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News Wrap: Senate Democrats push to confirm judicial nominees

December 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The Senate, meanwhile, held a marathon all-night session and continued without respite today as a battle over presidential nominees played out.

Republicans slowed things down in retaliation for new curbs on their power to filibuster, but Democrats pushed through more federal judge nominees anyway.

Western-backed rebels in Syria are urging the U.S. and Britain to restore the flow of non-lethal aid. It was cut this week when Islamist factions captured storage warehouses. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised today the U.S. will not leave the moderate opposition in the lurch. We will explore the plight of pro-Western rebels right after the news summary.

The U.S. today blacklisted more than a dozen companies and individuals and froze their assets for evading sanctions against Iran. The crackdown came as the Obama administration tries to show that it is keeping pressure on Iran, even as it eases some sanctions as part of a nuclear deal.

The Treasury Department’s sanctions chief, David Cohen, took that message to a Senate hearing.

DAVID COHEN, U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence: We know there may be some who believe now might be a good time to test our resolve. I want to be clear. We are watching closely. And we are prepared to take action against anyone anywhere who violates or attempts to violate our sanctions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The administration has also urged Congress to hold off imposing any new sanctions on Iran, for now. Today, Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, chairing the Banking Committee, said he agrees diplomacy needs time to play out.

North Korea announced today that Kim Jong-un’s uncle and former mentor has been executed. Jang Song Thaek was considered the second most powerful officials in the communist state, but he was arrested in recent days on charges of corruption, gambling and womanizing. Today’s announcement branded him a traitor.

The government of Ukraine now says it will sign a landmark trade deal with the European Union after all. President Viktor Yanukovych shelved the agreement last month in favor of closer ties with Russia, but his deputy prime minister said today that the E.U. is promising additional aid.

Meanwhile, in a televised speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wants what’s best for Ukraine.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through interpreter): I very much hope that all political forces in Ukraine will be able to reach a deal, in the interests of the Ukrainian people and solve all existing problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The issue has sparked sweeping anti-government protests in Ukraine. Thousands turned out in Kiev again today, demanding a shift away from Russia and toward the E.U.

In Thailand, anti-government protesters cut off power and water to the prime minister’s office compound in a bid to force her resignation. Yingluck Shinawatra wasn’t at her office when the demonstrators removed barbed wire and climbed over the compound’s fence. They demanded that police leave the site. The prime minister has already called new elections, which the protesters reject. Now she plans talks with various factions on Sunday.

A mob in the Central African Republic went on a rampage today, hunting for Muslims. Their intended victims were holed up in a church compound in Bangui, the mainly Christian capital city. African Union peacekeepers fired into the air to break up the crowd. It happened just days after more than 500 people died in the capital in sectarian fighting. Meanwhile, the U.S. military began airlifting troops from Burundi to bolster the peacekeeping force.

For a second day, thousands of mourners paid final respects to Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, South Africa. They filed past as the country’s first black president lay in state. He’s to be buried Sunday in the village where he spent his childhood.

Meanwhile, the man accused of faking the sign language interpretation for Tuesday’s memorial service was heard from. He said he suffers from schizophrenia and started to hallucinate as the service began.

THAMSANQA JANTJIE, sign language interpreter: I see engines coming to the stadium, and immediately I see engines coming to the stadium. I start realizing that the problem is here, and the problem, I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it come.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The man said he feared he might become violent, standing just a few feet from President Obama and other world leaders. The South African government admitted that he wasn’t a professional interpreter.

J.P. Morgan Chase may pay $2 billion in penalties and face criminal charges for not taking action against rogue financier Bernie Madoff. The New York Times reported the tentative deal today. Federal agencies say the bank — quote — “turned a blind eye” to Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He’s serving a 150-year prison term for defrauding thousands of investors.

On Wall Street today, stocks slumped over renewed concerns that the Federal Reserve may start winding down its economic stimulus efforts. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 104 points to close at 15,739. The Nasdaq fell five points to close at 3,998.