U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan faces in brokering a peace plan there. Syria’s deputy foreign minister spoke today in Damascus.

FAISAL MIQDAD, Syrian deputy foreign minister (through translator): This decision comes in the context of our reaction to the decision taken by those states. We have waited long for the other side to correct their policies and position and to offer the necessary support to Annan’s mission and the observers’ mission.

However, unfortunately, we had to take this step since we believe that the others do not want this mission to succeed and do not want the Syrian people to return to the stability and peace they are seeking.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But the Syrian government did move today to allow more humanitarian workers to reach four of the hardest-hit provinces targeted in the brutal crackdown. U.N. aid officials estimate that will bring urgent assistance to at least one million people.

The path was cleared today for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to California’s gay marriage law. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court declined to consider an appeal in a case where judges found a voter proposition that banned gay marriages violated the U.S. Constitution. Backers of the ban, known as Proposition 8, have vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the court agrees to consider the case, it would be the second gay marriage case in front of it. The Supreme Court could also decline to review the case altogether.

In Washington, Senate Republicans blocked a bill demanding equal pay for men and women in the workplace. Female employees in the U.S. make an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The proposed measure would build on current law by barring employers from retaliating against workers who ask or disclose information about their wages.

Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, the legislation’s main sponsor, insisted the fight for equal pay will continue.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI, D-Md.: Women are mad as hell. And they don’t want to take it anymore. if they work hard, if they do the job, qualify for the job, have the same education, the same seniority, they want the same pay. They want it for themselves and we want it for them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Republican opponents, like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, argued the pay equity act would have unfairly burdened employers and created more legal action.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., minority leader: This issue is about rewarding plaintiffs’ lawyers for filing lawsuits. We think it is the wrong way to go about dealing with this issue.

Look, we don’t think America suffers from a lack of litigation. We have a jobless problem. We have a debt problem. We have a deficit problem. We have got a lot of problems. Not enough lawsuits is not one of them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama was a staunch supporter of the bill. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has yet to take a stand on the issue.

On Wall Street today, stocks rebounded slightly from last week’s sell-off, but investor angst over the eurozone still lingered. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 26 points to close at 12,127. The Nasdaq rose 18 points to close at 2,778.

The Walt Disney Company today became the first major media corporation to ban junk food advertising. The plans will not be fully implemented until 2015. But, by then, all food and beverage products that are advertised or promoted by Disney will have to meet strict nutrition guidelines.

Many foods, like prepackaged lunches, fruit drinks, candy and snack cakes, won’t make the cut. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five American children and adolescents is obese, putting them at risk for a host of health problems.

A small dot passing in front of the sun this evening is actually the planet Venus. Stargazers around the world prepared to view the rare astronomical event when Venus passes directly between the Earth and sun. The so-called transit is visible to the naked eye, but no one should look directly at the sun without proper eye protection. The next transit of Venus will not occur again for more than a century, in 2117.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.