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Unemployment Rate Ticks Lower; Obama Rallies International Support for Strikes; Voters Get Testy with McCain over Syria; Interview with Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana; Senate Prepares to Debate Syria

Aired September 6, 2013 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): War weary and done with conflicts. Town halls becoming staging grounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria?

COSTELLO: Voters voice opposition and their absolute mistrust of Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I think of Congress. They are a bunch of marshmallows.

COSTELLO: Also, evidence growing at opposition building. President Obama losing support in Congress for a strike.

REP. JASON CHAFETZ (R), UTAH: I'm still a no at this point.

JANICE HAHN (D), CALIFORNIA: The case has not been made to me that this war has anything to do with us.

COSTELLO: And breaking overnight. New details on the scope of American involvement.

A special edition of NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me.

Before we get to Syria, we want to start with breaking news here at home. 169,000 jobs added last month to our economy, which brings the unemployment rate down just a notch to 7.3 percent. That is the lowest level in -- since December of 2008.

Alison Kosik live in New York to tell us about this Friday's jobs report.

Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. This jobs report was a miss. What was expected was 185,000 positions were added in the month of August. Instead, we got 169,000 and, worse, you look at the revisions for June and July. July was revised from 162,000 all the way down to 104,000. And then fewer jobs added in June, as well than first thought.

A second point to make. 7.3 percent, that dip in the unemployment rate from 7.4 percent to 7.3 percent not really for the reason you want to see. The reason that happened is because 312,000 people dropped out of the labor force. They stopped looking for work altogether, either out of frustration or the fact that they just couldn't get a job. That's not the reason you want to see as behind, you know, pushing that unemployment rate lower -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Alison Kosik reporting live from New York for us.

Later this morning, President Obama will hold an overseas news conference and much of the world will -- will be waiting for comments on military action against Syria. The issue has largely overshadowed the G-20 economic summit now wrapping up in St. Petersburg, Russia.

This is the so-called class photo, was taken just a few hours ago. Look at all those leaders.

Obama has used this meeting to rally international support for the strikes.

CNN's Jim Acosta is traveling with the president. He joins us live now from St. Petersburg.

Good morning, Jim.


That's right, President Obama going through the motions of this final day of the G-20 Summit. You saw there just a few moments ago, he did pose for that class photo with the rest of the leaders here at the summit. And he is also meeting with a variety of foreign leaders. He's having a bilateral meeting right now with the France president, Francois Hollande, earlier this morning with President Xi from China.

But, Carol, obviously, this is all about Syria for President Obama. And you do get the sense from hearing from top administration officials that he is not quite lining up all of the support that he is -- was hoping to get here in St. Petersburg.

Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes held a gaggle with reporters earlier this morning and said that they feel like they're going to walk out of this summit with the majority of the leaders supporting them for a military strike against Syria, that they will go along with the United States in terms of supporting this notion that chemical weapons should not be used.

But they're not really saying which countries are with them, which countries are against them. We might get that after the summit is over. So that's an indication there that perhaps they don't have all of the support that they would like to have.

One thing that we should point out, though, this news conference that President Obama is scheduled to have at 9:50 this morning that could move around depending on how this bilateral meeting that's happening with the French president is going and whether or not that runs late.

But, Carol, the big question that's going to be opposed to this president at this news conference is, will he take military action if he does not get congressional authorization?

You played some of that sound from that town hall meeting with John McCain and some of those other lawmakers who say they aren't convinced.

Listen to what a deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said earlier this morning on NPR. He said that it's neither -- it is neither the president's desire nor his intention to move forward with the military strike without congressional authorization.

That is a comment that I think is going to be posed to the president at this news conference, if a reporter gets an opportunity and our Brianna Keilar, my colleague, will be there at the news conference -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And she will be front and center. I understand she's ready and willing to ask that question.

Jim Acosta reporting live from St. Petersburg, Russia this morning.

If the United States does, launched military strikes against Syria, there's new talk that long-range bombers could take part in the mission. This is a B-2 stealth bomber returning to Missouri after a bombing run on Libya in 2011. Now the bombers would be outfitted with missiles so they wouldn't have to enter Syrian air space and air defenses. A U.S. official tells CNN that no decision has been made on which assets would be deployed.

In the meantime, military action in Syria is proving to be a very tough sell for a lot of Americans. Polls this week show more people oppose military action than support it. Lawmakers now asking for insight at town hall meetings across the country. And in some cases, these town hall meetings are getting ugly. Like at this town hall with Senator John McCain.

Navideh Forghani, from CNN affiliate KNXV in Phoenix, has more for you.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I understand your skepticism.

NAVIDEH FORGHANI, REPORTER, KNXV: Senator John McCain trying to make the hard sell.

MCCAIN: I am (INAUDIBLE) opposed to having a single American boot on the ground. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not good enough.

FORGHANI: This is one of three town hall meetings the senator is having to get voter insight on U.S. involvement in Syria.

MCCAIN: Because I really want to hear from you, rather than you hearing from me.

FORGHANI: And for a whole hour, voters didn't hold back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much is the life of American servicemen worth? To me, it's worth a whole lot more in the situation.

MCCAIN: Sir, I -- there's no contemplation of putting a single American serviceman or woman in --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that. You can say that now but when --

MCCAIN: There's not. I'm telling you there's not.


MCCAIN: I'm telling you there's not, sir. So that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These military plans never go what they --

MCCAIN: That is not -- that is not an argument we can have. It's not going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cannot afford to turn Syria into another Iraq or Afghanistan. I beg you.

FORGHANI: Even Syrian Americans who were split on the issue hashed it out at the meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not true. You are lying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot shut me up here like you did in Syria. This is the United States.

FORGHANI: This Navy veteran told McCain he felt there were better ways the government could spend money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would much rather use our taxpayers' money to take care of our vets that are coming home from the two conflicts we've already been in.

MCCAIN: I appreciate your service very much and I appreciate your opinion. I don't think I need to be lectured, too, about veterans.

FORGHANI: While some supported a U.S. attack, a majority were against any involvement.

(On camera): Sounds like a lot of people are opposing this. You sound like you have your mind made up.

MCCAIN: You think I would be having a town hall meeting if I had my mind totally made up? Do you?

FORGHANI: No, I'm just asking. A prior statements that you've made.

MCCAIN: Well, you're asking a dumb question.

FORGHANI: Is there a small chance you'll vote no on Syria?

MCCAIN: I just voted on a resolution through the Foreign Relations Committee.


COSTELLO: Thank you, Navideh.

So let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's live on Capitol Hill.

So, Dana, John McCain stood there and told that local reporter that he doesn't have his mind made up, but he did vote for a resolution authorizing some sort of military strike against Syria.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did. And he got some changes made to the point where he felt comfortable enough to vote for authorization. And he was, I should say, one of only three Republicans who did so in the Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.

Look, John McCain is probably one of the -- the politicians most comfortable with that kind of town hall setting. The most experienced with tough questions, but even for him, wow. That was really rough.

I want to play even a little bit more of the kind of questions that he got about Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you really realize what you're getting -- what you're getting our country into with this war in Syria? If you attack the Syrians, who do you think they're going to take it out on? Israel. Why are you not supporting Israel on this one? We should be backing Israel, not turning away from them.

And, second of all, this is what I think of Congress. They are a bunch of marshmallows. That's what they are.

MCCAIN: Well, sir, I'll be glad to get you information about the exact position of Israel on this issue. You may be surprised.


BASH: Now for the record I think it's probably fair to say that John McCain doesn't disagree with the fact that most of his colleagues or Congress in general is perceived as a bag of marshmallows. But more specifically and more importantly, just to the point that that voter and -- that John McCain was making about Israel, he's right. The state of Israel does support this idea. They're not publicly talking about it. They're not beating the drums publicly because they understand the way that they're perceived in that region, particularly by Arab countries and they know that that wouldn't do any good. But I can tell you that the American/Israeli Public Affairs Committee here in the United States, a very powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, Carol, they are being very, very proactive about trying to get members of Congress who are undecided to vote for this.

I talked to several of them who said that they are getting calls from all kinds of people who are affiliated with AIPAC and absolutely they are -- they are supportive.

But I just have to tell you that the fact that we ran so much of this John McCain town hall isn't so much because it was fascinating to watch, but it is very much because this is what we're hearing from Republicans and Democrats that they are getting from their constituents back home. The phone calls, the conversations at gas stations and supermarkets.

This is what they're hearing and it is very much a big part of why the momentum that the president had earlier this week appears to have stalled.

COSTELLO: Well, John McCain certainly has his own mind. Do you think that if he experiences more like this, which he will, I'm sure his office is getting hundreds of calls, too. Is it possible that he could change his mind and, if he does, that would really hurt the president's effort, wouldn't it?

BASH: Anything is possible. You heard what he said to that reporter there. I'm not going to second guess that. But what I can say is that there are few members of Congress in either party who have been more outfront, more aggressive in trying to get the president to be more aggressive himself with the foreign policy towards Syria and with regard to military involvement in Syria.

He made very clear that does not include boots on the ground from his point of view. But he has been one of the people who have -- has been urging the president to get out there. I think it will be very hard for him to vote no and he has said many times over the past week that he thought that Congress voting against the president after he's already made this decision would be catastrophic.

So I'm just going to -- I'm just quoting his own words back to him. If he changed his mind, Carol, yes, that would be a huge and surprising and detrimental to the president.

COSTELLO: Catastrophic to the president.

Dana Bash, thanks so much.

CNN has been tallying how Congress will vote and based on our figures, the president still has a long way to go to get the support he needs. In the House, 15 Democrats and eight Republicans are backing the president, 23 Democrats and 86 Republicans are against President Obama. And more than 300 lawmakers are either undecided or their feelings are unknown.

In the Senate 17 Democrats and seven Republicans support a strike against Syria, four Democrats and 14 Republicans do not, with 58 senators still undecided.

The president has a long, long way to go.

You can see, by the way, how your lawmaker plans to vote on a strike against Syria. Just go to, click on counting votes. You can click through the interactive tally by state, name and comments. The running tally based on public statements, press releases and interviews from lawmakers.

Still to come in NEWSROOM lobbying lawmakers and world leaders. President Obama makes his case against Syria. So what should he do if he doesn't get the support?


COSTELLO: Well, we just showed you that raucous town hall meeting in Arizona held by Senator John McCain, who was, of course, supporting President Obama's effort for some sort of military action in Syria and you can see how angry John McCain's constituents were.

Well, joining me now by phone is another lawmaker who says he will support President Obama on Syria. He's a Republican congressman, his name is Luke Messer. He's from Indiana.

Good morning, sir.

REP. LUKE MESSER (R), INDIANA (via telephone): Good morning.

COSTELLO: So, what are you hearing from your constituents?

MESSER: Listen, I'm hearing a lot of concern. What I'm hearing from my constituents is the same thing that I believe. I'm no fan of this president's foreign policy, but the bottom line to me after seeing the facts and the evidence is this. We don't have the luxury of taking a 3 1/2-year break on being America just because we have an ineffective commander-in-chief.

When you look at the facts and evidence presented, it is clear that a strong, targeted military action is warranted. And that's how I intend to vote.

COSTELLO: So, I know you hold town halls and I know that you held a town hall, but this was before the president spoke out about Syria.

Will you hold a town hall to listen to your constituents like in the next few days?

MESSER: Well, I mean, I think it's important that we continue to receive impact or to receive information and feedback from our constituents. I actually sent out an e-mail survey yesterday. I participated in multiple town halls through august that included conversations about Syria and I expressed in those town halls that based on the facts as I understood them I would support a strike.

This is a matter of conscious. I understand the concern here and the misgivings about this president's leadership. I agree that mismanagement by this administration has compounded the problems there.

But I also think that we have to look at the bigger picture and the bigger picture is this -- it's clear that Assad bombed his own people and it's clear that those bombings including chemical weapons on innocent women and children. It's clear that allies in the region like Israel are asking for us to act in and it's clear that evil dictators in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere are watching and will be undoubtedly emboldened if we don't act.

COSTELLO: Well, you say it's a matter of conscious, but I'm just going to lay this one on you. One of your colleagues, Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan, tweeted this out yesterday. Quote, "If you're voting yes on military action in Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition."

Do you think your vote could cost you your office?

MESSER: Listen, I think when we're talking about as important as a decision about whether or not to go to war, that talk of the political considerations is frankly inappropriate. I'm going to do my best based on the fact to make the best judgment I can for the future of this country and we'll let the political chips fall where they may.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for joining me, Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana. We sure appreciate it.

MESSER: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Quite lonely being the president, even at the G-20 Summit even where he is surrounded by many other world leaders, 19 to be exact. A large group of them led by the Russian President Vladimir Putin were spotted heading to dinner together.

Missing in the group, the American president, President Obama. He later headed to the formal dinner alone. He does look lonely, doesn't he?

Political science professor Jason Johnson joins me now.

Welcome back, Jason.


COSTELLO: So, the president -- what's he to do? He doesn't have support in Congress right now. Far, far from it. A lot of people are saying, hey, President Obama, you need to address the American people and lay out a plan.

JOHNSON: He has no plan that people want to hear, and that's the problem. Look, degrading the weapons of mass destruction and degrading the gas, you know, the ability for Assad to gas people, nobody wants to hear that. Americans are thinking about Iraq, even though this is a situation much more similar to Kosovo. That's not a case that Obama is going to be able to make effectively.

COSTELLO: So, there is nothing he should say to the American people. So, you think he shouldn't bother?

JOHNSON: I don't think it's going to matter, because no matter what the Congress ends up passing, I think the president is going to go ahead with this anyway. I mean, Bill Clinton did the same thing with Kosovo. I think that as long as one house of Congress votes in his favor and that will probably be the Senate because the Democrats have the majority, Barack Obama will begin the bombing. He doesn't want to --

COSTELLO: Yes, but a lot of liberal Democrats are against going -- taking military action in Syria.

JOHNSON: They all say that now, they all say that now.

COSTELLO: They say that really strongly now.

JOHNSON: They say it strongly -- they're going to do some horse trading because eventually the concern is going to be, what this does to Iran?

If we, if the president draws a line and then ends up being cut off at the knees by his own senate, then Iran is going to be laughing and Assad is going to be laughing. And that is something that even people who disagree with Obama, they'll probably vote in favor because they're concerned about how America will look overall.

COSTELLO: OK. So, you saw our story on the town hall meeting in Arizona. You saw how angry people were at John McCain and you also listened to the congressman from Indiana, the Republican congressman I just spoke to, and he said, you know, I have to vote my conscious. But he's in the House of Representatives.

Can he convince other House members --

JOHNSON: I don't think there's much of a chance that the House is going to pass this.

And you saw a perfect example of this was Joe Wilson, who said this is to avoid Benghazi and the president was trying to hide from all these other issues. You still got members of the House of Representatives who think the president is a secret Muslim and he wasn't born here and there's some massive conspiracy.

I don't think there's much of a chance in the House. But again, if you look at it historically, Bill Clinton started dropping bombs right after the Senate passed it, even though the House didn't vote for a month later. I think that's what the president is going to try to do.

COSTELLO: OK. So, if the president does that, I mean, it will make a lot of voters mad, really angry.

JOHNSON: Extremely angry.

COSTELLO: Does the president care at this point? He's not running for re-election but could hurt his fellow Democrats.

JOHNSON: I don't think much that could help the Democrats next year outside of the economy anyway. And this is -- this is legacy- building. OK, this is something that the president thinks has to happen in order for the United States to stay safe and has to happen in order to stabilize the region and I don't think he's thinking in terms of elections next year.

And I don't think -- if you look at most of the senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, they're not really worried about their jobs. The only people who are really worried are like the president candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, everybody else knows it will be the economy next year. They'll be fine.

COSTELLO: Jason Johnson, thank you for your insights.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Always appreciate it.

Still to come on the NEWSROOM: we're waiting for President Obama to speak, possibly in less than half an hour. But, first, we're going to take a look at the day's other top stories, including new trouble for George Zimmerman and his wife and that legal fund you may have contributed to.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 25 minutes past.

Shellie Zimmerman has filed for divorce. Of course, she is the wife of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty in June in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Her attorney spoke with reporters last week after Shellie Zimmerman pleaded guilty to lying in 2012 about the couple's finances.


KELLY SIMS, ATTORNEY FOR SHELLIE ZIMMERMAN: She stood by her man, like Tammy Wynette says. She probably shouldn't have. So, that's pretty much it. She did what was right for her.


COSTELLO: Shellie Zimmerman said publicly last week that her marriage was in jeopardy.

Health officials in Texas urging people to get vaccinated against what they're calling an epidemic of whooping cough. The disease also known as pertussis already has killed two people this year. Nearly 2,000 cases have been reported and authorities say the number of people infected could be 10 times higher.

A 19-year-old man is dead after the remote control helicopter he was flying struck him in the head. It happened in New York City. Friends of Roman Pierce (ph) say they're in shock.


EATON BRYCE, VICTIM'S FRIEND: Disbelief is what's in my heart right now and I'll miss him. I really will.

DINO SPADACCINI, VICTIM'S FRIEND: It's just an unreal event that someone that young, that full of life enjoying something is gone. Just unbelievable tragedy.


COSTELLO: WABC is reporting that this man enjoyed flying gas-powered turbine helicopters with two foot-long carbon blades. He was quite experienced at it. Just some sort of freak accident.

Let's talk about the weather. It's still summer, but, boy, doesn't feel that way in parts of the Northeast. Frost advisories out this morning and high temperatures are five to ten degrees cooler than average. Another cold front will push through this weekend.

The NFL regular season open with a bang -- we'll make that an explosion from Peyton Manning. The Broncos quarterback threw for seven -- count 'em -- seven record touchdowns in Denver's 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Manning tied that NFL record for the most TD passes in a game. It was last done in 1969.

And check out this mock up of what the Olympic Park will look like at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro. Architects behind last year's London Games are working on the real plan, the flowing pathways modeled after the Amazon River and the night clubs will resemble the Olympic flag.

Thank you for joining me this morning. I'm Carol Costello. We are expecting President Obama to speak in about 20 minutes. CNN's Jake Tapper picks it up from here.