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Essential Politics: Inside Trump's visit to see California's fire devastation

Essential Politics: Inside Trump's visit to see California's fire devastation
Essential Politics (LAT)

For the most part, President Trump’s eight hours in California over the weekend were thankfully devoid of bitter politics. The state’s tragic events commanded everyone’s attention.

The clashes were muted with California’s current and soon-to-be-governor, Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. Instead, there were pledges to work together to help the victims of a series of events unlike any other in state history.

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TRUMP’S TOUR OF HEARTBREAK

The president traveled from Butte County to Ventura County to get a firsthand look at the devastation wrought by two fast-moving and deadly wildfires. He also met with a few of the victims from the Nov. 7 shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks.

“People have to see this to really understand it,” he said. “As big as they look on the tube, you don’t see what’s going on until you come here.”

It was a more restrained reaction from the president than his Twitter post one week earlier when he critiqued, not consoled, the Golden State. Not that it was without controversy: Trump told reporters that California could learn something from Finland about forest management.

“They spend a lot of time raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem," he said.

But fire officials made clear that the Camp fire, in particular, was a uniquely California blaze. The Woolsey fire, too, was unlike something the Finns would ever see.

AND ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Brown and Newsom dutifully met Trump at Beale Air Force Base outside Sacramento, traveled with him on Marine One to Butte County, and then flew to Southern California for the final leg of the presidential visit.

For the governor, few topics seem to put him further at odds with the Republican president than the threat from climate change. Trump curtly said “No” when asked by a reporter whether the ravages of fire might cause him to rethink his views on the human causes of a changing climate.

And there was this answer to a reporter’s question onboard Air Force One, courtesy of a press pool report, about any chats during the visit with the California governor on the subject of climate change:

“We didn’t discuss it,” Trump said.

Brown interjected, quietly, “obliquely.”

Trump continued: “We have different views but maybe not as different as people think. Things are happening. Things are changing. And I think most importantly we’re doing things about — to make it better. We’re going to make it a lot better.”

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Just what they might have in common on the topic? Hard, if not impossible, to say.

TO UNDERSTAND THE FUTURE OF FIRE ...

With the stunning speed of death and destruction from these fires, it seems a good time to re-up one of the most important stories in the signature series by Times staff writer Melanie Mason on the challenges facing the next governor and other state officials: natural disaster.

As she wrote back in September, it’s more than just spending money to put out blazes: “But experts say the next stage of the discussions must confront how we build communities to better withstand fire, a topic that has long been politically fraught.”

FOUR RACES, FOUR WINS: DEMOCRATS SWEEP ORANGE COUNTY CONGRESSIONAL SEATS

California’s Republican delegation to the House of Representatives slipped into single digits over the weekend, with the most recent victory in the late vote counting for Democrat Gil Cisneros.

So what do the state’s Republicans do now? Their most prominent leader, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, says the solution is to abandon topics like immigration and focus on practicality and problem-solving.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on how those new Orange County members of Congress navigate the leftward march of Democratic politics. First up: the selection of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as the next House speaker. Rep.-elect Katie Porter says she’ll vote for her San Francisco colleague.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: ABSENTEE BALLOT SIGNATURE WOES

But the counting of the final ballots has been a scramble for every vote possible — including absentee voters who either didn’t sign their ballot envelope or have a signature that doesn’t seem to match.

The number of ballots affected in key counties is fairly small, perhaps fewer than 5,000 in Los Angeles and Orange counties combined. But as I wrote in my Sunday column, a key question for the unsigned ballots now looks headed to court: How long can elections officials keep allowing those voters to fix the missing signature?

NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Florida’s contentious U.S. Senate race ended Sunday, as Sen. Bill Nelson conceded to Gov. Rick Scott.

-- Recount battles are being waged with an unprecedented intensity. There can be a political victory even in losing. And, yes, a lot of cash.

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-- The president said Friday that he’s finishing written answers to questions posed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in the Russia probe, a potential milestone in the long-running investigation that Trump has repeatedly denounced.

-- Government lawyers asked the Supreme Court to shield Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from answering questions under oath about his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

-- Voters in three deeply Republican states backed ballot measures on Nov. 6 to expand Medicaid eligibility — the product of a model of political action that may become increasingly common across the country in coming years.

-- Republicans hope to give Trump border wall funding in a must-pass, year-end spending deal, but it remains to be seen whether they will offer enough immigration reform to win the Democratic votes they'll need for passage.

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday unveiled sweeping changes to campus sexual misconduct rules, bolstering rights of the accused and giving colleges more flexibility in handling Title IX cases.

-- Alaska's newly elected governor will be sworn in above the Arctic Circle, marking a first for the state.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Tony Thurmond, a Bay Area Democrat who served in the state Assembly and as a local school board member, declared victory on Saturday in the bitterly contested and expensive race for California superintendent of public instruction against Marshall Tuck.

-- California’s six-year run of growing tax revenue to pay for government services is expected to continue through at least the summer of 2020, according to an analysis released last week, with enough cash to fund a budget reserve of $29.5 billion.

-- Travis Allen, a Huntington Beach assemblyman who unsuccessfully ran for California governor, says he’s running for chairman of the state Republican Party.

-- With California gripped by a homelessness crisis, the mayors of four of the state’s largest cities called Friday for a statewide strategy that removes obstacles to affordable housing and gives cities more help in getting people off the streets.

-- The amount of money collected by the state from taxes on cannabis grown and sold legally in California continues to increase but is falling short of budget estimates, according to figures released last week.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics will take a holiday break on Friday and will return on Monday, Nov. 26. We wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

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