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CNN This Morning

Brink of Civil War in Israel; Takeover of Houston's Public Schools; Senators Talk Mental Health Struggles; NASA Unveils new Space Suits. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 16, 2023 - 06:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, nationwide protests continue across Israel over the government's plans to drastically reform the judiciary there, strip away power from the supreme court. Opponents say that would undermine completely any checks and balances in Israel. Protesters even painted a red line on the road leading to Israel's supreme court. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just rejected a compromise proposal from Israel's president, Isaac Herzog, who is warning that this country is on the brink of civil war. You cannot overstate the significance of this in the region and for the world.

Our Hadas Gold is live in Jerusalem.

Hadas, you're in the middle of the protest. What can you tell us?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, we are actually at a student protest at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. One of dozens of protests today, what's been deemed a day of disruption.

It's been almost three months long now of hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets on a regular basis to protest against this judicial overhaul. I have to say, it's probably one of the longest and largest such demonstrations in Israeli history. The protesters here today, they are young people. They say that they are worried about what this judicial overhaul would mean for their future, for the protection of minorities, for the independence of the judiciary, because this overhaul would allow the parliament to overturn supreme court decisions and would drastically change how judges are chosen.

But supporters of the reform say that it's needed to help rebalance the branches of government. And, as you noted, the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, laying out a compromise proposal, warning that the country is potentially on the brink of civil war because of the divisiveness over this issue.

Take a listen.

PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAEL (through translator): I'm going to use a phrase I haven't used before. An expression that there is no Israeli who is not horrified when he hears it. Whoever thinks that the real civil war of human lives is a limit that we will not reach has no idea. Precisely now, in the 75th year of the state of Israel, that this is within touching distance.


GOLD: Now, Netanyahu, as we noted, had flatly rejected this compromise proposal, saying it doesn't do enough to fix the problems. The question now is what will he and his government do next? Will they push forward with the rapid speed at which they want to push through this massive, judicial overhaul, or will there be, at some point, some sort of softening, some sort of compromise that will help tamp down this fervent emotions.


HARLOW: There's a bus behind you. Thank - I just want you to be able to move to the side. I'm worried about you. Thank you, Hadas, very much for that, reporting literally in the middle of all of it. It is stunning to see -- hear the Israeli president say that. Thank you very, very much.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican-led state of Texas has announced one of the largest school takeovers in U.S. history. The state government is taking over public schools in city of Houston where Democrats are in power. State officials say the school district is failing, but Democrats say the move is political.


Adrienne Broaddus is in Houston with more now.


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is the largest school district in Texas. And now it's facing one of the largest school takeovers in the country's history.

BISHOP JAMES DIXON II, PRESIDENT, NAACP HOUSTON: This is a crime. I want to go on record to say, this is a crime.


DIXON: It's a crime against public education and it's a crime against the Houston community.

BROADDUS: On Wednesday, the state commissioner of education said the state will take over the Houston Independent School District, quote, in the next couple of months. Some are doubtful about what is coming.

JOLANDA JONES (D), TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: If I were parents, I'd be terrified. (INAUDIBLE) not have a history of fixing any schools.

BROADDUS: The state, intervening under a state law that allows it to remove the locally elected school board, claiming the district is failing to meet certain state standards.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): There has been a long time failure by HISD. And the victims of that failure are the students.

BROADDUS: The state will now take responsibility for the district's 180,000 students and 25,000 employees.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON: You cannot run school districts and cities and counties from Austin, Texas.

The state deserves an F on how they have handled this process up to this point.

BROADDUS: It will also replace the district's superintendent, who sounded optimistic about the future days ago.

MILLARD HOUSE II, SUPERINTENDENT, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: I stand here as the superintendent of HISD to say, we are not just overcoming those challenges, but, together, we are building a school district that is delivering on its promises again.

BROADDUS: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the takeover is troubling but not unexpected. It comes after a lengthy court battle between the district and the education commissioner, which ended in January with a judge ruling in the commissioner's favor. The state teacher's union came out strongly against Wednesday's action saying its members hope for the best.

ZEPH CAPO, PRESIDENT, TEXAS AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: For their sake, I have no choice at this point but to wish them well and hope that they succeed. But make no mistake, we will watch every move.

BROADDUS: As local leaders promise to continue the fight against a takeover they believe is unnecessary.

REP. AL GREEN (D-TX): I have not conceded.



GREEN: I do not believe that this is the end.

And I still believe that the people in Houston, Texas, with their children, can prevail and maintain control of their schools. I still believe it.


BROADDUS: And according to the district's website, more than 90 percent of the student population identifies as non-white. The question now is, will this state takeover help the district improve academically?

Don, Poppy and Kaitlan.

LEMON: Adrienne Broaddus in Houston.

Thank you, Adrienne.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, thank you for that.

Also this morning, Senator Tina Smith here on Capitol Hill is opening up about her journey with depression. What she wants to share with others who might also be struggling.



COLLINS: We want to talk about something this morning that has been affecting so many Americans ever since the Covid-19 pandemic put it at the forefront especially. Millions of Americans from all walks of life suffer from depression and mental illness. That includes also members of Congress right here on Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers are being more open about their struggles in recent weeks and months, like Senators John Fetterman and Tina Smith. It's raising a hope here on Capitol Hill that the stigma around mental health is actually shifting.

CNN's congressional correspondent Lauren Fox sat down with Senator Smith to talk about her experience.

Here's that interview.


SEN. TINA SMITH (D-MN): These millions of Americans deserve our help.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Senator Tina Smith never expected to be on the Senate floor talking about her own experiences with depression.

SMITH: When it started for me, I thought I was just having a bad day, or really a series of bad days.

FOX: But in 2019, the then freshman senator was working on a bill aimed at expanding access to mental health. The more she worked, the more she thought about revealing what she wasn't saying.

SMITH: But I had my own experience with depression when I was in college, and then when I was older. You know, a young mom. And it started to feel just less than honest to not just put it out there.

I realized that there was power in me telling the story, me particularly, me being a United States senator. Somebody who supposedly has everything all together all the time.

FOX: For Smith, the depression both times caught her by surprise, saying it felt like the color was draining out of her world. She lost interest in activities she loved and withdrew from friends and family.

SMITH: The thing that's so treacherous about depression in particular is that you think that the thing that is wrong with you is you.

FOX: Smith got help. In her 30s, her therapist gave her a diagnosis.

SMITH: You're clinically depressed. That's my diagnosis. I think that you'd benefit from medication to help you. And I was like, I don't want to do that because then that's not going to be me inside my brain.

FOX (on camera): Did it take time for you to accept the idea of medication?

SMITH: Oh, yes. Yes, it did. It did take time. And, again, you know, medication works for some people, not for others. Everybody is in a different position. But the -- it did very much help me to adjust my brain chemistry so that I could rediscover the things that made me happy.

FOX (voice over): Mental illness affects one in five Americans every year. But for politicians, disclosing a battle with mental illness has long carried political risks.



FOX: It's why Senator John Fetterman's announcement in February he was seeking treatment for clinical depression has started to change the conversation.


SMITH: Every time a -- somebody like John or me is open about their own experiences with mental illness or, you know, mental health challenges, it just breaks down that wall a little bit more about people saying, oh, it's possible to be open and honest and not have the whole world come crashing down on you.

FOX: It hasn't always been that way. In 1972, Thomas Eagleton dropped off George McGovern's presidential ticket after it was revealed he'd undergone treatment for depression and received electroshock therapy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This decision is one of the most heartrending.

GOX: Former Representative Patrick Kennedy, now a leading advocate on mental health, struggled with addition and bipolar disorder in Congress. For years he said he worked to cover it up.

PATRICK KENNEDY (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN/MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE: When I was in Congress, I did everything I could to keep everybody from finding out that I needed help.

FOX: Lawmakers are hopeful that the stigma around mental illness may finally be shifting.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): There are consequences to the things you say and talk about. But I think, in a circumstance like this, that it's, you know, it helps the conversation. I think it helps people realize and understand the impact that this - that this disease has on people all across the country.


FOX: And it's been decades since Senator Smith dealt with her depression, Kaitlan, but she felt like she should talk about it. And since she's done it, she said constituents come up to her all the time and want to have a conversation with her. She said one woman came up to her at the airport and said, it helped me so much to hear it coming from you. So, that tells you why she wanted to share her story.

COLLINS: And so amazing to see that video from 1972 and just to see how differently we do talk about it and why it is so important to have these conversations.

Lauren, that was a great interview. Thank you for doing that.

FOX: Thank you.

COLLINS: Thank you.

Don, obviously, such an interesting conversation here and interesting interview as, you know, something that is important for lawmakers to talk about. We've talked about it with Senator Fetterman multiple times.

LEMON: Yes. You took the words out of my mouth, it is an important, not only conversation, but it's important that we take action in doing something about depression because so many people suffer from it and should take the stigma off of that, right?

HARLOW: Totally. Totally.

LEMON: Very good. Thanks, Kaitlan.

HARLOW: We are - yes, thank you, Kaitlan and Lauren. Great piece.

We are also following this breaking news this morning. The U.S. military just released this stunning video. It's the moment a Russian fighter jet ultimately took down a U.S. drone over the Black Sea.

LEMON: OK, I just - it says in the teleprompter, the huge puffy white moon suits -

HARLOW: It's true.

LEMON: Are out. Look at that. Is he dancing?


LEMON: That is doing (ph). NASA revealing brand new gear astronauts will wear to the moon. We're going to - it's very fashionable, right? We're going to speak to an astrophysicist about -- everyone is cracking up here -- about their revamp. Let's just take in this video for a second. All right now. Were - you better work.




NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT: It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.


HARLOW: A giant leap for mankind.

LEMON: That's probably one of the most famous quotes, I would thing in - ever is that (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: I think you are correct. But one that was kind of tough to make because of that bulky space suit, right? Just look at how space suits have evolved since the '60s, from tight and shiny silver, to the space suits used on the moon, to the ones used today on space walks.

But now, as astronauts prepare to go back to the moon, space wear is getting an update. Seriously. The goal, no more rigid hopping on the lunar surface, the way Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did 50 years ago. Check out the range of motion of this new space suit. It was just unveiled. The there it is. Deep squats, no problem. Good range of motion, you bet. And does it fit women? Well, yes! That's a big deal because NASA actually had to cancel a planned all female space walk in 2019 because there weren't enough space suits to fit women.

LEMON: Crazy.

HARLOW: That is insane.

Let's talk about it with astrophysicist and professor of psychics and astronomy at Barnard College, Janna Levin.

Jana, thank you very much.


LEMON: Good to see you.

HARLOW: We were talking about, they cost hundreds of millions of dollars?

LEVIN: Yes, they're very expensive. I mean the space suits that they have now in the ISS are Apollo era. They're part of the original 20 or so space suits. There's only four that are still in use and they're all on the Space Station.

HARLOW: Sorry. I didn't know I was hitting the button.

LEVIN: They've very expensive. You don't make them easily. They're not off the rack.

LEMON: Yes. It looks like a Jiffy - it looks like Jiffy Pop, right? Remember everyone would -

LEVIN: Yes. Right.

LEMON: And, oh, my gosh, look at - the thing is, though, you know what I'm wondering - this is weird. We'll get to it. They're black though.

LEVIN: There's Buzz. Yes.

LEMON: And if you're in outer space --

LEVIN: Those are not going to be black in outer space.

LEMON: They're not going to be black. Oh.

LEVIN: It's an excellent question. So, they -- they look alike that right now, in part possibly to show off the Axiom space logo.


LEVIN: But they will be white in space because they need to reflect the light. You're absolutely right, you'd get really hot out there in a black suit.

LEMON: OK, so we went through the third image. Can you go to image number three, Poppy?

HARLOW: Oh, my gosh, I was not built for this, people.

LEMON: The third image. That is the newest suit that NASA is now unveiling. Is that right? No, that's not -


LEVIN: No, that was the black and the orange one.

LEMON: That was the fourth image. The last (INAUDIBLE).

LEVIN: So, we are only seeing them -

LEMON: Oh, my gosh. So that is the new suit.

LEVIN: This is still not it, Poppy.

LEMON: That's - is that the newest suit?

LEVIN: No, we have to go back to the --

LEMON: Oh, my gosh.

LEVIN: It's -- it's covered in the black.

LEMON: That's it. LEVIN: This is it. And so it's covered in the black with orange and blue trimming. But that's a covering over many, many layers. The suit itself has multiple layers. And so they'll test it --

LEMON: But there's been innovation -- innovations in fabric and that kind of thing and protective layering.

LEVIN: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

HARLOW: Can we talk about some -

LEVIN: And they're fragile. And they're expensive. So, you want to cover them while you're testing and using them.

HARLOW: Can we talk about something else since we have you here?

LEVIN: Yes. Yes.

HARLOW: Because I'm obsessed with the James Webb Telescope and all the images we got to see in the last year from it.

LEVIN: Yes. Right.

HARLOW: There's something really interesting. It recently discovered a star in a unique phase of its life called Wolf-Rayet.

LEVIN: Wolf-Rayet. Yes.

HARLOW: This is gorgeous.

LEVIN: Yes, it is gorgeous.

HARLOW: Why is this so special?

LEVIN: So, it's a very brief phase in a very heavy stars life. They burn very fast. And over about a million years it will go through this phase, which sounds like a long time, but our sun will live to be 10 billion years old. So, this is a very brief phase in comparison.

And it's blowing off a lot of its outer atmosphere. So, about ten times the mass of sun is in this cloud, this nebula, that you're seeing around this star. The star is behind there. And it's about 30 times the mass of the sun still.


So, it's very big. It's very hot. It's burning really furiously right now and there's a lot of these stellar winds.

And the importance of it is, that's how we get heavy elements back into the universe, and those are the building blocks for life. So, we know that we're -- we're not first generation material. We have to be processed through stars to make carbon and oxygen, to make the elements for water, and to make us. So, this is part of how that gets back out into the universe.

LEMON: Janna, when you look at all the innovations that have -


LEMON: The technology, you know, telescopes, the space suits and whatever that -


LEMON: It is just -- it's -- you know, another saying, the future is now. We're living in the future.

LEVIN: Yes. I mean James Webb is such a remarkable experiment because so many people were involved. It's totally international. And you can see the kind of steady and tried and true commitment of this international community.


LEVIN: I mean if we all operated like that, collaboratively -

HARLOW: Right.

LEVIN: With one goal in mind, it's quite amazing what they did.

HARLOW: Great point.

LEVIN: The largest instrument to go to space. Unpacked. We all watched it unpack over that -- weeks. It's quite stunning.

LEMON: Thank you.


LEVIN: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Always a pleasure.

HARLOW: Fascinating.

LEVIN: Fun to be here.

LEMON: What a time to be alive.

LEVIN: I know.

LEMON: Yes, glad (ph) to have you.

LEVIN: That was absolutely my quote when interviewed by "The New York Times."


LEVIN: What a time to be alive.

HARLOW: Thank you. Thank you, Professor, very much.

LEVIN: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Thank you.

HARLOW: Back now to our breaking news.

Moments ago, the U.S. military released footage of a Russian fighter jet forcing down an American drone over the Black Sea. We'll talk about it ahead.