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President Trump Meets with Survivors and Families of Victims of Florida School Shooting; White House Meeting Attendees Describe Personal Reactions to President Trump; Interview with Representative Mike Quigley. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 8:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: For its part the NRA is focusing most of its ire and political power on the FBI and the media. I want to bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us. John Avlon, what we see here with this news overnight, that the deputy sat outside that building for several minutes without acting, it shows the level of the systemic failure here all the way up to the very end.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It shows the level of the systemic failure. I think it also shows the fallacy of believing that more armed officers at schools will inherently solve the problem.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But maybe another one would have.

AVLON: Maybe. And you can write this off to a failure of nerve, a lack of courage on the part of this individual. But the fact is there was a prototypical good guy with a gun at the school while the shooting was occurring and he did not stop it. So I think given the fact that the president seems to be frontloading this solution raises questions about its effectiveness.

CAMEROTA: Chris, you know that this is part of the conversation. In fact the I believe sheriff's office down there announced they would be having more deputies now in light of this in all of the schools. Some of these things are unknowable. If there were with two armed deputies, would that have stopped him? I don't know. If there were 10, would that have stopped him? In Columbine there are two. If there were a solution to this, we would have figured it out already. Everybody is casting about.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. I think you've hit it, which is that if this was easily solved we would have solved it after Columbine. It's not easily solved. If we could simply figure out, OK, well, what is the profile of the kind of person who is not just depressed or violent toward animals, but is also willing to do this sort of thing, we would have solved it.

I think John makes a really good point here. If the simple solution was Wayne LaPierre's often repeated the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, this would have been stopped. The point is there's human nature. There's the moment, there's bravery, there's courage, there's a lack thereof. There's so many circumstances, which is why I think casting about for a solution -- there will be no legislative solution that absolutely 100 percent eliminates school shootings. But that doesn't mean we can't do anything.

BERMAN: Exactly, exactly.

CILLIZZA: We should.

BERMAN: This isn't an issue of this being easily solved. The question is, can you take some actions that will make things better?

CILLIZZA: You're never going to, John, to your point, you're never going to know that this guy who is in the school for the purposes of keeping it safe, that this guy is -- whatever happened, lost his nerve, whatever, is going to go outside and stand there for four minutes. It's impossible to legislate.

AVLON: We're not talking about the perfectibility of human nature here. We're not talking about -- let's not be naive. But let's also keep focused on this fact, that our nation is basically the only one on earth where this happens on a regular basis. That indicates that progress is imminently possible. There's the Australian example. Then there are others. We have unique cultural and constitutional things that we need to keep in mind as a country. It's not about demonizing guns. But the idea that the solution to more violence in schools is more guns in schools seems self-evidently wrong.

BERMAN: You can have both discussions at once. I think if the president wants to talk about should schools be hardened, could you maybe have another armed security guard there, should there be checkpoints? Sure, have that discussion. But if that discussion is happening in the absence of also talking about raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 which the president wants to do, the NRA doesn't want to do. Maybe banning bump stocks which the president wants to do not legislatively but in a regulatory way, you can do that, too. Chris, do you think this discussion on arming teachers will divert politically from the other discussions?

CILLIZZA: I think what happens oftentimes is when we talk about guns and what role -- what role legislation can or should play is it winds up, and I do think the NRA has been quite successful in this, it winds up being an all-or-nothing conversation. If you do anything, even things like universal background checks that 97 percent of people support, it's a step in the direction of the confiscation of firearms --

CAMEROTA: It's further. You hate freedom. Wayne Lapierre said you hate individual freedom.

AVLON: And America.

CAMEROTA: And so this is the problem with it is that we have to be careful of getting into something in which there is a sole focus on this one thing, because we know from the past that that -- whether it's arming teachers, whether it's raising the age, whether it's talking an assault weapons ban which seems unlikely at this point. But we know that any fixation on one solution winds up not working. I think what you have to say is, look, there is a wide universe of things that people suggest. What are the three things that Donald Trump wants to prioritize and that we think we can get done.

BERMAN: You used two words there that really could focus this. There's one person who could focus this discussion and move it forward. It's the president of the United States. He has political capital with the people who count here to focus this discussion. If he wants change on some of these things he's talking about, the minimum age to buy a gun, he could get it. He could get it in two weeks. He could do it immediately. Same with bump stocks. What he needs to do, however, is get more focused than he is right now because he talks about background checks. He says we need better background checks. What does that mean? We need to know what that means.

AVLON: That's right. And so it does require presidential leadership, it does requires presidential focus, and that's not his strong point. At the end of yesterday he was musing about changing movie ratings. I'm pretty sure that's not at the core of this issue. But the president has got unique political capital with the House of Representatives.

And we need to get away from this all-or-nothing idea because it feeds into the intentionally fear mongering idea that any effort at reasonable gun reform is a step towards confiscation. No such thing. We've got a constitution, folks. But we need to take some progress. Democrats are going to realize they're not get everything they want. But will the president lead on the things that there's a 97 percent consensus on. A 97 percent consensus doesn't exist in America. If three percent can block progress on this, there's something even more seriously wrong with our politics than we thought.

CAMEROTA: So Chris, it will be interesting to see what the president says at CPAC because he has broken with some of the NRA doctrine in terms of the things that John was talking about, raising the minimum age of purchase. And yet yesterday he also seemed to be parroting many of their talking points almost sentence for sentence. I believe we have an example of the NRA talking and the president talking. So watch this juxtaposition.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store or some Hollywood gala.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want my schools protected just like my banks are protected.

LAPIERRE: We must immediately harden our schools.

TRUMP: We have to harden our schools, not soften them up.

LAPIERRE: We drop our kids off at school that are so-called gun-free zones that are wide open targets for any crazy madman bent on evil to come there first. TRUMP: A gun-free zone to a killer or somebody that wants to be a

killer, that's like going in for the ice cream. That's like, here I am, take me.


CAMEROTA: OK, so Chris Cillizza, that's why we have to pay very close attention in a couple hours to CPAC to see where he lands on this.

CILLIZZA: Yes. And John mentioned, he's not a big details guy. We saw that with immigration. On a Tuesday he's all for comprehensive immigration reform. By Thursday it's off. So he's neither a big details guy, nor sort of what he says on one day is terribly predictive of what he means or says the next day.

The other thing is, CPAC is the reddest of red meat of conservative audiences. Anyone who has ever been there, and I've been there many times, Donald Trump is someone who plays to the crowd. He is at least part entertainer. You can argue how big a part entertainer. But I wonder how much he adheres to whatever written remarks he has and how much he freelances because he likes to hear the applause, and the way that you get applause there is to go over the top in attacks on Democrats, on the media, on liberalism, more broadly speaking. It is not typically the place where you give a reasoned argument for at least the conversation about what most people would describe as commonsense gun reform.

AVLON: Aside from being the Star Wars part of the conservative movement, this is a place that said Mitt Romney was not welcome but Marine Le Pen was welcome with open arms. Donald Trump is going to play to the crowd, folks. This is not where you're going to look for a detailed gun policy speech. It would be a great example of a profile in courage, but don't hold your breath.

CAMEROTA: Star Wars --

AVLON: That the is not my line originally, by the way. It's a good one.

BERMAN: Thank you, Greedo. It's appreciated.


CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, thank you.

OK, so listen to this. "The New York Times" reports that some survivors of last week's shooting were not impressed by their interactions with President Trump in the tragedy's aftermath, but some were. And they have diametrically opposed impressions of this.

So joining us now is CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis. She is a White House reporter for "The New York Times." Julie, thanks so much for being here. You talked to survivors. I have as well. Obviously, everybody has their own impression of what they think of the president as a leader during this time and as a consoler. So tell us about some of the kind of polar extremes that you found. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It seems to me like a

lot of people's interpretations of their interactions with the president are founded on whatever their preexisting opinion of him was. I spoke with Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack who was killed in the Parkland shooting last week who clearly went into the meeting. He had a private meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office earlier this week and he went into it as a big supporter of the president and felt very much like he was comforted and consoled by the visit, like President Trump went out of his way to be kind.

CAMEROTA: We have his quote. Let me just read to everybody. Here's what Andrew Pollack, the dad of the shooting victim Meadow said. "He showed us nothing but love. The guy really cared, you know. He flew us in. He had a bus waiting for us. He made time for us. He took pictures of my daughter that we brought. And he said he was going to look at it every day. He's a regular guy. I wouldn't have been there if I didn't think he cared."

DAVIS: Right. And so he clearly felt a lot of support from this, a lot of empathy, he said from the president. But my colleague also spoke with one of the survivors of the shooting who was in the hospital last week when she got a phone call from President Trump who was very turned off by it. The first thing he said to her, she says, is I heard you're a big fan of mine. She said she thought he probably made that up. It seemed reminiscent of the call he made to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger late last year who said she had been turned off by the president because he didn't seem to know her husband's name and he made this comment about he knew what he had signed up for.

It's clear that President Trump is not the most comfortable in these situations where you're having a very emotional conversation with someone who has been traumatized, lost a loved one, or has seen something horrific and been through something horrific. He grasped for words. His aides say that he is trying to con say empathy, and it's not that he's being callous. But he has actually fed into this challenge that he had in conveying empathy by some of his behavior in the wake of tragedies. You remember those pictures of him tossing paper towels to the storm victims in Puerto Rico when he went down to visit. He's made insensitive comments on Twitter in the aftermath of some of these tragedies. It's just not his strong suit to channel the grief of a nation.

BERMAN: And in this case, Julie, he actually went in with that note card, basically reminding him to empathize. The last point on that note card said "I hear you." And one of the people, one of the survivors that you spoke with in your article, Sam Zeif, who I had a chance to speak to, I think you have also, this bugged him.

DAVIS: Absolutely. The notecard -- it's not uncommon for presidents to go into any event with a notecard, talking points, reminders, biographical data, here is who you're going to be speaking to, here are the facts and figures on the issues that you're going to be talking about. It is a little rare that a president wouldn't be self- aware enough to hide it. But I think what struck people about this card was what was written on it, the fact that it seemed to underscore this notion that he has to be reminded to show some sort of human compassion or empathy.

And Sam Zeif did tell me that he felt very insulted by that. He spoke from the heart in that meeting, everything he said was honest and earnest and right from his heart and his head. And he felt that the president was less than sincere when he saw that he was holding that note.

CAMEROTA: Listen, whatever the president's personal failing are in these situations, I do think that we should give credit for that listening session. That was an extraordinary moment in the White House. People who were there got to say whatever they wanted, and it was sort of an open forum and people expressed grief and they expressed anger and they expressed suggestions, and it was just -- it seemed leak an open exchange of ideas, and it was really powerful to watch.

DAVIS: Absolutely. President Trump didn't actual parrot the talking points on that card. He did speak from the heart. It took him a little while. He was very quiet at first and he let Vice President Pence kick off the session and make the broad, the nation is grieving with you statement that you might expect the president to have made. But by the end he really said I grieve with you. He seemed to be emotional, very impacted by what he had heard.

And the White House -- this was a deliberate tactic by the White House. They wanted the public to see the president interacting with the survivors and these mourning parents and teachers. And they did get to see that. And I think maybe they learned a lesson about how to allow the president to convey empathy where in the past he hasn't been able to.

CAMEROTA: There you go, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, thank you very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We should let everyone know in just moment I will speak with NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch about the gun control debate and their suggestions.

BERMAN: We do have some breaking news. CNN has learned that when President Trump addresses CPAC in just about two hours, we were talking about that, he's expected to announce the Treasury Department will impose new sanctions against North Korea. According to a person familiar with the matter the sanctions will affect vessels and shipping but we're not hearing any other details at this point

[08:15:00] BERMAN: The announcement comes as the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, is in South Korea as part of the U.S. delegation attending the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

The president I should note just wrote about that. He said, "My daughter Ivanka has just arrived in South Korea. We could not have a better or smarter person representing our country," he says.

CAMEROTA: OK. There you go. Meanwhile Congressman Adam Schiff said the Democratic memo that rebuts

the Republican claims of FBI misconduct, you remember this, would be released this week. Well, it's Friday.

BERMAN: It's this week.

CAMEROTA: Tick-tock.


CAMEROTA: Where is it? We have a congressman on the House Intel Committee joining us live next.


BERMAN: The White House says it will now support the release of the Democratic memo. It was drafted to rebut the previously released Nunes memo that alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Once it meets the FBI's standards for ensuring that law enforcement sensitive and sources and methods are protected, we would support its release.


BERMAN: All right. Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley who was on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of your committee, said that the memo would be released this week. He's running out of time. Will it be released today?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Hope springs eternal. I think it's easy to compare the two, though. The memo that the president says completely vindicates him was released with almost no scrutiny. A memo I think he coordinated with Chairman Nunes to put out.

The memo that rebuts that memo, the memo that bolsters the integrity of this investigation, well, we're still waiting.

[08:20:06] BERMAN: Well -- but it's in your hands, right? Adam Schiff is in coordination with law enforcement right now to decide. Do you have any information about whether it will be released today or when it will come out?

QUIGLEY: I don't know that it's in our hands. Again let's compare. Their memo they released with almost no scrutiny. We wanted our memo to work with the FBI and the Justice Department to make sure that they were comfortable with its release. If the White House wanted it to be released, they could have helped. It would be out by now.

BERMAN: That's true. That's absolutely true.

QUIGLEY: I will believe it when I see it.

BERMAN: That's -- you're absolutely right about that. If the White House wanted it to be out, it could be out by now. But as far as, you know, have the changes been made that were asked for perhaps by the FBI and others?

QUIGLEY: I believe they're still in discussions and negotiations.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman, good, we have an answer on that. Let's move on to the issue of the day and in some ways, I think, the issue of our time which is how to keep our kids safe in school. We heard the CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, yesterday say a number of things, including that one of the reasons this is happening is because of what he calls the European-style socialists, Democrats, he's saying, who have been in office for a while. Listen to this.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND CEO: In the midst of genuine grief and a very understandable passion, as millions of Americans search for meaningful solutions, what do we find? Chris Murphy, Nancy Pelosi and more, cheered on by the national media, eager to blame the NRA and call for even more government control. They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.


BERMAN: Do you hate individual freedom?

QUIGLEY: Absolutely not. And let's just remember that Wayne apparently will say whatever it takes to keep those membership dollars coming in. Under the Obama administration, he was the one that said the president is coming after you, he's coming to get your guns. Before his term is over, he's going to change everything and they'll come in black helicopters and come get your weapons.

He will do whatever it takes. They will manipulate this and as a result people die. The fact is the majority of NRA members favor universal background checks. The NRA won't get behind that. They don't even support the commonsense measures that NRA members support.

I was at the Supreme Court when the Chicago gun case was ruled on. And if you actually read that justice's opinion, he said, while there is a Second Amendment right, it is not unlimited. Like every other right, you can't have any kind of gun you want anywhere you want and not everyone can have that gun.

I think the NRA has failed to read his opinion. The person who had an assault weapon in Florida and in Sandy Hook with the kind of bullets they were using, they weren't protecting anyone's home. They weren't hunting deer. They were hunting people. There's a way to solve this. And part of it is recognizing what those limits are and recognizing it for what it is, a public health issue.

BERMAN: Look, the idea that anyone in this discussion hates freedom is certainly not helpful. You brought up President Obama in Wayne LaPierre's opposition to him, there is an element of this, though, right? President Obama was in office for two full years when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate. And there was no gun legislation passed then. And when there were votes after Sandy Hook on assault weapons ban, there were 13 Democrats in the Senate who voted against it because they thought it would hurt them politically.

You know, so do Democrats need to do more here?

QUIGLEY: I think everyone needs to do more. I mean, I think they need the intestinal fortitude to take those courageous votes. Let's just remember President Obama had a majority in both Houses two years and we passed the health care law, we passed a climate change bill, we repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell." I mean, we passed several dozen critical measures. Quite simply you can get it all done in two years. After we lost the majority it was going to be extraordinarily difficult to accomplish anything else.

BERMAN: How do you feel about what the president is proposing in arming teachers? He says maybe give 20 percent of well-trained teachers bonuses if they're willing to carry concealed firearms. Is that something that could be helpful?

QUIGLEY: Yes. It's ludicrous. He doesn't understand the core problem here. Let's also remember some history. Ft. Hood, the Naval Yards, where a lot of these mass shootings took place where there are a hell of a lot of guns. It didn't save any lives. We're going to have to get to the basics here. There are some limits to the Second Amendment. We're going to have to move forward on those.

[08:25:03] But when we get back next week in Congress, I predict my Republican colleagues will spring into action and have a moment of silence and talk about thoughts and prayers.

BERMAN: Congressman Mike Quigley, let's hope there is more than just that. Let's hope there is some action. The president seems willing. Will he push the House leadership? That remains to be seen.

Mike Quigley, thanks so much for being with us. Alisyn.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. In their speeches yesterday the National Rifle Association attacked law enforcement, Democrats and the media, all in the aftermath of the Florida school massacre.


DANA LOESCH, NRA SPOKESPERSON: Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media in the back.


CAMEROTA: That woman, NRA spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, will be here next.


CAMEROTA: The NRA went on the offensive at CPAC blaming the FBI for the massacre in Parkland and also the media.


LOESCH: Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. Now I'm not saying that you love the tragedy.