On Monday President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden offered dueling messages as they faced the wildfires devastating the Pacific Northwest amid the looming general election.
In an address from Delaware, Biden attacked Trump as a “climate arsonist,” bludgeoning the incumbent president over his dismissal of climate change and accusing him of a failed response to the wildfires.
Trump, who had scarcely acknowledged the wildfires until last week, traveled to California to receive a briefing on the response efforts. He blamed the devastation on a failure of state officials to manage their forests and cast doubt on the science on climate change and its role in exacerbating the fires.
The competing messages underscore the different ways the candidates are tackling the issue of the environment heading into the final stretch of the election campaign. While Trump has focused on energy dominance and tried to cast Biden as bad for industry, Biden sees a transition to clean energy and the fight against global warming as a job creator.
The wildfires devastating Oregon, Washington and California represent yet another crisis with which Trump is having to grapple not two months from Election Day. The blazes have forced thousands of people from their homes, burned millions of acres of land and resulted in more than 30 deaths. In California alone, there are currently 29 active fires.
Biden has consistently led Trump in national polling amid broad disapproval for the president’s handling of the novel coronavirus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. A Fox News poll released Sunday found Biden beating Trump 51 percent to 46 percent, a sign of a tightening race.
As Trump landed in California for the briefing in McClellan Park, California Trump again blamed forest mismanagement as the primary driver of the wildfires before sparring with Democratic state officials who see them as a consequence of climate change — a topic Trump has routinely diminished or doubted.
“We obviously feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting dryer,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said. “Something has happened to the plumbing of the world and we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this.”
“Absolutely,” Trump answered.
But later, when Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, warned against putting one’s “head in the sand” by ignoring science on climate change and focusing on vegetation management, Trump swiftly registered his skepticism.
“It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch,” Trump told Crowfoot.
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot replied.
“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said, without providing any further explanation.
Though Biden has the most aggressive climate plan of any Democratic presidential nominee to date, Monday’s speech was the most forceful example yet of the candidate making the case for his plan, the economic upside and the consequences of inaction from the Trump administration.
“What we’re seeing in America, in our communities, is connected to all of this, with every bout with nature’s fury caused by our own inaction on climate change,” Biden said.
“If we give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If we leave a climate denier with four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater. We need a president that respects science, understands that the damage from climate change is already here. Unless we take urgent action, it will soon be more catastrophic.”
The president’s official visit to California came sandwiched between campaign stops in Nevada and Arizona on a three-day swing out West. Later Monday, Trump traveled to Phoenix to participate in a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable campaign event.
The president did not mention Biden during his appearance in California, a rare reprieve given his usual tendency to use official events to attack his political opponents. Trump also awarded seven members of the California National Guard the Distinguished Flying Cross for helping to rescue citizens trapped by the fires in the state.
In his speech however, Biden repeatedly attacked Trump, both for his climate denialism and failure to take responsibility for a number of natural disasters that have been exacerbated by global warming.
“This is another crisis, another crisis, he won’t take responsibility for. The West is literally on fire. And he blames the people whose homes and communities are burning. He says, ‘You got to clean your floors; you got to clean your forest.’ This is the same president who threw paper towels on the people of Puerto Rico.”
Trump has already approved disaster declarations for the wildfires, but at an August rally he floated the idea of withholding emergency funding to California.
“Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us,” Trump said at a Pennsylvania rally last month, according to Politico, again referencing cleaning the forest floor of leaves and brush.
Biden pointed to a history of Trump comments threatening to withhold emergency funding to various states, saying the president needs to “care for everyone.”
“Here’s the deal. Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon,” Biden said, adding later that Trump “has already said he wanted to withhold aid to California, punish the people of California, because they didn’t vote for him.”
Trump, despite his sidelining of climate change, has repeatedly called himself “the No. 1 environmental president” and promised to deliver the cleanest air and the cleanest water.
His administration, however, has rolled back both air and water protections along with a whole host of environmental laws.