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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Discovery Lifts Off; DNC Rules Committee Reconvenes

Aired May 31, 2008 - 16:57   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're waiting for this hearing to resume. It has been delayed, it is supposed to have resumed almost 45 minutes or so ago, but you see that table empty right now. A lot of spectators, guests inside the hearing room, but the 30 members of the Rules Committee still outside.
Bill Schneider is outside as well at the hotel, over at the CNN Election Express. We're going to go there shortly and find out what's going on. There's some indication maybe these 30 Rules Committee members are meeting amongst themselves behind closed doors to try to figure out what they are going to be doing, what kind of face they will show the public as they emerge.

They met for about five-and-a-half hours last night over a private dinner and failed to resolve their differences, although they were said to be getting closer to some sort of compromise resolution involving Florida. Further apart on what to do with Michigan, a much more complex issue given the fact that Barack Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

He was on the ballot in Florida. There's no doubt though that the stakes are enormous, because if the Rules Committee decides in the coming hours to come up with some sort of compromise to seat delegates from both of these states, there's no guarantee that the campaigns will necessarily accept it, specifically the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Presumably, if they want, they could challenge this decision and go to the Credentials Committee which meets in July and then potentially take it all the way to the Denver convention at the end of the summer. So there's lots at stake right now. We're watching it about as closely as we possibly can.

Also standing by, by the way, in a few moments we're going to be going to Miles O'Brien. He's over at Cape Canaveral for the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery that's about to launch, taking a crew and supplies up to the International Space Station.

We're only moments away from that. That's supposed to launch at 5:02 p.m. Eastern. So, what, it's about three minutes and 44 seconds until launch. And we're going to watch this very closely. You're going to see this launch if you have the capability on your TV and your cable or satellite provider to see it in high definition.

This is a spectacular scene if you've never seen a launch in HD, in high definition, I think you're going to want to stick around and see that as well. But I can tell you we have now confirmed that these Rules Committee members are in fact meeting behind closed doors, away from the television cameras, continuing their deliberations in advance of the resumption of this open meeting at that hotel in Washington. Let's go to Miles O'Brien as we await the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Miles, it's always exciting to see this, a little bit more exciting when it's in high definition, but tell our viewers who are just joining us at the top of the hour only a couple of minutes or so away what we expect?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, what you're going to see here, it's almost as good as being here, seeing it in HD. So we hope our viewers have that opportunity right now. We're inside two minutes now, two minutes and 30 seconds until the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery on this mission to the International Space Station.

The crew of seven strapped aboard, Commander Mark Kelly leading them, bringing a big Japanese laboratory to the station. They'll dock on Monday. And also an important toilet pump and repair for that.

They will be on their way soon, going to an eight-and-half minute wild ride, zero to about 17,000 miles an hour in eight-and-a-half minutes. Joining us to walk us through this is NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock who, at the end of 2007 flew to the space station, conducted a couple of space walks up there and is -- knows exactly what's going on board right now as we watch that gaseous oxygen vent hood, the "beanie cap," as they call it, removed there, which removes -- takes ice away. You don't want ice buildup on that external fuel tank.

Doug, take us inside the orbiter right now. What's going on with the crew right now?

DOUG WHEELOCK, NASA ASTRONAUT: Inside the orbiter now, Miles, of course, the crew is ready. They've been trained, it's much like a sim, I was amazed at how engaged my mind was on ascent, felt just like a sim. We were ready for anything that might occur as far as a malfunction. And the crew is riding on cloud nine right now.

O'BRIEN: And when it gets down to that zero count, that's where it differs a little bit from the sims -- or the simulators, you get a bit of a kick, don't you?

WHEELOCK: Absolutely, sir. It's quite a ride. For the first couple of minutes and first stage while you're on that solid rocket boosters, tremendous amount of vibration, lots of noise and of course the vehicle is talking to you in all phases so you can hear sounds, you can see sights that you've never seen before. You can feel vibrations in the vehicle. And so it's quite a magical couple -- two minutes riding uphill and first stage.

O'BRIEN: All right. We are inside one minute now. I just want to tell you the voices you're going to be hearing as this Discovery makes its way towards space. Adler Butel (ph) is a public affairs officer here, in the launch control center, you'll hear him first and then it will switch over to Houston, Rob Navius (ph), public affairs officer there will be providing us some key data points as this all unfolds as we reach the point of 30 seconds, Doug, things start happening very quickly and automatically.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. A T-minus 31 seconds, control is handed over to shuttle onboard computers and we're at that point right now and the shuttle is on its way. Now there are systems in place to -- if we need to do a pad (ph) abort or abort the launch, that can be done. But the shuttle is in complete control now.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's listen now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten seconds, we have go for the engine start. Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Booster ignition and liftoff of Shuttle Discovery. Gambatte kudasai, best of luck to the International Space Station's newest laboratory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, Discovery, (INAUDIBLE) program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger all, Discovery. Houston now controlling the flight of Discovery, a man made rising sun on behalf of Japan. Discovery on the proper alignment heads down, wings levels for the eight-and-a-half-minute ride to orbit, 4.5 million pounds of hardware and humans taking aim on the International Space Station.

Thirty-six seconds into the flight, the three liquid fuel main engines now throttling back to 72 percent of rated (ph) performance, going in the bucket (ph), reducing the stress on the shuttle as it goes supersonic.

Discovery" already five miles in altitude, eight-and-a-half miles downrange, traveling almost 1,000 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Discovery, Houston, go with throttle up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) throttle up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throttle up call acknowledged by Commander Mark Kelly, joined on the flight deck by pilot Ken Ham, flight engineer Ron Garan, and mission specialist Karen Nyberg. Down on the mid deck are Mike Fossum, Haki (ph) Hoshide, and Greg Chamitoff heading for a half year on the International Space Station.

O'BRIEN: And this is a key part of the whole situation here, Doug, where you've got these twin solid rocket boosters still attached. Once you light those solid rocket boosters, there's no turning them off, right?

WHEELOCK: That's exactly right, Miles. It's solid fuel and you can't throttle these things. And so you're essentially along for the ride when you're on these boosters. And so there is a collective sigh of relief at about two minutes and five seconds when get off the booster and we're awaiting that moment now. And when that happens there's a collective sigh of relief. Although we still have six more minutes to ride to space. O'BRIEN: And the amount of acceleration there is really hard to comprehend when you consider going from that launch pad zero to 17,500 miles an hour. You feel that acceleration though?

WHEELOCK: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: You do.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. You do. You feel it. It's...

O'BRIEN: There go the solid rocket boosters. That's a good sign right there.

WHEELOCK: That's a very good sign now. And actually this occurs about 150,000 feet at mach 5. Very little drag up there and now you can feel the full force -- full thrust of the shuttle main engines that really presses you back in your seat at three times gravity, essentially three of yourself sitting on your chest now...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Is it hard to breathe?

WHEELOCK: It's a little bit difficult to breathe. It's a little bit mechanical. It's equally as hard to reach out and actually to switch or something if you needed to do that. So if the crew -- sounds like we have a very, very clean ascent. The crew is probably checking their reachability of different switches in case they need to actuate something. And so there's a pretty good force on the crew now as they push back in their seats.

O'BRIEN: Now we're looking at this shot, which is the external fuel tank camera, looking back at the orbiter, and of course, you see the curvature of the Earth, the darkness of space. That camera, while it is wonderful for us to go along for the ride, is there for really some engineering and safety reasons.

They want to make sure that big pieces of that foam which insulates the external fuel tank, don't fall off, causing damage to those thermal protection tiles on the belly of the shuttle. I have not seen anything big fall off there. This will be something they'll be poring over though in the hours and days to come.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely, Miles. And you can also see -- in that view, you can see the leading edge of the wings of the shuttle as well, which is reinforced carbon -- carbon that we also want to take look to see if there's anything that impacts those -- the leading edge of those wings. This looks very clean and looks like a very big clean ride to orbit.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're about three minutes in now, and three minutes 40 seconds or so. And as they go up, as they build attitude and as they build speed, their options, if something goes wrong, increase, correct?

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. O'BRIEN: They can -- instead of having to come back here for an emergency landing, they start thinking about possibly an emergency landing, say, in Europe.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. We have what's called a TAL (ph) site, that's trans-Atlantic landing site. And we have several of those in Europe that we can abort to a landing site across the pond.

O'BRIEN: Of course, that's never happened. There's one abort to orbit years ago as I recall when an engine shut down prematurely. And they ended up doing the mission. But what you're thinking about the entire time as you go up to space is what happens if something goes wrong.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. Absolutely. You're totally in the training mode at that point and you're reviewing all your procedures. You're looking at what the vehicle is telling you on your screens and on your gauges and dials. And the crew is basically engaged in what's going on, what the vehicle is telling them.

O'BRIEN: And our apologies as the helicopter which provides security here lands as it does at this time in every case. So far I have not heard a single thing, any calls from the ground or to the crew that would indicate anything is going wrong.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. Sounds perfectly clean, Miles. And that's good news.

O'BRIEN: What -- and as it goes up, as you get to this point, they call it -- it is a much smoother ride when (INAUDIBLE) that solid rocket boosters. But the G-forces, this is when you really -- they build up and you really start to feel it, right?

WHEELOCK: You can really feel the power of the shuttle main engines. Each one of those engines produces about 13 million horse power and a pretty good amount of thrust. So about 375,000 pounds of thrust each. And so you can -- you essentially have little drag at this altitude and so you can feel the full power of those engines thrusting you back in your seat.

O'BRIEN: All right. And -- now what they said there with (INAUDIBLE) to ATOs, decipher that. What does that mean?

WHEELOCK: It's essentially the abort boundary where we know that if we lose an engine, we can abort to orbit. ATO is abort to orbit. So if we lose an engine, all three shuttle main engines are functioning properly, and if we lost an engine we can make it to orbit.

O'BRIEN: So that's a good call when you hear that one, that...

WHEELOCK: That's a very good call. That's a very good call. We can now make it to orbit if we lose one engine.

O'BRIEN: But you still want to get to the space station so those engines continue to fire the full eight-and-a-half minutes. And now it -- that begins this roll program. What --that's about communication, isn't it?

(CROSSTALK)

WHEELOCK: Yes, sir. On top of the space shuttle are antennas that -- we lay the shuttle on its back as we're going through first stage, up until about mach 13 to 15. And those antennas are communicating with ground sites up the East Coast and Bermuda as we cross the Atlantic.

Once we get to this altitude, we roll the heads up so the primary communication is now through the satellite.

O'BRIEN: All right. So we are six minutes and 30 seconds into it, and the next call is going to be single engine press TEMECO (ph), what does that mean?

WHEELOCK: Well, press TEMECO, MECO means it's -- stands for main engine cutoff, which is a good point to reach, essentially the summit, if you will, of this -- of the launch attempt. And so single engine press (INAUDIBLE) one engine, if they lost two engines we could make a TEMECO.

O'BRIEN: All right. So we are inside two minutes. And what we're going to see is we're going to see this wonderful picture as the external fuel tank and the (INAUDIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Orbiter separate. And this is important period of time because crew members on board have assigned tasks here. One crew member in particular to take pictures of the tank to see if any debris was created during this launch.

And you want to make sure that there isn't big pieces that came off, right?

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. On my mission I was responsible for taking video footage from the upper window of the external tank as it fell back toward the Earth. And it's quite an amazing sight to see this thing (INAUDIBLE) safely to orbit.

O'BRIEN: Now traveling over 20,000 miles an hour. Of course, you're not feeling any sense of speed, you're feeling the G forces. What's interesting I think is that the maximum G forces that you feel end very suddenly, don't they when those engines cut off?

WHEELOCK: They do. It's an instantaneous cutoff, an instantaneous zero G. And so -- and you're really glad they strap you in tightly.

O'BRIEN: And so suddenly you go from this pressure to zero G. What is -- I know that some astronauts get sick and you can understand why. That's a difficult transition, isn't it?

WHEELOCK: Your body adapts but some people adapt very, very quickly, some people, some people have delayed reaction to the introduction to zero G.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standing by for main engine cutoff.

O'BRIEN: We're standing by for main engine cutoff here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That will be followed a few seconds later by the separation of the external fuel tank.

WHEELOCK: And you'll hear a MECO call, which stands tore main engine cutoff. And you'll hear, MECO confirmed.

O'BRIEN: What is that flaming we're seeing around there? What does that mean?

WHEELOCK: It's actually the...

(CROSSTALK)

WHEELOCK: ... the gas that's the coming out of the shuttle main engines, we're now essentially in space in a complete vacuum. And so that expansion is -- behaves quite a bit differently than here on Earth, in our atmosphere.

O'BRIEN: And there you watch the separation, that wonderful almost, it's almost a ghostly image as the orbiter and the tank separate.

WHEELOCK: You'll see jets firing on the shuttle to move it away from the external tank and then the shuttle will actually do a 180- degree flip onto its back and so you can see this external tank out the upper windows.

O'BRIEN: What kind of a sight was that to see that? Did you believe where you were?

WHEELOCK: It was amazing. It was amazing. There was a lot of -- you have to keep focused on your work, because there is a lot of wow factor. That was -- that's just an amazing.

O'BRIEN: All right. What you just witnessed was text book getting to space in a Space Shuttle, eight-and-a-half minutes of one wild ride. Amazing that it all comes together really when you think about all of the things that have to go right to have what happened just happen.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely, sir. Absolutely, it's a tremendous experience.

O'BRIEN: A word about this mission, putting on this Kibo laboratory, significant milestone for the space station. I know you would like to go up there some day and work on the space station. Having that laboratory means a lot for the station, actually gives it some scientific potential that it doesn't have.

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. Absolutely. It really is a huge milestone for us and for our international partners. It really completes the laboratory complex that we intended to do all of our space. Now we still have later this year a solar array to go up and produce more power for these laboratories. In a large sense it brings some completion to the building of our laboratory complex.

O'BRIEN: All right. And we're just -- along the way, it's hard for us to see sometimes, but I'm just being told there was a piece of foam which came off at the three minute and 30-second mark. Now that's late in the game, and that's a period of time when there's a lot less aerodynamic pressure on that foam. Less of a concern there?

WHEELOCK: Less of a concern at that altitude for sure because just what you said, Miles, the drag in the area and atmospheric pressure in that area, so your relative velocity of a piece of foam would be quite a bit less at that altitude.

O'BRIEN: And that big piece of foam which came off of Columbia back in January of 2002 happened much sooner in the ride up to space where the air was much thicker and as a result the change in speed was such that it caused a bigger impact.

WHEELOCK: Yes, sir. That's exactly right.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, this is going to be a two-week mission, the crew is just getting its -- do you call them space legs?

(CROSSTALK)

WHEELOCK: Space legs, we call it that, and space tummy sometimes we refer to it. But everyone reacts differently. The body is an amazing machine. And sometimes it takes a day or two or just a couple of hours to adapt.

O'BRIEN: Five rookies on board here. There's a lot of wild cards as to who is going to be ill and not now. And hopefully statistically only a few of them are.

WHEELOCK: A lot of wild cards there and of course, you try to -- some try to power it out and but we all react differently to zero G, but the body adapts very, very quickly and within a few hours you feel like you've lived there your whole life.

O'BRIEN: All right. Picture perfect launch here at the Kennedy Space Center, Wolf. The Shuttle Discovery now traveling 17,500 miles an hour. It was just here a moment ago, on its way to the International Space Station, playing a high-speed game of catch-up with the International Space Station.

That big module will be put on a little later this week. The docking comes Monday. And one of key things they're going to be doing after that docking will be getting that toilet repaired. It's kinds of a -- it has been a quirky thing for them. They've had to put in two spares that failed. And now they have this spare on their.

I guess, is there a reasonable amount of optimism they'll be able to fix it? WHEELOCK: There is. What I've heard is that these parts they are taking up are a different lot number from these other parts that were used. So confidence is high that we'll get the toilet fixed up.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, the Russian components, the Russian modules, they have tremendous experience in space and one would hope that that failure of the two spares was just an anomaly, I guess.

WHEELOCK: We would hope so.

O'BRIEN: And without an operative toilet, that's -- it's an inconvenience but they can still do business up there, right?

WHEELOCK: Absolutely. And shuttle coming aboard with its nice clean toilet might be a welcome sight for our folks on the space station.

O'BRIEN: I suspect so. Doug Wheelock, thanks for taking the shuttle to orbit with us here on CNN today in high definition. And it was good to see a picture perfect launch without a hitch. And we'll be watching closely to see if there is any other pieces that fell off.

But as we say, that three-minute-and-30-second loss of foam, Wolf, is -- generally that's nothing to worry about because as we say, it's so high in the altitude that it doesn't cause enough impact on the orbiter even if it were to hit.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Well, that's good, because you know, Miles and Doug, as I was watching it on this high definition screen, we have a huge screen here at the "CNN ELECTION CENTER," we were watching it, and you could clearly see something, some piece of foam or whatever, leave that shuttle.

And even as you were mentioning, I think you had turned your head away looking from the picture, Miles, as I noticed something leave the shuttle, and it was a source of some concern to me. But I'm glad that it's less concerning than if it would have been the case earlier. That's good to know. I'm sure you'll watch that together with everyone else down at Cape Canaveral and get back to us with any more information.

Let's hope for only the best for the crew members and everybody else involved in this Discovery space shuttle, very, very impressive takeoff, launch as well.

We're going to continue to watch what's happening in Washington. The wild ride in space, but there's also a wild ride that has been taking place here in this primary season, the selection of a Democratic presidential nominee. And it could potentially be culminating maybe even with a decision that emerges in this room.

You see the chairs around that table are still empty even though an hour -- it has been an hour since the 30 members of the Rules Committee were supposed to come back and deliberate on the status of Michigan and Florida and the disputed delegates.

They are still holed up behind closed doors. We don't know what's going on behind those closed doors. They were supposed to have these meetings in front of the TV cameras, in front of the American public. But right now they are meeting privately.

We'll continue to watch what's going on and stay with cnnpolitics.com for more information. Once they resume the hearing, you'll be able to see that uninterrupted there as well. Stay with us. Our special coverage continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They were supposed to come back an hour ago from a late lunch. They're still not back. We're told they are meeting behind closed doors, the 30 members of the Rules Committee, and will be emerging at some point. We're waiting at this hotel in Washington, D.C. to see what's going on because some sort of resolution of the status of those Florida and Michigan delegates could emerge over the next few hours, then again, maybe not.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Democratic National Committee's Rules Committee. We're calling it DECISION DAY, we're here at the "CNN ELECTION CENTER," I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting with the best political team on television. I want to -- as we wait for these members of the Rules Committee to come back from this private meeting they are having right now, I want to go back to Miles O'Brien at Cape Canaveral.

We just saw a very, very stunning launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery, taking a crew and equipment up to the International Space Station.

Miles, you mentioned, and we saw it -- if you were watching closely, I certainly saw it live on high definition TV here, we saw something split off and there it is. You can see the videotape, we've isolated it. We'll play it again for you, Miles. And I assume this is some sort of foam that -- there it is, some sort of foam from the space shuttle, from the Discovery. What do we know?

O'BRIEN: Well, here's -- we know just -- what you see there is what we know, Wolf. And it is pretty safe to presume that is a piece of foam because what you're looking at in foreground there is that orange external fuel tank, it is coated in foam. It's kind of -- it's not unlike that stuff -- grade (ph) stuff they use for insulation.

In any case, of course, going back to Columbia, back in January of 2002, a huge piece of foam fell off, striking the leading edge of the wing. It was about a minute and 20 seconds after launch.

Now that's important because a minute and 20 seconds after launch, the space shuttle is much lower, the air is much thicker, and when that piece of foam gets in the air stream, it changes speed such that it is -- causes a much bigger impact. What you see in that shot, if you play it one more time, it almost looks like it kind of casually floats off. And that's the important thing here. Three minutes and 30 seconds into a launch, the space shuttle is much, much higher, well beyond what we would call any sort of reasonable atmosphere, though technically not in space. And the amount of impact that a piece of foam falling off at that altitude is not considered a risk.

Having said that, the team will pore through this video and every other video and all of the angles. And we'll look at photographs and ultimately will do on-orbit inspections at the belly of the Space Shuttle Discovery to ensure that what happened did not cause some damage.

It looks like it kind of just floated off and it was a blow clearly, it clearly hit. The question is, what sort of impact? Generally speaking, we have been led to believe by the engineers here that at that altitude, at that time in the launch, we shouldn't be worried about foam loss.

Foam is always going to fall off that tank. That's just the nature of the beast. The next vehicle that they build, they're going to put the people on top of the foam. So that's not going to be a problem anymore.

But in the case of shuttle they designed it with the foam and the people are downstream of the foam. So in this case, this will be looked at, they'll analyze it, but I don't think it's anything to cause any great concern at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong, we won't know 100 percent for sure if it causes any problem until this space shuttle comes back from the International Space Station, is that right?

O'BRIEN: Well, no, actually these days, since Columbia, Wolf, the on-orbit inspections they do are pretty rigorous, and it's going to be a little bit different this time because this Kibo module that they put in there, the Japanese space lab -- laboratory, is so big they couldn't put in an extension to the robot arm onboard the shuttle.

So they will do -- they left it on the space station on the last mission. So what they'll do, they'll do this extended inspection all along the edges, the leading edge of the wings and nose cap of the shuttle. That will happen a little later in the mission.

But when it docks on Monday, what happens is they do this kind of back flip maneuver as they approach the space station, this has become familiar now, and members of the space station crew get out some long telephoto lenses, high def, you know, with high resolution imagery, and just snap pictures like crazy at the bottom.

And they send those pictures down to Houston. They look at every square inch of the belly of that orbiter to see if there's any imperfections. They do have the capability onboard. It hasn't been proven yet, but they do have -- have tried and have tested the capability of repairing these tiles in space if there is something that is deemed to be critical. My gut reaction just looking at that is this is not going to be a big deal. But this is certainly something we'll be asking questions about throughout the mission.

BLITZER: Miles, thanks very much. Miles O'Brien is on the scene for us at Cape Canaveral. And we'll watch this story unfold together with you. We wish the crew obviously only, only the best on their mission to the International Space Station.

Let's get back to the other story we're following right now here at the "CNN ELECTION CENTER." We're watching what's happening at a hotel in Washington, D.C. The Democratic National Committee, the Rules Committee meeting, although you can't see them right now. In fact, they're behind closed doors.

They were supposed to come back and reconvene after hearing presentations from the delegations in Florida and Michigan, 368 delegates are at stake in those two states right now. Under the current rules -- that could change though, they have no say in the selection of the Democratic presidential nominee because they moved up their primaries in violation of DNC rules.

That could change in the coming hours and that in turn could have an impact on the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Bill Schneider is over at the CNN Election Express, it's parked right outside that hotel in Washington.

What do you know, Bill? What do our sources tell us about why this delay now, more than an hour since they were supposed to reconvene in public?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, all we know for sure is what you just reported, that they are meeting behind closed doors. This is supposed to be a public session but obviously they see some purpose in meeting in private. This lunch has gone on too long for it to be just lunch.

The members of the committee are not there in the room. Most likely, and this is pure speculation, most likely they are considering various proposals to put on the table that they can debate and vote on, because there's huge pressure on this committee to reach some sort of decision today or tonight or certainly by the end of this weekend that they can give some finality to.

It can be appealed, but very likely they are talking about the specific concrete proposals that the committee will vote on. And that vote, of course, and the debate will be in a public session that should begin any time.

BLITZER: When we had the schedule earlier in the day, Bill, we knew of course about the private five-and-a-half hour dinner that they had last night that went on until about 2:00 in the morning, they failed to reach an agreement.

This seems like an audible they called the line of scrimmage after the morning presentations that dragged on to the mid afternoon. Now they've decided to once again resume their session behind closed doors as opposed to coming out and doing it all in front of us, in front of the cameras to let everybody else know what's going on.

This is a surprise I take it, isn't it?

SCHNEIDER: It is a surprise, because it was all supposed to be done in public. Perhaps they're making progress. We're told, our political editor Mark Preston said at the end of the dinner which he was here for last night, they came out and they said they had not reached any agreement, but they had made some progress and that there was more good feeling, more optimism, more of a sense that they would come out with something at the end of this meeting.

So if that feeling persists today after this morning's hearings, then it's very likely that they will come out with a decision. But again, that decision will have to be voted on and debated in a public session. We believe that what they are doing now behind closed doors is simply deciding on what compromises, what proposals they will debate and they will vote on in full open and public committee meeting.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider is over at the hotel for us, thanks very much. Stand by, Bill, because we're going to be watching this every step of the way. The political ramifications significant right now.

We'll continue our coverage. Cnnpolitics.com has a lot of coverage coming up as well. They'll have nonstop streaming of this hearing once it resumes. Also, the best political team on television is standing by. Campbell Brown is here, John Roberts is over at the magic wall. Much more of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: The committee has still not convened. We're watching closely to see what's going on. We're told the 30 members of the Rules Committee are meeting behind closed doors right now. We don't know what they are discussing, presumably trying to work out a compromise on Michigan and Florida.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of "DECISION DAY" for the Democrats, a decision that we expected would emerge within the coming hours. Still hasn't happened yet but we're watching it very, very closely.

Let's go back to Campbell Brown. She's got the best political team on television, ready to digest what we know.

And what we know is not a whole lot, Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Lots of curiosity about what's happening behind closed doors right now, Wolf, as you can imagine.

While we're waiting for some word, let me ask you all to talk a little bit about Bill Clinton because it's been striking watching them debate today because there are so many people who are on this committee who were part of his administration who are now making this decision ultimately.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC SUPERDELEGATE FROM N.Y.: First of all, the good news I can report to the panel, they have not ordered in dinner.

But I've been calling around to various friends in both camp as to what is transpiring and the sense of the discussions is that Florida is moving forward and there is a real major debate about Michigan.

People misunderstood that even those on this committee, some may support Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, they are much more independent than people appreciate. This is the insiders inside committee. It's chaired by veterans of presidential campaigns and the Clinton administration. Alexis Hermann, one of the great women in the Democratic National Party is a former cabinet secretary for labor in the Clinton administration. James Roosevelt, grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt has also been a great Democratic leader. Former chairs like Don Fouler, who support Senator Clinton on the committee, and his wife Carol supports Senator Obama. They are truly committed to what they believe is the best process for the Democratic Party as an institution and that is the focus of the debate.

BROWN: Do you believe that, Ron? There was a lot of emotion in the room and my guess is there's a lot of emotion going on behind closed door right now.

RON KIRK, FORMER DALLAS MAYOR: At this point I'm too tired to disagree. I do agree with him. The point I made somewhat inarticulately earlier, some of the presenters losing sight of the audience because this is a group of people that by and large care very much about the Democratic Party. And they care very much about us having rules that govern how we go about electing our representatives and how we conduct ourselves and so you have to be respectful of that process. And they do take this seriously.

Ironically, typically rules and resolutions is where you put lazy guys like me, because I don't want to be on credentials or -- it used to be all of action was on platform and rules and resolution where you put the past party chairs and people that said I don't want to work very hard but be on the committee. And until they really went through the whole debate that Senator Levin referenced about reforming the primary process, this was kind of thought of a nice quiet, easy going job.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think the fact this committee is independent is deeply committed to reaching some sort of result has a practical significance that is helpful for Obama. The best thing that could happen to Hillary Clinton is chaos, disorders. Throwing this in the air and resolving it down the line. The Obama forces want this thing done next week. If they can reach a resolution tonight or tomorrow so that the issue of Michigan and Florida is just over, that's something that helps Obama a lot of even if he has to give up a few more delegates.

BROWN: And maybe the fact they are taking so much time. We thought they would be back at 4:15 and they are staying back there cutting a deal, I guess if you're in the Obama campaign,

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We also talked about the superdelegates. This is 30 folks, most of them are superdelegates that are actually on this committee, some who has declared what they are going for.

When do they weigh in? It could happen tonight or tomorrow. A lot of people decided they are not going to say something until this is said and done. The superdelegates, a lot of them are just kind of sitting and watching closely. But part of the reason why Obama folks are somewhat confident. Whatever way this turns out, because there's been an agreement, we're going to wait this things out superdelegates ultimately. Most of them have privately indicated they are going towards Obama.

BROWN: We're going to take another quick break and be back with more. John Roberts over at the magic wall walking through the various scenarios for us while we wait for the committee meeting behind closed doors. A lot more to come.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They adjourned for a late lunch. They were supposed to reconvene an in our hour and a half ago. Still haven't reconvened. They are meeting behind closed door right now, the 30 members of the Rules Committee.

Let's go over to the hotel in Washington. Tom Foreman is watching this for us.

Tom, we know they are meeting privately but beyond that we don't know much more, do we?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We do know from at least one source, Wolf, it is the indeed the entire 30 members of the Rules Committee and committee staff. That's important because they could walk them through the technicalities of any type of deal they can work out.

However, it may be they are far from a deal. We don't know the details of that part. We know one of sticking points appears to be whether or not you can have a one-size-fits-all solution, can you come up with an apportion for Michigan and Florida that applies in both circumstances. That's tricky, as you know, Wolf, because the circumstances of the vote in both places was quite different. That's why it's a problem. Because if you come up with a deal that fits both groups, there may be a greater sense of people in either state feeling they were somehow cheated out of something for one campaign or the other.

However, if you come up with a different agreement for Michigan than you do for Florida, you have the chance for the delegations of one state going back -- for example, if Florida went back and said, we agree to a 50-50 deal and Michigan got a 60-40 deal, then you have the chance there would be more complaints back home in Florida, saying why did you agree to a deal that wasn't equitable. That's appears to be one of the sticking points here.

Can they roll them together into a one-size-fits-all solution, or do they separate them? There's a pretty good indication the committee doesn't want to come back and say, we solved the Florida part, which seems to be easier, now we're going to solve the Michigan part.

Beyond that, Wolf, one of things you're hearing in the hallway the very thing the Democrats feared in this whole process. There seems to be an increasingly angry buzz from the people here watching, in part, that it's being done in private now. They were promised all along this would be open, they'd get to hear everything. Now they feel like we heard the arguments but no deliberations, this notion that they'll come back with a done deal, a lot of people don't like that much. Beyond that there are people that are saying, well I'll vote for John McCain unless lie candidate wins. A lot of that going on here.

But also, Republicans today -- all these people who are complaining about the process -- Republican groups have been out videotaping these people complaining. They'll interview them and say what are you mad about? I'm mad because the Democrats aren't counting all votes. Those videos are already being cut and pasted on YouTube, look, you can't trust the Democratic Party, can't keep their house in order. That's what the Democrats have feared all along.

Will it matter? We don't know. We do know every minute they stay behind closed doors and there's no answer it fuels the fire. And we'll have to see what the result is, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's going to be angry people because they thought it would be done in front of cameras so everybody could watch it unfold and let the debate unfold before the cameras. They did meet privately last night behind closed doors. They had an extended dinner that lasted until the wee hours of morning. Apparently, couldn't reach agreement then. And now they are having their own little private meeting unscheduled, I dare say. It's supposed to be held in the open.

At stake, Tom, is 368 delegates, 211 in Florida and 157 delegates in Michigan, elected pledged delegates as well as the superdelegates. So we're not talking about small potatoes for the DNC. If all of the delegates were to be included, that would change the goal post right now and it could presumably prolong the process if you don't -- if you weren't going to be including, as the current rules have, Florida and Michigan.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. The Clinton people, what they need right now is time and space. They are behind in this count. They need anything they can to prolong this, give them a chance to push on the superdelegates.

The Obama people can say, on the hand, can say, based on Puerto Rico this weekend, and Montana and South Dakota, they were within striking distance with those votes, 50 percent showing in those places, if you averaged it out and few more superdelegates -- the Obama people would say we are within three days of clinching this nomination. Why is this being settled now in this way?

There's going to be a big complaint from them if there's a deal that, as you say, brings all of votes back in. If you push the goalpost that far down the line, a lot of the Obama people will be very angry about that -- can't quite go that way.

BLITZER: Tom, it raises a good point. Even if these 30 members of the Rules Committee reach some sort of consensus amongst themselves, there's absolutely no guarantee that the two campaigns necessarily will accept it. They could protest and challenge it down the road.

FOREMAN: Well, and as you noticed in the hearings, Wolf, there are plenty of people on the committee who are deeply allied with Obama or Clinton. They're in this meeting right now. So even if they can reach an agreement, when they came out, there was no indication from some of them that they wanted to reach an agreement, particularly the Clinton people, who, as I said earlier, are afraid any compromise will compromise away their candidate. It will be the end of her because they won't have numbers to work with. There's very much a sense from them they want to keep going.

As you mentioned earlier, look for this continued talk about taking this to the Credentials committee at the convention itself. That is the sort of time bomb sitting out there and nobody is sure it anybody is going to exercise that.

WOLF: Stand by. We'll continue to watch for the Rules Committee members to return.

I want to go right to Campbell. She has news.

Campbell, what do you know?

BROWN: We do have a little news to tell you about. This is coming from our own Roland Martin who is reporting Obama is resigning from his church which, of course, has been the source of controversy for the campaign. We've got Roland on the telephone.

What do you know?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, Monroe Anderson (ph), a Chicago journalist, posted on his blog a few moments ago that Obama has resigned as a member of Trinity United Church of Christ. Apparently, a letter was sent to the pastor, Reverend Otis Moss III, basically in essence a member from the church have not seen the contents of the letter as of yet. In fact, once we get done I'll place the phone calls to the Obama camp but also to Reverend Otis Mott and I'll know more.

Obviously, with the issue that took place at the church recently with Father Michael Pfleger and then of course the whole issue with Jeremiah Wright, from Obama's standpoint it was such a distraction not just in terms of him as a individual running for president, but also what folks are telling me about the pressure put on the church in terms of people calling and videotaping messages. And it was a matter of a scrutiny being placed on the church and obviously a problem he was faced with the problems of pulpit. Even when he wasn't there, obviously the history of his being a member there for 20-plus years.

BROWN: We should remind people, Father Pfleger is a Catholic priest who gave a sermon about a week ago at Obama's church in which he made fun of and mocked Hillary Clinton. And Father Pfleger has since apologized for it. And Obama has a long relationship with Father Pfleger that goes back -- this is what I'm referencing right now, you can see the video of Father Pfleger from the day he did this sort of mocking impersonation of Hillary Clinton to the congregation there.

Do you think it was this? This got a lot of attention over the last few days, that sort of the straw that broke the camel's back, if you will, Roland?

MARTIN: It is a lot of the issues -- if you are the president what can you control. You want to be able to control your campaign and control message. Here you have a church under scrutiny and comments being made, no matter what anybody said from the pulpit it will come back to Obama and his campaign. Again, it's certainly makes political sense to make a move, if you make it as a member resigning from a church, you know, I belong to many churches. People resign from churches all of the time for a variety of reasons. This is a whole different kind of resignation obviously. That's what you see happening here.

BROWN: Let me bring in the political panel. Roland, if you'll stay with us. I have with me -- I'll just reintroduce the panel. We have Suzanne Malveaux, Ron Kirk, former Dallas Texas mayor and Obama supporter, and Robert Zimmerman, Clinton supporter with me as well.

Let me ask you to comment. Why you think -- this is coming from Roland. Do you think this is necessary at this stage, this is the price you pay if you're running for president or what are the ramifications here?

KIRK: I'm going to go against my judgment and policy I followed when I was in office to not comment on anything until I knew it to be true. First of all, we're going on a report that Roland got from a blog that we don't know. Still...

BROWN: Fair point, a very fair point.

KIRK: If that proves to be the case -- I've got to believe that for reasons Roland articulated that Michele and Barack have come to a difficult decision that in order to move the campaign forward and maybe in fairness to the church to let them worship the way it wants, that it's best for them to move on in a different direction.

TOOBIN: Remember also, when the Jeremiah Wright story broke, Obama was able to say truthfully that he's not even the minister there any more. He's not in charge of the church any more so it's sort of irrelevant, what he said in the past.

This latest incident took place a week ago. He can't say it's just in the past and it really was a very unfortunate mocking behavior there that he wouldn't want to be associated with and he's done what he has to do.

KIRK: In fairness this is a visiting minister. So I don't come across as a blind Barack Obama supporter, if it were me, I would not resign.

BROWN: You can see the congregation cheering. It's not just someone from outside coming in.

MALVEAUX: Also, the concern is it brings up the memory of Jeremiah Wright. Last month I had a chance to sit down and talk with Michele Obama about Reverend Wright and she said this is a painful experience for her family, something they've really tried to move beyond. They had a difficult time with that especially with all of the reports coming out and this past week seeing this resurface. It only brings that up again. And that is something that they as a family have been dealing with that they really don't want to focus on things that don't have to do with what is in his heart or what they believe is his profile that they have to sell to the American people.

ZIMMERMAN: I think it's important to remember that Barack Obama's life, his work, his writings are all opposite of the hateful rhetoric of Reverend Wright or Reverend Pfleger. I must think that's an important aspect to tell you.

But I must tell you that in light of that, I found it disappointing that Senator Obama hadn't resigned from the church earlier. I know how painful the decision had to be. For that matter, after the Reverend Pfleger incident, who is a long associate of Obama's, a friendship...

(CROSSTALK)

ZIMMERMAN: Excuse me, if I can make a point. I think it was important to speak to members of the congregation that were applauding a vile and disrespectful comment from Reverend Pfleger from the pulpit. I thought he could have spoke to his congregants. But I think there really is an important issue there about values and principles that got lost.

KICK: I've heard so much people on one hand praise Senator Obama for his own passion spoken through words he's given us but then try to indict him about the church. The reality -- we were talking over it but this didn't come the right way.

If we're going to accept this notion that there's going to be a church on literally every corner in the San Francisco African-American community, there's not enough Martin Luther Kings to go around. We attend churches for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the pastor. We go to church there because that's where our family is because where our friends are. Because where our kids are involved in day care or Sunday school.

BROWN: Part of the community. KIRK: And so many other good things. In fairness to Trinity, you can't just take one part of a church and indict it. Trinity's mission and its respect in Chicago is legendary because of its outreach there are 100 other reasons for Barack and Michele to have stayed associated with the church for all of other things going on that are positive. I do agree he should have distanced himself from Reverend Wright. I don't indict him and find any fault at all for them staying involved in a church that is doing the kind of ministry that for the most part we want churches to do, particularly in urban America.

ZIMMERMAN: You know, Ron, I respect what you're saying and I certainly appreciate what you're saying but the point here, when you have a situation where Reverend Pfleger refers to Louis Farrakhan, as a gift from God to a very sick work or, for that matter, when the current minister of the church praised Pfleger after an ugly and vicious commentary and sermon, I think there is an issue here where all of us and were all are people are faith, have to stands up and take a position of what we think is moral and acceptable. That's where I'm glad that Barack Obama did resign from the church. I hope he will continue to speak out. I think members of the congregation that were applauding Reverend Pfleger, I think there's an issue there to address with them.

BROWN: Guys, we're going to take a quick break. We'll have more on this coming up.

In addition, we are still waiting for the DNC Rules Committee meeting to resume. They are meeting privately behind closed doors. You can see the crowd there waiting for them to come back into the meeting room. And hopefully we'll have news for you shortly. Stay with us, we'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking right now at the picture of that hotel in Washington. We've been watching that room all day, literally all day, since 9:00 this morning. It is now 6:00 p.m. and the DNC Rules Committee meeting was supposed to resume at 4:15. We've been waiting almost two hours now. And we have been told -- we've been reporting that they are meeting behind closed doors so possibly working on a deal. The consensus has been that they are close to reaching some agreement on Florida but Michigan was a real sticking point.

In addition to that, we have other news we have been reporting. This is coming from our own Roland Martin who is reporting that Barack Obama is resigning from his church, which has been a point of controversy for Senator Obama, given the relationship there with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and in addition to an incident that occurred about a week ago with Father Pfleger, the Catholic priest who gave a sermon at Obama's church mocking Hillary Clinton that was quite controversial. He apologized for that. All of this coming to a head.

And we have been discussing that with our panel and in addition we have Roland Martin back on the telephone who has a little more information.

Roland? OK, I think -- Roland, are you there? Can you hear me?

MARTIN: Yes, the cell phone is going out so I'm trying to get to a land line.

But I have talked to some sources in Chicago and I have confirmed that he has indeed resigned from the church as stated earlier. One of the reasons cited was certainly the intense scrutiny that the church has been placed under our quite a period of time in terms of -- if you recall that the news conference previous with Jeremiah Wright, and even I talked to Reverend Moss III of the church has received a number of death threats. They received all kinds of -- there's no doubt a recent incident when Father Michael Pfleger played a significant role with this happening right now. It has been termed as a member resigning from the church. It's one of the reason why he's seems as a physical member of the church.