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Trump responds to California wildfires by threatening to cut federal aid

Trump suggested ways to fight the fires at odds with the reality on the ground, and threaten to cut all federal wildfire “$$$ help.”

Flames enter a vineyard during the Kincade fire near Geyserville, California on October 24, 2019.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

As California continues to suffer from a number of wildfires, President Donald Trump has made a vague threat to cut federal aid to the state’s fire recovery efforts.

Amid high winds and dry weather, the fires have spread so rapidly that California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency last week to mobilize resources to fight the blazes. Californians have been experiencing historic blackouts and mandatory evacuations. Hundreds of people have lost their homes, and more than 10,000 acres have burned.

Rather than address those hit with tragedy, Trump criticized Gov. Newsom Sunday morning for doing a “terrible job of forest management.” In a following tweet, Trump implied that he would cut federal aid because of his dissatisfaction with how Newsom has dealt with the fires.

Newsom quickly responded to Trump on Twitter, rebuking the president for his past as a climate science denier.

Trump has a long history of refusing to acknowledge that human activity is expediting global warming; when the National Climate Assessment, a major government report on climate change, warned of the devastating impacts of climate change, Trump simply said, “I don’t believe it.”

The tweets marked a complete turn of events: Just a few days before, Newsom had shown rare gratitude toward the administration for its help with the wildfires, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“His team is performing above and beyond expectation,’’ Newsom said. “Every single request we’ve had to the administration has been met.’’

Experts have noted Trump’s tweets also provided misleading advice for fire management. Despite his encouragement to “clean” the forest floors, raking isn’t helpful for California, a state that is experiencing intense fires because of climate change related reasons, according to The Washington Post. Vox’s Eliza Barclay has explained that as temperature continues to rise, the land grows more arid, thus making trees and shrubs more flammable — raking would do nothing to change that.

Also of issue is the fact that most of the fires this season aren’t happening in forests. The Getty fire and others near Los Angeles broke out on “vegetation-dominated hillsides,” The Washington Post reported. And even if they had broken out in forests, it would be difficult to lay the responsibility for forest management at the state’s feet. The University of California found that 57 percent of about 33 million acres of forest in the state is managed by federal agencies, ABC News reported.

Trump and Newsom are at odds on everything — including wildfire management

This isn’t the first time Trump has made such a threat. When California was fighting deadly fires last November, he tweeted out similar criticisms of the state’s forest management. “Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” he said, although no concrete action was taken afterward. Then, again in January, the president tweeted out a similar threat that led to no action as well.

These threats are partially fueled by Trump’s poor relationship with Newsom, who has been open about his disapproval with the administration. Newsom took the opportunity in September to criticize Trump for his poor environmental policies during the opening ceremony of New York’s Climate Week, where he spoke about California’s climate plans.

“I don’t know what the hell happened to this country that we have a president that we do today on this issue,” Newsom said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Because it’s a damn shame. It really is. I’m not a little embarrassed about it — I’m absolutely humiliated by what’s going on.”

Their clashes haven’t stopped at verbal arguments. So far the state has filed more than 60 lawsuits against the administration on a range of topics from immigration to climate change. Their most recent legal dispute: Trump’s decision to revoke a waiver that allowed California to hold higher emissions standards for cars than the federal government. While Trump characterized the policy as a business opportunity for the auto industry in California, Newsom decried it as a threat to public health.

“It’s a move that could have devastating consequences for our kids’ health and the air we breathe if California were to roll over,” Newsom said in a statement. “We will fight this latest attempt and defend our clean car standards.”

Because of this bitter history, Trump has never shied away from blaming Newsom for California’s problems — even if it mean capitalizing on the tragedy of wildfires.