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Roads Out of Burning Man May Reopen Today; Trump Still Strong in Republican Polls; Zelenskyy Fires Ukraine's Defense Minister; Turkey, Russia Meet to Discuss New Grain Deal. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 04, 2023 - 06:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Let's get started with "Five Things to Know" for this Labor Day, Monday, September 4.


Seventy thousand people are stranded in the Nevada desert for the third straight day, but roads could reopen today. Now, people at the Burning Man Festival are stuck in ankle-deep mud too thick to drive on, forcing organizers to impose shelter-in-place orders.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: A new clue in an urgent manhunt in Pennsylvania. This surveillance footage shows a convicted killer less than two miles from the prison where he escaped. He's still on the run this morning.

Donald Trump dominates the 2024 Republican field and pulls even further ahead in a new Wall Street Journal poll. He's the top choice for almost 60 percent of Republican voters. In fact, 78 percent of them say Trump's actions after the 2020 election were legitimate.

MATTINGLY: And this morning's Ukraine defense minister is out. He was fired by the nation's president, who says Ukraine needs, quote, "new approaches" as the war with Russia enters its 19th month.

CORNISH: And workers at Detroit's big three automakers prepare to walk off the job in less than two weeks if the unions and the companies can't reach a deal on a new labor contract. A strike against all three at once has never happened before, and it could have a big impact on the economy.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

MATTINGLY: Well, good Monday morning, everybody. Audie Cornish is back with me. We hope you had a great weekend. And certainly, if you're watching, any news this weekend, it was almost entirely focused on this.

Officials in Nevada say the roads out of Burning Man Festival grounds may reopen today after a rare but heavy downpour that amounted to less than one inch turned the grounds in the Black Rock Desert into a muddy, sticky mess. Inundated campsites leaving tens of thousands of people trapped in the desert.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't expect this kind of rain. And the effect, nobody's ever seen this kind of effect in there ever.


MATTINGLY: Attendees were told to conserve food, fuel and water after it became impossible for them to even walk or drive their vehicles on the ground.

CORNISH: But some people who were there said it wasn't so bad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friends are trying to message me if I'm OK, but in reality, it was really nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Things actually felt not only safe and comfortable for the vast majority of people, from my impression, but actually fun. We all came together and made the best of it.


CORNISH: Event organizers say plans to set fire to the iconic effigy could happen tonight, and the exodus of campers will likely start later today.

CNN's Camila Bernal reports from Burning Man.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We planned on leaving right after the burn, which is Saturday night. And then it started raining on us, like that night.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dramatic washout at Burning Man, trapping tens of thousands at the festival and delaying the event's marquee moment when a massive wooden effigy known as "the man" is set on fire. The decades old gathering in the Black Rock Desert is no stranger to extreme heat. But rarely like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're sinking. I think barefoot is the way go.

BERNAL (voice-over): Two to three months' worth of rain falling in just 24 hours, turning the desert ground into thick, cement-like paste.

Festival goer, Dean Zeller from Santa Monica, California, shot this video with his ankle deep into the mud. And from the air, you can see the standing water, muddy roads and countless RVS, vans, trucks and other vehicles parked and helpless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it was really wet, you couldn't do anything, you just lived here. There's really no way to walk miles, you know, to get out of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We couldn't leave. Like we were stuck basically. People couldn't -- could barely walk, let alone ride their bikes or drive out of here. And so that's when it was a little scary.

BERNAL (voice-over): Many of those who tried to drive away were stuck.

The situation so concerning that even President Joe Biden was briefed on the matter. While organizers have often described the festival as a self-expression event where harshness meets creativity, few expected it to be this bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a survival event. Like, you come out here to be in a harsh climate, and you prepare for that.

MATTINGLY: Event organizers said roads remain, quote, "too wet and muddy," and local authorities have told thousands of people to shelter in place. Though some attendees braved the conditions to make it out, including actor and comedian Chris Rock and another festival attendee, DJ Diplo. They posted a series of videos as they trekked more than 6 miles in the mud before the two got a ride on the back of a fan's pickup truck.

Local officials are urging those still on site to conserve food, water and fuel. Still, some attendees downplayed fears, telling us they think they'll manage just fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that it's going to -- like, people are going to, like, starve or do anything over there. The community in itself would help each other. And there's a lot of people who overstocked for this thing, too. It's really beautiful, actually, when you go into the camps. Everybody was helping each other out.

BERNAL (voice-over): Camila Bernal, CNN, Black Rock City.


CORNISH: So how did just 0.8 inches of rain completely cut these people off so quickly? Well, meteorologist Derek van Dam joins us now. And Derek, give us some idea of how this happened.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It's all about the topsoil. So what you're looking at here with our 3-D visualization tool is the difference between desert topsoil and our earthy topsoil that you and I might use to plant our vegetables in our garden, for instance. So we call that loam. Right? And water, as it rains, easily absorbs into that loam or that earthy topsoil.

But when you're talking about rain that continuously falls within the desert, it doesn't take much to start pooling up and then mixing in with that clay, creating that very muddy, cement-like mixture that ultimately cost so much thousands of people to get stranded in the desert of Nevada.

I mean, just take a look at some of these visuals. The aerial visuals really speak for themselves. I mean, look at these cars. You can see the muddy tracks. And you can see completely abandoned vehicles, because they simply cannot drive. It is too thick. It is too difficult to navigate that type of cement-like mixture that is a combination of the water not absorbing back into the ground -- we call that an impermeable surface -- and simply the amount of rain that fell in such a short period of time.

Here's the radar. And you can see, there are no flood watches in effect for the Black Rock Basin. This is known as a playa. In fact we're going to dry things out rather quickly here over the next 24 hours.

So as soon as we get the sun to rise this morning, we'll get that typical evaporation that would happen within this playa that you see just North of empire. That shading of white, that is a dry basin across the desert, and it normally evaporates the water when we get that break in the rain.

But that simply didn't happen, because the rain continuously fell over the same areas for a period of time on Friday and Saturday. But the good news is, Audie, is that the rain has come to an end, and we'll start to dry things out rather quickly for Black Rock and Burning Man.

Back to you.

CORNISH: Thank you for that.

And in our 8 a.m. hour, we're going to be joined by DJ and music producer Diplo. We mentioned earlier that he and comedian Chris Rock actually hitched a ride with a fan out of Burning Man. So we'll have a live interview with him, ahead.

MATTINGLY: Also this morning, a new "Wall Street Journal" poll shows former President Trump dominating among his Republican rivals. But what about a potential Trump/Biden match-up? Those numbers coming up next.

CORNISH: And right now, Vladimir Putin is meeting with Turkey's president. The significance of these talks, ahead.




DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR: I've never seen anything like this with Donald Trump. I mean, what doesn't kill you make you stronger? I mean, being convict -- I mean, being indicted, that's making him stronger? Raising $10 million using an ugly mug shot to raise money?

This is a movement. And anyone who thinks that you can apply the old political rules to trying to defeat this candidate based on he's scary, he's ugly, whatever you might want to call it, this is a movement. And we have to respect the fact that it's a movement.


MATTINGLY: That was former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile understanding the formidable nature, particularly in the Republican Party, that Donald Trump continues to hold. A new "Wall Street Journal" poll, well, it backs her up. Fifty-nine

percent of Republican primary voters support Trump. He's up 11 points from April, when this poll was last taken.

Look at this. Trump is still in a dead heat with President Biden in a hypothetical head-to-head rematch, 46 percent a piece.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst and host of the podcast "Conversations with Coleman," Coleman Hughes; as well as CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's also editor at "The Atlantic." His latest piece is headlined "Why Biden Just Can't Shake Trump in the Polls."

And Ron, I think that the value of this piece -- and I say this often about your analysis -- is you know, you listen to Donna Brazile. You listen to people talk. And it's just this constant how, why? Why does this keep happening? Even after seven years of it always happening, to some degree.

And your piece really kind of cracks the code to some degree and almost breaking out the why here, with four kind of core pillars. What are they?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, obviously, one reason -- Phil, good morning, first of all. Happy Labor Day, everybody.

One reason is that we're really dug in as a country, and there are not many voters who are going to switch sides for whatever reason, whatever is going on.

But beyond that, there really are four core factors I think that are shaping the environment for 2024. Two of them are weakening President Biden. Two of them are weakening Donald Trump.

I mean, for Biden, the headwinds are concerns about his age. Again today consistently in that "Wall Street Journal" poll, three-quarters of Americans say they think he's too old to serve as president for another term.

And inflation. Inflation is incredibly scarring for voters, and it is at this point largely eclipsing the positive input Biden has on a variety of economic fronts, particularly job creation and jobs specifically flowing out of the trio of big bills he passed in the past few years.

But if you have inflation on one side, on the other side, abortion and insurrection are weakening -- are weakening Trump.

Abortion was a powerful weapon for Democrats in '22. Not everywhere, but in the key swing states that will likely decide '24, including Arizona and Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Clear majority of voters wanted abortion to stay legal, and a big majority of them voted for Democrats.

And the other factor is insurrection. You know, there is a majority of Americans who believe that what he did after 2020 was illegal and unconstitutional, even though Republican voters overwhelmingly take the opposite position.

And when you add up age and inflation on one side and abortion and insurrection on the other, what that adds up to right now is stalemate.


CORNISH: Coleman, I want to turn to you, because we heard Donna Brazile there admitting something that a lot of people feel like they have known for the better part of eight years.

So have Democrats really made the adjustment that they need to, to account for what she's talking about?

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, it remains to be seen. And that was a great analysis, I think, by Ron just now.

So you've got these two factors on each side which seems to equal each other out. The question is, you know, are there going to -- what other factors are going to emerge?

So for example, independent voters may end up caring quite a bit about the emerging Hunter Biden scandal. Is that going to tip the scales? Who knows?

Is there going to be, as the Trump indictments evolve, is the optics of that going to continue to help Trump within the GOP but hurt him with independents, which is what has happened thus far?

I think you see this 60 percent number, right? We should remember, before the indictments, Trump was polling closer to 40 percent, and that's what I would call -- that's what you might call, like, the personality cult.

Those are the people that just like Trump, no matter what. After the indictments, there's another 20 percent of Republican voters or so that have come home to Trump, because they feel that he is persecuted; and they need to rally to his defense by nominating him.

CORNISH: Right. Not so much a vote for him, but in a way, a vote against the forces, the various forces they're upset with.

HUGHES: Exactly. And that might be an own goal, because in the end, even though Biden is -- is, in some ways, a candidate with some weaknesses, Trump is still not the best bet for beating him.

So in some way, Republicans may have to choose between nominating Trump and beating Biden. And the way things are looking now, it looks like they want to choose nominating Trump.

MATTINGLY: You know, Ron, to that point, because I think everybody looks at -- first up, national polls this far out on a head-to-head basis, I definitely want to see trend lines, though I'm not totally sold on why they have a significant impact in the race. But the idea of, to Coleman's point, if you break down going into a

general election, which has long been my question, and then you look at the states that really matter -- and you kind of nailed them, where it could actually come down to the fact that this is literally just a Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona type of moment going into the fall of 2024 -- when you look at those dynamics that we're talking about, the kind of four key pillars there, how do those states break based on those dynamics, do you think?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Phil, the first point is that we are looking at an historically small number of swing states that will almost certainly decide the winner in 2024.

You know, there are 40 states that have voted the same way in each of the past four presidential elections, which is the highest level of consistency since at least the turn of the 20th Century. Even Roosevelt's four consecutive wins, Frankline Roosevelt, not as many -- not as high a share of states voted the same way. So we're looking at a tiny battlefield.

And I think one thing that kind of reassures Democrats amid all of this bad news about Biden and the resistance to Biden in the polls, is that in 2022, I think the results clearly showed that Democrats still have an easier path to 270 than Republicans, especially if it's Trump.

I mean, Democrats did win the governorship in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with almost 80 percent of voters saying they were dissatisfied with the economy and a majority of voters saying that they disapproved of Biden's performance or didn't want him to run again because of his age.

And they did so because their concerns about abortion and democracy --


BROWNSTEIN: -- outweigh their concerns about Biden.

But I will say, that while that analysis is somewhat reassuring to Democrats, there is a lot more anxiety than there was six or eight months ago about the persistence of this unease in the electorate about reelecting Biden to another term.

But I do agree that it could look different over time with convictions and once you face the actual reality of Trump, but they are in a much tougher, more precarious overall situation, I think, than almost any of them could have imagined when these indictments started coming down.

CORNISH: Now, the reason why these states are locked, the reason why this map feels so locked in some -- is in part because of gerrymandering, right? And in part because of our congressional maps.

I want to talk about Florida, because a judge there has rejected a congressional map that Ron DeSantis was pushing. And so this is a battle, basically, where DeSantis is fighting with fellow Republicans. Now, his map actually eliminated two heavily black districts. Can you

talk about this ruling in the context of what else is going on in Florida with DeSantis and black voters?

HUGHES: Yes, sure. So I think we're -- you know, we're so often in the business of delivering bad political news. I think this is a moment for restoring faith in the role of an independent judiciary, because what you see right now is a Republican-nominated judge essentially policing his own side. Right?

Saying that that is not a valid way of restricting the -- the districts in Florida, and that's diluting the black vote.

That's the role of the judiciary. And it restores faith that the judiciary is not just playing politics by other means but is actually using jurisprudence to uphold the Constitution.

Now, in the context of what's been going on, we've seen some other hopeful examples, as well. Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Alabama's restricting was similarly unconstitutional and where Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberal justices there.

And last year, you saw New York's highest court where, in that case, the Democrat proposal for restricting was rejected. So we've seen some hopeful examples of courts really doing their jobs and providing that check and that balance.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's an interesting point. Because you see these rulings, and I think a lot of us immediately go, well, that's plus one "D" in the House races, or that's plus two. You're counting seats, as opposed to saying, like, oh, no. Everybody talks about gerrymandering kind of in this amorphous top-line scolding way. This is what's supposed to happen, I guess, to some degree in that sense.

All right. Ron Brownstein, Coleman Hughes, thanks, guys, very much.

Ron's latest analysis: "One year out, here's what we know about how the presidential race will look on Labor Day 2024," is on Very productive for a Labor Day weekend, Ron Brownstein.

CORNISH: Ahead, we want to talk international. We'll be hearing why president Zelenskyy is getting rid of his defense minister as Russia's war enters its 19th month.

MATTINGLY: And see the moment an extravagant gender reveal turned deadly. That's next.



CORNISH: Overnight, Russia launched a massive attack on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine's Odessa region and a drone attack on the East.

Ukraine reports destruction to communities, warehouses, industrial buildings and agricultural equipment.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy fired his defense minister as his country enters the 19th month of war.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Oleksii Reznikov has been through more than 550 days of full-scale war. I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole.


CORNISH: CNN's Melissa Bell is live with us from Ukraine with more. First, let's talk about this decision. Why has Zelenskyy dropped his defense minister?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we understand was that this came at the request of Oleksii -- Oleksii Reznikov, who's been widely praised for what he's done over the last 18 months, the pretty his firm record that he's shown in a very difficult job.

But also this is about redrawing a line around against some of those scandals that we've seen, corruption allegations, investigations that have gone on, procurement scandals that have emerged.

Many of them I think it's important to note, that had to do with the early days of the war, with Ukrainian taxpayers' money, with Ukrainian weapons. But that has still docked (ph) the image of the country, not just as it seeks to get more weapons from its Western allies, but of course, more broadly, Ukraine looks to joining NATO at some point and its more fundamental aim of being able to join the European Union.

So Kyiv has been at pains to show that it is tracking down on these corruption allegations, taking them extremely seriously, dealing with them.

And whilst Oleksii Reznikov has not been tainted by them at all, this really allows them to draw a line even as arrests are being made and investigations are being drawn to a close, to draw a line under those first 18 months of the war.

Now the man taking over, a Crimean Tatar, Rustem Umerov, who is widely seen as a safe pair of hands. This is a man who has, after all, been involved in several prisoner swaps throughout the war. He's a businessman who's also been involved in the Black Sea grain initiative and is widely seen as a very competent man to take over.

Let's be clear, what must be arguably one of the hardest jobs in the world going forward. As you said, the 19th month of this war, it isn't just about sustaining the war effort and getting Ukrainian weapons up and going. It is also, of course, about holding the alliance together and keeping momentum there from Western alliance members, who at this point are also getting extremely tired of this war.

CORNISH: Melissa, before I let you go, what does this mean for this counteroffensive we've been hearing about so much?

BELL: Well, this is going to be important, because again, this is a man who's going to take over when they're looking to get the weapons that will help feed this counteroffensive that is making progress to the South of Zaporizhzhia.

Small assault units that are heading down, trying to extend the bridge head to the South of Robotyne, that one village that has been recaptured. And it is significant, because it does give them momentum and allow them to look further Southwards in their aims, getting the right weaponry to what will be a bigger assault down there, as they seek to draw Russian elite frontline troops from elsewhere on the frontline, will be crucial in these, the next weeks and months that will be really significant and important to making this happen, Audie.

CORNISH: Melissa Bell, thanks for this detail.

MATTINGLY: Well, right now, a high-stakes meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the president of Turkey is getting under way in Russia. It is a rare, very rare visit to the country by a NATO leader as war wages in Ukraine.

But Erdogan is trying to convince Putin to re-enter a deal to allow Ukrainians to export grain and prevent a global food crisis.

I want to bring in CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson.

Nic, it is a rare visit for anybody not named Recep Tayyip Erdogan to some degree, which underscores what I think is a fascinating place within the geopolitical landscape, particularly over the course of the last several months.

He wins re-election, when that seemed in doubt for a time; helps clear the way for a NATO member that seemed also very much in doubt at some time. Now this grain deal pulled off the table by President Putin, trying to get it back on track to some degree.

How does this proceed?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Putin is saying in the opening comments we've just seen where the two of them met, this is sort of a preamble, supposedly, to their meeting. Putin is saying, Look, I know that you've come to talk to me about the grain deal. We're open to negotiations.

But what we've heard from the Kremlin over the past few days, the Turkish foreign minister met with a Russian foreign minister towards the end of last week.

The Russian position is, look, what the U.N. is offering and the U.N. sent concrete proposals to Russia last week, saying we want you back in the deal, and this is the way to do it.