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White House Holds Meeting with Governors to Discuss Possible Gun Control Measures; President Trump Tweets Criticism of Russia Investigation; Interview with Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 8:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's very well said, lieutenant. We keep focusing on what's wrong in this situation, what needs to change. But it's also important to look at what was done right. And we say it all the time, in the worst of human events we seed the best of human reactions very often. And you are proof of that, you and your team. So thank you for what you did that day and making sure that we had more survivors and fewer victims. Thank you, lieutenant. The best to you going forward.

LT. LAZ OJEDA CORAL SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT: Thank you, Chris, for having me on your show. Appreciate it.

CUOMO: The pleasure is ours.

All right, we're following a lot of news this morning. What do you say? Let's get after it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe I'd run in even if I didn't have a weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ridiculous.

SARAH 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 to 21 is just common sense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we 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 his case he deserves credit for this. And I hope he'll keep it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FISA application had an arsenal of evidence on Carter Page.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just a continuation of the same game the DNC has been playing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't have our intelligence agencies target one political party against another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can call it political dirt. That doesn't mean the dossier is true or not true.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, February 27th, 8:00 in the east. President Trump pressuring lawmakers to change the nation's gun laws after the Florida school massacre. But sources tell CNN. President Trump appears to be backing away from the idea of raising the age limit to buy rifles to 21. The president also says, unlike the school resource officer, he would have rushed into the school even if he did not have a gun to stop the carnage.

CUOMO: But this morning President Trump is focused on something very different. The president breaking a two-day hiatus on Twitter with several posts this morning about the Russia investigation, once again calling it a witch hunt. Literally his tweet is just those two words. Tweets come as his communications director Hope Hicks is going to meet privately with the House Intel Committee. Will she invoke executive privilege? Can she? Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House with our top story. Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. President Trump today has a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers where he'll have an opportunity to hear some feedback about the gun control measures that are being considered right now. But despite the fact that he been saying that he's willing to go up against the NRA to push these gun laws, the question remains how far is he willing to go to push Congress to act?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't worry about the NRA. They're on our side. Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of.

PHILLIP: 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 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 HOST: If you go to war at 18, and you vote at 18.

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 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 really a disgrace.

PHILLIP: The president making the argument again forearming 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. So 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: Alisyn and Chris, it appears that we are well in the middle of a major tweet storm by the president. He is ending about three days of silence on social media after tweeting on Saturday night about Russia, he is now back on Tuesday morning tweeting about Russia again. There's no word yet from the president on his Twitter feed about the gun issue. He's simply tweeting about witch hunts, as you can see.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let me bring in our guests. We have CNN political director David Chalian and reporter and editor at large for CNN politics Chris Cillizza. So guys, we'll talk about the tweet storm. We have our umbrellas ready. But first let's just talk about what's happening on the Hill and in the White House with attempts to fight gun violence.

Look, David, this is going to take leadership, obviously, from the president. Congress approaches this obviously from very different sides, and so the president is going to have to lead on this if something is going to be done. And so what do you think is going to happen this week?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And it's not just any president, but because Donald Trump is a Republican president who arrived in office with a ton of support from the NRA he's uniquely positioned to actually try to bring some change here if he wanted to. That is a real sort of leadership opportunity for him.

But I know I sound like a broken record, but I don't see much movement on this on Capitol Hill. In fact I think we sense that President Trump is stepping away from some of the things he's floated. There's not a rush for action.

CAMEROTA: The age minimum, sounds like he met with the NRA this past weekend and then has shifted his position --

CHALIAN: In our brand new poll, Alisyn, age minimum, banning anyone under the age of 21 from getting firearms, that has majority support among Republicans, Democrats and independents across the board, more than 70 percent of Americans support it, according to our new poll out this weekend, and yet he's backing away from it.

CUOMO: In the polls, in the polls it has majority support. In this moment of great excitement and enthusiasm about these survivors and how articulate they are and what they promise they are for our future. So Chris, the reason -- one of the reasons you've got to love Alisyn is the optimism.

CAMEROTA: One of the many.

CUOMO: The list is too damn long.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It's only a three-hour show.

CUOMO: Who's got the time? I'm working on a book. So far, five volumes. Chris Cillizza, though, when it comes to the political realities of what will drive people to the polls, we have never seen the people who were reflected in these current enthusiastic poll numbers for making change vote on it. Tell me I'm wrong.

CILLIZZA: No, you're right. That's always the issue, is that lawmakers, when they look at something like this and they think to themselves I know there's a political price to pay, whether that's the NRA keeping money from me, whether it's gun owners in my district walking away, I know there's a price to pay for going against broadly speaking gun rights.

I'm not sure there's a price to pay for going against, again, broadly speaking, more gun control. The reason for that is the gun control end of this debate has never been politically organized enough or well financed enough to make it politically painful for people who go against their agenda.

David is exactly right in citing the polling. And the polling, this is not new. Yes, it is stronger support for gun control than we've seen in the recent past. But lots of these proposals, including all the way back to Sandy Hook, had majority support even as you saw Congress voting it down.

The reason is simple. There is a disincentive to cross the NRA and there is not that -- or at least that disincentive is not believed to exist on the other side. And that's why you see this thing that seems to not make sense right there. People want stricter gun laws. They approve of it. Then why don't we have them? Because the people who vote -- this is the perception, the people who vote on this issue, they will vote against you if you vote against gun rights. They will not vote for you if you vote for gun control.

CAMEROTA: But in everything there's comes a tipping point. And I am not ready to throw in the towel on this one because it's two weeks later almost and we are still talking about it. Sometimes these horrible tragedies have evaporated sooner than that. And because we have guests, David, on today, one is coming up in a minute, Congressman Cicilline who says that he has 120 co-sponsors in the House for the holy grail, not just an incremental step, for banning assault weapons. And we just talked to Congressman Brian Mast, a Republican who is calling for banning assault weapons. So we didn't hear that after Las Vegas. So now might be the moment.

CHALIAN: Alisyn, I agree with you that this moment of conversation and discussion is -- feels different, is different than we've seen in the immediate aftermath of other mass shootings like this. To Chris's point, whether or not we see that at the ballot box remains to be seen.

CUOMO: How about -- where is the president on this? He came out of the box strong. We've seen that in the past where he has said, here is what we should do, but he hasn't acted on it. The NRA with the governors, he sounded strong, Cillizza, he was saying you guys shouldn't be so afraid of the NRA. But it does make you suspicious of why he backed off the age thing. We do know that the NRA doesn't like the age thing. And then the White House says the governors didn't mention it. We had Governor Hickenlooper on, and he said it wasn't about what we'd bring up or not bring up. It's about what the White House wants to do. What's your read on that?

CILLIZZA: I don't think he feels terribly strongly about it. I think he spent the last week listening to people. Usually if this issue is like most other issues, the last person he talks to is kind of the thing he says. He does not have a lot of existing beliefs as it relates to guns. To the extent he's voiced any positions before this campaign, it's been much more in favor of gun control than gun rights.

But I think his main motive, what drives him in almost everything is getting wins, getting points on the board, is signing things, turning that document around in the Oval Office and showing people, hey, look, I signed this. I think he wants to get something done and I think he's more motivated to do that because he views it as it would be a thing that Barack Obama couldn't do after Sandy Hook that Donald Trump could do. He's not a big specifics guy on anything, and I think this is -- this included. And that's why it's hard to pin him down because he, himself, doesn't know.

CAMEROTA: Open your umbrellas, low pressure system incoming. Tweet storm. Are you going to read the latest?

CUOMO: Sure. We going straight or dramatic readings?

CAMEROTA: Dramatic.

CUOMO: Let's just start with the most recent one. "Witch hunt." This will not be one of the questions on the trivia game that has the world by storm at 9:00 every night where you can win $2,000. It's too easy a question. He's obviously talking about the Clinton situation, and he has spent one, two, three, four, about five tweets this morning apparently watching FOX News, hearing them talk with different experts about --

CAMEROTA: He's talking about collusion.

CUOMO: Witch hunt. What else -- if he says witch hunt, he ain't talking about Salem, Massachusetts. He's talking about the Russia investigation. "We've seen no evidence of collusion," caps. I've seen nothing, the firing of James Comey and all the aftermath that suggests the president obstructed justice because he's exercising his power as president. That's from judge Ken Starr. He'll be on the show to be tested on that tomorrow. I've been skeptical about the collusion and obstruction claims for the last year, Jonathan Turley. This is where the president's head is right now.

CHALIAN: I love, first of all, just how the president has time to live blog cable television. It's fantastic.

But I just want to point out, in our brand new CNN poll that we did conducted by SSRS out this morning, the president is in a different place than a majority of Americans on this -- 61 percent of Americans in this poll say it is a legitimate investigation. A minority say that this is all about just trying to get the president.

Now, this is the story of this Russia investigation in the polls all along, guys. Where you sit politically is how you see this. There is a huge partisan divide here. Republicans see it as an illegitimate exercise, and Democrats overwhelmingly see it as a valid investigation. And independents side with the Democrats on this one which is what gets you to that 61 percent majority. But the president is well aware of these numbers. So when he types "WITCH HUNT" in all caps on his Twitter machine, he does it to make sure he is stoking his supporters and stick with him throughout what he knows is going to be a long process ahead still.

CILLIZZA: Remember one other quick thing, for all the talk about guns and all these other issues, follow his tweeter feed. That is what he is focused on, that is what he cares about. That is the closest we get to what's on his mind at any given moment. And it is more often than not about Russia.

CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, David Chalian, thank you very much.

CUOMO: So a Democratic congressman introducing an assault weapons ban as Alisyn was just saying. But how far will it go? What will he get in terms of buy-in from the Republicans and the Democrats? We ask that lawmaker next.


[08:18:23] CAMEROTA: We're starting to hear a groundswell of lawmakers calling for a ban on assault weapons. Democrats in the House are proposing a new bill that would restore and build on the assault weapons ban that expired back in 2004.

So, joining us is one of the congressmen behind that bill, Democrat David Cicilline.

Congressman, thank you for being here.


CAMEROTA: As we understand it, you're sponsoring this with Congressman Ted Deutch. We've interviewed him many times because his district is Parkland and he was down there as we were in the aftermath of the shooting.

Look, the president doesn't support a ban on assault weapons. What are the chances of your bill?

CICILLINE: Well, I introduced a bill with 164 original co-sponsors which is a tremendously strong showing of support. Six of the ten deadliest mass shootings in recent history were committed by someone who bought an assault weapon and committed tremendous carnage.

So, this is a real epidemic. We know the assault weapons ban worked because when the ban expired that was previously enacted, mass shootings increased by 133 percent in frequency. So, this is something that is very specific. It can address the issue of mass shootings, eliminate putting more of these dangerous weapons into our communities, and I'm hoping that this time will be different.

You know, when the first assault weapons ban was enacted, it was after a number of mass shootings and there was momentum building. I think the young people of Parkland are going to help some of my colleagues find strength to do the right thing and prevent this deadly weapons from being in our communities.

[08:20:00] CAMEROTA: So, 164 co-sponsors as you just reported to. How many Republicans?

CICILLINE: Those are all Democrats. I have been in conversations with a number of Republicans. I'm as you reported already, Brian Mast has already expressed publicly --

CAMEROTA: Yes, we just had him. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I think that's really relevant. We just had him on and he shares your feelings. So, can you do something in a bipartisan way with him?

CICILLINE: I hope so. I've spoken to him, to a number of Republican colleagues who are reviewing the bill. I hope they will join us in this effort.

There are a number of good bills to help reduce gun violence in our country. I think the assault weapons ban is one of those, and I'm hoping it will be bipartisan. That will have the support of some of our Republican colleagues.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, you need Speaker Paul Ryan's buy-in to even bring this to a vote. So where is he on this? We haven't heard from him?

CICILLINE: Well, you know, I think, again, this is -- like so often is the case. This is going to require the continued engagement of the American people demanding that Congress do something to keep our communities safe and to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in this country. And I think we're going to continue to see activism around the country. Folks demanding their Congress do something.

There are a whole range of bills that are pending in Congress. And I think again, it's really going to be incumbent on the individuals who are here in Congress to listen to their constituents, to be sure that they're doing something. We've just got to keep the pressure on.

This won't be easy. All these gun bills are going to be tough to pass because of the power of the gun lobby in this town.


CICILLINE: But I think it's time for people to stand up and do what's right for their constituents and do all we can to reduce gun violence. There's no one answer to fix it all. We can take a number of steps together that will significantly reduce gun violence in this country.

CAMEROTA: But again, what does that mean for Speaker Paul Ryan? Have you heard from him?

CICILLINE: Well, you know, I think the speaker is going to ultimately decide whether a bill comes to the floor. I don't think the speaker has expressed support for this bill. I'd encourage you to ask him, because I think, you know, the support of the Republican leadership will make a difference.

But, look, there's no secret, we have not had a lot of support from our Republican colleagues on any of these measures. We have dozens of common sense gun safety proposals pending. We've been unable to get a single one of those brought to the floor for a vote. So, I don't want to make this a partisan issue, but we have a long record of supporting common sense gun safety legislation and our Republican colleagues have had a very long record of resisting that. So, I'm hoping this will change and we can do this in a bipartisan way and do what's right for the American people and I think the continued pressure from the public to demand action will help us in that effort.

CAMEROTA: What about what the president said yesterday, don't be afraid of the NRA, sometimes you may have to fight them. They're not as powerful as you may think. That was his message to governors.

What did you think of that?

CICILLINE: Look, I think -- and I tell people all the time, this town is full of powerful lobbying and advocacy groups. Some spent a lot of money. Some spent less the money. The fact of the matter is, it's up to the members of Congress to sift through these advocacy groups and these arguments and do what's right for the American people.

So, while the gun lobby is very powerful, every single member of Congress has the power to overcome that with his or her vote. And we ought to stand up and do what's right for our constituents and the American people.

CAMEROTA: As you know, when many Americans who are gun enthusiasts and support gun rights, when they hear about an assault weapons ban, they think you want to take their guns or at least they say that. I mean, I don't even really know if they think that you're going to confiscate their guns or it's a handy excuse, but they say that, you know, they worry this is a slippery slope.

What's your response?

CICILLINE: Yes, I mean, I think it is a very convenient argument. That argument is made any time we propose common sense gun safety legislation. The assault weapons ban would prevent the introduction of new assault weapons into our communities. It doesn't confiscate anyone's guns.

So, I think they've been very clever in that argument, basically reject any common sense gun safety proposal because, understand, this is the first step of taking away your gun. I think it's been a very effective advocacy position and very effective in terms of their membership. The fact of the matter is, a majority of gun owners now support an assault weapons ban, 53 percent; 67 percent of the American people support an assault weapons ban.

These are guns that are designed to kill the greatest number of people over the shortest period of time. An assault weapons ban would reduce the lethality and the frequency of mass shootings, the very specific problem we're confronting as a country, we have a responsibility to do something about it. The assault weapons ban that was previously enacted worked. We should do it again and we should listen to the voices of these eloquent young people who are telling the adults, you need to stop talking about this and get something done.

CAMEROTA: So, again, everyone gets to keep their gun. The ban would not apply to any existing guns that people own, just for new guns.

CICILLINE: Right, which is exactly what the ban was when it was previously enacted by Congress.


CICILLINE: So, this argument that someone is going to come take your gun, just not true.

[08:25:03] But let's reduce the number and eliminate new guns, these very dangerous weapons coming into our communities. This is one step. There are many other things we can do and should do to reduce gun violence in our country. This is just one of them.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Cicilline, thank you very much for explaining your proposal to us.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: All right. Back to some of the back and forth in the Russia investigation. The Democratic rebuttal to the Republican memo arguing the Justice Department and the FBI began tracking the Trump campaign aide Carter Page before the dossier was in their hands and that they did not overstep.

What does Carter Page say about that? Guess who is here? Carter Page, next.


CUOMO: All right. President Trump helping out our next segment by ending his Twitter hiatus and tweeting pretty much exclusively about his disdain for the Russia investigation. His most recent tweet, just two words, but it says it all -- witch hunt.