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Massacre Survivors at State Capitol; Bill Graham Dies at 99; Remembering Bill Graham; Graham's Impact on Presidents. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:33:12] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news for you. These are live pictures. These are the students who survived the Florida school massacre. They have arrived on the steps of the state capitol. And as you can see, they are beginning to go in, get checked in, obviously, through security.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is with them.

Dianne, how was the march?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, really short march, just a few blocks up here. The kids are incredibly organized. In fact, we were going to try to talk to some of those kids, but they had meetings right away. So they had to go in there. They said, look, this is the reason why we are here is these meetings. We will talk to you as we go out of it.

But I do have a teacher with me, geography teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, a government teacher actually.

GALLAGHER: Government teacher. My apology. A government teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's OK. The geography teacher, unfortunately, is the gentlemen that passed away, yes.

GALLAGHER: Talk to me about why you felt the need to come up here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, I'm their teacher. You know, I came up with another colleague. And the two of us were senior teachers exclusively and I've, you know, had all these kids in class, all the famous kids now, David and Emma. And, you know, you're obviously compelled. And, you know, it affected us as well as it affected them. I probably -- you know, I luckily got out, that I'm here, along with the kids as well.

But, yes, I just, you know, I drove them up -- actually it's for you guys. I mean we're -- we're going back tonight to the debate and I volunteered to be the guy who would drive up a few of them and then leave today at noon so we can get back in time for the town hall tonight. So -- GALLAGHER: As a government teacher, how do you feel about watching them sort of use that voice that they have to come up here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's amazing. I mean it's -- I just hope that endures. I hope they continue to -- you know, I'm just -- yes, I'm sorry, I'm kind of at a loss for words. But, you know, they're all bright, as we've seen. They're all -- they're passionate. I mean they were working -- the seven-hour ride up yesterday, they were on their computers. They were -- you know, the donations came in from the Clooneys and from Oprah and they were trying to figure out, you know, who was going to control the money, where it was going to go and they were concerned about it immediately. So these kids are on -- on point with this. And it's just a matter of trying to decide, you know, -- you know, they're going to sustain it. We're going to Washington to march. And, I mean, I just -- you know, I hope something gets done.

[08:35:05] It was kind of deflating yesterday when we found out about the votes, you know, right when we got out of the car and we -- that was the first thing we heard about. And I don't want to talk about the other (ph) nonsense they voted on yesterday. And so it's sad. And, I mean, we've all gone through a lot. And, you know, we -- and we -- the only time -- when we're not here, we're at a funeral essentially. So it's been -- yes, it's --

GALLAGHER: I was going to say, you guys came up a little bit later too because you were going to a funeral yesterday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.

GALLAGHER: How are you balancing the grief? I mean this is the one- week anniversary. How are you balancing the grief and this activism that your students are doing now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean it's -- it's hard. I've been there 20 years. I have children. You know, yesterday it was one of my students. She's a wonderful girl. I'm a father of two daughters. And, you know, you want to try to stay strong in front of the kids. So it's -- again, that's what we're there for. I mean me and my colleague who came up with me, we're just -- you know, we're trying to stay in the background. We haven't really been on TV that much. We're not trying to be on TV. We just, you know, whatever they need, we're here for them.

GALLAGHER: Thank you so much.

Chris. Alisyn.

CUOMO: Dianne, thank you very much. Appreciate that.

Let's get some good perspective. Someone who understands the politics down there and some kind of sense of what will happen or not. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. He's a Democratic candidate for Florida governor.

We know you have an ad out about this situation, Mr. Mayor. It's important. Give me your read on what the likelihood of change is at the state level in Florida given what we saw yesterday. One of the senators said, well, it was just a procedural vote. Yes, it was a procedural vote, 36-71, to not even debate assault weapons with all those kids there watching. Instead, they took up porn as a public safety issue debate.

PHILIP LEVINE, FORMER MAYOR, MIAMI BEACH: Chris, it's a sad state of affairs. But on a positive note, yesterday I was with some of those students at the high school. I was right there with them. And let me tell you, we have a new greatest generation. The strength, the power, the emotion, the take action attitude of those students makes anyone feel proud. I'm a parent, you're a parent, Chris. I went to high school in Broward County. I can tell you that we're going to see this new crop of activists come.

Now, as far as what's going to happen in Tallahassee, unfortunately, as you know, he who pays the piper picks the tunes. And right now we have the NRA paying the piper. And folks like Marco Rubio and Governor Scott and Richard Corcoran, who control Tallahassee, you know what they're going to do? Absolutely nothing. They're going to run the clock out and they're going to wait until this session is over. It's unfortunate.

But change and hope is on the way. And that comes with the governor's election this November where we can kick the bums out and do what's right for Floridians because we need change. We need to protect our children and schools and protect our state.

CUOMO: What would you propose?

LEVINE: What I would propose, first of all, is, number one, a permanent ban on assault rifles. Number two, strong, better background checks. Number three, let's make sure those with mental illness do not have access to weapons.

Now, Chris, with that said, I am a gun owner. I have a concealed weapons permit. No one is trying to take people's guns away. We want to make gun ownership safer in the state of Florida. And I can tell you this, if for some reason this legislature doesn't act, as I said in my commercial, we will. We'll go right to the people. We'll pass a referendum.

You may not know this, Chris, but in the state of Florida, mayors are prohibited from doing anything. They will be removed from office and severely fined. That's a law that this group out of Tallahassee passed to stop local leaders from taking action. We will get --

CUOMO: So you are saying that mayors aren't allowed to put in their own gun legislations, otherwise there's a penalty. I get that.

You say that you want to get rid of assault rifles. You can't have an assault rifle right now. You're talking about assault weapons, like we see with this Armalite 15 semi-automatic rifles. Do you think you can get that done with a referendum or through the legislative process in Florida? There are some deep, deep roots of gun ownership and a lot of Second Amendment defenders there. LEVINE: I agree with that, but there's also a lot of parents and

there's a lot of kids and there's a lot of people that know that we want to keep our children safe.

I'm going to take it to the people of Florida through a referendum if Tallahassee won't act. We need the mayors of the state of Florida, the commissioners, the council people to make their own laws and not let this group out of Tallahassee make our safe -- our state so unsafe, like they've done, Chris.

CUOMO: We're watching the kids right now who have showed up. They're holding up their signs. You know, they have a very unique brand of passion because of what they just lived through, Mr. Mayor.

Now, Governor Scott says that he's going to try to get something done by this Friday. He's going to have something presented. What do you expect it to be? He used language that was, you know, pretty innocuous. He did mention a safer school. Do you think he's going to propose something that has to do with the threat or with making schools safer, maybe having armed guards or some kind of resource money?

LEVINE: Chris, he's going to do everything he can to protect his NRA backing. This is the same governor who bragged that he's passed more pro-gun legislation than any governor in the country. He's not going back on his base. He's going to try to do whatever he can to gloss this over.

Listen, this is the same governor who all of a sudden woke up and realized we have hurricanes in Florida and thinks we need an evacuation plan after eight years of being in office. These are folks that are listening to the NRA and it's very unfortunate.

[08:40:08] I don't expect anything. But I do know one thing, Chris, hope is on the way. Change will be happening in November in Florida.

CUOMO: All right, Mr. Mayor, thank you very much. We'll be watching that race very closely. Appreciate your perspective this morning.

LEVINE: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Chris, we are following breaking news. Evangelist Billy Graham has died. He was 99 years old. So we will speak with someone who knew him very well about his influence, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: We do have breaking news for you. Evangelical leader Billy Graham has died at 99 years old.

Joining us now on the phone is David Brody. He's the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network. David, sad news, but, of course, he was 99. He had an incredibly long

run and full life. Tell us of the significance of this man.

DAVID BRODY, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK (via telephone): Well, there's so much to talk about, and you have limited time, obviously. I will say this. It's one of those moments, at least as a Christian for sure that you remember where you were when you heard the news that Billy Graham died. It's one of those, you know -- you know, with Michael Jackson, right, or whoever it happens to be, you know, you just remember that day. And that will be part of this story today with Billy Graham. Everyone will remember that, especially as it relates to Christianity and folks that follow Jesus.

Now, the legacy of Billy Graham, what can you say, Alisyn? Look, this is a guy that shared the Gospel around the world with over 215 million folks at all of those crusades we hear about. And I can tell you, as you know, I was on with Chris just a week or so ago with that book, "The Faith of Donald Trump." In that book we talk about Billy Graham. The president himself saying he remembers watching the crusades with his father on television as a young child. In the 1950s, the crusades. And so, you know, in terms of all of those evangelical rallies that he had all around the country, of course New York and all those places.

[08:45:33] So this is a moment we knew would be coming, but at the same time it's not only just sad, but really, in a way, it's more joyous for a lot of folks because of what he did with his life and how he shared the good news of Jesus Christ with so many people out there. That's a wonderful legacy to leave.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my goodness. I mean you touched on this. He's been a spiritual adviser for so many presidents, starting with Harry Truman, I mean, and every president since. And, in fact, we just heard from David Gregory about the very significant impact that he had on George W. Bush's life.

BRODY: Yes, he's spoken to these presidents live, not just ordinary Americans, but presidents of the United States. And what really is one of the significant legacy moments for Billy Graham is that he was able to accomplish a bipartisan spirit in a world, quite frankly, Alisyn, that was not so partisan back in the day.

Imagine Bill Graham today. Look at Franklin Graham. Franklin Graham's been a polarizing figure to many folks on the left and, obviously, left and right. Billy Graham came along at a different time and was able to show both sides, both presidents, the love of Jesus. Franklin Graham is doing the same thing, by the way, that his father is doing, but in a different polarized climate. And you can see this shift in culture between what Franklin Graham is doing, same as Bill Graham, his father, but Billy Graham had far more success as it relates to the bipartisan approach.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I don't know if it's just the different climate. Isn't it also just a different philosophy between the father and son? I mean we've been talking about how Billy Graham believed in the big tent approach, you know, all-comers, everyone was welcome. It was non- denominational. And, obviously, the climate has changed. But do you think that that's different than the message of current modern day evangelicals?

BRODY: Well, I think you can ask Franklin Graham about that. But I would say this, Alisyn, that Franklin Graham's approach would be the same as Billy Graham's approach, is that Jesus loves everybody, Republican, Democrat, independent, ham sandwich. It doesn't matter.

But I think the culture has changed. And I think when the culture changes, you become more of a culture warrior for fight for Judeo- Christian biblical values. Billy Graham, you know, lived in a time when the culture wasn't as under attack, at least from that standpoint, from a biblical standpoint.

Look, when Billy Graham was alive, there was prayer in public schools and Bible reading in schools. Nowadays, obviously since 1963 and that Supreme Court decision, it's not there anymore. So Christians feel the culture slipping away from them. And I think Franklin Graham has kind of stepped into that role of, you know, truth teller, biblical truth teller, if you will, whereas Billy Graham didn't have to do that as much at the time.

CAMEROTA: Billy Graham has made Gallup's list of the most admired people in the world more than 60 times.

David Brody, thank you very much for sharing your remembrances and what you believe his legacy is.

Thank you.

BRODY: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris.

CUOMO: And this man not only stood as a representative of things to people who shared his faith. Politically, he meant a lot, too. So we'll going to bring in David Axelrod. He's going to join us with a look at Graham's impact on politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:52:51] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: More on our breaking news. Evangelist Billy Graham has died at 99 years of age. Graham's impact being felt throughout the Christian world certainly, but also in the world of politics.

Joining us now on the phone is televangelist Joel Osteen.

Joel, thank you for making yourself available on short notice like this.

JOEL OSTEEN, TELEVANGELIST (via telephone): Oh, I'm glad to do it. Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: So what does the loss of Billy Graham mean to you? OSTEEN: Well, it's personal, Chris, because I grew up as a preacher's

kid in a preacher's home. And Bill Graham was always our hero. You know, growing up watching him and just -- his life of integrity and honesty and his passion for people. It's just -- you know, we knew this -- we knew this time was coming, but it's still -- still interesting to think that Billy Graham is not here with us. So, you know, to me it's a loss of a hero.

CUOMO: What does your generation of the faith community owe to him?

OSTEEN: I think we owe to continue on what he started, and that is, you know, preaching good news and letting people know about Christ and the love and respect that we can show one another. And so I think it's -- you know, it's continuing on that passion and that boldness that he had.

You know, he took great steps of faith. He paved the way for young ministers like myself, you know, doing television ministry, which wasn't heard of back then and, you know, going across the globe. And, you know, he reached out to people that weren't just like him. You know, he took some criticism for it. But I think it opened the door for us to say, you know what, we don't have to just kind of reach out to, you know, people that come from our faith or that are like us. But, you know, opened a door to something bigger.

CUOMO: Let's talk about that a second more if we can because you have unique perspective on this. You know how difficult it is to build a following. You've done it with, you know, huge success. But do you ever think back on how difficult it must have been for him, those forays into television, we know when that was seen, you know, as so heretical to so many in terms of how you're supposed to express your faith, but what he meant as a pioneer.

OSTEEN: I know. It is. It's -- you know, it's easy for us now, you know, but, yes, back then that was -- I was a -- you know, I was very young, of course, but it was -- it was -- he took some, you know, big steps of faith and he did, he pioneered it and even some of those (INAUDIBLE) meetings and, you know, just the different things he did overseas that were, you know, just unusual.

[08:55:17] And so I loved his vision. I loved his integrity. And, you know, the other thing, too, Chris, is not a lot of -- I guess this is not a great statement, but a lot of not a -- not a lot of ministers made it to his age with integrity and honesty and faithfulness. And there are still plenty, but not well known. So I just -- you know, that inspires me as a young minister to, you know, it's not where we start, it's how we can finish. And he finished with grace and dignity.

And, too, Chris, he was -- he reached out to young ministers like myself. And I was able to visit with him. And, you know, when I did, it was -- it was -- you know, I was meeting my hero. But all he wanted to talk about was me. He didn't want to talk about what he did. And he just talked about my big church and how I got up there and how I did this. And I left saying, wow, what a gracious man. What a humble man. Turning his focus from, you know, he's the legend. I'm a -- you know, I'm a learner. But he just wanted to encourage me. CUOMO: Well, that's -- that's a very interesting story. Thank you for sharing that with us.

And, Joel, you know, one of the reasons we wanted you on the air is that you are very well known in your own right. So for you to cast your eyes up at Billy Graham says a lot about how he is revered within the faith community and you're evangelical movement. So thank you very much for joining us. I'm sorry for your loss and the loss of your community.

OSTEEN: Thank you so much, Chris. My pleasure.

CUOMO: All right, be well, Joel.

Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now is CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod.

So, David, tell us your thoughts about Billy Graham and what he meant to President Obama.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Billy Graham ushered the evangelical movement into the television age. He became the face of the evangelical movement. And as has been pointed out, he was much more bipartisan in his approach than some of the more prominent voices that we hear today in the evangelical movement. Not all, but some.

There was an inspiration in the '80s on the part of some political actors to turn the evangelical movement into a political movement on the right. Billy Graham wasn't part of that. Billy Graham was someone who related to presidents of both parties up to and including the one I worked for and was assiduous about that, about trying to stay out of the scrum.

So, you know, he -- but he created the conditions for the evangelical movement to really move back into the mainstream of our political conversation.

CAMEROTA: And what was his relationship with President Obama? Was he considered something of a spiritual adviser? Did the two men talk or meet? Tell us -- give us a little bit of the inside story.

AXELROD: Yes, I honestly don't -- I honestly don't know how much they communicated. But he was a presence in every Oval Office. And this has been pointed out I think previously. He counseled presidents of both parties.

Obviously earlier in his life, he was more prominent. He was a frequent visitor in Lyndon Johnson's Oval Office. For example, after having supported Richard Nixon for president in 1960. And, notably, he did -- he did not allow himself to be used in the Jim Crow movement, even though he came from the south. And that was an admirable thing.

CAMEROTA: Oh, I mean -- AXELROD: Something I'm sure President Obama appreciated.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. I mean we're just also reading stories about his relationship with Martin Luther King Junior --

AXELROD: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And how he bailed him out -- he bailed out MLK Junior after some demonstrations. He went to the jail and bailed him out and insisted that they, you know, preach together and insisted that some of his revival meetings, all of them, be --

AXELROD: Yes.

CAMEROTA: You know, inter -- be integrated. And it was just a big tent philosophy that he had.

AXELROD: Yes. To his everlasting credit. Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: And, you know, David Gregory, who's written a book on faith --

AXELROD: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Told us about the impact that he had on George W. Bush's life. I mean I think that the story that David shared was that he was inspired to become born again because of Billy Graham.

AXELROD: Which was in many ways lifesaving for him. So, you know, and I sat down with Michael Gersin (ph) from "The Post" the other day, who worked for President Bush, and is an evangelical himself. And he talked very much about how much that influenced the life and world view of George W. Bush.

So, yes, Billy Graham was a touring figure in American society. And as I said, the real face of the evangelical movement at the dawning of the television age.

CAMEROTA: Such a great point. I mean so he had impact individually as we see with George W. Bush and, obviously, on a grand scale.

[09:00:00] David Axelrod, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.

AXELROD: Hey, guys, good to see you.

CAMEROTA: OK, time now for CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman.

See you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.