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Today: Biden Consoles Families Of Buffalo Shooting Victims; Police: Gunman Visited Buffalo Supermarket Three Times In March; 19 States Have "Red Flag" Laws On The Books; WH: Biden Will Use Executive Action On Guns "Where We Can"; Oz, McCormick, Barnette In Tight Race For GOP Sen Primary; Biden Speaks After Meeting With Families Of Shooting Victims; Biden Pays Tribute To Buffalo Massacre Victims. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Right now, President Biden is in Buffalo, consoling a city shaken by a racist massacre, and confronting questions of how can the country do more to stop the next white supremacist mass shooting.

It's primary data in five states, the Pennsylvania Senate primaries are all drama. The leading Democrat will spend election night in the hospital. The Republican contest is a three way toss up the test to power of Trump and the depth of Republican fidelity to his big lie.

And in North Carolina, a test of just what the GOP is willing to look past. Congressman Madison Cawthorn first term includes tales of drugs and orgies in two attempts to get a gun on a plane. But Donald Trump says voters should give him a second chance.

We begin the hour though with the president of the United States on the ground, in Buffalo, New York. We expect to hear from President Biden any moment now. Already this morning, visiting the site of the latest American race massacre, the Queen City tough supermarket. Alongside the First Lady, he met with community leaders and families of those killed by a white supremacist shooter.

The president observed a moment of silence. He and his wife, the First Lady leading a bouquet at a Makeshift memorial. The president promises he will respond to this carnage by doing what he can through executive action on guns. And the president says the racist attack is a reminder in his words, the soul of the nation is still at stake.

President visits happens as authorities remain on high alert. There are new concern, a possible copycat attack. Authorities this hour also uncovering new details, chilling details about this gunman. How he targeted the supermarket? How he planned the rampage? How he wrote about it extensively on the dark corners of the internet? And how he skirted laws on the books designed to stop violent episodes exactly like this?

Let's get straight to the scene, CNN's Victor Blackwell is there, doing some fabulous reporting. Victor what is the latest says, Buffalo waits to hear from the president?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Right now, the president is with and has been for more than an hour now with the families of the victims, first responders, local law enforcement, local leaders as well. As you mentioned, his day started here, placing flowers at least, at one of at least four memorials around this grocery store.

And then he will make remarks where in which we're expecting him to say that this shooting is terrorism motivated by hateful ideology that tears at the soul of our nation. He'll ask Congress to take some legislative actions to bar people with mental illness from acquiring weapons. But as you know, John, legislative action after a mass shooting, the list of those accomplishments are extremely short.

KING: And Victor, as we wait to hear from the president, we do have some new details, horrible new details on the planning this gunman went through. Walk us through what we know?

BLACKWELL: Yes. So, these were posted on an app name Discord, and then reposted on this hate-filled forum 4chan. Actually, the attack was planned by this alleged shooter from March 15. But he backed out several times. He actually considered attacking a church or an elementary school, but he said that that would have made him feel too bad.

Here is what we're learning that he was actually here, not only in Buffalo, but he says inside the top supermarket on March 8 at noon, and then again at 2, and then at 4pm. This recon kind of stalking the place for his would-be victims, in which he drew maps as well of the aisles. The pharmacy, the bakery, the exits, noted the number of black and white customers and employees.

He actually talked about a black armed security guard that he said he would have to kill when he returned here, and we know that shots were fired by that security guard, Aaron Salter, at the alleged shooter did not go through the body armor. The shooter shot back and killed Salter. We're learning all of this that this was really extensive planning that went into the attack that happened here on Saturday.

KING: And Victor, something else we're all having to process now, having seen way too many of these over the years. Is that New York is one of 19 states that has a so-called red flag law. There were plenty of red flags in this case, but the law simply didn't work, right?

BLACKWELL: Yes. And he knew that. Let me read you one of the posts. This is dated January 30, 2022, in which he talks about that generalized threat that we've discussed during his time in high school. He wrote another bad experience, was when I had to go to a hospital ER because I said the word's murder suicide to an online paper in economics class.


He goes on to say, I got out of it because I stuck with the story that I was getting out of class, and I just stupidly wrote that down. And that is the reason I believe I'm still able to purchase guns. He says, it was not a joke. I wrote that down because that's what I was planning to do. He actually claimed that this, this mental evaluation that we've discussed that he underwent, it took 15 minutes. However, the time he waited in the ER was hours. He obviously saw that as a joke. John?

KING: Victor Blackwell, great to have you live on the ground for us. Again, we're going to hear from the president United States, the mayor of Buffalo, Mayor Brown any moment from now. We'll take you there live when we do. In the meantime, with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN Dana Bash, CNN's MJ Lee, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, and Olivier Knox of The Washington Post.

I want to pick up on the point, I was just raising with Victor because if we could show there are 19 states that have the so called red flag laws on the books, and the idea being if somebody is showing violent behavior, somebody seeks mental health help, that you would have some trigger that allows law enforcement to go to the house, search for guns, take away any weapons that were there.

New York State is one of those. The president is going to talk today about what the government can do. Here's a case, where 19 states did try to do something. But there are clearly giant loopholes in their laws. How does Washington? How the Governor's? How does America address that?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we've seen this time and time again, not only these mass killings, racially motivated killings, but slip ups and loopholes in gun laws, where local officials, I think the police in this instance, just didn't follow through in making this a red flag case. So, he was able to slip through. And here we are.

Today, I think you're going to hear from lawmakers in the coming hours and days about strengthening Americans, gun laws, expanded background checks, and I think we're going to see this again, which is nothing is likely going to be done. There's going to be lots of thoughts and prayers and discussions and likely, nothing will happen. And we'll be back here again.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He slipped through, but he also according to his own post game, the system, he pretended like he didn't really mean it, when he actually really did mean it. And the fact that we know this because he posted it online, is another giant, giant hole in the system.

Victor talked about 4chan, that's a really, really important site for white supremacists, for would be assassins, for would be domestic terrorists to use the term that the president used and may even use it in a few moments.

I was in Poway, outside of San Diego last couple of weeks ago, working on a story on this. And when that shooting happened, a couple of years ago, that shooter used the same exact platform in order to feed his already very clear white supremacist tendencies. So, the big question in addition to the ones you raise, and of course, the gun question is, what about these platforms?

KING: Right. What about these platforms? And what about, what is missing here is a consensus from anti-gun people to the pro-gun rights people, from Democrats and Republicans, mayors, governors, police forces, to have a conversation about what can we do, not violate people's rights, some people are going to say reckless, horrible things, you're allowed to do that in America.

But there are some - at some point, there has to be a consensus, whether you live in rural America, where guns are part of the culture or urban America, where they might not be, that we need to take this kids guns.

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: But nobody knows better than Joe Biden, that we're probably not at that point, that we're probably not even going after the lowest of low of low hanging fruit on this, is still going to fail at the federal level. He was central to the Obama administration's effort to build the kind of consensus that you're describing, meeting with law enforcement, meeting with mental health professionals, meeting with gun rights people.

And so, he knows better than anybody that even after something like Newtown, this country has a tendency to move on and a tendency not to act at the federal level. So, I think part of the answer to your question, even though it failed in this case, is that if we're going to see any sort of meaningful steps, it's going to have to happen at a lower level than the superheated, super polarized federal level. It's going to have to be the governors and state legislatures play.

KING: And you do hear from team Biden some possible executive actions. Would there be a push from the president on this background check question that came up, there are some bills that could pass? We're in an election year, maybe that makes it hard if 50-50 Senate makes it even harder. But would there be a commitment from the Democrats to not try to do something big and sweeping that, you know, has no chance.

But to take a couple of more modest things and bring them to the floor. And if they get voted down, bring them to the floor again, and that they get voted down, bring them to the floor again. If you mean the issue, we have these votes and we have these conversations, and then memories do fade, and people do try to move on. Why not just do it, do it, make the point?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think that on the legislative front, Olivier is absolutely right. That probably there's not many people other than Joe Biden, who understands better, just how difficult it is for somebody in his position to get something more broader and sweeping through. So yes, I think it's absolutely possible that those conversations on potential executive actions continue.

I think in the bigger picture though this visit is going to be a lot more focused on trying to consoling the family members, the people in the community. You know, this is a president we talk about all the time, ran on trying to restore the soul of America. I think at this moment in time a lot of people across the country, you know, rightfully you're asking the question, is there even a soul to be restored or is this just what America is like now?


KING: You hear that. You make a key point. You hear that from the great reporting for Victor and other correspondents on the scene. It's a supermarket in the center of a black community. It's sort of where people gather. They see each other every day. You spend a little extra time, picking up your groceries to talk to your neighbors, and your friends is supposed to be, it's supposed to be the safe happy place in a community instead, they're dealing with this tragedy.

Again, we're waiting to hear from the mayor of New York and the present United States. We'll go there live as soon as it happens. Up next. It is primary day across America. Five states right now, holding the one of the big questions, the power of Trump and his big lie, the biggest races in Pennsylvania will test that.



KING: Today is the busiest primary day of the year so far, part of the month of May that will test the appeal the strength of Donald Trump with Republican voters. Number of races, five states voting out in Oregon, one of the key contests there a Democratic incumbent congressman, running against a progressive challenger who says, he's too centrist. We'll see how that plays out.

In Idaho, a very Republican, very conservative Republican governor getting challenged from the right, from the far-right lieutenant governor says, the governor is not conservative enough. Kentucky has some congressional primaries. North Carolina, big races we'll talk about in a moment.

But one of the big focuses today is on this Republican Senate contest in Pennsylvania. The Republican incumbent, not running for reelection. Donald Trump has endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz, David McCormick, a former hedge fund manager, has a lot of former Trump aides working for him.

Kathy Barnette is the surprise. She ran for Congress once and lost. She's running again now on a pro Trump message. Even though Donald Trump says, she would be a failed candidate. These are the three candidates trying to keep this seat in Republican hands. One of them will win tonight. Listen to the closing message.


DAVID MCCORMICK, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Someone who went to West Point, served in the 82nd. Went to combat, has created jobs here in Pennsylvania. I've got the set of experiences and the conservative values that will allow me to show up in the Senate on day one and make a big difference.

DR. MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I want to be the loud voice in Washington, who can speak to our culture, to our values because I am pro-life as president, Trump said I'm pro second amendment.

KATHY BARNETTE, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I went and met with any and everyone who would listen to me. And I told, I just ran a far superior campaign than my opponents. And now they're really mad. They're really mad.


KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is on the ground for us in Philadelphia, as these voters cast in the Senate primary, other primaries in the state as well. Jeff, what are you seeing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, there is no doubt that Kathy Barnette, who we heard just there has been a surprise over the last week or so. The question, has she peaked too early? You cannot watch really more than a few moments of television without seeing negative ads against her, asking who she is, asking me about her record.

Those were not in existence at all throughout the course of the last several months, when David McCormick and Dr. Mehmet Oz, were battling it out. More than $70 million spent on the ground here in the Senate race alone. So, John, talking to voters over the last several days. One thing is clear, there are many contradictions.

Yes, there are people who support President Trump, and they would even vote for him again, but they won't necessarily follow his lead in this race. Take a listen to this interview of a truck driver we talked to, who's supporting Kathy Barnette, but still likes Trump.


RICH HOHENSHILT, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Donald Trump is not Jesus. He's capable of making a mistake. This stuff I've seen about Oz. He doesn't come across to me as a conservative.

ZELENY: So, even President Trump's endorsement is not enough to sway you.

HOHENSHILT: No, it's not. And I thoroughly backed Donald Trump. I've seen with the ringer that they've tried to put him through, all the lies they said about him. And that makes me support him that much more.

ZELENY: But not?

HOHENSHILT: But not in this decision. He's a man. He's not God. You know, he can be flawed.


ZELENY: So, that Trump baseball hat and the Kathy Barnette shirt really says it all, John, that is the open question. Heading into the second half of the voting day here. How many conservatives will see Dr. Oz as an actual conservative. I was at an event he held last night, who called the former president, dialing into that meeting to say that, that Mehmet Oz is the most electable candidate.

There is very much an open question who is going to win this race tonight? I would not put $1 on any outcome. We're going to let the voter's vote. Let them decide. But John, one thing is clear. This is not about the direction of the party per se, that has been asked and answered. This is Donald Trump's party. The question how Trumpian they want their nominee to be?

KING: Jeff Zeleny, live on the ground for us in Philadelphia. Yes, we'll be counting the votes late tonight. Jeff, appreciate that. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reporters. To that point, you just right, that says it all, Trump hat, Kathy Barnette shirt. Donald Trump is aware of this dynamic. So, he called into an Oz rally last night to say this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): Kathy Barnette, nobody knew anything about her until a few days ago, literally. And she has a lot of explaining to do. I think what's going to happen is when she's vetted, it's going to be a catastrophe for the party.


KING: That is his view as she is vetted. Maybe there's more to come. She has said anti Muslim thing. She has said anti-immigrant thing. So, didn't Donald Trump say all of those things and become president United States?

HENDERSON: Dana and I were just, you know, listening to her there and we both said the same thing, which is she sounds a lot like Donald Trump. And the voter there gets at that. The idea that he loves Donald Trump, Donald Trump is not Jesus or God. And he in some ways in choosing Kathy Barnette, is picking the Trumpian candidate in this field.


Dr. Oz obviously, has the endorsement. He's lucky to get the call in from Donald Trump there, but people are really feeling Kathy Barnette at this period because she is modeling herself on Donald Trump. The person they admire mostly politics.

BASH: And I project as Zeleny said, one of the many things he said that is so true in his report from Pennsylvania is, the question about whether or not it's Donald Trump's party. That has been asked and answered. We know the answer is yes.

What is happening in Pennsylvania is such a fascinating illustration of how scrambled the definition of that actually is. Because he obviously has decided that he wants to be a kingmaker, he picked a candidate in each of these races.

But the candidates that he - the candidate for governor that he picked, Doug Mastriano is campaigning with Kathy Barnette, the one who he just called into Dr. Oz in his rally and said, don't vote for her for the Senate race, even though he supports at the last minute this candidate for the governor's race.

The other thing that we should absolutely underscore over and over again, is that to get Donald Trump's endorsement, so far, the key is you have to be an election denier. And that matters in every single state, but it really matters in a place like Pennsylvania.

LEE: I also just wonder if the question now is no longer just, you know, how much does Donald Trump's endorsement matter, but in this race, it is - has the Donald Trump train become sort of the runaway train, right? Is the Donald Trump sort of movement, sort of moving beyond his control, given the dynamics between OZ and Barnette?

I will also say just one dynamic, I think worth out watching out for Democrats is sort of the be careful what you wish for phenomenon, just because there are races where Democrats do hope that on the other side of the aisle, the candidate they end up with is the person who's the Trumpy is, the person who has the most extreme views, but they also face a lot of headwinds going into November.

So, if they do end up in head-to-head in a general election with somebody like that in November, there's no guaranteeing that the Democrat is going to---

KING: Which is a very critical point because you're talking about potential members of the United States Senate, if the next presidential election is contested, potential governors, if the next presidential election is contested, and Trump starts calling around, saying I need to find some votes or something like that. The big lie is now the foundation of the Republican Party, right?

KNOX: Yes, it is. But we should not overlook the other drivers' things, like inflation things, like that that are going to help sort of smooth over some of the rough edges on the Republican side, I think because it is going to (Inaudible) dead set on making this a referendum on Joe Biden, right. And that includes a lot of other things other than this Trump purity test.

KING: But we need to cut this conversation short. We'll come back to it in a bit, but the present United States now speaking in Buffalo, New York, walking up with the First Lady, let's listen.

JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: Before I begin, Jill would like to say a few words.

JILL BIDEN, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY: I just wanted to say, thank you to the families, for opening up your hearts to us, and for letting us be with you today. So, God bless you. And thank you for allowing us to be with you.

BIDEN: Majority Leader, leader Schumer, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Higgins, and gov, thank you for taking my call when I called. And I forget what she said. I said, I'd like to maybe come up, it's OK, she said, this is a big Scranton, come, come. And I've been doing a heck of a job. Thank you. Thank you for your heart, as well as your head. And Mayor Brown, you've been wonderful. Thank you. And I know this is a lot of - when a vice presidential or presidential chip shows up, it's others all kinds of paraphernalia and people. I know it's not easy. I want to thank your law enforcement officers for not just what they did in this crisis, but for accommodating us. And all the elected officials and law enforcement officers, first responders and faith leaders that are here today.

Jill and I have come to stand with you. And to the families we've come to grieve with you. Is not the same, but we know a little bit what it's like to lose a piece of your soul, to lose a son or daughter or husband, wife, mother or father?

The feeling of having that, as I said to some of you when we talk privately, it feels like there's a black hole in your chest, you're being sucked into and you're suffocating, unable to breathe. That's what it felt like, at least to us and I'm sure some version of that feels that way to you. The anger, but pain, the depth of the loss that's so profound.

You know, we know it's hard to believe and you're probably not going to believe but I can tell you now, from our personal experience and many others who will be met. The day is going to come. It will come when your loved one brings a smile as you remember him or her.


As you remember, it's going bring a smile to your lip before it brings a tear to your eye. It takes a while for that to happen. Takes a while, might take more than a season. But our prayer for you is that time comes sooner or later but I promise you it will come.

As a nation. I say to the families, we remember them. We were reading about. We visited the memorial where to show love for them and you've all shown by the supermarket. And Celestine Chaney, 65 years old, brain cancer survivor, churchgoer bingo player, went to buy strawberries to make her favorite shortcake, a loving mother and a grandmother.

Roberta Drury, 32, beloved daughter and sister. Moved back home to help take care of her brother after his bone marrow transplant. She went to buy groceries for dinner. The senator attention who made everyone in the room laugh and smile when she walked in.

Andre Mackneil, 53, work in a restaurant. Went to buy his three-year- old son a birthday cake. The son selling a birthday. Ask him where is daddy? Katherine Massey, 72, a writer and an advocate. Who dressed up in costume to schools and cut the grass in the park and helping local elections. The glue of the family and the community.

Margus Morrison, 52, school bus aide. Went to buy snacks for weekly movie night of the family, survived by his wife and three children and a stepdaughter. The center of their world. Heyward Patterson, 67, father, church deacon, fed the homeless and soup kitchen. Gave rides in a grocery store to neighbors who needed help, putting food in a chunk of others when he took his final breath. Aaron Salter, 55, retired Buffalo police officer. For three decades, three decades, love the electric cars. Hero gave his life to save others on a Saturday afternoon and had that man not been wearing that vest that he purchased, bulletproof vest. A lot of lives would have been saved. A beloved father and husband.

Geraldine Talley, 62, expert banker known for a warm gentle personality. Friend everybody, devoted mother and grandmother. Ruth Whitfield, 88, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, sang in the church choir. A caretaker of her husband, bringing him clean clothes, cutting his hair, holding his hand every day she visited him in the nursing home. Hardest because of head.

Pearl Young, 77, a mother, grandmother, missionary of God, public school teacher, who also ran the local food pantry, loves singing, dancing and her family. And all three are injured. Zaire Goodman, 20, shot in the neck but fighting through it. Jennifer Warrington, 50, Christopher Braden, 55. All three with injuries, on a long road to recovery.

Individual lives of love, service and community. It speaks to the bigger story of who we are as Americans. A great nation because we're good people. So, when I bring you this message from deep and our nation's soul in America, evil will not win. I promise you. Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word for the evil did come to Buffalo, has come to all too many places.

Manifesting gunman who massacred innocent people in the name of hateful and perverse ideology rooted in fear and racism. It's taken so much. 10 lives, cut short in a grocery store. Three other wounds - three other wounded by a hate filled individual were driven 200 miles from Binghamton in that range to carry out a murderous, racist, rampage.