New governor jabs Trump, asks for aid
FEMA funding for California put in jeopardy
California Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off his first two days in office by calling the White House incompetent, decrying the proposed border wall, vowing “sanctuary to all who seek it” and then asking President Trump to double spending on wildfire prevention.
That series of events may or may not have spurred Mr. Trump’s threat Wednesday to cut off Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for California wildfire relief, but it did set the tone for what could be a rocky relationship.
“I think at this point most Americans understand how the president operates, and it’s entirely conceivable he’s having a knee-jerk reaction to what our new governor said,” said longtime California Democratic strategist Darry Sragow.
“He has a habit of sticking his finger in the eye of Californians, and he just did it again,” said Mr. Sragow, who runs the California Target Book.
Mr. Trump alarmed Californians by tweeting that he had ordered FEMA to withhold emergency relief funding presumably related to the state’s disastrous November wildfires, led by the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise.
“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!” he tweeted.
House Republicans from California responded by agreeing that forest management was a problem in the regulatoryheavy Golden State but promised to deliver on disaster relief for wildfire-ravaged communities.
“Although I share the president’s great frustration with California’s choking regulations from the stranglehold environmental groups have on the state, as well as the inaction on federal lands up until this administration, the immediate problem for fire victims is the first need,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, the California Republican who represents Paradise.
“Threats to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funding are not helpful and will not solve the longer-term forest management regulatory problems,” he said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said he would offer an amendment to this week’s Democratic spending bills “to increase money for forest management that will help prevent and reduce the devastation from wildfires that we saw a couple of months ago.”
“The president’s message shows clear frustration about an important issue that has not been resolved: how we deal with addressing wildfires in California going forward so that more lives aren’t at risk,” said Mr. McCarthy, who represents a Central Valley district.
Cal Fire Local 2881 President-elect Tim Edwards said, “Now is the time for us to work collaboratively for solutions, not make unfair, dangerous assessments.”
Whether Mr. Trump can legally withdraw FEMA funding was unclear. He has already declared a national emergency over the Camp Fire, which triggered a federal relief response, although he could refuse future requests from the governor for disaster declarations.
FEMA responded to requests for clarification with the statement, “Due to the federal funding hiatus, we are not able to respond to general press queries.” The message added that FEMA’s service to protect human life and property were not affected by the partial government shutdown.
Democrats blasted the president’s tweet.
“Disasters and recovery are no time for politics,” Mr. Newsom told the president.
“I’m already taking action to modernize and manage our forests and emergency responses,” Mr. Newsom tweeted. “The people of CA — folks in Paradise — should not be victims to partisan bickering.”
He pointed out that he and the Democratic governors of Oregon and Washington sent a letter Tuesday asking Mr. Trump to increase twofold spending on forest management and wildfire prevention in their states’ federal forests. They said those budgets have recently remained flat.
About one-third of California is forested, and about 60 percent of those woodlands fall under federal jurisdiction, prompting debates over whether federal or state management policies — or both — are to blame for the disastrous wildfires.
At a press conference in Placer County, Mr. Newsom described the letter as a request that the president work with the governors. “Rather than talking past each other, talking down to each other, maybe we can start partnering and doing the work that needs to be done to address our forest health and management.”
Mr. Newsom’s tone was considerably less genial during his inaugural address Monday, when he positioned California as a foil for the Trump administration, blasting its “corruption and incompetence” and bemoaning “a wall that should never be built.”
He also drew headlines for proposing to increase health care coverage for illegal immigrants by increasing the cutoff age from 19 to 26.
Mr. Newsom’s predecessor was no Trump fan, but former Gov. Jerry Brown praised the president for his disaster response. “He’s got our back,” Mr. Brown said, even though the two disagreed on whether overgrown, ill-managed forests or climate change were more to blame for driving the blazes.
Mr. Sragow chalked up the contrast to the different personalities and management styles of the two Democratic governors. He said Mr. Newsom “has been willing to be more visible and more outspoken.”
“I think they’re different people. In general, Jerry Brown has been more likely to hold his fire, and I think that’s a function of his personality and experience in office,” Mr. Sragow said. “And Gov. Newsom may feel emboldened because of the November election.”
California Republicans lost seven of their 14 House seats in November elections, and Mr. Trump’s threat could make their political prospects even worse.
Of course, the reverse also applies. Mr. Trump may feel he has little to lose by confronting Mr. Newsom, given Republicans’ bleak prospects in California.
“It would be perfectly reasonable for our new governor to feel he’s on very solid ground with his voters in being more open in opposing the president,” Mr. Sragow said.
President Trump talks with then Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom during a visit to an area impacted by the Camp wildfire in Paradise, California.