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NASA: Still No Date For Starliner Astronauts To Leave ISS; White House Following Debate: "Everyone Is Deflated"; Macon, Georgia Becomes #7 On CNN's List of "Best Towns To Visit". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 28, 2024 - 14:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Just moments ago, an update from NASA on the long overdue return home of the Boeing Starliner astronauts

Both Suni Williams and Buch Wilmore -- Butch Wilmore, pardon me, continue to wait there on the International Space Station. Their trip home has now been delayed three times.

This, of course, after a launch that was troubled by several issues, including a helium leak and a problem thruster.

Well, just minutes ago, Starliner officials said they haven't yet figured out a permanent fix for those issues. So what does that mean?

Joining us is former NASA astronaut, Garrett Reisman. He's also a professor of astronautical engineering at USC.

Good to have you with us, Garrett.

I know you've been listening into this briefing as well. What do you take from it in terms of what this means for a potential return date for these astronauts or a return to earth?

GARRETT REISMAN, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, NASA wants to minimize the risk for everything that they do. So whenever we fly humans in space, there's always risks. And NASA does everything they can to make them as possible.

They -- they're saying that Boeing, the Starliner is ready to bring Butch and Suni home right now, if they had to. But engineers always want more data and more certainty. So they're doing more testing on the ground.

And until they finish all that testing, they'd rather not bring Butch and Suni home until that's done. They don't know exactly how long that's going to take so that's why they're not saying exactly when Butch and Suni are coming home, but hopefully not too much longer.

HILL: Based on what you know, in your experience, can you give us an idea of what you think the timing is here? Are we talking days or weeks? REISMAN: I think we're talking a few more weeks. They're doing

extensive testing at our White Sands facility where they can do -- it's a very advanced test facility where they can measure these thrusters and test them, just like as if they we're up in space.

And they're putting them through their paces. And until they get all that test data, they're not going to want to leave if they don't have to.

And that's the -- that's the other key thing here is they don't have to leave. They - Butch and Suni are having a great time looking out of the windows. They're helping out the ISS program, doing more work up there. So there's no rush.

And so, because of that, that's why we don't know exactly when they're coming home. It'll -- It'll depend on what the testing tells us.

HILL: I have to be honest. It sounds like a fairly rosy picture. You know, they're happy, they're having a great time. I get that. And I understand that, as part of your training, part of that includes being ready for the unexpected. So knowing that you could be somewhere longer than initially planned.

That said, it's still got to be difficult emotionally and mentally to be there and to not have a firm date. How do you train for that?

REISMAN: Well, I think, you know, you want your vehicle to be perfect and pristine and everything working 100 percent.

And the fact that there had been some issues and that, even though they did testing recently where they tested these thrusters one at a time for a short period of time, will they work perfectly when they're firing more frequently to bring them home, when they get hotter.

These are the unknowns that they're trying to resolve with that testing. So as an astronaut, and you know that you have a problem what your vehicle, that's not a great feeling.

But you have confidence that the testing and all the work that the engineers on the ground are going to do are going to find a way to make this safe. And you have confidence in that team.

And I think that's what -- that's what gets you through. And having that confidence and having worked with those engineers on the ground makes you it's kind of sleep at night up there.

HILL: Boeing officials have said this will be seen as a successful mission, right, so far, when the Starliner returns to earth.

Overall, what else will make this mission a success? Will it be making sure that this is an issue that doesn't come up again?

REISMAN: Right. So first and foremost, it's getting to the end of the mission and through the departure phase and through the reentry phase and a landing phase and having Butch and Suni home, that's success, right? [14:35:00]

But they're learning a lot. And so then the next question once -- once we complete this is, what do we have to do before we fly Starliner again? Do we need additional tests? And do we need to change the design? Do we need to change the way we operate the vehicle?

So those are the questions that NASA will be asking Boeing when this is over to make sure that -- they don't want to go through something like this again, obviously.

So they want to make sure, when they fly Starliner for the first operational mission, that it's really good to go and it's more smooth.

HILL: Garrett Reisman, really appreciate your insight on this. Thank you.

REISMAN: My pleasure.

HILL: Still to come here, Democrats on edge today after President Biden's debate performance. The president now trying to reset, just a short time ago, at a campaign event. Is it enough?



HILL: Democrats rattled, which may be putting it mildly in some camps, following President's debate performance Thursday night. At today's campaign rally, though, the president bringing a far different energy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Trump is making it clear that if he doesn't win this time, there will be, in his words, "bloodshed."


BIDEN: What president has ever said anything like that. No president. His words, not mine. We're going to let Donald Trump attack our democracy again?



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: At the White House, the situation, post- debate, being described as, quote, abysmal." An official there says from group chats, quote, "Everyone is deflated."

So obviously, a depressed mood, I think, following that debate performance.

We're going to explore all of this further with two experts on presidential debates. We have Larry Sabato, who is the founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Jeffrey Engel is the director of the Center of Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.

Jeffrey, to you first.

You say you cannot think of a worst presidential debate performance than Biden's last night.

JEFFREY ENGEL, DIRECTOR, CENTER OF PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY: I really can't. I mean, even some that we've seen before that were perhaps on the road to being poor. Ronald Reagan's first debate in 1984, for example, really didn't demonstrate as the president's did last night.

But he not only was unable to communicate his message, it's not clear that he necessarily had a message that he wanted to communicate other than I don't like the other guy.

And it's important to note, and I think this is really critical, that we oftentimes see incumbent presidents in their first debate do poorly and then come back in the second and do very, very well, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama.

So the mood may be dismal in the White House, but I think it shouldn't be hopeless.

HILL: So shouldn't be.

They're putting a lot on the rally that we saw earlier today, a very different Joe Biden there, with a large crowd, with a teleprompter, different energy.

What's interesting, though, is Congresswoman Nancy Mace was just here a short time ago speaking with Brianna. And what she was bringing up, Larry, was, who's in charge here?

This is a talking point we've heard from Republicans before. But I would imagine we will hear more of it at this point. She's raising the issue of she doesn't believe Joe Biden is fit for the job today, let alone for the next four years.

And has questions about what is happening inside the White House and who's in charge?

As a narrative, Larry, how tough is that, or not, for Democrats to push back on?

LARRY SABATO, FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: You've got to remember, Erica, who believes that narrative. The Trump base believes the narrative.

And none of them, no matter what happens, will be voting for Joe Biden. That was true before it. It's true after it. I don't think it changes anything at all.

And by the way, there were people who asked, because of some of the things that Trump did and said during his one-term as president, was he really running things or was it his chief of staff or was it one of the other key people in the White House, you know, Ivanka and Jared?

This always happens in White Houses. People question, who's really exercising that power? I think most people just sloughed that off.

KEILAR: Larry, CNN got some reaction from voters in Michigan, which is such a battleground state, after the debate. Let's listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It reassured me of my -- his un-assurance to be able to lead our country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm concerned his hesitant, very not cognitive. Seemed like his data, he was missing his numbers. So very concerning that somebody like that needs to lead our country.


KEILAR: Larry, we hear concerns from voters who watched this debate.

Then we also see the president attempting this kind of reset, quite energetically, at this rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. How far does something like that go to helping change minds, assuage concerns?

SABATO: I don't know how many people we're watching the North Carolina speech. Of course, we're junkies and we were. But I don't think, you know, it was widespread.

So it's going to take 1,000 events like what happened in North Carolina to restore some of the luster to Biden's reputation.

Look, it's perfectly natural for people to look at what Biden did last night and ask questions. I certainly did. I was -- I was shocked at some of the things that I saw, some of his approaches, some of the faces he made.

But you know, it is June 28th. It was June 27th when the debate was held. That has turned into a plus for Bien because it's that much longer for people to forget about it.

And people are concerned about other things. They're concerned about the issues that affect their lives. That's much more important than somebody's performance in a debate.


And remember, people always point to the presidents who did poorly in a debate and then lost. There are some. But there are other presidents who did poorly in a debate and then won.

So it is not automatically predictive.

HILL: It is, as you point out, not automatically predictive. We are four months out. But, Jeff, when you look at this, the expectations for Joe Biden were very low going into this. And there was a lot of concern in the Trump camp that they had helped set those expectations too low.

Donald Trump, of course, had his own issues last night. More than 30 lies and falsehoods that CNN's own fact checkers pointed out as we went through the debate afterwards. Joe Biden had nine.

But looking at that, on the day after, it does seem that there is a big uphill battle here.

ENGEL: Right.

HILL: Would it change anything if there was a more serious conversation about what the best step forward is and whether or not the best candidate for the Democratic party is Joe Biden? If that were a serious conversation.

ENGEL: I think it's a serious conversation, but I think it's not one that's actually going to play out in reality. And the truth of matter is the only person at this point who can remove Joe Biden from the ticket is Joe Biden himself.

And if we look at the history of presidents, they're not people who are lacking in self-confidence. They're not people who are lacking in self-assurance. And so I think we'll see President Biden continue on.

But to your earlier point, it's very clear that Donald Trump was quite articulate in the lines that he was telling, in the untruths he was telling. His relationship with the truth is clearly a distant one.

So I think we have a case here where the American people heard a president who was incapable of making his own argument, incapable of making his own points.

But the points he wants to make were actually based in reality, as opposed to -- I think the long-term consequences of Trump's performance is that people will once again, once they can think about what he said, realize what he said, just wasn't real.

KEILAR: Larry, I do want to know that former President Barack Obama just tweeted out.

He said, "Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know. But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself.

Between someone who tells the truth and knows right from wrong, and will give it to the American people straight, and someone who lies through his teeth for his own benefit. Last night didn't change that. And it's why so much is at stake in November."

That's really echoing what we just heard, of course, from Biden at his rally in North Carolina.

I wonder what you think about -- I go back to this. I was covering Obama in 2012 during that debate that he flopped against Romney, and there we're a lot of concerns on his side because Romney did appear -- you can picture him doing the job and it seemed that Obama wasn't prepared for it.

This seemed to be a different performance where you're wondering, can this person, this incumbent president, do this job for four more years? Do you see similarities between those debate performances?

SABATO: Oh, absolutely. And this often happens, as I said, to presidents. They're isolated somewhat and most people who come to them are very, very nice. And that's understandable. So they're not used to taking a lot of brick bats, at least eye-to-eye, person to person.

But, you know, the point that you all have just made is really the important one. I listened to Donald Trump, who, by the way, in a vacuum, would not be called the winner of any debate. He wasn't impressive either.

Even when you excluded the lies, which you really couldn't do since most of what he said was a lie?

When you look at the presidency, what really matters? Don't you want people to look at a president and believe the president is at least telling you the truth? He may not be telling you articulately but he is telling you the truth.

So there's a good argument to be made to people that they need to consider what really matters in life. And often, it -- it is character, much more.

Look, nobody's ever thought George -- nobody ever thought that Joe Biden was Cicero. He's never been Cicero. He will never be Cicero, OK? That's a given.

But if he's telling the truth, that's what's important. Donald Trump had a real problem with the truth. And obviously, from last night, he's still does.

KEILAR: Yes. Larry Sabato, Jeffrey Engel, thank you to you both. We appreciate your time today.


And we'll be right back.




KEILAR: I love this segment.

HILL: I am so into this segment.

KEILAR: Yes. It's the best. From Little Richard to Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers, Macon, Georgia has deep roots in the music industry as the birthplace of southern rock.

HILL: And that is why the city that is just 90 minutes south of Atlanta is named in CNN's top American towns to visit.

CNN's Victor Blackwell left out with that assignment. He's going to tell Brianna and I had to get one of these assignments in the break.


HILL: Victor, tell us more.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: You all love the music. That's what you love --

HILL: Yes.

BLACKWELL: -- is the intro music that comes.

It's OK, Brianna. All right.



Now, when you say Macon is 90 minutes from Atlanta, it really depends on traffic if you're around the Atlanta metro area. So let's just say it's not far.

But back to Macon, it's the unsung music mecca of the south and its number seven on our list of America's "Best Towns to Visit."

We sent Derek Van Damme down I-75 to learn more about how the town's revitalized live music scene is growing, drawing fans of all genres.



DEREK VAN DAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to Macon, Georgia, a town whose music history has shaped much of the music we hear today.

(on camera): Oh.


VAN DAM (voice-over): This is Sam Stephens. She grew up in a small town outside of Macon, but still remembers coming to the city as a kid.

STEPHENS: I have always described Macon as my first big adventure.

ANNOUNCER: 100.9 on Creekside. STEPHENS: Listen.

VAN DAM: Now as the voice of 100.9's "Creekside Morning" show in Macon, alongside her co-host, Charles, Sam was the perfect person to show us around town.


STEPHENS: We want to put the spotlight on the music history and also bring you what's up and coming and brand new that's continuing on the legacy of a lot of those great older artists that we play.

CHARLES DAVIS, CO-HOST, "CREEKSIDE MORNING" SHOW: When you speak on what southern rock was and what it meant to the country during the '60s and '70s, that started here.

VAN DAM: Otis Redding, known as the king of soul, Little Richard, one of the pioneers of rock and roll, and the Allman Brothers, who revolutionized southern rock, all have ties to Macon.

Sam took us to meet Richard Brent, the executive director of the Big House Museum, which was formerly the house where members of the Allman Brothers lived.

And every music legend that came through making had to stop by Capricorn Studios, which has been preserved to look just as it did back then.


VAN DAM: And, yep, it seems like everyone is still keeping the music alive here.


STEPHENS: Macon music history is now. Macon is on the cusp of this beautiful renaissance musically and revitalization as a community.

But we're making -- I can't.

DAVIS: Just do it, Sam.



DAVIS: Just do it. Just do it.

STEPHENS: We're making it happen right here.

DAVIS: Why you making an infomercial, right? I don't need to give them that smile?


BLACKWELL: They gave us the smile and it's a great tagline. Who knew that we'd see Derek Van Dam play a little guitar for us.

HILL: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: Thank you so much.

So over the weekend, I'm taking you to another place on our list. I'm playing a little tennis.


BLACKWELL: It's out on the west coast. And I've been teasing, instead of tennis whites, I'm in my tennis pinks.


BLACKWELL: SO be sure to tune in for that.

And to learn more about Macon, be sure to check out what other towns are on the list in the top 10, go to our Web site. You can also scan the QR code on the screen right now.

But this is a fun assignment. It really has --


BLACKWELL: -- been great to go around the country.

HILL: I am happy for you and Derek. And I am admittedly jealous.

KEILAR: I'm ready. I got -- I'm going to Grand Rapids.


KEILAR: I'm ready to go to the synchronous fireflies in the great Smoky Mountains. I've got the list, Victor.


KEILAR: It's very exciting.

Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thanks, guys.


HILL: We'll be right back.