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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Despite losing California, Zinke says federal aid to fight wildfires will ‘shock the conscience’

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“Today, the Trump administration has, in fact, directly rejected California’s extraordinary request for federal assistance in the form of the fires that are currently burning across your state,” Jill Friedman, Press Secretary for Senator Dianne Feinstein, wrote in a recent letter to the Department of Interior’s Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“In a move that should shock the conscience of any responsible administration,” her letter continued, “the Trump administration is rejecting California’s request for assistance because of their blatant resistance to President Trump’s leadership on health care.”

The dispute between Feinstein and the Trump administration is over the allocation of funds for fire suppression and recovery from the destructive blazes, and it underscores the power of congressional and state leadership to shape national policy.

While Democrat Feinstein and her colleagues in California’s delegation of both parties urged President Trump to heed the help of federal lawmakers when it comes to dealing with the disastrous wildfires that have scorched the state, and Feinstein and Zinke themselves have exchanged public barbs, the Interior Department’s head — himself a Republican — has steadfastly refused to overturn the decision.

And the Trump administration isn’t likely to change course without confronting lawmakers from both parties with stark contrasting positions on partisan politics and the environment.

As California Congresswoman Barbara Lee points out, “The lack of response by the Trump administration to the devastating wildfires on the West Coast is another example of a Republican administration making a bold statement about the need for climate change action.”

In his response to the Feinstein letter, Zinke issued an unusual statement touting the use of federal funds in fighting last week’s fires, and said in a press conference that he plans to announce the allocation of federal funds to specific California fire victims soon.

Zinke’s reluctance to change course with California comes amid a wave of bipartisan action on wildfire response, with Republicans who tend to maintain a traditionally more business-oriented orientation getting involved in negotiations to allocate funds from the appropriations bills that Congress must now pass before the year ends.

Both Sens. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, and Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, have penned letters to lawmakers requesting that the Trump administration boost relief funds for those affected by the destructive wildfires, and some senators from Oregon have also called for the help of both federal and state lawmakers for victims of the fires.

Such bipartisan effort is something that congressional leaders have tended to see as less of a problem than partisan warfare, and the Trump administration has employed the logic of those congressmen and senators who have said they are joining hands to fight fires even as it has continued to withhold aid from the states affected by the blazes, and has continued to resist both state and federal efforts to help bring about climate change mitigation efforts.

Democrats don’t seem willing to give up, however, and while they, like Graham, won’t describe themselves as “climate change denialists,” they’re fighting their most serious battle of the Trump presidency.

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