Syria strike a tough sell for McCain on his home turf

PHOENIX U.S. Sen. John McCain faced tough crowds largely opposed to military action in Syria during a town hall meetings Thursday in Arizona.

The Republican senator repeatedly told about 150 constituents at a morning meeting in Phoenix that there would be no plans to send U.S. troops to retaliate for the chemical weapons attack last month near Damascus.

"I want to begin by saying to you I am unalterably opposed to having a single American boot on the ground in Syria," McCain said. "The American people wouldn't stand for it.

"Second of all, it would not be anything but counterproductive to do that. American blood and treasure is too precious to do that."

McCain had planned to talk about immigration and other issues at the gathering at a public library, but Syria dominated the conversation. He was interrupted from the start by someone shouting that his response on the topic wasn't good enough.

A few people held up signs from their seats with messages such as "Don't bomb Syria" and "Security thru peace."

McCain told the audience the American public soon would see irrefutable evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind the deadly Aug. 21 attack.

"I have seen the information, and the American people will see more and more information, that Bashar Assad did use chemical weapons and it killed well over 1,000 people, many of them children," he told the crowd in Phoenix.

"If we open the door to the use of chemical weapons and let it go unresponded to, then I think that sends a signal to other people that want to use them, that they can do so with impunity," McCain said.

The town hall meeting was one of two on Thursday; the other took place in Tucson, where McCain managed to maintain control of the conversation in spite of another vocally anti-Syria strike crowd.

CBS News affiliate KOLD TV reported that police removed three people from the gathering for being unruly.

McCain was to hold a third town hall Friday in Prescott.

The gatherings came after President Obama requested speedy congressional backing for a military strike in Syria, and as he continued efforts at the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, to gain foreign support for military intervention.

Despite widespread condemnation of the attack from allies, only France has indicated a willingness to join the U.S. in undertaking military action if Obama moves forward with a strike.

The Obama administration blames Assad for the sarin gas attack in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. Obama says more than 1,400 civilians died, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, however, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple the government are to blame.