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Trump Suggests Highly Trained Armed Teachers as Deterrent; Marco Rubio Breaks with NRA on Some Gun Control Measures; NRA Chief Speaks for the First Time Since School Shooting; Interview with Stoneman Douglas Teacher Melissa Falkowski; Trump Says He'll Push Stronger Background Checks, Raising the Age to Buy Rifles and Ending Bump Stock Sales; Trump: If Trained Teachers Were Armed, "Attacks Would End"; Rubio Breaks With NRA On Some Gun Control Measure. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- going to do it for us from Parkland, Florida. As we part, we wanted to just show you again the faces of the 17 lives lost in the school behind me. Teachers and students who showed up for school thinking that they were just going to have a day of education, and obviously lives across the country have been changed as a result of what happened last week. Here they are.

We're going to be with "CNN NEWSROOM" and John Berman right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

Something changed. Right before our eyes, it changed. The national discussion on guns is different this morning. It might not be big change, lasting change, the kind that will satisfy everyone, but it happened. It is worthy of note and it happened largely because of the voices of the students of the Stoneman Douglas High School.

Breaking news, just moments ago, the president declared unambiguously that he supports raising the age you can buy a rifle from 18 to 21. This is a move flatly opposed by the NRA.

The president wrote, "I will be strongly pushing comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health, raise age to 21 and end sale of bump stocks. Congress is in a mood to finally do something on the issue, I hope."

Now this is on top of a significant shift from Marco Rubio, a Republican with an A-plus rating from the NRA, during the CNN town hall overnight.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size, and after this and some of the details I've learned about it, I'm reconsidering that position, and I'll tell you why.

(APPLAUSE) RUBIO: I'll tell you why. Because while it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack.


BERMAN: So the big question this morning, the big unknown really is how far will the president go? Also, how far will the NRA let this go? We might know soon from the NRA at some point this morning, maybe in just minutes.

The executive director of the NRA gives a significant address. Wayne LaPierre will speak to this key conservative conference. You're looking at live pictures right now. These will be his first comments since the Parkland massacre. We will bring it to you live when it happens.

Let's begin, though, at the White House. Our Abby Phillip is there with a new round of statements from the president this morning on the issue of guns.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Good morning. The president clearly is fired up about this issue and wanting to put a finer point on his comments in that listening session from yesterday.

He tweeted in a series of tweets clarifying what he says is his proposal for arming some highly trained special individuals who have an interest and a talent for carrying guns to be in schools and deter active shooters like the one in Parkland.

And in all of these tweets he's talking about -- he's saying he never said to give teachers guns specifically, but that he was saying concealed guns given to adept teachers with military or special training would be best. He adds that highly trained teachers would serve as a deterrent to cowards who do these kinds of shootings.

And the president also referenced some comments that were made to him by one of the students at the Parkland school who talked about how long it took for first responders to get to his school. He says the average shooting lasts about three minutes. First responders take about seven or eight minutes to get to the school.

And as you mentioned, John, the president ended his tweet storm so far this morning with -- the most specific comments that we've heard from him so far about what exactly he thinks ought to be done here. He has put on paper that he wants background checks, comprehensive background checks, an emphasis on mental health and raising the age to 21 for the sale of, we assume, these sort of assault rifle type weapons and ending the sale of bump stocks.

Now those last two points go directly against what the NRA has said that they want. They oppose those two measures. But the president here is clearly responding to what it seems to be a kind of sea change happening on this gun issue.

We will see him again this morning when he talks to law enforcement officials at yet another one of these listening sessions. Unlike yesterday, you know, I'm told we can probably expect to hear at length from this session. They opened it up -- the entire thing up yesterday which was a little unexpected, giving the public a full view of what was discussed in that meeting. I think we could see something very similar again here today -- John.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip for us at the White House. Abby, thanks so much. We'll be watching for that.

You know, unquestionably, part of the catalyst for this change, for this movement, the remarkable students from the Stoneman Douglas High School. They were part of this remarkable town hall that CNN held last night in Florida.

Our Kaylee Hartung is there -- Kaylee.

[09:05:04] KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, last night remarkable for so many reasons. Among them, you had so many voices important to the discussion, borne out of this tragedy in one room. The students of Stoneman Douglas, the survivors, their parents, their teachers, even families of victims from last Wednesday, right there face-to-face with lawmakers.

What was notable, we should say, was who was missing from that conversation. President Trump and Florida's Governor Rick Scott both declining the invitation to be there. And that was mentioned many times throughout the evening. But as one student told me, his biggest takeaway from the night was that Florida's Republican senator, Marco Rubio, showed up, a man whose opinions and positions are not popular here right now, was willing to engage in a discussion with these people and try to begin this conversation for change.

And you saw him signal a willingness to change which students told me gave them so much hope for the change that they can affect here. He said he would support legislation to prevent an 18-year-old from buying a rifle. He said he's not in favor of arming teachers in any capacity in our schools as President Trump suggested might be an option. He also said he is willing to reconsider his position on supporting large capacity magazines.

But what some did find frustrating was that he couldn't answer a very direct question when answered by a student if he could commit to no longer accepting money from the NRA. Another moment that brought some boos and hisses when he continued to say he opposed the assault weapons ban even when questioned by a father who lost his daughter last week.

BERMAN: Kaylee, there's also some new reporting about the actual police activity at the school the day of the shooting. They may have been headed in the wrong direction or at least were misled. Why?

HARTUNG: Yes, John, we're learning some new details with the help of the "Orlando Sun Sentinel." That there was a tape delay on the Broward School District's cameras of about 20 minutes. That means that a chaotic situation became more confusing for the first responders on the scene. Police described one moment where nearly a half hour after the shooter had fled the high school, they thought they were seeing him live on the cameras in the building when, in fact, he wasn't.

But what we do need to point out, John, is that officials say they don't believe it delayed their efforts to help the victims and the students that day.

BERMAN: All right. Kaylee Hartung for us in Parkland. Kaylee, thanks so much.

Now we're going to hear from the CEO of the NRA in just a few moments. This will be the first time that Wayne LaPierre has spoken publicly since the 17 teachers and students were killed at the Stoneman Douglas High School last week. He is speaking at the Conservative Conference, CPAC. This is in Maryland.

And that is where we find CNN's Rebecca Berg -- Rebecca.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Good morning, John. Well, Wayne LaPierre, when he speaks, we're expecting him later this hour will be speaking to a very friendly room here at CPAC. He has been a featured speaker here for the past decade. And this is a very conservative, very pro-gun rights, pro-Second Amendment sort of crowd. So it might have the feeling later this morning of sort of a pep rally for Wayne LaPierre.

But make no mistake, his comments are coming at a moment of great tension and great pressure on the NRA. The president in particular made his comments this morning, calling for stronger background checks, raising the age of purchase for some of these semi-automatic firearms and also suggesting banning bump stocks. Some positions that are going to put him at odds with the NRA.

And it will be interesting later this morning, John, to see how Wayne LaPierre addresses the president's comments, whether he addresses them or whether he will stick to the positions the NRA has held in the past, stronger security in schools, potentially arming teachers. But keeping the gun laws as they are. So we'll be standing by for his remarks.

BERMAN: All right. We will bring them live when they happen. Rebecca Berg, thanks so much.

President Trump wrote this morning that shooters would never attack schools if there were gun adept, highly-trained teachers there. So what do teachers think of that idea?

Stoneman Douglas teacher Melissa Falkowski joins me now. She hid 19 students in her closet during the shooting.

Melissa, thanks so much for being with us. We had a chance to talk to you last week immediately after the shooting. It's nice to see you again now. Just the broader subject of arming teachers. What's your initial reaction to that notion?

MELISSA FALKOWSKI, TEACHER, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I think it's ridiculous. I have a problem with it on a lot of levels. First, you know, in this particular situation, teachers that I know that were in that building at that time, you know, they have said that they wouldn't have wanted to be armed in that situation. You know, I'm thinking of my friend Stacy who is, you know, nicked in the arm and then how is she supposed to operate, you know, a weapon in that situation?

And, you know, he was wearing full body armor. And from what I understand some kind of reinforced helmet.

[09:10:01] So I struggle to see how a teacher, you know, even a highly trained teacher with a handgun, you know, is going to go up against somebody who's carrying an AR-15 so in this situation I just -- I don't see it. And then I have broader issues -- broader issues with it beyond that.

BERMAN: I'll talk about the other issues in a moment. But just to drill down a little bit, you brought up the idea of highly trained teachers. And the president I think tried to clarify a little bit this morning what he is supporting. He says, you know, maybe 20 percent of teachers, teachers who prove they know how to handle guns and are highly trained.

If it were just a few teachers maybe in your school who were armed, would that change your opinion on it?

FALKOWSKI: No, I don't think so because, I mean, again, even in this particular scenario, if those teachers -- are those teachers going to be strategically placed around the school? I mean, if they weren't in the 1200 building, then how are they, you know, helping? They're on lockdown with their students.

I just find this whole idea to be misdirection. I mean, why are we talking about -- why are we treating our schools like they're supposed to be a military installation with trained -- teachers who are trained like police officers and like military personnel? Why are we discussing -- how are kids supposed to come to school and feel safe in that particular scenario instead of talking about, you know, the issues that are surrounding, you know, the mental health of people who are able to get weapons and the actual guns themselves? I just -- I find it to be -- I think it's misdirection.

BERMAN: Let's talk about some of the changes that there do seem to be -- does seem to be some agreement on right now, the president talked today about raising the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21. He talked about comprehensive background checks that include a focus on mental health, banning bump stocks.

Marco Rubio, your senator from Florida, last night for the first time that I've ever heard him say this, says he might be open to the idea of limiting the capacity of clips, the amount of ammunition, the number of rounds you can buy at one time.

Do you see progress? Are these measures -- it may not be everything you want, but is this a step in the right direction? FALKOWSKI: Absolutely. I think the things that they're talking about

doing, at least they're finally going to -- you know, to do something. And, you know, we've been talking a lot, you know, amongst ourselves that this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. So I think the things that we can achieve, you know, at this point in time are great, and then I think we have to take the momentum, you know, that has come from this and what the students have been doing and we have to turn that into a long-term, you know, movement in order to achieve all the things that -- you know, that our community feels like we need to achieve in order for our kids to be, you know, safe in schools. So I think it is good. I don't think it is enough, but I think it's a start.

BERMAN: We learned that sheriff's deputies will be armed next week when you all return to class, on guard there. There will be an armed presence there. Do you support that? And how do you feel about coming back to school next week?

FALKOWSKI: I mean, I do support that. I think the kids need to feel safe and I think that will help them as they return to school. I mean, I would like to point out that we also have a BSO officer on campus, you know, who's armed. So we already had that. I'm not really sure how I feel about returning to school yet. I know I need to. I know I need to be with my kids. I know that they need me.

So, you know, I'm trying to prepare myself. I know some teachers are going back tomorrow, but I'm not. I'm waiting. I'm going to be with some other teachers off campus tomorrow that are gathering together. And I'm -- I will be returning to school on Monday, you know, for sure, to just kind of move forward and start with the healing process to be there for the kids when we reopen on Tuesday.

BERMAN: Melissa Falkowski, thank you for being with us. Thank you for what you do. We've watched your students over the last week. Clearly you've done something incredibly right because they are inspiring to see.

Thank you, Melissa.

FALKOWSKI: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The president pushing pretty big changes on gun policy, but how will that go over with Congress? How hard will he push Congress and does he intend to engage in a fight with the NRA? We're going to hear from the head of the NRA in just minutes.

And after months of tension, officials telling CNN that the president's National Security adviser H.R. McMaster could be on the way out from the White House. We'll have the very latest.

Plus, Special Counsel Mueller's team talking to one of the president's -- talking to one of the president's former campaign advisers today. We're on top of all of it.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I do support the Second Amendment and I also support the right of you and everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe. I do support any law that would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer. And that's I why I support the things that I have stood for --


RUBIO: First of all, the answer is people buy into my agenda.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It was a dramatic, emotion- filled evening in Florida last night at the CNN town hall. Emotion ran very, very high as students confronted Florida Senator Marco Rubio who was there, who was present, he was listening and communicating with those students. It was an impressive moment on all sides.

Joining me now Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, CNN political analysts, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Amie Parnes. I want to split this up into two parts. The first is, you know, a cynicism free zone, where we talk about what has genuinely change and then I'll open the floor to the notion that nothing has actually changed.

But Amie, first to you here, look, the president tweeting this morning that he's open to raising the age limit. Marco Rubio saying he's open to limiting magazine capacity. Talks about some other changes on gun control policy. This is different today than it was yesterday.

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You're seeing I think people evolving a little bit on their positions. A lot of it is because these students have been so vocal and there's been such an outcry and they've taken the lead.

[09:20:08] But nothing is easy in Washington. We thought that the NRA backing bump stocks earlier in the year would help move this debate forward. It hasn't. There are lots of people voicing opposition, the midterms around the corner. So, there's a lot at play right now.

BERMAN: I had not opened the floor to cynicism yet. That point we'll save for later. Matt Lewis to you, Marco Rubio last night, he was in the middle of it for two full hours, facing those students who had a lot of issues with his positions, but Marco Rubio had the courage to show up and he listened.

He also had the courage to do something that most politicians don't do anymore which is to say, you know what, I might be changing my mind on something. What did you make of it?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought it was a great moment for Marco Rubio. I mean, a lot of political consultants would say don't do it, what's to be gained from this? In fact, Florida Governor Rick Scott who has met personally with survivors and families of victims decided not to go.

Marco Rubio went in there. He knew he was going into a hostile environment. People are understandably frustrated and outraged and they might want to take it out on him. So, I think it took a lot of courage.

And I think even though it was a very tough environment for him to go into, I hope the lesson is that this is something more politicians need to do, be willing to go places where your advisers may say tread lightly here.

BERMAN: The students who may not have been satisfied with what he was saying, I hope they appreciate at least that he was there. Julie, you wrote the lead story in "The New York Times" about the president's listening session at the White House.

We saw pictures of the note card he was holding in his hand with the questions and the final note at the end, reminding him to tell the people in that room that I hear you. What did he hear, do you think?

What has the White House said about how that meeting affected him and how has that colored his statements this morning where he's taken some somewhat new stands on gun control policy?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he heard anger, he heard fear, he heard anguish from students and parents and teachers who had just experienced something horrible and frankly, over decades have experienced the same horrible cycle of these school shooting massacres.

And then this groundswell of outrage and activism, and many of the proposals that we're hearing about today, yesterday and earlier this week and then no action. I think he heard a lot of frustration.

I think the common thread between this listening session and what Senator Rubio did last night at the town hall was, I think the president knew that he had to come with something other than sympathy, empathy, promises of action.

He needed to say that he was for some new proposals, so that's why we hear him talking about bump stocks. That's why we hear him talking about this concealed carry issue that seems fully endorsed with these tweets this morning.

He's no longer suggesting it. He's pretty much saying he thinks this is what needs to happen. I think politicians in both parties understand they need to be proposing actual action rather than saying we'll consider this, consider that.

And so, we're hearing a lot of these ideas, but the question is will there be follow-through. A lot of these proposals particularly racing the age limit for purchase, limiting or banning large magazines, those sorts of things. The NRA is going to be (inaudible) -- again, the question is will the president and will the people like Senator Rubio continue on that push if they get the resistance that we predict they will from the NRA.

BERMAN: Resistance we could see in a few minutes when we hear from Wayne Lapierre for the very first time. Let's play the president speaking about what he is suggesting to do with arming some teachers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This would only be obviously for people that are very adept at handling a gun. It would be -- it's called concealed carry where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They'd go for special training. They would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone.


BERMAN: So, Amie, the president this morning saying he's not up for arming all teachers, just maybe 20 percent of teachers. This is something the president talked about before. He said "Crooked Hillary said I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong." That's not wrong. It's right.

He does want guns brought into the school classroom, just not apparently every classroom with every teacher. It is interesting that one of the president's main proposals for fighting gun violence is more guns.

PARNES: It's going to be a very hard sell among Republicans and particularly among Democrats. This is not an issue that I think people see has any kind of life.

[09:25:05] So, I think this will definitely be something that he will find a lot of opposition to should he consider it even, even if it's 20 percent of teachers, I don't think this is going to please a lot of people on the Hill.

BERMAN: All right. Quickly, guy, if I can shift gears in a major way to Russia. The administration, the White House yesterday trying to send the message to CNN that they are taking tough stances against Russia for election meddling in 2018, sending the message to Russia, don't do it, don't meddle in the election right now. Is that a believable message, Matt Lewis?

LEWIS: Well, look, it's hard for us to know if they're telling us the truth. It's within the realm of possibility that there have been diplomatic communications, warnings from others, there had been some sort of covert activity.

So, it's possible. We have to take their word for it. What I can tell you is it doesn't jive with Donald Trump's rhetoric. If the president -- part of the job of the president is to sort of lead rhetorically, then this would be inconsistent with that.

BERMAN: And Julie, one thing that's clear in our reporting is that, you know, the White House would not say the president delivered this message himself, nor has the president said anything about this to Vladimir Putin.

DAVIS: Right. I mean, neither in his public rhetoric nor we're told in his private meetings with President Putin has he actually raised this and pressed him on the point. It's a big contrast to what former President Obama did when he met with Putin which was to say to his face, you have to cut this out. This cannot continue.

What we know from President Trump's conversation with President Putin was he said, well, he told me he didn't do it. If you say you didn't do it, I guess you didn't do it and they moved on.

That's a big contrast, we have to take them at their word for what they're saying privately to top officials. The president himself has not delivered that message personally.

BERMAN: All right. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Matt Lewis, Amie Parnes, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Will the president's national security adviser be the next major administration official to leave after months of tension. Officials tell CNN it could be in the offing.

And we're just moments away from the opening bell. Stocks expected to open higher, shaking off concerns that the fed could hike interest rates because of faster-than-expected economic growth.