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Diana Nyad Completes Cuba-to-Florida Endurance Swim; President Lobbies Key Lawmakers on Syria, Live Coverage of Diana Nyad Press Conference; Interview with Rep. Dennis Ross; Live Coverage of Nancy Pelosi's Comments on Syria

Aired September 3, 2013 - 11:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Tuesday, September 3rd. We are not getting far away from the issue of Syria this hour, because right now the president is meeting with members of Congress, as well as his administration, trying to convince lawmakers to authorize an attack on Syria in response to that alleged use of chemical weapons on the Syrian civilians.

First, however, live right now, 64-year-old Diana Nyad is speaking out. And I don't know how she's doing it, but after that incredible swim she has somehow funneled the energy to talk about it all.

She's the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective shark cage and it only took a mere 53 hours to do it, continuous, 53 hours of swimming, Havana to Key West.

This is her fifth and she said it would be her final attempt at the dream that she's had for over three decades. In fact, some say she really dreamt it up at age eight. But yesterday it finally came true.

Look at this remarkable video of her actually landing on terra firma here in the United States. No wonder it's hard to walk after 53 hours of swimming, wow.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our CNN chief medical correspondent, has been on this story and, when I say from the beginning, I watched your documentary last night on her remarkable five attempts and the penultimate attempt that was so devastating when it ended with her devastation and to see this, Sanjay, this is really remarkable.

How does the human body even do this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think this is one of those cases, Ashleigh, we talk about all the time. It's mostly mental, and obviously a large part physical. She's been training her whole life. She was a swimmer, as you know.

But, Ashleigh, I think you hit on the really salient point here. This was a dream. It was 35 years at least in the making. And I think that was such an important thing for her.

We all have dreams, and probably many people who are watching, maybe even you, Ashleigh, at times or another have let those dreams go. She just never did. She just believed she could do this.

And I'll tell you, even the closest people around her at times had their doubts and there were significant doubts.

But to your point, just physically, the amount of nutrition and hydration you need to take in to simply sustain yourself for this sort of thing is you need to take a lot of that in.

In order to actually do it, you're probably burning more than you can actually ever consume. So as extreme medicine doctors put it to me, she's almost digesting her own muscle mass in order to just simply get to the other side.

BANFIELD: Extreme medicine, it's incredible.

Sanjay, with your reporting on this, I had no idea that immense team work that it took, each of these attempts. All those boats that we saw around her, they were all shifting on and off because I think we can all -- I think we can all understand how hard it is just to stay awake for 53 hours, let alone exercise for 53 hours.

How is she even capable today of holding a news conference? Which by the way, we're just waiting on, so if I have to interrupt you, I'll ask for your forgiveness in advance.

GUPTA: She's a special kind of woman, Ashleigh. I don't know if you've ever had a chance to meet her, but you would like her. She's just so inspiring. She has so much energy. She's 64, as you pointed out.

She's going to give this press conference now. She sat down and talked to us just a few hours after her swim yesterday. I want you to listen to a little bit of that.


DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: You know, what's so great about it, Sanjay, is that it's all authentic. Just -- it's a great story.

You have a dream 35 years ago, didn't come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it's somewhere in the back of your -- then you turn 60 and your mom just dies and you want to -- you don't know. You're looking for something. And the dream comes awake again in your imagination.

No one has ever done it. It's -- I'm not sure when the next person will do it. That's how hard it is to get everything right. And when I say everything right, with all the experience I have, especially in this ocean, I never knew I would suffer the way I did.

It was really rough that first day, Saturday, after the start. And I just said, forget about the surface up, get your hands in somehow and, with your left hand, say, push Cuba back and push Florida towards you.

And forget about slapping and grinding and feeling sea sick and -- just push Cuba back. But the jellyfish mass just about undid me.

I'm just like every other human being. Even the bravest soldier has doubts, has fears.

I don't wake up gay or even female or 64. I just wake up, like, get me at another day, you know? I swam from Cuba to Florida and no one can ever take that away from me.


GUPTA: She would say, Ashleigh, you've just got to find a way and that's become her mantra. Just find a way.

She had to dig deep when it looked pretty dark out there. When there wasn't a lot of support, she simply found a way. And, again, I think there's a universal message here, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Is there ever. When you said have I ever met her? I want to be her.

No, I've never met her, Sanjay. I'm very jealous that you've had a chance to spend so much time with her.

Sanjay, we're going to watch for that news conference and we're going to pick it up just as soon as she gets under way. Thank you for that fine reporting on that. There was no better person assigned to it than you, Sanjay Gupta live for us, thanks.

We have another big story today, and there it is, the crisis in Syria. The president has a full court press for congressional authorization of a military attack against Syria under way as we speak.

He is hosting a White House meeting right now with the leaders of the House and Senate and some other key lawmakers as well.

And that's not where it ends because, later today, the secretary of state, John Kerry as well as the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, and the joint chiefs chairman, General Martin Dempsey, are all going to testify before the Senate foreign relations committee.

CNN has plans for live coverage starting at 2:30 Eastern time right here as it happens.

In Syria, though, a lot more tough talk coming from the president there, Bashar al-Assad. He is now warning that a U.S. military strike could trigger war throughout the region.

Just before the start of the White House meeting, Mr. Obama spoke with reporters. Here's what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank the leaders of both parties for being here today, to discuss what is a very serious issue facing the United States.

And the fact that I've had a chance to speak to many of you and Congress as a whole is taking this issue with the soberness and seriousness that it deserves is greatly appreciated and I think vindicates the decision for us to present this issue to Congress.

As I've said last week, as Secretary Kerry made clear in his presentation last week, we have high confidence that Syria used in an indiscriminate fashion, chemical weapons that killed thousands of people, including over 400 children, and in direct violation of international norms against using chemical weapons.

That poses a serious national security threat to the United States and to the region, and as a consequence, Assad and Syria need to be held accountable.

I've made a decision that America should take action, but I also believe that we will be much more effective, we will be stronger, if we take action together as one nation.

And so this gives us an opportunity not only to present the evidence to all of the leading members of Congress and various foreign policy committees as to why we have high confidence that chemical weapons were used and that Assad used them, but it also gives us an opportunity to discuss why it's so important that he be held to account.

This norm against using chemical weapons that 98 percent of the world agrees to is there for a reason, because we recognize that there are certain weapons that, when used, can not only end up resulting in grotesque deaths, but also can end up being transmitted to non-state actors, can pose a risk to allies and friends of ours like Israel, like Jordan, like Turkey.

And unless we hold them to account, also sends a message that international norms around issues like nuclear proliferation don't mean much.

And so I am going to be working with Congress. We have sent up a draft authorization. We're going to be asking for hearings and a prompt vote. And I'm very appreciative that everybody here has already begun to schedule hearings and intends to take a vote as soon as all of Congress comes back early next week.

So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American people, the military plan that has been developed by our joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional, it is limited, it does not involve boots on the ground.

This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan. This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences.

It gives us the ability to degrade Assad's capabilities when it comes to chemical weapons. It also fits into a broader strategy that we have to make sure that we can bring about, over time, the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability not only to Syria but to the region. But I want to emphasize once again what we are envisioning is something limited, it is something proportional. It will degrade Assad's capabilities. At the same time, we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition, allow Syria ultimately to free itself from the kinds of terrible civil wars and death and activity that we've been seeing on the ground.

So I look forward to listening to the various concerns of the members today. I'm confident those concerns can be addressed. I think it's appropriate that we act deliberately, but I also think everybody recognizes the urgency here and then we're going to have to move relatively quickly.

So with that, to all of you here today, I look forward to an excellent discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you prepared to rewrite the authorization and does that undercut any of your authority, sir?

OBAMA: I would not be going to Congress if I wasn't serious about consultations and believing that by shaping the authorization to make sure we accomplish the mission we will be more effective.

And so long as we are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, which is to send a clear message to Assad, degrading his capabilities to use chemical weapons, not just now but also in the future, as long as the authorization allows us to do that, you know, I'm confident that we're going to be able to come up with something that hits that mark.

All right?


BANFIELD: And there you have the president's comments just moments ago.

And for the very latest on what's next because the president has a very busy day ahead, those aren't the only lawmakers he's going to be meeting with, our Brianna Keilar joins us live now from the White House.

I'm imaging, Brianna, it is difficult to even track the comings and goings of some of the most important people, without question, in this country.

What's next after this meeting? What is he prepared to do to try to make this case today?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More outreach, that's really it at this point.

His meetings, I think, may continue, although we don't have anything officially on the schedule, briefings between the White House and members of Congress. The goal here, Ashleigh, I should say sort of the strategy of the White House is that, if anyone in Congress has questions, they're really trying to be providing a lot of access to give them answers to try to convince them.

Right now, even though we're here at the White House, we're looking at this meeting here and we're awaiting lawmakers to come out. What we're really trying to gauge is their reaction to being lobbied in this way.

It's very much at this point in the hands of members of Congress as the White House tries to convince them, and the fact is we just don't really know where they stand at this point.

We've seen some key support here recently, Lindsey Graham, Senator John McCain. Those are key hawks in the Senate, and I think a lot of folks look to the senate as being more likely to vote on something and more likely to go first, so that is key.

But when it comes to, for instance, the House, there are a lot of skeptical lawmakers and it's even more in doubt there if something can pass.

BANFIELD: Just incredibly sober looks on all of their faces as we see those pictures in that room. I cannot imagine the climate in there.

Brianna Keilar, live at the White House for us, thank you for that.

I also want to take us back down just for a quick instant to Key West where Diana Nyad is getting ready to address the public about what she went through, really only a day after she finished up the most amazing swim, 53 hours in the water.

She's going to tell us all about it, and we're back right after this.


BANFIELD: We are live in Key West where Diana Nyad is sitting down to answer questions and tell the secrets of how she managed to pull off, after five brave attempts and four failures, one of the most remarkable feats -- swimming 53 hours in jellyfish and shark infested waters. And then somehow, amazingly, walking on to dry land in Key West to meet -- that's Bonnie Stole, her manager of many years and many swims who had cheered her right throughout. I don't think Bonnie slept those 53 hours either. But what an amazing feat of accomplishment and what a team effort it took for her to do this crossing.

You may see her right there in the water, but there is just a phalanx of people supporting her from medicine to supporters to those who helped physically pull this off. There she is. This is a live picture. Let's listen in a little bit to those cheers and what she has to say.


DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: We fucking did it! BANFIELD (voice-over): Oops. Well, she may have earned the right to say that. I'm sorry that went through, folks, but Diana is just meeting her supporters and she's about to sit down to the microphone. But just so you know, in 1978 when she was 29, she first attempted this, and at the ripe age of 29 could not pull it off. But now at the age of 64, she could.

So you're watching this live. And obviously she's in jubilant spirits and a little profanity there, we do apologize for, but clearly, she's pretty thrilled. She's just getting ready to address the mike.

NYAD: Is this on live or do I do whatever I want?

BANFIELD: It's live, Diana.

NYAD: You know, I've said this before, but let me be emphatic about it now -- it's clear that this is a sport filled with personal isolation and you can see that it takes a lot of will and mind to get through all of these hours. Unlike a runner, cyclist, climber, you don't have nature to see. Not to, believe me, degrade any of those activities. I'm just saying that the mental concentration of 53 hours of non-stop swimming is something to behold and respect. The physical duress is obvious, as well, but never ever, ever could I do this without this team right here.

Two of my best friends, two long-time best friends. You all know Bonnie and you will see her in a minute again. But Candace was on my boat in 1978. That's why we both look so old, and the only person to make all five (INAUDIBLE).

Nico, come over here. One of the shark divers. Nico went on this trip a boy and came home a man.


BANFIELD: OK. So as she congratulates her team she's off mike. It's a little hard to hear her. But she's going to go through a lout of her teammates. And like I said, there was a massive phalanx of people who were in those boats beside her. In fact, when we said there was no shark cage, miraculously, there was like an electronic shark cage. Two kayakers going the whole way beside her were actually transmitting signals that repelled those sharks. So it was a huge, huge feat she had with the team.

So we're going to go back to that when she gets down to the microphones and we can get a good comment from her. We're going to take you back to Diana Nyad.

However, I'm going to ping-pong right back to Washington where Speaker Boehner had some comments just moments ago. He, of course, having that critically important meeting with the president and with Nancy Pelosi this morning. Let's see if we have that sound ready to go so you can hear it. No. What we're going to do, we're going to get that sound ready for you. The tape is not yet queued. We just got it into house. But in the meantime, I can do this for you. Those who have been back and forth to the White House, who have been privy to some of the intelligence that perhaps the rest of us have not, have had a chance to digest this argument as to whether we attack Syria or not after that chemical attack allegedly by Bashar al-Assad on his own people.

One of those people is Dennis Ross, the Republican from Florida who has been briefed and who has, I say, ostensibly, Congressman, made up your mind somewhat about how you feel about that attack. And it's a no go as of yet, isn't it?

REP. DENNIS ROSS (R), FLORIDA: That's correct. You know, I was in D.C. on Sunday. I attended the classified briefing. I will tell you the case was made very compelling but there's circumstantial evidence that chemical weapons were used. However, Ashleigh, we have yet to determine what is the compelling national interest at stake, and number two, what is our strategy from a military point of view not only from the strike but also the exit strategy.

BANFIELD: National security, when I hear the president just moments ago saying, look, we know there are weapons of mass destruction, this is the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world in this country. What is the difference between being threatened by that stockpile of chemical weapons and, as the president said, nuclear proliferation? Isn't that all in our national interests?

ROSS: Well, it has always been in the world's interest and that's why we have the Convention on Chemical Weapons that was passed in 1993 with 188 countries signing on to it. That's why we have the International Criminal Court that has statutes that prohibit these chemical weapons.

This president knew -- clearly the world knew in March of this year that chemical weapons were being used by Assad against his own people. Why did we wait until now? Why are we waiting and essentially allowing the Syrian forces to now hide their military installation amongst civilians, among schools, amongst hospitals?

The strike should have been some time ago and so now we're in the situation where we have to really define our national security interests. We also have to let come into play the other parties. We should be talking to Russia right now and saying, look, there's nothing good that's going to come from this. We need to -- and we say this in the Authorization for Use of Military Force that's before us now -- that the only way this thing will ever come to an end is through a politically negotiated resolution, a peace settlement.

This will strike will have unintended consequences.

BANFIELD: But do you, sir, do you honestly believe that someone like Bashar al-Assad, of the allegations are true and he's just gassed 1,400 of his own people, allegedly 400 of them kids, do you honestly believe you can diplomatically negotiate with someone like that? Because we didn't think so with Saddam Hussein.

ROSS: Well, no, wait a second, Ashleigh. This again is something that should have been done some time ago. We're at a situation right now where if we take a strike, what are the retaliatory effects going to be? I can tell you that Israel is going to be right in the middle of this and we're going to be in this whether we like it or not.

Assad has done atrocious and horrific things and we should not tolerate it as a global community. But for us to unilaterally get involved right now without any strategy and without defining our compelling national security interests has me concerned. I'm doing my best to keep an open mind here, but if we have to take the vote today, I would be a 'no'.

BANFIELD: So I understand and I'm trying to, you know, ascertain from you how much intelligence you got in your briefings as compared to what we get in the press and in the public. Do you feel like it's just too shallow at this point for you? Do you think that there's more on the way? Is there enough of a compelling reason that you can see it has to be kept classified so as not to tip our hand?

ROSS: Well, yes, I do. I think that it does need to be kept classified to a certain degree. But the fact that there is circumstantial evidence out there that chemical weapons have been used is not classified. I think we all know that.

But I think we also know that the U.N. inspectors have gone out there. They're trying to determine within all probability as to when the attacks happened, what was there, and that it was actually used. And when we have that evidence, we have a responsibility to make sure that we engage our allies, our global community right now. But again, I mean, we're waiting at least a week before we go back and have this debate? There's something wrong here that has me concerned as to, again, what is the compelling national interest at stake here?

BANFIELD: Congressman Ross, it's good to see you. I wish I had a lot more time but you're going to be cut short only because of the Speaker of the House. He just spoke as well.

ROSS: That's all right.

BANFIELD: So if you will permit me, thank you so much for your time. And if you permit me to jump right over to Speaker Boehner and the comments that he has made -- in fact, you know what, let me switch gears. Nancy Pelosi is just about t to speak live after this meeting with the president, so let's listen in to this first.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: -- military action lightly; that there are compelling reasons. The evidence -- the intelligence is clear that Assad perpetrated this attack of using weapons of mass destruction, really.

Weapons of mass destruction, deterring their use, is the pillar of our national security. Assad has done that. That is a differentiation from what he has done up until now. People say, well, he killed 100,000 people. What's the difference with this 1,400? With this 1,400, he crossed a line with using a chemical weapon. President Obama did not draw the red line. Humanity drew it decades ago, 170 some countries supporting the convention on not using chemicals, chemical warfare. So it is really something that, from a humanitarian standpoint, cannot be ignored or else we cannot say "never again". Secondly, from a national security standpoint, you have to send a very clear message to those who have weapons of mass destruction of any variety that they should forget about using them.

It was a very constructive meeting. The president listened to our colleagues. The speaker was very clear and I'm sure he has told you his view. I associated myself with his remarks. But again, I believe that the American people need to hear more about the intelligence that supports this action. And that is that the responsibility for this chemical weapons use is clearly at the feet of Assad.

Now we go to the next step of having further debate in the Congress of the United States. And I am hopeful as the American people are persuaded that this action happened, that Assad did it, that hundreds of -- hundreds of children were killed. This is behavior outside the circle of civilized human behavior and we must respond.

MALE REPORTER: Are you ready then to, in a sense, whip your membership to get on board with the president? Because we've been hearing obviously, from the House especially, all over the place.

PELOSI: Well, yes, and I'm respectful of that. On these kinds of issues, it's not a question of whipping; it's a question of discussing to make sure that people have the information that they need to make an informed decision, to make sure that they have the full value of the intelligence that says this is how this happened. And then members have to decide, are they -- do they want to ignore the fact that this humanitarian disaster took place or not? And then there's the larger issue of Syria's behavior if they get away with this.

So, again, very respectful of all of the concerns that the members have, that our constituents have. I do not, in my district, I don't think people are convinced that military action is necessary. But it's important for them to know that the weapons of mass destruction's use has taken us to a different place, that the president takes -- obviously any president would, but this president does not take this lightly. And that what will happen will be targeted, tailored, of short duration, and will send the message that is necessary and then we go from there.

So you're absolutely right, there's work to be done. But it's not a question of whipping; it's a question of discussing with our members, hearing their views. And some won't ever be comfortable with it.