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Biden's Infrastructure Hangs in the Balance; First Felony Sentencing in Capitol Riots; Another Weekend of Gun Violence; Bezos Launches Tomorrow; Retired Astronaut Speaks about Space Travel. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired July 19, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A big test this week. Yet one more, frankly, for President Biden's infrastructure agenda. On Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will hold a key test vote on the bipartisan deal. The timeline intended to put pressure on negotiators to finalizing the language in an agreement that is not in place yet. That has some Republicans pushing back, claiming Schumer is trying to undermine their progress.

CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz joins me now from the North Lawn.

All right, listen, Arlette, our viewers have been hearing about this for weeks, months, years, frankly, right? It's been infrastructure week going back to like the, I don't know, the 19th century. This is a big week. You've got a vote on Wednesday. Is the administration confident that they still have a bipartisan deal?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this certainly could be a make or break moment for President Biden's domestic agenda as the Senate is barreling toward those deadlines that have been set by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. In just a few hours, President Biden will be speaking here at the White House, making his case for why both of these proposals, relating to infrastructure, need to be passed.

And White House officials have been cautiously optimistic that they will be able to push through this -- these agenda items. But, really, they also recognize that this is a very delicate balancing act. You have the Democrats who are trying to get around that $3.5 trillion proposal in the White House and the Senate majority leader need to make sure they can keep all Democrats on board with that. You've already heard of some moderates, like Senator Joe Manchin, saying they're not ready and still want to see some more of the details relating to that. But perhaps the one that people are most closely watching is that

bipartisan infrastructure agreement, which really was on rocky footing at nearly the same moments that it was announced. And right now these negotiators, they have been working through the weekend, working heading into this week, but there are not any final details just yet on how to pay for the plan. That's a very important element that Republicans and Democrats both want answers on.

So the White House has been engaging with lawmakers up on Capitol Hill. You've had the president's top senior advisers really pushing and engaging with lawmakers on this as they are trying to make sure that these agenda items don't get stalled out and that they will be able to move forward in a swifter manner.

SCIUTTO: We're going to be talking to a senator involved in those negotiations next hour. We'll see what he thinks.

Arlette Saenz, from the White House, thanks so much.

SAENZ: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: You can be sure to watch President Joe Biden as he joins Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall. That will air live this Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only, of course, here on CNN

SAENZ: Well, just minutes from now, a man who breached the U.S. Senate chamber is scheduled to become the first January 6th rioter sentenced for a felony. That hearing may also set a benchmark for punishment in similar cases. And there are a lot of them from January 6th.

CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild joins us now with more.

So the first felony conviction to be sentenced. Do we know what the range of sentences here and how many others might be in the same category?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: So there are about 230 people who are in a similar category.

So this man charged with basically obstructing an official proceeding. The maximum sentence for this could have been up to 20 years but it sounds like he's going to get a lot less than that.

Paul Allard Hodgkins is 38 years old. He's from Florida. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstructing an official proceeding, as I said. He admitted to taking selfies as he walked around the desks in the Senate chamber. He wore protective gloves. He wore goggles.

Hodgkins originally faced five charges related to his entering of the Capitol. The Justice Department, though, dropped all of those charges except the most severe charge. Again, this obstruction charge could have sent him to prison for 20 years, although he's more likely to serve somewhere between 15 and 21 months.

The judge, though, has a lot of discretion here. He, however, will get a lot of leniency, too, because there are these things that everybody's weighing. So he's accepted responsibility for his crime. He has pled guilty quickly, which is something that prosecutors look fondly on, as do judges, because you're not taking up time in the court system. So there's this balance between efficiency, but also impact. So we'll see what the judge comes up with.

However, this is a significant charge because he is in this camp of people who did something atrocious but it's a non-violent charge. So this could be a marker for some of these other charges, Jim, that are very significant, going into the Senate chamber, going into these restricted areas, but are not crimes of violence, not part of these large conspiracy cases we've been talking about. So this is a case to watch for.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And those -- there are often mitigating factors to sentencing like that. But there is another category of folks who have been charged here.

WILD: Right.

SCIUTTO: Those are the ones who physically attacked members of law enforcement.

WILD: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Where do prosecutions stand on those?


WILD: You know what, we're still watching that. I mean right -- I think right now the number of total prosecutions is 542 cases total. So, you know, I think we're still watching to see how those cases shake out. Some people who have been involved with these far right extreme groups have already pled guilty.

We're looking for -- I think the next big, big cases to watch are the large conspiracy cases, the violent crimes against officers. We're still working our way through here, but we're now getting into -- this is really sort of like the beginning of the end when we get into the plea phase and sentencing phase.

SCIUTTO: Right. Yes, when you get into sentencing, no question. We'll be watching closely.

Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

Well, deadly shootings in our nation's capital and in several cities across the U.S. this weekend, once again putting renewed focus on gun violence in this country. I mean the scenes at a Major League Baseball game this weekend truly shocking. We're going to have a live update, next.



SCIUTTO: It was another deadly weekend, sadly, as many major cities across the country continue to see a rise in gun violence. Since Friday evening, at least 53 people were shot in 41 separate shootings in the city of Chicago. In Philadelphia, where homicides there are now at a 30-year high, a one-year-old was caught in the crossfire, shot in the leg. Here in D.C., just shocking moments Saturday night at the Nationals' game after a shooting outside the stadium sent fans inside scrambling. Some of them running into the dugout for cover.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has the latest.

Omar, take us through it.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Washington, D.C., frustration and calls for justice --


CROWD: Nyiah.

JIMENEZ: After six-year-old Nyiah Courtney was killed in a drive-by shooting Friday night in another weekend ravaged by gun violence in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it keeps happening. It keeps happening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's take our streets back from these cowards that's killing our children.

JIMENEZ: Courtney's grandmother remembering the incoming first grader as an amazing little girl.

ANDREA COURTNEY, NYIAH COURTNEY'S GRANDMOTHER: I pray that another child don't suffer in the way my granddaughter had to suffer with careless acts of violence. I want justice for my granddaughter.

JIMENEZ: The Metropolitan Police Department releasing this video, showing a vehicle of interest and a $60,000 reward is being offered for any information about the incident that also left five adults injured.

CHIEF ROBERT CONTEE, DC METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: So I am asking that we all stand together and say, no more. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. The cowards who committed this crime came into this community, without any regard for human life, without regard for Nyiah's life.

JIMENEZ: This happened less than three miles away from Nationals Park, where three people were injured in a separate shooting outside the baseball stadium Saturday night.

CHRIS GELDART, DC DEPUTY MAYOR FOR PUBLIC SAFETY AND JUSTICE: We believe this was an isolated incident. Again, had nothing to do with the game itself.

JIMENEZ: The gunshots sending players and fans scrambling for cover, some even taking shelter inside of the dugouts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought it was fireworks at first. People -- a couple people started running. And then, as you saw more and more people running, and then we heard more shots, that's when we realized it was real.

JIMENEZ: In Philadelphia, a one-year-old boy was one of more than 30 shooting victims over the weekend. This after the city passed 300 homicides at the earliest point in more than three decades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a war zone in the neighborhood that shouldn't be there. It's bad. It's really bad.

JIMENEZ: Here in Chicago, six people were injured, including a 12- year-old and four teenagers in a shooting late Saturday night when investigators say someone in an SUV opened fire on a group of people standing outside a party.

In downtown Portland, an 18-year-old woman was killed and six people wounded by gunfire early Saturday morning.

CHIEF CHUCK LOVELL, PORTLAND POLICE BUREAU: Investigators think there might be more victims and witnesses who left the scene, which is understandable under the circumstances, as chaotic and terrifying as that scene was.

JIMENEZ: And in Tucson, Arizona, at least two people are dead and several others injured after a shooting Sunday afternoon. Among the victims, an EMT worker who was shot in the head.

CHIEF CHRIS MAGNUS, TUCSON POLICE: This is both a highly tragic, really horrific incident with many unknowns at this time that's going to involve a lengthy and complex investigation.


JIMENEZ: And this started last year. FBI data showed that country-wide murders jumped 25 percent from 2019 into 2020 and, sadly, that trend, for many places, has continued into this year. One analysis showed across 70 major United States cities, murder jumped, at least in some way, compared to last year, mainly driven by gun violence.


SCIUTTO: No question. And we're seeing police forces struggle with their response.

Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

Bezos' blast-off. The Amazon founder, he's going to speak with CNN. Hear what he has to say ahead of his launch to the edge of space tomorrow.


[09:49:18] SCIUTTO: Well, less than 24 hours from now, the richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, will be rocketing into space on his space tourism rocket. The trip just nine days after billionaire rival Richard Branson blasted to the edge of space in the Virgin Galactic ship Unity.

CNN's Kristin Fisher following all of this from Van Horn, Texas.

Kristin, good to have you on.

That's where, of course, Bezos and three other passengers will launch from.

Kristin, just starting with how this will go down tomorrow, he's not going into orbit, and that's key. He's going really high and, in fact, higher than Branson went, but not into orbit.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Not into orbit. This is a suborbital space flight.



FISHER: And, you know, this desert in west Texas, I mean this, Jim, this is about as remote as it gets, which is what you really want when you are testing and flying rockets into space. And almost all of this land, about 300,000 acres of it, is owned by Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin. They have conducted 15 test flights, consecutive, successful test flights of this suborbital rocket system called New Shepherd.

But the big deal tomorrow is it's going to be the first time that people are actually on board. And none other than Jeff Bezos himself is going to be on that flight tomorrow, along with his brother, Mark. And if all goes according to plan, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen is going to be become the youngest person to ever fly in space.

He's also Blue Origin's first paying customer, though technically it was his father. And then you also have Wally Funk, who was a member of the Mercury 13, a group of women who trained to fly in space in the 1950s but never flew. She's an 82-year-old pilot. And if all goes according to plan tomorrow, she would become the oldest person to ever fly in space.

And listen to how Jeff Bezos described what it was like to train with her.


JEFF BEZOS, FOUNDER, BLUE ORIGIN: I'll just tell you, Wally, back in -- back in the early '60s, when Wally was in the Mercury 13, she went through all the tests, she outperformed all of the men. And we could confirm in our training here that she's still outperforming all of the men.


FISHER: And so all four of them have been training together here at Launch Site One. And they've been training yesterday and today. Only two days of training and then tomorrow morning they will make their way down the road behind me and to the launch pad.


SCIUTTO: Well, Wally Funk looks pretty damn tough. So I've got my money on her as well.

FISHER: Doesn't she.

SCIUTTO: Kristin Fisher, good to have you there. And, of course, we're going to be covering this all live tomorrow.

Joining me now to discuss, retired astronaut Jose Hernandez.

Mr. Hernandez, so good to have you on this morning.

Listen, you've done your time --

JOSE HERNANDEZ, RETIRED ASTRONAUT: Good morning, Jim. Happy to be here.

SCIUTTO: In space. I wonder, from your point of view, does space tourism -- and, by the way, very pricey space tourism -- does that encourage more serious space exploration in your view?

HERNANDEZ: I believe it does, Jim, because any time you could get private entities to spend a dollar on space exploration, you know, that's a dollar less the taxpayer has to pay via NASA and other entities to explore space.


HERNANDEZ: So I think getting more people involved in space exploration is great and tourism is one way of achieving that.

SCIUTTO: You do have different approaches here among Bezos, Branson and Elon Musk. I mean Elon Musk, to his credit, SpaceX, I mean that carries real payloads to space. It's carried satellites. It carried, you know, astronauts up to the Space Station.

Branson really more of a space tourism model. Bezos, similar, although his ambitions are to colonize space eventually.

I mean, among them, I mean, does one of these programs do more than the other in terms of, you know, learning things from space?

HERNANDEZ: Well, I think there's two different approaches, Jim, for a reason. If you look at Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, they're the more traditional rocket and you see that they're closely aligned to NASA.


HERNANDEZ: And so they have contracted with NASA, lunar landing, those type of thing.

And then you go and look at Virgin Galactic, which is a space plane that takes it up 45,000 feet.


HERNANDEZ: It separates and then it goes off suborbital flight. You could imagine that as a transcontinental form of flying. In other words, going from New York to Singapore in an hour as opposed to 14 hours.


HERNANDEZ: So they probably have different objectives at the end but they're utilizing tourism as a common starting point.

SCIUTTO: So, you make a point there. This is suborbital. Both the Branson and Bezos models, they do not get into orbit. So they're not getting high enough and fast enough to escape gravity to the point where you can orbit the earth. You've orbited the earth, so I'm going to ask you, is it space flight?

HERNANDEZ: Well, you know, I believe anything above 50 miles is considered near space and folks that do travel that high take certain risk and do deserve the wings of an astronaut.

Now, having said that, you know, it's almost like keeping up with the Jones', but it's keeping up with the Jetsons because, you know, one sides says, you went 50 miles, you didn't cross the 62 mile (INAUDIBLE) line. We're going to cross it. The other one says, hey, we've got more windows. Then the other side says, we've got bigger windows. You know, it's those type of things that they try to tit for tat kind of thing over social media.


HERNANDEZ: So I find it amusing.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, I would take any of these, right? I mean I would hop on that in a moment. I mean, just quickly, how soon, or does it happen, right, where this becomes not just, you know, the play thing of the super wealthy?


I mean does it ever reach a point where it's more affordable?

HERNANDEZ: I believe space flight ultimately will be affordable. It will be affordable to the probably upper middle class. I liken this situation that we're in right now, this time period, similar to when aviation started. The only way passenger airplanes were viable was because the U.S. postal office contracted with these airlines to take air mail. Same way NASA is contracting with these companies to take passengers and payloads up and experiments. Eventually they're going to get to where they're self-sustainable and affordable.

SCIUTTO: It's a good comparison. That took a number of years, of course, decades, but let's hope it goes in the same direction.

Jose Hernandez, thanks very much.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, with just days until the Olympic games, more athletes linked to the Olympics are testing positive for COVID. It remaining a very small percentage of the total. So we're going to ask CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta the significance of this. He's going to join us live from Tokyo, next.