News Wrap: White House lobbies for benefits extension for long-term unemployed

In our news wrap Thursday, the White House lobbied to keep benefits going for the long-term unemployed, but Republicans have argued that extending their aid makes people less willing to search for work. Also, fast food workers around the nation walked off the job to protest low wages.


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GWEN IFILL:  In addition to the passing of Nelson Mandela, there was other news today.

The U.S. economy gave off a new round of mixed signals a day before the latest unemployment and job creation numbers come out.  The Commerce Department reported growth hit an annual rate of 3.6 percent between July and September, the best since early 2012.  At the same time, consumer spending was the weakest in nearly four years.

Meanwhile, the White House lobbied to keep benefits going for the long-term unemployed.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:  Even though the unemployment rate has come down significantly from its high because of the great recession, it is still too much too high at 7.3 percent, considerably higher than it was, when it was the right thing to do for President Bush to sign into law an extension of unemployment insurance.

So, if it was right then, it is certainly right now to do.

GWEN IFILL:  Republicans have argued that extended benefits may make it more attractive to stay unemployed than to actively seek work.

House Speaker John Boehner had this to say today:

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House:  If the president has a plan for extending unemployment benefits, I would surely entertain taking a looking at it.  But I would argue the president's real focus ought to be creating a better environment for our economy and creating more jobs for the American people.  That's where the focus is, not more government programs.

GWEN IFILL:  The White House says, if Congress doesn't extend the program, 3.6 million Americans will run out of benefits over the next 12 months.

Fast-food workers walked off the job and held rallies today in a number of cities, demanding better wages.  Organizers said they want $15 an hour.  The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and it was last raised in 2009.  President Obama has called for raising the federal minimum wage, but prospects for passage in Congress are uncertain at best.

An arctic blast kept the Northern Plains in the deep freeze today, and spread east and south.  Parts of North Dakota expected wind chills of 40 below zero.  In Denver, the bitter cold had crews de-icing airliners early this morning.  Snow arrived before dawn in Wichita, while Oklahoma and Arkansas faced a possible ice storm this evening.

Britain and Northern Europe are facing what could be their most powerful storm in years.  At least three people died today, as hurricane-force winds swept out of the North Sea.

We have a report from Liam Dutton of Independent Television News.

LIAM DUTTON:  December, a time of year when you would expect the British weather to deliver its worst, and, today, it did.

Scotland bore the brunt of today's damaging winds, with gusts of around 90 miles an hour hitting much of the country.  Transport was severely affected, with all train services suspended for a time this morning, before slowly returning to normal this afternoon.

The pilot of this plane had to abort landing at Birmingham Airport, buffeted by strong crosswinds.  One hundred thousand homes in Scotland were left without electricity, with another several thousand homes in Northern Ireland and Northern England affected as the strong winds move southwards.

In North Wales, as well as gales, emergency services were prepared for coastal flooding, as large waves combined with high tides were expected to crash over seawalls.  Parts of Newcastle city center are flooded this evening, after the River Tyne burst its banks.  Tonight, the risk of coastal flooding continues for North Sea coasts, where the Environments Agency is warning of the worst storm surge in 60 years.

Sea defenses have improved significantly since the great flood of 1953, but even so, the next 24 hours will be worrying for those who live close the water.  Today's storm is now heading for Northern Europe, taking the stormy weather away from the U.K., with the danger of flooding coast receding later tomorrow.

GWEN IFILL:  The United Nations Security Council authorized new military action in the war-torn Central African Republic today.  The former French colony has descended into chaos since a coup last march.  A reported 100 people died today, as Muslims and Christians battled in the capital.

In Yemen, a coordinated attack killed more than 50 people at the Defense Ministry.  The victims were medical staffers, including a number of foreigners.  Smoke billowed after a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives through the complex's gates.  The blast cleared the way for a vehicle full of gunmen in army uniforms to storm the compound.

An American teacher, Ronnie Smith, was shot to death today in Benghazi, Libya, by unknown gunmen.  He taught chemistry at the international school there.  Local officials said he'd been jogging near the U.S. Consulate, where the ambassador and three other Americans were killed last year.

The quarterback for top-ranked Florida State University will not face sexual assault charges.  A woman had accused Jameis Winston of raping her last December.  Winston's attorney says the sex was consensual.  The investigation had been inactive, until news accounts surfaced recently.

Today, the state attorney in Tallahassee said there's not enough evidence to proceed.

WILLIE MEGGS, Florida State Attorney:  We do not believe, after we examined all of the evidence and interviewed all of the witnesses that we could find, did everything that we knew how to do -- and there may be something else we may need to do.  I don't know, but I don't think so.

We came to the decision that it was -- it wasn't a case that we could bring forward, because we wouldn't have the burden of proof, the probable cause and the reasonable likelihood of a conviction.

GWEN IFILL:  Nineteen-year-old Winston is a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious award in college football.

Cases of measles are surging this year to nearly three times the annual average.  The Centers for Disease Control reported today there have been 175 cases in 2013.  More than half involved people who were never vaccinated and were infected overseas.

China today barred banks and other financial institutions from handling Bitcoin.  The computer-generated currency has been widely traded in China, but the central bank issued a statement saying it has no legal status.  The agency said the ban will prevent money-laundering and promote financial stability.  Private individuals are still allowed to trade in Bitcoin, at their own risk.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 68 points to close at 15821.  The Nasdaq fell nearly five points to close at 4033.