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Consoler-in-Chief: Obama Comforts Families in Orlando; Interview with Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Obama Addresses Orlando Terrorist Massacre. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 16, 2016 - 16:30   ET



[16:34:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We are live from Orlando this afternoon, just about a hundred yards down behind me from where this horrific murder took place. President Obama and Vice President Biden arrived here separately just a few hours ago to do what I imagine so many Americans wish they could do themselves, and that is offer comfort directly to those who suffered most from Sunday's attack on the Pulse nightclub.

The president and vice president spending time with grief-stricken families, survivors and hospital staff this afternoon. We're also going to hear from the president, those comments coming any minute now.

Michelle Kosinski, she is at the White House now.

Michelle, this was an emotional day for the president. Again him playing once again consoler in chief, in effect, after -- just the kind of tragedy we've seen so many times before during in his administration.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim, exactly. I think those words, once again, are the operative words here because there's the challenge here.

[16:35:01] The president has done this exact same kind of trip nine times before today and we've heard him speak as many times. You know, sometimes, he's emotional. Sometimes he's angry, how do you sort of keep delivering what is essentially the same speech.

I think today, what he sounded like was tired -- tired of the fact that it keeps happening. And it was broad as well. I mean, it gets into the argument, especially it's come lately, that if you're talking about trying to fight terror, then maybe you're ignoring issues of people getting their hands on guns easily at home and if you're focused on gun issues, maybe you're not focused as much on ISIS.

Well, he tried to tackle both saying tackling terrorism is something the administration is doing but you can't ignore the fact that these last two attacks, this one and San Bernardino, were lone wolves, people who appeared to have been radicalized at home and they were able to get their hands on guns. But it was also somewhat emotional. I mean, he talked about hugging and holding these families. The fact

that they expressed grief beyond description told him that America needs to do more to stop this from happening and ask the president why it keeps happening. The president said that they don't care about politics and neither does he.

In fact, he urged politicians that are trying to prevent him from taking more actions to prevent people from getting their hands on guns when they are deranged or they're radicalized, urged them to meet with these families and hear some of the words that they said today, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Michelle Kosinski at the White House.

Before we hear from the president and his comments here just a few minutes away, I want to bring in Republican senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson. He chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Senator Johnson, thank you for joining us.


SCIUTTO: Now, Senator, you office discovered multiple Facebook accounts associated with the Orlando terrorist. This is key because we've now learned that he was posting to Facebook and checking Facebook out, in fact, in the middle of this attack. I know you've now sent a letter to the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking for more information on posts in which this terrorist swore allegiance to ISIS.

What can you tell us about what this terrorist did on Facebook before this attack and, also, is Facebook answering your requests now?

JOHNSON: Well, let me first say, I really appreciate the fact that President Obama went down to Orlando to really offer a nation's condolences for that tragedy. It's something that we are becoming numb. These tragedies are becoming so frequent. And so I really appreciate the president going about doing that.

From my standpoint, I'm chairman of the Senate Committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is the Senate's oversight committee. And so, you know, we are basically trying to go through a very thoughtful process of gaining access to the information, what happened. Particularly, what transpired before this terrorist attack so we can accumulate that information, compare it to what happened before San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, Texas, Chattanooga, Tennessee, what went right in terms of the foil plot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, against the Masonic Temple.

I realize, hindsight is perfect, it's Monday morning quarterbacking, but it's really our job. I know Director Comey is doing it. I know Secretary Johnson is. I know this administration is doing it.

This is our job to see what has happened in the past, what can we possibly do to prevent this from occurring in the future and how can we find bipartisan solutions? I'm trying to find areas of agreement to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future. SCIUTTO: Well, let me thank you for that sentiment, Republican

senator thanking the Democratic president. Exactly that kind of coming together, as you say, is what I think the nation I think is looking for right now.

Let me ask you, as you reach out to Facebook, is it your fear that Facebook makes it too easy for attackers like this and others to spout hate and to advertise their crimes, in effect, on Facebook? Is that your fear?

JOHNSON: No, let's face it, we're in the information age and social media has exploded on the scene here and people use it. And I think what we need to find out, can our intelligence gathering capabilities, can our law enforcement officials, can we figure out how to gain access to that, monitor it so we can prevent these tragedies?

I don't know what I don't know so we're just sending out a number of oversight letters to Loretta Lynch, to Secretary Johnson, to Director Comey. We'll send more. We sent one to Facebook here.

So, we're just trying to accumulate that information so we can do an after-action report and see what we can do on a bipartisan basis to prevent these tragedies.

SCIUTTO: And we know tat social media is not a tangential issue. As the president said and counterterror officials say all the time, that maybe enough to radicalize people and lead to an attack like this.

I do want to ask you something about something Senator John McCain said earlier today about Orlando. He told reporters the following, quote, "Barack Obama is directly responsible for it," speaking about Orlando, "because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS and ISIS is what it is today, thanks to Barack Obama's failures."

[16:40:16] "Utter failures," he continues, "by pulling everybody out of Iraq, thinking that conflicts end and just because you leave."

So, again in his words, the responsibility for it lies with President Obama and his failed policies. Do you agree with your fellow Republican senator that President Obama or at least his policies bear responsibility for this terrorist act?

JOHNSON: Well, obviously the responsibility lies with the terrorist, the responsibility lies with Islamic terrorist and, of course, ISIS is one of the groups that is inspiring this. So, you know, what I want to do is support President Obama's stated goal of defeating ISIS.

The problem is Senator McCain's frustration, which I share and I think most Americans share, President Obama stated that goal 22 months ago. Yes, we're making some progress but the analogy I use is, let's say you have a beehive in your backyard. You don't go out in the backyard and poke it with stick to do some damage to the hive, you're kind of stirring up the hive.

What you ought to do is take out the hive. We have to destroy ISIS. We have got to fully commit the civilized world to tenaciously, relentlessly find Islamic terrorists wherever they reside and defeat them, destroy them, or else, this is going to continue. What is depressing about this is the increased frequency of these attacks around the world and here in America.

SCIUTTO: So, you're saying you need a further effort to fight ISIS, but you disagree with Senator McCain that the president is personally responsible in part for this attack?

JOHNSON: Well, I believe it's a historic blunder, a strategic blunder bugging out of Iraq, not leaving a stabilizing force behind so that ISIS could rise from the defeated ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq. So, I mean, this president's policies certainly has not panned out in the Middle East. I mean, we are witnessing a genocide in Syria.

You know, just a couple of years ago, just a couple of hundred Syrians slaughtered, so now almost a half million Syrians slaughtered. We see this migration flow, this refugee problem, we're seeing ISIS continue to exist and inspire this kind of behavior, directing it. We have evidence that they directed the Brussels attack.

So, Islamic terrorism is growing. It's real. It's metastasizing. It's evolving and we are not adequately addressing. I mean, I certainly I agree with that.

We are not adequately addressing. We are not fully committed to its defeat, and we don't have an urgency about it. We have got to become more urgent. Ultimately, defeating is not enough. We must urgently defeat ISIS.

SCIUTTO: I had the opportunity a few minutes ago to speak with Adam Schiff, of course, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And he has called for the administration to create a new alert system that would notify law enforcement when anyone either currently under investigation for terrorism or previously under investigation for terrorism or terrorist sympathizing would be on some list and they are prevented from buying a gun.

That for instance in this case would have tipped off the FBI, his gun buys a week before this massacre. I wonder if you support an idea like that.

JOHNSON: Listen, we all agree, nobody -- no Republican, no Democrat, no American wants terrorist or would-be terrorist to have access to buying a gun. Now, the question is, what list? What constitutional rights are we going to be denying people? How can we protect constitutional rights, due process and develop a list that will actually work?

And quite honestly, what kind of procedures are the FBI going through? You know, this terrorist was on the watch list, they concluded the investigation and took him off the list. So, we need to understand this database, the very subsets of lists beneath it, how they are being used by law enforcement. Let's make sure we don't hamper a potential probe. Let's not blow a particular investigation. So, these are far more complex issues than what the political process

is really talking about them right now. Let's thoughtfully try and find the agreement on a shared goal of keeping guns and other weapons out of the hands of the terrorists.

But, again, the main focus, because the root cause is destroying and defeating ISIS and Islamic terror because as long as they exist, I'm afraid they are going to find some way, shape or form of slaughtering innocents around the world. So you've got to address the root cause. To a certain extent, these other things are taking our eye off that imperative.

SCIUTTO: Senator Ron Johnson, Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, thank you very much for joining us today.

JOHNSON: Have a good day.

SCIUTTO: We are just about a minute away from hearing from the president here in Orlando.

I'm joined now by Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent.

Dana, as we wait to hear the president's remarks here after his emotional visit with some of the victim's families, survivors, what are you listening for from the president here?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously it's going to be a combination of sorrow, of -- you know, his attempt to be the consoler in chief but also frustration. This is a president wrapping up two terms in the White House.

Having done this way too much and he has said that time and time again. I heard a statistic yesterday that he has had more statements after mass shootings than he has state dinners, which is kind of the standard fare for a president.

And the tragedy is that these kinds of shootings have become more standard fare, no matter what the politics are, that's the case. Let's listen to the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Four days ago, this community was shaken by an evil and hateful act. Today, we are reminded of what is good. That there is compassion, empathy and decency and, most of all, there is love.

That's the Orlando that we've seen in recent days that he is the America that we have seen. This afternoon, the vice president and I had the opportunity to meet with many of the families here.

As you might imagine, their grief is beyond description. Through their pain and through their tears, they told us about the joy that their loved ones had brought to their lives. They talked about their sons or their daughters.

So many young people in their 20s and 30s. So many students who are focused on the future. One young woman was just 18 years old. Another said her father was happy with so many dreams.

There were siblings there talking about their brothers and sisters and how they were role models that they looked up to. There were husbands and wives, who had taken a solemn vow. Fathers and mothers who gave their full heart to their children.

These families could be our families. In fact, they are our family. They are part of the American family. And today, the vice president and I told them on behalf of the American people, that our hearts are broken, too, and that we stand with you and that we are here for you and that we are remembering those who you loved so deeply.

As a nation, we've also been inspired by the courage of those who risked their lives and cared for others. Partners whose last moments were spent shielding each other, the mother who gave her life to save her son, the former Marine whose quick thinking saved dozens of lives.

Joe and I have the chance to thank Mayor Dire (ph), Chief Mina (ph), Sheriff Demings (ph), and all who responded in heroic ways. The outstanding police and first responders who were able to, through their professionalism and quick response, rescue so many people.

We also owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all of the doctors and all of the nurses who have worked day and night to treat the injured, save lives and prevent even more anguish.

As one of the doctors here said, after the worst of humanity reared its ugly head, the best of humanity came roaring back. Let me get that quote more precisely, after humanity reared its evil head, the best of humanity came roaring back.

Now if we are honest with ourselves, if in fact we want to show the best of our humanity, then we're all going to have to work together at every level of government across political lines to do more to stop killers who want to terrorize us.

[16:50:06]We will continue to be relentless against terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda. We are going to destroy them. We are going to disrupt their networks and their financing and the flow of fighters in and out of war theaters.

We are going to disrupt their propaganda that poisons so many minds around the world. We're going to do all of that. Our resolve is clear. But given the fact that the last two terrorist attacks on our soil, Orlando and San Bernardino, were home-grown.

Carried out it appears not by external plotters, not by vast networks or a sophisticated cells but by deranged individuals warped by the hateful propaganda that they had seen over the internet then we're going to have to do more to prevent these kinds of attacks from occurring.

It's going to take more than just our military. It's going to require more than just our intelligence teams. As good as they are, as dedicated as they are, as focused as they are, if you have lone wolf attacks like this, hatched in the minds of a disturbed person, then we're going to have to take different steps in order to prevent something like this from happening.

And those who were killed and gunned down by a single killer with a powerful assault weapon. The motives of this killer may have been different than the mass shooters in Aurora or Newtown.

But the instruments of death so similar. And now another 49 innocent people are dead. Another 53 are injured. Some are still fighting for their lives. Some will have wounds that will last a lifetime.

We can't anticipate or catch every single deranged person that may wish to do harm to his neighbors or his friends or co-workers or strangers. But we can do something about the amount of damage that they do.

Unfortunately, our politics have conspired to make it as easily as possible for a terrorist or just a disturbed individual like those in Aurora and Newtown. To buy extraordinarily powerful weapons and they can do so legally.

So today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and parents and they asked, why does this keep happening and they pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage.

They don't care about the politics. Neither do I. Neither does Joe. And neither should any parent out here just thinking about their kids being in the wrong place but in places where kids are supposed to be.

This debate needs to change. It's outgrown the old political stalemates. The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies commonsense.

[16:55:03]Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense. They should meet with the Newtown families, some of whom Joe saw yesterday whose children should now be finishing fifth grade and why it is that we think our liberties requires these repeated tragedies.

That's not the meaning of liberty. I'm pleased to hear that the Senate will hold votes on preventing individuals with possible terrorist ties from buying guns including assault weapons. I truly hope that senators rise to the moment and do the right thing.

I hope that senators who voted no on background checks after Newtown have a change of heart and then I hope the House does the right thing and helps end the plague of violence that these weapons of war inflict on so many young lives.

I've said this before, we will not be able to stop every tragedy. We can't wipe away hatred and evil from every heart in this world. We can stop some tragedies. We can save some lives. We can reduce the impact of a terrorist attack if we're smart.

And if we don't act, we will keep seeing more massacres like this because we'll be choosing to allow them to happen. We will have said we don't care enough to do something about it.

Here in Orlando, we are reminded not only of our obligations as a country, we are reminded it not only of the need for us to implement smarter policies to prevent mass shootings. We're also reminded of what unites us as Americans.

And what unites us a stronger than the hate and the terror of those who targeted us. For so many people here who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, the Pulse Nightclub has always been a safe haven, a place to sing and dance, and, most importantly, to be who you truly are including for so many people whose families are originally from Puerto Rico.

And Sunday morning, that sanctuary was violated in the worst way imaginable. So whatever the motivations of the killer, whatever influences led him down the path of violence and terror, whatever propaganda he was consuming from ISIL and al Qaeda, this was an act of terrorism but it was also an act of hate.

This was an attack on the LGBT community. Americans were targeted because we're a country that has learned to welcome everyone no matter who you are or who you love. And hatred towards people because of sexual orientation regardless of where it comes from, it's a betrayal of what's best in us.

Joe and I were talking on the way over here, you can't break up the world into us and them and denigrate and express hatred towards groups because of the color of their skin or their faith or their sexual orientation.

And not feed something very dangerous in this world so if there was ever a moment for all of us to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs that everybody counts and everybody has dignity, now's the time.

It's a good time for all of to us reflect on how we treat each other and to insist on respect and equality for every human being --