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Dorian Devastates The Bahamas, Heads Slowly Toward U.S.; Seven Killed In West Texas Shooting; Senator Rick Scott Rejects Assault Weapons Ban. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 2, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] NICK UNDERWOOD, NOAA HURRICANE HUNTER: The cloud tops really reaching up to a slight level at 45,000 feet reaching up that high. We're getting into some of the outpour (ph), we're still getting some turbulence up there as well. Really just a powerful storm.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Nick Underwood, thank you so much for what you do. The science you're helping provide is saving lives. And thank you so much for joining us right now.

UNDERWOOD: We're happy to do it and thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right. Dana, you could see it right there, water coming up here along the beach in Jensen Beach. Still not high tide. In a day or two more of this with the storm surge coming in, that's why they're so concerned here.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: As they should be. And John, I'm guessing you agree with me, add hurricane hunter to the list of jobs that I admire greatly but would never, ever, ever want to do. Thanks, John. We'll be getting back to --

BERMAN: Yes. Not a chance.

BASH: Not a chance.

Later in the hour in a much more serious note up ahead, another mass shooting. It revives the same question. Will Congress do anything to make it harder to get guns? Stay with us.


[12:35:45] BASH: Once again this weekend, a mass shooting. The tragedy this time in West Texas. Seven were killed after a traffic stop devolved into a gun rampage. Investigators today are still searching for a motive. Grieving families and friends want answers.

Leila Hernandez celebrated her Quinceanera in May. According to "The Washington Post" a bullet ripped through her shoulder Saturday seconds after she stepped out of a car dealership. She didn't make it to the hospital. Her friends talking to CNN's Ryan Young at a vigil last night asked why this happened.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know why it happened to her, but it just did. And it shouldn't have because someone that sweet and kind doesn't deserve to go through this. Her hugs, they made people's days and she was the most nicest, kindest person to everyone.

Why did she have to go? Because I still need her here. I really do. She should have never went.


BASH: Scott McLean is in Odessa, Texas.

Scott, what are you hearing about the other victims of this mass shooting?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dana. So we know that 22 people were injured, three of them are members of law enforcement. There was also a 17-month-old girl named Anderson Davis. And we've just gotten an update on her condition.

Yesterday we know, though, she went into surgery to repair a hole in her lower lip and her tongue and also remove some shrapnel from her chest. The local sheriff's department says that she's now had a second surgery today that was successful. She's now at home resting. Amazingly she's expected to make a full recovery.

We also have some confirmation about another one of the victims, a U.S. army veteran who actually served in Afghanistan. Cameron Brown was from Brownwood, Texas, and he was killed in this shooting. His employer confirmed the news, calling the shooting senseless and horrifying.

Now, we know the shooter used an AR-15 type of weapon. We also know that at some point he hijacked a U.S. postal service van, the one that you still see here behind me, which made it confusing for law enforcement to figure out where the shots were actually coming.

Here's a bit of the dispatch audio 40 minutes later. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Start locking that down. Do we know if the people have moved from one vehicle to the other or do we have two vehicles?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't know if they moved. They just know there's a -- there's one male, how do you find a mail truck, they believe he's part of it. It's going to be the second at the vehicle last seen heading westbound again.


MCLEAN: So again, Dana, that was about 40 minutes after the first shots were fired. There was still confusion as to what exactly law enforcement was looking for. All in all, this shooter was on the run for about an hour.

BASH: Scott, thank you so much for that. Listen, the one ray of hope and optimism is the fact that 17-month-old, Anderson, looks like she will make a full recovery, but obviously a lot of heartbreak there in Texas. Another mass shooting, another pressure point here in Washington on lawmakers. And the question again, will they or won't they address the issue?

The vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters this morning that the Justice Department has drafted legislation to expedite capital punishment for convicted mass shooters. Short says that piece would be part of a package of measures the White House hopes to send to Congress.

Here with me at the table to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Melanie Zanona with POLITICO and Emily Larsen with the Washington Examiner. Thank you, one and all for coming in.

Abby, our White House reporter, let before I get the latest on what you're hearing about what if anything they are talking about, let's listen to what President Trump himself said yesterday at the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been speaking to a lot of House members, a lot of Republicans, a lot of Democrats. And people want to do something.

[12:40:01] So, we're going to see. This really hasn't changed anything.

I will say that for the most part, sadly if you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years, for the most part as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it.


BASH: That's a really different tune from what we heard after what happened in El Paso where he was talking up the idea of background checks.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And you're seeing a shift, and dare I say an inevitable shift in the president's rhetoric to start to align more closely with the NRA, with Republicans and people in his own party who are very wary of going too far on background checks. Wary that it will backfire with their base.

So the White House is talking a lot less about background checks these days, a lot more about the death penalty as you just mentioned for these mass shooters, even though we should note a lot of these mass shooters never survive the attack themselves. There are a lot of times killed in confrontations with police, so it raises the question how much would a sort of death penalty, if you are convicted of a mass shooting, deter people from going there. On the other hand, if you look at the polling, you're seeing two things. One, almost universal support for toughened background checks, but at the same time a majority of Americans, a slight majority say mental illness is a big part of this, so that's also one of the reasons why you're seeing the president talking a lot more about mental illness these days.

BASH: And that has been something that after many, probably every one of these mass shootings for years that Republicans who tend to support the NRA position have talked about mental illness. Our team covering Capitol Hill says that these talks so far, because Congress has been in recess has just -- they have just been on the staff level so they're not really that real yet. What are you hearing?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. And even some of these modest proposals, like these so-called red-flag laws, which are really narrow and essentially just allow the courts to temporarily seize guns away from people who are deemed dangerous, even that's running into hurdles with the GOP. You heard some of these top-ranked Republicans coming out against them, raising due process concerns. So that just really underscores the challenge that Republicans are facing on Capitol Hill.

And I might add there's not a whole lot of confidence that even if Trump does come out in support of something like a background check that inevitably he's not going to go back to his original position against it. I was just texting with a senior Republican who said there aren't a lot of GOP lawmakers who don't believe that he isn't just going to just reverse course and that's a huge problem for them.

BASH: It's a huge problem. And that has been the story line, the narrative of will they or won't they get anything done on tough issues for Republicans since the moment the president took office. Because even if he puts a toe in the waters of compromise, he pulls it back when he starts to get heat from his base.

EMILY LARSEN, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Certainly, and that's I think something that's definitely on the mind of President Trump. He doesn't want to go too far and looking like he's going to do something like supporting background checks or something because that can definitely back fire in the election.

I will say, though, the one interesting thing about the discussion right now is the NRA's had this internal turmoil and they haven't had as coordinative as a response to these mass shootings as maybe they would have liked. And so some people might be thinking that this is maybe the time to move forward on gun control legislation, but at the same time once they get it back together, that consul (ph) doom for any Republicans --

BASH: Yes.

LARSEN: -- who move forward supporting those measures.

BASH: Yes. And we were hearing that after the El Paso mass shooting last month, that was one of the things that the president was sort of mentioning as he was talking publicly about potentially expanding background checks while the NRA isn't -- is kind of a mess right now. That's probably an understatement, at its top ranks.

I spoke yesterday to Senator Rick Scott, who is a freshman senator but also of course was governor of Florida and after the Parkland shooting a year and a half ago they actually did put some measures into place statewide, including a red-flag law, which he says he's going to push when Congress comes back. But then just the more broad question about other gun control measures, here's what he said.


SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): I believe in all the amendments, including the second. I don't want to take weapons away from --

BASH: Even weapons of war?

SCOTT: Well, everybody's has their definition of things. But what we are looking at, why don't we look at the people that have the problems and look at taking all their weapons away from them.

BASH: And why not do both?

SCOTT: Yes. I want to do the things that I think work. I think the red-flag laws work.

BASH: And assault weapons ban is a nonstarter in this current Congress?

SCOTT: No, I'm focused on the people that have problems.


BASH: That was a -- you know, I was going out on a limb on an assault weapons ban because obviously that expired, you know, many years ago now and there was no talk of bringing it back. But still, if you look at the polls, there is broad support --


BASH: -- for banning those consequence.


BASH: Even among second amendment supporters.

[12:45:07] PHILLIP: Yes, you can see in that interview that you had to attend the wheels turning in his mind as he tries to navigate these tricky waters on some of these issues. The fact to the matter, there is broad support. I mean when you look at the polling, I mean the recent Quinnipiac poll, it's not even close. You're talking, you know, 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent for some of these gun measures that Rick Scott wouldn't even entertain as an idea.

So, that shows you the power of Second Amendment advocates or gun rights advocates within the Republican Party itself. It's broadly popular if you look at the whole electorate but when you look at just Republicans, it is not nearly as close, and so it's very tough for them to go that far.

BASH: And people who I talked to who are among those who are supportive of these bans and changes, they bang their head against the wall saying since when does Congress not listen to the majority?

ZANONA: Right, and especially in the suburbs, gun control is actually very popular. We know the GOP and the president has a problem in the suburbs right now. So if they don't act, there could be a backlash at the poll at least on the House side. But at the same time gun control is still very unpopular in red and rural states.

Texas just in fact loosened some of their gun laws just yesterday, I believe. So it is a balancing act and you have people like Mitch McConnell up for re-election in a red state. So I think he's going to at the end of the day do whatever what is best for his electoral map.

BASH: All right, thanks everybody. It's nice to have you with the table. We'll be getting back to you on a lot of campaign reporting as we continue to this campaign season. And before we go to break, there are a lot of 2020 candidates, of course, spending their labor day campaigning. We want to show you some video of one candidate, Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado, cutting a rug or a floor there with a kid. It looks like he's doing a Fortnite dance. Stay with us.


[12:51:58] BASH: Welcome back. We are tracking every part of Hurricane Dorian, a category 4 hurricane right now. It's lumbering towards the East Coast and that is where CNN's own John Berman is on the scene in Hutchinson Island, Florida. So John, it looks like the winds have picked up there. I asked you earlier about the fact that I saw some people still on the beach there and not evacuating. What's it like now?

BERMAN: Yes, they have emptied out. It's actually really interesting, Dana. Over the last 30 minutes or so, this beach has become a bit of a ghost town. A few reasons, I think. Number one, the water is coming in. They're running out of places to stand on the beach. The second thing is, is that the skies are getting darker here and we're getting closer to that time where the weather is going to get lousy and stay lousy with the driving wind and the pounding rain as well. And the third thing is Hutchinson Island is a barrier Island. One of the things they have done here. Officials have turned off the water to this island.

So people if they're going to stay in their houses, they're going to do it without running water and it makes it less appealing to try to ride out the storm here. So it could be that people have finally decided get out while the getting is good, get a few miles inland to ride out this storm for the next 24 hours, because it's going to get worse here. We're going to feel hurricane-strength winds and that rain starting later tonight into tomorrow morning, Dana.

BASH: All right, John Berman, please stay safe. I know that you are going to be on TV probably 24 hours a day as you track the hurricane coming towards you. Appreciate it, John. Thanks.

And parades, picnics, presidential candidates, that's Labor Day on the campaign trail. Michael Bennet, we saw him before the break, Joe Biden, Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, all holding events in the first nation caucus state. That of course is where CNN Jeff Zeleny is today, Cedar Rapids, Iowa to be exact. Joe Biden is the latest candidate to address a union coalition picnic. So, Jeff, what are you seeing there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, we are five months and one day before those Iowa caucuses which will start off the 2020 Democratic road to the White House. So if you look behind me here, you can see a group of people, reporters are gathering. Joe Biden has just arrived here. He's answering some questions.

But what Joe Biden is doing as he begins the next phase of the campaign here, Dana. He is trying to maintain his lead. He's ending the summer still leading the pack but not in command of the race. And by that we mean he has not necessarily grown over the summer but he is staying in that position.

And Dana, the voters I've been talking to here this morning in Cedar Rapids are quite torn still. They say they like Joe Biden but they are looking at others. They are trying to find the most electable candidate.

Dana, that is one central question hanging over the rest of this year in the campaign going forward. Should Democrats nominate someone in the middle perhaps like Joe Biden or should they nominate a progressive to take a little bit more of a risk if you will with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or someone else? So that's what voters are trying to figure out here. And there aren't many answers. There's still a lot of undecided torn democratic voters here, Dana.

[12:55:02] BASH: And Jeff, real quick Pete Buttigieg, you have some reporting on the fact that despite being in single digits --

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: -- he's got a lot of money. He's spending it there.

ZELENY: He is, Dana. I was with him just a little bit earlier this morning. He's spending that money here. He's opening 20 campaign offices in the next 20 days. He's starting from behind here, but he's really starting to turn on his organization. We'll see if that makes a difference. You'll remember Barack Obama in '07 he turned it on in the fall, so this is when candidates can make their stake, Dana.

BASH: He, he sure did. And Jeff Zeleny, you are going to be all over it. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for joining us on "Inside Politics." Our coverage continues after a quick break.