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Rubio Confronted by Parents, Survivors at CNN Town Hall; Rubio Signals Changes He Would Support to Restrict Guns; Trump Meets With State Officials to Talk School Safety. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[12:32:] FRED GUTTENBERG, DAUGHTER KILLED IN PARKLAND SCHOOL MASSACRE: Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak. Look at me and tell me, guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in this school this week. And look at me and tell me, you accept it and you will work with us to do something about guns.

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DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That last night indicative of the mood inside the CNN town hall and illustrative of the near impossible task facing Florida's junior senator, had to comfort parents who had to do the unimaginable, bury their own children. And view Marco Rubio's Republican Party as responsible for the legislative inaction that cost high schoolers their lives.

Rubio said, he wants to break the gridlock on guns and have a real conversation on what to do. His first proffer? Two significant shifts that break from the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I absolutely believe that in this country, if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle, and I will support a law that takes that right away. Because I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip (INAUDIBLE).

And after this and some of the details I learned about it, I'm reconsidering that position, and I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why, because while it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That's pretty remarkable, you know, the fact that he said at some point during the town hall, I don't have courage as a Republican to come here and you have courage. And he's right, this is his job. He's an elected United States senator and it is his job to go and talk to his constituents, all of whom those people were. Having said that, he also was in a position where the whole room was against him. I mean, let's be honest, most of the room was against him. They want to see changes that go far beyond what he wants to do, what he is willing to do, what he believes he should do.

That's 100 percent true. And I think -- look, I've heard the school -- these were his constituent, he should have been there no matter what. They also could have held town halls in more favorable parts of the state. So, you give him credit for actually going and (INAUDIBLE) and having conversation. And also, while he definitely shifted on two things, he stood his ground on other things. And I think it's important to understand -- like Mike was talking about, if you want a realistic conversation about how things could actually move forward on a policy basis, then you need to understand where people actually stand on things, not just pander because of the audience that you're currently (INAUDIBLE).

And I think we were talking about this during the break, one of the really interesting elements was on banning automatic weapons or banning semiautomatic -- not automatic weapons, they're mostly out of existence now, but banning semiautomatic weapons where Senator Rubio said something that the crowd thought he walk himself into a rake about this idea, well, do you really want me to ban semiautomatic weapons, and the crowd went nuts. Of course they do and the senator is against that.

[12:35:11] That might have played what look like against him during that rally but from the broader country perspective, from the voters that Marco Rubio is serving from the position that he holds, that's exactly where he wants to be.

BASH: You're exactly right, and he actually said that in a tweet today. He said, "Banning all semiautomatic weapons may have been popular with the audience at CNN town hall, but it is a position well outside the mainstream." Unclear if that's true, but it is certainly well outside the mainstream of the conservative base that he relies on in Florida, that he certainly will rely on assuming he makes another run at the presidency again.

ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I did think it was -- sorry, it was really interesting the shifts that he made on those two issues are ones that I think Democrats have always thought that you could find common ground on. That if you restrict magazine sizes to something smaller, you can just reduce the carnage. And Marco Rubio's shift on that is interesting because a lot of other Republicans are just not willing to go there. They're still not willing to go there.

So it raises the question that Phil raised earlier this morning, is this about what people really believe or what people are willing to do based on their belief and they're willing to compromise in order to get something done. Or are they unwilling to go that far because they're worried about the political consequences of going against -- the position of the NRA is to not restrict those magazines. There are real political consequences for Republicans who are more worried about, you know, fights on the right than they are about fights on the left. BASH: And that was something that Senator Rubio was confronted about from an emotional survivor of the massacre last week. Let's take a listen.

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CAMERON KASKY, SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?

RUBIO: I do support the Second Amendment and i also support the right and view of everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe. And I do support any law that would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer. And that's why I've supported things that I stood for and fought for during my time there.

KASKY: Do you want more money, more NRA money?

RUBIO: That's the wrong -- well, look, first of all, the answer is people buy into my agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Look, I mean, he's trying to make this point that the NRA supports him because of what he supports, that they're not buying influence with him. And I think it's sort of misunderstood of where the NRA's power comes from. It's really not for money. They do spend a lot of money on -- you know, from the sort of outside not actually donating to candidates, there are limits to that.

But it is in the number of members -- in the number of people in the country who vote. And so people like to talk about how, you know, 60 percent of Americans support, you know, certain background checks or other restrictions on guns. But I would say there is a big, very much more motivated 35, 40 percent who actually get out and vote who disagree with that.

BASH: Let me just show our viewers -- you mentioned NRA spending. I want to show our viewers just a glimpse of what we're talking about in terms of spending. What those graphs represent is going back to 2012, the explosion of money that the NRA is spending in elections.

Most of it, the yellow part, most of it is outside spending, meaning not directly to the candidates but spending on behalf of the candidates. And in 2016, most of that giant bar graph which adds up to more than $50 million was to President Trump. They did focus on six Senate races, one of those was Marco Rubio's, and, you know, it was more than $3 million. Having said that, money --

WARREN: Do we doubt that Marco Rubio doesn't believe this, that he's only taking these positions because the NRA funds him. I think that was his point.

BASH: His point is that he's taking the positions because NRA members vote for him. WARREN: That's right. So -- I mean, whether or not that is in effect of something that he should be reconsidering, I don't know. I do think that, you know, these kids come up and they're very angry, they're very -- obviously very angry and very motivated to say something.

But I think that going in front of these kids and addressing their anger and their concerns, you know, has to have an effect on the way that they at least consider maybe they're getting these donations from the NRA but taking these positions that sort of cut against the NRA, I think people like Marco Rubio are in a stronger position to do so because where else is the NRA going to go? On 95 percent of the issues, Rubio is going to be with them.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And you saw some of the kids, you know, thanking him for coming, even though they didn't agree with him and they were critical to his face, the people appreciated that he stood up, and he was the only Republican that did. So, he gets credit for that.

To the shifts that he made, I do think he is -- especially on the weapons for juveniles, I mean, he's taking a position the president is also taking.

[12:40:04] So he's not taking that position all by himself for now.

BASH: That's true. He's got political cover from the president but a position with the NRA. We'll have to see if that goes anywhere.

Up next, the White House says President Trump has total confidence in his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster. So why, then, is the Defense Department exploring a potential move for him back to the Pentagon? That's up next.

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BASH: Welcome back. We are waiting for video of President Trump giving a lengthy talk, really a discussion, once again he just had inside the White House with state and local officials talking about school safety.

[12:45:11] We're going to bring that to you again in about less than a minute when we get 30 seconds.

Very quickly, we've been looking at notes as to what's to come. Give our viewers a preview, Abby.

PHILIP: A lot of optimism from the president that this is -- that gun changes are going to be backed by the NRA. He said he spoke to the NRA recently about this stuff and that he believes they're going to back him on changing the age that you can purchase a rifle to 21. That is opposite of what Wayne LaPierre said this morning.

BASH: Standby, let's listen to the president.

(INAUDIBLE) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you all for being here. We're doing a lot of things, a lot of things are happening. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary Alex Azar who is really setting the world on fire now with your -- lowering of prescription drug prices and a lot of other things you're doing and we appreciate it very much. A lot of people are saying it's already what's happening.

And -- especially the lowering of the price of health care, we see what's going on there. It's going to be a tremendous reduction in health care pricing because of what we're all doing together. So, great going, Alex.

And Secretary Betsy DeVos for joining us. Today, we're here with state and local leaders, law enforcement officers and educational officials to discuss how we can make our schools safe and our communities secure. And no better time to discuss it than right now.

And I think we're making a lot of progress, and I can tell you there are tremendous -- it's a tremendous feeling that we want to get something done. And we're leading that feeling, I hope, but there is a great feeling. Including at the NRA, including with Republican senators and hopefully Democrat senators and congressmen.

I want to thank Curtis Hill for being here, attorney general. I also want to thank a really tremendous attorney general, that's Pam Bondi from Florida for being here. Thank you, Pam very much. Great job you've done there.

Yesterday I met with survivors of the Parkland shooting. The Parkland shooting is just horrible. So bad for so many people and so bad for our country. Families who have lost their children in school shootings and local community members of Washington, D.C. who want to make sure that every child is safe at school. We're having a lot of problems in Washington, D.C.

I listened to their heartbreaking stories, asked them for their ideas and pledged to them that we will take action, unlike for many years where people sitting in my position did not take action. They didn't take proper action, they took no action at all. We're going to take action.

Today, we want to hear from you on how we can improve physical security in our schools, tackle the issue of mental health, which is a very big issue. This person that was caught after having killed so many people, 17, and badly injuring so many others. People don't talk about the injuries, and they have to go through life with that horrible, horrible situation that they were put in unnecessarily. People don't talk about that.

The people that are so bad, I visited them in the hospital in Broward county, and these are injuries like people wouldn't believe. And we want to ensure that when we see warning signs, we act quickly when we have somebody that's mentally unstable. This guy who was a sicko, there was a lot of warning signs, people calling and saying, hey, he's going to do something bad. People have to act. As I said last week, we must work together to create a culture of our country that cherishes life and forces real human connections. We're also working to reduce violent crime in America and to make our communities, places that can be totally safe, for our children, for our families. Under my administration, gun prosecutions have increased very significantly. The attorney general is very, very much after that, and we're also after the gangs. The gangs have been incredible.

Ms-13, I see where a couple commentators that are lightweights said, oh, MS-13, who talks about that? That's all he talked about on FOX. No, that's not talked about on FOX. That's talked about in communities where they're killing people. Not necessarily with guns, because that's not painful enough.

This is what they think. They want to do it more painfully and they want to do it slowly, so they cut them up with knives. They don't use guns, they use knives, because they want it to be a long, painful death to people that had no idea this was coming. And we're getting them out by the thousands. Putting them in jail, and we're getting them out by the thousands.

[12:50:07] And our people from ice and our border patrol people are much tougher than they are. That's the only thing they understand, by the way, is toughness. They don't understand niceness. They understand toughness. And our people are much tougher.

They go in there and they grab them by the neck. There's no games being played. And I let them know that's what we want. We need tougher people than they are and our people are a lot tougher than they are.

So we're working on getting violent offenders off the streets and guns out of the hands of the dangerous criminals. There is nothing more important than protecting our children. We had a really incredible meeting yesterday with some of the families that have suffered so gravely in different places, not only in Florida.

As you know, Columbine, and it was a very sad situation. But I will tell you, background checks, I called many senators last night, many congressmen, and Jeff and Pam and everybody in this room, I can tell you, Curtis, they're into doing background checks that they wouldn't be thinking about maybe two weeks ago. We're going to do strong background checks. We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18. We're getting rid of the bump stocks. And we're going to be focusing very strongly on mental health because here's a case of mental health.

Part of the problem is we used to have mental institutions and I said this yesterday when we had a mental institution where you take a sicko like this guy -- he was a sick guy, so many signs. And you bring him to a mental health institution, those institutions are largely closed because communities didn't want him, communities didn't want to spend the money for them, so you don't have any intermediate ground. You can't put them in jail because he hasn't done anything yet but you know he's going to do something. So whether it be talking seriously about opening mental health institutions again, in some cases reopening. I can tell you in New York, the governors in New York did a very, very bad thing when they closed our mental institutions, so many of them. You have these people living on the streets, and I can say that in many cases throughout the country, they're very dangerous. They shouldn't be there.

So we're going to be talking about mental institutions, and when you have some person like this, you can bring them into a mental institution and they can see what they can do, but we got to get them out of our communities.

So with that being said, I'd like to ask the very talented people around this table to just introduce themselves quickly and say a few words and maybe we can start off with Pam Bondi.

PAM BONDI, ATTORNEY GENERAL, FLORIDA: I'm Pam Bondi --

BASH: We've been listening to President Trump talking to state and local officials about his thoughts on safety in general. He talked not just about school safety, not just about gun safety, but went to something that he has talked about for almost three years now, since he was a candidate, which is immigration and gangs and that kind of thing.

I want to bring it back around to talk a little bit more about that. He -- you know, the president also, on the issue of guns, went to the notion of mental institutions, which is also something he said yesterday. The idea of mental health and having -- making sure that people who have mental issues don't get guns is something that is, I think universally supported. Getting there is one thing.

But mental institutions? That's something different.

WARREN: Yes, I think this may have been some vamping on his part of sort of going to --

BASH: He did it twice, though.

WARREN: Yes, but maybe. I don't know. I mean, look, there is certainly an idea on the right that a lot of things started to go badly when the mental institutions, you know, 30 or 40 years ago were all closed. THAT this has caused some sort societal problem because, you know, it adds more homeless and that sort of thing. But, I mean, there is also a distinction to be made between sort of mental health issues and the particular set of people who seem to be drawn to these mass shootings, mostly young men, although there is some young women who are isolated.

I mean, it's a very -- particularly in small subset that doesn't really -- isn't really addressed by some things sort of large, you know, what he's talking about institutionalizing. And there is also some questions of, how do you identify this before something happens?

BASH: And Phil, do you have any indication that there is going to be more of a kind of pulling along that the president will do to (INAUDIBLE) you cover everyday in Congress than we've seen on other topics and to do so in a successful way?

MATTINGLY: It's the question right now.

[12:55:00] In my mind, it's the most important thing that will dictate how this is going to go for the next couple of weeks. Are these just tweets and statements and photo (INAUDIBLE)? Or are these things -- you know, he talked about, I've called people, I talked to people.

Is he really going to put the work and to put this to the top of the agenda? Because I can tell you top Republicans who I'm talking to on Capitol Hill right now are not saying that this is the top of the agenda. They're not saying we're going to take this up next week in the Senate and then we're going to move to the House, and then we're going to do a bunch of the things.

The president is going to not only push for this but actively get out and almost force the hand of Capitol Republicans if he wants something, anything to actually move forward. As of now, we haven't gotten an indication whether or not that's going to be the case.

BASH: Very quickly, does he have the will and does he have the muscle?

LUCEY: I think the only constant we know about this president is that he's an erratic trading partner, and we've seen that again and again and again in the past years. So it's hard to know if he's going to really press back into this.

WARREN: I think he's going to take somebody sort of big, you know, a conservative senator that (INAUDIBLE) to do it first for Trump to follow.

BASH: But he's supposed to be the leader. But anyway, we have to leave it there. That's for our discussion tomorrow.

Thank you so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. Wolf is starting right after a quick break.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world --