Transcript: Sen. Chris Coons on "Face the Nation," Feb. 18, 2018

In the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead in the deadliest school shooting in five years, proponents of stricter gun laws have renewed their calls for new laws restricting access to guns like the AR-15, which suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz used in the Valentine's Day attack.

But any new gun control measures are a non-started in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Bipartisan legislation to restrict the sale of so-called "bump stocks" in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre remains stalled and has yet to receive a vote. 

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Connecticut and an advocate for stricter gun legislation, joined us to discuss the Florida shooting and what laws, if any, could have prevented the massacre. He also discussed the indictment of 13 Russians for their roles in meddling in the 2016 election.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Coons that aired Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


NANCY CORDES: Joining us now is Delaware Democrat Chris Coons. He sits on the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. Senator Coons thanks so much for being with us. What's your biggest takeaway from these new indictments by Robert Mueller?

NANCY CORDES: The president says this shows point blank no collusion.

SEN. CHRIS COONS: The president says that and a lot of other folks law enforcement leaders and observers say it neither proves nor disproves collusion. It shows the strength and the Organization of the Russian campaign to interfere in 2016. It does show that three different Trump campaign officials were contacted by Russians but they didn't realize they were Russians. But I'll remind you Nancy there was that famous June 9th meeting in Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr. and several other senior campaign officials welcomed with open arms. Russians who claimed they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That hasn't yet been proven that there might have been collusion but I think it's getting closer

NANCY CORDES: What do you think the chances are that it actually did affect the outcome of the race?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: In a race that was this close we're moving 140-150000 votes in three states one way or the other could have changed the outcome. It's hard to say that this didn't affect the outcome. It was an exceptionally close election. I'll remind you one candidate won the popular vote. The other candidate won the electoral vote. But it's not yet clear whether the Russians succeeded in actually changing votes. What's clear is that they spent millions and millions of dollars and had hundreds of people working in a troll farm in St. Petersburg to intentionally undermine one candidate Hillary Clinton and support another Donald Trump.

NANCY CORDES: So then why aren't Democrats out there all the time banging the drum on this issue pushing legislation to protect our electoral system?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: We are as you know I've introduced bipartisan legislation to try and protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. I am concerned about the possibility that his investigation will be interfered with by the president…We just heard last week in front of the House Intelligence Committee from Donald Trump's intelligence leaders his head of CIA head of FBI head of the director the- Director of National Intelligence we can expect the Russians to do this again. We should be taking action against Russian interference in our election.

NANCY CORDES: Are we taking enough?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: We aren't the most important thing the president should have done by now is to use the new sanctions authority that the Senate gave him by a vote of 98 to 2 last year to push back on Russia and impose some pain some costs for having interfered with our election. So far no overt sanctions have been imposed. No real action has been taken.

NANCY CORDES: And you think that just emboldens the Russians?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: Absolutely. With someone like Putin he's only going to stop when we stop him.

NANCY CORDES: Russian officials say that this is a purely fantasy in their words so should the U.S. be retaliating beyond sanctions in ways that we aren't right now?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: There are actions we should be taking to increase the pressure on Russia to back off. We should be engaging our European allies who have a commonality of interest with us in this. And we should be using the sanctions authorities that the Senate has given to President Trump. To me the most maddening question is why is President Trump failing to act to protect our democracy when there is indisputable proof now that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections.

NANCY CORDES: Let's talk about this Florida shooting given what we know right now. Is it possible that legislation, any legislation could have prevented the tragedy that we saw there?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: Possible? Yes. Likely that that action will be taken in this Congress? No. And I have to say Nancy having heard the voices of other teenagers from Parkland whose high school classmates were gunned down. It is heartbreaking. I am heartsick over the fact that we in Congress have failed to act to protect our teenagers to protect schools and churches to protect America's safe spaces from the scourge of gun violence. There are things we should do to make it harder for people with mental health problems, people who are convicted felons, people who have domestic violence convictions from easily getting guns. There are bipartisan bills in this Congress and the last one that have not been taken up and acted on.

NANCY CORDES: Has your party lost some of its drive on this issue?  I mean you talk about bipartisan legislation. You had a big breakthrough. It seemed a couple of months ago after the shooting in Las Vegas. Democrats and Republicans cosponsoring legislation to limit bump stocks, these devices that make semi-automatic weapons more lethal. But we haven't heard anything about that in months. Why hasn't your party kept the heat on?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: There have been efforts. But let's be blunt. One party controls the floor in the Senate and the House. The Republicans determine what's going to get a vote.

NANCY CORDES: So there's no word of optimism that you can offer to those students in Florida who pushing for legislation?

SEN. CHRIS COONS: I am usually a very optimistic person. I worked tirelessly across the aisle… I am not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress that we're going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress.

NANCY CORDES: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware thanks so much for being with us today.

SEN. CHRIS COONS: Thank you, Nancy.