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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - Syria


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BLITZER: Happening now: Russia leads the international charge against U.S. military strikes in Syria amid escalating tensions with the United States.

Plus, he's on Facebook, he's on Instagram, but he's also overseeing the mass killing of his own people. We're going inside the mind of the so-called master of deception, the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad.

And you have already seen the horrifying images. Just ahead, we're taking a closer look at the lethal effects of a chemical weapon attack.

We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, "Crisis in Syria."

The U.S. military is standing by for what looks like a looming strike against Syrian targets, punishment for what the Obama administration says was a brutal chemical attack. But while America and its allies weighs a military move, lawmakers are divided over a possible strike.

Joining us now, two members of Congress, both Democrats, both from California.

Loretta Sanchez serves on the Armed Services Committee. Adam Schiff is on the Intelligence Committee.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Representative Sanchez, you have said that this could be a disaster if it's complicated as it could be, and there could be unintended consequences for the United States if we were to launch strikes against Syria.

What's your concern?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, my concern is that the American people may not have the appetite for a long-term effect.

And in other words, just shooting in some missiles isn't really going to take care of the situation. It might aggravate the situation. You have Syria tied to Iraq. You have got the Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. The whole area's already a difficult area.

You have refugees going into other countries. So to think -- for Americans to believe that just by shooting a few cruise missiles, we have made our statement and away we go, it's just not the way that I believe this plays out, if that happens.

BLITZER: Representative Schiff, I believe you think the United States right now has no choice, but it must launch strikes.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If this is confirmed, Wolf, I think we have to act.

Otherwise, we will have seen serial use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. If we don't act on this red line now, I think we will be sending a message not only to the Assad regime that they can continue the use of chemical weapons, but to others around the world who may contemplate that.

BLITZER: But explain this. And then I want Representative Sanchez to weigh in as well -- 100,000 people have already been killed by conventional weapons, bombs or whatever. Another thousand, yes, may have been killed over the past few days with chemical weapons.

But what's the difference if 100,000 are killed one way or another 1,000 are killed, let's say, with chemical weapons?

SCHIFF: Well, Wolf, you're absolutely right: 100,000 that have died are deeply tragic humanitarian crisis of really unprecedented recent proportions. That doesn't mean, though, that we can, in the face of chemical weapons attacks, sit still. The chemical weapons have always been viewed differently because of their terrifying impact ,ever since World War I.

And we have a core national security interest in making sure that those weapons do not become just another tool in the military tool box. Ultimately, if they do, they'll be used against us. And I think we have -- we have to act now. Otherwise, I think our credibility is very much at stake.

BLITZER: all right. Let's let Congresswoman Sanchez respond. He says the United States must act right now. You sort of disagree, right?

SANCHEZ: Well, what I agree upon is that chemical attacks or biological warfare, as my colleague has said, is completely and totally unacceptable.

I guess what I'm worried about is that just shooting a few cruise missiles isn't the end of it for Americans. And if we are to go in, if the president consults with the Congress, the leadership, those in armed services or intel or foreign relations, and ultimately makes the decision to send those cruise missiles in, I think everybody has to be on notice that that probably isn't the end of it.

And is America ready to see at the ultimate of playing that out, its soldiers in Syria? And I don't believe that we are. So we have to really consider, and I think the president would be wrong not to consult with the Congress in particular.

BLITZER: Because you know --

SANCHEZ: There are a lot of other things we can do --

BLITZER: I was going to say, Congressman Schiff --

SANCHEZ: -- this is major.

BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, the U.S. went in with relatively short- term objectives in Iraq, in Afghanistan, lasted for a decade-plus in both countries. Still in Afghanistan.

Even in Libya the U.S. had relatively modest objectives. That hasn't necessarily turned out all that great either. Even if there's a limited air strike over the next few days, aren't you concerned the U.S. could get bogged down in what the American public clearly doesn't want? Another U.S. military campaign in the Middle East?

SCHIFF: Well, this is a concern and for this reason I have been opposed to arming the rebels, becoming immersed in the civil war. But I think the use of chemical weapons is really different. Qualitatively different, tragically different.

And I think we really have to act here. But the president, you're right, Wolf, is going to have to set the mission, the scope of the mission very carefully. He's going to have to make it clear, not only to the American people, but also to the Syrian people that this isn't going to be the cavalry riding to the rescue to topple Bashar al- Assad. But this is going to be a punitive, powerful response, a deterrent response to the use of chemical weapons.

That's important to make sure that we don't get entangled in this war to try to avoid the consequences that Loretta is mentioning. But I think, properly defined, it can be done and I think it will be done in concert with our international partners.

BLITZER: Representative Sanchez, you think the president needs congressional authorization before any strike?

SANCHEZ: Certainly the president has the power to go in and come later and talk to the Congress about it. That's a given. I would say that those who have his ear have sent messages to him to say, yes, at least consult with the leadership of both parties before you decide what you're going to do.

And by consult I mean really ask for advice and, ultimately, it's his decision. He is the commander in chief, and he will do what he needs to do, what he feels he needs to do. But I think having Congress, at least having come and talk to them and heard their advice is incredibly important.

Do I think that he needs to call us back into session and have some sort of a proclamation or resolution come forth from the Congress? No. And I don't think that this warrants that at this time.

BLITZER: You agree?

SANCHEZ: I think there's a lot of other things that Congress can do.

SCHIFF: I agree that the president can act. If this is a limited strike, limited duration, limited in scope, there's precedent for him to act.

I would like the Congress to be called back into session. I think we should be discussing and deliberating this and consulting with the president, even if it doesn't come to a vote. If the president goes beyond that, Wolf, and wants to commit the United States, then absolutely we need a vote.


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