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Biden and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Scramble To Sell Debt Deal To Party Hardliners; CNN Behind The Scenes As Ukraine Trains For Counteroffensive; Race For GOP Nomination Heating Up; North Korea Confirms It will Launch First Military Satellite In June; Biden Honors U.S. Service Members On Memorial Day. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 29, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We have new details on some potentially significant hurdles to the bill's passage.

Plus, CNN is behind the scenes in Ukraine right now as Kyiv's forces train for a counteroffensive which could begin at any time. We'll have a live report from the war zone this hour.

Also tonight, the race for the Republican nomination is heating up. A slew of candidates appear poised to officially launch campaigns as Donald Trump's biggest rival, at least for now, Governor Ron DeSantis, kicks off a tour of pivotal states. Is the crowded GOP field playing right into the former president's hands?

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

Let's get straight to the scramble to avoid a historic default on the U.S. debt. President Biden and Speaker McCarthy, they are both working the phones tonight as they try to rally support from skeptical lawmakers. CNN is covering the race to pass the agreement from every angle.

The stakes right now for the American people and, indeed, the world economic situation are enormous. Our correspondents are over at the White House and up on Capitol Hill. We're getting new details right now. And a key Democratic leader, Congressman James Clyburn, is standing by live. We'll get to him in just a few moments.

But, first, to CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, what is the latest where you are over at the White House?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this entire negotiation process was driven by the understanding that this was going to need to be a bipartisan piece of legislation with both Democratic and Republican votes required to get it to passage.

And that much has become clear. You've seen hard-line conservatives and some progressive Democrats express concerns about the compromised legislation that has emerged. And so now, the White House is facing that task of trying to sell this legislation to Democrats. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Look, you know I never say I'm confident with what the Congress is going to do but I feel very good about it.

DIAMOND (voice over): With one week until the U.S. runs out of money, the White House and House Republican leaders are racing to lock down a bipartisan coalition of votes to get a debt ceiling deal to the president's desk.

BIDEN: It takes the threat of catastrophic default off the table, protects our hard-earned and historic economic recovery and the agreement also represents a compromise, which means no one got everything they want. But that's the responsibility of governing.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Maybe it doesn't do everything for everyone, but this is a step in the right direction that no one thought we would be at today.

DIAMOND: The deal would suspend the debt limit into 2025 and cap spending for the next two years, while allowing defense and veteran spending to increase. Spending on other domestic programs will fall by about $1 billion next year, according to White House officials, and in 2025, spending will grow by just 1 percent.

That $1 billion cut looks even steeper on paper but it's mitigated by a deal to redirect $20 billion of new IRS funding and billions in unspent COVID relief dollars to backstop other domestic spending cuts. The deal also expands work requirements for food stamp recipients, requiring proof of employment for recipients as old as 54 years old, up from 49. But veterans, the homeless and people who are in foster care are now exempt from those requirements.

Already signs of disapproval from hard-liners on the right.

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): I'm not willing to vote this country into more debt.

DIAMOND: And the left.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do they still have to worry about the Progressive Caucus and whether or not your caucus will support --


TAPPER: Yes, they do?

JAYAPAL: Yes, they have to worry.

REPORTER: What's your message to House Democrats who have reservations about this compromise bill?

BIDEN: Talk to me.

REPORTER: What would you tell them?

BIDEN: I'm not going to tell you.

REPORTER: Who got the better deal, Democrats or Republicans?

BIDEN: It's a bipartisan deal.

DIAMOND: The White House scrambling to make its case, offering briefings and making more than 60 one-on-one calls to House Democratic lawmakers so far. A key message, focus on the programs Republicans were trying to cut and what's not in the bill.

BEN LABOLT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: For members of the Progressive Caucus who voted for all of the signature legislation of this administration over the past couple of years that has led to the creation of 12.7 million jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, those are protected and funded in this agreement. And so if you voted for those items, you should vote for this, as well.


DIAMOND (on camera): And as you heard in my exchange with the president, clearly, he thinks that his appeals to Democrats are best made behind the scenes and I'm told that the president has been making numerous phone calls and he will be doing so daily up until this House vote and through the Senate vote.

But beyond that it's clear that the White House is making some progress. The head of the new Democrat coalition, a group of more moderate Democrats, nearly a hundred of them, voiced her support for this legislation today. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right.


Jeremy at the White House, thank you.

Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox. She's up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold. Lauren, can this deal actually pass the House?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the key question, Wolf. And we're going to give a little preview tomorrow afternoon. That is when the House Rules Committee meets.

And there's a little bit of drama we expect to play out there. That's because Chip Roy, a key conservative member of that committee, is threatening to vote against getting the rule out of the committee. And that could become a big issue for Kevin McCarthy. There's another conservative on that committee, Ralph Norman, who's also threatening to vote against this bill. All eyes are on Thomas Massey, another conservative, and what he is going to do.

But if this bill gets to the House floor, I am told from multiple sources that the expectation is that the House Republicans could lock up 150 votes, potentially even more. That, of course, comes after a furious whipping operation over the weekend and through the day today. The argument coming from House Republicans is you essentially have two choices. You can support this bill or you can support default. And that is the argument they are making. They are arguing that they got the White House to the negotiating table after President Biden and Chuck Schumer argued they would not negotiate on this debt ceiling.

So, they feel like they are going to be able to get the Republican votes they need, meanwhile, Democrats also working furiously to get their own members on board. But the expectation is, if this gets to the floor of the House, the votes are going to be there, Wolf.

BLITZER: If it passes the House, it still has to pass the Senate, Lauren, as you well know. What's the latest there?

FOX: Well, there is some heartburn from some members of the U.S. Senate, including Lindsey Graham, who's arguing that he's very concerned about the defense number that was agreed to. He said in a tweet earlier today, how far have we come as a party on defense? The Biden defense number is the new Republican defense budget. There is no need to further cripple our national security in the name of raising the debt ceiling.

And the reason we are keeping a close eye on every single member of the Senate, Wolf, is because in order to move this bill rapidly through that chamber, you need some agreement, you need some unanimous consent agreements to make this process move quickly. Otherwise, you start to get right up against that June 5th deadline. That, of course, something that Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, does not want to see happen. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now for more reaction, the assistant Democratic leader, Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

I know you've said that you will vote for the compromised debt bill negotiated between President Biden and Speaker McCarthy. Tell us why.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me, Wolf. It's simply because I recognize that there are a lot of things at play here. Number one, the full faith and credit of the United States of America is at stake, and we've got to keep that protected.

Number two, we are governing. And when you have two parties, as I've said before, 51 percent of the House is under Republican control, 51 percent of the Senate is under Democratic control. That means that we've got to find compromise. And I think that we found a very good compromise.

I spoke throughout this process with the president and with Shalanda Young. I've never met anyone in government more competent for her work or more compassionate for her cause. And I think that when I saw her, that I have given big thumbs up on this deal, I felt that it was incumbent upon me to do what I can to help get it across the finish line. BLITZER: Very interesting. I want to get your reaction, Congressman, to how Speaker Kevin McCarthy is characterizing this bill. Watch and listen to this.


MCCARTHY: Right now, the Democrats are very upset. The one thing Hakeem told me, there's nothing in the bill for them. There's not one thing in the bill for Democrats.


CLYBURN: Is he correct? Well, that's not what I've heard from Hakeem. Hakeem Jeffries has been a tremendous leader. He's been doing the things to keep this caucus together, and I think he's done a great job doing that. And I do believe that he's on board. We're helping to get this across the finish line.

Look, we are expanding assistance to veterans. We are expanding assistance to the homeless, and we are doing things to protect student loans program, student debt relief loan program that the president has in place.

We have protected Medicaid. We are doing things that the Republicans said they wanted to see undone. And we are protecting those things that the president came forward with, with his Rescue Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, chips and science, the PACT Act for veterans, the Inflation Reduction Act.


We are protecting a lot of stuff that a lot of people did not think this president would be able to get into law. It is now law, and this bill protects the bulk of all of that.

And when you're compromising, you got to know that you will not get 100 percent of all that you want. But I think they've done a pretty good deal, which I think is a fair deal.

BLITZER: As you know, for months, President Biden used to say he wouldn't negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling before finally, as we all now know, relenting on that point. Did the White House make a mistake in waiting too long to start these negotiations?

CLYBURN: Well, you never know how long you need to wait. I don't know that they waited too long. I think that we've got enough time before we reach that magic number, which I think is June 5th, and we aren't there yet, and so we still got time.

So, I don't know that he waited too long. I think that he waited long enough to get us to where we needed to be.

BLITZER: Yes. We got one week to go, one week from today before the debt limit runs out. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a woman you know well, she chairs the Progressive Caucus, is very critical of the new work requirements for programs, for example, like food stamps, that are in the bill right now. Listen to and watch this for a moment.


JAYAPAL: Absolutely terrible policy, does not reduce spending actually, by some, estimates, creates a burden on administrative spending that is actually worse for the overall cost of a program like that.


BLITZER: How do you respond to her?

CLYBURN: Well, I would say this. There was a trade here, to move able- bodied working people from age 49 up to age 54, and in exchange for that, we covered more veterans, we covered more homeless people. And I think that that, to me, is a pretty good trade off.

I agree with her that it's tough for this able bodied work requirement to be there, but it's always been there. We aren't changing anything. It's not anything new. We're just saying, rather than up to 49 years old, it goes up to 54 years old.

But when it comes to an exchange for that, we are going to cover. I understand over 100,000 more veterans will be brought into this definition and will be given exemption, and the same thing with the people who are homeless.

So, I think that she's right. It's tough, these work requirements, but I didn't like them when they were up to 49.

BLITZER: Congressman James Clyburn, thank you so much for joining us, as usual.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a stunning Russian attack on Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv in broad daylight, as Ukraine inches closer and closer to launching its major counteroffensive. We'll go live to the war zone, that's next.

This is a Situation Room special report.



BLITZER: The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is reeling right now from a rare and brazen barrage of Russian missiles right in the middle of the day, on the heels of another overnight assault on the city and indeed across the country.

Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is in the war zone for us. Sam, what can you tell us about this daytime attack as Ukraine is now hinting, once again, it's about to launch it's highly anticipated counteroffensive?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the day began with missiles, cruise missiles and Shahed drones concentrating their firepower on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and we've got used to that. More than 70 missiles fired over that period, most of them shot down.

And then as people got going to work midmorning, the capital once again was bombarded, this time with the very potent Iksander missiles, which were 11 of them, were fired at Kyiv, exploding in the air.

They were all brought down by antimissile missile batteries, but causing panic and fear on the streets, children fleeing through the streets between on their way to school, people terrified in what is clearly an effort by the Russians to try -- once again to try and break the spirit, the fighting spirit of Ukrainian civilians.

But, Wolf, as this offensive approaches, the fighting spirit of the soldiers is what it's going to be all about, and they all recognize that whatever happens, it is not going to be easy, Wolf.


KILEY (voice over): These are new recruits training. They could be on the frontline in a couple of weeks.

I got a whole load of blue on blue.

In training, mistakes are harmless.

And what happened to you? How long have you been doing this training?


KILEY: What do you think about the coming offensive? Do you want to get involved? You're not worried?


KILEY: These are young men. They been having quite a lot of fun running around in the woods. And sometimes things get quite funny. But, ultimately, this business is deadly serious.

These recruits could be weeks away from combat, pretend war, turning to this, where death is all too real.



KILEY: One wounded veteran Colonel Oleksandr Piskun runs the training.


KILEY: That experience is a hard one Oleksandr came face-to-face with a Russian who shot him in Bakhmut last week.

What would you say to young volunteers or conscripts joining now?


KILEY: The hospital has got plans for dealing with Ukraine's offensive, which is expected this summer.


KILEY: Colonel Piskun that this will not be his last memorial service. This military cemetery has space to grow. Soldiers are confronted with grim truth here, that many young men are forever entombed in this parade of graves.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Wolf, arguably, the shaping operations for the summer offensive have already begun. We've seen quite a lot of long range attacks behind the Russian lines inside Ukrainian territory, particularly Mariupol and Berdiansk, on the occupied coastline.

We've seen Russian citizens fighting on Ukraine's side, conducting incursions into the northern border, all part of those shaping operations. But the main offensive, we are assured, is imminent. At least that is the statements coming with more and more frequency from the government.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what we're hearing as well. Sam Kiley in Kramatorsk, in the war zone in Ukraine for us, stay safe, thank you very much.

Let's discuss these significant developments with military and diplomatic experts right now. And Major General Spider Marks, it's horrible to see these children running on the streets of Kyiv screaming as these Russian missiles are coming in. Why is Russia attacking the capital city during the daytime? It's the 16th strike this month alone.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The Russians, clearly, Wolf, are trying to achieve the maximum bang for their investment. What they are trying to do is kill as many Ukrainians as they can, destroy as much infrastructure as they can.

And understand that there's no pretense on the part of the Russians that there are any laws of land warfare. They're in complete disregard to what would be those collateral damage assessments that western powers and certainly the United States always takes into consideration when they are engaging in some type of military operation. It doesn't happen with the Russians. They're truly trying to just wear down the will of the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, you're our former Moscow bureau chief. What does this brazen daytime Russian attack on Kyiv revealed to you about Putin's mindset right now? JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Putin's mindset, I say, is really more concentrated on what is going on right on the border inside of Russia, because Sam was mentioning those cross border incursions, and there have been several of them.

There's one in a village that's called -- a town that's called Tobekeno (ph), and nobody in the Russian media seems to be able to know how to even explain this. Kremlin has kind of gone silent.

I think they're worried about that because they don't know where this is coming from next. And, you know, they will bomb Kyiv as long as they can. But I think they could really get worried because Russians are worried about the war coming to them.

BLITZER: Ambassador William Taylor is with us as well, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador, Ukraine is vowing retribution, and they are hinting repeatedly that it's now on the verge of launching its highly anticipated counteroffensive against the Russians. What are you hearing behind the scenes about when and how this counteroffensive will begin?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: So, Wolf, they're not letting anybody know when, where or how. They are determined to amount this counteroffensive. It is clearly coming. They are clearly prepared. They've got the weapons that they've been amassing.

They've got the soldiers that have been trained, you just showed some of the training, highest morale that you can see and you can feel. And it's among the soldiers, but it's also Wolf, among the civilians there.

Yes, the Russians are trying to terrorize the civilians.


But after those attacks, the civilians and the military are more determined than ever to succeed in this counteroffensive whenever it comes.

BLITZER: And we expect it will be coming soon.

Major General Marks, in your assessment, what are the outstanding preparations for Kyiv to be able to launch successfully this counteroffensive?

MARKS: Really a couple of things, Wolf. As Ambassador Taylor indicated, the key objectives, they, the Ukrainians, know what they are, they are focusing in all their intelligence gathering assets to ensure that they have the best view of the battlefield. That's number one.

Number two is they are then taking what Sam described as shaping operations, which is you maneuver forces and try to assess and reinforce that intelligence or pick up new intelligence. In other words, you also want to really describe to your commanders on the ground what this fight is going to look like so that you can make the appropriate applications of force. That's what's taking place right now.

BLITZER: Jill, the Belarusian president, Lukashenko, he's actually offering nuclear weapons to any country willing to join what he called the Union State of Russia and Belarus. What's behind these latest nuclear provocations?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, that was pretty amazing, wasn't it? The Russians are moving in tactical nuclear weapons. Not strategic, but tactical for the battlefield, they say, into Belarus. They've been building the preparation for it, and now they're deploying. And both sides, President Lukashenko and Putin, are both saying, don't worry, it's under control. We have a right to do this.

Putin, obviously, I think, is using the scare tactics that he's used all along. I mean, they just pulled out of conventional forces in Europe treaty with CFE, and it's another way of saying we can do whatever we want and we have the power that could be very dangerous for the west. But I do think it's dangerous, even if it is a scare tactic.

BLITZER: It certainly is a development indeed. Jill Dougherty, thank you very much. Bill Taylor, Spider Marks, I appreciate it very much.

Coming up, the Texas House of Representatives impeaches the state's attorney general in a landslide vote. We have details on the scandalous accusations against him and what comes next.

This is a Situation Room special report.



BLITZER: The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, could be on the verge of losing his job after the state House of Representatives impeached him in a landslide vote, the controversial Republican, suffering a rare rebuke from his own party.

Our Senior National Correspondent Ed Lavandera is joining us right now. He has an update. Ed, walk us through the fallout from this impeachment.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just moments ago, the Texas House of Representative managers formally presented the articles of impeachment to the Texas Senate. It is still not clear those House managers and the leaders of the committee that brought the articles of impeachment. 20 of these criminal charges in all say there is still no firm timeline as to when this impeachment trial will take place. So, we're still awaiting news on when all of this will unfold.

But it has been a dramatic several days and historic here in Texas politics as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have formally filed 20 articles of impeachment against the sitting attorney general in this state, Ken Paxton. And those charges range from bribery, obstruction of justice and being unfit for office, so some really dramatic charges. And Democrats and supporters of the impeachment say it is about time that this has happened.


STATE REP. DAVID SPILLER (R-TX): We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials that abuse their office and their power for personal gain.

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

They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.


LAVANDERA: So, Wolf, as you heard there clear, Ken Paxton is not going to go quietly in all of this. We should also point out that his wife is a Texas state senator and will be sitting as one of the jurors. It is not clear yet at this point what exactly she will do. There are calls for her to recuse herself from all of this, but we have not heard from Angela Paxton as to what she will do.

And, of course, Donald Trump has been very much involved in this over the weekend as well, coming to the defense of Ken Paxton, even going after Texas Governor Greg Abbott, saying that he is, quote, missing in action and not speaking up on the attorney general's behalf.

But right now, all eyes on the Texas Senate as we wait a timeline as to when this impeachment trial will begin on that side of the Texas legislature.

BLITZER: He's impeached. We'll see if he's convicted. So, what happens now?

LAVANDERA: Well, we just wait at this point to kind of figure out exactly when this trial is going to take place. The House has appointed these twelve managers that will oversee the presentation of the testimony at that trial.

We should point out there are 31 senators, 12 of them are Democrats.


So, they're going to need nine Republicans to vote against Ken Paxton if he is going to be removed from office.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Ed Lavandera, we will stay in close touch with you. Thank you very much.

Now to some other news we're following. The New Hampshire Republican governor, Chris Sununu, says he's very close to joining the 2024 presidential field, and he said so in an interview with CNN.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): The money has been lined up. The support has been lined up. There's a pathway to win. All those boxes are checked. The family is on board, which is always a big one. I just got to make sure it's right for the party and right for me.

When I start doing something, I'm 120 percent in. So, I think pretty soon we'll make a decision, probably the next week or two.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us now, Ashley Allison, former national coalitions director for the Biden/Harris campaign, along with former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings.

Scott, I'll start with you. Let me get your reaction to what Sununu just told The New York Times about how Republicans should approach the primary battle against Donald Trump. He said this, and I'm quoting him now, he said, any Republican that isn't hitting Donald Trump hard right now is doing the entire party a disservice, because if only one or two people are willing to take a shot at Donald Trump, it looks personal, it looks petty.

Clearly, Scott, he's indicating what kind of candidate he would be if he decides to throw his hat in the ring, and the signs are he will. What do you make of this?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's largely right. I mean, if you're running for political office, you can't sort of beat around the bush. The trouble with subtlety in politics is that not everyone gets it. And so I expect if he gets into the race, he is going to make some sharp contrasts and you're seeing Ron DeSantis and some others start to do that as well.

So, I don't sense that most of these candidates are going to give Donald Trump a free pass. There's obviously a couple in there that seem to not want to -- they want to pretend like Donald Trump doesn't exist at all, or maybe they even think they exist to protect Donald Trump. But that's not the way to win. I think Sununu is onto something and drawing a very bright line between yourself and the person you got to beat. And right now, that's Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Ashley, what do you think?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that people should be drawing jabs or taking jabs at Donald Trump, not just for the party, but for America. He has tried to overthrow our government. So, I would hope that all people would be trying to stand up against Donald Trump.

I think the challenge for Sununu is we've been saying for a long time, the more people that get into the Republican race, the greater it is that Donald Trump becomes a nominee.

But I also like to draw a contrast to what happened in the 2020 primary for the Democrats. Joe Biden was trailing. The field was very large, but it's really expensive to run for president of the United States and even for the nominee.

And so maybe even though the Republican field is becoming very large, some of these folks won't be able to continue to raise the money that they need to, to stay in the race. The field will shrink.

And then a Sununu or others who want to take jabs at Donald Trump and the leader that he will be could actually potentially fare well, maybe not in the first primary state, but in the second of New Hampshire, where he's from.

BLITZER: Interesting. Scott, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, is kicking off a four day swing in Iowa tomorrow, and he's not backing down from the war of words he's had with Donald Trump, slamming him once again in a new interview. Watch and listen to this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): He's taken the side of Disney in our fight down here in Florida. I'm standing for parents, I'm standing for children, and I think a multibillion dollar company that sexualizes his children is not consistent with the values of Florida or the values of a place like Iowa.


BLITZER: Are you surprised he seems to want to get into this back and forth directly with Trump?

JENNINGS: I'm not surprised at all, because he wants Republican voters to view him as the one and only chance that exists to knock Donald Trump out of the nomination. He wants to take control of the non-Trump lane. He wants to make this seem like a two-person race on the Republican side and a three-person race nationally.

I don't expect Ron DeSantis to mention the rest of these candidates. He's going to pretend like they don't exist. He's going to treat this like a one-on-one with Trump. That's his strategy, and I suspect that's going to be the way it is for quite a few months. He's got plenty of money to stay in all the way.

BLITZER: It's getting lively indeed. Ashley, are Democrats enjoying seeing the leading Republican candidates go after each other like this?

ALLISON: I don't know if we're enjoying it, but we know that as part of the political process. I think many Democrats here in Washington, D.C., are focused on just trying to govern. We have the Senate and the White House, and we're facing a debt crisis.

And so I think it's important that Democrats focus on what these candidates are actually saying on the trail. You have our country hopefully not going into default, and the two front runners, Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, saying maybe we should let it go into default.

And so while Democrats are focusing on governing, the campaign should also be paying attention to what these candidates are saying, because that's the type of leader they would actually be.

[18:40:05] BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, we're watching other important news on this holiday travel situation as Americans return to the roads and the skies in numbers not seen since the pandemic.


BLITZER: The U.S. Aviation System appears to be weathering the surge of air travelers taking to the skies this Memorial Day in numbers not seen since before the COVID pandemic.

CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean has our report.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From Atlanta to Los Angeles, millions of passengers are once again flooding into airports and putting air travel through its latest test, the start of a summer rush that so far has been handled by an industry that repeatedly stranded passengers last year.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has been easy, relatively easy. Not so bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything ran smoothly.

MUNTEAN: Last Memorial Day weekend, airlines canceled 2,700 flights, kicking off a summer of 55,000 cancellations in total.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is absolutely in the back of my mind but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get home without a hitch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope when I go back on Tuesday, I won't have a problem because I have to get to work.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This weekend will be a test of the system.

MUNTEAN: Before this rush, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned airlines they must perform. Sunday, he tweeted that cancellations have been below 1 percent, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby insists that airlines have been preparing for this moment. In the last year, carriers in the U.S. have hired 48,000 workers according to a CNN analysis.

SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: We hired over 15,000 new people last year. We're going to hire over 15,000 this year. United, we don't have a challenge but a lot of these support around us is challenged.

MUNTEAN: Now, the question is whether the streak can continue. Airlines fear that delays could come from the federal government now facing a shortage of air traffic controllers.

Industry expert Scott Keyes says the industry can't let its guard down yet.

SCOTT KEYES, FOUNDER, GOING.COM: I think we can say without reservation that airlines have passed the test. I'm hopeful that means we're going to have a pretty good summer when it comes to flying.


MUNTEAN (on camera): This holiday has not totally been without hiccups. Low clouds at San Francisco caused the FAA to delay inbound flights on Monday, though the cancellations are a fraction of what we saw last year. That is good news for passengers, because there are so many of them. The TSA anticipates screening 2.6 million people by the time Monday is over. That's 13 percent bigger than the same day a year ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pete Muntean reporting for us, thank you.

We'll be right back. More news coming.



BLITZER: Just in to CNN, North Korea has confirmed plans to launch its first military satellite next month.

CNN's Brian Todd has details for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A warning from North Korea's aggressive 39-year-old dictator, Kim Jong-un's regime has notified Japan that it plans to launch a satellite between this Wednesday, May 31st and June 11th.

That's according to a spokesman for the Japanese coast guard. Japan has issued its own warning right back to Pyongyang.

HIROKAZU MATSUNO, JAPANESE CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translator): The defense ministry and self-defense forces have issued an order to prepare for destructive measures against ballistic missiles in response to the series of North Korean movements.

TODD: South Korea also warning Kim's regime not to go ahead with the launch.

Kim Jong-un recently inspected what North Korea claims is its first military reconnaissance satellite and approved it for deployment.

Analyst David Schmerler believes Kim's satellite won't be able to feed him images that are as high res or sophisticated as the ones from America's satellites can.

Still --

What might Kim Jong-un be able to spy on that's sensitive to the U.S. and is allies?

DAVID SCHMERLER, SATELLITE IMAGERY ANALYST: The North Koreans are primarily be interested in military bases belonging to the South Koreans, to the Americans in South Korea, and then likely installations for the U.S. and Japan in Japan and naval movements near the coast of North Korea.

TODD: The launch of a spy satellite would be the latest in a pattern of aggressive moves by the North Korean strongman. Kim has test-fired more than 100 missiles since the beginning of last year. Last month, he claimed to have fired off a long-range inter intercontinental ballistic missile powered by solid fuel. Analysts say a solid fueled ICBM would give North Korea more flexibility because those missiles can be launched more quickly than others.

North Korea recently tested an underwater drone that it said was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. And the regime test-fired cruise missiles launched from a submarine. Analysts say this new satellite is right up there in importance with all of those missile capabilities because it can provide the intelligence Kim's generals need to use those weapons in war.

SCHMERLER: If the North Koreans want to hit a location in South Korea they have to know where the missile defense locations are.

TODD: When he recently inspected the satellite he is now threatening to launch, Kim wore matching lab coats with his young daughter believed to be about 9 years old and med Kim Ju-ae. She is recently become a media sensation in North Korea, more and more often seen at her father's appearances.

PATRICK CRONIN, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: They're trying to teach her how to be a leader in the Kim family dynasty.


TODD (on camera): But analysts caution it's possible that Kim Ju-ae is not being groomed to be the supreme leader, they point out South Korean intelligence recently said Kim Jong-un also has an older son who has not yet been seen in public and experts say it's possible that Kim Jong-un is waiting to unveil him until he's more of age -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, Republican Congressman Bob Good, a key Republican, who plans to vote against the debt deal. Can House Speaker Kevin McCarthy afford to lose his vote? That's coming up right at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead, President Biden remembers the Americans who gave their lives fighting for this country.


[18:58:31] BLITZER: At Arlington National Cemetery this Memorial Day, President Biden honored the Americans who gave their lives defending this country.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every year as a nation, we undertake this rite of remembrance for we must never forget the price that was paid to protect our democracy. We must never forget the lives these flags, flowers, and marble markers represent, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a sister, a spouse, a friend, an American.

Every year, we remember and every year, it never gets easier. Today, their service and sacrifice and that of their families echoes far beyond those silent stones out there. We see in every base, every barrack, every vessel around the globe where our military proudly serves and stands as a force for good in the world.

And just as they've kept the ultimate faith to our country, to our democracy, we must keep the ultimate faith to them. Together, we're not just the fortunate inheritors of their legacy, we must be the keeper of their mission, the bearers of the flame of freedom. It kept burning bright for nearly 247 years.

That, that's the truest memorial to their lives.


BLITZER: We remember all those who paid the ultimate price for freedom and thank them for their sacrifice. Eastern

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.