Nightly News   |  September 03, 2013

Kerry pleads his case for Syrian strike to divided Congress

Despite support from House leaders John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State John Kerry faced withering attacks during a Senate committee hearing on intervention in Syria. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a lot of americans headed off for their labor day holiday weekend believes the united states was about to launch a military strike against syria. tonight, however, and for the time being , those plans are still in place, but on hold until both houses of congress have their say. this is an unusual circumstance we're in, and an american president drawing the line at the use of chemical weapons . today trying to make sure none of this intensity gets lost or wears off. secretary of state john kerry said not acting would turn all of us americans into spectators of slaughter. it's where we begin our broadcast tonight. in a moment, we'll hear from the president's national security adviser. first, our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom with the stakes and the status of this debate, andreandrea, good evening.

>> good evening, brian. the senate is trying to narrow the president's broad request for permission to use military force . would limiting an air strike make the situation better or worse? the president promised he's not asking for a blank check .

>> it is limited, it does not involve boots on the ground . this is not iraq. and this is not afghanistan.

>> reporter: he won the support of rival house leaders.

>> i'm going to support the president's call for action. i believe my colleagues should support this call for action.

>> it is really something that, from a humanitarian standpoint cannot be ignored or else we cannot say never again.

>> but when john kerry got to the senate committee , he used to chair, it was a different story. after a hug from john mccane and a shout out to his wife teresa, appearing for the first time since a serious illness, a withering attack.

>> you tell the enemy you're going to attack them, they're going to disburse and try to make it harder.

>> critics hit kerry in all sides.

>> if this was an attack against any american interest this would be a no brainer for me. i'm reluctant at this point.

>> i would ask you to confront the greater reality of what happens if you don't -- if we don't do something.

>> yes, this is a horrible incident where thousands of people died. before this incident 100,000 people had died.

>> we don't want another war.

>> anti-war protesters were a reminder of the mistakes made in iraq.

>> we are especially sensitive, chuck and i, to never again asking any member of congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence. those scenes of human chaos and desperation were not contrived. they were real. no one could contrive such a scene.

>> when kerry briefly suggested u.s. forces might go in to secure chemical weapon it is syria imploded. he was forced to beat a hasty retreat.

>> i don't think there are any of us that are willing to support the possibility of having combat boots on the ground.

>> i don't want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility. so let's shut that door now as tight as we can.

>> i think the last 50 years of secretaries of defense would say --

>> senator, people are asked -- do you want to go -- the president is not asking you to go to war. he's not asking you to declare war . he's not asking you to send one american troop to war.

>> the secretary of state would not say what the president would do if congress votes it down. the white house would have plenty of legal precedent to act on its own, congressional leaders are warning the president, don't even try it.

>> and we're heading for several days of this, andrea mitchell starting us off in d.c.