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Congress In A Holding Pattern; Interview with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; Readying For The President's Sales Pitch Tonight; Apple's Big iPhone Reveal; Vince Gill Takes On Westboro Protesters; New York City Opera House Trying To Raise $20 Million

Aired September 10, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In national news, right now Congress is in a holding pattern. Today, President Obama was on Capitol Hill trying to sway lawmakers to back military action in Syria if a diplomatic solution fizzles.

He was also reportedly asking for more time to see that third option potentially take shape before Congress even takes up a vote, one that he may very well lose. A majority of the House remains undecided but the nos still seem to have the momentum, just hours before the president addresses the nation.

Two members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who have both served in the United States military join me now. Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii who is against militarily intervening in Syria, and Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois who backs the president's plan. Thank you both for being here and thank you both for your service.

Congressman Kinzinger, I'm going to start with you.

You were one of the first to come out and back the plan for military strikes. What do you make of this third way being floated by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, et cetera?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, you know, look, these are the same Russians that vetoed any press release out of the United Nations, basically saying chemical weapons are bad, period. They're huge allies with Assad. They protected Assad for a long time.

I think we have to go forward and see if this way is going to work. But I think we have to put a timeline out, say within the next week, you have to achieve this, this, and this and then you buy another week where you have to achieve these things. It's important to understand that the Russians may be trying to stall here and ensuring that they don't.

But look, we have a responsibility now to see if we can disarm the Syrians through peaceful method. So, I hope it works.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, what do you make of this? REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: I think it's absolutely a positive development and I think this third option is the option that the American people in particular have been looking for. They have been looking for leadership in this way to say what action can be taken against these heinous chemical weapons attacks that will actually be effective and will speak to the objective we all agree on, which is to secure and eliminate the use of these chemical weapons.

I think that the president moving forward with this, delaying the Senate vote, is a positive development, and Russia calling an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting today to start to work through the resolution is exactly the path that we need to be taking forward.

KINZINGER: I want to add to this whole thing. I mean, the reason we're here, the reason we're here with the Russians potentially and the U.N. potentially making this breakthrough is because there was a threat of force, because the United States was serious about making the cost of using chemical weapons far exceed any benefit gain and I think that is a huge testimony, frankly, to saying in some cases a strike like this is necessary. That's why I supported it and that's why if there's stalling that goes on, I support taking action still.

TAPPER: But that implicitly is a criticism of the congresswoman's position, because she opposes the authorization.

Congresswoman, how about it? The congressman is saying that if it weren't for this serious threat being posed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and President Obama, the Russians and Syrians wouldn't even be talking peace.

GABBARD: I think it's debatable. I think that none of us sitting around a table can sit there and put ourselves into the minds of what is happening in Syria or what is happening within Russia. I think clearly, the pressure that has started to build throughout the international community about the disdain for the use of these chemical weapons is really what's the focus here and really changing the conversation so that the focus is more on how do we achieve this objective rather than looking at a U.S.-led military strike. Which in my view, not only will not meet the objective that's been laid out by the president, which is degrading and deterring Assad from using these chemical weapons again, I think the opposite effect could occur. We could see a very limited strike, unbelievably small as Secretary Kerry said yesterday, that does not meet that intent and further emboldens other leaders to say this is actually a weak response that could further embolden the opposition forces which include the terrorist factions, deal with a weakening Assad regime, huge stockpile of chemical weapons which could cause far worse damage, both within Syria and within the region if left to the outside or the unknown.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, aren't you worried at all that if President Obama sets a red line on the use of chemical weapons and doesn't follow through in any way, that there isn't any punishment at all -- I don't know if you consider taking away somebody's chemical weapons to be a punishment -- don't you worry that that hurts America's credibility as President Obama argues? GABBARD: I think the opposite question could be asked, is would it not be potentially irresponsible to take action against Syria just for the sake of saying we took action against Syria when that action could lead to something far worse, whether it be a regional conflict, whether it be a weakened Syrian regime and a strengthened opposition forces, which is made up of multiple terrorist factions who could have access to weapons and who have said very clearly their desire to hurt the United States and hurt the United States' interests.

Again, I think it is our responsibility to exercise moral courage, to find that right solution. It's not a question of a military strike or complete and total inaction. The question is, we need to take effective action, and I think that's what we're seeing now occurring with the developments today, within the U.N.

TAPPER: Last question, Congressman. I just want to get your response to something Secretary of State John Kerry said today. He was adamant that he said we're not, quote, "going into Syria." Take a listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're not asking to go into Syria. I don't see any route by which we slide in to go into Syria. I don't see the slippery slope, people say you're going to get dragged in. I do not see that.


TAPPER: What do you see, Congressman? As somebody who has skin in the game like the congresswoman?

KINZINGER: Well, I see a very punishing strike coming to Syria for doing what they shouldn't have done. We have had this red line for multiple years, and I think America's credibility -- and not just the credibility of the president. The whole United States of America and what we have done for decades is at risk if we don't follow through. I hope they're disarmed through peaceful means. If they're not, we need to be ready to attack.

Keep in mind, too, this whole idea of slippery slope. Israel has already had limited strikes on Syria a number of times already this year. It didn't start World War II. A very punishing strike by the United States saying you will not gas your own people will, I think, be very effective in deterring them from doing this in the future.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Kinzinger and Congresswoman Gabbard, thank you both for being here. And thank you for your service. To be continued. We'll have you back again to talk about this. I have a feeling it's not going away today.

KINZINGER: Probably not. Thanks.

TAPPER: Coming up next, which president will we see tonight: the one who wants to make a deal or the one who is ready to punish Syrian militarily? Both? Neither? I'll ask one of his former advisors, coming up next. Plus, his latest crusade is getting Harrison Ford in trouble. Why the actor's new project is ticking off one high-level official.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In politics, here comes the sales pitch. Right now, the president is selling something that the majority of Americans don't want to buy. So how does he hawk military action in Syria when he himself says he would prefer a diplomatic solution?

Let's bring in our panel. Former national security spokesman for the Obama White House, Tommy Vietor. "Washington Post" columnist and former speech writer for President George W. Bush, Michael Gerson. And CNN's senior -- senior political analyst, David Gergen. They gave you two seniors in the teleprompter there.


TAPPER: Congratulations.


TAPPER: So Tommy, the president is going to address the nation tonight at 9:00. What's he going to say? Because I feel like what he was going to say maybe two days ago is very different from what he might say tonight.

TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER NATIONAL SECUIRYT SPOKESMAN FOR OBAMA: Or two hours ago. I think you have to -- a little backdrop of context about what's been happening. Then I think you have to make a moral case to the American people about why it's important to them. I think he will obviously --

TAPPER: Why strikes are important? Or why dealing with Russia is important?

VIETOR: Why chemical weapons in Syria, why little kids being gassed in their sleep with chemical weapons is important, why that endangers U.S. troops, and why the credible threat of military force actually helps him reach a diplomatic solution to this problem.

TAPPER: So Michael, in "The Washington Post" you wrote quote, "The Obama administration has generally waged a war of words and then used those words casually and clumsily." How can he make his words count tonight?

MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, it's tough. First of all, they do have, you know, a tremendous policy challenge. But for a speechwriter, it's a pretty exhilarating moment. You are now in your keyboard determining what do you say about the U.N.? What do you say about what you want Congress to do.

It's a tough challenge here, because you're not asking for action that's not going to happen, and you're not declaring victory, because this is a very distant prospect to have inspections in the middle of a civil war.

So, it's a little more of a status quo statement that you have to say, well, I'm committed to peace, but I have leverage here. I have to reestablish credibility here in a situation where you're negotiating from a position of weakness, where you were going to lose in the Congress, where you are internationally isolated. So he has to reestablish both his resolve here, not be so ambiguous and conflicted in his message, and hold out the possibility that things can get better through negotiations at the same time.

TAPPER: David, you have advised several White Houses. What would you tell President Obama tonight?

GERGEN: I think this is an easy speech to write. It's a hard speech to sell. Because Tommy was right about framing it as a moral choice. He wants peace, he wants a peaceful resolution, he wants to get rid of chemical weapons, he's going to the U.N. first to try it. But if that doesn't work, he wants to reserve the option to use force. I think that's pretty straightforward.

But the American people are hardened now against use of force and their heads are spinning over the last 48 hours of the events. We're all going to be looking, I think, tonight as Michael says for resolve, but also for clarity. What's he trying to do now, and how is he actually -- can he convince people he actually knows what he's doing? That they have a firm grip on the wheel. I think that's been a real problem.

He's got to avoid, I think, wrapping himself too much in the whole idea of peace, peace, peace. We all desire peace. We all want a peaceful resolution. But the quality of peace matters. I mean, they have been comparing Assad to Hitler. The world well remembers when they cut a deal with Hitler back in the late 1930s and they called it "peace in our time."

TAPPER: And Tommy, it's hard to dispute the notion that the messages have been somewhat mixed. And that the president does need to offer some clarity. If you look at the polling, the American people believe that Assad gassed his own people. They still don't want to go to war. They still don't want military action. How do you convince them that they need -- that that is necessary, even though they're convinced of the basic case, they're still not voting to do anything about it?

VIETOR: I think this is where it gets challenging. You have to convince them the chemical weapons convention, our nonproliferation regime, makes them more safe, makes our soldiers on the battlefield safer and is important for global security. And that's not easy to do. I think you need to make that moral case.

But I also think you need to help them understand why ironically, the threat of military force, a credible one, helps you get to a diplomatic outcome that doesn't involve force that -- by the way, I mean, this Russian play is difficult for a number of reasons. But if they do manage to secure the CW, that's actually a better outcome for the people of Syria because then that is no longer a tool for him to use. GERGEN: That would be wonderful if we can do that. We have been down this road before with Saddam Hussein. He agreed to let U.N. inspectors come in and look at weapons of mass destruction, and what happened? It took years. He obstructed, he lied, he threatened, and we didn't know after several years whether he had gotten rid of all of his chemical weapons.

This is a really, really hard problem. We're not going to know in a week whether this is a firm deal.

GERSON: And there's a hazard here in just emphasizing chemical weapons because we have big geostrategic interests in this region. A rivalry with Iran. We've got regional chaos spilling out over to neighbors. We have humanitarian nightmares that have nothing to do with chemical weapons. You can't accept the moral hazard to say you killed 1,400 people with chemical weapons, it's okay to use bombing of scud missiles on neighborhoods.

So, I think the president is going to have to broaden a little bit here and say it's not just a chemical weapons treaty. We still have interests in this region that we have to effect. That's a difficult challenge because the options are so poor.

TAPPER: And one of the things that Obama administration officials say, including the president, is one of the problems he's having making this case is that the nation is weary of involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

GERSON: I think that's the case. As I said, he's entering this argument from a position of rhetorical weakness. It's just a fact. He lost the support of Congress in this process. He did not do well at the G-20 in convincing other countries. The American people are opposed. So his main goal here is to try to explain why America needs the hard side of this debate in order for the soft side to succeed. That's going to be a difficult challenge.

VEITOR: You're exactly right. This is a remarkably difficult policy to talk about because the last person in the country that wants a war in Syria is Barack Obama. But he needs that threat, that credible threat of force to get to a diplomatic outcome.

You're absolutely right, though. There's a whole other dimension of humanitarian work that the United States is doing, will continue to do, that we also should keep emphasizing because there is a real cost.

GERGEN: He said today that he wants to put off the vote in the Congress until after he works through the diplomatic side. I think the hard thing today -- tonight, is to move the needle of public opinion far enough that Congress will actually give him that vote in a positive way, a week, two weeks or three weeks down the road.

That's going to be hard to do. I think we'll be judging the success. We'll all look at the polls the next 48 hours to say did he do it or not. I think that is going to be the ultimate question.

TAPPER: To be continued. Michael Gerson, Tommy Veitor, David Gergen, thank you so much.

When we come back, green is the new black, or at least Apple hopes it is. Does today's announcement mean we have to accept a less exciting Apple? My next guest says yes.

And its patrons have some of the deepest pockets in the world, so why is one New York institution turning to Kickstarter to stay in business?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Money Lead. It's the revelation we've been waiting for, for more than a year. How exactly would Apple blow us away with the epic revamp of the iPhone 5? It turns out the biggest surprise about Apple's latest devices is that there are no big surprises.


TAPPER (voice-over): The new iPhone 5s sure is shiny, but the iPhone 5c, you can take your pick of colors. They're loaded up with some new features, but they're not exactly a revelation.

STEVE JOBS, APPLE CO-FOUNDER: An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.

TAPPER: When Steve Jobs took the stage in 2007, the first iPhone was another game-changing hit for the company, and the CEO that took the world by storm. And that was the point. Jobs' biographer, Walter Isaacson, told CNN Money.

WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR, "STEVE JOBS": Every three or four years, felt he had to bring out something totally new, like he did the Mac and he decided OK, now let's do the iPod or the iPhone or the iPad. Things you never knew you were going to need.

TAPPER: Since Jobs' death in 2011, the company seems to have lost some of that vision.

BRETT ROBINSON, AUTHOR, "APPLETOPIA": When you get to the fifth iteration of a device, it loses some of its magic. Now that the accountants and designers are running things, they're trying to cobble together kind of the next chapter, and I think they're still struggling to find what that narrative is.

TAPPER: Brett Robinson is the author of "Appletopia."

ROBINSON: These product launches have to be well produced. There has to be some showmanship there, and I don't know that Tim Cook is the guy to fill those shoes.

TAPPER: Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook, has gained kudos for making Apple a kinder, gentler place to work than it was under the hard- driving Jobs, but many say innovation has suffered. But he is gaining some fans. Unfortunately for Apple, the fans are their competitors. Today, Nokia, makers of their own colorful phones, tweeted this, "Thanks, Apple. Imitation is the best form of flattery."


TAPPER: So was Apple's big reveal today a big let-down, or were you too busy playing Candy Crush to notice? Let's bring in our good friend, Rocco Pendola. He is a columnist for Rocco, why do we care so much about Apple? Why are you and I so obsessed?

ROCCO PENDOLA, COLUMNIST, THESTREET.COM: I think the best way to answer that question is to look at what they did today. You know, it's really easy for people to be disappointed and be critical and you're looking at Twitter and all these tech people, they're ripping Apple. It's because they only listen to their friends heading into one of these events. They listen to the rumors. They don't listen to what the company says.

I'll tell you, I'm happy with what they did today. Tim Cook said we will never produce a crappy device and that said to me we're not going to produce some cheap device. They didn't do that. The 5C is not cheap. It is a premium price smartphone and if you want a cheap model, you can get the 4s for free now. This is the way Apple has been doing it forever so no surprise.

At the same time, yes, they are less exciting. Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. We're not in a situation where, you know, it's like they roll out the next big thing and surprise us at the end of the presentation. We have to come to grips with that. We have to live with that.

But the reasons why we care are still there. I got a year left on my contract to my iPhone 5. I want the 5s. They have done just enough to remain the best, to remain the most relevant, but we do need something new so they can remain long term dominant.

TAPPER: But Rocco, why no surprises? These big Apple events never surprise us anymore. We basically know what they're going to present, but Jobs didn't do that as you point out. He had the big reveal. Why the end of the stage craft that worked so well?

PENDOLA: Jake, you're spoiled seriously. You're spoiled, I'm spoiled. I mean, the guy is a once in a generation figure, you know? I mean, I said in an article today on "The Street," Jobs spoiled us and now I just have to accept that Tim Cook is probably the best foster father I'm ever going to have. And he will come up with something else.

The pace is going to slow down because he is not a genius and as your package there said, they're kind of cobbling stuff together right now. They're going to do something big. Don't count them out. I think it's going to be in the living room. It just isn't going to come as fast.

Listen, why change the iPhone? People love it. If they changed it that would be the dumbest thing they can do. Don't reinvent the wheel. Just keep it rolling and then they will come out with something big. I think it will be a TV. I don't buy this smart watch stuff.

TAPPER: But look, I'm sitting here with an iPhone, got an iPad there. So obviously, I'm still a customer. Very quickly, Rocco, for the first time, the cheaper phone will go on sale in China the same time as in the U.S. Is this a big deal? Why should I care?

PENDOLA: It could be a big deal. It depends what Apple announces in the next few hours. They are doing a media event in China tomorrow and if they announce a deal with China Mobile, the biggest carrier there, it could be a huge deal. Any way they can expand their footprint in China is good. I'm glad they didn't go the cheap route though to do it.

TAPPER: OK, Rocco Pendola, thank you so much. We'll see you again soon, my friend.

A reminder, I'll be back tonight for a special on the crisis in Syria, decision point, at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Pacific. It's part of a huge night of CNN coverage. Take a look.


ANNOUNCER: CNN tonight, at 7:00 on Erin Burnett, after meeting the president, will Democratic Senator Joe Manchin change his mind on Syria? At 8:00 on "AC 360," after Russia's Syria offer, what does the president hope to accomplish now with his speech?

At 8:30, Wolf Blitzer joins Anderson to preview Obama's address. At 9:00, watch the speech with live coverage by Wolf Blitzer. At 9:30, Piers Morgan and Wolf bring you reaction to the speech in Washington, around the nation, and the world.

At 10:00 on "AC 360 LATER," Anderson and the panel break down the night's key moments. Special live coverage all on CNN Tonight, starting at 7:00 Eastern with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."


TAPPER: Coming up next, Harrison Ford accused of harassment in Indonesia. What did he do to annoy the foreign minister? Our Pop Culture Lead is next.


TAPPER: Welcome back. The Pop Culture Lead, it could be Indiana Jones' biggest misstep since "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," that is. Harrison Ford apparently really ticked off Indonesia's foreign minister during an interview for a climate change documentary. A presidential advisor accused Ford and his crew of harassing state institutions and even said he could be deported, even though he was scheduled to leave today anyway. Ford also met with Indonesia's president during the trip. He's in Indonesia for the production of a documentary on climate change called "The Years of Living Dangerously."

Don't mess with my wife and stay out of my life. Sounds like it could be the next hit single on the country charts, and it just might be if Vince Gill decides to write a song about his confrontation over the weekend with members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vince Gill, what in the world are you doing out here?

VINCE GILL: I just came to see what hate looked like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More importantly, what are you doing with another man's wife?

GILL: I came out to see what hatred really looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you know divorce plus remarriage equals adultery? Jesus Christ said that.

GILL: Did he? You know what else he said? A lot of stuff about forgiveness, about grace, you guys don't have any of that.


TAPPER: The protesters targeted Gill because of his divorce ten years ago and remarriage to singer-songwriter Amy Grant. The group is notorious for not only targeting celebrities, but gay rights groups and military funerals.

The New York Opera House is facing a major cash crisis that could cancel the rest of the season, but as we all know it isn't over until the fat lady sings. That's not meant literally. To keep dire predictions from coming true, the opera house turned to kick starter to raise money. It needs $20 million by the end of the year to stay open the next two seasons.

This entire season is in jeopardy if the opera house doesn't get $1 million this month. The New York City Opera is the second largest opera company in the big apple. This latest financial crisis is said to be the result of certain pledges not coming through. You know who you are.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Don't miss our live coverage of President Obama's address to the nation beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern with a special program on the crisis in Syria, decision point. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."