News Wrap: Boehner Calls Contraception Mandate 'Attack on Religious Freedom'

HARI SREENIVASAN: Republicans stepped up the pressure on President Obama today over a mandate that religious schools and hospitals provide birth control for employees. The provision has spawned a political storm, with Catholic leaders and others saying they would have to violate their own teachings against contraception.

On the House floor today, Speaker John Boehner called it an unambiguous attack on religious freedom.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: The federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries. If the president doesn't reverse the department's attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution that we are sworn to uphold and defend, must.

HARI SREENIVASAN: White House officials suggested Tuesday that a compromise might be in the works.
Spokesman Jay Carney followed up today.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: We're trying to implement a policy that will affect millions of women — well, all women — and — in this country — and also to do so in a way that's sensitive to people's religious beliefs. And that reflects the approach the president takes, and it reflects the approach that Secretary Sebelius has taken.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Carney also criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for attacking the birth control mandate. The White House spokesman said Massachusetts had a nearly identical policy when Romney was governor. Romney shot back that the policy was already in place before he took office.

The House voted today to grant line-item veto authority to the president. He would be empowered to eliminate specific items in spending bills, instead of having to veto or accept the entire bill. Congress would then have to approve the specified cuts. The measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a previous line-item veto law in 1998.

Wall Street had a relatively quiet day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained five points to close just below 12,884. The Nasdaq rose more than 11 points to close near 2,916.
In Syria, the military assault on the city of Homs was unrelenting, despite President Bashar al-Assad's talk of peace. Amnesty International warned of a growing humanitarian crisis.

We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News in Beirut, Lebanon.

Be advised: Some of the images may be disturbing.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The Syrian president says the bloodshed must end, but not quite yet. Government forces have been shelling Homs for five days now, each day more terrifying than the last.

Amateur video coming out of Homs shows fire and destruction, mainly in the Baba Amr district. Few residents dare brave the tanks on the street, patrolling Homs with no electricity and diminishing stocks of food.

Maybe he doesn't care if he's hit. The child in his arm is dead, activists say killed by a rocket which fell on the family home. The bodies are taken to a makeshift morgue. We can't verify the numbers, but government opponents say scores of people were killed today. Medical supplies are running short.

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres today accused the Syrian government of targeting medical facilities. Doctors are in despair.

DR. MAHMOUD AL-MAHMOUD, Syria (through translator): Baba Amr has been under rocket attack since 5:00 a.m. We are treating this man in the mosque. We can't do anything for him. He needs a hospital. We can't help him here.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Activists say government snipers are hiding in buildings. Just driving along the road is dangerous.
The Syrian state TV version of events is a mirror image. Armed gangs are blamed for everything.

MAN (through translator): The bombs are coming from Baba Amr. They are from armed gangs. Who else? It is not safe to walk here. I can't find any bakers open because the militants won't allow them to open.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Outside Homs, the military convoy stretches on and on, dozens more tanks being transported towards the city where President Bashar al-Assad is showing Syrians that, whatever the human cost, his regime will prevail.

HARI SREENIVASAN: European Union officials said today they will discuss tougher economic sanctions on Syria when they meet at the end of the month. But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned against interference. He said, "we should not act like a bull in a china shop."

The prime minister of Egypt insisted today that a crackdown on foreign nonprofit groups will go forward. On Sunday, judges referred 16 Americans and 24 other foreigners to trial. They are accused of illegally using foreign money to stir unrest. The U.S. and others have threatened to cut off aid to Egypt unless the military-backed government relents.

But, in Cairo, Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri was defiant.

KAMAL EL-GANZOURI, Egyptian Prime Minister (through translator): We will follow and abide by the law. Egypt has known civilization for thousands of years, so we won't back down or take a different route because of the threat of losing some aid.

HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. officials say the Americans being held in Egypt have done nothing wrong.

Those are some of the day's major stories.