SACRAMENTO, California – California Gavin Newsom had President Donald Trump one-on-one on live television Monday, a perfect opportunity to kick off Democrats’ No. 1 public enemy just 50 days before the election.
But Newsom dropped the burning tone he has used in recent weeks about climate change and its role in five of the biggest fires California has ever seen. Instead, he engaged the president in a respectful conversation that included both men praising their good relationship.
Just last week, Newsom declared that he “had no patience with deniers of climate change,”
“We’ve known each other for too long, and as you suggest, the working relationship I appreciate,” Newsom told Trump during a meeting in McClellan Park, a former air force base near Sacramento. “We come from a perspective, humble, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is obvious that climate change is real.”
Trump and Newsom have repeatedly bumped heads in both men’s first term. Last year, Newsom was happy to say he was proud that California is “the most un-Trump state in America.” And in February during Trump’s previous visit to the state, the president told a group of California farmers that he would pressure Newsom to give them more water, otherwise you will get a new governor.
But Newsom has been noticeably reluctant to criticize Trump publicly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as California has relied heavily on the federal government’s help to respond to the crisis and balance its budget. It continues during the forest fire season, as the state has applied for and received federal subsidies to fight massive fires that have so far burned more than 3.2 million acres.
Newsom even thanks Trump during his weekly news conferences – comments that have ended up in some of Trump’s political ads.
“We actually have a very good relationship. Good man, “Trump said of Newsom on Monday.
It’s all part of managing the state’s necessary relationship with a temperamental boss, says Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club in California.
“What’s essentially happening is that Newsom must in a way be a sacrificial lamb,” Phillips said. “It’s him who has to be very gentle with the president, though I have no doubt he disagrees with him on almost everything.”
This gentleness in approach does not necessarily extend to others in the Newsom administration. On Monday, the Newsom praised the Trump administration for partnering with California to reduce the risk of forest fires on 500,000 acres of woodland per year.
Wade Crowfoot – Newsom’s natural resources secretary – asked Trump and his administration not to “put their heads in the sand and think it’s about vegetation management”, referring to the state’s rising temperatures that make forest fires more destructive.
“It’s getting cooler, you just have to see,” Trump replied.
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot replied back.
“I actually don’t think science knows that,” Trump said before continuing to talk to someone else.
Phillips said she thinks Crowfoot’s comments reflect what the Newsom administration really thinks.
“It’s easier for someone who’s not a governor to say that,” Phillips said.
While forest fires have been burning across the west coast for several weeks now – killing at least 35 people – they have received little attention during the presidential race. That’s changing this week. Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris travels to California on Tuesday for a briefing on forest fires, and presidential candidate Joe Biden has also begun focusing on climate change.
During Trump’s visit on Monday, he assigned the Distinguished Flying Cross to some National Guard soldiers who rescued people from forest fires last week. Asked by a reporter why it took him nearly three weeks to publicly acknowledge fires, Trump called it an “ugly question.”
“I declared it an emergency. I made an emergency statement, “Trump said. “Do not tell me not to do.”