In the midst of a government shutdown, President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off federal emergency aid to California for forest fires.
Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that “billions of dollars” are sent to California to help with its wildfire recovery efforts and claimed, without evidence, that the state would not need the funds if there was proper forest management.
“Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money,” Trump stated. “It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”
It is unclear, based on the tweet’s wording, if Trump already directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to withhold funds or if he would be doing so. FEMA representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning. An email sent to them generated this automated reply: “Due to the federal funding hiatus, we are not able to respond to general press queries.”
California’s Democratic lawmakers blasted Trump for his threat.
Newly sworn in Gov. Gavin Newsom told Trump they had “been put in office by the voters to get things done, not to play games with lives.”
“We should work together to mitigate these fires by combating climate change, not play politics by threatening to withhold money from survivors of a deadly natural disaster,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, tweeted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, called on Republicans to condemn Trump, tweeting:
“.@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.”
Trump’s threat comes after a particularly devastating wildfire season in California — and is not the first time he has said he would withhold funds from the state. Last year, as deadly wildfires ravaged northern and southern California, Trump blasted state officials for their “gross mismanagement” of its forests, even though it is the federal government that manages many of California’s forests.
In November, the president visited Paradise, California, to see firsthand the destruction caused by the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. He toured the remains of the devastated, empty town — formerly population 27,000 — alongside then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and then-Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and appeared moved when talking about the lives lost. The Camp Fire death toll would later rise to 86 people.
After his visit, Trump vowed to help those affected by the wildfires — “you’ve got the federal government,” he assured Californians — and Brown had largely praised the president for his efforts.
But Newsom, who was sworn into office this week, has wasted no time in criticizing Trump, tweeting:
“Pres. Trump’s go-to is governing by fear and division. We can secure our border AND achieve comprehensive immigration reform–without wasting tax payer $ to build a pointless wall. Hundreds of thousands of fed workers are waiting on a paycheck. End the games. Open our government.”
On his second day in office, Newsom introduced two wildfire-related executive orders. He also announced a partnership with the governors of Oregon and Washington, two other fire-prone states. The trio called on Trump to double federal funding to manage forestlands in their states — a demand that comes after two years of budget cuts under the current administration.
“It’s clear to me a lot more has to be done,” Newsom said Tuesday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We are stepping up our game. I hear you, I get it. We need to do more. These last two years have been devastating.”
His executive orders focused on improving state-level initiatives to prevent and combat wildfires.
The first order gives state agencies permission to consult with private firms and academic institutions about employing the best, most sustainable technology to fight forest fires. It outlines a two-phased approach to studying and selecting contract partnerships with non-government agencies.
The second asks CAL FIRE, the state’s firefighting agency, to consult with other state departments and assemble a report within 45 days that offers “impactful administrative, regulatory and policy changes or waivers” that Newsom could initiate to mitigate fire risk.
Newsom asked for the report to target prevention measures that would benefit communities of lower socioeconomic status with fire education barriers, a factor that helped make the Camp wildfire in Paradise, California, especially devastating.