In our news wrap Thursday, Senate Democrats fell short by one vote to limit debate on a bill that would restore benefits to Americans who have been unemployed for six months or more. Also, the American Heart Association released its first set of guidelines for preventing strokes in women.
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The latest attempt to restore benefits for the long-term unemployed has stalled in the Senate again. Democrats fell one vote short of the 60 needed to limit debate, as Republicans today blocked the bill for the second time this year. An estimated 1.7 million Americans have been affected since the benefits began expiring in late December.
Prospects for passing immigration legislation appeared to dim today. House Speaker John Boehner argued the root of the problem is that Congress and the country doubt President Obama would fully implement a new law, even if one did pass.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: The president seems to change the health care law on a whim whenever he likes. Now he's running around the country telling everyone that he's going to keep acting on his own.
Listen, there's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney dismissed Boehner's criticism. He said the president's trustworthiness is not in question.
JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: The president's record on this issue bears that out. Moreover, when it comes to executive actions vs. legislation, we have been saying from the beginning that this is a question of doing both. And immigration reform is something that needs to be done through the legislature, through the Congress.
Carney said the real problem on immigration lies in the divisions within Republican ranks.
Wall Street had its best day of the year. Stocks made up nearly all the losses from earlier this week. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 188 points to close at 15,628. The Nasdaq rose 45 points to close at 4,057.
The American Heart Association today issued its first guideline for preventing strokes in women. Among other things, it's now recommended that women check for high blood pressure before starting on oral contraceptives, and those who have high blood pressure and become pregnant should consider low-dose aspirin after the first trimester. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death among women.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic spent a second day in the dark after a winter storm walloped the region. Most were in Pennsylvania. There, utility crews scrambled to repair power lines that snapped after ice-coated trees and limbs fell on them.
Gov. Tom Corbett declared a state of emergency and asked for patience while crews do their work.
GOV. TOM CORBETT, R-Pa.:
Any time you're working with high-voltage electricity, these men and women have to be cautious. And I would hope that the people who are without electricity will have some understanding and some patience to understand that these individuals are really risking their lives when they get up there and they're working among those trees, particularly with that ice and snow. And it is bitter cold for them.
The governor said the situation is worse than after Superstorm Sandy, because then at least the weather was warmer.
The Olympic competition got under way today in Sochi, Russia, a day before the official opening ceremony. Slopestyle snowboarding made its Olympic debut with qualifying runs. Team figure skating events also began, along with freestyle skiing. We will take a look at the Winter Games right after this news summary. The U.N. Security Council pressed Syria today to speed up shipping its worst chemical weapons agents out of the country. Damascus missed its latest deadline yesterday, blaming security concerns and lack of needed equipment. The U.S. has accused the Assad regime of foot-dragging. The Security Council called for expedited action by Syria to meet its obligation under a U.N. agreement.
At the same time, the U.N. hailed Syria's announcement of a deal to let civilians leave the city of Homs and let humanitarian convoys enter. Government forces have besieged the city for more than a year. Opposition activists say 2,500 people are trapped there.
In New York, a U.N. spokesman said that relief workers are ready to help as soon as possible.
FARHAN HAQ, United Nations:
We welcome the report that the parties have agreed a humanitarian pause to allow civilians out of and aid into hold Homs city. The United Nations and humanitarian partners had prepositioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs ready for immediate delivery as soon as the green light was given for safe passage.
The regime said the agreement applies to — quote — "innocent civilians," but it gave no definition of who might qualify as innocent. We will turn to the plight of Syrian children caught in the conflict later in the program.
There's word that thousands of women have been detained illegally in Iraq. Human Rights Watch reported today that government forces seize women as part of terrorist sweeps targeting male relatives. It said the captives are subjected to torture, sexual abuse and other violence. The rights group warned — quote — "As long as security forces abuse people with impunity, we can only expect security conditions to worsen."
In Pakistan, peace talks began between the government and Taliban insurgents. State-run TV showed negotiators at a joint news conference in Islamabad. The head of the government delegation said they have begun a journey for peace. The militants have been trying to overturn Pakistan's elected government and establish strict Islamic rules.
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly confirmed one of its own today, Max Baucus, to be the American ambassador in China. The Montana Democrat is 72 years old, and has been in the Senate since 1978. He currently chairs the Finance Committee. Baucus will succeed Gary Locke, who was the first Chinese-American to serve as ambassador in Beijing.