Assault weapons ban now highly unlikely: Senate Democrats won't even include it in their bill
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An assault weapons ban won't be in the gun-control legislation that Democrats bring to the Senate floor next month, a decision that means the ban's chances of survival now are all but hopeless.
The ban is the most controversial firearms restriction that President Barack Obama and other Democrats have pressed for since an assault-type weapon was used in the December massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Rejection by Congress would be a major victory for the National Rifle Association and its supporters and a setback for Obama and the provision's sponsor, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In a tactical decision, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., concluded that including the prohibition in the gun bill would jeopardize the chances for passage of any firearms legislation at all, taking away votes that would be needed to overcome Republican attempts to block the Senate from even taking up the issue.
"I very much regret it," Feinstein said Tuesday of the choice that Reid told her he had made. "I tried my best. But my best, I guess, wasn't good enough."
Feinstein's proposal to prohibit military-style weapons will still get a vote as an amendment to the gun legislation that Democrats debate. But she is all but certain to need 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to prevail, and she faces solid Republican opposition as well as likely defections from some Democrats.
Pentagon temporarily bans mortar round after at least 7 Marines killed in Nevada training
HAWTHORNE, Nev. (AP) -- A mortar shell explosion killed at least seven Marines and injured several more during mountain warfare training in Nevada's high desert, prompting the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of the weapons until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said Tuesday.
The explosion occurred Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a sprawling facility used by troops heading overseas, during an exercise involving the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Several Marines from the unit were injured in the blast, authorities said.
The mortar round exploded in its firing tube during the exercise, Brig. Gen. Jim Lukeman said at a news conference at Camp Lejeune. He said investigators were trying to determine the cause of the malfunction.
The Pentagon expanded a temporary ban to prohibit the military from firing any 60 mm mortar rounds until the results of the investigation. The Marine Corps said Tuesday a "blanket suspension" of 60 mm mortars and associated firing tubes is in effect.
The Pentagon earlier had suspended use of all high-explosive and illumination mortar rounds that were in the same manufacturing lots as ones fired in Nevada.
10 Things to Know for Wednesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:
1. HOPES DIM FOR AN ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN
Sen. Reid decides that including the divisive assault weapons provision might effectively block passage of any gun control bill at all.
Commander: Some NATO nations making contingency plans for possible military action in Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top U.S. military commander in Europe said Tuesday that several NATO countries are working on contingency plans for possible military action to end the two-year civil war in Syria as President Bashar Assad's regime accused U.S.-backed Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons.
The Obama administration rejected the Assad claim as a sign of desperation by a besieged government intent on drawing attention from its war atrocities -- some 70,000 dead, more than 1 million refugees and 2.5 million people internally displaced. A U.S. official said there was no evidence that either Assad forces or the opposition had used chemical weapons in an attack in northern Syria.
As the war enters its third year, the U.S. military, State Department officials and the U.N. high commissioner for refugees delivered a dire assessment of a deteriorating situation in Syria and the sober view that even if Assad leaves, the Middle East nation could slip into civil strife and ethnic cleansing similar to the Balkans in the 1990s.
"The Syrian situation continues to become worse and worse and worse," Adm. James Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "No end in sight to a vicious civil war."
Stavridis, who is retiring soon, said a number of NATO nations are looking at a variety of military operations to end the deadlock and assist the opposition forces, including using aircraft to impose a no-fly zone, providing military assistance to the rebels and imposing arms embargoes.
Bombings kill 65 on eve of 10th anniversary of Iraq war; security called a 'huge failure'
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Insurgents sent a bloody message on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, carrying out a wave of bombings across the country Tuesday that killed at least 65 people in the deadliest day in Iraq this year.
The nearly 20 attacks, most of them in and around Baghdad, demonstrated in stark terms how dangerously divided Iraq remains more than a year after American troops withdrew. More than 240 people were reported wounded.
It was Iraq's bloodiest day since Sept. 9, when an onslaught of bombings and shootings killed 92.
Violence has ebbed sharply since the peak of Sunni-Shiite fighting that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007. But insurgents are still able to stage high-profile attacks, while sectarian and ethnic rivalries continue to tear at the fabric of national unity.
The symbolism of Tuesday's attacks was strong, coming 10 years to the day, Washington time, that President George W. Bush announced the start of hostilities against Iraq. It was already early March 20, 2003, in Iraq when the airstrikes began.
Cypriot lawmakers reject deposits seizures plan, casting doubt over bailout, financial future
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Lawmakers in Cyprus decisively rejected a plan on Tuesday to seize up to 10 percent of people's bank deposits in order to secure an international bailout and prevent a collapse of the country's banks.
The vote leaves the tiny Mediterranean economy in financial limbo, but hundreds of protesters outside Parliament cheered and sang the national anthem when they heard the bill failed.
Cyprus needs 15.8 billion euros ($20.4 billion) to bail out its heavily indebted banks and shore up government finances. If it doesn't get the money, the banks could fail, Cyprus' government finances could be ruined for years and the country could face expulsion from the 17-country euro currency union. Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund have pledged to provide 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) in rescue loans if Cyprus can come up with the remainder.
With the country's banks closed since Saturday to avoid a run, Cypriot leaders will now try to hatch a more politically palatable plan that might also satisfy officials in the eurozone and IMF.
The plan that was rejected Tuesday -- with 36 votes against, 19 abstentions and one absence -- had been amended to shield the smallest depositors, those with under 20,000 euros ($25,858) in the bank. But deposits up to 100,000 euros ($129,290) are supposed to be insured by all euro countries. There has been widespread condemnation of the plan throughout Europe since it was announced over the weekend.
Sheriff: Missing Mo. mom staged disappearance, was at motel smoking fake pot with ex-husband
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- To law enforcement agencies, the disappearance of a Missouri woman and her young daughter for four days had all the markings of an abduction: a cryptic text message asking for help, a phone call that sounded like it was being read from a script, an ex-husband with a history of domestic violence.
Instead, Rachel Koechner told investigators Monday night that she slipped away with Davon Sandner, the ex-husband who's the father of her 4-year-old daughter, last week as part of a plan she devised a day before they took off. Koechner, Sandner and their child were found Monday in a home in Linn County about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City after someone saw them getting gas in nearby Brookfield and called police.
"Her family has such a strong hatred for her ex-husband, and his family has a strong hatred for her. They just wanted to be together," said Chariton County Sheriff Chris Hughes, whose department is leading the case.
Koechner was staying at her mother's house in Rothville in northern Chariton County when she disappeared.
Hughes said she left Thursday with Sandner and their daughter. They spent most of the time they were missing at a low-rate suburban Kansas City motel, where Koechner, 28, and Sandner, 37, smoked synthetic marijuana and laid low while law enforcement agencies frantically searched for them. Empty wrappers that had contained the artificial pot were found in Sandner's vehicle, and it appeared the couple had smoked the substance with their daughter nearby, the sheriff said.
Sanford advances to GOP runoff in House race in SC; winner to face comedian Colbert's sister
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford advanced Tuesday to a runoff in the Republican contest for an open congressional seat, taking a step toward reviving a political career that was derailed by an extramarital affair while he was governor.
"Are you ready to change things in Washington?" Sanford, flanked by his four sons, asked a boisterous crowd at a restaurant in Charleston's historic district. "I'm incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support we have seen tonight."
With all precincts reporting, unofficial results show Sanford received about 37 percent of the vote in the southern coastal district. It was unclear who he would face in the April 2 GOP runoff.
Former Charleston County councilman Curtis Bostic held a slim lead over state Sen. Larry Grooms for second place. But the margin is so narrow, less than one percent, that it will trigger an automatic recount. Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, trailed Bostic and Grooms.
The eventual Republican candidate will square off against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. She won the Democratic primary for the seat, handily defeating perennial candidate Ben Frasier.
Squabble over spending cuts slows progress on bill to avoid government shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A dispute over budget cuts that threaten dozens of smaller control towers with closure slowed Senate progress Tuesday on legislation to avoid a government shutdown on March 27.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., refused repeatedly to permit final passage of the measure unless Democrats first allow a vote on his plan for erasing most of the cuts aimed at towers operated by Federal Aviation Administration contract employees.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., just as persistently declined to give in, and other Democrats noted that House Republicans had rejected calls to give all federal agencies the type of budget flexibility that Moran was seeking.
The test of wills endured as Republicans and Democrats in Congress struggled with two goals -- ensuring there is no interruption of routine government funding while simultaneously vying for political advantage in the wake of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in earlier this month.
Across the Capitol, the Republican-controlled House began debate on a budget that promises to eliminate federal deficits in decade. The blueprint, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, D-Wis., calls for $6.4 trillion in spending cuts and no tax increases, and is expected to clear by week's end.
Pope Francis outlines priorities at papacy's start: Protecting nature, the weak and the poor
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- After a week marked by acts of simplicity and openness, Pope Francis finally let his words do the talking as he officially began his stewardship of the Catholic Church on Tuesday.
"Please," he implored the tens of thousands, both poor and powerful, gathered outside St. Peter's Basilica. "Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."
It was a message Pope Francis has hinted at, but now he made it clear, as he urged the economic, political and religious leaders arrayed before him not to allow "omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world."
On a day of warm, blue skies, the 76-year-old pope thrilled the crowd as he arrived in the sun-drenched piazza in an open-air jeep, shouting "Ciao!" to well-wishers and kissing babies handed up to him.
At one point, as he neared a group of people in wheelchairs, he signaled for the jeep to stop, hopped off and approached a disabled man held up to the barricade by his family, blessing him and then kissing him on his forehead.