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Biden headed into enemy territory in the West to talk about wildfires

President Joe Biden visited Idaho Monday as part of a two-day trip out West that includes visits to more politically friendly, but facing challenges, California and Colorado

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President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Boise, Idaho.

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Boise, Idaho.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

President Joe Biden visited Boise, Idaho, Monday, making a stop in a state that’s not politically friendly territory to deliver a message about fighting wildfires that could resonate across party lines.

Wildfires in the West last year burned an area larger than the state of New Jersey, and Biden said during a briefing with federal and state officials, “when I say that back East, it’s just unfathomable. First of all they don’t fully understand how big the West is.”

The climate has changed, and it’s not going back, he said. “We have a global warming problem.”

Biden toured the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise and met with fire officials as part of his visit. He said his administration would provide pay bonuses and incentives for federal firefighters to ensure they made $15 an hour, and that they deserve more.

Outside of the fire center, protesters carried pro-Trump flags. One protester held a sign with a swastika made out of syringe needles that said “Joe Biden We Do Not Consent.” Biden lost Idaho last November to former President Donald Trump 59% to 28%, a margin of victory for Trump eclipsed by just nine other states. Biden’s vaccine mandate has also faced pushback in the state.

“Biden probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to come into Idaho, just a few days after announcing that he would be requiring employers of 100 employees or more to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine or have employees get tested, and just a couple of weeks after the United States clumsily withdrew its military from Afghanistan, part of which resulted in the death of 15 American troops,” wrote Scott McIntosh for The Idaho Statesman.

Idaho’s Republican Gov. Brad Little has said he is exploring a possible lawsuit against the administration over the mandate, even as the state experiences a spike in new reported COVID-19 cases as well as hospitalizations and deaths from the virus. Just 40% of all Idaho residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from health agencies, and things have gotten so bad that hospitals in neighboring Washington state are getting asked if they can take in patients from Idaho.

Little was among the officials who met with Biden Monday, and he said during the briefing that federal partners could help Idaho build a more resilient forest ecosystem.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is also running for governor, used Biden’s visit to criticize the president and needle fellow Republican Little. McGeachin tweeted a video asking Biden questions about the vaccine mandate and the handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, and she asked if Little would ask them when he welcomed Biden to the state. Little, hasn’t yet announced whether he will seek reelection next year.

Despite the opposition to Biden in Idaho, his message about the need to combat climate change has a receptive audience among some elected Republicans.

Shortly after taking office in 2019, Little said climate change was real at an event put on by the Idaho Environmental Forum, an environmental policy organization.

“Climate’s changing, there’s no question about it,” he said, according to High Country News.

Later that year, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, told a conference in Boise that climate change “is a reality.”

“It’s not hard to figure out,” Simpson said, according to Grist. “Go look at your thermometer.”

Biden’s Boise stop was part of a larger two-day, three-state trip out West to talk about climate change and infrastructure, as well as campaign for California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall election Tuesday in the state that gave the president 63.5% of the vote in 2020.

At the rally with Newsom, Biden said Larry Elder, the leading Republican in the race, is “the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve ever seen in this state” and called on voters to vote “no” in the recall or have a governor who denies climate change.

Biden also toured wildfire damage from the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe while in California, and on Tuesday, he visited Colorado, where he won 55% of the vote in 2020.

“We can’t ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” Biden said in California. “It isn’t about red or blue states. It’s about fires. Just fires.”