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Roads Out of Burning Man May Reopen Today, Thousands Still Stuck; Tomorrow, Proud Boys Chairman to be Sentenced; Auto Strike Looms, Threatening to Shut Down the Big Three. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 04, 2023 - 07:00   ET


AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: Major strike that could impact the whole country.


The United Auto Workers Union and Detroit's big three automakers have less than two weeks to negotiate a new labor contract.

The union's president says members are prepared to walk off the job if demands for improved wages and benefits are not met.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And tomorrow, the chairman of the Proud Boys is expected to be sentenced for his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Enrique Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracy back in May. Prosecutors are asking for a 33-year prison sentence.

CORNISH: And overnight, four astronauts have safely returned to Earth after a six-month stay on the International Space Station. The crew splashed down off the east coast of Florida.

CNN This Morning starts right now.

MATTINGLY: Well, good morning, everyone. Audie, thanks for hanging out. I often see these moments at Burning Man and think interesting, probably something I'm never going to be a part of or care that deeply about. Some people do, except this weekend everybody seemed to care about it because everyone was stuck.

CORNISH: Yes, it is an epic Burning Man, I would say.

MATTINGLY: Epic, yes. That's what they always say it is. This one actually is.

Just hour from now, roads could finally reopen at the Burning Man Festival, where tens of thousands of people are still stranded in the desert. Organizers say they will be making a decision this morning. Roads leading in and out of festival have been shut down since Saturday after heavy rain created ankle-deep mud.

Officials say the thick mud made it virtually impossible for cars, buses and R.V.s to leave. A lot of people walked for miles through the mud to get out. Here, you can see some vehicles that tried to leave but became hopelessly stuck.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's so much water. We are flooded. We're going to be stuck here at least a couple of days. This is nuts.


MATTINGLY: Now, this is what people have been trudging through for days now. Festivalgoers have been hunkering down and told to conserve food, water and fuel.

CNN's Camila Bernal reports live 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 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 to go.

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

Festivalgoer 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 R.V.s, vans, trucks and other vehicles parked and helpless.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We couldn't leave, like we were stuck, basically. People could barely walk let alone ride their bikes or drive out of here. And so that's why it's getting a little scary.

BERNAL: And many of those who tried to drive away were stuck. The situation so concerning that he 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 is a survival event. Like you come out here to be in a harsh climate and you prepare. BERNAL: 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, D.J. Diplo. They posted a series of videos as they trekked more than six 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. But still some attendees downplay fears telling us that they think they will manage just fine.

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

BERNAL: Camila Bernal, CNN, Black Rock City.


CORNISH: Now, to be clear, it was just 0.8 inches of rain that fell in Nevada's Black Rock Desert on Saturday morning. But it made a difference.

So, we're bringing in Meteorologist Derek Van Dam to talk to us about what happened.


Derek, can you explain?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, I mean, 0.8 inches is roughly about two to three months of worth of rain in a short period of time. And in the desert, that makes a big difference. So, it all comes down to the structure of that topsoil in the desert.

So, what you're looking at with this 3D visualization tool is the difference between loam, which is like our earthy topsoil that you and I would plant our vegetable garden in, for instance, compared to that of the dry, barren clay that you would find in the desert.

When the rain falls incessantly over the same areas, the earthy topsoil, known as loam, would just absorb it, right? Not a problem. But when you're talking about the desert or a playa, where Black Rock City is located, well, that water mixes in with that clay and it creates that cement muddy mixture that people inevitably got stuck in and continue to be stuck in today.

But there is some good news. But, first, let's show you these visuals once more because they really speak for themselves. Just incredible to see this city that pops up with 70,000, but you can see how difficult it is. And that's the playa, that's the dry basin that this particular city that pops up once a year for this particular Burning Man event happens to find itself in. And, yes, look, this is normally a dry time of the year, but, unfortunately, the rain fell coinciding with this inclusion of a large city.

But the good news that I mentioned is that the rain is coming to an end. There are currently no flood watches across the western portions of Nevada and you can see the rain drying out. So, we'll start to see the evaporation. That mud will turn to more concrete and will start to dry things out and hopefully open up that exit route as quick as possible.

So, hey, Phil, Audie, maybe next year we can go together. I don't know. Just an idea.

CORNISH: Yes. Bring an umbrella just in case, I guess, is what we heard.

VAN DAM: Okay. All right.

MATTINGLY: Derek is way too cool for me to attend like a hip festival with and would make me look really bad, but I like the general idea of it. Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it.

CORNISH: Derek, I appreciate you.

So, next hour, we're actually going to be joined by the D.J. and music producer, Diplo, and because as you heard from Camila, he and Comedian Chris Rock actually escaped Burning Man hitching a ride with a fan. We're going to have a live interview with him ahead.

MATTINGLY: Well, tomorrow, the chairman of the Proud Boys is expected to be sentenced for his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol building. Enrique Tarrio is convicted of seditious conspiracy. He's convicted back in May. Prosecutors now seeking 33 years in prison.

CORNISH: The hearing comes after two other Proud Boys were handed hefty sentences by a federal judge on Friday. Ethan Nordean, who took over leading the group on the day of the insurrection, was sentenced to 18 years and Dominic Pezzola was sentenced to ten years. He's the one who smashed a window to the U.S. Capitol, paving the way for the first wave of rioters to storm the building.

Joining us now is CNN Senior Legal Analyst and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig. Hey there, Ellie. Good morning.


CORNISH: So, people are talking about 30 years for Tarrio based-- looking at these other sentences, but is that likely?

HONIG: I think it's unlikely that prosecutors get 33 years that they're seeking, but I also do think that Enrique Tarrio will get the highest single sentence passed down on anyone connected to January 6th so far. The top sentence thus far is 18 years. Mr. Nordean got 18 years. And the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, got 18 years.

Now, prosecutors are being very aggressive with these leaders of these extremist groups. So, what often happens--

CORNISH: Why? What did they say? Is it because they believe they did hard organization?

HONIG: Yes, it's the organizational aspect. It's the fact that they were connected working as a group together. There was planning. I mean, what Enrique Tarrio did-- he's actually the only defendant other than Donald Trump who's not exactly charged for January 6th itself. Enrique Tarrio is the only defendant who was not physically present at the Capitol of the 1,100-plus DOJ has charged so far, but he might as well have been. He was arrested a couple of days before, and he essentially engineered the plot to attack the Capitol.

CORNISH: Right. So, it undermines this idea that it was just sort of a riot that got out of control or a demonstration that got out of control.

HONIG: Exactly. And the other aspect with Tarrio is he was a leader. And under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, if you can prove someone was a leader of organized activity, you can bump the sentence up. So, I think we're going to fall somewhere between 18 and 33 for him.

MATTINGLY: Are you surprised by the length of the sentences we've seen so far? And you mentioned kind of the range. Is that all dependent on the judge or what kind of-- what should people expect here?

HONIG: Yes, it's up to the judge.

In the federal system, we have this book, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which used to be mandatory, but about 15 years ago, it became advisory, meaning judges have to consult it, but they have very wide discretion--

CORNISH: They're not bound to it.

HONIG: Exactly. I think the sentences thus far have been reasonable. I think the sentences have been severe, not over the top. But when you're talking about people who were charged, tried, and convicted of seditious conspiracy, not surprising to me to see sentences in the mid-teens.

It is worth noting, though, DOJ has taken heat from multiple federal judges for undercharging and being too light on some of the other players. Not Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, but, remember, 1,100-plus defendants, a handful of them have been Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.


But various judges have called out DOJ for being-- and I quote the judges here-- schizophrenic, baffling for basically going too light on some of these folks, giving them misdemeanor pleas, giving them probation.

CORNISH: But all that has happened. So, I feel like lawyers are watching that really closely. But for the public, they're hearing about the former president's case. So, is any of this going to impact that?

HONIG: So, on the one hand, Enrique Tarrio and the others are charged with different crimes than Donald Trump. They were charged with seditious conspiracy, no seditious conspiracy, no insurrection charge against Donald Trump. He's charged with conspiracy and fraud.

On the other hand, it's kind of hard to justify 16, 18, 12-year sentences for other people who were involved in the insurrection but not the person who really sparked it all in on whose behalf they were looking at. So, absolutely, it will be relevant, I think, if-- big if-- if there ever is a conviction and sentencing of Donald Trump.

MATTINGLY: All right. Elie Honig, thanks, man, I appreciate it.

CORNISH: One of Donald Trump's GOP rivals is now warning that we could see another day like January 6th if the former president is prosecuted.

MATTINGLY: And just hours from now, President Biden is set to speak at a union rally as he celebrates Labor Day in Philadelphia. This all comes as the auto industry faces a potential strike. The labor secretary will join us live, next.


MATTINGLY: Well, on this Labor Day, President Biden travels to Philadelphia to march in a union parade as another union threatens a major strike that could impact the country's entire economy.

The United Auto Workers Union and the three Detroit automakers have less than two weeks to negotiate a new labor contract, but the union's president says members are prepared to walk off the job if the companies don't consider the union's list of demands for improved wages and benefits.


SHAWN FAIN, PRESIDENT, UAW: Believe me when I say I'm fed up. And the one thing I want to tell you is this trash can is overflowing with the (BLEEP) that the big three continue to pedal.

If we want higher wages, better benefits, and a better future for ourselves and our families, then we're going to have to fight like hell to win it.



MATTINGLY: There's a moment that didn't lead people to think they were heading toward a deal at this point. In a statement last month, President Biden said that all sides should work together to forge a fair agreement, and that the UAW deserves a contract that sustains the middle class.

Joining us now is Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su. Acting Secretary, thanks so much for your time.

I want to start there, because this kind of moment in labor generally, over the course of the last several years, but particularly now, we have seen, I think, the leverage and the power to some degree, the dynamic has shifted somewhat. We've seen it in the negotiations. We've seen it in the threatened strikes. We've seen it in the strikes that have actually taken place. But when it comes to UAW right now, just to start, can you lay out what the administration's role is in these negotiations to the extent there is one at all?

JULIE SU, ACTING LABOR SECRETARY: Yes, thank you so much, Phil. I mean, this president is the most pro-worker, pro-union president that we have had, and that means economic policies that center working people that are good for workers. It has created a tight labor market, in which workers and unions have more power to demand change and demand what's right for workers, demand their fair share at the bargaining table.

With UAW, the parties are talking to each other. It always looks like parties are far apart until they're not. We saw historic gains for West Coast dock workers in 29 ports between the ILWU and employers there. We saw historic gains for Teamsters in their negotiations with UPS.

And so at this point, the UAW is at the table with the big three, and we respect their process and are hopeful that they are going to grapple through some hard issues and hopefully come to an agreement that's a win-win.

MATTINGLY: Yes, unsaid in both the dock negotiations and the UPS negotiations. I think you played a pretty critical behind the scenes role in those negotiations.

I think one of the things that is difficult with these specific talks, part of the UAW's issues right now are electric vehicles, the federal subsidies that electric vehicles coming from this administration and the Inflation Reduction Act and a lot of the work that they've done, which has been touted, and rightfully so, for climate advocates' perspective.

How do you thread that needle with them when this is a policy that you want to pursue in terms of electric vehicles, in terms of the subsidies that the IRA puts out there, but it creates issues with what should be allies of this administration and the UAW?

SU: Right. President Biden says, and I agree, that we can both solve our climate crisis and build an economy that's good for working people, right? We can do both of those things at the same time. When we address -- really, I mean, we're seeing the impact of the climate crisis all across the country right now, and we have to do something about that. And there's an entire climate agenda to do that. There's also -- Bidenomics, is about empowering workers and starting working people.

And so all of the investments, including in the climate, are opportunities to create good jobs and communities that need them the most. We have to think about what the impact is on workers, but just as recently as this weekend, President Biden has said that we are going to make sure that we invest in and support the good middle-class jobs in places like Detroit, in places like Milwaukee, where working people have been built the auto industry that has led the world for a really long time.

MATTINGLY: I know you're not in the political sphere, but I have been fascinated by UAW's decision not to endorse up to this point. Has there been any sense in your discussions, the administration's discussions, that endorsement is contingent on getting some kind of an agreement over the finish line that benefits them?

SU: No. I mean, the President is really focused on doing right by workers and enjoys obviously very broad support from unions, from union leaders, from working people. I travel the country and I talk to workers who feel like some sense of hope, right, that this government is on their side, that we're focused on creating good jobs with a path to the middle class, that we're focused on opportunity.

And so at this point, we are -- what it means to support the collective bargaining process means that we look to see that the parties have a fair shake at the table and the president believes that those outcomes can be good for working people, profitable for employers, and that's what's good for America.

MATTINGLY: You mentioned Bidenomics, and I think this all kind of feeds into Bidenomics to some degree, but I want to play something that Jared Bernstein, one of the president's top economic advisers, said yesterday. I need you to respond to it. Take a listen.


JARED BERNSTEIN, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: 82 percent support capping insulin costs for seniors at $35 a month. 81 percent support giving Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices. 79 percent support tax incentives to create more manufacturing jobs. 77 percent support capping out of pocket costs on prescription drugs. These are all measures that are in place. These are the components of Bidenomics.

So, when someone tells you Americans don't like Bidenomics, it's false. Americans approve of the components above 80 percent.


MATTINGLY: Acting Secretary, I understand Jared's point because it was the same point that was made with the American Recovery Act -- or, sorry, the initial --

SU: The rescue plan?

MATTINGLY: Thank you, sorry. It's been so long since I've covered the White House in all of the six weeks. But also the CHIPS Act.

Also, like if you take every single major piece of legislation that this president has signed into law, many of them bipartisan, and you take out the individual components, I have reams of paper sent from the White House to me saying, individually, these all poll 60-plus, 70-plus, 80-plus, and yet 75 percent of those polled are not happy or comfortable with the current economic state of the country.

The disconnect, what is it and why?

SU: So, Bidenomics is basically three things. The first is investing in America. And that means repairing roads, making safe bridges, making sure that every family that powers up the internet at home has reliable, high-speed internet. Everybody who turns on the faucet in their kitchen has clean drinking water. Those are broadly popular policies, and we're investing like never before.

The second is empowering workers. And we're seeing a moment in which there is the highest approval rate for unions since 1965. And President Biden understands, I think the American people believe, that we need to build an economy, especially back from the global catastrophe caused by COVID that leaves no one behind.

And the third piece is what you started with, which is reducing prices. Those are popular, and they're the right thing to do. They're also the smart thing to do. It's what creates a stronger American economy and America overall. And those are popular policies. And when I travel the country and talk to people about it, I see that too.

MATTINGLY: And I think it's something you're definitely going to hear the president talking about later today.

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

SU: Thank you so much, Happy Labor Day.

CORNISH: Republican Presidential Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy again vowing, if he's elected, to pardon Trump, should he be convicted, and warning that Trump prosecutions could bring about another insurrection.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am worried, George that, day-by-day, we're inching in a dark direction for this country. I do not want to see another day like January 6th in this country.





FMR. GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): If you're unwilling to challenge Donald Trump, you should get off the stage. You know, Ramaswamy, for example, is up there being a cheerleader and a fill-in for Trump. He shouldn't be running for president. He obviously is trying to apply for a job for Trump.


CORNISH: That's former Republican governor from Maryland, Larry Hogan, blasting 2024 presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy for his consistent defense of Donald Trump yesterday. Ramaswamy warned that the prosecutions of Trump could lead to, quote, another day like January 6th. Listen here.


RAMASWAMY: I think that many of these prosecutions against Donald Trump are outright, downright, politicized persecutions through prosecution.

I think we continue to set a dangerous precedent. I do not want to see us march to some kind of national divorce. And I am worried, George, that, day-by-day we're inching in a dark direction for this country. I do not want to see another day like January 6th in this country.


CORNISH: Back with us now to discuss, Elie Honig and Coleman Hughes. We're also going to bring in Semafor Politics Reporter Shelby Talcott.

I want to start with the picture that Vivek basically painted there and get your reactions to it. First, from you, Shelby, because you talk to voters a lot. So, obviously, he represents a voice.

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Yes, yes. And I think what he said is, who knows, right? I never thought January 6th would happen in the first place. So, it's perhaps entirely reasonable to think something like that could happen again.

But I also think that you can't decide whether to convict or charge someone based on what a possible reaction from the voter base is. It's not how our justice system works.

CORNISH: But all of his commentaries sort of seeded with, I think, some of the like Trumpismpeteur (ph), I mean, hearing about a national divorce. That's something you hear from certain kind of Republican congresswoman, Coleman. I mean, what do you hear and how he kind of stitched together that sentiment?

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, I think he's taking the strategy that he is just going to hold water for Trump. He's seeing that 60 percent of GOP voters are enthralled with Trump. And he may even be auditioning for a V.P. spot, right?

But as you said, the problem with this is that you cannot hold justice hostage to mass violence. And, certainly, he would not accept this argument in the other direction. For instance, if there was a court case where left wingers were going to riot, if it came out a particular way, there's no way he would accept that that was a reason for the trial to come out one way or the other, right? So, this is blackmail, in a way. HONIG: There's a suggestive undertone to what he says here. I think it's clear. And I think it's worth reflecting. We've now seen four indictments of Donald Trump. And, thankfully, everything has held. We've not seen violence. We've not seen mass attacks on anything.

I was actually at the courthouse and Trump Tower when the first indictment came down. And we didn't quite know, right? Is there going to be a mass demonstration? Is there going to be violence? And, thankfully, there was not. There was loud protest, which you can and should do under our First Amendment, nothing more than that. And it seemed like each successive indictment, we saw less and less of a physical presence.

Now, look, you never know what any lone wolf is going to do. That, to me, is the biggest fear. But I think it's been reassuring and a reassurance about the sort of solidity of our process that we've been able to do this so far completely peacefully.

MATTINGLY: Shelby, can I ask you -- just to move on to other topics. But on Vivek himself, he has a way that we've seen to be very effective in the past, particularly with certain parts of the Republican primary electorate, alluding to things, not officially attributing them to himself.

And I think you were making this point in terms of the national divorce, where he has one step removal to say, well, that wasn't exactly what I was saying. I was just citing people that were saying these things, and yet they are extraordinarily inflammatory. Sometimes they are outright bordering on racist misogynists. You name the word, never explicitly saying them himself. Does he know what he's doing here? Is this part of the plan, part of kind of his strategy?


TALCOTT: Well, Vivek is very smart, I think.

MATTINGLY: That's my point, right? Like he's not --

TALCOTT: I mean, I can't get inside of his head, but he's smart.

MATTINGLY: That's what you're supposed to --

TALCOTT: He knows that.