In our news wrap Wednesday, much of the U.S. began to thaw from the polar vortex that pushed temperatures below zero, claimed 21 lives and canceled school for multiple days in some regions. Also, pending an appeal, the state of Utah will currently not recognize same-sex marriages that have been performed since Dec. 20.
Read the Full Transcript
Today, much of the U.S. began easing out of the deep freeze that's claimed 21 lives since Sunday. Temperatures in the Midwest and east pushed into double digits, but still stayed well below freezing. That kept many school districts, including Indianapolis and Detroit, closed for a third day.
In Western New York, residents were under a state of emergency after 36 inches of lake effect snow fell overnight. The blizzard closed parts of two interstates and led to a travel ban.
The state of Utah will not recognize same-sex marriages performed since Dec. 20, at least not for now. Governor Gary Herbert announced the decision today. It affects roughly 1,400 couples who married after a federal judge struck down Utah's ban on gay marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court has put the judge's ruling on hold while the state appeals.
The White House today rejected criticism by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In a new memoir, he says the president wasn't committed to the Afghan war and that Vice President Biden was wrong on nearly every key issue. In an apparent show of support for the vice president, officials invited news photographers into the leaders' usually private weekly luncheon. And spokesman Jay Carney followed up.
JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:
Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and he has been an excellent counselor and adviser to the president for the past five years. He's played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration, in this White House.
Carney also dismissed the Afghan war criticism. He said the president believes thoroughly in the mission. We will talk to a Washington Post reporter who's read an advance copy of the Gates memoir right after this news summary.
The number of countries with the ingredients for nuclear bombs has dropped by almost a quarter in the last two years to 25. The Nuclear Threat Initiative reported today that seven more countries have given up all or most of their weapons-grade material since 2012.
The advocacy group also found the U.S. ranks number 11 of the 25 nations on nuclear security.
In Iraq today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to eradicate al-Qaida in his country, as the army prepared to assault militants holding the city of Fallujah. In a national broadcast, Maliki also hinted at the possibility of amnesty for any gunmen who surrender.
PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraq (through interpreter):
I call upon all those who are involved or who have been lured to take part in the terrorism machine led by al-Qaida to return to reason, and we will open a new chapter to settle their cases.
Tribal leaders in Fallujah also urged the al-Qaida fighters to leave, and a special U.N. envoy warned food and fuel supplies in the city are running out.
The same al-Qaida group came under new attack today in Syria by rival rebel groups. Activists reported a coalition of other fighters captured the main al-Qaida base in the northern city of Aleppo. The infighting could pose even greater security problems for teams rounding up Syria's chemical weapons. We will talk to the special coordinator of that effort later in the program.
New York State moved today to legalize medical marijuana on a limited basis, the 21st state to do so. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an executive order to let 20 hospitals dispense the drug for victims of cancer and several other diseases. Cuomo previously opposed legalization, but came under political pressure to reconsider.
Last-minute business helped boost holiday sales 2.7 percent from a year earlier, not counting online business. The data firm ShopperTrak reported today it was slightly better than expected, in part because of heavy discounts. The number of shoppers who actually visited stores fell more than 14 percent.
And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 68 points to close at 16,462. The Nasdaq rose 12 points to close at 4,165.