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Trump Talks School Safety on Day Douglas High Teachers Return to Work; Lawmakers on Capitol Hill Amid Gun Debate; Feinstein Fails to Get Backing of Her State Party; South Korea Urges Talks Between U.S. & North Korea. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:12] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: In Parkland, Florida, today, teachers at Stoneman Douglas High School returning to their classrooms. Over the weekend, the school held an open house to help both students and parents prepare as classes are set to resume later this week.

One of the students, who will be back in class on Wednesday, is Lewis Mizen, who joins me now.

Lewis, I know you were in the school over the weekend. What was that like for you?

LEWIS MIZEN, STUDENT: I think -- I personally thought it was really important. I quite enjoyed it. I got to see the teachers I hadn't seen over the last couple of weeks. I got to see friends I hadn't seen in a while. It was good to be back in the school for the first time without having the pressure of the bell ringing, having to move class to class. We were able to float through each of the classrooms, see our teachers, our friends. I mean, there was a line to hug Ty Thompson and there was a line from 3:00 to 6:30. So I think a lot of people felt they needed it. I think for a lot of people it was very, very important that they went through it.

HILL: So important to get through that moment and that stage, as you point out. While I'm sure you have been talking to friends, as you said, this is the first time for you to see your teachers. What did they have to say?


HILL: There's been so much talk about the role of teachers moving forward.

MIZEN: Yes. There has been a lot of talk. One of the things one of my teachers said that stuck out to me is about saying you're OK. She said, I'm not going to ask you if you are OK. I know you're not. She's going to say, I'm glad you are all right. She won't say OK. A lot of times as students we sometimes forget that our teachers are real people, too. They are going through this with us. I think certainly after this I have a newfound respect and friendship for a lot of my teachers. HILL: That's a lot to hear from a young man. This has been so much

for so many of you to process. You have a unique perspective having moved to this country when you were older coming from a place where people do not have guns the way they do in the U.S. What's it changed for you in terms of perspective to now be a survivor of this shooting?

MIZEN: It's -- I'm going to be honest. It still really doesn't feel real. Obviously in England the worst thing we have to deal with is a fire drill. My sister is a teacher in England. Her job is to make sure her kids get an education, get their homework in on time. Here teachers put their lives on the line and go through this. It is a culture shock really. Obviously, it's not something you want to be part of the culture, but it is. It's something we have to deal with. The fact that the entire community has gathered around us has really helped us get through it.

HILL: The president has talked repeatedly, including earlier today, about arming teachers being an answer here. Do you agree with that?

MIZEN: No. I don't agree with that for a lot of reasons. The obvious concern is that if the police storm a building and there are two adults holding guns they don't know which one is the shooter and which is not. The teachers' lives are in danger. Students could be caught in the crossfire between two shooters. There is the psychological point for the teachers and the students. The students, you know, are going to feel unnerved at the fact that their teachers are carrying weapons. It's not in a teacher's requirements to have to arm themselves. We shouldn't have to live in a society where we have to arm our teachers. The education system, the school system is where we are supposed to foster a learning environment, one where people can grow unrestrained. The idea that you have teachers that have to carry guns to protect students, that's not a culture that fosters growth. It's dangerous.

HILL: Quickly, before I let you go, there's been so much action and activism on the part of you and your fellow students. How do you keep this in the headlines? Sadly, we have seen it, and I have covered this in a number of mass shootings in the past, where it peters out, interest goes away, whether in Washington or elsewhere.

MIZEN: Well, I think that with this -- when I look at my classmates, none of us are taking this lying down. I will steal a quote from my A.P. government teacher. He said when we went up to Tallahassee we were going to get the ball rolling not to get legislation in a day. He said, for some of us, this will be a life mission. It is. This will stay with us for life. The cameras may leave, the media may fade. We are not going to let people forget. We are not going down as a statistic. We'll make change and fight every day for the rest of our lives to bring the change.

[14:35:16] HILL: Lewis Mizen, appreciate you joining us. Best of luck on Wednesday. Thank you.

MIZEN: Thank you.

HILL: Of course, as all of this is happening, the reality is setting in there in Florida. Lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill and facing questions from parents, teachers, students, constituents about what will be done to keep scenes like this from happening again.

CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, joins us now.

Phil, of course, midterms are right around the corner. CNN's polling released today found nearly half the country, 49 percent, say gun policy is extremely important to who they will ultimately decide to vote into office. And 30 percent say it is very important. That's a dramatic increase from what we saw in the first election after Sandy Hook.

What are you hearing today from lawmakers on the Hill? What did they hear over recess?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, one, I can tell you they heard a lot about this from constituents on both sides of the issue. It really breaks down into two sides. Two, I can tell you from lawmakers and aides I have talked to this morning, as they start filing in for a week of work, that they are cognizant of the numbers you're talking about, not just the uptick in support for gun restrictions but also in the intensity. That's very real. The students and the power students bring to the forum and the conversation is very real as well. There is a recognition that now is probably the time to do something. The big question now is what they actually want to do and what they can do. There is a sharp difference, a sharp split in terms of the scope of what lawmakers are looking at now. In the U.S. Senate, you have Republicans pointing to something called a Fix NICS bill. It gives incentives for compliance with the existing national instant background check system. That would fill gaps with regard to a mass shooting in Texas last year. That's something that's small bore but something with bipartisan support, something the president has talked to lawmakers about as potentially moving forward. If you shift to where Democrats are on the issue now, Erica, and they want far more. And Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, who put out a statement saying just doing something like the Fix NICS legislation, bipartisan legislation, which Senator Schumer is a cosponsor of, would be, quote, "an abject failure" of what they are trying to do in Congress.

The issue right now, as lawmakers come back to Capitol Hill, is what can they actually do, what are they willing to do? It's worth noting you look at the numbers, talk about the poll numbers and the midterms, those numbers run headlong into who is currently control of Congress and the White House. Republicans. They are not a homogeneous group. But when they look at gun restriction issues, gun restriction issues, it isn't something they are just there because of the lobbying or the numbers. They're ideological. This is where they have been. This is people that have control of Congress now. That limits what they are willing to do on the restriction side of things.

One thing I'm hearing, if something is going to get done, think about the small-bore background checks issue, or a financial package. If you think something sweeping will happen, whether an automatic weapons ban or a universal background checks, I'm told by sources in Republican leadership, don't expect that to happen. That's not what you are hearing that students want, what gun control advocates want. That's the reality as it stands on Capitol Hill -- Erica?

HILL: Phil, appreciate it. Phil Mattingly, thank you.

Up next, a California Democrat who has served in the U.S. Senate for more than two decades, failing to get the endorsement of her state party. Dianne Feinstein's challenger joins me live to explain why he thinks he should be the one to replace her.


[14:42:52] HILL: One of the country's most well-known Senators being snubbed by members of her own party in her own state. In her sixth bid for re-election, Senator Dianne Feinstein failed to win the endorsement of the California Democratic Party at its state convention over the weekend.

My next guest made an impassioned argument it was time for a new generation of leadership. Kevin De Leon is currently a state Senator running against Feinstein in California. This weekend, he received 54 percent of the vote to Feinstein's 37 percent. Neither reached the 60-vote threshold for endorsement.

Good to have you with us.

STATE REP. KEVIN DE LEON, (D), CALIFORNIA & U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Thank you very much for having me here today.

HILL: As we know, Dianne Feinstein still heavily favored to win in November. In the latest polling, you are nearly 30 points behind. She started the year with $10 million in the bank and you had just over $300,000. Are you offering Democrats a viable campaign?

DE LEON: First and foremost, let me say I respect very much Senator Feinstein. I respect her commitment to the great state of California. But I think a lot of folks -- and I want to be clear. I think folks think I am running against Dianne Feinstein, and those are the national headlines. The point is there are so many Californians, millions of Californians whether they are young students, college students, farm workers, Housekeepers, union workers, teachers, nurses, they want a different voice in Washington, a voice that will represent them. I think they are tired of the status quo in Washington, D.C. It's not working for them. What happened during the course of the convention this past Saturday was exhilarating, and it sent a strong message across the nation that many Democrats want a different type of voice in Washington, D.C.

HILL: Is that Democrats just in California? Obviously, you are well acquainted with voters in California. Or do you think there needs to be change across the board? Are we talking about Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi here, too?

DE LEON: We have great leaders in Washington. I do want to say this. The dysfunction is very deep in Washington, D.C. There is no doubt about it. I think there is a lot of Democrats. I can speak for California only. Folks want health care for all. They want a voice that's strong on the issue of climate change. They want the right to have their children breathe clean air and drink clean water.

On the issue of immigration, this is an issue I have been forcefully out in front. They want a pathway to citizenship for the millions of hard-working mothers and fathers who spent so many years in this country without the ability to normalize their legal status. They want a voice of change in Washington, D.C.

Again, I do respect Senator Feinstein very much. I think it is time for a new generation of leadership for all of California.

[14:45:32] HILL: As you point out, you have great respect for Senator Feinstein. You said over the weekend, "Real leadership, moral clary clarity is doing the right thing. It should never take a challenge to stand up for California values."

You didn't mention her by name. Was it directly about Senator Feinstein? If so, where do you feel she has not shown real leadership and moral clarity?

DE LEON: Erica, let me say there is a clear contrast, without question, on our values. What we do if given the opportunity to move the agenda forcefully that impacts the human condition for Californians regardless of where you come from.

On the issue of climate change, I don't believe we need someone on the sidelines but on the front lines. On the issue of DREAMers, the young DACA students we need someone forcefully moving the issue. California is home to the largest number of DACA students nationwide. When it comes to the issue of criminal justice as well, as reformative justice for young men and women, particularly young men, I would never vote to allow 13-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults. That's not part of my DNA. It is how we use our political capital to improve the human condition for individuals.

Lastly, I would never support federal agents snooping, spying on American citizens without a judicial warrant. That's un-American. It's not who we are. That's not our values in a great state like California.

HILL: Before I let you go, you have also said voters will always know where you stand, implying you will be toeing the party line. Are there issues you feel you could reach across the aisle and work with Republicans on?

DE LEON: Erica, that's a good question. I'm not just the state Senator in California. I am the leader of the California state Senate, a bipartisan body. The majority are Democrats. I have worked closely with Republicans to find common ground to move forward major policies in the sixth-largest economy in the world. Policies like cap and the trade dealing with the price of carbon, issues of investment in the roads, bridges and highways, retro-fitting crumbling bridges, infrastructure to put people to work. This is what I had to deal with to secure Republican votes. So I have worked with Republicans and accomplished major policies that have grown the economy. That's a lot different from actually confirming Republican Trump appointees in Washington, D.C., that are currently dismantling the federal government as we know it today. I have the ability, the proven track record of working across the aisle with Republicans.

HILL: We'll be watching what happens in the state of California.

Kevin de Leon, appreciate your time. Thank you.

DE LEON: Erica, thank you very much. Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, South Korea urging the U.S. to consider talking with North Korea to tamp down nuclear tensions. What the president is now saying about that idea.


[14:53:01] HILL: With the Olympics now wrapped up, it appears the North Koreans are open to talks with the U.S. A senior North Korean regime official telling South Korea the door is open for dialogue with the United States.

That announcement following tough new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Just moments ago, President Trump said he's open to talks with the rogue regime under the right conditions. The president criticizing previous administrations for not solving the North Korea problem.

He also issued an ominous warning about the dangers posed by a nuclear North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want to talk. And we want to talk also, only under the right conditions. Otherwise, we're not talking. Talking about tremendous potential loss of lives. Numbers that nobody has contemplated. Never thought of. So they want to talk, first time. They want to talk. And we'll see what happens. That's my attitude, we'll see what happens. But something has to be done.


HILL: Let's get the latest from CNN's Michelle Kosinski, who joins us from the State Department.

How likely is it, Michelle, that the U.S. and North Korea could actually hold talks?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica. That's the million-dollar question. That's what everybody has been waiting for. I think the optimistic thing is right now everybody seems willing, even North Korea has said that door is opened.

You mentioned a couple of key words there, "sanctions" being one of them. It seems like they are really now starting to feel the pressure of sanctions imposed by virtually the rest of the world, and that's going to make them more willing to be ready to talk on the terms that the U.S. would like them to be ready. That's another key word is "conditions." What is it going to take to

get these sides to that table? We heard the South Korean president today urging the U.S. to lower its threshold, to be willing to talk to North Korea because it has been confusing on the side of the U.S. many times as to what this is going to be. Remember, at one point not so long ago, we heard the secretary of state say he would be willing any time to sit down with North Korea. He said that the door is open, let's talk about the weather, let's talk about anything, let's just talk, and he said that there would be no preconditions. Well, that wasn't exactly right. The administration later walked that back and then indicated that North Korea is going to have to show that it's willing to move toward denuclearization, and that's something that North Korea has just not been willing to do.

I mean, in the recent past we've seen them repeatedly say they are in no way going to ever back away from their nuclear program and the U.S. is just going to have to accept that. However, you know, around the time of the Olympics, and slightly before that, we haven't heard such harsh rhetoric from North Korea. We haven't seen a missile test in some time. So it seems at least like their stance is softening a bit. Now they want to talk. So let's see what everybody agrees upon for those talks to actually happen. I mean it seems, at this point, like this is going to happen. It just could take a long time if, say, North Korea is unwilling to show any of that seriousness at the very least that the U.S. is looking for -- Erica?

[14:56:17] HILL: We'll continue to watch.

Michelle Kosinski for us at the State Department. Michelle, thank you.

We are standing by for the daily White House press briefing. Sarah Sanders set to take the podium any moment now. This, as the president jumps headfirst into the debate over guns, saying he'll ban bump stocks even if Congress doesn't act. We'll bring you the briefing live. Stay with us.