Donald Trump heads to California, again blaming fires on forest management

President Donald Trump headed to California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.

Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and said they were trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors and many others over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, “This should have been all raked out.”

Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

Before boarding Air Force One to California on Saturday morning, Trump was asked about forest management again and repeated his stance. “Everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing … It should’ve been done many years ago,” he said.

Those comments, and those in his Fox interview, echoed his initial reaction to the fires on 10 November when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. His words caused widespread outrage, though Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration and he has since repeatedly praised the work of first responders, including just before leaving Washington DC.

“I want to be with the firefighters and the Fema first responders,” Trump said.

California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president on his trip to the fire-ravaged region in the north of the state. Governor Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump’s visit, declaring it was time “to pull together for the people of California”.

The blaze that started 8 November all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors with his comments.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness,’ and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

Authorities attribute the death toll in part to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California department of forestry and fire protection said. Thousands of additional structures are still threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, work to contain and suppress the flames.

The big rise in the number of missing is because of a detailed review of emergency calls and missing people reports, and the extension of the search for victims.

More than 5,500 fire personnel are still battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 sq km) and was 50% contained, officials said.

Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50mph (80km/h) and low humidity. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

Officials acknowledge that the huge number of missing could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names. The roster also probably includes many people who fled the blaze and do not realize they have been reported missing.

[The Guardian]

Trump wants to end federal relief money for Puerto Rico

President Trump reportedly wants to end federal relief money for Puerto Rico to aid its recovery from Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island. 

Axios reported on Sunday that Trump has told GOP leaders and appropriators he does not want to provide more disaster relief funds to Puerto Rico, claiming without evidence that the money is being misused and mismanaged.

Trump also said he wants to roll back some of the funding Congress has already set aside for Hurricane Maria relief, which he cannot do.

The White House declined to comment for the Axios report and did not immediately respond to The Hill.

The president’s reluctance to provide funding stems in part from a misreading of a Wall Street Journal article, Axios reported. The Journal article from October reportedly led him to believe the Puerto Rican government has been using disaster relief money to pay off its debt, though that is not the conclusion of the piece.

Trump’s remarks leave in doubt whether he will sign a future spending bill that includes money for Puerto Rico.

A new study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government over the summer estimates Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people on the island, finding the risk of death was 45 percent higher for “populations living in low socioeconomic development municipalities” and men aged 65 years and older.

Trump without evidence cast doubt on the official death toll of nearly 3,000, while the researchers have stood by their conclusion.

The Category 5 hurricane devastated the island’s infrastructure and resources in 2017, causing lasting damage to the livelihoods and homes of thousands of Puerto Ricans.

The federal government has spent around $6 billion on recovery from Hurricane Maria so far, less than it spent on Hurricane Katrina, Axios noted.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a report released in July admitted the agency was significantly underprepared to deal with the crisis wrought by Hurricane Maria.

“FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure,” the report reads.

Trump in the days after the storm blamed the Puerto Rican government for the significant damage, pointing to the island’s debt.

[The Hill]

Trump threatens to pull federal funds for Calif. wildfires over forest ‘mismanagement’

With major wildfires still roaring out of control in California, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blame “gross mismanagement of the forest” for the catastrophe and threatened to withhold federal funds if the issue is not remedied.

It was his first tweet on the wildfires, now among the deadliest and most destructive in California history, although he earlier issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

At least nine people have been killed and the entire town of Paradise, in northern California has been destroyed.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

His latest remarks were reminiscent of his tweets during another major outbreak of fires in California in August, when he blamed the wildfires on “bad environmental laws” and his claim that water from the north was “foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

In that tweet burst, Trump also said California wildfires “are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

At the time, The New York times noted a debate over the allocation of water for irrigation or fish habitat but none regarding water purportedly being diverted into the ocean.

The Times quoted Cal Fire officials as saying there is no shortage of water for fighting fires. Helicopters collect water from lakes and ponds to douse wildfires and have plenty at hand, they said.

Asked about that the president’s tweeted claim of water diversion, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Evan Westrup, told the Times in an email, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The presidents of two professional firefighters associations have denounced President Donald Trump’s assertion that “gross mismanagement of the forests” is to blame.

California Professional Firefighters president Brian Rice called the President’s words “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning” in a written statement.

Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the comments were “reckless and insulting.”

“Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.”

The Trump tweet also prompted some harsh criticism from singer Katy Perry, a native Californian, who called his remarks “heartless.”

“This is an absolutely heartless response,” she tweeted. “There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters.”

Singer-songwriter John Legend, who lives in Los Angeles, also weighed in, tweeting, “Our National Embarrassment can’t bring himself to show some empathy to Californians dealing with a horrific disaster.”

Trump Says Pittsburgh Shooter and Mail Bomber Stopped His ‘Incredible’ Midterm Momentum

On Thursday, President Donald Trump said the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and the mail bomber who sent packages to CNN and Democratic targets stopped his “incredible” midterm momentum.

“Now, we did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible. Because for 7 days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum.” Trump said, before adding, “More importantly, we have to take care of our people, and we don’t care about momentum when it comes to a disgrace like just happened to the country, but it did nevertheless stop a certain momentum.”

He then said the momentum is once again picking up.

During the same rally, Trump also declared the election the “election of Kavanaugh” and “caravans.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Goes After the Media for Coverage of His Pittsburgh Visit: Trying to Spread ‘Anger and Division’

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump held a rally in Florida where talk quickly turned to pointing fingers at the media for sowing “anger and division” in wake of the tragedy in Pittsburgh.

Trump started out by addressing the horrific slaughter of 11 at a Pittsburgh area synagogue on Saturday.

He then talked about his visit to the city, a visit that was met by protesters.

Earlier today, Trump said that there was only a “small protest” in Pittsburgh, something the Washington Post and other outlets noted was not quite accurate.

Yet speaking of the visit at the rally, Trump doubled down.

“Yesterday’s visit to Pittsburgh was about coming together as a nation to comfort and to heal,” Trump began.

Then, venting against the media, the President of the United States said this: “After this day of unity and togetherness, I came home and sadly turned on the news and watched as the far left media once again used tragedy to sow anger and division.”

The crowd booed at the mention of the media.

“Sadly, they took a small group of protesters, far away from where we were because we could not have been treated better,” Trump continued on. “The first lady and myself, but we’re representing the presidency, and they did everything in their power to try to play it up and push people apart. That’s what’s happening.”

The crowd booed again.

“It was fake, and it was make-believe what they said. I came home, looked forward to seeing it, and it was sad,” Trump further opined. “When we talk about division, this is a big part of the division, right there. The far left media has spread terrible lies and stories about the Trump Administration and the tens of millions of people who make up our great movement, the greatest political movement in the history of our country.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Takes No Blame For Bomber’s Threats to Media, Democrats: He Was ‘Insane for a Long Time’

President Donald Trump gave an interview to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham — which is set to air later Monday night — in which he reiterated that he bears no responsibility for the apparent supporter of his who was arrested last Friday in connection with last week’s bomb scare.

In a preview clip of Trump’s interview, Trump rejected the idea that the bomber’s actions have anything to do with him.

“You look at his medical records. He was insane for a long time,” Trump said. “Bernie Sanders had a fan who shot [Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)]. He was a total maniac. Nobody puts his name in the headline, Bernie Sanders in the headline.”

Fox News described a separate portion of the interview in which Trump defended referred to himself as a “nationalist” at a recent rally. While critics have expressed concern that Trump’s proclamation carries racial undertones, the president insisted that the term is only meant to convey his love of America.

“As soon as you make any statement nowadays with the political correctness world, they make a big deal. I’m not a globalist, but I want to take care of the globe, but first I have to take care of our country. I want to help people around the world, but we have to take care of our country, or we won’t have a country, including — we have to take care of our country at the border.”

[Mediaite]

Trump falsely says NYSE opened day after Sept. 11 attacks to justify holding rally after Pittsburgh shooting

President Donald Trump falsely claimed Saturday that the New York Stock Exchange re-opened the day after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in an effort to justify holding a rally on the same day that a mass shooting occurred at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Speaking at a planned campaign rally in Illinois, Trump said he had weighed whether to cancel his rally as well as a speech at an agricultural convention earlier in the day in Indianapolis, Indiana, but ultimately decided against it, saying such a move would amount to giving the killer an edge. He compared his decision to continue with the rally to reopening the NYSE after the September 11 attacks, something that did not happen.

“And with what happened early today — that horrible, horrible attack in Pittsburgh — I was saying maybe I should cancel both this and that,” Trump said, referring to the rally and his earlier appearance at the agricultural convention. “And then I said to myself, I remember Dick Grasso, a friend of mine, great guy. He headed up the New York Stock Exchange on September 11. And the New York Stock Exchange was open the following day. He said — and what they had to do to open it you wouldn’t believe. We won’t even talk to you about it. But he got that exchange open.”

“We can’t make these sick, demented, evil people important. And when we start changing around our lives and changing around our schedules … we can’t allow people like this to become important,” Trump said. “And when we change all of our lives in order to accommodate them, it’s not acceptable.”

In fact, as CNN reported at the time, the NYSE closed after the attacks and did not reopen until September 17 because many of the workers were lost or injured in the attack on the World Trade Center, which was just blocks from the NYSE in Manhattan’s financial district, and much of the communications and utilities needed to trade stocks were damaged or destroyed.

It was the longest shutdown for the NYSE since the Great Depression.

Bloomberg first reported Trump’s error.

Trump also used his rally to condemn the shooting that took place earlier Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue, leaving 11 dead.

“This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It’s an assault on humanity. It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from the world,” he said.

“The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated and cannot be allowed to continue.”

[CNN]

Trump on Synagogue Shooting: If They Had an Armed Guard, ‘Results Would Have Been Far Better’

President Donald Trump briefly spoke to reporters this afternoon about the horrific shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and he was asked at one point about taking action regarding gun laws.

“This has little to do with it,” the President said. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better… If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation.”

Trump specifically said an “armed guard” would have been able to stop the shooter, and he talked about stiffening up death penalty laws.

Officials have so far confirmed that three officers were shot.

[Mediaite]

On Day of Mass Shooting, Trump Jokes He Nearly Canceled Speech Due To ‘Bad Hair Day’

On the day of a horrific shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that claimed the lives of at least 11 people, some people wondered if President Donald Trump would go ahead with planned events for the day, including speaking at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis and a rally in Illinois.

Trump decided to go ahead with both events, but he did joke at the convention for young future farmers that he almost canceled for another reason ― a bad hair day.

He recalled for the crowd that earlier in the day, he had been holding a news conference about the mass shooting ― which he referred to as a “very unfortunate news conference” ― when he became drenched from the wind and rain. The elements apparently left his hair looking not exactly the way he likes it.

“I said, ‘Maybe I should cancel this arrangement because I have a bad hair day,’” he told the crowd. “And the bad news ― somebody said, ‘Actually it looks better than it usually does.’”

Though he drew laughter from the crowd, many people found the joke to be in poor taste, given the circumstances.

[Huffington Post]

Trump Campaign Sends Out Anti-CNN Fundraising Email Shortly After Bomb Scare

Hours after CNN’s New York headquarters were evacuated when an explosive device was found mailed to the building, President Donald Trump‘s campaign sent out a fundraising email blasting the network.

Reporter Yashar Ali tweeted out a screenshot of the fundraising email, signed by Lara Trump, which included a “Media Accountability Survey.”

“It’s time for us to give the media another wake-up call from the American people,” the email says.

The first question of the survey is: “Do you trust the mainstream media to put the interests of Americans first?”

[Mediaite]

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