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Congress Action on Gun Control; White House Supports Background Checks; Ryan Interested in Debating Gun Control; GOP Donor Cuts off Donations. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 08:30   ET


[08:31:36] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, are speaking out against President Trump and lawmakers who take money from the NRA and they are demanding action to stop school shootings. Two of them joined us earlier on NEW DAY.

EMMA GONZALEZ, SURVIVED MASSACRE AT STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: If they accept this blood money, they are against the children. They are against the people who are dying. And that is -- that's -- there's no other way to put it at this point. You're either funding the killers or you are standing with the children.

DAVID HOGG, SURVIVED MASSACRE AT STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: If you can't get elected without taking money from child murders, why are you running?


CAMEROTA: The outrage about this school shooting has inspired people across the country to take a stand, including this man, Scott Danny Popalardo (ph). I hope I said that right. He says he legally owns that AR-15, but he decided to post this video on FaceBook showing him sawing that gun in half.


DANNY POPALARDO: So in the back of my head, I say, well, what if one of the -- whoever buys this weapon, their child gets a hold of it and brings it to school one day and shoots a bunch of people. Can I live with that? And I don't think I could. So I've decided today I'm going to make sure this weapon will never be able to take a life, the barrel of this gun will never be pointed at someone.


CAMEROTA: That video has been viewed more than close to 5 million times. Popalardo says his right to own the weapon is not as important as someone's life.

So, let's bring in now Democratic Congressman Ted Deutsch of Florida, Parkland. He is part of -- Parkland is part of his congressional district, and Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo of southern Florida. We really appreciate you both coming on together because this is what it's going to take, right, a bipartisan effort. And so we appreciate both of you being here to figure out if there is any common ground.

So, Congressman Curbelo, let me start with you. You're a republican. I think that this is probably harder for you to talk about. What do you think? Name the one piece of common ground that you think that you can find with your Democratic counterpart?

REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Alisyn. Good morning.

And the truth is, it's not hard for me because it's the right thing to do. I think we should all be inspired by all the young people who are reacting to this tragedy with love and with a desire to get something done. And that's what I want to do. And I think there is a lot of common ground and every day there's more.

I've been talking to a lot of colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, in the last few days and there is a growing sense that something has to be done. I think some areas where there is a lot of room for common ground is, for example, why is an 18-year-old, a 19- year-old not allowed to purchase a beer at a restaurant, not allowed to purchase a handgun, but can purchase an assault rifle, that makes no sense.

CAMEROTA: OK. So -- OK. Fair. So you would have --

CURBELO: That is something that should definitely change.

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's start there. You would have the age limit -- the minimum age raised to, what, 21?

CURBELO: Definitely. Definitely. I think that is a common sense step.

Something else that we should do, I'm backing legislation now to expand background checks so that every transfer of a weapon has to be run through the background check system.

We also have to strengthen the background check system, because we know there have been failures there, and hold the FBI accountable and make sure that threat assessment teams are paying attention to the tips that they're getting --

[08:35:11] CAMEROTA: Sure.

CURBELO: Because this tragedy could have, it seems --


CURBELO: Could have been prevented had the FBI paid attention to two different tips they received.

CAMEROTA: OK, Congressman Deutsch, it does sound like there's some common ground here, including this reporting that we just had that the White House has just confirmed to CNN that President Trump also supports expanded background checks. So you -- this seems like there's at least two points here. What's your response?

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: Well, then, we should be done talking about this and these should be passed and signed into law next week when we're back in Washington. Look, I'm introducing legislation this week. I'm -- it sounds like my friend, Representative Curbelo, will join in to make sure that you have to be 21 to buy any kind of gun, not just a handgun, but rifles as well. That -- we ought to do that right now.

The universal background checks, we ought to do right now. Banning bump stocks, we ought to get done immediately. All of those things can happen.

But here's the thing. I appreciate that Carlos supports this. I appreciate that there is at least some indication that the president might be willing. But, ultimately, the -- Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have to be willing to do this. And I think people -- members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, Republican senators who think this is the right thing to do, ought to vow that they're not going to support their leader. They should be done voting for Paul Ryan unless he's willing to stand on the side of the victims, the families, the kids, the students from Stoneman Douglas, which is right behind me, who don't view this as something that should be done at some point in the future. It's got to get done now and then we've got to have the debate and we've got to move forward on banning assault rifles, like they were until 2004.

CAMEROTA: How about that, Congressman Curbelo? Do you still support your leaders?

CURBELO: So -- so, Alisyn, two things. Number one, Ted can put me down on his legislation right now. I will add my name to it as soon as he is ready to file it.

Number two, I have already talked to Speaker Ryan about allowing the House to debate and consider legislation of this nature.

And, by the way, I want to thank the speaker because he was receptive. We had a good conversation. And I also --

CAMEROTA: And is he going to do it?

CURBELO: And I also want to thank them for stopping --

DEUTCH: Did he commit to do it?

CAMEROTA: Yes, did he commit to doing it?

CURBELO: I also -- I also want to thank him for stopping in Broward County yesterday --

DEUTCH: So did he -- yes.

CURBELO: And meeting with some of the people who responded to this tragedy. The speaker did say that he was interested in getting something done.

Now, I'm not going to reveal all the details of our private conversation --

DEUTCH: Can we do it next week?

CURBELO: But the speaker is interested in responding to these incidents. He knows that we have a lot of work to do, not just on the gun side of this discussion, but also on mental health, also on making sure law enforcement is doing a better job.

DEUTCH: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, congressman.

DEUTCH: Alisyn, it's not -- there's not a lot of work to do. That excuse is so tired. There's not a lot of work to do.

The legislation for universal background checks, the legislation that says if you're too dangerous to get on a plane you shouldn't buy a gun, the legislation to raise the age that's going to be introduced this week, all of those will be ready to come to the floor next week.

I don't want to hear that this is hard or we're going to talk about it at some point and he's committed and engaging in a conversation and eventually having a vote. We should be voting on these things next week and he should come before the cameras and explain if he's not prepared to do that, why won't he let that happen. And then he should be prepared to have the debate that we need to have about banning assault rifles so that the kind of weapon that's used in mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting, like the one that took place right behind me that slaughtered 17 of my constituents, so that that never happens again.

CAMEROTA: And, so, Congressman Curbelo, do you -- I mean I understand that the speaker is interested. I understand everybody's interested. And it's easy to say that they're interested. And I don't doubt that they're interested. But do you sense that there will be something that happens this week in terms of action, in terms of taking a vote?

CURBELO: I think that Republican leadership is starting to realize that Americans aren't going to accept that this is the new normal. Americans aren't going to accept that we may drop off our kids at school one day and that they may not come home because someone slaughtered them.

So I cannot speak to a timeline. That's not my decision. But I know that they're aware that something has to be done. I've had very productive conversations.

And, by the way, whatever we do is going to have to be done in a bipartisan manner. In order for anything meaningful to happen, unless one party controls 60 votes in the Senate, a majority in the House and the White House, it is going to have to be done in a bipartisan manner. And what I would propose --

DEUTCH: Alisyn.

CURBELO: That rather than pointing the finger, yelling at each other on television, what the American people want to see right now is that leaders are working together, trying to find a way forward.


CURBELO: And that's what I'm committed to. I'm willing to work with Ted or with anyone else who is willing to sit down at the table --

[08:40:04] DEUTCH: And I appreciate that.

CURBELO: And figure this out in a constructive way because action is what we need, not attacks.

DEUTCH: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Go ahead, Congressman Deutch.

DEUTCH: I -- I completely -- I -- and I welcome -- I welcome Carlos' involvement in what is a -- is a movement. I talked to one of these high school students this morning who views -- views this, knows this is a movement. And to all of those who say that this shouldn't be politicized -- this -- you bet this is politics. Politics is raising your voice. Politics is driving debate. Politics is bringing about change. That's what the leaders of this movement, these young people, these young adults who have now aged far beyond their years because of what they've endured, that's what they're demanding. And it is not enough to say that we need to start having conversations. The time for conversations is over. The time for action is now.

CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen, on that note, it sounds like we have reached some common ground and we will be very interested to see if Congress does move forward these plans to raise the age limit and for expanded background checks.

Thank you, both, Congressman Curbelo and Congressman Deutch.

CURBELO: Thank you, Alisyn. Have a good day.

DEUTCH: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: We appreciate this conversation.

And we're going to continue this conversation because CNN is going to host a live town hall this Wednesday with so many of those students that you've heard from and their parents from Parkland, Florida, as well as several lawmakers. Senator Marco Rubio says he's in. Jake Tapper will moderate the "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action town hall on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Top Republican donors taking action against gun violence by closing his checkbook. Coming up, he'll explain why he's threatening to cut off donations to Republican candidates.


[08:45:51] CAMEROTA: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

President Trump lashing out in a weekend tweet storm after Robert Mueller's indictments against 13 Russian nationals. The president attacking the FBI, Democrats and his only national security adviser for saying that evidence of Russian election interference was incontrovertible.

BRIGGS: Students who survived the deadly massacred at a high school in Parkland, Florida, demanding tougher gun laws. They plan to march in Washington next month. The White House just said President Trump supports improving background checks for gun purchases.

CAMEROTA: The search is ongoing for a plane that crashed in a mountainous region in Iran killing all 65 people on board. Authorities do not know yet what caused Sunday's crash, but there was severe weather in the area when the plane went down.

BRIGGS: Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates reportedly set to plead guilty in the Mueller investigation and plans to testify against Paul Manafort. CNN first reported last week that Gates was finalizing a plea deal.

CAMEROTA: And the movie "Black Panther" roars, scoring the biggest opening ever for an African-American director and the fifth biggest opening weekend overall. Disney estimates the super hero flick will earn $218 million over this four day holiday weekend.

BRIGGS: Ryan Coogler, 31-year-old director, impressive.


BRIGGS: For more on the "Five Things to Know," go to for the latest.

CAMEROTA: OK, so there's this top GOP donor and he says he's closing his wallet in an effort to get assault-style weapons off of the streets. His message to Republican lawmakers, next.


[08:50:29] CAMEROTA: A top Republican donor says he will stop writing checks for candidates and political groups that oppose banning assault weapons. Al Hoffman Jr. has raised millions of dollars in campaign contributions. He was the lead fundraiser for George W. Bush's campaigns. And he says he has now reached out to a half dozen Republican leaders, including Florida Governor Rick Scott, about this.

Al Hoffman Jr. joins us now.

Mr. Hoffman, thank you for being here.

AL HOFFMAN JR., GOP DONOR CUTS OFF OPPONENTS OF ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN: You're very welcome. CAMEROTA: So what -- what was the tipping point for you? Was it this

Parkland school shooting? Is that what has made you decide to close your wallet to these folks?

HOFFMAN: You know, I was actually watching TV when the shooting was developing and the more I heard about it, my heart just dropped into my stomach and I was terrified. You know, for years I was the leading developer of Parkland community, my company, WCI, I built several thousands homes there, I built the clubs, built retirement communities. I watched the high school --

CAMEROTA: So you know these folks?

HOFFMAN: Oh, I know a number of them. I was there when the high school was finished and dedicated.

And so -- but then what I was so terrified what might happen. What if it was my children. What if it was my grandchildren and I was picking them up from school? I have children very close to there. And I have -- I have an affinity for Parkland I only live about an hour away from them right now.

CAMEROTA: I understand. I mean so, of course, it's personal to you.

And -- but I -- let me ask you this. What has Governor Rick Scott said about you saying that you're going to dry up the campaign contributions?

HOFFMAN: Well -- well, you know, a good friend of mine finally asked -- said to me. He said, why don't you -- as a litmus test -- hold out your money and refuse to write a check until they endorse your concept of banning assault weapons, which is exactly what they are. This event could have been avoided, prevented, if we had done something like that in Parkland.

And think about it, there's got to be a crazy out there somewhere that's ready for another mass shooting. Who can't wait. Becomes the --

CAMEROTA: Of course. Sadly, this is our -- this is our normal.

HOFFMAN: Modus operandi. But I -- I --

CAMEROTA: But I'm just curious, but what is it -- I mean since Governor Rick Scott has called for, you know, the director of the FBI to --

HOFFMAN: You know -- you know --

CAMEROTA: To -- he's not talking about guns. He's talking about change at the FBI. So what did he say when you proposed this to him?

HOFFMAN: You know, you know, I'm a good friend of Rick Scott's. I love him dearly. I'm a conservative Republican. I want him to win reelection. He was a great governor. I want him to win reelection as a senator. And I expect to talk with him in the coming days. I have not talked with him about this particular incident. CAMEROTA: OK.

HOFFMAN: But he said that all options are on the table, I believe, and I really want to try to persuade him to adopt this principle. I think that your two representatives that were just on, Carlos and Deutsch, they are in line and I think that there's a movement coming. We ought to take a good look at what Connecticut is doing, right, in the state of Florida right now. And the state of Florida better get with it and pass this assault weapons ban.

CAMEROTA: So I hear you and absolutely Connecticut can be a role model for what they did after Newtown.

As I understand it, you've helped raise $600 million for Republicans.


CAMEROTA: OK, that's an eyebrow-raising number.

HOFFMAN: Right, one --

CAMEROTA: But just to be -- just -- let me finish this because the NRA raises a lot of money -- or, I should say, contributes a lot of money to Republicans. $30 million to President Trump's campaign. $50 million in high-profile Senate races. So do you worry they'll get the money somewhere else even if your coffers dry up?

HOFFMAN: You know, I don't care what the NRA is doing. This is not about the NRA. This is really about well-minded people who have values and principals to be able to persuade other candidates running for office to ban these assault weapons. That's all they are, assault weapons and they need to be banned. And I'm going to work for that.

So, yes, I was Republican finance chairman under George W. Bush for the 2000 election and the reelection. And I'll tell you, we did raise over $600 million in those two cycles. Well over that.


HOFFMAN: But now I intend to contact every single Republican donor that I have in my little rolodex file here and I want to persuade them to hold up their check to their candidates until we can come around and create a movement here that does the right thing.


HOFFMAN: It's important that we do that.

CAMEROTA: That's --

HOFFMAN: And it's for the children. It's really -- it's not for anybody else but the children. That's what I want to do it for.

CAMEROTA: We understand and that's a really ambitious goal. And what do you think your other Republican donors will say to you when you call and say -- tell them to shut their wallets until this happens? [08:55:00] HOFFMAN: Well, look, I've had hundreds of -- I've had

hundreds of tweets already since this incident and since I wrote the article for Alex Burns (ph). And -- and there -- but the majority of them, the vast majority of them, are in favor of this concept.

I believe that the Republican majority can create a movement here and do the right thing. And I believe that we can do it for America. I'm a conservative Republican. I always was and I always will be. But I think we can be socially correct here and do the right thing. That's all I'm talking about.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Well, Al Hoffman, Jr., we like your optimism. Thank you very much for coming on NEW DAY to explain your plan to us.

HOFFMAN: You're very welcome.

CAMEROTA: All right, "The Good Stuff" is next. Stick around.


BRIGGS: All right, time now for "The Good Stuff," Camerota.

An elderly man from Wyoming using his spare time to make a difference. Elmer Hoke is a 92-year-old volunteer for Meals on Wheels. He hops in the car nearly every day to deliver food to homebound residence. Why?


ELMER HOKE, DELIVERS MEALS TO THOSE IN NEED: It could possibly be maybe your church upbringing, you know, in church, both to help your neighbor.


BRIGGS: Elmer says sure he could use the time for himself, but why do that when you can help other people.


HOKE: As long as I've got driver's license and are able to get around, I enjoy doing it.


CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, what a great story. Ninety-two? Look at how able he is.

BRIGGS: Sounds like less napping for us, more volunteering, OK? That's how I use my spare time.

CAMEROTA: There is a teachable moment in there for us, you're right.

Dave, thanks so much for being here.

[09:00:00] BRIGGS: It's great to be here on President's Day, my friend. CAMEROTA: Thanks so much. Great to work with you.

All right, time for CNN "NEWSROOM" now with John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.