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Senator Marco Rubio Takes a Stand on Guns. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:00:40] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Midnight here on the East Coast, live with breaking news from our "TOWN HALL" tonight.

Senator Marco Rubio taking a new stand on guns now saying he would support legislation to prevent an 18-year-old from buying a rifle, and that he is reconsidering his support for large capacity magazines. Also saying he does not support arming teachers in the classroom as the President talked about today.

I want to bring in now CNN White House Jeremy Diamond, CNN political analyst Patrick Healy of the "New York Times", and CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde of the "New Yorker", and CNN political commentator David Swerdlick of the "Washington Post".

So good to have all of you on.

David Swerdlick -- what do you think of Senator Marco Rubio's changing positions?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think Senator Rubio walked that fine line, Don, between not alienating the NRA and some of his conservative Republican constituents, and still trying to sort of sympathize with the crowd there, the Broward County folks who are still healing and grieving and also not getting trapped in what I think is a foolish policy position specifically this thing that President Trump floated out there today about arming teachers.

In terms of the rifles, you know, he recognized, Senator Rubio recognized that it is hard to make the case outside of the obvious argument that everyone has Second Amendment rights, that someone between the age of 17 and 21 needs an AR-15 assault-style rifle. And I think that was largely the motivation for that particular position.

He sees that it is a losing position and found a way to still stick up for the Second Amendment.

LEMON: Here's how both of those issues were discussed tonight in the town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I have told you that I support lifting the age from 18 to 21 of buying a rifle. My understanding before I walked out of here is that that organization is not in favor of that but I think that's the right thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect on top of educating these children?

RUBIO: I don't support that. And I -- I would admit to you right now, I answer that as much as a father as I do as a senator. And this is really about the safety of the teachers as much as anything else.

Imagine in the middle of this crisis and a SWAT team comes into the building and there's an adult with a weapon in their hands and the SWAT team doesn't know who is who and we have an additional tragedy that was unnecessary --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Patrick Healy -- you first. What do you think?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Marco Rubio still wants to be president, Don, someday. I mean he knows that these -- that the positions that he takes right now, how empathetic, how sympathetic, how open he is, are going to be positions that are going to be remembered and clips that are going to be shown someday.

I mean the reality is, look, it took some guts for him to show up tonight. A lot of the students from Parkland went to Tallahassee. They were getting doors closed in their face. They weren't getting time with Republican lawmakers.

Marco Rubio did show up there tonight but he was trying to walk a pretty fine line. I mean I think you're going to see polling that's going to come out that's going to show that there's actually a fair amount of support among the public for raising the age from 18 to 21 on some of these bans.

I don't think that was a huge risk. And the teacher thing -- I mean this goes -- this is President Trump. He has -- President Trump has felt this way ever since the Paris attacks in 2015 in which he sort of suggested that the attacks wouldn't have taken place in the nightclub in Paris if people had been armed.

He sort of believes in this kind of heroic vigilantism in the sense that if you arm sort of the masses, you wouldn't have, you know, this kind of violence. And that goes against everything that law enforcement, you know, a lot of law enforcement officials would say. They don't want teachers in there. Marco Rubio knew that.

LEMON: The law enforcement person who's on the stage tonight again said that. And most police officers are people in law enforcement against that.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: My brother serves as a police officer and, you know, I don't want him to face an AR-15 with a pistol. And I do think this is an extraordinary moment. In Colorado after the shooting in the Aurora movie theater, that state passed five pretty serious bills that involved much stricter gun control.

Those are still in place -- this sort of aura of invincibility that the NRA can somehow block any kind of gun control, I think that's shaking tonight. And watching the NRA spokeswoman sort of -- it seemed to be blame law enforcement for the shootings. I mean it troubled me again because of my brother. You know, those law enforcement officials are risking their lives every day.

[00:05:06] I want to pick up on that -- on that conversation. I want to stick to Rubio now because I'm going to play something else. But what do you do with -- on his changing positions, what is your response to that?

ROHDE: I think you will see other politicians shift this way.

LEMON: You do.

ROHDE: They have to move. This basic idea of -- a teenager, they can't drink alcohol but they can have an assault rifle.

LEMON: Here's tonight -- they're talking about large capacity magazines and his changing stance on that. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Rubio, I believe the big issue when it comes to the debate about semi-automatic weapons and automatic weapons is large capacity magazines. Would you agree that there is no place in our society for large capacity magazines?

RUBIO: I'm glad you asked that question because 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.

I'll tell you why -- because while it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack. And I'll let the authorities discuss, at the appropriate time, why I say that.

Suffice it to say that I believe that there will be evidence that at a key moment in this incident, three or four people, three or four people, might be alive today because of something that this deranged killer did, had to do. And obviously, it is not for me to make law enforcement announcements.

I don't know what the right number is. I don't know what -- I know that there are, for example, handguns that's have 17. So we'll have to get into that debate. But that is something that I believe we can reach a compromise in this country and that I'm willing to reconsider.

Because I do believe that in this instance, it didn't prevent, it wouldn't have prevented the attack but it made it less lethal.

And that's the kind of thing that I hope my -- that's why these discussions are important because they do lead you to rethink positions after you've taken new information from people.

By the way, American politics is the only part of our lives where changing your mind based on new information is a bad thing. We do it in every other aspect of our lives. And we have to stop doing that as well. So that is an issue I'll look into, absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Jeremy -- I'm going to get to you in a second. But I just want to get -- because I want to talk to you more about what happened at the White House today. But I just want to get David Swerdlick in today.

That was a surprising moment. He said he had never thought about it -- David Swerdlick.

SWERDLICK: Yes. Well, I think that you have a lot of Republicans, including Senator Rubio, Don, who have taken standard Republican positions, standard NRA-friendly positions. And in the wake of this -- of a tragedy like Douglas High School, where his constituents were killed -- number one, he is forced to reconsider it; and number two, he is standing there in front of folks and processing a lot of information in a way that frankly, I'm not sure that President Trump could have gone back and forth with those students in that crowd as, you know, with as much care as Senator Rubio did.

And then I agree with David and Patrick that Senator Rubio probably does see himself as a future presidential candidate and wants to walk that fine line between being sensitive to the times and still taking a traditionally conservative position on those.

LEMON: So the President held his own listening session at the White House today, Jeremy Diamond. And this thing that he mentioned about the possibility of teachers being armed, and the coach who was there at the school, if the coach had been armed -- the possibility of that is really raising some eyebrows.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the coach had a fire arm in his locker when he ran at this guy -- that coach was very brave. He saved a lot of lives, I suspect. But if he had a firearm, he wouldn't have had to run. He would have shot and that would have been the end of it.

And this would only be obviously for people that are very adept at handling a gun. And it would be -- it is called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They would go for special training. And they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Not that he is going to implement this, but again, as I said, it raised some eyebrows. What is being made of this moment -- Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It did raise some eyebrows and we saw even some opposition to this in the very room where the President was talking about this idea with least one person in that room speaking out against that.

But this is not a new idea for this president. You may recall, Don, during the campaign, the President was talking about gun-free zones and saying that gun-free zones in schools were like quote/unquote "candy" to bad individuals.

And he proposed then during the campaign arming teachers, arming specifically trained people in schools to be able to respond to these kinds of shooting.

[00:09:58] But we saw not only during the President's own town hall at the White House but also during CNN's town hall this evening in Florida, adamant opposition to this proposal. Not only for the sheriff in that county who you heard opposing that idea; you even heard opposition from Senator Marco Rubio who on stage said that he didn't support it when he was confronted with the idea by a teacher.

But this is not a new proposal. What is new from what we saw from the President today was a willingness to kind of hear different ideas. Typically in the wake of these shootings we've seen the President repeatedly come out and very strenuously kind of shut down the debate on gun laws in America.

And this time we've seen the President show much more of a willingness to actually discuss and debate some of these ideas today at the White House for over an hour with the cameras rolling.

That was very different where we saw the President engaging with these ideas. We didn't necessarily see him move on specific proposals but we did at least see him listen and engage with those ideas. The question now is what will actually politically feasible for him to entertain?

We did hear him at the end suggest an openness to this possibility of raising the age for gun purchases, an idea that Senator Rubio endorsed this evening. The question is whether he can actually get there when it comes to legislation, going beyond this idea of simply strengthening background checks which he has already expressed his support for.

LEMON: Dana Loesch also -- Dana Loesch of the NRA was also at the town hall tonight. And here she is, talking about the system being flawed. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA LOESCH, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: He was able to pass a background check because we have a system that's flawed. The Sutherland Springs murderer was able to pass a background check because the Air Force did not report that record.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'm going to remind that you the question is actually, do you believe it should be harder to obtain these semi-automatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic such as bump stocks?

LOESCH: Well, I think the ATF is deciding about bump stocks right now. The President ordered the DOJ to look into it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking your opinion as a representative of the NRA.

LOESCH: That's what the NRA's position has been. The NRA came --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's yours?

LOESCH: I'm talking for them. These are the five million members that I'm here representing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So David -- earlier I had a student on who attended the town hall on the stage. And he said, I believe the quote is that Dana Loesch and the NRA are living in a fantasy world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David Rohde.

LEMON: David Rohde?

ROHDE: Sorry.

LEMON: Yes, sorry. Yes, two Davids -- sorry. David Rohde.

ROHDE: I agree. I mean it just is -- we're supposed to have a system that can track, I don't know, 100 million American adults and know which one is mentally ill and which one is not. Also we can, you know, have this kind of arms race where everyone can have their own assault rifle with more and more bullets and, you know, faster and faster firing.

So it -- again this was this tone of somehow sort of blaming law enforcement and blaming others for this situation. It is just unrealistic. Why do people need these kind of weapons -- you know, sorry. You know, pistols and shotguns? You know, it's fine but it's just -- this is such a powerful, dangerous weapon.

HEALY: And one thing we don't know and what we haven't heard is what people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and others in Congress, you know, whose voices haven't been amplified in this. It's all fine for Marco Rubio and for Dana and others to, you know, to come down and sort of, you know, make out - make their positions.

But in terms of the -- you know, the thing that goes on, sort of the quid pro quo up on Capitol Hill, especially where a lot of these members are very dependent on the NRA and on NRA money --

LEMON: Well, Marco Rubio said -- sorry, they're not dependent on the money. I had --

HEALY: Oh, they are dependent on the money.

LEMON: He said, the money doesn't mean that these people are bought and paid for saying that I was insinuating and that's not it. I simply put up on the screen how much money they've gotten from the NRA. Rubio got $3.2 million in the last three years -- an A-plus from the NRA.

HEALY: Right. And just like Donald Trump had his talking points in his hand, you know, there. I mean Marco Rubio had his talking points when Cameron Kasky put that question to him tonight about would he take NRA money and sort of suggesting that, you know, the NRA doesn't pay him; that he doesn't subscribe to their views just because of money. They're supporting his agenda.

That is, as we know, that is a talking point.

LEMON: He showed up and you say, well that maybe has more to do with him wanting to be president because the governor didn't.

HEALY: Right. No, he's absolutely running -- you know, the governor's term limited. Marco Rubio's, you know, future very much, he's got a real political future. He wants one, you know, on the national stage.

And this is, look, the reality is during the presidential race you had the Paris attacks, you had the San Bernardino shootings, you had the Pulse Nightclub attacks in Orlando. And it was Donald Trump who was engaging the most in a lot of those discussions. But from his point of view, it was about arming people.

LEMON: Yes.

HEALY: It wasn't Marco Rubio's.

LEMON: That makes me wonder. How is he -- if he is going to change his position on assault weapons or -- what is that going to do to his base and everything that he promised the NRA during the campaign?

We'll talk about that when we come back.

[00:15:01] Stick around. When we come back, much more on our town hall tonight -- students, parents, teachers all demanding that our leaders take action to finally do something to stop gun violence before more innocent Americans lose their lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. So -- we're back now with these gentlemen.

How does the President -- and this is a question we've said before the break -- how does the President, if he's going to change his position or do something different, how does he do it without alienating his base -- Patrick or David?

HEALY: Go for it.

ROHDE: I think this is a moment, you know, it's come up over and over again for Trump of, you know, possibly pivoting to the middle somewhat. I don't think he'll do it.

I think he won't really change positions. His comments today -- you know, Archie Bunker like, you know, arm more teachers. That plays to the base and he does this over and over again.

LEMON: He talked about playing -- about arming teachers. Again, this is a different one than the coach but watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: An attack has lasted on average about three minutes. It takes five to eight minutes for responders, for the police to come in. So the attack is over. If you had a teacher, who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: David Swerdlick.

SWERDLICK: I mean President Trump either hasn't considered or doesn't want to consider all the things that could go wrong with that proposal -- Don.

[00:20:01] You know, teachers firing into a crowd of students, teachers and police arriving on the scene of a hallway in a high school at the same time. What happens if something goes wrong?

Teachers who are not trained to be police but trained to teach, now being in the position of having to do both of those jobs.

The gold standard for response in these situations is President Obama, right -- Gabby Giffords, Trayvon Martin, Sandy Hook, Charleston Mother Emanuel Church. President Obama went before the nation, made a case for unity and then in the case of Sandy Hook, tried but failed to get some gun legislation passed.

I think what you see with President Trump, Don is a situation where today he actually got the tone right. But he is susceptible to being fed this idea of arming teachers because he doesn't come to this role with a really strong core set of beliefs.

And so he's going in a direction that looks like he's doing something without actually doing anything about guns. It's a solution that calls for more guns.

LEMON: Here is Marco Rubio talking about teachers tonight in the town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect on top of educating these children? RUBIO: I don't support that. And I would admit to you right now, I answer that as much as a father as I do as a senator. And this is really about the safety of the teachers as much as anything else.

Imagine in the middle of this crisis and the SWAT team comes into the building and there is an adult with a weapon in their hands and the SWAT team doesn't who know is who and we have an additional tragedy that was unnecessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: How will that go over at the White House, Jeremy Diamond?

DIAMOND: Yes. I mean I think that this idea of good guys with guns is obviously spawned by the NRA. We've heard them make this case for years now and that's when we heard the President talk about it first during the campaign. And obviously the NRA has poured millions of dollars to support the President during the 2016 election.

And so far we haven't seen the NRA move in any way away from its traditional position on guns. They're continuing to stick with this idea that more guns could reduce gun violence.

And while we did see Senator Rubio move away slightly from the NRA's traditional position, not only on that issue but also on the issue of purchase age for assault weapons, and some other issues as well, we haven't seen the President move away from that at all.

And we didn't hear Dana Loesch, from the NRA move during this town hall with CNN this evening. And so that is very much an indication so far of where the White House's thinking is.

It does seem like the President is more open to considering those ideas. But as of yet, we haven't seen him actually put that foot forward to show that he's willing to take the kind of political heat that he would need to, in order to support theses kinds of legislations. We hear him talking about political heat a lot but he doesn't always take it.

LEMON: And you said at the next sound bite, talking about gun purchases with the NRA and Dana Loesch. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How now is an 18-year-old with a military assault rifle well-regulated? You support --

LOESCH: Right. He's not. Well, he's not -- he shouldn't have been able to get a firearm. He should have been barred from getting a firearm.

(CROSSTALK)

LOESCH: And he should not have been able to. He should not have been able to purchase a firearm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what are you going to do about it?

LOESCH: Let me answer. If we're here to have a discussion, that's why I'm here. I want you to ask me every question. I want you go give me every question you have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's have some respect. She's here to answer the questions. Let's let her answer the questions.

LOESCH: He should A, never have been able to get a firearm; B, people who are crazy should not be able to get firearms; C --

(CROSSTALK)

LOESCH: -- people who are dangerous to themselves and other individuals should not be able to obtain a firearm. We -- and there isn't a loophole. It is a criminal act and that's what we have to start calling it.

We have to start, number one, following up on red flags. Thirty-nine times in the past year --

LEMON: So, you know, there's so much to unpack there because there's the age thing. He was legally able to buy it. And I'm coming to you -- Patrick.

And there's also this idea about people who, you know, have mental issues. They very rarely are violent. That's the whole thing we keep talking about -- and then they love mental health issues from a sociopath to someone who may have some bipolar issues or -- all under the same umbrella and it's not the same thing.

HEALY: And it all -- I mean it all sounds good to say that yes, guns shouldn't be in the hands of mentally-ill people. But the reality is that we do have gun laws and then a lack of regulation among who can actually obtain guns and what can stop people from obtaining guns in this country.

[00:24:52] I mean she sort of mentioned red flags and it was kind of -- sort of a subtle reminder for those who are making this attack on the FBI, I think. That somehow the FBI should have been able to stop him because they would have seen these red flags that would have led them to swoop in.

But Don -- it's, I mean the reality is -- the reality is it is a political argument that she's making here. That essentially we can all sort of agree that people who are mentally ill --

LEMON: She said "crazy" at one point, by the way.

HEALY: Crazy -- I mean, you know, language that I think to David's point earlier is kind of playing to a base that kind of likes to hear, yes, this makes sense. You shouldn't be able to arm mentally-ill people. But that doesn't do anything to actually stop who is and isn't able to buy guns.

LEMON: Yes. Did you want to say something -- David Swerdlick? SWERDLICK: No, no. No, I agree with what Patrick just said. I would just add that, look, with Dana -- and I've talked to Dana, you know, at various points in time over the last few years. She is a very eloquent and well-prepared paid spokesperson for the NRA.

I think when people are challenging the NRA, if they want to sort of get at the heart of what their positions are, the questions have to come at them differently than maybe some of these students.

These students are -- they're passionate. They're eloquent. They have really ramped up on the issues. And this community is grieving. But the question has to be put to the NRA. Why does someone like that need guns?

You can talk about mental health. You can talk about more security in schools. Why do people need AR-15s? I think that has to be interrogated more.

LEMON: So here's the sheriff talking about less weapons at the town hall tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF: I understand you're standing up for the NRA and I understand that's what you're supposed to do. But you just told this group of people that you are standing up for them. You're not standing up for them until you say I want less weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So David Rohde -- this is for you. Sheriff Israel is, you know, he's sitting there next to Dana Loesch. At first you thought he was backing her up and then he said, no, less weapons -- you don't need these.

ROHDE: Most law enforcement officials -- again back to my own brother -- they don't think want these kinds of weapons out there. They don't think, you know, more weapons are needed.

And the tone of Loesch is sort of argument was that it's everyone else's fault. It's the fault of, you know, law enforcement, of you know, medical facilities that are supposed to -- you know, families that are supposed to declare people mentally ill.

Again, I agree with David Swerdlick, why is this kind of weapon available to people? Pistols, shotguns -- there was an attack in Colorado where they do have these new gun control laws. In Arapaho High School, the student had machetes and a shotgun. He killed one student but was then, you know, apprehended. And it is about time -- and when you have an AR-15, you can do so much damage, you know, so much more quickly.

LEMON: Yes. And this --

ROHDE: -- it's the kind of weapon.

LEMON: -- it's a kind of weapon, yes.

And this has been sort of the mode of the weapon of choice for these shootings.

ROHDE: That's why we have these record shootings over and over again.

LEMON: Yes.

Marco Rubio was confronted about money he gets from the NRA -- some, I think it was like $3.2 million over the last three years. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMERON KASKY, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: We can't boo people because they're Democrats and boo people because they're Republicans. Anyone who's willing to show change, no matter where they're from; anybody who is willing to start to make a difference is somebody we need on our side here.

And this is about people who are for making a difference to save us and people who are against it and prefer money. So Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?

RUBIO: The positions I hold on these issues on the Second Amendment, I've held since the day I entered office in the city of West Miami as an elected official. Number two -- no the answer to the question is that people buy into my agenda --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Jeremy Diamond -- he got $3.2 million but in the last election, the current president got $30 million from the NRA support. Some of it was for ads, as Patrick just informed me, ads against Hillary Clinton. I think he said it was like $19 million against Hillary Clinton and $11 million for the President. He's got has to deal with that issue.

DIAMOND: That's right. And what is interesting is that while Marco Rubio talked about the fact that he espoused these positions before even ascending to national prominence and getting money from the NRA, the President on the other hand, previously did support tighter gun control measures.

In 2000 in his previous book, he wrote about supporting the assault- weapons ban, supporting longer waiting periods to get guns. And it was only when he began ramping up his preparations for his 2016 campaign that the President actually began opposing any kinds of gun restrictions and talking about the Second Amendment, talking about ending gun-free zones in schools and other places.

[00:30:00] So while Senator Rubio actually has kind of an argument there to make that this has always been his position regardless of how much money he's gotten from the NRA, the President doesn't really have that leg to stand on. And just on the point of denelession (ph) and the NRA, one thing that

we did not hear from her was talking, while she was talking about people with mental health issues, not being able to get access to guns, she didn't address whether or not they would support ending the gun show loophole, the loopholes for private sales.

That is not something that the NRA has addressed. So that was kind of a big loophole in her own argument there that wasn't exactly addressed this evening.

(CROSSTALK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'll give you the last one, Patrick.

PATRICK: I think the -- you got to wonder, going back to President Trump and what we saw at the White House today, is this going to be the high water mark of what he does?

Or to a point Jeremy made earlier, is he going to start expending any kind of political capital to get gun legislation through on Capitol Hill?

(INAUDIBLE) he did today what he needed to do. He sounded empathetic, he was listening. He had his cards. He asked sort of the right questions.

But is he going to move forward on this at all?

Or is it going to be -- and I think the fascinating cultural thing here, Don, is are these students, who are so eloquent, who ask questions even as -- you know, better than Jake Tapper might have, to Marco Rubio and folks on the hot seat, are they going to keep up the pressure and create a real culture --

LEMON: There was one student who was trying take Jake's job up there and --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Listen, the students were a little honored but I think they deserved at moments, I think they deserved to get that.

I got to Dietz (ph) toward it, I know, I'm over time if you can get it in just a couple seconds I --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quick point about Senator Rubio, the key for him, in addition to the money and the position is the follow-through. He was on the Gang of Eight on immigration and then he backed out of it. He was tough on Trump, on Russia back when they were confirming cabinet secretaries and then he backed off and voted for most of Trump's cabinet.

Will he follow through on the positions that he took tonight?

It remains to be seen.

LEMON: That's got to be the last word. Thank you very much.

When we come back, much more on the town hall tonight and why Senator Marco Rubio may be changing some of his positions on guns.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:35:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

LEMON: The breaking news from our CNN town hall tonight, is Marco Rubio taking a new stand on guns, now saying he would support legislation to prevent an 18-year old from buying a rifle and that he is reconsidering his support for large capacity magazines.

Also saying he does not support arming teachers in the classroom. Let's discuss. CNN political commentators Angela Rye and Paris Dennard.

Hello to both of you. Thank you for staying up late with us. Here is what Senator Marco Rubio said tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Number one, Fred, I absolutely believe that, in this country, if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle. And I will support a law that takes that right away.

(APPLAUSE)

FRED: Fantastic.

RUBIO: I will support -- I will support the banning of bump stocks. And I know that the president has ordered the attorney general to do it. And if he doesn't, we should do it by law.

I will support changing our background system so that it includes more information than it includes now and that all states across the country are required or incentivized to report all the information into it.

And let me tell you what I've done already. Last year when we came up with our budget in the Senate, I pushed for and got approved $50 million a year through the Sandy Hook Initiative to provide a threat assessment fund for all states, to be able to stand up in each of the school districts, a way to identify people who could potentially do this and get ahead of it before it happens.

I support -- I support moving forward on that initiative and making it widely available for everyone around the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Angela, do you think this is an extraordinary moment?

What did you think of what you heard from the senator tonight?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I really want to believe Marco Rubio. And I think the challenge is whether it is Senator Rubio or some of his other colleagues in the Senate, when it comes to gun control and gun safety measures, it is just hard to take them at their word.

Particularly you talked about in your last segment how much money Marco Rubio has received from the NRA. The NRA is a treacherous opponent for those of us who believe in protecting lives and ensuring lives above guns.

Revenue and guns is what governs the NRA and they are in the pockets, quite literally, of members of Congress. And until members of Congress decide that our lives trump -- no pun intended here at all -- guns, we're going to be in a really tough position. So it is hard for me to believe what Marco Rubio says because he's had an opportunity to do something about this.

LEMON: Well, let's talk about that, Paris, because Senator Rubio has an A+ rating from the NRA and according to opensecrets.org, the Center for Responsible Politics, the NRA has spent $3.2 million to support Rubio in the last election.

But tonight we saw him change his position on at least three gun issues. At least he says there. The age of people buying guns, arming teachers, possible magazine capacity, is this a tipping point?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not only a tipping point. It's a significant moment because when you look at what Senator Rubio did tonight, he is the senator for that state.

You have thousands of grieving people. The whole state, the whole country is grieving for the 17 and the impact of the families and all those that were wounded. And so he went to that stage, faced his constituents.

And what we saw him do is be willing and open to change his position on three things. That's growth. And when you have something like this, what we should -- our position should be, let's put everything on the table, figure out what is actually going to be feasible is what actually deter things like this from happening again, not just simply being reactionary but let's find things that are specific, that can actually make a difference.

You saw Senator Rubio come up with three things that he's willing to fight for. And I think that his constituents should hold him to it. But it was a very good moment for the Congress and a very good moment for Senator Rubio because he was responding to his constituents.

And at the end of the day, that's what he's there to do --

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: -- and act on behalf of his constituents.

LEMON: The question is, how might this go over at the White House?

And we'll talk about the president's listening session today as well when we come right back.

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[00:40:00]

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LEMON: We're back with Angela Rye and Paris Dennard. The president holding his own listening session today at the White House, saying, you know what, he will get this done. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I just want to say before we really begin -- because I want to hear your input -- we're going to be very strong on background checks. We're going to be doing very strong background checks. Very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody. And we are going to do plenty of other things.

Again, next week, the governors are coming in from most of the states and we're going to have a very serious talk about what's going on with school safety. Very important. And we're going to cover every aspect of it. There are many ideas that I have. There are many ideas that other people have. And we're going to pick out the strongest ideas, the most important ideas, the ideas that are going to work. And we're going to get them done. It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It's been going on too long; too many instances. And we're going to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He said a number of times, we're going to get it done.

What did you make of his listening session and that statement?

RYE: So I just wonder --

[00:45:00]

RYE: -- who was the listening session for?

Was he supposed to be listening?

Because that sounded like a lot of talking. And when you are trying to solve a problem like this, you would think he would listen more to people who have been exposed to gun violence in their schools.

The biggest concern I have from all that he said, which wasn't much but there were a lot of words used, is he talked about getting this done and getting it done.

What exactly is the this and the it?

That's, I think, the real challenge.

LEMON: There wasn't a lot of talk about guns at the listening session today.

RYE: No. No. So, again, we go to, I think my default is you need to ban assault weapons. And then there's a conversation with Republicans on, well, that hasn't been effective. I tried to have that conversation with S.E. earlier. And I think the issue here is, folks get caught up in the assault weapons but don't talk about the exemptions.

LEMON: I want to get Paris in.

Paris, 97 percent of Americans support background checks -- if we can put that up. So that seems like a no-brainer there, 97 percent believe in that. And even the things that Marco Rubio, although he has changed his stance on that, there's broad support among Americans for most of that. I think most Americans would not be happy with teachers being armed. I think that most Americans are going to agree that the age needs to be raised to buy guns, especially rifles, among other things.

So what do you think?

DENNARD: Well, I want to push back slightly what Angela said about the listening session. If you watch the entire listening session, actually the president was quiet and was listening, as was the vice president, Secretary of Education for the majority of it. And then toward the end, he actually gave some comments.

But I was moved by the fact all of those students that were there impact that some that were at the school in Parkland and other schools and other instances, like Columbine and things that were able to talk directly to the president unfiltered and unvarnished.

And it was a powerful moment. But I think to the point that we're all raising, we can talk about banning assault weapons. We can talk about things of that nature. George W. Bush, who I worked for, had a very large conference on school safety in 2007 after the incident that happened in Virginia Tech.

So there has been a lot of talk and a lot of thoughtfulness and people with good will trying to do it. I think what President Trump really wants to do is get something done for not only for the American people but for the issue of school safety because there's a lot of issues that we're talking about. Guns are one of them. That's true.

But it's the issue of school safety. Our schools are sitting there, very vulnerable and we have to address that issue, the safety of our students at school, not just high schools, college campuses and all the way down to elementary schools, like we saw at Sandy Hook. So I think that's the focus area. It will be on specifically school safety.

RYE: But I think that's a debatable point, too, because weaponizing our schools, arming teachers doesn't necessarily make school safer. I think it's quite the opposite, in fact. It can make them more dangerous.

And so we have to have a fundamental conversation about what actually is safe.

What does safety really mean?

What does it mean to have the right to bear arms?

How should that manifest itself?

Should it be any arms?

There's large magazine weapons that may not be assault weapons that we also should be looking at.

Can we at least be open enough and not defensive so we can have types of those conversations?

The issue is just like -- and, Paris, you know this as well as I do, from working and touching legislation, we are masters at figuring out carveouts and loopholes. As long as we figure out carveouts and loopholes in this space, people, kids, worshipers in their places of worship are not safe. That's not OK.

LEMON: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: There's an old adage about --

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: -- ducking the issue and compromise. A lot of politicians are going to ducking the issues. But on this particular time that we are in our country, Republicans and Democrats will have to compromise. And I think the president has shown some willingness to compromise on some issues, not for political reasons but for the people.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

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[00:50:00]

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LEMON: The first lady nowhere to be seen in the president's listening session today. I want to talk about this with CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett. Kate, hello to you; the president hosted a very emotional listening

session with gun victims today.

Why do you think Melania wasn't there?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think we're very used to seeing her being this compassionate voice within the administration and talking about children. So it was a little bit unusual that she wasn't there.

However I spoke with her office and since the gun issue is really a policy issue that the West Wing is dealing with, she wanted to stay away or she -- this is not something she wanted to get involved with today.

I think we'll -- we heard from her; she's often the first to tweet things like thoughts and prayers. On the day of the shooting she was quick to take to her phone and do just that.

However, today, as the West Wing and the president grapple with the issue of gun control, this wasn't an issue that the first lady wanted to engage in.

LEMON: Yes because she's often seen by people as someone who softens him and takes away the rough edges. That's the concern.

Why wasn't she there today, especially on an issue like this.

The White House announced today that Ivanka Trump will lead the U.S. delegation at the closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. She's also scheduled to have dinner with South Korea president Moon Jae-in on Friday.

Is this a type -- is this anything you would expect from someone in her position?

BENNETT: It's interesting because she has this dual role of first daughter, which sort of feels celebrity-ish almost and an also senior adviser, which feels a policy and political.

[00:55:00]

BENNETT: So she can walk that tightrope.

This ceremonial event, we saw the Pences there for the opening ceremonies. Now Ivanka for the closing ceremonies. The White House today days that she's a winter sports enthusiast and therefore it sort of makes sense that she's there.

She has acted on behalf of America on other trips before. We saw her in Germany and India. She was in Japan. So it's not unusual that she's going to represent America abroad. And she is the senior most member of the delegation that's going to the closing ceremonies.

Again, it's that hybrid of the woman that the paparazzi chases especially overseas at the same time being an adviser and being involved in policy issues and being involved in political issues, acting on behalf of her father, the president.

LEMON: According to the White House, White House officials, the purpose of the trip is cheer on American athletes, reaffirm the U.S.- South Korea alliance and celebrate the successful games.

A lot of people wonder what her job is.

Are these ceremonial kind of duties a good role for her?

BENNETT: I think we're seeing her in that nebulous role that we've seen her in basically for this entire administration although she's expanded her portfolio a bit and changed it to include women's issue and entrepreneurial businesses.

She's still again the first daughter. She's a Trump. This isn't something that the first lady seemed interested in going to or wanting to do. And again, Ivanka Trump is their secondary emissary for her father overseas. And leapt at the chance, according to the White House, was very excited about it.

LEMON: Kate Bennett, appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.