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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript: Syria Intervention

Interview

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I'm joined now by three Democratic members of the Congress. Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and from Delaware, Senator Chris Coons.

Thank all of you for joining us. I want to start with you, Congresswoman, and ask you to react to what you just heard the president's chief of staff say, which is, I challenge anyone going to vote no, which you have said you intend to do, to take a look at that video of these children dying of what appears to be of a sarin gas attack and think again about their vote. Has that video given you pause?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Candy, for me, first of all, these crimes against humanity, these horrific attacks, the use of chemical weapons, it's horrendous, it's outrageous, no one can tolerate this. And so I don't think any of us who are saying we do not support a military strike would say that we don't support an effort to bring those accountable -- and it appears and I think the evidence is very clear that it's the Assad regime, that we do not hold them accountable in a very forceful way.

These images, the tragic deaths, the terrible violence that is taking place is unconscionable. What I worry about is more of this, more retaliation, more use of force, more efforts to escalate the war by other countries in the region. And so I worry that the unintended consequences could even be more stark and dire.

CROWLEY: What could happen.

Senator Coons, you are going to -- intend to vote in favor of a resolution to strike Syria. Are you convinced that there is direct intelligence that links this regime in Damascus to these chemical weapons attacks? Does that exist?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Yes. And, Candy, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who came back last week to participate in a number of classified briefings, I think it was vital for me to move to a place of support first that we had intelligence briefings that answered my questions and my skepticism about whether or not the Assad regime was responsible, but second that we amended the resolution.

I would not have supported it as it initially came over from the White House, but the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate acted this past week to narrow it so that it was clear no boots on the ground, limited in terms of scope, and limited in terms of purpose.

As you've heard from Denis McDonough and the administration, there is now clarity. This is about deterring another chemical weapons use by Assad.

CROWLEY: And Congressman Connolly, when you look at the House vote, what is your expectation in terms of what will bring you aboard? Or do you -- have you looked at this video, you have looked at the evidence and said, I'm in?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: No. Words mean something, Candy, as we all learned from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Open- ended resolutions are not welcomed and will not pass the House, and I won't vote for them.

And I include in that the White House resolution submitted to the Congress. It's too open-ended. So the wording matters a lot. I've drafted, with Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a very restrictive resolution that only addresses this tragic incident and only on a limited basis.

Whether that can -- anything can pass the House frankly is quite problematic. But let me just say I frame this issue as a matter international law. I recognize the United States as the indispensable player, whether we like it or not, and that the consequences of doing nothing are profound, moral, and will be for generations.

CROWLEY: And quickly, Senator, but the fact is all of these countries that think this is so horrible, none of them will stand on that line with us, at least so far, with any personnel or equipment.

COONS: Well, I'm hopeful that what we'll hear from the president after the G-20 conference in his speech Tuesday, is that they have persuaded a number of our close allies to stand with us. It did cause me grave concern and many of my constituents that one of our closest allies, the British, in a vote of their Parliament, are not standing with us.

And I've heard from many of my constituents that they're really concerned. But I'm increasingly comfortable that we have addressed legitimate questions about whether this is a repeat of Iraq.

We've amended the authorization. And we've pressed the administration to a place where this is not a repeat of the lessons -- the mistakes of Iraq.

CROWLEY: Let me get you to stand by here a second, and we'll get back to this conversation.

When we return, saying no to the president and what that means for the United States' position in the world. That's up next.

CROWLEY: As you've been hearing, the president has quite a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I knew this was going to be a heavy lift. I said that on Saturday when I said we're going to take it to Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: What it will mean if Congress rejects the president's request with our lawmakers next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Back with Congressman Gerald Connolly, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and Senator Chris Coons. We left off with you, Congressman Connolly. The president is going to give his address, we are told now, at 9:00 Eastern on Tuesday night. It is going to be covered by all the networks. Obviously CNN will be covering it.

Does he not have to say here's how I know the Syrian government did this to its own people?

CONNOLLY: Yes, I think he does in much more detail. I think he also has to help the country understand that the analogy of Iraq, while totally understandable, is not the right analogy. The right analogy, it seems to me, really is something more recent in our history, which is Kosovo and the war in the Balkans.

That, too, was controversial, and it took U.S. leadership, because the Europeans were wringing their hands even though genocide was occurring on their continent, not ours. Did it work? Did those strikes work? The answer is yes. The war ended, genocide ended, and Milosevic was tried at The Hague for war crimes.

So there are models that can work even though they involve risks.

CROWLEY: Congresswoman, let me ask you, if Tuesday night the president can say anything to you that you might change your mind.

LEE: The president has been very methodical, he has been very deliberate, and I have to applaud the president for coming not only to Congress to seek an authorization, but to the American public.

What I have to say, Candy, however, is that I believe that -- and the president and the secretary of state have said this, that we have to get to a political and negotiated solution to this terrible, terrible, one, civil war, and also to the use of chemical attacks on the Syrian people.

To get to that negotiated and political settlement, I worry that military strikes and using force against Syria in terms of even targeted force leads us further away from the possibility of a negotiated and political settlement.

And so I'm very reluctant to authorize the use of force because I think the ramifications and the unintended consequences could be very grave and head us in the opposite direction of seeking a political settlement.

CROWLEY: And let me just ask you quickly, this is the biggest foreign policy request that this president has ever asked of you all. You are a member of his party, you are a strong supporter. He is the president. He's the commander-in-chief. He's the leader of the Western world, and the only superpower. And you're going to have to look him in the eye and say no.

Do you worry that a defeat for the president cripples him in a way that also cripples the country and its prestige in the world?

LEE: I have supported the president from day one. Let me say that what I worry about is becoming even more isolated in the world if in fact we do not have the full backing of the international community and in fact if we don't give this time to look at all of the non- military approaches and strategies that could lead us toward a political and negotiated settlement.

I don't think that the public wants to see anymore violence and death and destruction in Syria. And also inserting ourselves into a civil war I think would be very, very dangerous for this administration.

CROWLEY: Senator Coons, these are things I am sure you have heard from your constituents, that it doesn't bring us any closer to the peace table to lob missiles into Syria. That there are just unintended consequences. That in fact none of our allies are with us. Respond, will you?

COONS: Yes, Candy, I've heard a lot of concerns from Delawareans and from folks all over the country that we not repeat the mistakes of Iraq. And we did initially say no to the president in terms of adopting his authorization as it was sent over. We've modified it; we've narrowed it.

I do think that we know what the consequences of inaction will be, that we know that Bashar al-Assad, one of the worst dictators who has used some of the worst weapons in American -- in world history will continue to use cluster bombs and scud missiles and chemical weapons to massacre thousands of his own civilians.

The film that you showed at the beginning of this episode of this show demonstrates, I think, to the American people what will likely happen if we don't act. Our challenge as members of Congress is not to look at the partisan politics, not to weigh whether this is good or bad for the president or Republicans or Democrats but whether it's in the best interests of the United States.

CROWLEY: Senator Coons, you all have quite a week in front of you, as you do in the House, Congressman Connelly. Thank you. And, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you as well.


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