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STATE OF THE UNION

Mixed Messages From Trump Administration on Syria; Interview With U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; Interview With Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey; Internal White House Chaos; Bipartisan Support for Syrian Strikes. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 9, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:15]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Strike on Syria. President Trump makes his first major military move as commander in chief.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike.

TAPPER: But is it just the beginning?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We are prepared to do more.

TAPPER: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will be here with the very latest.

And what now? Mixed messages from the Trump Cabinet on the path forward.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria.

TAPPER: As Trump's critics in Congress demand a serious strategy.

Plus, staff shakeup? Reports of bad blood running through the West Wing, as Trump's top advisers battle for power.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Donald Trump as a businessman and certainly as president of the United States surrounds himself with a diverse group of people who have very strong opinions.

TAPPER: Is Trump about to tell someone, "You're fired?"

And the best political minds will be here on what happens next.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the State of our Union is fraught with tension. The United States is flexing its muscles on two fronts in the days

following President Trump's airstrikes in Syria. A coordinated diplomatic campaign towards Russia is under way by the U.S. and the U.K. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has canceled his visit to Moscow to -- quote -- "coordinate international support for a cease- fire" at the G7 meeting on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, however, will go on the trip amidst renewed tensions between Washington and the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, a show of American and military might in the Pacific, as a Navy strike group moves towards North Korea. Defensive officials say the aircraft carrier is being sent in response to recent provocations by the hermit kingdom.

This all happens amidst a violent weekend across the globe, two churches bombed in Egypt on this Palm Sunday, killing dozens and injuring hundreds more. Swedish police have just arrested a second suspect in the truck attack in Stockholm this week that killed four people. An Uzbek man was already in custody.

Violent clashes in Venezuela, meanwhile, as thousands fill the streets there to protest their socialist government. And, of course, continued violence in Syria, including renewed bombing by the Assad regime and coalition forces.

It's a very busy morning around the world.

Let's welcome the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Ambassador Haley, thanks so much for joining us.

You said on Friday that the United States is -- quote -- "prepared to do more in Syria."

But I want to understand what the threshold might be for additional military action.

Would it be the use of chemical weapons or could even a conventional attack on civilians be the trigger?

HALEY: Well, Jake, what I can tell you is what happened this week was really one of the president's finest hours, to sit and watch all of the conversations and how he listened to each and every member of his security council and asked all the right questions.

He wanted to know exactly what the facts and the evidence was. He wanted to know what the options were, what the risks were, and the political strategy and solution side of it.

And after all of that, he made a very, you know, strong decision. And I think it was one that was very good for the world. What I can tell you now is, this is how he responded to the chemical attack in Syria. I was trying to give warning and notice to the members of the Security Council and the international community that he won't stop here.

If he needs to do more, he will do more. So, really, now what happens depends on how everyone responds to what happened in Syria, and make sure that we start moving towards a political solution, and we start finding peace in that area.

And so I think a lot of people need to step up. The United States is going to continue to watch and be active. And we'll see what happens.

TAPPER: So, further military action is possible. But I guess what I'm wondering is, the chemical weapons attacks have been going on since 2013, but far more Syrians have been killed by conventional weapons, barrel bombs and the like.

Might that also be a trigger? I mean, President Trump clearly said that the use of chemical weapons is what crossed the line for him. But is that the only line?

HALEY: Well, I can tell you that his focus was on the fact that innocent victims were hurt by a terrible regime that was attempted to be covered up by Russia or, you know, make excuses for Assad by Russia.

And he said he wasn't going to put up with it. And to see the images, to see the pictures, and to see the horror of that act, knowing that it was a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, knowing it was a violation of multiple Security Council resolutions, he said, enough, we're not going to watch this anymore.

[09:05:01]

TAPPER: So -- but this is a departure.

And while I'm not second-guessing the decision, you know, as I said, it's not the first chemical weapons attack. It's not the worst chemical weapons attack. And, in fact, during the campaign, President Trump warned against getting involved militarily in Syria.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's not that big an area. The airspace is very limited. So, now you have -- what, do we start World War III over Syria?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, he was worried about starting World War III over Syria. Why is that no longer a concern? And why was the 2013 chemical weapons attack, which, as you know, was deadlier, not a trigger for him in terms of the principle of action in Syria?

HALEY: Well, he wasn't president in 2013. And I can tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But he opposed it. He opposed action.

HALEY: But I don't know what his thought process was then. I can tell you what his thought process was this week, which was, he is not going to condone chemical weapons use ever.

And so what you saw was, he wasn't just going to say it. He was going to act. And what we have seen at the United Nations is a huge sigh of relief. They're just so thankful that the United States led on this issue.

And we called out Russia, because we needed to. We put Iran on notice, because that -- we need to get that influence out of there. And we told Syria, we are not going to watch this anymore.

And so what the president chooses to do, I hope that what Iran sees and Syria sees and Russia sees is that this is a president that's not afraid to act, and that he does expect to move towards a political solution. And they have to show genuine willingness to do that.

TAPPER: He's not concerned anymore, though, about this being a potential quagmire or about this potentially starting World War III?

HALEY: I can tell you that, of the conversations I had this week, he knew what the risks were, he knew what the situation was, he looked at the history of the situation, and he decided.

And I think his decision was right. And I think you can see that from the international community. They all fully support it.

TAPPER: On Thursday, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said there is -- quote -- "no role for Assad" in governing Syria. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: Assad's role in the future is uncertain, clearly. And with the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, 10 days ago, you said that getting Assad out of Syria was -- would no longer be a priority for the United States. Obviously, since then was the chemical weapons attack.

But I'm trying to figure out, is regime change in Syria now the official policy of the United States?

HALEY: So, there's multiple priorities. It's -- getting Assad out is not the only priority. And so what we're trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly,

get the Iranian influence out, and then finally move towards a political solution, because, at the end of the day, this is a complicated situation. There are no easy answers. And a political solution is going to have to happen.

But we know that it is not going to be -- there's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime. It just -- if you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad.

TAPPER: Well, of course, it's hard to, but is it the position of the Trump administration that he cannot be ruler of Syria anymore; regime change is the policy?

HALEY: Well, regime change is something that we think is going to happen, because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.

So, what I think you're seeing is, this isn't about policy or not. This is about thoughts. And so, when you look at the thoughts, there is no political solution that any of us can see with Assad at the lead.

And so I -- and I don't think that that's something for the United States to decide. That's something the entire international community has decided, that it's going to hard-pressed to see Assad in that leadership role.

And so you're going to see the president is going to very much watch this. We are all going to keep calling out the international community and asking them to push for a political solution.

We're going to continue to call out bad actors when they do something like this. And you're going to see this administration act when they think it's appropriate.

TAPPER: You have talked about the possibility of further military action. As you know, President Trump used to believe that congressional approval was needed for any kind of military strike in Syria.

I know you're a big fan of his tweets. Here's one of his tweets from 2013 -- quote -- "The president must get congressional approval before attacking Syria. Big mistake if he does not."

If you're confident that the Assad regime was behind this chemical weapon attack, and the possibility of further military action is there, should the Trump administration lay out the evidence, come to Congress, and get the specific authorization to use force?

HALEY: Well, it depends on the action.

But I can tell you that he worked very closely with the leaders in Congress, all of the Cabinet members. You know, first, you have to give huge kudos to General Mattis and the military for how they handled this so flawlessly.

He really worked with -- I know General Kelly was on the Hill. The vice president was on the Hill. I mean, they very much stayed in communication with leaders of Congress.

And I think that's what you're going to see this administration do is, there are -- the only surprises are going to be to the international community. But we're going to focus on working with everybody.

[09:10:03]

We see this very much as a team. The president has very much acted like this is a team with all of his Cabinet members, but also with members of Congress.

And so I think that he's going to continue to work with them when it comes to actions like this.

TAPPER: Is it fair to say that the president will keep Congress informed, but there's no plan right now to seek an official authorization for use of military force?

HALEY: It's fair to say that he has very much said that he wanted to keep Congress informed, and a part of what was happening as it was happening. But you would have to ask him on the congressional thoughts. I haven't had that conversation.

TAPPER: Speaking of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday that he would look favorably on stepped-up sanctions against Russia, stepped-up sanctions against Iran, and others who support the Assad regime in Syria.

Does President Trump want tougher sanctions on Russia and Iran?

HALEY: I think it's conversations that we'll be having and have started to have going forward.

But I think you have to look at the situation. Here was, you know -- you saw this terrible tragedy on innocent people, a lot of them children.

And the first reaction from Russia wasn't, how horrible. It wasn't, how could they do this? It wasn't, how did this happen? It was, Assad didn't do it. Assad didn't do it.

Why was that the reaction? And so all of that is in play. That's why you're seeing the investigation on Russia. That's why you're seeing the fact that we know the evidence on Assad. We've seen it. We've been -- we know exactly what happened.

And so we're calling them out. But I don't think anything is off the table at this point. I think what you're going to see is strong leadership. You're going to continue to see the United States act when we need to act.

We're going to have the backs of our allies. But we also need to see our allies have our backs, which very much happened in the United Nations this week, especially led by our British counterparts.

And you're going to see us continue to make sure that we're doing everything we can for the safety of the United States people, but also for the safety internationally. We think this was not only a national security issue. This was an international security issue.

And I think the president wanted to make that known and make that response well-pointed-out.

TAPPER: Ambassador Haley, stay right there. We're going to take a quick break. We will be right back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:16:15]

TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

White House officials say that these are the specific images that President Trump says convinced him to launch an attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after a chemical attack on civilians that killed at least 80 people, including many children.

These photographs were invoked by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in a moving address to the United Nations this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And we're back with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

As you note, the Russians are denying that Assad had anything to do with it. In fact, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry this weekend said that the U.S. has no proof of chemical weapons at the air base that was attacked by the U.S. military.

And he said -- quote -- "It's all looking a bit too much like Colin Powell's test tube with white powder."

Will the Trump administration produce the evidence that you just referred to?

HALEY: Well, first of all, it cracks me up that Russia can say those things with a straight face. I mean, truly, it is amazing that they continue to cover for Assad.

And it's very telling, and it's not putting Russia in a good light at all in the international community.

What we've seen is, you know, in our meetings this week, we were told of the evidence. We saw the evidence. The president saw the evidence. All of that is naturally classified. And I'm sure, when they can declassify that, they will.

But it's very clear what has happened. And, you know, you look at Director Pompeo. He has been talking with his counterparts in the international community and sharing the evidence and the information that he has.

And I think the international community has pretty much spoken. And Russia is out there on an island saying that Assad didn't do it, because everybody else is very clear and knows that Assad did.

TAPPER: Is Congress going to be brought in the loop on this evidence?

HALEY: You would have to ask the president that. You know, I know that, basically, the president just wants to be in communications with the Congress on everything that is happening.

And so his goal is to make sure that they're always informed of what he's thinking and what he's doing.

TAPPER: You alluded to earlier Russia trying to help Assad cover this up. What do we know for a fact about Russia's possible involvement in the weapons attack? Obviously, they have military -- a military presence all over the country.

There are reports that the Pentagon is investigating whether or not Russia may have bombed a hospital to help cover up evidence. What do we know for a fact?

HALEY: I think we know for a fact that Russia needs to provide some answers, because, when you look at the situation, are we going to -- I mean, Russia has got to tell us which one it is.

Either they knew that there were chemical weapons, and they knew there was going to be chemical weapon use, and they just hid it from the international community, or they are being played for fools by Assad by him having chemical weapons, and they're just in the dark and they don't know anything about it.

And don't forget that Russia was the one that took the charge and said they were going to make sure there were no chemical weapons and that no chemical weapons would be used.

So, they now have to answer for this. How can they with a straight face cover for Assad, because, if they're covering for Assad, then what are they really saying? They're saying by covering for Assad that they knew that it was there, or they were incompetent by having chemical weapons there in the first place.

There's a lot of answers that need to come from Russia. I think that's why it's good that Secretary Tillerson is going to Russia this next week. And I think that there will be a lot of answers that come out of that meeting. And I think that's when the president will make his decisions.

TAPPER: President Trump made this decision in part because of the images he saw from the chemical weapon attack, the "beautiful babies," in his language, that were killed.

How do you square that with President Trump also banning refugees coming in from Syria? I understand wanting more intense vetting. I certainly get that.

But if we're talking about "beautiful babies" being slaughtered, why not allow Syrian refugees who are children and maybe their mothers to come in after they've been vetted?

[09:20:03]

HALEY: His focus has always been from the very beginning -- and I've seen this and witnessed this in multiple occasions -- he very much believes in the responsibility of keeping Americans safe.

That is -- that is very strong with him. That's something he wants to do. So, when this refugee situation came up, he actually challenged the community and said -- and challenged his team and said, prove to me that you can vet properly, so that we can keep American people safe.

And I think, in these areas, they said they couldn't vet properly. They said they didn't have enough information. And I think you've got a president here who is not going to risk American lives or -- and have that threat when it can't properly be vetted.

But you also see a president who is compassionate, who is very much not going to put up with violations in chemical weapons use, because he saw that this week very much as not only a national security risk, but also an international security risk.

TAPPER: But certainly you don't think Syrian children pose a risk to the American people.

HALEY: Well, Syrian children have to come with Syrian adults. And you don't know. It's hard to know based on the vetting process. And that's unfortunate that we can't find that out. But, hopefully, we'll get to the point that we can.

But, as you heard, there was a refugee on the news yesterday that basically said, look, he's in the United States, but he's waiting for everything to be worked out in Syria because he wants to go home. He wants to be with his family.

I think that's -- at the end of the day, we need to remember Syrians don't want to live somewhere else. They want to be home. They want to be with their family. They want to be with their loved ones.

And that's the focus of why the airstrike happened this time, which is to try and move that political solution, move any of these careless acts that are just meant to cause horror not on the people that they claim are ISIS, but on actually the innocent civilians that are in the area.

And so I think you're seeing the president handle both of those responsibly. And I think he's keeping Americans safe, and he's also trying to do what he can to protect innocent civilian citizens in Syria.

TAPPER: Ambassador Nikki Haley, we thank you for your time and for taking our questions. Appreciate it.

HALEY: Thanks so much, Jake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: The Kremlin warning the United States is -- quote -- "one step away" from a possible military clash with Russia. What does that mean?

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:26:42]

TAPPER: Welcome back.

This just in: reaction from Moscow to the interview you just saw with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the International Affairs Committee, called Nikki Haley's comments calling for regime change in Syria sabotage.

On Facebook, he writes -- quote -- "Calling a spade a spade, this is a direct sabotage of the international community's efforts to start a process of political negotiations between the authorities and the opposition."

That reaction is perhaps a preview of what will be waiting for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he arrives in Moscow this week.

I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Ed Markey, who serves on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No, thank you. Good to see you.

TAPPER: So, you heard the reaction from Moscow. Do you think the Trump administration might be making a mistake by saying there is no solution with Assad in power?

MARKEY: Well, when the Trump administration uses the words regime change, they are talking about a military effort to remove Assad.

And that would mean putting American young men and women on the ground in battlefield conditions in order to accomplish that goal. So, that would require, ultimately, a congressional approval, because that would be a step of incredible magnitude that would be breaking with the policy that we have had thus far.

TAPPER: But you're saying that, by Nikki Haley saying that they don't see any sort of political solution where Assad is in charge, that they are essentially saying they will push for regime change, and you think that that would mean more ground troops, U.S. ground troops, because there -- there are a few hundred in there right now?

MARKEY: Absolutely. That's what regime change means.

It means doing in Syria what we did in Iraq in removing Saddam Hussein. I don't think there's any appetite in the United States for a massive additional military presence, with young men and women actually in combat situations being introduced.

Instead, what the Trump administration should be talking about is massive, crippling sanctions on the Russian company that is the principal arms supporter for Syria and any other company or country in the world that does business with that company, Rosoboron.

That's where it should begin. And then the discussion should go to, one, that the Russians honor their commitment to remove all chemical weapons from Syria -- they have not done that yet -- secondly, that they implement the cease-fire that they negotiated with Iran and Turkey inside of Syria -- that has not been honored -- that there be an agreement that humanitarian aid can be distributed throughout Syria. That has not actually been honored.

TAPPER: Yes.

MARKEY: And, finally, that they go to the negotiating table...

TAPPER: OK.

MARKEY: ... and they try to find a political resolution with Assad, with all other parties at the table.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: With Assad? So, he needs be part of the negotiation, you're saying?

MARKEY: In order to find an ultimate negotiated settlement, we must negotiate with the Syrian government.

And the only way we can do that is if all parties, including the opposition, are at the table, and that Russia and the United States are enforcing this goal of ensuring that that negotiated settlement results in a government that all parties can live with.

[09:30:10]

TAPPER: I have not heard anybody from the Trump administration talk about calling for massive amounts of troops in Syria. But let me just ask you --

MARKEY: But that's what regime change means. There's no other way it can be accomplished.

TAPPER: But do you think that there is a possible future for Syria with Assad in charge? Because what Nikki Haley was saying, what Ambassador Haley was saying, is she doesn't envision one. MARKEY: Well, again, that's where we have to wind up. But we have to

go through a process by which we are tightening the noose around the Russian company, Rosoboron, and anyone else that does business with it that is -- that is making it possible for Assad to stay in power. That's what we did in Iran by crippling their oil industry. Now we must do the same thing with Russia and anyone else that is providing arms to Russia. And then at the end of the day, obviously, our goal would be to make sure that Assad is removed, but we cannot do it by saying regime change because that's just a code for military intervention at a massive level by the United States.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the military strike on Thursday night. On Friday, I spoke with Mouaz Moustafa. He's the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, well-known on Capitol Hill. He's been lobbying Congress for years, for the U.S. government to do something to damage Assad.

Take a listen to what he had to say about the missile strike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOUAZ MOUSTAFA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, Syrian Emergency Task Force: I want to thank the President of the United States for taking actions in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against children. And I think this might be the first step to now what I encourage to move urgently to bring an end to all killing in Syria once and for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ambassador Haley additionally says that she has heard from all sorts of diplomats from all over the world praising President Trump for taking this action.

Should President Obama have done this back in 2013? Would the world be a different and better place, you think, if President Obama went forward with his strike? You see Mouaz Moustafa thanking President Trump. He's not a Trump supporter, but thanking Trump for doing something against this horrible murderous dictator.

MARKEY: Well, the goal in 2013 was to remove the chemical weapons. Russia agreed that they were going to remove the chemical weapons, and 1,300 tons of chemical weapons were removed. Were destroyed.

TAPPER: Not enough though.

MARKEY: Well, it turns out that the Russians did not honor that agreement. And this strike is something that begins, I think, our conversation with the Russians about the removal of all of the chemical weapons -- which they did not complete.

And I do agree that the strike was a good moment, but that's a tactic not a strategy. We need a comprehensive strategy now as to how we are going deal with Syria. And thus far we've not heard that articulated by the government of the United States of America. TAPPER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat from Hawaii, is against

the strike. She's warning that the Trump's intervention in Syria could lead to a nuclear war. She wrote, quote, "This escalation is shortsighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al Qaeda, and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia."

Is that a concern do you think?

MARKEY: Well, I think that the greater fear is that we just create another Iraq, that we put ourselves into another civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis. We did it in Iraq. That's the real problem that we would have if we escalated our military involvement inside of Syria, and we would be trying replace the Shia with the Sunnis. And we did just the opposite in Iraq where we replaced the Sunnis with the Shia.

So if we do that, I'm not saying that it leads to a nuclear war, I don't think it would, but I do think it would lead to a quagmire for the United States for a generation, that we would regret especially if we did it before we had a comprehensive debate on the floor of the United States House and Senate that gave Trump permission to go.

I would not vote to allow him to do it. But at least the American people would be entitled to is that full debate.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about North Korea. During the campaign, President Trump said he would be willing to talk to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: One of the papers called the other day and they said would you speak to the leader of North Korea? I said absolutely. Why not? Why not? There's a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes because who the hell wants him to have nukes? And there's a chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Direct negotiation with North Korea by the president would obviously be a significant departure from not just Obama policy but American policy for decades.

[09:35:00]

Do you support it if there were a possibility?

MARKEY: I think the win-win with China would be this -- that we say to China, if you tighten dramatically the sanctions on North Korea, that the United States will have direct talks with the North Koreans. I think that is the best formula to finally get the kinds of results that we're looking for. Otherwise we're going to see continued escalation of ballistic missile tests, of nuclear weapons inside of that country, and the additional kind of stories coming out of Washington this past week that the United States is actually developing some plans for the killing of Kim or for deploying nuclear weapons inside of South Korea. That would lead to an escalation of tension that could lead to accidental nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.

TAPPER: I'm going to register that as a yes, direct talks if China agrees to the sanctions.

MARKEY: If China tightens the sanctions.

TAPPER: (INAUDIBLE).

MARKEY: And they're the principle country that can accomplish that goal, then I believe the United States should engage in direct talks with Kim. That's going to be the best way to lower this bubbling, boiling cauldron of controversy that's spinning very quickly out of control.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Ed Markey, Democrat out of Massachusetts. Great to have you here.

MARKEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. Appreciate you.

Coming up, inside the situation room, Trump's top advisors presenting a united front. But is there a battle brewing among them? What's really going on inside the West Wing? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:41:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: When you see images from Syria, do you ever doubt yourself? Do you ever second guess the decisions you've made?

OBAMA: There's going to be some bad things that happen around the world and we have to be judicious in thinking about, is this a situation which inserting large numbers of U.S. troops will get us a better outcome knowing the incredible sacrifices that will be involved?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was at the time President Barack Obama telling me last year why he did not choose to retaliate against Assad during his administration, but President Trump received support for his actions this week from top Democrats including Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and many others.

Much to discuss with this distinguished group we have with us today. Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum from the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Jen Psaki, former White House Communications director for President Obama. Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. And Congressman Mike Rogers former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Senator Santorum, is there any part of you that is worried at all that we are headed for any sort of a quagmire in Syria?

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you listen to Nikki Haley today, if you listen to the president, what President Obama just said is not the only alternative which is a massive force of people going into Syria.

I think what Donald Trump has indicated is they're going to do a proportional response. They're going to make sure that they -- we know America is engaged. But that doesn't mean as Markey was trying to say that, you know, regime change, we're going to have lots of troops. I don't think the president is interested in that at all. I think he's interested America has influence and is going to use our power appropriately.

TAPPER: There were as you noted (INAUDIBLE) Friday there are a lot of Obama administration officials who are happy about what President Trump did and had wished president Obama had done it in 2013.

Why did he seem to see a more pin prick strike for want of a better term as not so much of an option, that it was either all in or nothing? Why was there no middle ground so much?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, that reaction is pretty consistent with the reaction to military action in the short term throughout history by Democrats and Republicans regardless of who's president.

I would say President Obama had a different approach certainly than President Trump. One, he sought the authorization of Congress. Remember he did support military authorization. There weren't the votes in the Republican led House or the Democratic led Senate.

But the second is he was a very deliberative president. He's somebody who spent time asking questions about the cost, the consequences, whether it would achieve the outcome.

We're spending a lot of time now guessing what the strategy is here, what is next, what the diplomatic plan is. We heard different things from the secretary of state and from the ambassador to the U.N. in the same day. So that tells us, I think, that there isn't a strategy and not something President Obama would have accepted before moving forward.

TAPPER: So, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was President Obama's first term chief of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, recently praised President Trump for the missile strike.

She said to "Politico" -- quote -- "I feel like finally we have done the right thing. The years of hypocrisy just hurt us all. It undermined the U.S. It undermined the world order."

There does seem to be a real embrace of this move by President Trump by the -- quote --unquote -- "foreign policy establishment." VALI NASR, DEAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL

STUDIES: Well, I think what President Trump did was to uphold international norms about chemical conventions. I think, across the board everybody supports that idea.

I think enforcing the American red line beyond Syria is welcomed news to countries, in Asia, across the world. When President Obama did not enforce his red line -- I remember I was in Asia and Asian leaders were very worried of what kind of signal would that send to China and North Korea. So that part (ph) has (ph) welcomed that the United States actually is serious about the red line and despite the America first rhetoric that President Trump has decided is going to hold up international norms.

[09:45:00]

The problem is that it doesn't actually amount to a change of situation on the ground in Syria. So the Assad and Iran and Russia have the upper hand on the ground in cleaning out Idlib and the areas that they want. They don't actually need air power to do that. It's just the war is going to be longer.

And also for the past two years Putin effectively has become the international active (ph) that holds all the cards on Syria.

TAPPER: Yes.

NASR: Everybody travels to Moscow to talk to him. The problem Secretary Kerry had is that Lavrov really didn't have to listen to him. We didn't have any leverage on the ground.

TAPPER: Right.

NASR: So the key is the administration willing to create actual leverage on the ground. Is it really willing to change the military calculus on the ground? Although this pin prick or even wider air strikes will, you know, be symbolic of American power...

TAPPER: Right. Yes.

NASR: ... we're with going from America first to being indispensable nation again but it may not actually have a material impact on Syria.

TAPPER: Do you know what the strategy is? Do you have an idea what the larger strategy is? Or was it -- is it just like, do this one attack and then hope that that will force a political situation?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Two things. One, this plan was actually developed about four or five years ago, including this particular airbase. The option was laid on the table could you degrade Syrians ability to deliver a chemical weapon. And there are certain specific pieces of equipment certainly the aircrafts but other specific pieces of equipment that you would need to transfer and move chemical weapons from their storage facility to the aircraft. So all of that was laid out. So I thought what they've done is dust it off a little bit of these plans that have been under way for a very long time which is that President Obama decided not to do those. That to me was very important.

I think this is on two things. I think there is a broader strategy here. One, it has realigned us with us our Arab league partners who have all but thought that they have given up on the United States being engaged in stopping what is the hugest -- or excuse me, largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, 13 million folks have been displaced.

TAPPER: The refugee crisis.

ROGERS: About -- refugees -- about 5 million of them displaced outside of the country. Huge problems for everybody, Europe, us, all across the region.

Secondly, this is the one Russian reset that I think they're going to pay attention to.

TAPPER: So one of the risks of this in terms of the politics of it is that a lot of President Trump's supporters did not want him to get further involved in the Middle East.

Take a listen to Nigel Farage, he's the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party who supported Trump actively campaigning with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIGEL FARAGE, BREXIT LEADER: A lot of people who voted for Trump did so because they were very wary of the neocon agenda. They believed that persistent intervention in the Middle East over the last few years has made things worse not better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In addition let me show you this tweet from Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk radio host. Quote -- "Missiles flying. Rubio is happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary is on board. A complete policy change in 48 hours."

SANTORUM: Yes. I don't -- I don't buy any of that.

Look, I think, this was about maintaining international norms about chemical weapons use. The president obviously was emotionally affected by this on his watch. And I think that's what you saw here.

I don't think you're seeing -- you're going see a big policy change on Syria. I think there will be more engagement in part because of the -- what Mike mention this refugee crisis. All of this ties into, in Trump's mind, I'm sure, immigration, the problem with, you know, radical Islamists either coming to Europe or coming here and the problem that Syria creates on that. But I don't think you're going to see Donald Trump dramatically engaging Syria. I think you'll see more engagement but not anything near what -- what is being concerned about on the -- on the right.

TAPPER: Should this be a concern for him that some of his supporters in the conservative media and I presume conservative voters are distressed and think that his campaign has now been hijacked by the neocons or by Jared Kushner or whomever?

PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think the challenge for Donald Trump speaking broadly about his politics is that his approval rating is below 40 percent. That while that is not the totality of his support that led him into office certainly it's a portion of it. And what he hasn't really adjusted to is what every president has to do which is to figure out how to work with people you disagree with you, who may disagree with you.

We don't know if this is part of a larger strategy. If you listen to Nikki Haley maybe it is or maybe there is more military action to come. We don't know.

But the problem is he doesn't have a lot of space to move around, or expansion options I would say.

TAPPER: You tweeted that the Obama doctrine is dead. What is replacing it? What is the Trump doctrine? Do you have any idea?

NASR: Well, I think it's evolving. And I think that's what everybody wants to figure out was this a limited strike? Is there a -- is there a bigger agenda for Syria? Also what are the conditions under which this president may use military strikes in South China Sea, in North Korea?

[09:50:06]

I mean, President Obama made it very clear that, you know, we don't -- we don't get engage in these sorts of things and we will resist getting engaged in any kind of a conflict where we cannot articulate what is our national security interest.

TAPPER: There is -- there is, Mike, right now a lot of palace intrigue about Steve Bannon versus Jared Kushner. It's normally kind of story I don't really particularly pay a lot of attention to, except they are two completely different world views.

Steve Bannon, nationalistic, likes to blow up institutions, not literally. And Jared Kushner who apparently Bannon and the like call a globalist, internally, New Yorker, Democrat. This is a -- this is a fight that actually matters in terms of what happens to the country.

ROGERS: Listen, every president has really gone through some early stage transitions.

Clinton did it. Regan did it. George W. Bush did it. It works exactly the way you see it when you walk into office.

So there are some power centers here. We've said this before that they need to work out. They've got to work out these power centers. The sooner they do that the better. I think we'll be fine. I don't see any massive disruption of their formulating a policy. This was a good example.

You had an issue that needed attention. It needed a presidential decision. It came in the front end of the front office of the National Security Council. It came out what I would argue as the right decision. It was limited. It was -- it was calculate and I think you'll find that this stuff will work its way out in the months ahead.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all for being here. Appreciate it.

Coming up, Governor Donald Trump Junior? Congresswoman Chelsea Clinton? America's famous political children consider their futures, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Americans like political dynasties. The Kennedys, the Bushes, but is the country ready for Trumps and Clintons?

[09:55:02]

It's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Might another Trump move from the boardroom to the ballot?

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S SON: Deals are still exciting, but when you're sort of the guy there out every day 24/7 fighting in this thing -- it's like a great fight, the intensity.

TAPPER: Donald Trump Jr. has been hinting about a gubernatorial run. Perhaps he wants to make New York great again.

TRUMP JR.: We always like to keep our options open.

TAPPER: Sister Ivanka however is already firmly ensconced in Washington.

IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I really love living in D.C. And Secretary Tillerson lives here and Wilbur Ross and -- so we have a nice community.

TAPPER: Might she ever want to move from her West Wing office into the Oval?

IVANKA TRUMP: No. Politics is a tough business.

TAPPER: But it's not just the Trump kids being discussed for political office despite no actual experience, the Clintons, too, are being discussed about 2020. Daughter Chelsea Clinton, that is.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I clearly don't agree with our president but I'm definitely not the right person to run to defeat him in 2020. So right now the answer is no.

TAPPER: So right now the answer is no she says? Is no? I guess it depends on what the definition of is is.

CLINTON: I hope politics is in all of our DNA.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Thanks for watching.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" is next.