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New York City Mayoral Race Winner Will Be Determined by Ranked Choice System; Senate Democrat Faces Questions Over Club Membership; Republicans Slam Critical Race Theory; Olympic Preps Enter Final Stretch with Games a Month Away; Heat Wave Raising Drought and Fire Worries in Western U.S.; First Gay Active NFL Player's Shirt Skyrockets in Sales; Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos Compete to be First. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 23, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church.

China is accusing the U.S. of deliberately sabotaging peace and stability in the Taiwan strait. It comes one day after a U.S. warship sailed through the waters separating Taiwan and mainland China. U.S. officials say it was a routine transit. Tensions in the South China Sea have been on the rise recently after more than two dozen Chinese military planes entered Taiwan's Air Identification Zone.

Well the U.S. is taking action against Iran online. If you go on website of the Iranian news network Press TV right now, this is what you will see. The Justice Department says that it has seized dozens of Iranian linked websites accusing them of targeting the U.S. to subvert democratic processes with disinformation. The move comes just days after Iran elected a new hard line president.

And we're getting a better sense of the Taliban's recent advances in Afghanistan as the U.S. continues its military withdraw. The U.N. special envoy on Afghanistan says that since May militants have gained control of 50 of the country's 370 districts. The envoy says most districts taken by the Taliban surround provincial capitals. And this is less than three months ahead of the U.S. deadline to end America's longest war.

Results have started coming in from Tuesday's Democratic mayoral primary in New York, though it will likely be weeks before we actually know who won. Right now retired NYPD Captain Eric Adams is holding on to a significant lead. But that could all change under the city's new Ranked Choice Voting System. CNN's Athena jones explains.


ATHENA JONES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Polls have closed here in New York City in what's being called the most significant election in a generation in this city. And for the mayoral race, 13 Democrats are running for their party's nomination, this is a blue city and that means that whoever wins this primary is heavily favored to win in November.

We know now as expected that no single candidate out of those 13 was able to win a majority of the vote, that means that we'll go into what is called a rank choice voting tabulation. This is the first time this city is using this process. What we do know is that out of the top four candidates, the one who came in fourth is Andrew Yang. He is the former U.S. presidential candidate, having run in 2020. He told his supporters, I will not be the mayor of New York.

And so what this comes down to is of the three tops, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. He's a former New York police captain. Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner who work under the current Mayor Bill de Blasio. And Maya Wiley, who also served the current Mayor as counsel. She is a civil rights lawyer. Those three are the top three in this race. But it's going to be some time before we get the final results. That is because of various rules around when absentee votes can be counted, for example.

Next Tuesday is when the board of elections here will release the results of the early and in-person votes. It won't be until the following Tuesday that absentee ballots that begin to be incorporated, that is why the tabulation process could take several weeks. That is when we'll know who is going to be leading the largest city in America. Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: U.S. Senate Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is facing questions over his membership in an exclusive Rhode Island beach club. A local news outlet claims that the club has only white members which the White House denies. And Sunlen Serfaty reports.



SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The club is being very, very evasive. I've had multiple short conversations with them over the last few days and they have not cleared up the reporting that is out there about their club. And they have even hung up on me multiple times.

Now, this is the extent of what have told me. Quote: We are a private club so I'm not allowed to give our names of members or people associated with our club. I have no comment at this time. We have no comment at this time.

And that is when they have essentially hung up the phone on me. Senator Whitehouse responded Monday to CNN when asked about reports of his family's continued membership to the club.

He says quote: The club informs me that it does in fact have diversity in membership.

But when asked if he was personally aware of could diverse members of the club, the Senator went on to say quote: I believed that there were, I don't spend a lot of time there, so I couldn't tell you who the members are.

Whitehouse's office tells me that the club has no restrictive all white policy and says that the club has had and has members of color. But importantly here, they did not show us any evidence that the club has members of color. And the Senator himself has also this week defended the club as having a long tradition, he says, of being a family club.

He has said that in the past he would push for them to work on improving diversity, but he has so far not put forward any evidence of those conversations or pushed them publicly to release the membership statistics that he has cited in his statement.

Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Just weeks after Florida banned teaching Critical Race Theory in schools, the state's Republican governor has signed three bills requiring students to take civics education courses. Ron DeSantis says that the curriculum will provide knowledge of certain key principles and facts. He claims Critical Race Theory which explores how a history of racism impacts today's society, will in his words teach children to hate our country. It's a sentiment shared by Republican Senator Josh Hawley.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Young children set off to school with eyes full of hope and hearts full of pride in their country, only to be taught that white privilege defines the nation. That subjects like mathematics are inherently racist, that the Christian faith is oppressive. They are taught that the nuclear family perpetuates racism.


CHURCH: And there are more examples of what those on the right have been saying about Critical Race Theory. Take a listen.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Let me tell you right now, Critical Race Theory is bigoted, it is a lie and it is every bit as racist as the Klansman in white sheets.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Critical Race Theory teaches children as young as kindergarten to be ashamed of their skin color.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Unfortunately, Critical Race Theory is a lie. It makes Americans hate each other. It's a tragedy in that way.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It's not going to be allowed in Florida classrooms. Spending tax dollars to teach kids that America is a rotten place is absolutely unacceptable. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Kimberle Crenshaw is a leading scholar and founding theorist of Critical Race Theory. She says this latest Republican attack is nothing new.


KIMBERLE CRENSHAW, LAW PROFESSOR AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY AND UCLA: The old argument that anti-racism is racism against white people, that racial justice is a zero sum game, and it is an old strategy of creating hysteria particularly around children. And we have to remember that Brown Versus Board of Education, the landmark civil rights victory, didn't really go into effect for a decade. Why? Because the South united in denouncing it as subversive. They united in saying that this is a threat to our children, a threat to our nation.

Remember, Martin Luther King was called the most dangerous man in America. So the idea that racial progress is in fact an assaults against white people, against their heritage, against the very core of American democracy is not a new idea. They've just rehashed it in this moment because it serves to help deflect what the truth is. This is the party that brought you January 6. It is the party that brought you every effort to cover up January 6. It has put democracy on life support and now they are pointing a finger at Critical Race Theory so people don't really look at the bankruptcy of what they're about.


CHURCH: Law Professor Kimberle Crenshaw there with her perspective.


And still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, final preparations for the summer games are in full swing but with one month ago and opposition still widespread, will Tokyo ever catch the Olympic spirit? We'll take a look.


CHURCH: It's go time for the Tokyo Olympics. The games will officially kick off a month from now after the pandemic delayed them by a year. But COVID concerns have hardly disappeared among the Japanese public. CNN's Blake Essig joins us now live from Tokyo with more. And Blake, these are very unpopular games but they are going forward, nonetheless.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know Rosemary, they've been so unpopular because of the health and safety concerns. You know, as far as what we're dealing with right now, there are 30 days to go and the reality is that the sentiment surrounding the unpopularity of these games has not changed. Now despite calls to cancel or postpone from medical professionals, industry leaders, a sponsor and a majority of the Japanese population, in exactly one month from now and all likelihood this stadium behind me, right here, the new national Olympic stadium will host the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

Now part of the unpopularity for these games stems from the fact that many feel that the IOC and Japanese government have essentially ignored the well of the people who don't think that these games can be held safely in the middle of a pandemic. Especially in a country where just shy of 8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Now those health and safety concerns were highlighted over the weekend when a coach from Uganda arriving in Japan for the Olympics tested positive for COVID-19 at the airport. Now he tested negative twice before boarding a plane from Uganda -- he was also vaccinated. Really highlights the reality of the situation that no matter what the procedures and COVID counter measures put in place, there is still potentially going to be issues.


Now he and nine others who have been here -- or who were considered close contacts are now all in quarantine. And while organizers have put in place these COVID-19 countermeasures to prevent the spread of infection, there's no question these Olympic games will be a logistical nightmare. And with just 30 days to go, organizers are still making plans -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Blake Essig joining us live from Tokyo, many thanks for that report, appreciate it.

Well the dating at Bumble is giving all of its worker bees a break this week. The company has closed its offices as a thank you to staff with one employee saying that the CEO had picked up on a sense of collective burnout.

Companies are looking to help their employees unwind in the work-from- home era. One survey says more than one quarter of Americans never prioritize personal commitments over work. More than half of managers want their staff to take more time off to avoid burning out. And more than one-third of people surveyed say that they want a new job once the pandemic is over because of their work/life balance.

Well here in the U.S. unseasonably hot weather in the pacific northwest along with an increasingly severe drought across the Southwest is raising concerns about more wildfires. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more now from the CNN Weather Center -- Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning Rosemary. It has been an incredible setup for warm and also dry weather across the western U.S. And of course the fire weather season now rapidly picking up. Some 46 large active fires across the western United States. And the concern moving forward is just how dry is going to remain with additional threat here for thunderstorms, and unfortunately large coverage of dry thunderstorms. So you're getting lightning strikes that are heating the ground. Much of the moisture evaporates as the bolt touches the ground and the dry fuel here ignites additional fires. And notice again widespread coverage of this the next couple days. Could see some isolated thunderstorms that do have rainfall that

reaches the ground. The much-needed moisture across parts of Arizona picking up here over the next several days.

But notice what's happening off into the Northwestern part of the U.S. excessive heat watches in place for over 10 million Americans. Temperatures in places such as Seattle to Portland could get into the triple digit territory. Eastern Washington, temps exceeding 110 degrees, with this said, 150 record temperatures possible from this weekend into early next week around the Pacific Northwest. And look at this, it should be around 72 for this time of year, how about we aim for 25 to almost 30 degrees above average for Seattle. An incredible heat wave here for the first full week of June -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, thanks so much Pedram, appreciate it.

Well the Las Vegas Raiders Carl Nassib who wears number 94 on the field but his jersey is number one in sales after his coming out. The days sport's headlines are up next.

And the friendly competition between billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are each trying to be the first to take tourists into space. Back to that in just a moment.



CHURCH: There is a new bestselling NFL jersey just a day after Carl Nassib's coming out. Plus, the Suns are rising in the NBA. Don Riddell has our minute in sports.


DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: There is only one time in sports that it pays to be bad. That's when it wins you the first pick in the draft. The Detroit Pistons finished bottom of the NBA's Eastern conference last season. Now they'll have the first pick in the draft on July 29.

Meanwhile, in the western conference finals, a dramatic finish in game two between the Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers with under a second left on the clock, Deandre Ayton scored the decisive basket. Suns taking the game by a point. They now have a 2-0 lead in the series.

One day after the Las Vegas Raiders Carl Nassib became the league's first active player to come out as gay, his shirt has become the most popular seller. That's according to the sports apparel retailer Fanatics.

And the Croatia football team is heading into the knockout stage of the European championship, thanks to a 3-1 win against Scotland in Glasgow. Luka Modric scored the goal of night. The groups stage of the tournament will be concluded later this Wednesday and then it is on to the knockout games. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: Thanks for that.

Well a growing number of companies are working to get into the space tourism business. Successfully putting people at the edge of the atmosphere or into space is a competition for the very rich. Two billionaires are in position to be first although one of them insists that it is not a race. Rachel crane reports.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we have lift off.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The billionaire race into space is taking off. Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos competing to be the first into space with their space tourism flights. Bezos' Blue Origin currently set to be the first up with his historic space flights scheduled to lift off on July 20th from west Texas on the 52nd anniversary of the moon landing. It seems the Amazon mogul leapfrogged Branson whom many people believed would win this race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sold $28 million.

CRANE (voice-over): And that is how one unknown bidder is paying to be part of history and take the 11 minute trip into space with Bezos.

JEFF BEZOS, AMAZON: It's a thing I've wanted to do all my life.

CRANE (voice-over): The billionaire will also be joined by his brother Marc Bezos.

BEZOS: I really want you to come with me. Would you?


BEZOS: I am.

CRANE (voice-over): And a fourth unknown traveler. The journey is a sub orbital flight and going just 100 kilometers into space allowing customers to have about three minutes of weightlessness.

And while Bezos is making all the headlines now, Virgin Galactic's tagline is to be the world's first commercial space line.

CRANE: Does it sting a little bit that it looks as if Virgin won't be, you know, the first? And that Blue Origin might win that part of the race?

RICHARD BRANSON, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I will point out that we've now sent seven people into space.


And we've made five, you know, five new astronauts. We were the first of the space companies to get people up there. But we honestly don't see it as a race. CRANE (voice over): Branson tweeted his congratulations to Bezos on their spaceflight plans. Virgin Galactic telling CNN while they remain on track to finish their final test runs they have not set an official launch date.

Both space companies have had successful suborbital test flights over the past decade. Virgin Galactic had a setback in 2014 when a copilot was killed during a test flight of a previous model of their spacecraft. But the company has since sold about 600 tickets at more than $200,000 each -- a cost that is likely to go up.

So far fewer than 600 people have been into space. And whether it's Bezos or Branson, this first flight is sure to kick off a new type of tourism, allowing those that can stomach the price and the adrenaline rush, their own set of astronaut wings, and bragging rights for life.

Rachel Crane, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: And finally this hour, we need to address the elephant in the room. Quite literally. Take a look. A wild Asian elephant was found in the middle of the night rummaging through a woman's kitchen in Thailand. It stuck its head through a hole in the wall made by another elephant just last month. Wildlife experts believe that the elephant was looking for food and say the house may have been targeted because it's near a national park. These types of encounters have been on the rise in Asia as wildlife habitats continue to shrink.

And thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Be sure to connect with me on Twitter @rosemaryCNN. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN, have yourselves a wonderful day.