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Crisis in Syria: Decision Point

Aired September 9, 2013 - 23:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: On the eve of making his case to a skeptical American public, the president sits down with CNN.

FEMALE REPORTER: Is there anything that would stop an attack?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure. He could take over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community.

TAPPER: America's top diplomat, did he stumble or stumble upon a third way out of the Syrian "catch-22"?

What does the president thinks? And --

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not going to file on the motion to proceed.

TAPPER: A test vote on Syria pulled. If the confidence isn't there in the Senate how much worse is it in the house?

We will ask one congresswoman, a Democrat, who is still undecided.



TAPPER: Good evening, I'm Jake Tapper. And welcome to this special hour of CNN, CRISIS IN SYRIA; DECISION POINT.

And the start of this day, who could have predict wed would be here. We have taken a sharp turn in the argument over whether the U.S. should target the Syrian regime with limited strike as punishment for the Assad government allegedly using chemical weapons on his own people.

It's less than 24 hours now before President Obama speaks directly to the American people. A senior administration official tell CNN that he will still make the case for Congress to authorize force in Syria even after this happens.

Secretary of state John Kerry on a trip to London was asked this about the Assad regime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FEMALE REPORTER: Is there anything at this point that his government could do or offer that would stop an attack?

KERRY: Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turned it over, all of it. And without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously.


TAPPER: Hold on a second. Did we just hear secretary of state John Kerry extemporaneously hypothesize his way into a potentially different solution.

Now, one U.S. official said Kerry made a quote "major goof" and quote "clearly, went off script." But then, Syria's ally Russia proposed exactly what Kerry suggested, a plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to international control. And then, the Syrians said they would be open to it and we watched all day long as the administration seemed to publicly warm to the idea, culminating in the moment that President Obama sat down in a chair opposite our own Wolf Blitzer.

And now, Wolf Blitzer is her with us. We are going to show you his revealing interview with President Obama, then we will examine all of the implications of what you are about to hear with help of our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our chief domestic affairs correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

But first, obviously, Mr. Blitzer, when you sat down or actually when you woke up this morning, you had a list of questions ready to ask President Obama, you probably had to scrap that list because of the events of the day.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I had 15 brilliant questions ready to go. And they were all assuming there was going to be a crisis, there is going to be a vote and there is going to be U.S. air strikes on targets in Syria. And then, during the course, as you correctly point out of this day, all of the sudden, we see you that there is a realistic chance that maybe, there could be a diplomatic solution that would avert the need for U.S. military strikes, might even the need for a roll call in the Senate or the House of Representatives on a vote that would authorize military force. It was a really dramatic day.

TAPPER: So, you had to take in the events of the day and re-craft a whole different set of questions and give them to the president.

BLITZER: We certainly did. And during the course of the day as we saw what was going on and as I heard various officials publicly and privately begin, as you correctly say, to warm up, I said you know what, there may been an opening now to avert a war. Let's show our viewers the interview in the White House today with the president.


BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: This latest idea floated by the secretary of state John Kerry picked up by the Russians, is it possible this could avert a military strike on Syria?

OBAMA: It's possible if it's real. And I think it's certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we have been asking for, not just over the last week or month but the last couple of years. Because these chemical weapons pose a significant threat to all nations and the United States in particular. That's why 98 percent of humanity has said we don't use these. That protects our troops and it protects children like the ones we saw in the videos inside Syria.

S, it is a potentially positive development. I have to say it is unlikely we would have arrived at that point where there were public statements like that without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons used inside Syria. But we are going to run this to ground. And John Kerry and the rest of my nation security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see if we can arrive at something enforceable and serious.

You know, one reason this may have a chance of success is that even Syria's allies like Iran detest chemical weapons. Iran, you know, unfortunately was the target of chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein back during the Iraq-Iran war. And so, we may be able to arrive at a consensus in which it doesn't solve the underlying problems of a civil war in Syria. But it solves the problem that I'm trying to work on right now which is making sure that we don't have over 400 children gassed indiscriminately by these chemical weapons.

BLITZER: Because Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general says not only control the stockpile of chemical weapons but then, go ahead and destroy them. He is ready to take that to the U.N. Security Council. That's a lot better than deterring the Syrians from going at and using these chemical weapons.

OBAMA: Absolutely. And that's why we're going to take this seriously. But I have to consistently point out that we have not seen these kinds of gestures up until now. And in part, the fact that the U.S. administration and I have said we are serious about this, I think has prompted interesting conversations. And these are conversations that I've had directly with Mr. Putin when I was at the G-20. We had some time to discuss this. And I believe that Mr. Putin does not see the use of chemical weapons as a good thing inside of Syria or any place else. And so, it's possible we can get a breakthrough, but it's going to have to be followed up on and we don't want just a stalling or delaying tactic to put off the pressure that we have on there right now. We have to maintain this pressure which is why I'll be speaking to the nation tomorrow about why I think this is important.

BLITZER: Is this Bashar Al-Assad's last chance?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that it is important for Assad to understand that, you know, the chemical weapons ban which has been in place is one that the entire civilized world just about respects and observes. It's something that protects our troops, even when we're in the toughest war theaters from being threatened by these chemical weapons. It's something that protects women and children and civilians because these weapons by definition are indiscriminate. They don't just target someone in uniform.

And I suspect that some of Assad's allies recognize the mistake he made in using these weapons. And it may be that he is under pressure from them as well. You know, again, this doesn't solve the underlying terrible conflict inside of Syria. But if we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference.

On the other hand, if we don't maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure I don't think we will get the agreement I would like to see.

BLITZER: You are being seen right on CNN and CNN international around the world including in Damascus. What I would like you to do, Mr. President, if you are amenable to doing it, look into the camera, talk to President Bashar al-Assad. Tell him specifically what you think he must do to avert a U.S. military strike.

OBAMA: You know, I don't need to talk into the camera. I suspect he has people who will be watching this.

BLITZER: He is probably watching himself.

OBAMA: We have been clear about what we expect, and that is do not use the chemical weapons, control the chemical weapons. And now, because we have seen Assad's willingness to use the chemical weapons, we are going to have to go further and give the international community assurances they will not be used potentially by getting them out of there. At minimum, making sure that international control over those chemical weapons takes place.

That can be accomplished. And it does not solve the broader political situation. I would say to Mr. Assad, we need a political settlement so that you are not slaughtering your own people. And by the way, encouraging some to engage in terrible behavior as well.

You know, what I'm thinking about is right now though, how do we make sure we can verify that we do not have chemical weapons that can be used, not only inside of Syria but potentially could drift outside of Syria.

BLITZER: He said in an interview with Charlie Rose that if you, the United States, attack and launch military support, he said he will respond anything. He said expect anything, not only from them, but from his allies. That sounds like a threat to the United States.

OBAMA: Yes. Mr. Assad doesn't have a lot of capability. He has capability relative to children. He has capability relative to an opposition that is still getting itself organized ad are not professional trained fighters. He doesn't have a credible means to threaten the United States.

His allies, Iran, and Hezbollah could potentially engage in asymmetrical strikes against us. But frankly, the kind of threats that they could pose against us are typical of the kind of threats we are dealing with around the world that we have spoken of recently, which is embassies that are being threatened, you know, U.S. personnel in the region.

Those are threats that we deal with on an ongoing basis. They are always of concern, obviously we saw the situation in Yemen just a few weeks ago where we wanted to respond by getting some of our folks out of there. But the notion that Mr. Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case.


TAPPER: Great interview, Wolf Blitzer, with President Obama.

So, I have just been sitting down furiously writing down notes of things I want us to talk about.

So President Obama, according to this interview, was talking with Putin about this idea that I thought had kind spontaneously been voiced by Secretary Kerry. But now, it turns out, it actually was something they have been talking about?

BLITZER: You know, the president said when he was in the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, he and Putin actually spoke about this in sort of general terms about this idea. Others outside of the government had been raising this idea for a while. And it was interesting because after the interview aired, a White House official came over to me and said, you know, the president wanted to make a point of saying to you that in the course of that interview that he did discuss this possibility in St. Petersburg with Putin. And it was not just John Kerry by himself waking up yesterday and the morning today and saying you know what, maybe this is an idea it's not realistic.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has been around the block a few times with things like this. Doesn't that say to you that this was not spontaneous and this was kind of choreographed diplomatic dance that everybody was doing?

BLITZER: It says to me that this White House, a, was really looking for some way off out of this. And this was an opportunity to -- because they don't want to do air strikes. They sensed they weren't going to get the vote especially in the House of Representatives. They were looking for way out. And if the Russians could help find this way out, the Russians clearly came up and said here's the proposal and then very quickly, the foreign minister of Syria, Walid Moualem, he says, yes, we will do that. That's a great idea. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But the two things are not mutually exclusive. I mean, it seems to that while these things may have been discussed behind closed doors, I think that John Kerry, as the president might say, got a little out over his skis when he said this. And then of course the Russians, being smart and clever, decided to tame him up on it within a nano second and suddenly you had an accidental solution.

TAPPER: And Jessica, from being a White House correspondent, I mean, that was an answer to a question at a press conference. So, are they saying this was so choreographed that this reporter was given this question? Because that's not what the administration was saying right after this exploded, right? The state department put out a statement saying, Secretary Kerry was just hypothesizing. He was just answering a theoretical question. By the end of the day, it's a become this brilliant idea that was floated and picked up.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We all like to think that our government is so capable and organized that they can really craft these very clever conspiracies to plant questions and get answers and it never really works like that. Does it?

TAPPER: No government is that capable.

YELLIN: Right, especially the way our government works with the gridlock. So, what really seems to have happened here is that this is something that even an administration official acknowledges as something that Kerry and his counterpart in Russian government have been talking about for quite some time and that the president has said, he has been talking -- met meant discussed with Putin last week. So, it is obviously something that was in the ether behind the scenes. And then when asked about it publicly, Kerry spoke it.


YELLIN: You know, the bottom line is now that it's out there, they kind have these two tracks where, on the one hand, they have to pursue this nonmilitary option because it's a possibility. But at the same time, the president is locked into giving a speech and pressing moving forward with military authorization from Congress and how do you get members to take a difficult vote when you still have this --.

TAPPER: I want to get Wolf in, because he is going to go home because he was very tired. And if you want to look into the camera, anything about your exhaustion, you re incited as well --

BLITZER: I don't have to look into the camera.

TAPPER: You don't have to look into the camera.

But this does seem to be another one of these kinds of confusing messages that we are getting from the White House. He says he is determined to do military action and now he is saying he would rather not be military action.

Something else he said in the interview with you I thought was interesting. He said that Syria really poses no credible threat to the United States. Well, I think a lot of Americans might hear that and think, well then, why are we talking about it --

BLITZER: Yes, he said, they posted -- he belittled their military capability. They pose a threat to children. They pose a threat to the United States.

TAPPER: That was almost like a taunt in a locker room.

BLITZER: He was clearly prepared for that. He really want to belittle. If my own sense, as somebody who has studied the Middle East for a long time, if Bashar al-Assad is a savvy guy, if he says to himself, you know what, I stay in power. There is no U.S. attack on my positions, no U.S. tomahawk missiles or air to ground missiles coming in from F-16 or whatever stealth bombers, the only thing I have to do is what the Russians really want me to do and probably the Iranians, my other allies, really want me to do is give up the chemical weapons stockpiles.

If I can do that and stay in power, and not have to worry about the U.S. military assault, it sounds like a pretty good deal. And certainly from the president's perspective, if he doesn't have to get a vote. You heard Harry Reid say, you know what, we are delaying that vote. That's a big deal, right?

BORGER: Remember the show millionaire? It's a lifeline.

TAPPER: Wolf, we are going to let you go home and get some rest. The rest of you, stick around. We have got lot more to talk about. We will be right back after this.

Thank you so much.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CRISIS IN SYRIA: DECISION POINT. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's turn to Congress. While the president admitted in an interview tonight, that he is not confident he has the votes for military action in Syria. The latest CNN count shows only 25 members of the house say they will vote yes, 161 will vote no and 239 are undecided.

In the Senate, 25 say they will support it, 29 will not and 46 member still have not made up their minds.

And joining me now from Capitol Hill, Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican of Georgia who, just this evening, announced that he would be a no vote.

Senator Isakson, and thanks for joining us.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, pulled a vote that was supposed to take place Wednesday, a test vote on this authorization. How do you think the results would have been in he held the vote on Wednesday?

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Well, I don't know. You know, I do know that if you are the leader and you hold the agenda, if you pull the votes in generally don't have the votes but I don't know that for a fact.

TAPPER: The president, this evening, told NBC that he would not say he is confident he has the votes for in Congress. Do you think that the no votes are with the opposition? Do you think this would not pass based on your talking to other senators?

ISAKSON: You know, Jake, I traveled my state for nine days, I have listened to every Georgian that has called me. I have asked for their input. Never seen an issue before where more of the rank and file were so consistently in opposition. And if you pulled it all down is they don't worry about day once when the strike takes place. They worry about day two, day three, and day four. What happens if Israel is hit? What happens if Israel is hit? What happens if something goes wrong? Will there, in fact, be boots on the ground? And there have been statements from the administration but mo clear strategy. And I think that uncertainty on what happened -- may happen on day two, three and four, is the big problem for the administration.

TAPPER: On the day that President Obama announced he was going to seek congressional authorization, you released a statement that said quote "I support the use of military action in Syria. If we fail to take strong action against Syria for this horrendous attack, then we are sending a signal to Syria as well is to Iran and North Korea that they are accountable to no one."

Aren't you now saying that you're going to send a signal to Iran, Syria and North Korea that they are accountable to no one?

ISAKSON: No, to the contrary, they are accountable and we will hold them accountable. This is about the plan and the strategy that has been proposed to us. This is not about the issue of should we hold people accountable. And even the day, the fact that we are having this discussion as you know, there are talks of Syria surrendering their weapons of mass destruction and their nerve gas. So, it is having a positive effect and they know the line there.

TAPPER: So, you would support this third way, this proposal from Secretary John Kerry that if Syria would give up their chemical weapons, the U.S. would not attack. That's OK with you?

ISAKSON: If it's for real. And I heard the president's response today. He said the same thing. If it is for real. I don't know it's for real yet. It is got to be for real. But if it is, it's a positive move forward.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Johnny Isakson, Republicans, Georgia.

ISAKSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: Let's bring back Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin and Dana Bash.

Dana, that interview said to me, and correct me if I'm wrong that, boy, do these guys not want to vote on this.

BASH: My goodness, no. I know you love political cartoons. The way I would draw this is an escape hatch and not just Barack Obama, but Harry Reid and everybody else running for the escape hatch which is named Russia, right now. And that is exactly what happened tonight inside the Senate tonight.

They are saying -- the Democratic leadership told me absolutely this is about Russia. They think it is real. They want to give it more time. That might be true. But what is also true is as was just simplify by that interview, the vote simply do not seem to be there. They are not confident that there - at the end of the day, they can actually pass this for the president.

TAPPER: That's why Reid --

BASH: They want to give it more time. The fact that Johnny Isakson did a 180 from just last week after going home and listening to his constituents is really, really telling. And I don't think that the president -- I don't think that they really calculated into this whole idea that when they made this announcement, members of Congress were back home. And with overwhelming opposition was going on, and people were hearing it in gas stations and supermarkets. And that really was a factor here.

BORGER: That's why perhaps, he should have called Congress back immediately.

BASH: Yes, maybe.

BORGER: But that is, you know, that's a whole other story.

I don't think it is only congress looking for the off ramp. I think the administration is looking for an off ramp because it would be completely humiliating to this president as it was to Cameron in Great Britain, to David Cameron, to be voted down either in one house or in both houses. It could be the end of his presidency, for all intents and purposes. If he were to be humiliated like this, he would have a tough time on every single issue.

And so, when this solution came up, everybody jumped, even though, I mean, I spoke to an intelligence source today and said slow down, Gloria, slow down on this one. Because we don't even know where half of their stashes of chemical weapons might be. Do we want to start on that hunt for chemical weapons all over again? Do we believe the Syrians? Do we believe the Russians are serious about this?

TAPPER: And that's the question.

And Jessica, I mean, we have spent so much time before this crisis talking about the Russian-U.S. relationship and how bad it is and how the relationship between Obama and Putin has never been worse. And now all of a sudden, we are supposed to believe that Vladimir Putin is going to do the right thing and he's going to rein in Bashar al-Assad. Why would he do that? YELLIN: Well, one of the presidents today that spokespeople said look, there are going -- they are optimistic about this, but trust but verify, which, you know, as an old phrase from the cold war era. And they can't turn down the offer once (INAUDIBLE) said that they are going to engage this. So, they have to take it, you know, seriously.

But I don't think that there is anybody inside government right now who things that this is an easy do. And the Russians can't necessarily be trusted with. That Assad can't be trusted and it looks like a way to actually slow walk this whole process. So -- Yes, go ahead.

BASH: No, I just say, the one thing we should keep in mind though, is that these votes in Congress are not dead. They might not ultimately pass but they are not completely dead for the reason you just said and you just said. That we don't know what is going to happen with Russia. And they are very much keeping open the possibility that they are going to still hold these votes.


YELLIN: You will see it slowly move through Congress for the authorization for military strike and you will see the slow progress of discussions on the diplomatic track with Russia at the same time.

TAPPER: And Gloria, what the president is going to say is to Congress, if they ultimately come up with a vote is, you need to back me because it was only the threat of force that even got us to this place.

BORGER: Right. But then, at the same time, he is saying, but wait a minute, Assad doesn't really have enough stuff to really strike back at us, which kind of hurts his own case. And I think he makes his case much more difficult tomorrow night. He has got to tell the American public that we have to use force.

On the other hand, he doesn't seem to want to use force. And so this kind of ambivalence that we see, and whether it is warranted or not, no president wants to use force, but he was so strident two weeks ago and now there has been such a shift. I think that the public opinion has a hard time following him to a great degree.

YELLIN: I think he has an incredibly difficult task tomorrow night. And there is no question that he has been as muddied on this as he has been on anything. But he is in a bizarre position. He can make a very simple case tomorrow night for American exceptionalism. And it is odd position that the president who has been accused of being an apologist for American is actually arguing for American exceptionalism. The U.S. is the one country in the world that can stand up for this international value.

TAPPER: And in a minute, we will get to what the president needs to say tomorrow.

Gloria, Jessica, Dana, stay with me. Up next, lawmakers are getting an earful from the folks back for. Will they vote for what their constituents want or what their consciences dictated? A question for undecided Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Democratic, California. She will join us live next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to our CNN special, CRISIS IN SYRIA: DECISION POINT. I'm Jake Tapper and what's a difference a day makes tonight. We watched President Obama launched a media blitz across six television networks. But after weeks of ramping up the red org of an attack, we suddenly heard a commander-in-chief hopeful for a diplomatic solution. Here's the before and the after.


OBAMA: After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.

If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action that would be my preference.


TAPPER: Just a few days. After careful deliberation we should take action. If we can accomplish it without taking action that would be my preference.

Joining us to discuss this is Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California, the second highest ranking democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Congresswoman, I know you're leaning now but you have not firmly made up your mind. Are mixed messages like what we just heard, I decided we are going to take action, I prefer not to take action. Is that causing you a problem when you make your decision, when you try to explain your thinking to your constituents?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D-CA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: No, actually, the fact that there might a diplomatic way in which to end this crisis, as you all call it, I think is a great thing. I know that as we returned today in the House to vote for the first time since this all started. And there was a lot of discussion among members. That's the time where all 435 -- the tanker. And there was actually a very upbeat feeling about maybe there's a way to -- to tamper down what is -- you know, what has really escalated here.

So I think that is a welcome thing to the Congress people. The mixed messages on the other hand, about, you had mentioned Gloria, about the President's interview tonight saying, for example, well, Syria can't come after us, they're not strong enough. Well, you know, you go to war because you feel you have either been attacked or you feel an imminent threat to you. So, he's saying that, you know, they really can't do anything to us I think kind of undercuts this whole issue of why we should be there.

TAPPER: And what do you want to hear from him tomorrow night? What does he need to say to sway you to vote yes?

SANCHEZ: I need to have a better nexus, a better connection of why we need to basically attack this country. Because when we send a missile in, that is an attack. That is -- you know, if you were sitting at home and somebody fired a bullet through your front window you would feel attacked. I mean, that's what we're talking about. So, what is the imminent danger to the United States? What is the national security issue? Please outline that for me. And for the American people so we understand why we have to set aside everything else we tried or should be trying and go straight to military tactics.

BASH: You have been home in your district. What have you been hearing? Have people been -- are all supportive of this or are you hearing a lot of your colleagues are telling us, which is that it's overwhelming opposition? And if that is the case, how hard would it be for you to vote effectively against your constituents are telling you to do?

SANCHEZ: Well, you are actually talking to somebody who voted against Iraq war when overwhelmingly especially in my district, people wanted to --

TAPPER: They wanted you to --

SANCHEZ: Yes. After I took that vote I received death threats that had bodyguards on me. Two years later, oh my God, you were right, and we're so sorry, we're so sorry.

BASH: Let's say you voted for it, you decided to vote for it and you have people opposing it now.

SANCHEZ: So, what I'm saying is that in this particular issue of putting our military at stake. You're talking to someone who's married to a retired colonel from the army, and has a son who is 19- years-old who is in the U.S. army. So, you know, when we talk about going to war and make no mistake, you shoot some missiles in...

TAPPER: That's an act of war.

SANCHEZ: ...that's an act of war. So you have to be, you know -- I have to -- for me, I have to be able to look at a mom who loses a son or a daughter in a war, whether it's Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria and say I'm sorry, there was nothing else I could do. I needed your child.

BASH: Doesn't sound like you're there yet.

SANCHEZ: I'm not there yet.

BORGER: So, what should the punishment be for the use of chemical weapons?

TAPPER: If we back away.

BORGER: Yes, if we --

TAPPER: If the U.S. backs away. They take this outlet.

BORGER: And we just remove, you know, we come out summarizes, remove his chemical weapons. Is that punishment?

SANCHEZ: Well, I think it gives us where we want to be, which is to take those types -- that type of ability away from him. That's what the President has said. The President said he is using chemical weapons on his own people. That's not justified and we need to be able to stop him from doing that. Deter him from doing that. If his chemical weapons are taken away and put in international hands or what have you, then effectively he cannot use them.

BORGER: And our credibility is fine and after that, given what his occurred in the last few weeks.

SANCHEZ: Well, I think so.

YELLIN: Would you rather not vote?

SANCHEZ: You know, you come to the Congress to take the hard votes. You don't come to the Congress to take the easy votes. So, you know, I'm lucky, I have been in the Congress for 17 years. I have been there. I have been in on Iraq war where everybody was beating the war drum. And I will tell you something, it's a lot easier to vote for war.

YELLIN: So, if you had to vote today, how would you vote war?

SANCHEZ: Well, right now I haven't seen the nexus, so my answer, if you ask me today I would have to say, you know, I'm leaning no.

TAPPER: As somebody who cast a no vote when the popular vote was yes with Iraq. Which was a tougher decision for you, Iraq or Syria? Because it sounds like you are where the population is and Iraq was a much tougher vote.

SANCHEZ: You know, Iraq for me was easier because I understood in asking the questions and looking at the information and everything that there was not WMD. I mean, I really --

BASH: You were against popular opinion.

SANCHEZ: I understand that. But you know, I knew that I -- I had a really good feel that they weren't there and therefore that was the right vote. This is a much more difficult one. Because here, even though I made -- if I vote no and 95 percent, at least 95 percent of the people I represent have been calling, you know, people have been calling and saying don't do this, don't do this, don't do this. There have been very few. I can count them on my hand phone calls or groups of people who have e-mailed me and said, please vote forward and do this.

BASH: This time you are voting against the President and your own party.

SANCHEZ: Well, and it's always difficult to vote against your own president, it's always difficult not just of your party but of your country. Right?

TAPPER: Right.

SANCHEZ: And remember that there are far more in my opinion important things to me knock on the docket. We have to settle the budget for the next year, we are talking about whether the government gets shut down, we're talking about food stamps for people who really need them. I need a strong president there.

BORGER: Do you think you have --

TAPPER: I'm sorry.


TAPPER: We need to cut it off there. Because we are running out of time. Thank you so much Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Good luck with your vote.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: You have to comeback afterwards. The rest of you stay here. That 3:00 a.m. phone call made famous in the 2008 campaign, well, it just came in and some critics are saying it round up making President Obama look weak. A closer look at how the president is being viewed during this crisis coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CRISIS IN SYRIA: DECISION POINT. After President Obama called for military action in Syria, Ed Gillespie, former Bush senior White House adviser and former chair of the Republican National Committee tweeted this out. Clear now when the 3:00 a.m. call came, "Barack Obama couldn't find his glasses knocked phone off night stand, still reaching around for receiver," close quote.

That is a recall, a reference to the famous campaign ad from the 2008 primaries that Hillary Clinton ran against then candidate Obama. Clinton of course went on to become the secretary of state under President Obama. Now former Secretary of State Clinton is adding her voice to the Syria debate. And today, she stood by her old boss without ever explicitly calling for a strike.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: This discussion that has taken hold today about potential international control over Syria's stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States.


TAPPER: I want to bring back in our panel. Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin, and Dana Bash. Jessica, I want to start with you. We know that obviously former Secretary Clinton was going to be at the White House anyway. Did she want to speak out on this? She has been quiet for a couple of weeks on this.

YELLIN: No, I do know that the White House has been in constant contact with her. There have been ongoing discussions. It was just a matter of time until she had to speak on this. It is noteworthy as you pointed out that she didn't explicitly endorse the idea of a strike. And frankly, why should she? You know, this is the same man who is partly in the oval office because he staked out his ground apart from her on the -- her position on Iraq. And she is no longer a public servant, she no longer has to take a position on Syria and whether they should strike and she doesn't work in his administration and she can't influence the outcome of any strike.

BORGER: And by the way she was probably for more robust action.

YELLIN: She was.

TAPPER: Yes, she was.

YELLIN: She talked to Petraeus and NATO about arming the rebels.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly. So if Hillary Clinton had been president, right, she might have armed the rebels a couple of years ago.

TAPPER: Or at least if she had been listened to a year ago.

BORGER: Right, so.

TAPPER: She and Defense Secretary Panetta were arguing arm the rebels.

BORGER: So you know, this story is so full of irony. Because it's President Obama who is calling for the use of force and it's Hillary Clinton who was for more force and now has to back him. And you know, the Iraq war vote, her Iraq war votes comes into this. So this whole story is Shakespearean in an odd way.

BASH: It is. But I mean, Ed Gillespie's very cleaver tweet about the 3:00 a.m. phone call, the 3:00 a.m. phone call you could argue came a long time ago when she was still the secretary of state and she did we understand argued to arm the rebels along with other people in the administration and they were rebuffed. It just didn't happen. So, this is not, like, the phone rang and we woke up and said oh, my goodness, Bashar al-Assad has chemical weapons.

YELLIN: We now know that he's used it --

BORGER: She is being the good soldier in the way she always was when she was a member of the administration.

TAPPER: And the national security adviser Dr. Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes the Deputy National Security adviser, tweeting out Clinton's remarks this evening, getting them out there. Very interesting. It's important for them to get her out there.

YELLIN: Get to have a word on administration officials tweeting so much.

BORGER: Foreign policy.

YELLIN: Even tweeting policy statements. Is this the new thing?


BASH: It is.

YELLIN: Is it appropriate? I don't know --

BASH: It is what it is as John McCain would say.

BORGER: Susan Rice and Samantha Power at the beginning of this whole crisis were tweeting about it before we heard from the president.

TAPPER: Correct.

YELLIN: It's how you communicate with the Arab street, I understand that but can they tweet a link to a statement that's on a website so it's sort of more official? Somehow that seems more official to me.

TAPPER: We were talking earlier in the show about how much of this was planned, Secretary Kerry talking about this Plan B and the administration embracing it and one of my staff reminded me of this moment when Vice President Biden got over his skis on the issue of gay marriage.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The President sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women are entitled to all the exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.


TAPPER: That moment, right? That moment changed White House policy. Vice President Biden getting out over skis as the President later said, forced the President into action. No, I'm not saying that it's the exact same as what happened with Secretary John Kerry today. But there is a similarity. Somebody in the cabinet saying something and the administration ending up embracing it. Even though it seems to gaff it first.

BASH: Exactly. And that is why you get the sense right or not, fair or not, that there is some chaos and it something that makes -- never mind members of Congress -- but the American public uncomfortable. And so, when you already have a trust deficit with regard to any kind of military action right now, and a wariness, this kind of thing were sort of -- it's going guardrail to guardrail doesn't help. TAPPER: Hold on.

BORGER: How about the president changing policy two weeks ago.

TAPPER: We will be right back. We got to take a very quick break and sneak in a commercial break. Coming up, the President will address the nation tomorrow night. But after today's media blitz, what else can he say to sway public opinion? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back. We are here one more time with our panel Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash. It's time for our turning point in this special called DECISION POINT.

What does the President need to do to gain back momentum on Syria in Congress. Gloria, let's start with you. What do you think the President needs to do?

BORGER: I don't think he's going to get a popular opinion surge. I think the polls are pretty well cooked at this point, 20 points against him. But I do think he has to define his mission and he has to tell the American people if we were to strike how it would succeed and why it would matter and why he feels you need to punish Assad for using chemical weapons.

TAPPER: Dana, you were telling me during the break that the White House has been reaching out to House Republicans to find out what do you want us to say.

BASH: He called -- the chief-of-staff called over about half a dozen House Republicans who are supportive to say basically how do we speak republican and how do we get to your --

TAPPER: Obama to republican, republican to Obama dictionary.

BASH: Exactly. Exactly. How do we get to your people, your brethren in the House to try to convince them -- your messages? And I was told by several who were there that they gave him some suggestions but it was pretty clear that the kinds of people that they are trying to turn on the House republican side are just not turnable.

TAPPER: They're not going to turn at all.

BASH: No. But I think it's news that they called House Republicans and these people told me for the first time ever since this administration had been there to try to get advice on how to deal with the republican caucus. Maybe that long term is a breakthrough.

TAPPER: I was talking to a republican lawmaker earlier today who said that he or she wants to support this. But, quote-unquote, "The President has made this a mess." There are Republicans who want to support this.

YELLIN: Right.

TAPPER: But they don't feel confident about the way this is all been developing.

YELLIN: Well, he can't, first of all express clearly what his position is and he can't lock into a decision. He keeps wiggling out of it. And he should just pick a decision and stick with it. So, maybe what he should do is just let Kerry pick his decision and go with whatever Kerry says. So, maybe his ultimate solution is let Kerry be Kerry in this instance although don't let Kerry define his language because --

BORGER: When a president zigs and zags, it hurts his substantive case. Because people don't think you're strong and decisive if they see you going to and fro.

TAPPER: Supporters will say he is looking for a way not to kill people. He's looking for a way out of a bloody map.

BORGER: And that is to be respected and that's to be lauded. But this whole thing has played out as an accidental solution here and people want to think that actually -- to Jessica's point earlier that these things are thought out.

TAPPER: We have to leave it right there. Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash, thank you so much. Thank you all for watching. I'm Jake Tapper. You can catch me on "THE LEAD," Monday through Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern and I will be back here again tomorrow night at 11:00.

Of course, President Obama speaks to the nation tomorrow night. Up next, "PIERS MORGAN LIVE."