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GA. Lt. Gov. Vows to Fight over Companies Dropping NRA; Ivanka Trump's South Korea Trip Fuels White House Tension; Questions on How Florida School Shooting Situation Was Handled; Texas Senate Seat Downgraded from "Solid GOP" to "Likely". Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] RON ASTORINO, FORMER COUNTY EXECUTIVE, WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NEW YORK: -- this is a case where if they want to use that power, they don't have to. They don't need to take -- Delta doesn't need to take that $40 million break if they don't want to, but there is so much precedent for it having to happen. Quite frankly, I find it disturbing in a way where blaming the NRA for everything. OK? Where there clearly is a madman and multiple madmen that have killed people, they are the object of our hate or should be. But going on, some students have done, Marco Rubio, likening him to Cruz, or to go after specifically the NRA, it is misguided. I think it is taking it away from what we should be having a discussion on, mental health and other issues.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Mental health has become an umbrella.

ASTORINO: Not really.

HILL: Yes, it has. I had this discussion with a psychiatrist, who said, if you want to get more funding for mental health, bring it my way. We're not hearing specifics.

ASTORINO: I think there's obstacles we have to overcome. That would be HIPAA laws and other issues that we need to tackle that go with mental health. I agree. Mental health, I don't think anybody would say that Nikolas Cruz or others who have performed these heinous acts are not mentally unstable or were not mentally unstable. Clearly, they were. But I think, you know, we're looking at in this case the gun or the NRA, that really isn't where I think the ire should be. It should be on changing where we can make the changes.

HILL: The question, too, Matt, can you have both things? Can you be, if you want to be as a person, upset, with whether it is the gun or the NRA and the person?

MATT BENNETT, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE AIDE & BOARD MEMBER, SANDY HOOK PROMISE: Of course. Any rational person would be horrified and disgusted with what Cruz did. But the question is, what can policymakers do about it now. And the mental health debate is kind of the rope-a-dope that the gun community always engages in. In the wake of the mass shootings that are talked about on television and the press, they say, look, well, this person was mentally ill, we have to do something about that, but they never, to your point, they never tell you what. The problem is that it is very difficult to define mental illness in a way that can be used in ways with gun purchases. Expanding that is extraordinarily difficult and no one has any proposal to do it right. What we can do is take action to expand background checks to include all gun sales to make the NICS system better, to make sure the government can study things. There is a whole range of things we can do, but this is the diversion that the NRA community always wants to engage in.

HILL: There are members of the NRA who tend to be politically active. This is very important. There are oftentimes fears that any movement that would make gun restrictions stronger in any way is somehow coming after their legally obtained firearms. Majority of people are using them legally here.

So, Matt, how do you alleviate those fears to start the conversation?

BENNETT: Yes, and I've been in this gun debate for 17 years. It is vitally important to emphasize the overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible about how they possess their guns in every way. There are some guns that end up getting into the stream of commerce as illegal weapons, or into the hands of people that shouldn't have them and what we're trying to avoid with public policy is exactly that. The Supreme Court made clear you have, if you're a law-abiding adult, a right to own a gun. Rights, every right in the entire Constitution come with responsibilities. And as does the Second Amendment. And that means as the court made clear, we need gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and kids and people and mentally unstable people. So --


BENNETT: Sorry. Go ahead.

HILL: That's OK. I was going to say, one more in for Rob there, we're getting a little tight on time. But finish your point, I'm sorry.

BENNETT: All that means is that we can do things that we already know are constitutionally permissible, expanding background checks to all gun sales and other things that will keep guns out of hands of criminals.

HILL: Rob, in our most recent CNN polling, done in the wake of Florida, and so much stronger response than in the wake of Vegas, seven in 10 Americans say they want stricter gun laws. So where do you begin that conversation? There needs to be some compromise on both sides here in a conversation. Where do you start it?

ASTORINO: Matt brought up a good point. We have a lot of gun laws already on the books. And there was a massive failure in what happened in Florida. Massive failure. And I don't think, no matter how many laws you have on the books, quite frankly, it is going to prevent somebody as sick and deranged and hateful as a Nikolas Cruz and others from destroying or killing when they want to do it. And I know that might sound like, wow, how could you say that? We have to think that through. We have so many laws on the books now, and you said majority, I will say, and I think Matt said it, too, the super majority, 99.99 percent of gun owners understand, respect the power of that weapon, and teach their children, if they have children, or understand the laws and obey them. But those who will never, are never going to do it.

[11:35:22] HILL: Rob Astorino, Matt Bennett, appreciate it. Appreciate the discussion. It is one we will need to continue to have. Thank you.

ASTORINO: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, John Kelly versus Ivanka Trump. Sources telling CNN the first daughter's trip to the Olympics now fueling tension in the West Wing. Those details next.


[11:39:59] HILL: Is she the first daughter or a senior adviser to the president? Ivanka Trump's recent visit to South Korea blurring the lines between the two roles and reportedly not sitting well with some inside the West Wing.

For more now, let's get to CNN White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, what more are you hearing and learning about the growing tension surrounding Ivanka Trump and her role within the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're learning a lot here, Erica. Ivanka Trump just returned from South Korea where she led the U.S. delegation at the closing ceremony for the Olympics. Very much a high-stakes trip because, while she was over there, the president announced the latest round of sanctions against North Korea, something that Ivanka Trump was briefed on. And she also had dinner with South Korea's president, President Moon, while there. But we're learning that the decision to send Ivanka to lead the delegation did not sit well with some senior officials in the West Wing, one of those being the chief of staff, John Kelly, who we're told was not initially enthusiastic about sending Ivanka because it was such a high-stakes trip with everything going on with North Korea just next door. Now, the White House is pushing back on this, saying in a statement from the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, "General Kelly and General McMaster were supportive of the trip since the planning process began. We all thought it was a great success. And Ivanka was a great representative for the administration."

But, Erica, what this really exposes here is this widening rift between the chief of staff and Ivanka Trump. Because we know he's grown frustrated with her. He often feels she straddles and blurs the line between being a senior advisor to the president and between being a daughter to the president. One of those moments was highlighted when she was doing an interview with NBC, while over in South Korea, and she was asked about the sexual assault allegations made against her father, and she said she thought it was inappropriate for her, as a daughter, to be asked that, even though she was very much there as a senior adviser. So John Kelly often thinks that Ivanka Trump is essentially playing government. That's something -- a private remark that he's made to others in the White House. It certainly exposes some frustration that the chief of staff is dealing with, the president's daughter and senior advisor.

HILL: Interesting to see how it all plays out.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

This is more -- we want to point out here, this is more than just the palace intrigue of, "am I the first daughter today, a senior adviser the next." There are some legitimate security concerns and questions. She does not yet have permanent security clearance. As Kaitlan pointed out, she's there in South Korea and she's talking about, and I'm quoting here, "the maximum pressure campaign to ensure the Korean peninsula is denuclearized."

Does any of this matter anymore?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Gosh, that's an existential question, Erica. Let me try to answer. It should matter. I think. Whether it does or not, I'm less able to answer. It should matter in that it is important for both people who work in the government, people who work outside of the government, people from other countries, to know what hat Ivanka Trump has on. That's why you don't get to wear two hats, or you shouldn't. That's why we have anti-nepotism laws. These laws hold for cabinet jobs. They hold for agency jobs. There is a legal understanding that they do not yet hold for White House jobs, which means Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner can work in the White House. This is a perfect example, both her trip and the question she was asked about her father's conduct, are a perfect example of why these anti-nepotism laws do exist. You can't be the president's daughter when it is easier for you, and an adviser other times. You're either one or the other. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. That's what Ivanka Trump is doing. That's why there are laws in place, though not governing the White House, to avoid just these sorts of relationships.

HILL: And there is also this legitimate rift we're seeing and hearing more about involving John Kelly. And last week, too, there was more talk about Jared Kushner. We're talking more about Ivanka. It's what is fascinating, though, is we know how the president typically responds when a member of his immediate family is attacked. And it usually does not bode well for the person who may feel frustrated with a member of the Trump family. So it begs the question, I know a lot of people are trying to figure out, is there an endgame for John Kelly in all of this?

CILLIZZA: It is interesting that he -- as Kaitlan reported, he was a leading voice as a critic of Ivanka's trip. You're right. If Donald Trump has loyalty, it is to his family. That is -- he always sort of stood by them, even as friends have come and gone, business acquaintances have come and gone, political rivals and allies have come and gone. That inner core of family is always stated. He brings them with him wherever he goes, whether it's the business world or the political world, which is why Jared and Ivanka are in the White House.

My experience with Trump in life is you very rarely, as a staff member, win a fight with a member of the president or principal's family. I don't know if John Kelly figures either he makes his point here and stays on or makes his point here and that is his entree to leave. But it is certainly not a strategy you would pursue if you wanted to blend into the wallpaper for a little while to keep your job.

[11:45:20] HILL: Chris Cillizza, always appreciate it. Sorry for putting you on the spot with the existential question.

CILLIZZA: Oh, man. Is life meaningful?

Thank you, Erica.

HILL: That will be tomorrow's discussion. Start thinking about it now, OK?

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, today, on a much more serious note, the neighbor of the gunman in the Florida school massacre speaking out to CNN. What the police told her when she called 911 to warn them about Nikolas Cruz and the ominous warning signs she said she saw growing up -- as this man grew up alongside her own children.


JOELLE GUARINO, FORMER NEIGHBOR OF FLORIDA GUNMAN: He was pure evil. I was actually going to move when he turned 18.



[11:50:28] HILL: Students at Stoneman Douglas High School are preparing to return to campus. Classes will resume tomorrow, two weeks after a shooter killed 14 students and three staff members.

Today, there are new questions about how the entire situation was handled, from the police response to the shooting, to warnings about the gunman, to just how many times Broward County deputies were actually called to the shooter's home.

Joining me now, CNN correspondent, Rosa Flores, who is in Parkland.

There this discrepancy between the number of times the Broward County Sheriff's Office said they visited the shooter's home and our own reporting here at CNN. What did you find?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is tremendous work from the investigative unit, Erica. They pulled the records and compared them to the log that we received from Broward County authorities here, and they don't jive. Broward County says there's 23. CNN has come up with about more than twice as much as that. So we're trying to figure out why that is. Now, we've contacted Broward County multiple times, via e-mail, text message, phone calls, and we haven't received a response yet. So it's very troubling because this is information that they gave us, so why does it not jive?

HILL: That is a very important question. I know you're still trying to get that answer, and you'll let us know when you do.

Meantime, you've been talking to so many people in the community, including a neighbor who said she knew the shooter was a troubled child. What did she tell you?

FLORES: She lived across the street. She saw Cruz grow up. And she said she saw a lot of warning signs as he was growing up. But it was one moment, Erica, that she describes Cruz standing over her dog Max as Max was convulsing and foaming at the mouth, that she said that she saw Cruz had this menacing, wild look about him, and she knew that it meant trouble. Take a listen.


GUARINO: He was pure evil. I was actually going to move when he turned 18. I did not want to live down the street from him knowing he was going to own a gun.

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 jumpsuit, being charged with murder.

FLORES: You begged this officer to please do something.

GUARINO: I did. I did. I begged him. And he basically told me that it was not an immediate threat. He couldn't do anything, is what he told me. I remember him leaving and just thinking, my god, he's going to kill someone, and I can do nothing about it.


FLORES: Now, here's the back story about that phone call, Erica. She said that her son walked into her kitchen with a post on Instagram from Cruz that had a photograph of an A.R.-15-style rifle, and it said he couldn't wait to turn 18 to purchase one. Later, another post saying that he wanted to shoot up a school. Erica, that's when this woman says enough is enough, I have to call 911 and tell an officer about this. She says, as you just heard, that she begged the officer to do something and he told her that he couldn't do anything about it until he did something -- Erica?

[11:54:03] HILL: CNN's Rosa Flores with the latest for us there. Rosa, thank you.

Texas, it turns out, may not be quite as ruby red as once thought, raising the question, is Ted Cruz's reelection bid in trouble? Stay with us.


HILL: Is Texas changing to a lighter shade of red? And if so, what does that mean for a very important Senate seat?

CNN political director, David Chalian, joining us with a key race alert.

Bottom line, is Ted Cruz in trouble? What's going on?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I wouldn't say that Cruz is in trouble yet. What we're doing now, in our ratings of the Senate races, we're moving the Texas race from a solid Republican state to a likely Republican state, so it just downgrades it one category, downgrades it if you're a Republican. It is now in the light red category, which is just that, Erica. It's likely it ends up in Republicans' hands. Texas is a Republican state. But why are we doing this? The Democrat there, Congressman Ben O'Rourke, is on a fundraising fire right now. Has outraised Ted Cruz in the first 45 days of this year by 3-1 according to FCC reports. Obviously, Ted Cruz has a wide fundraising network. He can make up that money gap. But the overall picture we're seeing in 2018, Democratic enthusiasm, that is the -- the enthusiasm is advantage to Democrats, backed up by that fundraising number. Take a look at this Gallup map. It averaged President Trump's approval rating for all of 2017 across all 50 states. Look at Texas. Texas is below 40 percent approval, the Donald Trump average for all of 2017. It looks like Illinois, New York, Minnesota, California than it looks like some of the real deep, ruby red states that are part of the Trump base. The question is, is there something going on in Texas? It has time and again been losing the football for Democrats, but might this year, if there's a big Democratic way, might Ted Cruz have a tougher race on his hands than he expected? The answer is he might.

HILL: Certainly, gives us something to watch.

David, appreciate it. Thank you. Good to see you.

CHALIAN: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Thanks all of you for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

[12:00:06] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Erica.

And welcome to INSDIE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

One of President Trump's most trusted aides testifying this hour on Capitol Hill.