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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Lawmakers Optimistic For Narrow, Targeted Gun Reform Bill; White House: Biden "Encouraged" And "Optimistic" About Gun Reform Deal; Uvalde Teacher Who Lost All 11 Students Shares Harrowing Experience During Shooting; Ukraine Says It's Reclaiming Land In South As Russia Bombs East; Some Companies Tell Workers To Come Back To Office Or Risk Losing Job; Burn Pits Legislation Could Help Millions Of Exposed Veterans. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired June 07, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: All right. Well, your life is about to change because this update will be available for all of you who feel like Victor in the fall.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I need to update my phone. You know I still have the iPhone 6?

CAMEROTA: Okay. I don't -- I don't hold that against you. I really don't.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A potentially big moment, but can the U.S. Senate even pass a small bill when it comes to guns?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Spotted at the White House, a key senator pivotal to gun negotiations. What his appearance might signal about a potential deal.

Plus, a devastating account from a teacher inside Uvalde classroom.


ARNULFO REYES, TEACHER WHO SURVIVED MASSACRE INSIDE CLASSROOM 111: I told myself, I told my kids to act like they're asleep so I'm going to act like I'm asleep also. And I prayed and prayed I would not hear none of my students talk.


TAPPER: Why this Uvalde teacher now says he's angry at law enforcement who he heard in the hallway while 11 of his students were being killed.

And office ultimatums. Return to the office or lose your job. The tough decision more workers are now facing.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with our politics lead today. President Biden now getting involved as a key Democratic senator says negotiations with Republicans on gun reform have reached a, quote, critical stage. That Democrat, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, visited the White House today to give President Biden a rundown of where bipartisan negotiations stand, before Murphy headed back to the Hill for yet another meeting with his fellow negotiators.

Those lawmakers have expressed growing optimism that a deal for a narrow targeted bill could potentially be reached as soon as the end of this week. So what remains on the table? Well, incentivized states to pass red flag laws, potential waiting periods for 18 to 21-year- olds buying firearms such as AR-15s, new funding for school security. And potential investments in mental health care.

And while some may find hope in this possible achievement, it is also worth pointing out all the items that Republicans appear to have taken off the table, including raising the minimum age of purchasers of AR- 15 style weapons from 18 to 21, a ban on some semiautomatic rifles, universal background checks, and restricting high capacity magazines.

Now, the White House is hoping to capitalize on the apparent momentum today. They seized on the power and influence of Hollywood and one of Texas' favorite sons, actor Matthew McConaughey.

He's a Uvalde, Texas, native. He spoke at today's White House briefing about his ideas for gun reform and school safety.

Today, we're also hearing for the first time the heart breaking account of one of the teachers who survived that school massacre. Arnulfo Reyes was shot twice, 11 of his students were killed. Now he tells ABC News's Amy Robach that he'll never forgive law enforcement for their delay in entering the classroom.


REYES: After everything, I get more angry because you have a bulletproof vest. I had nothing.


TAPPER: Let's get straight to the White House and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, how close does the Biden administration think a deal could be?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, they seem optimistic. And President Biden, they said, is cautiously hopeful that potentially they could be on their way to potentially a deal. There's obviously a reason for a lot of caution here, but President Biden did have a 40-minute meeting with one of the top Democratic negotiators who is working with Republicans on potentially reaching some bipartisan agreement here.

And the reason the White House says President Biden is optimistic, is talking about his own years in the Senate, his own years working on gun control and gun restrictions that they said took such a long time to actually come together, and they said that's why he's so hopeful by what he's seen in the last few days.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We haven't seen this type of -- this type of negotiations or this type of coming together from both sides in a very long time. It's been decades. So he's encouraged. He is optimistic about what he's seeing, about what he is hearing, the update he received. So we're going to see how those negotiations go. He believes any step is a step forward.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, that last part there is notable, saying any step is a step forward, according to the press secretary, when it comes to President Biden. That was when I asked if he would accept whatever deal lawmakers could come to should they come to an agreement or there's something that President Biden certainly wants in there, a line drawn of what he wants the legislation to look like. They say, really, Jake, they believe any progress is progress. Of course, the timeline really remains to be seen here.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, actor Matthew McConaughey, he's a Uvalde, Texas, native. He spent time meeting with victims' families in his hometown.


He just spoke at the White House briefing about those meeting. Tell us about it.

COLLINS: Yeah, Jake, it was a really emotional moment in the briefing room. Obviously, Matthew McConaughey is from Uvalde, Texas. He said he went down there with his wife and his own children right after the shooting occurred. The day after, they drove down there.

They have been meeting with the parents and the families and just everyone in this community and talking to them about what happened in the aftermath. And clearly, he spent a lot of time with these children's families bah he was going into detail paying tribute, Jake, talking about their artwork, how one wanted to be a marine biologist.

One thing he did note is his wife was sitting in the corner of the briefing room, she was holding a pair of green Converse tennis shoes. Matthew McConaughey said the reason she was holding those is because there was one student, one little girl who was only able to be identified because she was wearing those shoes.

And, Jake, he was talking about how he has talked to morticians who were down there. He talked to a lot of funeral home directors who had not slept because they had been dealing with so many funerals, and he said those who do the makeup on people at funerals were saying they couldn't even properly do their jobs because of just how severely maimed these children were after being murdered.


MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, ACTOR, UVALDE NATIVE: These bodies were very different. They needed much more than makeup to be presentable. They needed extensive restoration. Why? Due to the exceptionally large exit wounds of an AR-15 rifle. Most of the bodies so mutilated that only DNA tests or green Converse could identify them.


COLLINS: So, Jake, that was really how the entire moment was when he was in the briefing room. I have been in the briefing room a lot. Oftentimes reporters are tweeting, on their phones, taking notes. It was pretty much silent in the room as Matthew McConaughey was speaking and talking about what he and his wife had seen on the ground in Uvalde in the last several days.

He pounded his fist sometimes, talking about how these little kids had dreams they're never going to get to fulfill. He called for responsible gun ownership. He's a gun owner himself, Jake, but it was a moment that came, we should note, after he met with President Biden earlier in the day.

TAPPER: Yeah, I believe the green converse sneakers were Maite Rodriguez. I think that was the name of the victim for that particular story.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

For the first time in more than a week, we are hearing from investigators in Uvalde. So what are they saying? Well, they say don't expect a report from the Texas Rangers or from the FBI for, quote, a while.

This lack of information, lack of an update, comes as a teacher who was in one of the classrooms with the shooter is speaking out.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Uvalde with what the teacher told his students to do as the gunman walked into their classroom.


MAYOR DON MCLAUGHLIN JR. (R), UVALDE, TEXAS: Our priorities are for the families --

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite a special city council meeting, few answers from public officials.

MCLAUGHLIN: There's an investigation going on and we'll find out what happened. I want those answers just like everybody else. I want to be transparent. I want to be clear. JIMENEZ: It's now been two weeks since the shooting, but the pain

hasn't gone anywhere.

REYES: I said, if I die, don't let it be in vain.

JIMENEZ: This man was teaching his fourth grade class when they all began to hear the gunshots.

REYES: The kids started asking out loud, Mr. Reyes, what is going on? And I said, I don't know what's going on. But let's go ahead and get under the table. Get under the table and act like you're asleep.

As they were doing that and I was gathering them under the table and told them to act like they were going to sleep, is about the time when I turned around and saw him standing there.

JIMENEZ: Reyes was then shot and says he had to play dead for over an hour. Much of that time law enforcement was just outside the door.

REYES: You're supposed to protect and serve. There is no excuse for their actions. And I will never forgive them. I lost 11 that day.

And I tell the parents, I'm sorry, I tried my best. What I was told to do. Please don't be angry with me.

JIMENEZ: For the survivors, it's going to be a long road to normal. The grandfather of Leann Garcia, another young survivor who was shot in the face, told CNN -- she still hears bullets, he says, and even now gets scared at the slightest sounds.


That's why her mother, along with the parents of three other young survivors are now suing the estate of the shooter for damages, alleging in part: He intentionally injured these young children, stole their innocence, and forever changed their lives.

It's trauma Reyes miraculously survived. And now, he's not going to settle with just being alive.

REYES: I will go anywhere, to the end of the world, to not let my students die in vain. They didn't deserve this. Nobody in this world deserves this kind of pain. I will go to the end of the world to make sure things get changed.


JIMENEZ (on camera): And that, of course, becomes the question. Tomorrow, we're expecting to hear testimony from a fourth grader, Miah Cerrillo, from here in Uvalde. The parents of 10-year-old Lexi Rubio, who were killed, and the mother of someone who was injured in Buffalo. That shooting that killed ten and happened less than ten days before this one.

All of them hoping as many do after these tragedies that their stories can have at least some form of an impact on long-term change, especially when it comes to safety in the classroom, Jake.

TAPPER: Omar Jimenez, thank you so much.

Joining us is Becky Pringle. She is a former eighth grade science teacher and currently the president of the National Education Association. She will be testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Gun Violence tomorrow as well.

Very powerful interview with that teacher by Amy Robach of ABC News. As a former teacher, what goes through your mind when you hear a story like that?


TAPPER: It really was, yeah.

PRINGLE: Twenty-three years ago, I was teaching my middle school students in April, 1999, when 12 students and one teacher were killed in Columbine, and I can remember -- this brought it all back to me, coming back to school the next day. And like so many millions of teachers today in this moment, are faced with that question I was faced with that same question: Mrs. Pringle, are we safe? Could that happen here? That was 23 years ago.

TAPPER: Before mass shootings became as common as they are now.

PRINGLE: I know, and at that time, ironically, I had been teaching for 23 years. There was no training or preparation I had to answer that question. But this is what I believed, that as Americans, we wouldn't let it happen again.

But it's 23 years later, and here we are -- 19 babies and two teachers are dead again --


PRINGLE: -- because we have not done anything about gun violence in this country.

TAPPER: I want to replay a moment from the teacher. Let's play that if we could.


REYES: I went to my parents and said, I'm sorry. I tried my best, with what I was taught to do. Please don't be angry with me.


TAPPER: I mean, when you hear the pain in his voice, you know it's not just 21 lives that are destroyed. There are a lot more lives that have been destroyed. Maybe they weren't killed but their lives will never be the same.

The governor of Texas, Governor Abbott, has ordered all Texas school districts go through active shooter training that includes school based law enforcement and administrators.

What's your reaction when you hear that?

PRINGLE: You heard the teacher say it all, right? He did what he was taught to do. It didn't stop the killings. You can't stop military grade assault weapons with training on what to do. They take lives too fast. And that's what he was talking about, as he shared his story.

We have always -- we have been through that, right? Where we practice for fire drills in my time, it was duck and cover, as though that was protecting us from a nuclear bomb.

TAPPER: Right.

PRINGLE: Right? But we did it. We did that.

So it's not that schools shouldn't prepare to try to keep kids safe, but let us not be distracted from what needs to happen in this country. We know that we must pass comprehensive commonsense gun laws that the majority of Americans support.

TAPPER: Yeah. That's your position, that's the position of the National Education Association. It looks as though the Senate possibly will pass a small version of what you're talking about -- not comprehensive, not banning AR-15 style weapons, but smaller possibly incentivizing states to do -- to pass red flag laws, and other measures.


What would be your response?

I mean, just practically speaking, you're not going to get what you want. How will you react if the Senate does pass something but much smaller, much more modest than what you want?

PRINGLE: We might not get what our students need in this moment, but do something. Do something. If we get red flag laws, yes, let's do that. If we get any change to the background checks, let's do that. If we get anything that goes near the safe storage laws, let's do that.

Let's do something. Make no mistake, we will not stop fighting for comprehensive gun law legislation in this country, because that's what we need, so we won't stop. But do something. And do it now.

TAPPER: I have said many times on this show after a school shooting after school shooting after school shooting. The adults of the United States continue to fail the children of the United States.

Becky Pringle --

PRINGLE: We're 25 times more likely to be impacted by gun violence in this country. It's not okay. Jake, is that who we are? Is that who we are?

We're standing up and saying it is not who we are, and we're going to fight until we are worthy of our students.

TAPPER: Former eighth grade science teacher and current NEA president, Becky Pringle, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it.

PRINGLE: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, the plotting and scheming to keep Trump in power despite the results of the 2020 election. A new email reveals a secret plan to try to do just that.

And one of the few issues lawmakers are able to agree on this hour. We're going to have a Republican and a Democrat together here on the show as momentum grows for legislation that's been years in the making. What is it?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead. New details about exactly who and what we will see in the first public hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. Sources say that Thursday's primetime hearing will include testimony from two people who directly interacted with the far right extremist group the Proud Boys on and around January 6th.

The Justice Department charged five members of the Proud Boys including its leader with seditious conspiracy, that is a major escalation in the case. But Thursday's hearing is not just about the mob that stormed the Capitol that day. More broadly, the hearing is about a months-long strategy by Donald Trump and his supporters and allies so desperate to hold on to power they were willing to take away legal votes from American voters.

Let's get to CNN's Ryan Nobles in Capitol Hill for us.

Ryan, tell us more about these witnesses and why their testimony is considered so important?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, one of the things the committee tried to zero in on is their evidence that there was premeditation leading up to January 6th, that what happened here on that day wasn't just an organic uprising from a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. There were actually plans for people to storm the Capitol on that day. That's one of the reasons that they focused in on these right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys.

And one of the people we expect to testify on Thursday night is Nick Quested, a documentarian who is embedded with the Proud Boys not just on that day but also in the weeks leading up to the event. I'm told the committee views him as a first-hand fact witness. He basically was a fly on the wall with the Proud Boys during their planning leading up to January 6th. Not only does he have footage that's never been seen before of their

activity leading up to that day, but he also was privy to conversations and other planning that took place, and it's expected to be a big part of what we see on Thursday night, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Ryan, federal prosecutors obtained an email that the Trump campaign sent to Georgia Republicans who were trying to overturn the election. How might that factor into these hearings?

NOBLES: Well, one of the other things the committee is trying to demonstrate is that these efforts to undermine the election were not conducted in good faith. And that there was actually a conspiracy afoot, that many of these people connected to the former president, Donald Trump, knew that he lost the election but were still peddling this narrative that there was widespread fraud everywhere.

And to that end, they need to show evidence the actions they were taking during that time were not in good faith. This particular email that was discovered came from a Trump official to individuals in Georgia where they were meeting as part of a group of electors, fake elector, we should point out, that were going to vote electors for Donald Trump in the event that the Georgia election were overturned. The actual results were overturned and given to Trump instead.

And in that email, the Trump official specifically tells those involved to keep the event secret. Legal experts would tell you that if you're trying to hide something that could mean that you're up to something that could be criminal or just not good. And that is part of this conversation and part of what the committee is investigating -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Coming up next, on the front lines of war, an exclusive perspective you will only see on CNN.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead now, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's forces in Ukraine are holding on by a thread in the east, defending the last city under their control in Luhansk. The military had Severodonetsk says it's a, quote, consistently difficult situation as Putin's army relentlessly bombs that town.

As Russia remains hyper-focused on the battle in the East, CNN's Matthew Chance got exclusive access to another front line in the south, where Ukraine says their forces are steadily pushing back on Russia's advances.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is where the Ukrainian military tells us they're seizing back their lands. But on the battered southern front with Russia, the stalemate of trench warfare seems to be setting in.

The commanders privately admit that advances by either side here are small.

The Russians seem to be running out of ammunition and not as strong as they were, the platoon commander of this forward trench told me.


But we need more weapons, too, he adds, if we're to push ahead.

I speak to Anton here and he is saying it's very loud at night.


CHANCE: Right. So in the morning, he's saying it's not so noisy, a bit quieter. So it's interesting, because this is the place where the Ukrainian governments say there's a big counteroffensive that's been under way for some time and they're taking back territory. But we've not seen a great deal of evidence of that on the ground.

It seems, you know, both sides dug in here heavily, have fought themselves to a standstill, neither side strong enough to win this war, but not weak enough to lose it either.

How's that going? Is it -- are you sure? You can hear artillery shells streaming across our position here.

Ukrainian military escorts take us to what they say is a recently liberated zone where at least 30 Russians holed up inside this kindergarten were killed.

As Moscow focuses its forces on Donbas in the east, Ukrainian officials say conquered areas in the south like this are being left exposed.

All right. Well, they brought to this very forward location where as you can here, there are still artillery exchanges taking place. And this is the remnants of a battle from a couple of weeks ago, they say, where this Russian position was taken by Ukrainian forces at great cost, both to the Ukrainians and obviously, to the Russians as well.

All of this debris on the ground is, we're told, Russian equipment, and obviously this is the remnants of a Russian-armored vehicle of some kind which has been, like so many we've seen, totally destroyed in this bitter conflict.

The Russians thought that they were going to win easily. Didn't they?


CHANCE: But that's not what's happening?

DANTE: In Russian, thought that a few days finished for Ukraine. In a few days.

CHANCE: We can hear it still going on there.

DANTE: Yeah, it's shell, and we can hear the flight of shell.

CHANCE: Yeah, months later.

DANE: Russian government planned to have victory in a few days. I think we must be ready to a lot more.

CHANCE: A long artillery war with heavy weapons like this Ukrainian battle tank positioned in tree lines towards an unseen enemy.


These firing points quickly become vulnerable and the troops here need to be mobile.

OK. We're being brought to this frontline position where they're going to fire on Russian forces a short distance away. It's a secret location, we can only stay for one round, we're told. After that, there's going to be return fire and we got to get out of here, but this is what we've been brought -- to see. Goodness, me.

Okay. Guys, what now? Another one. I thought we had to go after one. One more again.

Seconds later, another bone-shaking round hurdles toward Russian positions.

Okay. We're going to go now, come on.

And we quickly leave Ukraine's grinding frontlines behind.


CHANCE (on camera): Jake, shortly after we fled that location, we did see a shell incoming into the approximate location where we were. It underlines even though this front line position does look quite static, a bit like reminiscent of World War I trench warfare, it is in fact still a very dangerous place.

Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: Yeah, I'm glad you got out of there. Matthew Chance in Ukraine, thanks so much.

Next here in the U.S., a growing shift in the American workforce, as more employers are giving their workers an ultimatum. Come back to the office now or else.

Stay with us.


[16:39:12] TAPPER: In our money lead, a growing battle over return to work policies as the United States tries to return to somewhat normal. Many businesses here are requiring workers to return to the office on a full-time basis, but some American workers are balking, having grown accustomed to the flexibility of remote work during the pandemic, perhaps even thinking they're more productive at home than in the office.

Now, as CNN's Gabe Cohen reports, a slowing economy could give employers more leverage to force employees back to the office.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Shannon Archuleta hunts for a new tech job, deserting her home office and spending less time with her father has become a deal breaker.

SHANNON ARCHULETA, LOOKING FOR REMOTE WORK: I will only work remote. I have the flexibility to be able to take care of the things and responsibilities that I need to while being productive for the workforce.


COHEN: It's a growing source of tension between employees and management, surveys show millions of workers want to stay home and would likely quit their job rather than go back to a daily commute.

Now, more executives may test that. Elon Musk is the latest, demanding Tesla workers return to the office full-time or quit. Goldman Sachs is already back full time, and 90 percent of JPMorgan's U.S. staff is there at least three days a week. Their CEO Jamie Dimon saying work from home doesn't work for those who want to hustle, according to "Reuters".

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: I'm trying to fill up office buildings.

COHEN: In New York, Mayor Eric Adams sent a memo telling city workers to get back to the office to reenergize the city's economy. A May survey found 76 percent of high up executives say in-person work is critical.

But overall, as of this week, employee office visits are barely over 40 percent of pre-pandemic levels, largely because in this hot jobs market with 11 million openings, workers have leverage.

PAUL MCDONALD, SENIOR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ROBERT HALF: If the employers put a firm stake in the ground and say, you must come back, there's that risk that people are going to move to a new job.

COHEN: Apple delayed its return to office plans after backlash from employees. As did Cognizant, which helps operate Google maps, after more than 100 workers signed a petition, some threatening to strike, if forced to return. QUINN OKSOKTARUK, COGNIZANT EMPLOYEE: We have been extremely

productive and successful in the last two years, so it's a huge win for us.

COHEN: A survey tracking remote work since the early pandemic shows more companies are coming around on a post-pandemic hybrid work schedule, with on average 30 percent of work days done from home, compared to 5 percent pre-pandemic.

PROF. NICHOLAS BLOOM, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: In this case, it's very clear that hybrid is here to stay.

PROF. STEVEN DAVIS, THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO BOOTH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: This will become one more differentiating factor among employers.

COHEN: One looming wrinkle, projections of a market cooldown and possible recession in the months ahead, which could tilt the tables and give employers more leverage.

JOHNNY TAYLOR, JR., CEO, SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: Over the next 90 to 120 days, we should fully suspect that it won't just be the Elon Musks of the world, there are going to be a lot of CEOs who are going to demand that employees come back to work, at least partly.


COHEN (on camera): So we should continue to see workers shuffling around, as some companies take this firm stance on returning to the office, and many others use a hybrid schedule as a huge hiring incentive to attract talent, maybe even, Jake, for less money. And these surveys that we're seeing so far indicate that it could actually be a good strategy.

TAPPER: Interesting. Gabe Cohen, thanks so much.

A huge move by the U.S. Senate today worthy of praise. We have been talking about this one on THE LEAD for years and years. I'm going to be joined by a Republican and a Democrat together next to discuss.



TAPPER: Time for our buried lead where we cover stories we think are not getting enough attention.

Good news today. Washington worked. Or at least is working. The Senate today voted 86-12 in a procedural vote to move forward with legislation addressing the burn pits crisis. And a full vote could come as soon as this week.

The bipartisan bill has been years in the making and could help millions of U.S. veterans previously exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service abroad. Burn pits were commonly used to incinerate everyday trash, hazardous material, chemical compounds and more in military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan until about 2010.

On this show, you have heard the stories from veterans who suffered horrific cancers and other diseases afterwards. And joining us live to discuss, in an exclusive bipartisan interview, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both the co-sponsors of this legislation.

Senator Gillibrand, let me start with you. Republican Senator Jerry Moran has said the V.A. has denied approximately 70 percent of veterans burn pit claims since 9/11.

How does this legislation insure that the veterans will get the care they need?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Well, first of all, this is a great effort by Senator Rubio and I and others to work on a bipartisan basis to make sure when our veterans come home, when they are sick because of their service, that they will be covered.

And so, this bill creates a presumption. If you served on the war on terror, if you served over the last 30 years and were exposed to burn pits, that any disease that you have, you are covered.

And it changes the current process where survivors and veterans come forward, they're denied, they're asked to prove epidemiological causation, they're asked to prove what was actually burned at the burn pits. They're asked to prove which burn pit were you exposed to.

It's an outrage. And so, this bill fixes that, and now, they're all covered.

TAPPER: Senator Rubio, the Senate bill, as you know better than I, is named for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson. He died a couple years ago from lung cancer after being exposed to burn pits during his service.

His widow spoke to CNN a few weeks ago. I want you to listen to her plea to lawmakers.


DANIELLE ROBINSON, WIDOW OF SGT. 1ST CLASS HEATH ROBINSON: As you go through, you know, Senate building and the House of Representatives and Congress and Capitol Hill, you see POW flags all over the place, and you see these senators saying that they are here for veterans.


These soldiers are actually prisoner of war at home in their own bodies as they're battling these health related illnesses from toxic exposures, and I'm asking you that we need this passed now.


TAPPER: In the House, 174 Republicans voted against an earlier version of this legislation. In the Senate, 12 Republicans voted against moving forward with the bill on a procedural vote today.

What's your message to them, as this bill, as you try to get this bill signed into law?

RUBIO: Well, there's a lot of different reasons why people vote against it. Some is based on cost, which I don't think is a good rationale, and other is based on the burden they think it will place on the V.A.

But my view of it is the burden is placed on families, OK? We have people who are in some cases at the end of their lives and other struggling with this financially. The families are going through it.

And then on top of everything else, you got to fight with your own government that deployed you to these dangerous war zones to begin with, exposed you to toxins and then you come home with a serious cancer or other illness, and now, your entire family basically is turned upside down, in addition to the sufferings these veterans are going through.

So this presumption, I hope, will provide relief to thousands of families across the country that are dealing with this.

TAPPER: And for people who don't know, burn pits -- they're illegal in the United States. But they were allowed in Iraq and Afghanistan right near military bases on or military bases.

Senator Gillibrand, veterans who worked on these burn pits have told me they're frustrated with the V.A.

Take a listen to Army veteran Isiah James last fall. He served twice in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is him talking about what it's like to try to get treatment if you have one of these diseases.


ISIAH JAMES, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Well, right now, the V.A., first of all, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Second of all, it's an adversarial relationship. The V.A. is basically victim-blaming. They tell you the service member, prove to me that you got this cancer from the burn pit, instead of let me treat this cancer and let me go back on the back end and audit it.

We need a V.A. that's going to actually take the charge that Lincoln set forth, to care for him and her who have borne the brunt of battle.


TAPPER: So, Senator Gillibrand, am I correct in assuming that the bill, yours and Senator Rubio's bill, will allow anyone who has been rejected in the past a new opportunity to come forward and apply for these benefits with this presumption that the bill takes care of?

GILLIBRAND: Yes, it does. The bill that Marco and I wrote specifically creates a presumption for anyone exposed to burn pits at any time. And what the larger bill this was put into also addresses toxic exposures and some problems as far back as Agent Orange.

So, this bill overall is going to give veterans, service members, the support they need. They're able to now go to the V.A. and get the support.

And my view is, this is the cost of war. If you're going to spend billions and billions of dollars in wars all across the globe over many decades, you have to remember that when these service members come home, when they are our veterans, we have to stand by them. It's the least we can do because they give everything, even their last measure for this country.

TAPPER: And, Senator Rubio, I know you have been working personally with veterans and their families on this. What -- assuming this legislation passes and becomes law, what will it mean to them?

GILLIBRAND: Well, I think it will mean they no longer have to be fighting with the V.A.

Look, if someone is shot down or someone is injured or a bomb goes off and injures you, that's the causation that the traditional system looks at. This thing -- this is impossible to prove the way they're asking for it to be proven. But I think there's a very strong argument for that presumption.

You have people that are suffering from cancers way outside of proportion from what they would as members of the general population, and the fact of the matter is they'll never be able to prove that causation. In the meantime, their families are going bankrupt. They have to quit their jobs to become full time caregivers.

So, in addition to sort of the moral argument for why we shouldn't have to fight with our own government to get this care if you're a veteran is the reality of what this means to these families and how devastating it is. And hopefully, that line and that process will become simpler for them now so they can get the care they need.

TAPPER: Well, let me just say as a -- as an American, more of this, please. It's good to see, and it's good to see Washington work, and it's good to see a Democrat and Republican teaming up to help our men and women in uniform.

So thank you so much for what you did and thanks for being with us today.

RUBIO: Thanks.

GILLIBRAND: Thanks a lot. Take care.

TAPPER: Really appreciate it.

From a domestic dispute call to a man drowning on their watch, why police say there was little they could do after a man ended up drowning in a reservoir.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, the big city mayoral race that is dividing Hollywood and Democrats.

Plus, a man drowns after jumping into a reservoir. He cried out to the police for help. I'm drowning, he said. So, why did police tell him they were not jumping in after him to save him?

And leading this hour, will emotional heart-wrenching testimony be enough to get Congress to finally act to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Lawmakers hear from a Buffalo man whose mother was gunned down in a mass shooting targeting the black community at a grocery store in that town.

And as CNN's Manu Raju reports, gun reform negotiations in the Senate are entering a critical stage as lawmakers hope to reach an agreement by the end of the week.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After his mother was murdered in the Buffalo grocery store massacre, Garnell Whitfield made this appeal to senators today. Do something.

GARNELL WHITFIELD, JR., SON OF BUFFALO SHOOTING VICTIM RUTH WHITFIELD: Because if there is nothing, then respectfully, Senators, you should yield your positions of authority and influence to others that are willing to lead on this issue. The urgency of the moment demands no less.