President Trump took a break from his border wall obsession Wednesday morning to dust off a favorite fixation from yesteryear: federal money being used to help California combat wildfires. “Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” the president tweeted. “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!”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019
It’s unclear why Trump decided on Wednesday to threaten to pull disaster relief from a state because it voted against him overwhelmingly, but this is nothing new. The president railed against California’s forrest management throughout the summer, griping about the federal relief required to combat the historic fires that ravaged the nation’s most populous state. “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” he tweeted in November. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
The firefighters’ union was not happy the president renewed his attacks on the state’s forest management. “This is yet another unimaginable attack on the dedicated professionals who put everything on the line, including their own homes, to protect their neighborhoods,” union president Harold Schaitberger said in a statement. “While our president is tweeting on the sidelines in DC, our fellow Americans 3,000 miles to the west are mourning loved ones, entire communities have been wiped off the map and thousands of people are still trying to figure out where they are going to call home.”
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Firefighters union calls Trump threat to cut FEMA funding for California wildfires ‘disgraceful’ pic.twitter.com/V8CFcjsveq
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) January 9, 2019
As the IAFF wrote, Trump’s tweet was “uninformed,” as has been pretty much everything he’s said about forest management since he decided he was an expert on the subject. Though he is fixated on the state’s role in causing forest fires, the federal government owns the majority of forested land in California. The Camp and Woolsey fires that destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres and killed nearly 100 people last year were not even forest fires; they were wildfires, as University of California, Santa Barbara, wildfire specialist Max Moritz explained to the New York Times in November. Trump does not care to understand any of this, nor does he appear to have anything more than a cursory knowledge — if that — of how the fires were caused and what the Forest Service has been doing to combat them. The president has also refused to acknowledge the role climate change, which dries vegetation, making it easier to catch on fire.
Shortly after Trump threatened to cut off federal aid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on the top Republican in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-CA), to join her in standing up for their constituents.
.@realDonaldTrump’s threat insults the memory of scores of Americans who perished in wildfires last year & thousands more who lost their homes. @GOPLeader must join me to condemn & call on POTUS to reassure millions in CA that our govt will be there for them in their time of need https://t.co/YZJQug9zh0
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 9, 2019
On Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with Trump in an attempt to reach a deal to re-open the government, which has been operating under a partial shutdown since December 21st. Firefighters are included in the 800,000 federal employees who have not been receiving paychecks because of the shutdown, and according to McClatchy, training to combat forest fires has been halted. “This is the second year in a row we’ve had a shutdown right in the middle of the [firefighter] training season,” Jim Whittington, a former U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee who now runs a crisis management consulting firm told McClatchy. “The last thing we want is for fires to break out, and not have the kind of crews we need to to field.”
After Pelosi said she would not agree to give Trump $5 billion for a border wall if he were to re-open the government, the president reportedly slammed the table, said there is nothing to discuss and walked out of the room.