Face the Nation transcripts September 1, 2013: Kerry, McCain, Kaine, and Chambliss

The latest on the president's decision to attack Syria
The latest on the president's decision to att... 26:02

(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on September 1, 2013, hosted by CBS News' Major Garrett. Guests include: Secretary of State John Kerry, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer.

GARRETT: Today on Face the Nation, President Obama says he's decided to attack Syria for using chemical weapons, but now says congress must authorize the attack first.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It should not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community, what message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?

GARRETT: Will a divided Congress agree to a new Middle East war, even a short one? Secretary of State John Kerry will be here to make the president's case. Then we'll talk to three key Senators, including Arizona Republican John McCain, plus Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, and Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine. And we'll get the latest from Syria's capital of Damascus with Elizabeth Palmer. It's all ahead on Face the Nation.

ANNOUNCER: And now from CBS News in Washington, Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer. Substituting for Bob Schieffer, CBS news chief White House correspondent Major Garrett.

GARRETT: Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation. Secretary of State John Kerry joins us from the State Department. Mr. Secretary, good morning.

KERRY: Good morning, Major.

GARRETT: Now, Mr. Secretary, I know you believe the president's decision to seek congressional authorization is courageous, but isn't it bowing to a political reality that had been communicated to the president late this week that there would be significant congressional backlash if he didn't give congress a role, and that backlash, in part, reflected the inability of the administration to make its case this past week?

KERRY: Major, I disagree with that premise on all accounts. The fact is the president clearly had sufficient case presented to the American people that Assad had engaged in an outrageous crime against humanity and that it was vital to take steps. But I think the president realized in consultations with the congress that people wanted to weigh in, and he believed after thinking about it, that the United States of America is much stronger when we act in concert. Rather than have the debate after an attack be all about our constitutional process or did the president abuse his power or was it correct and have weeks of sort of being torn apart about that, the president felt it was much more important for us to act with unity of purpose and in a concerted way. I think this is not just a courageous decision, I think it's the right decision. Since when it is wrong for the president of the United States to ask the congress, the elected body that represents of people of America, to weigh in? I think it's important and I think we will be stronger for it.

GARRETT: But as you know, Secretary Kerry, at the White House all week there was this intense sense of urgency about a response, and about a punishment, about immediately upholding what was said over and over again is an international norm. Now that has been delayed for a couple of weeks at least. Are you in any way disappointed that your advocacy for a swift response was overridden?

KERRY: Wrong. I did not advocate that the response had to be swift. In fact, I often said we needed to take time to do certain things. I think that-- you know, I'm not going to go into the deliberative process and tell you what I said or someone said to the president of the United States. But I will tell you that there was an appropriate, deliberative process by which we made -- had a discussion as to whether or not there ought to be some kind of military action. The question of when and how is entirely the president of the United States. And until he makes that decision, no decision is made. So I didn't feel -- no, on the contrary, the president called me on a Friday evening -- or I can't remember, he called me in the evening, and went through his thinking. He looked for different points of view from people, and he made his decision. And I think it's the right decision. The president has decided to take military action. Now, he also decided that it would be much stronger for our country and have much greater impact and allow us much greater latitude going forward in terms of how we address Syria if we have the congress of the United States backing it. He also felt that that was a very important message, if you will, to Iran, to North Korea, and to others not only about our Democratic process but most importantly that we are prepared to uphold the norms of international behavior as a country, and that we are united behind that, and that that gives greater impact to whatever choices we might face in other places in the future.

GARRETT: From now until this vote is conducted, will this be your top priority? And will it be the president's top priority, to get this vote won in Congress?

KERRY: Well, of course it is critical that we go through the process of explaining to congress. But each day that goes by, Major, this case is getting stronger. I mean, today I'm at liberty to tell that you we now have samples back from first responders in east Damascus. Those samples of hair and blood have been tested, and they have reported positive for signatures of sarin. So we are now getting a stronger case each day, and I think that makes even more compelling that the congress of the United States be counted with the president in this effort so that Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, all of our friend and allies in the region, will know that the United States is acting in concert in a way that really sends a powerful message about our credibility, about our intentions to uphold international norms, and that will have an impact on other decisions down the road. And I'm very explicit about it with respect to Iran and North Korea or others. The credibility of the United States is on the line here. And I believe the congress will do the right thing.

GARRETT: Mr. Secretary, Elizabeth Palmer who is with us in Damascus, has talked to some in the Syrian opposition. And she talked to the spokesperson for the Syrian military council who told her yesterday, and I quote, "we no longer count on America or any other country. We only count on ourselves and our rebels. We now realize that the whole world is mocking us, mocking our feelings and mocking our blood." Is this delay a mocking of the Syrian opposition and the blood it shed to try to oust the Syrian regime?