While the Democratic governor acknowledged that they had very different views when it comes to climate change and the role it has played in this year’s historic fires, Newsom put aside partisan politics during the meeting to thank Trump for the federal help the state has received to combat the blazes and warn that there is still much work to be done as the fires continue to grow.
“I want to thank you and acknowledge the work you have done to be immediate in your response,” Newsom told Trump during the meeting at the Sacramento McClellan Airport. He added that the help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been “profoundly significant.”
At the urging on Newsom back in late August, Trump approved a disaster declaration for California and ordered federal funding to be directed to the state.
In California, nearly 17,000 firefighters are battling 29 major wildfires. Since mid-August the blazes have destroyed 4,100 buildings and killed 22 people in the state. Fires have engulfed 3.3 million acres in California this year – an area greater in size than Connecticut.
The wildfires – and climate change overall – has been a major source of tension between Newsom and Trump, with Trump blaming California for poor forest management. The president has also called on Newsom to “clean” or rake the forest floors of debris while suggesting the state implement controlled burns.
The president reiterated on Monday that California needs to do better forest management – a remark that Newsom acknowledged.
“We have not done justice to our forest management,” Newsom said. “We acknowledge our role and response.”
Newsom, however, did note that a large portion of the land in California is federally owned, and that he believes climate change has drastically contributed to the intensity of the fires.
“We feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the dry spells are getting drier,” he said. “Something has happened to the plumbing of the world.”
Newsom added: “Climate change is real and it is exacerbating this.”
Wildfires have grown increasingly common. California, for instance, recorded 43 from 1980 to 1999 – but 300 from 2000 to 2019. Oregon had no wildfires from 1980 to 1999 but 63 over the past 20 years, according to federal data analyzed by the insurance website QuoteWizard.
All five of the costliest fires in U.S. history, measured by insured losses, have occurred in the last three years, all in California, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The November 2018 Camp Fire destroyed Paradise, Calif., and left more than 80 people dead and up to $10.7 billion in insured losses.
The relationship between Newsom and Trump – which has been punctuated by very public spats over everything from climate change to immigration – seemed to mellow during the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom thanked the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, for the help California received in combating the pandemic. For his part, Trump spoke highly of the cooperation between Washington and Sacramento, and would refer to Newsom as “Gavin” during his press briefings as part of the coronavirus task force.
The mutual praise – especially Newsom’s “promise made, promises kept” comment after receiving swabs for coronavirus tests – raised eyebrows among many Democrats and led to calls that the governor was feeding Trump’s ego.
Speaking during an interview on CNN in April, however, Newsom brushed off the criticism, arguing that a crisis is not the time for partisanship.
“This is not the time to bicker. I don’t care who’s up and down, whose polls are looking better than someone else’s or who wants to run for president or who doesn’t,” Newsom said. “When it comes to times of crisis, we need to [rise] above the partisanship and I’ve extended always an open hand, not a closed fist, in those circumstances. And this is no different.”
Before the meeting on Monday, Trump told reporters that despite being “on different sides of the spectrum” politically, he and Newsom “have a good relationship” and “work well” together.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.