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President Announces Intent to Obtain Congressional Approval for Military Strike on Syria
Aired August 31, 2013 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So there he is, the president of the United States making it clear he has authorized the use of force in Syria, but he's not going to go forward with that execute order until -- until Congress acts. They're not scheduled to come back from their recess until Monday, September 9th. And then he has the commitment of the democratic and Republican leadership in the house and Senate. They will take up this resolution that would give the president authority to go ahead and launch a military strike against Syria to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.
So clearly, even though the president has made a decision to go ahead, even though the president has made a decision to go ahead and use military force, he has decided to wait to execute that order until Congress comes back, and that could be at least 10 days or so from now, if not longer, depending on how long it takes Congress to consider such a resolution.
And there is by no means a guarantee the president will win that vote in the House of Representatives, especially -- likely he probably will win in the Senate, not 100 percent guarantee, but there is no guarantee he will win in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And if he were to suffer that setback, it would be very similar to what David Cameron suffered in the house of parliament this week, in the House of Commons, when he suffered that loss in members of his own party refusing to go along with him.
Jim Acosta, the president has really rolled the dice right now. So there's not going to be any imminent U.S. strike until Congress comes back. It doesn't look like they're coming back before September 9th, so military action not going to take place this weekend or next week unless Congress comes back early. No indication, as I said, they will. But this is a major decision by the president. He is rolling the dice that the house and the Senate will support him. If the Senate does and the house doesn't, he didn't say what he would do. He just said he would like that authority from Congress to strengthen the U.S. resolve.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I believe one of the reporters there in the Rose Garden tried to ask that question before he left. He did not answer that question.
But, Wolf, this is a president who has had very strained relations with Republicans in Congress, not only in the House of Representatives. He has a few Tea Party-backed Republicans in the Senate who have been very, very much against his agenda in recent months, most notably Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio. And so it will be interesting to watch what happens in both houses of Congress.
But you're right, Wolf, this means the president, while he has made a decision to go ahead and authorize military force against Syria, and we should say that that was always really the case all throughout the week, it seemed from everything he was saying, his administration was saying that was going to be the case, but this is a delay.
Presumably the Congress could be called back. That might be a better question for Dana Bash. But this does run a bit of a risk for the president in that there could be future chemical weapons attacks inside Syria between now and when the Congress returns. That must have been a calculation the president has gone through and said it's just something he'll have to deal with.
And part of the reason, Wolf, why he's doing this is his own words would have come back to haunt him had he gone ahead and said yes to military force without Congressional authorization. Back in 2007 when he was running for president, he told "The Boston Globe," quote, "The president does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Those words have been thrown back at him by members of Congress in recent days, saying, well, what happened to candidate Obama? President Obama in the White House is doing something very different. So the president making this decision today is at least making himself consistent in this regard back in 2007, Wolf.
BLITZER: But he's taking a huge chance right now that he could be embarrassed by the House of Representatives, maybe even the Senate, if they vote against authorization.
Let's bring in Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent. First of all, Dana, is there any indication that Congress will come back next week, come back early, because they're scheduled to come back Monday, September 9th?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The short answer is yes, it is possible, and that is information that I was just getting from sources on the Democratic side of the Senate -- of course, Democrats run the Senate -- that they are considering bringing back the Senate before the scheduled return date, which is September 9th. Nothing has been decided yet.
The house side, which of course is run by Republicans, I was just in touch with a member of the Republican leadership who said that the plan is still to wait until September 9th. Now, this is all very, very fast-moving, so all of that can change. But it's entirely possible that both could come back. If the Senate comes back, it would be hard to see the house just kind of staying home next week and not returning to follow suit. That's in terms of the schedule.
The thing that I would add in terms of the critical question, which is, would this pass, that is why we now have a better sense of why the administration has become hyper-aggressive in getting information to members of Congress. Right about now there should be a conference call starting with Senate Republicans. A little bit later there will be a conference call with Senate Democrats. And then tomorrow, on a Sunday, Labor Day weekend, they are going to have a classified briefing on Capitol Hill for all members of the House, and it looks like, according to a couple senators I've been in touch with, senators will likely have something as well.
So it's one thing to be on the phone where it's not a secure line and they're just kind of trying to make their case in the same kind of way that the president just did publicly in the Rose Garden. It's a whole other thing to call members of Congress back to have them in a secure room inside the capitol to look at classified intelligence information in order to make their case, look, this is absolutely necessary. We need the support of the United States Congress. So they're banking on the fact they can convince enough members that this can pass and it will strike the president's hand and not embarrass him.
BLITZER: In the House of Representative, Dana, the president not only has a problem with Republicans, especially some of the Tea Party supporters who are more less inclined to get involved militarily overseas, but he's also got a problem with a whole bunch of Democrats as well who don't want to get involved in another military conflict overseas.
BASH: Absolutely. And it's funny you say that, because I was just looking back at what happened in 2011 with Libya, which I think is the closest thing we have in similarity, obviously, not exactly the same. And there was a House vote with a Republican vote House on Libya, and it was just resolution supporting it, and it failed. And it failed with nearly 100 Democrats not supporting the president.
Again, it's a different situation, but it does give you an idea of, just like you said, this is not something that falls cleanly on party lines. You have Democrats and Republicans, maybe even more Democrats, who are reluctant to use military force as a way of punishing anybody internationally, particularly in a case where some people really have to be convinced, still, that this particular action in Syria is really in the U.S. national security interest.
BLITZER: Dana, stand by for a moment. Gloria Borger is here with us also.
Gloria, let me play that little clip. This is the president moments ago telling the world he's going to wait before authorizing military action on targets in Syria until after Congress comes back from its recess and votes on resolutions authorizing the use of force. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress. For the last several days we've heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning I spoke with all four Congressional leaders, and they've agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's really rolling the dice right now, because he might lose, because he might lose that vote.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And he doesn't seem happy with this development. But I also think, just as he's boxed in by the red line, he's also boxed in by his past. If you look at all the people making the decision, they're former senators. They're all senators who have said you need to get Congressional authorization. Kerry, Hagel, President Obama. They're all former senators, they've all been in that chamber making the argument you can't do this without us.
So I was surprised initially that he didn't, but then I thought, OK, they believe they have the evidence, there is historical precedent, Grenada, et cetera, for not going to Congress. They wanted to do kind of a one-and-done, we're out. And then suddenly, I think much to their surprise, and particularly after the British vote went down, I think they started hearing from more and more members of Congress, and it was a deluge that I'm not sure that they anticipated.
And everybody has different reasons, you know. There is a document circulating that a Republican house member has circulated with over 100 signatures on it saying you need to go to us. We're not ready to go to war. And so I think in a way politically they had no choice.
But as you point out, this is a real roll of the dice for him. They've got nine legislative days left before the end of the fiscal year. They've got all of these --
BLITZER: You're talking about September 30.
BORGER: They've got all these budget issues they have to deal with to keep the government running, not shutting down the government. Now they're going to come back and have this kind of discrete debate about this issue. And it's hard to see how this doesn't spill over.
I think the American public will be watching. They want to see a grownup debate from their members of Congress. But I think the public is so conflicted on this issue, largely because, as the president pointed out today, they're war weary, everybody knows their war weary, that I think this is going to be some excruciating choices for these members of Congress.
BLITZER: And you know, Gloria, that between now and September 9th, September 10th, let's say that week, that week of September 9th is the week they debate in the Senate and the House and vote. Between now and then, there could be a lot of momentum against military action that could start building up and could really undermine the president's hope that he gets the authorization from Congress.
BORGER: Right. And the president made it very clear in his remarks today that he is ready to sign that order.
BLITZER: If Congress rejects his resolution, will he still use force?
BORGER: We don't know.
BLITZER: Can he still use force based on what we just heard?
BORGER: He said this is a constitutional democracy. Somebody in the Rose Garden asked him that question, he walked away. He did not answer it. But why would you have this vote if you were prepared --
BLITZER: To ignore it.
BORGER: -- to ignore it? And so that's the real question here.
One thing I also did hear from the president, Wolf, and I don't know if you heard it, is that he seemed so dismissive of the United Nations. He was sort of, like, this is not just about an investigation, which is what the United Nations is doing. This is about making a decision about what ought to be done. He knows he's not going to get that vote and he basically seemed to say it's kind of worthless. And I heard that disdain in his voice.
BLITZER: I was anticipating maybe he would use this opportunity to speak directly to the Syrian people. He didn't do that, although we are told that Syrian state television did carry the president's remarks live on Syrian state television, so people in Syria were watching. There you see some of the video from Syrian state television. He's speaking there and people in Damascus and other cities in Syria were watching the president of the United States, including this clip. I'll play it. Here's where the president said he has already made a decision on the use of force.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our military has positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the joint chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's go to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, listened very carefully. It doesn't look like there will be any U.S. military action, Barbara, until Congress comes back from its recess. That would be Monday, September 9th unless they accelerate it and come back earlier. They could do that in the Senate, maybe, not necessarily in the House. So the military, they have some time, another 10, 15 days, maybe a month, as the president said, to go ahead and continue planning, rehearsing and practicing.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, but the problem is, they don't really need to plan, rehearse and practice, do they? Even the president says the joint chief said we're ready to go. That's what we've been hearing all week that they're on a hair trigger, the missiles are loaded, the targets are loaded and they're ready to move. I think it will become a very interesting question of military strategy. In all my years of covering the Pentagon, I've not seen it play out this way. You look at the target list. It's there in front of everybody. The president said they were ready, and nothing happened. What will be the reaction of government and militaries in the region? What will be the reaction with Al Qaeda? What will be the reaction in the heavily armed militia and terrorist groups like the militia now operating inside of Syria?
This is a very complex military problem with the Syrians. You have a lot of players. You have thousands of Al Qaeda-related operatives moving in from Iraq, Al Qaeda affiliates on the rise. If they see the United States military threatening but not doing, what their reaction will be and what they think they might get away with, more attacks, more gas, will be something that might only make the situation more complicated.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, stand by. Peter Bergen, our national security analyst, is joining us right now. You know the critics of the president, Peter. They are already saying based on what they heard the president say in the Rose Garden right now, that he has now blinked and the opposition, in other words, the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, the Iranians, they understand what's going on, and they're probably breathing a little bit easier, at least in the short term.
PETER BERGEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I want to go back to a speech the president gave that I'm sure you recall on May 23rd at the National Defense University here in Washington in which he basically said, we need to wind down the wars we've had over the last decade. He specifically referred to the authorization for the use of military force which Congress voted shortly after 9/11, which is the authorization that allows the United States to go to war in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan, to some degree Yemen, directed at Al Qaeda. He said I will not basically renew an authorization for the use of military force. I won't sign that into law. And he was really calling for the end of this sort of war that we've been in.
And so if you look at what he just said, which I think was, by the way, one of the better speeches I've heard him deliver, that this is really in the context of somebody who wants to get us out of a permanent state of war, who understands that it's not just about his presidency but any future presidency, that if you have this kind of conflict that you really should go to Congress and get authorization. He is, after all, a constitutional law professor. The constitution at the end of the day is about getting Congress to authorize acts of war. And unfortunately, the United States has sort of fallen out of the habit of really getting those authorizations in too many cases over the last several decades, and I think that's the context in which he made this speech today.
BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, Peter. I want to continue this conversation, but the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, the host of the new CNN "Crossfire" is on the phone right now. I know you've been a reluctant warrior in this particular regard. You didn't necessarily want the U.S. to launch military strikes, Mr. Speaker, against targets in Syria. What did you think of the president's speech? NEWT GINGRICH, CNN CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, first of all, I'm glad that he's going to go to the Congress for approval. I think that slows the process down. It gives us time to think and to have a national debate.
But I think there is one key question that every American and every member of Congress has, and that is, what is the outcome? Yes, we can go in and fire missiles, have B-2's overhead dropping bombs, and then what? If this is just an exercise in petulant anger, it's not going to impress the world. It's not going to impress dictators.
We are in a mess in the region. The enemies of Assad, frankly, are probably more anti-American than the Assad dictatorship, so there are no good sides here. And I would just like the president or Secretary Kerry or somebody explain what is it they hope to accomplish over time? Because if we bomb him even for two or three days and he survives, how does that teach the next dictator not to use these weapons?
And I'm against us trying to go in with enough force to defeat him and defeat the current insurgency, which is what you have to do, because both sides are bad from our perspective. But I think the Congress should say over and over again to the president, don't tell us about one single attack. What is our strategy? What are we going to try to accomplish? Why is this worth doing?
BLITZER: Do you think he's got the votes in the House of Representatives to pass this kind of resolution?
GINGRICH: He probably does, but I think, as Prime Minister Cameron found, they lost the vote they thought they were going to win. I think the country is opposed to doing this. I was just talking to some friends at a local family restaurant, just casual people, all of whom are saying, why are we trying to do this? Explain what the outcome is that makes sense to him.
One of them just came back from Israel where the Israelis are actually distributing gas masks to civilians because, remember, we have no idea what Iran and what Syria will do in response to an attack like this. We don't control the game. We're only one part of a very complicated game.
BLITZER: What does this say, Newt Gingrich, about presidential authority to use force? Because even though he says this is not necessarily binding on him, he's saying he wants Congressional authorization in the House and the Senate. And a lot of us remember, you well remember, it was Ronald Reagan. He did not have Congressional authorization to use force in Grenada back in the '80s, the first president George H. W. Bush did not have Congressional authorization to use force when he launched troops into Panama in 1989. President Clinton did not have Congressional authorization to use force in Kosovo, as you well remember.
What does this say about presidential precedent, presidential authority to use force by what the president announced just moments ago? GINGRICH: Well, I don't think this affects the long-term authority of the president. Thomas Jefferson sent the U.S. marines all the way to the shores of Tripoli as the Marine Corps without Congressional authority. As long as Congress doesn't cut off the money, presidents can get pretty aggressive in what they do as commander in chief.
But I think this tells you the president is getting tremendous pressure, particularly from his left. I don't think he cares about the Republicans who are opposed, but I think the fact that people on the left are starting to say, you know, you better slow down and think this through. And particularly having just watched Cameron lose the vote in the British parliament, I think they thought they had better go back and try to protect their political base. But I see it as a political, not a legal issue.
BLITZER: All right, hold on for a moment. I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh at the United Nations as he's watching what's going on. Assuming, Nick, the vote in the House and Senate doesn't take place until Monday, September 9th, 10 days or so from now, there will be more information that these U.N. weapons inspectors who have emerged from Syria that they will make public between now and then, stuff that the House of Representatives and the Senate will be able to consider as they consider their own vote.
Unfortunately, I don't think I'm hearing Nick. We're going to fix that audio. Let's bring Gloria Borger to talk about that. There is going to be information we're going to be learning between now and the week of September 9th that presumably could impact how members of the House and Senate vote.
BORGER: Well, I think now it's incumbent upon the administration, who has clearly been trying to make its case -- I mean, John Kerry was out there very forcefully making the administration's case. I think you're probably going to see more and more people trying to educate the American public, because now this is a vote the White House wants to win. It's very clear this president is ready to strike.
And it's also a vote, Wolf, that I think they have to win. They don't want to be humiliated like David Cameron. And by the way, David Cameron has just tweeted, "I understand and support Barack Obama's position on Syria." So he understands the president's decision to take this to a vote. I presume he would like it to turn out differently for the president than it did for him.
But I think this is a campaign now that the administration has to wage to -- with the American public, to educate the American public, and also members of Congress who have called for this vote. You know, there is also an issue here of in a time like this, can this country set politics aside, and can members of Congress stand up and vote for what they believe. They may disagree with the president very strongly for all kinds of reasons, because they don't believe in a surgical attack, they think it's too late to have any impact, or they want to do more, they'd like to take out Assad. I think there are all kinds of reasons, but I think this is a moment for this country to see if we can actually have a debate, pushing everything else aside, and have a debate on a very, very important matter, which the president has said I'm ready to strike Syria because this is against international norms.
BLITZER: We'll see how the House and Senate vote on this, and it's by no means a done deal. But they'll have a lot of time now between now and the week of September 9th to consider the pros and cons.
I think we've reestablished our connection with Nick Paton Walsh at the United Nations. How much more knowledgeable about this chemical weapons attack will we be between now and September 9th when Congress is scheduled to come back into session, nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite likely considerably more knowledgeable. We don't know the timeline. In fact, the U.N. spokesman was very keen to not provide one, but he did repeat how much the U.N. Security-General Ban Ki-moon wanted to expedite the process here.
And that process is the samples taken from the sites of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria have landed, some of them in the Hague now. We understand those inspectors are gathering those together. Tomorrow testing may begin. Also tomorrow, Sunday, the man who is heading that part of the mission to the Netherlands will brief Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on how that process is going.
One independent expert we've spoken to just to try and get a feel for how long this could take suggested we're probably looking at about a week at this point. That would take us to about the 6th, 7th of September. So it is entirely possible in the course of public opinion, international public opinion, we might have some compelling evidence from the U.N. inspectors to confirm in their independent view that chemical weapons were actually used in Syria. I should point out that is the limit of their mandate. They're not about assigning responsibility. That will surely certainly help if Barack Obama is trying to convince wavering Congressman and the rest of the world, as he seemed keen at the podium to do, that chemical weapons were used and there should be a response, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment, Nick. We're getting a reaction to what the president of the United States just said, and he just said he will seek Congressional authorization before ordering U.S. military action against targets in Syria. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, issued this statement. Let me put it up on the screen. "Today the president advised me that he will seek an authorization for the use of force from the Congress prior to initiating any combat operations against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons. The president's role as commander in chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the express support of the Congress." So that statement from Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.
Another key Republican senator, Bob Corker, responding to the president's statement with this, and I'll put this up right now, "I am very pleased that the president has listened to the suggestion we and many others have made to bring this authorization to Congress. At this point in our country's history, this is absolutely the right decision, and I look forward to seeing what the administration brings forward and to a vigorous debate on this important authorization." Gloria Borger, he is getting support for the decision to go to Congress but not necessarily the vote. We don't know what the language is going to be, we don't know what the formal authorization will entail, if you will. But as I said, this is a real political roll of the dice as far as this president is concerned, although I have no doubt, if he were still a senator as opposed to being president, he would want Congressional authorization to be employed.
BORGER: Right. And we don't know what the language of this is going to be, but in a way this could be very much a part of the Obama legacy going forward, Wolf, because here as a senator who rose to prominence talking about how you need Congressional approval for the war in Iraq, an anti-war senator, this is something for his kind of political arc, if you will, makes a lot of sense.
The question is whether he's going to be able to win and whether they're going to be able to convince these recalcitrant members of Congress, who are nervous about this, because don't forget, public opinion right now is nervous about this. So he's got to convince not only members of Congress but also their constituents. And one way to convince members of Congress is to turn public opinion.
And, you know, this is a president who has been pretty good at that. But again, the evidence will become clearer, I think, from the United Nations, as we just heard, that could work in his favor. Maybe the backlash in Great Britain, if there is a backlash to the vote there in the parliament, could work in his favor. Maybe John McCain will be able to sort of help him out here, even though McCain believes it's not enough. Maybe Congress would authorize him to do more than he wants to do. These are all sort of unknowns that are up in the air right now.
BLITZER: And as officials of the White House, we're looking at the most recent poll. There was an NBC News poll that came out yesterday. Should Congressional approval be need before military action in Syria? And 79 percent of the American public in this poll said it should be required, Congressional approval, 16 percent said not required. So 79 to 16, that's a pretty overwhelming majority that Congressional authorization is needed.
BORGER: Right. And so here's the interesting thing about that. People have no confidence in Congress. We see the polls about confidence in Congress almost down in the single digits. But what the American public wants to see is a Congress and a president that's on the same page when it comes to this kind of an important decision. I believe this is a debate that the American public will pay very, very close attention to.
BLITZER: And the buildup to that debate between now and September 9th, assuming that's when Congress comes back from its recess, will be intense. And of course that week, the buildup to the votes on the floor of the Senate and the floor of the House will be dramatic, to be sure, with the stakes enormous.
The president, as we heard just a little while ago, made a very, very powerful statement saying he has decided the United States should, in fact, take military action in Syria, but he also said he wants Congressional authorization first. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Years ago, the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in Syria in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century. Yesterday the United States presented a powerful case that the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people. Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're bringing back Dana Bash as she's getting new information. Congress is in recess right now, Dana. They're not supposed to come back until Monday, September 9th, and presumably if they stick to that, that's when here will be a debate and a vote. What are you learning?
BASH: The House speaker who determines the schedule in the House is now saying that the House will take a vote the week of September 9th, meaning the House will not come back before that. And the reason he gives in this short statement that he just put out is because it gives House members time to learn more information and, more specifically, for the White House and the Obama administration to make the case that this authorization is necessary and the military strike would be necessary in Syria.
We look at the makeup of both the House and the Senate, it makes sense. And it makes sense not just because the Senate is run by Democrats, the president's party, but also because there are more moderates in the Senate. And the way that this is kind of shaping up is that you have some the most conservative on the Republican side and some of the most liberal on the Democratic side be the most reluctant to use military force.
And it's just the way the makeup of the Senate is there are more people in the middle, for lack of a better way to say it, that are more likely to vote for it. If the Senate does come back early, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who determines the schedule of the Senate, is considering, then perhaps if they go first, the hope inside the White House, inside the camps to enforce this, would be to give the vote in the Senate and get this momentum going into the House where the vote would be tougher to get.
BLITZER: So just to be precise, Dana, you're saying that the House definitely is not going to come back into session until Monday, September 9th, but the Senate, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, could bring back the Senate as early as next week? Is that what I'm hearing?
BASH: Correct. The House, we now know formally from the House speaker in an on the records statement will come back September 9th as scheduled, so a week from Monday. But a Democratic source tells me in the Senate, which is run by Democrats, Harry Reid determines the schedule there, he is considering bringing the Senate back earlier than September 9th, meaning next week. It's not a done deal, it hasn't been decided, but it is under consideration.
BLITZER: All right, Dana, good to know. As soon as you get definitive word from Harry Reid's office, let us know. Obviously there is going to be an enormous buildup to what could be a historically critically important debate on the Senate and House floors leading to critical votes on the authorization of the use of U.S. military force in Syria.
Atika Shubert is standing by in London. David Cameron before the House of Commons and parliament had that vote against what he wanted. He went into that vote pretty confident that he would have the support for the resolution he was putting forward, which was relatively modest, relatively meek. It basically was just preliminary authorization, if you will, to consider joining the United States in some use of force. He lost that vote, didn't he?
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it was a humiliating defeat, 272 for, 285 against. And it really does set an example for Obama of what's at stake. This is very much a high stakes gamble he's taking by getting Congressional authority for this, because that is exactly what Cameron tried to do here at the House of Commons, and he lost big time.
Basically, it appears that he did not make a strong enough case. Former foreign secretary Jack Straw wrote in "The Guardian" today there was not a strong enough case and not a clear enough strategy as to what would happen after a military strike. And those were the answers lawmakers here were looking for. They did not see enough evidence, they said, about what actually took place, how much of a risk chemical weapons in Syria was, and what was the plan after a strike? Was it regime change? Would it bring Assad to the brink? Would he then be replaced with another transitional government? These were all questions lawmakers were asking, and because they did not get any answers, they did not pass that motion, however watered down it was.
And those are the lessons that President Obama now has to take with him. He has to make sure his case is rock solid when he takes it to Congress.
BLITZER: I know he has support from the French president Hollande, Atika, but what about the rest of Europe? You're there. How is he doing with other NATO allies in Europe? Is there a stomach to get involved militarily in Syria?
SHUBERT: There is a lot of division here, but there is a lot of support for him politically, diplomatically. Germany has agreed, for example, that strong action must be taken, but Germany won't be participating in any military strike.
The only major ally here that has offered help militarily has been France. And France has said they are ready to go whenever President Obama asks. They have not only the French aircraft carrier the Charles de Gaulle, at the ready in Toulon, but they also have a number of air force jets at the ready at a base in the United Arab Emirates, and of course they can fly to the south of France to the Middle East as they did in Libya. So France is ready, and they say they just need the word.
But I should point out France is also having its own parliament debate on Wednesday. Now, the president of France, Francois Hollande, does not need authorization from parliament there in France like President Obama, but he says he is willing to have that debate, and so we'll have to see how French lawmakers react next week.
BLITZER: We'll watch that. Of course, we'll watch every step of the way. Atika Shubert in London for us.
We're continuing our special coverage here on CNN. We're watching the reaction to what the president of the United States just said a little while ago over at the White House Rose Garden. He said the U.S. is ready to strike Syria but he wants Congressional authorization first. Congress not scheduled to come back until Monday, September 9th, so no U.S. military action presumably at least until that week. We'll take a quick break, check in for reaction around the world. All of our reporters are standing by. This is CNN's special coverage of the crisis in Syria.
BLITZER: A little while ago the president of the United States went into the White House Rose Garden and made a dramatic announcement. He says he has decided to use force to retaliate against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for its alleged use of chemical weapons, killing more than 1,400 people, including 400 children, on August 21.
But, and it's a huge but, the president said he is going to wait for some sort of Congressional authorization before implementing that so called execution order, giving the military the order to go ahead and launch tomahawk cruise missiles or other airstrikes against various targets in Syria. Listen to what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now. And I'm prepared to give that order.
But having made my decision as commander in chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I'm also mindful that I'm the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might but in our example as the government of the people and by the people and for the people.
And that's why I've made a second decision. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress. For the last several days, we've heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning I spoke with all four Congressional leaders, and they've agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There is the two-pronged statement from the president. Yes, he is ready for military action against Syria, but first Congress must debate and authorize such use of U.S. military power.
CNN's Ivan Watson is along the border of Syria in Turkey right now. I don't know if you're getting any reaction from Turkish government elements or others there, but I'm curious about your reaction to what we just heard from the president, Ivan.
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I am getting some Turkish reaction. One Turkish official texting me, actually, and saying that -- calling this a firm expression of U.S. determination to act, and very much in line with what Secretary of State Kerry said yesterday about Syria, and that the Turkish government appreciates that, that Turkey really isn't in a position to comment on the interior decision-making process in the U.S., and that Turkey will continue to stay in close consultation with the U.S. and other allies about the situation in Syria in the coming days.
Now, when it comes to the Syrian opposition, online -- and the Syrians have been very savvy, the opposition members. You saw on social media it lighting up with basically Syrians denouncing Obama's decision to delay any strike, waiting first for Congressional authorization, with some Syrians calling him a coward and saying he's not going to take a step forward.
Syrians very quick also to remind me, one man that I was just talking to, a rebel on the phone, a rank and file member of the armed opposition, that it has been two and a half years, basically, since Bashar al-Assad started cracking down with deadly force on opposition in Syria, and that the U.S. has taken, intervened any point along the evolution of this conflict from a government-led crackdown on peaceful protestors to a full-fledged civil war right now that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.
And we will be reaching out to other member of the Syrian opposition leaders, as well, to hear what they think about this. Of course, the Turkish government, a member of the NATO alliance, has come out very clearly saying it wants the U.S. to lead with a broad operation with the ultimate goal of weakening the Assad regime. The Turkish government, not only a close Middle Eastern ally of the U.S. government here in the region, but also a fierce opponent of the Assad regime and one of the strongest supporters of the Syrian armed opposition. Wolf?
BLITZER: I suspect, though, Ivan, and you know this a lot better than I do because you've been in daily contact with some of those rebels, some of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad, I suspect they were really anticipating decisive and speedy U.S. military action maybe even this weekend. And now for them to hear it's going to be at least another 10 or 12 or two weeks away by the time a debate and resolution is passed, if, in fact, it is passed here in Washington, I suspect they must be pretty deeply disappointed that it isn't happening, shall we say, right now.
WATSON: That's right, mixed feelings. And we've even heard of some Syrian rebels pulling back in recent days from some front line positions, Wolf, for fear that they could be hit by any potential strikes on Syrian military positions. We've also been hearing from some Syrian civilians who live in the vicinity of Syrian government military bases that they have pulled out of those areas, that they have left for fear of being collateral damage, if you will, if some kind of attack took place, that they could be swept up in that.
Another element, though, to this very complicated conflict, and of course deadly conflict inside Syria, Wolf, is that there are some Syrian rebels that don't want any U.S. participation here whatsoever. And, of course, some of those voices coming from groups like a hardline Al Qaeda-inspired and linked groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, that they did not want the U.S. to intervene, that they fear that they, too, might become targets if any type of military intervention led by the U.S. took place inside Syria.
So this is a muddled picture. While some Syrian rebels clearly wanted to see their number one adversary, Bashar al-Assad, weakened, others very worried that the U.S., which is clearly no friend to the Al Qaeda-linked movement, that it might take direct military action here in Syria and that may end up in some ramifications that they could be targeted as well.
Very interesting to see now that Syrian rebels who were perhaps hoping for some kind of military assistance are now also going to have to sit back and watch Congressmen, senators and representatives, debate this potential action. They're going to have to sit and watch American democracy in action as they continue their deadly struggle on the battlefield in Syria. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the border with Syria in Turkey right now. Ivan, thank you, as usual.
Christiane Amanpour is our chief national correspondent. She is joining us from London. I'm curious, Christiane, what do you think of what we heard from the president of the United States?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, on the one hand a really strong case after Secretary Kerry made a very strong case earlier this week for why the use of these banned international weapons, chemical weapons cannot go unaccounted for, then the president says it. And then it sort of full brakes on again.
So I think going to what Ivan just said to you, look, the democratic process is at work. Who is knocking that? Nobody. But you can imagine that is going to be considerably lost on the people in Damascus, on the rebels, the opposition, on the Iranians, on the North Koreans, on the Israelis, on just about everybody around that region who is watching. I think it's an extraordinary development. It is a roll of the dice. The president doesn't know whether he's going to win this vote. You guys know much more about the political intrigue in Washington than I do. But look at what happened to David Cameron, who was really raring to go and tweeting just that moment and that morning before he was defeated in the House of parliament. So was his foreign secretary William Haig that this cannot go unpunished. As you've been saying and Gloria has been saying, there was a huge amount of momentum which now seems to have come to a screeching halt.
You and I have watched these kinds of military limited strikes before. I recall one of the last ones was in 1998, operation desert FOX, President Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes against Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction facilities, the chemical and biological, and that was something that was very quick. It was done. He had British participation, and they were out. And you know what, it was limited. And in fact, in the many years since we have learned that that in fact put a death blow to the manufacturing of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in that regard, the biological and chemical.
And this is something that as Barbara Starr has been saying, there are multiple Pentagon assets ready and deployed, they're ready to go. Even the president said that, there are ships in the Mediterranean. This is stand-off weapons. This is not a war that's being contemplated. And I just think this is a very interesting development, to see whether this, in fact, now will take place given how lengthily a strike has been telegraphed with practically precise targets with length and duration and aim. We'll see.
BLITZER: You had a fascinating interview on your show the other day, Christiane, with a top former Israel military intelligence official, and a lot of our viewers probably aren't aware that over the past year or so, year and a half, the Israelis launched at least four airstrikes against various targets in Syria, and back in 2007, they launched an airstrike that took out a Syrian nuclear reactor. They did it without any public discussion. They did it without any confirmation. They just sent their air force in, they just did it, they succeeded in their mission. They got out. There was no Syrian retaliation. The Israelis could do it because they're not a superpower like the United States, is that the bottom line?
AMANPOUR: I'm not sure that's the bottom line. I think they just have different imperatives. Everyone points out the difference of Israel living right next door to this danger and the United States living so far away. But nonetheless, the top U.S. officials calling it a threat to national security. Nonetheless, the Israelis do tend to do things in a much less overruled way, if you like.
And I think the most significant thing of about what the Israelis have done over this last year, that they've attacked inside Syria to stop weapons supplies going across the border to Hezbollah. What I think is most significant is that there was no retaliation. And Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, former IBF general as well, said he did not think that even in this case, if the United States launched a limited attack, that there would be retaliation. And mostly he didn't think that because of the way the U.S. has telegraphed the fact that this would not be aimed at toppling Bashar al-Assad, that this would not be aimed as specifically and explicitly at changing the game on the battlefield, as leveling the playing field at all. This is simply a demonstration of will against the use of these banned weapons, weapons of mass destruction. Let us not forget what we're talking about here.
So this is what's going on. And I think, you know, here we are at this point right now, and what we've been watching and reporting over the last two-and-a-half years of this carnage in Syria is that it's been going on and on and on and on and on, and there has been no attempt to stop it, I mean, zero attempt. Even attempts to back up the opposition with some weaponry has really had only very limited effectiveness. And I think that this is, you know, something people over there will be scratching their heads about. What is the intention of the United States and what will the United States do next in this regard?
BLITZER: Well, we won't know at least until the week of September 9th. Christiane is going to be with us. Don't go too far away. Christiane Amanpour is in London. We're also going to be hearing from a top U.S. Congressman who says before the U.S. gets involved in any action, revive the U.S. military draft. Charlie Rangel is standing by, Gloria Borger is here. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage on the crisis in Syria right after this.
BLITZER: You just heard it. You saw it live here on CNN. We want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world. The president of the United States announcing he will, in fact, seek formal Congressional authorization from Congress, from the House and the Senate, before using military action against targets in Syria.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been torn on this issue. Joining us now, one veteran lawmaker in the House of Representatives, the Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, from New York. Your reaction, Congressman, to what the president said, that he has authorized the use of force, but before giving that execution order, he wants Congress to debate the issue and to formally pass resolutions.
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL, (D) NEW YORK: I'm half satisfied. At least I know that the president of the United States is coming to the American people before he executes something that obviously he said he's already decided. It's the constitutional thing to do. The American people have to support him. How do they do that? They do it through the Congress.
And so I don't see where America is threatened, I don't see where our national security is threatened. And perhaps between now and the time we get back on September 9th the president will have information that would allow the Congress to effectively see where this danger is. My position is --
BLITZER: To be precise, Congressman Rangel, you and I have known each other for a long time and you're a straight shooter. If the vote were right now, if the president asked you to vote to authorize the use of military force against Syria, you would vote?
RANGEL: There's absolutely no question I would vote no because there's so many questions even if the draft was not instated. And is this a war? And if it's not a war and it's a limited war, I've never heard of that in my entire life. If you're going to fire shells and bomb a community, that's war. And you have to have a declaration of war, the Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it, and I haven't seen that evidence.
And even if America decided it was going to do it, under what authority do we place our young men and women in harm's way without the U.N. national security, without the U.N., without Great Britain, without France, without anybody supporting us?
And where is there any statement in our constitution or otherwise that America has an obligation to get rid of evil people? So Assad is evil, we had evil people in Iraq. We have evil people all over the world. But I don't really think that Americans would believe that they're prepared to put their men and women, their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, in harm's way to get rid of these evil people if they don't see a direct connection between their actions and the security of this great nation of ours.
BLITZER: But as you know, Congressman, the president drew a red line a year ago. He said flatly -- I'm paraphrasing, but he said if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons to slaughter some of their own citizens, the United States will respond. If the U.S. doesn't respond right now, doesn't he look weak?
RANGEL: Well, I cannot subjectively feel out what other people are going to feel about the United States. What authority the president of the United States, any president of the United States, has to draw a red line that implies that our military is going to be placed in harm's way, I don't think there's constitutional authority to do that and feel compelled without the approval of the Congress to carry forth.
So rhetoric and losing lives are not nearly as important as making certain that you do the action. So looking weak is not like losing lives, and anybody who has lost people in terms of these wars or intrusions, I know that they would agree with me.
BLITZER: You served in the military, and you insist that before the U.S. gets involved again in military action around the world, the United States should reinstate the draft. It doesn't look like you've got a whole lot of support for that out there, but you've been raising this issue now for several years, right, Congressman?
RANGEL: Yes, that's right, but I don't see how any American who loves this country as much as I do can actually see that our democracy, our republic is in danger, how anyone that's able to make a contribution to protect us would deny the country their support. And this doesn't mean that everyone has to be in combat, but it does mean that everyone should put up and show their support for this effort. That's what war is all about. It's not because people dislike people or draw red lines. It's because they want the security of the United States of America. And to me, everybody that's willing -- strike that. Everybody that's able to make that contribution should be forced to do it. Then when the Congress says that it's mandatory that we send troops, and these troops may be in harm's way, members of Congress will hear from their voters, and their voters would say whether or not in their opinion there should be a red line, or in their opinion, whether or not the United States should attack another country, whether you call it war, limited war, the fact remains we were looking for weapons of mass destructions, we didn't find it. And so, we know what war is, and those people that have been involved in war know that its hell and it shouldn't be based on drawing red lines.
BLITZER: You, obviously being very critical of the president right now for drawing that red line, I want to get reaction from your colleague from New York state, Republican Congressman Peter King of Long Island. He's the chairman of the house subcommittee on counterterrorism -- counterintelligence and terrorism. This is a statement. I'll read it to you, Congressman.
President Obama is advocating his responsibility as commander in chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The president does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria. If Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and if the president is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into special session at the earliest date. The president doesn't need 535 members of Congress to enforce his own red line.
You totally disagree with Peter King. Tell our viewers quickly, because we're out of time, Congressman Rangel, why he's wrong and you're right.
RANGEL: Peter King I thought was on the right track when he said the president should call back the Congress. But this whole idea that he doesn't need 535, at least I hope he's saying we need the majority to an extent of what his belief is, it's 135th of the United States Congress. So I respect him or anybody else who believes the president is authorized to attack another country without congressional approval.
I am with him in terms of the Congress should be given a right to vote, and we should have a national draft to make certain that everybody has skin in the game when we attack another country and put our troops in harm's way.
BLITZER: Strong views from Charlie Rangel. Congressman, thanks very much.