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White House Considers Military Strike Against Syria; U.N. Weapons Inspectors Conclude Investigation into Chemical Weapons Use in Syria; Interview with Congress Eliot Engel; Interview with Congressman Scott Rigell; Stray Dogs a Problem in Detroit; Interview with Barry Manilow

Aired August 31, 2013 - 10:00   ET




JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: After a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): That's the sentiment of many Americans as the world awaits a possible U.S. strike on Syria. But will President Obama bend to public pressure, and will the U.S. military have to go it alone?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: No boots on the ground. So what are the alternatives? We'll show you what a U.S. military strike on Syria might look like and what the possible targets are.

BLACKWELL: A highly interesting turn by the feds over state marijuana laws, but don't get too excited, Mary Jane, there's a catch.


KEILAR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Brianna Keilar.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. 10:00 on the east coast, 7:00 on the west coast. You are in the CNN Newsroom.

KEILAR: We begin this hour with breaking news on the crisis in Syria. We have gotten words that the United Nations weapons inspectors are out of Syria and on a flight to Europe and they're carrying with them any evidence they found of a chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21st. Why is it so critical that inspectors have left Syria? Well, the thought is with the U.N. team out, the window is now open for a possible U.S. military strike.

BLACKWELL: This video, CNN exclusive, the chief inspector, Angela Cane, flew straight to New York to brief U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today. Sources tell CNN results of the chemical weapons, at least the full report, the chemical weapons test, may not be available for a week. Now, we've also learned that President Obama will lay out his plans for a Syria strike to Republican and Democratic senators today. And Russia's president, Vladimir Putin today, called the U.S. moves on Syria a provocation, or at least he said there was a provocation on the part of the opposition.

KEILAR: That's right.

BLACKWELL: These use of chemical weapons, he says if the U.S. has proof of a chemical weapons attack, then it should take it to the U.N.

KEILAR: So there's a lot of attention right now focused on those U.N. inspectors today regardless of what they found on the ground in Syria. Secretary of state John Kerry indicating the U.S. will act without a U.N. mandate if it comes to that.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: By the definition of their own mandate, the U.N. can't tell us anything that we haven't shared with you this afternoon or that we don't already know, and because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. security council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act as it should.


BLACKWELL: Let's talk with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh at the U.N. Nick, talk about the U.N. mandate that is just simply out of reach for the U.S.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what you heard John Kerry delineate yesterday was how simply a Russian veto here at the United Nations historically meant that all Syrian resolutions here are blocked, that the U.S. really never gets its way here. And that's certainly I think what has been blocking any progress in the past few days in the U.S. mind.

We have a complicated time table ahead of us here because, as you mentioned earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be briefed by Angela Cane who you saw arriving at JFK in New York late last night. Now, we had expected and Ban Ki-moon had said that he would then go on and brief the U.N. Security Council about what she told him. I understand from western diplomats that actually that's not going to happen now. He is simply going to be briefed, and then the lab samples taken from alleged chemical weapon sites inside Syria will go, one to Germany it seems for testing. That will be collected and then put into the U.N. inspector's final report which could take up to a week if not even longer possibly to finally emerge into the U.N. secretary-general's hands.

So people certainly I think in global public opinion looking to see what happens at the United Nations, what kind of evidence is produced here, and how this works out in the court of international public opinion. But as you saw from the choreography of John Kerry and Barack Obama yesterday, it does appear that they consider this process to be no longer of use to them. They've even said the State Department three days ago, there was no avenue left for them at the United Nations.

They believe they have proof of the chemical weapons being used and the regime did it. The U.N. mandate is just to establish whether chemical weapons were used, not to apportion blame. Russia, I presume wants to see some sort of evidence brought forward, too, but then likely it will revert back to its current position, which is this was done by the rebels.

So many people looking at the U.S. intelligence for justification on what looks like forthcoming Syria strikes. One very specific piece of information John Kerry mentioned was the death toll, 1,429. Having reported in Syria, it's difficult to get really accurate numbers about who died from what, a very solid figure, although they said in the report information is continually evolving. We have reached out to U.S. officials to ask where they got this precise figure and ever still waiting for a reply.

So very much global opinion dissecting the U.S. intelligence here, but it does seem that the U.S. has pretty much made its decision, although we haven't heard from the president.

BLACKWELL: That number 1,429 much larger than the number we heard up to that point yesterday from Secretary Kerry. Nick Paton Walsh, keep us posted from the U.N. Thank you.

KEILAR: President Obama says he's determined to hold Syria accountable.

BLACKWELL: He made it clear yesterday that Syria's alleged actions demand a response, but he has not said what that response will be except it will not require sending in troops. Listen.


OBAMA: In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign.


BLACKWELL: Russian President Vladimir Putin is slamming the U.S., accusing it of jumping to conclusions without providing evidence.

KEILAR: CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is at the White House. So Jill, the administration is briefing senators today, and it's from their -- they're briefing both sides of the aisle.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is. In fact we are understanding now from a White House official that that conference call will be taking place this afternoon, and it will be with the Senate Republican conference and the Democratic caucus.

And on that meeting will be all of the top officials of this administration, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State Kerry, Defense Secretary Hagel, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Winfield, and Director of National Intelligence Clapper, they will all be on that call.

And again, this is all part of talking with the Congress that we are referring to, not only the intelligence information, but also the rationale for taking whatever action the president wants to take.

Now, you mentioned President Putin, and there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out. The latest is he is saying, remember, he would speak to President Obama as if he were and he is a Nobel Peace prize winner. And he said as that, he should remember that the United States has been involved in a number of conflicts around the world in the last 10 years or so. He pointed out Afghanistan and Libya in particular, and he said has it really solved anything? So you have got this kind of blitz coming from Moscow.

By the way, we can see some cars pulling up now with some officials. But there is some action ongoing here at the White House. Back to you, Brianna, Victor.

KEILAR: And I think we do have some video of Chuck Hagel certainly at least arriving I should say -- pardon me, tripping over myself there -- at the White House. We can take a look. You see there he is. He's coming in for this conference call and we'll be checking in with Jill Dougherty throughout the morning. Thank you, Jill.

You know, the Pentagon is already fighting one war after ending another, and both were clearly weighing on John Kerry when he spoke yesterday.


KERRY: We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.


KEILAR: Of course, the military knows this and it's preparing to do whatever the president asks. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now from the Pentagon. So, Barbara, what kind of strain does this put on the military's really already strained resources?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, you know, go back to that picture you showed a minute ago of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arriving at the Pentagon -- pardon me, at the White House, and at his side was the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, general Marty Dempsey, the top military adviser to the president.

General Dempsey himself has been two opposed very publicly to an extended military campaign in regards to Syria but is going to undertake, of course, whatever the president orders in this instance, and all indications are that it will be limited. That's what the president is talking about.

Military families, war weary, the Pentagon, you know, stretched to the limit over the last several years. But the president is laying out a case at least at this point publicly for very limited option, and that would be these five warships in the eastern Mediterranean with their tomahawk cruise missiles, very precise weapons, guided to their targets by satellite coordinates, 1,000 pound warheads, so a lot of lethality, and the idea is they very quickly get to this list of targets they have in regards to Syria's chemical program and get the job done as they see it. Brianna, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Barbara, could you elaborate on that list of targets and what specifically they might be trying to hit?

STARR: Well, our understanding is, you know, it's a target list of perhaps something under 50. And it gets revised along the way as it always does in these cases. They're not likely to go after chemical stockpiles themselves, very difficult to bomb those and not worry, of course, about a dispersal of chemical agent. So I think you can look for them to go after command and control facilities, elements of troops and command centers, delivery systems, all the things that they can identify associated with the regime's policy, plan, and strategy of using those chemical weapons. That's what they want to go after, and they want to deliver a very strong message to Assad, they hope, that he can't do this again.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Hans Blix, one of the U.N. inspectors who determined there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had this to say about President Obama's latest reactions on Syria.


HANS BLIX, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I also think that the assurance that the attacks would be limited is not very encouraging. It is like saying to the world that you Syrians can go on fighting their war, but they must not use gas.


BLACKWELL: But is that what Syrians are thinking? Let's go to CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Beirut. He left Damascus just a few days ago. Fred, the inspectors are now out of Syria. They went to Beirut en route to Europe. Reportedly the regime there now believes an attack is imminent. Do you know how Syrians on the streets, beyond the regime, but Syrians on the streets are reacting?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, it really depends which side of the front line you're on, if you will, in Syria. If you're on the part that is controlled by the rebels, and obviously they're looking forward to these strikes, although many in the opposition that we've been speaking say that they wish it was larger strikes, that it was more widespread than what the White House seems to be wanting to. There are a lot of people that obviously believe America should go full on against the Assad regime.

If you're on the other side of the equation in Damascus, and I have been in touch with a lot of people on the ground there today and yesterday, people there are quite nervous about what's going to happen, but people there are also staying put at this point. I went out on Thursday and I saw a lot of people going towards the border to neighboring Lebanon, but it really wasn't the mass exodus that you might expect if people were thinking that this was going to be a larger scale military action.

There are some people on the ground in Damascus who are stocking up on food, stocking up on things like canned food in case things get bad and they don't have any access to that if something happens. What people are worried about on the government controlled side is if these strikes destabilize the Assad regime or if they destabilize the military that is obviously fighting against the rebels in the outskirts of Damascus, could that bring the fight closer to the center of Damascus and closer to their lives?

But right now most people are staying put even though they are very nervous about what's going on, and the regime for its part, as you said, is saying they believe that a strike is imminent as well and they are readying their air defenses. That comes from the Syrian military, Victor.

BLACKWELL: They have had more than a week as the U.S. has discussed what will happen, if something will happen, to prepare. Frederik Pleitgen in Beirut, thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up, we will talk with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to get their thoughts on a possible strike on Syria. But, first, the federal government says it will start turning a blind eye to state laws that legalize marijuana. Don't go stocking up on the Fritos just yet, though. There's more to the story up next on Newsroom.


BLACKWELL: I don't know who that guy is.


KEILAR: I don't know, but Victor's evil twin is with us here today.

BLACKWELL: Some marijuana users can light up without fear of the feds coming after them.

KEILAR: The Justice Department now says it will not challenge laws on the books in Colorado and Washington state that allow people to smoke pot for recreational use. Instead, officials say, they'll focus on things like dangerous drug cartels, trafficking, the big stuff, keeping the drug away from kids.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Nick Valencia joins us now. Nick, the Department of Justice has no plans of actually legalizing marijuana. That we know. I think we can say safely, but let's talk about enforcing the laws around this what is now classified as a category one.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some people think they're talking out of both sides of their mouth. They say there are newer priorities. They released a memo saying they're going after cartels and going after traffickers. They're not the producers or distributors.

But there's some precedent set here that doesn't give them so much credibility. Very early on in the administration, they said they weren't going to go after medical marijuana dispensaries. Some of them got too sizable and profitable and they did just that. So some very, you know, sort of trepidation here when it comes to what the feds are now saying.

KEILAR: OK. Now, banks, because it's really even at this point a cash-only business. It's not like banks want to lend to these dispensaries because they're concerned about the issue.

VALENCIA: They don't want to get caught up in the middle of it. Now this new prioritizing of goals that the feds have when it comes to marijuana gives leeway to the banks. They can now give loans to -- they could decide whether or not they want to give loans to distributors and producers. But they may very well be caught up in the middle of all this depending on going back to the sizable and profitable thing. You know, the fact is, bottom line, it's still illegal federally even though these states have passed these laws. They're just saying they're going to be hands off about this for new.

KEILAR: I bet some banks get in. It may be a risk, but I bet reward as well, right. We'll see. Nick Valencia, thank you.

VALENCIA: Thanks, guys.

KEILAR: Economic troubles have left a very heavy mark on Detroit. Homes left abandoned to the elements, entire neighborhoods wiped out. But it's not just people who are down and out in the city.


KEILAR: Bankruptcy is not the only problem for the cash-strapped city of Detroit. In a tough economic environment, many of the city's residents are struggling just to get by, and one result is tens of thousands of stray dogs roaming the city's streets. CNN's Poppy Harlow has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just found her today.



HARLOW: A stray?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, running up the street.

HARLOW: In America's biggest bankrupt city struggling just to keep the lights on, there's another problem, thousands upon thousands of dogs roaming Detroit's streets.

He's a stray. He's so thin. Most are pit bulling starving for food and affection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody moved out and left him behind. He was tied up in the backyard.

HARLOW: This is a young stray pit bull that was just brought in to the humane society, completely malnourished, injured, having a hard time walking, and unfortunately this is something they see here every single day. One of the biggest problems facing Detroit and the stray dogs is the fact that so many are not spayed or neutered, and so the problem persists.

DEBORAH MACDONALD, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR, MICHIGAN HUMANE SOCIETY: They're disposable in people's minds. You know, they don't vaccinate, they don't spay. They don't neuter.

HARLOW: It's been a vicious cycle for decades. This CNN video shows Detroit's strays back in 1997.

KRISTEN HUSTON, ALL ABOUT ANIMALS RESCUE: They're overbreeding. They're running the streets.

HARLOW: Kristin Huston is trying to curb the problem, educating owners to spay and neuter their dogs. She also provides free food to keep dogs in homes.

HUSTON: A lot of people have lost their homes, lost their jobs, and they just don't have the funds. They love their animals, but, you know, it's very hard to feed their own kids and their family.

HARLOW: So what are you going to do?

HUSTON: Exactly.

HARLOW: Howard Fullerton lost his home to foreclosure. He couldn't take his dog Cocoa with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's been in our family for nine years.

HARLOW: He comes every day to feed her and hopes she won't be taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The heartbreaking time is when I come walk with her and leaves, she just cries and whines.

HARLOW: Are there more people or stray dogs on this street?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now there are more stray dogs. In all of the houses on this street, all of them are empty except one.

HARLOW: Tom McPhee is with the world animal awareness society. He took us to deserted homes to see the strays living there.

Would tearing down these abandoned homes help solve the problem?

TOM MCPHEE, FOUNDER, WORLD ANIMAL AWARENESS SOCIETY: Absolutely. People are just quickly absorbing animals, and then passing them onto other people. There's no sense of guardianship and responsibility of having an animal.

HARLOW: So we just found this dog in the backyard here, but the issue is that the house is burned out. It's obviously an abandoned home. There's trash everywhere. The house next door is burnt down, and we have no idea how long the dog has been here or if the dog even has an owner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Morning, animal control.

HARLOW: Detroit animal control hit by staffing shortages is overwhelmed.

How long do you hold the dogs before they're euthanized?

HARRY WARD, MANAGER, DETROIT ANIMAL CONTROL: The state would say this is a one-week hold.

HARLOW: In one week they could be euthanized.

WARD: That's quite possible.

HARLOW: And 70 percent are euthanized.

MALACHI JACKSON, DETROIT ANIMAL CONTROL: This is one of the prime examples of a discarded animal that someone just discarded, let go.

HARLOW: Malachi Jackson has seen a lot, too much in his 19 years doing this.

How bad is the problem?

JACKSON: The problem is as bad as the economic problem I think. The whole society is pretty bad. You know, the people don't have jobs. They use animals to build revenue and protect their properties. Times are just tough.

HARLOW: Tough to say the least, and like so much else in Detroit, man's best friend is waiting to be rescued.

Poppy Harlow, CNN, Detroit.


KEILAR: So tough to watch.


It may take as long as three more weeks to contain a raging wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park. Thousands of firefighters are battling this inferno and slowly they are gaining ground, now 35 percent contained. But at least 4,500 buildings are in this fire's path. Officials have lifted evacuation advisories, though, for three communities. They expect to have the fire fully contained by September 20th.

As top members of the Obama administration get ready to brief members of Congress on the situation in Syria, we will speak with two lawmakers to find out what they think about this push for action.

And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will make history today as she helps a same-sex couple tie the knot.


BLACKWELL: Bottom of the hour now. Welcome back, everyone. I'm Victor Blackwell.

KEILAR: And I'm Brianna Keilar and here are five stories that we are watching for you.

Number one, U.N. inspectors have left Syria and are headed to the Netherlands after investigating last week's suspected chemical weapons attack. The U.S. insists the assault killed more than 1,400 people, but Russia's president is dismissing that claim, saying that the rebels there are actually making a provocation. He says that any evidence must be presented to the U.N. and to the U.N. Security Council.

BLACKWELL: Number two, as President Obama weighs a military strike in Syria, the administration is trying to keep Congress in the loop. The White House will brief Senate Republicans and Democrats this afternoon. Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Hagel as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, have arrived at the White House already. The president has said Syria needs to be held accountable. He hasn't said exactly how. He did say U.S. action would not involve sending ground troops and that any campaign would not last long.

Number three, she was one of the four Supreme Court justices to overturn the federal law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Now Ruth Bader Ginsburg is set to become the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony. The couple will be wed today in Washington, D.C. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the district since 2009.

Bob Filner has left the building. The San Diego mayor accused of sexually harassing 19 women officially stepped down yesterday. Filner denies he sexually harassed anyone, but a spokesman for California's attorney general says a criminal investigation is still under way. City council president Todd Gloria is now serving as interim mayor.

And number five, it's never been seen by human eyes, but thanks to NASA radar imaging, a mega canyon has been discovered in Greenland. This stretches, if you can believe it, for 460 miles, 200 miles longer than the Grand Canyon. Researchers think that it's been hidden under a mile of ice for 4 million years.

BLACKWELL: President Obama and his national security team will make the case for a strike on Syria to senators from both parties today. We've seen some of the top members of the administration walk into the White House this morning already, but many lawmakers say he needs to do more.

Almost a third of Congress has sent the president a letter calling for a full debate. An NBC news poll finds 79 percent of those surveyed say the president, excuse me, needs Congressional approval before any military action.

Now, let's look at both sides of this. New York Congressman Eliot Engel is the ranking democrat on the house foreign affairs committee. Congressman Scott Rigell is a Republican, represents Virginia's second district. Thank you both for joining us.


BLACKWELL: I want that start with you Congressman Engel, you say the president has in this brief been given enough information to you that you believe he should strike now, that the U.S. should strike now. What's the rush? Why not wait for Congress?

ENGEL: Well, I don't think it's a rush. I think there is ample precedent for many, many years, certainly starting back when President Reagan sent troops to Grenada, the first President Bush sent troops to panama. President Clinton did the same in Kosovo, and President Obama did the same in Libya. I think the War Powers Act clearly gives the president the latitude to do this, and then if it lasts more than 60 days, he has to come before Congress.

I think the president is weighing all options, all measures, and I think that he's doing the right thing by rigorously consulting with Congress, having discussions. I was on a phone call, I have had discussions with White House officials, and I think the president is trying to reach out to both sides of the aisle.

BLACKWELL: What did you learn on that phone call?

ENGEL: Well, I learned that there is no doubt in American intelligence that Assad and Syria launched a poison gas against their own people.

BLACKWELL: What's the evidence?

ENGEL: Well, first of all, we know that there was poison gas launched because we see those men, women, and children, particularly the children, foaming at the mouth, frothing and dying. The other thing is the Syrian officials waited five days before they allowed international inspectors to come in. If you want to prove your innocence, you don't wait five days where you can tamper with things. You would welcome then in right that very, very next morning. So they're hiding.

There's also intercepts of telephone communications where the Syrian officials are culpable. There's no doubt in my mind that they did this, and they did this as a strategic planning because they were trying to clear the Damascus suburbs of people who support the opposition, weren't being very successful, so they use poison gas as just one more tool in their arsenal.

I think it's disgraceful. I think the civilized world should not stand for it, and I think the president is right when he says that we're drawing a red line, and if they go beyond that red line, it's a game-changer. They have gone beyond that red line.

BLACKWELL: Congressman Rigell, you say the president needs Congressional approval. War powers act gives him 60 days to get consent. Can he do this now before more Syrians die as a result the U.S. believes of the regime's chemical attacks and just talk to Congress later?

REP. SCOTT RIGELL, (R) VIRGINIA: Well, Congressman Engel and I agree that a serious atrocity has taken place. It's horrific. We also agree that there's precedent, that our position, so many of us in the house, bipartisan, 140 on my letter and another 50 on Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Democrat coincidentally, on her letter calling upon the president to follow the right process, and that is to seek and obtain Congressional authorization prior to the use of force.

I disagree with your premise, Victor, that the War Powers Act gives President Obama or any president 60 days to essentially do what he or she might want to do. Absent that we have been either attacked or an attack is imminent, the president must come and seek authorization. This is my interpretation of our constitution and the War Powers resolution, and it's held by many in the American public and in the House of Representatives.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you, Congressman Engel, we saw this week that British Prime Minister David Cameron went to parliament, and he said he would ask them if England should get involved and he would act accordingly. Do you think if the president were to go to Congress and ask for that vote, that he would get the authorization?

ENGEL: Well, it's speculation, we don't really know. I think the president has a case to make. I do think that a case needs to be made to both the Congress and the American people. I just differ with Scott as to whether the president must get Congress' assent before he moves. I think my reading of the War Powers Act gives the president 60 days.

But I do think the president needs to make a case to both the American people and to Congress. I think Secretary Kerry laid out a compelling case yesterday when he spoke about what Assad has done. And I think the United States does have an interest. You know, we stand for something in the world. That's why we're the greatest super power. We cannot allow these war crimes to continue because if we allow Assad to get away with this, in my opinion, every despot around the world, every terrorist organization like Hezbollah will think they can just do whatever they do to satisfy their own ends and nothing will happen. The world will say nothing.

To people who say, well, go to the United Nations, they know that Russia blocks everything in the Security Council, and the United Nations is rendered impotent.

So I think the president doesn't want to do too much because frankly, the public is tired of war and I don't advocate boots on the ground and neither does the president. I think a reasonable strike is what the president should do, and I think he will.

BLACKWELL: I want to hear from secretary of state John Kerry. Listen to this, and then I'll ask you a question, Congressman Rigell.


KERRY: Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re- reviewed information regarding this attack, and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment.


BLACKWELL: You know, there are a lot of Americans who are watching yet another secretary of state, as we watched Colin Powell several years ago, stand up and make the case for not waiting for the U.N. and going it alone. Congressman Rigell, do you feel the evidence is strong enough to go forward without seeing this Iraq-style blunder. You have a lot of Americans wincing at this, saying here we go again.

RIGELL: I don't think it's in dispute that chemical weapons were used or that the Assad regime's fingerprints are upon that horrific cloud that enveloped that neighborhood in Damascus.

Now, I think the question, of course, is upon which method do we proceed here? I find it troubling and really sadly ironic that the British parliament has a robust and spirited debate, and yet the halls of Congress are silent in this matter. It is the American families' young men and women who be called upon to execute any order that is offered and sent out by the president. The moral foundation for any offensive action in this type of situation where we're not attacked or attack is imminent is only found upon seeking and receiving specific statutory authorization. That's what this bipartisan effort is all about.

BLACKWELL: All right, Congressman Eliot Engel of New York and Scott Rigell of Virginia, the president has said that anything is considering will not involve boots on the ground. We'll see if we hear more from the president before he heads to Sweden and then on to Russia. Gentleman, thank you.

RIGELL: Thank you.

KEILAR: Next on CNN, if you're a college football fan, you know what today is.

BLACKWELL: As players take the field for the season first big challenges, we'll look at some challenges some teams are already facing. That's next.


BLACKWELL: College football is back and ramping up in high gear with a full slate of games today, but a pair of high profile quarterbacks are making headlines off the field. Jared Greenberg is here with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning, Jared.

JARED GREENBERG, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. The Heisman trophy winner sacked by his own school and the NCAA. Johnny Manziel is suspended for the first half of today's season opener. He's committed what's being called an inadvertent violation for signing autographs. Meantime Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was spotted wearing a walking boot in Atlanta when the team arrived yesterday. It is to protect an ingrown toenail. But don't worry, he's college scheduled to play tonight against Virginia Tech. The senior quarterback has been one of the best in the country winning back to back national titles.

It's no holiday weekend for Phil Mickelson. Lefty cards a 63 on Friday's first round of the deutsche bank championship. A fast start helped Mickelson drill the 20-footer, then a 30-footer, both for birdie on his first two holes. Tiger Woods got an up close and personal look at Mickelson's round and even called it impressive. Phil, Tiger, and Adam Scott get round two underway today at 1:10 eastern.

Trending right now on, time for some bathroom jokes, literally. Behind door number one you will find a pitcher stuck in a dugout bathroom. Bring in a crowbar. Finally, Tampa Bay Rays reliever Fernando Rodney gets out relieved and relieved. With 24 of our teammates watching every moment, no worse place to get stuck in a bathroom than a dugout. How many maintenance workers does it take to get a baseball player out of a bathroom? The answer there is three.


BLACKWELL: I would have said just go ahead and play, move the camera. I'll be out later. Relieved and relieved, did you get it?

KEILAR: I did. I was thinking that before you said it.

GREENBERG: Great minds think alike.

KEILAR: Thanks, Jared.

He writes the songs that make the whole world sing, but musician Barry Manilow really does much more than that.

BLACKWELL: I sat down with him. It was an honor to talk about his latest project. That's next.


KEILAR: He is the voice behind famous hit songs like "Mandy" and "Can't Smile without You." You know him as the king of the Copacabana.




BLACKWELL: That's a good one, but my favorite is "Looks Like We've Made It." Singer Barry Manilow is more than a musician, songwriter. He's a musical legend, and he's returning to his theater roots with a new musical called "Harmony." It's about a real life German boy band from the 1920s. And on Friday I had the honor to sit down with Mr. Manilow and his longtime writing partner Bruce Sussman to discuss his late project and how it started.


BARRY MANILOW, SINGER/SONGWRITER: When I began, it was all about musicals. I had no intention about being a singer, making records. It never dawned on me. I was going to be in the background, playing piano, writing music. This record career --

BLACKWELL: You just stumbled into an iconic pop career?

MANILOW: It was a beautiful accident. And it started to explode so much that it took over my whole writing life. And I suddenly wound up as a pop singer, performer, making records. It had nothing to do with what I really wanted to do, which was this. Bruce went and saw this wonderful documentary on this group and said this is it. This is the one we should do.

BRUCE SUSSMAN, SONGWRITER: What was extraordinary to me is that I knew nothing about these people and they were enormous. They were the Beatles of their generation. And I said how do I not know this story? That turns out to be the story, why we don't know.

MANILOW: Why we don't know this group is our story.

SUSSMAN: And it quickly came to me that we like to have a sentence, what we call a spine sentence. What is this show about? And it quickly came to me that this show was about the quest for harmony in what turned out to be the most discordant chapter in human history. These characters were so talented and loveable and interesting, this was a musical. It was quite clear to me that's what it was.

BLACKWELL: What makes this work, and how does it work? Do you come up with this idea first and then you add the music or do you have the tune first?

MANILOW: People ask us what comes first, the music or the lyrics. Always the answer is the idea.

SUSSMAN: That's where the work is.

That's where the work is. Writing it is fun. But it's always the idea. Even for a pop song, well, for him, he hates pop music because, you know --

MANILOW: The page is so blank. I need a character and a situation. I'm a theater writer.

SUSSMAN: In pop music you have I love you or I miss you. That's it.


BLACKWELL: But for two people who have been so popular in pop music, how do you get that success? MANILOW: You can see Copacabana is also a story song.

SUSSMAN: It's also a very odd pop song. It was like nothing before it, and a song that says don't fall in love. How many times do you hear that on the radio? It was just a weird pop song that happened to capture the imagination of a large percentage of the public. By the way, the record company didn't release it.

MANILOW: They didn't like it.

SUSSMAN: They didn't like it. They said this is not a pop record, and it was forced off the album. It was the first of Barry's hit singles to be forced off by the public. As a result he had three records in the top ten at the same time.

MANILOW: There came "Copa" on the dance charts that nobody expected. It was number ten, number five, and then it jumped to the pop charts without any help from the record company.

SUSSMAN: And they had to release it.


BLACKWELL: It was great to sit down with them, and there's so much there.


BLACKWELL: We're going to talk more with them tomorrow. You will see more of it tomorrow.

KEILAR: Amazing the record company didn't like that song.

BLACKWELL: No. And everybody loves that song.

KEILAR: Everyone does.

BLACKWELL: They said first they started with the song, then it was in the second portion of the show, and now it's the closing number because everyone wants to hear it.

KEILAR: Everyone wants to hear it.

If you spend any time on social media, you have surely seen, maybe you have even taken, right, more than a few self-portraits.


KEILAR: This could be the first Papal selfie, and we'll have the story behind the image next.


KEILAR: When you think of a selfie, you probably think of like teenagers snapping pictures of themselves for social media posts, right? Well, now the Pope has joined the fun. BLACKWELL: Or maybe a 30-something weekend news anchor.

KEILAR: Maybe.

BLACKWELL: It was a precedent shattering moment for Francis. He posted with some young Italians here. It may be the first ever Papal selfie, and of course it's gone viral.

KEILAR: They say if you blow off a dandelion's petals, your wish will come true. She took her deepest breath and she huffed and she puffed. She didn't have much -- she didn't have a lot of luck so she just ate it. Best wishes to her anyway.


BLACKWELL: I'll show you dandelion.

KEILAR: She misjudged the distance I think is what it was. So adorable.

BLACKWELL: All right, thanks for spending your morning with us and for joining us for this hour of CNN Newsroom, but do not go away.

BALDWIN: Because there's so much more ahead in the next hour of the CNN Newsroom.

BLACKWELL: We turn it over to our colleague Fredricka Whitfield.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, we can laugh about that dandelion moment. Of course anyone who has ever said that fuzzy portion of the dandelion in your mouth, you don't laugh. It's the most disgusting thing. I remember that as a kid.

BLACKWELL: It's fun when it happens to somebody else.

KEILAR: It did not happen to me, but I guess it happened to Fred.

WHITFIELD: It did happen to me. All those school kid kind of pranks and I fell for it and it was yuck, terrible. So I'm feeling her pain there. You guys have a great day.

BLACKWELL: You, too.

KEILAR: Thanks so much.