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One-On-One With Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D- CA); Beyond The Call Of Duty: First Responders Race To Save Lives In Dayton, Ohio; Should Congress Reinstate Ban On Assault Weapons? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Throw a stick of fried butter, frankly, anywhere in Iowa these days and you will likely hit a Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator Kamala Harris, one of the top contenders, is on a barnstorming bus tour across the critical early-voting state and she spoke with CNN's Kyung Lah about a number of topics, including the president's response to the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso less than a week ago, and also told Kyung what she wants to see done about gun legislation.


KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's talk about the president. He recently visited El Paso and today, there's video surfacing of him talking about the size of his crowds. You heard what he said after the news conference with Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dayton.

What -- should he have even gone to Dayton and El Paso?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, he's just so -- his preoccupation with size, I'll leave that for someone else to analyze.

But I will say that this president has used the platform that is given to the office of the President of the United States in a way that has been about trying to divide our country. He has used language that has been borne out of hate, and he generally shows no evidence of any natural ability to have empathy.

And, you know -- so -- I mean, of course, the President of the United States should visit and should be in a place that has experienced such tragedy, but I think that this president doesn't really have the capacity to have empathy.

And I just -- you know, my heart goes to not only the families but also the leaders of those communities who are trying to pull it together and stand strong.

LAH: Do you believe, as Elizabeth Warren and Beto O'Rourke have said, that he is a white supremacist?

HARRIS: I think you should ask him that question.

LAH: Are you willing to say that?

HARRIS: I think you should ask him that question. I'd be interested to see what his answer is.

LAH: Joe Biden has said today that the president -- as what he has done -- quote, "encourages white supremacy." That he doesn't feel that there's much of a distinction and what he is doing may be even worse.

Do you concur?

HARRIS: Yes, I think that's absolutely right. I think that's absolutely right.

This is a president who has -- I mean, we don't even need to -- the sad thing about this is it's no longer really a debatable point. There is just a long list of statements and tweets and behaviors from this president that make it very clear that he possesses hate and that he is -- he is divisive, and that he is a racist.

LAH: Is it important to call him a white supremacist, though, as some of your competitors have said?

[07:35:00] HARRIS: I think it's important to call it what it is, which is that we have a President of the United States who does not reflect the values of who we are as a people. He is someone who gives -- who empowers white supremacists and who condones their behavior. And that is not the kind of president that I think most Americans can be proud of, much less support.

LAH: Now, Senate leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that he will at least talk about background checks, the red flag laws.

As a member of the Senate body, what do you think about his shift?

HARRIS: I think he needs to put the bill on the floor for a vote and call all of us back to Washington, D.C. to vote on it right away.

LAH: He doesn't want to call people back but he says he will make it front and center when you return.

HARRIS: Well, I think that on this, we have to judge everyone by their conduct, not just their words.

LAH: Did you happen to see the video of the children crying when their parents were taken away by ICE agents?

HARRIS: I have not seen the video but I know about it and I know about the work of ICE under this administration, and it is immoral. These are human rights abuses being committed by the United States government. I serve on the Senate Homeland Security Committee. From the first day

I arrived there, about two years ago, I have been taking DHS to task and ICE to task. I was, I think, the first person in the United States Senate to ask about this child separation policy.

And it is clear to me that this administration has been not only irresponsible but has literally committed human rights abuses.

And these most recent raids -- hundreds of people who are now separated from their families for at least 24 hours and causing people in our country to be in fear -- and, in particular, the Latino community. People are in fear all over the country when you combine those raids with what just happened in El Paso --

And again, do you think that this administration and this president might step back and say, wait a minute. After what just happened in El Paso, when it was motivated by hate against immigrants and Latino immigrants, do you think that a responsible leader would have said don't do those raids.

That -- it just -- it shows a level of insensitivity and callousness that should not be traits of the President of the United States.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Kyung Lah with Sen. Kamala Harris there.

And we should note you're going to speak to someone from the school districts --

HILL: Yes.

BERMAN: -- down in Mississippi. The parents of those children there taken away. We'll find out how the kids are doing this morning.

HILL: Yes.

BERMAN: So, it is a night they won't ever forget. First responders in Dayton, Ohio responding to the mass shooting. CNN's exclusive interview with the heroes who went beyond the call of duty.


FIRST RESPONDER: It's a tragic outcome but we saved a lot of lives that night.



[07:42:16] HILL: Typically, as the temperatures rise toward the end of the summer, the news cycle tends to cool down. But as we know, nothing is really as it used to be these days -- certainly, not this August or a lot of other Augusts either, as it turns out. Right, John Avlon?


HILL: A little reality check.

AVLON: That's a fact.

Look, conventional wisdom says that August is a quiet month, but conventional wisdom is often wrong because the news cycle doesn't stop to go to the beach.

Remember, August is the month that Richard Nixon resigned, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

And as we've been painfully reminded this year, mass shootings don't take August off either, which is why there's a growing frustration that Congress is taking August off while crowds are telling elected officials in Dayton and El Paso to do something.

Democrats are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back to tackle gun reform, but don't hold your breath. If you walk down the Halls of Congress you'll see tumbleweeds until after Labor Day.

But there are signs of something that looks suspiciously like hope, with Mitch McConnell telling a local Louisville radio station yesterday this about background checks and red flag laws.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): So those are two items that, for sure, will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.


AVLON: Look, there's plenty of reason to be skeptical but also no reason to be complacent.

McConnell notoriously led Republicans and defeated that very bipartisan universal background check bill in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school slaughter, despite the fact that the legislation had the approval of nearly 90 percent of the American people.

And not for nothing, it was President Trump's first impulse to support background checks in the wake of El Paso and Dayton, but when he stepped up to give his speech all mention of expanding background checks had been excised. Apparently, embattled NRA president Wayne LaPierre told Trump that pushing background checks might alienate his base.

Even in our hyperpartisan times this doesn't stand up to scrutiny. One Quinnipiac poll last year, for example, found that 89 percent of Republicans support expanded background checks, but that means just 11 percent of Republicans oppose them. And there's no math where that makes a significant portion of the base. Here's the real deal. It's outrageous that 90 percent of the American people can agree on a policy only to see a bipartisan blocked for years while the body count rises.

And if McConnell is showing a willingness to indulge debate, it may be because the politics are shifting. Republicans lost ground among suburban voters, even in the South and Midwest in the 2018 midterm elections.

And we'll see in the coming weeks if citizens step up at their congressional town halls to demand their representatives do something about the epidemic of gun violence, much like the town halls in the summer of 2009 were dominated by opposition to the health care bill.

But it's also worth asking whether members of Congress should be as afraid of the NRA as they have been in the past.

[07:45:00] Should they really be intimidated by a man who spent nearly $300,000 of his nonprofit's money to buy luxury menswear at Beverly Hills? A man who reportedly tried to get the NRA to purchase a 10,000-square-foot mansion in a gated golf community for $6 million.

This ain't exactly John Wayne stuff. Instead, it sounds like just another K Street lobbyist trying to manipulate public opinion for his personal benefit and defeat the idea that our politics should represent public opinion in the process.

So don't believe the hype either that August is a quiet month or that reasonable gun reform is mission impossible.

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: August will only be quiet on efforts to fight gun violence if Congress chooses to make it quiet. It's a choice, John.

AVLON: That's right.

BERMAN: It's a great point you bring up there. Thanks so much.

AVLON: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: First responders going beyond the call of duty when the first shots were fired in Dayton. They train for unthinkable situations like the one last weekend.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin speaking with firefighters and paramedics who responded within minutes to help save lives.


FIRST RESPONDER: Dispatch, we've got shots fired. We've got multiple people down. We're going to need multiple medics.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM" (voice-over): It's what they're trained to do -- respond to emergencies and save lives. ADAM LANDIS, DISTRICT CHIEF, CITY OF DAYTON FIRE-RESCUE: Obviously, fires, fire alarms, medical emergencies, car wrecks -- things of that nature.

BALDWIN (voice-over): But when the men and women of the Dayton Fire Department went to sleep at their stations Saturday night --


BALDWIN (voice-over): -- none of them could have imagined the call they were about to receive.

FIRST RESPONDER: At Wayne Street for an active shooter incident. Engine 15, Engine two, Engine four, engine eight, East chief, ISU, Ladder 11, Ladder 14, Medic 11, Medic 13, Medic 14, Medic 16.

FIRST RESPONDER: I was here in bed and woke up with the initial tones (ph) and headed out the door.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Members of Dayton fire's first platoon responded within minutes. CNN getting the exclusive opportunity to speak with the men and women of Station 11, the closest station to the Oregon District.

JACQUELINE BECHLER, EMT, CITY OF DAYTON FIRE-RESCUE: I woke up and I thought it had to have been something really bad. When I looked down at the computer and I saw that it said mass casualty and I thought it was a mistake. I couldn't hardly believe something had happened like that here.

BALDWIN (voice-over): District chief Adam Landis helped run the fire and EMS response that night.

LANDIS: Just to be clear, the cops are the heroes in this. They did an outstanding job of neutralizing the threat. The crews -- they had boots on the ground -- that were in there doing what they did, they did an outstanding job.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Landis' team falling back on its training. Firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs jumping into action to start the triage process and get victims to nearby trauma centers as quickly as possible.

PATRICK BERNARD, FIREFIGHTER-EMT, CITY OF DAYTON FIRE-RESCUE: When we got on scene we were just -- we were part of the initial, like, search and triage team to find victims, patients, and treat them accordingly.

LANDIS: You fall back on your training. We got the information that we had and then had to develop a plan, which is exactly what we had trained for. We've trained with Dayton police, we've trained with the surrounding departments on these types of situations. So we were prepared for it and we that plan into place and it worked very well.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Nine lives lost, dozens more injured. These first responders doing everything in their power to save lives. BERNARD: Obviously, we all wish we could have done more than we did but, yes, I mean, I'm happy with -- I think it was the best outcome we could have hoped for.

BALDWIN (voice-over): A horrible situation that hit these men and women very close to home.

FIRST RESPONDER: A tragic outcome, but we saved a lot of lives that night.

BALDWIN (on camera): How proud are you --

LANDIS: Extremely --

BALDWIN (on camera): -- of what your fire department did?

LANDIS: -- and we've talked about that and I told them I was proud of everybody there. Everybody hit their marks. The training that's been conducted over the last several years in preparation for events like this, it all paid off.

The guys did extremely well. They did just like they were trained to do and -- yes, very proud, very proud.

BALDWIN (voice-over): The Dayton Fire Department going beyond the call of duty.

Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Dayton, Ohio.


BERMAN: Such bravery.

HILL: Yes, so important. And so important to hear their stories, too.


HILL: And that's going to stick with them for a long time to come.

There is word this morning about movement on gun legislation in Congress. Just how far, though, will Mitch McConnell go in response to the mass shootings?

We'll speak with one former U.S. senator about the chances in a Republican Senate.


[07:53:43] HILL: It has now been 15 years since the federal ban on assault weapons expired. The debate on Capitol Hill today, following the shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, should Congress reinstate that law?

Joining us now is Sam Nunn, former Democratic U.S. senator from Georgia who voted for that 1994 ban. He's also the co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. And you have an important new piece out about the nuclear threat and we're going to get that.

But I do just want to get your take, especially based on your experience when you were in the Senate, in terms of what we're seeing now.

The president was asked about an assault weapons ban. I just want to play his response to that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment. If you look at the -- you could speak, you could do your own polling and there's no political appetite from it from the standpoint of legislature.


HILL: Sir, would you agree that, at this point, it is essentially a nonstarter? There is no political appetite for an assault weapons ban?

SAM NUNN (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR, CO-CHAIR, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: Well, I think all three branches of the government are going to have to start using common sense. We've got tragedies every day unfolding, not just in the mass shootings, which are horrible, but also every day on the streets of America

People are in fear. People are in fear because of the color of their skin or where they live. This is just no way for our country to conduct itself.

[07:55:00] So, common sense, to me, means you basically limit the kind of killing power that we have on the streets now -- the military- type weapons and the number of rounds in the magazine.

You know, when I was 14 years old, I started hunting and I still hunt. I had shotguns all my life.

We've been required by law -- state and federal law -- not to have more than three shells when you're shooting migratory birds. And yet, guns that are designed to kill people -- military-type weapons -- have up to 100 bullets.

So that's what we're seeing out there now. And at least we ought to limit the number of bullets that basically prevent the killers from even having to reload and give people a chance to get away.

I also think universal background checks make sense. It makes no sense whatsoever to exempt certain places. Of course, that's where everybody would go.

HILL: Yes.

NUNN: And I think we ought to really look at the red flag issue about not having dangerous people with guns. Some states are already doing that. So, there's a lot that can be done.

I also think that we shouldn't believe that any of this is going to solve the problems immediately. There's no magic wand.

And we need, I think rather desperately, to have the CDC and the NIH to conduct research and tell us how we can make America safer from guns.

And we certainly are not going to repeal the Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment doesn't say you have to act stupid. You can have common sense, and that applies to all three branches of government.

HILL: Let me ask you really quickly just before we move on, based on everything you just said, one of the -- one of the biggest factors, frankly, has been the very strong lobbying of the NRA that we have seen, and we have seen it dominate the conversation.

The fact that the president, we know, had this conversation with the head of the NRA this week, who told him that even when it comes to background checks, that the president's support for that could really harm his base.

Are we in a point in time where you think the White House and Congress can start to ignore the influence of the NRA and listen more to their constituents?

NUNN: Well, I don't think Congress is going to ignore the members of the NRA. There are a lot of good members of the NRA -- people who want safety.

The NRA leaders don't always reflect the members. They go to more extreme positions. Many times, they are worried about the competition -- somebody getting to their right and they take extreme positions.

So I have a high regard for all the members of the NRA. We emphasize safety, teach young people safety lessons. But I have minimum high stand for the leadership of the NRA.

And I think Congress has to listen, of course, to their constituents but they do not -- they should not take dictates from the leadership of the NRA who are basically sort of in a contest to see who can be more extreme in interpreting the Second Amendment in ways that defy common sense.

HILL: I do appreciate you talking a little bit and touching on that topic.

I also want to -- I also want to move on to this piece that wrote with former energy secretary Moniz, under President Obama, in which you talk about the threat -- the nuclear threat today.

And in that piece, "The Return of Doomsday," you write, "Not since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis has the risk of a U.S.-Russian confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons been as high as it is today. Yet, unlike during the Cold War, both sides seem willfully blind to the peril." And you also say, at one point, that Washington and Moscow are acting as if time is on their side in terms of addressing these issues. It is not.

NUNN: Well --

HILL: Where is the -- oh, go ahead.

NUNN: No, go ahead.

HILL: I was just going to say -- I mean, where are you finding the biggest threat at this moment, today?

NUNN: Well, as I see it, we are increasing nuclear risk. And when I say we, I mean the United States and Russia, and I include countries like India and Pakistan. Risk of going up.

Technology must be made to work for us in reducing nuclear risk but it's now working against us. So I would say that's problem number one.

Problem number two with the U.S. and Russia -- and, as well, India and Pakistan -- is profound mistrust. We basically, for the last six, seven, eight years have been treating diplomacy as if it's a reward for good behavior instead of a tool for security of our citizens.

So we've got to have dialogue. That doesn't mean we agree. Frankly, the more we disagree -- the two countries that have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons -- the more we disagree, the more we ought to talk.

HILL: Yes.

NUNN: And we have to talk about technology. We have to have red lines.

Right now, in the cyberworld, there's growing danger of interference with warning systems and command and control systems, which can cause a nuclear war by accident. I worry more about accidents, miscalculations, some type of mishaps --

HILL: Yes.

NUNN: -- and some type of technology going awry.

And right now, you've got hypersonic.