OBAMA: I put it before Congress because, uh, I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad's use of chemical weapons posed an imminent direct threat to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: With those words, hasn't the president effectively ruled out taking any action if the Congress votes no?
DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, George, I think it's important for us to -- before we jump to any conclusions, I obviously really admire Jon, uh, Jon Karl's reporting. But, look, I've been talking to dozens of members of Congress over the last week. Not a single one of them so far has rebutted or refused the intelligence, which is to say, everybody agrees that on August 21st, Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
So the question facing Congress this week is a very simple one -- should there be consequences for his having used gases, chemical weapons, to kill more than 1,000 of his own people, including more than 400 children?
The answer to that question will be followed closely in Tehran, the -- the answer to that question will be followed closely in Damascus, the answer to that question will be followed, uh, very closely by members of Lebanese Hezbollah.
So this is a big -- a big question and a big week for Congress to address that, uh, very fundamental national security issue.
Now, as you heard the president say, we didn't go to Congress because we thought this was an empty exercise. We are investing a lot of time and effort in this because we think Congress should be a full partner in our national security matters. And when they are, we're stronger as a country.
MCDONOUGH: Now, members of Congress also need to understand that if they want to see Assad held to account for this activity, they should vote yes on the resolution.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that -- the arguments you've been making, but as you -- as we've seen, members of Congress are not buying into it, at least not yet. And some have even raised the specter of impeachment if the president goes forward in the absence of Congressional approval.
Here's Duncan Hunter, Republican of California: "I think he's breaking the law if he strikes without Congressional approval. And if he proceeds without Congress providing that authority, it should be considered an impeachable offense."
How will the president factor in the prospect of impeachment into his final decision?
MCDONOUGH: What the president is focused on right now, George, is the national security implications of what is undeniably and unrebutted intelligence, which suggests that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against his own people, killing 400 children. So that's what he is focused on right now. We believe that we have the capability in place to do it. Congress should be our full partner in that effort, George. That is exactly what we're focused on. That is the question before Congress this week. My hunch is you know Washington better than anybody, George. There will be all sorts of distractions and other things that try to knock us off our game, but that's the question before us and before Congress this week.