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New Treasury Estimate: Default Possible On June 5; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, (D-NY), Is Interviewed About Debt Limit; Memorial Day Air Travel Hits Post-Pandemic Record; Lower Gas Prices Give Americans A Break At The Pump As Summer Kicks Off With Holiday Weekend. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 26, 2023 - 17:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Well, coming up Sunday on State of the Union Jake Tapper will speak with Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Progressive Caucus Chair, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. That is all Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon here on CNN.

And our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. Have a great weekend.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the U.S. Treasury pushes back the possible default deadline from June 1 to June 5, giving debt limit negotiators a few more days to reach an agreement. The House Minority Leader, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries joins me in just a moment for an exclusive interview.

In Ukraine, at least two people are dead and more than 30 injured after a Russian attack on a medical clinic, Ukraine claims was deliberate. This hour, we'll have a live report from the warzone.

And as Americans prepared to set out for the Memorial Day weekend, CNN is at the airports and on the highways with everything you need to know about one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in the Situation Room.

Our top story this evening, the U.S. Treasury says debt limit negotiators have slightly, slightly more time to try to strike a deal, but it's still not clear if the two sides can reach an agreement before the nation defaults. From Congress to the White House, CNN is covering these very tense negotiations from every angle. Let's begin over at the White House with CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, what more are you learning about this new default deadline?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the first time that the Treasury Department has actually given a definitive date by which they believe that the U.S. government is going to run out of money to pay its bills and to pay its debt obligations. They had previously said early June with the possibility of June 1 as the earliest possible date. But now in a letter to the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy and other congressional leaders, the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says that there is a specific date and she says that it is June 5, a week from this coming Monday. She says in the letter, quote, "based on the most recent available data, we now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government's obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5." She also notes that even next week, the Treasury Department is already going to be running at an extremely low level of resources, based on the fact that $130 billion of payments to Social Security beneficiaries, veterans, is going to be made in the amount of $130 billion next week.

Now, I just spoke with a senior White House official to get their reaction to this new June 5 deadline. And the bottom line here is that this doesn't altogether change the timeline for negotiations. They are still operating on a very tight timeline. It gives them slightly more breathing room from that earliest possible date of June 1st. But this official noted that, look, they believe they are now in the final stages of negotiations, and they believe that they are on track to strike an agreement in time for that June 5 deadline.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, standby. Melanie Zanona is joining us from Capitol Hill right now.

Melanie, are Republicans, based on what you're seeing and hearing, any closer to a deal on the debt?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, they're certainly closer. But as you know, in these high stakes negotiations, sometimes that last mile can be the hardest, they still have not reached a final agreement on a number of items, including spending levels, how long the debt ceiling hike is going to last, permitting reform even though there's generally bipartisan agreement on doing that. But the biggest sticking point has been and continues to be tougher work requirements for social safety net programs. That is something that Republicans have been really pushing for, it is the chief demand. Congressman Garret Graves said, hell no, they are not going to drop this as a demand in these negotiations.

But Democrats have been really pushing back. They're concerned about the impact this would have on poor individuals and poor families. Now, there are no more meetings scheduled today as of right now between the Speaker's office and the White House, but negotiators have been in constant communication, they are bound to work around the clock to get this done.

And later tonight, me and my colleagues, Haley Talbot and Annie Grayer reported that there's going to be a conference call with the House GOP whips team to try to get everyone on the same page ahead of what is going to be a very intense and heavy whipping operation really on both sides of the aisle because they're getting ready to put up both Democratic and Republican votes. But so far, Kevin McCarthy is brushing aside conservative criticism over the emerging deal. Take a listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You're talking to people who don't know what's in the deal. So, I'm not concerned about anybody making any comments right now about what they think is in or not in. Whenever we come to an agreement, we'll make sure we will first brief our entire conference.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): There is for progress. But each time there's for progress, the issues that remain become more difficult and more challenging. So that is, step by step, small step by small step. At some point, this thing can come together or go the other way.


ZANONA: So, there are still a lot of hoops to jump through between now and final passage, but at least, Wolf, they have a little bit more breathing room to do it.

BLITZER: Melanie Zanano up on Capitol Hill, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, don't go too far away. Thank you very much.

Joining us now for an exclusive interview, the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries.

Leader Jeffries, thank you so much for joining us. We're only a few days away from June 5 tonight right now. That's the new date that the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the U.S. will then run out of money to pay its debts, causing what economists say would be a totally catastrophic default. So where do these negotiations from your perspective stand right now?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Good evening, Wolf. Great to be with you. We certainly are only a few days away from this manufactured default crisis, which is very real right now. We shouldn't be in this situation because America should always pay our bills and do it in a manner consistent with what has been done on the Democratic presidents and Republican presidents without gamesmanship, partisanship or brinksmanship.

We are in this place now thankful for President Biden and his team of designees for working hard to avoid a default in the face of a group of individuals, some of whom clearly would take the position that blowing up the economy, crashing it and triggering a recession, apparently, they've concluded and no one's to their political benefit. And so, we're hopeful that cooler heads will continue to prevail over the next day or so, we can arrive at a bipartisan agreement that makes sense that's consistent with democratic values and we can get past this dangerous default crisis.

BLITZER: Can you guarantee, Leader, that the U.S. will not default on its debt obligations? That would be the first time in American history, if God forbid that were to occur.

JEFFRIES: As House Democrats, I believe, in partnership with President Biden and Senate Democrats and Mitch McConnell has made this point as well, that we're going to do everything possible to prevent a default and make sure America pays its bills.

BLITZER: But as you know, there are many lawmakers, some Democrats, some Republicans who are already signaling they may oppose the deal negotiated between President Biden and speaker McCarthy. Can you guarantee that House Democrats, and you're the leader of the Democrats, will deliver the votes needed to pass any deal that's negotiated?

JEFFRIES: Well, one of the challenges that we confront is that it's unclear how many votes House Republicans can produce, because they have had a variety of different individuals, increasingly with intensity over the last few days who have said, they're not planning on supporting anything, unless it's consistent with the default on America Act, which would painfully cut investments in veterans and Medicaid, recipients and for public safety, for education, for nutrition assistance, and things of that nature. And so we have to have some visibility into how many votes House Republicans are going to produce in terms of the ultimate resolution. And then we can speak with some specificity, Wolf, about how many votes are going to be needed on the Democratic side.

What I can say is that we're committed to making sure that the United States does not default. We're committed to a bipartisan agreement. We have full faith in President Biden's ability to arrive at a resolution that is consistent with our values and prevents the economy from crashing, which is clearly what some folks on the other side of the aisle, some extreme MAGA Republicans would like to see happen.

BLITZER: Speaker McCarthy says he's staying in Washington over this Memorial Day holiday weekend to continue negotiations, but as you know, President Biden is departing for Camp David. Given the huge stakes and the damage a default would cost to the U.S. economy, shouldn't the President remain at the White House until these negotiations are completed and they're successful?

JEFFRIES: Like the President of the United States is actively involved in the discussions that are taking place and will be available to meet in person, over the phone to be in communication with Speaker McCarthy or whoever he needs to communicate with to prevent the country from defaulting to make sure America pays our bills and continue to build an economy that works for everyday Americans. I have full confidence in President Joe Biden.


BLITZER: One of the sticking points in the negotiations are what's called work requirements for various social safety net programs, including, for example, food stamps. I want to get your reaction to what Congressman Garret Graves, one of the chief Republican negotiators told CNN about that earlier today. Listen to this.


REP. GARRET GRAVES (R-LA): Democrats right now are willing to default on the debt, so they can continue making welfare payments for people that are refusing to work. And I'm talking about people that are without dependents people that are able bodied between 18 and 55. And it's crazy to me that we're even having this debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you willing to drop that work requirements in --

GRAVES: Hell no. Hell no. Not a chance.


BLITZER: So how do you respond to that, Leader? Will you accept the deal that strengthens work requirements?

JEFFRIES: That's exactly the type of reckless Republican rhetoric that is driving our country toward a default for the first time in American history and leads many people to rationally conclude that what the extreme MAGA Republicans really want to do is crash the economy, trigger a recession, because they believe, as many of them have said, that it will be in their political benefit in 2024. The so-called work requirements are not a serious public policy proposal, because work requirements already exist under federal law. And that has been the case going all the way back to 1996. To the extent that there are anything in the law that Republicans would like to discuss in terms of additions to the changes that have already been put into the law related to work requirements going all the way back to 1996, then the appropriate place for that to be discussed is the Farm Bill, not as part of a hostage taking situation where the full faith and credit of the United States of America and potentially crashing the economy could result in the failure to arrive at a resolution.

BLITZER: So, bottom line, Leader, can you get a bill, given all the procedural problems in the House and then the Senate, can you get a formal bill to President Biden's desk so he can sign it into law before June 5?

JEFFRIES: Yes, I believe that we can. And I know that that is the effort that President Biden and the Biden administration officials who are working day and night, 24 hours a day almost to bring about a resolution of this matter are working toward. We cannot default, it will hurt millions and millions of everyday Americans. And we have a responsibility in terms of our country, our Constitution, our credibility, to make sure that America pays our bills and pays our bills on time.

BLITZER: As you know, some of your Democratic colleagues, Democratic members, they've told CNN publicly that they're concerned President Biden and Democrats are about to give too much away. Do you share their concerns?

JEFFRIES: Well, I share the concerns that the extreme MAGA Republicans are trying intentionally to bring about public policy changes in the law that they know they cannot accomplish through the normal legislative process. That is the reason why we are in this situation. They are threatening to default because they know that President Biden and others in Washington, D.C., Senate Democrats, House Democrats are inherently responsible individuals, and we understand the consequences of a dangerous default. But at the same time, I am confident that President Biden will continue to hold the line and not allow painful cuts to be undertaken, that are going to hurt the health, the safety or the economic wellbeing of the American people. And that will be consistent with how we feel as House Democrats. This situation should be resolved.

BLITZER: The House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Leader Jeffries, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Congress and the executive branch. As you know, as all of our viewers now know, the stakes for the U.S. economy and the American people are enormous and deep for the world right now. So we're watching this very, very closely. I appreciate it very much.

JEFFRIES: Thanks so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Russia's gruesome and deadly strike on a medical center in eastern Ukraine. We'll have an inside look at how Ukraine is defending itself from nonstop Russian barrages of missiles. Plus, will the airline industry be able to withstand a record setting surge and travel for this Memorial Day weekend? Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Ukrainian city of Dnipro is reeling from a deadly Russian strike at a medical complex that's killed two people and injured dozens. CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Kyiv for us right now.

Fred, Ukraine says this was a deliberate Russian attack, once again, on Ukrainian civilians. What more are you learning about this latest strike?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. What are they saying, it's a deliberate attack using missiles that are normally used to shoot down aircraft, they're called the S300 or S400 missiles. And if you use those in the ground-to-ground configuration that Ukrainian say, they're extremely inaccurate, and they can cause massive carnage if they're shot at urban areas. That's exactly what happened today in the town of Dnipro. Here's what we're learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The horrifying aftermath of another Russian airstrike, a medical facility hit in Dnipro, killing two and wounding scores, as Moscow launched another round of drone and missile strikes at targets across Ukraine. But Kyiv says this time they managed to take down all the cruise missiles and nearly all the Iranian supplied Shahed drone.

CNN got rare access to a key component of Ukraine's air defense. The German made Gepard antiaircraft system known as the Shahed killer. Time is essential, radar operator Oleh tells mean. There may be three to four targets and we need to destroy them one by one. The computer system makes it as easy as possible for the gunner to succeed.


Ukrainian forces gave us this video they say shows a Gepard destroying several Iranian made drones. And this one even shooting down a cruise missile late last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, (inaudible).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): It's part of Ukraine's increasingly effective, mostly western supplied layered, short, medium and long-range air defense, including the U.S. made Patriots that both Washington and KFC have managed to even take down the feared Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missiles that can travel 10 times the speed of sound, and which Putin claimed were invincible.

The commander of Ukraine's joint forces tells me systems supplied by the U.S. and its allies are making all the difference. We have the means that can fight Kinzhals and ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles and strike drones, he tells me, and the percentage is constantly increasing, now the efficiency is over 80 percent.

And as Ukraine's army gears up for a large-scale counter offensive, strong protection against threats from the skies will be crucial.

(on camera): The Ukrainians say they fully understand that effective air defense will be critical to their upcoming counter offensive, not just to protect critical infrastructure and ammunition dumps, but to defend advancing forces as well.

(voice-over): The enemy will throw all available forces to reduce the combat potential of our offensive, the general tells me, the success during the advance and liberation of Ukrainian territory will depend on high quality air defense. And civilian lives on the ground depend on it as well to prevent attacks like in Dnipro where, once again, so many were harmed.


PLEITGEN: Some more news happening tonight, Wolf, from the Russian occupied city of Mariupol, apparently some explosions going on there. The authorities there, the Russian installed authorities there are saying they believe that it was Ukrainian long distance rockets hitting targets there. Of course we know Mariupol right now, one of the main staging points for the Russians for their war in Ukraine. And of course, we also know that some believe that shaping operations for that Ukrainian offensive might already be going on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen reporting from Ukraine. Stay safe, Fred. Thank you very much.

Joining us now to break down these late breaking developments out there on the frontlines of Ukraine, CNN Military Analyst Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, along with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor.

Colonel Leighton, Russia has a proven record of attacking medical targets. But is this strike also a reaction for Ukraine's expected counter offensive that's about to begin?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It could very well be, Wolf. And the reason I say that is they were clearly lobbing artillery toward areas where they think the Ukrainians are staging their military at and Dnipro would be the perfect place for the Ukrainians to form up and then move into the south, particularly to go after the land bridge that the Russians have set up between Crimea and the Donbass.

BLITZER: Ambassador Taylor, I know you just returned from a meeting with top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv, the capital, what are you hearing from them about their readiness for this offensive, this counter offensive?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, they are ready. We talked to the Minister of Defense, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as soldiers, both privates that are going back out to the front, lieutenants as well as generals, they are ready. They are, as you just reported, they are so pleased that the weapons that they've gotten, their ability to shoot down these missiles, but also the all that armor that they've gotten in order to go after this big counter-offensive.

BLITZER: The Colonel Leighton, you just heard in Fred planktons report from Kyiv, about the success that Ukraine's air defenses have had against these incoming Russian rockets and missiles. But as the Netherlands apparently is now dragging its feet on officially sending its F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, how strong is Ukraine's offensive, offensive capability in the air?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's certainly without the F-16, of course, it's weaker than it would otherwise be. But the Ukrainians weren't going to be getting the F-16 before this offensive or even during this offensive. Their offensive capabilities are fairly strong. They have the ability to move with their tanks, they have the ability to move with their armored personnel carriers, and they also have the remnants of their air force which is fairly effective against the Russians. And then as Fred pointed out the integrated air defense capabilities that they have are substantial, and that will make a major difference because it will protect the Ukrainian forces as they advance.

BLITZER: Ambassador Taylor, at this point, Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for this latest explosion in Mariupol. But are Ukrainian officials ramping up attacks on Russia held territory in Ukraine and Russian soil for that matter as part of its strategy to prepare for an offensive?


TAYLOR: They absolutely are. They absolutely are. They are going after ammo dumps. They're going after headquarters. They're going after communications nodes. They are preparing for this counter offensive. And that means taking out the ability of the Russians to move and communicate and command their troops.

BLITZER: Ambassador Taylor, thank you very much, Colonel Leighton thanks to you, as well.

Up next, we'll check in on the travel situation here in the United States as Americans take to the roads and the skies in massive numbers. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: The U.S. aviation system is being pushed to the brink this Memorial Day weekend as Americans returned to the skies in the highest numbers since the pandemic. CNN's Isabel Rosales is joining us from Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta with details. Isabel, so what can people expect this weekend at the world's busiest airport?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, so right now what we're seeing is a steady stream of travelers. But right behind me at this main security checkpoint, you can still see plenty of open space, not too crowded, unlike what we saw earlier this morning.

In fact, according to Mark Howell, who put out a tweet, he's the spokesperson for the TSA southeast region. He said that the TSA recorded quote, the busiest morning rush ever today at Hartsfield Jackson from 3:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. today, nearly 32,000 passengers went through security checkpoints. The maximum wait time for a standard security line was 30 minutes, for TSA pre-check just eight minutes.

Now the previous record for such a morning rush was back in February 4th of 2019. And if that date sounds familiar, that is because that was the day after Super Bowl 53. That record was fewer than 500 people in comparison to what we saw this morning. Still the TSA expects over 2 million people to come through this airport through the weekend. Today being the busiest day with more than 350,000 passengers expected by the end of tonight. And I spoke with some travelers who had very different experiences. Listen.


THOMAS HARTLEY, TRAVELING: Staffs been courteous. Everything's been traveling smoothly. It helps us so Friday morning, so, so far it hasn't seemed too crazy little nervous about coming back on Monday. I think that one might be a bit worse. But it's a domestic flight luckily, so.

QYEISHIA ASKEW, MISSED FLIGHT: Crazy because we got bad news. The next two flights are booked. If we have to get on top of the playing, we're going to get on top of the plane. Hope and prayer. Hope and prayer. This is what we're on.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROSALES: Now, plenty of folks have been worried about this unofficial start to the summer because they had bad memories from last year. Last summer, we saw massive travel chaos with thousands of flights being disruptive. So really this summer is a test for the airlines, the airports and also the FAA.

One of the biggest limitations has been a massive shortage of air traffic controllers. Right now the agency is down about 3,000 controllers, in comparison to their ideal staffing levels. Plus, airlines have had operational challenges as well. Now, some of the good signs, according to some experts that we spoke with that are optimistic about what we could see this summer around is that the preventive measures that airlines have taken including adding more than 48,000 employees putting out more realistic flight schedules also trimming down flights at New York's busy airports to account for that shortage and of course flying larger airplanes to meet that demand. Wolf?

BLITZER: Isabel Rosales, thank you very much for that report. Meanwhile, on the highways here in the United States, Americans are getting some relief this Memorial Day weekend gas prices substantially lower than this time last year despite more drivers hitting the road. Brian Todd is joining us he's got details. Brian, Americans are expected to spend a lot less money filling up for the holiday weekend, right?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They'll spend a lot less, Wolf, and they'll deal with serious price competition among gas stations. We've got four gas stations alone just at this intersection, all competing to undercut each other on prices. But motorists are telling us, hey, given how we've been hammered with food prices, clothing prices and other things, we'll take this.


TODD (voice-over): At this BP station in McLean, Virginia, pleasant surprises at the pump.

JOE ALIAGA, MOTORIST IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA: I am surprised because everything else is going up a lot more. So at least gas prices have kind of been stable.

RACKIE ALLIE, UBER DRIVER IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA: All in all I mean for the past one year I think the price is a little bit, you know, better for the citizen.

TODD (voice-over): The cost of your holiday road trip at least behind the wheel is lower this year. Gas prices steeply down from a year ago. The national average standing at 357 a gallon according to AAA down more than $1 from the average at this time last year, which was 460 a gallon. Analysts say there are several reasons for this. The global price per barrel of oil is lower, but also.

PATRICK DE HAAN, HEAD OF PETROLEUM ANALYSIS, GASBUDDY: The economic headwinds globally. Central banks raise interest rates to tame inflation that has cooled Americans desires to hit the road. TODD (voice-over): That's the case so far this year. But this holiday weekend, we'll see more Americans on the road more than 37 million according to AAA up 6 percent from a year ago. Another reason for lower gas prices Russia's war in Ukraine hasn't cut Russia's oil supply to world markets as much as was anticipated.


DENTON CINQUEGRANA, CHIEF OIL ANALYST, OPIS: We thought Russia was going to disappear from the world market. Their oil is still getting to market in certain places, despite the fact that the U.S., the E.U., and U.K. have sanctions on them.

TODD (voice-over): And experts believe motorists won't see huge price changes anytime soon.

DE HAAN: The odds are against the national average hitting the $4 a gallon mark this summer.

TODD (voice-over): So we asked motorists a key question.

(on camera): Will you change your travel plans or your driving habits now the prices are low?

TED MILLER, MOTORIST FROM MICHIGAN: Well, I actually just drove in from Michigan today to be with my son. So, you know, I think that I'm encouraged to keep traveling and get to family again, you know, it's been a while.

MICHELLE CHAVEZ, MOTORIST FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA: This weekend is the first weekend that I'm actually going to a beach so that's pretty exciting.

TODD (voice-over): Analyst Patrick De Haan says if lower gas prices have you thinking about a longer road trip, planned or spontaneous, there is a certain time of summer that might be a better window to travel than others.

DE HAAN: If you're planning a road trip really the closing innings of summer may be a better bet simply because the supply of that special blend of summer gasoline increases over the next six to eight weeks culminating in a peak of gasoline supply that amasses right as the peak driving season is happening in late July.


TODD: But De Haan and other analysts say this optimism over gas prices in the summertime especially in late summer this year will come with the usual caveat. They say if there's a major hurricane in the later part of the summer, or more than one hurricane that disrupts the refineries along the Gulf Coast, all these prices could shoot up again, Wolf.

BLITZER: So if that doesn't happen, Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Just ahead, South Carolina's six-week abortion ban is now on hold. We'll have details on a judge's ruling and what comes next. That's coming up right after break.



BLITZER: South Carolina's new six-week abortion ban is on hold tonight, temporarily blocked by a judge until the state Supreme Court can review the law. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is tracking the story for us. Dianne, tell us what this ruling means.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So right now, Wolf, according to law in South Carolina, abortion is legal up until about 20 weeks in pregnancy. Of course, just yesterday, Governor Henry McMaster signed that new law into effect that would have banned abortion after six weeks, but less than 24 hours later, today, a judge issued a temporary hold on that law, saying that it needed to first be reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

Now, well, that's something that's familiar to many people, especially in South Carolina, because earlier this year, the state Supreme Court struck down a previous six-week abortion ban saying that it violated the state constitution and guarantees to privacy. This is something that many of the opponents to the law argued during debates in both the House and the Senate, those five so called Sister Senators, three of them who were Republicans saying that they warned their colleagues that language that had been tweaked would not go far enough.


SEN. PENRY GUSTAFSON (R-SC): We know those clauses were a problem. Yet the house, you know, put them back in there reinserted them. And that's -- that was one of the main reasons why I voted against it because I don't think it can be upheld. And the longer we extend this debate, and the more that this legislation is picked off, truly the more abortions will take place.


GALLAGHER: Now, Republicans who support these bills in law say that they think they have tweaked it enough. The Attorney General Alan Wilson telling CNN quote, we're considering all our options. We've defended the right to life in court before and we're prepared to do it again. And Wolf, just moments ago, Governor Henry McMaster said that they filed an emergency motion requesting that the South Carolina Supreme Court resolve the issue quickly.

BLITZER: Dianne Gallagher reporting for us. Thank you, Dianne.

Turning now to the 2024 race, the war of words between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis is clearly heating up after the Florida Governor finally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Let's get analysis right now from our political expert. I'll start with David Axelrod, the DeSantis campaign, David, is touting the $8.2 million it raised in the first 24 hours after he became an official presidential candidate. That's nearly, what, 2 million more than Biden raised in his first 24 hours back in 2019. So how significant is this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it is significant, Wolf, money is important in campaigns, and he's proven the ability to raise it, and that will help sustain him in this race. He'll be able to get his message out. He'll be able to survive the ebbs and flows and duking it out with Donald Trump who also has significant resources.

It's not a guarantee of anything, however, I mean, the real question with DeSantis is he's offering himself as a new and improved Trump, Trump without the crazy, you know, he'll fire the FBI director, he'll pardon the January 6th folks, he'll bring the DOJ to heal and so on. And the question is whether people are looking or at least the Trump base is looking for a new and improved Trump, they seem to like the Trump they have.

So, you know, there are a lot of questions yet, but fundraising may not be one of them. He seems to be able to do that quite proficiently.

BLITZER: He certainly does. Michael Smerconish, as you know, Governor DeSantis is no longer tiptoeing around Trump, since he formally entered the race this week. He's now slamming the former president for many of the attacks he's made against him. First of all, listen to this.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is going left on a lot of the fiscal. He's going left on culture. He's even sided with Disney against me. I don't know what happened to Donald Trump. This is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016.


BLITZER: So Michael, what do you make of DeSantis' very forceful new approach to dealing with Trump?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I don't know that there's a lot of opportunity to try and establish daylight between the two of them on issues because, you know, hosting a radio program and listening to people calling from all across the country day after day after day. What I most often hear on this issue is that they want Trump policies but they don't want as David put it, Trump's baggage, but they mean, on a personal level.

So the question that I have is, OK, we're 48, 72 hours into it formal DeSantis campaign, how long until he gets personal in a way that we know Donald Trump already is with Ron DeSantis? I have to believe we're sooner than later going to get there.

BLITZER: I happen to believe that too. Kristen Holmes, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, how threatened is Trump and his team for that matter, by Ron DeSantis' entrance into this race? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're incredibly threatened. And you can tell by the statements that have been going out today, we've already seen statements talking about the Super PAC, hitting him for raising money saying it's because he had a shadow campaign, and he was using taxpayer dollars to leverage his campaign.

And we also heard from them saying that Trump, this is actually exactly what it said, it said that Trump's launch reached over 13 more -- million more Americans than DeSantis' did. So clearly wouldn't put those kinds of statements out if you weren't threatened at all. And I do think the other level of concern here, and I know Michael just talked about how they aren't that different on policy.

But one thing that DeSantis is able to do when he is running on this Trumpism without Trump without Trump's baggage is pick and choose which policies he wants to double down on. What we saw today was actually quite striking. DeSantis said that he was going to repeal Trump's Criminal Justice Reform Act, it was a landmark act. And he said that it was just basically jailhouse bait that was too lenient.

This is something that we know Trump himself has been concerned about. This is something that was passed in 2018. He didn't even run on this in 2020. DeSantis now has the opportunity to pick and choose the kind of policies of Trump's that he wants that he wants to latch on to, but also disregard those that weren't so popular within the GOP.

BLITZER: Yes, guys, thank you very, very much. Thanks to all of you and be sure to catch up. Michael Smerconish's truly excellent program tomorrow morning, right here on CNN 9:00 a.m. Eastern, I never miss it.

Coming up, the Republican attorney general of Texas is facing impeachment at the hands of his own party. We have details on tomorrow's vote and the simmering tensions within the state GOP.



BLITZER: In Texas, the state's Republican attorney general is facing a major rebuke from his own party. The GOP controlled House will vote tomorrow on 20 impeachment articles against Ken Paxton, who faces accusations of abusing accusations I should say of abusing his office. CNN's Ed Lavandera has the story.


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 and all filed against him. The charges brought by the Texas House general investigating committee detail alleged violations by the AG 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 AG'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 then flicked 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 his country, Attorney General Ken Paxton.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And taking a page out of the Trump playbook. Paxton blamed 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 he's calling on the Texas Senate to refuse to hold an impeachment trial.

STEVE TOTH, TEXAS STATE HOUSE: No one has any evidence that he did anything wrong. It's all allegations. It's all allegations. And so yes, it's 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: And Wolf both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Texas House we spoke with say they expect a simple majority to vote to impeach Ken Paxton. It becomes more complicated on the Senate side. There's 31 senators, 12 Democrats. So there would need at least nine Republicans to join forces to remove Paxton from office.

But it's clear that Ken Paxton is not going to go quietly, Wolf. He just said moments ago urging his supporters and friends to turn out at the peacefully rally on his behalf at the Texas Capitol tomorrow afternoon, while the Texas House votes very reminiscent of Donald Trump in January 6th, when he point that out because Ken Paxton was in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting, Ed Lavandera in Dallas for us. Ed, thank you.

Coming up, we'll have more on our top story right now. The United States Treasury now says the government can pay its bills until June 5th. Will debt ceiling negotiators take advantage of these extra four days to strike a deal or is the United States still headed for its first ever default?