President Donald Trump, who has made four visits to hurricane zones in recent weeks, isn’t rushing to survey the damage from California’s wildfires.
The president has no immediate plans to visit the state to inspect the aftermath of the wind-whipped wildfires, which have swept through parts of Northern California, including the region’s famed wine country. The wildfires have killed at least 42 people and destroyed thousands of homes, becoming the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in California’s history.
For Trump, the wildfires are ravaging a state that has long been a Democratic stronghold and gave his presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, a commanding victory in California during last year’s election. Trump received about 31 percent of the vote in the state, prompting questions of whether politics have influenced his plans after the president visited Republican-leaning states like Texas and Louisiana and campaign battleground Florida after they dealt with massive hurricanes. He also visited Puerto Rico to view hurricane damage and traveled to Las Vegas after the city’s deadly mass shooting.
“I’d like to see him here,” said Rick Rogers, 52, who lost his home in Santa Rosa, California, to the fire. “I think it’s going to go down as one of the worst disasters in the state’s history. It would be nice to have the president here to show some support.”
Suzanne Finzell, 62, a self-described “dyed in the wool” Democrat who lost her rented home in the blaze, accused Trump of having “no empathy.” But she added: “Even if he came here, what could he possibly do?”
In a sign of the frustration, The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial on Sunday with the headline: “California burns: Where’s the president?” The editorial said Trump’s voice had been “conspicuously mute through day after day of crisis.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday a trip by Trump to California was not “planned at this time but it certainly hasn’t been ruled out either.” She said the Trump administration “has been very engaged throughout this process. We’re going to continue to be there.”
Trump retweeted a tweet on Wednesday from Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long, who has been touring the region this week. Trump wrote, “Our hearts are with all affected by the wildfires in California. God bless our brave First Responders and @fema team. We support you!”
And during a Cabinet meeting on Monday, the president noted that his administration had issued a disaster declaration in California to respond to “devastating wildfires like we’ve never seen. And we mourn the terrible loss of life.” He pointed to FEMA, first responders and members of the military assisting people in the path of the fires and cited “a lot of progress in the last couple of days. But we’re a little subject to winds and what happens with nature, but it’s been a, it’s a very sad thing to watch.”
Administration officials also noted that Vice President Mike Pence met with first responders at the state’s Office of Emergency Services headquarters in the Sacramento area last week during a trip to California.
Previous presidents have toured the aftermath of wildfires in the past but the catastrophes have not always led to presidential visits.
Former President Barack Obama visited Colorado Springs, Colo., in June 2012, as he sought re-election, to observe recovery efforts from the state’s wildfires. And former President George W. Bush made separate visits to California to tour fire-ravaged parts of Southern California in 2003 and 2007.
Other wildfires, meanwhile, have been addressed by past White House administrations through phone calls and extensive coordination with state and federal officials but haven’t always involved a presidential trip.
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has praised the Trump administration for quickly approving his request for federal assistance less than two days after they were sparked. In total, eight California counties are receiving federal relief. “I appreciate the fast response from the President,” Brown said in a statement last week.
And some residents say the visit isn’t necessary. “He’s got more important business,” said Rob Ferguson, 75, of Santa Rosa, who lost his home in the fires. His 68-year-old wife, Judy Ferguson added: “We just want him to take care of everything else.”