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Students Meet with Lawmakers about Guns; Trump Tweets Support for Strengthening Background Checks, Banning Bump Stocks; Student Writes Poem to Trump after School Shooting; Reverend Billy Graham Dead at 99. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- shouldn't we be finding ways passable legislation, by the way, that can target gun crime


CUPP: -- in meaningful ways, not just ways that sound impactive but aren't.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not pushing anything that sounds impactive. We save one life, that matters. In this moment, it means we'll start looking at things we have traditionally ignored. I'm for it. I'm here to save the one life. If it can be one million lives, amen to that, too.


CUPP: We already tried.

RYE: I don't think we should take anything off the table here. We need to come to terms with the fact we have a sick population that continues to do. I'm not talking about mental health issues. Maybe it's video games or access. Whatever it is, we need to deal with every aspect of it.

By the way, Donald Trump, who first goes to Jeff Sessions and said, I want you to do something about the bump stocks, I want you to do something about the bump stocks, next day, undermining the person he told do something about it. It's going to require legislation. Where is he on Senator Feinstein's bill to deal with it? There's some tangible things that can be done.



CUPP: No, no, no.

BALDWIN: Tangible things that can be done is absurd.

CUPP: If it were a tangible thing that can be done, it would have been done when Democrats held the White House.

RYE: Can I tell you why? Three letters.


RYE: NRA. Far too much control.

CUPP: You're saying Democrats were also?

RYE: You didn't know?


RYE: Absolutely. You didn't know there were Democrats beholding to the NRA?


RYE: So then be clear. Don't act like it's absurd.

CUPP: No, no.


RYE: This is the energy in this conversation, when people die.


CUPP: That sounds good, but let's talk in facts. When you say it's tangible to pass an assault weapons ban. It actually isn't. That's why Democrats didn't do it when they had total control.

RYE: No, it's not.


RYE: Now it's time for us take the NRA out.


RYE: It means it's time for us to limit the control of the NRA has over the Congress because people are dying. It means that we start standing up organizations and fund them to do things very differently from what the NRA is doing.

CUPP: There are billions of people --




CUPP: You want to take me out? How do you do that?

RYE: What I said, if you wanted to have a conversation.

(CROSSTALK) CUPP: I am. I'm asking.

RYE: You're not listening.

CUPP: I'm asking a real question.


RYE: Do you want to listen or not?


RYE: Do you want to listen now or still want to host?

CUPP: I'm asking.

RYE: OK. What I said, was there's organizations that are being stood up to combat the narratives, the policies the NRA pushes, and we need to fund those organizations to ensure that the NRA's voice is not just muted. But we completely take them out. Because their regulations, the things they push are dangerous.

CUPP: OK. Funding organizations to message against the NRA.


RYE: Not just message.


RYE: Yes. I didn't say anything about that. I'm not sure what you listened to before you got here, but that's not --


CUPP: That's what I heard.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue this.

Also, make sure you watch "S.E. Unfiltered" on HLN this evening and every weekday.

Hang tight, ladies for just a second.

Just ahead, to Florida, where the powerful testimony of the students of Douglas High School driving the push for action. Hear their demands for lawmakers, next.


[14:37:49] BALDWIN: President Trump is offering some insight on what the White House may be working on in the wake of last week's school shooting in Florida. The president is tweeting his support for strengthening background checks for gun purchases, and he's directed his Justice Department to draft a ban on bump stocks, which make it easier to fire rounds more quickly. But if the president wants any gun safety laws, he needs support of conservative lawmakers, and midterm elections are around the corner.

We go live to the CNN senior congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, does Congress have the appetite to take it up?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's limited. You pay attention want to last two segments. I thought did an excellent job of laying out the differences in the policy. The clear differences in the politics. But, also, the key differences in what people actually think should occur going forward. I think it's important to know, we talked about it earlier this week, there's a distinct lack of trust between both sides. In terms of whether or not they actually want to come together the table and try find a bipartisan solution. Part becomes what people are pursuing.

Take a look what Democrats are talking about now. What they want to do. Whether it's raising age limits, whether it's expanding significantly in the background check system. Those are things that at least on the national level, the federal level, are likely nonstarters in a Congress controlled by Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House.

You talk about what President Trump has discussed regarding background checks. He's talking specifically about a bill that is rather limited in nature. What it would do is try and incentivize better compliance with the background check system that's already in place. It's not the background check bill that Congress voted on in 2013 that failed in the U.S. Senate. It's kind of a small item. If you want to talk about what can get done in a Republican-led Congress. That's the best-case scenario. The problem is it doesn't have a clear path forward. In the House it was passed, Brooke. If you're a permitted gun owner in a concealed carry state, you can carry the gun into another concealed carry state legally. That's a non-starter in the Senate. Whether or not Republicans in the House would be willing to take up the stand-alone background check bill is largely contingent on whether or not if they're willing to do with the concealed carry reciprocity of it. We're talking to conservatives saying that's not going to happen.

I think you have to take a look at the broader issue with the politics now. Brooke, you mentioned it, it's a midterm year. Do you want to, if you're a Republican in the Senate, want to start a debate that has no clear path way forward in the House? Also, if you're a Democrat, and you are saying one of the 10 red-state Democrats in Trump states, many of which are supportive of gun right laws. These are playing a role in the discussions to put it plainly here. And the aids I'm talking to now, they recognize what is happening. They see what you're seeing on the screen now. Protests in Florida. The petitioning lawmakers in the state House and the protests in Washington. They know there is energy there. But will that energy actually make this a different moment that we've had how many times in the past, 2009, 2013, just a couple of months ago. I think the reality is, right now people think the answer is no. We'll see when lawmakers come back on Monday whether or not that stays the case.

One wild card is the president. He's NRA backed. He obviously has a lot of support on this issue. If he decides to push forward on something, perhaps that clears an opening, but it will be limited. No question about it -- Brooke?

[14:41:16] BALDWIN: Phil, thank you so much.

Coming up next, "Dear, Mr. President" -- the first line of the poem written by the survivor of the school shooting in Florida. Douglas High's Aly Sheehy's message for President Trump. We'll have her read it to us live, next.


[14:45:43] BALDWIN: Today would have been Carmen's 17th birthday. Carmen was a straight-"A" student at Douglas. She had just been selected as a national merit scholarship finalist. Carmen never knew about the honor because she died the day before the announcement was made. While her friends and family will forever, of course, grieve her loss, her classmates say they're protesting on her birthday in her honor.


UNIDENTIFIED HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I think this is how I am honoring her. I'm trying to make changes to make sure that no family or individual has ever has to go through that we as students have to go through.


BALDWIN: Most of the young people old enough to vote yet, but they're vowing to change gun laws in hopes that the school shooting they just survived never happens again.

My next guest wrote a poem to the president. Aly Sheehy is a senior at Douglas. She's with me, live.

Thank you so much, Aly, for taking a minute with me.

I think it's poignant, in your words, rather than mine. Would you do me a favor and read the poem for me.

ALY, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Yes. Thank you for having me.

My poem is called "Dear Mr. President." My friends have died. They're gone from our lives. Yet, you sit there twiddling your thumbs. My friends have died, the life gone from their eyes. Yet you talk anything but guns. My friends have died, and we have cried and cried. Yet you sit there blaming the mentally ill. My friends have died, our voices pushed aside, yet you sit there, and you sit there still. My friends have died, and our tears aren't dried, yet you sit there watching us bleed. My friends have died, it's an issue nationwide, you sit there still. So how about you leave? As a community forever unified, I ask you, sir, how did this happen to us? I fight you to learn to hear the story from inside, because if not now, when will the right time be to discuss?

BALDWIN: Aly, on top of that poem, you called out the president in one of your tweets this weekend which has been retweeted 65,000 times. Why? Why did you do that?

SHEEHY: Yes. I woke up that morning and I saw his message on Twitter, and what was running through my head was why did it have to be about him? It made me angry and disappointed. And the reason that I replied back is because everybody knows that Trump uses Twitter as his platform. So, the reason is I saw it best to reach him directly by using his own platform to try to reach out to him. To ask him why he's not doing anything. But --



BALDWIN: I was going to say, he is, today at the White House hosting this listening session. He's listening to some of your classmates. He's listening to people from Sandy Hook. He's listening to people from columbine. He directed his attorney general to propose changes to ban bump stocks. He said he has supported fortifying universal background checks. Is that progress?

SHEEHY: It's a step in the right direction. I'm very happy that it has happened, but I think there's still more that can be done. And there's still more that should be done. And we're trying to do as much as possible.

BALDWIN: You know there have been some politicians who have been arguing that we, the media, have been exploiting you and your classmates. Right now, one week from this tragedy, that you are too fragile, you know, in the state of shock to really talk on national television about how you're feeling about these issues now. Is that the case? What is your response to those politicians who say that?

[14:50:00] SHEEHY: That's absolutely not true whatsoever. I think that it should speak enough that the kids in our school are actually coming and talking about this, that we're asking you to talk about it, we're telling you we are ready to talk about it. So I don't see where the confusion is when we're telling you that we're ready to do this.

BALDWIN: I was talking to a father earlier this week, Aly. His name is Rich Martinez. He lost his son Christopher, in a mass shooting years ago. He spends his life fighting for change, just as you may. This is his message to you all.


RICH MARTINEZ, LOST SON IN MASS SHOOTING: I would say to them, that when they meet with these legislatures, that they should tell them these legislators that they know more about mass shooting drills than the legislators they're talking to. These kids are the first generation, maybe the first generation in America, who have had mass shooting drills since they were in kindergarten.


BALDWIN: So, Aly, since this has been your reality your entire life, and some people are saying that this could be the turning point, do you think it is?

SHEEHY: I absolutely believe it. Words can't describe how proud I am of our students, of our community, even today we had schools from all across Broward County march to our school, some people walked 12 miles just to get here, and I -- just at a loss of words to describe how that makes us feel, to see the support that we have.

BALDWIN: Aly Sheehy, you have so many millions of people standing behind you.

Thank you so much for your time. And again, I'm just so sorry.

SHEEHY: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

It's the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. The students of Stoneman Douglas speak out to demand action and an end to the violence once and for all. "Stand Up," a live CNN town hall, hosted by Jake Tapper, tonight, at 9:00 Eastern.

More on the breaking news.

Plus, a pretty stunning tweet from the president challenging his attorney general to investigate former president, Barack Obama. Hear why.


[14:56:48] BALDWIN: Billy Graham, the evangelist known as America's pastor, died earlier today at his home in North Carolina. He was 99 years old. He was a confidant of presidents. Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, were known to really rely on his spiritual counsel. Both presidents, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, tweeted condolences today. A southerner from North Carolina, Graham helped spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide during more than 400 crusades.

In fact, here he was back in South Africa.


REV. BILLY GRAHAM, EVANGELIST: Now, Jesus was a man. He was human. He was not a white man. He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. And he probably had a brown skin. Christianity is not a white man's religion. And don't let anyone ever tell you that it's white or black. Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.


BALDWIN: Graham shared the Gospel with nearly 215 million people in 185 countries.

Kyra Phillips is with me now. She was a personal friend of Graham's. She conducted his last TV interview. She's a contributor to his book "Billy Graham and Me."

Kyra Phillips, I'm sorry for this loss. But I understand you have a lot of personal anecdotes.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN DOCUMENTARY UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Oh. No reason to be sorry because he lived an unbelievable life, an unscathed life. Nine-nine years, Brooke. And I remember him saying to me, "Heaven is something that I look forward to." And this was a man I got to know, I got to pray with, I got to hear amazing stories. And I think one thing that stands out to me, I always asked him, how do you stay so disciplined? How do you stay unscathed? You haven't been caught up in any kind corruption or sexual misconduct. I mean, we covered those stories, Brooke. He said, it's because, Kyra, every single day I got into the word and I stayed focused. And he said, I did everything I could to avoid temptation. He wouldn't even get into a room by himself with a woman. He told me whether it was someone that came up to him for advice, all the way through Hillary Clinton, he was never alone with a woman in a room, which I thought was so fascinating.

BALDWIN: Wow. Wouldn't be alone in a room with all kinds of women.

With all the travel, Kyra, quickly, he felt guilty of traveling so much, didn't he?

PHILLIPS: I asked him if he had any regrets and he said it was not spending enough time with his children. He had five kids. He had an amazing wife that he met in college. They had a beautiful family dynamic. And it was a hard balance. He had to -- I remember saying to him, I really want kids, but do I want kids? He and his son both said to me, I know you're trying, it could be difficult, just remember, if you can't, there's a lot of beautiful children around this world who need a good mama. He was all about family. Just wish so much he would have been there. The world was his family. His ministry was his family in addition to his kids and his beautiful wife.

BALDWIN: Ninety-nine. We can all be so lucky, you're so right.

PHILLIPS: Good living.

BALDWIN: All right, Kyra --