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Gun Violence Debate Takes Center Stage, Again; Florida House Rejects Assault Weapons Ban; Syrian Regime Escalates Attacks On Opposition; U.S. Olympic Struggles. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:15] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERYL ACQUAROLI, JUNIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL, PARKLAND, FLORIDA: We are here to ask yes or no questions. Are you for or are you against the killing of students?

It's a yes or no question. There is no in between, there is no gray area. It's a black and white statement.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Florida students take their gun violence message to the state capitol this morning, a day after the Republican-led Statehouse voted down any restrictions. Now, the president weighs in but without a concrete plan.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: And a new report this morning says that Jared Kushner is resisting changes to his security clearance. He thinks that John Kelly, the chief of staff, is targeting him with new changes.

ROMANS: And, Team USA disappoints at the Olympics. Figure skaters struggle --


ROMANS: -- men's ice hockey is done, Lindsey Vonn very emotional after her final Olympics downhill. We've got Coy Wire.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUARDT: And, I'm Alex Marquardt. Great to be with you again.

ROMANS: Great to see you.

MARQUARDT: It is now almost 31 minutes past the hour.

And in a just a few hours, students from Stoneman Douglas High School will lobby lawmakers in Tallahassee to tighten Florida's gun laws. Activists and Parkland students and teachers will also rally in front of the state capitol where the students are already getting a quick lesson that demanding change is far easier than persuading someone to vote for it.

ROMANS: That's right. Last night, Florida's Republican-led Statehouse rejected a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. That bill was defeated by a vote of 36 to 71. Of those 71, all but four had strong ratings from the NRA.

The Florida House vote came as some Stoneman Douglas students watched from the gallery. Their emotions ran high during that vote, and after.


ACQUAROLI: The next step of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them. It's going to be on them and it's going to be their fault that those people are dead and that those people aren't going to go home to their families, and that there's going to be an empty space in people's lives. And it's going to be their fault.


MARQUARDT: But instead of guns, lawmakers will begin debate on a bill to declare pornography a public health risk.

Despite the setback, students are vowing to march on with this message. Planned meetings include the attorney general and Gov. Rick Scott.

ROMANS: Ahead of Gov. Scott's sit-down with the students he is laying out a new time line for getting something done quickly on gun violence.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: My goal is Friday, I'm going to 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's going to go to a safe school. That's the goal. I mean, these kids have got to go to safe schools.

We have two weeks left of session. Those two weeks, after Friday, we're going to get something done.


ROMANS: Last week, Scott told CNN quote, "Everything is on the table in the effort to solve the problem of gun violence."

MARQUARDT: Joining us here now is CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University.

ROMANS: Welcome back.

MARQUARDT: Good morning, Professor.


MARQUARDT: So, in the wake of this horrific shooting we've heard everyone talking about how this is such an atrocious tragedy and how -- and vague notions of doing something, and plans. But the one concrete thing that has been talked about are bump stocks, which became really well-known after the Vegas massacre.

Let's listen to what the president had to say about that yesterday.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Background checks are something that the president's supportive of making more efficient and looking at better ways to improve that process. The president supports not having the use of bump stocks and that we expect further action on that in the coming days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president believe there should be an age limit for those who buy an AR-15?

SANDERS: I think that's certainly something that's on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks.


MARQUARDT: That was Sarah Sanders and not the president.

Bump stocks seems like the one thing that everyone can kind of agree on doing away with the. The NRA even has --


MARQUARDT: -- mentioned support.

But is there anything to indicate that any sort of new legislation or activity can go beyond that?

ZELIZER: The only thing that indicates that is the anger of the students and their willingness, at least right now, to go beyond the initial outrage to political mobilization. If they don't, I think this is the top limit of what we are going to get.

And we have to remember, just the bump stocks is a pretty small reform --

ROMANS: Right.

ZELIZER: -- given the crisis we face, and we're not even talking about legislation. We're talking about doing it through regulation which, in itself, is much weaker than doing it through a bill.

ROMANS: You know, President -- the president was saying yesterday he's sending a memorandum of understanding to the attorney general to find -- you know, to find out what kind of policies on bump stocks are likely. What kind of leadership are you seeing here? I mean, is he really diving in and saying all right, I'm going to be the presidential leader on this or is he kind of tiptoeing in?

[05:35:02] ZELIZER: I think he's almost backing in to this after the anger was so great to do something about this.

If there's really going to be legislation it will both require grassroots pressure but it will also require forceful presidential leadership. That's what we saw in '94 --

ROMANS: Right.

ZELIZER: -- with Bill Clinton and the assault weapons ban. It's unclear if President Trump is really willing to do that.

ROMANS: And you write that in the Clinton case there are prior presidents who also supported him. He had -- he had -- there were other leaders --

ZELIZER: Ronald Reagan actually helped push the Brady Bill and he wrote op-eds saying we have to stop with this and we have to do something that really --

ROMANS: Right. The president was a victim of gun violence.

ZELIZER: Yes. It really takes some top-down leadership and it will be beyond a few days. It can't be Trump timing, meaning just a few days of interest and then moving on. This has to be a sustained battle, maybe over months, to actually outflank the NRA.

MARQUARDT: A lot of people have thrown up their hands and said -- or threw up their hands, rather, after Sandy Hook, saying if this many children can be massacred and nothing changes then this will never change, but it does feel like some things are changing.

Is that because these young adults -- young -- these children from Parkland are so eloquent and have been --


MARQUARDT: -- have been speaking out so much?

ZELIZER: Well, it could be. People felt that way about civil rights in the early sixties, meaning nothing will ever happen and then, it happened. And some of it was about young African-Americans going out to the streets and demanding some kind --

ROMANS: Right.

ZELIZER: -- of change.

Let's also remember though, in 2000 we had a "Million Mom March" for gun control. Seven hundred thousand people, I think --

ROMANS: Right. ZELIZER: -- came to Washington and nothing happened.

So, we don't know which part of history we're on right now and that's why I think we're watching these young people rather eagerly to see what they can make of this.

ROMANS: Twenty years of mass shootings in schools. This is the mass shooting generation. They drill for it.

ZELIZER: It's a crisis.

ROMANS: Maybe they're going to have just -- you know, think that we all have failed them and they'll try to fix it themselves.

Let's talk about Donald Trump, Jr. He is in India doing family business and it looks like geopolitical business, as well.


ROMANS: There's a big debate about whether he's blurring the lines between business and government. I'm not sure there's even a line there.

What do you see that is so unique about this Donald Trump selling family business in Indian right now?

ZELIZER: Well look, it goes back to day one of this administration. You have a massive business empire -- the Trump business empire -- and you have the presidency, and there are no clear lines that separate them. This has always been a problem.

The president has given control of the business to his sons but as you see, the sons are very close to their father and they're also very close to geopolitical --

ROMANS: Do you think it's a conflict of interest?

ZELIZER: It's a total conflict of interest and it's a major problem that we face, and we don't talk about it enough.

But the lines between the Trump presidency and the Trump business, I think, are -- they're either not there or they're so blurry they're impossible to see, and this is not what we can have in a healthy democracy.

ROMANS: All right, Julian Zelizer. Nice to see you this morning.

MARQUARDT: Thank you very much.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

ROMANS: So much -- so much to get to today.

MARQUARDT: Now, tonight, Jake Tapper is hosting a CNN town hall on guns. It's called "STAND UP: THE STUDENTS OF STONEMAN DOUGLAS DEMAND ACTION." Officials with -- joining Jake Tapper include Sen. Marco Rubio. He will be taking questions. That's at 9:00 Eastern tonight only on CNN.

ROMANS: All right.

"The New York Times" reporting overnight that Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are feuding over the presidential son- in-law's access to classified info. Kushner has held an interim security clearance for more than a year in his role as a senior White House adviser. Now, the "Times" says Kushner doesn't want to give up that access.

He's also concerned he's a specific target of Kelly's recent directive overhauling the White House clearance system.

MARQUARDT: Now, Kelly's order cancels top-level clearances at the end of this week for any staffer whose background investigation has been pending since last June.

The White House security clearance process has been under scrutiny since staff secretary Rob Porter was forced to resign after both of his ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse.

In a statement last night, Chief of Staff John Kelly expressed confidence in Kushner's ability to continue performing his very wide- ranging foreign policy-related duties.

ROMANS: Vice President Mike Pence came very close to meeting secretly with the North Korean delegation at the Winter Olympics. Pence's office says he was set to meet with North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un's sister, but the North Koreans pulled out of the planned meeting two hours before it was to start.

Officials believe that abrupt cancelation was a sign that attempts by the U.S. to exert pressure on the regime were working.

President Trump had signed off on the Pence meeting with the caveat that he would not back down from the U.S. demand that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons.

MARQUARDT: It would have been a heck of a picture.


MARQUARDT: This morning, Moscow is not ruling out tit-for-tat measures, as they're calling them, in response to last Friday's indictment of 13 Russians in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of -- a Russian official says the U.S. is just trying to interfere in Russia's upcoming election.

This comes after the White House stood beyond President Trump's claim that he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor Barack Obama.

[05:40:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions, he's taken away properties, he's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia.

Just last week there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.


ROMANS: No hint what that incident might me.

The president, of course, has frequently refused to condemn Russia for its interference in the election.

Meantime, a European lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in the Mueller investigation. Van der Zwaan admitted covering up his communications with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates.

All right.

The Trump administration unveiling an alternative to Obamacare, proposing regulations to make it easier to get short-term health plans. The White House says these offer Americans more choice and lower premiums.

The short-term plans are cheaper than Obamacare. They cost as little as 20 percent of the cheapest Obamacare plans. That's because it excludes Americans with preexisting conditions. It doesn't offer comprehensive coverage, like maternity care, prescription drug coverage, or mental health benefits.

Insurers can also limit how much they pay out, meaning costs of medical emergencies could leave consumers paying out-of-pocket.

Advocates and industry groups worry that this move will hurt Obamacare, claiming the cheaper plans will attract the younger, healthier consumers. That drives up Obamacare premiums and premiums, frankly, for everyone else.

The administration pushed back on that concern. The White House says estimates show only 200,000 healthy enrollees will make the switch. These policies, they say, are designed to fill a temporary gap in coverage.

MARQUARDT: A new breaking point for the humanitarian crisis in the Syrian war. Hundreds killed in the latest regime shelling leaving the U.N. literally at a loss for words.


[05:45:46] MARQUARDT: Welcome back. Now, breaking news overnight.

A police officer in Mobile, Alabama was shot and killed. The officer was responding to a call of a woman found dead in a residential area. Officials say the officer was shot at when he tried to speak with what they're calling a person of interest.

Police say the shooting suspect is also dead but it is unclear whether officers shot him or whether he killed himself. Neither the officer nor the suspect have been identified.

ROMANS: All right.

Tensions between the U.S. and Palestinians on full display at the U.N. Security Council. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley saying the Trump administration will not change its decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Haley also responding to comments earlier this month by the top Palestinian negotiator who said Haley should "shut up" with her criticism of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I will decline the advice I was recently given by your top negotiator Saeb Erekat. I will not shut up. Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths.

The United States stands ready to work with the Palestinian leadership but we will not chase after you.


ROMANS: Haley said she won't chase after anyone because Abbas left the room before she spoke.

MARQUARDT: Now, there's been a major escalation by Syrian regime forces targeting one of the last remaining rebel strongholds near the capital of Damascus. At least 250 civilians killed by shelling and airstrikes over the past few days in a suburb called Eastern Ghouta. That's according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The situation is so desperate that UNICEF, which is the U.N.'s children's fund, responded literally in a statement with no words. In that statement it issued on the bloody siege, it was blank.

Now, we warn you that some of the video you're seeing here is disturbing.

Let's go to CNN's Jomana Karadsheh following those developments in Amman.

Jomana, so much of the focus and so much of the coverage of this war has been about defeating ISIS and this is just a reminder of the continuing unbelievable brutality in Syria and that this war is far from over.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and as you mentioned there, UNICEF, yesterday, just saying that they've run out of words to describe the horrors that are unfolding in Eastern Ghouta.

And just a short time ago, Alex, we were speaking to a medical worker in that enclave and as our producer was speaking to him you could hear an airstrike in the background. So really, no end in sight for this latest offensive by the regime that began on Sunday where activists now are reporting for a fourth consecutive day. Airstrikes are still taking place and barrel bombs are raining down on different parts of Eastern Ghouta.

And as you mentioned, more than 250 people killed since Sunday, about 100 of them only killed on Tuesday and hundreds more wounded. And, of course, it is very difficult to treat the wounded because according to different organizations, including the United Nations, hospital after hospital have been hit in this bombardment of Eastern Ghouta.

According to the Syrian-American Medical Society, at least 13 medical facilities have been hit since Sunday; four hospitals completely destroyed. And these are medical facilities that were already struggling to provide care for patients there because as you mentioned, this area has been under siege since 2012.

And it's a very dire humanitarian situation. People are running out of almost everything there and now, they are absolutely terrified of a possible -- they fear ground invasion of Eastern Ghouta. They are really drawing similarities to what we saw in Eastern Aleppo at the end of 2016, saying that this is not going to end until the regime recaptures this rebel enclave, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And we should also remind our viewers, Jomana, that this is where there was a chemical weapons attack in 2013, almost five years ago, that left almost -- or more than 1,400 people dead.

Thanks to you, Jomana, in Amman, Jordan.

ROMANS: All right, 50 minutes past the hour.

Wall Street's winning streak is over, Walmart partly to blame here. Bond yields, too.

We'll get a check on "CNN Money," next.


[05:54:46] ROMANS: All right.

Skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn brings home the bronze in what will likely be her final Olympic downhill run.

MARQUARDT: Coy Wire has more PyeongChang.

Coy, she's got one more chance to medal at the end of this week, right?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: One more chance. That is the good news, Alex, -- and good morning to you and Christine -- but frustrating, indeed.

[05:55:05] There was so much energy and excitement before this race. American flags were flying there at the venue. Lindsey Vonn had already missed out on her -- medaling completely in her first event here but downhill, her best event and likely her best shot at gold. She was so -- when she posted that time Americans fell silent. This was her last run as an Olympian in a downhill. This isn't the

NFL where she has a game next week or even next season. She will still, though, compete in that alpine combined later tonight.

But the emotions afterwards, they hit her.


LINDSEY VONN, AMERICAN SKIIER, FOUR-TIME OLYMPIAN: You know, it's been really hard for me not to get emotional for so many reasons, especially because of my grandfather. And I wanted to win so much because of him but I still think I made him proud.

And our family never gives up and I never gave up. I kept working hard and I am really proud of this medal and I know he is, too.


WIRE: She should be proud. At 33 years old, Vonn became the oldest woman ever to medal in Olympic alpine skiing.

Now, what in the world happened to American women figure skaters? It was a spill-fest out there on the ice in the short program. The three Americans are sitting at ninth, 10th, and 11th after the short program.

Mirai Nagasu and Bradie Tennell both fell. Karen Chen had to put her hand down to prevent herself from falling.

And heading into the free skate on Thursday, it is a 15-year-old, Alina Zagi -- excuse me, Alina Zagitova. She is one of the Olympic athletes from Russia. She's leading the way and set a world record for her score in that short program.

Medal count for you. Norway way out in front with 31, Germany in second with 23, Canada's in third with 20, and this just in. The U.S. now tied for fourth with Netherlands' 14th medal.

Finally, some good news for the U.S. A first-ever gold medal in women's cross-country skiing. Congrats to Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall, who won the team sprint event.

So, there you go, Alex and Christine. Good news for Team USA.

MARQUARDT: Good for them.

ROMANS: All right, moving up the count. All right.

MARQUARDT: Moving up in the standings.

ROMANS: Thank you so much. Nice to see you, Coy Wire.

MARQUARDT: Thanks, Coy.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning. Wall Street's 6-day winning streak is over and it looks like now you could see the drop again at the opening bell. Right now, global stocks and U.S. futures are down.

The Dow and the S&P 500 both fell yesterday, the Dow dragged lower by Walmart's worst day in 30 years. Walmart stock fell 10 percent on disappointing online sales. That weighed on stocks, overall.

So did bond prices. Bond yields hit a 4-year high. That makes investors nervous here.

A rapid rise could signal faster interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve and we may get a coup about timing on that today. The Central Bank will release its January meeting minutes this afternoon.

3M will pay $850 million to settle claims it contaminated the water in Minnesota for decades. 3M is based in St. Paul. Minnesota's attorney general alleges it polluted water in the Twin Cities, dumping chemicals used to make Scotchgard from 1950 until the early 2000's.

Officials say 3M should have known it posed a risk to the environment and residents' health. 3M says it will work with the state but 3M doesn't believe there's any risk to public health -- $850 million.

The co-founder of Guess stepping aside amid those harassment claims from supermodel Kate Upton. Paul Marciano will give up his day-to-day responsibilities during the investigation.

Upton claims he verbally harassed and touched her inappropriately, including groping her after a photoshoot in 2010.

Marciano denies that accusation but it is costing his business. Guess' stock has dropped 20 percent since Upton first spoke out.


ROMANS: That's right. All right.

Thanks for joining us this Wednesday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUARDT: And I'm Alex Marquardt. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


ACQUAROLI: The next step is going to be on them and it's going to be their fault.

SCOTT: Those two weeks, after Friday, we're going to get something done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He may have an A+ rating from the NRA, but he does not have an A+ rating from us.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: School safety is a top priority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our message for the politicians -- if you aren't with us, you're against us.

ROMANS: A new report says Jared Kushner fighting back against the chief of staff's security clearance crackdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how this gets resolved because the main problem here is nepotism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's already tension. It's going to be worse.

SANDERS: This president's been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama administration was tough on Russia. Putin's had a honeymoon with Donald Trump.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, February 21st, 6:00 here in New York.

Here's our "Starting Line."

One week after the massacre at the Florida high school, at least 100 students are taking their fight for gun reform to lawmakers at the state capitol.

The kids have already suffered a setback. The Republican-controlled House refuses to even debate an assault weapons ban. Instead, they are debating a bill that declares pornography a public health risk.