SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Governor Gavin Newsom had President Donald Trump one-on-one on live television Monday, a perfect opportunity to battle the Democrats’ No. 1 public enemy just 50 days before the election.
But Newsom has ditched the fiery tone it has been using over the past few weeks regarding climate change and its role in five of the biggest fires California has ever seen. Instead, he engaged the President in a respectful conversation in which both men welcomed their good relationship.
Just last week Newsom said it had “no patience with climate change deniers”
“We’ve known each other too long and, as you say, the working relationship that I value,” Newsom Trump said during a meeting at McClellan Park, a former air base near Sacramento. “We come from a humble perspective in which we submit the science and observed evidence goes without saying that climate change is real.”
Trump and Newsom have repeatedly butted heads during both men’s first terms. Last year Newsom liked to say it was proud that California was “the un-Trump state in America.” And in February, during Trump’s previous state visit, the president told a group of California farmers he was pressuring Newsom to give them more water or “they will get a new governor.”
However, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Newsom has been palpably reluctant to publicly criticize Trump as California relied heavily on the federal government’s help to respond to the crisis and balance its budget. This has continued during the forest fire season when the state applied for and received federal grants to fight massive fires that have burned more than 3.2 million acres to date.
Newsom even thanks Trump during his weekly press conferences – comments that ended up in some of Trump’s political ads.
“We actually have a very good relationship. Good man, ”Trump said on Monday about Newsom.
It’s all part of managing the state’s necessary relationship with a spirited commander in chief, says Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club of California.
“What is essentially happening is that Newsom has to be a sacrificial lamb in some ways,” Phillips said. “He’s the one who has to be very gentle with the president, although I have no doubt that he disagrees with him on almost everything.”
This gentle approach does not necessarily extend to others in the Newsom administration. On Monday, Newsom commended the Trump administration for partnering with California to reduce forest fire risk to 500,000 acres of woodland per year.
Wade Crowfoot – Newsom’s secretary for natural resources – pleaded with Trump and his administration not to bury their heads in the sand thinking it was all about vegetation management, citing the state’s rising temperatures, which are making wildfires more devastating.
“It’s getting cooler, you just watch,” Trump replied.
“I wish science would agree with you,” replied Crowfoot.
“I don’t think science really knows,” Trump said before speaking to anyone else.
Phillips said she believed Crowfoot’s comments reflected what the Newsom administration really thinks.
“It’s easier for someone who is not the governor to say that,” Phillips said.
While forest fires have raged on the west coast for weeks, killing at least 35 people, they have received little attention in the race for president. That changes this week. Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris travels to California on Tuesday to learn about the wildfires, and presidential candidate Joe Biden has also started focusing on climate change.
During Trump’s visit on Monday, he awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to some of the National Guard soldiers who had saved people from forest fires last week. When asked by a reporter why it took him nearly three weeks to publicly acknowledge the fires, Trump called it a “nasty question”.
“I declared it to be an emergency. I made an emergency statement, “said Trump. “Don’t tell me I don’t.”