Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires
President Trump late Friday reversed course on providing assistance for California’s wildfires, granting the request just hours after denying it.
California has had its most devastating wildfire season in history, currently battling 12 major fires that have burned through more than 4 million acres, according to figures released by the state yesterday.
The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initially said California hadn’t made a strong enough case for assistance with the September fires that cost the state more than $229 million.
The White House credited House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) along with Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) for changing the president’s mind.
“The governor and Leader McCarthy spoke and presented a convincing case and additional on-the-ground perspective for reconsideration leading the president to approve the declaration,” the White House said in a statement.
Earlier Friday, White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Hill that California’s submission was “was not supported by the relevant data” states must provide to be considered for a disaster declaration, adding that the president’s decision concurred with that of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator.
Lizzie Litzow, a spokesperson for FEMA, told The Hill that damage assessments of the early September wildfires “were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.”
A White House disaster declaration grant is a huge help to states, allowing for reimbursement of 75 percent of firefighting, evacuation and sheltering costs.
In a Sept. 28 letter to the White House, Newsom said the funds were especially needed as the COVID-19 pandemic has already “significantly damaged” the state’s economy.
“Federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities,” Newsom wrote. “The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating and irreversible the economic impacts will be.”
Newsom has been vocal in blaming climate change for exacerbating the fires, which Trump disputed when visiting the state last month.
“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” Trump said during a meeting with state leaders.
He pushed back when a panelist said the science disagreed, adding, “I don’t think science knows, actually.