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The Situation Room
Anti-Semitic Violence Rising; Marjorie Taylor Greene Under Fire; COVID's Origins; U.S. Open For Business; At Least A Dozen Mass Shootings Across U.S. Over Weekend; Biden Agenda Faces Critical Week, Multiple Bills Face Dire Future Ahead Of Self-Imposed Deadlines; White House: Biden Sending Secretary Of State Blinken To Middle East To Create "Sustainable Conditions For A Ceasefire"; Dissident Journalist Arrested By Belarus Regime Following "State-Sponsored Hijacking". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 24, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Americans are crowding into sports arenas, restaurants, and other places as the nation is mostly, mostly open for business, with COVID-19 cases and deaths falling dramatically.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene's newest outrage is being called beyond reprehensible by one fellow Republican, but, tonight, GOP leaders are silent about her comparison of the House mask mandate to the Holocaust.
And the U.S. is reeling from a deadly weekend with at least a dozen, a dozen mass shootings, as gun violence is surging across the nation.
Let's go straight to Alexandra Field. She's joining us from New York right now.
Alexandra, America's reopening is on an even faster track right now just days before the unofficial start of summer.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, it is stunning progress, a story told by the numbers.
Across the country, you have almost half the population having received at least one dose of vaccine. In four states, they are reporting about half the population has been fully vaccinated. And perhaps most significant of all, the number that tells the story of how effective these vaccines are, six states over the past week reporting fewer than one daily death on average.
FIELD (voice-over): It's the feeling sweeping across the country.
BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: It's time for everyone to come back. It's time for us all to be together.
FIELD: New York City's public schools will fully reopen for in person learning by the fall.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Welcome back to school!
FIELD: Los Angeles schools announcing the same plan, some of the latest in an onslaught of declarations of incredible progress, if not quite victory, in the fight against COVID-19, as so many Americans feel safe enough to celebrate.
Thousands in a maskless crowd swarming the greens at the PGA Championship over the weekend, the New York Knicks selling out Mattis Square Garden to mostly vaccinated fans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back in front!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a game.
FIELD: New COVID cases across the country falling now to stunning lows, the average daily number down 87 percent since the start of the year, with average deaths dropping about 80 percent in the same time.
But Americans are still being urged to assess their own risk level and take precautions where necessary, even as hospitalizations also fall.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: It shows really a rapidly declining overall vulnerability of the U.S. population. Bottom line is that the people who are getting infected now tend to be people who are younger, less vulnerable to the infection, because a lot of the vulnerable population has been vaccinated.
FIELD: Half of all states report that they have fully vaccinated half of their adult populations, with the Northeast states leading the way and Southeast states lagging behind, the state of Maine recording the most success.
Almost 63 percent of adults there are fully vaccinated. And nine states have already reached a goal set by President Joe Biden, to get 70 percent of all adults at least one shot of the vaccine by July 4.
GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): Every single one of our young people, we're going to give $100 savings bond.
FIELD: West Virginia is trying to entice more young people to get their shots with $100 gift cards or savings bonds for those between the ages of 16 and 35.
New York is targeting travelers, opening vaccination sites in New York City airports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's give you a CDC card.
FIELD: Just as more people prepare to spend much less time at home.
FIELD: But, Wolf, we have to recognize that the progress we're seeing here is just not happening in so many parts of the world.
The State Department issuing a level four advisory now, warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Japan just two months before the Olympic Games are scheduled to be held there, the State Department citing a rapid rise in cases in Japan, a country where just 2 percent of residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that is so, so worrisome.
Alexandra, thank you very much.
As the pandemic is easing here in the United States, there's renewed debate about its origins, as we get new information about Chinese researchers who actually got sick back in late 2019.
CNN's David Culver is joining us from Shanghai right now.
David, so what have we learned about the potential birthplace of this pandemic?
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we knew, going back to November 19, according to a State Department fact sheet that was released earlier this year, that these three Wuhan lab workers had been sickened, that they had flu-like symptoms.
What has changed now with this new U.S. intelligence that we're hearing is that they were so sick, they had to be hospitalized. Now, the White House was asked about this today. They didn't get into details on the intel. Instead, they said that the WHO needs better access, so as to learn the facts.
Now, you might recall the WHO has been here in China. They had a field team in Wuhan earlier this year. We were down in Wuhan in January as that field team was under way, going through many of the sites that we well know, the Huanan Seafood Market, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The issue with that field team's findings -- and they claim that that is extremely unlikely that the origin of this virus is a leak from the lab -- is that many of the members on the team were concerned with the amount of transparency and just how much access to the crucial data they were getting. In fact, they claimed that the Chinese were limiting them in many ways.
I want you to hear now from CDC former Director Redfield. He was asked about this by Dr. Sanjay Gupta in March as far as what he thinks the possible origin was. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I had to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: September, October?
REDFIELD: That's my own view. It's only an opinion. I'm allowed to have opinions now. I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CULVER: The Chinese are not happy with this assessment. And they certainly don't like this new intelligence report, Wolf.
They have been pushing back on it. The Foreign Ministry on Monday here saying that this is U.S. hyping things, as they put it. And state media has put out several articles countering this. They even cite the Wuhan lab director saying that this is a complete lie -- Wolf.
BLITZER: David Culver reporting from Shanghai in China.
All right, David, thank you very much.
Let's discuss this and more with Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He's also a member of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee.
Dr. Offit, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
Tell our viewers why it is so critically important for all of us to understand the origin of this deadly -- this deadly virus.
DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Right. There's still a lot we don't know.
But I think, the more we know, then that will help us in the future when the next pandemic arrives. I mean, what is clear is that this is a bat coronavirus that's made its debut in the human population in China in the Wuhan area at the end of 2019.
I think that, we know. The question is why. I mean, was it because, in that wet market, they were selling fried bats and that it entered the human population by people eating fried bats or drinking bat soup or drinking bat tea? Was that it?
Or was it that there was a laboratory that was working with a bat coronavirus that, due to either poor containment practices or just poor practices with regard to how they were handling the virus, that a lab work or workers got sick, and that's how it entered the human population?
Or, as Dr. Redfield is arguing -- and I really think this is extraordinarily unlikely -- was it that the laboratory could have in some way manipulated the virus to make it more likely to be contagious for people, the so-called gain of function studies?
I really don't think that's it. But I do think we need to know. And the way to know is to go there, sequence all these early viruses, and see how things went from bats to humans, and perhaps with an intermediate host. This is all doable.
I just wish China was more transparent about this.
BLITZER: Well, it's doable, if the Chinese allow international inspectors to come in and do a full-scale commission of inquiry, if you will, to learn from this blunder whatever happened to make sure it doesn't happen again.
But there's no indication. Do you have any reason to believe the Chinese will allow this?
OFFIT: I don't know.
But, I mean, what I do know is that they have to allow this to happen. This is now the third pandemic strain that has raised its head in the last 20 years. The first was SARS 1. The second was MERS. This is the third. I think we can assume that we're not done with this.
And I think we need to be able to know this the minute it happens. I mean, it is unfair that we had to depend on a whistle-blower in China to tell us that there was a virus that was circulating in Wuhan that was killing people. That delayed things. It didn't give us a chance to act as quickly as we needed to act.
And I think they're culpable in that way.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the CDC report that they have received what they call relatively few, relatively few reports of a heart ailment in teens and young adults who received the coronavirus vaccine.
How concerned should parents be about this?
OFFIT: Not too concerned.
There is a disorder called myocarditis, which means inflammation of the heart muscle. It's caused primarily by viruses. And the virus that's the main cause is really a spring virus. So, as cardiologists would say, this is myocarditis season.
Usually, it's transient, short-lived, but it can be more severe. I mean, when -- it's not all that uncommon. It occurs in about 10 to 20 per 100,000 people per year.
So, when you have vaccinated millions and millions of people, there are going to people -- people who will get myocarditis whether they would have gotten the vaccine or not. The early studies that have been done by the CDC with the first roughly million doses that were out there with the mRNA vaccine showed that you were no more likely to get myocarditis if you got the vaccine or if you didn't. But, again, I think this needs to be followed up. I really don't think parents have a cause for concern here.
BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging.
All right, Dr. Offit, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead: another flash point in the war within the Republican Party, as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene compares the House mask mandate to Nazi, Nazi tactics during the Holocaust. Tonight, top GOP leaders are refusing to call her out.
BLITZER: Congressional Republican leaders are silent tonight on very deeply disturbing remarks by Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who shockingly compared the House mask mandate with the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.
CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining us right now.
Ryan, a couple -- a few House Republicans have condemned Greene's outrageous remarks, but, so far, we're not hearing anything from the leadership.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
These are rank-and-file Republicans who have been critical of Marjorie Taylor Greene's remarks. And keep this in mind. She made these comments on Thursday. She doubled down on those comments on Friday. And here we are on Monday, and not one member of the Republican House leadership, the top three leaders, have yet to say anything about what she had to say.
NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, House Republicans are once again dealing with a firestorm of their own making.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): And we took our mask off.
NOBLES: Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, longtime critic of mask mandates, attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for still requiring them in the House, making her point with a startling comparison to Nazi Germany.
GREENE: We can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second- class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany.
And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.
NOBLES: Greene, who refuses to disclose her own vaccine status, baiting the Jewish community to disagree with her.
GREENE: Any rational Jewish person didn't like what happened in Nazi Germany, and any rational Jewish person doesn't like what's happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.
NOBLES: Jewish groups were quick to condemn her comments.
JOEL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS: Marjorie Taylor Greene is trafficking in hate speech. She's trivializing the Holocaust. She's conducting dog whistles to the far right to raise money, to raise her political power.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentlewoman from Georgia.
NOBLES: Some of Greene's GOP colleagues agree. Representative Liz Cheney calling her remarks -- quote -- "evil lunacy." Representative Adam Kinzinger saying the comments were -- quote -- "absolute sickness."
And freshman Congressman Peter Meijer says Greene trivializing the Holocaust could contribute to a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes.
REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): It's beyond reprehensible. This is -- I don't even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that, frankly, amps up and plays into a lot of the anti-Semitism that we have been seeing in our society today.
NOBLES: But while rank-and-file members speak up, the party's leadership is nowhere to be found.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Good morning.
NOBLES: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, and conference Chair Elise Stefanik all ignored multiple requests for comment on Greene's remarks.
And with rising tension and conflict in the Middle East, Jewish people around the world have become targets of violence. In New York, a man wearing a yarmulke on his way to a pro-Israel rally was ambushed, the beating sending him to the hospital.
JOSEPH BORGEN, ATTACK VICTIM: I was surrounded by a whole crowd of individuals who, yes, as you mentioned, proceeded to kick me, punch me, hit me with flagpoles, crutches.
NOBLES: In Los Angeles, a man has been arrested after a group of Jewish diners were attacked while eating outside.
NOBLES: And the threat to Jewish people, particularly in the New York area, has become so difficult, that the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, is calling on state police there to increase their patrols around synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish community centers, because he is so concerned about the rising violence targeting members of the Jewish community -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, we're seeing security enhanced around a lot of
synagogues, not only in New York, but around the country. Very, very worrisome, indeed.
Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.
Let's discuss this and more with the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt.
Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us. Wish we were discussing something else.
These attacks are incredible disturbing. When you look at the frequency, the severity of the incidents -- and I know the ADL is tracking all of them -- what stands out to you?
JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Well, there are a few things that stand out, Wolf.
The ADL does, indeed, as you say, track anti-Semitic incidents. And in a two-week period last week and the prior week, while this conflict was happening, we saw a 63 percent surge of anti-Semitic incidents across America over the prior week.
And events in the Middle East sometimes trigger anti-Semitic acts. So, when Israel has a conflagration with Lebanon or the Palestinians, some things might tick up. But this has been dangerous and disturbing for a few reasons, number one, the sheer area of these attacks, literally California, Nevada, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida.
We are tracking so many incidents, it's hard to keep up, so, number one, the area, Wolf, number two, the audacity of these attacks, the brazenness of people often wearing keffiyehs or Palestinian -- carrying Palestinian flags, coming from an event and beating and brutalizing in broad daylight people who simply happen to be wearing a kippah or having a Jewish star around their neck.
And so these are -- the audacity here is incredibly frightening to the community. But, in addition to the area and the audacity, Wolf, the amplification. Social media has spread this like wildfire. We saw one tweet last week that said, basically, Hitler was right that was spread more than 17,000 times.
And so, for all these reasons, across the country, the Jewish community is terrified.
BLITZER: What message, Jonathan, is the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives sending right now by not condemning those disgusting, deeply offensive comments from Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene?
GREENBLATT: Look, we know Marjorie Taylor Greene clocks in, Wolf, somewhere between deranged and demented, right? This is a woman who thinks there are Jewish space lasers starting
forest fires. She's a QAnon enthusiast. She is offensive in almost everything that she does.
But, in this moment, when assaults are spiraling across the country, we need leaders from both sides of the aisle to speak out clearly and consistently. Leaders need to lead, whether they're members of Congress, who need to say clearly that, when you attack Jewish people because you're angry about the Middle East, that isn't activism; it's anti-Semitism.
So, I want to see members of Congress from the left and the right clearly, cogently say anti-Semitism unacceptable, but beyond that, faith leaders, community activists and, Wolf, business executives. The social media companies should take down these horrible hashtags, pull down these disgusting TikTok videos and Instagram memes.
That's got to happen. But, look, we can't wait. So, this Thursday, at 4:00 p.m., the Jewish community, ADL and other groups, are organizing a day of action against anti-Semitism. We will be holding a virtual rally at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time to bring together the community to say that we are not going to tolerate hate directed at the Jewish people simply for the crime of being Jewish.
It's not OK
BLITZER: So, what else needs to be done, Jonathan, right now to get control of this wave of anti-Semitic hatred that, sadly, horribly, we're seeing across the country right now?
GREENBLATT: Well, it reminds me of the attacks against Asian Americans, Wolf, that we have been suffering through for months, where you saw politicians and people in positions of authority make crazy conspiratorial claims about China, and then Asian Americans were attacked.
And, in recent weeks, we have seen again crazy conspiratorial claims against the Jewish state, that it's systematically slaughtering children, or committing genocide, things that are false, patently false, and yet then violence happens against Jewish people.
So what needs to happen now? Number one, thank you for covering this story. It wasn't getting enough attention. We need to call it out in the media.
Number two, leaders need to lead and push back on this kind of hate. And then, number three, the Jewish community needs to see solidarity from other groups, right? Attacks against the Jewish community aren't just attacks against us. They're attacks against America. They're attacks against the pluralism and tolerance that we all cherish.
So, I think, if you stand up for anti-black racism, if you stand up against anti-Asian hate, you need to stand up against violent anti- Semitism now and forever.
BLITZER: Certainly do. All right, Jonathan Greenblatt, thank you very much for joining us.
Thanks for all you are doing as well.
Coming up: America's other epidemic. We're talking about gun violence in this country. There were at least a dozen mass shootings across the United States of America over this past weekend.
BLITZER: Tonight, new bloodshed in multiple U.S. cities, as gun violence surges across the United States.
At least a dozen mass shootings were reported over this past weekend alone.
CNN's Adrienne Broaddus has details from one of the hardest-hit cities. We're talking about Chicago.
ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across America, families are preparing to bury loved ones after a weekend scarred by gun violence, 12 mass shootings in the span of 48 hours, at least 11 people left dead and 69 injured, two of those reported deceased, teenagers.
The shootings took place across eight states from Friday night until early Sunday, since Friday, at least 48 shootings in Chicago, 10 deadly. A bullet ended the life of a 14-year-old girl who attended a concert in North Charleston, South Carolina, Saturday.
REGGIE BURGESS, NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, POLICE CHIEF: It is a sad day that we have to be here today to talk about another death of another young person.
BROADDUS: New Jersey police are investigating a shooting at a house party. Two people were killed and 12 others injured on Saturday. Three people were killed in Youngstown, Ohio, and at least three others injured after gunfire erupted outside a bar.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would say certainly there is a guns problem. And that's something the president would say. And there are communities where local violence and community violence is an issue.
BROADDUS: Over 7,500 people have died from gun violence in the United States this year, including at-least 471 teens and 120 children.
That's according to the gun violence archive. That's a 23 percent increase from last year. And on the day he was supposed to graduate with an engineering degree, Charlie Johnson was shot and killed in downtown Minneapolis. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlie B. Johnson.
BROADDUS: His sister accepted his diploma in his place. Johnson was one of two people shot and killed in Minneapolis Saturday, eight others injured, the violence especially painful for families, who have lost young children to gun violence in recent weeks. In Minneapolis, three families united on Sunday pushing for justice. Six-year-old Aniya Allen didn't get to finish the happy meal she was eating when someone shot her in the head. She died at the hospital.
MAYOR JACOB FREY (D-MINNEAPOLIS, MN): Every parent should have the ability to send their kid outside to play without the risk of getting hit by gunfire.
BROADDUS: There's now a $30,000 reward to find the person who killed her. City leaders are also offering cash for other shootings that left two children in critical condition, one shot in the head on a trampoline.
KAY G. WILSON, ANIYA ALLEN'S GRANDFATHER: Not only do we want justice for our babies, we don't want these people out here to shoot somebody else's babies and there will be another press conference because another family will be standing up here with us.
BROADDUS (on camera): And that was Aniya's grandfather, K.G. Wilson. He left Chicago two decades ago to escape gun violence, moving to Minneapolis. In that city, he's often the first on crime scenes comforting and providing resources to families. Meanwhile, here in Chicago, the superintendent of police said today, this year, at least 29 officers have been shot at or shot. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, people around the world are watching us right now, and find it so hard to believe this is going on in our country in the United States of America. Adrienne, thank you very much for that report.
Let's discuss with CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey, the former Philadelphia police commissioner and former police chief here in Washington D.C. as well. Chief Ramsey, thanks so much for joining us.
As you heard, at least 12 mass shootings this weekend alone here in the U.S., a 23 percent increase in gun violence deaths so far this year. What do you think is contributing to this spike?
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well this is very, very troubling. I mean, summer isn't even here yet and already we're starting to experience this level of violence. I think there are some things that probably play some role in it.
COVID obviously has played some role in it, pent-up frustration, people being inside for more than a year, kids out of school for about a year and spending more time on social media. And when I talked to police chiefs, a lot of the conflict with young people, it really starts over beefs through social media. So that plays a role.
And also a lot of cities have used violence interrupters as a part of project ceasefire. You know, during COVID they couldn't have the face- to-face contact with some of the high-risk offenders that are out there, and so that had an impact. But then it all comes down to guns.
The semiautomatic and assault weapons that are on our streets, you know, before I retired it was unusual to get to a crime scene and find, you know, just one or two shell casings. I mean you find 10, 15, 30 shell casings in a scene. So you've got multiple shots being fired very rapidly, multiple people sometimes being struck. And it's not just the mass shootings, it is just regular homicides. Homicides and assaults are up across the country.
BLITZER: Because you previously led the police departments here in D.C. as well as Philadelphia. How much can individual police departments, Chief Ramsey, do to control this kind of violence with so many guns out there?
RAMSEY: Well, you do the best you can, but it's really identifying the shooters, identifying the people who are likely to be carrying guns and using them to commit crimes, really making sure that you know who they are, what kind of car they drive, those kinds of things, good intelligence. But also, I mean, it takes a lot of cooperation from the community in order to be successful, you know?
And once you do arrest him and I know here in Philadelphia, for example, they have an increase in gun seizures already this year, but we've topped 200 murders. I mean, this is May 24th and already 200 murders, they're on pace to have the highest number of homicides in the history of Philadelphia this year, unless things slow down.
And so police are doing what they can do. Many departments are shorthanded, but a lot of these criminals, particularly violent criminals that carry gun, they've been emboldened.
They don't think police are going to be very proactive in going after them.
BLITZER: And so many kids and teenagers are being murdered in the process. It is so, so heartbreaking. Chief Ramsey, thank you so much for joining us.
Just ahead, the Biden administration about to miss its own deadline for police reform as the country prepares to mark one year since the murder of George Floyd.
BLITZER: It's a critical week right now for President Biden and his agenda with multiple bills facing an uncertain future ahead of self- imposed deadlines.
[18:35:03] CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins joining us right now. Kaitlan, it's not necessarily looking all that good at least right now for some of the president's top priorities.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf, and it's not looking like some of them will be by bipartisan, which, of course, as we know something that the president has talk about it. He's often talked about that when it comes to his relationships with lawmakers and something he does not want to see in his legislative agenda.
And this week is going to be really a critical test for determining whether or not some of his top priorities are going to end up being bipartisan. And for some of those priority, Wolf, like infrastructure, right now, it is not looking promising.
COLLINS (voice over): A moment of truth for President Biden's legislative agenda.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The ball is in the Republicans' court.
COLLINS: This week, Democrats and Republicans will hit their self- imposed deadline to make progress on infrastructure talks and the two sides are still miles apart on how much to spend and what to spend it on.
PSAKI: The last counteroffer that came from the Republicans just came up $50 billion. So our concessions went ten times as far as theirs.
COLLINS: Republicans quickly rejected the White House's offer to trim the price tag from $2.3 trillion to 1.7 trillion, arguing it's still too big and they didn't address the dispute over how to pay for it.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): This is the test. This will determine whether or not we can work together in a bipartisan way on an important issue.
COLLINS: Comments like that are raising questions about whether Democrats will act on their own with party leaders under pressure from progressives to do so.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): And if they're not coming forward, we've got to go forward alone.
COLLINS: Lawmakers are also set to miss another deadline this time on police reform.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Let's get it done next month by the first anniversary of George Floyd's death.
COLLINS: The anniversary of George Floyd's death is tomorrow, yet there is no agreement in sight as lawmakers remain deadlocked over how to handle qualified immunity, which shields officer from civil liability.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): This is not going after good officers. This is about when officers have breached the civil rights of another American citizen.
COLLINS: Press Secretary Jen Psaki says President Biden remains optimistic.
PSAKI: The president is still very much hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act into law.
COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, as the White House waits for progress on those talks happening between Democrats and Republicans right now, we do know that President Biden will be meeting with George Floyd's family at the White House tomorrow.
That's going to be a private meeting with no cameras in the room. The White House said the president wanted it to be private and among those who were going to be there include George Floyd's daughter, his two brothers, his sister as well as several other family members. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins reporting from the White House.
Let's dig deeper right now, CNN Political Commentator Van Jones is joining us right now. Van, thank you very much for joining us.
The lead negotiators on police reform, they put out a statement saying they remain optimistic, their words, about reaching an agreement. Do you share that optimism?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. First of all, just look how far we've come. In the first year of the Obama administration, President Obama just mentioned that police harassment of a black professor at Harvard was foolish and the whole world came down on this. The first time he went under water with approval was him just mentioning police misconduct.
Now, you have Biden bringing the family of George Floyd to the White House, the whole world is kind of on the side of reform. You do have Tim Scott, Cory Booker and Karen Bass working on this. There's reason for, I think, optimism even though people are frustrated with the pace.
BLITZER: As you heard, the sticking point, at least the major sticking point, we're told, is what's called qualified immunity which shields police officers from civil suits. Should that be set aside and dealt with separately in order to get a bill done?
JONES: Well, I don't think that that is necessary. There are two things. I think Democrats sometimes think about qualified immunity. If the cops have that, then they're shielded from all liability. They can't be prosecuted. That's not true. They can still be prosecuted under our existing laws. But I think Republicans are too afraid of this. If you take away -- let's just be practical. If you take away qualified immunity in civil court, which means that a police officer can be held liable in their own pocketbook, have to reach in their own pocketbook to pay a family they mistreated, what's actually going to happen?
What's going to happen is insurance companies are going to step in, they're going to give insurance to police officers, which means if you have one bad situation, your insurance is going to cover it. But if you're a repeat offender, if you're somebody like a Derek Chauvin with 5, 10, 15 complaints against you, your insurance premiums is going to go through the roof and you're not going to be able to be a police officer anymore. So the good police officers are going to be protected but the terrible ones will be pushed out of the force.
So, this is actually a good mechanism to -- you know, people make mistakes and you have repeat offenders that should be off the force and this is a good way to get them off the force and Republicans are too afraid of this reform.
BLITZER: Can Democrats, do you believe, trust the Republican leadership to support whatever agreement, let's say Senator Tim Scott negotiates, we saw how quickly GOP leaders actually withdrew their support for the bipartisan January 6th commission?
JONES: Well, I think if anybody can get this work done on the Republican side it's Tim Scott. He's emerged as a real star in that party. He is the moral conscience of this party and he's got the fingers on the pulse of his other members. I don't think you have to have all of the leadership onboard. He just needs nine to himself. I think he's going to get more than that.
I just think that we have to continue to keep the pressure on, literally, it seems like yesterday Barack Obama, President Obama couldn't talk about the issue and now the whole world is pushing for reform. You do have a Republican leader in Tim Scott who is pushing for reform, I think reform can still happen.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens.
All right. Thanks very much, Van Jones. We'll have more news right after this.
BLITZER: President Biden is sending Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the Middle East this week to try to bolster the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Jerusalem for us, joining us live.
Nic, so, what does Blinken need to do to try to make, first of all, the ceasefire stick?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: He needs to emphasize the importance of sort of bringing help to Palestinians there in Gaza, the aid, and, of course, the Israel government very keen to know how the secretary of state plans to do that without getting the money in Hamas' pocket.
Secretary Blinken wants to do it through the U.N. and through the Palestinian Authority. But that's not an easy task. So, no doubt they'll be discussing that with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu here in just a few hours time. They'll be meeting late during the day with Palestinian Authority president.
But I think the real key here, Wolf, is the idea that Secretary Blinken aim is not to shoot for the stars. It's not a big Mideast peace deal, is just to keep the cease-fire strong and to keep that hope of peace in the not too distant future.
BLITZER: Yeah, lots going on right now. The stakes are clearly enormous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLINKEN: As we are doing that, we'll be reengaging with the Palestinians and deep engagement with the Israelis and trying to put in place conditions that'll allow us overtime hopefully to advance the genuine peace process. That's not the immediate order of business. We have a lot of work to do to get to that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: Right after this is over the Cairo and over to Jordan to thank them for their help building the cease-fire, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah. All right, lots going on as I said. All right. Nic Robertson, thanks very much.
Coming up, a dissident journalist arrested after what's being called a state-sponsored hijacking and the fears of what happens to him now.
BLITZER: We're following very, very disturbing developments in Belarus right now where a dissident journalist was arrested after the country's authoritarian leader order the activist's plane diverted to the country's capital in what's being called a state-sponsored hijacking.
Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is working the story for us.
Matthew, so update our viewers on the very latest. This is so, so disturbing. MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is an
extraordinary violation of international norms as Belarus essentially intercepting a civilian airline because they had somebody on it that's flying over their airspace and forcing it to land at the capitol of Minsk, to call the passengers off and told everybody it was a bomb threat. But all they did was took into custody this dissident sort of journalist/campaigner Roman Protasevich and basically held him in custody along with his girlfriend.
Within the past couple of hours, he appeared -- this took place on a weekend -- within the past couple of hours, he appeared on Telegram channel which was back by the Belarusian government sort of sitting there and looking into the camera and saying he's in good health and saying he's cooperating with the authorities and confessing to what he said was the organization of mass riots in the capital Minsk.
But, obviously, critics view this have said, look, this was a confession that was clearly made under duress. He's looking calm but who knows what kind of pressure will it ex exerted on this. Given what we know about how the Belarusians treat prisoners, treat political dissidents in custody, there's been quite the allegation of torture and physical abuse.
Now, in terms of the consequences Belarus is facing, well, already a number of airlines are not flying across Belarusian airspace, and the Latvians, the Germans, the Dutch, they all said that they won't be utilizing their aerospace anymore. The British and the Ukrainians have gone further and said, look, we are not going to allow flights from Belarus to come and go from our country at all.
There are going to be more consequences in the days ahead. Tomorrow there is a NATO meeting that's going to be held at the alliance that decides what further steps to take against Belarus -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you had a chance to speak to the journalist's father, what did he tell you?
CHANCE: Yeah, Dmitry (ph) is the name of his father. He's in exile himself, actually speaking to us from Poland. He expressed a great deal of concerns about what's going to happen to his son, obviously. He's concerned about the possibility of torture, of physical abuse. He knows the stories, the knows people that have been through this inside Belarus.
And so, he's deeply concerned that something like this can happen to his son. He's convinced that is revenge an under taken by the Belarusian authorities for the acts of opposition that his son has carried out over recent years.
BLITZER: Yeah. So, horrible situation indeed.
All right. Matthew, thank you very, very much. Matthew Chance reporting for us.
To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.