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State of the Union

Billionaire Richard Branson Set For Space Launch; Interview With New York City Mayoral Candidate Eric Adams; Interview With National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci; Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired July 11, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is looking to the skies.

Virgin Galactic billionaire Richard Branson is set to boldly go where no super rich guy has ever gone before, launching to the edge of space on board his own supersonic space plane called the VSS Unity. The Unity will take off on a carrier plane and then, after a brief flight, it will launch at least 50 miles above the Earth, roaring well past the speed of sound.

The passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before coming back down to Earth. Soon, we expect to see Branson and his crew heading to the launch site. We will bring you that when it happens.

But, first, back on Earth, the Delta variant is now the dominant COVID strain in the United States. And we're seeing case numbers heading in the wrong direction in areas with low vaccination rates.

And for those who are vaccinated, there is new confusion about booster shots. Vaccine company Pfizer is raising questions about how quickly Americans may need another third shot, as the FDA and CDC say, no, no, not yet.

And joining me now, the president's chief medical adviser on the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to start with this new reporting from Reuters today that Israel, the government of Israel, is beginning to administer Pfizer boosters, third shots to people that they consider vulnerable.

Here in the United States, the CDC and FDA say that we do not need booster shots. Do you think boosters could theoretically help vulnerable people?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, certainly, they theoretically could.

What the CDC and the FDA were saying, Jake, is that, right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot, a boost, superimposed upon the two doses you get with the mRNA and the one dose you get with J&J.

But that doesn't mean we stop there. They continue. I mean, there are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people. So, this isn't something that we say, no, we don't need a boost right now, the story has ended forever.

No, there's a lot of work going on to examine this in real time to see if we might need a boost. But, right now, given the data that the CDC and the FDA has, they don't feel that we need to tell people right now you need to be boosted.

TAPPER: And, as you know, Pfizer disagrees. Pfizer is recommending a booster, a third shot.

I wonder, are you worried at all that, if the CDC and FDA change their recommendations and boosters do become recommended in a few months, that some Americans will see this as and some demagogues in the media and politics will portray this as another flip-flop, and it will undercut trust in the FDA and CDC?

FAUCI: Yes. Yes.

Well, Jake, I mean, you have a very good point there. Inevitably, something like that will happen. I think what people need to understand -- and it's really important to understand that -- that, when you have an organization like the CDC and the FDA that are responsible for the regulatory components of what we do, as well as the public health, when they make a formal recommendation, it has to be based on data that's evidence that proves we need to go in this direction.

Before you get that data, there will always be people, well-meaning people and well-meaning companies, who will say, you know, the way we look at the situation, it looks like you might need a booster, so let's go ahead and give a booster.

But that's not a formal recommendation. I mean, even individual physicians, we know some physicians right now the it's know that are saying, I want to not -- I want to take the extra step, go the extra mile with someone who might actually have a lower level of immunity.

Those are the things that are out there. But if you're looking at formal recommendations from organizations, it's always based on data. And as we have said so many times, Jake, data evolves. You get more information as the time goes by.

So, when you get to the point where you have enough information to make a firm recommendation, that is not flip-flopping. That is making recommendations as the data evolve. And I know, sometimes, it's difficult to understand that, but that's what happens when you get formal recommendations from organizations like the CDC and like the FDA.


TAPPER: The CDC used to track what are called breakthrough infections. That's fully vaccinated individuals who have been infected with coronavirus. They used to track it. Now they have stopped.

They're only tracking breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death. Does it not seem premature to stop tracking all breakthrough cases, given the fact that there's this even more contagious Delta variant, not to mention the questions about boosters? Shouldn't the CDC just continue to track breakthrough infections?

FAUCI: Yes, and they will be doing that, Jake. You make a very good point.

I mean, one of the important issues that -- and you didn't ask this, but it is important to emphasize, that the vaccines that we have now, even when you have breakthrough infections, the protection against severe disease, hospitalization that might ultimately lead to death is still very, very high in effectiveness, well into the 90s.

So, even though you do get these breakthroughs, but the -- the question that you're asking is a good one. And you will be seeing much more testing being done. This is being very actively discussed right now.

TAPPER: The number of new cases in the U.S. has almost doubled now from its lowest point. It's up to more than 19,000 new cases a day, from about 10,000 new cases a day last month.

The Delta variant is now causing more than half of new infections. We know the U.S. has more than enough vaccines for everybody who is eligible. Why are we not able to stop this? What is the problem with getting as many people as possible vaccinated to stop this pandemic in the United States?

FAUCI: You know, Jake, it's an inexplicable pushing back on the part of some people about getting vaccinated.

I heard it when you were talking just awhile ago to the congressman about the idea of people saying you -- government is knocking on your door trying to force you to vaccinate. That is not the case at all. We're getting trusted messengers to try and get people to understand and appreciate why it's important for their own safety, for that of their families, and for the community in general.

There's no reason not to get vaccinated. You make a very good point. There are places in the world, many places, where the vaccination availability is practically nil. Those people would do anything to get a vaccine.

We in the United States have enough vaccinations to give to everybody in the country. And they are lifesaving. I mean, we have got to put aside this ideological difference or differences thinking that somebody is forcing you to do something. The public health officials, like myself and my colleagues, are asking you to do something that will ultimately save your life and that of your family and that of the community.

So, Jeff, I -- Jake, don't know. I really don't have a good explanation, Jake, about why this is happening. I mean, it's ideological rigidity, I think. There's no reason not to get vaccinated.

Why are we having red states and places in the South that are very highly ideological in one way not wanting to get vaccinations? Vaccinations have nothing to do with politics. It's a public health issue. It doesn't matter who you are. The virus doesn't know whether you're a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. For sure, we know that.

And yet there is that divide of people wanting to get vaccinated and not wanting to get vaccinated, which is really unfortunate, because it's losing lives.

TAPPER: The conservative political conference CPAC is going on this weekend.

I want to play for you a clip of one of the speakers from that event yesterday.


ALEX BERENSON, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: They were hoping, the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated. And it -- and it isn't happening, right?

There's a...


BERENSON: Younger people...


TAPPER: I'm going to cut him off right there because he just goes on to just say things that are not true about the vaccine.

But what I wanted to get your reaction to is the crowd cheering when this gentleman talks about how the government was not able to achieve a 90 percent vaccine goal. The crowd cheered.

As a public health official, what's your reaction when you hear that?

FAUCI: It's horrifying.

I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it's a good thing for people not to try and save their lives. I mean, if you just unpack that for a second, Jake, it's almost frightening to say, hey, guess what, we don't want you to do something to save your life. Yay. Everybody starts screaming and clapping.

I just don't get that. I mean, I -- and I don't think that anybody who is thinking clearly can get that. What is that all about? I don't understand that, Jake.


TAPPER: On the other side of the political spectrum, the former health and human services secretary under President Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, said this week that she's frustrated. She thinks it's time for the Biden administration to push schools and businesses and others to mandate the vaccine.

She said specifically -- quote -- "I'm trying to restrain myself, but I have kind of had it. You know we're going to tip toe around mandates. It's like, come on. I'm kind of over that. I want to make sure that people I deal with don't have to, so I don't transmit it to my granddaughter" -- unquote.

Now, Sebelius is giving voice to the frustration a lot of vaccinated Americans have about how it seems like society is bending over backwards to not offend people who refuse to get vaccinated.

You know, people who are vaccinated have to wear masks on airplanes because airplanes don't want to mandate that you have to be vaccinated to fly. I know you have been very clear that the government isn't mandating vaccines, but do you think it's generally a good idea for businesses or schools to require vaccinations?

FAUCI: Right.

I have been of this opinion, and I remain of that opinion, that I do believe, at the local level, Jake, there should be more mandates. There really should be. We're talking about life-and-death situation. We have lost 600,000 Americans already, and we're still losing more people.

There have been four million deaths worldwide. This is serious business. So, I am in favor of that.

One of the things that will happen -- and I think the hesitancy at the local level of doing mandates is because the vaccines have not been officially fully approved. But people need to understand that the amount of data right now that shows a high degree of effectiveness and a high degree of safety is more than we have ever seen with emergency use authorization.

So these vaccines are as good as officially approved with all the I's dotted and the T's crossed. It hasn't been done yet because the FDA has to do certain things, but it's as good as done.

So, people should really understand that. But they are waiting now until you get an official approval before. And I think, when you do see the official approval, Jake, you are going to see a lot more mandates.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

FAUCI: Thank you, Jake. Good to be with you. TAPPER: Our first view of billionaire Richard Branson climbing aboard

his space plane coming up.

Plus, the push by some Republican lawmakers to keep people from getting a lifesaving vaccine. Why?

That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. We're waiting for billionaire Richard Branson to a brief journey into space.

But first: the final chapter.

After 20 years and 2, 400 American service members killed, President Biden is forcefully defending his decision to end the longest war in American history, saying it's highly unlikely that the Taliban will take over in Afghanistan, despite troubling gains over recent weeks.

Joining me now is Afghanistan veteran, pilot in the Air National Guard and Republican Congressman from Illinois Adam Kinzinger.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

I want to start with Afghanistan. Over the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of American service members, including yourself, deployed to Afghanistan; 2, 448 American service members and DOD employees lost their lives to this war, along with nearly 4,000 private contractors and untold numbers of Afghan civilians.

Tens of thousands of Americans have suffered physical and emotional wounds. As the U.S. leaves, I guess the big question is, was it all worth it?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, look, Jake, and your I guess, following in "The Outpost" of that real kind of human story that happened there, I very much appreciate it. I think it put a real life to the people that fought in Afghanistan.

You know, look, I think, if we could go back to 2001, if we could use our magic wand, I would fight the war very differently. I would make sure that the Taliban would be kicked out. I think you engage in building or protecting Afghanistan in a far different way than we did.

But without having the benefit of hindsight, I think we are going to get an answer to that question soon, because I think if Afghanistan, as it unfortunately appears is going to happen, if the government collapses, Kabul falls, we see the horrible pictures, we see the rise of the Taliban again, and we see safe haven for terrorists to train, we might realize that Afghanistan, though not fun for us, and that was a big sacrifice, was certainly worth not having that be a safe haven.

I hope I'm wrong, but we might see that. TAPPER: As you know, NATO's combat mission formally ended all the way

back in 2014, although, obviously, the U.S. and NATO allies stayed there for other purposes, including training, seven years later, U.S. troops still there.

Here's what President Biden had to say about that in his speech a few days ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that just one more year fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution, but a recipe for being there indefinitely.


TAPPER: So, then Biden turned and asked critics of his -- and I will put it to you -- how many thousands more American daughters and sons are you willing to risk and how long would you have them stay?


I know these are tough questions.


TAPPER: But what would your answer be?

KINZINGER: And I think it's a really kind of unfair question for the from the president to have posed, because, look, there's never anything that feels worth sacrificing American lives for.

But that's what leadership is about. Leadership is recognizing that, yes -- I mean, you can't ask the American people, do you want to sacrifice your sons and daughters? Of course they are going to say no.

But leadership is leading people to say look, I have the foresight of knowing, though, however, that, without that sacrifice, it's actually going to cost your sons and daughters' lives potentially here at home.

And I think the tragedy of Afghanistan, look, President Trump basically put President Biden in the situation where he would either have to increase the numbers in Afghanistan or bring them all home.

President Biden went in there -- and, basically, we get asked all the time, what was the mission in Afghanistan? Well, the mission was to create an Afghan government that can defend itself. They were pretty close to that.

You know, the U.S. and NATO was only carrying out 2 percent of combat missions. Most of those were targeting ISIS. The rest was stiffening the spine of the Afghan government that was willing to fight as long as they knew the U.S. had their back. And now you're seeing this collapse, not because they weren't heroic in fighting, but because everybody turned their back on them. Again, Jake, I hope I'm wrong. I hope, with all the troops home, we

realize we should have left years ago and Afghanistan can defend itself and women are treated well. I just don't see that happening, and, unfortunately, a lot quicker than we thought.

TAPPER: President Biden says the this administration is going to begin evacuating some of the 18,000 Afghan translators and others who worked with the U.S. military and NATO forces, along with their families.

But the plan right now is to send them to these neutral third countries, not to the United States, not to Guam, which has been proposed, while the applications are being processed. Do you think the Biden administration is doing enough to save these people?

KINZINGER: Well, I think they have stepped it up in recent days.

I don't think they had a plan when this announcement was made. I think this announcement actually surprised a lot of the administration, the announcement to leave Afghanistan.

You know, there's problems with bringing them to U.S. territories, in terms of having constitutional protections if they're found out maybe that they didn't -- they weren't fully vetted correctly. But this has to be our number one priority.

And the problem right now, Jake, we can have a neighboring country or any other country say, sure, we will take them. Now we have to evacuate 18,000 people out of a country that is 80-some percent possibly controlled by the Taliban in which people, no matter which district they live in, are unable to cross districts and travel to the airport to get out.

I think it's great in theory, and I hope we can do it. I just logistically don't think it's possible at this moment. And it's going to be a massive tragedy. And this is going to affect -- it's not just going to be a tragedy watching these translators that gave their lives for our country be killed. It's also going to be a tragedy in the next war, whenever that happens and we have to convince the locals to be on our side.

TAPPER: Let's turn to domestic politics.

A number of your Republican colleagues are expressing outrage over President Biden's call for door-to-door outreach to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene compared those going door to door to Nazi brownshirts. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert called them needle Nazis. Senator Ted Cruz said it sounds to him like Soviet Russia.

What's your response to all that?

KINZINGER: It's -- Jake, it's insanity. It's absolute insanity.

Now, what President Biden said -- and maybe he could have said it slightly different -- is, we're willing to come to your house to give you the vaccine. At no point was anybody saying they're going to break down your door and jam a vaccine in your arm, despite your protest.

This is outrage politics that is being played by my party, and it's going to get Americans killed. We are on a -- our party has been hijacked. My party has been hijacked. It is on its way to the ground. And for some people, it's a fun ride, right? We can put out this outrageous stuff on Twitter. Yes, I'm getting all these retweets and everybody knows me. I'm famous.

But this plane is going to crash into the ground.

Listen, if you are a Republican voter, do not listen to people like Marjorie Taylor Greene. The vaccine is safe. COVID is real. Get vaccinated, because if you're going to listen to the outrage -- by the way, in March, she's bragging about Donald Trump creating the vaccine, and now she's saying, basically, the vaccine is going to kill you.

I call on Leader McCarthy, I call on every leader in the Republican Party to stand up, say, get vaccinated, and to call out these garbage politicians, these absolute clown politicians playing on your vaccine fears for their own selfish gain.

TAPPER: And I know you are vaccinated. I'm vaccinated. The vaccine is the best protection there is against the deadly pandemic.

Thank you so much, Congressman Kinzinger. Appreciate your time.

KINZINGER: You bet, Jake.

TAPPER: And we are waiting to see billionaire Richard Branson and his flight crew cross the final frontier.

Plus, coming up, the man expected to be New York City's next mayor flipping the script on Democrats and police in some ways. Should candidates across the country be following his playbook?


The Democratic nominee for mayor, Eric Adams, joins me ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back. We're about to see history in the making, as billionaire Richard Branson and his crew prepare to launch themselves into space. We're seeing these cars driving to the launch sites right now.

Joining me now in what's being called Spaceport America, which is the site of the Virgin Galactic launch, is CNN innovation and space correspondent Rachel Crane.

And, Rachel, you have probably never covered a launch quite like this.


Get us up to date. What's going on right now?


This is certainly a launch like I have never been to. And did I hint -- get a sense of jealousy in your voice there? You wishing you were in my place right now? I mean, this is a pretty cool assignment, because, in typical Branson fashion, it's not just about the spaceflight here.

It's, of course, also about the event and the spectacle surrounding it. So, we have a musical performance that's set to happen upon landing. There's tons of VIPs on site. As you can see, there's a large crowd behind me.

As you pointed out, we just saw the soon-to-be astronauts walk out of the hangar, get into their vehicles, head out to the runway. And soon they will be boarding their vehicle.

Now, VSS Unity, which is the spaceship that will transport them to space, is mated to the mother ship, EVE. that's set to take off in about an hour.

Now, when the vehicle reaches about 40,000, 50,000 feet, that's when VSS Unity will be released from EVE. It will be in freefall for a few seconds before that rocket -- that rocket motor ignites, shooting them off to space.

The mission specialists on board, they will experience about three g's, before they have about four minutes of precious weightlessness, before gliding back here to Earth greeted by this huge crowd that has come to wish Richard Branson well.

And we have heard on Twitter that Elon Musk is expected to be here. So, you know there's a lot of competitive spirit between these billionaires who have their space companies that are so -- outsiders have liked to peg it the new space race, so to speak, but it certainly seems that Elon Musk, as well as Jeff Bezos, actually, wishing Branson well and the Virgin Galactic team well on this spaceflight today, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Rachel, you spoke with Branson ahead of this launch. How is he feeling about this big day?

CRANE: Well, Jake, he was ecstatic.

I mean, he said he's never been happier in his life when he got the call from his team saying that he could actually board this flight. It's been nearly two decades in the making for him, Richard Branson saying that he was inspired by the moon landing when he was a child.

He's always been a daredevil. I mean, we have seen him do these large stunts before, like being in the hot -- doing a crossing in a hot air balloon. So it's all sort of been building up to this moment of spaceflight. And he's been saying that he's been wanting to do this since he was a child.

Today, his dream is becoming a reality. He has his friends and family here to see him take this flight. So a lot of momentum has been building up for him personally leading to this flight, but also in the space community, because this is really seen, Jake, as ushering in a new era of space tourism, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin sort of opening up the final frontier to the rest of us.

And when I say the rest of us, of course, the early adopters, they're throwing down big bucks to get on these rides. Virgin Galactic has sold around 600 tickets at around $200,000 a pop. We still don't know what the going price for Blue Origin will be to fly on their new Shepard system.

But we do know that one seat was auctioned off to be on the upcoming July 20 flight with Jeff Bezos. Jake, that seat went for $28 million. So, of course, the ticket prices for these flights right now are still incredibly high.

But they -- the company's saying that, as the market continues to grow, hopefully, that price will drop, so folks like I know myself, I don't know about you -- I have a feeling maybe, though, you would maybe put your tush in that seat one day, but the idea is to democratize space, so more people can experience the joy of space and seeing spaceship Earth from above, Jake.

TAPPER: Rachel, that's very nice of you to offer to pay my $28 million seat fee. I appreciate it.

I didn't know you had that kind of cash. But we're going to check back with you in a little bit.

First, however, what if I told you that an armed former police officer running on a law and order platform seems quite likely to become New York City's next Democratic mayor and the second black mayor in that city's history?

That's exactly what Eric Adams is on his way to becoming after going against the grain of recent Democratic Party politics and winning the city's wild Democratic primary.

And the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, joins me now.

Mr. Adams, thanks so much for joining us, and congratulations on your victory.

I want to start with crime, which is, of course, an issue you highlighted during the race. Murders in New York City rose dramatically in 2020 compared to 2019. They're up another 11 percent so far this year. Gun arrests almost doubled in June over last June.

And you have made combating crime a central issue for your campaign. Assuming that you win in November, what should New Yorkers expect to see that will be different? Bringing back stop and frisk? Reinstating that plainclothes unit going after illegal guns? What will change?

ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYORAL CANDIDATE: A combination of things. Number one, I believe, for the first time, we are going to see a coordinated effort between the president, the governor, the mayor to go after the flow of guns in our city, which is extremely important.


But then, right on the ground, how do we deal with the intervention aspects of it? We want to see the remake of an anti-gun unit that's going to do precision policing, focusing on gangs and guns. We're going to have a coordinated effort to ensure our gun suppression unit receive the resources they deserve.

And then we're going to be extremely comfortable going to our judges and stating, we can't have people who participate in gun violence and they're out the next day. That's unacceptable. We need to send a clear message that our streets are going to be safe.

TAPPER: One of the issues I have you talk about that a lot of national Democratic politicians don't is the fact that most gun crimes are not committed with so-called assault weapons, they're committed with handguns, and that most homicides are not these horrific mass shootings. They're one-offs, lots of them every day.

Beyond what you just mentioned, in terms of laws, in terms of state or city or national gun laws to try to stop gun violence, what do you think would work? And do you think the priorities of national Democrats may have been misplaced?

ADAMS: Yes, I do. I believe those priorities, they really were misplaced.

And it's almost insulting what we have witnessed over the last few years. Many of our presidents, they saw these numbers. They knew that the inner cities, particularly where black, brown and poor people lived, they know -- they knew they were dealing with this real crisis.

And it took this president to state that it is time for us to stop ignoring what is happening in the South Sides of Chicago, in the Brownsvilles, in the Atlantas of our country.

And so it is extremely important that, just as we became energetic after we saw mass shootings with assault rifles in the suburban parts of our country, which we should have, we should have also focused on the handgun. The numbers of those who are killed by handguns are astronomical.

And if we don't start having real federal legislation, matched with states and cities, we're never going to get this crisis understand control.

TAPPER: But we're not going to -- I mean, the United States isn't going to ban handguns. So what are you proposing be done about it?

ADAMS: And they should not have to, to ban handguns.

But let's look at those particular gun dealers where there's a real correlation and connection with the guns that are used in our streets, those who are -- those states with lax gun laws, where you can walk into a gun shop with a license and walk out with the gun. Let's look at all of the feeders of how guns are making their way into our cities, something simple as, here in the Port Authority, we should have spot bag checks.

People are able to get on the Greyhound bus and come into our cities with bags full of guns with a level of comfort. And so we need to zero in on that handgun, and you will see the decrease in many of these shootings.

But then we must have long-term plans of the feeders of violence in our country, because it's more than just dealing with the immediate shooting. Before that young person gets a gun, he was denied an educational opportunity somewhere in the city. That's the real crime that we are fighting.

TAPPER: There's also in Washington big efforts at policing reform.

Talks in Congress are stalled right now .Negotiators say it might actually fall through, in part because they can't strike a deal on qualified immunity, which is a policy that shields police officers from civil liability when they're on the job.

You support eliminating qualified immunity, but Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn says he's willing to accept a deal without that provision. What do you think? Would that be a mistake?

ADAMS: Well, I support it with an asterisk. And I -- we need to be clear on that.

I don't believe a police officer who is carrying out his job within the manner which he was trained to do so should be open to a lawsuit. If he's chasing an armed person who is discharging a weapon and that police officer discharges his weapon and an innocent person is struck by that, that weapon, we should not have that officer open to a lawsuit.

But when you look at the case of a Floyd case, where, clearly, the officer went beyond his scope of responsibility, that officer should be open to a lawsuit. And so I don't believe we should be suing officers who are doing their job and some of the hazards of their job.

But those who step outside of those boundaries and recklessly carry an act that causes life or serious injury, they should be open to being sued personally.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the coronavirus pandemic.

Los Angeles County has recommended masks even for vaccinated individuals in indoor public places. They are doing this as a precautionary measure because of the Delta variant spreading.


What about New York City? Would you recommend that vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors?

ADAMS: Yes, I do.

I believe that we should err on the side of cautious -- being cautious. Clearly, coronavirus is a formidable opponent. It is changing every day. There's a lot that we don't know. But we should spread facts and not fear.

Let's let the science dictate the policy. We have amazing scientists here in this country. Allow them to dictate the policy we should carry out for health. But I'm in complete support. I still wear my mask from time to time when I'm in crowded settings.

And whatever we can do to ensure that we don't repeat the pandemic experience that we had, we should lean into that.

TAPPER: Your election was thrown into some chaos by inaccurate results from the New York Board of Elections early on in the process.

The Board of Elections, as you know, has been a patronage job in New York for years. It's been slow and incompetent for decades. If you win in November, do you think state lawmakers should professionalize or remake the Board of Elections?

ADAMS: Yes, I do.

This -- we need to move deeper into the 21st century. We need to utilize technology. Would you believe, when they did ranked choice voting, they introduced it in January, they were not ready, the pandemic hit, and then, right now, the only person that's in the room when they push the button to determine the ranking is one person?

That is not transparency. That is not how we should move towards reform in this area. So, I say yes. I'm hoping the state come together and put in place some real reform that would professionalize the operation, and then pay the employees better. Give them the equipment they need. Let's move this important process forward.

TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to what White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain had to say about your victory last week.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think that the coalition that Mr. Adams put together in New York is not dissimilar to the coalition that President Biden put together, a coalition of working- class voters, African-American voters overwhelmingly, and voters who want to see progress on core issues.


TAPPER: Do you agree? And do you see the Biden/Adams coalition, if you agree, of voters as the path to victory for Democrats in 2022 and beyond?

ADAMS: He just made a small mistake. He said it's similar to. I duplicated it.

I was encouraged when I saw what the president did. And I knew what I was hearing on the ground, that everyday New Yorkers, just like everyday Americans, they wanted a -- not a government of just an ideological approach, but a pragmatic approach.

We want to be safe. We want to be employed. We want to be able to educate our children. When I saw the president speak a blue-collar, plain talk, understood the need of everyday Americans, I was encouraged. I stood my ground. And that was the pathway that I knew.

And the numbers really communicate it clearly, when I captured four of the five boroughs, everyday blue-collar New Yorkers. I'm a blue-collar candidate. And I'm proud of what the president did. And I'm looking forward to us finally making working-class people at the top issues -- the top issues of working-class people to be finally addressed in this country. And I'm looking for that partnership with the White House.

TAPPER: All right, Eric Adams, the Democratic mayoral nominee, best of luck to you, sir, and thanks so much for joining us.

ADAMS: Thank you. Take care.

TAPPER: And we are now just moments away from witnessing history. Billionaire Richard Branson is poised to launch into outer space. So let's focus on this story now.

I have a panel of space experts with me. Let me start with Garrett Reisman.

Garrett, we're just moments away now from seeing these astronauts walking out. You've been in their shoes before. What's going through their minds in this moment? Is it just sheer terror, exhilaration? What are they feeling?

GARRETT REISMAN, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: I hope it's not terror. They should be very excited. I remember going to the launch pad both times and I was like positively giddy with excitement. We were making kind of silly dad jokes and stuff. I think we were just so amped up, ready to launch off the planet, that it was more exciting than anything else.

TAPPER: Nothing wrong with a dad joke.

Charlie Camarda, let me ask you. There's some debate going on about whether this even counts as outer space. The U.S. Government defines outer space as 50 miles. Some international organizations say it starts at 62 miles. Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origins has suggested Branson will have an asterisk by his name. What do you think?

CHARLES CAMARDA, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: I think it's silly, Jake. Thanks for having me.


Discussing the difference of maybe 6 to 10 miles in space as to whether these people reach space -- in the United States, 50 miles. A lot of international organizations claim its 62 miles, the Karman line. But I think it's foolish. I think this qualifies as space. And good for them.

TAPPER: Hakeem Oluseyi is here with me in studio.

So, Hakeem, private space travel seems to be picking up steam as an industry. I was talking to a friend of mine who was a big friend of science fiction and he said in all the books he read in the '50s and '60s, it was always billionaire industrialists going off into outer space and never governments.

Do you think that the space tourism by private companies is the future of space travel?

HAKEEM OLUSEYI, ASTROPHYSICIST: Well, it looks like it currently. We have a situation where we have private/public partnerships right now. So it looks completely private but it really is a private/public partnership. And what we're seeing today is not the standard rocket going into space that we normally see. So this model that we're seeing today could be the future because it's less expensive than a traditional model.

TAPPER: Explain what you mean when you say private/public partnerships --


TAPPER: -- because it looks -- it looks entirely private. But you're saying that the government has something to do with this?

OLUSEYI: Oh, yes. Typically, whenever you see something going into space, NASA does have some involvement. There are space ports, there's a lot of infrastructure that goes into these missions that's happening behind the scenes. And so, yes, it's a public/private partnership in much the same way that aviation is.

TAPPER: Kristin Fisher is at the launch state, she's CNN's new Space and Defense Correspondent.

First of all, Kristin, welcome to the CNN family. It's great to have you here. I'm very excited.


TAPPER: I want to ask you. We're so glad to have you here just in time for this historic day. I want to ask about safety for you because Virgin Galactic had a crash in 2014 that killed one pilot, regrettably, and seriously injured another. The NTSB found that it was due to human error.

So what kind of last-minute safety checks do you think are going on right now?

FISHER: So right after that accident back in 2014, the NTSB found that it was human error but they also blamed it partly on the spaceship's builder, saying that Scaled Composites should have anticipated that that kind of human error could happen. And so what they did back then was they put what's called an inhibitor in to keep that kind of human error from ever happening again.

So the chance of something like what happened in 2014 happening again, very slim. But as you know, Jake, space flight always a very dangerous and risky business. Right now they are going through all of their final checks. We already had one weather delay this morning.

And in terms of what the crew is going to be doing to stay safe, they are actually going to be wearing parachutes on this flight. Remember, it is a test flight. But right now, all systems go for launch, and again, those corrections, those course corrections made to the spaceship after that deadly accident back in 2014. But really just amazing how far Virgin Galactic has come.

I mean, remember, Jake, a lot of people thought Virgin Galactic would never get to this day after that accident. And now here we are just minutes away from Richard Branson himself taking flight.

TAPPER: All right, Kristin. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. Virgin Galactic engineers are preparing for all systems go for this historic flight. We'll be right back and Miles O'Brien will be with us. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back. And we are now just moments away, we're told, from witnessing history as billionaire Richard Branson is poised to launch into outer space. We've been talking about this with a panel of space experts. Let's continue that conversation.

Miles O'Brien, there seems to be something of a rivalry between Branson and Jeff Bezos, who is scheduled to do his flight into space, I think, in about nine days.

What do you make of this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: Well, I don't think it's bad for the space business, frankly, to have these billionaires kind of duking it out.

Richard Branson was quick to point out the other day that he doesn't view this as a race, the more the merrier, but it is also worth pointing out that he was planning on flying later this summer and when Jeff Bezos announced his July 20th flight, he quickly assigned himself to this one.

So the billionaires are, in fact, having a little bit of fun, I suppose. And you might say, well, so what, it's just a gold-plated bungee jump, but this is all part of getting attention toward the world of space and the way you open up a new economy and a new realm is by doing things a lot. And usually the rich people go first. And, hopefully, what will happen is, as time goes on, the price will be driven down and more of us will be able to go.

Jake, in the history of the space enterprise, 60 plus years, only 500 people have been to space. That's not enough.

TAPPER: Garrett, let me ask you, do you think that this is opening up an era of space tourism that will someday be accessible to people who are not billionaires or even millionaires?

REISMAN: Certainly. And those of us working in the commercial space industry, as I was doing back at SpaceX, have been anticipating this day for a long time. This is just the beginning. And as Miles mentioned, it's not unlike what happened in aviation.


In the early days of aviation, it was the jet set that got to go into commercial airliners and it was millionaires and people would dress in black tie back in the early days to go in these airplanes, and now we have Southwest and everybody can go. I think we're going to follow that same progression, it's just going to take some time.

TAPPER: Charlie, Richard Branson is quite a personality. He has cheated death on any number of times, surviving a sinking fishing boat, a hot air balloon crash, a skydiving mishap, a botched bungee jump. Obviously, we have nothing but hopes that nothing bad will happen today with his historic launch.

What do you make of him?

CAMARDA: I think he's great. From everything that -- the little I know about Richard Branson, he's very creative. He's a fantastic businessman, and he's a great people person. And space flight right now is for the risk takers. And we have a long way to go.

Miles called it a gold-plated bungee jump. I like that. I liken this analogy to the Bond Storming (ph) days of aeronautics. We're bringing space around the world, around the country to people to experience space, be comfortable with space. We have a long way to go to make space safe. It's still very risky. Probably similar to the risk that we took on Space Shuttle.

TAPPER: Hakeem, let me ask you, because I'm sure there are some people out there watching, thinking, I don't what all these billionaires are doing because we have lots of problems on this planet --


TAPPER: -- in terms of health and education and jobs and this and that. I imagine you have a more optimistic view of what they're doing. Why should we not view this as, boy, these people have too much money?

OLUSEYI: Well, maybe they do have too much money, that's not for us to decide, but what we're seeing here is the fact that the economy today is not a zero sum game, right? We create economy, and so we can do both. We don't have to choose can we go to space or take care of ourselves? We can do both. And the thing about space also is that it is opening up a whole new

economy. And so as we talk about, oh, is the price going to come down, then -- what drove down the price of aviation? The fact that we have hundreds of airplanes in the air everyday. Are we going to get there with the space economy? Maybe not. The price has already dropped a big factor, right?

You've talked about $28 billion. Now, we're talking -- excuse me, $28 million. Now, we're talking $200,000. So who knows? Maybe $20,000 in the future.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Garrett, let me ask you, there is this difference in terms of what Richard Branson is going to attempt today and what Jeff Bezos is going to attempt in nine days. Bezos' space organization, Blue Origin, has noted that today's Virgin Galactic launch will be 100 times more harmful to the environment than theirs, Blue Origin. Plus, of course, I believe Bezos is going farther out into space. Tell us more about the differences.

REISMAN: Well, it's so funny, they make such a big deal about these differences, and I do believe it is, as I think Miles pointed out, good marketing. But I also agree with what Charlie said before, is it really doesn't matter. It's arbitrary at what point you say space starts. There's no discreet moment where the air goes away and all of a sudden there's space. So you could define it however you like, and it really doesn't matter.

You know, what is different, though -- what I should point out is that these attempts that Branson and Bezos will be doing are suborbital. So in other words, you go straight up and you come straight down. You end up landing at the same spot you took off from. That's very, very different from going into orbit around the earth, which is much harder.

You have to go four times as fast to go into orbit around the earth than you do to go just straight up and straight down, but that takes 16 times as much energy. It's a much harder problem, and that is a very different proposition. But what Bezos and Branson are doing, it's kind of the same, but don't tell them I said that.

TAPPER: Kristin Fisher, CNN's new Space and Defense Correspondent, let me go back to you. Tell us more about what we're about to witness.

FISHER: Well, I tell you what, this certainly feels like a Richard Branson event, right? I mean, he's certainly one of the more flashy space barons, I think that's safe to say. And you know for decades he's been doing these daredevil events to promote his businesses and today is really no different. And you add into the fact that you've got Elon Musk here, it feels like a Richard Branson event.

But it's so easy to get sucked into this billionaire space race story line. I think it really is important to point out that big picture here, Branson has said that his ultimate goal, of course, to get more people into space, to experience what astronauts call the overview effect -- and I'm sure some of the astronauts on your panel can talk to it a bit more than I can.