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U.S. Gauges Global Stance on Syria; Wal-Mart Adds Domestic Partner Benefits; Markets Open Flat; 50 Years Since King Speech; Some Lawmakers Warn Obama on Syria; Inspirational Upset at U.S. Open

Aired August 28, 2013 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Noting that international law requires the U.N. Security Council to approve any possible military action. Joining me now, Jill Dougherty from the White House.

Good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Carol.

Well, you know, if you look at the president's public schedule today, there's really only one thing and that's a speech later on today at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which, of course, doesn't have anything to do with Syria. But behind the scenes, there is really intense activity.

The latest is on the intelligence report that we are still expecting this week to be declassified and made public. And the latest on that is that a diplomatic source is telling CNN that it was Israeli military intelligence that gave the information about what are called those signals intercepts. Communications among senior military commanders in Syria about the movement of chemical weapons and to the site where this alleged attack happened before it happened. So that's a crucial bit of information. We still haven't seen that, obviously. But, that report we expect this week.

Then, the list of countries you mentioned. That's the other front, the diplomatic front, making -- having consultations with leaders around the world about what should be done, what the response should be.

And then finally, politically here in the United States, a number of members of Congress who are saying that the president should consult with them before he decides on any military activity.

So there's a lot of stuff happening here, Carol, and in a very fast- moving situation.

COSTELLO: All right, Jill Dougherty reporting live from the White House this morning.

Checking our top stories at 32 minutes past. A massive wildfire still growing inside Yosemite National Park. Already 293 square miles have burned. More than 100 structures, including 31 homes, destroyed. Fires now at the shore of a key reservoir for San Francisco.

A Georgia mother weeps in court as she describes how a teenager shot her 13-month-old son to death. Sherry West testified the two teenagers tried to mug her and then one of them, De'Marquise Elkins, aimed a gun at her little boy and pulled the trigger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see, in this courtroom today, the man who shot and killed your baby, Antonio Santiago?

SHERRY WEST, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point him out to us.

WEST: The -- the young man in the blue. He walked over and shot my baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see him shoot your baby?

WEST: Yes. I tried to stop him. I put my arms over my baby, but he still shot him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Elkins has pleaded not guilty. The prosecution expected to rest today. Elkins accused accomplice set to stand trial later this year.

A major change for Wal-Mart. The company now says it will offer benefits, including health insurance, to domestic partners of its employees. That includes same-sex partners. But not everyone is happy about that announcement. Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange with more.

Good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.

So this benefit begins next year. So that means employees at Wal-Mart will be able to get this benefit. But here's the catch, it's only available for full-time workers, not everybody. You look at Wal-Mart. It's got more than 1 million workers. Not really sure how many part- time workers.

Still, though, got to give credit where credit's due. It's a big change for the nation's second biggest employer. It's certainly had its share of criticism in the past for not offering enough benefits to workers. So now what it's doing is it's offering health insurance to same-sex couples and any couple living together in a committed relationship for at least a year. Previously, Wal-Mart only offered the benefit in states that it was required to do so. So, now, after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, it's making one policy for all of its stores.

And you know what, this is a trend that the Human Rights Campaign says is growing. Sixty-two percent of fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples. So it's fair to say at this point, though, that Wal-Mart was one of the holdouts that now seems to be coming around.

Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, not any more. Let's talk about Wall Street after yesterday's selloff. What do we expect today?

KOSIK: Well, as far as overseas markets, you look at how they did. They certainly took it on the chin. They're actually some of our (ph) selling off right now. But Wall Street, right now, kind of holding its own, starting with a flat start, but it could be worse. You look at how the Dow performed yesterday, dropping 170 points.

We're going it be keeping our eye on oil today. That's really what we're going to be watching. Right now oil prices continue moving higher, up about -- another 0.75 percent after jumping 3 percent yesterday. Oil sitting at just under $110 a barrel. And this is because of those lingering concerns about Syria. And here's the thing. As long as these oil prices remain high, that could wind up translating into higher gas prices. So that's really why we're watching that today for you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Understand perfectly. Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the celebration is getting underway in Washington marking 50 years since Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Don Lemon live in Washington.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And what a day it will be. LeAnn Rimes rehearsing right now "Amazing Grace." Amazing day, coming up, with big speakers here at the National Mall on Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Today we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. A powerful speech delivered by an influential, respected civil rights leader. So maybe it's no surprise that more and more people are now channeling Dr. King. Everyone from President Obama to gun rights activists seem to think King would be an advocate for their agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): What do you think he'd say about Obamacare?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Oh, he'd like that. Well, because I think he understood that health care, health security is not a privilege. It's something that a country as wealthy as ours, everybody should have access to.

LARRY WARD, CHAIRMAN, GUN APPRECIATION DAY: The truth is, I think Martin Luther King would agree with me, if he were alive today, that if African-Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Joining us now from the National Mall, CNN's Don Lemon.

And, Don, I know you're going to be talking to Clarence Jones later, the man who co-wrote the "I have a dream" speech. What he would - what would he think of this co-opting (ph) of Dr. Martin Luther King?

LEMON: He'd probably have a very similar reaction that both you and I had to what we just heard there. And as a matter of fact, we interviewed him for our documentary, "We Were There, which aired last weekend here on CNN and you can get it -- also get it online, and he talked about, you know, Dr. King's dream, he talked about, in some ways, people co-opting that dream, but what the dream really means. So I think that Clarence Jones, who is also the attorney - was the attorney for Dr. King, again, would probably have a very similar response and -- that we had because I think that is pretty farfetched to say, you know, if we had armed African-Americans or slaves with guns, it might not be a part of the history. So, it's interesting, though, perspective, I think.

COSTELLO: It is interesting, isn't it?

Tell us what's going -

LEMON: Yes.

COSTELLO: Tell us what's going to happen today.

LEMON: Today we're going to look back. We're going to honor the people who came before us so that not only that I can be sitting here as an African-American man leading the coverage for an international network, I mean that says a lot, Carol, about how far we've come. But also you as a woman can be doing what you're doing, as well. Because this is not just about African-Americans, right, this is about all Americans having equality and having equal rights and rights under the law.

We're going to see Oprah Winfrey, whose going to kick things off. She's going to be the first speaker. Then we'll hear from two former presidents, President Clinton, President Carter. We'll also hear from John Lewis, who is one of the original speakers. The only living speaker from 50 years ago. And, of course, the headliner will be none other than the president.

But, Carol, you know, I know you're anchoring right now and you have the questions for me. I've got a question for you. So I was sitting here. I've been reading the "I have a dream" speech I'm wondering, you know, because he has that refrain which he wasn't going to say, which wasn't scripted, Mahalia Jackson was actually in the crowd, the great gospel singer, and as he was saying his speech, Mahalia Jackson said, tell them about the dream, doctor, tell them about the dream. And then he goes, I have a dream, right? So, what do you think - what do you think the president will say? Whether it's, I am the dream, I'm living the dream? There's going to be some sort of refrain, I think, and it's going to be interesting. I can't wait to hear what he's going to have to say. What do you think it's going to be? COSTELLO: I don't know. I really don't know. But it struck me, you know, you were describing how someone from the crowd yelled out to Dr. King that give me chills.

LEMON: Right.

COSTELLO: I just -

LEMON: Yes.

COSTELLO: I just think Dr. King was such a powerful speaker. It would be hard to match, even for President Obama, who's also a powerful speaker. So, you're right, I can't wait to hear what he has to say.

Don Lemon, thank you.

LEMON: Yes.

COSTELLO: We'll get back to you in the next hour of NEWSROOM.

LEMON: All right.

COSTELLO: We'll be back.

LEMON: All right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: "Talk to us first." That's the message some lawmakers have for President Obama when it comes to any possible military strike in Syria. In a letter, 37 members of the House, including several Democrats, write in part, quote, "engaging our military in Syria without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution," end quote.

And as the U.S. positions destroyers off the Syrian coast, a senior U.S. official tells CNN that while the Pentagon is ready to move on President Obama's orders, additional steps must be taken first. Among them, more outreach to Congress.

Joining me now Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Good morning, Carol. Good to be with you.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for being with us this morning. It seems like some don't want to waste any time. They want a military strike right now. Does the United States have to move that fast?

CASEY: Well Carol, I think to send the right message to the regime that we're not going to tolerate nor will the world, the international community tolerate the use of chemical weapons, I don't think you can allow too much time to go by. I don't think you can allow weeks or months. I think this -- this should -- this -- if there is going to be an operation of some kind, a response, it should be done in short order. That doesn't mean in the next two days, necessarily.

But it should happen as close to the event as possible after we've consulted with and worked together with our allies and as members of Congress have been briefed. And I think that's going to happen. I don't think you're going to see the administration waiting until Congress goes back into session, which is almost -- almost two weeks away.

COSTELLO: Why not, though, let U.N. inspectors finish the job on the ground in Syria? They're there today, they're going to prepare this report and then they will also present evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. Why not wait until that report is complete?

CASEY: Well, because, Carol, I think the evidence, certainly the evidence on the public record is overwhelming and I would say very convincing. As well as information that's been provided by way of intelligence. The administration has access to all of that intelligence. I don't think they'd be talking the way they are if they weren't, they weren't convinced. The problem with these inspectors is the Syrian government kept them out. The regime set for five days. Now we're not going to allow anyone in. When they finally relented, it was after they had done more bombing. So a lot of this evidence is going to be destroyed or already has been destroyed.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Well you know what; some people feel --

(CROSSTALK)

CASEY: So I think it's important the inspectors are there. I don't think that should --

COSTELLO: Some people feel this is like a flashback to Iraq you know on the weapons of mass destruction that really weren't there and why not gather all the evidence before you make a decision to strike a country militarily in a sensitive part of the world?

CASEY: Well, I think it's a little dangerous to make comparisons. I think this is a dramatically different situation. You've got a regime which has engaged in -- in this kind of conduct several times now against its own people and if we don't -- if we don't respond to that, I think we're making -- we're making a mistake.

I think the response, though, can be very specific and can be very -- very much proportional to what we've seen in the use of chemical weapons. I would hope, though, that one of the results of this kind of a -- if there is going to be a strike, that one of the results would be the degrading of the Syrian air power because that's really what is affecting the battle on the ground.

So even though the response can be very specific and focused, I hope that it will affect the overall outcome of the battle.

COSTELLO: Ok.

CASEY: Because ultimately I think it's in our national security interest not to have Assad in power because that empowers Iran and Hezbollah who plot against us.

COSTELLO: So two more questions. Number one, should the President sell this, for lack of a term, to the American people? Do the American people deserve an explanation before America decides to strike militarily? And two should the President get congressional approval?

CASEY: Yes. I think for sure the President has and needs to do more to address the American people about this and to -- and to be very specific -- and I haven't heard a lot of the discussion about this. Our national security interests are at stake here for -- for several reasons.

One of the basic reasons is when the Iranian regime and Hezbollah, two entities -- one a terrorist organization, one an actual country, the regime in Iran and not only are plotting against us every day and want to bring us harm and we know that for sure, but they've done so in the past and especially in the case of Hezbollah.

The Iranians tried to blow up a restaurant in Washington, D.C., that would kill a lot of Americans. So -- so I think our national security interests are at stake. I think the President has and will make that clear. But in terms of a long debate in Congress, simply to respond to a chemical weapons attack I think would take too long. We should have a long debate, though, an important debate about our larger strategy as it relates to Syria so we can -- we can be constructive and helpful even if we don't deploy more military assets beyond this -- this more focused response.

COSTELLO: Senator Bob Casey, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

CASEY: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Here's what's all new in the next hour of the NEWSROOM, Bashar al-Assad accused of launching chemical attacks against his own people while faithfully keeping up with his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's played erratic, he's played moody, he does from one side to the other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Just who is Syria's leader?

Also --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be a joy to all of us, to walk n Wal-Mart, that is our time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Especially one of them is made by me, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Made in the USA. Wal-Mart is making a $50 billion commitment. But what is it really costing the company?

More Americans than ever choosing to live alone: why we'll pay a high price to have our independence?

That's all new in the next hour of NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: 17-year-old American Victoria Duval pulled off a shocking upset in the first round of the U.S. Open. She beat a former champion to win her first ever grand slam. It was far from the first big challenge she's overcome, though.

Here's Andy Scholes with "Bleacher Report". Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: And good morning Carol.

Well Victoria Duval have been through quite a bit to get to where she is now. As a child in Haiti she was held at gunpoint for hours in an armed robbery and then three years ago her dad was nearly killed in the terrible earthquake that rocked Haiti. But last night it was all smiles for Duval as she beat former U.S. champion Sam Stosur in three sets to get her first big win of her career. It was a truly great moment for her and her entire family.

Well, in the line up section of Bleacherreport.com today you can check out one of the most impressive runs you'll ever see in a football field. Jabrill Peppers out of Paramus High School in New Jersey breaks nine tackles on this touchdown run -- it looks like he's doing something as part of a video game. Peppers committed to play college ball at Michigan but Carol he's committed to play as a quarterback.

COSTELLO: Really?

SCHOLES: Yes. They might want to try him out at running back once he gets to Dan Arbor (ph) just to see how he does. He looks pretty awesome in that run.

All right fresh off making the social media blowout during the MTV Music Awards Miley Cyrus followed up with this. Take a look at this picture. Miley turning the most sacred jersey in all basketball Michael Jordan jersey into what it looks like something possibly a Chicago Bulls half time dancer would wear Carol and in true Cyrus form it looks like she took this picture mid-twerk.

COSTELLO: Must we talk about twerking again. I can't stand it. SCHOLES: Every day -- right.

COSTELLO: Every day. Thank you, Andy.

SCHOLES: Ok.

COSTELLO: Next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)