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THE SITUATION ROOM

Sticking Point on Syria Deal; No Deadline for Resolving Syria Crisis; Biden: House Republicans "Neanderthals"; 20 Missing, 3 Dead In Raging Colorado Floods

Aired September 13, 2013 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, we have breaking news. There are new details emerging of a possible U.N. resolution on Syria and a sticking point on the use of force.

Also, the search for Syria's chemical weapons -- does anyone outside the Bashar Al-Assad regime know where they are right now?

Plus, Joe Biden's latest off-the-cuff zinger -- what the vice president and possible presidential candidate said about Republicans.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get right to the breaking news on Syria. Senior Obama administration officials are now saying they do not expect Russia to agree to include anything in a U.N. Security Council resolution that would trigger the use of military force in Syria. That comes as talks between the secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva, Switzerland, are kicking into overdrive.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is traveling with the secretary.

He's joining us live from Geneva right now with the very latest -- Jim, what is the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this U.N. Security Council resolution development is significant because if true, it would remove the major disagreement between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Now, they say here they're not negotiating the U.N. Security Council resolution here in Geneva. And that's true. But it has been hanging over these talks since the beginning and some of it has bubbled up in public, with Kerry and Lavrov saying in public that they have a real disagreement there. Kerry saying that force is the only thing that brought the Syrians to the table, Lavrov saying he wants force off the table.

Now, the meetings are continuing tonight and they're going to continue into tomorrow, involving Kerry and Lavrov, as well. I spoke to an administration official who said that if there was no opening in these talks, we wouldn't still be here.

And this administration official went on to say that they've made their first step in progress and that the two sides coming closer to agreement on the scope of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, this significant as well, because from the very beginning of this trip, U.S. officials have been telling us that the first test of Syria's -- and Russia's, for that matter -- seriousness about moving forward on chemical weapons is how forthcoming they're going to be about all the details of these chemical weapons supplies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Forty-eight hours into these crucial U.S.- Russia talks, the only certainty is that the talks will go on.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: And I think we would both agree that we had a constructive conversation regarding that, that those conversations are continuing and both of us want to get back to them now.

SCIUTTO: Already, the time line has been extended until the U.N. General Assembly meets in New York at the end of the month, stretching the meetings out at least 15 more days.

State Department officials say they are aware, but the possibility of diplomacy is worth it.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Are we naive about the fact these may not go anywhere?

No. But the progress we've seen just in 72 hours it's so -- it's such a stark contrast to where we were just a week or two ago.

SCIUTTO: The growing time line, however, shows the immense challenges facing the Obama administration as it attempts to balance the desire for a quick resolution against hopes to avoid military action. All this depending on cooperation from the less than ideal partners in Russia and Syria.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we'll see delaying tactics by the Syrian government. We'll see a very tough negotiating position by the Russian government. And so the United States has got to be very tough-minded, skeptical and demanding as we go through this process. I would think this is going to take several weeks.

SCIUTTO: Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, may have one more reason to delay, as the U.N. chief revealed today that at the conclusion of any diplomatic resolution, Assad may end up in a courtroom for war crimes.

BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: He has committed many crimes against humanity. And, therefore, I'm sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over.

(END VIDEO TAPE) SCIUTTO: From here, Secretary Kerry will go on to Jerusalem to meet with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to talk about peace talks there, but also, certainly, the chemical weapons agreement.

Then he goes on to Paris to meet with the French foreign minister and the British foreign minister, again to talk about this chemical weapons agreement.

And you can see, Wolf, here how the time line of these negotiations can stretch out. When we began earlier in the week, we were talking about days. Now it's going into weeks. U.S. officials talking about a U.N. Security Council resolution in weeks.

This time line is not over. We're just at the beginning. But we are, at least here in Geneva, Wolf, seeing the beginning of some progress, at least on the issue of chemical weapons.

BLITZER: And that's what the secretary and his aides keep saying. They keep saying to you, Jim, if they weren't making progress, they wouldn't continue these talks, these negotiations. And I guess the secretary is going to be a pretty busy guy -- so are you -- over the next several days.

Thanks very much.

Jim Sciutto reporting from Geneva.

President Obama was asked today about a time line for resolving the Syrian crisis. He didn't give an answer, but he did say this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I repeated what I've said publicly, which is that any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable. We agreed that ultimately what's needed for the underlying conflict is a political settlement that allows ordinary Syrians to get back to their homes, to rebuild and to relieve the enormous suffering that's taking place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president was meeting with the visiting emir of Kuwait.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our chief domestic affairs correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Why isn't there a deadline on all of this -- Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, HOST: Look, he doesn't want to handcuff John Kerry right now. They're in the middle of negotiations.

But I do think that the United States needs to show a sense of impatience because after all, they want to get this resolved. They want to put these obligations on the Syrians. They want to make sure the chemical weapons are not used. And after the president made the case to the country that this is a moral issue for us, that I think he can't let this kind of drag on for a very long time.

BLITZER: Because White House officials are saying the president is showing real leadership right now. He's carefully thinking everything through. He's not rushing into anything that could potentially be horrible for the United States.

A lot of critics, though, say this is just a mess.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, that's their argument, is that he's actually showing intellectual flexibility by adapting to changing circumstances, by being willing to strike and then being willing to negotiate. And this is, Wolf, part of their psyche that goes back to, actually, the campaign days, when they argue everybody thought he didn't have a chance to win. Conventional wisdom was against him and he disproved all the elites and actually pulled out a win.

But, you know, the difference is in this case, is he is working out his thinking in public. And as the leader of the nation, sometimes you just have to act and not show us your cards as you're making your decisions.

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: And so there's a little bit of, you know, a discomfort in the nation right now, because we're seeing too much of his internal machinations. .

BORGER: Well, right. You know...

YELLIN: (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: -- we had the swagger with George W. Bush. The public didn't like the swagger. I don't think they like the zigzag any more.

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: And they don't like a president to play out his private ambivalence in public. We don't need to be -- you know, he's a very thoughtful guy. Everybody understands that. But that doesn't always work when you're a leader. You don't let -- need to let the public in on your...

YELLIN: But we should say...

BORGER: -- entire thought process.

YELLIN: -- history is written by the victors. And if he does get a success and the chemical weapons are given up, none of this...

BLITZER: Right.

YELLIN: -- process will matter. And he'll be seen... (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Everyone always plays results, right?

BLITZER: If all of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles...

YELLIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- are destroyed, that would be a huge success, not only for the U.S., but for the entire region and...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And let me...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And let me also say, by the way...

BLITZER: That's a big if, by the way.

BORGER: -- this -- this, right now, has turned out working out pretty well for the Congress, because those folks didn't want to take a vote.

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: They know it's unpopular in the country. So if this plays out in the United Nations for a little bit of while and they can get back to the domestic agenda and do what they need to do and not take this tough vote and not have to vote against their constituents, they'd just as soon that, as well.

BLITZER: I fear it's going to play out for at least another two weeks. They've got the United Nations General Assembly coming up, not next week, but the week after in New York. World leaders will be coming there. There will be enormous...

BORGER: But when's the limit?

BLITZER: I mean, they -- obviously, there's not going to be a U.S. military strike over the next two or three weeks, at least, unless the Syrian regime were to launch...

BORGER: Use those chemical weapons.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- attack, obviously.

In the meantime, there's only a few days left this month. The United States will run out of money unless Congress passes legislation to continue funding the government.

BORGER: Right. And...

BLITZER: And there could be a government shut down.

BORGER: Well, there could. And there's a -- and, you know, that's -- that controversy has been kind of percolating now. And the saving grace there for the president, I think, is that Republicans can't decide whether they should tie shutting down the government to repealing ObamaCare. And so since there's a division in the Republican Party, maybe the president can take advantage of that, because this will come to some kind of a showdown.

YELLIN: And there are two quick fights one after the other. There is the government running out of money at the beginning of October and then the government shut down over the debt ceiling...

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: -- the potential of losing that fight.

BLITZER: The credit...

YELLIN: And the president...

BLITZER: -- the credit rating, the creditworthiness of the United States...

YELLIN: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: -- if the U.S. were to default on its loans.

YELLIN: And the president has said -- you might remember this from the last fight -- he will not negotiate over that. And I believe they really mean this, that he will not go through that back and forth where John Boehner was coming over to the White House...

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: -- and they were having this fight again. He's just not going to negotiate.

BORGER: Here's the interesting thing, though. People don't care about the debt ceiling being raised. The polls today, "The Wall Street Journal" just said the people say don't raise the debt ceiling. So the president has to turn around public opinion on that.

YELLIN: This one, I bet you, he can turn around, because this one, people are so frustrated with the Washington process, so frustrated with the discussion of a shut down, that if he can go out...

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: -- and argue with them that it's just a broken system, maybe he can win over a little bit of goodwill.

Although he has hurt himself as a leader, wouldn't you say, by the way he has conducted this Syria discussion with the nation?

BLITZER: Yes. There could be a spillover...

BORGER: Well...

BLITZER: -- onto these other issues.

BORGER: -- he did turn around public opinion...

YELLIN: Yes.

BORGER: -- last time on the debt ceiling. He might be able to do it again. And I think people are capable of kind of a right brain, left brain.

YELLIN: (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: We think about about this on foreign policy, maybe a little differently on domestic.

BLITZER: Gloria, thank you.

Jessica, thanks to you, as well.

Coming up, Syria has been moving its chemical weapons. Now U.S. intelligence apparently at odds over where the stockpiles are.

Plus, the vice president, Joe Biden's, latest jaw dropper. This time, he gave us some warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To be honest with you, I'm going to say something outrageous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The vice president, Joe Biden, may have done it again, putting his political foot in his mouth, as he's been known to do once or twice. This time, he's slamming the House Republicans as "Neanderthals" -- a charge that comes amid looming speculation about 2016.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us now from the White House.

She has details -- Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

This is the kind of thing we've come to expect from the vice president. For better or for worse, he is infinitely quotable. And last night was no different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: But, you know, and to be honest with you, I'm going to say something outrageous.

JONES (voice-over): It was vintage Joe Biden, outspoken as ever at an event marking the 19th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, blasting Republicans for trying to block reauthorization of the law last year.

BIDEN: Surprisingly, last year, we ran into this sort of Neanderthal crowd that, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: No, I mean it.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: No, I'm serious. I mean when you think about it, I mean did you ever think we'd be fighting over, you know, 17 -- 18 years later to reauthorize this?

JONES (voice-over): The vice president and possible presidential contender is known for speaking his mind, sometimes, raising eyebrows.

BIDEN: (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin' Donuts, unless, you have a slight Indian accent.

JONES: At Thursday's event before a crowd that included advocates for women, he talked about getting ahead of President Obama last year when he went off-script to announce his support for same sex marriage. Comments that later prompted the president to do the same.

BIDEN: Certain things I promised I wasn't going to keep my mouth closed.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: So, I make no apologies for jumping ahead on the issue of marriage.

JONES: His latest remarks come as speculation about the 2016 race heats up. This weekend, Biden heads to Iowa, the crucial early battleground that dashed his presidential ambitions in 2008. He'll speak at a steak fry hosted by Senator Tom Harkin, an event considered an important stop for any Democrat aiming for the highest office in the land. Biden hasn't yet said he's running.

He was supposed to headline last year's fry, but couldn't make it. And aides say he's just honoring his previous commitment. But what if he is a contender? How he stacks up will depend a lot on whether another also-ran, former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, decides to give it another shot.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I have a very hard time imaging Joe Biden running against Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it's very difficult for, I think, for a candidate starting from where he does to beat her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (on-camera): Now, one thing I can tell you, Wolf, is that we will be keeping a close eye on Vice President Biden while he's in Iowa this weekend. And I should add that on Monday, he's set to visit the Port of Charleston in South Carolina. South Carolina, as you know, is also an early voting state. So, make of that what you will -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Usually Iowa, New Hampshire, then South Carolina. As lot of us who cover politics are very familiar with those states. All right, Athena. Thanks very much. Good report.

When we come back, the diplomatic spotlight is on Syria's chemical weapons right now, but where are they? Do we really know where they are? We have details just ahead.

Plus, 20 people reported missing in those devastating Colorado floods. Just ahead, the very latest on what now is being called a very large disaster. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a quick look at some of the other top stories we're monitoring here in the SITUATION ROOM. A very large disaster in Colorado where 20 people are now reported missing in those devastating flood waters that have already left three people dead. Officials say there are hundreds of thousands of people who may be trapped because roads are washed out.

The National Guard is evacuating an entire town near Boulder where thousands of residents were entirely cut off without water or sewer service. Emergency alerts have been issued cautioning people to stay off the roads. Some have already been simply washed away. Authorities warn more rain and potential flooding could be on the way.

The al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri is issuing new threats against the United States shortly after Americans marked the 12th anniversary of 9/11. In an audio message posted online, al-Zawahiri calls for more terror attacks like the one at this year's Boston marathon and encourages more spending on security so the country will quote, "bleed economically."

He wants the U.S. to spend more money on security. Ayman al- Zawahiri has headed al Qaeda since the 2011 death of Osama Bin Laden.

Some lucky United Airlines passengers now have the chance to fly for close to nothing. The airline announced just a little while ago it will honor zero dollar fares booked Thursday during a brief glitch. Only the $5 to $10 cost of airport and security fees were charged to the tickets. United says the error was human, not technical. The airline is not saying at least for now how many people managed to buy these bargain fares. A Government Accountability Office report reveals the Social Security Administration has paid an estimated, get this, $1.3 billion in disability insurance payments to thousands of people who are simply not eligible for these benefits. The agency says 36,000 people received what are called potential overpayments from the agency since the beginning of this year.

The Social Security Administration says its accuracy rate for paying the benefits exceeds 99 percent. It also says it will now look into this GAO report.

Prince William is sitting down with CNN for the first time since becoming a parent, in a new special airing Sunday, "Prince William's Passion: New Father, New Hope." In it, he shares his passion for Africa and conservation with our own Max Foster and explains how those feelings have only intensified since the birth of his son.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE: For me, it's the sense of freedom, being out in the middle of nowhere in Africa, just seeing the beauty of nature and the natural world is just phenomenal. It's fantastic.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYALTY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the young prince arrived in Africa for the first time, the splendor of an African sunset, the deep quiet of the bush, and the majesty of the animals captured his heart.

PRINCE WILLIAM: I had no real idea that I would feel that way, but I never realized how much emotionally (INAUDIBLE). You want to stand up for what's very vulnerable and what needs protecting.

FOSTER: And those same feelings have become more intense for William since the birth of his son, Prince George.

PRINCE WILLIAM: I think the last few weeks for me have been just a very different emotional experience, something I never thought I would feel myself, and I find again, it's only been a short period, but a lot of things affect me differently now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The prince also shares stories about his late mother, Princess Diana. "Prince William's Passion" airs this Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN. I think you're going to want to watch this.

Up next, how can the world disarm Syria of its chemical weapons if no one outside the regime knows precisely where they are?

And it may seem like diplomacy has won when it comes to Syria, but is that path actually poised to trigger war? There may be some clues in the buildup to the Iraq war. We're going to talk about it with CNN commentator, Ryan Lizza, of the "New Yorker." He's walking in to the SITUATION ROOM right now. We're getting ready to talk. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): Syria's chemical weapons at center stage in the push for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but where exactly are they? We have some details.

Also, could this crisis end up leading the United States into war? I'll ask a serious writer whose raising some serious questions about the risks of diplomacy. Ryan Lizza is here.

And a New Jersey Boardwalk makes a comeback after superstorm Sandy only to go up in flames. We'll have the latest from the scene, including from Governor Chris Christie who says what he saw there made him want to throw up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The world's attention now focused on Syria's chemical weapons, but does anyone outside the Bashar al-Assad regime even know where they are? Any diplomatic or military solution to the crisis certainly depends on the answer to that question. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging into this subject for us.

I know you've done a lot of reporting. What are you learning, Barbara, about the location of Syria's chemical weapons?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT Well, look, Wolf, some senior administration officials are saying they're very confident that the U.S. knows where the weapons are, but other administration officials are telling me not so fast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): There's one big problem in the U.S./Russia talks on Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. Where exactly is it? U.S. intelligence analysts are at odds, CNN has learned. Some estimate the U.S. only knows the location of half of Syria's suspected 1,000 tons of chemical agents. Others believe the picture is not so grim.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The majority if not all of it is in an area controlled by the Assad forces.

STARR: With more than a dozen suspected chemical weapons storage sites around Syria, U.S. intelligence believes the Assad regime moved a significant amount of chemical weapons around about two weeks ago when it feared a U.S. military strike. How much was moved and where it is is what U.S. intelligence needs to know. DARYL KIMBALL, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: They're worried that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands. They're worried that these weapons might be used.

STARR: U.S. intelligence is using satellites, communications intercepts, and spies on the ground to try to track the weapons, officials say. The urgency? If Syria gives up the weapons, the U.S. must be able to verify it's got it all. But if there is an air strike, the U.S. has to know where the chemicals are to avoid hitting them.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We'd make sure of two things. One, that we didn't create a chemical hazard ourselves and secondly that we wouldn't degrade the ability of the regime to secure it.

STARR: Opposing views and different interpretations in the intelligence community are not uncommon. When the CIA went after Osama bin Laden, there was no photo, no certainty he was at the compound. Some officials even recommended against the raid by Navy SEALs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now a spokesman for the director of National Intelligence says there will be disagreements about these matters but that the only thing that really matters is the formal assessment that would be delivered to the White House.

However, another senior administration official a short time ago, Wolf, told me the confidence level in being able to track the chemical weapons in his words, is going down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That is not encouraging. All right. Thanks very much, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

The specter of the Iraq war certainly looms over this crisis in Syria, especially for those opposed to a U.S. military strike.

CNN political commentator, the "New Yorker" correspondent, Ryan Lizza, suggests President Obama is in the same situation roughly as President Bush was back in 2002. Ryan is joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM.

A fascinating article you wrote in the new "New Yorker." "Could Obama's Syria Diplomacy Lead to War." And some of your bottom line conclusions are sort of depressing.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you think about the red line before we started talking to the Russians about completely disarming Syria of chemical weapons, the red line for Obama was if Assad used these weapons, right? That's what led to Obama talking about military force and we know the story from there, the Russians intervened with this last-minute plan after John Kerry's statements.

And now the U.S. is in this conversation with Russia and Syria about completely disarming the country of its chemical weapons.

BLITZER: That's good, right?

LIZZA: That's great. Who would not -- who would not want that?

BLITZER: Right. Who can possibly oppose that?

LIZZA: If we could accomplish that. But you look at the U.N. resolution that the French, the U.K. and the U.S. drafted earlier in the week, it basically calls for the complete declaration of these chemical weapons and the disarmament under the threat of serious consequences. So it seems to me that the red line has now moved from Assad using these chemical weapons to if you look at the U.N. resolution, to Assad possessing the weapons.

So who's -- if we get Assad to sign the chemical weapons treaty, if we get him to declare all of his weapons and start the disarmament process, what happens when he starts doing what Saddam did, which was picking fights with the inspectors over what sites they can visit, not fully declaring everything.

Someone is going to have to enforce, police this non -- this compliance regime. And that's going to be the U.S., the U.K. and the French. And that's going to push us into a place where we're going to -- we're going to be talking about military action for simple noncompliance, simple possession of chemical weapons, not used. And I think that's, you know, one part of this debate that's gotten a little bit overlooked.

BLITZER: You wrote that powerful article a couple of years ago, all of us remember, in which you quote a White House official as saying this president is, quote, "leading from behind."

LIZZA: Yes.

BLITZER: And it's generated a huge amount of buzz, as you well know, ever since. In this particular crisis with Syria, as far as you can tell, is the president leading from behind?

LIZZA: Well, look, just to be clear, what that expression was about was about the run-up to the intervention in Libya and it was used to explain how the Obama administration was advancing its goals at the U.N. The argument was that people were tired of war, that it would be very, very difficult to get a U.N. resolution to authorize the strike in Libya, and the way to do it was if the U.S. hung back and pushed other actors forward, especially Arab countries.

And the phrase was, well, if we lead from behind here, it's a lot easier for us to get that U.N. resolution than if the U.S. is out in front. Now that became a pretty big talking point to Obama's critics.

BLITZER: Right.

LIZZA: Is he leading from behind here on Syria? Look, I think he's very, very reluctant to use force in Syria for a lot of good reasons. And I think he's -- I can't see how you can criticize him for taking this last opportunity to see if you could peacefully disarm Assad, but I do think that this point of does that get -- bring us down the road, does putting in place a disarmament regime that's backed up by the threat of force, does that put us on the road to war in Syria anyway. Remember, that's what happened in Iraq.

BLITZER: Right.

LIZZA: The reason we went -- for over a decade --

BLITZER: Bush got authorization from Congress, he got the resolution of the Security Council, the Iraqis played games --

LIZZA: Exactly. And he said -- and he was going in. But look, the Russians and the Chinese are not going to go for a resolution that is linked to the use of force if Assad doesn't comply. Then Obama is going to be in this difficult situation of, does he -- does he do it anyway.

BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, good article in the "New Yorker." I recommend it to all of our viewers.

LIZZA: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Just ahead, two Democratic lawmakers recalled after the -- over their votes for gun control despite strong public support for stricter laws.

Van Jones, S.E. Cupp, they are both here for a "CROSSFIRE" debate in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And after finally recovering from Hurricane Sandy, another devastating blow for one stretch of the Jersey Shore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Big week for the political battle over gun control, which was revived in two key states across the country. In Colorado, an unprecedented state recall kicked two Democratic lawmakers out of office for supporting tougher new gun restrictions. And in Missouri, the state legislature came within one vote of overturning federal gun laws.

Joining us now, two new co-hosts of the new "CROSSFIRE," Van Jones and S.E. Cupp.

Guys, thanks very much.

All right, guns. Big losses, lot of Democrats must be so depressed with Colorado, with Missouri and Chicago right now. If it's so popular to have greater gun control as so many people say right now, why are you losing all these battles?

VAN JONES, HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, first of all, I just think this is much ado about basically nothing. If you look at Colorado, just to take one of the half dozen states that has strengthened gun laws, you have 50 legislators who said -- who went with the majority of Coloradoans who said we want better gun laws. Fifty. The NRA goes after five of them. They can get two on the ballot. They get two -- they get two out of 50. And now we're supposed to imagine that the sky is falling.

This is incredibly popular stuff. Most of the legislators who supported this stuff are stronger, not weaker. This is much ado about nothing.

S.E. CUPP, HOST, CROSSFIRE: I think the president would disagree. I think President Obama thought that after Sandy Hook when he gave that speech and asked Congress for a vote, and they did not vote with him, that maybe sort of similar uprisings at the local level would change the course of the gun control debate. He has been proven wrong --

JONES: He got six days.

CUPP: And this is a big deal to him. Not just this, but the Mayors against Illegal Guns coalition that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put together is falling apart. Mayors are dropping out of it like flies because it's got no credibility. It's not working. Voters don't want the carpetbagger billionaire coming into their state to tell them what they can and cannot do with their guns.

JONES: Let me just respond to that. The NRA has been around since Moses, OK? They kind of know how to do this stuff. They can cherry pick, they can find a few places they can be successful. They do have a better strategy because they are building bottom up. I think right now Bloomberg's making a mistake by coming in top down with the ads. But this is -- these are new organizations and those organizations are actually growing faster than the NRA.

CUPP: The anti-gun lobby outspent the pro recall lobby in Colorado --

JONES: Yes. Yes.

CUPP: Six to one.

JONES: In these -- in these tiny little cherry --

CUPP: Six to one.

JONES: In these tiny cherry picked districts, but they went after five, they only got two. I don't understand why we aren't saying that the Colorado -- the gun forces have won, they passed legislation, they -- three out of the five survived, 48 out of 50 survived.

BLITZER: You know -- you know politics, Van. It's going to send a message out there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That two lawmakers who support gun control --

JONES: With tricks.

BLITZER: They are recalled -- you know, in the south, in the west, in the Midwest, maybe not in the northeast, a lot of politicians are going to say, I don't know, I don't think we're going to get anywhere near that.

CUPP: They already have. Mike Pryor, Begich, Chuck Schumer, they've already said enough, Michael Bloomberg. Stop going into red states and talking about guns. It isn't -- working. We're not putting our reputations and our futures and elections on the line over this issue.

JONES: Fair enough. Here's the deal. I'm a southern, born in Tennessee. Even I as a southerner can do math. If 48 survive and two go down, those are pretty good odds.

CUPP: But don't -- don't get in the way of Van calling this a victory. It's fine. We'll let him call this a victory.

JONES: I'll tell you what. I'll tell you. Let me tell you --

CUPP: I agree.

JONES: Let me tell you what it's a victory for. Two -- in Colorado, this incredibly popular legislation that is -- the legislation will not be repealed and nobody else is going to lose their job. Two dozen people who are prohibited from buying guns were caught, they were stopped, they do not have guns.

It only takes one, as people in Colorado know, to create a disaster. Two dozen have already been stopped by this law. It's a good law.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: The legislation is so popular.

JONES: It's a popular law.

CUPP: That these two state senators were recalled over it.

JONES: And it is actually, if you look at the polls --

BLITZER: It does send a powerful message out there, whether or not you see it as victory. Politicians are politicians and they'll learn a lesson from this recall.

CUPP: They certainly will.

BLITZER: What gun control legislation would be acceptable, could be passed, new gun control legislation?

CUPP: You know, I wish that the good people at the table, and these are conversations that need to be had, would look at history. The NRA helped craft the Nixon-Truman Act in 2007 which strengthened background checks. The NRA wants more prosecutions on background checks.

We need to be having conversations about laws that don't just apply to lawful gun owners but actually criminals and most criminals don't follow the law.

JONES: Can I tell you what I do think Democrats have to take? I mean, we'll fight about this forever, but I do think that Democrats handled this issue badly and they handled it in a way that offends the sensibilities of the folks who are passionate about this. I think there's a way that big city elites, coastal elites, come across --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Final question. Why couldn't the president deliver after Newtown?

JONES: Well, look, because I think he's up against a very entrenched --

BLITZER: He's president of the United States.

JONES: Well, he can't be -- obviously he can't do everything.

(LAUGHTER)

Listen, I think he was shocked and disappointed that when he put his chips on the table, he wasn't able to get it done. I think it speaks more to the strength of the gun lobby than it -- speaks to the weakness of the president.

BLITZER: You guys are going to have a lot more on this coming up.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: Right after THE SITUATION ROOM, 6:30 p.m. Eastern. The new "CROSSFIRE" only here on CNN.

Van, S.E., guys, thanks very much.

CUPP: Thanks.

JONES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Here's a quick look at what else is coming up tonight on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: CNN tonight. At 7:00 on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," is the University of Alabama sorority rejecting some students because they are black? "OUTFRONT" investigates.

At 8:00 on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" disturbing stories of dogs forced to fight for bets. And now, how love and care is healing them back into loving pets.

And at 9:00 on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" he's back. What will Ricky Gervais say to Piers this time?

It's all on CNN tonight starting with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" at 7:00, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:00, and "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" at 9:00.

Tonight on CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM a New Jersey boardwalk makes a comeback after Superstorm Sandy, only to go up in flames. The latest from the scene. The Governor Chris Christie has been there. He says when he saw what was going on, it sort of made him want to throw up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Less than a year since Superstorm Sandy, the Jersey Shore is reeling once again. A devastating fire destroying part of a famous boardwalk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R) NEW JERSEY: You know, when I first was advised at what was going on, I was in a -- actually in my weekly Sandy rebuilding meeting with members of the Sandy Rebuilding Team when I got passed the information about the fire. And I said to my staff, you know, I really feel like I'm going to throw up. Just, you know, how much more are people going to be expected to take?

And it's an emotional toll that it puts on everyone. The people who live here, the business owners, the local officials and those of us in state government who have dedicated most of our lives over the last 10 months to the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to scene right now. Margaret Conley is standing by for us with the very latest.

What -- what is the very latest, Margaret?

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can see the devastation on the boardwalk from the fire behind me. The residents, the business owners that we spoke to, they're just in disbelief that this has happened again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONLEY (voice-over): Seaside Heights was rebuilt with the optimism that the boardwalk was stronger than the storm. Less than a year later, livelihoods have been destroyed again. Residents are in shock after they watched their businesses burn to ash. CHRIS DENNIS, LOST BUSINESS IN FIRE: There was nothing I could do. So there was no other option just to sit there and watch it happen.

CONLEY: Chris Dennis, owner of Shoot the Geek amusement stall that opened on the boardwalk in 1992 lost at least $40,000 in merchandise from Hurricane Sandy. He'll have to start from scratch to rebuild and estimates damages from the fire are at least another $30,000. Seeing the damage up close for the first time since the fire, he says this time the damage will take longer to repair.

DENNIS: Sandy wasn't bad. We were able to get back in business as soon as we had a boardwalk in front of us. The cleanup wasn't nearly as bad. This -- well, you look at my building right now, clearly it's going to have to be cleaned up a lot. There is nothing left except for a shell. And it's not even a whole shell in its entirety.

CONLEY: Chris's stall was just a few feet away from where the firefighters built the trench that stopped the fire from spreading.

(On camera): The fire was traveling underneath the boardwalk?

DENNIS: Yes. Well, the fire -- the fire traveled under the boardwalk. They got it contained to a certain point. But once it was in my building, they couldn't get down to the basement to put the fire out in the building because it would have just been unsafe for them.

CONLEY: And what was in the basement?

DENNIS: My plush merchandise and everything else. A lot of valuable stuff that, you know, was conducive for me to run my business.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CONLEY: Now that's just one example of a life that's been affected. Over 50 businesses have been impacted by this fire. And investigators are on the scene. They're going through the evidence. That's right behind us. And they say that it may be days before we can figure out what happened here.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story this one is.

Margaret, thanks very much. Margaret Conley reporting for us.

Still ahead, we're learning new information about a report from the United Nations weapons inspectors on the Syrian chemical weapons attack.

Plus, outrage over a deal that saved the co-founders of Google millions of dollars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two Google billionaires with a fleet of private jets were saving millions of dollars thanks to a deal with the government.

CNN's Silicon Valley correspondent Dan Simon has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN SILICON VALLEY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are each worth a reported $23 billion. That's why some are awfully puzzled why the Feds would cut them a substantial break on the jet fuel used on the duo's fleet of private planes which include a Boeing 767, a Boeing 757 and four Gulfstreams.

They're kept here at NASA's Moffett Airfield near San Francisco, only a few miles from Google's Silicon Valley headquarters, an easy way to catch a flight. The arrangement has been controversial and has been investigated by Senator Charles Grassley's office and watchdog groups, among others.

JOHN SIMPSON, CONSUMER WATCHDOG: It's a sweetheart deal that benefits Google's executives. They get special access and the public should be outraged.

SIMON: NASA signed the lease back in 2007 in exchange for the use of Google's planes to conduct climate change research according to government documents. As part of that agreement, they also got government prices on fuel, paying an average of $3.19 a gallon according to "The Wall Street Journal." That's at least $1 below average, saving them millions over the past few years.

John Simpson is part of Consumer Watchdog, which has been investigating the arrangements. He says part of the issue is the discounted fuel went towards personal flights Brin and Page took all around the globe.

SIMPSON: This is exactly the kind of favoritism that ultimately causes people to lose faith both in corporate America and in government.

SIMON: Brin and Page formed an LLC called H211 to handle their planes. In an e-mail to CNN, an H211 executive says, "The bottom line is we pay full retail for hangar space. That includes none of the ground support typically included at business aircraft hangars."

The statement also says that, quote, "We conduct a robust research flight schedule that is the most consistently reliable airborne science program at any NASA facility. And that between rent, capital improvements and science flying, NASA and the taxpayers are $2 million per year to the good from our tenancy at Moffett."

Nonetheless, the Google executives no longer get the cheap fuel after critics turned up the heat on the partnership.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Well, Wolf, NASA also defended itself saying that the money they get from private partners helps defray the cost of the airfield. They also say the Google founders have been good partners in advancing their core science mission. But guess what? They'll be paying full retail market from now on for their jet fuel. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thank you.