CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" Transcript: Newtown, Gun Control and the NRA

Interview

By:  Joe Lieberman
Date: Dec. 23, 2012
Location: Unknown

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Senator, thanks for being here. Let me talk first about the NRA and its safe school program. How does that strike you as the first statement coming out of the NRA? LIEBERMAN: I have found the statements by the NRA over the last couple of days to be really disheartening, because the statements seem to not reflect any understanding about the slaughter of children that happened in Newtown, Connecticut, just a little more than a week ago.

It was a kind of hunker down. They could have made the same statement -- they did make the same statement after earlier acts of mass violence.

And, you know, no one is saying -- here's what bothered me. The NRA spokespeople have been willing to deal with every possible cause of gun violence, except guns. They're right that there's a problem for our society, how do you spot a child or a person who is troubled before they become a killer? What's the influence of violence in our entertainment culture on people? But it's obviously also true that the easy availability of guns, including military style assault weapons, is a contributing factor, and you can't keep that off the table. I had hoped they'd come to the table and say, everything is on the table.

What this does mean is that the kind of new regulation of guns that President Obama and Vice President Biden and a lot people would like to see enacted early next year is not going to happen easily. It's going to be a battle. But the president, I think, and vice president are really ready to lead the fight.

It's going to take the American people getting organized, agitated, and talking to their members of Congress. CROWLEY: Do you think the NRA still has the clout it once did? To -- because they have several times been able to rally their folks on Capitol Hill to vote against extension of the gun ban, things like that.

LIEBERMAN: We'll see. I mean, I think this situation is different than the other acts of mass violence, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, because here, you know, those 20 beautiful innocent children slaughtered, hit multiple times with bullets from that assault weapon.

So we'll see. But I'll tell you this. The strength of the NRA is that more than half of the adults in America have guns, own guns, and have them in their homes. And we have to convince them that none of the proposals will take their guns away. The proposals will make it harder, hopefully impossible for people to buy assault weapons, and as you said earlier, will close some of the loopholes to make sure that people who are in Wayne LaPierre's term, bad guys, don't have the opportunity to buy guns.

CROWLEY: I think actually the number of households who own a gun has gone down a bit, but there are still a lot -- a heck of a lot of guns out there.

I want to read you actually on another part of this argument, and that is about the culture and about these video games. We now at least believe that this shooter, in fact, did like some of these violent video games.

This comes from the general counsel of the Entertainment Consumers Association, who said we agree with the Supreme Court's decisions, and the volumes of scientific research which all clearly state that there is no causal link between media violence and real- life violence.

Do you agree with that?

LIEBERMAN: I don't agree with that, and I don't know what Supreme Court decision that person is thinking of.

CROWLEY: It was a free speech case.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, but I mean, obviously, there's a free speech question, but I've spent a lot of time on this. And most of the research that I've seen done shows that involvement, particularly intense involvement with violence in the entertainment culture does make people more aggressive.

Now, obviously, everybody who plays violent video games doesn't become a killer, but there are -- there's a vulnerable part of our population out there that is affected by them. I would say to the entertainment culture just as I said to the NRA, take your blinders off, take your earplugs out.

LIEBERMAN: Twenty kids just got slaughtered, and we have all got to come to the table not defensively and acknowledge that these are not just other people's kids, they could be our kids and grandkids next time. So, I think the entertainment culture has to accept some responsibility.

You know, in almost every one of these cases of mass shootings, it's the same pattern. A young man, troubled, reclusive, almost always involved in some kind of violent entertainment media gets guns and then kills a lot of people. We have got to stop it.

CROWLEY: There's a lot here I wanted to ask you about, and I want to move on to Senator Chuck Hagel, a man you know. We are led to believe that he may be the person that President Obama wants to lead the Defense Department when Secretary Panetta leaves. You may know that a number of Jewish organizations and some folks up on Capitol Hill have objected already to the idea of Hagel saying he has had a number of anti-Israeli votes, that he has said things they perceive as anti-Israeli.

Has Chuck Hagel in your opinion disqualified himself because these various stances from becoming Secretary of Defense?

LIEBERMAN: I wouldn't -- I served with Chuck Hagel. I worked with him on some things. I like him and I respect him. I wouldn't say that his votes disqualify him. But if I were in the Senate on the Armed Services Committee and he was nominated, I would have some really serious questions to ask him, not just about Israel, but to me, the most significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran and it's nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that. He's been...

CROWLEY: He's wanted to establish communication with Iran.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, he's been consistently -- I think in that sense anybody who has tried to communicate with Iran has run into a brick wall, and Chuck Hagel has consistently been against economic sanctions to try to change the behavior of the Islamic regime, the radical regime in Tehran, which is the only way to do it short of war.

So, in fact, as I look at Chuck Hagel's positions on Iran, they seem to me to be quite different than President Obama. Now, President Obama obviously has earned the right to nominate whoever he wants, but I think this will be a very tough confirmation process. I don't know how it would end, but there are reasonable questions to ask and that Chuck Hagel will have to answer.

CROWLEY: And finally in our last minute I need you to solve the fiscal cliff problem, but specifically we all know that the speaker left. He couldn't get his caucus to join him on his backup plan, and he said "hey, Mr. President and Senator Reid the majority leader in the senate, it's up to you to fix this." What is Senator Reid's next move? Should Mitch McConnell get into this? How does this play out?

LIEBERMAN: Well, Candy, I will tell you in the aftermath of House Republicans rejecting Speaker Boehner's so-called Plan B, it's the first time that I feel that it's more likely that will go over the cliff than not. And that -- if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it will have on almost every American -- taxes up, programs cut, probably sending us back into a recession.

So the ball is now clearly with the Senate. Senator Reid and Senator McConnell have the ability to put this together again and pass something. It won't be a big, grand bargain to take care of the total debt, but they can do some things that will avoid the worst consequences going over the fiscal cliff.

I can tell you that talked to a lot of Republican colleagues in the Senate who are favorably inclined toward the idea it to protect the middle class from the tax cuts, let's raise taxes on people over 250,000, and let's stop those terrible cuts in defense, homeland security, education, et cetera.

CROWLEY: Not much time left.

Senator, after 24 years in the U.S. Senate you are retiring, but you still have work to do. So I'm not going to say good-bye to you now, because I imagine we might speak to you again before the end.

LIEBERMAN: We might. You see all of this. I told my colleagues they're just doing it to make sure that those of us who are retiring this year work every last day of our term. We're going to spend New Year's Eve here I believe.

CROWLEY: Thanks for the cheery note. Thanks so much, Senator Lieberman. Good to see you.