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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript: Syrian Civil War

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BASH: Phil, thank you. And stand by to you, too. Chris, I want to talk to you about what you're hearing outside -- inside the administration. The president met with his national security team yesterday, very rare, very telling that he did so on a Saturday. Why is this time the planning inside the administration different than in the past?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well I think you hit the nail on the head. For the president to be working on a Saturday, not only working, but to call in his entire national security team -- the director of the CIA, the national intelligence, I mean, the entire apparatus. And I think what really hits home this time is the fact that Secretary Hagel is traveling overseas in Asia had to phone in on a teleconference call during that trip.

And last time, when the Pentagon updated its military options for the president, it very much felt like it was coming or being driven by pressure from the outside, Republicans, even some Democrats in congress. This time feels differently from sources I've been speaking with, this is more internally driven by the administration realizing they may have to do something.

BASH: Very interesting.

And I want to also now bring into our discussion, Democratic congressman Adam Schiff of California, who is also a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee. What are your thoughts on this?

I know you and I've talked in the halls of Congress before. And you've been very reluctant to arm the Syrian rebels. But is this time different?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: It is different.

And I have been reluctant, you're right, Dana, because I felt the mission wasn't clear. We weren't going to provide enough weapons to make a difference on the battlefield, but we could very much be drawn into this civil war.

Here, though, I think we've always had a national security interest in deterring the use of chemical weapons and taking strong action against the use of chemical weapons. If this is confirmed, then I think the White House will have to act in concert with our allies, with NATO, with our regional friends. I don't think we can allow repeated use of chemical weapons now, an escalated use of chemical weapons to stand.

If we do, it encourages the broader use of chemical weapons in other conflicts. And we have a core national security interest in making sure that doesn't happen.

BASH: And I want to bring you in, Chris, in one second. But I also want to play for you to sort of set the table for this discussion, something that two of your congressional colleagues said this morning, a Democrat and a Republican about this.

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OBAMA: What we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern. I think it is fair to say, that as difficult as the problem is, this is something that is going to require America's attention, hopefully the entire international community's attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Well, that was obviously, a Democrat, an important one, the president. You know, we have breaking news here. But what I was going to...

SCHIFF: A former colleague of mine.

BASH: A former colleague of yours.

Well, what I was going to play, is Democrat Eliot Engel, who is the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Bob Corker, senator, Republican, both of them saying that we can't wait. We can't wait for Congress to come back to authorize this, there has to be action. And Corker even said that he's talked to the White House, he thinks action could happen relatively soon.

What are you hearing? And do you agree with that?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it very well could happen soon. And I think that's the message that the Assad regime already has, my suspicion is the reason they're now willing to allow UN inspectors in, they think in the absence of doing that, that action could be imminent and this helps them buy some time.

I think, you know, the White House has drawn a red line. And in terms of the credibility of the White House, the cost of not acting now I think exceeds the cost of acting. But they have to be careful to do this in concert with our allies. They have to be careful to limit the scope of what they're trying to achieve. they have to make sure they make it clear. This does not determine design to bring the regime down, that's too big a mission, it's designed to deter any use of chemical weapons by Assad or others think there will be bipartisan support for that. And I think that the cost of inaction now is too high if this is confirmed.

LAWRENCE: And I think we've already heard from administration officials saying too little, too late. They think that any evidence that would be collected five days later, you know, has been corrupted, that there's been intense shelling in that area, other intentional acts by the Assad regime. And that they're not going to put all of that much stock in what comes out six to seven days after the fact.

BASH: And both of you, I want you to listen to Fred Pleitgen, who has a question for you, congressman, from the field in Syria-- Fred.

PLEITGEN: Yeah, Congressman, I was wondering, what sort of action you have in mind. Because if you say that you don't think that changing the regime or bringing down the regime what should be going on and the real aim has to be deterring the use of chemical weapons, how do you do that? How do you make sure that you hit the Assad regime hart enough to get them to stop using chemical weapons and without weakening them to a point where Islamist rebels get the upper hand on the battlefield in places like Aleppo? It seems like a very difficult thing to do.

And one thing I want to say before that is I can also actually confirm from the ground here that there has indeed been intense shelling going on over the past two or three days, that seems to be directed at exactly those neighborhoods where those chemical weapons claims were made.

SCHIFF: Well, I don't think the White House is going to want to risk American lives by sending pilots over Syria, so that really limits our options to cruise strikes and think that's probably where the White House is going to go.

I think there's little danger that targeted cruise strikes are going to so destabilize the Assad regime that it would fall quickly, that would probably be too much to expect of that kind of strike. The bigger risk is actually that the strike won't be significant enough to deter him. But I think it would. I think it could be very punishing. You wouldn't go after the stockpiles, themselves, which only could disperse the chemical weapons, but rather go after his missile stock, go after some of his aircraft, go after his ability to deliver these weapons in the future.

BASH: And Congressman, how important is it that there is international consensus here? And to follow on that, how problematic is it that Russia is so reluctant, not just reluctant, but very much against this?

SCHIEFF: I think it's very important that this be a strong international coalition. If we're going to make a statement about the prohibition, the taboo on the use of chemical weapons, it can't just be the United States. This is where our leadership is going to have to come in.

But I also agree with those who have said, we can't wait on the United Nations to act. The Russians will never allow that to take place, their national security interests are very different than ours. They will seek to make murky who was responsible for this. But I think we do have to act in concert with others and I think we can.

LAWRENCE: So you think it's time to move ahead, don't even bother with the United Nations security council and start to take steps to go forward?

SCHIFF: I think we ought to quickly as possible get those inspectors in to do their investigation. I think we ought to also gather our intelligence and outside sources to make the case.

I think the president will need to go before the American people and explain exactly what actually we're taking in concert with others and why.

BASH: Congressman, thank you very much. Appreciate your time coming in on short notice.

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