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Environmental Activist Missing in Oregon; Weekly Jobless Claims Released; Winning over Latinos and Women in Arizona; Trump's Re- election Campaign Strategy. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 08:30   ET



STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the situation here in California. In Oregon, they are still looking for people. WE do know that there are eight people that have been confirmed dead, but 12 more that are missing. You're talking about fires that have destroyed more than a thousand structures and burned close to a million acres in that state.

Overall, from all of this that we've seen, 4.3 million acres burned in these western wildfires. And if you talk about a traditional fire season that we are seeing here, this is the early start of it, though, when you look at all of that, including what's going on in Oregon, something we normally don't see, this is a devastating fire season, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: It sure is already as you point out, Stephanie. Thank you very much.

Among the missing in Oregon, 72-year-old George Atiyeh. He has not been heard from since September 7th. His home and shop burned down last week near the town of Lyon, but he was not in it. George is the nephew of former Oregon Governor Victor Atiyeh. He's also a well-known environmentalist who led a 20-year fight to save what is now the Opal Creek Wilderness.

Joining us now is George's long term friend Scott Fogarty.

Scott, thanks so much for being here. I know this is a stressful time for you and all of George's friends.

Just take me back. I know you have been close friends for 23 years. Your kids call him Uncle George. When's the last time you spoke with him?

SCOTT FOGARTY, FRIEND OF GEORGE ATIYEH WHO IS MISSING AFTER OREGON WILDFIRES: Last time I spoke to him was last Friday, September 5th. I guess that would be two Fridays ago, September 5th.

CAMEROTA: And when you spoke to him, did you talk about him leaving? Did you urge him to leave his home? Did you know how bad the situation was getting there? FOGARTY: Well, at that point in time the fire was relatively small. It

was probably 100 to 300 acres big. It had been burning since mid- August. And, honestly, it hadn't really grown that much.

So, you know, we talked about what he thought about that and whether -- how close he thought he was getting, but it was pretty far away. It was, you know, almost 20 to 30 miles away from him.

So while he was concerned, he wasn't concerned to the point of, you know, being ready to flee the scene, if you will.

And it's -- you know, fires occur in the wilderness quite often and so everybody who lives in the area is ready to evacuate if need be. So I think at that point in time he just wasn't as concerned about it.

CAMEROTA: Another friend spoke to him a couple of days after you did on, I believe, September 7th. And he -- that friend did urge him to leave. It was getting worse. And George said that he didn't want to leave and that he wanted to stay, I guess, in his home. And then what happened was that sheriff's deputies realized how bad it was getting in that area where George lived and they rushed, door to door, to try to get everybody out. And by -- when they got to George's, he wasn't there, as though he had already left, maybe on foot, maybe he went somewhere. So they couldn't find him. And now his home actually did burn down and they haven't found any trace of him.

And so what do you think happened to George?

FOGARTY: Well, I am holding out a sliver of hope that he went down to the river. He lives right on the river, (INAUDIBLE), itself. We had spoken several times over the past, you know, 20 years about what to do in case of a catastrophic fire and heading to the river, hunkering down until it passes over is typically, you know, the last grasp, if you will, on getting away from a fire.

There are -- there are several areas near his home that are easily accessed and so I'm hoping that, you know, he's sitting in the river still or he's -- he's on a rock next to the river with his -- with his shirt over his face for smoke or whatever and, you know, the oxygen level next to the river is -- remains fairly good during a fire. So, you know, I'm hopeful that that's what he did, especially since folks came to his house and he wasn't there.


FOGARTY: So that would be what I think -- would the first thing he would do would be to go down to the river.

CAMEROTA: Here's the picture that he sent you of the river, or that you too. This is where he said he would be in the case of a fire, he would go and retreat here, as you said, the little North Santim (ph) River. But is that area accessible? Has anyone checked there for him?

FOGARTY: That I don't know. I believe they attempted to get down to the river, but it was blocked by fallen trees. And, at the time when I spoke to the folks who were going to look for him, they said that there was still spot fires happening in the canyon. And I believe there still are some spot fires happening now.


So, yes, the picture I sent is adjacent -- directly adjacent to his home. There are deep pools in it and there are also some shallow areas where the trees do not come directly down to the river. So, in my mind's eye, he's potentially sitting on one of those shelves, those benches in the water, the natural rock benches in the water, and hopefully, you know, he's going to be able to either head down river at some point or once the fire subsides completely he'll be able to, you know, walk up out of there.


FOGARTY: That's my hope.

CAMEROTA: Yes, of course. I mean let's pray that your mind's eye is what's actually happening.

I mean I'll just end on this. You say he's a survivor. He survived a plane crash early in his life that nearly killed him. So if somebody can survive, he might know how to.

But, Scott Fogarty, we're thinking of you and all of his friends. And please keep us posted if you hear anything.

FOGARTY: Sure, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being with us.

We have a new snapshot on America's unemployment crisis. Christine Romans brings us the new jobless claims numbers, next.



BERMAN: All right, breaking news, the weekly jobless claims just in.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans with a look at where they are, still very high, Romans.


We saw some summer hiring, as you know, but there were still 860,000 people who filed for the very first time for unemployment benefits in the latest week. That is an historically high number still.

You're seeing a plateau here week after week of numbers like this. They're not getting noticeably better, but they're not getting noticeably worse either. So, 860,000. That's down slightly. The continuing claims, 12 -- it looks like 12.6 million people are continuing to receive jobless benefits, under the normal state programs. But when you add in, John, all the people who are getting jobless benefits from all these different programs, including the new pandemic unemployment insurance programs from the government, you've got about 29 million people getting a check from the government to help them pay their rent. And, of course, it's a lighter check than it was a month ago when there were extra benefits for people out of work.

So what I would say here is, you have an alarmingly high number of people who are still being laid off. This is the pandemic economy that we live in right now. The economy is not shut down. There are not mandatory lockdowns. This is what the economy looks like right now. You're having some hiring in the summer, but you're also having repeated layoffs. A lot in leisure and hospitality. A lot in the restaurants. In these industries that are going to have to really readjust to a new normal here, John.

BERMAN: All right, Christine Romans, thank you very much. Obviously, I know you're watching that very closely.


CAMEROTA: OK, John, we're 47 days away from Election Day. In the battleground state of Arizona, both sides are trying to win over two key demographics, Latinos and women.

CNN's Kyung Lah is in Phoenix with more.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Armed with masks, face shields, and coolers, battleground workers head into the stifling Phoenix heat and the pandemic.

This is the seven-week sprint to Election Day.

ALEX ROSADO, ELECTION WORKER, CASE ACTION: I personally believe if we're not out here knocking on these doors, we're not out here having these conversations face-to-face, people are not going to vote.

LAH: That's why Alex Rosado, with progressive group CASE Action is in a traditionally Republican neighborhood. President Trump won Arizona in 2016 by 3.5 points. Democrats believe to flip Arizona, they need to boost turnout among Latinos -- they've outspent Trump in the state with ads -- and convinced swing voters, like moderate women in the vote-rich Phoenix suburbs, door by door. For every independent frustrated with Trump --

HALEY TANNHEIMER, REGISTERED INDEPENDENT: We want to stay safe. I have kids to stay safe for. And no masks are required. And it's like, you're really not helping us, you're just harming us.

ROSADO: Hi. Good afternoon, sir.

LAH: Or every Republican who says the party has left them behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reagan probably would have agreed more with Joe Biden at this point.

LAH: Is another registered independent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I say outside in public that I'm a Trump supporter, I really kind of fear to say that.

LAH: Who leans towards the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Through the pandemic. I'm able to keep my job. I've, you know, I think he's done a good job.

ROSADO: So you've made up your mind about Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty much. And like you said, I'll still listen.

LAH (on camera): You think she can move?

ROSADO: I believe so. I believe so.

LAH (voice over): That's not lost on the Trump campaign in Arizona, gathering here at a Latinos for Trump mixer.

DREW SEXTON, STATE DIRECTOR, AZ TRUMP VICTORY: We believe that every conversation matters. That's why for us with Arizona Trump Victory we've made more than 4.5 million voter contacts already.

LAH: After unrest in Kenosha and Portland, the Trump campaign believes the winning issue is law and order.

SEXTON: That's something that President Trump is promoting and, again, that's why we think we're going to be successful in November.

LAH: That strategy echoed by outside groups backing the president clear across Arizona airwaves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do we want to raise our children? Do we want to raise them in a situation where there's law and order or do we want to raise them in chaos?

LAH (on camera): That's aimed specifically at people like you. Is it working?

AMY WUDEL, LIFELONG REPUBLICAN SUPPORTING BIDEN: OK, so it's really -- actually really frustrating to me that Trump's way of like reaching out to women is to kind of try to scare us into thinking that our white picket fences are going to be destroyed.

LAH (voice over): Amy Wudel, mother of four, is a lifelong Republican. She has never voted for a Democrat for president, but will because she no longer feels represented by Republicans either.

WUDEL: I feel there's a lot of people doing a gut check and saying, this is not -- this is not me. This is not where I want to go.

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.


CAMEROTA: Our thanks to Kyung.


And here's what else to watch today.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 2:30 p.m. ET, Trump speaks at National Archives.

8:00 p.m. ET, Biden speaks at CNN town hall.

9:00 p.m. ET, Trump speaks in Mosinee, WI.


CAMEROTA: President Trump's strategy to win re-election is becoming more clear. What exactly is it? Will it work?

BERMAN: I'm waiting for you to --


BERMAN: I'm waiting for you to tell me what that is.

CAMEROTA: You're going to have to stick around through the commercial break, John, if you want to know what it is.

BERMAN: I'm glad it's clear to somebody.

CAMEROTA: David Axelrod, it's clear to, he's going to tell us right after this.


BERMAN: All right, just hours from now, Joe Biden will take questions from voters in a CNN town hall event in Pennsylvania. That is 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

President Trump will be at a campaign rally in Wisconsin.

Now, at the White House, while talking about coronavirus, what he tried to do is somehow suggest that the deaths in the United States can be separated into blue states and red states.




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates, if you take the blue states out, we're at a level that I don't think anybody in the world would be at. We're really at a very low level.


BERMAN: You weren't any more or less dead depending on if you're in a blue state or a red state, David Axelrod, nor are you any more or less American depending on what state you are in. We're going to get "The Bottom Line" now with CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama and on the Obama campaign.

What did you make of the president's statement there?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I think it was a true reflection of his view of the presidency and the country. He views himself as president of the red states. He views himself as president of his base and feels no responsibility to people as American citizens. So it was shocking. It's not even true because there's been quite a bit of loss and death and illness among red states as well, as we know.

But the -- but I think, more than anything, it was so revealing about how he views America. And he views it through the prism of his own self-interest. If you support me, I will serve you. If you don't support me, I won't.

And the truth is, he hasn't served the red states very well. He gave them misleading information about this virus and it led to unnecessary illness and death.

CAMEROTA: As Juliette Kayyem told us at the beginning of this program, the 10 states with the highest death rates, five were blue, five were red. But he only, you know, wants to support the red states.

And so that brings us to his re-election strategy. This week he tried something different. He did a town hall on ABC where real voters confronted him with their questions about the places that they thought that he had failed them. And, you know, it didn't go that well. It certainly didn't go as well as the "Fox & Friends" appearance or a Hannity appearance. And so what do you think his re-election strategy is at this point?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say about that, that I -- it's good that the president submitted himself to those questions. He doesn't do it very often. He doesn't, as you point out, stray from the -- from the safety and cocoon of Fox News too often. So it's good that he -- it's good that he did that.

Look, I think his strategy is very clear, and that's to impose his version of facts, events and reality on this campaign through sheer repetition and force. And, you know, we saw even the attorney general is out there in full political apparatchik mode, echoing the president's message and amplifying on the president's political message. So -- and if you stray, you saw what happened to Dr. Redfield when he imparted his professional advice and his professional, you know, insights to the congressional committee yesterday. He immediately was rebuked because everyone is supposed to be pulling on the oars of the president's re-election, even if you have responsibility for overseeing our response to this pandemic.

BERMAN: Look, it is interesting what you say. William Barr, President Trump, Michael Caputo, their messages all more or less the same thing. It's on the same continuum here, which is that the science and the scientists don't have it right, I do, Donald Trump.

Presidents can always set the agenda, David Axelrod. Donald Trump has a real political skill, which I think is framing a discussion. However, I do wonder now if his framing of this discussion this week about coronavirus is really helping him by making it a me versus science thing. I don't understand how that wins you suburban voters.

AXELROD: No, it doesn't. He has a different strategy for suburban voters, and that is to play a fear card with suburban voters, to suggest that, you know, rioters and people of color are going to be knocking at their doorstep if he doesn't get re-elected.

But, you know, I totally agree with you. And I've said from the beginning, you can spin a lot of things, you can't spin a pandemic because people are living the reality of the pandemic. Although, you know, Barr said last night that the -- that stay at home directives were the greatest intrusion on personal liberties since slavery, which is offensive on so many different levels.

But, you know, people are living the reality of this. They've lost loved ones. They have had to curtail their economic activity to try and protect their health and the health of others.


And you see it in poll after poll after poll. But I think the president, you know, he is accustomed to imposing his will and his version of events on matters, and that's the only strategy he knows. There's no "r" on the president's gearshift, as you know, John, he just drives straight ahead. And, you know, you would think he would be chastened after the release of the Woodward book, but his strategy is always to double down.

BERMAN: David Axelrod, great to have you on this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

AXELROD: Good to see you.

BERMAN: And I know you will be watching CNN's presidential town hall with Joe Biden live from Pennsylvania, moderated by Anderson Cooper. That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: And CNN's coverage continues next.