Obama Pushes Congressional Leaders Over Syria

Senator John McCain is among those supporting military intervention in volatile country.
17:56 | 09/03/13

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Transcript for Obama Pushes Congressional Leaders Over Syria
This is a special room. Report from ABC news. -- what I'm Dan Cutler New York -- ABC news digital special report before President Obama can launch a strike on Syria. He is launching -- campaign here at home pulling out the big guns to make his case to congress turning to an old rival Senator John McCain. To win over congress the question is of course will that be enough. The president is meeting with congressional leaders this morning. And covered all the developments for us from Washington is ABC's Devin Dwyer -- -- good morning thanks for being with us again so what the president meeting with today. But the president's meeting with build top congressional leaders as you mentioned the leaders of all the senate and house national security committee said the armed services committee homeland security committee -- it's -- It's a group of about. Remember about twenty folks -- -- a little bit less of course house speaker John dear leader. House Minority Leader Nancy colonias Pelosi will be there. Mitch McConnell and others so this is the first time the president is gonna have met with this team of people. At the White House. -- -- The somberness and seriousness that deserves is greatly appreciated and I think indicates. The decision for us to present. This issue to congress. -- as I've said last week as secretary Kerry made. Made clear in his presentation last week we have high confidence that Syria. Used. In an indiscriminate fashion chemical weapons. That killed thousands of people. Including over 400 children. And in direct violation of the international Mormeck. Against using chemical weapons. That poses a serious national security threat to the United States and into the region. And as a consequence -- and Syria needs to be -- -- I've made a decision that America short. Take action. But I also believe that we will be much more effective. We will be stronger if we take action together as one nation and so this gives us an opportunity not only to present the evidence. To all of leading members of congress and various foreign -- Policy committees. As to why we have high confidence that chemical weapons were used and that sought to use them but it also gives us an opportunity to discuss why it's so important. That he be held. To account. This norm against using chemical weapons that. 98% of the world agrees to. Is there for reasons because we recognize that there are certain weapons. That when used. Can not only. Resulting in grotesque deaths. But also. Can end up. Being transmitted to a non state actors. Can pose a risk to. Allies and friends of ours like Israel like Jordan like Turkey. And unless. We call them into account also sends a message that international norms around. Issues like nuclear proliferation don't mean much. And so I'm going to be working with congress we have sent up a draft authorization. We're going to be asking for hearings and a problem vote and -- very appreciative that her -- here. Has already begun to schedule hearings. And intends to take a vote citizens could all congress comes back early next week so. The key point but I want to emphasize to the American people. The military plan that -- has been developed by a joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate. Is proportional it is limited it does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan. This is -- limited proportional. Step. There will send a clear message not only real submerging but also to other countries. That may be interested in testing some of these international norms. That there are consequences. It gives us the ability to grade saw its capabilities. When it comes to -- chemical weapons. It also. Fits into a broader strategy that we have. To make sure that. We can bring about over time. The kind of strengthening of the opposition. And the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required. So that ultimately we have a transition. -- can bring peace and stability not only Syria but to the region. But I want to emphasize once again. What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade -- its capabilities. At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition. Allow Syria. Ultimately to. Free itself from the kinds of terrible. Civil wars and death of activity that we've been saying on the ground so. Oh before the listening to the various concerns of the members workers today I'm confident that those concerns can be addressed. I think it is appropriate that we act deliberately but I also think everybody recognizes the urgency here in the -- -- Relatively quickly so -- that. -- Computers available for two -- excellent discussion. -- I would not be going to congress if I wasn't serious but consultations and believing that. By shaping the authorization. It took to make sure we accomplish the mission. We will be more effective -- and so long as we are accomplishing what. Needs to be accomplished which is to send a clear message so sought degrading his capability is too. Use chemical weapons budgets now but also in the future. As long as the authorization allows us to do that. I'm confident that we're gonna -- -- ups was something that that -- that. -- -- Collect your money. Obviously the president making his first on -- statement after this weekend's statements. And that he was going to consult with congress before making any kind of action with regards to Syria. Congress of course -- communion after its recess on September 9 and until that point. -- be holding meetings as he is this morning with congressional leaders there to discuss some of the possible military options. ABC's Mary Bruce is outside the White House and I want to bring Mary into the fold on this when -- was the big headline that we heard from the president. In that briefing. -- and its arm twisting time the president right now is trying to convince the congressional leadership. To get on board to support this military strike that he wants the US to intervene in Syria we know that the president. Has come out and said that he wants to intervene but outsourcing wants congressional that congressional authorization to take that action. But -- he doesn't get that if congress doesn't approve his request would be a huge international embarrassment for this administration. So the headline here is that the president believes that of course. Yes he is confident he can get that number right and he's trying to flood the zone and trying to get members of congress on board. And Mary the president is under a bit of a timeline right now right because -- is heading onto the G-20 later on this evening. That's right and really haven't -- as a whole lot of time to do this arm twisting and trying convince congress as you mentioned they're back next week but the president departs the White House late tonight for Sweden. He's stopping there on his way to Russia for the G-20 summit where courts have some interesting conversation we imagine with Russian president Vladimir Putin who is of course a strong ally. Syrian president Bashar Al -- please expect the president will still be working the phones still trying to reach out to lawmakers -- he's over there but of course. It's not quite the -- is being able to sit here and have these face to face consultations -- absolutely. Time scratches on. Her right apps and enact any -- picture right there with -- Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner on his right side there. -- wanted to ask you this because the G-20 obviously focuses primarily on economic issues -- the president has been pushing -- Pretty aggressively to get Syria put on some of the talking points and then meeting how successful do you think. Or does the White House expect that it will be in making that happen. Serial absolutely overshadow all of these economic discussions of course I think when you look at the official agenda that economic discussions are at the top of all of that but Syria will be the main topic of conversation especially on the sidelines there. But -- have to wait and see how much progress they're able to make -- What about the fact of the president's. Does have a -- there Desormeaux has the option of calling congress back early from recess does that even seem likely -- plausible. I -- hold your breath on that one day and I don't think that's going to be -- we as you mentioned they're coming back on the ninth the president is spending the rest of this week. On and on this trip abroad so I don't think we'll see from them but of course that doesn't mean that they aren't taking steps now we know -- later this afternoon and tomorrow key members of the administration will be testifying up on. Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee so they are taking steps now in consultations with congress even though all of the members aren't aren't back from from their districts their -- just yet. And DeVon I wanna go to you married thank you stay with a seven I wanna go -- you have because I know Senator John McCain -- senator Lindsey Graham met with the president over the weekend. Having their support is crucial really in convincing the rest of congress is -- not. That's right it's a key step forward to have your former nemesis in the 2008 campaign back the military action that you're gonna do at least back at. Tentatively John McCain and Lindsey Graham would like to see the president take even more aggressive action in Syria. But it did appear that they had a big endorsement the president got a big endorsement there but there's a division as you know Dan inside the Republican Party right now. Over whether to continue to comment in this hawkish approach of say yes Senator McCain. And there's a growing number of intervene of non interventionist it's people like -- Rand Paul. Who don't want the president to get involved here may filibuster. Any attempt to get this authorization -- the senate. There's that sixty vote -- that sixty vote marker that -- reading people like John McCain are gonna have to really work on reaching to get the president when he wants. And what about the timeline for today because I know that he's meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members today and as far as the rest of the week what kind of meetings are set up. -- -- me with the secretary of state or secretary of defense. But the president's staff has really branded this what they're calling it -- Flood the zone strategy they are holding conference calls with members of congress even before they get back you heard Mary -- touch on that there. Cotton testified on Capitol Hill this week several times they're really trying to get that message out and I. I want to emphasize what I thought the headline was and that in those comments you just heard from the president he said. There essentially the White House is essentially flexible. On the type of authorization it receives and that's the key here they put forward a draft resolution. Over the weekend authorizing the president to take this action but he said. They are open to having congress make some changes perhaps put limits on how long this action could last maybe six -- sixty days. -- to put in writing that there will be no boots on the ground. You're gonna see -- -- a bit of back and forth here between this White House and congress in the days ahead. And yet not having boots on the ground and eliminating geisha which of the two keep those -- of the key points White House really been hammering home. What is the possibility than about getting that convincing vote on the he'll have you been hearing one where the other that that. Congress members are. Have already made up their mind. Our teams on the hill have been talking to members of congress who some of whom came back for -- brief -- now over the weekend again not everyone is back yet so we're still. It's starting to just hear from folks as they arrive in town but. This sense it is that there are still a lot of questions out there -- members of congress. Is a lot of intended to intending to kind of lean towards supporting the president here wanting to show a group you know present a front of unity behind the president. But very skeptical lots of questions still to be answered. The Kennedy consensus in this in the chattering class of Washington is that -- it has a better chance of passing the senate at this point. -- the Republican controlled house but certainly everything's up in the air -- All right Mary I wanna go to you at the White House there what does the White House saying if in fact they don't -- congressional approval because that was one of the key component components that the president had said. On Saturday that he obviously wanted to consult with members of congress and along with the military to find out what kind of options are out there but if in fact they don't -- congressional support what -- -- absolutely if they don't go ahead and get this congressional support that the president is looking for the White House. Hasn't said yet what the president will do but they have made very clear that the president still has the authority to act unilaterally if he wants to you. An interesting distinction there that they are underlining that that is still an option. But again they're holding out hope that congress will of course give the president the authorization it is looking for. As we've been seen in the past couple of days has the rhetoric changed from the White House -- indicating that they are as -- as you pointed out that they are more flexible. In exploring other options. Absolutely we have heard is -- mentioned there does seem to be some flexibility there we know that the president wants a limited strike but. As we heard Senator McCain and senator Lindsey Graham come out yesterday and suggested they might be willing to look at more of a comprehensive strategy that they might be willing to outline a little bit more the kind of support they want to get to the opposition that the administration wants to boost the opposition. Something like that that there is a little bit of wiggle room here so -- as going forward as they try and negotiate with. Congress. -- -- wanna get your thoughts on that as well please you're also starting to hear a little bit of greater emphasis on the importance of a strike. In deterring. Are rivals like Iran and North Korea you're here to -- a little bit from the president there say what does it look like. If the world the international community draws these red lines and United States warns of consequences and no one acts. And so you're starting here a little bit more from the white house on the significance of -- moved here. How with respect to Iran. -- not just Syria and that's a big. Messes that I think you're gonna hear going for in the next few days. And I wanna give both of your thoughts about that because we look -- not only domestically the kind of support the president needs to -- but also the international level in the community and especially. With Russia now rejecting evidence that the US has been using to build its case. What kind of -- -- than does the White House have to overcome meant to kind of build a coalition even if it doesn't get a UN sanctions. I think that's one of the top priorities of course the president heads to Russia this week it's absolutely try and build as much international support as he can't. But we know that the US is willing to act alone is willing to go it alone without the support of its international partners have something. -- obviously would like to have but is not absolutely necessary at this point. Devil what about that -- -- still emphasis now on obviously that that vote in Great Britain last week was that was a huge shock and and someone of a blow to the US's strongest allies. That's right you're gonna see President Obama when he -- when he gets to -- later this week really try to put some of these allies on the spot allies like Japan. France Spain others who participated with this administration. And that intervention in Libya in 2011 try to get those allies who have now given sort of moral support. To President Obama in intervening in Syria to get them to stand out. And appear with him publicly and possibly even contribute military resources to an action in Syria and that's what he's going to be going for. -- very public commitments to show publicly photo ops things like that. That this administration has the backing of the international community -- and -- I want to ask before we let you go about that because obviously. Losing the support of Great Britain was certainly some of the White House maybe didn't necessarily anticipate. As the White House is that they're going to kind of reach out and explore any of these other options soared to somehow garner support from parliament for. Provides. There's no question that. The decision by the British parliament was a huge blow to this administration into their hope to gather that kind of international support. At this point there's not a whole lot that they can do going forward we know that. The British -- and they're going to of course. Abide by by the the desires of their parliament and not go ahead and back this military intervention so. Now -- seven mentioned the Obama administration's -- have to look to their other allies to make that public show of support. What about it either one -- -- -- -- answer this idiot that as he -- but what about the fact of the UN findings still a couple of weeks away yet has that has the White House. I don't Wesley downplay the significance of whatever is -- -- those inspectors actually found but it has the focus been shifting more onto. Building off of the home what are US intelligence rather than relying on those UN inspectors. There's. We'll that's been a line from the beginning Dennis that they don't -- from the very beginning here that they don't need to wait for the UN at all. That there is sufficient US intelligence that demonstrates that chemical weapons were used here that they were used by the Asad regime. And that regardless of what the UN finds they don't you know need any permission. That's also interesting to note that that UN investigation -- samples by the way did just arrived today for testing. At The Hague but. That investigation was only to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used. Those investigators with the UN were not there to determine who use them. So the Obama administration's cases that at the end of the day even if the UN does come out and say -- it looks like -- chemical was used. Which the US -- planes did happen. The answer of who use them is still going to be -- over one from the UN perspective and the US -- the evidence. ABC's Kevin fire in Washington ABC's Mary Bruce the White House both of you thank you so much for your time -- your insight. Of course have a complete report on abcnews.com. As -- president is making his case on military action in Syria. For -- I'm Dan -- -- New York with this ABC news digital special report. This has been a special report from me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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