Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Talks On Debt Ceiling Resume; House Refers Resolution To Expel George Santos; SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches for An International Space Station Private Mission; Two New Milestones For Women In Space. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 21, 2023 - 17:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Atlanta. We are less than 40 minutes to the launch of Axiom 2. It is the second all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. On board is a Former Space Station Commander, Peggy Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other American, along with a pilot and two mission specialists from Saudi Arabia. We'll bring you that launch live in about half an hour.

And just one hour from now, negotiations will resume over the looming debt crisis. These talks will be staff level, but they will set the stage for a high-stakes meeting tomorrow. President Biden will sit down with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The two men spoke by phone earlier today as the President flew home from the G7 Summit in Japan. Here's what McCarthy had to say about that conversation.


KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe it was a productive phone call. And so, at the end of the phone call, what we agreed to do is we're gonna have Congressman Garret Graves and Patrick McHenry get back together with -- he's gonna ask his team get back together. So, we can walk them through, literally, what we've been talking about. I think some of the challenges here, they might not completely understand how we're coming about this.


ACOSTA: And just a reminder, in as little as 11 days from now, the Treasury Department says the U.S. could run out of money to pay its debts. Experts say that would be disastrous for the country and beyond. CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us live from Hiroshima, Japan where the G7 Summit has wrapped up.

Phil, as the clock is ticking down, this is getting more and more critical that something happens here. You've covered a lot of these kinds of crises over the years. How significant is the news of this latest meeting? I suppose it's not as significant as the one to come.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): Yeah, there's no question about that. Look, it's a low bar at this point. Conversations had completely broken down. I think the tone that President Biden took at his press conference before he departed the G7 Summit just underscored how different a place lawmakers in the White House are in than they have been before in these types of negotiations, where they always seem to find a resolution as bad as things seem to be.

You note the critical element here that makes this different and that's the calendar, that's 11 days away. They are so far apart on the policy. They weren't talking until today and they need to resolve this, not just on the policy side of things, but then sell it to their respective caucuses and conferences, get it across the House, get it across the Senate, and get it under the President's desk.

That is a very heavy lift on the best of days with the easiest, most bipartisan of policies. It is darn near impossible, given what they're dealing with right now. And I think that underscores the urgency of this moment. While it is not rare for these negotiations to have blow- ups and breakdowns, stalemates, and then people come back together again, it is rare this close to such a critical deadline.

I think that's important to note. I'm not minimizing government shutdowns or spending battles, but this is very different than that. This is economic calamity. This is significant impact not just on the nation's financial system, on individual borrowers, on the global financial system, on how the world views the United States and its kind of supremacy in financial markets and in the dollar. All of that is tied to this right now and desperately in need of a resolution very soon.

I think this is where you heard from the President that staff-level discussions which had broken down involved trading back and forth of proposals. I think where the White House has been taken aback is, they felt like, sure, maybe Republicans rejected their proposal, which would have frozen spending at the current levels over a period of time, but they at least put something on the table they thought was moving from their initial position.

When they saw the Republican proposal, they didn't think it moved at all. And their critical point here, and one the President tried to underscore, is they're gonna need Democratic votes to get this across the finish line. So, Republicans are going to have to start moving and fast. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: It's time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely, solely on their partisan terms.


They have to move as well. I can't guarantee that they wouldn't force a default by doing something outrageous.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: And that last line there, Jim, is a shift. They have tried to make clear over and over again that there will not be a default. They will figure out a way, that the President is always an optimist, but I think his team, as well, who is trying to make clear that there is a path forward over here. And there is a message that he's trying to deliver to leaders here at the G7. And that was an acknowledgment that things are in a difficult and potentially bad place right now. They are talking. That meeting tomorrow at the White House is critical. But they need to start moving and fast, Jim.

ACOSTA: If they're talking, that is something, but not for much longer. All right, Phil Mattingly in Hiroshima, Japan. Phil, thanks so much. Let's bring in Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. He's a Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee and is a Member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Congressman, you've got some potentially sleepless nights and not very restful days in the days to come here as this thing ticks down. I have to ask you, did you see the President's comments about using the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says the validity of the nation's debt shall not be questioned as a mechanism to avoid a debt default? He seemed to indicate that maybe time has run out on that sort of thing. Should he try to exercise that option, in your view, if the nation is on the verge of a potentially devastating default?

BRENDAN BOYLE (D-PA), U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, thank you. It's good to be with you. And what I've said for months, really, going back to January when Secretary Yellen first sent a letter that made clear we're now in the extraordinary measures period with respect to the debt ceiling, that I wouldn't necessarily rule out the 14th Amendment.

The challenge is while that would be inevitably litigated in court, the markets would probably be experiencing some degree of turmoil. Would it be accepted as valid by those who buy our bonds and are responsible for why we have such low interest rates comparatively around the world because we are such a safe haven? Would we, in a sense, end up losing that? Maybe we wouldn't -- it wouldn't be as bad as full-blown default, but there would still be some damage if at the last second that was the only option that remains to the President.

ACOSTA: And I know you've heard Republicans talking about work requirements for social safety net programs being a part of these negotiations. If the president were to agree to that, would that cross some sort of red line for you and enough Democrats, where we might not see any kind of a debt ceiling agreement?

BOYLE: Yeah, you know, here's the part that I don't understand where Speaker McCarthy is coming from. The reality is any sort of compromised deal, let's face it, the majority of votes to pass this in the House is going to come from the Democratic side. So, we can't have a deal that is so weighted toward Republican priorities on policy and yet, when it comes to the votes, it's the House Democrats who are expected to do the heavy lifting. That, frankly, is just not going to happen, period.

ACOSTA: And over the last couple of years, you've talked about legislation in the past to abolish the debt ceiling or even to transfer the debt ceiling authority over to the Treasury Secretary. I mean, what do you think? I mean, could this kind of crisis perhaps lend some eventual support to that kind of legislation? I mean, why is it? I mean, a lot of Americans probably sitting at home scratching their heads, wondering, why are we going through this whole exercise? It feels like a manufactured crisis.

BOYLE: Yeah, and the American people who think that are absolutely correct. I've been, as you just referenced, on this fight for six years now, attempting to either scrap the debt ceiling altogether or reform it in such a way that it would take it completely out of our typical political food fight on Capitol Hill.

I have had a number of colleagues of mine, frankly, from both sides of the aisle privately come up to me the last couple of weeks to say that they were now interested in my legislation. They recognize that we as a country can't keep doing this every year or every two years. This is the most serious situation that we face in terms of the debt ceiling since 2011. I fear that it has become the new normal. This is just too dangerous to continue playing around with, in this sort of fashion.

ACOSTA: Right, and it seems to happen way too often. I mean, that's, I think, also disconcerting to a lot of people out there. And Congressman, you hold a leadership position in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Apparently, you're in Luxembourg right now, so thanks for staying up late for us in Luxembourg for us.

What are you hearing from NATO allies about this debt ceiling crisis that is looming and its potential damage to economies around the world? I mean, they must, again, be looking at Washington right now and wondering, you know, how is this the leader of the free world?


BOYLE: Well, of course, almost all of my fellow parliamentarians from the 30 other respective NATO countries were very confused because with the exception of Denmark, they don't have a debt ceiling. So, the colleagues of mine here with whom I serve in NATO Parliament, who came up and asked me about this, I had to spend quite some time explaining to them that we have this odd mechanism in the United States where spending decisions are made by Congress and the President, but then years later, there's a separate vote called the debt ceiling which is essentially about whether or not we're going to pay the bill that has come due.

I would also say, I mean, I've been involved in in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for five years now and while first and foremost, the unity over Ukraine is by far the dominant issue here, there has been, over the last several years, a secondary underlying issue, and that is deep concern over the stability of the U.S. political system. This latest debt ceiling fight just adds to those concerns that our allies have.

ACOSTA: There's no question about that. All right. And I hear that from folks in the diplomatic community in Washington, as well. They're just wondering what is going on with this debt ceiling crisis that is looming. All right, Congressman Brennan Boyle, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

BOYLE: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. This just in, a CNN exclusive. Paul Whelan, who the State Department says has been wrongfully detained in Russia since 2018, is speaking out from prison in a new phone call today with CNN. He just spoke with our very own Jennifer Hansler, and she joins us now from Washington. Jennifer, how is Paul doing? What can you tell us about this conversation that you had with him, exclusively to us here at CNN?

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Well, Jim Paul tells me he feels positive and confident that the wheels are turning to secure his release. The last time I spoke with him was back in December, right after Brittney Griner had been freed in a prisoner swap and he felt very disappointed that he had been left behind. It was actually the second time that he had been left behind in a prisoner swap between the Russians and the U.S.

Trevor Reed was also brought home in a prisoner swap last year. And he had urged to the Biden administration to make him a priority. When I spoke to him today, he seemed much more uplifted and confident that he had been made a priority, that the Biden administration was working to get him home, but he wished that that would happen more quickly. And he was still a bit concerned that he could be left behind again, particularly now that Russia has arrested another American Wall Street Journal Reporter, Evan Gershkovich. I want you to take a listen to what he told me about this.


PAUL WHELAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE: I feel that my life shouldn't be considered less valuable or important than others who have been previously traded. And I think there are people in D.C. that feel the same way, and they're moving towards a compromise and resolution to this as quickly as they can. There will be an end to this, and I hope it's coming sooner than later. But it is depressing on a daily basis, you know, going through this.


HANSLER: And as you heard right there, Jim, he's also just having a hard time spending his day-to-day in this Russian prison colony out in a remote part of Russia called Mordovia, after having been detained there for more than four years in Russia.

ACOSTA: And Jennifer, I understand he was aware of some outside reports about his case. What has he been able to see from his Russian prison? Does he have any hope that because of the coverage that the dam is starting to break, what are some of his thoughts on that?

HANSLER: Well, Jim, it was very interesting because he said he was actually able to watch from his prison with fellow prisoners his sister's speech before a U.N. Security Council meeting that was chaired by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New York last month. In that speech, Elizabeth Whelan called on the Russians to release her brother immediately.

He was also able to watch parts of President Biden's speech to the White House correspondents' dinner, in which the U.S. President called for the release of Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world, including Paul. Whelan told me he thinks this might be because the Russians are using this as propaganda to show that the Americans are, quote, begging for one of their own. But for Paul, this really helped lift his spirits to see that there are public messages here in the U.S. that make him seem like a priority and make him show that he is really, they're working to get him home. Take a listen.


WHELAN: The public displays and events such as, you know, the press corps dinner and the U.N. visit, demonstrate to not just me privately but to the world that our leaders are impacted by this and they do want me back and they are working to try to get me home. I mean, if you consider all of the people and all of the agencies in my four countries that are working on this, it's incredible and I think they're gonna get it done.


HANSLER: And I should also note, Jim, that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the U.S. has actually given a proposal to the Russians to secure Paul Whelan's freedom, and the Russians have not yet engaged on that proposal. Jim?


ACOSTA: All right, Jennifer Hansler, great work there. Thank you so much, we appreciate it. Let's talk about this a little bit more now with CNN Contributor Jill Dougherty. She's also CNN's Former Moscow Bureau Chief. Jill, again, great work by our Jennifer Hansler there over at the State Department. Let's talk about this.

Paul Whelan says he is optimistic in part because of these public displays of support for him. I saw the President talking about this at the White House correspondents' dinner not too long ago, I mean, do you agree that his case remaining visible is essentially part of the reason why we're seeing this pressure being brought about for his release as Paul seems to see it himself? What are your thoughts?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, that's a little hard to judge. The Russians don't like it when this is discussed in public. So, having the President come out at the dinner and then also that U.N. appearance by his sister, I think it's significant that they actually showed it in prison, even if they're trying to say, well, the Americans are begging, but that is a very interesting moment.

And I think, you know, Paul is in prison, so his information is very limited. But I think a lot of people's information right now is limited, because the real work has to be done behind the scenes. And that serious proposal that Antony Blinken is talking about, we don't know exactly what that could be. It obviously could be a trade. But one of the problems here is that number one, you know, Paul Whelan

has been accused and actually found guilty in the Russian system, which he denies, for espionage. That is a very serious charge, the most serious you can get. And so who are they trading him for? I mean, there aren't a lot of people being held in the United States.

There are other people that the Russian want that are in other countries so, that would make it even more, you know, difficult to do a deal where you would try to convince other countries to let the person go -- the Russian go and go back to Russia. So, it's very complicated.

ACOSTA: It's been very complicated. And when the Russians detained American Journalist, Evan Gershkovich, back in March, Jill, tell me, did the Kremlin send a message that it's in no hurry to release Americans? What did they say?

DOUGHERTY: You know, they didn't, but the diplomats that I was talking to said, they, from what they could see, the Russians were gonna try to drag it out as long as they can and it appears to me that way. I mean, just recently he was not allowed any access by members or representatives from the U.S. Embassy. And the case is moving, but it's moving very, very slowly. And that's to the Russians' advantage. You know, they're in no hurry to free Evan Gershkovich. They want to get as much out of this as they can.

And it also makes the situation, let's face it, politically for Biden, difficult. And that's another thing that President Putin obviously would probably like. So, the -- it is being dragged out. There is no question, and there's really no guarantee in any case with Gershkovich or with Paul Whelan of how this ultimately will end because as you know, the war in Ukraine and the situation between the United States and Russia every day is changing and in most cases getting worse.

ACOSTA: All right, Jill Doherty, thank you very much as always for those insights, we appreciate it. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina will formally jump into the race for the White House tomorrow. He is already getting a high profile endorsement, that's next. Plus, T minus 20, twenty minutes until four private astronauts blast off for the International Space Station. We'll bring you the launch of Axiom 2 live when it happens, that's coming up. There you see the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. We'll have that coming up in just a few moments here in the CNN NEWSROOM.




ACOSTA: The Senate's second-ranking Republican minority whip, John Thune, is set to appear tomorrow with fellow Senator Tim Scott, as Scott formally announces a 2024 presidential bid. Thune may not be the only GOP Senator who gets behind Scott, as some Republicans look for an alternative to Donald Trump. Let's discuss all that and more with David Frum, the Staff Writer for "The Atlantic", and Molly Jong-Fast, "Vanity Fair" Special Correspondent and Host of the "Fast Politics" Podcast.

David, Tim Scott, not as well-known, obviously, as Donald Trump, or perhaps Ron DeSantis. But does Tim Scott stand a chance? What do you think?

DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC STAFF WRITER: If you want this top position, you have to fight for it. And so the question about Tim Scott will be whether he's willing to do what Governor DeSantis was not willing to do and make not only an affirmative case for himself, but a negative case against Donald Trump. Say, why one person should be the nominee and why the other person should not be the nominee.

ACOSTA: And Molly, I mean, we're also hearing that Ron DeSantis is going to make it official in just a couple of days or sometime this week that he's gonna be in the race against Trump and the other Republicans. But doesn't that as this race gets more crowded, as this field gets more crowded, doesn't that help Trump?

MOLLY JONG-FAST, VANITY FAIR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, the not-Donald Trump-lane is now huge. And I think that only helps Donald Trump. I also think DeSantis, you know, he did this book tour to sort of soft launch his candidacy. It's been like kind of a disaster. So, he has decided that he's going to jump in the race.

ACOSTA: And, David, you know, I wanna talk about this debt ceiling thing, because, you know, the President was talking about this earlier today in Hiroshima. You know, he was asked questions about the 14th Amendment. I don't know how much time either of you have spent looking at this, thinking about this. All of a sudden, we're all talking about the 14th Amendment and whether or not the President could actually do this.


David, your thoughts on this, it states that the validity of the public debt shall not be questioned, arcane language. Isn't it right about that perhaps the time? But, you know, is the President right about that perhaps the timing on this is not really an option anymore because it would take so long to get sorted out in the courts? What do you think about all this?

FRUM: Well, I'm just baffled that for two years, there's a Democratic majority in House and Senate, plus the presidency. And none of these ideas seem to have occurred to anybody then. It was predictable that this crisis was going to arrive. Many people have been warning about it. Senator Michael Bennett from Colorado proposed legislation to end the debt ceiling as long ago as 2017.

And one of the enduring mysteries to me is why the Biden administration is acting so boldly now and did not act more before. And I know that Senator's Manchin and Sinema might not have liked it. But when you're talking about the end of the financial range, that none of this happened when there was a majority that had a chance to do it.

ACOSTA: And Molly, your sense of it as to how the White House should be handling this at this point, because it seems like we're going from a manufactured crisis at this point to an actual crisis, which is not good.

JONG-FAST: Well, I think it's important to point out that this is money already spent, right? And so, Republicans have decided that they negotiate a debt ceiling when it's a Democratic President, but not when it's a Republican President. What they want, their ever-changing list of demands is, you know, at best, schizophrenic, right? They want work requirements for SNAP, but they also want to make the tax cuts permanent. So, I don't think it's fair to say the Republicans want to lower the deficit as much as they just want to make trouble.

I'm also not completely convinced that McCarthy will have the votes for any deal he makes with Democrats, because remember some of these members of Congress are extreme MAGA and really are just want to sort of destroy the federal government and not work in it. So, I think ultimately, they would not mind a kind of, you know, meltdown.

I do think there are other options. Look, the 14th Amendment is scary because it would then very likely kick up to the Supreme Court. And it's hard for me to imagine that the Supreme Court is so interested in making sure things go okay for the Biden administration. I mean, there also is this option of minting the coin, but yeah, I mean, I think it's scary because I don't -- I don't know how McCarthy would ever be able to have the votes--


JONG-FAST: -- for an agreement like that.

ACOSTA: It's never good when we're having to MacGyver our way out of this. But, you know, David, one vote that might become critical in the next week and a half or so is that of Republican Congressman George Santos, who's had a rough couple of weeks, so to speak. Federal criminal indictment, there's a Democratic effort to expel him from Congress, "The New York Times" editorial board just ran an op-ed saying, why is George Santos still in office? And I have to play this response that he gave to CNN's Manu Raju when he asked George Santos about being able to adequately serve his constituents, and here's what he had to say.


GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY), U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I have not done my job since I've gotten here. I can chew and walk gum at the same time. I can chew gum and walk at the same time, and I'll continue to do that.


ACOSTA: There's been a lot of chewing gum and walking at the same time in Washington these days. David, can you chew on that one for us?

FRUM: Well, it is strange to me that George Santos has become the most universally vilified member of the House of Representatives. I mean, he's just an ordinary con man of a kind that there are probably thousands, if not tens of thousands of in the United States. And pretty clearly, his vote is obtainable. You give him a benefit, he'll do something for you.

Meanwhile, he is not the person who is driving this country toward the financial crisis that it is heading toward. And these ideas you're having about mint the coin and going to the Supreme Court on the 14th Amendment. Remember, we don't have a lot of time here. The federal government may begin to run out of money about June the 1st. And if you look at the way it spends money in that first week of June, a day when the reimbursements to Medicare providers come due. There's another day when Social Security checks come due. There's a day when checks to veterans come due. And all of these things happen in those first few days of June.

ACOSTA: Molly, I mean, does it say something, though, about how precarious things are in Washington right now? Let's just put it that way to be diplomatic, that George Santos' vote is important in all of this.

JONG-FAST: Yeah, and there are really four or five senators who, I mean, there are all these very swingy Senators who won in Biden districts, who could theoretically be gotten. I mean, there is a sort of work-around or discharge petition. I mean, there's -- I mean, I just think there's a very tight margin and you see McCarthy has kept Santos in Congress because he needs the vote, right?


JONG-FAST: And he thinks that that losing this vote will hurt him more than keeping Santos.


And I think it's pretty clear that Santos is hurting McCarthy and the Republican Party quite a lot.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Literally every vote counts here in the next 10 or 11 days. David and Molly, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Good to talk to both of you.

We are just minutes away from the rocket launch of four passengers, including three paying customers to a weeklong stay aboard the International Space Station. We're live at Kennedy Space Center next. You're live in the "CNN NEWSROOM."


ACOSTA: We are just minutes away from a highly anticipated rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


Let's go right to CNN's Carlos Suarez who is at the Kennedy Space Center for us and retired NASA astronaut and former International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly. Gentlemen, great to see you. This is exciting stuff here. Carlos, are they ready for takeoff?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jim. Right now, we're being told that we are a go for lift off out here at Kennedy Space Center. But the folks out here, they're keeping a close eye on some clouds that are about five miles out of the Kennedy Space Center. They need those clouds to stay at least 3 miles from where this liftoff is taking place in order for things to continue to progress as scheduled.

The four-member crew is scheduled to spend at least about eight days rather aboard the International Space Station. This is only the second ever private mission to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Axiom 2, is four crew members. We're talking about Peggy Whitson. She is the commander. She's a former NASA astronaut and an International Space Station Commander. She has got plenty of experience having spent 665 days in space.

The mission pilot is John Shoffner, and then there are two Saudis that are aboard the SpaceX Axiom 2. Ali AlQarni, he is the mission specialist. He's an aerospace engineer. And then Rayyanah Barnawi, she is also a mission specialist. She is poised to make history in just a few minutes if this lifts off continues, having become the first Saudi woman in space. She is a biomedical engineer.

And John, they're going to be doing a bunch of experiments if this liftoff holds and they make it to the International Space Station. We're talking about well over a dozen experiments including one that takes a look at the effect of microgravity on the production of stem cells. Again, Jim, right now, it seems that we are a go for this liftoff with about 40 seconds left before the SpaceX rocket launches.

ACOSTA: And Commander Kelly, I mean, this -- we're about 30 seconds or so from lift off. Your thoughts on what we're about to see here?

SCOTT KELLY, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, it's pretty exciting. It's the second commercial mission, private mission to the International Space Station. I'm also excited because my classmate, Peggy Whitson, my astronaut classmate from Sardine 1996 class, is the commander of this flight and she's ready to go as always.


KELLY: And I think the crew is probably excited, but very aware of the seriousness.

ACOSTA: All right. Well, we're about to 10 seconds from lift off. Let's listen in.


UNKNOWN: Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Engine is full power and lift off, Falcon 9. Go Axiom.

UNKNOWN: It's one alpha.

UNKNOWN: Copy. One alpha.

UNKNOWN: Together we expand what is possible in low-earth orbit. Add astro [ph] and Godspeed AX-2.

UNKNOWN: T plus 36 seconds into flight. A great view of Falcon 9 heading to space.


UNKNOWN: Power telemetry normal. We're into the throttle bucket, is the first stage as throttle down power on the (inaudible) engines in preparation for max Q.

UNKNOWN: Falcon 9 is supersonic.

UNKNOWN: Faster than the speed of sound as we're getting great views from the first stage camera looking back at Kennedy Space Center Complex 39A.

UNKNOWN: Stage 1 throttle up. Max Q.

UKNOWN: We're out of the throttle bucket.

UNKNOWN: Stage 1 bravo.

UNKNOWN: Copy one bravo.

UNKNOWN: We're at full power and that call at one brave, that's another one of those abort modes as we get higher and faster. The logic for drag should a contingency occur changes from stage to stage.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible)

UNKNOWN: Chill (ph) announcement says we're getting a turbo pump on the second stage engine, cooled down in preparation for its light-up coming up in just a minute from now.

Again, great views looking back. And you can see the contrail as we left 39A and the shadow of the contrail against the cloud deck around Florida. We're coming up three big sequence and a view, live of the crew inside Dragon. They're getting ready. We're going to get three events here.


Main engine cutoff, stage propulsion. And then we're going to light the second stage engine. We've heard the throttle now in preparation for stage separation.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible).

UNKNOWN: Two alpha.

UNKNOWN: Stage separation confirmed.

UNKNOWN: Copy, two alpha.


UNKNOWN: And back ignition.

UNKNOWN: Stage one prospect (ph) start-up. UNKNOWN: All right. Stage separation, we've lit the second stage

engine. The first stage is into the boost back burn, working its way back towards Cape Canaveral. Views on the left side. That's the first stage. Engines running as we come back to the launch site or the landing site. Second stage engine nozzle is visible on the right side as we're powering the Axiom 2 crew into lower earth orbit on the way to the International Space Station. Waiting for callout that the boost back burn is complete.

UNKNOWN: Stage one boost back shutdown.

UNKNOWN: Right on time. First stage completed, the first of three burns headed back to the landing site. Second stage continuing on power and on trajectory.

UNKNOWN: Acquisition is (inaudible) Bermuda.

UNKNOWN: As we head northeast, the Bermuda ground station.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) trajectory nominal.

UNKNOWN: Bermuda is listening in to the vehicle now.

UNKNOWN: Copy, nominal trajectory.

UNKNOWN: And the crew hears the callout of a nominal trajectory. So, four minutes into flight, everything continuing to go well. First stage heading back. And there's the crew on the second stage getting a ride into orbit to the Space Station. Coming up, we're waiting for the next trajectory callout from the guidance officer.

UNKNOWN: Dragon SpaceX, trajectory nominal.

UNKNOWN: Love to hear those words. A nominal trajectory for Dragon.

UNKNOWN: Copy, nominal trajectory.

UNKNOWN: And maybe even a little bit of excitement in the crew's voice. Commander Peggy Whitson calling back down, hearing that callout from (inaudible) of a nominal trajectory. Left side of the screen, you can see the first stage. It's now beginning to orient itself so that the engines are pointed down towards the land as we will be descending towards landing zone one in Cape Canaveral. The four titanium grid fence have all deployed. They'll help guide --

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible).

UNKNOWN: -- they'll guide the first stage through once we get into the atmosphere following the entry burn, which will be coming up here in another couple of minutes. On the right-hand side, the second stage with the Dragon capsule on top heading up the eastern seaboard of the U.S. We've just heard the callout of Boston, that's the New Hampshire tracking station has picked up the signal.

UNKNOWN: Dragon SpaceX, trajectory nominal.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) continuing to make those callouts that is we want to hear. Everything continuing to look good.

UNKNOWN: Trajectory nominal.

UNKNOWN: And the crew echoing him right back down. Good coms with the crew. We've been able to bring some live video shots from inside the capsule as they're headed to space. And there's another view of the crew.

UNKNOWN: Stage one entry burn start-up.

UNKNOWN: And there we heard that the start-up burn for that stage one booster, you can see it there on the left-hand side of your screen, has now begun.

UNKNOWN: Stage one entry burn shutdown.

UNKNOWN: And conclusion of that entry burn, that burn helps to slow the vehicle down as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. The first stage sees high drag which scrubs roughly 70 percent of the velocity by the time they're --

UNKNOWN: Dragon SpaceX, trajectory nominal.

UNKOWN: Love to hear that callout. Everything --

UNKNOWN: Nominal trajectory.

UNKNOWN: Beautiful view of planet Earth coming to us from the second stage views on the right-hand side. Left-hand side, our first view of the space coast once again. This booster is attempting a landing at LZ-1.

UNKNOWN: Stage one transonic.


UNKNOWN: The booster is now traveling near the speed of sound. Live view coming to you from one of our tracking cameras. We can see the grid fins actuating to help steer the booster down.

UNKNOWN: Stage one landing burn.

UNKNOWN: Stage two FDS is saved (ph).

UNKNOWN: Standing by to --

UNKNOWN: Stage one landing leg (ph) deploy.


UNKNOWN: There you can --

UNKNOWN: Stage one landing confirmed.

UKNOWN: You can see that first stage has landed back at LZ-1. This is the first time that we have performed a land landing on a crew mission. Coming up -- coming up next will be second engine cutoff or SECO. And that's where after that engine cuts off, second stage will coast for a few minutes until Dragon is commanded to separate.

UNKNOWN: Stage two is in terminal guidance.

UNKNOWN: We're expecting SECO to occur in about 20 seconds.

UNKNOWN: Shannon (ph).

UNKNOWN: Copy Shannon (ph).

UNKNOWN: Commander Peggy Whitson continuing to call out the abort modes.


UNKNOWN: All right. On time shut down of that second engine. Also confirming that the launch escape system is now disarmed.

UNKNOWN: Dragon SpaceX, nominal orbit insertion.

UNKNOWN: All right. And there's that callout. We can confirm good orbital insertion.

UNKNOWN: Copy, nominal insertion.

UNKNOWN: Dragon SpaceX --


ACOSTA: All right, welcome back. You've been watching this very successful lift-off there at the Kennedy Space Center, and I want to go to you, Captain Kelly, to talk about this because, I mean, I have to apologize. I think we kind of undersold what we were about to watch and that's all my fault. That's nobody else's fault.

But I mean, just what we witnessed there over the last 10 minutes or so was just extraordinary and that, captain Kelly, we saw a land landing of that booster stage one rocket. That was extraordinary. And then what we're seeing, I guess, happening right now is marvelous to watch as well and that this is -- this is really a space travel -- in many ways a space travel mission that we're watching on the right side of the screen right now. Your thoughts if you can help us unpack this because I'm sure -- I've already screwed up the terminology in all of this, but you can tell I'm geeking out here. This is fun to watch.

KELLY: You know, Jim, when the Space Shuttle used to fly and I had the privilege of flying twice on, it was always a lot of drama to get it -- to get it safely into space because it was such a complicated aerospace vehicle. There was so much that could go wrong. But with SpaceX, you know, they make it look easy. I mean, this was just like a -- seemed like kind of a no-brainer of launching four people into space.

And to see one of my former classmates there and three people I've never met before, but three rookies, any time you're flying new people in space, it's great and to see them get their safely, I'm very happy there (ph).

ACOSTA: And the space travel component of this, Scott, I just want to ask you about that because the Saudis apparently paid for two of those passengers there, and then we have one of the paying customers is John Shoffner. I'm hope I'm saying his name correctly, an American who made his fortunate in the international telecom business, founded the hardware company Dura-Line. I mean, is there -- we're at that stage now where rich folks can buy tickets on these things and go into space and go to the Space Station. Is that right?

KELLY: Yeah, it seems to be. It's pretty incredible time we're living in. It's obviously, still very expensive and out of the realm of possibility for most people around the world. But I think the more we do this, the more the cost will come down and the safety will go up. So, this is just one small step, I think, to more frequent, common and affordable access to space for everyone and it would be great for everyone to have the experience of seeing the Earth from space because I do think it changes you for the better.

ACOSTA: And I know you talked about that before. And, Carlos, they must be -- I know as Scott was saying, they make it look easy now. But that doesn't mean they weren't holding their breath down there on the ground where you are. Could you see any of that stage one coming back in? I mean, I don't know if you could hear it or see it or forgive me if you're nowhere near it and I'm getting this completely wrong, but your thoughts on the ground there.


SUAREZ: Yeah. So, no, we were able to see both the liftoff and we were able to hear as the stage one rocket landed here at Kennedy Space Center. Everyone was trying to see exactly where it was going to come in because there is some cloud coverage out here. And all of a sudden you just heard that sonic boom and everyone just jumped back. The car alarms out here all began sounding. So, we couldn't quite make out exactly where that stage one rocket booster landed, but there was no mistaking it had touched down because of the sonic boom.

But as you guys have been talking, having seeing this four-member crew earlier this afternoon when they first arrived here at the Kennedy Space Center. They arrived by helicopter. And they spent about 10 to 15 minutes with their families and we could overhear some of their conversations. And these four crew members were all incredibly excited at getting to work.

At one point, the mission pilot, John Shoffner, you could hear him telling his family, let's go. We're excited. Let's do this. From there, they got into several cars and then made the drive out, about three miles out to where the SpaceX rocket was located. And as you can see by these live pictures right now, they are -- it appears to be in space right now considering that it seems that they are in their space capsule.

They're dealing with no gravity. You can see it. It seems like one of them is playing around with a stuffed animal, a teddy bear that they're kind of passing along between one another. Jim? ACOSTA: Thank you, Carlos. And Captain Kelly, just a few moments ago

we saw separation of the capsule there and it's going to take a little while longer before it reaches the Space Station, is that right?

KELLY: Yeah. I'm not exactly sure what their rendezvous profile looks like, but you know, it can be anywhere from, you know, several hours to a couple of days. But I think in this case it's going to be a quick rendezvous. So, you know, hopefully within a few hours they'll be docking and doing some lead checks and getting into the Space Station.

ACOSTA: And Captain Kelly, can I just go back to something you were saying just a few moments ago because I know we've talked about this before but I think it bears repeating. Why is it so important that you think folks should be traveling to space as much as possible, the kind of mission that we saw today? Why is that perspective important in your view? And please don't be bashful and be brief about it.

KELLY: Well, I think, you know -- I think it gives you a perspective on the environment and Earth and not being as big as we think. It also gives you a different perspective on humanity when you look at the Earth with no political borders. It, you know, gives you the sense that we're all part of the same team together, you know, Team Earth. I think it encourages people to take care of the planet and cooperate more.

But there is a lot of other reasons why we go into space. I mean, the science that we do, the exploration, the inspiration, you know, all those things that are important today, but eventually, you know, we're going to be able to use this technology to do things like, you know, traveling from Los Angeles to Australia and just a matter of, you know, 30, 45 minutes versus what it currently takes.

So, I think it will improve transportation capabilities around the world at some point. But we also get -- we get so many things from our space program and it's great to see us continuing to press the boundaries of what is humanly possible and now doing it how Axiom is doing with its SpaceX with these private groups.

ACOSTA: And what do you make of retired astronaut Peggy Whitson who is making history as NASA's first female chief astronaut and the first woman to command a private space flight. I mean, that is remarkable.

KELLY: Yeah. Peggy is a remarkable person. She's -- was the first female commander of the International Space Station, the first female chief of the Astronaut Office, now the first commander of a private -- female private -- commander of a private space mission. So, yeah, Peggy does amazing stuff. She's very capable and I don't think this will be the last we've heard of her.

ACOSTA: And Carlos, you're there on ground at the Kennedy Space Center as we were saying earlier. I know, if you're still with us. Carlos are you still with us? Yeah. Carlos, yeah, talk to us a little bit if you can, just as we wrap this up, what the -- I guess what the reaction was on the ground there? I mean, it's still -- it's just -- it's one of those things where you see little kids looking up at the sky when one of these things lifts off and it's just cool. SUAREZ: Yeah, and I think, Jim, that's a feeling that everyone out

here has expressed throughout this afternoon. Having been born and raised in south Florida, this is my first launch -- space launch.


And I wasn't sure what I was going to, you know, feel going into this. But it is quite impressionable to see exactly all of this happen just about three miles from where you're standing and then to hear that sonic boom is just something that I've never experienced. But as you could imagine, Jim, for this community out here, this is something that they've wanted to see and continue to want to see.

In fact, we're expecting another one of these launches within the next year. And of course, having heard from the chief technical officer of Axiom, he talked about just the expansion of the space travel beyond the U.S. He talked about Saudi Arabia having sent these two astronauts into space and he said that this no doubt moves that forward in allowing other countries to take part in space exploration. Jim?

ACOSTA: Thanks Carlos. And Captain Kelly, one final thought to you. Private space travel, we're just getting good at this now, is that it? We're getting better? Maybe we're not getting good, but better.

KELLY: It seems like that.


KELLY: Yeah. I don't think we could ever think we're good at anything because as soon as we do, we're not going to be good at it anymore. We always try to improve.

ACOSTA: Well, this was remarkable TV to watch, guys. Thanks for helping us get through it together. We appreciate it so much. Carlos down there in Florida and Captain Scott Kelly, appreciate your time, gentlemen. Thanks so much.

KELLY: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Good to talk to you. And right now, the U.S. is inching dangerously close to a fiscal cliff with no deal on the debt ceiling and why some Democrats are calling on the president to invoke the 14th amendment. For folks who are scratching their heads at home wondering what that is, we'll break it down in just a few moments to avoid an economic catastrophe. We'll talk about that. Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.