Why is the Trump admin refusing California wildfire disaster aid?

Trump has been threatening for years to reject California's requests for wildfire disaster aid. Has he actually started following through?
Image: Firefighters battle the Glass Fire as it encroaches towards a residence in Calistoga, California
Firefighters battle the Glass fire as it encroaches towards a residence in Calistoga, Calif., on Oct. 1, 2020.Adrees Latif / Reuters

It was a couple of months ago when the public was introduced to Miles Taylor, a Republican political appointee who served as chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who came forward to urge voters to replace Donald Trump with Joe Biden.

Making the case against the president he worked for, Taylor noted, among other things, that Trump has previously directed DHS officials to deny wildfire-relief aid to California because the state didn't support him politically.

This came to mind today as NBC News reported that the Trump administration "rejected California's emergency aid declaration for recent wildfires in the state that scorched nearly 1.9 million acres, destroyed over 3,300 homes and other structures, and killed at least three people."

Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote a letter to the president last month requesting emergency funds. In it, a regional administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked the White House to declare "a major disaster" in seven counties ravaged by fires in September. But this week, the Trump administration refused to grant a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for early September fires, a spokesman for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services told NBC News.

A White House spokesperson told the New York Times the state's emergency aid declaration "was not supported by the relevant data that States must provide for approval and the President concurred with the FEMA Administrator's recommendation."

California will reportedly appeal the decision.

It is, to be sure, possible that this is a bureaucratic dispute that will be resolved without difficulty or additional drama, but in the meantime, the president has made it easy to believe the worst.

As regular readers may recall, it was nearly two years ago when Trump, after complaining about California's approach to forest management -- an issue he only pretends to understand -- wrote that he'd ordered FEMA to send the Golden State "no more money."

And while there was no follow through on the presidential chest-thumping, it was just last fall when the president started making related threats, saying Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) should "no more" turn to "the Federal Government for $$$ help."

It's against this backdrop that the administration has decided to reject California's latest request emergency funds.

Postscript: California's governor announced, just minutes after I published this, that the president has approved the state's declaration request. I'd love to hear more about why the White House said the opposite earlier today.