(gentle lively music) - Welcome to the Washington Week Extra, I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
This week, billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rocket blasted into space again.
On board this time, former Star Trek actor, William Shatner.
The 90-year-old became the oldest person to go into space.
Here's what he had to say to Bezos when he got back to Earth.
- I'm so filled with emotion about what just happened.
I just, it's extraordinary.
I hope that I can maintain, what I feel now I don't want to lose it.
It's so, so much larger than me and life.
- You could tell he was very, very moved.
Later in an interview with CNN, he talked about how the experience made him reflect on issues like climate change.
- We haven't got time to wait 30 years and argue about a few billion dollars, which we should.
How much should we invest in global warming, we're there.
And so all these terrible things happening in the body politic as merely a hesitation before, I mean, it's just terrible.
- But the growth of space tourism, it's also raising questions about inequality.
Many are criticizing the fact that while the wealthy are sailing into space, others are struggling to survive, on the ground here at home.
Back in the 1970s, the space program also faced similar criticism.
Poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron asked why federal money was going to the Space Race while black people in America suffer.
Now, some progressive lawmakers are pushing to raise taxes on large corporations like Amazon, which owns Blue Origin to pay for President Biden's agenda.
Here's Senator Elizabeth Warren.
- The money is going to come from the billionaires who don't pay their taxes and therefore have enough money to shoot themselves into space.
(audience clapping and cheering) It's gonna come from giant corporations like Amazon, who turn around and say to their shareholders and to the public winning $10 billion in profits last year.
And you know how much we paid in taxes, zero.
We're going to cut that out.
- Joining me to discuss all of this and more Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC Anchor at NBC News, Chief Business Correspondent.
And here with me in studio, Leigh Ann Caldwell, NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent, Eugene Daniels, White House Reporter and co-author of "Political Playbook," and Jonathan Karl, ABC News, Chief Washington Correspondent, and Co-anchor of "This Week."
Now, Stephanie, we introduced you as the Chief Business Correspondent, but you're gonna be the Space Correspondent for us.
You have interviewed Jeff Bezos.
You've talked about space and you've reported on these space missions.
What's your reporting revealed about what's motivating Jeff Bezos and other wealthy frankly, billionaires to go into space?
- Well, first I would say Amazon doesn't own Blue Origin.
Jeff Bezos does personally, and I'm not defending what they do with their money, but this is very, very different from what happened in the 1970s.
This isn't the government's money.
These are obscenely, absurdly wealthy guys who are legally allowed to be that rich spending their money on whatever the heck they want and what they want to spend it on is space exploration.
And while I completely understand, appreciate, empathize with the rage and fury, so many people feel about many of these corporations and the richest of the rich not paying their fair share.
Here's the problem.
They're all doing it legally.
If any of it was illegal, we'd be going after those companies.
So, Elizabeth Warren, I fully understand what she's saying, but if people are that angry about the way they're spending their money.
I'm not sure why we're yelling at Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and Richard Branson.
Call your Congress person, right?
None of us pay more taxes than we have to.
They have legally figured out a way to use every loophole possible and pay the least amount of money possible.
And that's how they're doing this.
So, should they spend their money on that?
That's not really for me to judge, but I know as a reporter who covers this, they're doing it legally.
And from a branding perspective, I mean, it was genius that they would choose William Shatner because let's all be honest.
If that launch this week was just a couple of super rich people who paid their way on, which were two of those two Australian guys on there with William Shatner and a Blue Origin pilot, it were just the rich people, none of us would have watched.
But because William Shatner, you know, America's favorite was up there.
It was a huge TV moment and it was covered around the world, it was brilliant, free marketing.
- Well, I can tell you Stephanie, it was a huge moment.
And part of the reason why, frankly, we're looking at this is because I woke up and saw my husband watching this and sort of, he was really, really enthralled at the idea of Captain Kirk going into space.
Talk a bit about that moment because it was moving to see William Shatner talk about his experience.
- It was extraordinary.
I was talking to Scott Kelly at the time, Scott Kelly, an astronaut, his brother, Mark Kelly, a Senator.
And they were both reflecting on when they were little kids hiding behind their mother's couch, watching Star Trek.
It's what gave them the dream to one day become astronauts.
Jeff Bezos actually gave the four of them when they got in to the shuttle, some crafts he made as a little kid fantasizing about Star Trek that his mother had given him.
And there is this cool thing, right?
I was at the first launch and I'm not normally a science enthusiast, but when you experience a launch, when you feel, when you see that sonic boom or when you're just watching it on TV, that is one of those moments of American exceptionalism.
When you're about science, when you're excited about the possibilities, and we need those moments for our kids to get excited about education.
I mean, I don't feel that Star Trek nostalgia.
When I was little, I was hiding behind a couch with my sister watching "Dance Fever" and "Solid Gold."
So, my feelings are a bit different, but I mean it was amazing for people to see William Shatner.
And what did he talk about?
He said that everyone should experience it.
And he said, this shows how fragile the Earth is.
And again, you could say, well, it's pennies compared to his massive fortune, but Bezos is putting a lot of money behind his Earth Fund, which is focused on climate change and preserving the planet.
That is what he's spending his time doing now, not on Amazon anymore.
So, when you saw William Shatner's first response, it was, "The Earth is precious, we need to protect it."
- And Stephanie, one more question for you, 'cause like I said, you are a Space Correspondent.
You interviewed Jeff Bezos right after he came back from traveling to space.
Here's a clip from that interview.
- For all those millions of Americans- - Yeah.
- who are watching this, who are saying, this is a joy ride.
It has nothing to do with me.
What did you experience that matters to all Americans?
- Well, listen.
We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future.
We live on this beautiful planet.
We saw this, it feels like, you know, this atmosphere is huge and we can disregard it and treat it poorly when you get up there and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is.
- Stephanie, talk a bit more about that interview and what you took away from it.
- Listen, that was sort of this extraordinary moment to speak to someone who had just returned.
I spoke to Jeff Bezos at the time.
I spoke to his brother, Mark Bezos.
I spoke to Mark this week and they had this moment where they said, "I want to honor the planet."
And you hear about, you hear this from so many people that we've interviewed who have spent time in space.
It's that moment when you look back and you can see Planet Earth.
People say it changes you forever.
It's what Jeff Bezos said.
Then it's what William Shatner said this week.
And that is pretty extraordinary.
And when you think about the fact that our kids think and talk a lot less about space exploration than I did when I was a kid because we don't do it from a government perspective, as much as we did.
And now that you have companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic doing this and working with our own government and government projects, it is getting us closer to returning to the moon.
And that's pretty exciting.
- And Leigh Ann, you were nodding your head when Stephanie was talking about the idea of, if people are angry about what's going on, call your Congress member.
Talk a bit about that.
- Well, the reason I was nodding is because what Steph said, and also what Senator Warren said.
The whole point of their multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bills is to restructure the economy.
So, that the middle and lower class people with less money have a chance.
And the people though top 1% of the top 0.001%, there's an even more equal distribution.
And that is part of the goal with the Democrats agenda.
It's not just to provide paid family leave.
It's not just to provide pre-universal preschool or free universal preschool, but it's to like to ensure that people get a bigger share of that pie.
- And Eugene, how well do you think though- - [Stephanie] Except Yamiche I would say to that- - Go, go ahead, Stephanie.
- I would just say the problem though, is it doesn't have Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax in there.
It still has the giant loophole for carried interest for private equity firms.
It still has preserved 10/31, which is the absurd provision that commercial real estate firms have.
So, the one unfortunate takeaway with the reconciliation bill that you realize is Democrats win and lose Republicans win and lose, but you know, who always wins mega, mega rich donors.
So, the new plan does focus on a redistribution of wealth and it will tax anyone making $400,000 or family making $400,000 or more.
But this idea that they're really gonna go after corporations and the mega rich, it's a hard pass, they don't.
- Yeah, well, Eugene talk a little bit about that and the White House's stance here and how effectively President Biden is talking about this.
I've heard from some sources that they're a little angry that some polls show that Americans, while they back the plans, they don't really know what's in it.
Of course, full disclosure.
It's not clear what's in the plan.
(group chuckles and chatters) We're still negotiating.
- Exactly, exactly.
No, that's exactly right.
And even when you look at the child tax credit, right?
We did a poll, political and morning consult, and people weren't giving Joe Biden credit for the child tax credit, despite the fact that was something that he has really, really worked on, and championed him and Vice President Kamala Harris.
And so, I think the way they're seeing this, as in, I've talked to many sources about this, how are you guys going to sell this to the American people?
And I know this sounds gross and grimy, but it's politics and you have to tell people what you're doing for them, and they have to believe you.
And I think that's something that this White House has struggled with, that they're not giving you credit for the child tax credit.
If they're not gonna, are they gonna give you credit for the reconciliation bill, even if it changes their life, right?
This is, if this bill passes, whether it's 3.5 or 1.5 or 1.9 or 2.3, that is more trillions of dollars and has ever been pumped into the U.S. economy in this way, right?
And so if they have to have to make sure they sell it to the American people and they know that, right?
These people have been doing government for a very long time.
And I think President Biden though, has gone on the road.
We saw him doing it more, right?
He's been doing it more and more, but he has to continue to do that.
Or the American people are gonna shrug, take their money.
You know what I mean?
Take that tax cut and move on.
- And John, I want to give you the last question.
You said that you were open to going to space.
You can talk a little bit about that.
- But I also (chuckles) wanted to just ask you a bit about what you make of this sort of argument that's going on in Capitol Hill about these sort of plans and the present economic agenda, and also this criticism of space.
- Well, it certainly suggests there is some disposable income (chuckles) available, but on the space thing, more than a decade ago, when I was a Pentagon Correspondent, I had the opportunity to do a story about the U2 Reconnaissance plane.
And I went through, wore a space suit, which did training with the pressurized chamber.
All of that went up to the edge of the atmosphere and did see that, you see the curvature of the Earth, the blueness of Earth's atmosphere, the utter darkness of outer space.
And it does, I think, affect the way you look at the world.
But we should say that there's a big difference with what Jeff Bezos is doing through Blue Origin and what Elon Musk is doing.
Elon Musk really wants to, you know, break new ground in space exploration.
This was kind of nice, you know, William Shatner went up.
He did what, you know, what Alan Shepard did, you know, decades and decades and decades ago.
But you know, Elon Musk wants to have a shuttle to Mars.
And I don't know if it's a crazy dream, but he is talking about doing something that would really expand the human knowledge of outer space.
And that, ultimately should be something that benefits mankind.
- Yeah, we'll have to leave it there tonight.
It's such an interesting conversation.
I didn't know that I had two Space Correspondents, (group laughs) but thank you so much to Stephanie, Leigh Ann, Eugene and John for joining us and sharing your reporting and made sure to sign up for the Washington Week Newsletter on our website, we will give you a look at all things, Washington.
Thank you for joining us.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.