WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a major disaster declaration for 18 Missouri counties hit hard by last month's floods.
The floods that resulted from nearly two weeks of heavy rain caused widespread damage across the southern tier of the state and left at least three people dead.
The White House said in a news release that federal funding is available to help local governments and nonprofits recover. The counties that will benefit are Barry, Camden, Cedar, Dade, Dallas, Laclede, Maries, McDonald, Miller, Osage, Ozark, Phelps, Pulaski, Shannon, Taney, Texas, Webster and Wright.
Federal funding is also available for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — China is warning other world powers of global economic risks of a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria'a civil war.
Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such "military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price."
He spoke in St. Petersburg on Thursday ahead of a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 leading world economies.
He cited estimates that a $10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.
He urged a negotiated U.N. solution to the standoff over allegations that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its own people, expressing hope that "the world economic balance will become more stable rather than more complex and more challenging."
NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (AP) - President Vladimir Putin has warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria, but says Russia "doesn't exclude" supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people.
Putin spoke in a wide-ranging interview to The Associated Press and Russia's state Channel 1 television late Tuesday at his residence outside Moscow.
It was the only one he granted prior to the summit of G-20 nations in St. Petersburg, which opens Thursday.
The summit was supposed to concentrate on the global economy but now looks likely to be dominated by the international crisis over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war.
Putin expressed hope that he and President Barack Obama would have serious discussions in St. Petersburg.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is holding its first public hearing about U.S. plans for military intervention in Syria as President Barack Obama seeks to convince skeptical Americans and their lawmakers about the need to respond to last month's alleged sarin gas attack outside Damascus.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. A classified briefing open to all members of Congress was to take place as well.
The president's request for congressional authorization for limited military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is at the heart of all the discussions planned in Washington over the next several days as Obama sends his top national security advisers to the Capitol for a flurry of briefings. And with the outcome of any vote in doubt in a war-weary Congress, Obama was to meet Tuesday with leaders of the House and Senate armed services committees, the foreign relations committees and the intelligence committees.
Obama won conditional support Monday from two of his fiercest foreign policy critics, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
A congressional vote against Obama's request "would be catastrophic in its consequences" for U.S. credibility abroad, McCain told reporters outside the White House following an hour-long private meeting with the president.
But despite Obama's effort to assuage the two senators' concerns, neither appeared completely convinced afterward. They said they'd be more inclined to back Obama if the U.S. sought to destroy the Assad government's launching capabilities and committed to providing more support to rebels seeking to oust Assad from power.
"There will never be a political settlement in Syria as long as Assad is winning," Graham said.
After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls show most Americans opposed to any new military action overseas. That reluctance is being reflected by senators and representatives, some of whom say Obama still hasn't presented bulletproof evidence that Assad's forces were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack that U.S. intelligence says killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Others say the president hasn't explained why intervening is in America's interest.
After a Labor Day weekend spent listening to concerned constituents, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the administration needed to make its case on these points, if only to counter the misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating about Obama's plans.
"Several people asked me if we were only interested in getting Syria's oil," Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's important that Americans get the facts."
Petroleum is hardly the most pertinent question. Even before Syria's hostilities began, its oil industry contributed less than half a percent of the world's total output. And Obama has expressly ruled out sending American troops into Syria or proposing deeper involvement in the Arab country's violent civil war.
But such queries are a poignant reminder of the task awaiting the administration as it argues that the United States must exert global leadership in retaliating for what apparently was the deadliest use of chemical weapons anywhere over the past 25 years.
Obama has insisted he was considering a military operation that was limited in duration and scope. The White House said Monday that Obama was open to working with Congress to make changes in the language of the resolution, which Congress was expected to begin considering next week.
In a conference call Monday with House Democrats, several members of Obama's own party challenged the administration's assertions.
In a post on his website, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., reflected a view shared by at least some of his colleagues: "I am vehemently opposed to a military strike that would clearly be an act of war against Syria, especially under such tragic yet confusing circumstances as to who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons."
Their skepticism is shared by many tea party Republicans and others, whose views range from ideological opposition to any U.S. military action overseas to narrower fears about authorizing the use of force without clear constraints on timing, costs and scope of the intervention.
The most frequent recurring questions: How convinced is American intelligence about the Assad regime's culpability for the chemical attack, a decade after woefully misrepresenting the case that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction? And how does a military response advance U.S. national security interests?
Pressuring the administration in the opposite direction are hawks and proponents of humanitarian intervention among both Democrats and Republicans who feel what Obama is proposing is far too little.
Obama's task is complicated further because he is leaving for a three-day trip to Europe on Tuesday night, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, and then attending an economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The simple case for action is the administration's contention that the sarin gas attack violated not only the international standard against using such weapons but also Obama's "red line," set more than a year ago, that such WMD use wouldn't be tolerated.
Intervening in Syria's conflict is no light matter, however. Having claimed more than 100,000 lives in the past 2½ years, the fight has evolved from a government crackdown on a largely peaceful protest movement into a full-scale civil war scarily reminiscent of the one that ravaged Iraq over the last decade. Ethnic massacres have been committed by both sides, which each employ terrorist organizations as allies.
Since Obama's stunning announcement Saturday that he'd seek congressional authority, dozens of members of Congress have issued statements. Most have praised the administration for its course of action, and several have suggested they are leaning one way or another. But precious few have come out definitively one way or another.
McCain said he believed many members were still "up for grabs."
WASHINGTON (AP) — Wary of another war, congressional Republicans and Democrats pressed President Barack Obama to explain why the U.S. military should attack Syria and involve Americans in a deadly civil conflict that has roiled the Mideast.
"What is the intended effect of the potential military strikes?" House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote the president on Wednesday as the drumbeat of war grew louder.
Exasperated members of the House and Senate said the president has failed to make a case for U.S. military action against Syria despite the administration's conclusion that the Syrian government carried out a large-scale chemical weapons attack against civilians last week.
The administration signaled Wednesday that it would act against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital of Damascus on Aug. 21.
Some lawmakers insisted that Obama, despite his standing as commander in chief, cannot unilaterally order military action against Syria without congressional authorization.
The president said in a PBS interview Wednesday that he had not made a decision about how the United States would respond.
In his letter, Boehner underscored that he has been supportive of administration policy to date as Obama has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign and insisted that the use of deadly chemical weapons would be a gross violation of international norms.
Boehner wrote that in light of the administration's contention that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its people, Obama should provide "a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action — which is a means, not a policy — will secure U.S. objectives."
The administration was planning a teleconference briefing Thursday on Syria for leaders of the House and Senate and national security committees, U.S. officials and congressional aides said. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, complained in a letter to Obama on Tuesday that informal briefings and conversations with administration officials have focused on the general situation in Syria and included no discussions of steps being considered or a comprehensive strategy.
Boehner asked Obama to "personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve American credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy."
The speaker also pressed the president to provide a legal justification for any U.S. military action.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to Boehner's request.
In the House, 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats have signed a letter to Obama demanding that he seek congressional authorization for any military action against Syria. The letter written by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., argues that intervention without a direct threat to the United States and without Congress' approval would be unconstitutional.
Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, cautioned that an attack might be ineffective and draw the United States into the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.
"Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of 'doing something' will not secure our interests in Syria," Smith said in a statement.
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he informed the administration that he could not support any military strike against Syria unless Obama presents a detailed strategy to Congress and provides a defense budget to support any action.
An increasing number of lawmakers have asked what would be the end result of U.S. military intervention against a Mideast country where the Assad government and rebel forces have struggled for more than two years, with an estimated 100,000 killed and millions displaced.
"The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring into power people friendly to the United States," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said.
In his letter, Boehner raised 14 questions that he asked Obama to answer, including what the administration would do if Syria retaliates against U.S. allies in the region, whether the administration would launch additional military strikes if the initial ones proved ineffective and what was the intended effect of such a step.
Boehner alluded to the 10-plus years of fighting in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the need for the administration to have strong public and congressional support for U.S. involvement in a Mideast war.
"Our military, as well as their families, deserve to have the confidence that we collectively have their backs — and a thorough strategy in place," the speaker wrote.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry says there is "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria, with intelligence strongly pointing to Bashar Assad's government, and "this international norm cannot be violated without consequences."
Kerry's tough language marked the clearest justification yet for U.S. military action in Syria, which, if President Barack Obama decides to approve, most likely would involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department on Monday, Kerry was harshly critical of chemical warfare.
"By any standard, it is inexcusable and — despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured — it is undeniable," said Kerry, the highest-ranking U.S. official to confirm the attack in the Damascus suburbs that activists say killed hundreds of people.
Obama has not decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, officials said. The White House said last year that type of warfare would cross a "red line." The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago.
Two administration officials said the U.S. was expected to make public a more formal determination of chemical weapons use on Tuesday, with an announcement of Obama's response likely to follow quickly. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.
The international community appeared to be considering action that would punish Assad for deploying deadly gases, not sweeping measures aimed at ousting the Syrian leader or strengthening rebel forces. The focus of the internal debate underscores the scant international appetite for a large-scale deployment of forces in Syria and the limited number of other options that could significantly change the trajectory of the conflict.
"We continue to believe that there's no military solution here that's good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "This is about the violation of an international norm against the use of chemical weapons and how we should respond to that."
The Obama administration was moving ahead even as a United Nations team already on the ground in Syria collected evidence from last week's attack. The U.S. said Syria's delay in giving the inspectors access rendered their investigation meaningless and officials said the administration had its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons use. U.N. officials disagreed that it was too late.
"What is before us today is real and it is compelling," Kerry said. "Our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts."
The U.S. assessment is based in part on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed and witness accounts. Administration officials said the U.S. had additional intelligence confirming chemical weapons use and planned to make it public in the coming days.
Officials stopped short of unequivocally stating that Assad's government was behind the attack. But they said there was "very little doubt" that it originated with the regime, noting that Syria's rebel forces do not appear to have access to the country's chemical weapons stockpile.
Assad has denied launching a chemical attack. The U.N. team came under sniper fire Monday as it traveled to the site of the Aug. 21 attack.
It's unclear whether Obama would seek authority from the U.N. or Congress before using force. The president has spoken frequently about his preference for taking military action only with international backing, but it is likely Russia and China would block U.S. efforts to authorize action through the U.N. Security Council.
More than 100,000 people have died in clashes between forces loyal to Assad and rebels trying to oust him from power over the past two and a half years. While Obama has repeatedly called for Assad to leave power, he has resisted calls for a robust U.S. intervention, and has largely limited American assistance to humanitarian aid. The president said last year that chemical weapons use would cross a "red line" and would likely change his calculus in deciding on a U.S. response.
Last week's attack in the Damascus suburbs is a challenge to Obama's credibility. He took little action after Assad used chemical weapons on a small scale earlier this year and risks signaling to countries like Iran that his administration does not follow through on its warnings.
Syrian activists say the Aug. 21 attack killed hundreds; the group Doctors Without Borders put the death toll at 355 people.
The U.S. Navy last week moved a fourth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean. Each ship can launch ballistic missiles.
Officials said it was likely the targets of any cruise-missile attacks would be tied to the regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks. Possible targets would include weapons arsenals, command and control centers, radar and communications facilities, and other military headquarters. Less likely was a strike on a chemical weapons site because of the risk of releasing toxic gases.
Military experts and U.S. officials said Monday that the precision strikes would probably come during the night and target key military sites.
The president has ruled out putting American troops on the ground in Syria and officials say they are not considering setting up a unilateral no-fly zone.
On Capitol Hill, bipartisan support for a military response appeared to be building, with some key lawmakers calling for targeted strikes. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Ohio Republican had "preliminary communication" with White House officials about the situation in Syria and a potential American response.
It's unlikely that the U.S. would launch a strike against Syria while the United Nations team is still in the country. The administration may also try to time any strike around Obama's travel schedule — he's due to hold meetings in Sweden and Russia next week — in order to avoid having the commander in chief abroad when the U.S. launches military action.
Missouri State Fair officials are apologizing after a clown wearing a President Barack Obama mask appeared at a State Fair rodeo this weekend and the announcer asked spectators if they wanted to see "Obama run down by a bull."
Officials said the performance Saturday in Sedalia was "inappropriate" and "does not reflect the opinions or standards" of the fair, but it's unclear if the performers involved will face any consequences.
Governor Jay Nixon, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill also weighed in with harsh criticism of the performance.
Kinder tweeted Sunday that it was "disrespectful" to the president and that Missourians are "better than this."
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster declaration after severe storms struck Missouri from May 29th to June 10th.
The storms included one that spawned a tornado in the St. Louis area and others that caused widespread flooding.
The declaration allows the federal government to provide government entities and some nonprofits help paying for emergency work and facility replacement and repairs in 27 counties. They span from Barton County on the border with Kansas to St. Louis County. Funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
Obama will travel Wednesday to Galesburg, Illinois and Warrensburg, Missouri to make his case for spending on infrastructure and for universal pre-school programs. Obama is also expected to highlight the economic benefits of overhauling immigration laws.
WASHINGTON (AP) - More than a decade ago, then-state Sen. Barack Obama helped pass a racial profiling bill in Illinois. Now that effort is offering clues about how America's first black president feels about an issue still polarizing the U.S. months after Trayvon Martin's death.
Obama has said little about the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was charged with killing the black teenager in Florida. Obama says the jury has spoken, but wants the nation to seek ways to prevent future tragedies.
In 2003, Obama passed a bill requiring police to keep track of the race, age and gender of drivers they pulled over. The records could then be analyzed for bias.
Obama has written about his own experiences with profiling, including being pulled over, in his words, "for no apparent reason."
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — President Barack Obama says former South African President Nelson Mandela continues to shine as a beacon of the power of principle and standing up for what's right.
Obama says South Africa's transition from apartheid to a free nation has been a personal inspiration and an inspiration to the world.
He says the recent outpouring of love for the critically ill anti-apartheid icon shows the deep yearning for justice and dignity in the human spirit. He says that yearning transcends class, race and country.
Obama spoke at a joint news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma. The White House says Obama will meet Saturday with Mandela's family but won't visit him in the hospital, in line with the family's wishes.