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Senate Passes War Spending Bill Calling for Iraq Pullout; Kidney Dad Captured; Floating Physicist

Aired April 26, 2007 - 14:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

Alabama sees red as tornadoes threaten. Damage reports are already coming in. Our severe weather center has the latest.

LEMON: Plus, Lou Gehrig's Disease made his body a prison, but Stephen Hawking is getting a brief reprieve in a history-making trip. Our Miles O'Brien has the zero G details at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and we'll bring it to you right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A sudden collapse sparks a frantic search for survivors. You're looking at live pictures now. This is in Istanbul.

A multi-story building collapsed in Istanbul, Turkey. It is unclear how many people were hurt and if there are any survivors. Right now they are saying there are no reports of deaths, but you can see rescue crews there on the scene trying to remove some of that rubble and search for people who may be trapped under that.

Last hour we spoke with a freelance reporter on the scene, and he said they had removed one person believed to be a little girl. We're going to continue to follow this developing story right here in the CNN NEWSROOM as details develop.

MALVEAUX: And another story we are following, of course, that is severe weather. And our Bonnie Schneider getting us the very latest. Perhaps tornadoes and many other things to keep an eye on -- Bonnie.



LEMON: Within the past hour, the Senate approved a war funding bill that sets a date for U.S. forces to start leaving Iraq. The vote was 51-46. And that's not nearly enough to override the president's promised veto. But combined with last night's House vote, it marks the first time Congress has challenged the president's war policy with a binding measure since Democrats took control in January.

MALVEAUX: So let's get the very latest, the showdown, from our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, and all of that despite the 11th-hour appeal by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who came up here to Capitol Hill, where you can probably hear behind me a chorus has just erupted below. Nevertheless, the vote did take place with two Republicans crossing party lines, but it was mostly a vote that was a along party lines.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We hope the president will reconsider his stubbornness and his refusal to listen to the American people. This is a good conference report. It provides for the safety of our troops. It helps Americans recover from emergencies that have plagued us here at home. It sets us on a new course away from a civil war with no end in sight toward a responsible, phased redeployment, and holds Iraqis accountable.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: This legislation is tragic. If the Iraqis make progress, we leave. If they don't, we leave.

This is not a choice. It is a mandate for defeat that al Qaeda desperately wants.

It is not too late to change course. I ask my colleagues to be as patient as our soldiers and Marines.


KOPPEL: So now that the vote has taken place in both the House and the Senate, the next stop is the president's desk. The Democrats here say that that can -- it's expected to arrive at the White House early next week, Monday, perhaps on Tuesday, which as we've then been reporting over the last day or so is also the fourth anniversary of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" arrival on the USS Abraham Lincoln right after the war began -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Andrea, I understand, of course, the timing of all of this, that both sides are trying to use that to their advantage. Perhaps the Democrats pushing this back just a little further?

KOPPEL: Well, they are both trying to jockey for position within the court of public opinion. But as we have already seen from recent polls, the Democrats have overwhelming support among the American public for the move that they have just taken today and then last night in the House. So, Republicans will be trying to spin this as Democrats cutting off funding for U.S. troops when President Bush makes that vote toe next veto next week. Nevertheless, Democrats feel quite comfortable with the position that they are in right now.

MALVEAUX: Andrea Koppel.

Thank you. LEMON: The man known as the most hated dad in America is back behind bars. Byron Keith Perkins was captured yesterday in Mexico. He was let out of jail last year ahead of sentencing for drug crimes to see whether he could donate a kidney to his son who desperately needed his help, but he took off instead.

CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, joins us with more on Perkins' arrest.

Just don't understand it.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I know. And Don, if he had stayed behind and donated that kidney, he stood to spend at least 25 years in jail. That could be a key reason why he took off.

In any case, right now we are waiting for word from Los Angeles on what time today Perkins and his girlfriend will be making their very first appearance in a courtroom there. And at that time, we should learn whether they will waive extradition to Kentucky.

In the meantime, we want to show you the U.S. Marshal's Web site. They are now heralding the capture of Byron Perkins and his girlfriend, also a fugitive, Lea Ann Howard. They were on the 15 most wanted fugitive list and now the word "captured," as you can see, has been stamped across their photographs.

His son Destin said he is relieved now that his father is in custody, and Destin's mom says it's about time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you have to say to your son Destin? You promised him a kidney...

CANDIOTTI (voice over): With nothing to say to the son he deserted, Byron Perkins and girlfriend Lee Ann Howard were escorted back to the U.S. Authorities say they've been hopscotching around Mexico doing odd jobs to keep under the radar. But their luck ran out.

JOE CHAVARRIA, U.S. MARSHAL: Unfortunately for them, they came back to a place where everyone was looking for them because they had been there last year.

CANDIOTTI: Perkins, nicknamed the most hated dad in America, busted in Mexico, back in the U.S., in a heap of trouble. A dad who cried in front of a judge who let him out of jail last year so he could donate a kidney for his son Destin, a son who desperately need a kidney to live.

Perkins fooled them all and took off running with his girlfriend. It was only after CNN ran the story that tourists in Mexico recognized him and called police. The couple had run up hotel and bar bills and skipped out on those, too.

For over a year, the U.S. Marshals searched for the odd couple and finally caught up with them in Puerto Vallarta. Authorities say they spent time before that Manzanillo.

Last fall, we visited with Destin after he got a new kidney from an anonymous donor. Back then he said this about his dad, and his mom says nothing has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you could ever forgive him?

DESTIN PERKINS, SON OF ARRESTED FUGITIVE: Forgive him, probably not. It's a pretty bad thing that he did to me.


CANDIOTTI: Destin is now 17 years old. He is healthy. He has that new kidney.

And last night he spoke with our Anderson Cooper about his father's capture. He said he just has one question for his father, "Why? And how do you sleep at night?"

Don, back to you.

LEMON: That's a good question. Two good questions for him.

I want to ask you about the investigation. Specifically, how did they catch up with him in Mexico, Susan?

CANDIOTTI: We're still waiting, Don, for a lot of the precise details. But the U.S. Marshals working with the Mexican authorities were working intelligence over the past year, but they could never catch up with him.

Apparently, these guys were doing odd jobs, Perkins and his girlfriend. They would stay at hotels, and when they would get there, for example, they were gone.

So eventually someone recognized them back in Puerto Vallarta, where they had spent time before. And sure enough, they notified authorities and, boom, they moved in on them. And oddly enough, when they were captured, the U.S. Marshal Service they appeared relieved and did not put up a fight at all.

LEMON: All right. CNN's Susan Candiotti on top of the story for us.

Thank you so much, as usual.

And for a matter of precious seconds, renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is about to break the bonds of his wheelchair. It will happen at more than 25,000 feet. It just keeps getting more interesting.

Joining us live from Cape Canaveral, Florida, CNN's Miles O'Brien with the story of Hawking's journey into the realm of zero gravity.

Miles, very interesting. MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Don, as you well know, one of the greatest minds of our time has been afflicted with ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. He can barely move a muscle. He can twitch his eyebrows and move his lips just a little bit, and has to speak through a computerized synthesizer, which is a voice we have all become familiar with.

Well, Stephen Hawking now will have an opportunity after about four decades in a wheelchair as a result of ALS, that neuromuscular disease, to fly in weightlessness in just a few hours' time. He is flying with a civilian company, the ZERO-G Corporation, which offers rides to you and I to the tune of $3,500, just like the astronauts have always flown over these many years. It's happening out of the Kennedy Space Center in just a little bit.

Obviously, a lot of medical concerns and logistical concerns with all of this. Yesterday, an eighth grader from this local area with about the same stature and weight as Stephen Hawking, also a fan of his, volunteered to play Hawking for a flight.

They tried it several times, with the doctors, nurses and spotters in attendance. Things went well on the trial run.

Stephen Hawking today hoping he'll have a repeat on the real thing. He's doing it, he says, because it will be quite a thrill. And also, Don, because he feels it's important for you and I to know that he feels the future, long-run future of the human race is somewhere off this planet -- Don.

LEMON: And Miles, you know, you said we can -- I think $3,500, $3,800 you said that they offer to the general public to do this.


LEMON: But even much more momentous for him considering his condition here.

Did you get a chance to speak to him about it? Or what do you think this might mean to him just doing this, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's a real thrill for him. You know, it's -- when you speak with him, of course, there's a lot of barriers there. But, you know, you can see the smile. And you can see the eyes light up when he start talking about this.

And all this morning -- I've been talking to some people who have been close to him -- all this morning the people at the ZERO-G Corporation have been insisting, well, if we do just one of these roller-coaster rides, that will be a success. And all morning long, Professor Hawking is saying, can we do more, please?

LEMON: CNN's Miles O'Brien at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Thank you so much for that, Miles.

MALVEAUX: And we are seeing some new pictures actually out of Istanbul, Turkey. These pictures show the terrible collapse that occurred just hours ago. A sudden collapse that sparked a frantic search for survivors. That search continuing at this moment, as they try to pull out people from the rubble.

Obviously a very difficult scene there. Here we're seeing live pictures. You see the rescue workers there.

It's an ongoing rescue effort. People frantically trying to pick up as much debris as possible.

LEMON: And I'm getting word from a producer, Suzanne, that a rescue with this is going on right now, as a matter of fact. We heard earlier that they pulled one person out. Presumably a little girl.

Of course we're going to update our viewers on that after a break.

MALVEAUX: And a life-and-death struggle over a terminally ill baby.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are trying to play god by saying who lives and who dies.


MALVEAUX: Should baby Emilio's mother or his hospital have the final say on his fate? The heartrending dilemma, straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Nancy Pelosi speaking now in front of the White House.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: ... a message to Syria about U.S. policy there.

In the United States we had some disagreement with the president on the war in Iraq. We told the leaders in the Middle East that we had left that disagreement at home. And honoring our commitment to providing for the common defense, to protect and defend our country, and wanting to get a lay of the land in those countries, the ground troops, of what was happening, we took our own measure of what was going on there in terms of the war on terrorism.

The president was gracious in the time he gave us, his questions, gave us the opportunity to give him a fuller report, and we very much appreciated it.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Did you talk about the spending bill? LEMON: That was Nancy Pelosi speaking there at the White House, responding to what happened this morning, that resolution that passed with the Iraq war funding bill setting a timeline.

Also, Dana Perino responding just a short time ago from the White House, saying that the president promises to veto that.

So she's talking about the timeline that the president gave them, saying that he was -- gave them a very comfortable timeline.

And this story will continue to roll out here in front of our face right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

MALVEAUX: It could get a lot uglier, too, Don.


MALVEAUX: We'll see how it develops.

And another story that we are following, three Atlanta police officers have been indicted on a botched raid that left an elderly woman shot to death in her own home.

Our Rusty Dornin has been covering this story for months.

And you have the latest. It's just kind of hard to believe.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. And it's been unfolding particularly quickly this morning, because the indictments were handed down for felony murder charges against two of those three officers. Now within the last hour, one of those officers, Gregg Junnier, has made a plea bargain, and he has had those charges reduced down to manslaughter and a couple of other charges. So, he will not be facing felony murder charges.

The second officer, Jason Smith, is up now, and apparently he also will be making some kind of plea bargain.

Now, this all stems from apparently this -- this right here, this warrant that was issued in November under apparently false pretenses. They claimed that there were surveillance cameras at this 92-year-old woman's house and that were drugs being dealt out of the house.

Apparently, there were no cameras, no surveillance cameras, there were no drugs being dealt out of the house. But they convinced a judge to give this warrant. That's when they burst into the house and claimed that she had pulled a gun on them, and they shot and killed her.

So, this has been a story, of course, that has caused tremendous community uproar about these no-knock warrants, and it looks like we're still going to be hearing from a federal court about what's going to be happening.

MALVEAUX: So, there was an informant in the case. Whatever happened to him? DORNIN: Well, the informant -- apparently, the police had claimed that this informant said that he bought drugs there, but the informant himself came and said, no, no, I never told them that, I never went to that house, that is not true.

And that's when the police case began to fall apart, and that's when also the Atlanta Police Department called in federal authorities.

MALVEAUX: And federal authorities, what do you expect that the next step is going to be?

DORNIN: Well, what we are hearing is that the officers will appear in front of a federal grand jury. They are also likely to make some kind of agreement there.

Now, of course in federal -- under federal law, there are no murder charges or -- but they could be charged with a conspiracy to violate someone's civil rights that ends in death. And that's what's expected to happen out of that. And, of course, these officers also are expected to cooperate in any kind of corruption investigation into the Atlanta Police Department.

MALVEAUX: And this woman's family, have they been speaking out?

DORNIN: No, they actually -- after that first night when they said it was the wrong house, this was a horrible thing, they have not spoken publicly since. But there is a press conference this afternoon, and they are expected to talk about it.

MALVEAUX: Rusty Dornin, thank you very much.

LEMON: And we have been following this story in the NEWSROOM, a desperate search under way in Istanbul, Turkey, right now, where an eight-story apartment building has collapsed. One young girl has been pulled from the debris. It is unclear whether anyone else is trapped.

Let's go straight to freelance journalist Andrew Finkel, live at the scene for the very latest for us.

Andrew, what do you have?

ANDREW FINKEL, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Well, there is some very good news to report.

Yes, a young girl was rescued by the civil defense team here, and then a little while ago, about three minutes ago, this whole scene was entirely quiet. The rescue workers were listening under the rubble to see if they could hear anyone alive. And then there was a sound of applause as they dragged a man out still alive.

The last person we believed to be under the rubble here -- Don.

LEMON: And, last hour you reported about injuries and possible fatalities, and you say at that point there were no fatalities.

What's the update on that, Andrew? FINKEL: Well, that seems to be the case.

The only happy thing about this entire story is that the residents seemed to have some warning. The reason this building collapsed in the first place was that there was a construction -- there was an excavation going on next door on this rather steep street, and it caused the house next door to collapse like a deck of cards.

But, before it collapsed, there were sounds of a building groaning, and then the residents had enough sense to get out while they could. So, happily, a larger tragedy has been averted. Although, of course, the people here have lost everything under the concrete here -- Don.

LEMON: Yes, absolutely. And you said that they think that they've gotten everyone out, but it's going to be some time before they can dig through that rubble and get to the bottom of this.

Andrew, you were telling us about everyone quiet on the scene there. Were they just listening for this person, or were they using any kind of equipment that they normally use on scenes when there is a building collapse or rubble to try to people, sort of radar?

FINKEL: Well, the civil defense teams here -- the civil defense teams here are quite sophisticated. They have quite a lot of training in this, sadly, because there was a terrible earthquake in 1999 in Turkey, and they learned quite a few hard lessons that way. So they have listening devices, of course.


FINKEL: And they were -- and that's how they located this individual whom they managed to rescue. There were sniffer dogs in the neighborhood waiting by. There's a whole fleet of ambulances in the side streets.

And a little while ago, this site was covered with a sea of orange uniformed men -- and women, of course. There are quite a lot of women in this volunteer defense team sifting through the rubble.

At one point they were just sort of rescuing people's belongings. We saw someone take a DVD out and then a DVD player, and then a sofa.

LEMON: Right. Right.

FINKEL: It's a terrible sight, that everyone seems to have lost all their household items here.

LEMON: Andrew Finkel, freelance journalist on the scene for us.

Thanks so much.

Those are live pictures. A live rescue just happened a short time ago there in Istanbul. An eight-story apartment building collapsing there. Live pictures from Istanbul. Thank you so much again.

Andrew Finkel.

MALVEAUX: And finding his bliss. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking gets a brief chance to leave the confines of his ailing body. Miles O'Brien has that story ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: It's definitely a decision no parent should ever face, when and how to let a terminally ill child die. Do doctors get a say?

Well, we get the story from CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Emilio Gonzalez doesn't have long to live, maybe a month, maybe two. This hospital wants to pull the plug on his ventilator, in which case Emilio would die much sooner, probably within hours. The hospital says it's the only humane thing to do because the ventilator and other treatments are causing the 17-month-old to be in pain.

MICHAEL REGIER, GEN. COUNSEL, SETON FAMILY OF HOSPITALS: We are inflicting suffering. We're inflicting harm on this child.

COHEN: But the toddler's mother says Emilio is on so much morphine, he's not in pain. Catarina Gonzalez says she knows her son only has a month or two to live, but she wants him to have every possible minute of life. Even though a rare genetic disorder has left him unable to speak or see or eat on his own, she says his life still has value.

CATARINA GONZALES, EMILIO'S MOTHER: I put my finger in his hand and I'm talking to him and he'll just squeeze it. He'll open his eyes and turn his head towards you. . And he'll look at you and look at you for a good while.

COHEN: So the question is, who gets to decide whether Emilio will live or die? His mother or the hospital? In an unusual law, the State of Texas says the hospital. If doctors feel treatment is inappropriate, they can take someone off life support even if the family disagrees.

Doctors say for them it's a matter of ethics, according to this hospital spokesman.

REGIER: We have to have balance. We have to have a point at which it will be permissible for a physician to say, I have my sense of professional ethics and I have my moral values and I'm simply not going to do this anymore.

COHEN: Emilio's mother has taken the hospital to court because she says it has overstepped its bounds. GONZALES: They're trying to play God by saying who lives and who dies.

COHEN: A lawyer for Austin Children's Hospital says it's not playing God and that as a Catholic hospital, the church's teachings are clear.

REGIER: In the Catholic tradition, we're obligated to use ordinary means to pursue and preserve our lives. We're not required to use extraordinary means.

COHEN: So how did this Texas law come about giving hospitals the right to decide when it is time for someone to die? President George Bush, when he was governor of Texas, signed the law. Many see an irony given his stance six years later that Terri Schiavo should be allowed to live.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The legislative branch, the executive branch ought to err on the side of life.

COHEN: Dr. Lainie Ross, a pediatrician and bioethicist disagrees with the Texas law.

DR. LAINIE ROSS, BIOETHICIST, UNIV. OF CHICAGO MED. CTR.: I think the mother should absolutely make the final decision. I would definitely not pull the child off of the ventilator.

COHEN: Bioethicist Art Caplan says the hospital should decide.

ART CAPLAN, BIOETHICIST, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: So there are situations where even though a mother's love would say, I don't ever want you to give up, medicine does have to set some limits to the continuation of care.

COHEN: In Texas, the legislature is reconsidering the law giving hospitals the right to make life and death decisions. It's not clear if a decision would be made in time to change the fate of Emilio Gonzalez.


COHEN: A judge has appointed a guardian ad litem in this case to help determine what's best for Emilio. The next hearing on this case is scheduled for May 8th.

Now, you can read more about this case on What you see up there is an article that I wrote all about the controversy.

LEMON: OK. I have to ask you. Catarina is the mom's name, right?

COHEN: Right.

LEMON: She says she wants Emilio to die naturally. So what is natural about dying, about being kept on a ventilator? COHEN: That's exactly what the hospital says. They say this is not natural, it is not natural to keep this little toddler alive on a ventilator.

And what Catarina said to that is, look, there are many people who are kept alive on medical technology, whether it's a ventilator or drugs, and she says that's why God gave doctors the brains to come up with this technology. It's an argument that ethicists have with each other.

LEMON: What happens next? I understand this is very popular on One of the most popular stories you can click on. So what is going to happen?

COHEN: What happens is this guardian ad litem who is appointed is going to look at all the facts and say what is best for Emilio. And the judge on May 8th will look at the facts and look at what the guardian ad litem recommends, and make a decision. Should the plug be pulled or should the mother or the hospital have its way?

LEMON: It tugs at your heart no matter what side you believe.

COHEN: There's no good choice here.

LEMON: If you would like to read more, go to Elizabeth Cohen, fantastic work.

COHEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: On Wall Street the bulls have been running and running for about three weeks now. But they seem to be tired today. Our Stephanie Elam is on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to see if the Dow pushes further into record territory.


LEMON: We'll go to CNN's Miles O'Brien, who is doing a story on Steven Hawking. And Miles O'Brien joins us now from Cape Canaveral. I don't know if Miles can hear us. We'll have that for you coming up right here in the CNN NEWSROOM. That's after a quick break.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Your timing is impeccable. There goes Steven Hawking. He will soon be flying weightless at 29,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. We'll tell you about his remarkable journey in just a little bit. Stay with us.


LEMON: Hello, everyone, I'm Don Lemon live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. He gave us a brief history of time. He is getting a brief moment of freedom. Famed physicist Steven Hawking says he expects to experience bliss as he goes weightless above the Atlantic. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. But, first, we go to Bonnie Schneider who has breaking news and updates on severe weather, perhaps tornado brewing. What do you have at this moment?


LEMON: A little bit ago we briefed you on a journey in zero gravity by famed astrophysicist Steven Hawking. And standing by with an update from Kennedy Space Center in Florida is CNN's Miles O'Brien. Miles, he just went up as we were going to commercial.

O'BRIEN: Hello, Don, somebody was talking to me. I apologize for that. As Steven Hawking about three or four minutes into his flight, still not at altitude yet, so they are still not in a position where they will be getting him ready for his weightless.

They call them parabolas, which is little more than just an elaborate roller-coaster ride. And during the 30-second period on the down slope, if you will, everybody inside the airplane free-falls with the airplane and you get the sense of weightlessness for 25 or 30 seconds. At the bottom of the valley you get, like, twice the feel of gravity, in this case they will fly just a little more gently. It will be about 1 1/2 times the force of gravity. That was the concern, that somebody with advanced staged Lou Gehrig's Disease, as Steven Hawking has, might have some difficulty breathing. And might have some difficulty in general with comfort as he was pressed to the padded floor of that airplane.

But yesterday, they conducted a trial run with an eighth-grader who happens to be of the same stature and weight of Steven Hawking. And with spotters and the medical team all around. Everything went well. Steven Hawking all this morning hoped it would go as well for him. As a matter of fact, he was a very excited man.


STEVEN HAWKING, ASTROPHYSICIST: I am very excited. I have been wheelchair-bound for almost four decades and for the chance to float free in zero-g will be wonderful.


O'BRIEN: I've had a chance to do this. It is really quite a thrill. And civilians like you and me, if you are willing to pay $3,500 can fly on this zero-g civilian spacecraft.

In NASA they jokingly call it, the "vomit comet." But it has been used for years and years to give astronauts a taste of weightlessness. This flight was given to Steven Hawking for free by the zero-g corporation. Several of the people who are there with him were part of seats that were donated and auctioned off. So there's a lot of money going to charity.

In the end, Steven Hawking says he is doing it because he wants the thrill, of course, after four decades in a wheelchair he looks forward to it. And he believes that some sort of calamity, one day, will make it necessary for the human race to move beyond this planet to survive.


LEMON: Miles, you were saying that you did it. And I saw the video of you doing it. And I'm sure very exciting for you. And let's just be honest, you, someone with all of his faculties and Steven Hawking, as you mentioned, has been in a wheelchair for a very long time. And even more exhilarating for him to have zero gravity or weightlessness.

O'BRIEN: Yes. People this morning, all morning long, they've been trying to lower his expectations and our expectations for the flight. The head of Zero-G, Pete Deamendez (ph) the CEO, he said if we do one 25-second spurt of weightlessness, that's good enough. Steven Hawking had his voice-generated computer saying no, no. He wants more. And if everything goes well and the doctors give him the blessing after the first one. He will, indeed, get more. We'll hear a little bit more about it in just a little while when he comes back.

LEMON: Yes, and Miles, I don't know if you're getting return there. If you can see air, but we have flight tracker and we are tracking Steven Hawking's flight and it's just off the coast and still moving. So, you know, he wants more and more and more --

O'BRIEN: Watch it. You know what, it would be interesting to watch. Watch the altitude differences. We'll be able to get a sense of the dives and the peaks. The peaks and valleys, if you will.


O'BRIEN: And it will be interesting to see what he has to say about it afterwards.

LEMON: CNN's Miles O'Brien. And he wants more and more and more. And we can certainly understand why. Miles, thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome.

MALVEAUX: I hope it works out for him. What a beautiful story.

We are still nine months away from the Iowa caucuses but the first Democratic presidential debate takes place tonight in South Carolina. Eight candidates will try to stand out from the pack but that's really not going to be very easy. There will be no opening or closing statements and responses to questions are going to be limited to 60 seconds.

Our own CNN Senior Political Analyst, Bill Schneider. You've probably seen more presidential debates than you care to admit here. But, Bill, what do you think? Where does this Democratic race for the White House stand tonight?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right now we've done a poll of polls. We've looked at eight polls taken this month. And where does the race stand? The answer is Hillary Clinton, still the front runner, 35 percent support, just over a third.

And Barack Obama at 24 percent. He's the one Democrat who has been making gains over the course of the year. He started out at 17 percent in January. He's made steady gains over the course of the year, creeping up on Senator Clinton.

And in third place, tied, really, John Edwards at 15 percent, and if he were to become a candidate, 15 percent of Democrats say they would vote for Al Gore. So, this is not a race where there is front runner with majority support yet.

MALVEAUX: And, Bill, what is the role of the Iraq war? How is that playing out in differentiating the candidates?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Democrats are virtually unanimous, that is rank-and-file Democratic voters across the country, are virtually unanimous in opposing the president's policy in Iraq and so are the candidates. But are there shades of difference?

Where Barack Obama may be benefiting from his strong opposition to the Iraq war. He's the candidate who says he opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning, back in 2002. When Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards both authorized the president to use force. They've backed away from that position, of course, and they now claim, argue that the war is a terrible mistake.

And Senator Clinton in particular has been very vigorous in saying that she doesn't want any distance between herself and Senator Obama on the issue of Iraq. She's just as anti-war as he is.

MALVEAUX: And, Bill, the debate tonight obviously being held in a traditionally black college in South Carolina.


MALVEAUX: We know that about half the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina are African-American. Now, we know it's not a monolithic group or a community here, but in terms of a Democratic presidential hopefuls, which candidate is ahead, do you think, in the critical battle for that block of voters?

SCHNEIDER: Suzanne, we've got a real contest for the African- American vote. Which is healthy and it's exciting, and that's one of the reasons why they all showed up in South Carolina. Where as you said, about half the Democratic primary voters are African-Americans.

Senator Clinton seems to be in the lead, according to most polls among African-American voters nationwide. The name Clinton, still has a lot of power in the black community. Her husband was a heroic figure to many blacks across the country, but Barack Obama, of course, is an African-American candidate and he's giving her strong competition. So there's a lot of fierce competition between the two of them and John Edwards and some other Democratic candidates also, have a claim on black voters, particularly in South Carolina. John Edwards is a native son of South Carolina. There's a real contest there and that's why they all showed up. MALVEAUX: Absolutely. We're looking forward to that debate.

LEMON: Information just in to the CNN NEWSROOM. We want to tell you about a suspicious package found outside a women's clinic in Austin, Texas, yesterday. Here's what's new and disturbing. A package found outside Wednesday in the South Austin's Women's Clinic contained an explosive device.

That is according to at least four sources familiar with that investigation. That package was found yesterday at about 2:00 p.m. Central time and 3:00 Eastern in a parking lot of the Austin's Women's Health Center. The clinic provides services, of course, including abortion.

Officials from the Homeland Defense Team, which includes police officers, also other Austin officers, the Department of Emergency Ordnance Disposal unit and the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, also on the scene yesterday. Again, it contained an explosive device.

They are expected to update us on this at about 3:00 Eastern. As soon as we get some new information on this device found in Austin, Texas, at a women's clinic, we'll bring it right here to you in the CNN NEWSROOM.

MALVEAUX: Don, we have more breaking news on severe weather. Our own Bonnie Schneider, of course, and now I understand we have a tornado warning in Indiana.


MALVEAUX: And headed for home, but waylaid by twisters. Ahead in the NEWSROOM. Witness the birth of a meteorologist. It's an I- Report you've got to see, and also, hear.


MALVEAUX: Straight ahead Entertainment News with Sibila Vargas. Sibila, what do you have on tap?

SIBILA VARGAS, ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well Suzanne, Richard Gere is looking at jail time because of a kiss? We'll have that story, and a lot more, coming up in the NEWSROOM.


MALVEAUX: A Hollywood heavyweight is in trouble with the law for a very public display of affection. Entertainment Correspondent Sibila Vargas joining me now with the details. What did they do?

VARGAS: Well, you know, you've heard the expression a kiss is just a kiss, right?


VARGAS: Not in India. Richard Gere planted one on Indian actress Shilpa Shetty at an AIDS awareness event earlier this month and now there's a warrant out for his arrest. A judge has decided that the kiss violated India's very strict obscenity laws. The kiss sparked outrage in India and crowds around the country actually burned Gere in effigy.

Gere, who was not in the country when the warrant was issued, faces three months in prison, a fine or both. We did reach out to a representative for Gere's reaction but they're not offering a comment yet.

Shilpa Shetty has released a statement saying that the kiss was in good humor and didn't mean to cause offense, adding that the warrant is more damaging to the perception of India than the kiss was.

We should also point out that these kinds of cases against celebrities are pretty common in India and are part of the reason that there is such a tremendous backlog of legal cases there.

Well, Hugh Grant was arrested in London Wednesday night. The British actor allegedly got into a scuffle with a photographer that culminated when the actor -- I'm not making this up folks -- threw a container of baked beans at the shutterbug. Grant was arrested for suspicion of assault and released on bail and the photographer has been quoted as saying that he plans on pressing charges. Grant is not releasing a statement to the press at this time, but the photographer is probably very lucky that Grant didn't have a dozen eggs close at hand.

Well, shifting gears, good news for day time. He is back! Regis Philbin is back on the air after six long weeks. The 75-year-old had triple heart bypass surgery back in March. He said that he's happy to be back home on his show. Philbin called the procedure a tough one but said the rewards were definitely worth it.

Well, yesterday Rosie O'Donnell's decision to leave "The View" gave us a lot to talk about. And apparently we weren't alone.


ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Yesterday's announcement was a tad bit bigger than I expected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it was everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was on every news channel. On everything. In every paper, in all my e-mails.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was on -- I tell you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had just a small list here. She was on "Regis and Kelly" this morning, America's Newsroom, Fox, "Good Morning America," "American Morning" on CNN today, the "Late, Late Show with Greg Ferguson," "Letterman," "The Tonight Show," "Nightline," ABC News, "Anderson Cooper" on CNN, "Larry King Live," (INAUDIBLE), the "Situation Room," the only one that I actually watch, CNN NEWSROOM, every hour from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. and beyond. "Hannity and Colmes," "On the Record" with Greta Van Sustern (ph), "Scarborough Country," Countdown" with Keith Obermann.

Yes, you were hot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were on a role.

O'DONNELL: There is something seriously wrong with this picture ...


VARGAS: OK, we got it. Rosie also spent some time returning jabs with her nemesis, Donald Trump. One can only hope that they don't have to cover another edition of this Rosie/Trump feud. I'm really crossing my fingers.

Well, anyway, shifting gears. Tonight on "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" we've got an incredible story, Suzanne. The Miss America sex thing. How Miss America worked with the TV show "America's Most Wanted" to catch men suspected of being child sex predators. John Walsh goes one-on- one with this amazing story on TV's most provocative entertainment news show "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on Headline Prime.

Back to you.

MALVEAUX: All very interesting. I noticed Rosie gave us our props, CNN.

VARGAS: She sure did.

MALVEAUX: We've been working on that story.

VARGAS: Everyone was. I mean, she let us know, too.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Sibila Vargas.

LEMON: Well, he has seen London, he's seen France but he may not see the front lines in Iraq. Ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM, a dilemma for the British military. Where to deploy a prince?