A day after appealing to President Donald Trump for a fourth disaster declaration following punishing winter storms, Gov. Jerry Brown arrived in turbulent Washington on Monday afternoon and quickly met with Federal Emergency Management Agency acting Administrator Bob Fenton.
While the Democratic governor’s visit comes amid pitched partisan battles on Capitol Hill, the FEMA meeting – and Brown’s later remarks to reporters – suggest he will use his first trip since Trump was sworn in as president to seek out areas where federal officials and the nation’s largest state could prioritize collaboration over combat.
Brown, who put the storm damage at well over $500 million, said he came away from the meeting feeling positive after being told that Trump is “very concerned” about disaster relief for California. But Brown also stood by his recent denouncement of the Trump administration’s decision to review federal greenhouse gas standards, a move the governor recently characterized as “an unconscionable gift to polluters.”
The conflicting stances highlight the political tightrope Brown has walked since Trump’s unexpected victory in November: defending the state’s interests, at times a voice of the resistance, while working to point out the great amount of codependency that exists between the governments. Asked if he feels pressure in this role, Brown suggested that he finds complexity and contradiction “very congenial to my bent of mind.”
“I will pursue my own rhetorical paths,” Brown told reporters Monday night, “and I will do so in a spirit of advancing the interests of California, recognizing we are a part of the union, and … we are not going our totally separate way.”
“We are distinct. We have a sovereignty. We’ll pursue that,” he added. “But we also have a commonality with other states and with the national government. So wherever we can find common ground, we’re going to do it.”
Brown’s request Sunday would aid with repairs to the crumbled Oroville Dam spillway and assist with state and local efforts to recover from last month’s storms that caused significant flooding, prompted evacuations and damaged roads and bridges. Trump last week issued his third presidential declaration for previous winter storms, freeing up federal assistance to state and local agencies, as well as some nonprofit groups.
While Brown has challenged Trump and Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield over specific proposals, his efforts to work with the GOP on infrastructure and other issues stands in contrast to many of his Democratic colleagues.
Still, he’s pushed back against other GOP-spearheaded moves. Brown’s budget director, Michael Cohen, sharply rebuked Trump’s budget blueprint, while Brown himself said the GOP repeal and replacement plan for Obamacare “is a really dumb idea and will cause millions of Americans to suffer.”
On Monday, Brown said he doesn’t rule anything out – “or anything in.”
“Because … nothing is all that predictable under the current administration,” he added. “That could be a cause for alarm but also a cause for some optimism and creative possibilities.”