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President Seeks Congressional Approval for Military Strike on Syria; Getting to a 'Yes' Vote; Interview with Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Mike Pompeo; Ginsburg First S. Ct. Justice to Officiate Same-Sex Wedding; Diana Nyad Less Than 10 Miles from Record

Aired September 2, 2013 - 07:00   ET



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.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Pushing for action. President Obama making a full court press trying to convince Congress to approve a strike on Syria. We hear from those members of congress. Has he made the case?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Epic achievement. Diana Nyad now just miles from the Florida coast. Her fifth attempt to swim from Cuba to the U.S. on the verge of completion. We're live with the latest.

CUOMO: One lucky driver. Look at this video. A landslide nearly takes out his car, but then watch as a giant boulder almost collides with it. Where did it come from?

Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: What you need to know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mood in the district that I represent is do not do this.

ANNOUNCER: What you just have to see --

This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.


CUOMO: Good morning to you. Welcome back to NEW DAY, Monday, September 2nd also known as Labor Day. It's 7:00 in the East.

Coming up, we're going to be following that amazing feet. Diana Nyad, she could make history today. This is her fifth attempt to swim the 103 miles from Cuba to Florida. She has already gone farther than anyone else. She's about 10 miles out from her goal. The question is, can she make it? We have a reporter racing to the scene to follow.

BOLDUAN: And then this. It's a court case that has people outraged a country. A judge in Montana sentences a teacher who admitted to raping a 14 year old student to just 30 days in jail, and that judge made some very controversial comments about the victim during that sentence. But could the sentence be overturned amid the outrage. We'll talk about it?

CUOMO: Let's start with Syria and breaking news. Several U.S. Navy ships have entered the Red Sea and are ready to launch a strike against Syria at a moment's notice. They're waiting, as is the world, to see what the U.S. will do. And the man driving the situation, President Obama, making an urgent Labor Day sales pitch for a military strike. Today he will meet with Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham from the armed services committee. About 100 House and Senate members are back from their recess more than a week early to address the issue. That makes sense given the urgency, right.

Meanwhile, a cyber-war afoot. Hackers, loyal to President Assad, apparently took over the U.S. marine's Web site and urged the corps not to attack. A lot of angles here. We are covering all of them, but we're going to start at the White House with CNN's Brianna Keilar.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. "Flooding the zone," that is the catch phrase you're hearing White House aides use a lot for reaching out to Congress. President Obama, Vice President Biden, White House chief of star Denis McDonough were on the phone with many members of Congress. That will continue today we're told, and that's because this bet on Congress is anything but a sure thing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No comment. Thank you.

KEILAR: Secret briefings on Capitol Hill. The White House making its case to skeptical lawmakers. On CNN Secretary of State John Kerry revealing new evidence to back the claims that the Assad regime killed hundreds with nerve gas.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Blood and hair samples that have come to us have tested positive for signatures of sarin.

KEILAR: The president's team moving quickly after his surprise decision to put a Syria strike on hold, saying Congress could approve.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all of us should be accountable as we move forward.

KEILAR: His aides assist that he had been thinking about reversing course even before the British parliament embarrassed Prime Minster David Cameron on Thursdays. Friday he sent Kerry out to argue for urgent action.

KERRY: What is the risk of doing nothing?

KEILAR: Later that day he signals second thoughts.

OBAMA: Nobody ends up being more war weary than me. KEILAR: But aides she he didn't tell anyone until Friday at 6:00 p.m. when he takes a 45 minute walk with chief of staff Denis McDonough. At 7:00 he tells his national security staff, sparking a heated debate. Saturday morning he calls his top team to the Situation Room to finalize his plan, phones Congressional leaders from the Oval Office, to get them on board, then heads toe the Rose Garden to stun the world.

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


KEILAR: Now complicating matters, President Obama has an international trip this week. He heads to Sweden tomorrow night then on the Russia for the G-20. He isn't back until the end of the week. A senior administration official insists, Kate, that he will be fully engaged, but as you know proximity does help when you're twisting arms. Nothing like a little invite to the oval office to try to get your point across.

BOLDUAN: Brianna Keilar starting us off this morning, thanks, Brianna.

So what can we expect on Capitol Hill today? Dozens of lawmakers back more than a week early to get briefed on the situation with Syria, but what are they doing after that briefing? Let's check in with Chief Congressional correspondent Dana bash for more on that. Morning, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Morning, Kate. What they're doing is fielding calls from the president himself, which is unusual for a White House that is known not to have the greatest relationship with Congress, Democrats and Republicans. But those face-to-face meetings are going to continue. But I can tell you based on countless conversations I had with lawmakers after that briefing, the votes are not there.


BASH: One after another lawmakers emerged from a classified briefing intended to convince them to authorize force in Syria, supremely unconvinced. Republicans --

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: The mood in the district I represent is, do not do this, and I honestly didn't hear anything that told me I ought to have a different position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a no based on the information I have now.

BASH: And many of the president's fellow Democrats.

REP. JIM HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT: I'm still very skeptical about the president's proposal. It's not clear to me that we know what the results of this attack will be.

BASH: If a vote were taken today would, you be yes or no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I honestly cannot say.

BASH: Democrat Dennis Haunt took the red eye from California seeking answers, but left with lots of questions.

REP. JANICE HAHN, (D) CALIFORNIA: We want there to be consequences. What is this? Is that going to war, is that bombing, is that killing more people? I'm not there yet.

BASH: To be sure the president does have some support.

Where are you right now? Are you a yes or a no?


BASH: But to get enough yeses to pass, one thing is clear -- this 24 version of authorization the courthouse sent Congress Saturday night must be changed.

SEN. ROY BLUNT, (R) MISSOURI: The biggest single concern among the member mays very well have been a very broad request for authority with a supposedly very narrow intent to do anything.

BASH: That concern is bipartisan. Lawmakers say they want to limit the authority they give the president, specify a timeframe for military strikes, and make crystal clear no boots on the ground.

This is a blank check that they sent in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a partial blank check the way it's currently drafted.


BASH: And because of that I'm told the White House has made clear that they understand the language has to be changed and that is going to start immediately.

Now I want to give you a window, Chris, into the political arguments that Obama officials that are making to members of Congress. I'm told in that classified briefing yesterday they said, what would be world think of us if we vote this down? Now the answer many lawmakers told us is what will the world think if military strike goes awry?

CUOMO: Good question, Dana. We're also following breaking news from the Pentagon. A naval show of force, aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz and four other destroyers now moving into the Red Sea. Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with details. What do we know, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good morning. The Nimitz and these other warships are moving into the Red Sea west. They've been headed west from where they were in the Arabian Gulf region. This is a show of force, as you say. U.S. military officials indicating to us it's prudent planning to be in position to respond if it came to that. Clearly the Syria scenario is one very much on their mind. They do not anticipate, however, using any manned aircraft off the deck of the Nimitz over Syria in any case.

Separately from this there's been another development, as you mentioned this morning, hacking. Syrian, Assad backed hacking group, called it the Syrian Electronic Army, the SEA, is claiming that it hacked this U.S. marine corps website and is urging marines not to fight. This is a claim that they hacked it. They have engaged in other hacking operations. We haven't heard from the marines officially yet their responses exactly to what they think happened here. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Barbara, covering from the Pentagon this morning. Thank you so much.

So the big question, will Congress vote to approve the use of military force in Syria? It's a difficult answer though.

Joining me now to talk about this, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, New York Democrat Eliot Engel, as well as member of the House Intelligence Committee, Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo. I should also add a West Point grad, at that.

Congressman, first to you, Congressman Pompeo, you as well as Congressman Engel, you were both in that classified briefing last night in Washington. From what you heard in that briefing, should Congress be called back to have this vote? Why wait, I think a lot of people are asking.

REP. MIKE POMPEO (R-KS), MEMBER, HOUSE SELECT CMTE ON INTELLIGENCE: Well, I'll be honest with you, Kate, I think we waited a couple of years too long to act in the Middle East. And so I think time is absolutely of the essence. We've got to move quickly. But I think we'll have an important debate over the next days about the appropriate response, how Congress ought to deal with that response, the power we ought to give the president to do that, or not, to intervene.

And so I think now we'll be fully engaged this week, we'll use for what I hope is an opportunity for Congress to really rise above politics and handle this very serious situation in a way that is deeply respectful of the Constitution and the American people.

BOLDUAN: Now Congressman Engel, I want to bring you in on this. You were at the classified briefing last night as well, where, as Dana -- our colleague Dana Bash has been reporting, many members of Congress came out very skeptical of what they heard, very skeptical of military action in Syria.

What did you hear in that briefing? Are these challenges insurmountable in terms of getting to a vote 'yes,' which I know you want?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I think it's very early for a lot of people and I think people are skeptical because they're hearing questions at home and they are surprised that the president decided to come to Congress. I think that when all of the facts are known and when legislators in both parties see what is best for the United States, I think the vote will be overwhelmingly yes. It might be close. I said overwhelmingly, but perhaps not so overwhelmingly. But I do think a majority will vote yes. I think to vote no would be a catastrophe. And I think it's the first time that many members had evidence presented in front of them. I think they've got to study it, digest it and see what happens.

So I'm not surprised that people have successful tall. I think the president has to make his case to Congress; he has to make his case to the American people, and I think he will.

BOLDUAN: Now Congressman Pompeo, I know that you are at this moment a 'yes' vote for military action. But I also read in a statement that you put out, you wrote, "A shot across the bow is like an intentional miss." Clearly critical of how the president handled this to this point. So why are you a 'yes' vote on military action when so many of your colleagues, coming out of briefing especially, are not with you yet? You seem to be in the minority at the moment.

POMPEO: Yes, Kate, you've got it exactly right. And I understand, as Representative Engel said, I understand folks' skepticism, especially with the way the president handled this. Right? He comes out of the gate and says, "We're going to make this a narrow, limited, attack." He says, "We're going to fire a shot across the bow."

This is -- I was in the military. You don't intentionally miss. I'm not only going to argue that the Congress ought to provide the president authority with the AUMF and with some changes to the current version, but I'm going to make a case that the president's response needs tore much more vigorous, much more robust, and actually consider America's strategic and national interest in the Middle East more broadly than Syria, than some simple few missiles being lobbed into Syria. I think that'd be a big mistake.

BOLDUAN: So are you more in line with John McCain and Lindsay Graham at this point? They want to see a long-term strategic strategy, more in line of how to get Assad out of power, not just a punitive strike because of alleged military -- alleged chemical weapon use.

POMPEO: Kate, it does us no good to just lob a few missiles into Syria. This is in the context of an Iranian-backed enterprise with Bashar al-Assad, with Hezbollah. You have al Qaeda now having the ability to move on the ground and perhaps get chemical weapons. America has interests that are much more broad than some short strike could possibly accomplish and so we need a strategic vision with real definable and achievable goals. And I'm hopeful that Congress can help the president get there over this next week.

BOLDUAN: And Congressman Engel ,when you hear what Congressman Pompeo says, he wants to see real, achievable, definable goals in this resolution for force, I've also heard you say that you don't want to tie the hands of the president. So how can you have both when you're talking about Congress approving some specific military action for the president? ENGEL: Well, I think you can have both. I think that the president must be given latitude. But I agree with my colleague. I think that we have a long-standing interest. It's not simply about a strike for the moment. You have Iran watching; you have elements that are watching. You have Hezbollah now in Syria. Assad has unfortunately become Iran's proxy and I think we have strategic interests.

So I don't think the two things are incompatible. I think the president is standing up for what he believes, and I agree with the president. And I hope members of both parties vote 'yes' not because we want to go to war, because nobody wants boots on the ground and nobody wants a war. But I do think when you see those poor children who are foaming at the mouth and gasping for breath -- these war crimes, horrendous war crimes that are being committed against the civilian population, I just don't think it's something we can look the other way and say, "Well, it's halfway around the world. Who cares?" We do care. And we also have a strategic interest there because our adversaries are not stopping.

So I think that -- I'm hoping that colleagues in both parties -- and nobody the gleeful about this. But I then when you look, on balance, I think we have to support the president on this one.

BOLDUAN: All right, Congressman Engel, Congressman Pompeo, it looks like the president might be leaning on both of you to try to twist some arms in Congress to get to that point of getting a 'yes' vote. Because right now, it seems very unclear, to say the least.

Congressman Engel, Congressman Pompeo, thank you so much.

This morning I want to add we're going to have much more coverage and debate every side of this issue. We're going to talk with Congressman Buck McKeon, and coming up we're going to debate with former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, former DNC chairman Howard Dean, as well as Republican strategist Ana Navarro and Columbia professor Marc Lamont Hill. Much more on this ahead.

CUOMO: Also a lot of other news developing this hour, so let's get over to John Berman in form Michaela with the latest. You're starting off with a reminder of the military situation we're already involved in.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Troops involved all over the world right now. And overnight a U.S. base near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan coming under Taliban attack. Multiple explosions reported followed by a two-hour fire fight between NATO troops and Taliban in which all of the attackers were killed. Several NATO supply trucks caught fire during the violence. The attack led to the closure of a highway leading to Torkham, which is an important route for NATO supply trucks.

Progress slow but sure against what is now the fourth largest wildfire in California's history. The two-week old fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park had has grown to 224,000 acres. It is still spreading but containment has grown to 45 percent. Some 5,000 firefighters are battling this blaze which has destroyed 11 homes It is being called a successful search this weekend for a missing seven-year-old in Portland, Oregon, around the area there. More than 100 volunteers and ten dog teams scoured the region looking for Kyron Horman. He's been missing since 2010 when his stepmother says she dropped him off at school. His mother says volunteers found possible evidence which is being turned over to police

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg making history. She's believed to be the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony. Ginsburg did the honors at the weekend wedding of her friends, Michael Kaiser, who's head of the Kennedy Center, and economist John Roberts. Ginsburg was part of the Supreme Court majority that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act

The Coast Guard and Washington, D.C., police are investigating why a police boat spun around and hit at least two other boats docked in the Potomac. The collision partially sunk one boat, leaving it on its side. Witnesses tell local media that the patrol boat were making a U- turn but it's unclear if police were responding to a call at the time. Guys?

CUOMO: Boy, that was wild. Almost sunk the boat. John, thank you very much for that.

Flooding in the southwest on this Labor Day. Tough headline but that's the reality. Rescuers in Kyle Canyon, Nevada, were busy Sunday saving stranded motorists from flooded roads. CNN's Indra Petersons has more on the weather out west and the rest of your holiday forecast. Wow, look at the video behind you, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, unbelievable. You just showed us Nevada. This is Utah. And remember, it doesn't take much rain in the southwest. What a difference when you go from the northeast to the southwest with the amount of rainfall, the kind of flooding you can see. And that will continue to be the story today. Yes, that was Buckskin Gorge where they really didn't even get that much rain, but the steep canyons there brought those floods throughout the area.

What we're watching is monsoonal moisture. So very actually typical for this time of year. You just get moisture coming around that dome of high pressure, it pools all that moisture out of the gulf, and you get the spotty thunderstorms. But a heavy amount of rain, short period of time, especially over the debris (ph) zone or a recent wildfire, you're going to get that flooding and of course that remains the concern today as some thunderstorms will be in the forecast there.

So that's their Labor Day forecast in the southwest. But what about us in the northeast all the way down to the southeast? I think you know by now. I'm not going to be bearer of good news. It's going to be rain and more rain. We're going to be following the cold front as it makes its way across even through tomorrow. We're talking about one to two inches, even as much as two to four inches in those heavier thunderstorms out in Maine.

So a soggy Labor Day. I hope everyone has indoor plans and they knew this by now so no one's mad, right?

BERMAN: Hot dogs yesterday, that was the key.

PETERSONS: There you go.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Indra.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad just miles from a goal she's been chasing for 35 years, completing the epic swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. It's her fifth attempt. We're going to have a live report just ahead.

CUOMO: Plus, meet who may be the luckiest driver in the world. Truly amazing video. A landslide dumps a huge boulder onto the road. Just one more rotation and this would have been a very different story. We'll show it to you.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Diana Nyad is at it again and this time the 64-year-old endurance swimmer just might make it. She's making her fifth attempt to swim the 103 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. But this morning she's already broken her record and she's moving so fast, a reporter is racing to the scene.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us with the very latest. So how are thing looking at this moment, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hey Kate, I can tell you we are just now pulling into Key West and the water is a little bit choppy, not too bad. So that shouldn't be much of an obstacle for her. We are hearing the latest that they are, at 11:00 a.m. should be crossing Reef Marker 32 and then from there it's about five miles to Smathers Beach here in the -- on Key West on the Atlantic side.

And by all accounts, Kate, this has been a remarkable journey.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): It seems nothing could keep Diana Nyad from returning to the open waters. At age 64, she's determined to become the first in the world to swim from Cuba to Florida. Last night, she broke the word for distance, swimming farther than anyone without a shark cage or protection from the elements.

She's been swimming for more than 45 hours now and says this fifth attempt will be her last.

DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: There's a fine line between having the grace to see that things are bigger than you are and to let your ego go and there's another edge over that fine line where you don't want to ever, ever give up. And I'm still at that place.

ZARRELLA: Here's what she's up against. A growling 103-mile swim estimated to take 80 hours in shark infested waters between Havana, Cuba, and Key West. And then there's these, box jelly fish. Their venom is among the deadliest in the world attacking the heart, nervous system and skin cells.

It's the jellyfish that thwarted her early attempts. So, this time, she's using a custom-made silicon mask to protect herself face and lips from jellyfish swims. But it makes it tougher to breathe.

She first attempted the treacherous swim in 1978 when she was 28 years old. Thirty-one years past before she attempted it again twice in 2011 and again last year. She kept up her strength eating and drinking while floating on her back. She says, this is her last chance to achieve her extreme dream.

NYAD: I hope next time I see, it will be to celebrate instead of, say, oh, here we go again.

ZARRELLA: That celebration may be just strokes away.


ZARRELLA (via telephone): Now her team has told us that she has been making frequent stops and she's swallowed a lot of salt water. So that's making the going a little bit rougher these last -- than less then ten miles. If she completes it, she will have covered 112 miles. Remarkable. She's 64. But remarkable at any age. Chris, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That is exactly right, John. Thank you so much. We'll be checking back in for updates. Thank you very much.

You had said this earlier and I think it's a fabulous point. When you get to the point where you're saying, oh, she only has ten miles left to swim, you know she's been swimming for a long time. I've been thinking about that. You're absolutely right. Oh, like, 10 miles, she'll get there. What? I can't even swim a mile (ph).

CUOMO: She looks amazing, too. I don't know she's looking right now; she must be suffering. But 64 years young. Boy, she looks great.

BOLDUAN: Yes, my goodness.

All right, coming up next on NEW DAY, a very scary close call. Terrifying video of a driver almost crushed during a landslide by a boulder. You have to see this. We'll talk more about it.

CUOMO: And while discussions are ongoing in D.C., military hardware is moving, bearing down on Syria. Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz entering the Red Sea along with four other Navy destroyers. Question is, will the president get the authorization from Congress to use that fire power? The latest on the case for an attack straight ahead.