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Pompeo To Congress: Hong Kong Has Lost High Degree Of Autonomy; Officials Declined Inspection As Outbreak At Tyson Plant Grew; SpaceX To Launch Two NASA Astronauts Into Orbit. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 27, 2020 - 12:30   ET



MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The authorities asked the government's counsel on these matters to have a look at it. It came back with a verdict. And then the announcement has now been made, it will no longer be used in the treatment of COVID-19.

This, as the figures here in France continue to progress, we're going to hear more on Thursday about government's plans to continue its move to lifting restrictions here in France.

Melissa Bell, CNN.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: More important international news just in to CNN, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Congress today, Hong Kong no longer holds a high degree of autonomy from China. He explained that because of that, Hong Kong should not get special treatment under U.S. laws that they have been receiving in recent years.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now from the State Department. Kylie, put the significance of this into context, if Hong Kong does not deserve special treatment, then what?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is big news, John. Out of the State Department today, something that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been signaling for a while now that the Trump administration has been looking at what China, the CCP has been doing in Hong Kong, and has been increasingly worried about their crackdowns there on pro democracy protesters, on their move to make a vote just today with regard to national security legislation in Hong Kong.

So there are a number of things that have created mounting concerns about the fact that there is no longer essentially respect and legitimacy to the one country two systems' model that has been the way that the two places Hong Kong and China have operated since 1997.

So the fact that Secretary Pompeo is coming out today, and saying that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous with regard to China is big news, because there are going to be implications here. Now the Secretary has notified Congress, he said in a statement of this decision by the Trump administration, and this means that there is going to be a trigger with regard to what the executive branch and Congress does with regard to policies regarding China and Hong Kong.

Because right now, Hong Kong does enjoy some benefits, right? These are economic benefits. These are immigration benefits because it is not treated in the same way that Trump -- China is treated in the realm of U.S. legislation.

So we're really going to have to watch exactly what this means. But we are set here to expect some really drastic changes with how the U.S. treats Hong Kong because of the actions that Secretary Pompeo is saying China has undertaken in not allowing Hong Kong to operate how it should in an autonomous way.

KING: Kylie Atwood, thanks so much. It's a big deal and it's part of a bigger push the administration now getting more confrontational with Beijing. Kylie Atwood, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Just head for us, some new evidence revealing just how long it took for officials to respond to worker complaints at an outbreak of coronavirus crew at a meat plant in Iowa.



KING: Documents reviewed by CNN show that Iowa's occupation Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, waited more than a week before contacting a Tyson facility after receiving a workplace complaint.

OSHA then declined to inspect that facility. The plants in Perry, Iowa would go on to have more than 700 workers test positive for the coronavirus. Let's bring in CNN's, Dianne Gallagher. Dianne, walk us through this.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And John, I think it's important to note here the reason listed for declining the inspection on that complaint is COVID 19. Now that complaint, which was first reported by the Associated Press, alleges that workers were elbow to elbow at risk for exposure to COVID-19.

It also says that social distancing guidance was not being followed on the production floor or in the cafeteria. And the timeline here is what's so important. That complaint was filed on April 11th. OSHA acknowledges the complaint two days later Monday the 13th but doesn't get around to even trying to contact Tyson Fresh Meats until April 20th.

A full week later, it's the same day that Tyson shutdown its facility the first time for a deep cleaning. They reopened a couple days later and then shutdown for a longer period the end of that week.

One day after the May 4th reopening of the Perry, Iowa plant is when Iowa officials announced that 730 employees there had tested positive for COVID-19 that is 58 percent of the workforce.

Now we also obtained e-mails between the plant manager and OSHA officials where they talk about the safety measures they did put into place including partitions in the cafeteria and on the floor at that during that week where Tyson wasn't contacted by OSHA.

The plant manager talked about the ever changing CDC and OSHA guidelines and said in part, we have worked closely with state and local health departments to respond quickly not only to isolate team members with positive COVID-19 test, but also team members who have symptoms clinically consistent with COVID-19.

We will continue our diligence again, I want to point out OSHA declined to inspect the plant. A Congresswoman from Iowa is calling for an investigation into OSHA Iowa's actions. The governor though, John, has said that she feels that the regulators acted appropriately.

And I think it's important to point out here back on April 11th, while there were still not confirmed cases being reported out from health officials there local media, local officials who were elected like the mayor and activists had confirmed positive cases inside that plant.

It was known that COVID-19 was there among the workers at those plants. And it was also already starting to become known and apparent just how significant of a problem outbreaks in these meat plants across the country were going to be.


One day later the plant in Smithfield, the Smithfield plants to false would shut down. We'd already dealt with plants shutting down in other parts of the country. So it wasn't outside the realm to believe that we could be dealing with an outbreak in Perry, Iowa when that complaint was filed.

KING: This is one of the workers safety and accountability questions. They're going to be with us for some time as we work through all this. Dianne Gallagher once again, appreciate the reporting.

Still ahead for us a new era of manned spaceflight is about to take off. Let's hope the weather holds up that SpaceX launch this afternoon.



KING: Sources tell CNN that during a private caucus call earlier today, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting, there should be a Justice Department's civil rights investigation into the death of George Floyd. Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after being pinned to the ground with a police officer's knew pressed against his neck for several minutes. The four officers involved have been fired. The FBI is now investigating.

This also just in, Boeing announcing its first round of layoffs will involve over 12,000 employees, less than half of those employees voluntarily accepting a layoff package. The company had announced last month, it would cut its work by 10 percent, so more layoffs are likely in the coming months. And if you were planning to fly on business or on vacation, pretty good chance in recent months that your trip has been put on hold or canceled. Now CNN has learned thousands of complaints have been filed by customers claiming the airlines are doing everything they can to keep that money.

CNN's seen as Pete Muntean looks here at just what the rules are when it comes to airlines and refunds.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With airlines struggling its passengers canceled due to coronavirus, they are increasingly offering vouchers for future travel rather than refunds. And many customers are not happy about it.

New numbers show passenger complaints have jumped significantly. The Department of Transportation was flooded with 20,000 complaints in April, 13 times the norm. Consumer Reports says it received more than 3,000 e-mails.

BILL MCGEE, CONSUMER REPORTS: Overwhelmingly, they're saying they want refunds. They don't want to just provide interest free loans to the airline industry on top of the government bailout.

(voice-over): Consumer reports, Bill McGee says airlines are trying to avoid giving money back with airlines trying to stay afloat and customers caught in a bad situation. Vouchers have become the default offer, meaning that airlines hold the customer's money until they are willing to fly again. McGee says if your airline goes bankrupt, you may never see your money again.

DIANE SAMPSON, CANCELED TRIP DUE TO CORONAVIRUS: I'm not even sure I'm going to want to travel this year at all.

(voice-over): Diane Sampson is from California. Sara Snook is from Ohio. Both teachers they canceled their spring break trips as states across the country issued stay at home orders. Neither has received refunds from their airlines, but instead were offered vouchers and waived fees.

SARA SNOOK, CANCELED TRIP DUE TO CORONAVIRUS: They have my money from a flight I didn't get to take.

SAMPSON: It makes me upset. It's, you know, it's just another symptom of being a, you know, the whole system is like rigged against little people.

(voice-over): The Department of Transportation has issued a memo reiterating that refunds are only required when the airline cancels. When the customer cancels, they are not entitled to a refund or even a voucher. It is up to the airline.

Consumer advocates say to avoid canceling themselves. Sometimes airlines are rebooking customers on other flights. The airline consider similar, leaving it to customers to cancel and then accept a voucher.

The industry group, Airlines for America, insists carriers are following federal law and offering increased flexibility for customers adding, quote, we understand that these are difficult times for our country, our passengers, and our employees.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): We need to pass legislation in order to make them give this money back to passengers.

(voice-over): Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts argues that airlines were given billions in federal bailout funds to avoid layoffs. But he wants customers like Snook and Sampson to be made whole.

MARKEY: They shouldn't get back a voucher for a future trip they may never take. They should get back to cash, which they need right now to take care of their families.

(voice-over): Pete Muntean, CNN, Washington.



KING: Up next for us, we go live to Florida where NASA astronauts scheduled to launch into space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years.


KING: Just a few hours from now SpaceX will attempt to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. It will mark the first time in history, a commercial aerospace company will carry humans into Earth's orbit. You see the live pictures there.

CNN business innovation and space correspondent, Rachel Crane, joins us now from the Kennedy Space Center. A very, very big day weather permitting, Rachel, walk us through this.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: That's the key here, weather permitting right now favorable conditions only at 40 percent.

You know, NASA, for NASA, this launch is a decade in the making. They prepare for years and years, thousands of people, countless of hours being put into this. But of course, there's one variable NASA cannot control and that is Mother Nature. It's been raining off and on all day here.

And NASA doesn't need to just consider the weather here at Kennedy Space Center. It's all up and down the eastern seaboard across the North Atlantic and off the coast of Ireland, just in case a rescue operation is necessary. They need to make sure that the weather and that the scent path is clear.

Now the reason that this launch is so important to America is that since the retirement of the shuttle program in 2011, we've been reliant on the Russians to ferry U.S. astronauts back and forth to the $150 billion investment in the International Space Station.


Now we pay them over $4 billion over the year. So if SpaceX pulls this off, they will become the first commercial company to put humans in orbit, joining the ranks of governments.

Now, I had a chance to speak to the astronauts, Bob and Doug, who will be flying on this craft. Now, they are veteran astronauts. They've been friends for a long time. They're actually both even married two astronauts, were in each other's weddings. They told me about how their friendships helps them in the cockpit, take a listen.


ROBERT BEHNKEN, NASA ASTRONAUT ON DEMO-2 MISSION: In addition to, you know, finishing each other's sentences, you know, we can predict, you know, almost by body language, what the person's opinion is or what they're going to -- what their next action is going to be for us.

You know, as test pilots, Bob, and I, you know, if you told us when we were students at the -- at Test Pilot School that we would get an opportunity to fly the first flight of a spaceship, I think we would have told you, you were crazy.


CRANE: Now, John, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have just suited up so they are hoping that this launch will be successful as the rest of us are. They should be heading to Launch Pad 39A, which is of course, the location that Apollo 11 shot humans to the moon back in 1969. John?

KING: Pretty cool day. We hope it works out. I hope that weather clears for you. Rachel Crane, thanks so much.

Joining us now is Jon Cowart. He's the systems director for the Aerospace Corporation. It supports NASA's commercial crew human landing system in Space Launch System at the Kennedy Space Center. Jon is good to see you. You could see Rachel's excitement. I can see that you have it as well. Explained to our viewers, you were a part of NASA, now you work with NASA. Explain why this is such a big deal.

JON COWART, SYSTEMS DIRECTOR, THE AEROSPACE CORPORATION: That's pretty easy, because as you pointed out, we have not flown off of U.S. soil since 2011 with a U.S. spacecraft.

So this is big. It's a next step for NASA. It's going to spur private industry we hope. That's part of what we're doing here. I did commercial crew since about 2010 right before I retired from NASA and came to aerospace.

And it was some of the most exciting stuff I've ever done. I got to work primarily with the SpaceX kids. And I say that because they're all very much younger than me. And, but they, whenever I would go out to SpaceX, the vibe around there was a lot like I imagine the vibe was here at Kennedy Space Center back in the 1960s when we're going to the moon.

You have a bunch of young people working very hard, who don't know what they can't do yet.

KING: And so some of it looks the same. That is a historic launch pad that we see on the right of our screen. Some looks different, these suits look very different to me as we watch the two astronauts preparing for their flight.

Walk us through that. What is similar, what will look and play out as Americans who remember -- who followed the space program might recall and what will be different?

COWART: Well, obviously what's going to look the same is hopefully a very smooth liftoff. You've seen lots of Falcon 9 slide before. We expect that to all look pretty much the same way as it should. They'll get to the staging point, second stage will take off, and then they'll be in orbit once that is done.

So all that to look about the same, of course the crew walkout is going to look the same until the point when they don't get in the big Astro van, they get into the little Tesla. And they take that right out to the launch pad. The spacesuits look different. These suits are designed just to keep you alive in case the capsule decompresses for some reason, it's a safety precaution.

You will not see astronauts wearing those spacesuits if they do an ETA or, you know, when we finally go back to the moon, which we're going to do, you won't see them wearing those suits either. But and then when it comes back for space after, it's been up on space station for month, two, three, four, whatever they decide, when it comes back in you're going to see parachutes.

Now, we've seen traditional. Last time we saw parachutes on Apollo, there are only three, SpaceX is going to have four so that'll look a little bit different then. The splashdown the ocean, there will not be a giant aircraft carrier to pick them up, there'll be a smaller boat that SpaceX operates. And they will go get the crew and bring them back in for us.

KING: And part of the idea here, Jon, in the minute we have left is that we're going to watch two NASA astronauts do this today, part of the test down the road a bit is, can you and I or somebody else, buy a ticket into space? How far along are we in that process?

COWART: We're getting there. You got to get the price down. And that's what this is a step to help us go do. If you get the price down where average people like you and I can afford it, that'll be great. What we like to see -- what the next step we think will be is perhaps scientists taking their experiments that have handing it off to an astronaut and letting them do it on Space Station. They go up into space with their experiment.

And then when something doesn't go exactly right, and that scientist goes, wow, that's interesting. That's when real learning begins, when real science begins when you when you figure out why you were wrong in your hypothesis.

I mean, we are on the cusp of really great. The greatest events in space exploration have not happened yet.

KING: Jon Cowart, really appreciate your insights today. I can hear the excitement in your voice. We certainly hope this goes off safe and as planned.


Jon, thanks so much and thanks for joining us today as well. Again, that launch a bit this afternoon.