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The Situation Room
Biden Returns From Putin Face-Off To Showdown At Home Over Agenda; Harrowing January 6 Police Bodycam Video Made Public For First Time; Supreme Court Rejects Conservative Challenge To Obamacare, Upholds Law For The Third Time; Israel Military Strikes Gaza For Second Time This Week; Biden Signs Juneteenth Federal Holiday Into Law; Cities Take Steps On Police Reform As Violent Crime Surges. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 17, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And as disturbing new video from the Capitol riot is revealed, Republicans are spinning one of their most bizarre and totally baseless conspiracy theory yet, suggesting the FBI was behind the attack.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Now, let's go straight to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, there are some new signs of progress tonight, I understand, for some of President Biden's top domestic priorities.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There are signs of progress, Wolf, but whether or not they can keep up that momentum remains to be seen. We know that President Biden got back from his trip to Europe in Washington with a full to do list.
And while he was overseas, there were a lot of negotiations happening behind the scenes here between the White House and Capitol Hill. Right now, there is a new bipartisan idea that seems to be gaining momentum, but, of course, that comes as Senate Democrats are privately talking about going it on their own with infrastructure with a massive package.
COLLINS (voice over): President Biden is turning the focus to his domestic agenda tonight as a new bipartisan infrastructure pitch is gaining steam.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Our focus is on a bipartisan proposal that focuses on true infrastructure and doesn't raise taxes.
COLLINS: Spearheaded by Senator Mitt Romney and others, the new proposal calls for $1.2 trillion in total spending on roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure with roughly $579 billion in new spending. One sign of progress, 21 senators, including 11 Republicans are now on board. Aides briefed President Biden on the proposal today after he struck an optimistic tone in Switzerland.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I'm still hoping we can put together the two bookends here.
COLLINS: Whether law makers can remain to be seen. Liberal Democrats are already dismissing the plan as inadequate.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): If they really, really, really want this bipartisan deal so that they can go out and champion that, then we're going to have to really talk about Medicare, wages, unionization and climate, especially climate.
COLLINS: Top Senate Democrats are vowing to move ahead with their ambitious package as bipartisan talks drag on.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Discussions about infrastructure are moving forward along two tracks, one is bipartisan --
COLLINS: Senator Chuck Schumer making it clear that, Democrats are proceeding with using a fast track process known as budget reconciliation.
SCHUMER: Yesterday, I convened all 11 members of the Senate Budget Committee to discuss the reconciliation track.
COLLINS: Also tonight, progress on voting rights after Senator Joe Manchin outlined demands on legislation that could create an opening for compromise, like mandating two weeks of early voting while also backing I.D. requirements.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): It's always a big deal around here. Because remember this, the person at the top of the mountain didn't fall there, okay?
COLLINS: Stacey Abrams offering a major endorsement.
STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: If Joe Manchin and the U.S. senators who support this legislation are willing to come together on a compromise, then we will make progress.
COLLINS: But Senator Mitch McConnell is slamming Manchin's proposal and offering this warning.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Equally unacceptable, totally inappropriate. All Republicans, I think, will oppose that as well.
COLLINS: One area of bipartisanship is a new bill on the president's desk today, making Juneteenth a federal holiday in commemorating the end of slavery.
KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Juneteenth has been known by many names, jubilee day, freedom day, liberation day, emancipation day, and today, a national holiday.
BIDEN: And things this will go down for me as one of the greatest honors I will have had as president. (END VIDEOTAPE)
COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, when it came to getting this legislation passed on Capitol Hill, every senator voted in favor of making Juneteenth a federal holiday, but several House members did not, 14 of them to be exact. And all of them were Republicans, Wolf, who voted against making this a federal holiday.
Of course, regardless of this no votes, it still passed. It still got President Biden 's signature today and it is now a federal holiday. And you're going to start seeing federal government employees observe it as soon as tomorrow, given it falls on a Saturday this year, and it will kick it off starting tomorrow, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Kaitlan Collins reporting.
And now to the impact of the Biden /Putin summit. I want to bring in our CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson, who is joining us right now from London.
Nic, a day after the summit Vladimir Putin is praising President Biden. Tell our viewers what you're learning.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Some of it's a little bit surprising to hear this come from the Russian president, Wolf. He was having a video conference with Russia's graduate school of business administration or government administration. And he said that the meeting was fairly friendly, that the pair of them understood each other, understood their differences on key issues.
And then he said something which really sounded a little strange. He said, you know what, Biden isn't quite as the Russian media or the U.S. media portrays him, which is a little bit odd because how the Russian media portrays President Biden as an elderly man who's a little frail, who's not really up to the job, and that's an image that President Putin's Kremlin has been pushing.
But then, here's where he began to praise President Biden. This is what he said, Wolf. He said Mr. Biden is a professional and you need to be very careful when working with him so as not to miss something. He does not miss a thing, I assure you. And this was absolutely clear to me. And Putin continue, and he says, let me say it again, he is focused, he knows what he wanted to achieve and he does it skillfully and you can instantly sense it.
What you sensed there Wolf is what Dr. Jill Biden told us a couple of days before the big summit that President Biden was even overprepared. And that seems to be endorsed now by President Putin. Let's just see if the Russian media now changes their spin on President Biden to fit in with what President Putin is now saying, Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect they will. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson reporting for us. Let's get more on the Biden/Putin summit from someone who was actually in the room in Geneva. We're joined by President Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Jake, thank so much for joining us.
You joined President Biden and President Putin for that expanded portion of the meeting. What was it about that conversation that led both of these leaders to come away saying this was a constructive meeting?
JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Wolf, thanks for having me. The session covered the waterfront from critical issues like arms control, cyber security to regional issues, like the Iran nuclear deal and the drawdown from Afghanistan, North Korea's nuclear program, to some of President Biden's fundamental concerns about human rights and democracy and rule of law, which, as you heard from him yesterday in his press conference, he didn't shy away from.
He took those messages right to Putin quite directly. He did some in a straightforward, professional and businesslike way. But he made very clear where the United States stood on questions of fundamental universal values.
BLITZER: I want to get your reaction. I know you dismissed this attack by the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, that President Biden, in McCarthy's words, gave Putin a pass. But it's not only McCarthy who's saying that. The Russian democracy activist, Garry Kasparov, is saying, Biden gave Putin a huge platform.
The former NSC Russia expert Alex Vindman says, and I'm quoting him now, Russia is coming away with a public relations win while the U.S. has little to show from the summit. How do you respond, first of all, to that criticism?
SULLIVAN: Well first of all, Vladimir Putin has a platform. It's called being the president of one of the major nuclear powers of the world. So from our perspective, we need to deal with him. We need to deal with him in a strong, determined and principled way. And as President Biden said, there's just no substitute for face to face dialogue for managing a tense and complicated relationship.
Also, President Putin has not heard directly from an American president in some years now given the way President Biden's predecessor dealt with him on hard issues, challenging President Putin on questions like Alexei Navalny or Radio Free Europe, or the fate of two unjustly detained Americans in Russia. For that purpose alone, it was worth it to sit down with President Putin.
But even beyond that, President Biden was advancing America's national security interests, reducing the risk of nuclear war, increasing the possibility that we can make progress on issues related to cyber security and other areas that are in the fundamental national interest to the United States. So I just don't buy the argument which says this was not worth it for the United States. As President Biden himself said, he did what he came to do and I think America has come out better for it. BLITZER: The president made it clear that Russia will face consequences for malign behavior. And on cyber warfare, he laid out what he described as 16 areas of critical infrastructure that he says should be off-limits to attack. If Russia violates those ground rules, what are the consequences will the U.S., for example, retaliate with a cyberattack of its own or retaliate in other ways, militarily?
SULLIVAN: Well, you heard this directly from President Biden yesterday. He was asked this question and he pointed out publicly, as he did directly privately to President Putin, that we have significant capacities in the cyber domain and in other domains.
And the president is prepared to use them if it turns out that Russia cannot control the criminals operating from its soil. This was not a threat, Wolf. This was simply an objective statement of what President Biden is prepared to do to protect America's interests in these specific areas of critical infrastructure.
And I won't go into further detail now, but President Biden did clarify to President Putin our capacities and his full willingness to use them if necessary depending on how things develop.
BLITZER: I was in Geneva. You were there. It certainly sounded like a threat to me when President Biden said, if you continue to do this, we have certain very impressive capabilities as well. It sounded like a threat to me.
SULLIVAN: The way I think about this, Wolf, is the president was trying to show President Putin why he would do what he did. He was laying out a rationale. And the rationale was quite straightforward. If criminals from the United States were attacking Russian gas pipelines and President Biden wasn't doing anything about it, he would expect President Putin to do something. And he was pointing out to President Putin the same thing is true in reverse.
So this was not about issuing threats or ultimatums. It was about calmly, clearly and with strength indicating that President Biden is going to take action as necessary to ensure that America's critical infrastructure and America's national interests are fully defended and protected.
BLITZER: Very quickly, I understand that you mentioned those two Americans detained, both former Marines in Russian right now, unjustly, you say. Any progress on these guys going to be coming home soon and will there be a broader prisoner exchange?
SULLIVAN: I won't make any predictions. I will only say that we are going to continue in a determined way to work for their release. President Biden made a strong case and appeal on their behalf. We are hopeful that these cases can get resolved, but this is something we'll work at until the two men are finally back home and reunited with their families.
BLITZER: And I hope that will be soon. You heard President Putin in Nic Robertson report, say, really nice things about President Biden. President Putin says he'd like to continue these conversations, continue these discussions. Do you believe he's making that offer in good faith?
SULLIVAN: Well, President Biden said yesterday this isn't about trust. Frankly, it's not about good faith either. It's about action. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the president said yesterday.
And we will see in the weeks and months ahead on questions related to arms control, on questions related to cybersecurity, on issues related to Russian/American potential cooperation around Iran or Syria or other issues whether or not what was discussed yesterday actually translates into action. And that will tell us a lot about the state of the U.S./Russian relationship going forward.
We are clear-eyed, we are focused on results and we will see what happens. But the meeting yesterday was constructive, it was straightforward, it was professional and businesslike and that's how we intend to continue to approach this relationship.
BLITZER: To those of us who were watching, the entire, what, eight days that President Biden was overseas, it's clear world leaders warmly welcomed his leadership on this trip, but underlying divisions clearly remain, as you know a lot better than I do.
Europe is about to increase its reliance, for example, on Russian oil. China is an important trade partner for so many of those European countries. Is President Biden oversimplifying these dynamics by framing the world as democracies versus authoritarianism?
SULLIVAN: Well, the first thing to say here, Wolf, is that what President Biden did on this trip was confidently take up the mantle of leader of the free world. That mantle had been seated for the last four years and President Biden reclaimed it. And I think if you ask any of the leaders of his fellow democracies at the G7 or NATO, they would tell you the same thing.
Secondly, you saw much greater convergence of the question of the challenge posed by China on this trip than you've seen in the last several years between Europe and the United States. It doesn't mean there aren't tactical differences, but it means that there is a broad strategic consensus that the United States and Europe need to work together to deal with the challenge posed by China.
And the same thing as true in spades with Russia where at the NATO summit, in particular, all of the European leaders both praised President Biden for his initiative to meet with Putin, but also joined the United States in a strategy of pushing back against Russia's aggressive behavior in Europe.
So we feel like at the end of this trip, President Biden has united and rallied the world's democracies to take on the great challenges of our time and to take on the challenges posed by China and Russia. And in that regard, not just in the meeting with Putin but across the board, President Biden did what he came to do.
BLITZER: Will there be a summit with President Xi of China in October at the G20 in Rome?
SULLIVAN: There are no plans on the books right now, but President Biden, of course, is going to want at the right moment to have the opportunity to sit down with President Xi Jinping, for a similar reason to his sitting down with President Putin, which is that there is no substitute ultimately for face-to-face dialogue between leaders, particularly with complex relationship like the relationship between the United States and China. But I've got nothing to report to you today on any planned summit for October.
BLITZER: Well, when you know, let us know because we'd love to go to Rome, obviously. As you all know, Geneva was a lovely -- is a very lovely city as well. Jake Sullivan, you're always welcome to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our Situation Room. I know you've got one over there as well. Thanks so much for joining us.
SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to show you just-released video from January 6th that some Republicans are going to stunning new lengths in their attempts to whitewash what happened.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're seeing images from the U.S. Capitol insurrection never seen publicly until now. Brian Todd is working this story for us.
Brian, the Justice Department just released this video. What does it show?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just more graphic disturbing video of that day, Wolf. This is video that was used in the case against Capitol Rioter Defendant Thomas Webster. The video shows, Webster, among a large group of rioters, he has seen screaming profanities at police officers, he has seen wielding a flagpole in a very threatening way. He is seen rushing at officers who engage in hand to hand combat with him. If you can pick him up there, he is wearing a red jacket in this video.
Eventually one of the officers actually wrestles the flagpole away from Defendant Thomas Webster, but then Webster seen tackling that officer to the ground, some very disturbing graphic video of that day among just reams of this kind of video that we've gotten about January 6th, Wolf.
This comes as we're getting some new information about now about a dangerous new conspiracy theory about January 6th that has gone viral.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, some conspiracy theorists are going to town on a crazy false story about what was behind the January 6th attack on the Capitol, circulating a narrative that the FBI orchestrated the assault.
PROF. CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRESS, AUTHOR, HATE IN THE HOMELAND: Really reaching into disinformation sources to try to undermine, plant a false flag and distract from the real actors that were responsible for the insurrection is really quite a stretch.
TODD: It started with an article published on Monday by Revolver News, a right-wing website. The article was a weave of inaccurate, whack-out assertions base on court filings in the January 6th investigation. The crux of the theory, that, indictments against some rioters accuse of planning the attack with extremist groups include references to unindicted co-conspirators who, the article claims, could actually be FBI informants or undercover FBI agents. Those operatives, the article claimed, could have infiltrated right-wing groups, helped plan the attack and storm the Capitol.
As nutty and untrue as the story is, it's gone viral, partially, because it was promoted by Fox News Host Tucker Carlson, on his show on Tuesday.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, according to government documents.
TODD: And some Republican lawmakers have gotten in on the act.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): We don't like to see government agents stirring up trouble.
This is not only third world stuff but this is like Putin kinds of activity.
TODD: Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz tweeted calls for an investigation, Gaetz sending a letter to the FBI. And, inexplicably, one GOP congressman actually entered the article on the crazy theory into the congressional record this week.
REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): I would like to ask for unanimous consent to enter into the record a report from Revolver News regarding infiltration and incitement of the January 6th protest backed by federal officials.
TODD: Again, there is no evidence that anonymous co-conspirators named in the January 6th indictments worked for the FBI, even though some might have cooperated with the Bureau afterward.
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: An FBI agent or a confidential informant cannot be an unindicted co-conspirator. The obviously way to see that is they haven't agreed to an unlawful purpose, as conspirators have. On the contrary, they are trying to foil the unlawful purpose. (END VIDEOTAPE)
TODD (on camera): Still, experts who monitor extremist groups are very worried about the potential for violence that this false theory could incite among those who buy into it. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment to CNN about this latest crazy theory.
BLITZER: Totally crazy. All right, Brian, thank you so much.
Let's get some more on all of this with former CIA Counterterrorism Official and CNN Analyst Phil Mudd is with us, our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is here, and former Republican Senator and CNN Political Commentator Jeff Flake is with us as well.
Phil, you're a former FBI agent. You were working there for a while. What do you say to those people who are pushing this baseless conspiracy theory?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: How about a four letter word, Wolf? Fact. I mean, let me strip my emotions out of this because I'm about ready to have a heart attack, but let me give you a couple facts. There have been 460-plus people indicted in this since in the six-plus months since January 6th.
That's averaging what, 60, 70 a month. You're not going to indict everybody every day. It takes a while to build a case. So guaranteed there are going to be some unindicted people out there because you've got to review every single interview, every single cell phone, every single laptop.
Furthermore, when you list an unindicted coconspirator in a document, if you don't have the information to indict him yet, it is inappropriate to name somebody, an American citizen in a document before you've indicted them, because as soon as you throw their name out there, it looks like they've been charged.
There are easy facts I could explain until midnight tonight. You don't have until midnight but I am apoplectic. This is a lie. That's easy.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, it's not just unanimous people spreading of these lies online, some conservative Republican lawmakers are actually promoting it as well. How disturbing is that?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's incredibly disturbing. It's outrageous. It's insane. It's not true. As Phil said, it's a lie. This is exactly why you need a January 6th commission. This is why you need to look into these things.
Would these members of Congress have said back in day that 9/11 was an inside job? Because that is exactly what they are saying here, that this is an inside job. They did, -- you know first they said it was Antifa. Then it was proven, okay, it wasn't Antifa. Now, they're saying it's the FBI? This is just absurd. It comes from the dark corners of the internet. I don't know what's going to be next. BLITZER: Yes. What was so disturbing is that there are people who believe this stuff and that's very potentially dangerous. Jeff Flake, do you think your fellow Republicans actually believe this crazy stuff?
JEFF FLAKE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think many elected officials do, but there are some people out there who do and more will if elected officials start entering articles like this into the congressional record.
You know, a year or so ago or two years or three years, you would have dismissed this kind of thing as just kooky and crazy and nobody will believe it. But it's unbelievable I guess what people will believe now.
You have in Arizona people believing that there are bamboo shoots somehow in the ballot papers because they were sent from China that day. I mean, just the craziest theories you could ever imagine are coming forward and people are believing them. And it is really a lot to the fault of elected officials who traffic in these kinds of conspiracy theories.
BLITZER: Is it, Jeff, that congressional Republicans simply don't understand the possible consequences of spreading these kinds of conspiracy theories, or is it that they simply don't care?
FLAKE: Well, you'd have to conclude at this point that many of them just don't care, because we've seen some of these rumors spread before knowing that some people will believe them. I still have a hard time believing that anybody who could make it to Congress, who is an elected official at the federal level, could actually believe this. But that's even worse when you think about it if they know that some of their constituents will believe it so they traffic in these kinds of conspiracy theories. That's just awful.
BLITZER: Phil, how dangerous is this?
MUDD: Well, I mean, if you look at the past five years and even the months after January 6th, people believe this stuff. People believe it. I think the message, and the Republican had given this a path out, the message that leadership counts to counter this.
Let me give you two quick examples, John McCain and the stories about Barack Obama being a Muslim from Kenya. John McCain, a Republican said, no, we will not believe this. After 9/11, George Bush in the stories in this country, about fears of Muslims in this country, unfounded, George Bush told us as a Republican we will not believe this. Republican leaders must speak about one four letter word, fact, and another four-letter word, lies. We need to know the difference, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly do. All right, guys, thank you very much.
Coming up, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act for a third time, is it here to stay? Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Obamacare survived another trip to the U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 ruling today. The justices dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act from Republican-led states. This is the third time the court has turned back a challenge to the law.
Joining us now to discuss, NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg, along with CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates and Elliot Williams.
Nina, does this ruling mean the Affordable Care Act is finally totally, completely here to stay?
NINA TOTENBERG, NPR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, never say never, but certainly for the foreseeable future. First of all, there's a Democratic president. But I think what you have to understand here is that Republicans tried something like 40-plus times and maybe it was even more to revoke major provisions of Obamacare, if not, entirely revoke it, and they failed when they had a president and control of both Houses of Congress. That's not the case today.
And now, the Supreme Court, for the third time, this time, by a lopsided 7-2 vote has said, no, they threw out the case. Now you can say they threw it out on technical grounds, but I think the third time means that it's probably in place until Congress changes it or unless Congress changes it.
BLITZER: And as you say, this is the third U.S. Supreme Court challenge and Obamacare has survived in the last ten years. Why has this law proven to be so resilient, do you believe, Nina, in court?
TOTENBERG: Well, I think in the last analysis, it's because it's been a very popular law. And, you know, Congress does things, they have consequences and the courts are supposed to defer to Congress for the most part. And here you have 31 million people have access to health care at all through Obamacare, 135 million people have provisions that protect them in various ways.
And so it probably affects two-thirds of this country, whether you've got a kid who's 25 years old and who's on your health insurance or whether you have a pre-existing condition or whether you no longer have to pay co-pays on your preventive care and on and on and on. People like this law.
BLITZER: Yes. And, you know, it is interesting, Elliot, because over the last ten years the first time it was upheld by a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court, the second time 6-3 and now 7-2. What do you think?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. One, the 7- 2 isn't a vast strong statement about the Affordable Care Act. It was on a very narrow provisioned concept of standing who has a right to sue. So it's not -- we didn't even get to the merits of whether the justices agreed with the Affordable Care Act Or Not. And also, also note that Justice Thomas in the majority opinion and
Justice Alito in the dissenting opinion both seem to take question with the fact the Supreme Court keep saving the affordable care act, seeming to suggest they'd been amenable to another challenge at another point. As Nina, was saying a moment ago, look, this is becoming politically unsustainable for opponents of the law. So I won't say here to stay or that no challenge could ever be possible, but it's just unlikely.
BLITZER: And, Laura, are you surprised that so many conservative justices voted to save the Affordable Care Act?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is surprising that Thomas and Gorsuch were not on the same side of the opinion that often have been, but here it's not surprising given the narrow ruling on standing.
The idea of standing, just to speak plainly, is that you actually have skin in the game, you've got a horse in the race, there's some particularized injury that you have sustained based on the actions of somebody else, not that you just have a theoretical law school classroom problem with the policy, but you have been injured in some way.
And the Supreme Court was quite nimble and creative in this notion throughout the course of the now one, two, three different rulings on this case in the sense of saying, look, first it was the power of the purse, it's more like a tax the individuals -- tax mandate. Then it was, even that would reduce to zero, it's still stands.
And now, it's the notion that, look, without a financial penalty, you don't have an actual injury. So although they've left the issue of standing to find some agreed party, if the fact that that there's no financial penalty means you don't have a unique or particularized injury, they haven't really opened the door for other people down the road to claim they have standing.
It looks like this time the third time was not the charm. But, of course, as Nina and Elliot have talk about, the role of the Supreme Court is not to make the law. That's Congress' job and they seem to think right now it's intact.
BLITZER: Laura, Elliot, Nina, guys thanks you very, very much. You all obviously clearly know you're staff.
Just ahead, were getting breaking news, a new military action by Israel. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We have breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The Israeli military just now announced it launched air strikes into Gaza for the second time this week, responding to militants launching balloons that are setting fires in southern Israel. Let's go straight to Jerusalem. CNNs Hadas Gold is working the story for us. So what are you learning Hadas?
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the second time in three days that the Israeli military is launching airstrikes against what it says are Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. This is coming just in the last few hours or so.
Now, the Israeli military saying it's in response to a barrage of incendiary balloons that have been launched from Gaza into Israel. They say these balloons that are often looked like party decorations that are attached to either explosive devices or other items that are set on fire there. They said, these have set off at least 30 fires in Southern Israel.
Tonight, the Israeli military saying that it struck a rocket launch site and military compound. This comes after other airstrikes that happened over night on Tuesday, when the Israeli military says it also struck Hamas military targets. So far, we are not hearing reports of any casualties. And after Tuesday night's airstrikes, Palestinian media said that it was just structural damages.
But the IDF chief of staff, who's actually supposed to fly to the United States on Saturday night for a visit, is holding a situational assessment where he instructed the Israeli military to increase its readiness and preparedness for a possible resumption of hostilities. Keep in mind, we are less than a month into the ceasefire with the Hamas-lead militants in Gaza after than 11-day bloody conflict last month.
Hamas so far, as far, has not launched any rockets from Gaza into Israel but the situation is very fragile and any sort of move any which way from either side could really cause the situation to even further escalate, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a very tense situation indeed. All right Hadas, we're stay in close touch with you. Thank you very much.
Coming up, a new federal holiday established marking the end of slavery here in the United States. We're going to talk about it with Martin Luther King III.
BLITZER: The United States has a new federal holiday tonight, Juneteenth National Independence Day. It marks June 19th, 1865, the day when enslaved people in Texas learned that President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. This is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established back in 1983.
Joining us to discuss, the global human rights leader, Martin Luther King III. Martin, thanks so much for joining us.
How significant is this moment today in American history?
MARTIN LUTHER KING III, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER: Well, Wolf, this is an extraordinarily significant achievement. And it really shows how quickly Congress can get things done when they choose to, which is most important, when they choose to, because this was done in a couple of days, the Senate first and then the House very quickly.
But it is extraordinary. Any time that history can be chronicled, captured and put into a day called a holiday, that is amazing.
BLITZER: What would your father have thought of this moment?
KING: I think my father would be very proud of the nation that came together, the Congress, to pass this. But he would also challenge us that if we can pass a holiday acknowledging Juneteenth, then why do we need to suppress voting rights? Why can we not pass legislation around the George Floyd Policing Act or the John Lewis Act or, you know, the For the People Act again for voting rights?
I mean, there's so much that still needs to be done. The fact that critical race theory and the 1619 Project, are being -- laws are being erected every day to make sure that information does not get out.
I think that's very sad. I think he'd be very disappointed that we are not moving further as opposed to we're restricting. It's great that we have a holiday, a new holiday, but it's sad that we're still restricting people of America knowing the true history.
BLITZER: As he signed Juneteenth into law today, President Biden said and I'm quoting him now, great nations don't ignore their most painful moments. How important, Martin, is it for the president of the United States to lead the nation as we confront some of the darkest parts of our history?
KING: Well, it is critically important. It is said that a people that to not remember or acknowledge its history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. And so, for the president to acknowledge is hugely significant, because most or many in our nation really want to follow and get to the truth.
I think we've got to know the truth to get to the truth. But ultimately, in addition to this, I think it's a good time for us to be talking about reparations, something that is on the table. But that discussion has only just begun. But that is also something very significant that I think needs to be discussed and addressed.
BLITZER: Martin Luther King III -- Martin, thanks as usual for joining us on this important day.
KING: Thank you. BLITZER: We're going to have much more, just ahead, on efforts by big cities across the country to rein aggressive police tactics while violent crime is on the rise.
BLITZER: Some of America's biggest cities right now, they are struggling to address two huge challenges, reforming the tactics used by police even as violent crime is surging across the country.
Our security correspondent Josh Campbell is joining us. He's getting new information.
You got details, Josh. Tell our viewers what you're learning.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, policing reform has obviously been a major topic of discussion across the country, but a surge in violent crime in parts of the country is raising serious questions about how impacting what officers can do and where they can go could impact public safety.
CAMPBELL (voice-over): After a year of scrutiny over controversial police use of force incidents, some cities are starting to limit what officers can do. This as several major American cities are starting to see a surge in violent crime.
In Chicago, following the police pursuit and shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, the city's new foot pursuit policy means officers can pursue a suspect who committed, is committing, is about to commit a crime, not based solely on the person's response to police presence.
In parts of Philadelphia, as part of a three-month pilot program, police have new rules for quality of life violations, things like urinating in public, panhandling or smoking marijuana. The rules, police should have them to stop or move on before detaining or questioning them.
All of this comes on the heels of deaths like Daunte Wright, Mario Gonzalez Arenales, and George Floyd. Advocates say they never would have happened if officers hadn't been on the scene in the first place.
MELINA ABDULLAH, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK LIVES MATTER: If we talk about police's violence workers, right, to a hammer, everything is a nail. We don't always need a hammer.
CAMPBELL: But law enforcement advocates see it differently.
PATRICK YOES, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: When there's no consequences for breaking a law, then more people are going to break the law that's the reality of it.
CAMPBELL: They warned violent crime could continue to surge, if cops are hamstrung by new policies or choose to be less proactive out of fear of punishment.
YOES: Now more than ever, violence is skyrocketing and law-biding citizens are expecting police to do the job.
CAMPBELL: Still reformers say removing a badge and gun from certain calls could lead to less violent outcomes.
DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: They need more mental health professionals, we have those individuals on standby and law enforcement officers are not called to handle scenarios where they have not been trained.
CAMPBELL: But some policing experts warn that could backfire if not handled confidently.
ROSA BROOKS, GEORGETOWN LAW PROFESSOR, FORMER RESERVE OFFICER: How much confidence do you have for instance in the Department of Child and Family Services in any given city that they're often train wrecks as well in all kind of ways.
CAMPBELL: Until cities find solutions and fund them, police leaders say they'll have to continue to fill the gap.
CHIEF MICHEL MOORE, LOS ANGELES POLICE: Much as an emergency room doctor is called upon for all types of medical emergencies because the absence of the specialist not being there. They may not get the best emergency room doctor, but that special need, but you'll get somebody who can do the best that they can.
CAMPBELL (on camera): Now, Wolf, when we talk about policing reform, that obviously covers a range of topics. There's widespread common concern about police tactics. People want to ensure that cops are treating people appropriately, but these new rules that are on some departments, limiting what officers can do is raising questions about whether that could impact their ability to fight crime.
Now, crime is complicated. It's hard to draw a direct correlation between the number of officers on the street and the actual reduction in crime, but a criminal justice advocates say if they're going to be police officers out there, they need to be ensuring that they're constrained in certain ways especially in light of so many of these recent incidents.
But one concern among officers and those advocating for law enforcement officers as a concern that officers might be pulling back. Take that Chicago foot pursuit policy, for example. One concern there is that since there is no penalty for an officer not chasing down a criminal in most cases, some officers may opt to not just go do that pursuit for fear of punishment.
So, clearly, a lot of controversy here surrounding this, a lot of issues that need to be nailed down. We all want good policing and policing reform, but as you can see, so many nuances there especially as it gets to these specifics about where officers need to be -- Wolf. BLITZER: A truly significant issue facing the entire country right
Josh Campbell, thanks so much for joining us.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer, tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.