Obama to seek congressional approval before launching any military strike against Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Short on support at home and allies abroad, President Barack Obama unexpectedly stepped back from a missile attack against Syria on Saturday and instead asked Congress to support a strike punishing Bashar Assad's regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons.
With Navy ships on standby in the Mediterranean Sea ready to launch their cruise missiles, Obama said he had decided the United States should take military action and that he believes that as commander in chief, he has "the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization."
At the same time, he said, "I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective." His remarks were televised live in the United States as well as on Syrian state television with translation.
Congress is scheduled to return from a summer vacation on Sept. 9, and in anticipation of the coming debate, Obama challenged lawmakers to consider "what message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price."
The president didn't say so, but his strategy carries enormous risks to his and the nation's credibility, which the administration has argued forcefully is on the line in Syria. Obama long ago said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that Assad would not be allowed to cross with impunity.
Analysis: For Obama, decision to pull back from the brink in Syria tests credibility
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For more than a week, the White House had been barreling toward imminent military action against Syria. But President Barack Obama's abrupt decision to instead ask Congress for permission left him with a high-risk gamble that could devastate his credibility if no action is ultimately taken in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack that crossed his own "red line."
The stunning reversal also raises questions about the president's decisiveness and could embolden leaders in Syria, Iran, North Korea and elsewhere, leaving them with the impression of a U.S. president unwilling to back up his words with actions.
The president, in a hastily announced statement Saturday in the White House Rose Garden, argued that he did in fact have the power to act on his own. But faced with the prospect of taking action opposed by many Americans, the commander in chief tried to shift the burden and instead round up partners on Capitol Hill to share in that responsibility.
"While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective," Obama said. "We should have this debate."
The consequences for Obama's turnabout could be sweeping, both at home and abroad. If Congress votes against military action, it would mark a humiliating defeat for a second-term president already fighting to stay relevant and wield influence in Washington. It could also weaken his standing internationally at a time when there are already growing questions about the scope of American influence, particularly in the Arab world.
Given a say in whether to strike Syria, congressional lawmakers begin debating what to do
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of Congress, abruptly handed exactly the war powers many had demanded, grappled Saturday with whether to sign off on President Barack Obama's plan to punish Syria for an alleged chemical weapons attack. Now with a stake in the nation's global credibility, lawmakers were seeking more information about the possible consequences of striking a region without knowing what would happen next.
The debate over what action, if any, Congress might approve is in its infancy as lawmakers prepare for a public hearing Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But the first contours began emerging within hours of Obama's announcement.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he doesn't believe Syria should go unpunished for the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus. "But we need to understand what the whole scope of consequences is," he said by telephone. "What the president may perceive as limited ... won't stop there."
Arguing for a strategy that seeks to end Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued a joint statement saying that any operation should be broader in scope than the "limited" scope Obama described.
"We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," the senators said.
Newtown marches on: Labor Day Parade, shaped over fraught months, reflects 'how we're healing'
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- Ten thousand decisions go into creating a big, boisterous parade. No one knows that better than Robin Buchanan, who for years has juggled the lineup at the Labor Day parade that has jubilantly closed out every Newtown summer for more than five decades.
But never before had this happened: Calls and emails from regulars, folks who always marched, concerned about the most basic decision of all.
"Are you going to have a parade," they asked her, "this year?"
Meaning: After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, after the eulogies for 20 first-graders and six educators, amid the drumbeat of news stories across the country and hushed conversations around town, all adding up -- still -- to incomprehension.
Texas megachurch's teachings under scrutiny amid cluster of measles cases that has sickened 21
NEWARK, Texas (AP) -- The teachings of televangelist Kenneth Copeland and his family focusing on the virtues of trusting God to keep healthy are under scrutiny after a cluster of measles cases linked to his family's North Texas megachurch revealed many congregants hadn't been vaccinated against the highly contagious disease.
Kenneth Copeland Ministries has won supporters worldwide through television programs, crusades, conferences and prayer request networks. He was a pioneer of the prosperity gospel, which holds that believers are destined to flourish spiritually, physically and financially.
Although church officials were quick to act after the outbreak -- including hosting clinics in August where 220 people received immunization shots -- and have denied they are against medical care or vaccinations, people familiar with the ministry say there is a pervasive culture that believers should rely on God, not modern medicine, to keep them well.
"To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and my friends and my peers as an act of fear -- that you doubted God would keep you safe, you doubted God would keep you healthy. We simply didn't do it," former church member Amy Arden told The Associated Press.
Health officials say 21 people were sickened with the measles after a person who contracted the virus overseas visited the 1,500-member Eagle Mountain International Church located on the vast grounds of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth.
In Pentecostal churches throughout the country, messages in tongues on the decline
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- At Three Crosses Church, Pastor Ken Walters urges his parishioners to join him in song and scripture. The charismatic 58-year-old extends his arms skyward and belts out melodies praising God.
While the small Assemblies of God congregation goes through all the traditional trappings of a Pentecostal service, there is one notable absence: speaking in tongues, a defining trait of the faith.
The 40-member church is among many nationwide that are reducing or cutting out speaking in tongues as they become more popular and move to the mainstream. It's a shift that has unsettled some more traditional Pentecostals who say the practice is at the heart of a movement that evolved out of an interracial revival and remains a spontaneous way for the poor and dispossessed to have a direct line to God.
They question the wisdom of placing less emphasis on a tenet that has defined Pentecostalism for more than a century.
"It's different now," Walters said. "People don't like to stand out if they don't have to."
Smoke from Sierra wildfire finally reaches Yosemite Valley; park issues air quality advisory
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) -- Dense smoke from a wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park on Saturday hampered both suppression efforts and the prized views sought by holiday weekend tourists.
For the first time since the blaze broke out in a neighboring forest two weeks ago, smoke obscured Yosemite Valley, home to the park's most popular landmarks, spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.
"I'm in Yosemite Valley right now, and I cannot see the cliffs around me," Cobb said. "The wind has shifted and smoke is impacting the entire park. We have been lucky until now."
All the campgrounds in the Valley still were full as of Saturday morning, despite the thick blanket and burning smell that permeated the area and was expected to linger until at least Monday, she said.
As a health precaution, visitors were being asked to scale back their outdoor recreation plans and avoid strenuous activities or even stay indoors.
Dozens of aftershocks, including some above 4.0, expected in Alaskan island region
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Dozens of noticeable aftershocks above magnitude 4.0 are expected in the remote Aleutian Island region off Alaska in the days and weeks following a major 7.0 earthquake, the Alaska state seismologist said Saturday.
A dozen measurable aftershocks have already hit the region since Friday's quake, including one reaching 6.1 in strength, said seismologist Michael West. There have been more than 30 aftershocks measuring at least magnitude 2.5.
None of the aftershocks are expected to cause a notable tsunami, since the initial quake did not cause one. And West said experts are not too worried this quake will trigger another significant quake nearby in the near future.
"This is very common area for earthquakes," West said. Temblors above magnitude 5.0 are felt every month.
The site of Friday's quake is quite active. Significant quakes were felt just to the east and the west of Friday's earthquake in 1986, 1996 and 2003.
Exotic animal zoo gives Okla. woman battling depression, injured pet kangaroo a second chance
WYNNEWOOD, Okla. (AP) -- Christie Carr wants her young ones to cooperate when they sit down for a family portrait, but at times it's so difficult that she has to tell young Irwin to go to his bedroom. He obeys and hops to it.
Irwin may sleep in a bed, wear boy's clothes on occasion and eat Twizzlers, but he's not human. He's a red kangaroo, nursed back to health after he was partially paralyzed from running into a fence a few years ago.
Two years after battling a city council in northeastern Oklahoma over Carr's right to keep a "therapy kangaroo," she found Irwin a home at an exotic animal park. And Carr has found some relief from her depression.
On a recent weekday morning at The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park, Irwin, fresh from playing in the dirt, sat on a cushy chair in a wooden pen next to Carr. He later fussed with his new sister, Larsen, a baby Siberian tiger, in the staff house.
The new home, Carr said, is good for both Irwin and herself. He's able to interact with other people and some animals, and her emotional life is enriched by being around all the animals.
Lagging Twins send veteran 1B Justin Morneau to contending Pirates before deadline
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates are all-in as they chase the franchise's first playoff appearance in 21 years.
Pittsburgh traded for longtime Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau on Saturday, hoping the four-time All Star can give the Pirates' middling offense a jolt heading into the final month of the season.
"We felt that this move gives us a better chance to play in October, a better chance to win the division, a better chance to advance in October," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
The Twins obtained outfielder Alex Presley and either a player to be named or cash in Pittsburgh's second major move in a week. The Pirates sent a pair of minor leaguers to the New York Mets on Tuesday in exchange for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck.
"We've got more depth, we've got more options than we had four days ago," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're a better team. We're a stronger team."