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Peaceful Protesters March for Justice in Cities Across U.S.; Trump Speech on Race Under Serious Consideration; Opinion Editor of the New York Times Resigns. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 7, 2020 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:34]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's day 13 of massive protests with Americans pouring into the streets once again from coast to coast to demand racial justice and an end to police brutality. This as more than 110,000 American lives have been claimed by the coronavirus pandemic so far over the past three months alone. As for the commander-in-chief, he's remaining out of sight this weekend except on Twitter as top Republican voices add their names to the growing list of those who condemn President Trump's response to the nationwide unrest.

The latest being former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, who unleashed a stinging rebuke of his party's leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the president has drifted away from it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: When asked who he will support in November, General Powell saying he cannot in any way vote for President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: I'm very close to Joe Biden in a social matter and on a political matter. I've worked with him for 35, 40 years, and he is now the candidate and I will be voting for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Speaking of Biden, he plans to travel to Houston tomorrow to meet privately with the family of George Floyd, the man who died at the hands of police and whose death sparked widespread protest not only here in the United States, but indeed around the world. New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, by the way, are now joining other

major cities and lifting curfews citing the peaceful nature of the protests that have continued throughout this weekend. This is as we hear from an icon Michael Jordan now speaking out on the hardships that come with being African-American, saying in part, and I'm quoting now, "We have been beaten down for so many years, it sucks your soul, you cannot accept it anymore. This is a tipping point. We need to make a stand. We've got to be better as a society regarding race."

That's Michael Jordan.

Let's begin our coverage this hour in New York City. Mayor de Blasio has lifted the city's curfew. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is joining us. He's following the protests in New York right now.

So, Evan, what are you seeing?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. I'm at Tweed Courthouse, which is a building right behind New York City Hall here in Lower Manhattan. And it's about 8:00, just about 8:00 now, which is with when the curfew that had been in place would have gone into effect. That curfew was lifted this morning by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Behind me there was a large protest on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse. People in bullhorns speaking with each other, talking about the things they have been protesting all day. They've been marching and protesting all day. But as that 8:00 hour came, despite the fact that there's no curfew, that crowd dissipated and went home.

It's a feeling that we've gotten from protests today where you just feel like people are feeling like they have accomplished a lot. They feel like they have a mayor who is talking about police reform now and a governor who is talking about police reform now and you get a sense from these protests a really victorious feeling today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan McMorris-Santoro, in New York, we'll stay on top of that situation.

But let's go to California right now where we have just learned that National Guard plans to leave Los Angeles later tonight as protests there remain peaceful.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is on the scene for us. So set the scene, Lucy, for us. What are you seeing?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Well, we've been marching down Hollywood Boulevard for 30 minutes now, about several hundred people here. Again a very diverse crowd, all shades, all ages. There's been almost a festival atmosphere here. This specific protest today was organized by the Black Lives Matter Organization and also the rapper YG. Viewers might remember he released a few years ago with the late Nipsey Hussle called "F Donald Trump." He released another track this week called "F the Police." And we've heard that blasted at protests on a daily level here.

So a lot of folks are out. We're expecting this to get bigger. Again there's something of a community vibe. A lot of people out here handing out masks, hand sanitizer, water and snacks to keep the people fed and hydrated. We don't know exactly where they are marching, but if I ask our photographer to sort of raise the camera, you can see that the crowd goes pretty far in both directions down the iconic Hollywood Boulevard.

[20:05:08]

Again this is probably going to be the largest gathering today. There's been quite a few of them. So it's also a park protest or a caravan drove around Hollywood. A lot of people here, they're determined to stay in the streets until they see the kind of change that they have been demanding. There's also a celebrity presence here. One of the people leading the protests calling response chants with Kendrick Simpson. He's from -- you have to pardon me, from the show "Insecurity." So a bit of a celebrity presence. But again a determined crowd are out here. They want their message heard -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We're showing our viewers an aerial shot. Huge, huge crowd on the streets of Los Angeles right. Lucy, thank you very much.

Controversy meanwhile continues over the Department of Homeland Security personnel policing American citizens during protests over the killing of George Floyd. House Democrats sent a letter to the acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf late this afternoon -- late this week, I should say, and I'm quoting now from that letter. "This administration has undermined the First Amendment freedoms of Americans of all races who are rightfully protesting George Floyd's killing."

The letter goes on to say the deployment of drones and officers to surveil protests is a gross abuse of authority and it's particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality."

So do you believe that the Department of Homeland Security has acted too aggressively in its handling of American citizens and his response to the nationwide protests?

Let's discuss this and more with Jeh Johnson. He was the Homeland Security secretary during the Obama administration.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. So what's your reaction?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Wolf, first of all, it is true that sometimes a large law enforcement presence can be more of a provocation than a matter of public safety. And a judgment has to be made situation by situation.

Obviously, I can't be familiar with the situation on the ground in each of these cities. I do know, however, that I personally have participated in a peaceful march today and a peaceful march yesterday here in my hometown in Montclair, New Jersey. And the only police presence I saw was actually protecting the marchers and barricading the streets with their marchers safety. And so I think in these types of circumstances, it's incumbent upon

law enforcement, first and foremost, not to be the provocative actor and to exercise common sense and allow peaceful protesters and marchers to go about their exercise of the First Amendment when people are so, so angry about this situation across the country and across the world, as far away as South Korea and Germany, as you know.

BLITZER: They're certainly out there protesting all over the world. I had a chance in the last hour to speak to the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli. I want to play a little soundbite and get your reaction, Mr. Secretary. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DEPUTY SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: But the president has not deemed us to have reached a point where any particular place is so out of control that the Insurrection Act needs to be invoked. Secretary Esper noted the high bar for the invocation of the Insurrection Act. That high bar has been respected by President Trump. But he has continued to say it is an option and he is legally and constitutionally absolutely correct. And that will be used if it becomes necessary. If we were to reach that threshold of violence. As I said earlier, thankfully it looks like peace is being restored across our country slowly but surely and that we aren't likely to come to that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But, Mr. Secretary, he's referring to the 1807 Insurrection Act which would allow the president to deploy active military personnel on the streets of the United States to quell an insurrection against the government. What's your reaction to what he just said?

JOHNSON: Wolf, I was pleased to hear the secretary of Defense this week say that the Insurrection Act of 1807 is a measure of last resort, which is something I had been saying all week. The Insurrection Act is in the event that state government can no longer function and do its job and law enforcement, state courts cannot enforce court orders and the like. And so it is a measure of last resort.

My assessment is that we are nowhere near being in a situation of last resort. That to the extent there has been violence and opportunistic looting across this country, law enforcement coupled with a state's National Guard has been in control of the situation. The violence that sparked in various points of the country has seemed to have receded now.

[20:10:02]

And so I'm not sure why the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security has to continue to float this idea of the Insurrection Act of 1807. I think to do so at this point is more provocative than anything else.

BLITZER: What do you make of these proposals now we're hearing from some Democrats who actually want to defund police departments?

JOHNSON: Wolf, we need public safety. We need law enforcement. You cannot have a situation where there's no public safety funded to protect the public against murder, robbery, burglary, sexual assault. So we need a public safety mechanism of some type.

I agree with those that say the Minneapolis City Council who obviously recognized the need for dramatic change of some sort. It's not always a great idea to make policy in the heat of the moment like this, but I agree some type of dramatic change is warranted. But we will always need public safety, as I think Chief Ramsey said to you in the last hour.

BLITZER: Yes. He said exactly that. He agrees with you. Do you believe, Mr. Secretary, there's systemic racism in police departments across the United States?

JOHNSON: Wolf, I was asked that question on this network earlier today. It depends upon how you define it. And I have not heard a definition yet. I'd hate to see us get bogged down in a litmus test over this two-word diagnosis. I think the problem is more complicated than that. But it depends on how you define it.

By one definition, there's systemic racism across every institution of our society and very clearly, very clearly, far too many racist police office in police departments across this country. We saw in vivid and horrible terms evidence of that in Minneapolis. And I believe we need to do a better job of avoiding the recruitment of those who have that level of depravity in their hearts. And we're recruiting people who want to serve and protect the public, rather than these types of horrible violence and murder.

BLITZER: You're not only a former secretary of Homeland Security, you also served for several years as a top official at the Defense Department. Step back a little bit, Mr. Secretary. Give us a big picture right now. Are we at a new tipping point? Are we seeing something that's really going to change the problems that we've all seen here in the United States over this year, or will this simply be a passing trend?

JOHNSON: You know, Wolf, I certainly hope you're right. I hope we're at a tipping point. I have never seen protest marches in so many cities here in the U.S. and across the ocean. You know, but I have been here before. We've before here before with Parkland, with Sandy Hook, and we've all believed that those situations were tipping points as well.

Frankly, I think as long as you leave it up to our national Congress, we're going to be logjammed. I think the solution is city by city, state by state, and hopefully legislatures and city councils can be more productive than our national Congress has been in addressing the dire needs of our nation.

BLITZER: And we're seeing these people by the hundreds of thousands, if not more. They are gathering in cities all over the country. No specific leadership there but they're doing this on their own. They want change and they want it right away.

Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Take a look at this. We got some live pictures coming in of protests in Los Angeles. Huge crowds have gathered in L.A. right now. We'll check in on the very latest. Look at that aerial shot -- those crowds are continuing to march in L.A. We'll go there, when we come back.

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BLITZER: Billings, Montana, protests in cities large and small all around the country continuing from New York to Washington, Los Angeles, and you see these pictures coming in from Billings, Montana. A downpour didn't slow these protesters, who stood and marched against racism and demanded an end to police brutality.

Also new tonight, we're learning the White House is now seriously considering making a national address on race in the next week. The president under pressure to deliver a speech as peaceful protesters take to the streets now for the 13th day.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Kristen Holmes. She's joining us right now.

So what's the latest, Kristen? What are you learning?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is all about what is the messaging moving forward. Now we first got wind on this potential speech earlier today when Ben Carson was interviewed on "STATE OF THE UNION." And he was really pressed on President Trump's response to the killing of George Floyd. In particularly, to the president retweeting a post that assaulted the character of Floyd. Take a listen to what Carson said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN CARSON, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: I believe you're going to be hearing from the president this week on this topic in some detail. And I would ask you maybe to reserve judgment until after that time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: And of course he went on to talk about how it would help the nation heal was having an ongoing dialogue. And a senior administration official confirmed to me and my colleague Sarah Westwood that this is, in fact, under serious consideration. But they offered a caveat, as is always the case with this administration. That it comes down to what President Trump wants to do and what he wants his messaging to be. And I spoke to another source who was close to the White House, close

to the president who said that he came out of this weekend feeling bullish. He saw those job numbers on Friday which really gave him a pep in his step.

[20:20:06]

And he feels good about those protests over the weekend. And here's why. The fact that they were nonviolent. This source says that this gives President Trump more ammunition to really double down on his law and order messaging, saying that the reason why they were so peaceful was because of the fact that he had dominated, and he put that in quotes, because that of course is what he know he told governors to do as well as tweeted about the streets. And that's why then it worked because of the law and order.

And the other part of this that President Trump might be focused on, we've seen him talking about it a lot on Twitter today. And this official said to see -- to wait and see a lot more of this. And that was about the message we heard from some protesters on defunding the police. President Trump has spent most of the day tweeting about this linking it to Joe Biden and to Democrats.

And we've also seen this message really starting to come from his allies as well. And why is that? Well, the president and his allies believe that this is not going to resonate, this defund the police, with those moderate middle-of-the-line voters. Voters that President Trump may be losing to Joe Biden. So they really want to stress this idea because they think it might help get some of that group back in their camp before November.

BLITZER: Kristin Holmes, over at the White House. Kristen, stand by, if there's more breaking news, we're going to get to you soon. We're hearing there may be some developments. Appreciate it very much.

Meanwhile, there's more breaking news we're following this hour. The opinion editor from "The New York Times" has just resigned. We're going to tell you why, when we come back.

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[20:26:05]

BLITZER: There's other breaking news we're following right now. The opinion editor of "The New York Times" has just resigned amid an uproar over an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton calling for military force potentially to be used against rioters in U.S. cities.

CNN's Brian Stelter, Oliver Darcy are joining us right now.

Brian, a very dramatic development. Update our viewers.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This is very unusual to see one of the top editors of "The New York Times" suddenly resigned clearly under pressure in the wake of a controversial op-ed. This came after some other embarrassing issues in his tenure as well. But James Bennet stepped down today again under pressure after this controversy involving GOP Senator Tom Cotton's op-ed. It was titled "Send in the Troops." It argued for military resources to stop rioters in major cities.

Now the staffers at "New York Times" very angry about this op-ed. They said it was not fit for print. It was not appropriate. Editors initially defended it, but then decided that the staff was right and decided it was inappropriate. They said it was factually inaccurate. And that's why it should not have been published. Leaders expressed regret and over the weekend James Bennet had talks with the publisher that led him to resign.

Ultimately, Wolf, this is a big fight over what is fit for print and whether there are two sides to issues like what to do about rioting.

BLITZER: A very significant development. And Oliver, I want to read a statement, at least part of the statement that James Bennet has been with "The New York Times" for such a long time just released, and I'll read it to you. "The journalism of 'Times' opinion has never mattered more than in this time of crisis at home and around the world. And I have been honored to be part of it. I'm so proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to focus attention on injustice and threats to freedom and to enrich debate about the right path forward by bringing new voices and ideas to 'Times' readers."

So tell us more, what happened about this supposed breakdown in the editorial process leading now to James Bennet's decision to leave "The New York Times"?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, Bennet actually conceded to staffers on Friday at a town hall that he actually never even read this op-ed before it landed on the "Times" site. And that was a bit of a damning admission. So, you know, I think the AG Sulzberger, the publisher, may have lost some confidence in his ability to run the section.

But, Wolf, this is a shocking development. I'm talking "New York Times" staffers who are stunned that James Bennet is leaving over this. Partly because he was considered to be one of the top candidates to take over as executive editor for "The Time" in a couple of years when the current executive editor retires. And so to see him forced out is really stunning.

And one more thing I want to point out, too. I was talking to a "Times" staffer. And while this was an embarrassing debacle for "The Times," this person pointed out it has raised important discussion about race and "The Times'" role in society. So some good coming out of this as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And they decided, "The New York Times," that they posted it online, but they decided not to include it in the print edition. It was supposed to be in today's Sunday "New York Times." Never made it.

All right, Oliver, Brian, good work. Thanks very much. We're going to continue to stay on top of this story. Meanwhile, look at this, we got some live pictures coming in from

protests in Los Angeles this hour. Look at how huge that crowd is on the street over there. This as former president Barack Obama has just weighed in again on the nationwide protests in the wake of killing or the killing of George Floyd. You're going to hear what the former president Barack Obama has just said. Stick around. We'll be right back.

[20:30:00]

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BLITZER: Look at this. Showing some viewers live pictures coming in from Denver, Colorado right now. A huge crowd has gathered there. They're gathering all over the country once again on this Sunday night. Big cities, little cities, all over the country people are protesting peacefully.

Labeling protestors thugs, threatening to order the U.S. military to the streets, and retweeting a disparaging interview about George Floyd, the unarmed African American man who died at the knee of a now fired Minneapolis police officer, as the nation faces a crisis like it hasn't seen in decades, President Trump is opting for division at least right now over unity, and it's that behavior that's driving top Republican voices like former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, President Trump's former Chief of Staff, John Kelly, and former Defense Secretary, James Mattis, to speak out very angrily.

Douglas Brinkley is a CNN Presidential Historian. He's joining us now. David Gergen is a CNN Senior Political Analyst, former presidential advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. David, how dangerous is it from your perspective for the President of the United States to be sewing division in this country at least on Twitter as he does at a time like this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's exceptionally dangerous. It's also reckless, Wolf.

[20:35:00]

I think that's one of the reasons why the president's in deepening trouble than his White House aides as you just reported are gathered trying to figure out whether he should give an Oval Office address this week to trying to write things off from the race.

But we've wondered for a long time whether President Trump was fit for handling a crisis. We hadn't seen a crisis. Now three years down or so we've got three crises that have converged on him, and the news isn't good for him. Three crises. He's bungled two of them. You bungle - he bungled first the pandemic. He tried to militarize the pandemic, then - and now he's bungled the moral dilemmas facing race in the United States. He's militarized that, and he's got the third, just as I was saying (ph), incomplete on jobs (ph).

But I think it's really striking that 80 percent of people in America told The Wall Street Journal NBC survey this past couple of days, 80 percent said the country is spinning out of control. That is a huge judgment on his presidency.

BLITZER: Yes, we see these huge crowds in L.A. We're showing our viewers live pictures right now. Douglas, at the same time we're just getting this in. The former president, Barack Obama, once again weighing in on the very turbulent times the United States is facing right now, urging the graduating class of 2020 not to get discourage, telling them it is in their power to create a new normal in his words. I want you to listen to what the former president has just said.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus problems that have been growing for a very long time whether it's widening economic inequality, the lack of basic healthcare for millions of people, the continuing scourge of bigotry and sexism, or the divisions in this function that plague our political system.

Similarly, the protests in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Nina Pop aren't simply a reaction to those particular tragedies as heartbreaking as they are. They speak to decades worth of anguish and frustration over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system.

These shocks to the system that we're seeing right now just as you prepare to go into the world, they remind us that we can't take things for granted. We have to work to make things better. They remind us that our individual wellbeing depend on the wellbeing of the community that we live in, and it doesn't matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick. It reminds you that our country and our democracy only function when we think not just about ourselves but also about each other.

So as scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wake up call, and they're an incredible opportunity for your generation because you don't have to accept what was considered normal before. You don't have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world as it should be and could be. You can create a new normal. One that is fairer and gives everybody opportunity and treats everyone equally and builds bridges between people instead of dividing them.

Just as America overcame slavery and civil war, recessions and depression, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11, and all kinds of social upheaval, we can emerge from our current circumstances stronger than before.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

BLITZER: So what do you think, Douglas? The former president delivering this commencement address to the class of 2020?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN POLITICAL HISTORIAN: Well, he sounded almost like a sitting president. That's what we're used to, to having a president address the nation at a time of crisis with kind of a measured concern and an open heart. Barack Obama since leaving the White House has been really focused on young people. How do you get young people to register and vote?

I've worked some with the Obama Center that's coming in Chicago, and that's really their main focus. The fear that we're losing our democracy because of young people not engaging, so hear Barack Obama saying this is an opportunity for the young generation to be - to register to vote, to get out there and care, to let your voices be heard, to peaceful protest, but he did it in such and even keeled, unreactionary way, so that to me was just vintage Barack Obama, two- term president who we all rank very high as scholars of being able to heal the nation at times of crisis like when he had to deal with Charleston or (inaudible), Tucson, and other mass killings and horror incidents during his presidency.

BLITZER: What - you know, David, what do you think? Contrast for us what we're hearing from the former president as opposed to the current president.

[20:40:00]

GERGEN: Well one is preaching hope and unity. That's Barack Obama, and the other is incapable of preaching unity, is incapable and has chosen not to and is - and is not empathic in the way Obama is. I must say that I think Obama coming just on the heels of Joe Biden's speech last week, which was also a healing speech, and articulate and showed a lot of his inner strength, I think that also helped to head off the clear Republican attacks and a bunch of left-wing radicals that have taken over the party and taken over these protests and we've got to use force against is. Obama and Biden remind us, no, there is another way.

And I think - I'm very encourage when he says that because Douglas and I both spend a lot of time with students, and as you know, Wolf, because you're very - you're very, very caring about the next generation, there's great hope about that generation. They, indeed, remind me a lot of them about the World War II generation, you know, what Tom Brokaw called our greatest generation. So there is hope there. We just have to keep cultivating to keep the flame alive.

BLITZER: You think, Douglas, if President Trump delivers let's say an Oval Office address on race in the coming days he can rise up to that challenge and do that right thing?

BRINKLEY: No. It's impossible for Donald Trump to do that. We've see it time and time again. Once he started his presidency on the birth issue, saying that Barack Obama wasn't born in American and doing it wrong (ph) throwing down these sort of vicious racial innuendos and attacks on people. There is just no good will for President Trump in the African American community, and nobody who's protesting on the streets is going to listen to him. With that said, I think the president should do it just to try to kind of calm things down, but right now a lot of the visceral reaction on the streets hasn't been just about George Floyd's death (inaudible) but it's been about the way Donald Trump has belittled people of color and minorities in the United States.

And so, a speech would - should be done, but I don't think it's going to change hearts and minds about his leadership.

BLITZER: Well, let me get David Gergen to weigh in. Same question to you. Can the current president rise up and heal the national at this very, very delicate, historic, sensitive moment?

GERGEN: Well, you know, so I like what they say about fourth marriages. It's a triumph of hope over experience. I think Doug is right. It's very unlikely he can do it. And there's another problem here. How credible is he going to be if he comes out and talks, you know, and gives and Obama-type speech? That's just not who he is. And so, you know, I think he's better off being himself, but he better find a way that he can talk to the African American community and he can talk to women and he can talk to young people because those people are going to flee from him (inaudible) in the course he's on right now in the reelect.

BLITZER: You know, Douglas, the former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, said today here to our own Jake Tapper on State of the Union that the cannot in any way support President Trump when it comes to November. He's going to obviously support Joe Biden. Does that signal to you that other Republicans - very important Republicans may follow suit?

BRINKLEY: It does, but there will only be a few. I mean, we see Lisa Murkowski of Alaska starting to join Mitt Romney in a sort of protest. Susan Collins in Maine up for a tough reelection. Does she really want to tie her kite to Trump's kind of bigotry? And so, you may be able to start finally seeing, you know, a handful of Republican senators abandoning the Trump reelection campaign, but by in large Republicans are afraid of Donald Trump. They don't want to be an at me tweeted about, they don't want to be the insect in the jar being shook up right (ph), so they stay mute, and that's been one of the great tragedies in the last few years.

It used to be in this country we had senators of courage whether it was, you know, somebody like Everett Dirksen from Illinois or Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts that would go across the aisle and speak truth to power. Alas, these senators are acting like minions of Donald Trump with the exception of Romney, Murkowski.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, and Mitt Romney speaking out today once again as well. We're seeing, David, protests continue all across the country, big cities, small cities, small towns even. Do you see this potentially step back? Give us a big picture as a potential turning point in the civil rights movement here in the United States. Is it actually going to result in some significant change?

GERGEN: Good question, Wolf, and I must say it's - I don't think any of us knows for sure, but for the first time I'm hopeful about that we could actually see some change. I think the forces are out there now and they're not only demonstrating in the United States. There are at least five countries overseas that are friends with the United States in which there are significant protests against systemic racism in the United States.

[20:45:00] I mean, it's incredible. We haven't seen that before, but I do think - well 30 percent of the country now - I mean, I'm sorry. For people 30 and under, that portion of the population, which is growing rapidly, more than half of people in that group are people of color. That's a dramatic - historic change where we've been, and that number's going to grow and grow. In 20 years it's going to be more than half the country. And we have to learn how to live together, and that is going to require not just sitting down and talking. It's time for action.

People are fed up with all the talk, all the false promises especially on guns and things like that. It's really time and the test is going to be are you actually going to do something real legislatively in the three or four weeks, get off your dime - get off the dime in Washington, D.C., and get it done and listen to these young people.

BLITZER: David Gergen and Douglas Brinkley, guys, thanks very much. A good discussion -

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- we just had. As we continue to follow these marches across the United States this hour, we're getting some more pictures from Los Angeles. Massive crowds on the streets there, and it's also worth reminding all of us that we're still very much in the midst of an unrelenting coronavirus pandemic. Just hours ago, by the way, the number of confirmed dead from the virus here in the United States surpassed 110,000, and all of that happening in just three months. So what will be the impact of these massive gatherings we're watching? We'll discuss that and more when we come back.

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[20:50:00]

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Over the past three months now, more than 110,000 people, Americans have died from coronavirus with nearly two million people infected with the virus. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control are warning that protests across the country could be, in their words, seeding events for the coronavirus. The emergency room physician, Dr. Megan Ranney, is joining us now from Providence, Rhode Island. Dr. Ranney, COVID cases are still rising almost 1,000 American died in the past 24 hours alone. We're still seeing all of this in the midst - right now in the midst of the pandemic. How serious potentially is the risk to protestors out there?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, LIFESPAN: So Wolf, we're certainly worried about the risk to protestors and communities from the spread of COVID-19, but were also worried about the health effects of racism, and I will remind the viewers that racism and COVID-19 are so deeply intertwined. We know that the rate of deaths is - among black Americans is about two to four times the rate of death among white Americans who are infected by COVID-19. Moreover, protests don't necessarily have to be super spreading events, right? Protestors can wear masks, maintain social distance. We cannot use tear gas, not put people in jail, and we can deploy the National Guard to do things like contact tracing and increased testing instead of to enforce negative consequences on the protestors that are out there speaking for their health and for their human rights.

BLITZER: Because we see on huge crowds and a lot of the folks are, in fact, Dr. Ranney, wearing masks, but some are not and social distancing doesn't seem to be the case at least in a lot of these demonstrations.

RANNEY: Yes. So I think it's critical that we get masks to protestors. And as you know, I'm involved with the group Get Us PPE. We've been actively delivering masks to protestors who are out there who have been unable to access them. We have an obligation to do that public health messaging that protestors should be wearing masks and maintaining social distancing as much as possible. And then we have to be ready, unfortunately, for potential fore spread during these events.

BLITZER: The New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, says all the protestors will be eligible, in his words, for coronavirus testing, and the state is even setting up 15 additional special sites just for protestors. What more do you think should be done to protect protestors from the virus and potentially spreading it even if they're asymptomatic?

RANNEY: So again, masks, testing, stuff like what Governor Cuomo has done is critical. Making testing available in minority communities. In my own home state of Rhode Island we have made huge efforts to have not just drive up testing but also walk up testing and to go door-to- door in communities that are hard hit. Again, not forcing protestors into small spaces, not doing thinks that cattling, and then making contact tracing available, and making sure that the medics that are out there trying to keep protestors safe can work undisturbed. There have been some really upsetting and disturbing reports of police destroying medics' stations, water, first aid supplies, that is simply unacceptable and should not be happening.

BLITZER: Should we be bracing for a spike in two or three weeks? That's the incubation period following these protests.

RANNEY: Yes, we should certainly be bracing for a spike in two or three weeks due to potentially protests but also due to reopening in communities that did not have adequate testing to begin with, due to lack of protection for essential workers. We still know that there are shortages of masks and other protective equipment for folks on the front lines, for people in meat packing plants, people working in nursing homes. So I believe that we will be seeing some spikes in two to three weeks. The one thing that may protect us is that those protestors are outdoors and we know that the transmission rates are lower when people are outdoors.

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It's why in many states we're reopening slowly by starting with outdoor activities, so that may be the one thing that saves us here.

BLITZER: These peaceful protests are so important right now at this very, very sensitive moment. Dr. Megan Ranney, thank you so much for joining us. We're monitoring the live protests from coast-to-coast this hour. We're going to go on the ground. We're going to check out what's going on. Also, former President Barack Obama's special message of hope to those on the streets.

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