Transcript: Sen. Tim Scott on "Face the Nation," Feb. 18, 2018

Nikola Cruz, the 19-year-old suspected of killing 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, legally purchased the AR-15 rifle police say he used in the massacre. His ability to obtain such a lethal weapon has reignited the debate over gun control, with Democrats in Congress pushing for more restrictive measures and Republicans emphasizing existing laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of people barred from purchasing them.

Sen. Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, was close friends with the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was one of nine people killed at a church in Charleston in 2015. He joined us to discuss the Florida shooting, current gun laws and bipartisan proposals that are stalled in Congress.

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


NANCY CORDES: We're back with Republican Senator Tim Scott. He is in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina this morning. Senator, good morning.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: Morning, Nancy. Good to be with you.

NANCY CORDES: Senator, you heard from those students at the top of this broadcast, and you -

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: I did.

NANCY CORDES: - I'm sure, understand the pain that they are going through because your constituents lived through their own terrible shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina a few years ago. But you have always pushed for fewer gun restrictions. Do you stand by that?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: I stand by the position I've always been in, and I'm not sure that I've been pushing for fewer gun restrictions. What I have pushed for is for us to use common sense on how to solve the problem. Remember that just a couple years ago at Charleston, South Carolina Emmanuel Church, nine murdered in church. I want to make sure that we can solve that problem. And when you look at core components that are missing, it seems to be we, the system, have not done the right job. In Charleston, the background checks could have prevented that person, Mr. Roof, from getting a weapon. In Sutherland Springs, Texas, the domestic violence incident, had that been reported, it could have prevented, perhaps, that situation from occurring. We all say if you see something, say something. In Parkland Community, we saw people reporting. There were 20 calls to the sheriff's department. They responded. The F.B.I. received a legitimate, credible tip, and it was not followed up upon. So what we've seen in three major atrocities is that the system that was in place simply was not followed. So my focus is not on having or not having a gun debate. We're going to have that. The students were very clear, March is coming, we're going to have that debate. And I look forward to participating in that conversation. But the reality of it is that three incidents could have been avoided, prevented, if the system itself had worked. I would not have gone to the funeral--

NANCY CORDES: So--

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: --of my good friend Clementa Pinckney if the system had worked. And so we need to fix that. And unlike my good friend, who I do appreciate, Senator Coons, I believe that we will get something done this year, if we can fix the background system--

NANCY CORDES: Why haven't you gotten something done already, Senator? You've co-sponsored legislation to fix - fix these background checks. Why hasn't it gone anywhere?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: Absolutely. Well, we are putting more pressure on our system, and to include in the Senate, to make sure that legislation gets to the floor. Senator Grassley has been very clear, the chairman of the judiciary committee, that he plans to bring that legislation up. It is bipartisan legislation, supported from folks like Chris Murphy in Connecticut to myself in South Carolina. The reality of it is that we have a sense of urgency about getting this done. And I'm very hopeful that this is the time that we see this nation's leadership united to solve a problem that could've prevented atrocities.

NANCY CORDES: I think a lot of people are hopeful about that. I want to get your take on something that President Trump tweeted last night. He said, "It's very said that the F.B.I. missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time," the F.B.I., "trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion." I know he doesn't like the investigation, but is it fair to link it to the deaths of these children?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: I think we have to separate the issue, without any question. The first issue is, in fact, that the F.B.I. missed an opportunity to weigh in heavily and perhaps prevent something from happening. That is a tragedy that should be investigated. I believe that oversight in the House and the Senate will do so. A separate issue is how they spend their time, and whether or not the time is well spent on this Russian situation. I will tell you that from my perspective, that so many folks in the F.B.I. are doing all that they can to keep us safe, the reality of it is that they are two separate issues.

NANCY CORDES: And so where do we go from here on the issue of Russian meddling? You know, you've got 13 Russians who were indicted, but Congress has failed to act, and a lot of people would say that the administration has not taken this seriously because the president himself still does not seem to believe that Russia meddled in our election system.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: Well, there's - there's no question that the Russians have done all that they can to meddle in our elections, without any question in my mind or my heart. The question is, was it effective? And the answer is, it was not effective. That's number one. Number two--

NANCY CORDES:Well, we don't know that, Senator, right? We don't know whether it was effective or not. How can we know that--

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:Well - well, so far, our intelligence agencies and the Mueller investigation have all come to the same conclusion so far, that the impact that the Russians had, their objective of meddling in our elections to change the outcome, so far, there is no evidence that suggests that it has been effective. So we're going to continue the investigation. I support Mr. Mueller moving forward in his investigation, because I think it is very important for the American people to have a crystal-clear perspective on whether or not the Russians' efforts were, in fact, impactful.

NANCY CORDES: With all due respect, the special counsel has said that they can't make a conclusion about whether it was effective or not. But moving forward, South Carolinians go to the polls again in June. What has Congress done, and what have you signed onto, that can assure them that, you know, that these are going to be free and fair elections, and that they won't be influenced by the Russians or other bad actors?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: That's a great question. As you heard from my friend Trey Gowdy earlier, the election process is, by and large, a state function. I believe that we have been sending very clear signs, and the integrity of our system has proven to be very effective at this point, and very good. There has been very, very few incidents of challenges at the ballot box based on the Russians' influence. The reality of it is that when you look at what they were attempting to do, it was to sow social discord in this nation, and to use advertising as a mechanism to change voters' minds, and to bring hostility and challenges between our races in this country. The polarization of this nation is a part of the Russian objective. But there's been no evidence--

NANCY CORDES: Senator.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:--none at all that they were--

NANCY CORDES: Senator Tim Scott--

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:--impactful on the boxes.

NANCY CORDES:--thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it. And we'll be back in a moment.