At Democratic convention, Newsom criticizes Trump for California fire comments

VIDEO | 02:48
Newsom calls attention to California fires during Democratic convention

In a video appearance Thursday at the Democratic National Convention, Gov. Gavin Newsom tore into President Trump for threatening to strip federal funding for wildfire prevention in California after nearly 500,000 acres burned in storm-related lightning strikes, criticizing him further for trying to dismantle the state’s landmark vehicle emission standards.

The Democratic governor’s attack of Trump, while not surprising during a presidential election, marked a departure from his hesitancy over the last months to attack the president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom has consistently said that the lives at stake in the crisis are more important than engaging in partisan politics.

But Newsom rekindled his criticism of Trump — which has focused on the president’s environmental and immigration policies — on national television Thursday evening.

“Just today, the president of the United States threatened the state of California, 40 million Americans who happen to live here in the state of California, to defund our efforts on wildfire suppression because he said we hadn’t raked enough leaves. I can’t make that up,” Newsom said in a three-minute video.

During an event in Scranton, Pa., on Thursday, Trump repeated a charge he has often made — that California could better control wildfires if the state cleaned up fallen leaves and other natural debris on forest floors.

“I see again, the forest fires are starting,” Trump said. “They’re starting again in California. And I said, you’ve got to clean your [forest] floors. You’ve got to clean your floors. There are many, many years of leaves and broken trees. And they are so flammable.”

In response, Newsom has noted that the federal government owns nearly 58% of California’s 33 million acres of forestlands, while the state owns 3%. The remainder are owned by private landholders, local governments and others.

Newsom’s appearance at the convention, a plum political opportunity on the night that former Vice President Joe Biden will accept the Democratic nomination for president, appeared in jeopardy earlier in the day. On Sunday, Newsom pre-recorded a video that was supposed to air during the convention, but it was pulled because of the continuing wildfire crisis in California, said Dan Newman, the governor’s political advisor.


“The segment that was originally planned didn’t make sense given the growth and severity of the state’s devastating wildfires,” Newman said.

Instead, the governor appeared in a cellphone video from Watsonville, which has been threatened by a massive outbreak of wildfires around the Santa Cruz Mountains, at the beginning of Thursday night’s convention broadcast.

“I confess, this is not where I expected to be speaking here tonight; I’m about a mile or so away from one of over 370 wildfires that we’re battling here in the state of California,” Newsom said, with a wall of tall trees in the background.

Newsom went on to attack Trump for attempting to peel back environmental protections for clean water and air, as well as pesticide regulation and vehicle emissions, noting that California has filed more than 90 lawsuits against the Trump administration to block those and other actions.

The governor went on to praise Biden and his pick for a running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, as environmental champions. Newsom and Harris have been longtime political allies, starting when Newsom served as San Francisco’s mayor and Harris was the city’s district attorney more than a decade ago.

“It’s our decision, not our conditions, that will determine our fate and future, so let us resolve that after this historic night, this incredible, incredible week, this remarkable convention, that we do everything in our power to get Joe Biden and Kamala Harris into the White House,” Newsom said.