California Republicans Decline to Join Push for Federal Aid After Deadly Fires

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A truck burns as fire ravages the Napa wine region in California on Oct. 9, 2017. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE 1:00  p.m. Nov. 7, 2017: This story was revised to include comments from Gov. Jerry Brown about the lack of Republican support for the letter he sent.

The poisonous partisan divide within California's congressional delegation was laid bare Friday when just one Republican signed on to a letter sent to President Trump requesting $7.4 billion in federal disaster assistance following the recent wildfires in Northern California's wine country.

The letter, sent Friday morning by Gov. Jerry Brown and signed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris along with 39 members of California's 52-member House delegation, included just one Republican name: Ed Royce, who represents the 39th Congressional District in Orange County.

The letter was circulated to the offices of each of the 14 Republican representatives from California by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), whose district includes most of the areas affected by the fires.


Thompson spokesman TJ Adams-Falconer said that other than Rep. Royce, House Republicans from California refused to sign it.

“It’s unfortunate that some Republicans did not stand with the rest of the California delegation to help fellow Californians ravaged by the recent wildfires," Adams-Falconer said in an email.  "We will continue to try to work with the Republican members of our delegation to get all those devastated by the fires back on their feet.”

We reached out to several House Republicans from California who refused to sign the letter, but none responded.

Republican political consultant Luis Alvarado, whose clients do not include any GOP House members, was at a loss to explain why Republicans would decline to join the request for federal help, unless, he said, it included funding for items they felt were superfluous.

"Like a desalination plant or a requirement that construction work be done by union people," Alvarez said.

The $7.4 billion request included no desalination plants, instead focusing on construction of housing, schools and businesses, hazardous waste removal and help for growers and others whose agricultural lands were damaged or destroyed by the fires.

As the letter notes, this would be the third supplemental disaster-related appropriations bill responding to recent hurricanes and wildfires.

Gov. Jerry Brown's deputy press secretary, Ali Bay, declined to comment on the lack of Republican support for the disaster request, other than to say "we reached out to the entire California delegation and we're hopeful that Democrats and Republicans will overcome Washington's politics as usual and come together to do what's best for our state."

No one is holding their breath on that one.

Speaking over the weekend during a climate change conference at the Vatican, Brown made an off-the cuff remark suggesting how dysfunctional the relationship is with California's congressional delegation.

"The Republican members of the delegation would not join in a letter with the other Democrats to ask for federal relief, but they did write me a letter saying they thought it was a good idea that we ask for relief," Brown said. "So that was almost a joining together. But that indicates how difficult it is."

The governor has previously expressed appreciation for federal disaster relief allocations from the Trump Administration, including one to help repair the Oroville Dam spillway earlier this year.

But more recently Brown sent another letter to California Republican House members urging them to vote against any GOP tax plan that calls for eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes. But in a collective finger in Brown's eye, each one voted for the GOP budget proposal, a first step toward passing the tax bill.

In response to Gov. Brown's letter,  House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) released a video message criticizing the governor's support for higher taxes, including the recently increased gas tax.

"If Gov. Brown is worried about the tax burden, let's make cutting [taxes] a federal and state project," McCarthy said.  "We're lowering rates at the federal level. So if Gov. Brown works to lower rates in California, I will stand right beside him to get that done."