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Pelosi Remarks After White House Meeting on Syria

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press stakeout in front of the White House following a meeting with President Obama and Congressional leadership on Syria. Below is a transcript of Leader Pelosi’s remarks and the question and answer session:

Good morning.  The President honored us with his presentation this morning that he does not take going into a military action lightly.  That there are compelling reasons, the evidence, the intelligence is clear that Assad perpetrated this attack of using weapons of mass destruction, really.  Weapons of mass destruction, deterring their use, is a pillar of our national security.  Assad has done that.  That is the differentiation from what he has done up until now.  People say, ‘well, he killed a hundred thousand people, what’s the difference with this 1,400?’  With this 1,400, he crossed a line with using chemical weapons.

President Obama did not draw the red line, humanity drew it decades ago – 170 some countries supporting the convention on not using chemicals, chemical warfare.  So, it is really something that from a humanitarian standpoint cannot be ignored or else we cannot say ‘never again.’  Secondly, from a national security standpoint, it will send a very clear message to those who have weapons of mass destruction of any variety, that they should forget about using them.  It was a very constructive meeting, the President listened to our colleagues, the Speaker was very clear and I’m sure he has told you his view, I associated myself with his remarks.  But, again I believe that the American people need to hear more about the intelligence that supports this action.  And that is that the responsibility for this chemical weapons use is clearly at the feet of Assad.

The -- now, we go to the next step of having a further debate in the Congress of the United States.  And I am hopeful, as the American people are persuaded – that this action happened, that Assad did it, that hundreds of – hundreds of children were killed.  This is behavior outside the circle of civilized human behavior and we must respond.

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Q:  Madam Leader, are you ready then to in a sense, whip your membership to get on board with the President?  Because we’ve been hearing, obviously, from the House especially, all over the place.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, yes and I’m respectful of that.  I – we do not, on these kinds of issues it’s not a question of whipping, it’s a question of discussing to make sure that people have the information that they need to make an informed decision, to make sure that they have the full value of the intelligence that says this is how this happened.  And then Members have to decide, are they willing – do they want to ignore the fact that this humanitarian disaster took place or not?  And then there’s the larger issue of Syria’s behavior if they get away with this. 

So, again, very respectful of all of the concerns that the Members have, that our constituents have – I do not, in my district, I don’t think people are convinced that military action is necessary, but it’s important for them to know that the weapons of mass destructions use has taken us to a different place.  That the President takes, obviously any President would, but this President does not take this lightly.  And that what will happen will be targeted, tailored, of short duration, and will send the message that is necessary and then we go from there.

So you’re absolutely right, there’s work to be done.  But it’s not a question of whipping, it’s a question of discussing with our Members, hearing their views.  And some won’t ever be comfortable with it – I myself, from the humanitarian standpoint think that waiting for the U.N. and waiting for Putin – the slowest ship in the convoy of reacting to the use of weapons of, of the chemical weapons by Assad – is a luxury that we cannot afford.

I have to go.  Thank you all very much.

Q:  Madam Leader, you said ‘never again.’  Do you want to compare this to the Holocaust? 

Leader Pelosi.  No, no.  No, I was thinking more like Rwanda and the like, like that.  Nothing is like the Holocaust.

Q:  If Congress does reject this, can the President proceed if Congress rejects?

Leader Pelosi.  I don’t think Congress will reject.  But I do want to remind you because the – I’ve been reading some of what some of you have written and say the President has never gone forward if Congress has not approved, when it has taken up the issue.  I remind you that in 1999, President Clinton brought us all together, similar to this meeting here, but over a period of time to talk about going into the Balkans and the vote was 213-213, 187 Republicans voted ‘no,’ 180 Democrats voted ‘yes,’ about 30 on each side, something like that, went in a different way than the majority of their party.  And that was when the planes were really ready to go into Bosnia.  He went.  And you know what happened there.

So, I don’t – I don’t think that the Congressional authorization is necessary.  I do think it’s a good thing.  And I hope that we can achieve it.  I feel pretty confident on the evidence, the intelligence, the national interest that is at stake, that we have a good conversation to have with our Members.

I myself – I’ll tell you this story, and then I really do have to go.  My five year old grandson, as I was leaving San Francisco yesterday, he said to me: ‘Mimi’ – that’s my name – ‘Mimi, war with Syria are you ‘yes,’ war with Syria, ‘no’ war with Syria?’  Now, he’s five years old and ‘war,’ he’s saying ‘war,’ I mean we’re not talking about war, we’re talking about an action here.  ‘Yes, war with Syria, no war with Syria?’  I said, ‘well, what do you think?’  He said: ‘I think no war.’  I said, ‘well, I generally agree with that but you know they’ve killed hundreds of children there, they’ve killed hundreds of children.’  And he said, five years old: ‘were these children in the United States?’  And I said: ‘well, no.  But they’re children wherever they are.’ 

So, I don’t know what news he’s listening to or where, or who he’s listening to, but even a five-year-old child has to, you know, with the wisdom of our interests, how does it affect our interests?  Well, it affects our interests because it was, again, outside the circle of civilized behavior.  It was humanity drew a line decades ago that I think, if we ignore, we do so to the peril of many other people who could suffer.

So, in any event, I just go back to the point in the Balkans, Congress, 213-213, failed for lack of a majority, but President Clinton went in.

Q:  Madam Leader, many Democrats feel the authorization should be written to be more narrowly focused.

Leader Pelosi.  I think that’s a subject of discussion.  There’s some people want it broader and some people want it more narrow.  I think that’s an open discussion.

Q:  What do you think, Madam Leader?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I want to hear what my Members have to say.