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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Students Advocate for Gun Control. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:07]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. Welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And I'm coming to you live from the BB&T Center. We're in Broward County, Florida, where tonight I will be moderating a town hall for students and teachers and those who lost loved ones during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 innocent people were gunned down just one week ago today.

Tonight, they will have a chance to ask questions of lawmakers about what can change to prevent future tragedies. Today, some of the students from Parkland are rallying for action and taking their demand for action directly to lawmakers in the state capital of Tallahassee.

And in minutes, at the White House, President Trump will be holding a listening session with high school students, parents and teachers affected by mass shootings, the Parkland high school shooting, as well as groups representing survivors of the tragedies at Sandy Hook and at Columbine.

Our team of CNN reporters is covering all angles of this important story. They're at the school in Parkland, in Florida's capital, Tallahassee, and at the White House. My political panel is here with me as well to dissect it all.

But I want to begin today with CNN's Kaylee Hartung, who is right outside the BB&T Center ahead of the town hall.

Kaylee, set the scene for us out there.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, more than 5,000 people have already confirmed they will be coming right here to the BB&T Center tonight to bear witness to this conversation.

We're just about 15 miles from the high school where this community has the opportunity to come face-to-face with their lawmakers. The spotlight will undoubtedly be on Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who said in the past week that the gun legislation proposed wouldn't have prevented this massacre.

Students have not been shy over the past weekend calling him out for his longstanding relationship with the NRA. Also on stage tonight, Florida's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. He spent time earlier today at the high school's memorial site. You will also hear from Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, a man who

many students have told me has been an invaluable resource to them over the past week. And in addition to those lawmakers, the NRA is also sending a national spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, and we will hear from Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who has played an important role for this community through its healing process.

Also notable, though, Jake, who won't be here. The president and Florida's Governor Rick Scott were both extended invitations. Both declined to come here tonight or to appear via satellite -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.

In what has been an extraordinary emotional call to action, students from Stoneman Douglas High School say they are speaking truth to power today, upping their pressure on Florida state lawmakers to act to prevent school shootings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DELANEY TARR, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: There is no longer a chance for you to just dismiss us, for you to ignore us and keep doing whatever it is that you want to do, while telling us that you want to be safe and you don't want anything like this to happen again, but not taking any action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins me now live from the state capitol of Tallahassee.

Dianne, what are specifically the students asking for from lawmakers?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, it is a multilayered request, or really demand, if you will.

But on the face of it, they want gun control. Now, if you talk to them individually, as we have been over the past 24 hours about this, it may vary. Some of then aren't even sure exactly what would fix this in their eyes, but overall most of them would like to see a reinstatement of the assault weapon ban, specifically banning high- capacity magazines.

Others want to see the age limit increase or a larger amount of time that you have to wait, pull that waiting period out even longer than it is, or just have one for these semiautomatic or AR-15-style weapons.

But, really, Jake, today, during the midday press conference that they held after they had these meetings, some of them were very frustrated. They also wanted people to know that it's just been one week and they are still grieving, they are still hurting, and they want people to remember that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALFONSO CALDERON, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We will not be silenced. It has gone on long enough that we -- just because we're kids, we're not allowed to understand.

But, trust me, I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours, with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it's like to text my parents, goodbye, I might never, ever get to see you again. I love you.

I understand what it's like to fear for your life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: Now, that emotional testimony really from the students, Jake, they are going to be taking some of that, as well as their demands on gun control and mental health, to Rick Scott in the next few minutes, the Republican governor here in Florida, obviously not at the town hall with CNN, but he is here and he is meeting with those Stoneman Douglas students.

TAPPER: All right, we should note CNN did offer not only to host Governor Rick Scott, but to beam him in by satellite from Tallahassee, but he declined that as well.

[16:06:06]

Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much.

Any moment now, President Trump is going to sit down for a listening session with students from Parkland, as well as other activists who are trying to prevent any more school shootings.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, President Trump has signaled that he might be open to making some changes in the wake of this massacre here in Broward County.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He has, Jake.

It is unlikely that he will do anything dramatic, but we did see the president yesterday say that he had directed the Department of Justice to propose regulations that would ban those devices that turn weapons into machine guns.

And he has expressed some support, he's been open to improving the federal background check system. But the question remains is, what will actually come out of this? This is a president who largely enjoyed the support of the NRA. And Washington is deeply skeptical that anything will actually change here, as it not during similar mass shootings.

But it will be fascinating to watch the president come face to face with the students who survived that Parkland school shooting here at the White House today. We are told that the president has been briefed by multiple officials. He will be there at that event, along with the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who is going to moderate the event, along with Vice President Mike Pence.

But, Jake, these students are grieving. They have been angry. And a lot of them have been very critical of the president. So it will be interesting to see how he interacts with these students when they're being very honest with him.

This is going to be him in an event without a teleprompter, a freewheeling president interacting with these students, with a lot of raw emotion to be expected in that room, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

My political panel is here with me.

Mike Caputo, let me start with you.

Do you think that these kids are getting through to President Trump? He has talked about several measures that he might be willing to take.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Oh, I think so.

And I also think that if you are expecting Donald Trump to stand in the way of reform in this situation, you are going to be very surprised. He is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

I remember when we tried to recruit him for governor in 2013 and 2014, the people who were at head of that were the biggest opponents to the assault weapons in New York State. And he was listening to both sides at the time.

And I believe his views on the Second Amendment are rather contemporary. The president is a compassionate person. And I think he's going to do a great job today. And I think a lot of people are going to be surprised what comes out of this situation out of the White House.

As you know, what really needs to happen here is regular order in Congress. Regular order in the Florida legislature, for example. You can't rush these things through. You can't fix them with an executive order. It just gets reversed when the next president comes in.

I think they should lock both the Senate and House in the Capitol Building and give the key to Donald Trump, because this needs to be a permanent change.

TAPPER: So, Ana, the president did say he wants to take some sort of action.

He tweeted -- quote -- "Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening background checks."

This is -- I have heard a lot of conservative commentators say -- a Nixon goes to China kind of moment for him, because the NRA is so strong with him, so strongly with him. Maybe he actually can force some incremental, but significant changes.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think there is no question he can make a huge difference if he really throws his weight behind it, if it is genuine, if there are specific proposals that he is supporting, and if he really goes out and sells this to the country, to the conservative base, to the Trump base.

Those are the NRA members. Let's remember that the amount that the NRA invested in this campaign and in Donald Trump was tens and tens of millions of dollars, over $30 million. He has political capital with the toughest folks to move on this issue.

And it is incumbent upon him to use it. Nothing happens if you just have a roundtable with kids and listen to them. That's good. It is good optics. It's good for the country. I think it's good morale. He shouldn't lift his thumb and have a toothy grin when he is with them.

He should hug them and he should act like consoler in chief. But he needs to go beyond that, as does Rick Scott, who had a roundtable yesterday, as does every elected official that shows up.

Nobody wants talk anymore. And that is what these kids are saying so effectively. That's why people are attacking them, because they are such effective messengers.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that for a second, Nina, because you know something about organizing grassroots groups.

These kids, obviously, there is something authentic and genuine, organic about how they kind of just became these spokespeople calling for change. Do you think that they need to be directed toward specific proposals, or is it just working the way it is, which is somewhat chaotic, but calling for change, we need some change?

This kid asks for this, this kid asks for that, but it's not necessarily a professional movement.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is beauty in both. And there's certainly beauty in this kind of chaos.

And to see these young people stand up so courageously, even in the face of all that they have endured and will continue to endure, because this moment -- what happened in Parkland is very traumatic.

[16:10:00]

TURNER: And those young people are going to carry it for the rest of their lives.

It also reminds me of some of the young people during the civil rights movement, where you had the young people, the Freedom Riders, for example, and even the young people who sat at those lunch counters, even though they were probably a little older, not much, than the young people right now who are taking the stand. So this organic movement across this country of the millennial generation, and even those a little younger than the millennial generation, standing up to declare what type of America that they want to live in, you should always be able to safe in three places in particular, your home, the church and the school.

And so we are at a crisis moment in this country, and been there for a long time.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

And we are just moments away from President Trump taking part in that listening session with students, parents, families and teachers who have been impacted by mass shootings, including the one just one week ago just a few miles from where I'm sitting.

That is next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD live from Broward County, Florida. We -- in just a few hours, CNN is going to host a live town hall here with students and faculty and families from Stoneman Douglas High School, which is just a few miles away from where we are.

[16:15:07] And at any moment, President Trump will host a listening session with students, parents, families and teachers affected by mass shootings, the Parkland one, but also Sandy Hook and Columbine. We're going to bring live as they happened.

Let's continue the conversation with my political panel.

Nina, David Gergen, who has been adviser to four presidents of both parties, he said yesterday that the leaders in the country are acting like high schoolers and the high schoolers in the country are acting like leaders.

TURNER: Amen. The children shall lead them. I mean, that's absolutely right. And one of the points that young people are making in this is that if politicians don't have the courage to act, the intestinal fortitude, add in whatever you want, if they don't have it, then they need to be replaced and that is absolutely correct.

This is a tipping point moment. We have been here before. And this time, we have to do something about it. And stop making excuses about why this cannot be done.

The Second Amendment is not absolute above all over amendments in the Constitution. Yet in this country, we run around and act as though that is the case. And if our children dying, being killed, if Sandy Hook didn't move folks, those were elementary schoolchildren and now we have in the 2018, what just happened to the students in this city, if this didn't move us, what will? What kind of humanity, what kind of civilized society can we call ourselves? TAPPER: And it depends on the measure really. There is a lot of

debate, a lot of discussion. There was a measure in the Florida legislature yesterday that died to ban semiautomatic weapons, AR-15 type weapons.

The governor was asked about what he supported, if not that. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: My goal is to come up with something that is going to move the needle and make parents feel more comfortable that their kids are going to go to a safe school. That's the goal. Those two weeks after Friday, we're going to get something done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I don't think I'm making a crazy prediction by saying I doubt that semiautomatic weapons in this state or nationwide are going to be banned. What do you think is possible?

NAVARRO: Look, one of the things he could do and I've heard mayors asked for that now, is there is a law in this state that does not allow mayors to pass their own laws. Florida is a very large state, it's a very diverse state. Places like Miami, like Fort Lauderdale, like Palm Beach are very different than rural areas like Jasper, Florida, for example. And I think you should allow local leaders to put in laws that they feel address their needs.

I think, look, we've seen the next president of the Florida Senate, he has proposed increasing the age to 21.

TAPPER: Right now it is 18 for semiautomatic, although it's 21 for handguns.

NAVARRO: Jake, you have to be 25 to rent a car. You got to be 25 years old to rent a car, but you can be 18 and buy one of these guns? That makes no damn sense.

And as a Floridian, I want that kind of action.

He's also talked about, you know, Bill Galdano (ph), increasing the waiting period. I think there is a lot of things that they can do. I agree with you.

Look, I as Floridian, after this, I want these guns banned. But I don't think that is a realistic thing.

TAPPER: Semiautomatic weapons?

NAVARRO: Yes, I want them banned. And I've never been a gun person. I've never taken a position on guns.

But this is just too much. It is too close to home. It was, you know -- 40 minutes from my house. This could have been my family. This could have been your family. And I think that is how all of America is feeling.

I am mad as hell at any conservative conspiracist theory, you know that is saying that these kids are indoctrinated. Even my colleague here at CNN, I'm mad at him --

TAPPER: Jack Kingston.

NAVARRO: -- because it is unacceptable to attack these kids. It has been only a week. They are organic, they are activists not because they want to be, but because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffered such a tragedy. These 17 people died.

TAPPER: You're looking right now on the right side of your screen, a live pictures from the White House, where they are waiting for President Trump.

Michael, as long as Ana brings this up, there has been an effort from the far, far fringe right to attack some of these kids, these survivors, as crisis actors, or the people who have been put up to this by the FBI. David Hogg, who's one of the more eloquent young men speaking after this was on CNN last night, refuting this idea that his father who did used to work for the FBI had anything do with any of this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID HOGG, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: These people say this is absolutely disturbing. I'm not an actor in any way, shape or form. I'm the son of a former FBI agent and that is true. But as such, it is also true that I went -- that I go Stoneman Douglas High School and I was a witness to this. I'm not a crisis actor.

(EBND VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's crazy that we even have to talk about that, but let's go right now to the White House where President Trump just came in.

[16:20:01] We're going to take a listen.

Kaitlan Collins, as we're watching President Trump coming in and greeting the survivors of these massacres, what are we expecting?

COLLINS: Well, the White House is billing this as a listening session. They say the president will do a lot of listening. Of course, this is often a very opinionated president, but it will be interesting to see what has to say to these people. These are survivors of the Parkland shootings from last week, that very tragic shooting, but also Columbine and Sandy Hook, parents as well, and teachers, too. And then tomorrow, he's going to meet with school officials and whatnot.

So the White House is waiting to see what result will come of this is what Washington is waiting to see. Does the president change his mind, does he try to get harsher on gun control? We already know that he is open to banning devices like bump stocks. So, that is why we'll be waiting to see what the president takes from this discussion. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good to have you here.

Some of your suggestions, I've heard some of them and we're going to do something about this horrible situation that's going on.

So I want to listen and after I listen, we're going to get to (INAUDIBLE). I thought we'd ask our pastor, if he could possibly say the prayer, it would be appreciated. Thank you.

(PRAYER)

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Pastor. Appreciate it.

Vice President, you wanted to say -- I'd like you to say a few words.

And I'd like to then introduce you to Betsy DeVos, as most of you know, and some of you have met a little while ago.

Mike, what do you have to say?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First off, thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank (INAUDIBLE) of the American people.

As the president said last week, the American people are united (INAUDIBLE) to what took place. The president called this meeting to talk about what has happened in our country over the last years and to find out from all of you, listening by learning how we might ensure that this is the last time this ever happens. I along with the president are deeply moved by the stories of heroism and courage and I'm candidly move by the courage (ph) for those of you being here today.

What I just want to encourage you to do is tell us your stories. America is looking on. The president and our entire administration, leaders around the country at every level are looking on. And we want to hear your hearts today.

I encourage you to be candid and be vulnerable, share with us not only the personal experience, but what it is that you would have us to do. And just know that as the president has already taken action, he will be meeting in this very room in the coming days with governors from all 50 states to make school safety a top priority of this administration across this country. The president and I want to make it first.

So, I want to thank you to for coming. Thank you for the courage to be here and share your hearts.

[16:20:01] And from our families to your family, God bless you.

TRUMP: Thank you, Mike, very much.

Betsy?

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President. Students, teachers, parent, thank you for being here. Many of you lived through something unthinkable. Many of you, this is raw and fresh. I admire your strength and bravery to come and share your experiences with the president, the vice president, and the world.

No student, no parent, no teacher should ever have to endure what you all have. My heart is broken. What happened last week shocked us. It angers us and it pains us.

So, we are here to have an honest conversation about why this tragedy and too many others before it happened and how we can work to find solutions. We're here to listen, to gain your important perspective on ways to reduce violence and to protect students.

Our hope is that by talking and by listening, we can make something that was unthinkably bad something good. And your thoughts and your trauma must never be in vain. So thank you again for being here. And let's get starting.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Betsy.

I just want to say before we begin, because I want to hear you, but we're going to be very strong on background checks, very strong background checks, very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody. And we are going to do plenty of other things.

Again, next week, the governors are coming in from most of the states. We're going to have a very serious talk about what is going on with school safety. Very important. And we'll cover every aspect of it. There are many ideas that I have, many ideas that other people have and we're going to pick up the strongest ideas, the most important ideas and work to get them done. It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It's going on too long, too many instances, and we're going to get it done.

So again thank you all for being here. I'd like to hear your story. And I'd also like to -- if you have any suggestions for the future based on this horrible experience that you have gone through, I'd love to have those ideas. All right?

How about you?

JULIA CORDOVER, SENIOR CLASS PRESIDENT, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: All right. Thank you, Mr. President, for having me here. My name is Julia Cordover, and I'm from Stoneman Douglas High School. I was there during the shooting and I am a survivor.

And I want you guys all to emphasize the point that I survived. I was lucky enough to come home from school, unlike some of my other classmates and teachers. And it's very scary and knowing that a lot of people did not have this opportunity to be here still is mind blowing.

And I'm just -- I feel like there is a lot to do and I really appreciate you like hosting me and what you are saying, I'm confident that you will do the right thing and I appreciate you looking at the bump stocks yesterday. That means -- it is definitely a step in the right direction and I think we can all agree on that.

There is definitely a lot more to go, but I'm just grateful that I'm here and we can try to work out something. Maybe compromise on some solutions so this never has -- no child, no person in this world will ever have to go something through so horrific and tragic. And my thoughts and prayers are out to everyone there. So thank you.

JONATHAN BLANK, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Well, my name a Jonathan Blank. I go to Stoneman Douglas. And I was actually in the second classroom that was shot at. In my mind, as a kid, that should -- nothing ever that horrible should ever have to happen to you. And you can't even think about it, like it doesn't even seem real still. Everything seems fake. I don't really -- I can't even -- I don't even know what is going on. It's just crazy.

Everything happening. It is just so tragic. Thank you for everything. You've done a great job and I like the direction that you're going in. Thank you.

MELISSA BLANK, MOTHER: My name is Melissa Blank. Jonathan is my son. And I was (INAUDIBLE) school that was also on lockdown. So (INAUDIBLE) my son to find out if my soon was alive.

I feel for all of these families. My heart is just broken for my whole community. We were coming together.