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Rubio Faces Critics And Shifts on Guns at CNN Town Hall. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 07:00   ET



RYAN DEITSCH, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Why do we have to march on Washington just to save innocent lives?

[07:00:18] SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If we truly want this to be the last time, then what you have done cannot end next week or next month or even next year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at me and tell me you will work to do something about guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, right now Congress is owned by the NRA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no representative of the state of Florida. Our governor did not come here, but Marco did.

ANDREW POLLACK, FATHER OF PARKLAND VICTIM: Should be one school shooting, and we should have fixed it. And I'm pissed because my daughter I'm not going to see again.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people are talking about concealed carry for teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe teachers should be armed. I believe teachers should teach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will not let those 17 beautiful souls die for nothing. We will not give up.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is in New York this morning. I'm Alisyn Camerota in Parkland, Florida, for an amazing national conversation.

Last night was extraordinary here. The world watched this remarkable CNN town hall on guns and school safety. It took place exactly one week after the massacre that killed 17 people, mostly students at the school that you see behind me.

So students and parents and teachers showed up at this town hall to confront their lawmakers as well as the National Rifle Association. Republican Senator Marco Rubio showed up, and he faced his critics, who are demanding action.

Rubio also broke with some of the NRA doctrine on guns. He says that he now supports raising the minimum age to buy rifles. He also said that he will consider a ban on high-capacity magazines. He says he's been changed by this conversation and the event behind me. But he would not say that he would no longer take millions of dollars from the NRA when was asked, Chris, very pointedly by one of the students in the arena.

CUOMO: And look, bravo to him for having the -- you know, the initiative, the leadership to show up. Others would not. Governor Scott wasn't there. People wouldn't come on this show to be tested about it. So good for Rubio.

The question is, what will actually be done? The president involved here, as well. He did something unusual yesterday. We knew he was going to meet with survivors and families of school shootings at a White House listening session, but it wasn't supposed to be public. The president invited cameras in.

And he wound up taking some heat for floating an idea suggesting teachers should be armed as a solution to the crisis facing our nation. But he also said he supports improving background checks for gun purchases. That seems to be the sweet spot right now, the best chance for immediate change. Another issue on the table: looking into raising the age to buy assault weapons. Would that make the difference?

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

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Chris, those were points that were made in discussions that were had during that CNN town hall. That the students who came here to Tallahassee to speak to their state lawmakers were texting me during the town hall.

They were back on a bus going home to Parkland, watching the town hall on their phones. And they said in seeing that, this emotional tense 24 hours that have passed, they felt like perhaps their movement is starting to really make its mark.


RYAN DEITSCH, 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 Florida 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 that people buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment.

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

DANA LOESCH, NRA 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.

SOFIE WHITNEY, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: 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: President Trump is going to hold a school safety meeting today with state and local leaders now here in Tallahassee. Last night, some of those students from Stoneman Douglas met with Florida Governor Rick Scott, who didn't accept the invitation to go to the CNN town hall.

One of them, a senior, tells me that she played a video from inside her school while that school shooting was happening. She asked the governor to close his eyes, Alisyn, listen to those screams and imagine what he would want done if those screams were those of his children or grandchildren.

CAMEROTA: Dianne, we've heard some of those tapes from the kids inside, from those recordings. And they are -- I mean, it's just really unthinkable how affecting and how gruesome, actually, it is.

Dianne, thank you very much for all of that reporting. So as the country tries to figure out how to stop school shootings, the U.S. Army is awarding its ROTC medal of heroism to three of the students killed in the school behind me. Alaina Petty, Peter Wong, and Martin Duque. They were cadets of the junior ROTC program.

And joining us now are their friends and fellow cadets in the JROTC program, Madison Gellar and Angelyse Perez.

Thank you both for being here. I want to talk about your friends in a minute. But first, I know you both were at the town hall last night. So Angelyse, tell me what your takeaway was. What was the moment for you?

ANGELYSE PEREZ, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: My takeaway was that we have the voice, and we need to show our voice. It doesn't matter what you think, what you believe in. If I think it's wrong or right, whether you think it's wrong or right, that you make that voice heard. You make sure you know, and you're supporting the cause. Because it doesn't matter. Make sure you have your voice heard.

CAMEROTA: Well, we heard the students loud and clear last night. You all have found your voice. And you're not all on the same side of every single one of these issues, but you are all making your opinions heard.

And so what was it it for you?

MADISON GELLAR, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I agree that you have to make your voice heard. But I also took away that it's been so many school shootings for people finally to make a movement this large. And I think that's really important that we make it heard.

But I just don't understand why it had to be so many shootings. Why does it have to be -- why does it have to be our school? Why does it have to be any school? So I just want to know why there have been so many times there has been a school shooting and it just -- a movement hasn't started this large yet.

CAMEROTA: We heard that echoed so many times from the parents last night who lost their loved ones, their children. They said why are we having this conversation today? Why didn't we have it a year ago? Why didn't we have it ten years ago? It just does feel woefully late. So tell me -- tell us all about your friends on the Junior ROTC and who you lost.

PEREZ: I personally lost two cadets in my company. We have six companies. Bravo is my company.

CAMEROTA: And you worked closely with Alaina Petty and Peter Wang.


CAMEROTA: Tell us. You worked really closely. They were your close friends.

PEREZ: Yes. I basically, first day of school, I had 30 kids and now I've lost two of my kids that I motivate and teach and have seen grow up into these cadets and that have goals to become cadets like me and Maddie and along with all our friends that have been speaking out. Like, we're trying to change for them.

CAMEROTA: And what does that mean for you, Madison, that you've lost Alaina, your friend and fellow cadet?

GELLAR: Personally, I only knew Alaina. She was on my color guard team, which I'm the color guard commander of. Angelyse is also on my team with our -- now it's our battalion commander. Because unfortunately we had to put somebody new into my team, which was the state flag position. So I -- every time we marched, Alaina was always right to my left. As I'm -- we were marching on the field, I would just look over and she's right here. But now I'm going to have to go to practice, and she's not going to be there anymore. So it's horrible that she's gone now.

CAMEROTA: How are you going to go back to school on Tuesday when it reopens?

PEREZ: You've got to be strong. I have 50 other kids in my company. I have the largest company. So I have to be there for all of them. Because they're probably going through the same thing. And I'm their leader. So...

CAMEROTA: Are you prepared to go back?

GELLAR: I'm -- I'm taking it day by day. We have to be stronger for each other, and we have to help each other get through this. And in JROTC, specifically, both of us were leaders. So we have to make sure we can help our cadets get through it. And we call them our cadets because we treat them like they're our kids, because they look up to us. And we have to mentor them to be amazing people.

CAMEROTA: You all handle weapons, ceremoniously, I mean, of the nonlethal variety. What do you think about the suggestion that came up at the White House yesterday that the president seemed open to, which was arming teachers, letting teachers have guns to try to make students more safe?

PEREZ: My mother is a teacher. And -- she can -- I don't think she could ever hold a gun. I don't think any teacher has a right to, like, even decide like, OK, I want a gun. That's -- that's -- they're teachers. They're here to teach us. They're not here to defend us in mass ways.

CAMEROTA: Would that make you feel safer?

GELLAR: I can see why people would want teachers to be armed in case such a horrible tragedy would happen again. But at the same time, we don't need to be arming teachers. We're supposed to go to school to learn, not to worry about if there's going to be another school shooting and how we're going to take that down. So we're going to -- I don't even know. It's such a controversial topic. But we have -- I don't think personally that they should arm teachers, because we're at school to learn, not to.. .

CAMEROTA: Sure. I understand. I mean, teachers have -- that we've talked to here last night and they basically echoed those exact same thoughts.

Madison, Angelyse, thank you very much for all that you do for your school and for being with us.

PEREZ: Thank you.


CUOMO: All right, Alisyn, thank you very much.

You had thousands of people at the CNN town hall. But that was still a relatively discreet group of super concerned people who want a specific kind of change.

Now we have the bigger reality. What will President Trump, Congress, and state lawmakers actually do, especially once the passion fades?

Joining us now is CNN political director David Chalian.

Let's begin, David, with Marco Rubio, OK? Some people are saying stop calling Rubio brave. Showing up last night and facing those questions is not easy. And we know that, because a lot of lawmakers won't do that. Governor Scott wasn't there. Ryan and McConnell, as we often say on the show, you hear that?


CUOMO: That's them saying nothing about what they'll do on this. So fair point him showing up mattered?

CHALIAN: I absolutely think so. I think he deserves a ton of credit. He knew he was going into an environment that was going to be hostile to his views on these issues. He fully understood that.

Obviously, he also came prepared with some new thinking on these issues: raising the age requirement for getting an assault-style weapon; looking at -- or he said, I guess, he would reconsider, perhaps, the high-capacity magazines issue.

[07:1511] It's not as if he, you know, rescinded his NRA membership or -- he certainly said he didn't do anything about ruling out taking future money from them or having them spend on his behalf.

But going into that arena and showing up like that, I think it's two things. One, it's a leadership moment. Right? These are his constituents, in pain.

CUOMO: Right.

CHALIAN: He is the senator that represents them. And clearly, he felt some responsibility to be there and take these questions.

But, two, he's also, I think, trying to show that there could be some movement in his party on this issue, that there's a way for Republicans maybe to respond to this other than just a hardline "no." CAMEROTA: Now, he's actually said just that last night. And he used

a procedural mechanism. He said, you know, on Monday we could try unanimous consent. Listen to this for a second.


RUBIO: On Monday, when we return to Washington, D.C., we're going to try to do this thing called unanimous consent where basically you don't even really have a vote. It just unless any senator objects, it passes a law to fix the background check.

I believe there are 60 votes to ban bump stocks. I believe that we could potentially have 60 votes at the federal level to change the age from 18 to 21 on the purchase of any rifles.


CUOMO: All right. So unanimous consent. Is that something that's possible but not probable? Where they go in, and he's saying they think -- he thinks they have enough votes in the Senate. What are the realities?

CHALIAN: It is possible. But you just mentioned before the deafening silence we're hearing from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

I really do think, Chris, if you want to understand where is this debate going, have the politics on guns really changed in Washington, there are two people to watch: Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. They control the agendas of what is going to happen on the floor in each chamber. Watch to see if they -- because so far they have not indicated that this is a new priority item. That they're clearing the decks of other stuff to take care of this.

It is an election year. That cuts both ways, obviously. You want to make sure your base is energized, but you also understand, at least on the House side, a lot of the competitive districts, Chris, they're in suburban communities. A lot of college-educated voters. The very kind of voters who are responding to this moment on this issue. And yet, you don't want to, if you're a Republican, completely abandon your base, especially the portion of your base that are single-issue voters, vote just on the guns issue.

CUOMO: Even if the Quinnipiac poll is close, it would seem to suggest that the best way forward, if you want to see something change, is background checks. Yes, the assault weapon ban is 67-29 there. ABC and other polls have it much closer to 50-50. Traditionally, that breaks down about 50-50, even with younger voters. So that's not as clear-cut.

But background checks, the president seized on that for a reason. We're hearing that discussed. Do you think that's the best chance for progress?

CHALIAN: I think -- and you just heard what Marco Rubio was saying about unanimous consent. I think there are gradations of background checks. Right? So this first notion of this Cornyn-Murphy bill of just ensuring that what is already on the books actually gets implemented properly, making sure that that happens, yes, that to me seems like a possible move forward.

Whether we're going to get background checks in the way that maybe the Manchin-Toomey bill from a few years ago envisioned, I don't know. Again, I'm looking to see Mitch McConnell right now to see if he is about to clear the decks and say, "Yes, this is now a priority. This bill that we couldn't get done before is now a priority."

CUOMO: He has an existing bill in the Senate right now that has some support to it that shores up the background system. We'll see where that goes.

All right. Another issue that may be on the table. A big part of this equation, yes, guns. Yes, with school shootings, mental illness, unchecked mental illness, how you screen for that and how you restrict access based on that. And then how you fortify the schools. The president spoke about that last piece specifically. Here's what he recommended.


TRUMP: And this would only be, obviously, for people that are very adept at handling a gun. And it would be 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: Now, more guns in schools is the basic category. We know the teachers' union is against this. We know anecdotally, people say teachers teach. They're not commandos. Having a weapon and knowing how to use it are two very different things. Yes, the president said there would be specific training, but that's money involved. You know, you have teachers buying books for their kids and school supplies. Now we're going to have money for gun training? Do you think that is likely to happen?

CHALIAN: I don't. I mean, I think you heard Marco Rubio sort of dismiss that idea last night in the town hall.

CUOMO: What about more armed guards, metal detectors in schools?

CHALIAN: Certainly. I think there may be a conversation around that. I mean, I think it will be part of the...

CUOMO: Will the left go for it?

CHALIAN: ... school safety conversation. I -- I don't think the left is going to go for armed teachers. Clearly, as you said, the teachers' union is against it.

CUOMO: How about local law enforcement, retired veterans, people who are trained?

[07:20:04] CHALIAN: But I think you'll see Democrats that want to engage on the school safety side of the conversation. I have no doubt about that.

CUOMO: All right. David Chalian, appreciate the insight. Who knows better than you?


CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, so after the massacre in the school that you see behind me and this national conversation that we're now having, what will lawmakers do when they return to Capitol Hill? Congressman Ted Deutch represents this city. He will answer that next.


CAMEROTA: So last night was this remarkable event. CNN's town hall brought together students and parents, and teachers, and law enforcement, and lawmakers and the National Rifle Association all together to try to find solutions and hash all this out. As you can imagine, there were some contentious moments.


RUBIO: And I just ask, are you in favor of banning any gun that can do what the AR-15 can do? Yes or no?

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: I am in favor, Senator Rubio, if you have a concern about something -- let me just answer this question, because it's important.

[07:25:02] RUBIO: It is. That's the whole debate.

DEUTCH: Yes. And the answer to the question is do I support banning weapons that fire off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war, that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can? You bet I am.



CAMEROTA: And there you go. Let's bring in Democratic Congressman who you just heard there, Ted Deutch of Florida. His district includes Parkland.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here this morning, and thanks for last night.

DEUTCH: Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for coming to Florida and thanks for giving these students and the grieving families the voice that they really deserve.

CAMEROTA: What a night that was, what a conversation that you were part of. What did you take away from it? DEUTCH: Well, at first it was so important for this community that --

that's still grieving to know that the discussion is not going to end right now. We've seen these students that have so bravely come forward to lead the effort to make sure to change the laws, to make sure that something like this never happens again.

But to give them the opportunity to come together. The entire school -- students, the faculty, the administrators -- and have a conversation and say what's on their mind and the way that they're feeling, that was so important for them and I thinks helps to move the needle nationally.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about that. OK? Because obviously, we all believe in conversation and its healing power and moving the conversation forward. But give us a reality check. I mean, when you go back to Washington, D.C., inside the beltway, what happens? Are there changes now?

DEUTCH: Well, certainly -- I've been here since -- since just after the shooting. So from my perspective in the middle of this, I don't know how there can't be changes. But I understand that, for a lot of people, this is just one more mass shooting, and they're going to hope that it goes away and they don't have to think about it anymore.

But what you saw last night in those students and the questions that were asked by these grieving parents was the opportunity for people to confront this head on. This is not -- this is not a group that is going to remain silent.

And so there are pieces of legislation that have overwhelming bipartisan support that need to be brought up for a vote.

CAMEROTA: And is your speaker, Paul Ryan, going to bring those up?

DEUTCH: Well, I can't answer that question.

CAMEROTA: What's your sense?

DEUTCH: Well, my sense is that he would prefer not to. Because if he cared about these issues, we wouldn't have to -- we wouldn't have had to wait until after 17 of my constituents were slaughtered here in Parkland in order to go forward. There would have been plenty after -- after Las Vegas. There would have been plenty after Pulse. There would have been -- there are lots of reasons to go forward.

But the difference this time is there is this sense that the gun lobby is not all-powerful. You saw that last night the way that those kids and parents stood up to the gun lobby, the way that they made clear what they expect to change.

And then combine that with the fact -- I listened to some of what was just on your network. People, they talk about single-issue voters. What happened here in our community and what happened last night has created a lot of single-issue voters. And they care about gun safety.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about Senator Marco Rubio. Hats off to him for showing up. He's the person who took the most heated, barbed questions coming at him, because he's Republican. He has seemed, in the past, dug in on some of these positions.

In fact, right after the shooting he said something to the effect of you can pass whatever laws you want, but nothing is going to change. He seemed to change last night. In fact, he admitted that his own thinking had been changed by what happened here. And he gave on a few different things. He said he was going to rethink the sale of high- capacity magazines. He was open to increasing the age limit of buying rifles from 18 to 21. He talked about possibly instituting the emergency protection orders that we have seen in Connecticut. What did you think of Marco Rubio last night?

DEUTCH: I think that's -- I think that's terrific. But on high- capacity magazines, for example, he's going to rethink them? Do we -- is there -- this is terrible. This is a horrific tragedy. But is there just now enough information to know that someone doesn't need to be able to fire off 35 rounds at a time in a magazine?

I'm glad he's rethinking. I hope he finishes rethinking by the time he gets back to Washington so that we can actually do something about it.

On these others, bump stocks should be illegal. We should do that next week. It's not hard. But here's the problem. What -- the other thing that was clear from what Senator Rubio said last night is he doesn't agree, clearly, with what the Supreme Court said, that there are limitations to Second Amendment rights. You cannot -- The Second Amendment does not give you the right to own a bazooka. It does not give you the right to own a tank. And it shouldn't be the right to own a military-style assault weapon.

CAMEROTA: So you don't think he's going to be a partner when you get back to Washington, D.C.?

DEUTCH: I want him to be a partner on these issues. Of course, we should -- we should move forward. I'm just -- I have to admit, I, and I think a lot of people are more than a little skeptical, given that Senator Rubio had told us the reason that he decided to get back into the Senate race was what happened in Pulse, and yet nothing since then. So of course, I want him to be a -- be a partner. I welcome that.