TODAY   |  September 10, 2013

Obama: I’m taking vote in Congress ‘very seriously’

President Barack Obama sat down with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie, saying he has not decided whether he will take action against Syria without Congressional support.

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

>> i sat down with president obama monday at the white house . i began our conversation by asking him if he is confident he can get the votes in congress for military action in syria .

>> i wouldn't say i'm confident. i'm confident that the members of congress are taking this issue very seriously and they're doing their homework and i appreciate that.

>> if this resolution fails in congress , would you act without congress . the answer could be yes, no, or i haven't decided.

>> i think it's fair to say that i haven't decided. i am taking this vote in congress and what the american people are saying very seriously. i knew by bringing this to congress that there was a risk that the american people just couldn't arrive at a consensus around even a limited strike. if you ask somebody -- if you ask michelle, do we want to be involved in another war? the answer is no. people are wary about it. understandably. they have seen the consequences of this last decade so i recognize how important that debate is, and it's my belief that, for me, the president, to act without consensus, in a situation where there's not a direct imminent threat to the homeland or interests around the world, then that's not the kind of precedent that i want to set and i'll evaluate after that whether or not we feel strongly enough about this that we're willing to move forward.

>> syria 's foreign minister said today syria would consider giving international control to it's chemical arsenals. do you welcome that step? are you skeptical? does it seem like a stalling tactic?

>> a famous american president once said trust but verify. but between the statements that we saw from the russians, the statement today from the syrians, this represents a positive development. we're going to run this to ground. we're going to make sure that we see how serious these proposals are.

>> does it feel like a ploy?

>> it could be a significant breakthrough but we have to be skeptical because this is not how we have seen them operate over the last couple of years.

>> you said these strikes, if they take place would be limited. my question to you is how do you know that. if we strike and iran retaliates or hezbollah and we strike u.s. citizens at home. what then, you may want limited action, but can you really promise it?

>> look, nothing is 100% guaranteed in life. but i think it's fair to say that our military is outstanding. our intelligence is outstanding. and we have shown ourselves capable of taking precision strikes on military installations in ways that would degrade assad's capabilities to deliver chemical weapons that would have a significant impact. but that would not lead to escalation.

>> assad today when asked if he would retaliate had a message. he said expect everything and members of congress are saying we're skeptical because we don't think the administration has a strategy for day two, day three, day four. first of all, syria doesn't have capabilities to retaliate against us. iran does but iran is not going to risk a war with the united states over this, particularly given that our goal here is to make sure that chemical weapons are not used on children.

>> your chief of staff called these strikes limited and consequential which seems almost a contradiction in terms to me. today secretary of state kerry said the strikes would be unbelievably small. what does that mean? are we talking a pin prick? a knockout blow? a punch in the gut?

>> the u.s. does not do pin pricks. our military is the greatest the world has ever known. when we take even limited strikes it has an impact on a country like syria that doesn't have military capability. they have a tremendous military capability relative to civilians. they have a significant capability relative to children being gassed but not one that matches up with ours in any kind of way.

>> when you saw those videos and i assume you have, can you tell me your reaction to them not only as a president but as a father?

>> i was heart broken and i would recommend everybody look at these videos. horrible things happen around the world all the time. horrible things happen inside of syria every day and all of us recognize that america cannot try to solve every problem around the world or stop every terrible thing from happening. when we talk about limited strikes, no boots on the ground . limited in time and scope. i have to emphasize that over the last four and a half years i have shown great restraint when it comes to using military power .

>> pretty candid.

>> especially on the subject of whether or not he has the votes in congress which will be the key and will he go even if he doesn't get that vote.

>> he said look, i haven't decided. the candor about whether they have the votes is key. tonight he addresses the nation. nbc news will have