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CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript - Syria


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GARRETT: For some more congressional perspective we're now joined by Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, who is in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who joins us from Richmond. Senator Kaine, I'd like to start with you. If this vote were held tomorrow, would it pass and would you support it, sir?

KAINE: Major, I think, if we have this vote, I am confident that Congress will rally behind the important principle that the use of chemical weapons violating an international norm that's been in place since the 1920s is unacceptable and that we need to engage in action, even military action, with international allies to stop it. So I believe, when that case is made, and it's not only made to Congress but to the American public, I believe that we will rally behind the principle that use of chemical weapons is wrong and it can't go unpunished.

GARRETT: Senator Chambliss, do you agree? And what are the ramifications you fear most about an authorization that leads to a military strike in Syria?

CHAMBLISS: Well, first of all, I'm glad we're going to have this debate in Congress. I was supportive of the president taking early action, but he hasn't done that. And now that it's been delayed this much, I think that Congress does have a role to play here, so the debate should be interesting. But here's the problem that I see, Major. John McCain just said -- and he's absolutely right -- the president has an obligation to make his case to the Congress, but he also has an obligation to make this case to the American people. My constituents are war-weary. They don't want to see us get involved in this. For the last two years the policy of the administration has been regime change. Several weeks ago, that changed to trying to tilt the balance more in favor of the opposition. Now, if you read this resolution that was sent by the White House to the speaker yesterday, it seems that that policy has changed again and that military action is being asked to deter further use of chemical weapons. So the president has an obligation to make his case. He has not made that case at this point in time. And the debate in Congress is going to be really interesting.

GARRETT: Senator Kaine, do you believe there's a coherent strategy before the American public? And if not, do you believe the president is obligated to go before the American public in something akin to an Oval Office address to explain not only the history but the motives and the likely outcome of an engagement in Syria?

KAINE: Major, that's exactly why the president's decision to come before Congress is so powerful and I'm so happy that he's done it. Because how does the American public get educated? The best way to educate the American public about a matter like this is to have that full debate in Congress that the framers of the Constitution intended. They intended that, before, or when a nation initiates military action, it should be with the approval of Congress. That's in the Constitution, but it reflects a very important judgment as well, and that is this: we should not be sending servicemen and women into military conflict if they don't have complete confidence that the nation's political leadership is behind them. And so what this debate in Congress will do is it will educate the American public about the important principles at stake against use of chemical weapons, and it will help them understand and help Congress come to a consensus about what needs to be done. I agree with Secretary Kerry. We are strong when we act together, but we are -- when we're divided -- if the president were to do something without congressional support, it's just not fair to the men and women we asked to fight our battles to send them in not knowing whether the American public or Congress backs them up.

GARRETT: Senator Kaine, are Virginians, as Senator Saxby Chambliss just said, as Georgians, war-weary? And do you think there really is anything conceptually valid in the assertion that there can be a limited military engagement in Syria?

KAINE: Major, my citizens -- Virginia is so connected to the military, whether the active duty populations, all the military leadership at the Pentagon. We've got ships based out of Norfolk that are already on station in the Middle East and more likely to go. We are very connected to the military. And, sure, after 12 years of war post-9/11, folks do have a sense of fatigue and even a sense of skepticism about assertions with regard to presence of weapons of mass destruction, and that puts a burden on Congress' shoulder and the president's as well to make the case. This is a challenge-- you know, I have been maintaining we need to update the War Powers Act of 1973 because we've gotten sloppy in this. The presidents often overreach, and Congress often wants to evade responsibility, evade votes rather than accept the consequences. I think this could be a very historic and important debate, and, again, if we can reach a consensus, we will be much stronger as a nation and the likelihood of success of our actions will be, I think, great.

GARRETT: Senator Chambliss, the secretary of state said the credibility of the American government is on the line. Has this been a credible week for President Obama as a commander in chief?

CHAMBLISS: Well, I'm afraid that what is shown is there is weakness there. And, you know, the world is watching. Our allies are --


GARRETT: How would you define that weakness, Senator?

CHAMBLISS: -- adversaries. Well, I think the weakness is that he's -- he said again yesterday, "I'm going to take military action." Well, the world it saying you know, your predecessors, whether Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan -- we could go back even further -- when something like this has happened and the national security of the United States has been put at risk, then presidents lead. In a time of crisis, presidents make tough, hard decisions and they lead. And there's weakness here on the part of the president. So I think it's not been a good week for him. But he's made this decision to come to Congress, and it's going to be a very, very tough debate. And going back to your question of whether or not it can pass, I would say if the president cannot make his case to Congress, then it's not going to pass. He's got to come out and really be in depth with respect to the intelligence that we know is out there. He's got to be in depth with respect to what type of military action is going to be taken and what is our current strategy and how is this military strike impact that particular strategy.

GARRETT: Senator Chambliss, you'll have the last word. Senator Kaine, Senator Chambliss, thank you very much. We'll be back in one minute with a report from Syria.

KAINE: Thanks, Major.


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