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Sen. Jeff Flake On Taking On President Trump; Small Texas Town In Shock After Church Massacre; Both Bush Presidents Critical Of Trump In New Book; Trump's Tough Talk. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 6, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): This person who fired on the baseball field, he had a legally, you know, possessed weapon and he wouldn't have shown up on anything.

So, sometimes there are things that would matter in terms of what Congress does. Sometimes, it's more of a cultural issue or just a matter of discourse in how we treat each other.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Is that -- what do you -- I mean, having been a victim of it now --

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- yourself --


CAMEROTA: -- what do you think is the solution? What can happen today?

FLAKE: I don't -- I don't think there's any one solution but there are things that we can --

CAMEROTA: What could help?

FLAKE: One thing, on bump stocks, yes. If the ATF does not ban bump stocks or mechanical devices to make a semiautomatic weapon fire like an automatic weapon then Congress ought to act.

CAMEROTA: Why isn't Congress acting?

FLAKE: Well, they're --

CAMEROTA: It's been 35 days. Let's do something.

FLAKE: -- waiting for -- to see what the agencies do on their own. If they don't act, then Congress will. And so --

CAMEROTA: And what's the time frame on that?

FLAKE: We'll see, we'll see. I know that it seems like we never take action on this. It's a lot --

CAMEROTA: It seems like -- FLAKE: It's a lot easier for the agencies to move on something like this. I hope they do. But if they don't, Congress needs to act on this.

CAMEROTA: Within the next month?

FLAKE: I would think so. I would think that's enough time for the agencies to actually come back and say we can do this.

CAMEROTA: I don't know Congressman -- Senator. It just feels so hopeless, you know?

After every one of these we all say well, there's nothing -- maybe there's nothing we can do. I don't know. We have to change attitudes.

Do you think that this is a mental health issue, as the president says?

FLAKE: I think that's part of it. It's a big part of it.

I've introduced legislation to have better information sharing between agencies on mental health issues. That we can improve the background check system in that way easily, I think, with legislation.

CAMEROTA: Do you think there's any element to this that it is a guns issue?

FLAKE: We don't know enough yet. We don't know, you know, what kind of weapon or if it was an automatic or semiautomatic.

CAMEROTA: Meaning, he had a semiautomatic -- meaning he had a semiautomatic weapon --

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- and that he had done time for assault. Is that OK?

FLAKE: Well, if he -- we don't know how he got the weapon and if that came up or should have come up. I would think --

CAMEROTA: I think legally.

FLAKE: I think it should come up if somebody's done time like that. I would assume so.

CAMEROTA: And can you do something about that?

FLAKE: When we find out more information. But I -- you know, we're less than 24 hours in so I want to find out more information before I say definitively.

But I've -- but I've felt for a long time that Congress needs to act with regard to background checks and mental health issues, and I've introduced legislation on the topic. I've never felt that anybody who is on a no-fly list should be able to get a gun, for example. There are some things that we can do.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the president. He's in Asia, as you know --

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- trying to deal with what to do about North Korea.

So let me play for you what he has said, just today at the press conference, about the era of strategic patience being over.


CAMEROTA: Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The era of strategic patience is over. Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong, but look what's happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now.


CAMEROTA: Are you comfortable with the president's rhetoric about this?

FLAKE: I wish he'd tone it down. I mean, I don't think we gain anything by coming up with a nickname for rogue leaders.

But, he's right that weak rhetoric and other things haven't changed the trajectory of where North Korea now is. But I don't think that just strong rhetoric is going to change it, either.

It's going to be diplomacy. It's going to be working with our allies in the region, certainly China. And if the president is doing that, I'm happy.

CAMEROTA: In your book you write, "Volatile unpredictability is not a virtue. We have quite enough volatile actors to deal with internationally as it is without becoming one of them."

FLAKE: That's right.

CAMEROTA: What were you referring to?

FLAKE: Well, I'm referring to the president's behavior internationally. When you simply use strong rhetoric or come up with nicknames, it may be cute -- you may get on the news -- but it doesn't do much for our overall position.

If you have -- you know, there's the old madman theory where you have some strategic benefit if your adversaries don't know what you will do. There can be virtue in that if you have some underlying strategy. I've just never been convinced that we have that underlying strategy. CAMEROTA: Since you wrote the book and since you spoke out on the Senate floor, you have an op-ed today in "The New York Times" about the sort of outpouring of comments you've gotten from regular people --

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- coming up to you. What have they been saying?

FLAKE: Well, we've gotten thousands of phone calls and letters into the office and I'm stopped in the airport, on the street, in the grocery store by people who are saying thank you for voicing what I've been feeling. And I had no idea that it would strike such a chord -- the speech that I gave on the Senate floor.

A lot of people are concerned about where we're going, particularly at the type of politics that we've entered into. The vitriol that we now see daily.

[07:35:00] The kind of behavior that the president has exhibited, saying over the weekend -- or on Friday -- that the FBI should go after the president's political adversaries. I mean, to have a president say that, that is not normal and we shouldn't accept it is as normal, and that was the point of the speech.

CAMEROTA: We're out of time, but do you think any of your Republican colleagues are going to speak out like you did?

FLAKE: A few have and I think more will, certainly, yes.

CAMEROTA: Senator Jeff Flake, thanks so much for being here in the studio with us. Great to talk to you.

FLAKE: Thanks for having me on.

CAMEROTA: Let's get to Chris in Texas.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's interesting the senator talks about what we accept as normal and that takes us to where we're standing right now. This Texas town is in shock after the latest mass murder in America.

Investigators are trying to figure out why the shooter came to such a small place where he is not from, and how did he die? We're going to talk to a local official about the latest, next.


CUOMO: We are here in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It's a small town and right now, it is all about pain. This is the site of the latest mass shooting in America. We've never seen death in a church like this before from a gunman.

[07:40:07] Twenty-six people lost their lives, as young as five years of age. Twenty more people, at least, injured. Another military- style rifle used to create as much death as possible. The man, somewhat of a mystery. We know he was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He had been court-martialed -- spent time in the brig for assaulting his wife and child.

Why did he do this? He's not from here. They don't know.

But the sheriff now says that the gunman did take his own life. How he arrived at that point, though, is a huge part of the story. We want to talk about how this ended and why it ended the way we did.

We have on the phone Wilson County commissioner Albert Gamez, Jr. Commissioner, thank you for joining us. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances.

ALBERT GAMEZ, JR., COMMISSIONER, WILSON COUNTY, TEXAS (via telephone): (audio gap) -- have lost their loved ones and also thank all the supporters and law enforcement and the first responders.

CUOMO: Absolutely. It's the hardest kind of job to have.

We do know that a neighbor intercepted this murderer as he exited the church. There was an exchange of fire. It led to a car chase where other citizens where pursuing this man. He then went off the road and wound up dead in the car.

What do you believe now about how he died?

GAMEZ, JR.: I think -- I mean, I think that the one that exchanged the gunfire with him, I think he saved more than -- more lives. I mean, it could have been a lot worse. And I think he did -- in my part, I think what he did -- I mean, it was a hero thing, I mean.

And down the road, I don't know what really happened -- if he just decided to lose control of that vehicle and shot himself or -- that's something that I guess is still investigating.

CUOMO: And obviously, his life ending is the least of the concern here. It's about the victims. This is such a small community to have so much death fall on its shoulders. It's just unimaginable.

Even your office was affected by this. You knew somebody who was there and you knew them well. Can you tell us about that?

GAMEZ, JR.: I mean, he is a well-known and, I mean, good employee and everything. And right now, we're going to try to see how we can go out there and try to help them out and do whatever we can do. I mean, just stay there and confirm -- or comfort on how we feel and everything because prayers is the one that they're going to need right now and everything.

Everybody is sad and shocked. I mean, it -- I mean, there's even no words. I mean, why did it happen there? I mean, I see it on the news every day and see, you know, massacres here and there, and you never think that it's going to fall here in this small community like the way it happened, and it did.

It's a shock. It's a real shock.

CUOMO: The pastor, Pomeroy, of this church, he lost his 14-year-old daughter. We keep hearing beautiful things about he and his family and how they conduct their ministry.

Did you know of him? Do you know of him?

GAMEZ, JR.: Yes, I met him a couple of times but I don't know him that well. But, I mean, I know he was a great minister of that church and everybody loved him and everything.

CUOMO: Right. I mean, I don't mean to speak of him in the past tense. We're showing his daughter right now and just the pain for him. And his whole congregation is like his family, and to have so many of them affected here.

How does the community move forward? We've never seen anything like this, Commissioner, where you have this 40-plus people affected by this. Really, 50 people, at least. And in a population -- it's almost 10 percent of the population directly affected, let alone loved ones, families, friends.

How do you get through this?

GAMEZ, JR.: I don't know. I mean, it's going to be hard. I mean, we just got to stay together and focus and see where all this lead us and try not to have fear on this because I think that's the most thing right now that people are fearing and shocked. And, you know, because they say well, it never can happen down here. Well, now we know it can happen anywhere.

I mean, it's devastating to see all this. It's going to have -- it's going to have to pull all the community together to make it go forward.

CUOMO: Well, Commissioner, we wish you well going forward, and thank you for spending the time with us today. I'm sorry for your loss.

GAMEZ, JR.: Thank you.

CUOMO: Let's go back to Alisyn now. And, Alisyn, I think this is the 20th one of these that we've covered and all over the country in different types of communities -- usually, some unique circumstances in each one, but the same questions time and time again.

[07:45:10] And people need to remember the people who are the most hungry for answers about how to stop this, how to avoid it the next time, it's not media and it's certainly not the politicians. It's the victim's families. They are the ones who are so desperate in their need to not have other families suffer the way they did.

CAMEROTA: Of course, they are, Chris. And, I mean, but yet, you hear in other people's voices, resignation of fatalism. A sort of hopelessness of well, here we are again.

And, you know, where everyone is just waiting for somebody to take some action. So obviously, we'll be talking to lawmakers about that throughout the day.

And, Chris, we'll be back with you shortly.

Now, to politics.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush taking on President Trump in their strongest terms yet. The author of a revealing interview with the former presidents joins us next.


CAMEROTA: Both former presidents, Bush 41 and 43, are taking on President Trump in their strongest terms yet.

George H.W. Bush calls Donald Trump quote "a blowhard," while George W. Bush says Mr. Trump does not understand the job of president.

These comments come in a new book, "The Last Republicans." The author of that book, Mark Updegrove, joins me now. Mark, great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: Just to read everybody -- for everybody exactly what the former Bush presidents have said.

We have the first one from George H.W. Bush that I want to read.

It says -- here, his quote is "I don't like him. I don't know much about him but I know he's a blowhard. And I'm not too excited about him being our leader."

Then his son, Bush 43, says, "Wow, this guy really doesn't understand the job of president."

Did you have to prod them to say these things in the book? How did this come up where they felt compelled to talk about President Trump?

UPDEGROVE: Well, I want to make clear they weren't talking about President Trump, they were talking about candidate Trump.

CAMEROTA: Oh, so this was before -- you interviewed them --

UPDEGROVE: This was in 2016.

CAMEROTA: -- before the election.

UPDEGROVE: Before the election.

CAMEROTA: That is -- that is a critical point.

UPDEGROVE: It's a significant point because I don't think --

CAMEROTA: They would say it now.

UPDEGROVE: No, they certainly wouldn't. They respect the dignity of the office and would never do that to the office of the presidency.

CAMEROTA: I'm glad that you're saying that because I, too, thought it was out of character. These are not gentlemen who seek out the limelight --

UPDEGROVE: That's right.

CAMEROTA: -- or who publicly insult anyone, really.


CAMEROTA: And so, they were sharing this when they didn't think that he was going to become president?

[07:50:01] UPDEGROVE: Yes, that's right. But -- well, I don't -- I can't say that they didn't think he would become president. I'd surmise that like you and me, and most Americans, they didn't think that the election would go the way it did.

But I think there was concern on both of their parts that the -- that Donald Trump had strayed discernably and decidedly from the principles that they upheld as Republicans.

CAMEROTA: And do you believe -- have you spoken to them, and do you believe that they feel it is their sort of obligation to speak out now about some of the things that they disagree with?

UPDEGROVE: If -- they have spoken out but in very subtle and indirect terms. I think we can infer what they feel about the president by the statements that, in particular, Bush 43 has made, but I don't think he would ever take on the president directly.

Again, they respect the dignity of the office even if they don't appreciate or respect what the president is doing.

CAMEROTA: It seemed from where I sat that their kind of personal breaking point, or at least a pivot point for them, was Charlottesville and everything that happened in Charlottesville where the white supremacists were marching. And then, President Trump said well, there are good people on both sides of this, and he didn't seem to want to take kind of a stance against the white supremacists.

Do you have a sense of how the Bushes reacted to that?

UPDEGROVE: Well, we do. We all have a sense because the -- for the first time, they joint tweeted a message condemning the bigotry and the anti-Semitism that we saw in Charlottesville. And I infer from that that they were taking a stand because the president didn't.

We weren't seeing moral leadership from our president and that was desperately needed at that time. I think that was probably a low for any modern presidency by not taking an unambiguous stand against bigotry and against anti-Semitism. All the things that those white supremacists represented in Charlottesville.

CAMEROTA: All right. So this, then, brings up the question of where the Republican Party is, whether or not they are divided. Whether or not the Bushes represent sort of the establishment and the old guard and that President Trump represents the sort of new feeling in the Republican Party.

Here's what the White House has said in response to these comments that you captured in your book.

"If one presidential candidate can disassemble a political party, it speaks volumes about how strong a legacy its past two presidents really had. And that begins with the Iraq war, one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history.

President Trump remains focused on keeping his promises to the American people by bringing back jobs, promoting an America First foreign policy, and standing up for the forgotten men and women of our great country."

What's your response when you hear that?

UPDEGROVE: Well, I -- you know, this is a typical response from the Trump White House. You get punched and you punch back 10 times as hard. President Trump said that about terrorism when he left for Asia on Friday.

So it's no surprise. This is a very pugnacious, very belligerent president and he takes on anybody who gets in his way. In some ways, he has yet to rise to the dignity of the office and part of it is figuring out what battles to fight.

CAMEROTA: Here is the latest polling. It's just interesting to see where the Bush presidencies were and other Republicans were at this time versus where President Trump is.

As you can see, President Trump's approval rating is the lowest in modern history. I mean, you have to go really far back to get a 37 percent approval rating.

And as you can see, George W. Bush had 89 percent. Obviously, September 11th had happened.

So did you come away after speaking to them and after putting together your book with any thoughts on the Republican Party and the future for Republicans?

UPDEGROVE: Well, I think that's up to the Republican Party. Right now, you can see a battle for the soul of the Republican Party emerging.

Is it just about Donald Trump and what Donald Trump thinks on any given day or is there an overriding ideology that Republicans will adhere to? And that's something we have to see, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: The book, again, is called "The Last Republicans" out next week.

UPDEGROVE: Out next week.

CAMEROTA: OK. Mark Updegrove, thanks so much for joining us --

UPDEGROVE: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- with a preview of it.

All right. So talking tough, President Trump with more harsh words about North Korea. How will Kim Jong Un respond? We have a live report from inside North Korea, next.


[07:56:13] CAMEROTA: The National Weather Service team, today, is looking into whether a tornado caused this damage in Ohio -- look at your screen -- injuring at least eight people.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us now with more. It sure looks like a tornado touched down.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It does, but you have to be careful with that because sometimes straight-line winds can cause some of that damage, and we had a lot of wind reports yesterday in addition to a tornado.

We had eight total tornado reports yesterday and over 75 wind reports. Now, that system will be making its way from the Midwest to the northeast as we got through the day.

So, your forecast is brought to you by Tempur-Pedic. Sleep is power.

Here's a look at where we expect that weather to be today. That front is going to slowly push off to the east so folks in the northeast, especially interior New England, are going to be dealing with those showers not just this morning, but through the afternoon.

The good news is for folks in the northeast it's going to move through pretty quick. It's the southeast where a lot of those showers are going to linger for several days.

Now, the good news is, Alisyn, the severe threat is much lower today than it has been the last couple of days, so that's going to be good. The biggest threat going forward is likely going to be heavy rainfall.

CAMEROTA: OK, Allison. Thank you very much for that update.

Meanwhile, President Trump is repeating his declaration that the era of strategic patience is over when it comes to North Korea.

CNN's Will Ripley is back in Pyongyang, North Korea. This is his 17th trip to the reclusive nation and Will spoke with North Korean officials today.

Will, it's great to have you on the ground there. Tell us what they're saying.


Yes, we just landed and had a meeting with two North Korean officials who told me that they're watching very closely -- this country watching very closely what President Trump is doing and saying on his Asia visit.

Of course, he's about to leave Japan and head to South Korea, a very sensitive location, especially for people here in the north. President Trump will be standing and speaking just miles from where I am here in the North Korean capital and they have warned the president not to say or do anything crazy, in their words. They say North Korea will respond powerfully to any provocative words or actions by the president.

And, of course, they are well aware that there are three aircraft carriers off the Peninsula. They view that as the United States preparing for a possible war. And they say that war could be ignited, really, at any moment, and we hear that phrase over and over again repeated. This is a touch and go situation that could really explode at any moment.

But it's interesting because here in Pyongyang, even though all of this is happening in the outside world, one of the lead stories over the weekend was North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visiting a cosmetics factory. And, in fact, you've seen a lot of field inspections by Kim Jong Un as of late.

It might seem strange for an outside audience that North Korean media is focusing on these things but for people inside this country it's reassuring for them that their leader is still focusing on the economy.

It's been more than seven weeks since a military live-fire test, which South Korean intelligence believes could happen very soon, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Will. Thank you very much for the update from Pyongyang.

So we're following a lot of news this morning. Let's get right to it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: All right. We're here in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the site of the latest mass murder in America.

It is Monday, November sixth. Alisyn's in New York.

We're just about 30 miles east of San Antonio. This is a tiny town, maybe 500 or so people, and they just had 26 of their own murdered, at least 20 others hurt.

The gunman opening fire. Once, again, a military-style rifle at play. But this was at a church -- a Baptist church during services. The youngest victim, five; the oldest 72. Among the dead, the 14- year-old daughter of the church's pastor. Eight people from a single family are gone.

The toll of pain here cannot be estimated. Think about it. Just by the numbers, you have over 10 percent of the entire community has been affected directly by this. That's before you get to family members, loved ones.

And this is a place where everybody knows everybody.