On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:
- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ( ) ( )
- House Republican Whip Steve Scalise ( )
- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. ( )
- Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. (
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. ( )
- Panelists: Ed O'Keefe, Shawna Thomas and Gerald Seib (watch)
Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, August 11th. I'm Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.
A week after two mass shootings that killed thirty-one and wounded fifty-four, anger over gun violence and the motivations behind it is at a boiling point across the country.
CROWD (in unison): Enough is enough.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And especially on the campaign trail.
JOE BIDEN: Who in God's name needs a weapon that can handle a hundred rounds? For God's sake.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Despite the accusations about who's to blame for inflaming the hate that prompted them--
KAMALA HARRIS: People say to me, did Donald Trump cause those-- those folks to be killed? Well, no, of course, he didn't pull the trigger, but he certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --there are sober reminders that gun violence touches all, even presidential candidates.
STEPHANIE: My beautiful four-year-old daughter Dayla was struck by a stray bullet March, 2011. My son, my daughter's twin brother, witnessed what happened that day. She died two days later.
ANDREW YANG: I have a six- and three-year-old boy. I was imagining-- I was imagining it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it. I'm so sorry.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: El Paso Walmart, El Paso, Texas. Oregon historic district, Dayton, Ohio. These are less than half of the mass shootings in my lifetime. It is time to do something different.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But after years of failing to get gun control measures passed on a national level, what bill that's different could get through Congress and get signed by the President?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But we have to have meaningful background checks. I'm talking about meaningful. Add that word, meaningful.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll hear from all sides. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg hosted a candidate forum Saturday in Iowa to push for gun control. We spoke with him there.
Red flag laws, those were in place in Connecticut before Sandy Hook. They didn't stop that massacre--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: No, but they stopped some things--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --background checks would not have stopped these two shooters from getting these guns.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Okay. That is true. No one law is going to stop everything.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll talk with the number two Republican in the House, Louisiana's Steve Scalise. He was critically injured when a gunman attacked Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice in 2017. We'll also hear from three presidential candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders, Michael Bennet, and Kirsten Gillibrand.
And as always, we'll have political analysis on all the news of the week coming up on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We begin with the question on everyone's minds a week after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio: What can be done to prevent these in the future? Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who founded the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, hosted a candidate forum in Des Moines yesterday. We spoke with him there and began by asking if he thinks Congress will pass a background check bill when they return in the fall.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Former New York City Mayor/@MikeBloomberg): I'm optimistic. It still depends on Mitch McConnell bringing a bill to the floor in the Senate and it still depends on the President of the United States signing a bill. I think that the more you see things like this event where-- if I'd done this ten years ago we wouldn't have gotten any Democratic candidates for President to come. Today, almost all the twenty are here. That they see the public has said enough is enough and that's why we're here. And that's-- the impact is not just on the Democratic Party, which you may well remember the Democrats were cowed by the NRA as well for a long time although today, in all fairness, they're not. It's the time is to say we just have to stop this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You've said that when you launched this group, that just like the NRA, we need to make them afraid of us. That is going out there and challenging politicians who don't support this kind of platform.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: What I did in the 2018 election was we supported twenty-four candidates for Congress. The criteria were they had to be good on guns and good on the environment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You spent about a hundred million dollars.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Spent about a hundred million dollars and twenty-one of the twenty-four won and replaced "A"-rated Congress people from the NRA, NRA "A" rated. The NRA takes no prisoners whatsoever and they lost twenty-one seats in the House. Flipped the House. And so now is the time to start working and helping the Republicans to see the light because I don't think this is a partisan issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what does this mean for 2020? Are you going to go out there and fund candidates to challenge those who--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We'll see.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --don't fund or vote for things like background checks or red flag laws?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: It is very early and the best thing would be that we have action in Congress on the Republican Senate side as well as the Democratic House side, so that you won't be able to ask that question because we will already be where we want to be.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But is this a-- a threat or warning from you?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: There's no question that I think this is one of the real key issues in our country. We cannot have a society where you go out in the street and you can get blown away. It's just not tolerable. We-- we just have to say enough is enough.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You've said that, essentially, the NRA model, of taking people directly on if they are not supporting your platform should be replicated--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think that should be--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --if-- if Mitch McConnell doesn't--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: --but if everything--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --bring this to the floor in the fall, will you look at funding his--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Mitch--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: --Mitch McConnell is up for re-election, and he's running against somebody who I'm told is an attractive candidate. Mitch McConnell is going to look and say, "What does the public want as well?" So I am optimistic that even Mitch will change his mind. I hope so.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Red flag laws. Those were in place in Connecticut before Sandy Hook. They didn't stop that massacre--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: No, but they stopped some things--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --background checks would not have stopped these two shooters from getting these guns, at least as currently written.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Okay. That is true. No one law is going to stop everything, but there's just no question when you put in background checks, suicides with-- with guns and murder rates go down. When you get rid of assault weapons you stop the mass murders. These are not public health things. This is too much of a access to-- to-- to guns and particularly to assault weapons, which were designed to kill the maximum number of people as quickly as possible, and as gruesomely as you could possibly do it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The NRA has been having some internal disputes and problems. They were the largest donor to--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I noticed that--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --to President Trump--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: --what a shame.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --in 2016. Will they be able to bankroll to the level they did in 2020? I mean--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --do you see an opportunity?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think the NRA has been very badly hurt by this. The NRA-- ninety percent of NRA members are in favor of background checks. So the NRA is not in the place of most of its members. And, in fact, if you go back you can see Wayne LaPierre, who runs the NRA, testifying before Congress in favor of background checks fifteen or twenty years ago.
WAYNE LAPIERRE (1999): We think it's reasonable to provide for instant gun checks at shows, just like at gun stores and pawn shops.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: They've changed their views. They went towards-- away from background checks. The time is for them to come back. And if they want to be an organization rent-- representing gun owners, that's fine, nothing wrong with that. But we-- they should not be somebody representing the view that everybody has the right to go kill everybody.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I-- I want to ask you about some of the choices the candidates are making. Joe Biden has said the President encourages white supremacism. Bernie Sanders said the President's a racist. Elizabeth Warren said he is stirring up racial conflict. Beto O'Rourke said he is making the risk of violence like this in El Paso more real. Do you think that it's a mistake for Democrats to tie the President's rhetoric to these mass killings?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: No, I think words matter. People look to their leadership for guidance and to say that it doesn't have an effect is wrong. So what the President says is very important. And if he supports or says nice things about racists, it encourages racism. If he goes and says nice things about white supremacists, he encourages that kind of violence. He's just-- I hope he understands this. He cannot go and just have-- shoot off his mouth and say anything, he's the President of the United States.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You decided not to run for President. Is there anything that would make you reconsider?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: No, I don't think so. I thought about it a little bit when I was driving into Des Moines today thinking, you know, I've thought-- had-- I came here and I spent a good chunk of a month meeting the people of this great state and in some senses I miss being on the campaign trail. I ran-- I had three elections. I won them all. I know how to put together a team-- I know how to put together a team not just to win elections, I know how to put together a team to actually deliver the services you promise. But I did that, and now it's time to do something else.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can Democrats win if they bill themselves as progressives?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think if you are very progressive, no. I think the public wants evolutionary change, not revolutionary change.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that Democrats need a new generation?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think there's an awful lot to be said for experience and accomplishment. There's a value to having been there, done that, and to understand if there was simple solutions to complex problems we would have solved those problems. I'm not a believer that, oh, there's a new generation coming along and they own the right to set the agenda. I think you earn your spurs, and you earn the right to set an agenda by showing people that what you've been doing is working.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have business in China and you know--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --business people for decades have been complaining about China not playing fair.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: That's correct.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump's been really aggressive--
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Correct.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --on this. You don't like the tactics, but is he doing what is needed on this front? And how do Democrats say that they are going to be stronger?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: People that think Donald Trump will have-- is not re-electable are wrong. I think a lot of people look at exactly what he is doing with China and they think he's at least taking on the Chinese and they should be taken on is their belief. Now I would argue some of the things he says are right, that we really shouldn't have this asymmetrical trade relationship. But you don't do it by walking up and having public fights. You don't do it by changing your mind all the time. You don't do it by being a bully with tariffs. So it's the President's methods of trying to deal with China that I object to, not the fact that they have-- the Chinese have their interests, we have ours.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You think he may be re-elected?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I hope not. I will, I'm sure, support somebody who's running against him in the end. But I think-- to anybody that thinks that he does not have support is badly misinterpreting what the public believes. There is a revolution that has been taking place around the world where the public thinks that the establishment has not recognized their needs. And you see that in Donald Trump getting elected. You see that in Brexit. You see that in a lot of things where we're doing things differently and the old line stuff is being thrown out and that's not necessarily good.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Our full interview with Mayor Bloomberg is available on our website, facethenation.com. We did invite the NRA's Wayne LaPierre to appear on the broadcast, but he declined our invitation.
We now turn to the number two Republican in the House, Steve Scalise. He joins us this morning from New Orleans. Good morning, Congressman.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE (R-Louisiana/@SteveScalise/Republican Whip): Good morning, Margaret. Good to be with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump says he wants meaningful background checks. Why aren't you supporting him on that?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, I have supported him on that. And, in fact, we got a bill to President Trump's desk last year, the Fix NICS bill, which truly does go after some of the real problems we saw where people were falling through the cracks and not getting into the background--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But, he wanted something new and now.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: --check system, like so many shootings, like Charleston, like others. Well, the President said he wants to make sure especially that people with mental illnesses don't get guns. And, in fact, there were a lot of people that we were finding that weren't getting put into the system. We need to keep working on that and make the background check system work better. We passed a very bipartisan bill to do just that, and Donald Trump signed it into law just last year. Let's focus on making that work better so a lot of these people that slip through the cracks don't-- don't slip through the cracks again or in future attempts where they might try to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that mean that you do not expect Republicans to support or vote for new legislation on background checks?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, let's see what bills are being brought forward. I know what Nancy Pelosi called for the Senate to come back and vote on, was a bill that they passed through the House, or two bills, that wouldn't have actually done anything to stop these shootings because the shooters in-- in both in El Paso and in Dayton, passed background checks. So her bill wouldn't apply to them, but her bill is very dangerous in a number of ways of how it stops law-abiding people from being able to transfer guns, including if you loan your gun to your neighbor because she's afraid that her ex-boyfriend is going to come and beat her up. You loaning your gun to her would put you in federal-- in-- not in federal-- put you in prison for up to a year. That's what Pelosi's bill does. Wouldn't have stopped the shootings, but actually makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to do things that are currently legal and, frankly, currently helping improve safety.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think domestic terrorism should be a federal crime?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: I do, and in fact I applaud what's being done both at the FBI and with our new acting homeland security secretary. His first week in office he put in place a task force to go look at a lot of the online recruiting that's going on to radicalize people. We're seeing a very alarming increase in domestic terrorism. The FBI has been focused on that. Last month alone they saw it was in the hundreds, the number of domestic terrorism cases that they're looking at. So we need to make sure that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have the tools they need to go and root out whether it's white supremacists, whether it's radicals from the left that are committing some of these crimes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But what tools--
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: We need to make sure that they--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --do you think Republicans--
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: --have the tools they need to root it out.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What tools will Republicans vote to give law enforcement? What-- what are you suggesting there?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, if you look at what the FBI just set up recently and what the Homeland Security secretary just did recently to put a renewed focus on this, to put a new focus on what's going on online, the recruiting that we all know has been going on online. They are actually focusing on it. They do need more tools. They've asked for more resources. We have a budget process that's coming up when we return in September. Let's make sure that in the budget process that is a very high priority because right now it's not a high enough priority. We need to make sure it is.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll have to wait till the fall to see what comes up. But I do want to ask you because you've voiced some concern about tone and conversation about these killings in this country. In the case of El Paso, it is the largest anti-Latino attack this country has ever seen. The killer said that he went to a border town to kill Mexicans. Given this particular context, can you understand the sensitivity to language used by the President when he refers to migrants as invading this country?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, I-- I-- my heart breaks as everybody's does when you see what happened. There's no place for it, whether it's somebody that's racist that-- that hates a certain ethnic group. There's no place for those kind of attacks and attacking people based on-- on their ethnicity. But to try to assign blame to somebody else I think is a very slippery slope because the President's no more responsible for that shooting as your next guest, Bernie Sanders, is for my shooting. And he's not, by the way, responsible, the shooter is responsible. What we need to do is find out those people that have slipped through the cracks, and we've seen it in shooting after shooting; Sutherland Springs, Charleston, even in Dayton. He had a hit list and a rape list and, yet, none of that was in the system. Let's make sure these background check systems work properly and are rooting out the people that shouldn't be able to legally purchase a gun but currently are because the system hasn't worked.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you have not advised the President to reconsider some of his words that many in the Hispanic community consider inflammatory?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, the President was very clear just the other day that there's no place for this. He spoke out against racism; he spoke out against these kind of attacks. And so to try to assign blame, you know, go look at some of these presidential candidates who made some of the most ridiculous statements. I mean Joe Biden just said that he was vice president when the Parkland kids--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: --came and met with him, he wasn't vice president. You know, so some of these things that are being said are-- are beyond ridiculous. I-- I know they're running for President, and they might not like Donald Trump's views, but stop this-- this ridiculous assessment of blame to somebody other than the person who's responsible.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: And again, you know, just-- just-- you talk to-- to other people who were motivators--look at the Dayton shooter and what his motivations were. Is anybody asking about that? Anybody from the left--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: --who he was inspired by. There's no right-- there's no place for it. The shooter's--
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're--
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: --responsible. Let's try to identify these shooters in a better way which right now we're working on doing; let's put more emphasis there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to give you a chance to respond to what Mayor Bloomberg said about the NRA. He said, "It should be a group allowed to represent the gun lobby, but not to represent the view that everybody has the right to go kill everybody." Do you think the NRA is out of touch with some of its members who do support background checks and that it's been weakened?
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Well, first of all, you know, the NRA has millions of supporters and-- and people that are actual members just like any other group that can advocate for an issue. They're advocating for something that's in the United States Constitution: the Second Amendment. But let's look at some of the things that Michael Bloomberg has talked about. You know, he says he wants a better background check system, yet, every single person that he defeated last year, that he spent over-- about a hundred million dollars of his money to defeat, voted to fix the background check system last year. So what's his real motivation? I mean he, literally, spent about a hundred million dollars of his money for members of Congress who voted yes to fix the background system and close the background check system and close these loopholes.
So-- so, again, I mean I-- I'm sure he says certain things, but what is his real motivation when he spent that much money to defeat people who voted to fix this system? And, by the way, Margaret, name one single bill that Nancy Pelosi put on Barack Obama's desk when they had the House, Senate, and the White House to address any of these issues. There was not one bill she put on his desk. We've put a bill on Donald Trump's desk last year to fix the NICS system, the background check system, and he signed it into law and is actually working to make it address those loopholes, the people that fell through the cracks, and he banned bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas shooting. Those by the way were legalized when Barack Obama was President. Donald Trump is the one who said this shouldn't happen. He banned bump stocks, and they're not legal anymore.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman Scalise, thank you for joining us.
We'll be back in one minute with Senator Bernie Sanders. He's standing by live in Iowa.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Moving on to campaign 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders joins us from the campaign trail in Greenfield, Iowa. Senator, good morning.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vermont/@BernieSanders/2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate): Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to give you a chance to respond to Congressman Scalise who brought up the fact that the man who shot him back in 2017 had been a volunteer for your campaign. He said he doesn't blame you and, therefore, by the same token no one should blame President Trump for the shootings that we've seen in the past few days. How do you respond?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Look, as-- as soon as I possibly could I was on the floor of the Senate condemning that action. What we are is a nonviolent, political movement. I condemn all forms of violence. You know we had thirteen million people voting for us and I'm afraid I can't just tell you that every one of them was the kind of people-- kind of person that I would like. But we must bring about the fundamental changes that this country requires in health care, in education, in climate change. We do it in an absolutely nonviolent way.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you believe, and in some of your language in recent days, you-- you've said President Trump is a racist, you've called him a xenophobe.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Yes. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe he is directly or indirectly responsible for what happened in El Paso?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: He create-- look. President Trump and nobody else wants to see people mowed down and killed, and I've never said that. He does not want to see that. But I think what he has created in this country with his incredible rhetoric, his racist rhetoric, where he calls Mexicans rapists and criminals, where he almost condones-- when in-- in a rally when somebody was attacking somebody he said, I'll pay the legal bills for violence. I think he creates a climate where we are seeing a significant increase in hate crimes in this country--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: --hate crimes against Muslims, against Mexicans, against Jews. He is creating the kind of divisiveness in this nation that is the last thing that we should be doing. So he creates the climate. But do I think that he wants to see somebody get shot? Absolutely not.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you expect that Republican leadership, when they come back in the fall, will bring any kind of gun control legislation to the floor?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, Margaret, I certainly hope so because this is what the American people want. The American people are sick and tired of powerful corporate interest determining what goes on in Washington. You know that's whether it's the health care industry, whether it is the fossil fuel industry, whether it is the NRA. Poll after poll shows that, overwhelmingly, the American people want to expand--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: --background checks. They want to do away with the gun show loophole. They want to do away with the straw man provision. And more and more people agree with something that I have been saying for thirty years, is that assault weapons are weapons of war, they are military style weapons designed to kill people--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: --as rapidly as possible. They should not be sold and distributed in this country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, we're going to take a quick break and continue our conversation on the other side of it. So don't go away, and we have a lot more to talk about.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Coming up in our next half hour, we'll have two more Democratic presidential candidates in addition to more of our conversation with Bernie Sanders. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are both in Des Moines, Iowa. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Senators Sanders, Gillibrand, and Bennet and our political panel. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We're back now with Senator Bernie Sanders who joins us from Greenfield, Iowa.
Senator, I want to pick up where we left off on the issue of gun control. You said now you do support more efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. But you have in the past been skeptical of federal gun control. You voted against the Brady Bill in '03 and '05. You voted for a law to shield gun manufacturers. And I'm wondering how you explain your change of heart.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I think, first of all, for thirty years, I have been advocating for the ban on assault weapons. Year after year I have an F voting record from the NRA. I think the last one was a D minus, and as President I'm confident that I'll have an F minus. The world has changed in thirty years, and even in rural states like my state of Vermont, which until last year I had virtually no gun control. The people of this country are sick and tired of seeing the horrific mass murders that we have been seeing year after year, most recently, in Dayton and El Paso. And the American people want us to stand up to the NRA. The American people want strong gun control legislation. I have demanded that Mitch McConnell do the right thing, do what the American people want, bring us back to Washington right now. Let's pass what was passed in the House, let us go further. So to answer your question, Margaret, over the last thirty years the world has changed. It has changed in rural states like mine and it has changed all over this country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you protect civil liberties and do things, like Congressman Scalise advocated, which is giving law enforcement more tools to root out those who might carry out these killings?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, it's not only giving law enforcement more tools. We have got to do a lot better job than we are doing right now in fighting the rise of white nationalism in this country. We need to understand that in El Paso what was committed was an act of domestic violence, and we need to be much more aggressive than the Trump administration has in-- in going after those people. So, I am a strong civil libertarian. But, on the other hand, I want to make sure that we do not see the rise of neo-fascism in this country and that we understand that those white nationalists are, in fact, when they get involved in violence they are terrorists and they should be treated as terrorists.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you support red flag laws?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Yes, I do. I do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. All right. Senator, thank you for joining us from the trail.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. He joins us from the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Good morning, Senator. It looks like a lot of fun there right behind you.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET (D-Colorado/2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate/@MichaelBennet): Good morning. It is unbelievably fun. We actually just finished singing the "Star Spangled Banner." Everybody stopped and put their hand on their heart and sang it together.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Well, you tweeted this week that if you are elected you promise voters that they won't have to think about you for at least two weeks. Is it a hard strategy to try to get people to be passionate about being moderate?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: I think that people are so sick and tired of waking up in Donald Trump's reality TV show. I think they're sick of a President who is dividing us. I mean, it's very clear what he is trying to do. He acquired power by dividing the American people against themselves. He is trying to hold onto the power by doing the same thing and every day he just tries to keep the reality TV show alive. I think Americans want to go on with their lives. They want to build their businesses, they want to raise their children, they don't want to wake up, you know, feeling like we're on the cusp of some crazy new thing with North Korea or Iran or-- or that-- you know, the President is tweeting out conspiracy theories about somebody who killed themselves in New York. They want--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --a President who is actually doing their job so they can do their job confident that we leave the country in a better place for our kids and grandkids and-- and-- and confident that we've situated America's leadership in this world again. So that's what I meant by that. I think that people can check in every two weeks and see how I'm doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Colorado, where you're from, is the state that has a lot of gun-- gun owners, but it's also experienced horrific gun violence. And they've made some changes at the state level. Is that, essentially, what the country should be talking about because it doesn't seem that anything gets through Congress right now?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: I-- I think that is what we should be talking about. You know, my oldest daughter is nineteen. She was born the year after the Columbine massacre happened in-- in my state. And my state--which is a Western state, the Second Amendment state--we passed the background checks that are waiting for Mitch McConnell to put on the floor this summer. And over that course of that almost twenty years about every year, about two or three percent of the people that try to buy a gun in Colorado can't buy a gun; and they are murderers and they are domestic abusers and they are convicted felons of violent crimes. There is nobody who could defend any of those people having a firearm. If we can do it in Colorado, certainly, we could do it nationally. We have-- we have--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you don't expect that to happen in September?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --put limitations--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't expect to vote on background check?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Well, I hope that it will happen. I-- I hope it will happen. But I believe with what-- I believe what Mike Bloomberg said earlier on your show, which is that the politics of this issue are changing in part because the tragedies are mounting up which is a terrible way for us to deal with it. But also because the public is being galvanized by organizations like the-- the kids from Parkland and the Moms against Guns, and that's making a difference. And if it does not come to the floor, we need to make sure that every week between now and November we're making this a voting issue. I'm not saying just the politicians. I mean all of us are making this a voting issue so that people that refused to let the American people have a vote on the floor are turned out and--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --replaced with people who will take the vote.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You--
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: I mean, we're not even-- like, Mc-- McConnell can vote however he wants. But why doesn't he just put it on the floor so that every senator could be held accountable for their vote?
MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been talking about ending hyper-partisanship. Do you think it is helpful for Democrats and your fellow candidates to be linking the President to these mass murders?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Well, I'd-- I-- I-- here's what I think. I think Donald Trump is, as I said, has a strategy that is a-- to-- to divide the country so he can win. He believes there are enough people out there. He thinks it's thirty-eight or thirty-nine or forty percent--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --that can keep him in office if the rest of us are not paying attention and not--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --as strategic. And I don't think we can play into that. We have to unify this country. That is what the people of Iowa want--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --the people of Colorado want, in South Carolina and New Hampshire. We have to unify this country to close over a broken Washington and to close over a President who is a guy who is, you-- you know, goes to our worst impulses rather than our best impulses every single day of the year. We have both in our country. We've got the best impulses--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: --with times we have our worst impulses. I think we should have a President who asks us to do our best.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: And I think we have to have a President who asks us to come together.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator, thank you. And I think I hear a child behind you, so nice focus.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: There are-- it's--
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a fair.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: It's not my child though, so.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. All right. Well, good luck to the parents. All right. Thank you--
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Thank you for--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --very much, Senator.
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Thanks so much.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with--
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Thanks, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --another 2020 candidate.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She joins us this morning from the campaign trail in West Des Moines. Good morning to you, Senator.
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-New York/2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate/@SenGillibrand): Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You support universal background checks, a ban on large magazine and assault weapons, and an anti-gun trafficking law. You need Republican votes to get all those things through Congress, what can actually pass now?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: You know I think things are changing since kids have been marching out of their schools and marching on Washington and are really demanding action. You've seen a level of advocacy that I've never seen before. And I think if Mitch McConnell would have the courage to call us back into Washington to vote, we would pass the universal background checks bill that's already passed the House and we would pass the bill that I wrote which is anti-gun trafficking which the last time we voted on it got fifty-eight votes. We only needed sixty. So we're only two votes shy and I believe we have the momentum and the advocacy behind us today to pass that as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What about red flag laws? Your colleague in New York, Chuck Schumer, has said they are ineffective cop outs.
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: I think you can pass a red flag law, but it's insufficient. What we really need to do is also pass a ban on assault weapons, particularly, the military-style weapons that have resulted in people losing their lives within seconds and then the large magazines.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Many of your Republican colleagues would agree on red flags being insufficient. They also don't think background checks necessarily would be. The argument is for more tools for law enforcement. So, do you support making domestic terrorism a federal crime and would you sign on to Dick Durbin's bill to increase resources to combat it?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Absolutely. And as President I would direct my Department of Justice to investigate white supremacy and other domestic terrorist groups to infiltrate them, to make sure we know if they're planning attacks, and to absolutely combat white supremacy in society because these groups are domestic terrorists.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So when talking about white supremacy, you and some of your colleagues and competitors have been linking the President's rhetoric to emboldening white supremacists. You said, "He is emboldening white supremacists his entire presidency and his campaign." Are you actually saying that President Trump is responsible for the killings in El Paso and Ohio?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: What I'm saying is that his words have consequences and the words he has been using have been hateful and divisive and racist and has truly emboldened white supremacy and hate crimes across this country. Since President Trump's been elected hate crimes have increased--certainly, across my state and across the country--against all groups. More racism, more anti-Semitism, more white supremacy, more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-refugees. And it's changing who we are as a nation. And that's one of the reasons I am running for President. We need a President--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But-- but in terms of that--
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: --who will bring us back together again.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --in terms of the name-calling and putting it in the political context, don't you think that is ratcheting up the rhetoric rather than having cooler heads prevail?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: What President Trump has done is ratchet up the rhetoric. When he's at a rally in Florida and someone says "what are you going to do with immigrants," and someone shouts "kill them, shoot them," President Trump laughed. So he is not leading us in the right direction. He has used words like infestation. He's used words like invasion. That is creating a climate where people are-- literally, today fueled by anger and hate. They are hunting down other people using weapons of war. That's what we're up against right now. And President Trump will not stand up to the NRA; will not stand up to the gun-- gun manufacturers--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, what about-- but-- but--
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: --to get these guns off the streets.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, what about, though, what Joaquin Castro--the congressman--did this week with publishing the names of some of President Trump's top donors? It's publicly available information, but some would say he was targeting these individuals. Is that helpful or is that dangerous given what you're describing?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Those are his choices, not mine. I will call out racism when I see it. I will call out white supremacy when I see it. I will call out hate and I will stand up against it in every form.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about New York financier, Jeffrey Epstein. He is an accused child molester, pedophile, sex trafficker. He committed suicide while in federal custody. The FBI and IG are investigating. Do you think the U.S. government has failed his victims?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Well, I am concerned. These survivors deserved a day in court, they deserved justice. They deserved to speak out against this perpetrator, and it is a shame that he committed suicide. I do think there needs to be a full investigation about why he was taken off the terror watch, excuse me, why he was taken off the suicide watch list. I think it's a strange decision given that he attempted suicide once already. I want to know why he was left in a circumstance where suicide was even possible. I think it needs a full investigation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Gillibrand, thank you.
We'll be back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back now with our political panel. Jerry Seib is the executive Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal and Shawna Thomas is the Washington bureau chief for Vice News. Out in the field this morning our CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe, who is still out at the Iowa State Fair. Ed, tell me, you-- you've been listening to all the candidates out there speak about promising some kind of gun control, either now or if they're elected. Is there any chance any of it gets through?
ED O'KEEFE (CBS News Political Correspondent/@edokeefe): You know, Margaret, I have been covering this issue in one way or another for six or seven years, since Sandy Hook, essentially. We go through a week of this, we hit a weekend, and-- and then it's-- it's struggles to sustain itself, the debate. And that's one of the things I am very curious to watch in the next few days is can this issue get into its second week since a big mass shooting and sustain itself? There is some evidence that at least here in Iowa, a critical early caucus state, that it might. Just a little while ago Julian Castro, one of the candidates who spends a lot of time here, said that this Wednesday he'll be holding a forum with members of that organization that held the larger forum yesterday here in Des Moines to talk, specifically, about his gun violence plan and ways to somehow curb violence across the country. It will happen in a small bedroom community that is popular with younger families, young couples out in Eastern Iowa. If that organization can continue to hold those kinds of events with candidates over the course of the next six months here and in New Hampshire and in South Carolina and other states, maybe it does sustain itself. But when that congressional debate happens in September, if it happens at all, I suspect it's going to look very similar to what's happened before. Promises of action that fall apart over the details and the concerns from either party--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
ED O'KEEFE: --that they may be giving away too much.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Shawna, our CBS News polling shows that there-- there is some data to back up what the candidates are saying in terms of shifting public sentiment. Six out of ten Democrats polled by CBS say they want things like background checks. Majority of Republicans and Democrats are open to more action on this front. But what's different this time is always the question?
SHAWNA THOMAS (Vice News/@Shawna): I think that's a good question. It is really hard not to be a little bit cynical. Sandy Hook, twenty kids died. They weren't able to do all of that much afterwards. I think the difference is, one, the NRA doesn't have as much money as they used to. And, two, there are Republicans who are trying to engage in this conversation. There's only so many times people can die. And I do think the President saying, okay, let's talk about background checks, now, we don't know if he's going to actually follow through with that, always hard to tell with this President, and then hearing McConnell say on the radio, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say on the radio, okay, we can maybe have this conversation when we come back, at least that's happening, but, remember, when-- when Manchin and Toomey had their bill that was a smaller bill about background checks. After Sandy Hook, there were four Republicans voted for it in the Senate, two of those Republicans are not in the Senate anymore. So the question is: How much money does the NRA raise out of this and how scared are Republicans to actually have this conversation?
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we didn't hear from Congressman Scalise, who is the whip, really any promise of anything that would be voted for. He seemed to say there are a lot of tools already there that just need to be used better by law enforcement.
GERALD SEIB (The Wall Street Journal/@GeraldFSeib): Yeah. So I think the question is very much open--will attention stay on this issue as it suggested or is that the circus move on to the next town. One of the things that might be different to your point is that for years and years, the passion on the gun issue was on the pro gun side, not the people who favored gun control. People who wanted guns or more passionate about that issue than the other side. That might have switched in 2018. I think we'll find out now for sure whether that's the case or not. But this is not really a complicated equation. This comes down to two men; this comes down to President Trump and to Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. He says he will not bring up a bill on the Senate that the President won't sign. So will the President convince people he wants a background bill that he will sign? That's the only question that really matters in a sense.
SHAWNA THOMAS: Sorry.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Sorry. Ed, I wanted to ask you, one of the things that is different is this overlay of racial politics as well, the fact that the killer in El Paso said he, specifically, went to target Mexicans and that this was the largest attack on the Latino community this country has ever seen. Does that overlay the hate crime change things?
ED O'KEEFE: I think it does to some extent, especially because it happened in such a border community that's defined by its Latino heritage. You know, and-- and the fact, frankly, that one of the presidential candidates is from there. Beto O'Rourke. He was able to help draw even more attention to this perhaps than it would have gotten otherwise. There has been a lot of debate in the past week about, you know, is this just a gun debate or is this-- does this also have to be a conversation about the fact that this was the largest anti-Latino attack, essentially, in modern history. And I have talked to some colleagues, and I asked Julian Castro the other day when he was here whether or not he thought the nation's response have been proper. He thought to some extent it had. But I got a sense from him that, perhaps, it could have been a little stronger or there could have been more conversation about that. But I think it-- it absolutely helps fuel the conversation, because race is, will be, and-- and-- and probably should continue to be part of the conversation in this campaign--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
ED O'KEEFE: --given the fact that you have so many historic candidates running, given that the Democratic Party continues to have this debate over where exactly it should be campaigning for votes in order to win back the White House. Do you focus on southern states with younger and more minority populations? Do you come back to here in the Midwest and-- and try to drive up the numbers among--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
ED O'KEEFE: --white working-class voters. Although if you were to come to Iowa, you would find a growing percentage of Latino people here. So it's an argument that has a double relevance certainly over the past week and candidates knew that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Shawna, Joe Biden had a few missteps this week. Steve Scalise in this interview on our show hit him on a few of those things. But one of them was also he-- he seemed to say something to the effect of poor kids are just as good as white kids. The-- the right jumped on him for that.
SHAWNA THOMAS: Yeah. And, you know, here's the deal, Joe Biden is an older person, and sometimes he is going to-- he is going to say things that sound like mistakes. That is something that he and his campaign are going to have to deal with, because in the world we currently live in with, you know, social media, twenty-four-hour cable news, everything else, every little thing you do is going to be under a microscope. And Republicans are going to jump on him for that. I think it is clear what he was trying to say. I don't think he was trying to in any way in this type of commentary be racist or-- or anything like that. But this is a problem they are going to have to continue to deal with. And it's going to happen in debates. He-- this-- he's just going to have to figure out how to speak a little bit more carefully.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Jerry, when you look at what happened this week--
GERALD SEIB: Hm.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --and the escalation of the trade war, there are some Republicans who are nervous that the President is hurting his chances at reelection if his bet does not pay off.
GERALD SEIB: Well, it's an interesting situation, because this is actually an issue the trade fight with China in particular where the President has some bipartisan support. You know, Chuck Schumer's warning to the President a few months ago was, don't go soft on China. So up to this point, he's got a lot of Republican support, a fair amount of business community support, and some Democratic support. But a lot of that support is basically premised on the idea that the trade wars will be temporary and that they'll be contained. And this is the week where I think it started to look as if, wait, this might get out of control and it might go on for a long time. And I think some people who are with the President now on trade didn't sign up for a long trade war. They signed up for a short tariff fight. And if that's not what it is I think it becomes very problematic for the President or at least potentially so.
SHAWNA THOMAS: And those farmers in Iowa want to know--
GERALD SEIB: Yeah.
SHAWNA THOMAS: --what the future holds for them. I mean we've talked to a lot of farmers in Iowa in Vice News, who are basically saying, okay, I-- I am willing to go with the President because I do think we need to stand up to China, but if I don't have some consistency soon, I don't know how to make decisions about my business and I'm going to lose money. And that's scary.
GERALD SEIB: And it's interesting that if you look at the numbers, the trade deficit actually went up in the first six months of this year. It's bigger now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
GERALD SEIB: It's eight percent bigger than it was a year ago. So you have to ask the question, is this working? Is this trade war working? It was supposed to bring the trade deficit down. So I think it's a very tricky time. We-- we may be at a bit of an inflection point for President Trump on the trade issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's something we'll watch. Thanks to all of you, and that-- thanks to Ed out in Iowa.
We'll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you all for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.