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Congress Under Pressure on Gun Control; Supreme Court Won't Hear DACA Case; Trump Personal Pilot to Run FAA; Melania Trump Addresses Gun Control; North Korea Open to Talks with U.S. Aired 9:30- 10a ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:31:39] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, Congress is back after a ten day break. They are immediately under pressure to do something to prevent mass shootings, like the one that claimed 17 lives at the Stoneman Douglas High School.

I'm joined now by Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

Look, you've been in Washington more than ten years and you are also retiring, which maybe frees you up to speak more of your inner most thoughts here. So let me just ask you, be honest here, how good are the chances of meaningful gun legislation becoming law?

REP. CHARLES DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm not particularly optimistic. I would like to be optimistic that we could make some reasonable gun safety measures, as well as changes to the mental health system.

You know, look, the ability of Congress to do incremental, bipartisan changes to controversial -- on controversial matters has diminished significantly. Look at the -- look at the so-called dreamer DACA issue combined with border issue. That's a 90 percent issue. We can't seem to get that thing out of the Senate. And I'm concerned that we can't get a bill out of the House for that matter.

Now here we are talking about things like banning the bump stock, which I certainly support. I certainly support enhanced background checks consistent with what Toomey-Manchin presented. The so-called -- the NICS fix. I also would support raising the age limit to buy a high-powered rifle to 21 from 18. So some of these things I think are reasonable. But we should also look at some of the issues too of mental health, about, you know, why is it that these particularly young men are not being flagged sooner. I mean these issues have to all be discussed. So I'm a little bit pessimistic that something may happen.

BERMAN: Yes, the first two words you said and the last one, not optimistic and then pessimistic, I think are the most important there and may be surprising to people. There's this new CNN poll out that shows that 70 percent of Americans right now would like to see some kind of stricter gun laws. And this is different than October following the shootings in Las Vegas. It's also the highest number, 70 percent since 1993, and yet you're still pessimistic.

DENT: Well, again, you know, like I said, you know, doing something about dreamers and the DACA and border security is over an 80 percent issue and didn't come out of the Senate.

Hey, I hope I'm wrong. I do hope that we can do something on an incremental basis. Simply like banning the bump stock and that NICS fix should be no brainers. So maybe I could be optimistic on those two points --

BERMAN: Raising -- how about raising -- how about raising the age to buy an AR-15 type rifle?

DENT: I believe that we should -- we should allow -- we should require that if you're going to buy a high powered rifle, you should be 21 years of age. This is -- that's the law now currently for buying pistols, 21.

BERMAN: Right.

DENT: So I think we can make those two conform.

You know, we might want to have a discussion whether or not a 12 gauge shotgun should be able to be purchased by an 18 or 19-year-old.


DENT: But a high powered rifle, I think 21 for sure.

BERMAN: Who is this on, do you think, right now? Who would put this over-the-top? Is this something that's on the president? Is this something that's on your speaker, Paul Ryan?

DENT: Well, I would say this, that the -- I believe it's very important that there be strong presidential leadership on issues like this. And, again, just going back to the DACA debate, you know, when the president came out and threw cold water on the one bipartisan proposal, that killed it in the Senate. So if the president comes out forcefully and says, ban the bump stock, NICS fix, enhance background checks, raising the age to 21 for high-powered rifles, I think that would really help Congress, you know, find the backbone to do something.

[09:35:15] BERMAN: Do you feel like you know where he stands on these issues right now with 100 percent clarity?

DENT: Well, as we've know before, the president has shifted his positions from time to time. You know he -- these policy positions do shift. At times he will say things one day and then, you know, then he'll reverse himself at a later point in time. So I'm not quite clear what the --

BERMAN: So is that a no? I mean you don't -- go ahead.

DENT: I'm not clear where the president is on this issue. He did make a comment that he'd like to see the age raise from 18 to 21 for high- powered rifles, and I agree with him. I hope that's actually the position and it doesn't change. He said, maybe we should be talking about that.

Look, I think it's important -- this has been a -- this has been a challenge for this president all along. The president's words are policy and too often with this president that has not been the case. So I think this is a -- a time for the president to stand up, be clear, be unambiguous and lead.

BERMAN: Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, thanks so much for being with us.

DENT: Hey, thank you, John. Good to be with you.

BERMAN: So another member of President Trump's inner circle may be getting a high profile government job. We'll tell you who is eyeing a major upgrade to their resume.


[09:40:32] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: We have breaking news from the Supreme Court. Action that will have an immediate impact on dreamers. Our Ariane de Vogue is there.

And, Ariane, the Supreme Court deciding not to get involved in a case. Explain.


The court has said it will not step into the DACA debate for now. It has denied a request to review a lower court opinion that temporarily blocked the Trump administration from trying to terminate that program. So what that means is that the renewals in the program will continue. This case will continue at the lower court level. Keep in mind, John, at issue here was never the legality of DACA, it was about how the Trump administration chose to terminate it, chose to phase it out. The challenge (INAUDIBLE) arbitrary in violation of federal law and the government said that they were in their rights and that the court shouldn't play a role here.

But, for now, the Supreme Court is not going to step in. This is going to continue at the lower court level, John.

BERMAN: And, Ariane, we can obviously hear the demonstrations for and against behind you right now. But one of the immediate impacts of this is that people can continue to apply for renewals, I believe, and there is no March 5th deadline, correct? Congress had been operating under this sort of faux notion that they had until March 5th to pass some kind of deal for dreamers, but that doesn't exist right now.

DE VOGUE: Well, that's right. And the president has mentioned it a lot too. But keep in mind, a lower court put that on hold. And while this issue is before the courts, for now, that deadline isn't in play. The renewals can continue.

BERMAN: All right, Ariane de Vogue for us. A lot of action inside and outside the court.

Ariane, thanks so very much.

President Trump pushing for his long-time personal pilot to become the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, at least submitting his name up for consideration, according to an Axios report. John Duncan, who flew the president around, his campaign plane and personal business jet during the campaign, is now on the short list for the FAA's top job.

Joining me now, Rene March, our chief aviation correspondent.

Rene, what's going on here?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you know, John Dunkin, he oversaw the president's presidential campaign air fleet. He worked as the president's pilot since the late '80s. You remember when Trump launched his own airline company, which then later folded.

Well, according to Axios, they are saying that John Dunkin is not just a pilot, he's on the list to lead the agency because, and I'm quoting this official, he's managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airplanes from start-up under FAA regulations and oversaw the Trump presidential campaigns' air fleet, which included managing all aviation transportation for travel to 203 cities in 43 states over the course of 21 months.

So it is clear that the president thinks highly of his long-time pilot. If you remember back to February 2017, the president met with top airline executives and he mentioned one of his most trusted sources of information about the nation's aviation system was his own personal pilot. He said, and I'm quoting, I have a pilot who's a real expert. My pilot, he's a smart guy and he knows about everything that's going on.

Certainly there's no question that Dunkin has the experience as a pilot, but I have been speaking with people within the industry who say they find this tough to believe that Dunkin would be able to actually get confirmed and get this position. They point out that being a pilot and running an agency like the FAA are two very distinct things. The FAA, we should point out, responsible for regulation and oversight of all civil aviation in the United States. It's the agency that essentially makes sure that all flights happen safely. It has a roughly $16 billion budget and roughly 45,000 employees. So quite a large agency to take on. And so already some in the industry, at least to me, questioning whether his pilot, although maybe a skillful pilot, would be able to take on that task.


BERMAN: Yes, there are some -- there are some people wondering whether this story was leaked out and floated merely to get the whole idea squelched. We will see.

Rene Marsh in Washington, thanks so much. In just a few hours, Melania Trump, the first lady, she will be giving a speech on gun control. This will be the first time we will have heard from her in some time. She's speaking at a lunch for the wives of -- or the spouses, I should say, of the governor's meeting with the National Governor's Association.

[09:45:11] Again, there are two big things going on here. Number one, the first lady devilling into a major policy issue. Number two, it's coming as there have been questions about the state of her marriage.

Kate Bennett for us in Washington.


KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, John, it's true, today she is waiting into the gun issue. I hear she's going to speak a bit about the Parkland shooting and also her feelings about gun control. This is something that even as recently as last week I was told she would not be attending the victims meeting that the president had in the West Wing because it was a policy issue and she wasn't going to get involved. However, she's somehow been affected.

Also, I think her audience of governors' spouses is a chance for her to reach out to those individuals and those individuals in their states to perhaps challenge them to think about gun control and think about children. So she's got an opportunity here.

But, yes, this all comes in the wake of a few difficult months for the first lady in terms of headlines and accusations of alleged affairs with her husband and various -- a porn star and a Playboy playmate. And we've seen her quite a bit, but we haven't really heard from her. And we've watched a few of those cues. It's hard to tell what's going on in anyone's marriage. But, you know, she has split off from him in terms of driving up to the State of the Union. She canceled her trip to Davos. She drove separately just the other day when that -- those other salacious headlines broke, separately to meet the president at the plane. Not walk on the South Lawn with him to Marine One. So there's certainly some indicators that she is acting independently, as she always has, but she remains sort of the most mysterious character in this Trump administration.

BERMAN: Yes, the bottom line, Kate, is we just don't know, but we know what we have seen and what has and hasn't happened and that's just all we have to go by, correct?

BENNETT: Exactly. I mean I think with this first lady, who's not especially vocal, this is a couple who doesn't tweet back and forth love notes on Valentine's Day or a wedding anniversary, like we're used to seeing with the Obamas. So we sort of have to interpret some of these nonverbal cues that we get, specifically from the first lady, who is quite good at using them. I mean, you know, she's -- she's certainly demonstrated a stoic silence.

However, you know, just when they went to Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, instead of going to the president's speech with him, she took off in her own motorcade and did a full day at Cincinnati Children's Hospital on her own. So this is not a couple that's joined at the hip. Whether that says anything about how their marriage is going or whether that's just been the state of their relationship is hard to say. But certainly all eyes on Melania Trump this afternoon as she gives a very rare speech today from the White House.

BERMAN: All right, Kate Bennett in Washington.

Kate, thanks very much.

So North Korea now says it is open to talks with the United States. The president of South Korea says he wants this to happen quickly. Will the White House play ball?


[09:52:23] BERMAN: So this morning the Olympics are over. Now the hard part begins in terms of lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula. A senior North Korean official told South Korea, it is now willing to talk to the United States. This actually follows tough, new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Let's get straight to Ivan Watson, who's in Seoul, in South Korea, for us this morning.

Ivan's having a hard time hearing me, but, Ivan, go ahead, if you can get a signal.


That's right. So we now have the North Koreans via South Korea saying that the door is open to talks with the U.S. And the South Koreans are really urging the U.S. to please come and sit down at the table, for the U.S. to lower the threshold for talks for North Korea, to be open to denuclearization, which it has been firmly opposed to in the past.

The White House has said, hey, let's wait and see where this goes. We want denuclearization. We want North Korea to get rid of its arsenal of nuclear weapons. And, on Friday, President Trump had an ominous warning that he's not sure whether or not the sanctions will work. New sanctions against North Korea. If they do not, it would be, quote, very, very unfortunate for the world because it could lead to phase two.

It's hard to make sense of this. Also sometimes hard to make sense of some of the messaging coming out of the White House. President Trump, as a candidate, famously said that he'd be willing to talk to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. But when he took office and when North Korea began firing missiles, conducting another nuclear test in September of last year, we started to get into this cycle of insults coming from President Trump, coming from the North Korean leader as well, and also mixed messages from Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, saying he'd be willing to talk to the North Koreans without preconditions, and then his own president undercutting Tillerson saying that that's a waste of time. Basically there has been an unusual series of moments where you've had

top U.S. and North Korean officials sharing a VIP box at the opening and closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics here. Not talking to each other. Those Olympics are now over. We know that the U.S. and South Korea are scheduled to hold joint military exercises after the Paralympics, which will take a few more weeks now. And I think that's why the South Koreans are concerned and they want both sides to sit down and start talking because if you start those military exercises again, you could very easily disintegrate into another series of threats and insults and lose some of the momentum that has been built here.


[09:55:06] BERMAN: It would change the atmosphere to be sure.

Ivan Watson in South Korea for us.

Ivan, thanks very much.

So she survived the Florida shooting massacre. She was shot multiple times. And moments from now Madeline Wilford speaking for the very first time. We're there live.


[09:59:52] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

Very shortly we could get a signal from the president about just how far he is willing to go to change gun laws in the wake of the Parkland massacre. He is due to address the nation's governors very shortly. You're looking at live pictures of the White House. It will happen there within the next few minutes.