Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pushed back against President Trump’s threat to block federal aid to California as wildfires continue to ravage large swaths of the state, arguing that the president’s tweet sent the wrong message.
Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Graham – who is one of Trump’s closest confidants in the Senate – assured California that it would receive financial assistance to help deal with a number of wildfires currently burning in the state. The longtime South Carolina lawmaker, however, defended Trump’s comment that the fires in California were caused by poor forest management.
“California will receive the money they need, but going forward we need to look at some of the underlying causes of these fires, and it’s just not California,” Graham said. “We need to look at better forest management in terms of federal lands all over the country.”
Graham added: “This has been a debate for a while about under brush clearing in federally owned lands, but now is not the time to talk about cutting off funding with all due respect…We’re going to help our friends in California. They need help.”
Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to criticize California for its “gross mismanagement” of forests and threatened to cut off federal funding if the issue wasn’t resolved.
“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!”
The president’s tweet drew a sharp rebuke from California lawmakers and firefighters in the state working to contain wildfires.
"The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Other firefighters took to social media to express their anger.
“Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong. The fires in So. Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management. Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims,” the Pasadena Firefighters Association said on Twitter.
More than 8,000 firefighters battled three large wildfires burning across nearly 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) in Northern and Southern California, with out-of-state crews continuing to arrive and gusty, blowtorch winds forecast into Monday.
The worst of the blazes was in Northern California, where flames reduced the town of Paradise, population 27,000, to a smoking ruin days ago and continued to rage in surrounding communities. The number of people killed in that fire alone, at least 23, made it the third-deadliest on record in the state.
Authorities were also bringing in a DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in identifying the dead after the blaze destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, nearly all of them homes.
Two people were also found dead in a wildfire in Southern California, where flames tore through Malibu mansions and homes in working-class Los Angeles suburbs. The severely burned bodies were discovered in a long residential driveway in Malibu, home to a multitude of Hollywood celebrities.
The overall death toll from the outbreak of fires at both ends of the state stood at 25 Sunday and appeared likely to rise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.