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Obama Revives Deficit Plan; Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey Draft Compromise Gun Bill; Manchin, Toomey Talk Gun Compromise Bill.

Aired April 10, 2013 - 11:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think the end of July deadline for increasing the nation's debt ceiling in effect is a deadline for the Republicans and Democrats to come up with some sort of plan? We don't have that have that crisis at the end of July?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think we have a Washington that is for some reason into these manufactured and avoidable crises. So never say never. I never thought last August we would have a crisis of a deadline and we certainly did. I hope we don't, again, in July.

But I think you're seeing -- I don't know, you tell me. I think you're seeing more opportunity for consensus now than we did a year and a half ago and maybe that's a good sign.

BLITZER: I think it was a little bit more, but I wouldn't --


ROMANS: A little, a tiny, tiny bit.

BLITZER: I know that the president's going to have another dinner with a dozen Republican Senators tonight here in Washington so that charm offensive continues. Let's hope it becomes very charming and everybody gets onboard and they work out some deals, not only on deficits and taxes, the budget but on immigration reform, gun control. There's a lot of issues here in Washington right now, forget about the national security issues including North Korea right now. There's obviously a lot going on.

Christine, don't go too far away.


BLITZER: We're going to continue our special coverage here in the CNN NEWSROOM. We're making the turn, though, to guns, a bipartisan deal. At least two Senators, a Democrat and a Republican, with major pro NRA gun records. Senators Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey, they've just drafted a news conference with their own proposal on how to deal with expanding background checks for gun purchases.


BLITZER: The Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has a near-perfect record as far as the National Rifle Association. He's a Democrat. Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also has a virtually perfect record as far as the NRA is concerned. They have now, though, come together and have come up with a compromise proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases in the United States. They spoke together just moments ago.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Let me just say good morning to all of you. And I'm very, very proud to be here with my good friend, Pat Toomey, from my sister state of Pennsylvania, West Virginia. We're side-by-side and we come from states that have deep rooted cultures, as you know. And we've been very strong in that.

And I also want to give special thanks to two people who aren't here today who have been invaluable to this process and have worked from the beginning trying to find common ground. And that is Senator Chuck Schumer, my good friend, and my dear friend Mark Kirk. Mark has been with me from the beginning. And has never left and Chuck and his staff and all of them who have worked so hard, I thank everybody. Pat will tell you.

I also want to thank Tom Coburn. Tom has been invaluable to the process also coming from the culture we have come from and had great input all the way through this process. I want to make it clear from the start that this is a start and not the end of our work. We still have a lot to do.

We have an agreement -- Pat and I have an agreement with Senator Kirk and Senator Schumer. We have an agreement to prevent criminals and the mentally ill and insane from getting firearms and harming people. That's extremely important for all of us. And also, we agree that we need a commission on mass violence. And this commission is going to be made up of people with expertise. People have expertise in guns, people have expertise in mental illness, in school safety and people have expertise in video violence. We have a culture of violence and we have a whole generation who basically has been desensitized. And if you go around and talk to the young people today, it just is what it is, and we've got to find out how we can change and reverse that.

We also need to protect legal gun owners. Legal gun owners like myself and Pat who basically cherish the Second Amendment rights that we have. And we have done that also. But today is just the start of a healthy debate that must end with the Senate and house hopefully passing these common sense measures and the president signing it into law.

Back home where I come from, we have common sense, we have nonsense, and now we have gun sense. And that's what we're talking about. The events at Newton, truly the events at Newtown changed us all. Changed our country, our communities, our towns, and it changed our hearts and minds. This amendment won't ease the pain. It will not ease the pain of the families who lost their children on that horrible day. But nobody here and I mean not one of us in this great, great capital of ours with a good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again. And I think that's what we're doing. Americans on both sides of the debate can and must find common ground. That's what Pat and I have been working on and what we've been able to do.

Today's agreement is the first step in common ground that all of us agree is crucial to keep guns out of dangerous hands and keep our children safe. This is a bipartisan movement, it's a bipartisan amendment, and we all know that a bipartisan solution is a lasting solution. But nobody here in good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day that has happened at Newtown from ever happening again.

I can't say enough about my friend, Pat Toomey, and I just appreciate him so much for working as hard and his staff doing what they've done and for us all coming together today.

With that, I'd like to introduce my dear friend Pat Toomey from the great state of Pennsylvania.

PAT TOOMEY, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you very much, Senator Manchin, I too want to commend Senator Manchin for the work he's put in for a long time on this. And I appreciate it. It's been a pleasure working for you. We're going to continue to work together. I hope on many things. I also want to mention the terrific work that Senator Kirk has done on this. He's really been an invaluable asset and very, very important voice in this discussion and I appreciate that.

Let me say, you know, Pennsylvania has a long bipartisan tradition of supporting gun rights. And I've been proud to be a part of that tradition and I continue to be. I'm a gun owner and the rights that are enshrined in the Second Amendment are important to me personally as I know they are to so many people across Pennsylvania. My record shows this, but I've got to tell you candidly, I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it's just common sense. If you pass a criminal background check, you get to buy a gun, no problem. It's the people who fail a criminal or mental health background check that we don't want having guns.

Now, in my time in public life, I've not taken a very high-profile role on this issue. I spend most of my time and energy focusing on policies that will help generate economic growth and job creation and put us on a sustainable fiscal path. That has been my focus. It'll continue to by my focus.

So let me explain to you why I'm standing here today with Senator Manchin. I'm here because over the last few months, several things became apparent to me. First is that gun legislation appeared destined to reach the Senate floor. It's not something I sought, but it's inevitable. Second thing is it became apparent that there are a number of gun control proposals that I think actually would infringe Second Amendment rights. And I will tell you categorically that nothing in our amendment prevents the ownership of guns by any lawful person. And I wouldn't support it if it did.

But what also became apparent to me in the course of this debate, there was the danger that we might end up accomplishing nothing. And not making progress where we could. So that's when I started talking with Senator Manchin and Senator Kirk and others to see if we might be able to find a place where there's some common ground. And I think we found it.

And the common ground rests on a simple proposition, and that is that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn't have guns. I don't know anyone who disagrees with that premise from either political party or whatever folks' views might be on broader gun rights issues. So if we start with the notion that dangerous criminals and dangerously mentally ill people shouldn't have guns, the question is, how can we accomplish that?

Now, background checks are not a cure-all by any means, but they can be helpful. In a 10-year period from 1999 to 2009, 1.8 million gun sales were blocked by the current background check system because people were not qualified to own a gun. Now, I've supported background checks in the past. I support them now. They already exist, of course, for the purchase of guns from licensed dealers. In Pennsylvania, in fact, they already exist for all handgun purchases. What our measure will do, it'll expand background checks to purchases of firearms at gun shows and over the Internet. It would not require recordkeeping by any private citizen.

Now, the fact is, the national law that we have had and Pennsylvania's experience have done nothing to restrict the lawful ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens and neither will our amendment. The worries that we hear sometimes about background checks leading to an erosion of our Second Amendment rights simply hasn't happened. Now we've got to make sure it doesn't. I also should point out, as Senator Manchin did, that this amendment is a genuine compromise. In addition to expanding background checks, it includes the number of measures that help secure Second Amendment rights.

The bottom line for me is this, you know, if expanding background checks to include gun shows and Internet sales can reduce the likelihood of criminals and mentally ill people from getting guns and we can do it in a fashion that does not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, then we should do it and in this amendment, I think we do.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia with their compromise proposal to expand background checks.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been watching all of this unfold.

Just because these two guys, these two Senators, Dana, have come up with this compromise, it's by no means a done deal, is it?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think certainly they hope that because they have the credibility of being gun owners as you just heard them describe in various ways that they will be able to get the 60 Senators that will be needed in order to pass what will effectively be an amendment when the gun debate starts, which will happen probably tomorrow, maybe as soon as today. But one thing that could make it hard is the NRA just put out a press release, a statement knocking this down. Not a surprise, but out there in black and white. I'll read the first line. It says, "Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting. It will not solve violent crime, and will not keep our kids safe in schools."

It goes on to make the point that the shootings in Aurora, Tucson and in Newtown would not have been stopped with a background check. That the background check -- not having a background check was not an issue in any of those situations. So that is certainly what they're going to be up against.

But, look, you heard both of these men, who are historically not people who run towards curbing gun use, say that this is absolutely necessary in order to at least take a baby step towards making sure that people who are criminals or mentally ill don't have guns.

BLITZER: What I say, it's not necessarily that done deal, Dana. What it means is even if it were to pass the Senate, if they had the 60 votes to break the expected Republican led filibuster, let's say on the Senate floor. Let's say they get more than 60 votes to break that filibuster, they have an up and down vote, they get 51 votes in favor and then goes to the House of Representatives where I don't know what's going to happen if the NRA comes out and adamantly opposes this compromise to expand background checks.

BASH: That's right. And I think so much of it is going to be determined by how big the vote is in the Senate. If it is overwhelming, it will be very hard for Republicans who run the House to stop it. One thing that we can report is our Deidra Walsh learned there's a companion bill in the House. Peter King, the Republican from New York, is on it. And it's virtually, she's told, is the same as the Manchin/Toomey bill. That is a start for them to try to move this in the House because they would need at least one Republican on it. So I think John Boehner, the House speaker, has been very circumspect this morning. He was very careful not to say no or yes, because he too understands if this comes rolling out of the Senate with a big vote, it will be hard for him to stop in the House.

BLITZER: Just as avoiding the fiscal cliff hard to stop --

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- in the House of representatives after passing overwhelmingly in the United States Senate.

Let's bring back Gloria Borger in this conversation.

A lot of people don't understand, this is a compromise, not universal background checks, not what the Democrats wanted, what the president wanted. It's a compromise. But 90 percent of the American people want universal background checks. 8 percent or 9 percent don't. Why is it so tough to get this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, very tough to get this on both sides of the aisle. Wolf, you know that Democrats, for example, lots -- about half a dozen of Senate Democrats up for reelection come from pro gun states. So it's very difficult for them to vote for any kind of huge kind of gun control. I mean, if you do look at our poll, we have a new poll out today, you're right, 86 percent of the American people favor tougher new background checks. 14 percent oppose it. So you never get the American people to agree.

BLITZER: Yes, there was a poll that had 98 percent. All these polls are very consistent.

BORGER: That's right. And I think what you see in this compromise from these two men, both of whom are rated well by the NRA is a response to this kind of public opinion saying, yes, we can do something. I mean, curbing sales at gun shows and the Internet is far short of universal background checks, but it's more than Congress has done in over a decade.

Let's take a look at something else our poll shows. We asked the question, should the federal government use background checks to create a list of gun owners? And you see that, wolf, the majority says absolutely not. And that is why you heard Senator Toomey come out and say there's not going to be any recordkeeping. There is not going to be any registry. While people do want background checks, they're skeptical that the government could overreach. And that if you start keeping a registry that, at some point, other polls have said either if you have legal guns in the house, this would give the government the opportunity to actually confiscate your guns, which is, of course, a violation of your constitutional rights.

So what you see these Senators trying to do here is tiptoe around the complicated politics of the gun issue and do something that stops short, of course, of what the president and Joe Biden have been working for.

BLITZER: And this Manchin/Toomey compromise deal deals with the loophole involving gun shows and transactions on the Internet, but doesn't deal with private one-on-one transactions. And that's still a sticking point for a lot of the gun control advocates.

BORGER: Right. And it doesn't contain this registry, which, of course, was a huge sticking point for lots of Republicans in the Senate.

BLITZER: Doesn't do anything about the assault-type weapons and it doesn't do anything about the high-capacity magazine clips.

BORGER: High-capacity magazine clips.

BLITZER: This is one step, an important step from the perspective of the president, but it's just a step.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, standby.

Could background checks have prevented the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting? Joe Johns is standing by for that.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage.

Would background checks have made a significant difference in aurora or Newtown or at Virginia Tech? CNN's Joe Johns has been taking a closer look at this question for us.

What are you seeing, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Probably not, wolf. That's the bottom line. If you look at Newtown, Adam Lanza, the shooter there essentially got his weapons from his mother, who was the registered owner. She also purchased them. He actually killed her as his first victim.

Probably not Aurora, although the shooter there actually was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as dangerous. That never made it into the system.

In fact, you almost have to go all the way back to 2007 and Virginia Tech before you find an instance where background checks could have made a difference. But in that case the shooter slipped through the cracks.

So this proposal that the Senators have brought forward is helpful, wolf, in the sense that it's supposed to clarify that submissions of mental health records into the national instant check system actually are not prohibited by federal law. That certainly is helpful. But the larger issue here is the criteria used to determine who is dangerous, mentally ill and should not get a gun, the so-called prohibitors. That's something the Justice Department is trying to look at to decide who shouldn't get into the system. It's a very hard question -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly is, Joe. Thanks for that report.

As talk focuses in on expanding existing background checks, we gloss over what we already have to do when it comes to buying a gun at gun shops. So our Chris Cuomo decided to show all of you what was going on, what it takes to buy a gun.




CUOMO: I'm looking for home protection shotgun.

MARINELLO: OK. I'm going to bring you down to our shotgun section.

CUOMO (voice-over): Seems simple, but there's more to it than you might think. Every purchase from a licensed dealer requires a federal background check. (on camera): Are you under indictment? No. Have you been convicted of any felony?

(voice-over): 27 personal questions including criminal and mental health history, all requiring government confirmation. Add potential state and city laws, thousands across the country, and it could feel like an obstacle course.

MARINELLO: There's a background check for the rifle. If you live in the city, there's a rifle shotgun card, if there's a pistol, there's also a pistol license.

CUOMO: But this pales in comparison to the pain the nation felt on December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut. The most vulnerable victimized by dangerous weapons in the wrong sick hands. CNN's latest poll shows people want it to stop.

Calls to do something resulting in demands for expanded background checks, despite the fact they wouldn't have stopped the Newtown shooter.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that background checks can work, but the problem is loopholes in the current law let so many people avoid background checks altogether.


CUOMO: Gun control advocates want all gun sales, not just those by dealers, subject to background checks.

COLIN GODDARD, BRADY CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: This background check law that we're talking about is enforcing the law.

CUOMO: Colin Goddard works for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He is a gun violence victim, shot four times at Virginia Tech six years ago.

GODDARD: How are you supposed to know if somebody's got a felony record? How are you supposed to know if someone has a restraining order or dangerous mental illness without a background check? You're supposed to look at them really hard?

CUOMO: Gun rights advocates fear checking all sales could lead to a national gun registry and maybe confiscation. The larger concern, making it harder to buy may not stop massacres and handgun violence.

Before owning this Long Island gun store, owner, Mike Marinello, was a police officer for 11 years.

(on camera): In your experience as a cop, did that hold true?

MARINELLO: In 11 years, I've never had a legal pistol license see use his gun in a crime.

CUOMO: Gun control advocates say nearly two million people denied guns is proof of effectiveness. DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NRA: Most were not on prohibited lists, most were false positives, name looked like somebody else, records in there that were incomplete.

The first thing you have to do is take the system you have and get it fixed and make it work.

CUOMO: Mike says the big issue isn't the law but enforcement.

MARINELLO: If somebody comes in and hell bent on buying a gun, we let them fill out the form and they fail. And in a perfect world, I'll call firearms and they'll arrest that person.

CUOMO (on camera): That's the big catch, right?

MARINELLO: Would make this state the safest in the union if they were enforced.

CUOMO (voice-over): In my case --


CUOMO: -- the system worked. After 25 minutes of completing forms and waiting for approval, I had my shotgun.

MARINELLO: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: Chris is joining us now.

So why did you decide to buy a shotgun?

CUOMO: Well, to be honest, Wolf, it's the easiest thing you can do. There are so many laws right now prohibiting handguns, paperwork that's involved, your residence. There's so many different challenges to ownership right now, if you want to do it lawfully, that the shotgun made it easiest.

There's also a window of insight, Wolf, as to why there's resistance you don't see in the polls. One of the reasons that there can't be such easy political compromise here is because all of these checks go toward lawful purchases. So the burden is inherently on people who want to do it the right way. And the resistance comes from that recognition and that we're not seeing equal pressure on the bad guys -- enforcement of gun crimes, mandatory minimum sentences, dealing with how we treat the mentally ill. And because we don't see the energy on that side, there's been resistance that you may not pick up in the polls.

For many people the announcement we just heard in the press room, the most impressive part, Wolf, will be what has nothing to do with background checks, the idea that they're just the first step, that we have to deal with the culture of violence and mental health. That's going to resonate with a lot of people -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Took about half an hour to go ahead and buy a shotgun. Fascinating material.

I know we're going to have more in our special at 5:00 p.m. eastern with you, Chris. Thanks very much.

"THE SITUATION ROOM," 5:00 p.m. eastern.

Stay with CNN, by the way, all day as we take an in-depth look at universal background checks for gun buyers. As we mentioned, all of the polls suggesting nearly 90 percent of Americans want universal background checks.

Guns under fire throughout the afternoon into the evening, including 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room" only here on CNN.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

AROUND THE WORLD starts right after this quick break.