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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 3rd, 2013
11:22 PM ET

President's men make case for Syria strike

The president sent his team to the Senate Tuesday to make his case.

"Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gasses his people yet again?" Kerry said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Facing public opposition and a skeptical Congress, they said using chemical weapons against your own people is so evil, it's only been done three times.

"The third instance was used by Adolf Hitler to gas millions of Jews. It was used by Saddam Hussein in order to gas Iraqis and his own - Iranians and his own people. And now, it has been used by Bashar al-Assad; three people in all of history," Kerry said.

White House officials Tuesday morning proclaimed that they had momentum, winning support for strikes from the top two House Republicans, but just hours later, Obama's team was facing tough questions.

Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, wanted to know, if President Obama would order a strike against Syria even if Congress says no?

"I can't tell you what the president's gonna do because he hasn't told me," Kerry said.

There was chiding for two years of mixed messages and inaction when others had been calling for arming vetted rebel groups.

"Instead the choice was made to lead from behind," said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

There were seemingly mixed messages about this mission, designed to send a signal to Assad to not use chemical weapons, but not specifically tailored to remove him from power

"But have we taken into account what the implications could be of an Assad that could weather a limited strike, and what that could mean for the long-term prospects of the conflict?" asked Rubio.

"He will weather - I mean, he will weather," said Kerry.

"The goal of removing Assad from office, as the president has stated, is still the policy of this administration," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

And what of the president's promise that there would be no boots on the ground?

"I don't want to take off the table an option," said Kerry.

So, maybe boots on the ground?

"Whether or not they had to answer a shot in order to be secure, I don't want to speak to that," said Kerry.

"I didn't find that a very appropriate response regarding boots on the ground," Corker said in response.

Kerry attempted to clarify, saying, "There's no door open here through which someone can march in ways that the Congress doesn't want it to, while still protecting the national security interests of the country."

Well, as long as that's clear.

And casting a shadow over it all, the legacy of the Iraq War, waged when Kerry and Hagel were on the other side of the table.

"So we are especially sensitive – Chuck and I – to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence," said Kerry.

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