President Donald Trump said Thursday that what happened in Syria is "a disgrace to humanity."
PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump hinted at possible military action against Syria Thursday as his administration considered how to retaliate against President Bashar Assad after this week's chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people.
Trump suggested strongly that Assad may have to leave power, and his comments were underscored by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who told reporters "there's no role for (Assad) to govern the Syrian people."
The administration has been put to the test this week amid an international outcry over newly horrifying violence in Syria. Over the past seven years, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the nation's civil war, triggering the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Trump's tone has grown more grave with the passing days. On Wednesday, he said this week's attack crossed "a lot of lines" — not just the "red line" of chemical weapons use that President Barack Obama once set as an ultimatum for the Assad government.
Trump has shown a particularly emotional response to photos and video of dead children, and he said Thursday, "I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity." Asked if Assad should remain in power, he said that "he's there and I guess he's running things so something should happen."
Trump commented aboard Air Force One en route to meet China's President Xi Jinping at a Florida summit.
Tillerson, who spoke almost simultaneously after greeting Xi in Florida, said there was "no doubt in our minds" that Assad's government was behind the attacks and the U.S. was evaluating an appropriate response.
"The process by which Assad would leave is something that will require an international community effort," Tillerson said, adding that there needs to be a balance between defeating the Islamic State group and stabilizing Syria to prevent the civil war from escalating further.
Tillerson also issued a warning to Russia that its support of the Assad government is something that it should "consider carefully."
Late Wednesday, Trump advisers had huddled at the White House to discuss a range of options for responding to the chemical attack, including military action and economic sanctions, according to a senior administration official. The United Nations is also considering a resolution condemning the attack.
The official said the options were being readied for Trump as quickly as possible. But it was unclear how fast the president planned to decide and implement a response, according to the official, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the sensitive planning.
Tillerson has been in contact with his Russian counterparts, the official said, but Trump has not spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump told reporters traveling with him to Florida Thursday that he may speak with Putin.
In Washington, two senior Republican senators called for Trump to strike at Syria's air force as part of a swift and forceful response to the attack, which killed more than two-dozen children.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona, who spoke to Trump on Wednesday, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement that Assad "must pay a punitive cost for this horrific attack."