Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Suggests Arming Teachers, Ending Gun-Free Zones; NRA Boss Rails Against New Gun Laws; Rubio Signals Split From NRA On Age, Bump Stocks; Trump Says He Will Push For Change In Gun Laws. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. Eight days after a gunman massacred 17 people at a Florida high school, the national conversation about guns remains as divisive as ever. But unlike the aftermath of previous school shootings, this debate shows no signs of fading.

Just minutes from now, at the White House, President Trump meets with state and local officials. Their focus improving school safety. This morning, President Trump is throwing a potential game changer into the Republican mindset on gun laws.

The president tweeting, "I will be strongly pushing comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health, raise age to 21 and end sale of bump stocks. Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue, I hope."

But those policies were not mentioned just a moment ago in a fiery speech by the head of the NRA. Wayne Lapierre blamed school security, mental illness and the failures at the FBI for the shooting and did not propose any changes to existing gun laws.

We're following all of the unfolding developments of this busy morning. We have Rebecca Berg at CPAC, the conservative gathering, the head of the NRA just spoke. We have Kaitlan Collins at the White House live and I do want to begin with you, Kaitlan.

This is the clearest that we have heard on the president's position. What do we know about how he got to this place?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, a lot of it had to do with that more than an hour long intensely emotional meeting that the president had, with students and teachers, students who survived that shooting in Parkland last week, here at the White House yesterday.

We watched the president as he listened intently and nodding and doing a lot of listening with these students as they voiced their ideas for how to stop something like this from happening again.

And an idea that the president suggested that he latched on to after a parent suggested it during that listening session at the White House was arming teachers with guns. That's something he's been floating on Twitter all morning.

He says his idea is a little more nuanced than just giving teachers guns and it's giving teachers who are adept at handling weapons, a concealed carry while they are schools because he believes that could stop a shooter quicker than anything else.

But he's also saying that he's for comprehensive background checks, it is a little vague as to exactly what he means by comprehensive background checks, but also raising the age limit to buy a gun to 21, which I should note is something that the NRA has roundly rejected.

But, of course, Brianna, you cannot dictate policy on Twitter here. So, the question is, does the president actually make a push to Congress to do something to instill some of these ideas that he's been tweeting about this morning.

KEILAR: And as he has been pushing back on his -- I guess, the perception of his idea to arm trained teachers, let's go ahead and listen to what he said about it initially.


SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: I don't believe teachers should be armed. I believe teachers should teach.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that quite frankly I'm comfortable with.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: I think it is a terrible idea.


KEILAR: It seems like his pushback what about what he said initially has to do with this becoming such a topic during the town hall last night. So how is he explaining his position and reminding people of some of the nuance that is actually there -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. That is certainly the signature idea that stuck out from the president, from that listening session yesterday, so as it was on cable news, people were talking about it, some people rejecting the idea, we saw the president say this morning he did not make the argument to give teachers guns.

But then in his tweets he makes the argument for giving teachers guns, but he adds a little nuance to it, he says, like I said, that it is for concealed weapons, he only wants 20 percent or so of teachers to be able to have guns.

It certainly raises a lot of questions of how that would be instituted, who would train these teachers, who would provide them with weapons, how would they select which teachers are going to be the ones that have guns.

But that is the big idea that the president has been pushing. He has been pushing the idea of giving teachers weapons in schools because he believes that is a way to stop more mass shootings from happening. He believes it is a deterrent here, Brianna, for someone to go and shoot up a school if they know that there are people who are armed inside of that building.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you. I want to go back to CPAC, where the leader of the NRA went on a tear this morning. We have CNN political reporter, Rebecca Berg, who is following all of the developments of CPAC there in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

And, Rebecca, we heard from Wayne LaPierre for the first time since the shooting. Tell us more about what he said.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We did, Brianna. While we did not hear from Wayne LaPierre any retreat from the NRA's position that gun laws don't need a change, that they need merely to be enforced, that security could be put in some of these schools to protect children.

But he did not address some of the policy changes we heard proposed by the president, also by the vice president, who is speaking right now behind me, suggesting that background checks need to be strengthened, the age of minimum purchase be raised to 21 for gun purchases.

[11:05:11] Wayne LaPierre did not address any of those things, but he did seem to suggest to the president, he did seem to nod to the president by mentioning some of the potential 2020 rivals, mentioning the president's proposal that school security be strengthened, but let's take a listen to some of what Lapierre said today, separating him from the president.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT AND CEO, NRA: Their solution is to make you, all of you less free. They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America's mental health system, and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI.


BERG: So, again, Brianna, not any sort of emphasis there from LaPierre that gun laws should be strengthened, but merely that security should be strengthened putting them at odds with the president of the United States.

KEILAR: All right, Rebecca Berg for us there in National Harbor, Maryland, at the CPAC Conference. Thank you so much for that.

Now Senator Marco Rubio front and center at an emotional town hall meeting, hosted by CNN. The conservative Republican on the defensive for his A-plus rating from the NRA now suggesting that he too could break ranks with the group on key policies.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in Washington following all of this. It was very interesting to see Senator Rubio last night. Tell us a little bit about how he may have evolved over the course of this evening in the wake of this happening in his state.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna. It certainly was obviously a very tough crowd, a very emotional crowd. You had the Florida senator called out by one father of a woman who was killed in the school shooting as pathetically weak to his face.

And it was clear that the senator was, and has been feeling the pressure of this moment, the fact that the shooting happened in his state, the fact that his positions are on full display and his response to that.

And we did see the senator make some concessions, shift his stance a bit, one on breaking with the NRA, notably he says he supports raising the issue to buy a rifle, he also says he's now open to reconsidering the size of gun magazines.

That is something he's opposed to in the past, but something he says after the shooting he's going to reconsider his position. Here is more of what he said last night.


RUBIO: I absolutely believe that in this country, if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle and I will support a law that takes that right away. I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size and after this, and some of the details I've learned about it, I'm reconsidering that position and I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why because while it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack.


SERFATY: And one of the other remarkable moments of last night, Brianna, Senator Rubio, which solicited some boos from the crowd there, he refused to consider banning semi-automatic rifles outright and that's something that we saw him on Twitter today really double down on, defend.

He said banning all semi-automatic weapons may have been popular with the audience at the CNN town hall, but it is a position well outside the mainstream, and notable as he has to define exactly what he's for, what he's against, what he could possibly consider, of course, next week, Congress is going to be back from recess.

They'll be back here in Washington, D.C. and they're going to face many of these same questions. We have not heard from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, not heard from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, of course, have responsibilities for potentially, you know, putting some of these proposals on the floor for a vote.

So, it will be a very interesting, come Monday, back here in Washington. Rubio not the only one facing some of these hard questions.

KEILAR: Yes. We will be watching along with you. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you. Coming up, we're going to hear from President Trump as he speaks to state and local officials on how to protect American schools.

Plus, the security camera problem that reportedly misled police as they responded to the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School. Stay with us for that.



KEILAR: Any moment now, President Trump will continue the conversation on school safety in the wake of last week's shooting in Parkland, Florida. He's about to meet with state and local officials from all across the country there at the White House, that's going to include the mayor of Parkland.

This morning by Twitter, he got an idea, we got an idea, I should say, of what action he's now pushing. He wrote, "I will be strongly pushing comprehensive background checks and emphasis on mental health, raise age to 21, and end sale of bump stocks. Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue I hope."

Well, let's discuss that hope with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. First, I want to get your reaction to the president's tweet. What did you think about that?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, Brianna, I've been a pretty tough critic of the president, but credit where credit is due. He sat, and he listened to some horrifying stories yesterday and it sounds like he's being open minded.

I mean, too often in this debate, reasonable voices get drowned out by people who are shouting, who are not interested in any possible change. And I give the president credit. I certainly don't agree with him on arming teachers, but, look, the man listened, he clearly was affected, and now he's come around to some proposals that a lot of us find very reasonable.

KEILAR: One of those proposals that he said he'll support, comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health. I just want to look at some of these things individually. What do you think about that one?

[11:15:12] HIMES: Well, to me, that's a no brainer. It is not just to me, as my colleague, Ted Deutch, pointed out last night on the CNN thing, you know, 97 percent of Americans support the idea that regardless of where you are, if you're at a gun show or store or buying a gun from your uncle, there should be a background check.

So, again, I can't think of anything that is much of a no brainer as that idea that is supported by as Ted pointed out yesterday, pretty much everybody in the United States, and you know, alone that, of course, is not going to fix all of our problems. But that's a very good first step that meets with all kinds of approval around the country. KEILAR: And another no brainer for you might be his proposal to raise the legal age to buy a weapon like the one that was used in the Florida shooting. So, instead of that being 18, it would go to 21. What do you think about that?

HIMES: Yes. I think that's smart. And you know, we don't allow young people to rent cars until they're 26. You know, we allow certain things to happen when you're 21, other things to happen when you're 18.

Frankly what I care more about, because people are of different maturities at different age, what I care more about is not so much the precise age or the precise definition of an assault rifle because we get twisted up in our underwear over that issue.

And you saw sort of Marco Rubio do that last night. Look, whatever you want to call it, a weapon that can discharge 20 or 30 rounds in a minute and a half or two minutes, the kind of weapon that was used in Florida, the kind of weapon that was used against my colleague, Gabby Giffords, those probably shouldn't be in anybody's hands.

So, I understand that we can get twisted up in the definition. But if you can squeeze off 20 or 30 rounds in a minute and a half, that's not a hunting gun. That is not a self-protection gun. That is a gun that is designed to kill a lot of people quickly and it probably shouldn't be in anybody's hands.

KEILAR: It strikes me, Congressman Himes, I've spoken to other Democrats, and we'll ask them about some of these proposals that the president seems to be on board with, obviously there can be common ground with Democrats, and still some Democrats will say, yes, but that's not enough, or, you know, it is so little so late.

You're saying credit where credit is due. So, when you look at that, what do you say to your fellow Democrats who might not want to give President Trump that credit?

HIMES: Well, look, I believe in politics, if you're going to have credibility, you can't just always be saying that the other side is awful. Again, I give Marco Rubio, even though I disagree with him, on a lot of issues, I give him a lot of credit for listening to those students, for showing up in a very tough environment last night.

And, again, I give the president credit for listening and for coming forward, maybe not giving us the whole loaf, but we'll start negotiating at half a loaf. This is the way you get things done because people come to understand each other's points of view and when that happens, we should celebrate it rather than criticizing it.

Now, you say people who want a lot more, look, the reality is that gun violence in this country is a huge and complicated issue. We don't talk about the fact that two-thirds of the 33,000 deaths that we suffer a year in this country fully two thirds are suicides.

That's not a mass shooting in a school. Much of what we're talking about here wouldn't necessarily get at those suicides. So, there is a lot more to talk about beyond some no brainers, background check, assault rifles, you know, 30-round clips. There is a lot more to talk about. So long as we're talking, there is a chance we made progress.

KEILAR: You said the morning after the Parkland shooting, quote, "Congress won't lead on this issue." Do you feel differently now, this -- you know, several days after?

HIMES: It is a great question. And, of course, you know, I'm sitting here right now, you know, 20 miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 babies were murdered, and nothing happened. Nothing happened. It is still appalls me.

And I thought if that doesn't mobilize the American public in the kind of way we have seen the American public mobilized after Parkland, nothing will. But lo and behold, again, the president is being reasonable on this, Marco Rubio showed up in a very difficult room.

I think the president is right, that the weather has changed a little bit about -- around this issue. So, again, coming from the Sandy Hook area as I do, I don't want to celebrate any wins until they are done. But I think we may be having a slightly different national moment than we had in a very long time here.

KEILAR: It is very interesting to hear you say that. I do actually want to ask you about Russia. You are a member of the House Intel Committee, so certainly very relevant to talk to you about this.

Some of the developments on this investigation into Russian meddling in the election, CNN's Pam Brown is reporting that an administration official says the U.S. warned Russia not to interfere with the midterm elections coming up this year. What do you think about that?

[11:20:03] HIMES: Well, I think that's important, but it is not nearly enough. I mean, you know, President Barack Obama warned Putin not to do it in 2016 and, you know, warnings and stern language doesn't work with the Russians.

The Russians understand shows of strength, they understand retribution, and, you know, while I've been very disturbed, again, I gave the president credit for his actions on guns, I don't give him a lot of credit for being strong on Russia.

And to go back to the previous president, you know, Barack Obama actually did, you know, kick a bunch of Russians out of the country, shut down a bunch of their facilities, that was not enough.

You know, until we make it very clear that attacking our elections is in a sense an act of war, and that there will be retaliation, the Russians will keep doing it.

KEILAR: And what about -- the memo that Democrats on the committee have written, led by Adam Schiff, so it obviously rebuts the Republican memo that says the FBI abused surveillance powers. Schiff said this is going to be out this week. Is that your expectation as well? HIMES: Well, I hope it is. It is funny, there has been so much water under the bridge with all that happened in Florida, and with the indictments out of Bob Mueller's office. There has been so much water under the bridge.

Look, I think the reality is that the American public came to see the Nunes memo for what it is, which was kind of a big nothing. But nonetheless, there were allegations that were made in that memo that were at the expense of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice.

And the American people deserve to know that those were not accurate, that the FBI and the DOJ are comprised of very good people, not acting politically, and doing their work on the American people's behalf.

So, I do want to see that Democratic refutation because again that memo will show that a lot of the allegations that were made in the Nunes memo were not correct. So, I do hope that it comes out this week.

KEILAR: All right. Congressman Jim Himes, thank you so much.

HIMES: Thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up, President Trump speaks to state and local officials on how to protect American schools. We're going to bring that to you as soon as it happens.



KEILAR: We're keeping an eye right now on the White House, where President Trump will be meeting with state and local officials on school safety, that is set to start any moment now. We're going to bring that to you as soon as it happens.

I want to bring in my panel, we have CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, and also CNN political analyst and senior White House correspondent at "Bloomberg News," Margaret Talev for us.

Nia, I wonder what you think, especially -- we were listening to Congressman Jim Himes and he was saying something I never thought I would hear him say, which was credit where credit is due to President Trump, right. He likes some of these ideas.

He describes them as no brainers, but he's happy that President Trump is putting them out there when you're talking about gun safety. Considering that sort of rhetoric, what was this amazing evening last night on this issue with this CNN town hall, do you think the debate on gun safety is in a different place today?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It does feel like that, right, at least incrementally. I think if you look back, even over maybe the last 20 years, since Columbine, you have had incremental changes in terms of organizations, gun control organizations, on the ground, in various states, who are able to link up via social media, who are much more well-funded than they used to be, certainly not as well funded as the NRA is.

And then you have this victim speech, right? I mean, they are very compelling advocates, we heard them last night, the students, who are, again, tapping into movements that have cropped up in various states in the wake of other mass shootings.

So, I think we have come to a place where the accumulation of all of these mass shootings that we had over these last years, whether it was Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, which did lead to some change in the law, small change in the law, and they're trying to build on that now. So, I do feel like we are in a different place and we'll see where it goes.

KEILAR: It seemed, Margaret, like Senator Marco Rubio was in a slightly different place last night. Credit to him, he showed up, that was not in an easy place for him to be. But those were his constituents in Florida, and he listened to their concerns and he answered questions.

He said he supports raising the legal age to buy a rifle like the one we saw used in Florida, open to reconsidering outlying high capacity gun magazines, the reloading, that allows them to not have to reload as much.

He disagreed with the president on arming teachers. He was very clear about that, but is he an anomaly or do you think other Republicans will follow suit?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think actually that does show movement. It shows that there is a political path to take a step back from the NRA, at least right now, in the Republican Party while still looking at the overarching support of gun rights laws, to be able to say there is room for modifications.

That's not a place where we were until now. It is not a place where we were after Sandy Hook. The question is what happens now. We saw this very pretty decisive, it looked like, remarks by Wayne LaPierre.

I have to think that, you know, what you see with the Democratic tactics, it seems to be is taking a page from the way Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker have tried to deal with President Trump in weeks and months on things like the Iran deal --

KEILAR: Pour a little sugar on it, kind of? They agree with him? Is that what it is?

TALEV: There are times, maybe it is tax cuts or health care, whatever, when you just politicize it, everyone takes their sides. But in this case, I think you see Democrats at least potentially trying to get something done and thinking the best way to do it is so encourage the president and praise him rather than come armed for battle and -- I don't know a better analogy to use. And I think also maybe more cynically, a desire to show the families, the victims, that they don't want to politicize this issue. It may very well get politicized later, seems like it always does.