As wildfires rage across the western United States, Republican governors representing states with some of the largest fires were frozen out of a White House meeting to plan the federal government's response.
President Joe Biden hosted several western governors for a virtual summit to plan for the start of wildfire season. Left off the White House's invite list were Republican governors of Idaho, Montana, and Arizona—three states currently suffering from wildfires. In fact, 6 of the 10 largest fires currently raging in the United States are in states unrepresented at the meeting, according to the government's wildfire tracking database.
Governors Greg Gianforte of Montana and Brad Little of Idaho wrote a joint letter to Biden on Wednesday noting the slight. "While we are encouraged to learn you will meet with eight western governors to discuss the federal government's response to wildfires, we were disappointed to learn not all western states who face a harsh wildfire season will be at the table," the governors wrote. "It is critical to engage governors fully and directly to have a productive discussion about how the federal government can improve its wildfire response and prevention efforts."
Present at the meeting were five Democratic governors—representing California, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada—along with just two Republicans, from Wyoming and Utah. At least one additional Democratic governor, Washington's Jay Inslee, was invited to the meeting but did not attend. Inslee, a former chair of the Democratic Governors Association, scored an invite that was not extended to Arizona governor Doug Ducey, who chairs the Republican Governors Association.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden wanted to "engage directly" with stakeholders to learn how the federal government can be "better partners" of western states fighting wildfires. The White House did not respond to requests for comment on how invites were determined.
The wildfire preparedness meeting is not the first instance of Biden's White House freezing out the political opposition. Alaska's Republican governor Mike Dunleavy, also not invited to the meeting despite a high prevalence of wildfires in the state, told the Free Beacon he hasn't heard from the White House since Biden's inauguration, aside from a five-minute conversation with the State Department to plan the March 18 summit with Chinese officials in Anchorage.
The lack of communication comes as the federal government takes major action that impacts Alaska, including the suspension of all drilling leases in its massive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "We don't exist to Biden," Dunleavy said.
South Dakota's Republican governor Kristi Noem says she was blindsided by the administration's decision to cancel the Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore, which came with no warning from the White House. Noem says she attended Biden's inauguration in a gesture of bipartisan goodwill, but that "there has been no willingness to have a conversation back."
Nebraska's Republican governor Pete Ricketts told the Free Beacon the White House set up a liaison for his state, but that "they don't seem to pick up their phones." Ricketts says his state's only communication with the administration comes through White House coronavirus briefings.
Gianforte and Little told the White House in their letter that their states possess "extensive experience and expertise in fighting wildfires, preventing them, and managing our forests."
"Please know our states stand ready to help other states and the federal government as we confront wildfire season," the governors wrote.
Published under: Biden Administration