Return to Transcripts main page
Obama Speaks in Jerusalem; Bloomberg and Biden Push for Gun Control.
Aired March 21, 2013 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- of Israelis actually do want the Palestinians to be able to form their own state. They do recognize that peace between these two neighbors, who live so close together, so tightly interwoven in so many ways, has to happen in order for people here in Israel, in order for the Jewish people to be able to live peaceful lives. So that was an interesting and poignant moment there. Also, you could hear the president, you know, I like what John said. He really sounded like he could be doing a state of the union speech inside of Israel. And the reaction from the crowd, except for those few moments where he was heckled a bit, and he sort of laughed that off and said, I'm used to it, I feel right at home, and people really applauded him, when he said, look, this is a Democratic state, this is the way that people can act. You can disagree with me, that's perfectly looks like the audience really enjoyed what he said. And he said, look, Israel is the most powerful country in this region and it is supported by the most powerful country in the world, making very, very clear that the United States' allegiance with Israel, it is its closest friend and ally in this region. He made that point over and over and over again. He has certainly got to make the Israeli government very happy, the Palestinians also watching this, and some of the comments he made about settlements will certainly make them smile. But everyone is wondering if there's ever going to be an actual peace process during his administration -- Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And that raises the next question, Sara, what happens next?
We know the secretary of state, John Kerry, will be intimately involved in trying to revive this Israeli/Palestinian peace process. He's traveling with the president right now, following the president's visit to Jordan tomorrow. The secretary of state will be coming back. Will this result, will this result in an actual round of negotiations, direct negotiations, between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
Gloria Borger is watching what's going on.
And one of the powerful statements he made is when he said, as long as there is a United States of America, he then said, in Hebrew, you are not alone. That was a powerful statement that Israelis wanted to hear.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And he said it a couple of times during the speech, Wolf. And it created quite a stir in the audience. I mean, I think if there's any doubt among the American Jewish community about the president's commitment to Israel, after watching this speech, I think some feelings may be changed.
What was interesting to me is the way he spoke to these young people in the audience, particularly after he was talking about a two-state solution. He said, and you know, this is familiar to those of us who have covered President Obama during his political campaigns. He said to these young people, you must create the change you want to see. And we've heard that before from the president in so many ways, Wolf, when he campaigns. But he was effectively saying to these young people what he has said to young people in this country. If you want to see change in the way your world is developing, then you're the ones who have to do it.
And I would also add, Wolf, that I think he touched upon every sort of hot-button issue, Syria, chemical weapons in Syria, saying it wasn't going to be able to stand, Iran. They must not get a nuclear weapon, period, and that all options are on the table. And of course, Wolf, he spoke about peace, which is why he was talking to these young people.
BLITZER: He certainly was. And as I said, this was a very, very powerful pro-peace speech.
Martin Indyk is joining us now. He served as the ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration back in the '90s. He's now the vice president, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution here in Washington. He's joining us from New York.
Martin, I thought this was one of the most important speeches that an American president has ever delivered about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But give me your thoughts.
MARTIN INDYK, VICE PRESIDENT & DIRECTOR OF FOREIGN POLICY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: I agree, Wolf. You said it was bold. I would say it was courageous. Not just in terms of making the case to the Israeli public, that they do have a partner, that peace is possible, but actually urging them to pressure their leaders to move forward. He is famously being quoted before our elections as saying that he considered the leadership in Israel as political cowards. He seems to be going over their heads to the Israeli young people, trying to give them hope and trying to encourage them to press their leaders to make peace. And that is, I think, a very bold and courageous thing. But I would say one other thing. He, having tried to lower expectations about this visit, has now raised them sky high in terms of the expectations that Israelis and Palestinians will have, that he, himself, is now going to work to make peace really possible.
BLITZER: And that is the challenge. Where do the Israelis and the Palestinians and the United States and others in the international community go from here?
Let's bring in Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, joining us. She's a member of the PLO executive committee, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
What did you think of what the president had to say? DR. HANAN ASHRAWI, PLO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE & PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: Well, I do think that this was the most comprehensive speech we have heard. It has the same basic components, but on the one hand, it has a very clear geological component. I don't think I have heard an American president with such a strong commitment to the Zionist ideology. And to an understanding of the Zionist ideology, and total identification and sympathy with them. So in a sense, he tried to gain his credentials, or establish his credential with the public and he did go over the head of the leadership, that is extremely hard-line basis. And he tried to reach to the young generation, to the Israeli public, to tell them that they have to influence their leadership. But at the same time, to do that, he had to tell them that he guaranteed their security, he guaranteed their future. They're going nowhere. The U.S. is there for them. The U.S. has their back, that this alliance between the U.S. goes beyond politics and security and so on, to geology and total identification. So it was in that sense, I think it was extremely emotional and ideological and identified with the Israeli public and with the Zionist version of reality.
Now, when it comes to the Palestinians, I think he tried to reach the Israelis, that the occupation is viable, nor continued occupation, nor the expulsion of Palestinians is possible. And the continued impunity of the Israeli settlers, so he said that it is in the interest of Israel and the security of Israel to have a strong, viable, independent Palestinian state. Now, the interesting factor was the response of the young generation Israeli, that I think they gave the loudest applause to the fact that the occupation cannot continue, to the fact that the Palestinians need a strong, viable Palestinian state, and they need rights. And therefore, in a sense, they are really exposing the fact that the position of the leadership, the strong position, anti-peace and for settlements and so on, is not a position shared at least by this public.
BLITZER: Well said all around. I want to thank all of our analysts, our reporters, our guests.
We're going to continue our special coverage, much more coming up throughout the day, certainly later today in "The Situation Room" as well.
But right now, we want to turn to another important story unfolding in New York City, a very different story. There you see the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. He's introducing the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. They're getting ready to speak with representatives and family members from Newtown, Connecticut, on the sensitive issue of guns in America.
Let's listen in right now to the mayor.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: -- how hard it is for you to be with us today. I appreciate your courage and I think you bear testimony to the fact that this country has to do something. You're not here just for your loved ones. You're here for not only those who were killed, but those who were killed across this country. We have to pull together here and stop this carnage. There is a Jewish proverb that tells that remembrance is the secret of redemption. And the listen is if we ignore the horrors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them. But if we remember them and we learn from them, we can redeem ourselves from their grip. And that's why all of us are here today. Because we believe that we have a responsibility to help free our country from the gun violence that takes lives and breaks hearts every single day, all year round.
What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School sent a shock wave across the country. It gripped us especially hard, I think, because every parent thought, there but for the grace of god, go my children. In the days and weeks after the shootings, more and more people began demanding action in Washington and our bipartisan coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, helped to make sure their voices were heard. And I think it's fair to say those voices were heard. President Obama and Vice President Biden put forward a comprehensive package of gun safety reforms, and we worked together to win support for it in Congress. We remain optimistic that Congress will take action this spring when they come back from recess, because the American people could not be any clearer about where they stand. In a recent poll conducted by our mayor's coalition, we found that in 41 key congressional districts across the nation, 89 percent of likely voters approve of background checks for all gun sales, and 86 percent of voters approve such background checks and polls in a national cross- section of 21 states. And that's in line with other recent polls that have found that more than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers. And polling overseen by Republican Frank Luntz has found that 82 percent of gun owners, including 74 percent of national rifle association members, support requiring criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun. There's no real debate among the American people. Around the country, Americans understand that requiring a background check for every gun sale is just good, common sense.
And some states are taking action, including New York, thanks to Governor Cuomo, and Colorado, thanks to Governor Hickenlooper, who have seen such terrible mass murders. And in Connecticut, Governor Malloy has proposed and legislators appear prepared to act on firearm safety reforms as well. They include making private gun sales subject to background checks, limiting the size of high-capacity ammunition magazines, and strengthening anti-gun trafficking measures.
Newtown families have played a big role in advancing this proposed legislation. They can speak from firsthand pain. But such state action is not enough. There is a national problem, because guns sold in states with weak gun laws are all too often found crossing state lines and are used to commit crimes elsewhere. So we really need national leadership in Washington if we're going to stop the scourge.
Thankfully, there has been some encouraging progress. For example, last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a number of s, including a measure to expand background checks to private gun sales, which is how some 40 percent of gun purchases in the nation are made. More than 6.5 million gun sales during 2012, alone. There is no question that if this becomes law, it will keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. It will reduce violent crime. It will save lives. We know that's true, because in states that already require background checks on private sales, the rate of women murdered by an intimate partner armed with a gun is 38 percent lower than in states that don't have such background checks. The rate of firearm suicide is 49 percent low per. And the rate of firearm assaults, including attempted murders, is 17 percent lower.
There's no doubt requiring background checks for all gun sales saves lives and there's no doubt that the American people support it. The only question is whether Congress will have the courage to do the right thing or whether they will allow more innocent people, including innocent children, to be gunned down. It has been 97 days since Newtown. In that time, we estimate that more than 3,000 Americans have been murdered with guns. Almost none of the victims generated national headlines, but each murder was a tragedy for the victim's family and for the community. If Congress does nothing, another 12,000 people will be murdered with guns this year alone. We just cannot let that happen. And it's up to us, all of us, to convince members of Congress that it's in everyone's interests to act now.
Now, before I turn the floor over to the vice president, let me just say that there's no better person to be leading this effort in Washington than Vice President Biden. When he was in the Senate, he was a leader in getting the original background check bill through Congress and in drafting the original assault weapons ban. And even though restrictions on military-style weapons will not be part of the bill that goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate, he will get a vote by the full Senate as an amendment to the bill. And everyone's going to have to stand up and say, yea or nay and then the rest of us have to decide just how we feel about people and their stands. We will do everything to win support for it and I know the White House will be doing everything that they can too. And we're going to continue giving the vice president all the support we can and we thank him for his leadership and for coming here to stand with us today.
Mr. Vice president?
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Let me begin saying that there has been no support that has been more consequential than the support coming from Mayor Bloomberg. It has been immense and it is organized, it is committed, and it is consequential. And let me start my saying that I was told in 1992 when I introduced many of these reforms that there was no way you'd ever beat the gun lobby. It's not possible. Well, in 1994, we did. In 1994, reason prevailed and we passed the assault weapons ban, a limitation on the size of magazines and a number of other measures, including expanding the so-called Brady Bill and background checks. And one thing I want to lay to rest at the outset, they worked. They all had a positive impact on public safety. They all had a positive impact on public safety. I did an interview yesterday saying, well, the impact on each one was only this, that, or the other. I said, that's like saying we shouldn't have taken lead out of gasoline because it didn't end global warming. It had a positive impact. It wasn't the whole answer. Combined, these are common sense approaches that ironically, Mr. Mayor, in the polling data we've done recently, the American people already think that these gun safety proposals are in place.
The American people, a significant number, already think there are universal background checks. They already think that anyone bias multiple guns has to be reported. They already think -- I mean, if you just go down the list. So the irony here is what we're proposing is simply common sense, that the American people, in addition to the polls that the mayor cited, which I was going to mention and will not repeat, in addition to that polling data, there is polling underneath it that says, but, guess what, we think you've already done that. So this is -- and there's not one single thing being proposed, not one, not one, not one that infringes on anyone's Second Amendment constitutional right. Not one.
And so, I would like to take a moment at the outset to not only thank the mayor, but thank the people standing behind me. It's presumptuous to say, but we've actually became good acquaintances and friends. We've met many times so far. And I want to tell you or emphasize what the mayor said. And I know you know it, but it bears repeating. It takes an enormous amount of courage to be here. And you say, well, what's the courage? Well, having lost a child, I understand that every time you show up at something, ranging from a memorial service or to talk about the circumstance under which your child was lost, it comes back to you in a flash, as if they got that phone call yesterday. And I've done told you before, I don't know how you do it, but you do it. You do it. And you're one of the reasons why all these pieces of legislation passed through the Judiciary Committee and why we have a fighting chance.
And so, you know, when you think about Grace and Jessie and these two beautiful little babies, that's what they were, they were beautiful little babies, and Lauren, who was not really a teacher. This is a woman who, if this happened on a battlefield, she'd get a commendation. She'd be getting, literally, not figuratively. She'd be getting a commendation for her bravery in trying to protect her comrades, in this case, trying to protect these little angels.
Three months ago, a deranged man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a weapon of war. That's what he walked in with -- with a weapon of war. And that weapon of war has no place on American streets. And taking it off America's streets has no impact on one's constitutional right to own a weapon.
No less than Justice Scalia in the last decision acknowledged that the government has a right to limit certain weapons from being able to be possessed by American citizens. This is not a constitutional issue. If you notice, when the ban was in place last time, there was not a constitutional challenge that went anywhere to the existence of the ban. So let's get this straight. This is not about anybody's constitutional right to own a weapon. For all those who say we shouldn't and can't been assault weapons, for all those who say the politics is just too hard, how can they say that? When you take a look at those 20 beautiful babies and what happened to them, and those six teachers and administrators. So this same young man, he not only came loaded and armed with an assault weapon, a weapon of war, he came loaded with one 30-round magazine after another, one after another. An estimated 150 bullets were fired by this young man. And the police responded in two, responded in two and one-half minutes.
As my friends behind me did, I met with those state police officers. I met with them. I met with them privately. All you had to do was look in their eyes and see the vacant stare of how fundamentally impacted they were. They were impacted. Some of them needing some help. And tell me that you can't take off the street these weapons of war? For all those who say we shouldn't or couldn't ban high capacity magazines, I just ask them one question, think about Newtown. Think about Newtown. Think about how many of these children or teachers may be alive today had he had to reload three times as many times as he did. Think about what happened out in where Gabby Giffords, my good friend, was shot and wounded. Think about when that young man had to try to change the clip. Had he only had a 10-round clip when he changed the clip and fumbled and had it knocked out of his hands, how many more people would have been alive? And tell me, tell me how it violates anyone's constitutional right to be limited to a clip that holds ten rounds instead of 30, or in aurora a hundred. This is a false choice that's being presented to the American people by those who are taking on our position here.
Look, folks, we have a responsibility to act. A lot of these voices have to be for those beautiful babies. The loudest voices have to be for those silenced voices. Close to 3,000 since Newtown gunned down on American streets and homes and neighborhoods. You know, it's time for the political establishment to show the courage your daughter showed. And it doesn't take one tenth the courage your daughter is living -- I'll say to one of the men you're about to hear from, you know, it must be awful being in public office and concluding that even though you might believe you should take action, that you can't take action because of a political consequence you face. What a heck of a way to make a living. I mean that sincerely. What a heck of a way to have to act.
The message I want to get across, Mr. Mayor, is the risk does not exist as it's exaggerated today because the vast majority of the American people -- the vast majority of gun owners, the vast majority, even close to majority of NRA members who only represent four million of the gun owners in America think what the mayor's been pushing and what the president has proposed is just simple common sense. It will not solve every problem. It will not end every gun death, but it will substantially reduce it. And it matters. It matters. Even if one of the people standing behind me, even if one of their children were alive because of what we've done.
These are common sense proposals. We're talking about banning assault weapons, limiting high capacity magazines, passing real universal background checks, gun trafficking legislation will allow the police the opportunity to be able to deal more rationally with straw sales, those sales where people go in and buy multiple guns and sell them to the bad guys. Mental health -- a significant commitment to mental health and school safety. One of the reasons why the mayor has been so successful in this town is not only his innovation but you have a whole hell of a lot of cops. That's the reason the cops matter. So- called Biden crime book put the cops on the street. There's 30,000 badges sitting in a drawer today because of the economic difficulty of localities as a consequence of the recession. We propose adding back another 1,500 of them. Doesn't move at all -- excuse me 15,000 of them, but cops matter. They matter.
So there's no one thing we can do, but I'm absolutely confident and I'm not going to rest and nor is the president until we do all of these things, all of these things. Enhance the safety of the American people and do not diminish one iota, not one iota, any constitutionally guaranteed right of any American.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
BLOOMBERG: Mr. Vice President, I think you've spoken for the whole country and I think you and the president should be congratulated to have the courage to stand up and I thought you couldn't be more right when you said in the end what Congress has to decide is it politically popular or is it what in their hearts they know is the right thing to do. We all grew up learning the lesson we are on this earth together, we have to protect each other. We certainly have to protect our fellow citizens and our families.
And the ways to do that is to do what the Supreme Court has said is perfectly consistent with the Second Amendment that the vice president and I and all elected officials I suppose are charged with protecting. And that is continue to have people to have the right to bear arms but to do it responsibly, not to put weapons of war which should only be handled by trained military personnel on the battlefield in the hands of the people in the streets, that doesn't protect anybody. That just leads to disaster. And making sure that people who are minors, have criminal records, substance abuse problems or psychiatric problems don't get their hands on guns because they just are not suitable to people to have arms and to use them responsibly which the vast bulk of gun owners do. And which the vast bulk of gun dealers want them to do as a matter of fact.
Let me invite a few of the guests from Newtown to speak. First, Chris and Lynn McDonald for joining us today.
Thank you. Would you say a few words?
CHRIS MCDONALD, NEWTOWN RESIDENT: What matters is people, leaders with moral courage. Lynn and I want to thank you, Vice President Biden and you, Mayor Bloomberg. We are strengthened by your resolve and deeply appreciative of your commitment for action to reduce the epidemic of gun violence.
LYNN MCDONALD, NEWTOWN RESIDENT: Thank you. We were not experts on gun safety before the shootings in Newtown, and we do not presume to be experts now. But we do know about law. And we feel an immense sense of responsibility to our daughter grace to try and help bring about change in the immediate aftermath of the shootings there was a sense of what happened in our town might be a tipping point and that real meaningful progress in the area of gun safety might result. And we know that a lot of good people are working very hard to try to make this happen. And we thank them for that.
We'd ask everyone who has power to influence legislation in this area and of course those whose job it is to vote on the legislation to ask themselves if they are doing enough to bring about real and meaningful change. And if they are not, to ask themselves why not.
We see that on a completely unrelated issue a prominent Senator has changed his view because he gained a new perspective formed by his own personal connection to that issue.
For those of you for whatever reason are inclined to do something very little in support of gun control, we ask you to try to gain your new perspective by thinking about the unthinkable which is unfortunately our reality. This isn't about completely eliminating the possibility of another Newtown. Unfortunately, very little in life is certain. However, if together we can make real progress and bring about meaningful change so that it is far less likely that other wills have to die so young, so senselessly and then shouldn't we be doing everything we can to bring about that change?
(END LIVE FEED)
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. New York City there. Mayor Michael Bloomberg being joined by the vice president of the United States and also family members of the many victims from the shooting in Connecticut in Newtown all saying more needs to be done for stricter legislation, not just for that city or tri-state region but the entire nation.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: You heard the vice president talking about those large clips in weapons, the 30-round clips and talking about what they're calling common sense legislation. So we're keeping an eye on all of that.
Meanwhile, welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Michael Holmes.
WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Suzanne Malveaux. We've got a lot coming up, including this.