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World Leaders at G7 Summit Discuss Support for Ukraine against Russian Invasion and China's Growing Influence in Asia; President Biden Returns to Washington D.C. to Continue Debt Ceiling Negotiations with Republican Congressional Leaders; New York City's Roosevelt Hotel Reopened as Welcoming Center for Asylum Seekers; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Likely to Soon Officially Enter Republican Presidential Primary. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired May 20, 2023 - 10:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm not campaigning against Biden. You should be thanking me, because I'm putting on your radar screen something that nobody else is talking about yet, which he has a problem in New Hampshire, and now has an interesting decision to make as to whether to even compete in that state. And if he loses New Hampshire, what then will be the significance for the rest of the election? Aren't you glad I informed you of that?

I'll see you next week.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and good morning, everyone. It is Saturday, May 20th. I'm Amara Walker.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. You are in the CNN Newsroom.

WALKER: Leaders of the world's wealthiest democracies sent a message to Russia and China during the second day of the G7 summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is among the non-member leaders invited to the summit, and he arrived to boost support for his country in its war with Russia. Zelenskyy is expected to address some leaders tomorrow, but today he held sit-downs with the prime ministers of India, Italy, and the U.K.

BLACKWELL: Providing military and economic aid to Ukraine is just one of the items on the agenda for G7 leaders. A lot of the day was spent addressing Ukraine, but the leaders of Japan and Germany, France and Canada, Italy and United Kingdom and the U.S. also issued statements on China to help end the war in Ukraine and establish sustainable economic relations.

Ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling have also been a subject of interest at the gathering. During a meeting with Australia's prime minister, President Biden was asked about the talks, and he said the negotiations are progressing as he expected.

We have team coverage. Jasmine Wright is live in Washington. Nic Robertson is standing by in Ukraine. Let's start, though, with Marc Stewart in Hiroshima. Marc, the president, President Zelenskyy's goal here, explain what he is trying to get done by being there face-to- face with these leaders.

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Victor. First of all, I don't want to discount the meetings that he's been having with the heads of state such as the prime minister of Italy, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and of course this upcoming meeting that is expected with President Biden. But in many ways, his visit to the G7 isn't just about the G7, because Ukraine and the G7 member nations very much see eye to eye in both position and in principle when it comes to this war in Ukraine. The bigger challenge for him is to get global world support. And so when he is here during this stay in Japan, he's also having access to the leaders of India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, not necessarily traditional members of the G7. They are invited guests. But it's a chance for him to initiate conversations with them, build relationships at a time when he really feels he needs global support in order to succeed in Ukraine.

WALKER: So the war in Ukraine one major topic, but the other was, of course, China. And this meeting is happening as Japan and other countries have expressed concern about the stability in Asia, but also the role of China and what we're seeing as increasing aggressiveness -- aggressive maneuvers, military maneuvers by China when it comes to Taiwan and the South China Sea. What is the discussion on that?

STEWART: Absolutely, Amara. And China is a complicated issue. It's very tricky, because many of these G7 nations have arrangements, have economic arrangements with China. They depend on China for manufacturing, to maintain their supply chains. Yet there are some behaviors, if you will, that the G7 nations just aren't thrilled about. This idea of economic coercion, and then some of these military practices, and some of this pressure and this alignment with Russia.

So what we saw today was a statement released by the G7 members, not necessarily saying to China, we're putting you on notice. The language was kind of tempered. It said a growing China that plays by international rules would be of interest. So, a little bit of a softer statement than perhaps some people would like to see, but it does set the tone to China, the G7 members are certainly watching.

BLACKWELL: All right, Marc Stewart for us there in Hiroshima. Nic Robertson is up next live in Ukraine. Nic, President Zelenskyy's attendance here, he has got to go 15 months in now to Russia's war to make sure that the world leaders don't lose the sense of urgency just as we're getting into the potential counteroffensive that's coming from Ukraine.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. This is a big diplomatic reach for him. And sorry, this is an alert, warning alert going off. We have them regularly here. This is a big diplomatic reach for him. Over the past year or so, everything that he was doing was remotely.

[10:05:00] Now it's face-to-face. This is the furthest he's gone, the furthest he's traveled from Kyiv for this diplomatic face-to-face meeting. So it's important. It counts. And it doesn't stop here with the F-16s. It was the tanks. It's the f-16s, that's sort of coming through the pipeline now, a deliverable. And talking to commanders here as well today, they're saying it's good. We need it in the battlefield. We need it today. We'll be ready for it when it comes.

But Zelenskyy is looking ahead as well. He wants, and this was his position all along, he wants Ukraine to be a member of the European Union and wants, particularly important the next big summit perhaps he's got his eye on is the NATO leaders summit coming up in just a couple months. And he wants to sort of bring his G7 allies and partners there, particularly the ones who are members of NATO, to help shore up the position and the support that he wants from NATO. He wants a bold and strong statement of support from NATO going forward that ultimately keeps open the aspiration of becoming a member, but of an insurance policy, a security insurance policy, which is very likely going to be a piece of what an ultimate peace plan from Ukraine's perspective at least looks like. So there's a lot more diplomatic lifting for him to be doing. But now he's doing it face-to-face, and he's putting in the miles to make it happen.

WALKER: He sure is, a lot of miles there. Nic Robertson, appreciate you. Thank you very much.

And another topic that was discussed at the G7 was the debt ceiling negotiations or lack thereof, not really as a point of concern but more with curiosity. The talks between White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's office appear to have stalled.

BLACKWELL: Let's go now to CNN White House reporter Jasmine Wright in Washington. It ended without a clear indication of when they would meet again in person. What do we know about where they stand and beyond still right now?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, we're going into this weekend with some conflicting messaging out of the White House. On one hand, President Biden in Japan over the last few hours has projected a lot of optimism, saying that he's not at all concerned about the state of negotiations, whereas others in the White House are saying something completely different.

Now, of course, we saw on Friday that major whiplash where negotiators came out of the room feeling as though there was no progress being made, and talks hit a snag and then pause. Hours later they went back into that room, and then we saw, or we heard from sources in the room that they had a candid conversation but left without any idea of what a deal could look like and also when they would be meeting again. President Biden reacting to that pause in Japan. This is what he had to say. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It goes in stages. And what happens is the first meetings weren't all that productive. The second ones were. The third one was. And then what happens is the carriers go back to the principals and say this is what we're thinking about. And then people put down new claims. I still believe we'll be able to avoid a default and we'll get something decent done.


WRIGHT: So there we heard from President Biden saying that he believed they would be able to avoid a default. We know that President Biden is, of course, an optimist. Now we also heard just a few hours later from communications director of the White House Ben LaBolt who in a searing statement really accused Republicans of pushing this country to the brink of a default and also holding the economy hostage, though in that statement he said that if Republicans could come to the table and negotiate in good faith, a path is still viable, available to move forward.

But of course, time here is running out. That X date is June 1st, the Treasury Department identified, when the U.S. could be unable to pay its debt. A really catastrophic economic outcome as the White House has repeatedly said. But of course, these conversations on the debt have loomed over President Biden's time in Japan. He returned to D.C. on Saturday, scrapping the later parts of his trip to Australia and Papua New Guinea really to shepherd these talks along, that really are on the outliers, or a couple things when you talk about spending caps on both sides and fiscal spending for 2024. President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have said repeatedly that they hope to have a deal. But of course, time is of the essence here and it's not on their side.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's running out. Jasmine Wright for us there in Washington, thanks so much.

New York City's historic Roosevelt Hotel has now been reopened as a welcoming center for asylum seekers as more busloads of migrants continue to arrive in the city.

WALKER: The city currently has about 40,000 migrants in its care, but NYC Mayor Eric Adams says additional state and federal funding is desperately needed because city shelters are running out of space.


CNN's Gloria Pazmino is live in New York this morning outside the Roosevelt hotel. Good morning, Gloria. What all services will migrants receive at this location? What are the services they'll receive?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Amara, Victor. That number of migrants in the city's care right now has actually significantly ticked up over the last several weeks. We're now at over 40,000 people that are currently in the care of the city. And I want to just give you a look at what's happening directly. Behind me is the Roosevelt Hotel. As you mentioned, a historic location here in New York City that has recently been opened to house the migrants. And what you are seeing here directly behind this white van are two city buses. So far this morning, about three or four buses have arrived. About 20

to 25 migrants have arrived here at the hotel. And what's happening is the city buses are bringing them here from Port Authority bus terminals, that's where the migrants are being bussed, usually from places across the southern border down in Texas.

Now, they're meant to arrive here as a first point of connection. And you asked about what services they're getting. Well, they're getting here, the first thing they're offered is food and water and medical care. They're also being offered vaccinations and, obviously, a place to sleep, a place to shower, a place to just settle down after this very long trip that they've been on.

And then the city is helping to connect them with services. Everything from health to school if there are children, and shelter. That is one of the key issues in all of this because, as you have heard over the last several weeks, Mayor Eric Adams has been talking about the fact that the city is running out of space. So this hotel behind me, 175 rooms for families and children. And it will eventually scale up to over 850 rooms here in this hotel.

But migrants continue to arrive. The city is now seeing an average of 600 migrants arrive here per day, and the city is barely keeping up. Mayor Eric Adams has been asking for federal help, federal funding to help with the needs of these migrants. And this place here behind me is really just meant to be a temporary stop in their journey. The city has said that they are going to work with them to connect them to the services they want and to help them get to the place where they eventually want to go, whether that's in other places outside of New York or other places here in the city.

I did speak to two migrants who are here at the hotel who told me that their process has started. They showed me their wristbands showing they have been registered, that they are getting some help, and they're just waiting to see if they can be connected to their friends and family so they can get on their way.

BLACKWELL: Gloria Pazmino reporting from New York City for us, thanks so much.

Still ahead, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to enter the 2024 presidential race next week. We'll have more on his potential strategy to run to the right of former President Trump.

WALKER: Plus, the Colombian military is scrambling to find four children they say may have survived after a plane crash in the Amazon jungle nearly three weeks ago. The latest on the search and rescue efforts next.



BLACKWELL: Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, is getting closer to launching his presidential campaign. Governor DeSantis spoke in New Hampshire on Friday to leaders in that critical first primary state for Republicans. "The New York Times" reports that DeSantis told donors this week that only he can beat former President Trump in 2024. Sources say that DeSantis could enter the race as soon as next week.

With us now, "Politico" White House reporter Daniel Lippman. Daniel, good to see you. So he's now speaking in private about former President Trump directly. Is there some expectation, any telegraphing of strategy that he will square up with Donald Trump rhetorically and take him on publicly?

DANIEL LIPPMAN, WHITE HOURS REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, he clearly has a tight balancing act, because Trump is his top opponent, but he can't criticize him too personally because he still wants to peel off some of those Republican voters who had voted for Trump and really like the guy but think that he should not be the Republican nominee and that he can't win. So, it's not as much fear about offending Trump as much about getting as many voters in the Republican Party who love the guy and appealing to them on policy. That's why he's delayed entering the race this much, because he has wanted to rack up those conservative policy victories in the Florida legislature.

BLACKWELL: Speaking of taking him on on policy, Governor DeSantis criticized the former president for not giving a direct answer during the CNN town hall about a federal ban on abortion. Is that the strategy, to try to run to his right on issues like abortion, on issues like guns as well?

LIPPMAN: That clearly seems to be what DeSantis is doing. And so I think there is a risk here that it's a -- this is a short-term strategy. And DeSantis has to get through the primary, which is a very conservative base, but that it could hurt him down the road in a general election. But that is a tomorrow problem. He can't worry about that too much. And so he clearly is trying to say to people who are prolife in the Republican movement that Trump is not on your side as much.


He blames the pro-life movement for Republicans losing last year because of Roe v. Wade, which Trump had put into progress because he nominated all those justices at the Supreme Court. So it's a little ironic that now Trump doesn't want to take credit for his major accomplishment that Republicans like.

BLACKWELL: Debt ceiling now. It's May 20th, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says that the country could default as early as June 1st. President Biden today in Hiroshima said that he's confident that they will reach a deal. Is that confidence shared as effusively throughout the administration? We heard from Republicans that they paused this, they don't see that the talks have been productive. But is everyone on the president's team as certain as he appears to be?

LIPPMAN: Well, they have to kind of be pretty publicly confident, and privately they don't think there's going to be a default. They know that the risk to our economy and to the global financial balance that we have would be grave. And politically, Republicans don't have much to gain from a default. You have Trump who says let's just don't give in at all. But for McCarthy, this would be a huge black eye.

And so I think they're working out the details to try to figure out a deal. Republicans want to have the spending cuts go way into the future, and Democrats want them to basically sunset in two years where it could be much easier to increase spending again. But I think the president's team, we're still 10 days, maybe two-and-a-half weeks left. And so they feel confident that there will be a deal and that this negotiation will go like every other debt ceiling negotiation we've had in the last 10, 15 years.

BLACKWELL: Up to the limit, and then a deal ultimately. One of the points of contention is work requirements for certain types of federal aid. The White House seemed to suggest that the president might be interested in dealing in that and then pulling out a bit. Are Democrats willing to -- enough Democrats in the Senate willing to go along with work requirements for some federal aid that Republicans are calling for?

LIPPMAN: They're not excited about going forward. And so you might see some Democrats vote against it. And they'll do the math to see if some Republicans vote for it, then some Democrats can vote against it. But I think Democrats think it would be a betrayal of some of the poorer voters who voted for Biden, and they're trying to get the working class to come back to the Democratic Party after many years, or in the last five years voting for Republicans and Trump. But they're not willing to let the country default if that is the main sticking point. It seems like Biden has supported this in the past, although these are more draconian working requirements. But it's going to be hard -- this is not an issue that appeals to the broad middle in terms of most Americans have jobs, and if you're able-bodied, many people think that you should work as well. And so that's not something that Democrats -- it's not a hill that they're going to probably die on.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll see. Daniel Lippman, thank you.

WALKER: Still ahead, search and rescue efforts under way in Colombia right now for four children who may have survived a plane crash in the Amazon jungle nearly three weeks ago.



BLACKWELL: The Colombian military is working to find four children they say may have survived after a plane crash in the Amazon jungle nearly three weeks ago.

WALKER: Authorities say the missing children's father has been assisting in the search, and search peoples found footprints they believe belong to those children in a remote part of the jungle. Stefano Pozzebon joining us now live from Bogota. What do we know about how the search operation is going, and also these missing children, their backgrounds? It almost sounds like they are all part one of family?

STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN JOURNALIST: Yes, correct. They are all half- siblings. They're all half-siblings, and the father is the stepfather of the two older daughters, the two that are older children, and the biological father of the two youngest children. He's joined the search and rescue operations. Unfortunately, Amara, the mother of the children, who is the biological mother of the four of them, died in the crash, it was confirmed, this past week. But in terms of the operation, it's really like looking for a needle in a haystack. The field operation is as big as 50,000 acres. And that's why finding any trace of these children is proving extremely difficult.


POZZEBON: A desperate search continues, but still no breakthrough. Colombian authorities are scouring the Amazon for four children believed to have survived a plane crash on May 1st, looking for any signs of life after nearly three weeks. Earlier reports that the children had been found were later dialed back. The grandfather of the kids ages 13, nine, four, and 11 months, says he is holding out hope.

FIDENCIO VALENCIA, GRANDFATHER OF THE MISSING CHILDREN (through translator): They already know the jungle. And after that accident, maybe they are hiding. They hide. Maybe they don't realize that they are looking for them. They are children. But we hope that they are alive and have access to water, because water is life.

POZZEBON: The plane had taken off from the remote area of Araracuara, bound for San Jose del Guaviare.


Details of the crash remain fuzzy, but the same plane crashed in the same region of the jungle less than two years ago, according to the Colombian civil aviation authority. Below the dense forest canopy, rescue efforts carry on around-the-clock. The Colombian armed forces using dogs to help search for the children following a trail of scattered debris including hair scrunchies and a baby bottle they believe belongs to the youngest. And from above, Colombian's air force using loudspeakers to play messages from the kid's mother in their native language.

In Bogota, the indigenous community is mourning those who died in the crash after it was announced on Thursday that the bodies of three adults, including the pilot and the mother of the four children, had been recovered, and demanding answers for what had gone wrong, while the nation holds its breath praying for the lives of the four children.


POZZEBON: And Amara, the Lesly that you can see here in that report is blasted off in the jungle is the name of the oldest of them, Lesly Mucutuy. He's only 13 years old. Amara, Victor?

WALKER: What a harrowing and mysterious story. Stefano Pozzebon, thank you.

Joining me now from Los Angeles is Les "Survivorman" Stroud. He is a survival expert and creator of the show "Survivorman." He is also the author of "Survive, Essentially Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere Alive." Les, thank you so much for joining us this morning. This is really just remarkable if these children, indeed, have survived. That is a theory that Colombian officials are working off of, right, that these children may have survived first a plane crash, and then three weeks in the Amazon jungle. What would it take for these children to survive these kinds of conditions?

LES "SURVIVORMAN" STROUD, SURVIVAL EXPERT: Well, mostly it would take the exact same thing that it would take all of us, extreme excellent resilience. I can only imagine the level of fear. We're dealing with a 13-year-old as the oldest. So the resilience factor, the will to live, the ability to think and be proactive in those thoughts. And again, we're dealing with someone with limited life experience.

WALKER: And also talk about the terrain and what they must be facing day in and day out if, again, they are truly alive and are surviving this.

STROUD: Yes, I feel bad now because sometimes I almost say it with a smirk on my face or a joke, when I'm in the Amazon jungle, you can't even just simply sit down. There's no such thing as simply doing everything in the Amazon jungle. Everywhere you touch or sit there may be something poisonous. I'm not trying to make it sound overly dramatic, but by that same token, it's kind of true. The Amazon jungle can be a very thick, wet, congested, slippery, ankle-breaking dangerous place. And it's not just the poisonous insects, snakes, spiders. It's also jaguar, pumas. There's a lot -- that's one of the most dangerous places I've ever been.

WALKER: And the youngest child is only 11 months old. On this trail, apparently some of the search and rescue teams found a baby bottle. What are your biggest concerns for the children?

STROUD: It's definitely turning into a physical thing now. You can avoid the physicality of it for a while, but we're into more than our second week here. I was part of a crew that found a 70-year-old man after 18 days, we found him alive, and he's alive to this day. But it's more -- I'm worried more now about the physicality of what they're going through.

The mental state is something it seems like they -- I don't know how long they waited and how long they stayed at the plane, but at some point they decided to move. So they were in survival mode. So mentally speaking, terrific. But physically speaking now, it's getting to be a long time. So I'm worried more about that. You wouldn't think hypothermia could affect you in the jungle, but days of pouring rain and dark, long nights, and you can become quite chilled down to the point of hypothermia in a situation like that, even in the jungle.

WALKER: And the way this whole story has unfolded, right, has been quite bizarre as well, because you had the president of Colombia who initially tweeted all children had been found, and then that tweet was deleted. And then you had another welfare official from the country saying that she was confident the children were found alive, but going off a secondhand source. It's hard to say what's true, and of course communication is an issue there as well in the jungle. What does your gut tell you? Are you hopeful? I'm sure you are hopeful, but, I guess, practically speaking, what are the chances?

STROUD: That's a great question. First of all, I'd respond to your others to say let's ignore some of the media for the moment, notwithstanding this interview sort of thing. But let's ignore all of the rumors.


The reality is, what's actually going on? And until we have them with us and they're safe, until we have a photograph of that, we don't know the situation. I would suggest that, not even trying to be an optimist, but I think they still have a tremendous chance of surviving. We don't know if they're injured. That's another concern. Is one of them or any of them injured? It's quite possible, isn't it. So that notwithstanding, I think they're chances are quite good. I heard mention of water. It is the jungle. Sure, you can go a long way without finding water, but for the most part that's not as big of an issue as it would be in a desert or the top of a mountain. So water, they could keep drinking and drinking. They're going to be getting weak from a lack of food, I'm sure. Maybe they were smart enough to take some food from the plane if there was some. I'm going to say that I'm very optimistic that we will find them.

WALKER: Wow. OK, well, let's see what happens from here. Let's pray for a miracle. Les "Survivorman" Stroud, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Still ahead, a Georgia mother accused of leaving her newborn in the woods in a plastic bag four years ago has been arrested and charged. That's next.



BLACKWELL: Four years ago, a newborn in north Georgia was found abandoned in the woods, left in a plastic bag, and miraculously she survived.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you hear it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard it from our house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.


WALKER: Oh, my goodness. You can hear the officer saying, I'm so sorry. The person who left her there, this little baby there, was never found, that is, until last week. Authorities in Forsyth County have identified and arrested the birth mother of the child known as Baby India. CNN's Isabel Rosales joining us now here in studio to tell us more about this. Wow, Isabel, how did the police four years later catch up with the birth mother?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's such an incredible story. It was actually the family who found the baby who dubbed her Baby India. They thought it was the sound of a raccoon or a baby dear, and then they followed that and mad that miraculous discovery.

So how did investigators find the mom four years later? They used what's called advanced DNA, that's according to Ron Freeman, the sheriff of Forsyth County. He says that 10 months ago using DNA they were able to find the father, the biological father of that baby. Then using that same DNA, they then found the mom. And that happened in the past week.

So, the mom is 40-year-old Karima Jiwani. The sheriff says she is cooperating with investigators. She's been charged with criminal attempt to commit murder, cruelty to children in the first degree, aggravated assault, reckless abandonment, and other charges. A lot of people are wanting to know why did she do this, allegedly? What's the motive behind it? The sheriff says that he can't get into the details or the interview they had with Jiwani because there's a pending prosecution happening here.

But they were able to piece together with -- including digital evidence, they found the birth likely happened inside of a car, and that Jiwani drove with that baby after the birth for a long period of time before the baby was put into that wooded area. Here's what else the sheriff had to say.


RON FREEMAN, FORSYTH COUNTY SHERIFF: This child was wrapped up to suffocate in a plastic bag, thrown 20 yards in the woods in an isolated area with one house nearby. That family happened to arrive home when they weren't supposed to and happened to go back outside because it was going to rain to empty their car when they had earlier decided they were going to do it the next morning. That's divine intervention. This baby is supposed to be here.


ROSALES: And the sheriff says the evidence led to them saying Jiwani having a history of hidden and concealed pregnancies and surprise births, and that she did know about this particular pregnancy. The baby, by the way, the sheriff says, is prosperous, happy, and healthy.

WALKER: Really. I was just going to ask how this baby is doing. Four years old by now. What an incredible story. Isabel Rosales, thank you.

Let's take a look now at some of the top stories that we are following this hour. A Nebraska bill banning most abortions after 12 weeks is set to become law after the state's legislature voted for its passage on Friday. The ban would restrict most abortions with exceptions for sexual assault, incest, and medical emergencies. The bill also replaces restrictions on gender affirming care for transgender Nebraskans under 19. Republican Governor Jim Pillen says he will sign the bill into law.

BLACKWELL: Sources in Peru tell CNN that the prime suspect in the disappearance of American, Natalee Holloway, could be handed over to U.S. authorities by mid-June at the latest. Dutch citizen Joran Van Der Sloot was one of the last people to see Holloway alive before she vanished in Aruba nearly two decades ago. Currently he's serving a 28 year prison sentence in Peru for the murder of a 21-year-old woman.

WALKER: And U.S. air travel has hit a new pandemic era record. TSA says it screened more than 2.6 million people at airports nationwide on Friday. That is a 10 percent increase from the same day last year. The last pandemic-era record was set November 27, 2022. That is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. But AAA is already predicting a major surge in air travel next weekend ahead of Memorial Day with an expected 11 percent surge compared to 2019.

BLACKWELL: And CNN has exclusive reporting on what caused some of the massive travel delays across the country last summer. But in this instance, it appears to not be the airline's fault. Instead, the trouble stemmed from a part of the airline industry that most passengers never see. CNN's Pete Muntean has more.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was the summer of air travel meltdowns. Figures from flight tracking site FlightAware showed that last Memorial Day to Labor Day, airlines in the U.S. canceled 55,000 flights and delayed a half-million more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A flight gets canceled, then it's tough to get on another one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is frustrating.


MUNTEAN: The blame was mostly put on the airlines, which was mostly right.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The airlines need to be prepared to service the tickets that they sell.

MUNTEAN: But now CNN has learned from internal documents obtain from a Freedom of Information Act request, that thousands of those flight delays were triggered by repeated short staffing at one federal air traffic control facility in Florida. The Federal Aviation Administration's Jacksonville Center facility is responsible for controlling airspace used by nearly every commercial flight arriving and departing at Florida's busiest airports. CNN found that last summer, it was short staffed during more than 200 shifts. Documents reveal over seven weeks that the FAA believed staffing problems delayed a total 4,622 flights, nearly one in 10 of all delays statewide.

JOHN TILIACOS, TAMPA BAY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: It has just a domino effect throughout the industry.

MUNTEAN: At Tampa International Airport, executive vice president of operations John Tiliacos began monitoring the staffing problems as passengers began getting stranded. In June, he wrote the FAA saying, "What's odd to me is that the only FAA facility that seems to be having staffing issues is Jacksonville Center."

TILIACOS: And obviously asked the question, what are you going to do about it? What is the FAA doing to address the issue so we can get our operational dependability back of track?

MUNTEAN: In one message, one senior FAA official gave a blunt assessment to FAA acting chief Billy Nolen, "I don't believe we have any excuse other than a straight-up shortage of certified controllers in multiple areas."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In many ways the FAA is rudderless.

MUNTEAN: Paul Rinaldi is the former president of the union that represents air traffic controllers. Also revealed in the documents, a whistleblower complaint alleging overworked Jacksonville controllers. The FAA now tells CNN that it has changed leadership at the facility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very demanding profession. They have to be 100 percent 100 percent of the time.

MUNTEAN: The FAA has vowed to hire 1,500 new controllers this year and 1,800 next year, but the agency is also warning issues will not be fixed fast. With another key facility in New York roughly half- staffed, the FAA says delays at the areas three major airports could rise by 45 percent this summer.

BILLY NOLEN, ACTING FAA ADMINISTRATOR: We own our part. The industry will own their part. It will take all of us working together.


MUNTEAN (on camera): The FAA underscores the biggest factors impacting delays are weather and traffic volume. The agency insists it has taken extra steps to put in place extra staff at Jacksonville Center, and it says conditions have improved since last summer. But what remains to be seen is whether or not those fixes will work this summer. Thursday stands to be one of the busiest air travel days of the Memorial Day travel period with 51,000 commercial flights scheduled nationwide. Victor and Amara?

BLACKWELL: All right, Pete Muntean for us. Thank you, Pete.

We'll be right back.



WALKER: After a 579-day absence from the WNBA, Brittney Griner is officially back on the court with the Phoenix Mercury. BLACKWELL: Andy Scholes is with us now. Some excitement, some emotion.

Good to see her back.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly. Great to see we are right now considering where we were six months ago, right guys. Brittney Griner, this was actually her first official WNBA game since October of 2021. So it's been a long time since she was on the court with her teammates. And her, along with her Mercury teammates, they got a little pep talk from Vice President Harris before the game in the locker room. And then the eight-time all-star, as you can imagine, got a pretty nice ovation from the crowd when she was introduced before the game.

And then Griner, she looked like she had not been away from the court at all. Made her first shot right there from the field, went seven for nine shooting, scored 18 points. Her Mercury, though, would end up losing this one to the Sparks 94 to 71.


BRITTNEY GRINER, PHOENIX MERCURY CENTER: It was nice to be back on the court in a real game and everything. The love from the fans when I came out was amazing, the players. I definitely feel it. I definitely felt it. I felt it when I was over there still.


SCHOLES: Celtics, meanwhile, were trying to even their series with the Heat last night. They had a nine-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter after Grant Williams hit this three. He was really pumped up, so much so that he had words with Jimmy Butler as they went up the court, but that was probably a bad idea, because that lit a fire under playoff Jimmy. He would then hit multiple shots with Williams guarding him, leading the heat on a 24 to nine run to close out the game. Butler finished with 27 points. Jayson Tatum, he had 34 points going into the fourth quarter, but then he went over for three with two turnovers in that final period, as Miami just shocked that Boston crowd, winning again 111 to 105. And Jimmy Butler was asked after the game about Williams trying to trash talk him.


JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI HEAT FORWARD: It makes me smile, it does. When people talk to me, I'm like, OK, I know I'm a decent player. If you want to talk to me out of everyone that you can talk to. But I don't know, it's just competition. I do respect him, though. He's a big part of what they try to do. He switches, he can shoot the ball. I just don't know if I'm the best person to talk to.


SCHOLES: Yes, don't fire up Jimmy Butler. Western Conference Finals continue today in L.A. Lakers down 0-2 basically in a must-win against the Nuggets.

How about some hockey? We had the quadruple overtime game one of the Eastern Conference Finals. Stars and Golden Nights also went to overtime, and as you can see, this one did last four overtimes.


Just a minute 35 into that first overtime period, you had Brett Howden scoring a game winner. That was his first overtime goal of his career, first game winner he had all season. It came at a good time. Vegas won that one four to three, game two Sunday again in Las Vegas. Stanley Cup playoffs, they continue later tonight. Hurricanes and Panthers take the ice for game two, face off set for 8:00 eastern on our sister channel TNT.

And finally, moving day over at the PGA Championship. Tough conditions out there again yesterday. Brooks Koepka, though, he had five birdies on the back nine, best day of anyone out there. He shot four under. He's three shots back of the lead. Three guys tied atop the leaderboard. Take a look, Viktor Hovland, Corey Conners, and Scottie Scheffler all there at five under. And guess what, guys, Rochester, New York, 100 percent chance of rain today. So they're going to be once again battling the condition. We'll see who doesn't hit the ball in the trees the most probably who ends up with points off.

WALKER: All right, Andy, thank you very much. I think you should trash talk me before every show. We're going to have great shows.

BLACKWELL: Oh, I can do that.


BLACKWELL: Thanks for watching.

WALKER: Thanks everyone. Much more ahead in the next hour of CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield. That's next.