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White House Press Briefing; Interview With Florida Congressman Brian Mast; Gun Control Debate. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour here. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Brooke Baldwin.

And, at any moment, we are waiting for the White House press briefings, that daily briefing. You see reporters assembled. We are waiting on Sarah Sanders.

Congress back in session today, and the teachers in Florida at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, back at work. There is no question that those who survived the deadliest high school shooting in this country's history are forever changed.

But the question that remains in Washington is whether any of this will bring about solid reform or sensible gun legislation. It has stalled for years in the nation's capital.

At this point, there are no official plans to pass any stricter gun laws. Republicans, though, hearing days of pleas of students who survived that massacre are looking to take a lead from the president.

Just a short time ago, President Trump talking about standing to the NRA before a gathering of the nation's governors. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't worry about the NRA. They're on our side. You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK.

They're doing what they think is right. I will tell you, they are doing what they think is right. But, sometimes, we're going to have to be very tough and we're going to have to fight them, but we need strong background checks.

For a long period of time, people resisted that. But now people I think are really into it.


HILL: Well, among the proposals the president didn't mention today, banning assault-style weapons, which is something my next guest actually is talking about. Florida Congressman Brian Mast wrote an opinion piece in "The New York

Times" titled: "I am a Republican, I appreciate assault weapons and I support a ban."

Congressman Mast joining me from now Washington.

Sir, we appreciate you taking some time for us. In your piece, you wrote -- and I'm quoting here -- "I don't fear becoming a political casualty."

Do your colleagues on the Hill feel the same way? Because you really stuck your neck out in many ways in this piece here.

REP. BRIAN MAST (R), FLORIDA: I think politics lends itself to people fearing becoming political casualties.

But I always tell people and I told a lot of people back home this week the one sentence they always heard me say was that you have got to serve this country in Washington the way that every soldier does it on the battlefield. That's without regard for personal gain and without regard for personal sacrifice.

That's how everybody ended up in Arlington National Cemetery. That's the way they serve. That's the way you have to serve in Washington.

HILL: And so that's how you're serving, as you point out there, but are you confident that others will follow suit with you?

MAST: You know, you have to be an inspiration every single day.

Or, rather, you're going to be an inspiration every single day. It's whether it's for positive or whether it's for something negative. You're going to inspire people around you. I'm going to try my best to inspire people for change that matters, change that can save lives, change that I believe that can make a difference.

That's the way that we have to do things. We can't come all this way to be representatives, to be congressmen and congresswomen and not follow our heart and not try to do the best things that we can for our community. If we do, we have wasted a whole lot of time in our lives.

HILL: We have heard a lot even just today about how important the president's leadership will be here. You have been a supporter of the president's. The president saying today, look, if Congress doesn't do anything on bump stocks, I will take care of it myself.

The president has supported efforts in the past -- I'm thinking of health care standing there in the Rose Garden applauding everything that happened -- and then weeks later calling it mean behind your back and doubled back. Do you believe that you have the president's full support here?

MAST: I haven't had a conversation with the president yet. I'm asking for a conversation with the president. And I'm asking for him to apply the same logic that he did with the travel ban to what's going on with the weapons that people have access to. I don't think anybody can go out there and say that they're confident

that the FBI is going to screen out or weed out the next Omar Mateen, who was the Orlando shooter, or weed out the next Stephen Paddock, who was the Las Vegas shooter, or weed out the next Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at Parkland.

Nobody has confidence in that occurring right now. So let's take that same model, that same model that he applied to the travel ban, see who has access. What do they have access to? What are the agencies doing to keep everybody safe and prevent access in the wrong hands?


And let's look at that for 90 or 120 days, and then let's get back to the American people with some very real commonsense reforms. That's what I would like to see him do.

HILL: You're laying out part of this, and you also lay out in your piece in "The Times" last Friday defining too who results a tactical or assault firearm. You support background checks, banning the sales of bump stocks and other add-ons, increasing age limits.

You bring up mental health concerns, which a number of people have. Would you also support mandatory training?

MAST: Well, if you're going to carry a firearm, you have to have training for it ,if that's what you're asking, would I support mandatory training on firearms.

I always encourage people to go out there and have a conceal carry. I have been a conceal carry reciprocity supporter. And I think, if you want to do that, you have to got out there and get training, then get more training and more training. Be proficient with it.

Know how to be safe with it. Understand the difference between identifying a threat and identifying an innocent civilian, and get trained on those things. It only happens through a great deal of repetition with your firearm.

So especially when you're having that conversation about the idea of anybody in a school setting having access to a firearm, there are a lot more safety concerns. We have to remember that teachers are people too who have their own issues in terms of things going on with work and family.

You can't have a teacher that leaves a firearm laying on their desk or maybe doesn't have that training where they can identify friend from foe. So there's a lot of concerns there when we're having that piece of the conversation that the president has also brought up.


HILL: And I spoke with a student a short time ago who's a survivor of the shooting in Parkland who said to me this raises a great deal of concern for him just to know that a teacher would have a firearm. Is that the right road to go down, arming a teacher? Or do we need to

focus more on not letting those guns through the front door in the first place?

MAST: Well, I think we have to focus on all of that. One of the examples that I give people from one the counties that I represent is Martin County, Florida.

They know that I'm Congressman Brian Mast, but when I go in there to speak to some of the students, like at their JROTC or something like that, they still make me show my I.D. before I walk in the door. There has to be that basic level of physical security for letting anybody in the doors of our schools. That's basic.

That's something that needs to happen. But I'm not going to say there aren't great candidates out there in terms of teachers that could be carrying firearms and have already been highly trained in carrying weapons, those that have been in the Marines or the Army or other branches of the service, those that have been in law enforcement, those that have taken it upon themselves to get a great deal of training.

They could be great candidates, but this is something that definitely needs a lot to be looked at.

HILL: You write in your piece too about how when you were a child it was your grandfather who got your first membership to the NRA. You're a longtime member of the NRA. The president today saying, look, there's nothing to be afraid of here with the NRA and it's OK to fight against them sometime.

A, have you heard from the NRA in response to your piece that you penned? And, B, do you believe that there's some room for compromise and for conversation here with the NRA?

MAST: I haven't heard from the NRA since penning my piece, but I think that they have to be a part of the conversation, because the vast majority of the people that the NRA go out there and advocate for and represent in terms of their membership are law-abiding, gun-owning citizens who support the Second Amendment, that unimpeachable, God- given right to go out there and defend ourselves and our families and our home in the way that we see fit.

And they're people that enjoy that camaraderie of going out hunting with some member of their family or maybe just being a collector of the finest firearms or they just like to go out there and enjoy shooting. There's a hundred legal reasons why people like to go out and enjoy marksmanship and sportsmanship and firearms, and that's why they're members of the NRA.

That's why my grandfather got me that membership to the NRA when I was a young boy. And these people have to be a piece of that conversation, because what they're crying out for is saying, listen, I'm a law-abiding citizen. Don't punish me for something somebody else has done. And that's a very important piece of this conversation. HILL: Congressman Brian Mast, we have to leave it there. Appreciate

your time today. Thank you.

MAST: Thank you.

HILL: President Trump criticizing the school resource officer in Parkland earlier today, saying that he -- quote -- "choked" by not responding. We will also dig into that.

And what Ivanka Trump had to say about the president's proposal to arm teachers.





Also, I flew back in this morning, so bear with me a little bit, but it's great to be back with everybody.

After travelling with the U.S. presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremonies, led by Ivanka Trump, the entire country is very proud of our athletes. Not only did they perform well in their events, they did it with extraordinary class and sportsmanship.

On a personal note, it was a real privilege to meet many of our athletes and their families, and they were just as impressive off the field as they are on.

SANDERS: In addition to the athletic competition, these winter games were also important from a diplomatic perspective. On Friday, the United States announced the largest-ever set of new North Korea sanctions. Companies and countries around the world should know that the Trump administration is 100 percent committed to the permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we are watching closely who joins us in fully enforcing United States and United Nations sanctions. We will continue to lead a campaign of maximum pressure on the regime.

We also believe that there is a brighter path available to North Korea. They have expressed a desire to hold talks, but let us be completely clear: Denuclearization must be the result of any dialogue with North Korea. Until then, the United States and the world must continue to make it known that North Korea's nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.

Here at the White House today, the president was pleased to welcome America's governors. The governors participated in breakout sessions on pressing issues facing our states. Perhaps most importantly, the president led a session on safe schools and safe communities. It was a productive dialogue with our state leaders, and came on the heels of other listening sessions. The president hosted the survivors, students, teachers, family members and local officials.

The president is committed to ensuring the safety of our schools and communities, and he wants to hear ideas from Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs. He believes we must make our schools a much harder target for attackers. We must protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, while keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves and society. And we must create a culture that cherishes life and human dignity, condemning violence, rather than glorifying it. The president will not rest until these goals are achieved.

Finally, I am pleased to officially announce the first state visit of the Trump administration. The President and First Lady will welcome President and Mrs. Macron of France to the White House on April 24th. This visit will advance American and French cooperation on economic and global issues, and deepen the friendship between the two countries.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, does the president believe that Sheriff Israel of Broward County should step down? And also, the Broward County deputy who has been -- who -- who resigned, Scot Peterson, has come out with a statement saying he believed that he was acting appropriately. He thought the gunfire was coming from outside the school, and that he was taking steps to ensure that he was in a position to be able to respond. Could I get your response on both of those?

SANDERS: The president -- sure. The president feels, in terms of his employment, that that should be left up to local officials to make that determination, but he has been very clear in his public comments on how he feels about the situation specifically, but that's a decision that should be met -- left up to local officials.

QUESTION: And Sheriff -- Sheriff Israel, should he step down?

SANDERS: Again, those are decisions that should be met -- left up to the local communities and the local officials, and not the president.

QUESTION: Sarah, can you specify, the president did not mention whether he actually want the age limit still lifted to 21 -- he had previously spoken about. Can you clarify if that's still his position? Will lawmakers be coming to the White House? And did the president mean to say today that he will be asking for law to be crafted on bump stocks, if it doesn't follow through with an executive directive? He's asked the ATF to (inaudible).

SANDERS: A lot of questions. Let me see if I can answer all of them. I'm sure you'll remind me if I miss something.

On bump stocks, the president did sign an executive memo directing the ATF and Department of Justice to work on outlawing bump stocks so we don't have to wait for a legislative fix. However, if we cannot find an administrative fix, we would support a legislative solution to complete that.

On whether or not he's going to be meeting with lawmakers, the president is planning a meeting for Wednesday with bipartisan members of Congress -- We'll have further details on that later in the week -- to discuss different pieces of legislation, and what they can do, moving forward.

In terms of, I think the last question you had was the age limit. Some thing's still being discussed, but a final determination and legislative piece has not been determined on that front yet.

QUESTION: Is that why he didn't mention it today, but he had mentioned it in the past? Is he reconsidering how the -- should be able to do...

SANDERS: I -- In terms of the concept, there's still support for that, but how it would be implemented and what that might look like is still part -- very much part of the discussion.


QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Under General Kelly's new policy on security clearances, can you describe how many people today lost their access to classified information today?

SANDERS: As we've said many times before, we're not going to discuss individual clearances. That goes to a broader number, or an individual number, so I'm not going to get into that today, just as I haven't in the past.

QUESTION: Were there -- were there any administration officials who lost their access?

SANDERS: That would, again, be discussing security clearances, which our policy has always been not to do so, so I'm not going to change that today.

Mara (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you. Does the president believe that background checks should apply to gun shows and internet sales?

SANDERS: The president believes that we should look at strengthening background checks, and we're looking at all of the different ways to do that, and haven't made a final determination on what that should look like. I do think that will be, certainly, a large part of the conversation that takes place later this week, when he visits with lawmakers.

QUESTION: One more question on guns. The House bill, which he has expressed support for in the past, has a provision that the NRA calls Constitutional carry. Basically, it would allow people with a concealed carry permit in one state to carry it into states, even if those other states don't allow concealed carry. Is the president for that?

SANDERS: I know he has been in the past. I haven't talked to him about it recently, so I'd have to follow up with you.


QUESTION: Sarah, the president's been getting a lot of push-back during the governors meetings about his proposal to allow more adults in schools to carry guns, Governor Inslee this morning, for example. Has the White House heard from any jurisdiction, any school board, any state that is actively pursuing this, where they don't already have that authority?

SANDERS: We've definitely heard from individual teachers and school personnel that support it. But look, we're not advocating for the arming of every single teacher in the school. There are teachers and other school personnel who have experienced pre-existing training, and a desire to -- to be part of something like this. We're still listening, and making and determining the best steps forward, but we think that hardening our schools and protecting our students with trained personnel is a viable path, and one that we're very much looking at. But a final determination on what that would look like, would be -- hasn't been made, and will certainly involve state, local and federal officials all weighing in, which is a lot of what you've seen over the last couple of weeks. We've had a number of different stakeholders involved. I think you've had some voices from the very most conservative, to the most liberal side, and we're looking to bring all of those groups together, and determine the best path forward to do the very most that we can to make sure we're doing everything under the administration's purview to protect America's kids.

QUESTION: What did the president think of Ivanka's answer to (inaudible) when she said she didn't sound completely sold on the idea, either? She said it was something to look at, but she wasn't sure whether it would work.

SANDERS: Look, this is something, like I just said, that is part of the discussion, and that's what we're doing right now. It's what we did last week. It's what the president did this morning. What's -- we're going to continue to do on Wednesday with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to make that determination.

Olivier (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. You mentioned North Korea in your opening remarks. The president today said that Russia is flouting (inaudible) sanctions on North Korea. Are there going to be any consequences for that? And as you also mentioned, the possibility of dialogue -- who from the administration would take point on that?

SANDERS: The president would be the lead in taking point on anything that would move forward. In terms of whether or not there will be any consequence, I'm not going to weigh in ahead of time, and we certainly have never broadcast what we might do, but it's something the president does take very seriously.

Jordan? QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Some conservatives on Capitol Hill want concealed-carry reciprocity -- reciprocity to be included in a package of gun legislation. Is that something the White House also supports?

SANDERS: Yes, I just answered this for (inaudible). But I --

QUESTION: It wasn't clear to me, which is why I re-asked it.

SANDERS: Well, as I said, I know the president has been supportive of it in the past, but I haven't spoken to him about it recently. So I'd have to follow up.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah. It's on North Korea. Welcome back.

SANDERS: Thank you.

QUESTION: Want to get a sense of whether there are any preconditions for talks that would occur between U.S. and North Korean officials?

SANDERS: I mean, as we've said in the past, that any conversation that we have would match the comments that we've been making in public. And anything that would be discussed would have to be solely on the focus of them agreeing to de-nuclearize the peninsula. That would be the primary factor in whether or not we would have any conversation with them.

QUESTION: Can I get (inaudible)? (Inaudible) president led the delegation for the opening ceremonies. Ivanka Trump led the delegation for the closing ceremonies. Such high-level administrations officials were in South Korea. And there were some North Korean officials that were present. Was it a missed opportunity for both sides to talk to one another during the Olympics?

SANDERS: I don't think so. I think that the message that the United States wanted to deliver was the one of maximum pressure. And we continue to do that. I think you certainly saw that in all of the remarks, both publicly and those that were private, between the U.S. officials and President Moon and his administration, and also through the actions of the Treasury Department, with the largest sanctions ever, that you saw on Friday.


QUESTION: Thank you. I want to get back to the 21 age limit for gun ownership. The president was pretty forthright about this -- excuse me -- in the onset, and now you just said that it is something that is still being discussed. It feels like a little bit of a downgrade. Why the downgrade? And to those who would say, well, he had lunch with the NRA over the weekend, did the NRA get ahold of him?

SANDERS: I don't think it's at all a downgrade. I think we're talking specifically about implementation and what this process would look like, what specific pieces of legislation might look like, and we haven't seen those yet. So it would be premature for us to weigh in. But as I said, the president's still supportive of the concept.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions for you.

You just returned from the region. From the perspective of the administration, have the North Koreans been successful at all in driving a wedge between the South Koreans and the United States?

SANDERS: I don't think so. I think our alliance is as strong as ever. I think you saw that both with the president's visit, and certainly over the last several days, there was a great sense of cooperation. And I would say that that alliance is still very much strong. There's no daylight between us and the South Koreans, particularly on what needs to happen moving forward.

QUESTION: And on the Syrian cease-fire, is the president concerned about the continuing violence, despite the fact that there's been a cease-fire brokered for the region?

SANDERS: Look, Syria is terrorizing hundreds of thousands of civilians with airstrikes, artillery, rockets and a looming ground attack. The regime's use of chlorine gas is -- as a weapon only intensifies this. The United States calls for an immediate end to offensive operation and urgent access for humanitarian workers and badly needed humanitarian aid.

Francessca (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

I also want to ask about that luncheon with the National Rifle Association that the president revealed today. Could you say whether that was on Saturday or whether it was on Sunday. And why wasn't that on the president's public schedule, given that he's a pretty open supporter of the NRA and he often talks about it.

SANDERS: It was on Sunday. Obviously the president wasn't trying to keep it under wraps, or he wouldn't have announced it so publicly. It was a productive conversation. And I think everyone is in agreement that things need to be done and we have to have some changes take place to do what we can to protect America's kids. And members of the NRA are -- want to be part of that discussion. And as we've said the president is taking information from a number of stakeholders, and to try to pretend like he's being influenced by any one group would be ridiculous, considering the number of individuals he's met with that come from both the far left, to the far right, and -- and a lot of those in between. And we're going to continue those conversations, and meet with bipartisan lawmakers on Wednesday later this week.

QUESTION: The reason I asked you about what day that the lunch took place, Sarah, is because yesterday morning, that NRA spokeswoman had said that these are just things that he's discussing right now, when it comes to that age limit that Blake was asking about. It does seem like there was a softening of the stance from the president between what we heard last week, and what we're hearing now, today. And is it, at this point, is the president firmly committed to that, if he can see it in a legislative form?

SANDERS: Again, we haven't seen the legislation in form yet, and so we're not going to speak to potential legislation that doesn't exist; that may have a lot of different nuance language. In concept, the president still supports it, but in terms of legislation, we'd need to see what that looks like before we weigh in further.

Hallie (ph)? I'm disappointed that Peter didn't make it. We were on the same travel schedule. You should give him a hard time for that.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to follow up to Trey on Syria, but before I do, I want to ask you this, because given the guilty plea from Rick Gates on Friday, I'm wondering what it says in your view about the president's judgment that three people linked to his campaign have now turned out to be criminals.

SANDERS: Look, I think that those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the president, and anything beyond that, because those are active investigations, I'm not going to go any further than that.

QUESTION: Didn't Gates serve on his campaign?

SANDERS: Yeah, but the actions that are under review, and under investigation took place prior to him being part of the president's campaign.

QUESTION: Let me ask about Syria, because in, I think it was last summer, Sean Spicer, who was at this podium, issued a statement in which he said, "If Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

Given the developments in Syria that we've seen over the last few days, should the Assad regime be on notice? And is President Trump talking with President Putin in recent days about his situation?

SANDERS: I think that the president put the Assad regime on notice some time ago, and we're continuing to echo that message. When I said that we called for an immediate end to these offensive operations, we mean it. But in terms of any specific action, as we've said before, I'm not going to broadcast what we may or may not do. But I think they should absolutely take it very seriously.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Putin discussions. (inaudible)

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any conversations. I don't believe anything's taken place in the last couple of days.

QUESTION: When you say "immediate action," what is immediate? What is the timeline for (inaudible) to see something happens?

SANDERS: As the president said, he's not going to lay out a specific calendar. He thinks that's a big mistake, when it comes to putting pressure on, and negotiating things, so I'm not going to do that today. QUESTION: Sarah, Sarah.


QUESTION: Two -- two things I'd like to follow up. First, on the question about the background checks. Did -- the president has talked about making background checks stronger, but, you know, that would suggest that he thinks that an effective background check is a useful tool. So can you say for sure whether he would support what had been talked about as universal background checks in 2013 -- the idea of expanding the existing background check system to also cover private sales at gun shows, and on the Internet? Is that something, at least, that he's open to, or look -- or looking at?

SANDERS: I'm not aware that that's -- you know, the position that he's in right now. I do know that he supports the Cornyn legislation, and that would be something that the administration could get behind. In terms of other specific pieces of legislation, the Stop Guns Violence Act would be another piece of legislation that the president would specifically support. Any legislation beyond that, we'd have to see what it looks like, and review that before we make that determination.


SANDERS: I haven't asked him that specifically.

QUESTION: If I could get in one another thing. The first lady today in her remarks -- her brief remarks about (inaudible) to the governors -- (inaudible) houses, I guess, talked -- mentioned the young students from Stoneman Douglas who had been advocating over the past couple of weeks, praised them, and said their voices need to be heard.

Given that the large majority of those students have been expressing views that run counter to the policies of this administration or the things that this administration will support, for example, assault- weapons bans, does the president also agree with the first lady that these are important voices that need to be heard?

SANDERS: Absolutely. That's the reason that he had a number of them (inaudible) the White House just last week, and why we're going to continue having those conversations. That's one piece of the conversation. And it's certainly one that is very important and should be listened to. And that was why that was the very first meeting that the president held on school safety, was hearing from a number of those students.

We want to continue that dialogue, as well as continue the conversations with state, local and federal officials. That's why the president had the governors ere today. And that's why he's going to have meetings with lawmakers from Congress from both sides of the aisle later this week.

I'll take one last question -- Jim?

QUESTION: When the president said earlier today that he would have run into the school, was he suggesting that he could've saved of the day? SANDERS: I think he was just stating that, as a leader, he would've stepped in and hopefully been able to help, as a number of the individuals that were in the school, the coach and other adults, and even a lot of the students, stepped up and helped protect other students. I think the point he was making is that he would have wanted to of played a role in that as well.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Is he trained in firing a weapon? Is he trained in using a handgun or a firearm of some sort?

SANDERS: I don't think that was the point he was making. He was saying that he would be a leader, and would want to take a courageous action. And a lot of the individuals that helped protect others that day weren't carrying firearms, which I think shows that you can be helpful in that process without it.

QUESTION: Sarah, a lot of parents are worried that if you have a lot of people inside these schools with weapons that this could turn in to a situation like the Wild West. What would you say to parents out there who are worried about faculty members, coaches, administrators packing heat in the schools?