House Republicans have been criticizing President Joe Biden’s response to the wildfires in Maui, saying that he’s not providing enough federal resources and is instead too focused on supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia.
“FEMA is underfunded by $4 BILLION, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) is only funded $1 per Georgian, Hawaii’s Lahaina is in desperate need of help from devastating fire killing 50+ people, and America is broke,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted earlier this month, just after the Maui wildfires took hold.
Greene added, “Biden wants to send another $24 BILLION to Ukraine. NO!!”
Other GOP lawmakers have been making similar attacks.
“Biden cares more about funding the war in Ukraine than providing relief for his own country,” charged Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
“President Biden completely ignored the people of East Palestine,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “Now, he’s giving the people of Maui the same treatment.”
Maui residents have certainly expressed frustration and anger at the pace of the local, state and federal governments’ response to the disastrous fires, which began Aug. 8. As of Monday, 115 people have been confirmed dead and as many as 1,000 residents are still unaccounted for. Roughly 2,200 structures in the town of Lahaina were destroyed, most of them homes. Some locals have connected the trauma of the devastation, and the government’s slow response to it, to a general distrust of government that goes back generations.
But federal aid for Ukraine has nothing to do with the money available to respond to the Maui wildfires. And House Republicans are glossing over the reality that they have routinely opposed billions of dollars in federal funding to prepare for and respond to wildfires, which are only increasing as climate change worsens.
Virtually all of them last year voted against the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, which would have authorized four federal agencies — including FEMA — to each spend up to $10 million for the Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program. The bill, which ultimately passed the House with one GOP supporter, would have instituted a 10-year wildfire strategy and allocated $1 billion for forest management and vegetation projects.
That’s just scratching the surface of all the funding they’ve rejected for wildfire management.
Greene, Biggs and Jordan all voted against the 2023 omnibus spending package in December, which set aside $2.1 billion for wildfire management.
They voted against the supplemental spending package last September, which provided $2.5 billion for wildfire relief.
They voted against the annual transportation, housing and urban development spending package last July, which provided $6.4 billion for wildfire management.
They voted against a short-term government funding bill in September 2021, which included $1.36 billion for the Forest Service and $636 million for the Interior Department for wildfire response.
They voted against the annual labor, health and human services spending package in July 2021, which included $5.7 billion for wildfire management.
In addition to opposing lots of federal dollars to remedy wildfires, Greene is a member of the Republican Study Committee, which unveiled its budget proposal in June calling for cutting all climate-change-related funding for the Energy Department. That included defunding the department’s Office of Science, which specifically does wildfire research.
Some House Republicans have been attacking Biden’s leadership more broadly.
“The federal response to Maui has been absolutely disgusting,” tweeted Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). “The state is run by Democrats so the officials can’t criticize it for political reasons, but we all are watching a complete failure of leadership AGAIN.”
“A real leader would be giving daily if not hourly updates about what we are doing to help Hawaii,” tweeted Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas).
Boebert and Crenshaw, of course, opposed all of those previously mentioned bills to provide funding for preventing and responding to wildfires. Both are also Republican Study Committee members.
To be sure, the president has made some missteps. His “no comment” to a reporter earlier this month on the rising death toll in Maui, as he was vacationing at his Delaware beach home, wasn’t a great look — even if the reality was that he’d just spoken about it in recent remarks. His decision to tell Maui wildfire survivors on Monday that he could relate to their devastation because of a small kitchen fire he once had in 2004 was, well, interesting.
And it remains to be seen if Maui residents will be getting all the help they need, from all levels of government, as quickly as possible.
But Biden has largely been doing the things one would hope a president would do, and the White House has been stepping up its efforts to show the breadth of its response.
Biden approved a federal disaster declaration just over an hour after the wildfires broke out. He’s been in regular contact with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D), who he met with in Lahaina on Monday to view the devastation firsthand. The White House has been circulating fact sheets about what different departments are doing, describing its response as “robust” and a “whole-of-government” approach. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell has personally attended two White House briefings. The president has now publicly addressed the situation several times, telling Maui residents on Monday that the country will stand by them “for as long as it takes” to rebuild.
That doesn’t mean that some Republicans, particularly allies of former President Donald Trump, won’t keep knocking Biden regardless of what he does ― or if the policies they support don’t match the rhetoric they use.
Freshman Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) posted a video on her Twitter account accusing Biden of “actively ignoring what’s happening in Hawaii” while advocating for sending more money to Ukraine, “a foreign country that really we have no place investing in.”
“Hawaii and the people of Hawaii are far more important than places like Ukraine,” she said.
Luna, too, is a Republican Study Committee member.