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Biden: "Hopeful We'll Know By Tonight" If We Have A Debt Deal; Ron DeSantis Attacks Donald Trump While Trying To Avoid Alienating Trump Voters; Tomorrow: Texas House Votes On Impeaching State Attorney General. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 26, 2023 - 21:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm John King, in tonight for Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

Debt ceiling drama, we're getting closer to a debt ceiling deal, closer, but we are not there yet. And the fact that Janet Yellen essentially gave them four more days means well, we've got a ways to go. Even if they make a deal, tomorrow morning, can they get it done in time?

Plus, can a Trump-like candidate beat Donald Trump? That's the question, as Ron DeSantis gets his campaign in high gear. The Florida governor, not being shy at all, about taking on the former President ripping him, on the border, of all things, calling him a big spender, and blasting his COVID policies.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I don't know what happened to Donald Trump. This is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016. And I think -- I think the direction that he's going with his campaign is the wrong direction.


KING: No other Republican, in the Trump era, has been able to walk that tightrope. Question is can Ron DeSantis?

And here's a sobering thought, this Memorial Day weekend. Whenever you go in the water, you are, get this, never more than 200 to 300 feet away, from a shark, at any time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ahh. (bleep) (bleep) Tiger sharks. Tiger sharks.


KING: Jeff Corwin, here with us, tonight, to tell you what you need to know.

But we begin with the debt ceiling negotiations, getting down to the wire, as lawmakers, and the White House, race the clock, now, to try to prevent a first-ever default.

Today, Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, buying them a little more time, writing quote, "Based on the most recent available data, we now estimate the Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government's obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5."

The Treasury previously expected to run out of money as early as June 1.

And despite growing pressure, listen, President Biden sounds optimistic, about reaching a deal.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Things are looking good. I'm very optimistic. I hope we'll have some clear evidence tonight before the clock strikes 12 that we have a deal. But it's very close, and I'm optimistic.

There's a negotiation going on. I'm hopeful we'll know by tonight whether we are going to be able to have a deal.


KING: Joining me to talk through this, our CNN Capitol Hill Reporter, Melanie Zanona; University of Michigan Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Justin Wolfers; and former Republican congressman, Joe Walsh; former Democratic congressman, Max Rose.

Mel, let's start with you up, on Capitol Hill.

The President says we're close, he believes, even it could come by the tick of midnight, tonight.

Republicans say close, waiting on some things from the White House.

Where are we really?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, I don't know if we're going to expect a deal tonight. But it is certainly close.

We're hearing, from Republicans, here on Capitol Hill, that they are indeed inching closer to a deal, and that it could come, as soon as this weekend.

Congressman Patrick McHenry, he's been a rather pessimistic voice, actually, throughout this process. And he actually sounded the most hopeful I have heard him, throughout this process.

I want you to take a listen to what he told me just moments ago.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): I would concur.

Everybody wants to look for the white smoke.


MCHENRY: We're not at that stage yet.

So, you have to have -- you have to have an agreement, an agreement on the agreement, which is like the complicated part. You all know waiting around for, you know, the final bit of agreements is the hardest, longest wait.

That is a hopeful sign to me, and I've rarely used that term, in the last 12 days that I've been involved in this. So, the hopeful sign that the President is saying those things, that tells me his White House team might be in a better disposition than what we've seen in previous days.


ZANONA: Now, Patrick McHenry also warned there, as you could hear, that this is still a very laborious process.

Because, even if and when they do come up with a deal, they have to still turn it into legislative text. Then, they have to get what's known as an official score, from the Congressional Budget Office. And then they have to give members 72 hours, to read the bill.


And then, John, comes the hard part, which is actually passing this thing, on the House floor. Even a deal that is blessed by Biden, and McCarthy does not necessarily have the votes. They're going to have to whip both of their parties. There's going to be people, on the left and the right that are upset with a deal, and the compromises that emerge.

So, they're going to have to both put up votes, in order to get this over the finish line. And then, when that happens, it still has to go over to the Senate, where any single senator can hold things up. And we're already hearing, from Congressman Mike Lee, a conservative, who said he's willing to use every tool, at his disposal, to slow things down, if he doesn't like what he sees.

So, it's still a long way to go. They do have a little bit more breathing room, now that the X-Date is officially June 5. But they are more hopeful as they get closer and closer to a deal, John

KING: All right, Mel, stay with us.

Let's walk through with our great group here, both the politics, and the substance.

The substance, first, Justin Wolfers, to you. Janet Yellen, in her statement, tonight, trying to explain that she has a -- "You got a few more days, so ladies and gentlemen," but she says "We will make more than $130 billion of scheduled payments in the first two days of June, including payments to veterans and Social Security and Medicare recipients. These payments will leave Treasury with an extremely low level of resources."

There have been some Republicans, in Congress, former President Trump himself, at the CNN Town Hall, a week or so ago, saying, "Don't buy it. Don't believe it. It would not be that much of a calamity. It's OK."

Is it OK?

JUSTIN WOLFERS, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: No. Look, the truth is, none of us know, because the only way we'd know is by looking at past debt ceiling defaults. And thankfully, we've never done that in the past.

But let me give you the educated guess. If we were to default, then folks don't want to lend to us. How much? I don't know, maybe they'd raise the interest rate by 1 percent.

We owe $31 trillion. 1 percent of that is what $300 billion. There are 300 million Americans. That's $1,000 each, that we'd each be paying, in extra interest, every year, if we default. And that's before we talk about a recession. So if this interest, higher interest, hits us for another 10 years, each of your viewers is on the hook to pay another $10,000, in interest, on our government debt.

KING: So, let's bring the two former congressmen into the conversation.

Congressman Walsh, to you first.

Janet Yellen gives the negotiators four more days, essentially which, again, in most if it was a business negotiation, a contract negotiation, you'd say, "Great. We got a little bit more time. This is complicated to work it out."

In Washington, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Because, as you know, from your own experience, the longer this is on the vine, the more everybody either complains about something they know is in it or comes up with an idea to put something new in it.

JOE WALSH, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: And John, it's probably not a good thing, because you know, politicians only react to the deadline. And they wait until the last moment.

Look, we always dance this dance. And I was there, when we last danced it, in 2011. They're going to craft a deal. They've probably already crafted the deal. And some on the right won't like it. And some on the left won't like it.

And it'll mostly be passed by the majority of Democrats and Republicans. And that will give McCarthy enough cover, I think, that he can say he tried. But at the end of the day, there's going to be unhappiness, on both the far-right and the far-left with whatever deal this is.

KING: If you do, Congressman Rose, if you do for what we know right now, the framework they have? And again, it's a Washington cliche, but it happens to be true. There's no deal until it's a total deal. So nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.


KING: But we know it would raise the debt ceiling for two years. It gets you through the presidential election, which I think the Democrats want, probably more than the Republicans. But everybody will be happy with.

It would cap federal spending, not significantly cut, but at least cap federal spending. They're stuck up on the length of those spending caps, on whether there will be work requirements, for food stamps, other social safety net programs, and the details of permitting reform. Will it be just for fossil fuels? Or will it be for green energy as well?

Let me ask you, Congressman Rose, about the work requirements, because both Republicans and Democrats say it's a red line. Republicans say it's a red line for them, they won't vote for it if it's not in there. And a lot of progressives are furious, saying, "Mr. President, don't you dare."

How does the outline sound to you? To me, it looks like a traditional old-school Republican deal. Everybody gives a little and gets a little. But do we live in traditional times?

ROSE: Well, look, I'm not certain what the Democrats are getting, in this deal, other than the fact that they are avoiding an economic calamity, here, at a point, where they control two-thirds of the government.

Despite that fact, they are seeing reduced government spending. And that is not nearly just a number here. This goes back to the signature or one of the signature legislative achievements, of this administration, which was the 2023 budget, which saw unprecedented and vitally important increases, in social service spending. But nonetheless, in a divided government, there will be compromises.

There is a reason why though the work requirements are the last thing that is being agreed upon, because both sides care very passionately, about this issue. It is personally shocking to me that the Republicans have even successfully inserted this into the dialog because it is not a fiscal issue.


This may be an ideological issue, one that people are passionate about. But the economic implications, about it, are slim, compared to the other issues that we are talking about. So, certainly if, and it's a gigantic if, if the Republicans are able to successfully slip in, a significant work requirement restriction, into this final compromise, I would sincerely hope that the Democrats get something equally substantive in return. Otherwise, what we're going to see is something small that is just meant to try to move on to another day.

KING: Melanie Zanona, if we get a traditional deal? The left doesn't like some things. The right doesn't like some things. In traditional times, it gets passed. Everybody grouses a bit. But it gets passed and we move on. But again, we don't live in traditional times.

How many votes can Kevin McCarthy afford to lose, and not be challenged, not have his Speakership, his hold on that job challenged?

ZANONA: Well, in terms of how many votes he can lose, that obviously depends on how many votes Democrats are going to put up. So, the math is obviously so key here.

But the question of his Speakership is a great question, because, during the race, for the Speaker's gavel, he gave his critics, this tool, this power, to force him out at any given moment. And he made a number of other promises as well, including that he would fight for fiscal 2022 spending levels.

And so, it is certainly a possibility that if he agrees to something that falls short of what conservatives are expecting, that he could be threatened, his Speakership could be on the line, here.

Now, do I expect the Freedom Caucus to vote for whatever deal comes out? No, they typically do not vote, for these really big compromise deals. They don't usually vote for spending deals. So, it's possible that they could just swallow their -- you know, swallow this deal, vote against it, say they don't like it, put out a statement, and leave Kevin McCarthy alone. But I think it really depends how much he angers them, and how far he goes, and what their eyes is caving, to the Democratic demands here.

KING: And Justin Wolfers, when you look at the proposal? Again, we don't have all the details. So it's hard to completely analyze. But the basic things in there, capping spending for some time, perhaps some work requirements? Is there anything in there that you think would have either a beneficial or a detrimental impact on the United States' economy? Or is it kind of a status quo thing?

WOLFERS: Well, I think what's difficult here is some -- almost all of this is ideological. The favorite example I give is the work requirements. The claim is that that would lead more people to work. The evidence is they do no such thing. They just boot people off of benefits.

The other that I find just absolutely astonishing, is the move to cut $10 billion of funding from the IRS. All of the estimates are it would help them catch more tax cheats, and bring in billions and billions more in revenue. So, this isn't saving the government money. It's saving tax cheats from their burden. KING: Mr. Wolfers, thank you. Melanie Zanona as well.

Congressman Walsh and Congressman Rose are going to stay with us.

Ron DeSantis is going after Donald Trump, as he never has before. But can he walk the fine line, attacking Trump, without alienating Trump voters?



KING: Ron DeSantis making a big change, as he gets his White House run, in full gear. Florida governor suddenly not shy about taking on the former President, Donald Trump. But can he do that without angering the Republican base?

Back with me, the former Republican congressman, Joe Walsh; former Democratic congressman, Max Rose.

And joining us now, Molly Ball, National Political Correspondent for TIME Magazine; and Ron Brownstein, CNN's Senior Political Analyst.

Thanks, everybody for being here.

Let's just listen to him because up until his official announcement, DeSantis, sometimes, some implied criticism of Trump, but it was very gentle, very nuanced.

In just the past 48 hours, listen here, wow.


DESANTIS: I think he did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020 that destroyed millions of people's lives.

When people look back, you know, that 2020 year was not a good year for the country as a whole.

He said he was going to eliminate the national debt when he ran in 2016. He ended up adding almost $8 trillion to the debt in four years.

And he is going left on a lot of the fiscal. He's going left on culture. He's even sided with Disney against me.

This is a different guy than 2015, 2016. He attacked me for opposing an amnesty bill in the Congress. He did support this amnesty, this Goodlatte II, 2 million illegal aliens he wanted to amnesty. I opposed it, because that's what America First principles dictate that you're opposed to amnesty.


KING: Molly Ball, you listen to that. You see a politician, clearly, on policy after policy after policy after policy, trying to get to what we used to call the right of Donald Trump.

I guess the question is, does that ideological Republican Party, is it still organized that way? Or is it Trump's party, and you can't criticize him?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I think, on the one hand, look, I remember, I'm having flashbacks to 2015, when we heard from, Ted Cruz, and Jeb Bush, and so many others, "Trump is not a real conservative," and to the base voters of the Republican Party. They either didn't buy it, or they didn't care.

On the other hand, I think it's worth listening to what DeSantis is saying, because it's really interesting. What he's saying is, "Yes, like you I always like Trump," and then he changed.

So, what he's saying is "The Trump who's running now is not the same guy that you supported, back in 2016, or even in 2020," that he moved to the left, that he betrayed the principles that so many Republican voters thought they were getting. And that's an interesting argument, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: Because we've seen that slight fall-off in support, for Trump, even among the Republican base. DeSantis is trying to speak to those voters, to say, "I, like you, did like this guy at one point. But then I drifted away from him, as he moved in a different direction."

KING: And Ron Brownstein, let's add one to it. He says they're soft on COVID, soft on spending, soft on the border. That's what Ron DeSantis says of Donald Trump. He also, remembered the signature Criminal Justice Reform legislation, in the Trump administration --


KING: -- a big bipartisan achievement. Ron DeSantis says "No, actually, Donald Trump is soft on crime."

BROWNSTEIN: And soft on abortion, right? All of the --


DESANTIS: I think one of the things that we've seen is, you know, under the Trump administration, you know, he enacted a bill, basically a jailbreak bill. It's called the First Step Act. It has allowed dangerous people out of prison, who have now reoffended and really, really hurt a number of people.

So one of the things I would want to do as president is go to Congress and seek the repeal of the First Step Act. If you are in jail, you should serve your time.



KING: Ron, what do you see here, in the sense, clearly trying to get to Trump's right? I guess the question is the math, right?


KING: How many -- what percentage of Republicans --


KING: -- are locked in on Trump, no matter what? And is there enough room for Ron DeSantis to pull this off?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, there's a big gamble here, John. Because, I mean, the question is whether Ron DeSantis has better odds of convincing the Republican base that Donald Trump is insufficiently conservative, or that he's insufficiently electable.

Because the two goals, I think, are in conflict. The way that he is going at him ideologically, as you point out, is constantly trying to get to his right.

I mean, you can think of Donald Trump, as this kind of Mack Truck rolling down the right lane, of the Republican freeway. And with all these lanes, to his left, and center, DeSantis, is trying to pass him in the shoulder, the six inches of the shoulder, on the right.

The problem with that is that the better argument, even in a Republican primary, may be that Donald Trump can promise you all these things, but he can't deliver them, because he can't win again.

And by choosing to define himself, to the right of Trump, you already see DeSantis, alienating some donors, and strategists, who thought that he was potentially more electable than Trump.

I mean, it kind of undermines the second argument. If you're pinning yourself, into this corner, on all of these issues, can you then turn around and make the case that I am in fact a better vehicle to win back the suburbs of Philadelphia, and Detroit, and Milwaukee, and Atlanta than Trump is?

So ultimately, I think DeSantis has to choose one argument or the other because the way he's pursuing the first, I think, undermines the second.

KING: Max Rose, jump in on that point, as the Democrat, in the conversation.

I've received -- had several conversations, text messages, from Democrats, who say, "Really? The Republicans are going to debate abortion and COVID restrictions for the next six months? Thank you very much."

ROSE: Well, first of all, look, Ron DeSantis has been so socially inept, for the last three or four months, that if he merely acts like he's a human being on the campaign trail, the media applauds him as beating expectations.

There is one thing that he is getting correct here. And that is, I believe that the Republican base sincerely does want a fighter or someone, that they perceive as even a reckless fighter, against norms, culture, the Establishment, so on and so forth. Hell, they want someone who's going to fight the Military, and he believes fight Mickey Mouse, as well.

But nonetheless, though, I think that there's something that he is getting absolutely wrong here. And that is that the person, who wins the primary, has to win the general.

And the positions that, he is taking here, even if he ever did win the primary? And I still think that's a long shot. No one wants someone, who is going to talk, in this reckless fashion, openly applauding the deaths of hundreds of thousands, openly talking about how are they going to divide us, rather than unite us, and openly talking about how they are going to wage war, on millions of women's right, to make their own health care decisions.

This is a losing campaign before our very eyes. And I think you're going to see him flail, as time goes on.

KING: Congressman Walsh, you know Ron DeSantis, from when he served in the House. As you watch this strategy play out, he's taking a two by four to Donald Trump, who, to, many Republican base voters, he's still their hero, whether we agree or disagree, on the facts of election denial, or some of the policies, or anything.

But listen here, he's also giving a little bit of candy, sounding very much, like Trump, when it comes to criticizing the FBI, and talking about possible pardons, for January 6 defenders. Listen.


CLAY TRAVIS, HOST, "THE CLAY TRAVIS & BUCK SEXTON SHOW": Do you think the January 6 defendants deserve to have their cases examined by a Republican president?

And if Trump, let's say, gets charged with federal offenses, and you are the President of the United States, would you look at potentially pardoning Trump himself based on the evidence that might emerge of those charges?

DESANTIS: The DOJ and FBI have been weaponized. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to do on day one, I will have folks that will get together and look at all these cases, who, people are victims of weaponization or political targeting, and we will be aggressive at issuing pardons.


KING: Do you see that strategy, Congressman Walsh, as feasible? Can you beat Trump up, essentially saying, "I'm better than the original?"

WALSH: Oh, John, God, no, God, no.

First of all? Because Max is right. DeSantis has zero personality, charisma. Say what you want about Trump, but he's got personality. And that's the thing, John. Republican base voters love Donald Trump. It's got nothing to do with policy. It's not policy based. You can't attack Trump on policy. It's all personality. He's the victim. He's the bully. DeSantis can never outdo that.


And John, DeSantis is trapped. Ron DeSantis cannot say that the 2020 election was not stolen. He can never say that or he's done. And when Donald Trump is indicted again, Ron DeSantis is going to have to say, witch-hunt or something like that, or he's done. But he can never yell witch-hunt, as loud as Donald Trump did. It's almost an impossible road.

KING: Congressman Walsh? Congressman Rose?


KING: Go ahead, Ron, quickly, go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, Trump is not exactly the same figure he was in 2016. Then, his ideological support was pretty evenly distributed, across the party, ideologically. Today, he is much more dependent on the most conservative voters.

So, just you see DeSantis, in effect, using that famous, call rogue belief, that you got to go after a person's, an opponent's strongest attribute. And that is what DeSantis is doing.

KING: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: It will either succeed, or prove a brick wall, for him.

KING: Well that's what makes it fascinating, as we go forward.

Congressman Walsh, and Congressman Rose, appreciate your time tonight. They're going to leave us.

Molly and Ron are going to stay with us, for another conversation, this one, simmering tensions between top Texas Republicans, erupting now, into Articles of Impeachment, for a big Trump ally. Stay with us.



KING: The Republican Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, facing the possibility, now, of impeachment.

The Texas House Committee voted unanimously, yesterday, to recommend Articles of Impeachment, against Paxton, including accusations of bribery, obstruction of justice, and dereliction of duty.

Paxton calls the investigation, helmed by fellow Republicans, illegal.

The chamber, the full House chamber, is scheduled, to vote, tomorrow afternoon. And if it impeaches Paxton, then it moves on to the Senate, for trial.

CNN's Ed Lavandera with more.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of the most controversial politicians, in Texas, is facing impeachment.

KEN PAXTON, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: This shameful process was curated, from the start, as an act of political retribution.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Republican Ken Paxton has been the State's Attorney General, since 2014.

But a Texas House committee, led by fellow Republicans, is accusing Paxton, of a litany of criminal acts, including bribery, obstruction of justice, dereliction of duty, 20 Articles of Impeachment, in all, filed against him.

The charges, brought by the Texas House General Investigating Committee, detail alleged violations, by the A.G., and a request for more than $3 million of public money, to pay a legal settlement, to whistleblowers, who worked as top deputies, in the A.G.'s office. They revolted against Paxton in 2020.

There are also bribery charges, with a top campaign donor that involved an alleged affair.

In a statement, Paxton says, the allegations are politically motivated, and based on, quote, "Hearsay and gossip," and also added that "Corrupted politicians in the Texas House," are "Actively destroying Texas' position as the most powerful backstop against the Biden agenda in the entire country."

PAXTON: Every politician, who supports this deceitful impeachment attempt, will inflict lasting damage, on the credibility, of the Texas House.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Paxton has been under indictment, for felony securities violations, since taking office.

He's also under FBI investigation, for his actions, connected to the Articles of Impeachment.

Paxton has denied all wrongdoing. And Texas voters have reelected him, as Attorney General, twice.

And along the way, he's garnered the support of a major ally.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He loves this State, and he loves this country. Attorney General Ken Paxton.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And taking a page out of the Trump playbook, Paxton blames the looming impeachment fight, on liberal factions, in the Texas Republican Party. One Texas State Representative predicts Paxton will be impeached, by the Texas House, but is calling on the Texas Senate, to refuse to hold an impeachment trial.

STATE REP. STEVE TOTH (R-TX): No one has any evidence that he did anything wrong. It's all allegations. It's all allegations. And so, yes, this is -- this is just -- this is political retribution, is all it is. This is a complete sham.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): If the impeachment passes, in the Texas House, with a majority vote, it moves on to the Senate, where the Attorney General's wife, State Senator, Angela Paxton, could be among those, voting, on his potential impeachment.


LAVANDERA: Ken Paxton is urging friends and supporters, to come peacefully, rally on his behalf, at the Texas Capitol, on Saturday, when Texas lawmakers will vote on the Articles of Impeachment.

And this is significant, because it echoes what Donald Trump did, with his supporters, on January 6. And we must point out that Ken Paxton was on that same stage, with Donald Trump, on that day.


KING: He was indeed.

Ed Lavandera, thanks so much.

Back with me now, Molly Ball, and Ron Brownstein.

Molly, I was listening to some of the testimony, in the Impeachment committee. Some of these allegations go back to the very beginning of his tenure, back to 2014 and 2015. There's been a stench, clouds of smoke, anyway, around Ken Paxton, for a long time. Why now?

BALL: Well, he essentially asked the Legislature to participate in a cover-up.

As Ed was saying, there was a request for this fine that had been levied, against him, more than $3 million, to settle the claims of the whistleblowers, Republican staffers, who worked in his office. And they were -- and so, he asked the Legislature, to pay that money for him. And so, they started investigating him, on that basis.

But, as you mentioned, this is someone, who's been under indictment for nearly eight years. Where is the judicial system? Where is the FBI? Is it any wonder that people have qualms, about the rule of law, in this country?

I mean, here's someone who basically, epitomizes Trump's attitude that if you make the law, they can't touch you, and you get to make the rules. But there is a higher authority than the Attorney General of Texas. And it looks like it may finally be time to pay the piper.

KING: It looks like at least we get the vote, in the House, we see.

Ron Brownstein, what is his significance outside the borders of Texas? Paxton has been one of the Republican Attorneys General --



KING: -- who have gone to court, repeatedly, to challenge just about everything the Biden administration does. And often, Texas takes the lead, so they can try to find -- they think they can find more favorable federal judges, in the State of Texas.

Would he just be replaced by another Republican? Does that matter? Is this just about him? Or does it have bigger meaning?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, let's break it out from outside of Texas, and inside of Texas.

Outside of Texas, his significance is exactly what you say. Republican state attorneys general have repeatedly sued the Biden administration, trying to preserve Trump-era policies, or block policies that Biden wants to pursue, particularly on immigration and the environment, but also on the Mifepristone case.

And very often, Texas is the lead plaintiff, because that way they can find Trump-appointed district, or other conservative district judges, in Texas, and then have a pipeline for the case to go through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is perhaps the most conservative in the country. And this is something that Republicans have used over and over again.

So, Paxton has made himself into a hero, for the MAGA base, in many ways by positioning himself as kind of the tip of the spear, in the legal efforts, to stop Biden.

Inside of Texas, it's fascinating, because there is a divide, between the Texas State Senate, and the Texas State House. The State House has generally been considered more pragmatic, somewhat more centrist, although, still under Republican leadership, than the Texas State Senate, which is led by the Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, who was kind of Trump before Trump.

And so, the intramural struggle is reflected in this that it's the House pursuing, and unclear whether the Senate will follow up.

It is remarkable, though, for this to be coming up, at the end of a session, which has probably been the most conservative, in Texas history, which is saying something, not only a raft of socially- conservative legislation, but also unprecedented measures, being passed, in both chambers, to strip authority, from the increasingly Democratic-leaning large cities, and counties, in the State, including giving the State, authority, to overturn elections, just in Harris County, which is Houston.

And so, for this to come, this kind of intramural fighting, in the Republican Party, to come out of the end of a session, that has been so ideologically aggressive, is still somewhat remarkable.

KING: And Molly, Ron calls it intramural fighting. And that it is.

It also has a reality TV flavor to it, and Paxton using what we call now the Trump playbook. But I don't know if that's correct or fair -- fair or not in the case. But he says -- this is led by Republicans.

So, he calls them essentially RINOs. It's Trump's word. Republican In Name Only. He calls them "Liberals." But he's got even beyond that. He's not just saying, "I didn't do these things." He's trying to attack the investigators, if you will.

He sent a letter, about this. "Based on a review of Speaker Dade Phelan presiding over the House of Representatives in an obviously intoxicated state, I am calling upon the Committee to open" an "investigation" into the Speaker "for violation of House rules," state laws, "conduct unbecoming his position."

That we have seen in Washington, like, attack the attackers, or attack the investigators. Does it work in Texas?

BALL: Oh, well, we'll see. It doesn't seem to have worked in this case, because that statement was issued right before they announced all of the Articles of Impeachment. So clearly, it was some sort of attempt, to head this off, or, as you say, to attack the attackers.

But look, this is Republicans policing their own. It is very hard for him to argue that this is somehow partisan.

Again, this whistleblower complaint started with loyal Republican staffers, in his own office, who became alarmed, about his behavior, about the way that he was using the office, allegedly, to cover up, for his friends, and do his friends' bidding, and help them.

So, it is between -- this is all between Republicans. There are -- to talk about a liberal faction, in the Texas State Legislature, it doesn't really exist.

So, he's clearly trying everything he can. And he will have the opportunity to make his case, in these proceedings. But this has been coming for a very long time.

KING: Yes, it has. And now, the moment of truth is here.

I just want to put in the record, the reaction, from the Texas House Speaker to that. His communications director say, "Mr. Paxton's statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face."

Again, we'll continue to track this impeachment case.

Molly Ball, Ron Brownstein, great to see you both. Have a great weekend.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. KING: And if you're making plans, to head to the beach, the weekend yourself, please stick around. Jeff Corwin, here with us, to tell us about the dangers, in the water, and what to do, if you encounter them. That's next.



KING: As beachgoers prepare, for the holiday weekend, officials are warning people be mindful, be mindful of possibly -- possibility of sharks in the water. This comes, after reports of several unprovoked attacks, over just the last several weeks, the latest incident, in Turks and Caicos.

We should note the experts say, and the numbers show, shark attacks are extremely, extremely rare, but they do happen.


MAGGIE DROZDOWSKI, SHARK ATTACK SURVIVOR: I thought it was just a crab, like, pinching my foot. But my -- it felt bigger than that, I realized. And my whole foot was like in its mouth. And I was shaking my foot as hard as I could. It was hard. It was like really heavy.


KING: Wildlife biologist, Jeff Corwin, host of "Wildlife Nation" is here with us.

Jeff, these recent encounters, they're worrying to beachgoers. Context, it's rare. It's rare. But still, it's alarming. Is it safe to go to the beach?


And yes, context is so important. It is safe to go into beach. Here in Massachusetts, where I live, where you're from, you have a better chance, of winning Megabucks, a couple of times than actually being attacked by a shark.

But with that said, we are noticing an increase, in some of these negative encounters, between human beings and sharks, particularly, in places, like Florida, the American South, and places, like New England, because here, unlike other parts of the world, where shark populations are crashing, our shark populations are growing.

KING: They are growing. I was up at the Cape, last year, and I saw several myself, watching them come up.

So, there's actually, you get advice, from the experts, because, if a shark gets near you, maintain eye contact with the shark, slowly move away, exit the water. If a shark tries to bite you, hit the eyes, and the gills, hit the snout, and push away.


OK. I can read that advice. I'm not so sure if attack approach -- a shark approached me, in the water, I would have the wisdom, and the grace, and the patience, and the calmness, to remember it.

But what would Jeff Corwin do?

CORWIN: Yes good luck with that. That's how I kind of look at that.

My technique is if I'm going in the water, with John King, I don't need to outswim that shark. I just need to out swim John King, right?

But seriously, when you're in the water with sharks, you need to remember, as you touched on earlier, in a healthy marine environment, like here, along Plymouth and Cape, where I live, we have lots of sharks. You're often never more than 300 feet away from a living shark.

Sharks are integral to ecosystems. They are the pinnacle predators. They're the sign of a healthy ecosystem. With that said, you don't want to be at the wrong side of a shark. So, the best way to avoid injury, is just avoiding those situations, where negative encounters could happen, like going in the water, at low-light levels, during dawn, or dusk, after rainstorms, during the breeding seasons, if there's a big predator prey event.

John, you're talking about Cape Cod. I scuba-dive just about every day, in the summertime, when I'm home. There are places I would not scuba-dive, especially where we get big clusters, or groups, of grey seals and harbor seals. The reason why our great white shark population is growing is because their buffet is all you can eat.

KING: All right, you see the seals every time you're up there, and great.

I want to move on to another issue that you're incredibly passionate about, which is the North Atlantic right whale. You say we are at this now-or-never moment, in trying to save this species. Tell us what you mean.

CORWIN: Absolutely, John. It's so serious right now. The North Atlantic right whale, its population, this species has begun to collapse. This year, we only had 11 surviving offspring. It should be triple that.

So, there's a group right now. It's called IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They have a Research vessel called "Song of the Whale." They also, not far from here, they have the Marine Mammal Rescue center. Them, along with the team, from NOAA, and all these other research and conservationists, have discovered that this species is about to disappear.

Why? Well, they migrate up, John, from Florida, up into Canada Waters. They do that. They come up here, to feed. And as they're migrating their way up, they give birth, they reproduce, in Florida. They come and feed, in places, like Nova Scotia off of Stellwagen Bank. They're getting hit by container ships, when they migrate into shipping lanes. They're also getting entangled, in fishing gear.

So, you're looking at footage, right now. This is a whale that's actually entangled up, in ghost net, and fishing gear. And it takes Herculean efforts, it's actually very dangerous, to try to free these entangled whales. But when you're so endangered, when you're so close to disappearing, every one of these whales matters.

Another challenge they're facing John is when they go to Canada, and when they head up to Maine. The Bay of Maine is the fastest warming body of water, on the planet. So, that means they come here to eat. And they have to work so much harder to fill their bellies.

So, you add up the climate change, the entanglements with nets, and the shipping lanes, this creature is in a world of hurt. But it's not too late. If we were to act now, and really focus, we have a very good chance of saving this remarkable species.

KING: What are the two or three most important things to do now?

CORWIN: So, the most important things we can do is make sure we're getting those ghost nets out of the water.

We work with our friends, in the fishing community. I'm a -- I actually commercial-fish, in the summer, myself. But the fishing community, they are our allies, and they're our partners, to this success.

For example, we now have these incredible state-of-the-art technology lobster traps that actually deploy the buoys, when they're ready to be collected versus just hanging in the water, potentially entangling whales. We have this incredible technology. We need to watch where these vessels are going, so they're not hitting whales. And parts of the country, like in the South, boaters, both recreational and commercial need to slow down.

We give these creatures some space, they will survive. But this is our last chance. And in the end, we will all pay the price, if the incredible majestic North Atlantic right whale becomes extinct.

KING: Amen to that point.

Jeff Corwin, thank you for your time, important insights. Appreciate it. Thank you.

CORWIN: Thank you, John.

KING: Imagine, you're on a plane, 700 feet in the air, when suddenly the exit door opens. Well, that happened on one flight. And we've got the video. That's next.



KING: Fasten your seat belt. Video, tonight, from an almost unthinkable midair moment, aboard a South Korean jet, when a man allegedly, get this, opens the cabin door in midair.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wind howling through the cabin, 200 people on board, passengers gripping their armrest. These were the chaotic minutes, before landing, for that Asiana Airlines flight, in South Korea.

Officials say the plane was still 700 feet, in the air, traveling around 170 miles an hour, when a man, in his 30s, grabbed an exit door.

PASSENGER ON ASIANA FLIGHT: Maybe the man tried to get off the plane. A flight attendant said, "Help, Help." And about 10 passengers stood up and pulled him in.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Opening a commercial jet door in flight is supposed to be impossible. The doors are locked and beveled, so that air pressure inside the plane pushes them firmly, into the door opening. Aviation experts say overcoming that pressure would be like lifting a car.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: So, at altitude, you simply can't do it. There are thousands of pounds of pressure on those doors. You cannot open them. You can't open the overwing exits.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But at very low altitudes, on some older planes, experts say it might be possible.


What we know for sure is the man on the Asiana flight was arrested. And others have tried the same thing.


FOREMAN (voice-over): On a flight, from L.A. to Boston, in March, authorities say a passenger was restrained, after he attacked a crew member, tried to open the emergency exit door, and said he believed the flight attendant was trying to kill him.

Soon afterward, a court ordered him, to undergo a mental health evaluation.

SEVERO TORRES (ph): Where's the Homeland Security with the gun? Because I'm waiting for them to point the gun at me.

Then I will kill every man on this plane!

FOREMAN (voice-over): Other incidents have raised similar concerns, in the air, including a woman, who tried to open a door, while flying, from Raleigh, North Carolina.

And, on the ground, in Los Angeles, authorities say a man opened the door of a parked jet, and jumped onto an exit slide.

In Chicago, officials say a man popped an emergency door, while his plane taxied, and walked onto the wing.

And, in New York, officials say, a couple, with their dog, opened a door, and took an exit slide, as their plane was preparing to leave.


FOREMAN: Why the man in the Asiana incident allegedly tried to open that plane, we don't know. Authorities are merely saying he was not in a good mental state. And by the time it was all over, some other passengers weren't either. They were taken to the hospital, for hyperventilating.


KING: But somehow no one seriously injured. That's a miracle.

Tom, thank you.

And thank you, for watching, tonight. Have a great weekend.

Our coverage continues.