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NEW DAY SUNDAY

Crisis in Syria; Obama Kicks Syria Strike to Congress; Meet the Assads; Syrian Opposition Reacts to Obama; Tim Tebow Released by Patriots

Aired September 1, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


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

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Eight o'clock here at CNN World Headquarters. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

First thing this morning, the president's stunning decision to take his plan for a strike on Syria for a vote to Congress for a vote.

Now, we are covering all of the angles for you on NEW DAY.

KEILAR: The political risks, the military wait, the reaction from Congress in Syria, and the behind-the-scenes moves that led the president to change his mind and wait for Congress to debate and vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. It should not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.

But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out. 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. 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 a government of the people, 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 a vote as soon as Congress come back into session.

In the coming days, my administration stands ready to provide every member with the information they need to understand what happened in Syria and why it has such profound implications for America's national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Well, the president, we've learned, decided to seek congressional approval Friday night. And not everyone on his staff agreed with him.

KEILAR: CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has the behind-the-scenes details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a city that feasts on political theater, it was high drama just past high noon as President Obama told the world he had pulled back from the brink of a military strike against Syria.

OBAMA: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.

ACOSTA: Aides to the president say Mr. Obama decided to go in a different direction at almost the last minute. At approximately 6:00 p.m. Friday, the president made the stunning change in plans to seek congressional authorization, and then went for a walk. A 45-minute walk, in fact, with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

At approximately 7:00 p.m., the president announced his decision to his national security staff, sparking a heated debate. He then started to spread the word, calling Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Saturday morning, Mr. Obama convened a principals meeting with top national security and intelligence officials to finalize the decision.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The question is what do we, what do we collectively, what we in the world are going to do about it?

ACOSTA: Just hours before the Obama's abrupt move, Secretary of State Kerry made an impassioned plea for action.

KERRY: Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side sprawled on the hospital floor all of them dead from Assad's gas.

ACOSTA: But aides say what Kerry and the rest of the president's team did not know is Mr. Obama had been privately kicking around the idea of seeking approval from Congress for days. As Kerry was turning up the heat, the president seemed to be turning it down. OBAMA: I am very clear that the world generally is war-weary. Certainly, the United States has gone through over a decade of war. The American people understandably want us to be focused on the business of rebuilding our economy here and putting people back to work. And I assure you nobody ends up being more war-weary than me.

ACOSTA: As it turns out, administration officials say, the president was listening to members of Congress who wanted in on the process.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think it's uncouple bent to always obey the constitution. The rule of law is something our country's founded on, and I would ask Congress to come together.

SEN. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: The 64-members of us who signed our letter want to make sure Congress is called back in session, debate the issues, the facts, and vote on whether or not we should engage militarily.

ACOSTA: So, on Saturday, the president got back on the phone, calling House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders.

OBAMA: Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community. What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?

ACOSTA: Just minutes later, the president departed the White House with Biden to play a round of golf, leaving administration officials scrambling to show a united front. Despite the fierce discussion inside the West Wing, aides say, the president's team is now fully on board.

As for the defense secretary, one senior U.S. official said as a former senator whose views on the limits of war are well-known, it's not hard for Chuck Hagel to agree with the president. Another official said of Kerry, no concerns. He was in the Senate for 29 years, and has made consultation with Congress a huge priority since he became secretary of state.

The debate that counts is the one to come, in Congress, where lawmakers from both parties still have questions.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: In my view, U.S. military force is justified only to protect the vital national security interests of the United States. And to date, the administration has not focused on those interests.

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: 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 in September the 9th, the president will have information that would allow the congress to effectively see where this danger is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: CNN's Jim Acosta joins us from the White House. We just heard from Cruz and Rangel who both are questioning the case for action in Syria. What if Congress says no? I mean, can the president still act without Congress?

ACOSTA: Victor, that is going to be the big question over the next couple of weeks. And administration officials that I talked to yesterday, they fully acknowledge that this plan carries with it some risks. They do realize that the Congress could come back from their August recess and vote no.

But the administration officials that I spoke with yesterday said even if Congress says no, the president reserves the right to take action. They say that is within his constitutional authority, and they are not ceding that to the Congress -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House this morning, thank you.

KEILAR: Now, coming up next hour, Secretary of State John Kerry on CNN.

BLACKWELL: He joins CNN's Gloria Borger to talk about the situation in Syria and the U.S. response. "STATE OF THE UNION" airs right here on CNN at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

KEILAR: While Washington debates what to do, the violence in Syria is not letting up.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BLACKWELL: This video was uploaded to YouTube this weekend. It shows an explosion in the suburb of Damascus, and Syrian forces have taken about a five-hour break from shelling. But they resumed those attacks on rebel areas right after President Obama announced his decision to get congressional approval for a strike. Thirty-nine people were reportedly killed across Syria on Saturday alone, 10 of them children.

The U.S. military had its finger on the trigger and an attack on Syria appeared imminent. Well, now, any strike will wait.

KEILAR: Let's go ahead now and talk with our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

So, Barbara, does this wait hinder the U.S. military in any way? Does it perhaps help the Syrian regime, which sees what the president has done as sort of blinking?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's go to the Syrian regime first, Brianna and Victor. A senior administration official tells me that they have intelligence, he won't specify what it is, that the Syrian regime forces are now in a so-called defensive crouch, that they've dispersed, they're trying to avoid any U.S. attack.

I would think the videos that we're seeing coming out of Syria suggests that that may not fully be the case in all instances. Syrian forces still quite capable of by all accounts of attacking their own people. So, the Syrian forces not yet blinking really.

On the U.S. side, the question is can the U.S. military wait this out and still target those areas in Syria that they are ordered to target? Yes.

You know, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has told the president, a spokesman for him telling me, quote, "We continue to refine our targeting based on the most recent intelligence, and the chairman assured the president that we would have appropriate targeting options ready when he called for them. That from a spokesman for General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs.

So, what we're looking at here is they will keep intelligence eyes on Syria, look at this moving around of Syrian forces, and retarget the U.S. missiles to be ready when the president calls for them.

BLACKWELL: Barbara, the U.S. apparently has taken a cyber threat from Syria quite seriously. What do you know about that?

STARR: Right. U.S. law enforcement officials are looking at this. You know, "The New York Times" Web site went down for several days, believed to be by a group of Syrian-backed or Syrian cyber attackers. So there's a good deal of concern a cyber attack from pro-regime elements could be one form of retaliation.

What the law enforcement is basically saying is that they want to look at any possibilities, look at their case files, see if there's any possibilities, keep their eyes open for any kind of other retaliation from the Syrians, from the Iranians, or anybody who might want to retaliate if they see a U.S. strike coming.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon -- thank you.

And coming up in about 20 minutes, we'll be talking with a pair of military experts about the wait, how it might impact the Syrian strike should it ever take place.

BLACKWELL: A slim majority of Americans, they do not support U.S. military action against Syria. That's according to a NBC News poll. It found 50 percent oppose action, 42 percent support it.

KEILAR: The public is more supportive when the scope is limited just to cruise missiles, no boots on the ground. Now, for that, the numbers practically flip -- 50 percent in support and 44 percent against.

BLACKWELL: Meantime, the vast majority, a 79 percent here, say the president should get congressional approval for military action. In just a couple of hours, we could learn what U.N. inspectors might have found in Syria. More on that, coming up.

Plus, protesters letting the president and congress know where they stand on a military strike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to let the American president know that we want peace. We don't want war. So, leave us alone to take care of his government. Those people are drying every day, and he's just making everything in Syria worse. And we don't want that.

So please stay out of Syria and stay out of the Middle East. You're making everything worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Thousands of people across the country taking to the streets to tell the U.S. government they oppose military action in Syria.

BLACKWELL: From Los Angeles, all the way to the White House, they're making their voices heard and demanding President Obama back down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PROTESTERS: Obama, hands off Syria! Obama, hands off Syria!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the most significant then about President Obama's speech today is that you could hear in the background people chanting "hands off Syria" from a mass demonstration that was outside the White House.

PROTESTERS: Don't bomb Syria! Don't bomb Syria! Don't bomb Syria!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you solve a conflict where they're killing their people by dropping bombs and killing their people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An investigation needs to be done to find out who the perpetrators are, not necessarily using military action against anyone yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States is claiming the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, even though the United Nations inspectors have not come out with a conclusion yet.

(CHANTS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We in a firm belief that this war is ridiculous. We think that this is just another attempt for the U.S. to gain imperial power and topple down another government and replace it with a puppet regime.

(CHANTS)

PROTESTERS: We say no war! We say no war! We say no war!

UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: I want to let the American president know that we want peace. We don't want war. Leave him alone, take care of his government, because people are dying every day, and he's just making it -- making everything in Syria worse, and we don't want that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people have spoken on this war. Polls show that over 90 percent of the American public do not want military strikes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Well, the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected an important hone call, it's from the chemical weapons inspectors.

We'll take you to the latest after the break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am an American citizen, and I love this country, but I do love my Syria, and I want a peace. I want America to stop the war in my country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: The U.N. secretary general is talking to the head of the chemical weapons inspections team this morning. About 90 minutes from now, we could learn what they found in Syria. The U.N. has scheduled a briefing for 10:00 eastern time. So far, the Security Council has not drawn up a resolution calling for military strikes.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is at the U.N.

Nick, what can you tell us about what will happen today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're probably just going to hear some element of technical details about how this process of testing, samples taken from the sites of the alleged chemical weapons sites, is going.

Dr. Ake Sellstrom, who's gone with the samples to The Hague in the Netherlands where they're going to be tested, some of them. They were flown there on a government-chartered plane. He will be briefing the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about how that process is going and we'll hear about that briefing from the U.S. spokesman.

But as I say, they've been at pains to point out they'll not be giving initial indications of how the tests are going. And bear in mind, they're just to specify if weapons were used, not who used them. We're not going to be hearing those potentially for weeks at this point. So, the real question is, how long will this take?

Barack Obama said the U.N. is completely paralyzed. They're not really interested in what's happening here. They made their case that weapons were used and the regime use them, but it's going to feed into global public opinion. So, one expert's telling me a week until we see the full reports.

In fact, the inspectors themselves, the organization, many of them work for the prohibition of chemical weapons, they said it could take as long as three weeks. People are really watching the clock here, and really the lab results, every cough and spit, how that proceeds is going to be scrutinized, Victor.

BLACKWELL: And, Nick, we said the U.N. Security Council has not drawn up a resolution for military strike in Syria. But even if they were to draw that up, it wouldn't get very far, would it?

WALSH: Well, that's why Barack Obama says this building is completely paralyzed. When it comes to Syria, it's deadlocked. Russians and Chinese will veto resolutions against the Assad regime and, frankly, anything they would put forward. To do so, it's likely to be vetoed by the U.S., U.K., and France. That's where it falls apart. That's where we saw last week where the U.K. before the disastrous failure to get their own motion through in parliament there, in the government, put forward a resolution to potential military authorization.

But many said they were going through the motions because some believe, legal advisors are saying, you have to have exhausted all options at the United Nations before you can contemplate taking force on your own.

So, people will be watching here to see what burden of proof they can provide in the weeks of ahead. The real question is, will we hear a definitive yes or no from the U.N. as to whether chemical weapons were used. They won't say who did it. Will we hear the yes or no before or during Congress' debates -- Victor.

And the president said the U.S. has a responsibility here. We'll see what Congress has to say about that. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

Now, even the president, as we've seen, can change his mind. But when he does, the fallout can be global.

Syrians killing Syrians. Whether the weapon is rockets or gas, the U.S. will wait. I'll talk with our military guests shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Bottom of the hour now. Welcome back, everyone. I'm Brianna Keilar.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

Here are five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

KEILAR: Number one: the Obama administration today starts making its case for military action against Syria. The president has said the U.S. should use force, but it wants congressional authorization.

In a few hours, the president will hold a classified briefing for members of Congress. But there won't be a vote anytime soon, we expect. Congress is in recess, or at least the House is, until September 9th.

BLACKWELL: Number two, the U.N. secretary-general is talking with the head of the chemical weapons inspection team. That's going to happen today. We could learn soon what they found. Especially in Syria, a briefing is set for 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time at the United Nations in New York.

KEILAR: Number three, radiation levels spike at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. It was measured in the pipes in the containers that hold water at the facility. Officials in charge of the cleanup say just one drop of contaminated water fell from the holding tanks, and that there's no leak.

BLACKWELL: Number four, Nelson Mandela has been discharged from a South Africa hospital. The 95 anti-apartheid icon was hospitalized June 8th because of a lung infection. Though he's headed home, the frail former president is still in critical and at times unstable condition. That's according to the office of the South African president.

KEILAR: And number five, the death of a broadcasting icon -- Sir David Frost might be best known in the U.S. for his interviews with Richard Nixon after his resignation. The BBC reports that Frost had a fatal heart attack last night during a speech. He was 74 years old.

The U.S. military poised and ready to strike Syria, then President Obama announces he wants a vote from Congress. That could be several weeks away. Let's bring in Lieutenant Commander Jack Liles. He's a former F-14 fighter jet pilot. His Navy flight training is used -- used Syria actually as a model target and David Isby, he's a former military advisor to President Reagan and has written extensively on Afghanistan. Good morning gentlemen, to both of you.

DAVID ISBY, FORMER REAGAN MILITARY ADVISER: Good morning.

LT. CMDR. JACK LILES, U.S. NAVY (Ret.): Good morning.

KEILAR: David, first to you, we heard from a senior administration official yesterday who said that Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the timing here doesn't matter, that a delay does not affect the U.S.'s capability to strike Syria. Is that accurate?

ISBY: No, it's going to either affect it one way or the other. You can either bring more forces into the region, commit more forces in the position to participate in the strike, or the forces that sure there are going to have to be sustained, refuel, retired. So it can go up or it can go down, but it's going to be expensive and difficult to keep it on station.

KEILAR: And Jack, can you talk about this a little bit? You're a former Navy pilot -- certainly you were in the past very used to being at the ready. Talk about what this means for the U.S. Navy. They're stationed there in the Mediterranean. They, I'm assuming, as we were, were fully prepared to literally just go as soon as the President said the word. What does this mean for them?

LILES: Well, it's really almost operations as normal for the Navy and particularly these ships. They're stationed in the eastern Mediterranean right now. When these ships go overseas for six to nine-month deployments like they are now, from their U.S. bases, they're prepared 24/7 to follow any orders to be at any location and be prepared to execute any mission.

So to be real honest, this is the Navy's normal operating procedure. If these ships weren't here, they'd be somewhere else in the Mediterranean or in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps, patrolling, doing exercises, training, being ready for calls just like this.

So this is not, at least for now, causing any type of abnormal -- abnormal operations for their ships.

KEILAR: So this is part of it. They're at the ready, or they're ready to even stand down. David, as a military advisor, talk a little about this. Because we understand certainly, you know, some Americans are going to look at the President's decision and they will read this as he is deliberating more.

But Syria and we're talking about the government, we're also talking about the rebels, see this as a bit of a blink, might be the understatement, actually. How does this affect the President's affect -- how does this affect the President's strategy when it comes to Syria?

ISBY: Well, certainly it's come to a crucial decision. In 2011, when President Obama said Assad has got to go, he was -- he was losing the war. The day this chemical weapons attack happened, Assad and his forces were winning the civil war in Syria.

So both sides are looking to the United States to change that and they're also looking in terms of the greater Middle East. You're seeing increased conflicts not just in Egypt, but throughout the region, especially along sectarian fault lines. And of course there is people looking at the edge region to Iran and Afghanistan.

KEILAR: And Jack obviously the idea here is with a limited cruise missile strike, it is send a message to Syria and then the hope of the administration then would be and that's where it ends. The wild card would be, though, how Syria might respond, how its allies might respond.

Can you sort of describe what type of retaliation we could see in response to a strike?

LILES: It's really hard to predict. I've read the last few days a lot of prognosis about more, like, civilian-focused terrorist type attacks in the region there's also the military option that Syria does possess. I mean they do have aircraft that hopefully we'll neutralize in this strike if this takes place. There are any cruise -- any ship cruise missiles that Syria has the capability to launch into the Mediterranean. I'm sure however U.S. forces from a military side are fully prepared for all that and very aware of what Syria's capabilities are from a military standpoint. I think the wild card is that retaliation in a more nonconventional manner that could impact the region and more strategically.

KEILAR: Jack Liles, David Isby -- thank you guys for being with us. LILES: Thank you.

ISBY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And a program reminder, in less than 30 minutes, Secretary of State John Kerry talks about the situation in Syria and the U.S. response. That's on "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And next on NEW DAY, he's always in the shadows, never seen in public. We'll tell you why Maher Assad may be even more brutal than his older brother President Bashar al-Assad. And what it means for the future of Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: All morning we've been telling you about Syrian President Bashar al Assad's unusual relatives.

KEILAR: Some say theirs is like a mafia family, almost like the "Sopranos". The Assads are powerful, they're rich, they're very secretive and knowing how they operate can be crucial to understanding how the President's mind works.

BLACKWELL: Bashar's little brother may be the most violent and dangerous of them all. CNN's Brian Todd reports and we should warn you that a few of these images early in this story may be disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Many decisions on the use of brute force inside the Syrian regime are connected not only to President Bashar al-Assad, but also to a man a couple of years younger, often by the President's side, always in the shadows -- his brother Maher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maher is the knee capper. He is in charge of securing, keeping the regime in power.

TODD: Considered more brutal than his brother, the muscle in the family, Maher al-Assad commands the fourth division and the Republican Guard -- elite Syrian military units composed of Muslims minority Alawite Muslims, the same sect as the Assad clan. But he's got something else in his portfolio.

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Maher as well as his cousins have come to control what's called the Shabiha or ghost, they're Alawite paramilitary forces.

TODD: Forces that analyst say have carried out massacres of Syrian villagers. Maher's actions once led Turkey's Prime Minister to publicly slam him, saying he's quote, "Chasing after savagery". Ted Kattuuf is a former U.S. Ambassador to Syria who's met with the Assad family.

(on camera): What is the real influence he personally has over his brother?

TED KATTUUF, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: I think his brother has to be wary of him, because he's a hot head and he's known to be a hot head and he's known not to have particularly great judgment. But you know, when you're a head of a mafia-like regime, you depend upon enforcers.

TODD: A role Maher's relished, experts say, for many years. There's one legendary account of the time his sister was set to marry someone who wasn't exactly up to the family's standards.

PROF. JOSHUA LANDIS, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: He is said to have shot his brother-in-law in the stomach in the early days, before the brother-in-law was his brother-in-law, but was trying to marry Busha and the father did not approve of the marriage thought he was low and Maher was already the enforcer before the father died.

TODD: The brother-in-law was killed in a rebel bomb attack on the Syrian cabinet a year ago. Maher was believed to have been wounded in that attack and hasn't been seen since.

LANDIS: We don't even know -- there's rumors that his leg was blown off, he was badly wounded. This could be true. We don't know exactly what condition he is in today.

TODD (on camera): If Maher al-Assad is still alive and still helping his brother, they'd be following a menacing family tradition. Their late father dictator Hafez al-Assad placed his own brother Rifat as head of some important Syrian security units. Rifat al-Assad was reported as a key figure behind a 1982 massacre in the city of Hamah in which tens of thousands of Syrian civilians were killed.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Coming up, as President Obama spoke yesterday at the Rose Garden, the world was watching. What the Syrian opposition is saying about that speech.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: The President's decision to wait on congressional approval, striking -- before striking Syria drew a sharp response from the Syrian opposition.

KEILAR: CNN's Ivan Watson is just across the border in Turkey.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Members of the Syrian opposition have expressed great disappointment with the announcement made by the U.S. President that he would seek congressional approval for the use of force against the government in Syria. Of course, many members of the armed rebellion and the political opposition groups were very much looking forward to the chance to strike some blows against the number-one adversary of this Syrian opposition movement, and quite disappointed that what seemed to have been an imminent attack would now be delayed at least a week, possibly two weeks, possibly even more.

A spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition based out of Doha, Qatar, he said he was taken by surprise by Obama's announcement and, quote, our fear now is the lack of action could embolden the regime. And some social media statements we've seen with some opposition activists in Syria, basically calling President Obama coward for not using force against their number one enemy, Bashar al Assad.

Here in Turkey, the Turkish government was also very much lobbying hard for the U.S. to take a strong military role and operation against the Assad regime. Turkish government officials telling CNN that the Obama statement was, quote, a firm expression of U.S. determination to act and that basically the Turkish government would respect the democratic process in the U.S. to seek approval for the use of force.

Meanwhile, the refugee situation continues here. There are more than 200,000 Syrian refugees living in a network of camps in Turkey, many more living outside of the camps. And there was a trickle of refugee families coming in to Turkey in recent days, some of them fearing that they could get caught up in any potential imminent U.S. military opera operation, one that clearly seems to have been at the very least delayed.

Ivan Watson, CNN -- Hatay, Turkey.

KEILAR: And when we come back, we'll look at some other news making headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: Welcome back. One of the biggest names in football is out of a job.

KEILAR: That's right. The New England Patriots released Tim Tebow, and Jared Greenberg is here with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report". So he's gone?

JARED GREENBERG, CNN "BLEACHER REPORT": Yes, you can add Tim Tebow's name to the list of 7.4 percent of Americans without a job. The quarterback was cut by an NFL team for the second time in four months. The Patriots cut him on Saturday morning.

Tebow was a great college quarterback, but struggled to run an NFL offense. In three preseason games for New England, he completed less than 37 percent of his passes, getting sacked seven times. This summer, Tebow is arguably the only third-string quarterback NFL fans could identify in a lineup. Now he'll try to find a new home, and if he does, it will be the fourth different NFL franchise to employ Tebow since he was drafted back in 2010.

Johnnie Manziel is college football's larger-than life character, suspended for the first half of Texas A&M's opener, and then he announced he is back, letting his arm and his mouth do the talking in the second half.

On his second drive of the season, Manziel Mike Evans and the rout for the Aggies was on. In the fourth quarter, Manziel rolls out, side-arm toss again, Evans the recipient. The sophomore was feeling pretty good about himself, Manziel jawing with the defender from Rice.

Refs, they didn't find it funny. They flag him for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was a penalty, and then Manziel was pulled by his coach from the game. After throwing three second-half scores, A&M wins big, 52-31.

Trickeration at its finest -- try and find the ball because the camera and the Boston College defense certainly couldn't. Villanova executing the fake punt to perfection, Jamal Abdul Rahman takes the direct snap. Everyone goes right. He goes left and untouched for the first score of the game. You have to take another look at this. What a tremendous play by Villanova. But it wasn't enough. BC would go on to win, knocking off Nova by 10.

KEILAR: Catch it. You know, you saw it sort of -- jars, as he looks for it. Jared thanks so much.

GREENBERG: You got it.

BLACKWELL: Trickeration.

KEILAR: Love it.

GREENBERG: Yes.

BLACKWELL: And to some other news now, Nelson Mandela has been discharged from a South African hospital. 95 years old, the anti- apartheid icon had been in the hospital since early June because of a lung infection. Now, he is headed home. But the frail former president is still in critical, at times unstable, condition. That's according to the office of South Africa's president.

Radiation levels spiking at that Japanese nuclear plant devastated two years ago by a tsunami. The levels are showing up in the pipes and the containers that hold water there. The company in charge of the cleanup at Fukushima says just one drop of contaminated water dripped out of a holding tank when a worker touched a pipe, and that there is not a leak.

The Obama administration is ready to give lawmakers even more reason why the U.S. should strike Syria. The President has said the U.S. should use force, but he now wants congressional authorization first. In a few hours, the President will hold a classified briefing for members of Congress. But there won't be a vote anytime soon. Congress is in recess until September 9th.

Convincing congress to side with him is expected to be a challenge. Earlier, I spoke with presidential historian Doug Brinkley from Rice University about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Congress is going to be tough. He has to, right off the bat, start convincing his base, anti- war liberals, people that are starting to come from California, New York, liberal constituents who have said, I've had enough of Iraq, I've had enough of Afghanistan, I don't want to be brought into another Middle Eastern war. And this was such a national security emergency we would have acted immediately, now we're just stalling while Congress is on recess to take a vote.

The President has lost momentum. He's going to try to pick it up hard today. You're going to see John Kerry being circulated around all of the talk shows. And they have to do a full-court press now to convince Congress, really vote by vote, they're going to be calling, doing what they can to turn this into the favor of intervention, a strike against Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Well, changing gears now, this is Labor Day weekend. And a lot of people are taking -- it's the last chance to soak up a little taste of summer sun. But could the thunderstorms ruin your barbecue, maybe the beach plans?

Let's bring in meteorologist Karen Maginnis in the CNN weather center. Karen, what can we expect?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I think poor Brianna, she's going to be crushed because she's not going to be available for the closing ceremonies of Dragonkind (ph) --

KEILAR: Nope. I'm very upset.

MAGINNIS: But it just looks like Superman is going to have to dodge some of the raindrops because we have a frontal system making its way toward the east. An old frontal boundary will be a trigger mechanism for some of those storms.

In places like Washington, D.C., we have several days of the very hot temperatures left. You'll see a little bit of a cool-down going in towards the middle of the work week. Kansas City is still right up there at 92 degrees. Minneapolis 75 for today. 69 in San Francisco.

Smoky in the Yosemite Valley, but at Yosemite, it's about 40 percent contained. It's not -- it is in Yosemite, but the entire rim fire that encompasses nearly 223,000 acres, they have it about 40 percent contained. They still don't know what caused that fire there. But smoky conditions persist.

Kansas City for tomorrow, 85 degrees but if you are headed to the coast, that's when you're looking at a better chance for some storms coming up the next several days, all the way from New Orleans towards Charleston, and up towards the mid-Atlantic, into New England. If you're headed towards Boston or perhaps the Outer Banks, I think there's about a 50/50 chance you'll see some of the showers and storms.

Monsoon moisture into the desert southwest; even in Mojave, they've seen quite a bit of rainfall there, and about a 30 percent likelihood of a few scattered showers right around Yosemite. So we'll keep you updated on the weather -- Brianna, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Karen Maginnis, thank you.

KEILAR: "Must See Moment" today. You wait for it to happen at every wedding, right? At some point, things slow down a little, then a relative or two just kind of does something unexpected.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it was certainly the case at this wedding in Russia. These two guys, they cleared the dance floor and put on a show. Now, you know you start off with "My Endless Love" and you do the slow thing. Grandma dances, you let the kids dance. And then they kicked it up a notch. High jumps, handstands, backflips, this is traditional Russian dancing, it looks like a little break dancing thrown in, too.

KEILAR: Yes, a little bit of a twist.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And imagine finding this in your backyard.

KEILAR: I'd freak out. Yes. That's actually what I think some kids and their parents in Texas did when this large, exotic lizard got loose. It was pushing four feet, very fast, as well.

BLACKWELL: It managed to pull off a couple of quick getaways, but neighbors ultimately captured this unexpected visitor. He was caught in a cage, and, you know, the shot that really gets me, not that he's running across the lawn, but when he peeks into the window --

KEILAR: Yes, "Hey, what's going on in there?"

BLACKWELL: Yes.

KEILAR: That's creepy.

BLACKWELL: It is.

KEILAR: I mean he's a kind of a creeper, right?

BLACKWELL: Kind of a creeper.

KEILAR: I thought he was a little guy, but then he ran by the tree.

BLACKWELL: You see the tree, yes, yes, yes.

KEILAR: And I realize though he's a big guy.

BLACKWELL: Hey thanks for watching today.

KEILAR: "STATE OF THE UNION" starts right now.