News Wrap: Murdoch Downplays Political Sway in Media Ethics Inquiry
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KWAME HOLMAN: The U.S. economy is growing at a moderate pace, but still is at risk from weakness in Europe.
The Federal Reserve gave that assessment today after a two-day meeting. It also held firm to its plan to keep short-term interest rates low at least through late 2014.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed is not planning any further stimulus, but it is keeping close watch.
BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve chairman: We remain entirely prepared to take additional balancing actions if necessary to achieve our objectives. So those tools remain very much on the table and we will not hesitate to use them should the economy require that additional support.
KWAME HOLMAN: On Wall Street, stocks made new gains, powered by strong earnings from Apple and other major companies. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 89 points to close at 13,090. The Nasdaq rose 68 points to close at 3,029.
Britons got the grim word today that their economy has fallen back into recession. Economic output slipped at the start of the year for the second quarter in a row. That left Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to defend his deficit-cutting, under sharp criticism from the Labor Party.
We have a report from Tom Bradby of Independent Television News.
DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: It’s the brave action of this government that has lifted our economy out of the danger zone. Britain’s economy is out of the danger zone and recovering. Today, Britain is out of that danger zone and able to grow sustainably.
TOM BRADBY: Many wondered if Mr. Cameron would come to regret those words uttered at various points in the last two years, and so it has proved. As the men from the catchily titled Office of National Statistics sat down this morning, they looked pretty miserable, and it didn’t take long to work out why.
JOE GRICE, U.K. Office of National Statistics: ONS’ preliminary estimate for gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2012 is that output fell by 0.2 percent.
TOM BRADBY: It was an economic statistic, but also a political bombshell. In sum: We are back in recession.
The Tories’ entire strategy is built on the idea they are putting us through this pain in order to fix our economy.
ED MILIBAND, British Labor Party leader: The reality is, this is a recession made by him and the chancellor in Downing Street. Over the last 18 months, since his catastrophic spending review, our economy has shrunk, and this is now a slower recovery from recession even than the 1930s.
DAVID CAMERON: There is not a single business organization or serious commentator or international body that thinks these problems emerged in the last 24 months.
ED MILIBAND: Even his own backbenchers are saying the complacent, arrogant, posh boys just don’t get it.
DAVID CAMERON: Whether it is the proper regulation of the press, whether it is cleaning up our financial system, whether it’s dealing with our debts, I don’t duck my responsibilities. What a pity he can’t live up to his!
KWAME HOLMAN: For all the shouting, government officials said Britain is being hurt by recession across Europe that cuts demand for British goods.
Media baron Rupert Murdoch dismissed claims today that he’s had too much sway over British politicians. Murdoch appeared before a media ethics inquiry. He dismissed what he called myths about his influence and ability to swing elections. And he said, we don’t have that sort of power. The media inquiry was spawned by revelations of phone hacking by employees of a Murdoch tabloid.
The U.S. Senate has voted to slow down service cuts at the ailing Postal Service. A bipartisan bill that passed today would block plans to close thousands of post offices and continue Saturday mail delivery, for now.
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman said it also includes $11 billion dollars to pay off debt and offer buyouts to 100,000 employees.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, I-Conn.: This great American institution which still delivers over 560 million pieces of mail every day, and helps to support eight million jobs throughout our economy, cannot be allowed to spiral downward into bankruptcy.
KWAME HOLMAN: A bill circulating in the House would circulate a national commission with the power to snap no-layoff clauses in postal employees’ contracts.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney consolidated more of his party’s support today, after sweeping all five primaries on Tuesday. The party’s national chairman, Reince Priebus, formally declared Romney the presumptive nominee.
And in Cramerton, North Carolina, Newt Gingrich signaled he will formally end his campaign next week.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): I am committed to this party. I am committed to defeating Obama. We will find ways to try to be helpful. I do think it’s pretty clear that Governor Romney is ultimately going to be the nominee, and we will do everything we can to make sure that he is, in fact, effective.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, President Obama argued Romney will have to defend the conservative views he embraced during the long primary campaign.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president said, “I don’t think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, ‘Everything I have said for the last six months, I didn’t mean.’”
The president also pressed Congress again to maintain low interest rates on student loans. The rates will double in July unless Congress acts to prevent it.
Last night, Senate Democrats called for taxing privately held corporations to pay for the cost, nearly $6 billion. Today, House Speaker John Boehner offered a Republican bill to take the money out of funding for the health care reform law. He scheduled a vote for Friday.
The secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, said today she doubts the Secret Service prostitution scandal was part of a pattern. A dozen agents were implicated. Eight have been forced out. One lost his security clearance, and three were cleared of serious wrongdoing.
Napolitano told a Senate hearing she’d be surprised if there was a larger problem.
JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary: A full and thorough investigation is under way to determine exactly what transpired and actions we need to take to ensure that this kind of conduct doesn’t happen again. Let me be clear. We will not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the proud legacy of the Secret Service.
KWAME HOLMAN: Twelve members of the military also are under investigation in the scandal. Pentagon officials briefed senators today, but Republican John McCain complained they provided appallingly little new information.
In Syria, a Damascus suburb came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire for a second day. Amateur video from Duma showed explosions, as well as streets filled with rubble and vehicles ablaze. Activists said government troops kept up the fire despite a visit by U.N. observers. Elsewhere, the opposition reported rocket fire killed at least a dozen people in the city of Hama.
NATO reported the deaths of four troops in Afghanistan today, bringing the month’s toll — death toll for the alliance to 31. Two were killed in separate attacks in the south. The others died of non-battle injuries. For the year, 122 coalition members have lost their lives in Afghanistan.
A U.S. military judge has refused the request by Army Private Bradley Manning’s defense to have the charges against him thrown out in the WikiLeaks case. He’s accused of transmitting hundreds of thousands of U.S. government documents to the anti-secrecy Web site. Today’s ruling came at a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning faces a court-martial in September.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.