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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Presidential push for congressional approval of Syria strike

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 2, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president believes very, very much that America will show the best face of our democracy and a great strength. And we will show a unity of purpose in the conviction of the Congress and the president that we need to do this.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - AZ: We want to work to make that resolution something that a majority of the members of both houses can support. A rejection of that -- a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: Alright, let's bring in our panel to talk about that, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Welcome to you all.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Thank you.

BREAM: All right, Steve, let's start with the point that Senator McCain was making just after stepping out of the White House meeting with the president today, saying it would be catastrophic for Congress to vote no on giving him authorization to move ahead with force in Syria. But many of them at this hour remain unconvinced.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: They remain unconvinced and I think are likely to remain unconvinced. If you go back to the statement that Senator McCain and Senator Graham put out after the president announced he was going to Congress, they in effect said, look, we have real questions about this. We're not sure that this, in fact, goes far enough.

I think particularly in the House of Representatives you're going to have a group of Republicans who are sort of in the neo-isolationist or noninterventionist wing. You have the hawks, and then you have this huge group in the middle that I think would like to be open to some kind of intervention in Syria just because of the plain case on the ground and because of the message that it sends to Bashar Assad and the mullahs in Tehran, but are nervous, frankly, about following this president after the sort of zigzag indecisiveness that we've seen from him not just the past week but the better part of the past couple years.

BREAM: And we know that the president and his staff, they are working the phones, they are trying to build support for what is inevitably coming, a vote in both the Senate and House. We want to play what Republican from Ohio Bill Johnson had to say about the briefings, the information they've gotten, and where they stand right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BILL JOHNSON, R - OH: I left yesterday with more questions than answers because we don't see a coherent strategy in the Middle East.  I mean, this is what happens when you lead from behind. The situation in Syria has gotten way out of control. And now here we are in a situation where our allies in the region don't trust us, and our adversaries don't respect us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: Mara, Senator Lindsey Graham was with us a little bit earlier, was in that White House meeting as well today. And he said he puts the blame on president for not selling this, not explaining to the American people and to Congress why we do have national interests and his belief and his estimation there. He said he's now calling on the president to up his game and to make that case.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think what happened today was pretty important. You had Lindsey Graham and John McCain, as Steve said, who up until now had said we don't know if we want to vote for this because it doesn't go far enough. It's too little, too late, not going to be effective. They came out of the meeting saying, you heard John McCain saying it would be devastating if Congress voted no. Also they said, we see the beginnings of a strategy to degrade Bashar al-Assad's strategies, to upgrade the opposition. And if the president goes out there and ups his game and explains why Syria matters, why this is also about Iran and about Israel, if he explains that to the American people and follows through on the strategy that's not going to just be a pinprick shot across the bow, then they are willing to go and sell the resolution to other members of Congress. If this succeeds, and I think that's a huge if still, but if this passes, I think today will be the turning point.

BREAM: Charles, the president reaching out after having drawn that red line a year ago, saying I'm going to bring Congress into this process, now he has to get their votes. Does he have a newfound appreciation for the Constitution -- Article One, Section Eight, how it all works? Why now do you feel he feels it's necessary to get Congress on board?

KRAUTHAMMER: His respect for the separation of powers and for the role of Congress is rather minimal, as he showed with suspension of provisions of health care, the creation of the DREAM Act and one executive fiat by suspending half of the immigration laws.

Look, this isn't a sudden stroke of constitutionalism. This is simply expediency and delay. The problem is not that he's not selling his strategy. It's that he doesn't have a strategy. And that's the reason everybody, left, right, and center, has no idea what he's doing. He zigzagged left and right. He telegraphs he's going to strike, he does nothing. He calls on the Congress and then goes off and plays golf when his secretary of state had given a speech the day before with remarkable urgency and passion.

I think the real event that happened today is that he has McCain and Graham on his right who actually are demanding a strategy. The strategy is you use the strike to try to tilt the balance on the ground. You hit real targets. You hit them hard. And then at the same time you build up the opposition.  Remember when we had the first reports of the chemical weapons attacks about three or four months ago, six months ago, the president said, well, now our calculus has changed, I'm sending weapons. Well, not a single rifle has reached the opposition.

So what I think McCain is saying -- McCain is it's the wrong -- Obama only wants to do a pinprick. It's not what I would do. It is the wrong strategy. But we cannot undercut him at this stage in the process, otherwise the U.S. is completely humiliated and events will be out of control. So he will support, and they think they want support from Obama for a real strike and real support for the opposition. If so, then we finally have a strategy. I'm not sure how hard and fast that promise is.

BREAM: Well, and a lot of folks see in the remarks the president made from the Rose Garden on Saturday, himself leaving a window, continually saying I do believe I have the authority to do this. So if Congress does vote no, does he go it alone?

LIASSON: He could, legally. They've said all along they don't need this. But politically he would be utterly isolated, completely alone, no U.N. Security Council, no Great Britain, no Congress. That would really be something. And I think a no-vote would severely weaken him for all sorts of other things.

BREAM: What about Russia? Obviously they're moving another ship into the region, Steve. And Putin now saying that he wants to bring Russian lawmakers here to talk with our legislators and with Americans to, you know, vet this case, to share ideas and to talk about it before there's any strike by the U.S.

HAYES: Yeah, it's interesting, several months ago I had a conversation with somebody who's close to Putin's circle, who said, in effect, Putin doesn't -- just doesn't like the President of the United States on a personal level. There's a machismo thing there. He just doesn't like him, and he certainly doesn't like to be shown up. And I think what you're seeing now after the United States had effectively rolled over for many months is President Obama sort of getting a spine with Vladimir Putin and saying, I've had enough. I'm not going to let you roll us like this anymore. You saw that with this -- the announcement that he's going to meet with these lesbian-gay groups on the sidelines of the meeting – the G-20 summit. I think Putin will get his back up even more. I don't think that that's a reason for the President of the United States not to act. I would say that this showing of a spine is long overdue.

BREAM: All right, that's it on this topic. But next up, the NSA, AT&T, and you. 

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