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Shooting Survivors Take Gun Control Fight To State Capitol; Evangelist Billy Graham Dies at 99. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 09:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman. See you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

And the breaking news this morning, a giant of American religious life, a giant of American life, period, is gone. Billy Graham died just about an hour ago at his home in North Carolina. He was 99 years old.

CNN's Kyra Phillips on a remarkable century of influence.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was America's pastor. In times of tragedy, Billy Graham was there to comfort the nation.

BILLY GRAHAM, EVANGELIST: We come together today to reaffirm our conviction that God cares for us. Now, Jesus was a man --

PHILLIPS: But his calling was to convert.

B. GRAHAM: There is no other way. Man cannot be saved by bread alone.

PHILLIPS: In his nearly seven decades of ministry, 215 million people heard Reverend Graham preach in person more than any other evangelist in history. And according to his ministry, more than three million people who flocked to the crusades became born-again Christians.

Billy Graham, like most of the people whose lives he's touched, came from simple beginnings.

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ, BILLY GRAHAM'S DAUGHTER: I think my father is a very ordinary man. But God leaned out of heaven for whatever reason and called him to preach the gospel.

PHILLIPS: Born November 7th, 1918, Billy Graham was raised on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. When he was 16, he attended a revival. It changed his life.

CLIFF BARROWS, BILLY GRAHAM EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION: Billy went forward and publicly made his commitment to Jesus Christ.

PHILLIPS: Graham became a Baptist minister, and in 1943, he graduated from Wheaton College. That's where he also found the love of his life, Ruth, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries.

B. GRAHAM: She was just one great woman. She has a lot of steel in her, a lot of determination, and I needed all of that as my help-mate. And I just thank God that he chose her way off in China somewhere to come back to America and marry me.

PHILLIPS: Billy and Ruth Graham were married for 63 years. Graham became a traveling evangelist with Youth for Christ, an organization that ministered to youth and servicemen during World War II. And it was in 1949 Reverend Graham became an international sensation.

B. GRAHAM: I do not believe that any man, that any man can solve the problems of life without Jesus Christ.

PHILLIPS: A group of Christians invited Graham to hold a revival in Los Angeles, originally scheduled for three weeks, the fiery and charismatic preacher's crusades became so popular, the meetings were extended by five weeks.

Graham's message resonated with post-war Americans and changed how mainstream America viewed God and country.

B. GRAHAM: Jesus Christ, the son of God --

WILLIAM MARTIN, AUTHOR, "A PROPHET WITH HONOR": Just before the crusade started, Russia had exploded an atomic bomb. So no longer was the United States the only atomic power. That was scary to people. Billy preached against communism, he preached a strong moral message.

PHILLIPS: That moral message included civil rights. Graham became friends with Martin Luther King, Junior, and in towns where whites wanted crusades segregated, Graham took a stand.

BARROWS: Billy himself went and took the rope down and said we don't have segregated meetings. And he took a stand for his belief that every man is equal before Christ, and the gospel was for everyone.

PHILLIPS: Everyone including presidents. In 1950, Billy Graham made his first visit to the White House. He met and prayed with Harry Truman. Over the years, he was close to nearly every U.S. president, sometimes, according to his daughter Ruth, he couldn't help but give his opinion.

RUTH GRAHAM, DAUGHTER OF BILLY GRAHAM: Mr. Johnson was asking him for advice, some sort of political advice, and my mother kicked him under the table. And my dad, as being my father, said, why did you kick me under the table? And Mr. Johnson looked at Daddy and said, Billy, she's right. You stick to preaching. And I'll stick to politicking. PHILLIPS: But perhaps his most complicated and controversial

relationship was with Richard Nixon whom Graham referred to as his old Quaker friend, a friend who realized that Billy Graham could help him politically.

MARTIN: It's clear they were using him in any way they could to bring support, to bring his people, must get Billy Graham and his people involved in this. But he was being used. And he came to understand that. And that changed his relationship.

[09:05:07] PHILLIPS: Billy Graham visited more than 185 countries and territories, building bridges and breaking cultural barriers. His reputation opened the iron curtain. He visited the Soviet Union, China and North Korea.

B. GRAHAM: Some people ask me what is my number one prayer. I said, Lord, help me.


PHILLIPS: Graham's message never wavered.

B. GRAHAM: Jesus said, I'm the way, the truth and the light. Then he said an interesting thing. No man comes to the Father except through me.

PHILLIPS (on camera): I want to know if there's one thing, what do you want everyone to remember about you. What is the most important thing to you?

B. GRAHAM: That I was faithful to the message he gave me and faithful to the calling that he gave me to go into the world and preach the gospel. And then I want -- that's how I'd like to be remembered.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Kyra Phillips for that report.

Just moments ago we got an official statement from Vice President Mike Pence. Let me read this to you.

"Karen and I were saddened to learn of the passing of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century, Reverend Billy Graham. We send our deepest condolences to the Graham family. Billy Graham's ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing. But I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you, Billy Graham. God bless you." Those are the words of Mike Pence.

We have not heard from the president yet, although the president did just tweet on the Russia investigation.

Joining me now by phone is David Brody. He's the host on the Christian Broadcasting Network. David, thanks so much for being with us, to help us understand this.

I think there's so many aspects to the life of Billy Graham that are so important to America in general. Let's start with the religious, though. What was his contribution to faith in this country?

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Introduce -- John, thanks for having me, by the way. Introducing roughly over 200 million people to Jesus Christ, whether it'd be at the crusade rallies in the '50s, all around the world throughout his illustrious -- you want to call it career, you can call it career. It was a life passion, John. That's what it was.

I mean, you know, it's great when your life passion and career intersect. And that's exactly what happened with Billy Graham.

Look, this is a guy who -- if he obviously -- if he were alive today, my guess is he'd say something along the lines of, I'm just a sinner saved by grace. That's all he is.


BRODY: And he's one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet. And he's someone that just knew who he was in Christ. And I think that's the key, in Christ, because he understood that he was no better than anybody else. He may have counseled presidents, but he just looked at himself as Billy, not the Reverend Billy Graham who everybody looked up to. And there's a humbleness in that and that's extremely impressive.

BERMAN: Yes. Billy Frank as his friends and people who grew up with him knew him as. And he made faith, that faith, accessible not just through technology but he made it accessible through the way he spoke about it to so many, David.

BRODY: Well, he did. And, you know, you mentioned technology. You know, in the '50s of course with the invention of television or (INAUDIBLE) before that, but the point is the television was relatively new in the 1950s. And so along comes Billy Graham on television. Who was watching? Donald Trump. Young Donald Trump born in 1946 with his father Fred Trump.

How do I know this? I interviewed him in the Oval Office for the book I'm doing now, "The Faith of Donald Trump." He talks about this. He talks about that Billy Graham had an impact on his father, and that he remembers watching those sermons on television back in the 1950s. Look, he did the big one at Yankee Stadium, obviously.

So, I mean, this has touched everyone. You know, you mentioned how he's tweeting about Russia. Don't you worry, John, he'll be coming out with a statement. You can be sure. I don't have any inside information, but look, I can tell you this, President Trump was deeply moved by Billy Graham as a child and as an adult later in his life when Billy Graham had some of his birthday parties, if you will, into his 80s and 90s, Donald Trump was there. He's invited by the Graham family.

Look, this is a close relationship. Not just with Franklin Graham, but with Billy Graham.

BERMAN: Billy Graham had a relationship with every president since Harry Truman. You know, some particularly strong. Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon. And in fact, you know, that relationship with Richard Nixon, which was undeniably extremely close, became something of a source of discomfort in certain ways for Billy Graham all the years.

He was -- he had a relationship with politics throughout his entire career and at times I think was uncomfortable, though, with being political.

[09:10:09] BRODY: You know, he had an uncanny knack for threading the needle very, very well. By being able to bipartisan, not polarizing yet not backing down at all one iota from the gospel message of Jesus Christ. It is a tricky thing in today's culture for sure. I think Franklin Graham is understanding that because we live in a much different culture today than we did when Billy Graham was growing up for sure.

And so yes, but he is someone that I think bipartisanship is a big part, in bold, 18 font, John, of his legacy. And it's something that I know people that either are Christians or non-Christians, they just respected the civility that Billy Graham brought to the conversation. And that's something that's going to be a big part of his legacy as well.

BERMAN: You know, as you've been speaking here with us, David, we've been showing pictures of Billy Graham with nearly every American luminary of the last 70 years. That shows just what an integral part of history this man was.

David Brody, our thanks to you for helping putting it all in perspective. I really appreciate it.

BRODY: You bet, John. Any time.

BERMAN: All right. As this is going on, we have more breaking news. Shooting survivors taking their gun control fight to the capitol pushing lawmakers to take action. And in just minutes, rallying on Florida's capitol steps.

We are there live, plus a feud inside the White House. New reporting this morning the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at odds with Chief of Staff John Kelly. Kushner reportedly pushing back on giving up his access to classified information. Will he have to give up that access?

And meeting scrapped. It turns out the North Koreans pulled out of a meeting with Vice President Pence just hours before it was supposed to happen. That is the word from the State Department. We're live in Pyeongchang.


[09:16:04] BERMAN: It is the beginning of what may be a remarkable day in Florida, what might be the beginning of a movement, what might be a moment of genuine discussion, the likes of which is often predicted, but never really achieved.

This morning, survivors of the Florida school massacre are at the state capitol, more than 100 are meeting with lawmakers right now. They are young, but they are driven, driven by being attacked, driven by being hunted in their own hallways, driven by burying their friends and teachers over the last several days.

This morning, they're calling for change. Shortly, they'll take part in a rally on the capitol steps where overnight, Florida lawmakers refuse to even debate a measure on assault weapons.

This afternoon, the president is hosting survivors from the shooting and others at the White House for a listening session on school safety and he is sending signals that he is receptive to some reforms.

Overnight, he wrote, "Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening background checks". Now, not clear whether or not that message will go far enough for teenagers who survived last week's shooting.

Tonight, they will deliver their thoughts to President Trump and other lawmakers in a town hall event live with Jake Tapper.

But we start with the march on the Florida state house in Tallahassee. CNN's Dianne Gallagher traveling with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She is live there -- Dianne.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, we walked from the civic center where those 100 or so Stoneman Douglas students spent the night in cots and sleeping bags on the floor. They came in and just a few moments ago started these meetings with the lawmakers.

They're expecting 70 meetings overall with Republicans and Democrats. John, they're doing it in small groups. We are talking about 10 students per meeting with each lawmaker. Because they feel that one- on-one strategy will help get their message across better and open it up for more of a discussion.

Really that's what upset them so much about that vote yesterday. I was on the bus with them when the news came in, that the legislature decided they didn't even want to discuss the bill that had been proposed to ban assault weapons in the state of Florida.

They said that to them the worst part was they didn't want to talk about it because what they really understand for the most part is that these students know this isn't going to happen overnight.

They're going into that building there, inside those rooms to open up and start the discussion. They say they want action, but they want to make sure that there is a dialogue between students and lawmakers.

They're tired of being told what to do about their own lives. They said they want their input considered. Now Governor Rick Scott had a roundtable yesterday with safety and school experts, people who were at the top of different meetings to tell them what they might try to come together with. He feels like, he said, they might have some sort of early solution.


GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: My goal is Friday I'll come up with a proposal. My goal is to come up with something that is going to move the needle and make parents feel more comfortable that their kid is going to go to a safe school. That's the goal. I mean, these kids have got to go to safe schools.


GALLAGHER: Now, these kids I talked to on the bus from Stoneman Douglas say that they don't just want platitudes, they don't just want talk. They appreciate that the president tweeting out about, you know, perhaps expanding background checks. They say talk is talk, John, and they want action.

You mentioned the rally. It's not going to be those students. They are doing a press conference. Other kids from other schools came here to rally in support of them.

BERMAN: Dianne Gallagher for us in Tallahassee. Diane, thanks so much.

Lawmakers facing mounting pressure to act on gun control including Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He's one of the Florida politicians joining tonight's CNN town hall, "Stand Up, The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action." Our Kaylee Hartung outside the town hall in Sunrise, Florida -- Kaylee.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the passion and outrage that we've heard from the students, the survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School, they are bringing it here to the BB&T Center tonight. This town hall, just 15 miles away from their high school.

[09:20:07] An opportunity for the students of Stoneman Douglas, their parents and teachers to confront elected officials even a representative for the NRA and ask the tough questions.

Among the lawmakers we'll see on stage tonight, Congressman Ted Deutch, the Democratic representative of the district that includes Parkland. Many students telling me he has been a tremendous resource to them over the past week.

Also, the state's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio. There has been a spotlight on Rubio this past week. These teenagers not shy about calling him out for the millions of dollars he has accepted from the NRA.

I don't anticipate them shying away from tough questions for him tonight. They'll have those two foreign national spokeswomen for the NRA, who accepted an invitation from CNN to be here. But those who haven't accepted the invitation, that would be President Trump and Florida's Governor Rick Scott, both men declining the invite to be here or to appear via satellite. John, more than 5,000 people expected to be here tonight. You know we can expect a powerful event.

BERMAN: Good for all of those people who have agreed to attend. Kaylee Hartung, thanks for being with us. "Stand Up," the special town hall with the students of Stoneman Douglas High School, that is tonight, 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

I want to go back to Tallahassee now. Joining me is Lizzie Eaton, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She's one of the students who went all the way from Parkland, Florida, to Tallahassee to speak with lawmakers.

Lizzie, thanks so much for being with us. How are you doing today?


BERMAN: Excellent. Thank you very much. Even with all of you there, even with more than 100 Parkland students at the Florida state house, the House voted against even debating a measure on assault weapons. How did that make you feel?

EATON: It was really heartbreaking at first to hear that, and especially since we were there. We had been talking to the senators all day. We're not going to stop. We're going to keep fighting so that doesn't happen again.

BERMAN: Fighting for what, exactly, Lizzie? What are you asking for from these lawmakers?

EATON: We want more background checks. We want people with mental illnesses to not have these weapons in their hands. We want our schools to be safer. I don't want to be afraid to go to school anymore. We just want them to understand what we're feeling right now.

BERMAN: You said after you met with some of the lawmakers. Some are just not listening. What do you mean?

EATON: Well, we talked to Senator Baxley who was talking about his children and really empathizing with us, but once I asked how he would feel if it was his children in the school or in his community, they are really nonresponsive as well as some of the other senators as well. They really weren't listening to us.

BERMAN: Is it possible that they're listening, but they just don't agree with you?

EATON: It could be possible. They seemed to empathize with us and they wanted to listen to the things they wanted to hear, not what we disagree with them about. I think they just -- they don't want to be on our side right now. They want to keep their guns in schools. They want to keep them in churches and temples and everywhere. It's not safe for us. We don't feel safe anywhere.

BERMAN: The president within the last 24 hours says he opposes bump stocks. He has called for stricter background checks. The White House has hinted he might be willing to raise the minimum age to buy an assault weapon from 18 to 21. Do you see these as positive developments?

EATON: I believe -- I think that's good, but I think the age needs to be higher. Like you said, the background checks need to be more thorough. We need to keep records on who is buying these weapons. If they have mental issues or things like that, we need to keep an eye on them.

BERMAN: Lizzie, this sounds like a strange question. It's pertinent because of conspiracy theories swirling around, people accusing the students from your high school of not being legitimate. Are you an actor, has someone put you up to this?

EATON: No, definitely not. I'm never in front of the camera. I wanted to be up here and help my city -- we never thought something like this would happen to us. We learn about this every day in school. We just want to make a difference. It really touched all of our hearts.

The 3,000 kids in our school, the middle school, the whole community is coming together, and we just make a change. We're not actors. We've never done stuff like this before. No one is paying us to do this. We want to do this because we love our city and school so much. We just want to make a difference.

BERMAN: Lizzie, next week the school opens up again, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Have you thought about what it will be like to walk back into those buildings?

EATON: Yes. I've been thinking about it a lot. Personally, I don't feel safe going back. I don't know if I'll be able to walk into those buildings where I sat for three hours wondering if I'll come out alive or if I can see my parents again.

[09:25:07] I drove past the school for the first time the other day, and it was heartbreaking to see all the students' faces who unfortunately passed away. We want to be there, and we want to support our school, but it's really hard to be in those buildings where many died and where many were panicked for hours, wondering if they'll come out alive.

BERMAN: Lizzie, know that so many people will be with you in spirit. Thank you very much for being with us. Your voice is being heard. Lizzie Eaton.

EATON: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right. Again, do not forget the CNN town hall live tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.