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Beto O'Rourke (D) Calls For Confiscating Weapons Of War; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) On Michigan's Flavored E-Cigarette Ban; 145 CEOs Demand Congress Take Action On Gun Violence. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 07:30   ET





BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Former congressman Beto O'Rourke going further than any other candidate last night when it comes to gun violence, saying if he is elected president he would issue a mandatory buyback of the type of guns used by the military on battlefields. As you can imagine, the reaction from some conservative corners was swift.

And, Beto O'Rourke joins us now. Good morning.

O'ROURKE: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: OK, so that was a moment that got a lot of attention last night and it's getting a lot of attention this morning. And I'm just wondering this morning if you have any concern that by saying that so openly, so unapologetically, that you have somehow given President Trump a campaign ad to say, see, Democrats want to confiscate your guns.

O'ROURKE: No, Alisyn.

I'm far more worried about the 40,000 Americans who are killed every year through gun violence. Worried about the victims of those mass shootings, the parents who have lost a child. The mother I met who lost a 15-year-old daughter who bled to death in front of her very eyes. I'm worried about that.

And I'm worried that we won't take action because we've been compromised by the politics and the polling and the worries about what the candidate is going to do -- if we say the right thing, the true thing, the necessary thing.


So I'm going to say the necessary thing, which is background checks are important; red flags law, essential. We should stop selling weapons of war.

But if we leave 10 million of them out there they will become the instruments of terror that we've seen in El Paso, in Midland-Odessa, in Sutherland Springs. And those are just three mass shootings in our state, but all across this country.

So we've got to do the right thing and I'm confident the popular will is there, not just among Democrats but Republicans and gun owners, as well as Independents, Democrats, and non-gun owners alike. So we've just got to move now -- we've got to move.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's look at where the polling is because it's interesting I think. Particularly, on this issue, it's exactly divided. The latest Marist-NPR poll shows that in terms of "Should Congress create a mandatory buyback program of assault guns" -- just what you said last night -- 45 percent of the country says yes, 46 percent of respondents say no.

And so I hear you. You don't -- you're not invested in the polling -- what you're saying. You're not worried about what the right will say. However, if you don't win the general election you don't even get to make that policy. So is it a concern that it's not a winning position for the general?

O'ROURKE: It's not a concern of mine and that's, in part, informed by listening to people in conservative parts of America -- in the southwestern part of Virginia where not only does no Democratic presidential contender go to, but I don't think they've had a candidate for the presidency visit Bland County before.

But the folks in Bland County, as conservative as it might be, as proud a gun owner as they might be, they're talking about this issue. And folks are saying look, I would give up that AR-15 or that AK-47. I do not need it to hunt, don't need it to defend myself and my home.

They recognize that this was a weapon designed for war to kill people as effectively, as efficiently, in as great a number as possible, and it has no place in their communities.

Listening to the E.R. doctors who are treating these wounds -- E.R. doctors who have also served in the military and say this is what I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan. I never thought I'd see it in El Paso or Midland or Odessa.

If we accept this we're complicit in it and I refuse to accept it. And I believe at the end of the day, Alisyn, a majority of Americans refuse to accept this.

CAMEROTA: Here's one that doesn't. The state rep from Texas, Briscoe Cain, tweeted at you right after the debate. He said, "My A.R. is ready for you, Robert Francis" -- there, using your first and middle names. How did you hear that tweet?

TEXT (O'ROURKE, TWITTER): This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn't own an AR-15 and neither should anyone else.

O'ROURKE: You know, I think Twitter took it down because you have somebody with a weapon of war threatening to use it against somebody who is talking about gun violence in this country. That's exactly why Briscoe Cain should not have an AR-15.

I remember another moment not too unlike this one. We were finishing a March for Our Lives organized by these wonderful high school students in El Paso. I had my 8-year-old Henry riding on my shoulders and as we come into San Jacinto Plaza there are two guys, both with AR-15s, waiting for us at the end of the march.

And Henry says, "Dad, what's up with this? I thought we were marching against this." And I said, "You know, don't pay them any mind, don't give them any attention."

But they were there to intimidate and to make a point -- and really, to threaten political violence, which is exactly what the state rep is doing right now.

The moment that we accept that is the moment that we lose this country. That we can non-violently and peacefully resolve our differences. Come to different conclusions on different issues but at the end of the day, move forward as Americans.

That's been the genius of this country for as long as we've been a country. We cannot lose that now.

So, for Twitter taking that down, I think that makes sense. For folks who called that out, that makes sense as well. We cannot accept that.

CAMEROTA: Well, you obviously called it out. You said, "This is a death threat, Representative." That's what you tweeted back.

Are you going to contact the FBI?

O'ROURKE: I believe that someone on the campaign did -- contacted the FBI and contacted Twitter. I mean, anytime you have somebody threaten to use violence against somebody in this country to resolve a political issue or really for any reason, that's a matter for law enforcement.

But it really drives home the point better than I could have made. Representative Briscoe Cain is making the case that no one should have an AR-15 that they can hold over someone else and is going to say look --


O'ROURKE: -- if we disagree on something, let me introduce you to my AR-15. Absolutely wrong. CAMEROTA: Congressman, one more moment that's getting a lot of attention this morning is what happened when Julian Castro went after Joe Biden -- it seemed, three times -- for what sounded like a not-at- all veiled barb about his age and memory. Was that fair game to you?

O'ROURKE: You know, I wasn't really excited about that.

And, in fact, in my opening in the debate last night, I talked about how this threat that we have of Donald Trump -- the racism and violence that he has welcomed out into the open that he directed, essentially, to my hometown of El Paso, Texas, which killed 22 of the members of our community, that -- the pettiness, the name-calling, the small-ball politics.


And that was an example of that last night. That's not going to be up to this threat. That will not defeat Donald Trump. That won't bring this deeply divided country back together again.

So look, if you've got a policy difference with Joe Biden, by all means, let's air it at the debate. But that kind of personal attack, I don't think is what we need right now and it's insufficient to the challenges that we face.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Beto O'Rourke, thanks so much for being up extra early to be on NEW DAY. We really appreciate it.

O'ROURKE: Thank you. Thank you, Alisyn. Appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: See you again -- John.


So this morning, as the vaping epidemic grows, so, too, is the movement to ban flavored e-cigarettes. We're going to speak with the governor of the first state to take action. That's next.


BERMAN: All right, we have new developments this morning on what truly is a vaping epidemic in this country. The number of teenagers who are vaping has skyrocketed over the past few years.


Last week, Michigan became the first state to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes. And now, the Trump administration is following suit.

Joining us this morning is the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. Governor, thank you very much for being with us.

First, your reaction to the announcement from the administration that the federal government is going to step in and ban the sale of most e- flavored cigarettes -- sorry, flavored e-cigarettes? GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Well -- right. Well, we were pleasantly surprised, to be honest. When we took the step first last week we didn't know what the reaction would be. I just knew that it was the right thing.

The statistics are compelling when 81 percent of teenagers who get onto an "e" product start with a flavored vape, it tells you that there is something going on that we need to be very mindful of.

And when you see the results of kids showing up in E.R.s because they're inhaling this addictive substance and nicotine, but all the other chemicals that are part of it, it is scary stuff.

And so, our chief medical officer said we've got a public health crisis. I took executive action. And I was very pleased to see both Gov. Cuomo, in New York, start the process there and the White House, just this week, acknowledged that they're going to as well.

BERMAN: Let's put up the statistics here so people can see exactly what you're talking about.

In 2017, 11.7 percent of high school students said they had tried e- cigarettes. In 2019, it's 27.5 percent. That is explosive growth. I've never seen growth like this for any product.

It's a little bit of a separate issue than some of the vaping-related illnesses you're talking about right now, which some of the early research suggests could be from some of the additives being used by people using cannabis. That's what the industry says. Nevertheless, there are great concerns about teens using this.

What will the penalty be in your state to people who continue to sell flavored e-cigarettes?

WHITMER: Well, real quick, these are companies that are targeting our children. They are selling this as something that is a healthy activity. They are addicting them with nicotine and they are selling it with -- marketing with fruit loops and cotton candy and bubblegum flavors.

This is targeted at our children. It's sold next to candy in a lot of stores.


WHITMER: And so because of all this misinformation in an industry that is inherently -- you know, has very little credibility, we need to take action.

So in our state, the full ban goes into effect within the next 30 days and they've got to come off the shelf. And if not, there will be penalties and we will be enforcing it.

BERMAN: The industry -- what they say is that adults use the flavored e-cigarettes. They say they don't want kids using them. They don't give you a way to stop them from using them, but they say they don't want kids using them.

And they say what you are doing is removing these products from the adults who use them because the fruit flavors are the most popular. So why shouldn't adults be able to use the fruit-flavored products?

WHITMER: Well, listen, they are marketing to our kids. They're marketing to make them look like USBs and they're telling kids your parents won't know. That's a part of their marketing. They're using minions from "Despicable Me," the movie for children, to sell e-cigs.

Adults who are trying to get off of traditional cigarettes can use a tobacco-flavored vape under the -- under the law in Michigan, and if the White House proceeds with theirs as well. That's a tool for people that are trying to get off of off traditional cigarettes.

But the fact of the matter is these flavored vapes are targeted at our children. And kids' brains are not fully developed until they're well into their 20s and so they're going to pay a lifetime for this addiction that's been created by an industry that wants to make money off of targeting and exploiting our kids.

BERMAN: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, thank you for being with us this morning and having this discussion. This is a story we care about deeply here so please come back and talk with us again real soon.

WHITMER: I look forward to it.

CAMEROTA: All right, John. We have three more candidates coming up.

But first, more than 100 business leaders are demanding action from the Senate on gun violence. One of those CEOs is going to tell us what they want, next.



CAMEROTA: More than 100 U.S. business leaders are demanding that the Senate do something on the issue of gun violence.

These CEOs sent a letter yesterday that reads, in part, "We are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers, and all Americans in the communities we serve. Doing nothing about America's gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety."

One of the people on that letter is Keith Mestrich. He is the president and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. Mr. Mestrich, great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: So why did you decide to write this letter to the Senate? MESTRICH: Our customers, our employees, everybody in this country is calling out for action. There is really simple things that we can do.

We can pass background checks, we can pass red flag laws. They're unbelievably popular in this country. The Senate can take action today. The House has already done it.

Our customers, our employees are clamoring for action. It's time for CEOs to stand up and be part of the solution and add their voice to this debate.

CAMEROTA: It doesn't sound like it was a tough decision for you to sign onto that letter.

MESTRICH: Really, an easy decision, quite frankly, when 95 percent of the people in this country want background checks.

Our customers are clamoring for it. They want us to take action. They want us to do something. One of the easiest decisions I've ever made.

CAMEROTA: Who came to you? How did this come to pass that this letter came?

MESTRICH: The folks at Everytown for Gun Safety were really the ones who organized this and really helped out by Levi Strauss, one of the key companies organizing this.


A lot of companies have stood up and said CEOs have a voice in this -- in this debate and asked us to sign onto it and we agreed to add our voice.

CAMEROTA: There are some notable omissions in terms of big CEOs -- well-known brands -- that did not sign onto the letter. Just a few -- Apple, Facebook, Google, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo. Why wouldn't they, do you think?

MESTRICH: I can't really speak to why other companies didn't sign onto the letter. But I know that our customers think that this is an important issue.

I know that we need to take action in this country. I know that there's things that we can do today that the House has already taken action on, that the Senate can take action on tomorrow. It's time to stand up for things.

If some companies don't want to sign onto the letter that's their decision, but our company was proud to be part of the debate.

CAMEROTA: What does it tell you that it is business leaders that are taking this mantle? That CEOs are doing this and clamoring for this and publicly taking this stance when the Senate -- primarily, the Republicans in the Senate -- won't do anything. MESTRICH: I think it's a sad commentary on where the state of government and the country is really today that we are so tied up and completely incapable of taking action on some of the most important issues of the day.

We have a public health crisis. We have a gun crisis in this country. We look crazy compared to everybody else in the world and we can't do something about it? It's a real commentary on government.

And anybody who has a bully pulpit and has a voice should stand up in this country and say it's time to take action.

CAMEROTA: School shootings and mass shootings have been going on for a woefully long time in this country. Columbine was a long time ago.

Why this week? What happened this week that made you want to send this letter?

MESTRICH: I'm a father of three kids. My wife's a public school teacher. They now have gun safety drills in school every day. That should be enough to get us to take action.

But when a man can walk down the street of Dayton, Ohio and kill 29 people -- or kill nine people in 29 seconds, we can't be silent anymore. We have to stand up and say it's time to act now.

CAMEROTA: Are we at a tipping point because look, we've been here before in terms of after Newtown, everybody said obviously, something will change? You can't have kindergartners slaughtered in their classroom. But then, nothing did happen.

Do you feel something's different today?

MESTRICH: It does feel different. Unfortunately, it's maybe because so many things happen to close together with one another that it feels like it's time to take action.

But last night in the debate, the issue was front and center. CEOs standing -- 150 CEOs signing onto a letter is something that we've never seen before. Ninety-plus percent of people clamoring for background checks. It feels like maybe we have a moment where we can do something and actually change the -- change what happens on this issue in this country.

CAMEROTA: Have you heard back from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell?

MESTRICH: No, we haven't yet. It's time for Mitch to act.

CAMEROTA: Do you expect to hear back from him?

MESTRICH: I don't think Mitch will call me, himself, but I hope the Senate Democrats can really bolster up some action here and get the Senate to act. A few brave Republicans can stand up and do the right thing and we can get action on this -- on this issue.

CAMEROTA: Well, Keith Mestrich, thank you very much for coming in and explaining --

MESTRICH: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- all of it to us. We'll see what happens if you ever get that response.

MESTRICH: Appreciate it very much.

CAMEROTA: Good to have you.

MESTRICH: Thank you.


Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, we have three Democratic candidates from last night's debate coming up. NEW DAY continues right now.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Americans don't want to pay twice as much as other countries. What people want is cost- effective health care.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There will be a deductible in your paycheck. That's not a bad idea if you like it. I don't like it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Julian Castro just blows himself up by attacking someone that all the voters watching have pretty good feelings about the guy.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a disagreement about health care policy. I respect the vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In previous debates, she tore into him. This time, she tore into Trump.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He reminds me of that guy in the "WIZARD OF OZ" -- you know, when you pull back the curtain it's a really small dude.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The differences amongst us Democrats on the stage are not as great as the urgency for us to unite as a party.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, September 13th, 8:00 here in New York.

It's been a special extended dance-mix version of NEW DAY.

CAMEROTA: For sure. And I consider September 13th lucky.


CAMEROTA: It's, so far, been a lucky day on NEW DAY.

BERMAN: And we are now hitting our groove so don't go anywhere.

Julian Castro, the former Housing secretary, just minutes ago defended his attacks on Joe Biden's age and memory. He was right here on NEW DAY. Remember what he said last night?


CASTRO: But the difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt-in and I would not require them to opt-in.

BIDEN: They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.

CASTRO: You just said that -- you just said that two minutes ago. You just said to minutes ago that they would have to buy in.

BIDEN: They do not have to buy in if they can't afford it. It would automatically be enforced.

CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can't believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now, you're saying they don't have to buy in.

BIDEN: No, no.

CASTRO: You're forgetting that.


BERMAN: So I asked Sec. Castro, moments ago, about that moment and whether he had any regrets or would do it differently. He said no. And not only did he say no, he.