Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, appeared on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and talked about Congress’ upcoming debate on U.S. military action in Syria. Also on the show were Rep. Peter King, R-NY, and Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI. Here is a partial transcript of the segment with the lawmakers.
WALLACE: Senator Inhofe, you — before the president made the decision to go to Congress, you had been very public and very critical of what you saw as the president’s limited plan to strike at Syria.
Best guess, sir, as a veteran of Capitol Hill, will Congress approve the authorization for the use of force?
INHOFE: Well, first of all, I don’t think they will. And, Chris, you — for some reason, nobody wants to talk about the real serious problem here, and that is the condition of our military today. Now, it’s a week ago I said I would oppose going in and having military intervention against Syria. It may sound real easy when people like Secretary Kerry say this is going to be quick and we’ll go in and we’re going to send a few cruise missiles, wash our hands and go home.
It doesn’t work that way. This could be war in the Middle East. It’s serious. And now, you’ve got to realize what this president has done to our military. And our military is so degraded now. It’s not just me who says this.
I want to read one quote by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey. He said, “Our military force is so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force.”
That’s exactly what they are talking about doing — is using force.
WALLACE: Congressman King, we keep hearing and in fact we hear from Secretary Kerry, from the president himself how war-weary the country is. What do you think of the chances that Congress will reject the use of force? And, if they were to do that, does the president then consider going unilaterally and acting?
KING: Well, first, I felt bad for Senator Kerry having to defend the indefensible.
Secondly, I think it is going to be difficult to get the votes through in Congress, especially when there is going to be time over the nine days for the opposition to build up to it. The president has not made the case. When they see the president being so weak and vacillating, many members of Congress will vote no.
I intend to vote yes. It’s certainly, my intention right now. But I will say that back in 1999 with Kosovo, the House did vote against engagement in Kosovo and Bill Clinton kept fighting anyway. And, then, ultimately, a vote did pass. But he had bombing missions being carried in Kosovo after the House of Representatives voted against him taking action.
So, the president has the constitutional power to do it. I don’t know what President Obama will do right now. I have no clue at all what’s in his mind on this issue.
WALLACE: Briefly, Congressman King, to follow up — do you think the House majority, the Republicans in the House, will as a group vote for or against the use of force?
KING: Right now, I would say if the vote were today, it would probably be a no vote. I’m hoping by the time next week comes around, and hopefully, the president can make his case, that he will be able to get a majority of the House of Representatives. Right now, it would be difficult. Also, we have an increasing isolationist wing in the party which I think is damaging to the party and to the nation.
WALLACE: And the president says, he said he ‘s looking forward to a vigorous debate over the issues. So, let’s begin that right here, gentlemen.
And I want to talk about what a lot of people think is a kind of disconnect between the threat that the administration talks about in Syria and the very limited action that they are talking about actually taking against the Assad regime.
Let’s listen to Secretary of State Kerry on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: If we choose to live in a world where a thug and murderer like Bashar al Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe they can do as they will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But if Assad is a thug and a murder, as the secretary of state just said there, Senator Inhofe, why should the U.S. limit itself to a strike that — you know, we have heard more about what they’re not going to do than what they are going to do. Short-term, limited, punitive, no attempt at regime change. Does that kind of a limited strike make sense against a thug and a murderer? Senator Inhofe?
INHOFE: Chris, Chris, this is just part of the salesmanship of this — of Secretary Kerry. He’s been saying this. It’s going to be short, it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be quick. And we all know that isn’t going to be the case. It’s going to be something that could be long and last a long period of time. So, you know, for the secretary of state to talk about all of these allies of ours who are united wanting us to do this, let’s hear from them a little bit right now. We’ve already heard that Iran who is going to have the capability of a weapon and a delivery system that would reach the United States by 2015, they have already stated that they would take action against Israel. So, it’s not quite that easy. By the way, we are going to be meeting on Wednesday. Our Armed — our Senate Armed Services Committee. And I hope to get this point across that we are going to have to somehow tie in our capabilities with the military that we have right now with what the president wants to do.
WALLACE: Senator Reed, let’s talk about the nature of this kind of limited attack that the administration is pushing for. Secretary Kerry said that we cannot allow Bashar Assad to gas hundreds of his people with impunity. But we will allow him to slaughter 100,000 of his people with bombs and guns?
REED: Well, the objective that we are trying to achieve here is to reaffirm a standard of international law that has existed since the end of World War I that chemical weapons will not be used. The president believes and I think his military advisers have given him options that are vigorous and limited. Clearly limited. Because we want to vindicate this principle of international law. Not just in the case of Syria, but as others have suggested there are countries in the region, there are countries across the world — and North Korea, for example — that have chemical weapons. We want to make it quite clear that they cannot be used. That’s the principle here. There are other issues with respect to supporting the Syrian opposition. I believe the president should continue to carry through on his pledges to supply, in this case, limited legal aid such as anti-tank weapons and weapons like that. But this issue is about in terms of the whole world stopping as best we can the use of chemical weapons.
WALLACE: As I discussed with Secretary Kerry, this is not just about Syria. It’s also about Hezbollah and North Korea and Iran. Senator Inhofe, what kind of message does the president send when he calls a time-out of a more than a week on taking action, says he’s going to give it to Congress. Talks about a very limited attack and then heads off to Europe? What message should our enemies around the world read from this?
INHOFE: Well, Chris, first of all, I think the thing that should not have been done is the line in the sand or the red line saying we are going to do this, sounding very, very — if he’s going to make that statement, he ought to stay with it. And even though I didn’t agree — don’t agree with what he’s going to ultimately want to do. But if you’re going to say something, you’ve got to back it up. And this president clearly has retreated from the position that he took not just in the last couple of days, but about a week ago when he talked about the red line.
WALLACE: Senator Reed, finally, let’s play this out. Let’s suppose you have the debate in Congress. You just heard Senator Inhofe and Congressman King say that they think it’s a very risky matter; that this may not pass. What if Congress rejects the use of force? Does the president go ahead unilaterally after Congress has rejected it, after he has spent a week seeking their support? And what message would congressional rejection send to our friends and our ally — and our enemies in the Middle East?
REED: Well, first, I think the president has to work diligently — not just the president but his whole cabinet has to work diligently to convince not just the Congress, but the American people that this is in the interest of the United States. Not just simply in the interest of another country. That vindicating this international norm will be incredibly important to us, to our close allies like Israel and also will put us in a position, I think, as my colleagues have suggested, as we confront further issues in the Middle East, such as the Iranians’ aspirations. So, this is critically important. And I think that case can be made and should be made. I think that if there is another serious incident by the Syrians, if they again use chemical weapons as Secretary Kerry suggested, the president has already stated and feels that he has the international authority to move forward. The president has that. So, I think the real issue here is making sure and as Jim Inhofe indicated, we are beginning those deliberations next week with the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee to build a case to get the support of Congress, but just as importantly get the support of the American people.
WALLACE: Senator Reed, Senator Inhofe, Congressman King, I want to thank you all for joining us today. Many of your colleagues wanted to debate the president’s plan. Now you will get your chance, gentlemen.
REED: Thank you.
INHOFE: Thanks, Chris.