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Shooting Survivors Take Gun Control Fight to State Capitol; White House Claims Trump Has Been Tougher on Russia Than Obama. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SHERYL ACQUAROLI, STUDENT SURVIVOR OF SCHOOL SHOOTING: The next step is going to be on them. It's going to be their fault.

[05:59:04] GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Those two weeks after Friday, we're going to get something done.

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

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

CHRIS GRADY, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Our message to the politicians, if you aren't with us, you're against us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This president has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The assertion is laughable. The Obama administration was tough on Russia. He'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. It is Wednesday, February 21, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

One week after the massacre at the Florida massacre, 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're debating a bill that declares pornography a public health risk.

President Trump tweeting his support for strengthening background checks and directing the Justice Department to draft a ban on bump stocks. The president will hold a listening session today at the White House with mass shooting victims.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Listening is good. Action is what is demanded. The president did surprise many by calling for better background checks. Now, the question will be how does that translate into his party in Congress? There is still no word from the GOP leadership that they are going to take up this cause.

We continue to invite Senator Ted Cruz and the leadership on here to NEW DAY to test what they can do to stop these shootings. CNN is going to hold a special townhall tonight. You'll see survivors, parents, and Florida politicians, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, all working toward a solution.

Meantime, the White House insisting that President Trump has been tougher on Russia than Obama's entire eight years in office and denying that the president ever questioned Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. We will give you the facts on that situation.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Diane Gallagher live in Tallahassee with our top story -- Diane.

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, we have about 100 teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School asleep in the civic center behind me. In about two hours they are going to march to the state capitol with demands of stricter gun control. This is a bittersweet day for them. It is the a one-week anniversary of the massacre at their school that killed 17 of their friends and teachers. They say they are going to use the inspiration from those victims to find strength in their meetings with about 70 lawmakers today and the Republican governor, despite suffering that legislative setback already.


RYAN DEITSCH, STUDENT SURVIVOR OF SCHOOL SHOOTING: They just want to throw it away. They want to sweep it under the rug. We're hearing saying that you can't sweep anything under the rug anymore.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Survivors of the Florida high school massacre voicing outrage after the state's Republican-controlled legislature voted against a measure to consider a ban on semiautomatic weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty-six yeas, 71 nays, Mr. Speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not adopted.

GALLAGHER: Students who survived the attack overcome with emotion as the bill was defeated. 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.

GALLAGHER: Nearly all 71 lawmakers who struck down the bill have an "A" rating from the NRA. Instead of debating guns, lawmakers choosing to begin a debate on a bill that declares pornography as a public health risk.

Dozens of students from Douglas High traveling 400 miles to the state's capital by bus. The rallying cry, "Never again," as they hope to pressure la lawmakers into taking action on gun control.

GRADY: Our message is at this point to the politicians, if you aren't with us, you're against us. We're trying to save the lives of innocent children.

KAI KOERBER, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We're all here because we need -- we need to strive for change, and the legislation needs to change. We've fallen victim to lazy legislation for far too long.

GALLAGHER: Republican Governor Rick Scott promising to unveil a legislative plan by Friday.

SCOTT: My goal is to come up with something that will move the needle and make parents feel comfortable that their kids are going to go to a safe school.

GALLAGHER: President Trump tweeting his support, strengthening background checks for gun purchases after a new national poll shows an overwhelming number of Americans want it to happen.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump directed the Justice Department to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks, a process that has been ongoing since the Las Vegas massacre.

TRUMP: We're working very hard. We're going to come up with solutions. It's been many, many years, and there have been no solutions. We're going to come up with solutions.

GALLAGHER: But Mr. Trump's only action on guns since taking office was to undo restrictions aimed at mental illness. And the president's proposed budget would cut millions from existing background check systems.

This as the president's son, Don Jr., comes under scrutiny for liking two Twitter posts pushing conspiracy theories about Florida shooting survivor David Hogg and his father, who's a former FBI agent.

DAVID HOGG, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It's disgusting the fact that so many people think that this is true. And it's honestly very sad that people have lost that much faith in America. We have a right to live, just like we have a right to bear arms.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GALLAGHER: Now President Trump is going to hold a listening session this afternoon with parents, students, and teachers who have survived and lived through mass shootings in the United States.

The White House indicated that the president may be open to imposing an age limit on AR-15 style weapons but stopped short of saying that he wanted to reinstate the assault weapon ban.

[06:05:03] Chris, Alisyn, that is something that the students I spoke to on the bus said is encouraging talk from the president, but they say that talk is just talk, and they're not going to rest until they see some action.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Thank you very much for all of the reporting from there.

So joining us now to talk about, CNN political analyst John Avlon and reporter and editor at large of CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza.

OK. So today's going to be a very interesting day. So these kids have made a pilgrimage to the state capitol, John. And they are there to talk to the governor, and the governor has at least expressed interest in hearing from them. He says that he is going to do something, he claims, Governor Scott, to move the needle. Those are his words. And that he's going to have a proposal by Friday. And that all that will be capped off by the CNN town hall tonight, where they get to actually confront people like Senator Marco Rubio.

So I mean, this is a day where these two sides come together and are going to actually be hashing all this out.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's hope, in the triumph of hope over experience. Because these legislation, these proposals, have been blocked every step of the way, because frankly, the NRA and its backers hope that people forget. That's part of their strategy.

So if Rick Scott says he's going to step up, he's apparently eyeing the Senate, that onus is on him. Marco Rubio says he's not as opposed as people characterized his position on guns. What's he going to do? Press him for specifics and then follow through. Because we saw from Las Vegas, everyone said they'd back bump stocks and then nothing got done. Crickets.

CUOMO: And look, you're hoping, Chris, that the momentum here breaks down this idea of two sides. You will get nothing done if this stays along. What are the signs? We know that. I know it's the common vernacular of how we discuss this, but it's a mistake, because it's what leads to the impasse.

You have the state level, and you have the federal level. All right? Bad news at the state level. They had to know how embarrassing this would be in that statehouse to vote down a motion to discuss weapons and then discuss porn as a public safety threat. They know how embarrassing that is. They did it anyway.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: They do it candidly, Chris. It's cynical but it's true.

They do it, because they do not believe there are political consequences to doing so. And they do believe there are political consequences to opening up what has been cast as Pandora's Box when it comes to gun control legislation.

So I think you have to have two things. One, you have to have a muscular gun control advocacy group, organization, satellite constellation of organizations, that can make legislators feel -- on the state and federal level feel as though there are real consequences to doing things like what happened in the Florida legislature yesterday.

You also have to have a change in the debate. And this is one I'm more skeptical of. Because what we have now, and I think the NRA bears whether credit, responsibility, blame, for this, is the fact that it's seen as an all or nothing proposition. That either you oppose any sort of future gun regs or restrictions on your gun rights, or people will come to your house and collect your guns. It is not true.

AVLON: It is fundamentally false. And people have fundraised off that fear mongering, but you take a look at Justice Scalia's decision. In Heller, he talks about there's a need for -- there's a place for reasonable gun regulation in our society and in the constitution.

CUOMO: Heller is the 2018 Supreme Court case that was the only one recognized an individual right, this idea that the Second Amendment has always been that way was really done very recently.

AVLON: That's right. And that's part of the conversation we should be having.

But it's also about members of Congress stiffening their backbone and really confronting these kids. Because what the Florida legislature did last night falls in line with their old reflexes, do "A" ratings from the NRA.

But the fact they went on to talk about pornography as a public health standard, just think about that for a second. We need to be thinking more in society about the pornography of violence rather than the pornography of sex. If it's easier for folks in political outlets to feel like they're going to get a credit for one and ultimately people will forget, because that's what happened after Sandy Hook. That's the real pornography of violence we should be discussing as a society.

CAMEROTA: And look, these kids are going to have to steel their spines, as well. This is -- they're in it for the long haul. I mean, this is going to take a lot of tenacity on their part. Obviously, it's been one week. There's a lot of motivation. There's a lot of passion right now. And last night was a setback for them, and you saw some of the students crying, because they're not used to having a setback like this. And they are going to have to get used to it, because let's face it. Assault ban -- an assault weapons ban, that was starting -- that was ambitious.

AVLON: We had one in our country for almost a decade.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

AVLON: But yes. It's not going to happen automatically.

CAMEROTA: Right. So that was starting at the top. I mean, these other things are more incremental.

CUOMO: Right. They're also not alone. They are -- they are a beautiful face on a very ugly situation, right? I mean, they are a wave of victims who are able to speak to themselves. That's somewhat new to us.

[06:10:00] But this opportunity for background checks is going to be their best avenue forward, because they have the president on their side. And that's going to rattle the cages.

CAMEROTA: And the American public. Something like 97 percent...

CUOMO: Ninety-seven percent.

CAMEROTA: ... of people support expanded background checks.

CUOMO: Here's your problem, Cillizza. And this is where this situation always gets sticky. And it's just too bad because you've got to take the momentum where you find it.

So they go down the road of background checks. All right. What do the 97 percent want? They want all sales covered by background checks. It's just common sense.

The next thing that's going to me is you're going to have two asks on the Republican side. One is, well, let's look at mental health and which people there should be reviewed differently for access. That sounds good.

It will not sound good to a lot of Democrats. They are the ones who have fought for the privacy rights and the concerns that people won't seek -- won't seek treatment. And those are not justifiable concerns in science. But that's going to be the politics.

How does that play out? Because background checks sounds like a no- brainer right now.

CILLIZZA: Yes. And the truth of the matter, candidly, if you look at that Quinnipiac poll as a trend line, the number you just showed. They have a trend line of support for background checks. It's not as though it was 30 percent five years ago. It was 89 percent. I mean, it's higher today. But it wasn't low before. And we still haven't gotten any action.

The reason, Chris, as you point out, the devil is in the details to some extent. What you make the background closing the loopholes, what you make people qualify for background checks, not -- I mean, all of that stuff is the problem. Can I just -- one other reminder, I do think that kids are powerful.

I do think, to Alisyn's point, they have to stay on it. Right? Nothing gets solved in politics in a week.

I am always reminded, though, of 2013, the mothers and fathers of kids who -- of 6-year-olds who were murdered in my home state of Connecticut, sitting down face-to-face with senators who were on the fence about legislation and saying we have to have this vote. And it never happened.

So yes, this is powerful. But do not assume that it is a seed change. Because I think I assumed after Sandy Hook...

CAMEROTA: Yes, as we all did.

CILLIZZA: And it wasn't.

AVLON: That's been the argument that's been used to defend the cynicism in Washington about why this can't get done. Six-year-olds were slaughtered and nothing got done.

But these kids in Parkland have the ability to give voice to this in a different way. And 97 percent, folks, this isn't subtle. That's basically unanimous. I've never seen a 97 percent number in policy. Yes, devil is in the details. Yes, compromise is going to be key. But 97 percent, maybe that will get the politicians' attention.

CAMEROTA: And look, just very quickly, I wouldn't say nothing got done after Newtown. I mean, I think that in terms of people feeling helpless, Connecticut did make changes. And guess what?

CILLIZZA: At the state level, yes.

CAMEROTA: Violence and fatalities went down. So things can be done. We don't know what path it's going to take. Maybe nationally it's going to be hard, but things can be done. And Connecticut has paved the way in that way.

CUOMO: You can see it state by state. And you're right: there's a blessing and a curse from that. The blessing is you'll see states harden up. Connecticut -- and we thought Florida was going to follow suit. I don't know about that now. South Carolina did.

The problem is on the federal level you're seeing the big push from the right is reciprocity. And when you do that, that means that if a state has lax rights, those rights get to transfer everywhere else where they're strong. See, that's how it gets sticky.

But Alisyn is right. You've got to have hope. Otherwise, why are we even waking up in the morning. So please join us tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern. Jake Tapper is going to host a CNN townhall. You're going to be there, too, right?

CAMEROTA: I am. So I'm going to be doing some reporting it. And then tomorrow morning, we'll be doing the show from there. CUOMO: "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action."

You're going to see survivors there. You're going to see lawmakers. And hopefully, they'll take questions and start talking about solutions.

CAMEROTA: OK. Now to this story. This reported White House feud between Jared Kushner and chief of staff John Kelly over Kelly's crackdown on security clearances, which we know Jared does not have a full one of. Sorry for the syntax.

CUOMO: It works.

CAMEROTA: We discuss that.

CUOMO: None of it makes sense.


[06:17:50] CUOMO: All right. The White House is claiming that President Trump has been tougher on Russia than President Obama in his entire eight years in office. This is an eyebrow popper, right? And it comes amid scrutiny for Jared Kushner's security clearance and that heating up an invite within the White House about what to do about his clearance.

CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House with more.

It's an important distinction. This isn't like Democrats saying what are you going to do about it? This is a problem in their own house.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's a big problem for the White House this week.

Among other things, dealing with the Russia issue and also dealing with the brewing issue over security clearances. On Friday, chief of staff John Kelly has new rules that are going to go into place for people who have interim security clearances, restricting their access to highly-classified information. One of those people is the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And it's not clear whether those rules are going to apply to him.


SANDERS: Nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work that Jared is doing.

PHILLIP (voice-over): The White House downplaying the impact that chief of staff John Kelly's new security clearance directive will have on the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But behind the scenes, "The New York Times" reports that Kushner and Kelly are engaged in an internal struggle, with Kushner expressing concern that he's been personally targeted and insisting that he maintain his current level of access to highly-classified information.

Amid the fallout over the White House handling of the Rob Porter controversy, Kelly released a memo last week, announcing he plans to discontinue top-secret access for individuals who have been unable to get a full security clearance since before last June.

Kushner is one of dozens of staffers who still don't have authorized clearance.

Kelly issued a statement defending Kushner before the "Times" story broke, saying that he has full confidence in Kushner's ability to continue performing his duties.

Separately, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pushing back on criticism that President Trump has not been tough enough on Russia for meddling in the U.S. election, parroting this false tweet from the president.

SANDERS: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.

PHILLIP: But the facts don't support those statements. During his final two years in office, President Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin after the DNC hacking, expelling 35 Russian diplomats out of the U.S., closing two Russian compounds, and imposing sanctions against nine Russian entities and individuals.

[06:20:17] By comparison, Mr. Trump has yet to enforce Russian sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last summer. The president has hosted Russian diplomats in the Oval Office and repeatedly dismissed evidence of Russian meddling, something the White House denies, despite the president's public comments.

TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication.

Russia did not help me, OK?

I call it the Russian hoax.

It's a Democrat hoax.

PHILLIP: Sanders hinting Tuesday that new information is about to come to light.

SANDERS: He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on on Russia. Just last week there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.

PHILLIP: The press secretary also attempting to walk back this tweet from the president, blaming the FBI for missing a tip about the Florida massacre because they were too busy with the Russia investigation.

SANDERS: I think he was speaking, not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIP: Alisyn and Chris, the Russia investigation marches on. On Tuesday there was yet another guilty plea. This time a Dutch lawyer and the son-in-law of a Russian billionaire who admitted to lying to investigators about his contacts with a former Trump aide, Rick Gates -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much.

We're joined again now by John Avlon and Chris Cillizza. Let's start with Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner reportedly doesn't want to give up his access to secret information.

But you know, I think one thing we don't mention enough is that he has an LIC, OK? That's not just interim clearance. He has limited. LIC is limited interim clearance. It's supposed to be limited. He's actually not supposed to have access to the top-secret information, but he does. And he has access to the daily presidential brief.

So we don't know what's going to change. John Kelly is cracking down on this, he has reported. But we have no idea what that means for Jared Kushner.

AVLON: Right. Which is why we have nepotism laws in the first place. Because right now, there seems to be, if we're going to do the Kremlinology of the White House, pun intended, then you're going to get a fight between Kelly and Kushner. The problem is, Kushner's got a Trump card. He and his wife can go run to daddy and say, "This isn't terribly fair. And I'm hearing the intelligence briefing anyway from the CIA director."

It's an insane system in place. Kelly is trying to impose a little bit of structure finally. You know, giving a little pat on the back in "The New York Times," saying he can deal with Russia -- unintended pun on that one. Mexico and the Middle East. But this is exactly why we have nepotism laws. And they have fallen out of favor, and they need to be reinstated. Because this is an insane situation.

CUOMO: Although it does seem the president finds Mexico to be a much bigger threat to the United States than Russia.

AVLON: Clearly.

CUOMO: It's an odd choice of priorities.

Cillizza, why does this matter?

CILLIZZA: Well, I mean, because you have someone -- first of all, you know Rob Porter had a -- had a temporary clearance and was handling top-secret and classified documents, because he was handling everything that the president saw. OK.

But now you have someone who is not only doing that but is also the son-in-law of the president of the United States, who appears to be benefiting from a carveout that this president has always made in his life. The rules do not apply as it relates to his -- his family. That's been the case. It continues to be the case. It's the whole, "Yes, my assets are in a blind trust." Well, no, they're really not.

"Don Junior and Eric don't have any -- we never talk politics." Well. You know, I mean, this is all of a piece.

And, again, I do think it is important. This is not about Jared Kushner versus John Kelly, that Ivanka and Jared versus whoever. This is about national security. This is about people having access. There is a reason why Jared Kushner has that limited clearance and has not been approved, right? Because there are questions about financial dealings, as we reported during the transition. Other questions about his reporting on various forms prior to him entering office.

So there's a reason for this. This is not accidental. And when you have someone who has not been cleared, handling very sensitive or reading very sensitive information, we have protocols in place on purpose to prevent stuff like this.

CAMEROTA: Yes. That's such a great point. This is not a red tape holdup.


CAMEROTA: This is because he didn't pass the background check.

CILLIZZA: Hasn't yet.

CAMEROTA: That's why he has limited access to top-secret information.

AVLON: Aside from meetings with Russians and millions of dollars he hasn't disclosed, just like normal Americans.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of Russia, let's go to Sarah Sanders yesterday trying to tell the press room that Donald Trump has been much tougher on Russia than Barack Obama ever was.


[06:25:00] 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.


CAMEROTA: Good tease. Good tease, Sarah Sanders. She's using the Trumpian tease.


CAMEROTA: What's that incident that we know nothing about?

AVLON: I can't wait for the next episode of this reality show called our lives.

No, look, reality check. That's wrong. Trump has not been tougher on Russia than President Obama. It's not even close.

Yes, President Obama can be criticized for too much passivity during the election. He was apparently concerned that if he called out Russia's meddling, it would be seen as putting his thumb on the scale of the election. That's the argument Mitch McConnell made. He bought it.

But after the election, they ramped it up. You could argue too little, too late, but they ramped it up. You know, they kicked out diplomats. They imposed sanctions. They removed properties, actually, you know, in real terms.

And Trump keeps dodging and dancing and refusing to condemn one of the most easily condemnable on the planet earth, Vladimir Putin.

CUOMO: You go from least to most strong evidence against what they're asserting, right now is, one, 98-2 they pass the sanctions. The administration certainly slow-walking it. They're not going as aggressively as they could. Why? We don't know.

The talk about Putin. The president spares no one his tongue except Vladimir Putin. We still don't understand why.

Then you get to the big one which is the Russian interference. Let's remind you what this president has said time and again about the uncontroverted, in terms of our intelligence community, interference by Russians in our democracy.


TRUMP: I noticed any time anything wrong happens, they like to say, "The Russians, the Russians." She doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.

And I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. It could be somebody else.

What I said there is that I believe he believes that. And that's very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.


CAMEROTA: Anybody?

CUOMO: Look at Cillizza's face. Look at Cillizza's face. Make that face again. There it is.

CILLIZZA: But I mean, look, you can't say this enough. The entire U.S. intelligence community unanimously has said for basically the last year, "Yes, Russia sought to actively interfere in the election. Yes, they did so because they -- to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton, because they believed he would be better for their long-term interests."

I just don't know why that's a debate. Unless you believe, and candidly, Donald Trump has espoused some of these beliefs, that there is a deep-state conspiracy in the intelligence community, the Justice Department, the FBI against Donald Trump. That's the only way that you don't believe that's the fact.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, John.

AVLON: Trump just thinks it looks bad. And the reality is that his administration has done the right thing on Russia. It's been against the wishes and implications of the president. It's been actually the Pentagon and the DNI and Jim Mattis and other folks saying that Russia is a real threat. We need to take this seriously.

And when McMaster as national security advisor has the temerity to say that, he gets rebuked by the president. So the problem is the president. It's not necessarily the administration writ large, but that itself is a dangerous disconnect.

CUOMO: And the lying aside, it's just a problem, because by all accounts, we have done nothing to stop it from happening in the midterms and beyond.

CILLIZZA: Yes. That's the important thing.

CUOMO: Making ourselves vulnerable to more of this and maybe even worse.

All right, gentlemen, thank you very much.

So it is some of the worst violence that we have seen in Syria in this very long civil war. Hundreds of civilians, children are being killed, really, they're being murdered as the regime escalates attacks on the rebel opposition. This is a place in crisis. We'll take you there next.