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Biden torches Trump as a 'climate arsonist' while deadly wildfires burn out west

Joe Biden speaks Monday in Wilmington, Del., about

Joe Biden speaks Monday in Wilmington, Del., about the impact of climate change on the wildfires in Western states. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

The fire this time

Delivering his message in Delaware sunshine, without a mask but at a distance from his audience, Joe Biden on Monday branded President Donald Trump with a harsh but sober two-word nickname.

"If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?" Biden said. "We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here — and unless we take urgent action, it’ll soon be more catastrophic."

The context, of course, was the massive wildfires in Western states that have killed dozens of people and burned nearly 5 million acres across 10 states this year. Warmer air blamed on fossil fuel use causes plants to dry out, fueling disaster, experts say, adding that climate change increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather events and other natural disasters. Biden has outlined plans to push the reduction of greenhouse gases, citing the impact on storms and seas as well.

Trump puts the policy onus on the states — as he does with the coronavirus pandemic and recent violence and unrest. He blames the frequency of wildfires on blue states and poor forest management. Last November, Trump threatened to cut off federal funding if California didn't improve its performance. But he didn't act or negotiate any changes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, met with the president Monday at a briefing, thanking him for a promised commitment to doubling forest and vegetation management over the next 20 years. "We can agree to disagree on the politics," added Newsom, "but one thing is fundamental: 57% of the land in this state is federal and 3% is state forests." (Their full exchange is here.)

As for the bigger picture, Trump stuck to denying accepted theory on climate change, assuring state officials: "It'll start getting cooler, just you watch." When someone said, "I wish science agreed with you," Trump replied: "I don't think science knows, actually." Trump's denial reminded some observers of his incorrect predictions that the coronavirus would soon vanish by itself.

Biden said: "I know this feeling of dread and anxiety extends well beyond the fires. It’s happening everywhere and it’s happening now and it affects us all. ... It shouldn’t be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky and are left asking: Is doomsday here?"

Justice Dept. as a 'lousy law firm'

Biden also sounded a bit more strident than usual, almost Trumpian, when he spoke of "making sure the Justice Department is no longer the private lousy law firm of the president of the United States of America," The Washington Post reported.

"He goes after his enemies. He has them take care of his private business," the Democratic nominee said of Trump during a virtual fundraiser Monday. "It’s outrageous; those of you who have worked in the department, I can’t believe you even can fathom that it’s happening. It’s like 'Alice in Wonderland.' It’s like, what in God’s name is going on?"

On Friday, the Hartford Courant reported that federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John Durham in Trump's anti-Mueller Russia probe, quietly resigned. The investigative team reportedly is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

COVID info czar a crackpot?

Michael Caputo, a onetime protege of convicted Trump confidant Roger Stone, plays a powerful role for the president as top communications official in the Cabinet-level department assigned to deal with the coronavirus.

In recent days, Caputo's highly controversial efforts to doctor the scientific calculations of virus toll numbers in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports put him in a scandalous spotlight, which the House has begun investigating.

Now there's more to it.

Caputo, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services since April, put out some dark messaging on his Facebook account. Without evidence, he accused CDC scientists of gathering a "resistance unit" for "sedition" against Trump. He envisioned Trump winning reelection, Biden refusing to concede and upon inauguration, "the shooting will begin" in a left-wing insurrection. Caputo urged followers to stock up on ammunition.

The longtime GOP operative, who worked in the 1990s for a Russian energy company and drew scrutiny in the Mueller probe, also told the social-media audience he feels his "mental health has definitely failed" under the pressure of the HHS job. "I don’t like being alone in Washington," he said, describing "shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long."

Betting in Vegas against the spread

Critics called the gathering a "superspreader," but in fact, nobody can be sure yet how much the president's Nevada rally on Sunday might have accelerated coronavirus infections. Still, the president says he isn't worried — about himself, that is.

Trump told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an interview that he is not afraid of getting COVID-19 from speaking at the first indoor rally since his low-attendance Tulsa fiasco.

"I’m on a stage and it’s very far away," the president said about the event in Henderson, about 16 miles from Las Vegas. "And so I’m not at all concerned."

"I’m more concerned about how close you are, to be honest," Trump told a reporter who thought she was socially distanced.

Gov. Steve Sisolak blasted the president for packing hundreds of supporters, many without masks, into a building in violation of state rules.

Sisolak, a Democrat targeted by Trump for all manner of loose accusations, called it "shameful, dangerous and irresponsible." The rally host, Xtreme Manufacturing, was fined $3,000.

Michigan state of mind

Recent polls show Biden leading in Michigan, where Trump won by a whisker four years ago. Recent news reports show COVID-19 outbreaks centered on college campuses. The state has 16 electoral votes.

So one of Trump's more truncated rallies Monday was held at a Macomb County, Michigan, yacht club. For "star power," the campaign relied on regular inner circle members Kid Rock, Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Jr.'s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. Junior assailed the centrist Biden and the Democrats generally as part of the "radical left."

Earlier, the president took part in a Latino roundtable with backers in Phoenix, where he said: "Many Hispanic Americans came here to pursue the American dream," but with Democrats, "what they're asking for, it's like the American nightmare or whatever you want to call it." He generalized about Hispanic businessmen being shrewd.

China diplomat quitting

Trump's ambassador to China, one of his first appointees, is leaving the job next month. Reasons for the timing were unclear. It was widely noted that the diplomat, Terry Branstad, former GOP governor of Iowa, served during a recent period of deteriorating relations between the two superpowers over trade and Hong Kong.

Over the weekend, a spokesman for China’s defense ministry called the U.S. the "destroyer of world peace" and slammed a Pentagon report on Beijing’s military goals. Trump has boasted about his relationship with President Xi Jinping and other "tough" leaders, and even told author Bob Woodward that it was the Chinese leader who told him that the coronavirus is "deadly stuff." Trump now blames Beijing for the pandemic debacle.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo and Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Election officials in several states, including West Virginia, Utah and Maryland, warned voters on Monday that the embattled U.S. Postal Service was providing inaccurate information about how to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic restrictions that required most people to stay home, limited sizes of gatherings and ordered "nonlife-sustaining" businesses to shut down were struck down by a Trump-appointed judge.
  • People from El Salvador, Haiti and elsewhere who won temporary protected status after fleeing natural disaster and war can be deported, a federal appeals court ruled.
  • The Trump administration caved on a proposed Medicaid rule that states, hospitals, insurers, patient advocates and members of both major political parties warned could lead to massive cuts for the poor.
  • Medicaid rolls are swelling due to the coronavirus.
  • Trump nemesis Jeff Bezos' Amazon company plans to hire an eye-popping 100,000 new employees in the U.S. and Canada to help handle extra business amid the pandemic.

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