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Rubio Faces Critics & Shifts on Guns at CNN Town Hall; Trump Supports Arming Teachers in Schools. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SOFIE WHITNEY, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: How many more people have to die before something changes?

[05:59:10] SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anyone who's willing to show change, no matter where they're from, is somebody we need on our side here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would just like to thank you again for coming out. That's a lot more than what can be said for our so-called president and governor.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, it could very well end the attack very quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is an insane idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of us support People who are crazy getting their hands on a firearm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not standing up for them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not falter. We will not stop this movement.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, February 22, 6 a.m. on the East Coast. Chris is in New York this morning. I am in Parkland, Florida, again for an amazing conversation.

Last night was extraordinary. The world watched this remarkable town hall on CNN about guns and school safety. This happened just one week after the massacre that killed 17 people at the school that you see behind me. So students and parents and teachers came to this town hall to

confront their lawmakers and the National Rifle Association. Republican Senator Marco Rubio showed up, and he faced his critics who are demanding action.

Senator Rubio said he was breaking with the NRA on some of their policies. He now says he supports raising the age to buy rifles and says he will consider a ban on high-capacity magazines. He went even further. But would not say that he would no longer take millions of dollars from the NRA when he was confronted about that, Chris. It was truly just riveting to watch all these exchanges.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That was a lot of emotion. It was brave of Rubio to show up. It was not brave of Governor Scott to miss this town hall. We were waiting on his approvals. He's been invited to come on this show, as has Senator Ted Cruz, to come on NEW DAY and be tested about their ideals. The president took a big stop, as well. He had planned a meeting with survivors and families of school shootings at the White House. But there wasn't going to be any media. He changed that. He said, "Come in. Everybody needs to hear this conversation." And it was a good move.

The president took heat for suggesting that teachers should be armed as a solution to the crisis facing our nation. President Trump also said he supports improving background checks for gun purchases and vows to look into raising the age to buy assault weapons.

Survivors of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took their #NeverAgain message to the state capital. What will President Trump, Congress and state lawmakers actually do once the talk is done?

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Dianne Gallagher, live in Tallahassee, Florida -- Dianne.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, for the past 24 hours, it has been -- you can only describe it as emotional, these tense exchanges between people impacted by these school and mass shootings and their elected officials.

I just got texts from some of the students who left here in Tallahassee on those buses. They're just getting home. They're pulling almost 24-hour shifts. They had similar feelings to those who were at that scene in the town hall last week in Portland. They want to know what their elected officials are going to do to prevent this from happening ever again.


RYAN DEUTSCH, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Why do we have to speak out to the capital? Why do we have to march on Washington just to save innocent lives?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Republican Senator Marco Rubio coming face- to-face with survivors of the high school massacre, defending his opposition to an assault weapon ban despite being heckled at times from the crowd. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your comments this week and those of our president

have been pathetically weak.

FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: My daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was shot in the back--

RUBIO: Yes, sir.

GUTTENBERG: -- with an assault weapon. The weapon of choice.

RUBIO: Yes, sir.

GUTTENBERG: OK? It is too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can't stand with everybody in this building and say that, I'm sorry.

GALLAGHER: Rubio breaking with the NRA on a number of key issues, announcing that he supports raising the age requirement to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 and that he's reconsidering his support for large- capacity magazines.

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

GALLAGHER: The senator saying that he disagrees with President Trump's solution to arm teachers.

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

RUBIO: The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that, quite frankly, I'm comfortable with.

GALLAGHER: One student grilling Rubio on the 3.3 million dollars he's received from the NRA over his career.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?

RUBIO: No. The answer to the question is people buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment.

Dana Loesch repeatedly stressed that enforcement of mental health laws, rather than new gun restrictions are the answer.

GALLAGHER: Tough questions also directed at NRS spokesperson Dana Loesch, who repeatedly stressed that enforcement of mental health laws rather than new gun restrictions are the answers to prevent school shootings.

DANA LOESCH, NRS SPOKESPERSON: None of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others getting their hands on a firearm. And I'm not just fighting for my kids. I'm fighting for you. I'm fighting for you. I'm fighting for all of you.

SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF: 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."

GALLAGHER: CNN's town hall followed an emotional listening session at the White House with students and families who have lost loved ones in school shootings telling President Trump their stories.

POLLACK: All the school shootings, it doesn't make sense. Fix it. It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it. And I'm pissed, because my daughter I'm not going to see again.

SAMUEL ZEIT, SURVIVOR OF FLORIDA SCHOOL SHOOTING: I turned 18 the day after, woke up to the news that my best friend was gone. And I don't understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war.

NICOLE HOCKLEY, MOTHER WHO LOST CHILD IN SANDY HOOK SHOOTING: Consider your own children. You don't want to be me. No parent does. And you have the ability to make a difference and save lives today. Please don't waste this.

GALLAGHER: Across the country, hundreds of students staging walkouts in support of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.


GALLAGHER: Outside Florida's state capitol, survivors demanding changes from state lawmakers. Calling for a ban on assault-style weapons like the one used to kill 17 of their classmates and teachers.

SHERYL ACQUAROLI, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: We stand for the people who were slaughtered like animals at our school.

WHITNEY: Help us so children don't fear for going to school. Help us so mass shootings aren't inevitable. Help us so our children, our grandchildren and their children after that don't have to march for their lives.


GALLAGHER: Now, the Stoneman Douglas students who were here in Tallahassee did meet with Governor Rick Scott yesterday afternoon. One of those, a senior, tells me that she played a video that she recorded inside the school while that shooting was happening. She asked the governor to close his eyes, listen to the screams is and the panic of the children, and imagine that those were his own children, his daughters.

She says that the governor seemed floored and frozen in that moment. Most of the kids tell me that they felt like he was very receptive.

Governor Scott is expected to present a proposal tomorrow for what to do about gun violence here in Florida. And Alisyn, the president is going to have a school safety meeting with state and local leaders a little bit later today.

CAMEROTA: Man, Dianne, these kids are just making their lawmakers take a wide-open look at this, hearing the horror and seeing the horror. Obviously, it has gotten their attention. Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much.

Joining us now is a student who survived last week's shooting massacre. She lost her close friend and her favorite teacher. Kelsey Friend attended last night's town hall.

Kelsey, great to see you again.

Nice to see you again. So what was the moment in the town hall that most stood out for you?


CAMEROTA: Senator Rubio.

FRIEND: -- Senator Rubio would still accept money from the NRA, it really stuck out. I kind of want to know the same thing, and he kind of didn't answer the question.

CAMEROTA: And your friend Cameron wouldn't let it go. He kept saying, "But are you going to take money? But are you going to take money?"

And what Senator Rubio, who again, we give him complete credit for coming to confront people. He didn't have to. He didn't have to accept our invitation. He graciously did so. But what he was saying was, "I happen to agree with their agenda, and they agree with my agenda."

I mean, so he was basically saying, "Yes, I am going to keep that money." So what was that message to you?

FRIEND: That message to me is very shocking, actually. I -- as a person, as a human who did lose my close friend Peter and my favorite teacher, Mr. Beigel, hearing that makes me feel like he's not trying.

CAMEROTA: We met you exactly one week ago. It was exactly one week ago that we came down here after the massacre at your school here behind us, and we first met you. And you gave your really memorable and emotional message to Mr. Beigel's family.

Because he was your geography teacher. He was your favorite teacher. You loved him. And you said he saved your life.

We played your message to his mom. And she talked about how much she appreciated that and how much she appreciated that you recognized her son for being so wonderful. How are you feeling now a week later?

FRIEND: I still miss him like crazy. Actually, I keep waking up to the five (ph) -- hearing shots. I keep waking up thinking that someone, when I go back to school, someone is going to enter my school again.

And I understand that the cops are now here and they're going to stay, but I still have that haunting thought, because that Valentine's Day I just wanted to show new love for my friends and family and a guy that I liked. And then my teacher dies and so does my friends.

CAMEROTA: Yes. That's not what's supposed to happen for a freshman on Valentine's Day.

So what are you going to do? Your school's supposed to reopen again, reopen on Tuesday. Are you going back?

[06:10:00] FRIEND: Oh, yes. I'm going to march in there and be proud of being an eagle. Because it's the only strength I have right now, to see my friends, see my teachers. Even though I'm not going to see my teacher Mr. Beigel again, I will march in there and give my principal a hug. And see the teachers that I haven't seen for a week.

CAMEROTA: Your principal, oh, my gosh, he had such a round of applause last night in the arena when he was introduced. I can tell how much the kids love him. He talked about how he is going to give out hugs. But listen, you're haunted, of course, by what you saw and what you endured. I don't really understand how you are going to be able to focus on school.

FRIEND: I'm going to focus as hard as I can, but I know in the back of my mind I'd still be thinking about it. But I'm going to try my hardest. Because that's what my teacher would want. That's what Peter would want, is to keep living my life that they -- that they couldn't finish.

CAMEROTA: What do you think about the -- I don't know -- pundits, the commentators, mostly on right-wing TV who say that you all are being exploited, that you're being taken advantage of, you kids. You shouldn't be able to speak. You're too young to be able to tell the media how you're feeling.

FRIEND: For them, it was my choice to come out here the day after. It was my choice to accept -- to accept the interviews. It was my choice, and that's all I'm going to say. It wasn't me. It wasn't you guys. It wasn't 7 News. It wasn't anybody else. It was my choice as a person.

CAMEROTA: Because you all have a message that you want to get out?

FRIEND: Yes. I'm proud of myself, because I got my message to my teacher's family. And I'm proud that I got to meet them, and I'm proud that I have done this. And if I wouldn't have done this, I probably wouldn't have met my teacher, and I'd probably still be a wreck right now.

CAMEROTA: Kelsey Friend, thank you. Thank you for your message. Thank you for being here with us. We'll check back in with you, honestly, from now through Tuesday and beyond. Take care of yourself.

OK, Chris. CUOMO: All right. Alisyn, so, look, let's -- this emotion is so

unusual. The eloquence is so unusual. What will it make lawmakers do? This was a big part of the story last night.

So let's talk about what we saw in terms of potential for change in the town hall, what happened with the president, and all of the surrounding momentum.

All right. So last night Senator Marco Rubio's break with the NRA on guns was a big deal. Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

The first thing we have to do is say, "Good for you, Marco Rubio." This is the time where lawmakers hide but where leaders lead. We asked you to come on the show early on. You didn't do it. But last night you did something that was a lot more brave. You went in there and faced that emotion. You faced the parents, and you spoke the truth, even though it wasn't always popular. That's what we need. We still haven't heard from Ryan. We haven't heard from McConnell about what they're going to do, if they'll even ask the question. So bravo for Marco Rubio, even if people didn't like all his answers. At least he was there and being represented. John Avlon, fair point?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Fair point. Especially because he knew he was walking into a room of constituents that was angry, and frustrated and wouldn't agree. That's the courage of your convictions facing constituents, and that's what too many members of Congress don't do today. So good for him. He broke with the NRA on a couple of significant--

CUOMO: How? What are the two -- what are the two things he did last night that they wouldn't want him to do.

AVLON: Well, the NRA has come out against raising the age to buy an AR-15, for example. Rubio came out in favor of it. That's a departure.

Also, increased capacity magazines, which is -- you know, the president has backed bump stocks. Now asking the Justice Department to move forward with a way to ban that. Rubio went a little bit farther and said capacity magazines, because this is really what transports it into mass killing machines. That's significant. Look, he didn't please the audience and everything. He's forthright about that. He said, "I'm going to keep taking money from the NRA." Guess what? He gets the sixth most money from them than anyone in the Senate: $3.3 million.

But he had the courage of his convictions, and he broke with the NRA despite that big payday.


CAMEROTA: But also -- go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I'd say he broke with the NRA around the edges. I think the capacity magazine is important. The raising the age is really at the periphery, I think, of the debate. On the central issue, I think what is going to be the central front on assault weapons, you know, there was -- there was no movement at all.

And I think the other -- the other lesson from the immigration debate is that, even if you have folks saying, for example, they wanted a solution to DACA, they tied it to conditions that were completely unacceptable or essentially poison pills. Reductions in legal immigration.

The same analogy could totally apply here. You could easily see Republicans accepting some minor breaks with the NRA in return for accepting a nationwide concealed carry, reciprocity legislation that would require every state to accept a gun permit issued in any state, overriding any state law. The House has already voted for that. It has no chance at the moment in the Senate.

[06:15:12] But you can say those kind of things being linked together. We still have a long way to go until we see the Republican majority be willing -- really willing to do something the NRA doesn't want to do, because they represent the parts of the country where the NRA is strongest. I don't think it's the money. I think it's the geography and the culture.

AVLON: We've also--

CAMEROTA: But Ron, I just want to stick with you for one second.


CAMEROTA: Because you just hit on the very rub, which is do you do things incrementally around the edges or do you do things monumentally. And this is exactly what we've seen with immigration and say the health care, Obamacare. So there is an argument to doing things incrementally and making these small baby steps and letting that be the progress. Here's what Marco Rubio tweeted out, just one thing, right after the town hall on this topic. He said "Banning all semiautomatic weapons may have been popular with the audience at CNN's town hall, but it is a position well outside the mainstream." He was just not going to go that far.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, how do you define the mainstream? "The Washington Post"/ABC post yesterday a majority, you know, 51 percent supported an assault weapon ban, however defined. And the Quinnipiac it was up to 67 percent. It passed in the House in the '90s. You know, the striking point about the way the gun debate has evolved since the '90s, people focus on the loss by Democrats of all of these rural and small-town seats and their replacement with Republicans are kind of strongly opposed to gun control.

Most of those Democrats voted against the Brady Bill. Seventy-seven Democrats voted against the assault weapon ban in 1994. The reason they passed was because large numbers of suburban Republicans felt they had to vote for them. Fifty-five Republicans voted for the Brady Bill. Forty-six Republicans, most of them suburban, voted for the assault ban when it was included in the gun -- in the crime bill in '94.

What's changed is that now those suburban Republicans in the House have felt much more comfortable voting in lock step with the NRA. All but 10 suburban Republicans voted for the nationwide concealed carry (ph).

That is the point, I think, where all of this, Alisyn, is going to come to a head in this election. Because it is those white-collar suburbs where the Republicans are already the most in danger because of the way college-educated voters view Trump. And I think it is there where they may be most out on a limb, post this horrible episode in Parkland, with their votes.

AVLON: But Ron, it's not that they feel more comfortable voting with the NRA. They feel more intimidated voting with the NRA, because the two parties are dramatically more geographically polarized than they were in the 1990s.

BROWNSTEIN: Those are the ones -- they are the ones on the other side of the divide. We're talking about suburban Pennsylvania or Virginia. That is not big NRA territory.

But you've had Barbara Comstock and, you know, the other suburban Republicans, feeling they can vote with the leadership.

AVLON: Yes. No, no, but look, the question Alisyn framed is, you know, incremental on monumental? I think we've got to deal with the debate in Congress as it is, not as folks might wish it to be.

Republicans control the White House, both houses, the Senate and the House. So obviously, it's going to be incremental. And the universal background checks, 97 percent of Americans support it. Congress can be held hostage by the 3 percent of the NRA.

Let's take that -- let's try to see if we can make that gain. An assault weapons ban is a much larger debate. Sixty-seven percent support is still high. But let's focus on what can get done. Let's make some measurable progress and keep the conversation going as a country.

BROWNSTEIN: Universal background checks would not be incremental. That would not be incremental. But it's hard to really see that coming through.

CUOMO: It may not have been. Well, Ron is right based on where we are. But that's not where we are any more. And you're hearing more about background checks. There's a reason that President Trump seized on that issue.

If you get criticized for a lot, he's got a good ear for where to be in a place that may be popular. So let's take a break. When we come -- we're going to talk more about this in terms of age limit, does that matter? Background check, should that be the starting point? We'll talk about all of that. And again, President Trump suggesting arming teachers. Is that part

of the solution? He heard from a father yesterday who was saying, you've got to make our schools safer. Is that the way to do it? We'll go through the pluses and the minuses.


[06:22:50] CUOMO: President Trump offered some potential solutions. I say potential, because we don't know which way lawmakers will go with her solutions and how much he'll push for those things. But let's deal with what we know right now.

One issue on the table is how do you make the school's safe? The president suggested arming teachers. He made that remark during a listening session at the White House, while he met with survivors and families who lost their children in school shootings. Here's part.


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


CUOMO: All right. Now, he's struggling with this a little bit and for good reason. Alisyn is here. Ron Brownstein and John Avlon are with us.

And the reason, John Avlon, that he is struggling with this is because when people talk about fortifying schools, they're usually talking about armed guards in there. Having a teacher have a weapon turns them into a commando. Just having the weapon isn't enough. You have to be trained. You have to know how to use it under stress. You have to fire when fired upon.

These are not things they teach you when you're learning how to be a teacher. How do you think that solution goes over?

AVLON: Not terribly well for the reasons you just laid out.

CUOMO: We know the teachers' union said no. And we know there were a couple of teachers last night and otherwise said, "I don't want that responsibility."

AVLON: Not only is it well outside their core competency and requires a lot of training, but that training costs money. And you've got a situation where a lot of teachers in this country buy homeroom supplies. So all of a sudden, we're going to be finding money for them to be trained to use a weapon in a classroom full of kids. It is a solution that is very satisfying for members of the NRA. To be fair, members in the audience suggested that to Donald Trump, kind of teed it up. In the past, he has denied that was the solution he was backing. But

it's what he gravitated to in his closing statement most. And so that was -- that was really telling. He's backing other initiatives: you know, particularly bump stocks with Jeff Sessions, telling the Justice Department to move forward with that. Openness on other issues. But this one is not only highly polarizing. It's fundamentally problematic, and it could easily cause more problems itself.

[06:25:04] CUOMO: And Alisyn, we remember during the campaign Hillary Clinton had said Donald Trump wants weapons in the classroom. He then tweeted..

AVLON: Right.

CUOMO: -- "She says I want that. No, I don't." OK? "Wrong." He used his word. So now he's in a different place. But that doesn't mean that's where he winds up.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And by the way, last night, you know, I had the luxury of being able to sort of take the pulse of the arena. Right? So I had this kind of instant 4,500-person focus group.

So when this came up, and it might even have come up before the televised part, because the sheriff was speaking to the audience beforehand. The crowd didn't like it. The crowd full of students and teachers didn't like it. They booed. They want teachers to teach. The sheriff doesn't like this idea here. So I mean, if you just go to ground zero, it is not a popular idea here in Parkland -- Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, you know, guns are -- guns -- I've covered this debate, you know, since the early 1990s. It is a tough issue. It divides the country. Yes, there is a preponderance of support for many of the specific gun control initiatives, particularly universal background checks, which is not what the president has been talking about. That was what President Obama proposed at Sandy Hook. And the assault weapon ban.

But on the overriding question of whether it's more important to protect gun rights or to control going on -- we've been strictly divided about 50/50 since 2008 with really sharp geographic and cultural divides.

And in much of the country, this is -- this is a debate about culture even more than about a kind of practicality. It's about do you respect my way of life. So the country is always going to be divided on this. There is no easy way kind of -- there is no easy way around that.

But I do think, if you look back at the 1990s, there is a pathway toward really executing that public -- that majority that wants some kind of -- some further restrictions. And the central difference I see between the '90s and today, is as I said, in the '90s the suburban Republicans in places where the NRA was not strong felt they did have to vote for gun control.

And in recent years, those same -- the successors in those kinds of districts in the suburbs of Denver, in Chicago, in New York, and Orange County, California, have been willing to vote with the NRA in lock step to block gun control and, in fact, to loosen gun restrictions. The House has two votes since President Trump's election to loosen gun restrictions. And I think that is where this debate is really going to come to a head in 2018.

AVLON: But it's because the debate is being taken as an article of political faith by folks, as opposed to thinking through it carefully. Look, the deeper divide, of course, isn't red state-blue state. It is urban versus rural.

People use guns differently in those communities. Remember, Howard Dean, when he ran for president as governor of Vermont, had an "A" rating from the NRA. A pretty liberal Democrat. Because it reflects that reality for folks, which is about self-defense, about culture and all those issues.

But if you actually take away those emotional underpinnings, there are ways we can get to majority support. The new polls show it. It's not easy legislatively. But it's whether we can divorce the debate about guns from the larger issue of culture and identity. And ironically, Donald Trump, you know, back in 2000, he backed the assault weapons ban. He was for it before he was against it.

BROWNSTEIN: George W. Bush in 2000 said he would sign in the assault weapon ban if Congress extended it. And in fact, but then look the other way when Tom DeLay and the House Republicans let it die. So the problem, John, is there really is no way -- it should be entirely possible to detach this from culture.

But it has been caught up in all of these other issues. And the fact is, as you point out, that the core divide is metro and nonmetro on issue after issue.

CUOMO: In America, you also have to change approach. OK? And what these tragedies give you is a chance to reset. And you're seeing different issues being brought up now than just traditional ones about more guns or less guns.

You have school safety and what that means. You have background checks and what should be included in them when it comes to people who are mentally ill. A couple of different issues on the table last night. School safety issue is brought very sharply into focus. With saw with one father in particular meeting with the president yesterday. Here is his emotional plea for change.


POLLACK: I'm here because my daughter has no voice. She was murdered last week. And she was taken from us. Shot nine times on the third floor. We as a country failed our children. This shouldn't happen. We go to the airport, I can't get on the plane with a bottle of water. But we leave some animal to walk into a school and shoot our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Now Alisyn, you know, this -- this was something that got a lot of resonance. But this is -- this is going to be a new phase of this debate, especially for Democrats. Because it will be, all right, here's change. Here's a way to make these kids safer, have the schools be safer. But that will probably mean more weapons in schools on some level. Whether it's teachers, maybe that's unlikely. But more armed security.

What were you hearing about that from people last night?

CAMEROTA: Well, first of all, Chris, I couldn't believe how affecting that father's plea was.