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CNN Poll: 30% Approve of Trump's Handling of Russia Probe; Will Gun Control Push Hit Roadblock in Congress?; Ivanka Trump's North Korean Trip Upsets West Wing Officials; Florida GOP Congressman Calls for Assault Weapon Ban. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 07:00   ET


HIMES: So, you know, 30 percent is probably a fairly good number of those people who, you know, as we've come to refer to them, are the Fifth Avenue Republicans. Consistent with the idea that the president put out there that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and people would be totally fine with it. I'm sad to see that number is 30 percent, but I think that's what populates that group of people.

[07:00:23] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The other word for that is his base. But I think "Fifth Avenue Republicans" is catchy. But Congressman Jim Himes, thank you very much for previewing what's going to happen today with us.

HIMES: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The teachers love the students and want to protect those students.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I've listened to the first-grade teachers that don't want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's right for anyone so say that teachers can't be capable of carrying a weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want the teachers to teach.

TRUMP: There's no bigger fan of the NRA. But sometimes, we're going to have to fight them sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president appears to be backing away from this idea that the age limit should be raised to 21 for purchases of assault weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He goes out and says one thing. Then he gets in a room with the NRA and, boom, he completely flipped his point of view.

TRUMP: Peterson, he thought he was probably a brave guy, but he choked. CAMEROTA: The school resource officer says he is not a coward, as one

victim thanks the first responder who saved her life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the love that's been passed around, I definitely wouldn't be here without it.


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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

President Trump pressuring lawmakers to change the nation's gun laws after the Florida school massacre. Sources are telling CNN that President Trump appears to be backing away, though, from the idea of raising the age limit to buy rifles. The president also saying he would have rushed into the school even if he did not have a gun just to stop the carnage.

CAMEROTA: So Republicans and Democrats are now haggling over solutions, even a modest improvement to background checks. What can they get done today?

Well, there is also intensifying scrutiny of how the local sheriff handled repeated warnings about the school killer. Why Republicans are beating the drum for the sheriff to resign. So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip. She's live at the White House with our top story.

Good morning, Abby.


Well, President Trump has been saying publicly that he's willing to go against the National Rifle Association in order to push gun control measures, but the question today remains, how far is he really willing to go to push 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 that 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, the 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.


[07:05:00] PHILLIP: Well, the president today has meetings with bipartisan groups of lawmakers, which will give him another opportunity to hear some feedback about these proposals on gun laws. And just a couple of minutes ago, he broke a relatively long period of

silence on Twitter. And he tweeted this morning, apparently responding to something that he's watching on television today, Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: All right, Abby. Thank you very much.

Joining us now to talk about all this is political analyst John Avlon and associate editor of RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard.

OK, so let's just put up on the screen what we think the proposals are as of this moment to stop gun violence. So bonuses to teachers who undergo gun training, because he's talked about arming more teachers for those who are adept at it, as he has said. Comprehensive background checks. We're not sure exactly what that means. Of course, the devil is in the details. And emphasis on mental health that he's been talking about. Ending sales of bump stocks. He says he'll do it himself if Congress isn't willing to do it.

Now we didn't mention in here, we don't have as one of our lines, raising the minimum age to purchase rifles, because our sources suggest that maybe he's backed off that.

So that's where it looks like we are, A.B., at the moment, with him, with his leadership on this.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. It's notable that he actually said for the first time sometimes you have to fight the NRA. He met with them over the weekend. They obviously expressed their opposition to an age restriction. They are opposed to that, and they probably made that quite clear. He's backed off that.

The idea that he would have Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesperson, go out and say, "Well, if the governors weren't clamoring for it at the meeting, maybe there's no appetite for it." So that seems to be off the table.

The bump stocks thing, the Fix NICS, which is sort of a way to coerce more record -- more submissions into the background.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that coordinates the background check. That has to happen, for sure.

But that doesn't lead to a comprehensive background check. And we don't know what the president means on that.

The fight is always in the background check. How long, how rigorous the assessment is. How long it takes to wait. What is the criteria. That's -- that's really where the fight is. And you look at Senator Manchin and Toomey, they tried to do this in 2011. They're trying to revive it. I don't see a lot of Republican appetite for it at this point.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Ninety-seven percent of Americans, according to the Quinnipiac poll, support it. The devil is in the details. I know Congress is where good ideas go to die. But 97 percent of Americans support it, including a vast majority of Republicans. Maybe that will give some courage or at least political cover for people to do what they know is the right thing.

CUOMO: Really? Because isn't that number -- isn't that number -- here's another chance for me to get shot down on the panel today. Ninety-seven percent. All right. I get that that's what it is in the poll.

But traditionally. And yes, I get that this is different, because you have survivors and victims here who are able to speak for themselves in the way that we don't usually see, and they're unusually sympathetic. But what the metric should be is will people vote on this issue at the polls in a way that motivates the conversation of new restrictions, better rules, better vetting? We have never seen that, John.


CUOMO: We've only seen people come out to vote to reward the opposite. So I take the 97 number, but I'm feeling like it's a little -- a little deceptive.

AVLON: Look, you know, we can look that gift horse in the mouth, but here's the point. Ninety-seven percent of American people don't agree on apple pie and motherhood.

CUOMO: True.

AVLON: So you know, if that -- if that 3 percent can block progress on this in Congress, then we've got an even deeper...

CUOMO: I'm saying a big chunk of the 97 won't vote on it.

AVLON: I hear what you're saying about single issue. We'll see whether this fall people are motivated in the same way. That's a fair standard.

But again, let's look at that statistic. Let's look at the overwhelming support. And rather than simply saying nothing happened after Sandy Hook, nothing is going to happen now. What progress can be made? Where can the president find some common ground? He seems to be trying to lead. So let's see what we can actually get down the field.

CAMEROTA: The Newtown example is a good one. Because when federally, they didn't have the spine to do anything, Connecticut acted and changed gun violence in their state. To be clear, when they beefed up laws, gun violence went down in their state.

So now Florida is looking at doing the same thing. Here's what's on the table from the Florida state house. Ban sale of all firearms to anyone under 21. So they would increase the age limit. Require a three-day waiting period for purchases. Create what -- this is what Connecticut did, the risk protection order. So if somebody calls and says somebody is a danger to himself or to a school or others, they can temporarily take away that person's firearms. And then ban sale of bump stocks. So maybe this is where we'll see progress.

STODDARD: Well, that's where progress -- again, the most substantive solutions lie in the area of a more comprehensive background check combined with some kind of rigorous mental health responses, where you lose the right to have a firearm and it's taken from you if you exhibit certain signs and behaviors. And that -- that -- that needs to be tightened up.

[07:10:02] We're a long way from knowing what the president's going to fight for or what Republicans are going to push on. And I think this issue of single-issue voting, that -- it makes clear to me they're going to get through their primary season. We're not going to see anything March, April or May. And it's only if Republicans see the polling in early...

CAMEROTA: You don't think there's going to be any action in Washington, D.C.?

STODDARD: No, they might do a Fix NICS or bump stocks.

CUOMO: But they won't do universal sales.


CUOMO: They're not going to make all sales -- look, Scott Taylor is a good man. He served this country with honor. He's a congressman of Virginia. We love that he comes on the show to be tested. He wouldn't move on universal background checks. He didn't even want to really fill in the blanks. Because all he has to say is "I don't want these."

How are you making background checks better if you don't cover all sales? I mean, the problem isn't, A.B., we can look at the stats all day. We're all drowning in them right now. It's not that, "Oh, I didn't know that you had this thing on your record. Oh, I didn't know that you'd been adjudicated mentally ill." There is problems -- there are problems with communications, but they're not the fundamental problem with this, A.B. You know, that's not the real fix that the system needs. It needs to just cover everything and include information about people who are under treatment or in distress that it doesn't right now.


STODDARD: But I don't think we're going to get beyond Fix NICS and bump stocks and get to that unless Republicans see -- until and unless they see that this new energy is actually going to be measurable in polls and be a threat to them in November. And then I think we could see something. Until then, it's going to be stuff that Democrats and the other side say are not enough.

AVLON: It's the old political lines. You know, "I'm not going to see the light until you make me feel the heat." And are people going to apply that kind of sustained pressure on this issue.

But before we even get to that, can we take advantage of the common ground that seems to exist even on modest measures at a time when there's overwhelming support?

The other thing to watch out for is the poison pill that killed the Cornyn bill in December, which is conceal and carry in the House. Trying to make that mandatory for several states. Keep an eye on that. That's a way to kill this even in the face of overwhelming support.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's move on to something else that's happening in Washington. As you know, Ivanka went to represent the U.S. and the White House to Korea for the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. And CNN's reporting is that that has caused some tension inside the White House because, you know, General John Kelly might not have thought that she was qualified. She hasn't been involved in any North Korean talks. She doesn't know anything about diplomacy.

STODDARD: This is amazing, because we have heard reports for weeks that General H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and chief of staff General John Kelly are both perhaps leaving. So the idea that this would leak means he's either trying to lose his job, John Kelly is so frustrated, that he's having these conversations with people that he knows will leak this, or he's being set up.

And nothing -- I would put nothing past this West Wing in terms of their hunger games. So that -- that's really dramatic that he would -- the news now is that he resisted it before she went and that this leaked out after she came home. And I think it's very telling about that struggle. He was able for a while to deal with the fact that there is a threesome that runs this government: the president, the son-in-law and the daughter. It's impenetrable. He depends on them entirely. And that the -- I think the chief of staff was willing to put up with that for a while, and apparently, he can't take it anymore. And that means probably he's going to leave.

AVLON: And then remember that this is the United States of America, and we tend not to have son-in-law and daughters running governments historically, which is why we have nepotism laws, probably happen again.

If Kelly is feeling frustration about Ivanka, he certainly feels it about Jared. But this is also -- this isn't simply about the Olympics. This is also an Olympics that's adjoining the country that we may well go to war with if they continue to have nuclear weapons. So this isn't simply niceties. This is serious stuff. And that's why it happens.

This is all happening after a weekend in which the present premier of China just basically gave himself lifetime appointment. This is serious stuff and simply freelancing in a fur coat ain't going to cut it.

CUOMO: Freelancing in a fur coat.

CAMEROTA: I heard it. I got it. I heard it.

AVLON: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon, A.B. Stoddard.

CUOMO: That's been said about me before, and I didn't like it.

CAMEROTA: We'll show pictures later.

Thank you guys very much.

So a Republican congressman and combat veteran with a change of heart about guns after the Parkland massacre. He tells us why he wants these weapons off the streets and what he plans to do, next.


[07:18:42] CAMEROTA: The White House says President Trump will meet with lawmakers from both sides tomorrow to discuss ways to prevent mass shootings. One lawmaker hoping to attend is Republican Congressman Brian Mast of Florida. He is an Army combat veteran. He's a Purple Heart recipient and is now calling for an assault weapons ban.

In a "New York Times" op-ed, he writes, "My rifle was very similar to the AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon used to kill students, teachers and a coach I knew at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where I once lived. We used it because it was the most lethal, the best for killing our enemies. And I know that my community, our schools and public gathering places are not made safer by any person having access to the best killing tool the Army could put in my hands. I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend."

Republican Congressman Brian Mast joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

REP. BRIAN MAST (R), FLORIDA: Happy to join you.

CAMEROTA: Did you feel this way about calling for an assault weapons been before Parkland?

MAST: You know, the impetus for me writing that op-ed was really, I was sitting around with my family. I was out at a public place. I was watching my kids play in a pool with probably 100 other kids, and I was thinking about what had just happened in Parkland.

But I'm looking around at the situation around me and saying, "This is very similar to what happened in Las Vegas." I was concealing and carrying my 9-millimeter right at that moment, as I normally do. But I'm saying, myself and my family and all these other kids down here are sitting ducks to the next, you know, Stephen Paddock who conducted that assault in Las Vegas.

[07:20:22] We have to do something about this. We have to protect our communities, our theaters, certainly our schools. That's where the conversation has really been. But this goes well beyond schools also.

CAMEROTA: But you're so interesting to talk to, Congressman, because you just have so many credentials. OK? So you have an "A" rating from the NRA. You, as we said, are a combat veteran. You're a Republican. You have a firearm. I mean, obviously, you know how to use one. You did so in combat.

And so what do you say to the argument that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun that matches his?

MAST: I know all of these detractions. You know, the fact that there is no evil firearm. That is the truth. There are evil people, and there are good people. And that firearm is a function of it. And you do have to be able to stop a bad guy with a good person with that capability.

But I look at this tactically. And like I said in that situation with my 9 millimeter. I don't want to die because of a lack of shooting back one day. But I can tell you that we don't conceal and carry AR- 15s. So if I'm not concealing and carrying that, that means that I'm at a very specific tactical disadvantage for anybody that's coming at me with that kind of fire power. And here's an easy example to say what that is.

Let's take what happened with the Broward sheriff's officers down there in Parkland. We had a school resource officer that didn't enter the school. And we had what seems to be three other Broward sheriff's officers that didn't enter the school. They were in a holding pattern. These are men with tactical training, with body armor and with pistols who wouldn't go in there, because they were basically brought to being frozen by an 18-year-old with an AR-15. That should give us pause about the power of that platform.

CAMEROTA: Listen, that's not the first time. Columbine also had some armed officers. The Umpqua school shooting in Oregon, that's a, I believe, concealed carry state.

So, there were people there with weapons, but it's very hard to, as we know, to stop a crazed gunman with an AR-15. It just is. You know, listen, you've heard all of the arguments on the other side, but I just want to bounce some off you, because I know you thought them through.

So Dana Loesch, she said that she needs her AR-15. She's a -- when she was a single, young woman, that's the gun that she needed for home protection. So listen to this.


DANA LOESCH, NRS SPOKESPERSON: The first that I ever purchased in terms of long guns was a shotgun, and then I ended up getting an AR- 15. In fact, that is what women -- that's the most popular home defense rifle for women in the United States of America.

And I don't want anyone to have their right to be able to defend themselves denied. There are adults at 20 years old. I want them to protect themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: Twenty-year-old women need AR-15s, Congressman.

MAST: Look, I would say I don't want anybody to have the right to defend themselves in the way that they see fit denied either. Our Second Amendment is an unimpeachable God-given right to defend ourselves. One of the most basic rights.

But we recognize that there is a balance between what is the level of lethality, what is that level of fire power, and does that fall in line?

I can't go out right now and buy what was known as an M-249 squad automatic weapon. It's the same size round that the AR-15 shoots, that my M-4 carbine shoots, except for it shoots about 500 rounds a minute. It's a military machine gun for all intents and purposes. I can't go purchase that. We understand that that's a line.

That would probably be even better for home defense than what that AR- 15 is, but we recognize that there's a line somewhere that we say here is the Second Amendment, and here is public safety. And there's room. They're not mutually exclusive to one another. And that's what I would say to Ms. Loesch.

BASH: Congressman, have you talked to your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill about this?

MAST: You know, we just got back into Washington yesterday. Yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon. So I've had a lot of conversations between when I arrived in Washington and, you know, this morning. We have a conference meeting this morning, as we do every Tuesday. And I'm going to be getting up there and making my plea to my fellow Republican congressmen in our behind-closed-door conference, talking about, you know, really this. I think this is one of the most important things we can say.

I haven't met one Republican and had this conversation where they said, "Yes. I've got full faith in the system that we're not going to put another AR-15 in the hands of the next Nikolas Cruz or Omar Mateen," who was the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooter. I don't have any confidence in the system stopping that.

Well, if we don't have confidence in that going on in the system, then how do we say we go forward and continue these sales? Let's pause. Let's assess. Let's see what's going on in the system. Let's call on the president to do something similar to what I said was the travel ban.

[07:25:08] You can do a travel ban for people coming into this country. Do a ban on purchases of these assault-style weapons, tactical-style weapons so that we can assess the whole situation and get back to the American people in a responsible way.

CAMEROTA: Are your Republican colleagues receptive?

MAST: Many of them are. Many of them have come up to me, you know, kind of more so one on one, a little bit quietly. You know how that is. They're not, you know, necessarily wanting to have this conversation in front of everybody, but they're saying, "Hey, good job on you. Good job on taking a stand. Good job in saying that."

How is that playing? What are people saying to you back in your district? They're really wanting to know what is the reception about, you know, what I've heard about what I've said. And of course, you could imagine that's been a very mixed bag.

CAMEROTA: And very quickly, because Senator Marco Rubio was at our CNN town hall, you know, listening to the concerns of the community there. Have you spoken to him directly?

MAST: I have not spoken to Senator Marco Rubio yet. But I would say this to everybody listening: our president, all 100 members of the Senate, 435 members of Congress, every state, legislature and Senate, sheriff's office, police office, every student, every parent, every school board. We've got to come together. We've got to come together with this commitment.

Not one more death inside of a school. Not one more school shooting. We've to come together with that. If we can't, who are we if we can't come together in that one?

CAMEROTA: Congressman Brian Mast, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on this with us. It's hard to find somebody better equipped who knows all sides of this. Thanks so much.

MAST: Thank you.


CUOMO: All right. So another aspect of this national debate is playing out in Florida. Delta is one of the many companies that cut off NRA discounts in the wake of the Florida school shooting. Now one lawmaker is threatening to take drastic action against the company in Georgia. We'll explain next.