Gov. Newsom on sparring with Trump over California wildfires

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California Governor Gavin Newsom, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, view a burned home along Tigertail Road in Brentwood, California October 29, 2019. Credit: Wally Skalij/Pool via REUTERS.

Governor Gavin Newsom and Donald Trump are in a war of words over the California’s wildfires, with the president threatening to pull federal aid from the state over how it has handled the fires. 

Gov. Newsom tells Press Play, “He is incapable of being honest with himself and the American people. And he once again completely misleads people, and continues to mislead people as it relates to California's role and responsibility in these fires, and his own role and responsibility in his fires.” 

Newsom points out that Trump has significantly cut forest management budgets over the last three fiscal years, while California has substantially increased its investments. 

Newsom recalls that in a private conversation last year, Trump said Newsom needed to “do more raking.” The governor explains, “I'm not making that up. Quite literally, in a private conversation, not just in a public statement, which was picked up in the national news -- but privately [Trump] said, ‘Where are you on the raking of your forests?’ I mean this is not a serious person.” 

Newsom says he’s tried to do his best to contact the president during last week’s fires, and praised FEMA for not playing politics. “But he's incapable of anything but politics. And it's just an unfortunate moment in American history.”

Meanwhile, Newsom has threatened a state takeover of PG&E if the utility doesn't pull itself out of bankruptcy and improve its grid. He says it’s a complicated process, and he’s hired three different groups to advise. 

A state takeover would cost billions of dollars. “You not only have the asset cost, but you have the liabilities on the other side. As everybody knows, PG&E is a bankrupt utility. They haven't even settled with those that were impacted by the 2018 historic wildfires that President Trump himself visited, particularly Butte County. And so we are working to get all the parties together,” Newsom says. “In fact, [we’re] meeting tomorrow with one of the new mediators the bankruptcy judge has just hired, and working in concert with him to try to broker a settlement on all of these claims, so that we can move to the next phase. Get them out of bankruptcy, completely reimagined. And if they're unsuccessful at doing that, then proceed with next steps on a potential state overlay and oversight and takeover.”

When it comes to preventing wildfires in the short run, does Newsom expect more scheduled blackouts, or can something else be done? 

“I will do my best, just 10 months into my administration, not to be part of the problem, but be part of the solution. And so we're being aggressive on the power shut-offs and new protocols, new information that is being gathered in real time on that preparation of next year's fire season. So we do not see the scale and scope of the power shut-offs that we've experienced this last few months,” he assures.

However, some residents are considering moving out of the state due to wildfires plus high housing costs. LA resident and New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo recently questioned the long term viability of California. His headline: “It’s the End of California As We Know It.”  

Newsom remains optimistic and points to one accomplishment just today: “We got $2.5 billion from one corporation in California on our affordable housing efforts, in addition to billions we’ve received from other corporations.”  

He says “If we were sitting on our hands… if there was no history to guide this moment, maybe that punditry is right. But I think it’s frankly a little hyperbolic and a little unfortunate because a lot of extraordinary things are happening in the state. I'm very proud of its resilience. And I think its best days are ahead of it.” 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy