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Donald Trump's Latest Cruz Slam; GOP Campaign Ads Reviewed; President Obama Takes Executive Action on Guns; Breaking Out of North Korea: Nuclear Bomb Test? Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 5, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:10] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Donald Trump is still a 'birther,' but this time it is not President Obama that he is talking about.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
Donald Trump says voters should think twice about Ted Cruz. Why is that? Because he was born in Canada. Not to be outdone, Cruz says this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX) U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I tweeted out a response to Donald Trump's raising questions about my natural born citizenship. It was a link to Fonzie Jumping the Shark. And I think I'm going to let my response stick with that tweet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Mean, the republicans are taking aims at President Obama's executive actions on guns led by you know who.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's no good. It's no fair. And they're not going to screw around with the Second Amendment. OK? It's not going to happen. So, that's the way it is. That's the way it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Lot's to get to tonight on this program. But I want to give with the day in Trump. To start us -- start us off, CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at his campaign in New Hampshire. So, Sara, Donald Trump raising the 'birther' issue once again, but this time he is lobbying the attack against his pal. Ted Cruz explains to us what's going on here.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, as you know, have been playing nice with one another. They're both the guys to ahead in the polls in Iowa.
But today, Donald Trump changed his tune. There was a Washington Post interview where he basically questioned whether it would be a problem if Ted Cruz were the nominee because he was born in Canada. And in true Trump style, he sort of lobbed the attack and then he started to backed away from it a little bit.
Take a listen to what he say -- had to say to (Inaudible).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you suggesting or questioning his birthright or citizenship?
TRUMP: No, I'm not at all. I just know that it's being questioned all over. And a lot of people are asking me that question. And I know the Washington Post asked me that question today. And all I know is that a lot of people are talking about it.
I hope it's not so. I hope it doesn't come about. But people are worried that if he weren't born in this country, which he wasn't, he was born in Canada and he actually had a Canadian passport along with a U.S. passport until just recently, I mean, like within the last couple of years.
So, I don't know what it all means. I know that -- I know that people are talking about it. The problem is that if the democrats bring a lawsuit, the lawsuit could take years to resolve. And how do you have a candidate with something, you know, over the head of the party and that individual.
So, I hope it wouldn't be the truth. I hope that wouldn't be, you know, what it is. And we'll find out I guess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: And, Don, this is sort of becoming the classic Trump style saying, well, you know, it's not me who's asking the question of whether this will be an issue for Ted Cruz, but other people are raising the problem. And that sort of his way of putting the line of attack out there, but then not really taking credit for it.
LEMON: Yes. So, Ted Cruz is he just responding by tweeting with -- how is he responding?
MURRAY: Well, you saw Ted Cruz talking about the tweet he put out, it will be Fonzie from "Happy Days" jumping the shark. But he had a little bit more to say about that in Iowa tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's questioned your ethnicity recently. He's questioned your faith. Now he is questioning your eligibility to run for president. Isn't this just playing into the democrat's play book that the Republican Party is defined by this, you know...
CRUZ: Listen, with all respect, our good friends here in the media are playing into the democrat's play book. How about we talk about the real challenges facing this country?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: And, Don, I think we are seeing there as Ted Cruz trying to play it cool. He is just sort of trying to weather the Donald Trump attacks, but he doesn't want to attack Trump head on. Because he wants those Trump's supporters. He wants to be able to win some of them over, and ultimately, to win Iowa, and then the nomination.
LEMON: Yes. I'm old enough to remember when that Fonzie Jumping the Shark was actually when its first run on television what actually happened. But he is saying that playing into the democrat's handbook, the democrats haven't brought it up, is he calling Donald Trump a democrat or -- I don't understand what that means.
MURRAY: Yes, I think that's a great question. I think he was sort of just trying to navigate his way out of these questions about what Donald Trump said. And that's what we've seen about Cruz on the trail. He does not want to engage with Donald Trump. He doesn't want to get in the fight and that's the thing where I've seen at the most potent attacks that Cruz has had against Trump or in a closed door fundraiser.
He is not going out there on the trail and, you know, engaging in hand-to-hand combat against Trump. Probably because he's seen what it does to other candidates.
LEMON: All right. Thank you very much, Sara Murray. I appreciate that. I want to bring in now our republican strategist, Mercedes Schlapp, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for the New Yorker, and republican strategist, Kayleigh McEnany.
Good to have all of you here this evening.
Ryan, you first. So, I want you to fact check this for us. What exactly is Donald Trump saying about Ted Cruz's citizenship? And are there real questions about it because almost every expert says it is a non-issue?
[22:04:58] RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there you go. I think the first thing to say, he said that Ted Cruz had a Canadian passport. I have never heard that Ted Cruz had a Canadian passport. Ted Cruz, of course was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
LEMON: The Canadian citizenship he gave it up, right, recently?
LIZZA: Well, he didn't know he had Canadian citizenship. He left Canada when he was four years old. His mom was born in Delaware; his dad of course was born in Cuba. He is a natural born citizen, right?
The language in the U.S. Constitution, the requirements for being president you have to be a natural born citizen. Every legal scholar that has looked at this and this has been fact check to death if you Google it, has come to the conclusion that if you are a natural born citizen, which you are, if your parent -- if your mother is an American and you were born outside of the United States, you are a natural born citizen. You are therefore eligible to be president.
But Donald Trump threw something else entirely false, as far as I know I've never heard that Ted Cruz actually had a Canadian passport. What he learned a few years ago from the Dallas morning news is that because he was born in Canada he was eligible for Canadian citizenship. He of course sent a letter to the Canadian and said I don't want it.
But I've never heard that he had a Canadian passport. So, that is something that Donald Trump seems to have made up out of whole cloth.
LEMON: So, Kayleigh, you're a fan of both Trump and Cruz, why is -- why is Donald Trump floating this out there?
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, POLITICAL PROSPECT EDITOR: Look, because it's the only thing he can find on Ted Cruz. And this should tell us a lot about Ted Cruz when folks go to attack him they have nothing to attack him on.
This is someone who went to the Senate who was ferocious in his conservative values who stood up to Mitch McConnell, who has put forth every conservative principle, voted right on every single issue. There is nothing you can attack Ted Cruz on.
Donald Trump is grasping at straws because there is simply no way to topple him. That's why you see people like Marco Rubio lying, outright lying about Ted Cruz's immigration record. You can't attack this man because he's been on the right side of every political issue.
LEMON: OK. Let's stick with Cruz now here and Trump. Mercedes, here is more of Cruz's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: Well, I tweeted out a response to Donald Trump's raising questions about my natural-born citizenship. It was a link to Fonzie Jumping the Shark and I think I'm going to let my response stick with that tweet.
One of the things that the media loves to do is gaze at their navels for hours on end by a tweet from Donald Trump or from me or from anybody else, who cares. Let's focus on the issues -- let's focus on the issues that matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, that was a great pivot, Mercedes, that he brings it back to the media when it's actually Donald Trump and it's also Donald Trump and some republicans also question the president's citizenship, the same rule that apply to Ted Cruz or applied to Ted Cruz, applied to -- would apply to Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012.
His mother was born here in the United States even if he was born in another country, it was, so make him eligible because his mom was born here.
MERCEDES SCHLAPP, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's right.
LEMON: So, why is Ted Cruz doing this pivot blaming it on the media and then blaming on the democrats, we've not brought this out.
LEMON: And then is he afraid to hit Donald Trump just except using a corny joke from a '70s sitcom?
SCHLAPP: Look, for Ted Cruz this narrative of going after the media has effectively worked. Think about, you know, the past several debates where he has brought up the media and how the media is basically sort of the enemy, right?
And it really has played well with GOP primary voters. And I think Ted Cruz has made a very clear calculation that he was going to stay above the fray not attack Trump because he knows that that is a dangerous place to go.
So, I think for Ted Cruz he's very focused on, again, he knows he has a very strong organizational grassroots ground game especially in the Southern States and he's looking at those states and saying, you know, I can win the south, I can possibly win Iowa and I don't need to do it by, you know, punching Donald Trump in the nose.
So, again, it's like watching a daytime soap opera, which is, you know, kind of Ted Cruz having a love fest with Donald Trump, and Donald Trump sort of playing the godfather role.
LIZZA: I was to see where that was going to go?
LEMON: All right. I was like, wait a minute, is this like some weird "bromance"?
SCHLAPP: That's what it said.
LEMON: OK. So, Ryan, listen this...
SCHLAPP: He said "bromance." "Bromance."
LEMON: Ryan, this is for you, there is another interesting moment tonight.
LIZZA: Don't ask me about Trump, he's a love child.
LEMON: This just happened at a Trump event. Take a listen, Ryan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Like the Iran deal. Who would make this deal? During the -- he says -- what did you say? I didn't hear it? OK. I didn't say it. I didn't say it! I refuse to get -- I'm supposed to reprimand the man. Who is the man that said that? I have to reprimand, how dare you. OK. Have I -- OK, I've reprimanded him.
Where is she? I didn't hear that? That's terrible. Terrible! You should never say that! That's terrible.
[22:10:05] They said she's in the bathroom. That's a terrible thing. I'm admonishing you for the press. You are admonished. We should throw him the hell out of here. Get out of here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, that last reference we know that was to Hillary Clinton going to the bathroom, and then, you know, there was some people got upset saying that how dare him say that it was, I think he said it was disgusting, right, Ryan?
LEMON: And then the other one was to the man who was in the audience this summer at a Trump rally and he said the president wasn't born in the United States and that he was a Muslim. And then people said that Trump should have admonished him. So now, he is admonishing him but in a joking way.
LEMON: Is this politically savvy, has he become increasingly, politically savvy as the race goes on by saying, you shouldn't say that but joking with the audience because he knows they don't really want him to admonish them?
LIZZA: Yes, I mean, the way I look at that is that this has developed so far, he has this sort of relationship with his audience. I've been to four or five Trump rallies in the last few weeks and...
LEMON: Notice how we call it an audience like, you know, instead of constituents or supporters.
LIZZA: Whether it's constituents of supporters or whatever...
LEMON: Because it's like, you know, he's like sort of a guy with an audience. He knows that he is a performer, right?
LIZZA: And there -- right. And he has a set, he has sort of shtick. He has six or seven sort of set pieces that he does.
LEMON: I'm sorry, I interrupted you. What was your thought?
LIZZA: No, I was saying he has a sort of set of six or seven jokes set pieces that he does and the crowds that go there know them all, right? They sort of know the arc of the Trump campaign. They know the bat of Hillary jokes, they know the Bill jokes.
And so, you know, I think what you are seeing there is that him and his audience who have gotten to know each other pretty well over the last months in engaging in a sort of 'met a moment' where it's almost like a grateful dead show. You know what I mean, at this point, die hard supporters who know what they're going to get and they, you know, they like to sort of shout things and hear him call back to them.
LEMON: I've got to -- oh, my gosh, a dead show and a love child. My goodness. Listen, I've got to get to break, but I notice that there are two panelists which sort of smiling, listening to him. You didn't find it funny, Ryan, why not?
LIZZA: I found the second one kind of funny, I'm not -- it doesn't, you know, it doesn't -- I don't find it that funny when people are -- or make comments that can be interpreted as bigoted and say, oh, Muslim would do the Muslim deal.
SCHLAPP: He was brilliant.
MCENANY: Ryan, you are the D.C. insider, come on.
LIZZA: I mean, it's also a -- it's also...
LEMON: Get him. Get him, ladies.
LIZZA: ... in terms of foreign policy I think it's incorrect.
MCENANY: I was laughing at a...
LIZZA: I think there were -- anyway, go ahead, Mercedes.
SCHLAPP: Political correctness is out of the window in this campaign. And secondly...
LEMON: And truth.
SCHLAPP: ... here is the sense of -- the sense of an entertainter.
LIZZA: I don't think it's politically...
SCHLAPP: He is very good. Donald Trump is very good at bringing in his audience and talking about things also in sort of an predictable unexpected way where people are drawn to what is he going to say next?
SCHLAPP: And we can -- and some of it is really you don't take it seriously, other points he is very serious in his topics.
LEMON: Quickly, Kayleigh. MCENANY: And to add into that, Ryan, he knows how to manipulate
people like you, he knows how to get you to call him bigoted either by his silence or by the fact that he is commenting reprimanding the guy in the audience. He knows how to manipulate folks like you like Marianne (ph) and its puppet and it's really funny to watch.
LIZZA: Well, how is it -- how is it manipulating someone? How is being bigoted manipulating someone?
MCENANY: We got to win, too.
LEMON: And bye, everyone including...
LIZZA: So, did he manipulate you by getting him to call to attack me just now?
LEMON: Stand by, everyone. Donald Trump sits down with Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room at 5 p.m. Eastern.
We're going to continue this conversation in a moment. When we come right back, Donald Trump's surprising new ad. Why he doesn't say anything bad about any of his republican rivals.
Plus, President Obama emotional moment on guns today. We're going to play the whole thing for you in the next hour.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: A lot of tough talk in the latest batch of republican campaign ads with one very surprising exception. Are we seeing a kinder, gentler Donald Trump?
Back with me now, Mercedes Schlapp, Kayleigh McEnany, and Ryan Lizza, who fix his neck ties. So, viewers, you do not have to keep me saying Ryan Lizza's necktie is crooked because he has fixed it. You can actually pay attention to him now.
Mercedes, I want you guys, if you can, use short answers. Because I've a bunch of ads I want to play here and try to get it to as many as possible. Mercedes, another day, more ads inundating the airwaves. I want you to take a look. This is Ted Cruz, he released today, focusing on illegal immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: There in a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press, then we would see stories about the economic calamity that is befalling our nation.
If I'm elected president, we will triple the border patrol. We will build a wall that works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Mercedes, this spot is airing in New Hampshire and we have this image of men and women who are running across in heels and suits. Is that effective?
SCHLAPP: Were you in that ad, Don? I'm sorry, did I miss that?
LEMON: No, I was not in that ad.
SCHLAPP: They said journalist.
LEMON: Is it effective do you think?
SCHLAPP: It's probably not my favorite ad. I think that the key here, though, is the message on immigration, which is again, hot topic for GOP in this electoral cycle. And I think that that's one that you're seeing, and you're going to see that obviously in Donald Trump.
Their messaging is right in the sense that they are focusing on illegal immigration.
LEMON: So, Kayleigh, at one point we see a split screen between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the fact that they included that, what does that tell you?
MCENANY: The split screen between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, they are obviously the ones vying on this. And Ted Cruz is the one who has the record when it comes to illegal immigration. He is the one who is against gang of eight.
And he wants to make that contrast that he is not Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio has supported what was essentially amnesty. Ted Cruz has not and he's putting that very palpable distinction in there. There's two different sides, which one are you on?
LEMON: OK. Ryan, Donald Trump accusing Ted Cruz of being a copycat. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This plan just happened, OK. In fact, I was watching the other day, and I was watching Ted talk and he said "We will build a wall," the first time I have ever heard him say it. And my wife who was sitting next to me said, oh, look, he is copying what you've been saying for a long period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Ryan, Ted Cruz now trying to move to the right of Trump on immigration. Is it just smart politics for Ted Cruz to do that?
LIZZA: Look, I don't think he can actually -- on taxes, on immigration, on the couple of other issues, there is no right to get to on Donald Trump, right? I mean, on immigration you can't really get to his right.
[22:19:56] I think the question -- and this goes back to the first conversation we're having is when does Ted Cruz start fighting back? Donald Trump has now talked about Ted Cruz's religion. He -- at a rally I was at recently, he talked about Ted Cruz not being really Evangelical because he is from Cuba, whatever that means.
He's now questioned his citizenship. And now he is questioning whether he's been honest on immigration. And at some point, Ted Cruz's strategy of just hugging Donald Trump and not saying anything bad has to reach to point of diminishing returns, and he's actually going to have to stick for himself and respond to some of their stuff.
LEMON: All right. Mercedes, I want you to check out this Rubio super PAC ad attacking Chris Christie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When something doesn't work in New Jersey, they look at me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, when New Jerseyans look at Chris Christie, why do so many want to leave? New Jersey has the nation's highest tax burden. It's next to the bottom in job growth and Christie's close aides are under criminal indictment. Chris Christie, high taxes, weak economy, scandals, not what we need in the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Mercedes, is Chris Christie Rubio's biggest competitor in New Hampshire and vice versa?
SCHLAPP: Absolutely. When it comes to the GOP establishment lane, remember, the GOP establishment right now did not have a nominee that they are rallying behind.
And so, I think that for Rubio, Christie is -- I think for, you know, Christie is definitely one of his biggest opponents. Obviously, Rubio has other problems. He's got the Trump factor and the Cruz factor. But I think this is more about Rubio trying to garner the support of the GOP establishment which he hasn't been able to do yet.
LEMON: Kayleigh, Donald Trump just put out his first ad but he doesn't attack the other GOP candidates. Do you think that's going to change?
MCENANY: I don't. Because Donald Trump is ahead of the pack. And look, he's kind of punched down, we've seen sometimes going after Jeb Bush, but Jeb Bush is about beaten to a pulp right now. I don't think there is any more to punch out when it comes to Jeb Bush.
You know, he is riding high at the top. We might see him come out a little more against Ted Cruz, but I think they have this detente. And I think every time he kind of attacks Ted Cruz whatever detente or agreement they've come to or meeting, whatever it seems they've come to some sort of peace that it seems to keep being reinforced. So, I don't see it with Donald Trump.
LIZZA: I don't know. It seems like it's a funny detente. If it's detente it's only one way detente. Because Trump attacks Cruz every day.
MCENANY: Well, I mean, it's...
SCHLAPP: But its subliminal messages and it's Trump trying to place doubt in the minds of the GOP voters about Senator Ted Cruz. Now whether that will actually happen, that's a different story. But Trump has to be politically strategic and tactical because his biggest threat right now is Ted Cruz.
LIZZA: Yes, it is. Yes. It's why he is running these ads and it's why he's attacking him by name. He is scared of Cruz in Iowa. There is no doubt about it. He doesn't talk about it. It doesn't get mentioned because the national polls are so different. But Trump is no longer the leader in Iowa. Cruz is.
LEMON: All right. Thank you, ladies and gentleman. I appreciate that. I'll see you, guys.
LIZZA: Thanks, Don.
MCENANY: Thank you, Don.
SCHLAPP: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: President Obama cites up Congress to take executive action on guns and is moved to tears. We'll tell you over what.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Here is an extraordinary moment at the White House today. An emotional President Obama says he will take action on guns with or without Congress. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our -- our alienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness those rights were stripped from college kids in Whitesburg in Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine. And from first graders in Newtown. First graders.
And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, they gets me mad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Joining me now is presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, and New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Nic, this is a president who's been criticized for being aloof that he's been unemotional. Were you surprised to see him cry?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: I was. But this is clearly an issue that moves him enormously and, you know, and it should. I think a lot of republicans saw this as a sign of weakness, you know, the president crying.
Boy, I think when he's lost 225,000 people from gun violence on his watch in the last seven years, I mean, he should be crying, and frankly, we should all be crying.
LEMON: Yes. And it's interesting because people say we should be, you know, focusing on terrorism more so. The number -- there is no comparison.
KRISTOF: There is no whatsoever. Just since 1970 in this country we've lost more Americans to gun violence than all the Americans who died in all of the wars in American history back to the revolutionary war.
The number of -- I mean, obviously terrorism gets the headlines. It scares us and that's because it's terrorism. But what actually kill Americans in this country is much more banal things like auto desk which we do regulate and gun desk which we largely don't.
LEMON: Daily gun violence that takes place in cities across America every single day.
KRISTOF: Ninety two gun deaths every day in America.
LEMON: Douglas Brinkley, the president was, you know, at times passionate, at times he was frustrated, and speaking off the cuff at that press conference. As a historian, what stood out to you?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, that he again quoted Martin Luther King, a junior in that line we need to feel the fierce urgency of now. He wants people to act against gun violence now and he's having a hard time breaking through Congress. They're getting the American people to pay attention.
I saw him and we all saw him very emotional at Charleston after that killing when he spontaneously broke into Amazing Grace. And he's determined that climate change and gun violence are going to be part of his legacy that he is going to be fighting the surge.
It's going to be hard to break through the media cycles of 2016 election. But he is not going to give up the fight. And I thought he was very eloquent and moving today. And I think it sets him up for the Town Hall meeting with Anderson Cooper on Thursday.
[22:29:59] And then with the State of the Union Address next week where I'm sure the notion that 30,000 Americans a year are being killed by gun violence. It was possible for him not to deal with this topic.
LEMON: Yes. I was going to play that Amazing Grace moment later. But let's play it now since you mentioned that. This is a look at him back during the Charleston Church massacre. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: Amazing grace...
... how sweet the sound that saves a wretch like me. I once was lost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, he is being, sort of criticized for executive orders for doing what he wants to do. And as you can see in this moment, Nic, that it's in his last year or so, then in a little bit more than a year, and he's feeling free. But then let's look at the executive orders.
LEMON: Because that's been the criticism of him. And if you look at it, Clinton did 364, Bush did 291, Obama has done 228 executive orders. So, he's feeling free but he really hasn't had as much as executive action as other presidents.
KRISTOF: Yes. And, you know, frankly, I think that liberals frankly haven't tackled gun violence very effectively at times. I think too often when liberals speak of gun control they scare gun owners. They come across as disparaging as arrogant in ways that antagonize gun owners.
I think that Obama was very careful to say that, look, we've regulate cars. We can regulate guns in the same way and he has facts on his side. I mean, I think there is a perception in America too often, that this is tragic and there is nothing that we can do about it.
In fact, you know, we know that Missouri lifted gun restrictions and the homicide gun rate rose 25 percent. Connecticut, at the same time, passed new handgun restrictions and the homicide rate from firearms fell 25 percent. You know, there's still going to be a lot of gun violence in America. But at the margins we can affect that.
LEMON: Douglas Brinkley, let's talk about what he is proposing, OK, in this executive action. He wants to expand background checks for private sales, bolster data of prohibited buyers, hire more background checkers, ATF agents; increase funding for mental health care, research and development gun-safety technology.
Is this -- you know, is this, do you think any of this is going to work? Especially when you look at the gun shows and the internet sellers, will they cooperate with this?
BRINKLEY: Well, it's very a modest set of executive actions the president purposefully put forward today. But he wants to try to build a coalition on this. And I think if he did anything larger would have been Obama's trying to destroy the Second Amendment.
You already see every single person running for the GOP and for president's saying that Obama is going after the Second Amendment. And the president is trying to in many ways be an educator-in-chief a little bit. He is saying, look, we all love our -- I love the Second Amendment, well, the First Amendment, but we don't allow walking into a theater and screaming fire.
You know, we want our personal freedoms but we go to the airport, we have to submit to inspection before we get on an airline. He is trying to build the idea of some more tougher executive actions to come down the line. I think today it's like an opening salvo of the year. And there are going to be different stages of it. And Hillary Clinton of course, embracing him warmly today, and she'll be carrying the torch throughout the campaign to win, so there will be more.
LEMON: Does it have a chance, Doug?
BRINKLEY: I think -- I don't -- he's going to get challenged and lawsuits for these executive orders, but I think he has a great chance of going forward on these. If you really look at the National Rifle Association many members agree with the president that we got to have background checks and of a very universal kind and they have to be tougher than they are now.
The problem the president has is these executive orders are not going to solve the gun violence problem in America. There is not going to be a cause and effect. He did these executive actions and all these people's lives. But it might save a few.
And so, he is starting again to try to push this ball up a very tall mountain. The guns are culture in America. You can say this was his speech in Washington, and Bloomberg can do it in New York City but try talking gun policy and rural Kentucky or in Colorado...
LEMON: Or in Oregon, right?
BRINKLEY: ... you'll met with the fierce of Oregon.
BRINKLEY: Perfect example. You've given big blowback.
LEMON: So, I have same question to you.
KRISTOF: Let me push, I mean -- I'm an Oregonian and I grew up on a farm in Oregon surrounded by guns. So, let me speak that for the good people of Oregon.
[22:34:57] You know, the truth is that, 80 percent of gun owners do support universal background checks.
KRISTOF: More than a half of gun owners in America support a safer storage requirement, they support restrictions on people who have domestic violence restraining orders. And, you know, I think that the disconnect is a, the tremendous power of the gun lobby, but also the fact that too often gun safety advocates have tackled these issues really incompetently in ways that scare moderates.
LEMON: So, does it stand a chance?
KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, yes. I mean, yes. Because these are executive orders, I think they are going to go ahead. They are tweaks, they are not going to make a vast different. But I do think that they've been approached intelligently and at the margins there will be people alive because of that.
LEMON: Yes. Because everyone on the republican side are saying, hey, as soon as I get into office Trump getting rid of that as soon as he. So, we'll see.
KRISTOF: Yes. But the world is changing. Only one-third of American families have guns these days, that is going down.
LEMON: Thank you, gentleman, I appreciate it.
BRINKLEY: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: President Barack Obama joins our Anderson Cooper, Thursday night, 8 Eastern for an exclusive one-hour live Town Hall Guns in America, 8 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
When we come right back, President Barack Obama takes on the NRA, but can he beat one of the most powerful lobbies in America? We'll take that up.
[22:39:57] President Obama took on the NRA today, and no surprise they fired right back.
Let's discuss now with Igor Volsky of Think Progress. He has been tweeting about members of Congress and their relationships with the NRA. And Ben Ferguson is with us as well. He is conservative radio talk show host.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this evening here on CNN.
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to be here.
LEMON: So, Igor, today, President Obama said the gun lobby maybe holding Congress hostage right now but they can't hold America hostage. Do you think that the gun lobby does hold Congress hostage? And you've been tweeting about it all day. So, what are some of your favorites here?
IGOR VOLSKY, THINK PROGRESS CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Well, you know, people like Pat Roberts, for instance, a powerful Senator received some $300,000 from the NRA, Bob Goodlatte who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee received more than $60,000 from the NRA.
These are very big numbers and the reason why the NRA and other pro- gun groups levy such huge sums of money onto these politicians so that when you have a situation where there is some kind of catastrophe or some kind of news sensible gun regulations.
These guys go on Twitter and issue statements that say, no, no, no, this is a gun grab, we can't have any kind of change. Because it somehow infringes on the Second Amendment, even though the majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners actually support these actions.
LEMON: So, Ben, do you think that the NRA or the gun lobby is holding Congress hostage?
FERGUSON: No, they are a lobbyist group and they lobby for the Second Amendment the same way that the Planned Parenthood lobbies Congress...
VOLSKY: Not for the Second Amendment. But, Don...
FERGUSON: ... the same way that the same that the green energy comes in and comes in and spends billions of dollars over President Obama's time in office. What do they want? They want more government money for green and alternative energies.
There are Solyndra -- there are several companies, if I remember correctly, that got huge government loans. Why? Because they lobby the White House.
VOLSKY: What does Solyndra have to do with this? What are you talking about?
FERGUSON: My point is, you're acting as this is somehow...
VOLSKY: There are $30 million, $30 million.
FERGUSON: ... you're acting is this somehow that NRA is doing.
LEMON: Let's wait. Ben, let him talk. Let him talk. Go ahead.
VOLSKY: Solyndra? What is this?
LEMON: OK. So, why do you say that...
FERGUSON: My point is this, it's very normal for people to do this.
LEMON: Ben, hold on. Ben, hold on. Igor, why do you think there is a difference when he said they are lobbying for the Second Amendment. You said no, they are lobbying for guns. What's the distinction? VOLSKY: Well, the distinction is its one thing to lobby for the
Second Amendment for parts of the Constitution. It's another thing to say there can't be any gun regulations which has nothing at all to do with Second Amendment.
Yes, you can regulate guns. The Supreme Court Justice Scalia found you can regulate guns. That's completely divorce from the Second Amendment. The reason why they want to have a debate about the Second Amendment is because they want to silence any reasonable discussion about what can you do when a guy walks into a school and kids -- kills 20 first graders.
That's the reason why it's about the Second Amendment when it's truly about making sure that people who shouldn't have guns shouldn't have access to them. Why can't we have that kind of...
FERGUSON: All right. Let's deal with what you just said.
LEMON: OK. So, Ben, I'll let you respond. But let me read the NRA's response, Ben, and then you can respond. They said, "The proposed executive actions are ripe for abuse by the Obama administration, which has made no secret of its contempt for the Second Amendment." So,, again, talking about the Second Amendment. So, how are the actions ripe for abuse? Go ahead respond, Ben.
FERGUSON: Well, I think it's very simple that if President Obama would have acted what he did today through executive order seven years ago, it would not have stopped the shooting that happened in that elementary school which one increase...
VOLKSY: Hey, Ben, not all traffic laws stop...
FERGUSON: Let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish.
VOLSKY: What are you talking about?
LEMON: Let him finish. Let him finish. Let him finish.
FERGUSON: Let me finish what I'm saying. Pay -- pay attention to what I'm actually saying, OK. As a gun owner, what he was passed today would not have stopped that. And my biggest problem what the president did today was he used these horrible instances to somehow give false hope to these families that what he enacted today would have somehow stopped these shootings. When in reality, they would not...
VOLSKY: You know, that is baloney. I'm sorry. Hey, Don, listen.
FERGUSON: Let me finish. Again, let me finish what I'm saying.
LEMON: Go ahead. Hold on. VOLSKY: If we were having any other kind of conversation...
FERGUSON: It's a fact.
VOLSKY: If somebody said to you we can't have this regulation because it won't stop all abuse you would laugh them off the TV. The fact that -- the fact that Ben can come on television and say...
FERGUSON: OK. Let me finish what I was saying. Let me finish what I was saying.
LEMON: Hang on, Ben. Ben, stand by, you know how it works. Let him go.
VOLSKY: The notion that it won't stop all violence we should do nothing at all is ridiculous and you know it. And you should be frankly...
FERGUSON: All right. I'm going to finish -- I'm going to finish what I was saying, I have been a victim...
LEMON: Go ahead, Ben.
FERGUSON: ... I have been a victim of a gun crime. It was very personal.
LEMON: You don't think it would have stopped you from being shot, Ben?
FERGUSON: I know it wouldn't have. And here's why. The guy that ended shooting at me was a convicted felon not one, not twice, but three times. He bought a gun on the black market. If you want to have more enforcement, if you want to go after the black market...
FERGUSON: ... if you want to go after people that are selling guns illegally, I'm in favor of that. But to come out today, and to act as if what the president did today is going to stop these mass shootings, not one of these mass shootings - it's a fact - would have been stopped by what the president did today because all those guns were bought legally. We need to deal with mental health and we need to deal with mental in a serious way.
LEMON: So, you don't think that when he wants to deal with mental help -- would help because, you know, everyone, I mean, not everyone, many people are in agreement that mental health is an issue.
[22:45:04] But still in this proposed legislation they are still pooh- poohing it because, is it because Obama proposed it or...
FERGUSON: Well, there is two different things here. If you want to spend money on mental health and that's one of the things I'm OK with, I'm fine with that. But what he actually did today with, for example, the Social Security Administration today, in this executive order will now be able to decide what elderly person, depending on how they deal with their own personal finances could lose their right to own a gun.
Because now the Social Security Administration if you do not have your life in order. This is in his executive action; they can then put you on this list. My question is, if someone is older and let's say, they don't manage their finances well, does that mean they should lose their right to purchase a gun to protect themselves because they are old?
LEMON: Well, to someone older and they are suffering from some sort of mental illness...
FERGUSON: There are lots of elderly people that may not do that.
LEMON: ... or maybe dementia, maybe they should not be in possession of a gun.
FERGUSON: Here's what I will say. When we took away the keys from my grandfather from driving because he gotten older and started having early onset dementia. He was still of mind and body where he need to be on protecting stuff. He still lived alone.
FERGUSON: He was not a threat to society. He shouldn't lose his right to protect himself if someone comes and kicked in his backdoor in the middle of the night...
VOLSKY: Hey, Ben.
FERGUSON: ... just because he can't drive his car.
LEMON: OK. I've -- we're out of time, but, Igor, quickly because I really do have to go, I'm sorry, go ahead.
VOLSKY: Well, look, I want to say it's a shame that, Ben, you were a victim of gun violence. Thirty thousand people are killed every year because of gun violence and ensuring that people go through background checks instant background checks before they purchase a gun is not taking anything away from anybody. If anyway took otherwise...
FERGUSON: We have background checks now. I'm OK with that.
LEMON: Yes, I've got to go. I have to go, guys.
VOLSKY: ... for the NRA and the gun manufactures.
LEMON: I've got to go. But I do have to say, my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's and we took the keys from her where we're happy because she almost not for house down because she couldn't drive any more. So, sometimes you don't need to be in possession of certain things once you get to a certain position.
VOLSKY: Exactly. Thank you, Don.
LEMON: Thank you, guys. I appreciate it. Up next, the president wants to battle gun violence by spending half billion dollars on mental health treatment. But is it too late for one couple who called police when their son bought assault rifle? What happened to him is a parent's worst nightmare.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The president wants to spend half a billion dollars to expand mental health treatment and put federal mental health records into a background check system.
But it's too late for Bill and Tricia Lammers for all of that. In 2012, their son, Blaec, struggling with mental issues bought an assault rifle. He bought an assault rifle or assault rifles. And fearing what he might do the Lammers called police hoping that he would get some help. Instead, Blaec was arrested, he was convicted and now he is in prison.
So, let's talk about this now. Joining me exclusively, Bill and Tricia Lammers. Good evening to both of you. How are you?
TRICIA LAMMERS, MOTHER OF BLAEC LAMMERS: Good evening.
BILL LAMMERS, FATHER OF BLAEC LAMMERS: Hi. Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you for coming on. You know, your family has struggled for years, Bill, with your son's mental health issues, and you became very alarmed when you found a receipt for a gun in his pocket. Were you pleased to see the president addressing mental health in his plan today at the White House?
B. LAMMERS: Actually I was, and I have to say it's about time that something was done to help people with mental illness in their family.
LEMON: Why do you say that?
B. LAMMERS: Well, OK. So, the way I look at this is, I don't believe people with mental illness should own guns, no more than taking someone who is intoxicated with alcohol and handing them the keys to a car to drive. I feel about the same way. LEMON: Tricia, your son, Blaec...
B. LAMMERS: I do...
LEMON: Go ahead, go on, Bill.
B. LAMMERS: No, go ahead. I'm sorry.
LEMON: Tricia, your son, Blaec, is currently serving 15 years in prison for first degree assault, armed criminal action for statements that he made to investigators including that he was going to shoot up a Wal-Mart in a local movie theater. How is he doing?
T. LAMMERS: He's actually doing pretty well. You know, considering he takes every day with a grain of salt. He has a job. So, he has some structure. He is not doing -- he is not doing too bad. And thank you for asking.
LEMON: Do you believe that if some of these policies were in place, some of what the president proposed today, that that would have helped your son that he may not be in the position he is in today? Do you think that's the case?
T. LAMMERS: Absolutely. Absolutely. My son was hospitalized seven times. He had different diagnosis from major depression to bipolar to anti-social disorder. If some of that could have been shared, he wouldn't have been able to pass a background check and he wouldn't have those guns.
You know, and he wouldn't have been able to buy those guns if it had been -- been -- if his doctor could have notified the proper authorities of the proper people and say I believe this individual should not own a gun. That would have stopped him from ever being able to buy a gun.
LEMON: As I understand, Bill, you didn't feel that you had any other choice because despite his history in 2012, as your wife just mentioned, he purchased two guns. But he did not shoot, he didn't hurt or, you know, threaten anyone personally. But you turned him in, you felt that you had to, you didn't have any other choice the way the laws were on the books.
T. LAMMERS: Well, you have to remember, our son had also tried to commit suicide a couple times prior. So, as a parent, your first thought when your child buys a gun and he talks -- that he tells you that he's a failure, your first thought is he's going to kill himself.
B. LAMMERS: Our -- we did not ever think that Blaec was going to go hurt anybody else. It was more about hurting himself that we were concerned about.
LEMON: Bill, some have criticized the president for and asking why he waited so long to do this. What do you think?
[22:55:01] B. LAMMERS: I agree. He's been in -- he's in the end of his second term, these shootings have happened for eight or -- for a long time. And he's waiting till the very end to do this.
I applaud him for finally doing something. But it's -- why couldn't he have done this four, five, six years ago.
LEMON: You've been frustrated for years and hoping he would take some action?
B. LAMMERS: Yes, absolutely.
T. LAMMERS: Yes.
LEMON: Tricia, several republicans, as well as the NRA already come out against the president's plan vowing to overturn it. So, what do you say to them?
T. LAMMERS: I'll let Bill answer that.
B. LAMMERS: Yes. I think -- as I go back to my other statement that -- I agree with the Second Amendment. I agree with all the amendments that they should be upheld. But everybody should not be able to own a gun.
I believe that there are some people that are going to hurt themselves or could hurt others that are just mentally unstable. There's got to be exceptions to every rule. And I just -- I think this is a step in the right direction that I don't think it's destroying or tearing down the Second Amendment.
I think this is saying that we're taking responsible action finally, and looking at this and making the statement that, yes, it's the right to own and bear arms.
However, if you're not capable of managing that -- those arms in a safe way, then maybe you should be excluded from having the possession of harmful weapons.
LEMON: From having that. Bill and Tricia Lammers, thank you so much. We appreciate you coming on CNN and telling your story. Thank you.
T. LAMMERS: Thank you, Don.
B. LAMMERS: Thank you.
T. LAMMERS: Good evening.
LEMON: Good evening. President Barack Obama takes aim at guns. But will his executive actions change anything? We're going to play his speech for you in full when we come right back.
Plus, breaking news out of North Korea, did they just explode a nuclear bomb?
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