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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript: Syria

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We are back. Now to the debate in Congress. Joining me from Orange, California, near Los Angeles, Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Republican Congressman from Austin, Texas and Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mike McCaul, and from New York, Republican Congressman Peter King. We're going coast to coast this morning. To all of you quickly, if the vote were held today, Congresswoman Sanchez, I'll start with you, are you a yes, no, or maybe, we'll get into the whys in just a second. You first.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ:
I'm a leaning no. It's about national security.

DAVID GREGORY:
Okay. And Congressman McCaul, yes, no maybe?

REP. MIKE MCCAUL:
I think as it stands today, I cannot support the president's plan. I think it's irresponsible.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, and Congressman King?

REP. PETER KING:
I would vote yes, in spite of the president's conduct.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, so, let me come back then to Congresswoman Sanchez. You heard Denis McDonough. He said two things, limited airstrikes, the victory in his mind, in this campaign, is degrading Assad's ability ever to use chemical weapons again. And it is not a long-term military involvement. Why are you not persuaded that that's worth doing and achievable?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ:
Well, first of all, it is about national security. And I haven't heard any of our interests. I haven't heard that Assad wants to use weapons against us. I haven't heard that he wants to use the weapons against our allies, that he's moving them to terrorist organizations. So I'm asking where is the national security issue.

And make no mistake about it. The minute that one of those cruise missiles lands in there, we are in the Syrian war. It's a civil war and we're taking sides with the rebels, many of whom are still associated with Al Qaeda, the groups that mean to undermine us. So for the president to say this is just a very quick thing and we're out of there, that's how wrong wars start.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman King, answer that concern.

REP. PETER KING:
First of all, (THROAT CLEAR) I share some of those concerns. I do believe though there's real access between Syria and Iran that for Syria to be allowed to use chemical weapons to continue to have their chemical weapons at the same time we issue a red line to Iran not to go ahead with nuclear weapons, that makes that Iran/Syrian access predominant in the Middle East.

It endangers Jordan, it endangers Israel, and that necessarily endangers our national security. I just wish the president had laid this out better. I wish he'd quit backing away from his own red line. And I wish he was more of a commander in chief than a community organizer.

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, why do you say that? That's like a campaign line. What does that mean? More commander in chief than community organizer?

REP. PETER KING:
What I mean by that is, he was commander in chief, for one year he said this red line was there. And then the red line is crossed and he sends Kerry and Hagel out all said to basically have an attack. We're told that Congress is not needed.

At the 11th hour he brings in Congress. And then he says it's not his red line. So here's a person who's vouched for it. I can't imagine Harry Truman or John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower ever putting a nation in a position like this on a military policy.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, let me ask Congressman McCaul. Is American credibility a real reason to go to war even in a limited fashion?

REP. MIKE MCCAUL:
Well, we always are concerned about our credibility. The problem is, I think lobbing a few tomahawk missiles will not restore our credibility overseas. It's kind of a face-saving measure for the president after he drew the red line. That's what I'm very concerned about is that once we, as my colleague from California mentioned, once we're in, we're in.

And once we hit, this is an act of war. Little wars start big wars. And I think we have to be very cautious. And the other thing I'm very concerned David, you haven't mentioned in the program yet, is who are we supporting in this war? We are supporting a rebel faction, the rebel cause, that has now been infiltrated and hijacked by many Al Qaeda factions.

So the idea on the eve of 9/11, as we move into that, to have this vote ironically, that we're going to support a plan that could potentially put these chemical weapons in the hands of Al Qaeda that could be turned against Americans. Those images I saw of the children in Damascus are horrific. Assad is a brutal dictator. But I don't want to see those images broadcasted and shown in the United States with American kids.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congresswoman Sanchez, a year ago, it was the attack in Libya on our consul there, murdering our ambassador. And this is also supposed to be a limited operation. But when the country disintegrated, United States interests on our own people were targeted and killed.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ:
Well, as I said, the fact of the matter is that you can't just lob in a few missiles and say that that's the end. And it's the unknown consequence. It's the irrational people who-- who will respond, how will it be. I think the risk is very, very high. And believe me, I understand why the president's come to the Congress.

Because the legal framework, I mean, there are only two ways in which under the U.N. security, under the U.N. charter, which we are a part to, which is our law, that is our law, says the only time you go and attack is one, if you have the U.N. security resolution on your side, which we haven't even gone to ask for that, as Senator Udall suggested.

And secondly, that we have been directly attacked or we feel we're in imminent danger from that. And I believe that in both of those cases, that doesn't exist. And by the way, Great Britain is also a permanent member of that security council. And they have said no force to be used. So you can't just blame Russia on this. We have to really say, "Let's go to the U.N. council and let's get this resolution out of this."

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman King, as I talked to people, and I have over the weekend, what I get back is, "Gosh, this is just a mess." And as I'm talking to the three of you, I am hearing, yes, you support the resolution, but you don't really trust the president to execute it.

The other side seems to be what's the point of what we're going to do, and then there's a third side, it is, good heavens, let's just not get involved to the point where we get deeply involved where there's no way out. How does the president get to the other side of this and get this resolution passed given all of these concerns?

REP. PETER KING:
It's going to be very difficult to get the resolution passed. One reason I think doing nothing is worse because then we're going to allow this to spiral out of control. As far as what Mike McCaul said, and I understand his concern about the rebel forces, but I'm on the international committee, we've met extensively on this.

I believe ways can be found to isolate the Al Qaeda elements (UNINTEL) within there. And as someone who represents so many 9/11 victims, I am concerned about this spiraling out of control. As far as what Loretta Sanchez said about the U.N., Bill Clinton attacked foreign countries six times without U.N. approval.

The U.N. is basically a useless organization on these matters and again whether it's Harry Truman or whether it's Eisenhower or whether it's Reagan, whether it's Clinton, when forceful action has to be taken by the commander in chief, it can be taken. President Obama should've taken it and he failed. When the moment came, he flinched.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, quick response from Congressman McCaul before I let you go.

REP. MIKE MCCAUL:
Well, it's been a failed policy in the Middle East. There's instability in Egypt, Libya, Syria is the next shoe to drop. I don't want to Syria, the vacuum being filled by Al Qaeda forces. Very, very concerned about that. Any action, this is such a limited action as well, it's not going to achieve anything. And I think at the end of the day could inflame the region.

It could be Hezbollah and Iran geared up against Israel, which I'm very concerned about at the end of the day. I think the solution quite frankly, David, is to get the intelligence community involved, as the senator said, to rally behind the use of chemical weapons. There are no good sides, no good outcomes in Syria. But the international community can secure and destroy these chemical weapons. That should be our chief objective here.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, we'll leave it here. Loretta Sanchez, Mike McCaul, Peter King, Congressmen and woman, thank you all very much. We'll be watching this debate closely. Coming up here, (MUSIC) the president facing perhaps the biggest challenge, you're hearing it, of his term, in office. He makes the case for the strikes in Syria. Plus what the debate means for those eyeing the White House in 2015. Our political roundtable will be here to break it all down. David Axelrod, Newt Gingrich, Jane Harman, and Chuck Todd. Back here in just a moment.


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