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Will Gun Control Push Hit Roadblock in Congress? Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe I would run into even if I didn't have a weapon.

[05:59:21] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's ridiculous.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was just stating he would have stepped in and hopefully been able to help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The proposal to raise it to 21 is just common sense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he should be backing away from this issue.

TRUMP: By the way, bump stocks, I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this case he deserves credit for this, and I hope he'll keep it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to watch some deputy sheriffs. They weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The school resource officer insisting he did nothing wrong as CNN learns new details about the gunman's troubled past.

JOELLE GUARINO, FORMER NEIGHBOR WHO CALLED 911 ON SCHOOL SHOOTER: I remember thinking he's going to kill someone, and I can do nothing about it.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, February 27, 6 a.m. here in New York. So here's our starting line.

President Trump keeping up the pressure on lawmakers to change the nation's gun laws nearly two weeks after the Florida school massacre. But sources tell CNN that President Trump appears to be backing away from the idea of raising the age limit to buy rifles. The president also says, unlike the school resource officer, he would

have rushed into the school, even if he did not have a weapon, to stop the carnage.

Republicans and Democrats are haggling over some solutions, even a modest improvement to background checks. So what can they get done today?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now in Florida, they seem to be moving on two tracks. There's some changes to gun policy being banged out in the legislature, but there's equal intensity on the security breakdowns that proceeded the attack.

The sheriff facing growing concerns to resign as CNN learns that police received double the number of 911 calls to the killer's home than the sheriff has revealed. That's going to be interesting if the people complaining about the police now will agree to the types of law changes you would need to restrict access to weapons for someone like the Parkland murderer.

And two West Wing staffers are in the spotlight today. Communications director Hope Hicks, she's set to meet privately with the House Intel Committee in their Russia investigation. The question is, is she going to invoke executive privilege like we've seen others do?

And sources tell CNN Ivanka Trump's trip to South Korea is causing tension with the president's chief of staff. Why? We'll get into it.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House with our top story. Hey, Ab.


Well, President Trump has been saying publicly that he's willing to go against the National Rifle Association to push gun control measures, but the question remains, how far is he really willing to go to get Congress to act?


TRUMP: 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.

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump urging the nation's governors to fearlessly challenge the powerful gun lobby to implement stricter background checks.

TRUMP: 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.

PHILLIP: It comes after his weekend meetings with the leaders of the NRA. Despite his apparent willingness to break with some NRA positions, sources tell CNN the president appears to be backing away from changing the legal age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 after publicly considering the idea. The White House says the president did not discuss the age limit issue with governors.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: When they don't bring it up, that's very telling to him.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: We go to war at 18. Then you vote at 18 but you can't buy a rifle?

GIDLEY: It's very inconsistent.

PHILLIP: As Congress struggles to find common ground, the president signaling a willingness to take executive action against bump stocks.

TRUMP: Bump stocks, we're writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself.

PHILLIP: The president doubling down on his criticism of Broward County deputies who didn't rush into the school to save lives.

TRUMP: The way they performed was frankly disgusting.

PHILLIP: Mr. Trump even going so far as to suggest he would have acted, even if he didn't have a gun.

TRUMP: I really believe I'd run in there, even if I didn't have a weapon. And I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too. Because I know most of you. But the way they performed was -- was really a disgrace.

PHILLIP: The president making the argument again for arming teachers.

TRUMP: They don't love the students. They don't know the students. The teachers love the students, and they want to protect those students.

PHILLIP: Washington state's Democratic governor rejects that idea.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: Educators should educate, and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes.

I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here, a little more listening.

PHILLIP: Lawmakers floating a few proposals during Congress's first day back in session, including the Fix NICS Bill, a plan that would give incentives to states and federal agencies to make more entries into the background check system. A universal background checks bill, a draft proposal to raise the purchase age for long guns, and an assault weapons ban.


PHILLIP: Well, President Trump has a couple of meetings today with bipartisan groups of lawmakers, just another opportunity for him to hear some feedback about these proposals that are being thrown out. But already one of the easiest things that Congress could do, a background checks bill, is already facing some head winds in Congress, partly because of what it might be attached to, Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for setting all that up for us.

Joining us now, our CNN political analyst, David Gregory, and associate editor of RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard.

Abby, let's end where Abby just did. There's some head winds in Congress to figuring out what they're going to do, but there's a lot of momentum outside of Congress. OK? So all the polls, the kids have not given up obviously in Parkland. They're still out there every day talking about what they want to see. The Florida state legislature seems to be doing things and moving forward. So what do you think is going to happen this week in Congress?

[06:05:06] A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, this week everyone is going to learn -- try to assess where the president is. And that's really important to Republicans who are facing primary elections and strong resistance from their Second Amendment supporters and resistance from the right. Those are the threats in the primary elections. So is will be a listening time.

And particularly as I said, where is the president? Where is he going to make a stand? It is clear that he appreciates and has -- can read the power of this anger. But it's unclear whether he can stay consistently on a position. And for Republicans in Congress, that's a must do.

They can talk about bump stocks, and they can talk about Fix NICS. The Cornyn bill is bipartisan. It's -- no one objects to it. Democrats say there's -- no one objects to it. Those kinds of things can pass. I think you'll see a bigger push, obviously, from the other side for more; and this sort of "just wait and see" on where President Trump is going to land. Whether or not -- look, it was remarkable he said for the first time that he's willing to push the NRA. He said that before.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And I just want to stop you there for one second, because I did think that we need to take a beat on that. That is, I think vintage Trump and why so many -- part of why so many people voted for him. He's going to do things differently.

STODDARD: If he can back that up...

CAMEROTA: I've never heard a politician say that.

STODDARD: If he can back it up the next couple weeks...

CUOMO: That's the problem.

STODDARD: ... it will be a real breakthrough. CUOMO: We've heard him say things like that in the past, David, where

he's like, "I'll do this. I'll do that. I'll buck the system. I'll go up against the power structure." But he hasn't really done that. Although in deference to the president on this one, he did check the box early on saying, we have to do something. We've heard nothing from Ryan. We've heard nothing from McConnell. So the president is out in front in terms of motivating change. But who do you think needs to deliver here?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm going to say, I'm a lot more skeptical about what the president is saying and whether we can actually believe him. That is, you know, idle talk that you've got to buck the NRA. Because what -- first of all, what has he said most recently when he warned about a Democratic takeover of Congress? Watch out. They will destroy the Second Amendment. They will take it away from you. That's really what he's telling people in an electoral context.

Two, let's not forget, this is the president who walked away from a deal to get funding for a border wall, his signature promise in the election. He walked away from it, because he was listening to the hard right within his party on immigration. So you know, he could have had a huge immigration deal. He walked away from it. So I don't think he's going to take on the NRA.

And I think his leadership is not as important as what you're hearing. The silence you just mentioned, Chris, is because Republican leaders do not want to get into this fight. Not in an election year where they already have so much energy on the left. And again, that energy would only -- could only grow if they are, you know, certainly intense about this issue and are willing to vote on it in an election year.

But you're looking at the leadership in -- among Republicans they don't want any part of this beyond fixing the background check. Even there, as A.B. said, there's head wind. Maybe the bump stocks. They don't want to get into raising the age, assault weapons ban. I think the action here is to look at the state level.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and let me be clear. Actions speak louder than words. OK. We all know that.

But just to hear a president say things like "We're going to be very tough and we're going to have to fight them about the NRA." That's the only thing. Is that he sometimes switches up the script.

CUOMO: To hear a Republican president say it.

CUOMO: To hear a Republican president. You know, just that vocally.

So -- but again, I hear you, David, that obviously, there's a big disconnect sometimes between things that are said and then the actions.

CUOMO: You have to fold the Democrats in, too. You know, Toobin made me nervous yesterday, when in was like, "Oh, maybe I have it wrong about them." But I made about 15, 20 calls last night, and I'm right. The Democrats are trying to figure out how important this is to them,

if it's a hill they're willing to die on. Are you going to go all in on this? They were bruised by what happened with the shutdown. You know, they had their own people in their party say to them, "Either you stand firm or get out. You know, you failed us on that. You got nothing out of that." So they're considering that, too.

And even though they don't have power, as you say, there's all this momentum on the outside. Can they harness that into political momentum in Congress and at the polls?

CAMEROTA: And since Jeffrey Toobin is not here right now, I'll say I was right also in my argument.

CUOMO: You were certainly right going into it, because you were -- optimism is always the right choice.

CAMEROTA: I agree.

OK, so listen, there was this meeting with the governors yesterday that the president had at the White House. That was where he said some of these things. And there was an interesting moment when the governor of Washington state confronted the president. So listen to this.


INSLEE: I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen, that educators should educate and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first-grade classes.

Now, I understand you have suggested this. And we suggest things, and sometimes then we listen to people about it. And maybe they don't look so good a little later. So I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here, a little more listening. And let's just take that off the table and move forward.

[06:10:05] TRUMP: All right. Thank you very much. You know, we have a number of states right now that do that, and I think with that in mind, I'll call on Greg Abbott, great governor of Texas -- Greg.


CAMEROTA: How about that moment, A.B.?


CAMEROTA: "A little less tweeting, a little more focus. Let's not have teachers packing heat."


CAMEROTA: He -- you know, he spelled out, I think, what the other side's position is to the president sometimes.

STODDARD: The thing is about arming teachers is, although it's done in some places, this is not going to be federalized. Republicans are not behind this.

And it's a way for the president to continue talking about something he feels strongly would be -- would help prevent these shootings, but it's not an actual solution that's going to pass. And so, it's -- what we're really looking at is whether or not he stays off of an age restriction, whether or not he defines what a comprehensive background check is, whether or not he's willing to have guns taken away from people who are mentally unstable.

CAMEROTA: This is all a red herring? All this talk about teachers, you think, is a red herring?

STODDARD: Because Republicans aren't behind it. They're not. They're not going to get behind reopening and funding mental institutions, and they're not going to get behind arming teachers. There's no appetite for that. And so he -- it's a talking point for him.

CUOMO: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: Also, just the look of him. I mean, just put up that video again. Not exactly an open and affirming stance on his part to listen to the other side.

CUOMO: Body language. The body language. You have my attention. You can talk as long as you want.

GREGORY: He's just like, am I able to lock up governors as well as Hillary Clinton? Am I -- I'm not sure. Can somebody check on that while he's still talking? But I think -- look, I think A.B. is right. But I do think that the reflexive response that somehow this is just outlandish on its face is not enough for Democrats. I think that there has to be a full look at how to harden the target. And there's lots of things to do.

CUOMO: Right.

GREGORY: I mean, for those of us who have -- you know, who are parents of kids who are going through active shooter drills and schools are going through how they lock down the school at different times. The kind of security or actual police presence that they have as a deterrent, as well as a first responder situation. The schools -- I think schools have to take this seriously.

And I think the horrible reason is that we know people who are going to commit this kind of act, if they are of sound mind, and even if they aren't, understand the kind of blaze of glory and the kind of media attention they're going to get. And I think they seek out those targets because of it.

CUOMO: Now the president did his best yesterday to disrupt any positive momentum by saying something foolish about how, even with no weapon, he'd run into the school. But I would argue he lost.

Because this lieutenant governor of Georgia said one of the most ridiculous things we've heard in a long time from a public official when he said he's going to do everything he can to make sure that any legislation, tax legislation, that benefits Delta in the state of Georgia. Remember, he's the lieutenant governor, not the governor. But he will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless they change their position and fully reinstate its relationship with the NRA: "Corporations can't attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."

He doesn't work for CPAC, A.B. Stoddard. He's the lieutenant governor of a state. And remember what the NRA does. They give a boost. They give special rates to certain people. So they're not punishing anybody from taking them away. They can do whatever they want. But I've never heard of a lawmaker doing anything like this. Because they don't like the politics of a company, they go after that company.

STODDARD: Well, he's going to be rewarded for that. I mean, there are people who are members of the NRA or supportive of the NRA and not yet members who find this boycott situation, this corporate response appalling. And they are all over social media, promising to find other brands and other corporations to support. And so...

CUOMO: They can do that.

STODDARD: There is definitely a crowd.

CUOMO: He's the officer of a state.

CAMEROTA: Not as big as people think. The membership of the NRA is not as big as people think, as we've learned.

CUOMO: Five million people.

STODDARD: People who are going to say, "Thank you to standing up to those corporations."

CUOMO: It's fine. But he's not just standing up. He's doing -- I've never...

STODDARD: I know. It's a threat.

CUOMO: Dave, we've got three better minds here than mine. Have you ever heard of a state official doing something like this before, saying, "I don't like how you're dealing with the NRA or any special interest group..."


CUOMO: "... so I'm going to punish you as a state official, if I can"?

GREGORY: No. But I think, you know, if you're, you know, playing to the base in a state like Georgia, perhaps you can get away with it.

You know, there's something else I think should be said here, and I think what bothers me about the NRA or conservatives invoking the NRA leadership position as fully representative of the NRA, the reality is we've had a debate now since 2001 about terrorism in this country and countering terrorism. And there has been an acceptance, left, right and center, that we have to give up certain rights, even some of our privacy, in the name of security. We do it at the airports all the time.

And yet we hear from the leadership of the NRA, not necessarily its members, who I think feel differently, that you cannot give any quarter when it comes to gun safety.

I think this is where the debate falls down. And I think there's too much of a fringe of a leadership of the NRA that speaks for the entire membership.

CAMEROTA: All right. David, A.B. Thank you very much. Stick around.

Up next, we have a CNN exclusive for you. She lived near the high school killer, and she says she tried to get police to do something about him.


GUARINO: I remember him leaving and just thinking, "My God, he's going to kill someone, and I can do nothing about it."


CAMEROTA: Her full story next.


CAMEROTA: The Broward County Sheriff's Office says it received 23 calls regarding the Florida high school killer or his family in the decade before this Valentine's Day massacre. However, records obtained by CNN show the department actually received double that amount in the last decade.

This as CNN speaks exclusively with a former neighbor of the shooter, who says she called police to report him two years ago and begged them to do something before he shot up a school.

[06:20:05] Rosa Flores is live in Parkland, Florida, with that CNN exclusive.

What did she tell you, Rosa?


Well, we knew about this neighbor from that list of calls that was released by authorities. What we didn't know were the chilling details that she witnessed from across the street.


GUARINO: My husband and I both knew that it was not over, that we would eventually see him one day on the news wearing an orange jump suit, being charged with murder. FLORES (voice-over): Joelle called 911 in February 2016 to say her

neighbor, Nikolas Cruz, was going to shoot up a school. She didn't know when, but she says she begged the officer to do something.

GUARINO: He basically told me that there was nothing he could do unless he carried out a threat, unless something happened. And after he left, I just felt completely helpless and frustrated. I didn't know where else to turn.

FLORES: Her son had showed her an Instagram post from Cruz, showing an AR-15-style rifle, with Cruz saying he couldn't wait to buy one when he turned 18. And soon after, another post, saying he wanted to shoot up a school.

The alarmed Guarino, who watched Cruz grow up alongside her kids, flashed back on all the signs of violence she says Cruz showed over the years and immediately thought he was capable of going on a rampage.

GUARINO: I was really afraid for my family, for my animals, for myself.

FLORES: Guarino says Cruz was 10 when he hit her son with a rock in the eye. Then she says there was the killing of Toads in her yard and the shooting of squirrels and birds with his B.B. gun.

There was a time when she felt sorry for Cruz, when she says his mother kept the refrigerator and the pantry under lock and key. But Guarino says it was Cruz's menacing facial expression as he stood over her dog Max, while the dog was convulsing and foaming at the mouth, that convinced her that this teenager had a very dark side.

GUARINO: He was bending over my dog with a wild look on his face. He just looked excited. He was happy. When he finally looked up and saw me, his whole demeanor changed. His attitude toward my dog changed. He went from...

FLORES (on camera): What did he say?

GUARINO: He went from a wild look to concerned.

FLORES (voice-over): The signs of his violent outbursts could be seen on the walls of his room, she says, which were covered by holes punched by Cruz.

(on camera): When you think of those 17 people who died, and their families.

GUARINO: I feel horrible. I -- my heart breaks for them. I wish he would have told me something could be done if you make enough noise. He didn't. He said there was nothing that could be done. And I believed him. I wish I didn't. But I did. I'm very angry. I'm very angry.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FLORES: And as authorities investigate, look into these missed warning signs, the sheriff's office is looking into the handling of two calls. And Chris and Alisyn, Guarino's call is one of them.

CUOMO: All right. Look, that's an important data point that gives us a real sense of the context of what people in the community did know. What should it have meant to law enforcement?

Let's bring back David Gregory and joining us is CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

This isn't a terror case, Phil. But you've had so much experience with knowing what law enforcement assesses as a threat, what actions they can take. What do you see in this situation?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, let's say that somebody reacted to that call. For example, we had FBI calls, as well, as you know. And you walk in and you have a conversation with the kid. And he said, "You know, I had a bad hair day. I broke up with my girlfriend. I'm unhappy."

I think we do have, as you said, a data point, but it raises a bigger question far beyond the minimalist questions I've seen on things like whether you raise an age from 18 to 21.

And that is when you see behavior like this through multiple lenses -- phone calls, neighbors, Instagram postings, when does the individual, whether 18, 21 or 30, lose the right to privacy, because the state says the behavior we're seeing is not illegal but it's so disturbing that we're going to go through a judicial process to take away this person's weapon? I think that's the question raised here, and it's a lot bigger than these stupid conversations we're having about whether all you do is raise the age to 21. That's ridiculous.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, David, Rosa's interview is so illuminating. I mean, I haven't heard it spelled out in such graphic terms, just how excited he was by animals in distress or animals dying and how violent he was and all those sort of graphic details.

[06:25:04] And the idea that police told that neighbor, "Well, until he acts, we can't do anything." You know? He's got to -- he's got to have -- he's going to have to do something first. How can this be?

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, I'm so troubled by it. And I think we have to calibrate our outrage about this and our desperate worry about this in the same way that we want to talk about limiting people like him and limiting their access to weapons, reducing the lethality of a weapon, if it is used in a crime like this.

You know, it's like after 9/11 when there was so much work to be done, wondering why the government wasn't talking within itself to put together the dots of menacing what became mass murder behavior.

And here, too, I mean, we have to take a hard look at lowering the threshold for allowing someone to have access to a gun. Alisyn, I keep going back to your question from last week: Well, what

is the responsibility of the gun seller? I don't think we can overburden this person, because there's lawful transactions, but it does bear in mind, well, why are you buying the weapon? Why do you want three rifles? What's going on? How do you look? How do you appear?

I mean, there's no question that we make these assessments. Everyday people make these assessments. When a six -- 17-year-old is going around trying to get a case of beer or other things that minors cannot easily buy, whether it's, you know, tobacco, cigarettes.

CUOMO: Right.

GREGORY: You know, there seems to be a higher threshold for, you know, kind of taking someone's measure.

CAMEROTA: I'm asked more questions at the airport. I mean, I'm asked questions when you check in your bag: Did you pack this? Is there anything else in there? I mean, it's -- those are fair questions.

CUOMO: Well, look, there's good news and there's bad news. Here's the good news. We do know that there's a solution, that all 50 states have been availed of, but they're not really putting it into practice yet. The military is. The Marines are doing it, and they lowered their suicide rate 22 percent.

Everybody at home can Google "the Columbia Protocol." And you'll see that there's a list of question that anybody can ask somebody who's in a state of distress that leads to them getting help, leads how to direct resources. It makes a huge difference in dealing with people like this shooter. But then there's bad news. OK?

When I heard, in the CNN town hall, the NRA lady go at the sheriff and say, "What about this law? You could" - -- in the state of Florida, Phillip, you know this stuff, as well. If you target an institution, "I'm going to go shoot up the school," it doesn't trigger the statute. It's about threats towards an individual.

Now, people are saying we have to change this. The right is going to have a problem. The same people who are criticizing these cops right now when they say, "You're right, we're going to lower the threshold of access to weapons. If you have a couple of neighbors who say this, it's going to trigger a proceeding and then" -- they're not going to like it.

The left is going to have a problem, because when you say to them, "Well, you know, you're right, too. And if somebody like this is in distress or getting treatment, that doctor should be able to come forward," they're going to say no because of FERPA, the child privacy rights, and HIPAA and chilling access to service.

That's why they're not talking about this, Phil. That's why they're nibbling on it around the edges, because neither side likes what this changes will mean for their politics. Fair point? MUDD: That's fair. And that's why the conversation should not be

taking place in the Congress of the United States. They will fail us. This is where presidential leadership comes into play.

Look, in the past couple days we've had the president use this as an opportunity to talk about how courageous he would have been. We've had the sheriff say how incredible his leadership was. We had the deputy say, "I didn't do anything wrong," and we've lost sight of 17 human beings.

If I were the president, I'd step back and say, "Democrats and Republicans in the Congress will fail us. I will establish a commission with people of loyalty to America as unquestioned." Maybe it's former President Bush. Maybe it's a man I would choose, General Stan McChrystal. He'd be great at this.

I will direct those people to ask basic questions, not whether the deputy did something wrong. But questions like you raised: What do we do if there's a threat to a place and not a person? Should we have standards that are federal? Should we support the states in a different way? The presidential leadership here could take this debate partly out of the Congress, and instead we get "I would have run into the building." I mean, we can do better than this, Chris.

CAMEROTA: The president was talking, David, just for people who don't know, about how he would have been able to run into the building, even without a weapon, to try to save people. And I guess my question is, do you think that his bone spurs would have prevented him from running into the building?

GREGORY: I mean, just so not helpful. I mean, it just -- in all of this -- I agree with Phil that the president can, instead of talking about reopening mental institutions, can try to lead us into a very tough conversation as Chris lays out, what are the costs of lowering the threshold of access to weapons for people who may not be of a sound state of mind? We want to protect it for people who are just lawful gun owners, buyers, and try to keep people away who are dangers, just like in the debate, and the efforts to protect us from terrorism. Why can't we join these two conversations instead of turning off our mind when all of a sudden it comes to guns?

CUOMO: Why is this the only threat in our society, if you think about it, that we don't combat, we look for reasons not to combat it? It's the only threat in our society we do this with. And you have to remember, the president says, "I'm thinking about reopening mental institutions."