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House Takes Up Syria Strike Monday; Divided Congress on Syria; Interview with Rep. Mike Kaufman

Aired September 7, 2013 - 09:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I am Suzanne Malveaux.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. 9:00 here on the East Coast, 6:00 out West -- this is NEW DAY SATURDAY.

MALVEAUX: Washington, of course, is going to be working full throttle in the coming days. Congress is going to debate, perhaps vote on military action inside Syria.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk to CNN's Brian Todd in Washington. Brian, the House gets back to work on Monday. The CNN tally shows the President has a lot of work to do. Talk about that.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Suzanne, he has a mountain of convincing to do and this is a President who does not have a lot of political capital in Congress right now because of all the partisan battles that have gone on over the past few years. Now you look at his numbers right now in Congress, to authorize the use of force on Syria and in the center, it looks promising but looks are deceiving here.

In the Senate right now, 25 members have said they will vote "yes" to authorize, and 19 will vote "no," but you've got 56 undecided senators. In the House, it's not looking good for the president, 24 members say they will vote "yes," and 119 will vote "no," 270 are undecided and you've got 20 unknown. So the president and his team are making calls this weekend to members of Congress trying to sell this.

One of their crucial allies, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, chair of the senate intelligence committee. Now she acknowledges the lack of appetite for military action, but says trust the intelligence.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There is no question what is coming in is overwhelmingly negative, and there is no question about that, but, you see, then they don't know what I know.


TODD: Senator Feinstein has gotten intelligence briefings on the Syrian chemical weapons attack, and on Monday, President Obama's security team and we are talking about the big guns here, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, they are going to hold a closed intelligence briefing for all House and Senate members. This is a major push. Victor and Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And Brian, the fact that the senator says they don't know what I know. We know the president is going to go before the American people on Tuesday, and is that going to be his approach? You don't know what I know, but I know what is best here?

TODD: It very well could be. You know, not to telegraph this, but this is going to be one of the most crucial political moments of his entire term, is he going to be able to convince the American people and the Congress with that address to support the use of force. Now this morning, in his radio address, the president indicated that he understands the emotional tilt that Americans are feeling after more than a decade of war. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, and that's why we are not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else's war.


TODD: Now, even after the Tuesday address at the White House, this campaign is not over. The Senate may vote in the couple of days after that address, and the House vote may not come for days or maybe even weeks after that. This has turned into some extraordinary political theater. Suzanne and Victor.

MALVEAUX: All right. Brian Todd, thank you so much, reporting from Washington this morning.

In a few minutes, we are going to talk live with Colorado congressman, Mike Kaufman, about the upcoming vote on Syria and whether or not to strike.

BLACKWELL: And there are people across the country who are calling for an end to the president's plan. It is proving to be, as Brian said, a tough sell, especially to some Americans, nearly six out of 10 people are opposed to an attack against Syria.

MALVEAUX: CNN's Rosa Flores is in New York where Syrian-Americans are expected to march later today. And we also have CNN's Emily Schmidt in Washington to see about more protests that happened.

Rosa, let's start off with you. I had an opportunity this week to talk to Syrian-Americans, they seem to be split but what are they telling you?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, the ones that I talked to are, of course, afraid of a strike on Syria, and they are also worried, imagine this, on all fronts because they have family, of course, here in America and family in Syria, and they tell me that they are in constant contact with their family members in Syria via Skype, but they are always worried, will they be there the next time they call. So what are they doing? They are organizing and they're using Skype to do that.

They have an organization called the Syrian American Forum with about 2,000 members here in the U.S., and they are, of course, going to be here in New York today demonstrating but they are preparing for their biggest event yet, and that is Monday in Washington, D.C., and Suzanne and Victor, they are telling me that they are bussing people from across the country, from as far as Florida and Michigan so they can participate on Monday, and their message is very simple, they say, in one slogan, hands off Syria. Suzanne, Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right. Rosa Flores for us in New York, thank you. Let's go to Washington now. Washington will witness its own protest today, one aimed at pushing Congress to vote against he president.

MALVEAUX: Emily Schmitt joins us now. And Emily, it's not unusual to have protest outside of the White House, and do we expect that there are going to be large numbers today of people gathering against the strike for Syria?

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Suzanne, what we know - Suzanne, we know that this vote on the Syria in the House could be a week or two away and that time is really giving these opposition groups more time to organize and try to get their voices heard. The (INAUDIBLE) coalition is planning a rally outside the White House in just a few hours. As they gather there, remember they will be outside the White House that President Obama just returned to a few hours ago, after that trip the G20 summit.

They are then going to leave from the White House and march up to the U.S. Capitol. Last weekend we saw a protest from the same group (INAUDIBLE) also promoting another march in Washington on Monday by the Syrian American Forum. Timing there, not a coincidence (INAUDIBLE) to coincide with House members who will be returning to their offices on Capitol Hill after the summer recess. Many members of Congress have been getting a full-court press from the White House even while they were back in their district. They are hearing from their constituents and the folks who will be marching today, gathering in Washington, hoping their voice will be added to what is becoming an increasingly complex conversation.

MALVEAUX: All right. CNN's Emily Schmidt, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Now to a different international story. America's unlikely diplomat, Dennis Rodman. This morning, the Worm left North Korea after spending five days in the communist state. It's not clear what he did on his second basketball diplomacy tour. He didn't do anything to help free an American doing 15 years hard labor. But he reportedly met again with his "friend" reclusive dictator Kim Jong Un.

MALVEAUX: NASA has a new exploration mission. On Friday, a 90-foot rocket was launched from (INAUDIBLE) flight facility in Virginia into space. It was the first time that NASA launched a rocket to the moon from this site in its 54 years of lunar missions. NASA says that the probe nicknamed (INAUDIBLE) is designed to study the lunar atmosphere and environment. It probe will travel more than 223,000 miles before it reaches its destination on October 6th.

BLACKWELL: So here is some good news for most people, at least, much of the country will enjoy sun and warm temperatures this weekend, but not everybody is going to be able to enjoy the clear skies.

MALVEAUX: I think we're going to get a chance to enjoy it, but Alexandra Steele, takes a live look with us, but some of the other folks not so lucky.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and where it's not so lucky, the Pacific northwest especially, they have seen so much rain and flooding and now with all that rain we got flooding in areas and also we've experienced some major mudslides.


STEELE (voice-over): Out west, strong showers and thunderstorms brought down trees and power lines in the Portland area, and up to three inches of rain flooded streets and businesses in Salem. KGW meteorologist, Rod Hill, said some 50,000 lightning strikes were counted across Washington and Oregon, including the one that brought down this tree and split it in half.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's literally, you know, some bomb have been placed behind the tree and it just blew up.

STEELE: Meanwhile, cleanup resumes this morning across Idaho after nasty weather caused flooding and mudslides.

Jim (INAUDIBLE)'s wife had to be rescued.

JIM: When I looked over, and my wife is sitting up on top of the car with water all around her.

STEELE: And record heat in Denver was just too much to handle for some students, especially without air-conditioning. This elementary school was just one of six that closed early because of the high temperatures in the upper 90s.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's too hot for them to be in there. Teachers, too. It's very hot.


STEELE: You know, the good news, by Monday when the kids go back to school in Denver, temperatures will have dropped 17 to 18 degrees. Record heat in Denver Thursday and Friday, and today potentially as well. The record today is 95. Here's what (INAUDIBLE). You can see, of course, there's a massive ridge it's been dominating the day for days now, and it stays in place. Actually most of the country is beautiful weather.

The northwest and the southwest have some rainy conditions, but excluding that, the (INAUDIBLE) really the heat. But even having a little frost. The last couple of mornings in Northern New England, we've seen some frost. It's good for the trees though, the clear skies, kind of helps that chlorophyll so get some really good color during foliage season.

Here are the highs today, KC 96, and even in Atlanta, Georgia, 88 degrees.

So Suzanne and Victor, pretty warm around a lot of the country after a pretty benign summer, cold and wet ones. It's quite warm now.

BLACKWELL: It's pretty warm in here too.


BLACKWELL: I've been standing there in your forecast.

MALVEAUX: And I'm freezing.

BLACKWELL: I know my forehead is shiny.

MALVEAUX: You know, I'm cold.

STEELE: That's always the case in here.


All right. Thanks Alexandra.


MALVEAUX: Divided congress and a steep climb for the president as Congress heads back to Washington on Monday, debate on whether to strike Syria expected to heat up now. Up next, we're going to hear from Republican Congressman who says he is still undecided.


BLACKWELL: President Obama faces a tough fight to get Congress to authorize military action against Syria. CNN is keeping track of how lawmakers are leaning.

MALVEAUX: So by our account, 19 confirmed no vote, 25 yes votes in the Senate. In the House, the president's challenge is even bigger, 119 members plan to vote no while just 24 are saying yes.

BLACKWELL: And among those still undecided is Republican Congressman Mike Kaufman of Colorado, and he joins us now from Denver. Congressman, you said that you would consider military intervention in Syria if the president could make a good case to Congress. First, let's listen to something they said on Friday at the G-20 summit.


OBAMA: Over 1,400 people were gassed. Over 400 of them were children. This is not something we fabricated. There are times where we have to make hard choices if we are going to stand up for the things we care about, and I believe this is one of those times.


BLACKWELL: We had a colleague from across the aisle, Congressman Grayson, who was on earlier this morning and he said he wants to hear the argument for national interests? Is that what is holding you up? What are you still waiting on to hear from the president?

REP. MIKE KAUFMAN (R), COLORADO: Well I think that the president is commander in chief and I think he certainly laid down a marker in terms of the need to take action to detour the Assad government from the further use of chemical weapons, and I've served in the Middle East with the United States Marine Corps on multiple tours of duty, to include the first Gulf War in Iraq and I know it's easy to get in and it's hard to get out, and so the questions that I want to ask, first of all, I want to see the evidence to affirm that, that the government - the Assad government did direct the use of chemical weapons, and I want to see the elements of the plan that it would in fact be enough to detour the further use of chemical weapons, and I want to make sure that it doesn't -- that action doesn't escalate or involve our direct involvement in Syria.

So I think there are a lot of questions. On Monday and Tuesday, I will be in briefings intelligence and classified level briefings, and I will be able to asked the hard questions that we haven't been able to ask today.

MALVEAUX: And Congressman, obviously your role in this is going to be very significant, as many of the members are and the president is asking for your input here, but does it concern you at all, that Friday when he was asked multiple whether or not he would move forward with military action without the approval, the authorization from Congress, he did not answer that might actually be a possibility even one side, one chamber actually says yes and the other says no. Does that concern you at all that maybe this is not really a useful exercise but futile?

KAUFMAN: Well, I think what is so confusing is the fact that I was on a conference call Friday afternoon, Washington time, with members of the president's national security team where they were resolute by going forward and that conference call really represented their efforts to consult with the Congress, and they were not going to take the issue to a vote before Congress, and then Friday evening, it was leaked out that the president had a reverse himself and he formally announced it on Saturday.

So think that that is a confusing part and then the president, I take a conservative view of the Constitution that the fact that the United States is neither under attack or threat of attack, that the president does have an obligation to come before the Congress for an up or down vote. The president's position right now is he doesn't have a legal obligation to do so.

So the rational in going before Congress right now, when I think that the president knows it's an uphill fight in the House, and it's questionable in the Senate, and an uphill fight in the House, I am almost - part of me is asking does the president want a way out, or does the president think it's a politically sensitive issue with the tide of public opinion turning against this that he wants to have the fingerprints of members of Congress on this? It's disappointing, I think in terms of the presidential leadership, but nonetheless I think that he is the commander in chief, and I think the credibility of the United States is online, and he laid down that marker about the red line.

BLACKWELL: Congressman.

KAUFMAN: And we know that weakness invites aggression.

BLACKWELL: I want to get in here really quickly. Some members of the House have said that if a members vote yes they might as well clean out their offices because their constituents do not want this action. Very quickly, what do you hear from constituents? And do you think that's accurate, that you will lose your seat if you vote for this?

KAUFMAN: I tell you what the calls I am getting in my office, in the district office back home, and in Washington are overwhelmingly against really on a bipartisan basis. This is not something really limited to Republicans. But I have to make a decision not based on the politics of the moment but what is in the long-term interest of our country.

BLACKWELL: You think that some members will lose their seats because they vote for this action.

KAUFMAN: Well, I can't speak to that. I think - I don't know that, you know, in politics, you know, a month I think is a lot of times sometimes, but the election is you know, over a year away. So I can't speak to that.

MALVEAUX: All right. Congressman Mike Kaufman in Denver. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

KAUFMAN: Thank you for having me.

MALVEAUX: The (INAUDIBLE) representatives plan to vote on a strike against Syria, visit

BLACKWELL: Coming up on "New Day," the good stuff, amazing stories from across the country including how a charity for one homeless man raised $190,000, and changed his life forever.



YASHI GUPTA: I was only five years old, and I got my first pair of glasses. When I was a freshman in high school, I broke my glasses, I just couldn't see anything. And so I really realized just how much glasses meant to me. Without them, I really couldn't do anything normal.

I started doing research, and I learned there were millions of students around the world that need glasses and could not afford them. I had a problem for one week and these kids had these problems for their whole lives.

My name is Yashi Gupta. I am trying to help students around the world see better.

I learned there are millions of glasses that are discarded annually in North America alone, so why not put them to good use.

So when I was 14 I started reaching out to local optometrists and putting collection boxes in their offices, and so when a patient came to get new glasses, they could discard their old glasses.

(INAUDIBLE) other organizations and they distribute the glasses.

The other way we distribute glasses is by going on clinic trips. Pack in some glasses, (INAUDIBLE) Mexico today (INAUDIBLE) orphanages.

It's personal interaction and that's what I really love. Be able to see people, (INAUDIBLE).

Watching someone get glasses for the first time, you know, it's really inspiring.

Today we have collected and distributed over $425,000 worth of eyeglasses, which is equivalent to 8,500 pairs. I'm 17 years old and although many people believe kids can make a difference, I have. I think any one can do that, it's just about being motivated and going out and just doing it.


BLACKWELL: Coming up on "CNN Newsroom" at 10:00, before Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning were even born, another NSA contractor became infamous for selling secrets to the Russians during the cold war, and his name was Christopher Boyce. We sat down with him for his first on camera interview in 28 years. That's at 10:00 right here on CNN.


BLACKWELL: All right. Time for some "Good Stuff." Billy Ray Harris used to be a fixture on the street corner in Kansas City, Missouri, begging for change. That was until a woman accidentally dropped her $4,000 engagement ring into his cup.

MALVEAUX: Billy Ray could have sold it and it could have changed his life that way, but he didn't.


BILLY RAY HARRIS: She said I might have gave you something very valuable, and I said was it a ring? She said "Yes," and I said "Well, I have it," and my grandfather was a reverend and he raised me from the time I was six months old, and thank the good lord for that blessing and I do still have some character. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: He did the right thing. The woman and her husband were so moved by the time, they started an online donation page for Billy Ray. They were hoping to raise $1,000, but at the end of 90-day campaign, they raised $191,745 from all over the world.

MALVEAUX: And Billy Ray - well now he has just bought his own car. He has offers for speaking engagements and is about to launch his own painting business. He even put a down payment on his own home.


HARRIS: You could not believe how it good feels to me right now, to be able to stick my own key in the door and open the door and go in and then lock it when I leave. That is a great feeling. My father will be standing around out here one day, going to shop at Urban Outfitters, and somebody walk-up and will hand me a dollar. They are so used to seeing me out here.


MALVEAUX: I love that guy.

BLACKWELL: That's amazing. Kindness comes from around the world to help this man.

MALVEAUX: Beautiful.

Now to some must-see moment videos. Watch as the scene unfolds. This is in South Africa's (INAUDIBLE) National Park. It's pretty cool. A herd of elephants notice as its being watched, and well, several came in for a closer look and (INAUDIBLE) of course, the spectators know that they are not welcome. The elephant uses it head and trunk rams the jeep carrying the visitors on the safari. Terrifying seconds before she finally relaxed. Surprisingly, nobody was hurt actually.


MALVEAUX: Well, thank you for watching. We're going to see you back here at the top of the hour, but first -

BLACKWELL: "YOUR MONEY" starts right now.