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Still No Winner In Fierce Virginia GOP Primary Battle; China, Philippines In "Bare-Hand" Clash In South China Sea; Astronauts Stuck On International Space Station After Issues With Boeing Starliner. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 20, 2024 - 05:30   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: All right, 5:31 a.m. here in Washington and here's a live look at Capitol Hill. Good morning, everyone. I'm Manu Raju. It's great to be with you.

Too close to call. The Republican primary in Virginia's 5th Congressional District is still without a winner two days after polls closed. The intense contest between House Freedom Caucus chairman Bob Good and Trump-endorsed challenger John McGuire shedding light on fractures within the GOP.

Good initially endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the GOP primary but later endorsed Trump. But as Trump put it, it was too late.

CNN has not projected a winner.

Now, McGuire less than four -- is less than 400 votes ahead of Good with mail-in ballots still coming in.

So joining me now to discuss all of this, senior congressional reporter for Punchbowl News, Andrew Desiderio; and politics reporter for NOTUS, Reece Gorman. Good morning, guys.



RAJU: It's good to have a House guy and a Senate guy here. I used to be just a Senate guy; now I'm a House and a Senate guy, so we've got it all covered right here at the table.

Reese, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this about the Bob Good situation.

You write in one recent report: "While plenty of Freedom Caucus members have issue with Trump backing a challenger to the HFC chairman, hardly anyone wanted to talk on record about it even though it's been a common point of discussion among members. Generally, there is a belief that President Trump is endorsing a whole bunch of squishes across the country," said one person close to that Freedom Caucus -- that right-wing group.

What do you take away from it? It is interesting because Trump has taken a different tactic when it comes to endorsements this cycle.

GORMAN: He has, indeed. And from people I've talked to it seems mostly because -- I mean, if you remember the last cycle, he was not really always in lockstep with leadership and that cost the Senate Republicans the Senate. And, I mean, some House members -- they -- while they only barely took the majority. And so a lot of them now are trying to get Trump on their side because they know it helps them win. But -- and that's angering some Freedom Caucus members who like -- that want them to endorse their conservative "candidates." So --

RAJU: Yeah. I mean, look, John McGuire is a very conservative guy but -- and this is all about personal, some what say petty politics for the former president simply because Ron DeSantis backed the other guy -- someone that's personality driven.

But just to that point Andrew, I mean, Trump has also gotten behind, like, Mike Rogers in Michigan. He's a Senate Republican candidate. He was critical of Trump at one point and now he's endorsing him. Larry Hogan in Maryland as well.

DESIDERIO: I was going to say Larry Hogan, exactly -- yeah.

RAJU: So this is a much different strategy by the former president and that's why those folks on the right are upset.

DESIDERIO: Yeah. Steve Daines, the chair of the NRSC, has done quite the job of getting Donald Trump on board with the NRSC's preferred candidates in these primaries because you saw in 2020 and 2022 Donald Trump endorsed people that really had no chance of winning a general election and gave up these winnable seats to Democrats.


And so, Steve Daines has really focused on trying to get Trump on board and have him sort of joined at the hip with the NRSC so that he's not doing anything that undermines them. But at the same time, they all know that their fates are connected in this way and that's what they keep emphasizing -- and that's what they emphasized to him during their private meeting with him here on Capitol Hill last week.

RAJU: But for Good, so much of the Bob Good situation is about personality. People -- a lot of folks in the conference -- you know, they just don't like him, right? And he also is one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy.

But this conference, since that vote to oust him, has devolved into just constant infighting and turmoil and members targeting each other in their primaries. That used to not be done and now it's being done with some regularity.

GORMAN: Yeah, and exactly to your point. It's like Bob Good made not only the mistake of making a lot of enemies in the House, he made the mistake of making an enemy of Trump. He endorsed against Carol Miller in West Virginia. He endorsed against William Timmons in South Carolina. I mean, what does he expect? These members have friends, have allies. Does he expect them not to come after him?

And a lot of these people -- I mean, to your point, the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC was supporting John McGuire. This is usually, completely in line with leadership's PAC. This is a group of kind of more establishment Republicans, and they were supporting a candidate against Good.

And he's just made a lot of enemies. I think this is kind of his fate is coming to a fault.

RAJU: Yeah.

And, Andrew, meanwhile, you have some reporting about Mitch McConnell, the outgoing Senate Republican leader, concerned about what may happen in the House. He is concerned about this push to put -- impose term limits on Republican leaders in the Senate. There are no term limits on Republican leaders. There are lower-down leadership ranks.


RAJU: And his concern is about decentralizing this and essentially giving the rank-and-file more power like we're seeing in the House.

DESIDERIO: Yeah. This whole argument boils down to hey, look at what's happening in the House right now. Do you want that to happen in the Senate? And so, you've got these potential successors to Mitch McConnell who are all in their own different ways and to varying degrees of sort of severity proposing these changes to how the conference operates that would, as you say, decentralize power from the leader and seed a lot of that authority to the rank-and-file.

Obviously, that's what happened in the House of Representatives. It's what Kevin McCarthy had to do in order to win the speakership and it's what led to a lot of the chaos we've seen with House Republicans. And that is part of McConnell's pitch as he is trying to shape the Senate Republican Conference even as he's on his way out as the leader.

RAJU: Yeah. So this is what John Cornyn, who is looking to succeed Mitch McConnell -- one of three declared candidates in this race -- he is pushing for those term limits on Republican leaders, and this is what he said.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Term limits for every leadership role other than leader -- other than the majority or minority leader. And I think it's a legitimate question. We have -- I have concerns that we are not fully utilizing some of the great talent we have. We have a lot of people with very deep experience in a whole variety of areas.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: All right, Reese, I know you're a House guy but, you know, you basically live in the Capitol also, like the rest of us. So who is going to win this race? OK, Cornyn, John Thune, Rick Scott right now.


RAJU: It's a secret ballot election, which makes it impossible to handicap but I'll still make you do it. So who's going to win?

GORMAN: So, I mean, I guess just -- I mean, John Thune clearly is obviously the frontrunner right now. I mean, being second in leadership right now and kind of McConnell's -- would look to be his chosen successor right now. And, I mean, he has some public support whereas some of these other members don't have as much public support, if any, if I recall correctly. And so I think Thune is definitely the frontrunner.

And, I mean, like you said, a secret ballot.

RAJU: Yeah.

GORMAN: So Trump could weigh in, but these people could just go vote whoever and then be like oh well, yeah, I voted for who Trump said.

RAJU: And even -- but even of Trump says one thing, senators may not listen to him.

DESIDERIO: Yeah. Well, also, on the flipside of that, if Trump wins the election on November 5, he's going to have a lot more sway on the outcome, I think. Because senators will be more inclined to listen to him in terms of who he prefers to work with as Senate Republican leader, especially on top of that, if Republicans are in the majority, right?

RAJU: Um-hum.

DESIDERIO: So yes, it is a secret ballot election, and they can just easily defy Trump without consequence. But in that sense, Trump will have a say in this process and he could really anoint a successor --

RAJU: Yeah.

DESIDERIO: -- to Mitch McConnell -- someone who we might not even be thinking about right now.

RAJU: It's so true.

And it was also interesting last week at the -- when Trump came to town who was standing behind him in that press conference -- John Thune --


RAJU: -- who didn't always have the best relationship with Trump but suddenly, he wants to be seen with Trump.

DESIDERIO: Cornyn as well, exactly.

RAJU: Cornyn, exactly. They were --


RAJU: -- more than happy to see that.


RAJU: All right, guys. Thank you for joining me today. We'll see you in the Capitol later today.

All right, a barehanded battle with swords at sea, like something out of a pirate movie. The Philippines and China blaming each other after a violent clash in the hotly contested South China Sea this week.

CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Hong Kong. So, Ivan, you witnessed past skirmishes firsthand, but this incident appears more aggressive. What do we know?


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is -- yeah, Manu, this is a definite escalation. You've got the head of the Philippine Armed Forces saying -- he's claiming that Philippine marines and sailors were fighting with their bare hands against the Chinese Coast Guard, who he says were behaving like pirates -- attacking with axes and knives.

And then, the Philippine Armed Forces put out this video where you can see small boats -- a small Filipino boat surrounded by Chinese boats. And you do see kind of some of these clubs and things being swung. A Chinese officer waving an axe and taking a bag from onboard the Philippine ship at one point.

The Chinese government is denying this. It's basically accusing its much smaller neighbor, the Philippines, of starting all of this. Take a listen.


LIN JIAN, SPOKESPERSON, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): China urges the Philippines to immediately stop its infringing and provocative actions. China will continue to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and rights in accordance with the law.


WATSON: So let's take a look at where this is all happening. It's in the South China Sea. China claims all of it, almost, for itself, even though there are a lot of other countries, like the Philippines, that border this body of water. And the areas where they are in confrontation are much closer to the Philippines than they are to Mainland China.

These confrontations have been escalating for months now. I've been on board a Philippine Coast Guard vessel that was swarmed by much larger Chinese Coast Guard ships. I've seen how they kind of bully and harass the Philippine vessels.

And it is a major issue for the Philippine president who, just a few weeks ago, warned that if a Filipino is killed, this would be crossing a red line. Take a listen to what he said.


FERDINAND MARCOS JR., PRESIDENT OF PHILIPPINES: If a Filipino citizen is killed by a willful act, that is I think very, very close to what we define as an act of war. And therefore, we will respond accordingly.


WATSON: And there are big implications here, Manu. The U.S. is a neutral defense treaty ally of the Philippines. If, God forbid, these two countries go to war, the U.S. is obliged to come to Manila's defense -- Manu.

RAJU: High, high tensions. Ivan Watson from Hong Kong. Thank you.

And next, two NASA astronauts stuck on the International Space Station. Plus, Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever on a roll. The Bleacher Report ahead.



RAJU: Major concerns this morning surrounding the maiden voyage of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.


Launch of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.


RAJU: The Starliner is halfway to its goal of ferrying two astronauts on a roundtrip to the International Space Station and back. The Starliner docked with the ISS on June 6, but the vehicle experienced issues on the way raising questions about how the rest of the mission will play out.

Space flight veterans Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore were initially expected to stay in orbit for about a week. Now NASA says they'll return no earlier than next Wednesday -- two weeks longer than initially anticipated.

Joining me now to discuss, Keith Cowing, editor of Keith, it is great to see you. Thanks for being here this morning.

Explain to viewers what happened here. KEITH COWING, EDITOR, NASAWATCH.COM: Well, to rewind back why we have a commercial spacecraft. We lost the Shuttle. We had to rely on the Russians. Not a good idea.

Let's go commercial. Two companies bid. SpaceX did its thing.

Boeing took longer and spent an extra billion dollars. They've had problems with their spacecraft. The first mission, a mess. The second one, better. The third one, OK. But the thrusters -- the things that steer the spacecraft weren't working right. So they got them to work right and they docked with the station.

Now they're trying to figure out are we -- can we come back safely. That's sort of where we are right now. That's why they keep saying another week, another week.

RAJU: Yeah. And this is -- just so people can hear what NASA itself is saying about this issue.


STEVE STICH, MANAGER, NASA COMMERCIAL CREW PROGRAM: We wouldn't say Starliner is safe to bring a crew home in an emergency if we didn't feel confident in the vehicle's capability. We're taking a little bit of extra time to work through what we've seen and make sure we have all the plans in place to bring the crew in a -- in a nominal situation for the end of mission. So we're just taking a little more extra time to review all the data and also learn as much as we can while we have the service module in orbit.


RAJU: I mean, are they -- are they putting a positive spin on this or is that the reality of the situation?

COWING: I used to work there, OK. We want a little more time --

RAJU: Yeah.

COWING: -- to look at the data. Everything is nominal. Don't worry, everything is OK. Look, they're being prudent.

And this spacecraft was designed to stay on the Space Station for, like, six-eight months --

RAJU: Um-hum.

COWING: -- so it's not a problem in that sense. But I think they just want to be certain that these little thrusters are going to work reliably so that the spacecraft can come in and land the way it's supposed to. But you can sense a little bit of nervousness on their part.

RAJU: Interesting.

And listen to what the astronauts themselves -- at least one of them -- had suggested about some of the issues ahead of time.


SUNITA "SUNI" WILLIAMS, ASTRONAUT: We always find stuff and we are just going to continue -- continually find stuff. Everything's not going to be absolutely perfect as we fly the spacecraft. We feel very safe and comfortable with how the spacecraft flies, and we have backout procedures in case we need those.



RAJU: "Everything's not going to be absolutely perfect." This is before they took off.

Is that generally the case? I mean, for me as a layman, I'm just like shouldn't it be -- shouldn't it be perfect so there's not an issue in space?

COWING: I know Suni. I've known her for 20 years.

RAJU: Yeah.

COWING: So, I mean, she's -- these folks are kind of adept at dealing with the stuff.

RAJU: Obviously, they're super courageous and they're dealing with this, but if it's not perfect, should they have gone up?

COWING: If it's not perfect -- well, again, I -- this is a small issue that the helium leaks. Helium isn't poisonous. You use the helium to pressurize the other rockets.

It's not something that will endanger the crew per se, it's just can you steer this thing? Can you get it to go from point A to B to Earth? And I think they just want to be doubly and triply certain that this is going to happen because it's like you've got a tire on your car that's wobbling and you've got to drive across town. Like, can I make it? That's sort of the decision.

RAJU: What was -- and what was the purpose of this mission to begin with? What are they trying to achieve here?

COWING: Ah, the goal -- it was a test point. The mission was two people get in, they go into space, they dock to the station. Nothing breaks. They do their thing and they come home. It's a test flight.

There's only two people on board. You can have five or six, or seven people on this thing during the regular operational mission.

RAJU: And does this portend any issues about going back to the moon?

COWING: This? No. This spacecraft has nothing to do with going back to the moon.

RAJU: That's still --

COWING: That's a different spacecraft. That's a --

RAJU: Totally different mission.

COWING: That's a whole different, interesting mix of can we do it in time, sort of thing.

RAJU: I see.

All right. Well, we'll see if hopefully, they come back safely and not delayed too much longer -- and we'll see. Maybe they are -- they're just being cautious and prudent, and let's hope that is absolutely the case.

All right, Keith Cowing. Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

COWING: My pleasure.

RAJU: I appreciate talking.

All right. In sports, WNBA star Caitlin Clark helps lead the Indiana Fever to their third win in a row and fourth straight at home.

Carolyn Manno has more in this morning's Bleacher Report.


Well, the Fever are giving the hometown fans something to cheer about finally. This is the first time that the team has won four home games in a row since August of 2015. And amid all this criticism and an incredible amount of pressure, Caitlin Clark continues to prove the naysayers wrong.

The 22-year-old rookie putting on a show last night recording a double-double with 18 points to go with 12 rebounds. Check out this sequence in the second quarter. She scored five points in a 14-second span when she hit a deep three. Then she grabbed a steal and finished it off with a layup -- just incredible.

Indiana rolling on to an 88-81 in. And after a 1-8 start, Clark and company have now won five of their last seven games.


CAITLIN CLARK, GUARD, INDIANA FEVER: It's huge, you know, and you can expect these wins. It gives everybody confidence for a young group. So I think we're starting to see our potential and what we're able to do and it's been fun. It's been -- it's been team wins. It hasn't been any individual that's been doing it all for us. And when we have that balance, I think it's really hard for the other teams to guard us.


MANNO: Yankees ace Gerrit Cole making his season debut for New York last night, and no one was happier than his young son, Caden, to see him back on the mound. How sweet.

The reigning Cy Young Award winner went four strong innings in his long-awaited return from an elbow injury. He threw five strikeouts and gave up two earned runs in New York's 7-6 extra innings loss to the Orioles.

And afterwards, he told reporters he was excited to be back in the rotation.


GERRIT COLE, PITCHER, NEW YORK YANKEES: It's nice. It's -- yeah, it was kind of a special game for me a little bit. It's just been a long few months and a lot of emotions, you know. So I wasn't too sure how I was going to feel out there, but it -- you know, locating the ball always quells the nerves a little bit, you know.


MANNO: And the number one team in the country is headed to the College World Series final. Tennessee beat Florida State 7-2 to eliminate the Seminoles and advance to the best of three championship series for the first time since 1951.

The Vols will face Texas A&M in all-SEC final starting on Saturday. The Aggies shut out the Florida Gators 6-0 for the right to play for a national championship in baseball for the first time in its program's 130-year history. So looking forward to that.

Seventeen-year-old prodigy Thomas Heilman is also headed to Paris. In the 200-meter butterfly, the Virginia native finished first in the final and will make his Olympic debut this summer. He turned 17 years old in February and is the youngest male swimmer to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team since back in 2000 when both Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol competed in Sydney at ages 15 and 17 respectively.

And Simone Manuel, Manu, qualified for her third Olympics at the trials, finishing fourth in the 100-meter freestyle, which was good enough to earn her a spot on the 4x100 relay team in Paris. She described Wednesday as a healing night.


Her performance has capped off this incredible comeback after she was diagnosed with Overtraining Syndrome back in March of 2021. And that condition came with overwhelming exhaustion, anxiety, depression. She said making the U.S. Olympic team this time around means everything.


SIMONE MANUEL, WILL COMPETE IN THIRD OLYMPICS: When I really think about how far I've come and the mountain I really had to climb, I think that I -- it's really important for me to look back and be proud of myself for continuing to fight through this process and believe in myself. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MANNO: Manu, she was in a really dark place at one time a couple of years ago. She detailed how difficult it was to even get up a flight of stairs. She didn't want to train. And now to see her back heading to another Olympics is truly remarkable when you consider everything she's been through.

RAJU: Yes. So many interesting stories with the Olympics. I just cannot wait for Paris. I may be watching a little too much, but just don't tell -- don't tell my bosses.

All right, thanks, Carolyn Manno for that report.

All right. Up next, exclusive new reporting. How Donald Trump and President Biden are preparing for next week's CNN debate.

Plus, flooding and fires as Tropical Storm Alberto prepares to make landfall.