tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS September 6, 2013 8:00pm-8:31pm PDT
gwen: this tough sell, congress ball, at the president's appeal for action in syria. what next? tonight on "washington week" -- >> this is not something we've fabricated or or using as an excuse for military action. i would elect to end wars, not start a war. gwen: making the case for intervention abroad to the american people at home. >> president obama is not asking america to go to war. gwen: but a fight has broken out on capitol hill. >> only the united states has the capability and the capacity to stop assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated. >> i can't imagine anything that i've heard that would persuade me that the conduct of
this insane maniac in syria is doing anything to place my country in danger or to violate or national security. gwen: as the president prepares for a national address, he also faces basic political questions. >> my credibility is not only the line. the internal community's credibility is on the line. america and congress's credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international enormous are important. gwen: but can congress or the public be persuaded? covering the week, susan davis of "usa today," john dickerson of "slate" magazine and cbs news, ed ed of the "washington post" and david sanger of "the new york times." >> award-winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens.
live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week with gwen ifill." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question. how old is the oldest person you've known? we gave people a sticker and had them show us. a lot of us have known someone who's lived well into their 90's and that's a great thing. but one thing that hasn't changed, the official retirement age. how do you make sure you have the money you need to enjoy all f these years? >> additional funding for "washington week" is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and my contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from
washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. this has been a perplexing week for the president and a challenging one for congress. the president said he has decided it's important to strike syria in order to punish president bashar al-assad for using chemical weapons against his own people. then he asked congress to back him up. at first, leaders from both parties and both chambers climbed onboard. >> once the administration made this call, though, i think there is a real need for us to back it up or america becomes a paper tiger. >> i think we should go ahead and strike. and it can't be one just day or two or three days of tomahawk missiles. gwen: the president's war cabinet went to capitol hill. >> having defined america's interests and military objectives, we almost must
examine the risks and consequences of action as well as the consequences of inaction. gwen: but tonight, many members of congress from liberals to conservatives remain unconvinced. >> people understand it's not our problem. it's not going to do any good, it's expensive and dangerous. if you want to get us into a third war in the middle east, this is the way to do it. >> i do think that many of us have learned how difficult it is based on the iraq experience r the united states to get disengaged once we take a military action. gwen: so ed, let's keep count. where do we stand tonight? >> as of tonight as we go onto the air, according to the "washington post," there are 224 lawmakers that are either no or leaning no in the house. you're going to need 217 to defeat a resolution when it comes balls there are two vacancies right now in the
house. the magic number is 217. in the senate at this point just 15 are opposed. four democrats among them. another 10 are leaning no and a majority are still undecided. you talk to senior congressional aides, read the tea leaves when it comes to the house democrats especially and here's a belief that when many leaning no lawmakers return on monday and begin reading the materials it might make some remain skeptical or undecided through the remainder of the week. there are those that say what's the riske to the united states and that is the argument the president will have to answer in the coming days. gwen: it seems that republicans like john boehner, who was in support right off of the
president and their base are the ones abandoning them on the far left and far right. >> one problem you have with boehner and eric cantor, who also came out northwesterly support is this is a conference that does not necessarily follow in line of our leadership. the idea that the speaker and majority would get behind something doesn't necessarily translate into votes. on the opposite end you have nancy pelosi which is a certain amount of irony, being an dvocate for the pulitzer prizewinner on capitol hill. there's more of an idea that this is the democrats' president and that they're going to have to put more of the numbers on the board to get this passed. as you've seen liberals like they're d others say not in support. it's hard to see where it stand
today that the house is going to have the votes to get to. and the president is going to have to make such an overwhelming case in his address to the nation that it's going to have to swing a lot of votes. gwen: the president keeps saying he is making an overwhelming case but obviously the arguments against and for are breaking down clearly. what are the reasons for this debate? why is -- this so up in the air? >> i've got about 18 different distinct reasons given to not do it. everything from members who have said we need to spend this money at home. others have said this will set off a con that graduation in the region. and -- con that graduation in the reason. i think the biggest hurdle for phones and t, the email inboxes are overflowing
with people saying to not do this. i talked to one office and the other office i said is running 100 to one. he said here it's running 800-1. people against. why are the against in the majority? people think it's unpredictable. no matter how much the president talks about this being a limited targeted strike, they think iran will end up responding or russia. there's nothing the lawmakers can go back to their constituents that will allay their fierce. they're going to have to get them to forget the fears, that's a big task. gwen: one question people have is whether this evidence is real. what is the evidence that makes this such -- and i guess john kerry wants to retire the term
"slam dunk" but so certain? >> in an odd way it's almost the reverse of iraq. in iraq the question was were there weapons and not who would use them if the weapons are actually there? here there's no doubt there were weapons. we've seen the photographs of people who clearly were asphyxiated in chemical attacks. the u.s. has emerged with physiological evidence. the u.n. inspectors have not yet filmed their evidence but the indications are they have the same thing that the u.s. has. what's unknown is who actually used it and that's where you have to do the digging because as you look at these attacks, which appear to have used sarin gas, it's not a very easy thing to you. there are individuals who can do it. those attacks in tokyo more than a decade ago were sarin but it require as lot of
planning and training and in this case they were launched on rockets and there's no evidence at all that the gas supplies have left the hands of the government. and then the u.s. says there are intercepts, which we have not heard yet directly so we kind of take their word for it or not of syrian commanders planning for this and then talking about the event after the fact. gwen: the president has made the argument that the u.s. has said and the congress has said in 2003 that this is a line that shouldn't be crossed, yet he gets annoyed when he's asked about his red line. >> first of all, i didn't set a red line. the world set a red line. the world set a red line when governments representing 8% of the world's population said the -- f chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty
for their use even when countries are engaged in war. congress set a red line when it ratifyed that treaty. gwen: he doesn't like this question either but the credibility issue, who set the red line, whether congress is capable of fulfilling its promises. is that conversation happening at capitol hill as well? >> i think so. one of the things we heard from lawmakers this week in the hearings is that there's a lot of doubt about -- because there's a perception of lack of support in the international community. if there was more of an international response it would be easier to make the case to congress. there'sen the arlington -- an argument that the immediate united states national security interests are threaten end at this point. that is not only a hard sell for lawmakers to their con instead of went but they don't necessarily believe it. be the we do act there's the
nknown quantity of if we react and people do respond? and that scares lawmakers. >> yes, the world set a red line in 1925 and again in the 1970's but the u.s. has ignored other chemical weapons attacks, including during the iran-iraq war. then the president set a red line and he set it clearly and said pretty clearly what the consequences would be. so while the world said it then barack obama adopted it. you can say it's understandable why he did. he takes weapons of mass destruction seriously. he got elected on the thought of bringing down america's nuclear stockpiles. we have just gotten rid of america's chemical stockpiles but it's taken 14 or 15 years and it's not done yet. the second point is what ed raised about the immediate national security interests and
the fact of the matter is assad can't reach the united states. he doesn't have the missiles that can reach the u.s. chemical weapons are not something that pose an existential threat the way nuclear weapons do, but he can reach american allies and if the country implodes, which it may do even if the u.s. doesn't intercede and those weapons get loose, then there's the question of whether they'll -- where they'll turn it elsewhere in the middle east. >> they keep talking about the norm against the use of chemical weapons. it's a word that i wonder how much puffs that has in the real world. if the use of chemical weapons is not stopped, the whole fear of handling of chemical weapons get looser. that i start to float around and officials have intimated they could come here.
that's a very charged and emotional argument and it's also a stretch. it's a bank shot, how it directly affects the safety of the security of americans. we saw in the run-up to the iraq war a lot of this argue men station which felt like a stretch and then in the end when the evidence wasn't there really felt like a stretch. >> let's face it, moving chemical weapons is not easy. it's easier in a way to move small nuclear weapons than it is chemical. gwen: that's the granola of this argument. but how much of this is politics? >> i think the most fascinating thing is how suddenly lawmakers are looking at their call sheets every morning. and you alluded to this john. john culberson, republican from the houston area came out of a close -- closinged door briefing yesterday and he said 96% of the calls and emails i've gotten are opposed to
going into syria. he said i can't think of 96% agreement on anything. republican from south dakota, 854 calls or emailses opposed to in support of military action. bern earn -- bernie sanders in vermont, famous liberal. -- this is the funny one. 488 phone calls, 10 in support. gwen: how many people have call sexblesd it's a good thing? >> very few. >> here's the tough point. and the president, i'm going to summarize his remarks. he said it's not always our jobs to vote for the most popular things. was trying to appeal to morality and decency, which i think was a huge part of the message of john kerry's address
on capitol hill. i'm not sure it's the most effective. this is a white house that has had really bad rhythms with capitol hill. they don't have a reservoir of political good will of strong or trust rhythms. this is a president who most recently has said i don't need congress and now is trying to corral them. gwen: there's also a moral argument that congress doesn't have a morale that sticks. not only from iraq but the previous administration. let's listen to what the president said in his fare well address in st. pierce burg. >> when people say it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in rwanda. imagine if rwanda was going on right now and we asked should we intervene in a wande?
-- rwanda? i think it's fair to say that it probably wouldn't poll well. gwen: that's an interesting connection, between the moral argument and the polling argument. >> he is but it's an interesting argument from barack obama because 100,000 people died in syria from conventional causes just of ordinary civil war and he was leading a group within the administration saying there's no way to affect the outcome of the ground and you don't go in unless off plan that will actually affect the outcome on ground. hen 1,000 people, 1,4 oh, -- 1,400 if you believe the administration, 350 in some of the international intelligence reports get killed by chemical weapons. this is the great strategic
disconnect in his argument because he keeps saying this is a limited strike, a day or two to teach a lesson -- a shot across the bow i think he said to asod. and one of the questions you're hearing from congress i think from people who would otherwise i think be inclined to support him, tell me what happens the day after? gwen: there's a real slippery slope thing going on. >> it's the slippery slope and the disconnect. he says on the one hand he wants assad to be out but the other is this will have no connection to that previous strategy. gwen: this is not about regime change unless when it is, when john mccain says it is. >> we saw on the vote in the community of foreign relations in the senate john mccain ball could at the authorization ever,000 language because it wasn't strong enough so they
tweenged it. that this attack is going to degrade the syrian ability. that's different. that means affect more things and maybe tip the balance of power. what we see is this committee on foreign relations is the sliply slope. it needs to get more aggressive to buy john mccain off. gwen: you have to listen to this piece of sound from john kerry during that hearing, speaking of slippery slope, when you stalk to -- talk about exactly how far you'll go. let's listen. >> in the event syria imploded, for instance, or in the event here was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling someone, i s of don't want to take off the table an option that might or
might not be available to the president of the united states to secure our country because i don't want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility so let's shut that door now as tight as we can. gwen: first he opened the door and shut it again. >> the committee shut it for him right after that. the resolution they ended up passing and i think it was compeled in part of what he said in that hearing was no u.s. combat troops, maybe a rescue mission if you had to but that's it. in expanding the language, you've probably cost the senate maybe 10 democratic votes. they've lost tom you dahl, chris murphy. -- tom you dal, chris murphy. >> i think that one of the things important in this is the perception among lawmakers too that the pentagon is very lukewarm about this mission. there's a perception this is
not something that the pentagon is actively engaged in, something they want to do. he did not wow in front of the hearings. he certainly didn't exhuled or make a compelling case. a lot of lawmakers have incredibly strong relationships with the pentagon and if we are hearing that from officials they're hearing it twel. >> -- as well. >> one president in support said that dempsey looked like he was a hot -- during the testimony. john kerry was aggressive and energetic and dempsey, all of his body language this person said, was almost difficult to watch. >> you can see the tension in the administration between the sort of dempsey camp and the kerry camp. it was pretty evident in that hearing. why is this happening? in part because the pentagon's view, the u.s. military's view
of any kind of intervention like this is if you send u.s. troops in you better be sending them in to make a point that no one in the world is ever going to miss. so when the president says we are there to send a warning shot, the pentagon says we don't do warning shots. we do something to make it clear that you don't cross the u.s. military again. gwen: they don't do humanitarian missions either. >> they will if that is the sole mission, but in libya before ben zpwazz -- benghazi and all that that was considered a success not simply because they protected the people of benghazi but because in the end, the government failed and dempsey had to say i can't tell you if it's going to make a difference on the ground. gwen: we have a big speech tuesday night. the president is going to make his case again, hopefully for a larger all of a sudden.
what does he have to do? how much are people hanging on his powers of persuasion tuesday night? >> very much. lawmakers of both parties. they want to see him give a speech, stick his neck out there and try to make his is -- his case to the american people and the next morning they'll wait to see what kind of reception they get from the con switch owens si. it is that iraq -- con tip kenzie. they want to hear what does it mean for the rest of the region and why would i -- it affect someone in illinois or the dakotas. >> of all of the two sideline efforts that are going to make an effort, don't underestimate the value of the members coming back and getting into the room together. they not only look to the president but other members to form opinions.
many of them haven't seen this classified briefing. the other thing is apac, is israeli lobby has said they're going to do a full-court press to members to vote for this next week. >> the president, the tone -- we saw it in his remarks today, about the children who were killed, making a moral case with a very, sort of graphic deprippings of what this did to innocent children. that's what makes this a distinction from the previous killing in syria. they think they're -- their most powerful emotional case is in that area. >> he's got to decide whether he's making a humanitarian case or a national security case. he's tried a little bit of both and i think it's been unconvincing. gwen: that's what they're planning on the plane flying back from russia tonight.
thank you, everyone. we're done here for now but we always have a couple ways for you to stay part of the conversation. at pbs.org/"washington week" where the webcast extra will stream live 8:30 p.m. eastern and all week -- weekend long and exciting news. >> thank you, again. coming up tomorrow on the premiere edition of pbs news hour weekend, all of the turmoil in the middle east, an important story getting little attention. israel's huge energy discoveries. how will they change life there and throughout the region. that's tomorrow. again? gwen: the brand-new pbs news hour weekend airs saturdays and sundays. check your local listings for the exact time. and keep your dial on pbs because starting monday judy woodruff and i take over the anchor deskal the pbs news
hour. and then, we'll see you next week right here on "washington week." good night. for porate funding "washington week" is provided by -- prudential. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.