Pol­i­tics held up dis­as­ter aid

San Francisco Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER -

The fed­eral govern­ment’s with­hold­ing of emer­gency wild­fire as­sis­tance to Cal­i­for­nia this week cap­tured Pres­i­dent Trump’s ca­pac­ity to sub­ject even the gravest mat­ters to petty pol­i­tics and per­sonal re­sent­ments.

Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency of­fi­cials on Wed­nes­day re­jected Gov. Gavin New­som’s re­quest for a ma­jor pres­i­den­tial dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion and aid. New­som sought the help for six fires that started in early Septem­ber and af­fected coun­ties across the state from Sikiyou to San Diego, in­clud­ing the largest sin­gle fire in the state’s recorded his­tory, the Creek Fire in the moun­tains of Fresno and Madera coun­ties.

New­som’s pe­ti­tion, which fol­lowed a suc­cess­ful emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion re­quest for the light­ningsparke­d Bay Area fires the month be­fore, noted that the Septem­ber blazes had burned nearly 2 mil­lion acres, de­stroyed over 3,000 struc­tures, caused more than $300 mil­lion in dam­age and killed at least three. But a FEMA of­fi­cial said they were “not of such sever­ity and mag­ni­tude” to war­rant a dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion. A White House spokesman gave the de­nial Trump’s stamp of dis­ap­proval, say­ing “the pres­i­dent con­curred.”

On Fri­day, how­ever, Repub­li­can Rep. Tom Mc­clin­tock, who rep­re­sents fir­erav­aged ar­eas, an­nounced that Trump would re­verse the de­ci­sion. New­som sub­se­quently con­firmed the about­face, which was wel­come but should not have been nec­es­sary.

Driven by warm­ing tem­per­a­tures, sprawl­ing de­vel­op­ment and decades of fire sup­pres­sion, wild­fires have ended and dis­rupted lives and de­stroyed homes and busi­nesses across Cal­i­for­nia and the West in re­cent years. They raise plenty of dif­fi­cult ques­tions, but

whether they con­sti­tute a na­tional emer­gency is not one of them.

Trump has nev­er­the­less re­peat­edly threat­ened to deny Cal­i­for­nia fed­eral aid on a va­ri­ety of fic­ti­tious pre­texts, among them that the state doesn’t have enough water to fight fires be­cause it “di­verts” too much into the ocean. The pres­i­dent is also fond of ex­co­ri­at­ing state of­fi­cials for for­est mis­man­age­ment (which he of­ten mis­char­ac­ter­izes as in­suf­fi­cient clean­ing or rak­ing of the wilder­ness) even though the U.S. For­est Ser­vice owns more than half the state’s wood­lands. And, of course, he per­sists in deny­ing the rel­e­vance of cli­mate change, hav­ing re­cently promised state of­fi­cials that global tem­per­a­tures would spon­ta­neously cool.

A more likely ra­tio­nale for the pres­i­dent’s re­luc­tance to meet this ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­ity was pro­vided by Miles Taylor, a former top Trump Home­land Se­cu­rity aide who en­dorsed Joe Bi­den in Au­gust. Taylor said Trump “told us to stop giv­ing money to peo­ple whose houses had burned down from a wild­fire be­cause he was so rage­ful that peo­ple in the state of Cal­i­for­nia didn’t sup­port him.”

Fri­day’s in­ter­ces­sion by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers was a re­minder that be­yond be­ing ap­palling, this is false: Trump ac­tu­ally has enough sup­port­ers in Cal­i­for­nia to have car­ried 25 of its 58 coun­ties in 2016. Once again, the pres­i­dent was wrong — fac­tu­ally and, more to the point, morally.

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