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White House Officials Raise Questions About Fauci For Openly Disagreeing With President In Favor Of Science; Florida Shatters Single-Day Record Of Coronavirus; Record Number Of COVID-19 Patients On Ventilators In Phoenix; Phoenix School Officials Push To Delay Reopening Until October; Education Secretary DeVos Backs Push To Reopen Schools; Surgeon General: We Can Turn This Around With Masks, Distancing. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 12, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening right now here in Washington, there are more signs from inside the White House, feeling reports that the professional partnership between the President and as one time top coronavirus advisor is over. We're talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's most esteemed infectious disease experts, if not the nation's most esteemed, and once very visible inside the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

He and the President were told reportedly no longer even on speaking terms. The last time they spoke was June 2nd. Senior Trump administration officials now telling CNN that certain people inside the White House no longer trust Dr. Fauci and don't like it when he openly disagrees with President Trump on matters of urgent public safety, life and death issues. Stay with CNN, we're going to have much more on this when we go live to the White House in just a moment.

But I also spoke with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff about these reports. Just a little while ago, Schiff told me that voices like Dr. Fauci's need to be heard, and need to be heard especially now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Dr. Fauci is the most respected voice in the country on how we ought to be dealing with this pandemic. And to be trying to sideline him or diminish him or discredit him is just atrocious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The White House's expending this energy trying to discredit Dr. Fauci. At the same time, new coronavirus infections are increasing in so many parts of the United States, 33 states today reporting a rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Let's begin our coverage this hour on the growing rift between Dr. Fauci and the White House, amid this still surging coronavirus pandemic. CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us from the White House right now.

So, Kristen, update our viewers exactly what are you and our colleagues here at CNN learning?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're learning is pretty ugly here in terms of the relationship between President Trump and Dr. Fauci. And just to give a bird's eye view, what we have been reporting for the last several weeks was this growing tension and this public tension between President Trump and Dr. Fauci, as it played out in the media through these interviews.

Dr. Fauci doing a series of radio and newspaper interviews in which he questions where President Trump got information. He pushed back on President Trump's key argument that the government has done a great job or a beautiful job in responding to coronavirus. Fauci saying that they hadn't really done a great job if you look at what's going on, you compare it to other countries. President Trump saying in an interview that Fauci was a nice man but had made a lot of mistakes.

Now, when asking the White House about this rift, the White House responded in a pretty striking manner. They submitted a White House official sending a statement that said several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things. And then they listed it out, in a format that almost looked like opposition research, something that we would get if we asked a question about Joe Biden or a Democratic opponent, listing out things that he said.

And to be clear, Wolf, I want to make this very clear. These are things that Dr. Fauci said. There is no factual error here. There are links to these interviews early on in the pandemic, where he talks about not wearing a mask or how the epidemic is not driven by asymptomatic carriers. These are things that several health officials including Fauci said early on, as we were still learning about this pandemic.

But the extraordinary thing is the fact that the White House would broadside one of the nation's top health experts, in any case, but the fact that it's happening right now, during a pandemic, that is what is incredibly staggering and attention getting, because the fact, as you said, Dr. Fauci is one of the most trusted figures in the United States. And we are facing a time in which we should be seeing the administration working in harmony with the top health officials, a time where there is a surge in cases and a lot of danger and fear throughout the country.

BLITZER: Yes. It's pretty extraordinary to see what's going on right now, especially an awful time like this coronavirus pandemic. Kristen Holmes was at the White House, thank you very much. [21:05:07]

And this rift is growing, but will it have a ripple going on right now, especially an awful time like this coronavirus pandemic. Kristen Holmes is at the White House. Thank you very much.

And this rift is growing, but will it have a ripple effect on the pandemic response? Joining us now Kathleen Sebelius, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, she's also the former Governor of Kansas.

Secretary Sebelius, what's your reaction to this really extraordinary development of White House officials trying to undermine or smear, raise questions about Dr. Fauci?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I find the personal attacks to be shocking and frankly dangerous. Dr. Fauci is not only renowned in the United States, he's known internationally.

There's no question that scientists learn more every day about this new virus. They've never seen it before. They admit when they make a mistake, and then they correct the mistake. The problem is Dr. Fauci is saying truth to the American public. He has said over and over again, we may be opening too soon. We need to wear masks. We need to be socially distance. We're in for a long haul. We are not testing adequately enough.

He's delivered messages that the President clearly doesn't want to hear, and he certainly doesn't want the American public to hear. Well, if I went back just for a moment, and in mid-April, when the CDC put out their guidance, very specific guidance, for how businesses could reopen, three stages, 14 days between each stage. The very next day, the President of the United States immediately contradicted that guidance and demanded that Michigan be liberated, that Virginia be liberated, that Minnesota be liberated.

No state met the guidance at that point. All states began to be forced to reopen. At that point, we had about 634,000 cases of coronavirus and 31,000 Americans had already died. Fast forward to this weekend, we now have 130,000 deaths and over 3 million cases.

Dr. Fauci has been right on target. We have been opening too soon. This virus is raging out of control. And now, the President wants to force schools to open in spite of a lot of public health concerns. So I think that White House has made it clear, they don't want to hear from public health officials. They don't want public health officials to counter this scenario where as recently as July 1st, 12 days ago, the President said the virus is just going to disappear.

And there is no country on the face of the earth in a developed nation that has done a worse job than the United States has in curtailing the virus.

BLITZER: It's amazing what's going on. I know you work. I assume you work closely with Dr. Fauci when you were secretary of Health and Human Services. You know him well. He's worked, by the way, for six presidents, Democrats and Republicans, going back decades.

And he is, if not the most highly respected infectious disease expert in the United States, you know, he's certainly one of them. Have you ever seen anything like this develop where officials in the White House are now raising questions about his credibility?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think as I say, it is shocking, and it's potentially very, very dangerous because not only does the White House not want him talking to the American public about what's happening right now, but let's fast forward a few months when hopefully, we have a vaccine candidate.

We have a vaccine. I think people want to know from the scientists that the vaccine is safe, that it is effective, that it will not do more harm than good. And if the public scientists have been discredited, if the President says don't believe them. You can't listen to them. They're often wrong. We have then undermined a national vaccination campaign, which is an essential step to bringing this horrible period to an end.

So they are really not only countering the very message that we need right now, American public won't get on planes unless they think they're safe. They're not going to go back, send their kids to school unless they think they're safe.

They're not going to engage in regular enterprise unless they feel from the public science that they're safe. But they're sure not going to get a vaccine if they cannot trust the public health experts. Anthony Fauci is the leading candidate in the world as an expert on vaccines.

And if he is discredited by this President, who wants to silence his message, he has just undermine what we desperately need, which is confidence that when a vaccine comes forward, that Americans will step up and say, this is part of getting rid of the virus. It's safe and effective. I'm going to have my kids and my parents, and my aunts and uncles take the vaccine.

[21:10:10]

If that doesn't happen, we will be dealing with this virus for years and years to come.

BLITZER: Yes. While this rift between the President and Dr. Fauci seems to be getting bigger and certainly a more public, the surging coronavirus cases across the country is so worrisome, Secretary Sebelius. And we're talking about Florida in particular right now. It's reported more than 15,000 new cases just in one day. That's more than New York, New York State at its worst.

So what is going so wrong right now and what needs to be done to fix this?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think, again, it seems evident that the kind of mass squaring is not happening throughout a lot of states in the state of Kansas, where I live. The Republican legislators made sure that the governor did not have the power to continue to impose anything statewide, that it's done on a county by county basis, and a number of counties in Kansas have opted out of mass wearing and social distance policies. And our virus, which was under control, has now started to skyrocket.

We're one of the states where virus is increasing. We're not like Florida, thank God. But I think there's no question that people have to now take a step back. Part of the CDC guidelines issued in April said, if you see disease begin to take up, you need to restrict movement. We need to pull back. We need to shutdown indoor activities. We need people to wear masks inside.

And we need a president to mirror that activity. He did wear a mask at Walter Reed Hospital. That was different than Mike Pence going to the Mayo Clinic with no mask. But nobody can even get into a hospital in the public. We can't visit people who are sick and dying.

We need mask wearing and we need rallies to stop happening because that's too many people gathered. But we need the President to mirror the best possible activity throughout his office, throughout his staff, throughout the country. Mask wearing, social distancing.

And then if we don't get a handle on this, I don't think there's any way you can safely open schools in many of these hotspots in the country. That just can't happen. It puts students and parents, and teachers at extreme risk and on balance, that's a very dangerous thing to do.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thanks so much for joining us, always important for you to be here in "The Situation Room." We appreciate it very much.

SEBELIUS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Even as the President reportedly feuds with the nation's top doctor, new cases are surging in over 30 states right now along with hospitalizations. And now, one city is reporting a record number of patients on ventilators. The mayor of Phoenix, Arizona standing by live will discuss with her when we come back.

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[21:17:11]

BLITZER: The New York Times this weekend showing data that points to a few states becoming new epicenters of the deadly coronavirus. Florida, we've reported seeing record numbers of new infections right now. In fact, the highest in the nation, but also Texas and Arizona, all states that were among the first to reopen and relax those stay at home restrictions.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Arizona for us right now. So, Evan, it's a distinction that no state wants one of the nation's highest rates of positivity. What are you seeing there on the ground?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's right. The latest figures show nearly 27% of COVID tests are coming back positive. That's a number that could indicate not enough testing is being done. And we have seen in the days that we've been here, people struggling to get tests in Arizona.

But I have two more numbers for you that tell you just how much of a strain on the system, how bad this pandemic is. The first one is 89%. That's the number of ICU beds that are currently in use in Arizona. That number has been like that for a while now, not good say public health officials.

The second number is 86%. That's the number of total hospital beds in the entire state that are in use. So the pressure on the medical system here is just enormous. And when you travel around the state, what's remarkable about it is how different the responses can be depending on where you are.

We've seen some places that have mask requirements, some places that don't, some places people are very into social distancing and really serious about this virus. Some places where people will stop you and tell you, this whole thing is ridiculous. It's not real. I don't need to worry about it. And that really is the story of the pandemic in Arizona that I have seen since I've been here, pretty much since the beginning of July.

Which is that, the battle here is between the governor and the local elected officials who run the largest cities, about how to respond to this crisis. It's historically seen across the country that people are debating how best to respond to this virus. But it's especially acute here in Arizona, where local leaders are asking for more things to be closed, and the governor is pushing back saying he can control this pandemic with fewer things being closed. Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a real serious situation, all right. Thanks very much, Evan McMorris-Santoro, on the scene for us.

I want to bring in the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona right now, Kate Gallego. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. I know Phoenix has been particularly hard hit right now. I understand you've said that you have a record number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators right now. Is Phoenix, mayor, going to be running out of ventilators or ICU beds anytime soon?

MAYOR KATE GALLEGO (D), PHOENIX, AZ: Our hospitals are doing the very difficult planning work to see can they turn pediatric beds into beds that would be appropriate for an adult, is there new capacity they can bring in, new locations where they may be able to serve patients. So they are planning.

[21:20:13]

I do want to be clear, if you're having a heart attack or a stroke in Phoenix, you should seek medical care. But it is very concerning. We saw extremely rapid increase in COVID cases after the Memorial Day holiday. It's now getting to the point where we have some distance from July 4th and we are looking to see if we will see a similar surge. BLITZER: Well, we saw the chart. We see those numbers exploding right now in Arizona. Are you concerned that in the aftermath of what was going on in July 4th, that weekend, it's going to get a whole lot worse?

GALLEGO: We are. Our health care professionals tell me already that they are tired, they are worried about what is coming, but they're heroes and they're going to step up, and do the appropriate work to make sure they take care of people as best they can.

BLITZER: What we're hearing from you and we're hearing from mayor's all across the country, and correct me if I'm wrong, mayor, that there's a serious backlog in testing right now. That it's hard to get all the tests you really need. What's the status of testing in Phoenix?

GALLEGO: We have had people wait 8, 10, 13 hours for testing. I-- The thing about mayors is we're right in the middle of this. So people were waiting 8 hours at the testing site, right by my house, and you drive by and you see individuals who are struggling with respiratory challenges in very difficult conditions including very hot heat. We've hit 115 degrees today.

I have been asking the federal government to come in and assist us to do a federal surge testing for months now. Some good news this week, they have finally agreed. It is so bad that they do need to come in and augment our local efforts.

BLITZER: You know, what's also so worrisome, people wait 8, 10, 12 hours to get a test, but then they have to wait several days to get the results of that test. Is that the case in Phoenix as well?

GALLEGO: Yes. I know many people who've waited more than a week to get a test result. And that uncertainty, not knowing if you can be with your family, what should you be doing.

We are trying to be smarter. Our university, Arizona State University, is now moving towards saliva-based testing, which has-- you spit into a tube. And we think that they can get results in 24 to 48 hours. It also requires less protective equipment for the people administering the test because they can hand a test tube to the individual taking the test. Our universities have been also amazing contributors during this time.

And we hope that all of this innovation will help us do better, but it doesn't change the fact that we are seeing incredibly high positive rates and backlogs for testing.

BLITZER: What about schools in Phoenix, what's the status? When are you supposed to reopen schools, and is it going to happen?

GALLEGO: The governor delayed the physical reopening of schools until August 17th. This week our largest high school district, the Phoenix Union District, announced they would not be having any classes in- person during the first quarter so that would put them into October. They just felt it wasn't safe for students and teachers. Arizona is very heartbroken over the loss of Kimberly Byrd, a beloved teacher who contacted COVID and passed away.

We are so worried about the risks to our teachers. We have a shortage of our experienced teachers to begin with, and then the added risk of COVID. It's very difficult decision for our educators today.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Are you worried, mayor, about the President's threats to cut funding for schools that stay closed?

GALLEGO: I am. I think he needs to look at the concerns on the ground and the rates of the virus in a local community. With the virus surging, it really may not be responsible to open schools. I would love to see the President lead in closing the digital divide. I want to make sure that every student gets the chance to learn and move forward regardless of socioeconomic background. And for some, right now, internet is more difficult.

We're certainly making a push at the city to hand out tablets, install wi-fi hotspots, but we would love it if that was the focus of the President of the United States instead of punishing schools.

BLITZER: Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix, good luck. You got a huge challenge. And I know, as all the mayors out there in the country, have to deal with these life and death questions and issues. It is not easy at all. Thanks so much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Good luck to everyone in Phoenix. As the President reportedly drifts farther from the nation's top infectious disease expert, he's also calling on the schools to reopen or risk losing their funding as we've been reporting. But with cases now surging across more than 30 states, how risky would that be? More new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.

[21:25:03]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As coronavirus spikes in so many states, there's growing concern over the impending start of the school year next month. But President Trump and his cabinet officials, they are pushing hard to make it happen. Here's the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from earlier today when she spoke with CNN's Dana Bash on "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary: There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them. And in fact, it's more of a matter of their health and well being that they'd be back in school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:30:01] BLITZER: Joining us now CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Celine Gounder. She's the former Assistant Commissioner of Health in New York City and the host of the Epidemic podcast.

Dr. Gounder, Betsy DeVos repeatedly refused to come out and say school should follow the CDC guidelines on reopening. What does that say to you?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, frankly, will the CDC guidelines are the bare minimum of what we should be doing as we consider reopening schools.

First of all, I think the idea of reopening schools and teaching in person is really off the table until widespread community transmission has been suppressed. Currently, in the U.S. we're looking at in person schooling really should be the exception, not the rule. And we really need to be smarter with the time that we have left before the school year starts about how can we scale up virtual learning so that children are not falling behind.

BLITZER: The CDC guidelines, which as you just mentioned, you call them bare minimum they actually call for social distancing of six feet. How can public schools handle that right now? Many of them are already dealing with overcrowding issues.

GOUNDER: Well, for example, Fairfax County schools would need to build with the equivalent of five Pentagon buildings to achieve the kind of social distancing necessary to spread kids out safely.

You know, one thing I think we should be talking about is at least where community transmission has been suppressed enough, what age groups really would benefit the most with the lowest risk to adults in terms of bringing them back for in person learning. And I think, based on the data that we've seen in terms of lab science, clinical science, as well as population level, epidemiological science, including experience in other countries, it's the younger kids who would be safer to go back, the kids under 10.

Kids over 10 are a very different story, but kids under 10, where widespread community transmission has been suppressed may be able to go back to school safely.

BLITZER: We all want the kids to be back in school from kindergarten through high school, but what's critical to make sure they are safe, the teachers, the principal's everyone who works in the schools are safe. So what do you think needs to happen to make that -- to guarantee that everyone is going to be safe or at least as safe as possible?

GOUNDER: Well, there are some things we can be doing to mitigate, which would include things like mass testing, very frequent testing, you know, but we were already just hearing from Mayor Gallego in Phoenix, that just for the kind of testing they're doing without schools being reopen that patients are dealing with very long waits for testing. So with -- that would require really dramatic scaling up of testing availability. And then things like the H fax (ph) systems in school, so their heating and air conditioning systems, do they have HEPA filters built in? Do they have U.V. germicidal irradiation? I mean, that requires massive investment in terms of beefing up the school infrastructure.

BLITZER: They're not going to do that in the next two or three or four weeks.

Beyond the school issue, Dr. Gounder, we're seeing a rising number of cases, very worrisome, a dramatic spike across a whole chunk of the United States right now. The current U.S. Surgeon General thinks we actually could turn all of this around. He said in just two or three weeks, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: If we can get a critical mass of people wearing face coverings, practicing at least six feet of social distancing, doing the things that we know are effective. And it's important for the American people to understand when we're talking about the fall, we have the ability to turn it around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You think there's any reason to believe that people are going to start doing all these things after months and months and months of noncompliance?

GOUNDER: Well, I think first of all, it's sort of wishful thinking that those measures alone will, you know, bring all of this in. I think what we're really looking at is if we genuinely want to put a lid on this, it's going to mean returning to lockdown. And then the kinds of measures that the Surgeon General is recommending, as you loosen up lockdowns.

But, you know, those measures alone right now in these places like Texas, and Florida, and Arizona, they're seeing such massive spikes in cases. Those measures are not going to be enough right now.

BLITZER: I'm glad the Surgeon General was wearing a mask to try to set an example and convince the American public.

This is critical right now, thousands of American lives can be saved if people go ahead and simply wear a mask when they're outside in a crowd with a bunch of people or even inside obviously, in close quarters.

The White House Coronavirus testing czar, Admiral Brett Giroir, said today that the U.S. is in what he called a much better place than we were in April. Do you agree with that?

GOUNDER: Well, it's all relative. We barely had any tests back in April. We have some tests now but we still have nowhere near as many tests as we need.

Again, you know, listening to Mayor Gallego, she was talking about people having to wait days to get test results.

[21:35:01]

Like I think across the country, it might be an average of three to five days but I've heard as long as 16 days for somebody to get a test result back and that's not actionable data. We need those results as soon as possible.

BLITZER: The mayor of Atlanta had to wait eight days to get her test results back and she's the mayor of Atlanta.

Dr. Gounder, thank you so much for joining us.

GOUNDER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: So what can be learned from other nations as they have been reopening school doors? Will Ripley is about to take us inside the classroom of a glimpse for a glimpse at schools in other countries, their strategies for educating amid the pandemic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did not have an answer for Danna Bash earlier today on schools reopening with fall fast approaching. Parents, teachers, students themselves, they are asking how do we do this? How do we do this safely?

We're looking at the success and the failures of other countries that have started classes.

[21:40:04]

Once again, Will Ripley's joining us now from Hong Kong.

Will, how are other countries getting children back to school while combating the spread of this deadly virus?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The number one most important thing that we're seeing in countries that have successfully reopened schools, Wolf, is that community spread is fully contained. So here in Hong Kong, they reopened schools a month and a half ago. But in recent days, new cases have been springing up just dozens of cases every day, but that has been enough for Hong Kong to close schools effective today for the rest of the school year. And then of course, on top of that, there's also a whole new list of social distancing measures.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: Students gathered for assembly in Thailand.

Their first day back to school since mid-March. There are new rules to go along with the new normal educating and the time of coronavirus

First, the lineup, a pump of hand sanitizer, a full face visor, a temperature check and class is back in session. One of this group's first lessons, how to keep their distance.

Makeshift cubicles made out of old ballot boxes helped to keep students separated.

One girl says she feels good studying behind the box. It makes her feel safer returning to school.

Before it's reopening, Thailand effectively contained the virus. Its infection rate remains low just over 3,200 confirmed cases. Even though it was the first country outside of China to detect the case of COVID-19.

Around the world, other starts and stops. Hong Kong schools are closing again. It too restarted classes a month and a half ago because of a new spike in case officials decided to start summer break early.

One student says he just finished his exams and there was just one more week of classes to go. So, not too much of a difference.

There have been similar rollbacks in Beijing, and parts of Australia, where officials opened up schools after a seemingly successful lockdown, only to shut them again after a flare up of coronavirus.

In global hotspots like South America, thousands of new cases every day. Schools are closed. With a few exceptions, most of Uruguay students have returned to class. It closed its borders early, and it has about 1000 total cases. Unlike its much larger and denser neighbor Brazil, which is topping 1.8 million.

The remoteness of Chile's Easter Island may have spared the fate of the mainland. School recently resumed their.

One students says it's an opportunity that's been given to them because on the continent, it's not been possible to return to class because of the pandemic.

An opportunity countries around the world are struggling to manage as schools learn, even after reopening, there are no guarantees the virus won't return.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: This is proving to be one of the biggest challenges of this pandemic. How do you get kids back in the class together where they need to be for social and learning reasons, but also keep them safe?

In fact, the United States, Wolf, is the only country even considering reopening schools with so many fresh faces popping up every day. And that's particularly dangerous, experts say, because schools if the social distancing is done properly, kids can be safe, but schools can also be a breeding ground to spread the virus. You know, even if students don't show symptoms, they could bring it home to their parents to their grandparents, and that could cause a whole new wave of problems.

BLITZER: Certainly could. These are life and death issues. And I guess the images of the kids in the school that we just saw in your report that's going on over there, but it could be happening here in the United States fairly soon as well.

Will Ripley, excellent reporting for us as usual. Thank you very much.

We're going to have much more of our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic that's coming up.

But also the death of George Floyd sparked activism from everyday Americans to big celebrities here in the United States and around the world. And now, a six time Grammy Award winning gospel singer BeBe Winans is lending his voice to the movement. He's going to be joining us live when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:49:03]

BLITZER: A quick programming note, W. Kamau Bell is taking on injustice and inequality across America as part of an all new season of United Shades of America that premieres next Sunday night 10 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Tomorrow we'll mark seven weeks since George Floyd died after a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes sparked national and international protests. It also spurred activism from everyday Americans to celebrities, including six time Grammy Award winning gospel singer BeBe Winans.

He said he wanted to lend his voice to the movement following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray and so many others. And he shared a song he wrote and titled "Black Lives Matter." Let me play a portion.

[21:50:36]

BLITZER: And BeBe Winans is joining us now.

BeBe, so what was the exact moment that spurred you to write this really powerful and beautiful song?

BEBE WINANS, GRAMMY-AWARD WINNING GOSPEL SINGER: Oh, I'm almost in tears. Thanks for having me, Wolf.

In 2015 it was after the death of Freddie Gray, that I began to just weep in my home. And I wept because I thought of the vulnerability of my son, and other young men who look just like Freddie Gray. And so through my tears, I just remember walking over to the piano and I was inspired to write this song, but then I put it away. I put it away.

BLITZER: So what happened? So when did you decide to take it out and do it and let all of us see it? And I know you shared it with your good friend Paxton Baker, my good friend as well, he shared it with me, and that's why you're here with us right now.

WINANS: After, just like everyone else, after I witnessed the public slaughter of George Floyd, the song immediately came back to my memory and I knew I had to take it out of that vault and go into the studio and record it and release it. I felt it was the moment and I felt inspired and I did just that.

BLITZER: When people hear your song, BeBe, what do you hope they will take away from it?

WINANS: All my prayer, my fervent prayers, that it would touch the hearts of people and then possibly change those same hearts. You know, music has a way of knocking down doors like the spoken word can't. And so that is my prayer.

I feel as if we need more than just a change of attitude in this country. But I feel like we need a repositioning of the heart and I believe music can do that. And so, knowing deep in my heart that love always wins.

BLITZER: Yes, I totally agree with you. Music is so, so special.

And I know Baby, you're not only lending your really beautiful powerful voice, you're also helping financially as well. Tell us about that.

WINANS: The EJI the Equal Justice Initiative of Mr. Bryan Stevenson, the proceeds are going there and the proceeds are going to Black Lives Matter organization. I want every dime that is made from this to go there and help people go and change what needs to be changed.

We have to have finances to make things change. And so I want everyone to know that the proceeds are going there to bring change.

BLITZER: That's so beautiful. Where do you hope BeBe, this nationwide conversation that we're all having right now about race leads us?

WINANS: I hope this -- I think it's very simple that we would sit down and listen. Sometimes we over talk each other because we're not listening and someone wants to keep on top.

If we -- I wrote a song years ago, Wolf, and it's entitled "To Love is to Listen." So I hope and I pray and I believe we will. I believe this is the moment that we all sit down and listen to one another. And if we listen to one another, then the fear of each other starts to disappear.

BLITZER: You're a very special person BeBe, and I know you had coronavirus yourself a few months ago.

WINANS: Yes.

BLITZER: Tell us how you're doing right now and, and how you got through that.

WINANS: Doing excellent. It was March 14, I won't forget because all of a sudden I started coughing, and I'm one of those people who follow instructions. So, you know, I've been wearing a mask, I've been wearing gloves and being careful, but yet and still, you just don't know.

And so when I started coughing, the next day, because I exercise a lot, I went on my run after the run, I still, you know, started coughing a little bit more but the next day, I felt fatigued and then the taste went away and I knew something was wrong.

BLITZER: Yes.

WINANS: But I didn't fear. I didn't fear. And my faith has everything to do with that. I found out that, you know, God is a healer and I believe in what I sing about.

[21:55:00]

So, with that I follow instructions of my doctor and I just kept on moving. I believe my running and taking care of myself really helped in doing the four weeks that I'm doing. But all free now and good.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, we're so happy you're OK. We're so happy that you wrote this powerful song.

BeBe Winans, thanks so much for joining us.

WINANS: Thank you, sir, for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington. To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'll be back tomorrow in the Situation Room 5 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Danna Bash. Have a good night.

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