HARI SREENIVASAN: A motorcycle bomb tore through a crowd of Shiite pilgrims in Iraq today, killing at least 23 people. The blast erupted outside Karbala during an annual religious procession. More than 120 Iraqis were wounded.
On Monday, a bombing in Baghdad killed at least 54 people taking part in the pilgrimage. Also today, an Iraqi appeals court allowed hundreds of candidates to run in next month’s parliamentary elections. They had been barred for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In Afghanistan, U.S., Afghan, and NATO troops are now gearing up for their largest joint offensive yet. U.S. military officers said today the target is Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in the south. It is also a hub for the opium trade. The operation could begin within days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ruled out a prisoner swap with Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had suggested trading three American hikers held in Iran for 11 Iranians held by the U.S. Clinton said the hikers and other Americans detained in Iran are being held unjustly and should be freed immediately.
There was new trouble for Toyota today, this time involving — involving complaints over brake issues. The company also drew a new warning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
RAY LAHOOD, U.S. Secretary of Transportation: If anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it. Take it to a Toyota dealer, because they believe they have the fix for it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The secretary delivered that stark advice to a House committee hearing this morning. Later, after reporters asked about his statement, his tone softened slightly.
RAY LAHOOD: What I meant to say and what I thought I said was, if you own one of these cars or if you are in doubt, take it to the dealer, and they are going to fix it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: LaHood’s words were meant for the drivers of 2.3 million cars and trucks across the U.S. that may have problems with gas pedals that stick. Last month, Toyota recalled and stopped U.S. sales of eight models. On Monday, the company announced it’s found a fix.
But LaHood said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, had to pressure the company.
RAY LAHOOD: And our acting NHTSA administrator went to Japan and met with the Toyota officials and them, in no uncertain terms, you need to get on this. You have got a problem. You need to fix it, find the fix. And, as a result of that meeting, they — they began to take seriously the fact that they have some serious problems.
HARI SREENIVASAN: That may not be the end of it. LaHood said NHTSA is investigating whether the problem is really Toyota’s electronic throttle control systems, something the company denies.
And the popular Prius hybrid came under the spotlight today. It wasn’t involved in the gas pedal problem, but Toyota reported more than 100 complaints of brake issues on the cars in both the U.S. and Japan. In the meantime, the automaker has offered to pay dealers up to $75,000 apiece for working extra hours to cover the recall.
For the record, Toyota is one of the “NewsHour”‘s underwriters.
Insurance giant AIG has paid another $100 million in bonuses to employees in its Financial Products division. That unit ran the trading which nearly sank the company and led to a government bailout totaling $180 billion. Reports today said most of the employees agreed to take smaller bonuses than they were due under their contracts, which were agreed to before the government bailout.
Wall Street stumbled after two days of triple-digit gains. The rally stalled in part because growth in the service sector was weaker than expected in January. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 26 points to close at 10270. The Nasdaq rose less than one point to close below 2191.
President Obama appealed to Senate Democrats today to finish the job on health care and work on the economy. He said they still have to lead, despite losing a crucial seat in Massachusetts and, with it, their supermajority.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If anybody is searching for a lesson from Massachusetts, I promise you the answer is not to do nothing. The American people are out of patience with business as usual. They’re fed up with a Washington that has become so absorbed with who’s up and who’s down that we’ve lost sight of how they’re doing. They want us to start worrying less about keeping our jobs and more about helping them keep their jobs.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Last Friday, the president addressed House Republicans. He warned again today he’ll confront those who refuse to cooperate.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I start hearing that we should accept Republican ideas, let’s be clear — we have. What hasn’t happened is the other side accepting our ideas.
And I told them, I want to work together when we can, and I meant it. I believe that’s the best way to get things done for the American people. But I also made it clear that we’ll call them out when they say they want to work with us and we extend a hand and get a fist in return.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Republicans could gain their 41st vote in the Senate sooner than expected. Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts has moved up his timetable and asked to be sworn in tomorrow. Democratic leaders say they will comply.
The field has narrowed in the race for the Senate seat once held by President Obama. On Tuesday, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias won the Democratic nod to face off against five-term Republican Congressman Mark Kirk. The outcome of the state’s gubernatorial primaries remained in doubt.