In our news wrap Friday, the House of Representatives voted again to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline after the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge to the pipeline’s route. Also, Islamic cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa was sentenced to life in prison in New York for helping terrorists kidnap tourists in Yemen and plotting to open a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
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Here in the U.S., the economy closed out 2014 on a strong note, and made it the best year for hiring since 1999. December data from the Labor Department today showed a net gain of 252,000 jobs during the month. The report also added another 50,000 positions to the totals for October and November. That made a gain of nearly three million jobs for the year as a whole.
In addition, the unemployment rate in December fell to 5.6 percent. But the news on wages wasn't as bright. Average hourly earnings in December fell two-tenths of a percent. That last was a concern for Wall Street today, along with slipping oil prices. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 170 points to close at 17737. The Nasdaq fell 32 points to close at 4704. And the S&P dropped 17 to finish at 2044. For the week, all three indexes lost about half-a-percent.
The Keystone oil pipeline advanced in the courts and Congress today. In Nebraska, a challenge to the proposed route failed before the state Supreme Court. The project would complete a pipeline moving Canadian oil across Nebraska and other states to Gulf Coast refineries. After the court decision, the U.S. House of Representatives voted again to approve Keystone, as it revisited longstanding arguments.
REP. TOM REED, (R) New York: Thousands of jobs will be created by this pipeline. This will improve consumer prices. This will bring stability to oil markets around the world. This will contribute to protecting us here on American soil, rather than relying on energy sources from hostile nations of the world.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA, (D) Arizona: Building a pipeline clear across the United States so that TransCanada can sell its dirty tar sands oil to the highest bidder, namely China, is not in the American people's best interest. We take risks to our own public — to our lands. The American people face threats to their health, and TransCanada gets to reap the rewards.
The Senate could vote on the Keystone bill as early as next week, but President Obama has threatened a veto.
For the first time, the man Mr. Obama beat in 2012 says he might run again in 2016. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mitt Romney told donors in New York today that he's pondering a new bid for the Republican nomination and said it was fine to share the news. He gave no timetable for making the decision.
An Islamic cleric now faces life in prison on terror charges after being sentenced today in New York. Mustafa Kamel Mustafa was convicted of helping terrorists kidnap tourists in Yemen and of plotting to open a terrorist training camp in Oregon. He'd been extradited from Britain in 2012.
There's word that the communist government in Cuba has released 36 opposition activists from jail. A top dissident group says they were freed over the past two days. Cuba had agreed to release a total of 53 prisoners as it restores ties with the United States.
The State Department welcomed the news today.
JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman:
I'm not going to confirm numbers or names at this point in time, but these releases are certainly consistent with the cases that we raised with the Cuban government and their decision to release the 53 prisoners.
The Cuban dissidents say the government warned the newly freed prisoners not to resume their opposition activities.
A former band member at Florida A&M University is going to prison for a hazing death that drew national attention. Dante Martin was sentenced today to more than six years. Prosecutors said he led a brutal ritual that killed drum major Robert Champion in November 2011. The judge rejected a longer sentence, saying Champion was a — quote — "willing participant."
This week's severe winter weather triggered a disaster today in Michigan. Snow, wind and poor visibility caused a pile-up of more than 120 vehicles that killed at least one person. It happened along Interstate 94 outside Kalamazoo and shut down traffic in both directions after two trucks caught fire. One was carrying fireworks, and the other acid.
Seven women from Nepal have scored a first in some of the coldest, iciest places on Earth. They're the first all-female team to scale the highest mountains on all seven continents. They started in 2008, scaling Mount Everest in Nepal, and they ended last month, conquering Mount Vinson in Antarctica.
Today, they arrived back in Nepal to cheering crowds at the Kathmandu Airport.
SHAILEE BASNET, Team Leader:
The big journey that started seven years ago has finally culminated in a seventh climb. So, after years of saying one done, two done, three, four, five, we can now say seven!
Nepal is famous for its male mountaineers. The women say they hope to change that image with this climbing record.
And legendary gospel singer and songwriter Andrae Crouch has died in Los Angeles. For more than 50 years, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley and Paul Simon, among others. He also arranged music for Michael Jackson, for the movies "The Lion King" and "The Color Purple." Along the way, Andrae Crouch won seven Grammy Awards. He was 72 years old.