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President Joe Biden surveyed New Mexico wildfires from on board Air Force One Saturday before touching down in Albuquerque for a briefing in Santa Fe on the massive blazes.
‘There’s an expression where I came from. God made man and then he made firefighters,’ Biden said at the top of his briefing State Emergency Operations Center. ‘They’re all crazy,’ he added, garnering laughs.
Reporters on board Air Force One were able to see billowing smoke coming from several active blazes and also chunks of charred landscape.
The president remarked that ‘Air Force One is so damn big we couldn’t go in’ so the presidential aircraft flew the perimeter.
A group of New Mexico residents sued the U.S. Forest Service this week arguing the federal government didn’t disclose information about controlled burns that turned into the biggest New Mexico fire.
‘99.8 per cent go as planned, but this time, practically, it did not,’ the president admitted.
More than 600,000 acres in New Mexico have burned, gobbling up 1,200 homes.
‘Today I am announcing the federal government is covering 100 per cent of the cost,’ the president said.
President Joe Biden surveyed wildfires over New Mexico before getting briefed on the ongoing threat in Santa Fe Saturday. Reporters on board Air Force One with the president were allowed to capture the billowing smoke coming from several hillsides
Air Force One flew over several sites in New Mexico where wildfires were currently burning
A view out Air Force One’s window of wildfires in New Mexico. The president stopped in his state on his way back to Delaware from Los Angeles, where he has been since Wednesday hosting the Summit of the Americas
President Joe Biden said the federal government will pick up ‘100 per cent of the cost’ of the New Mexico wildfires during a visit to the State Emergency Operations Center in Sante Fe Saturday
President Joe Biden (right) hugged New Mexico’s Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (left) upon arrival at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Biden’s commitment came after Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pressed Biden – and the federal government – to take responsibility for the disaster.
‘President Biden, I want to personally thank you on behalf of the people of this great state for standing together with us here today,’ she said at the top of the briefing.
‘This is now the largest fire in our long history and while wildfires have occurred since time immemorial, this one was not caused naturally,’ she noted.
Lujan Grisham credited the Biden administration for leaning in from the very beginning.
‘Not only identifying how the fire was caused, by actions of U.S. Forest Service, but recognizing that we need to do things differently together.’
‘We are grateful for that assistance, we are grateful for the investments that you continue to make in the state to make sure that we are as safe as possible,’ she added.
She then asked the feds to pony up the cost.
‘But this is why, I think we need the federal government to keep accepting responsibility and I know that you have been reviewing our requests to cover 100 percent of the costs of the fire-related recovery effort,’ Lujan Grisham said, adding it would cover things like debris removal and watershed protection.
‘Mr. President I want to say a couple more things. It’s really more than all of that work we need to do together. We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that 1,200 homes were burned, hundreds of thousands of acres of farm and grazing land destroyed and many family businesses lost. It’s about the blood and sweat of generations of New Mexicans who work the land, who fed their families and raised their children – all of that just went up in smoke,’ she added.
At the next stop, in a control room that showed active fires and flight missions, Biden said he wished that people could be repaid 100 per cent for the loss of their homes.
He said a bill sitting in Congress would allow that. ‘I’m strongly supporting it,’ the president noted.
‘So you can get complete reimbursement to rebuild your home as it was, your ranch as it was,’ Biden explained. ‘We are doing that in areas where I have authority to have 100 per cent reimbursement,’ but he added that Congress would still need to act.
‘I hope that you’re aware that we are meeting our responsibility,’ Biden said.
The president also talked about how the U.S. needed to build back greener after a natural disaster strikes.
‘I want to promise you – windmills do not cause cancer,’ he said, reusing a vintage anti-Trump joke.
Former President Donald Trump would go on tirades against windmills, alleging they caused cancer and murdered ‘many bald eagles.’
After addressing Emergency Operations workers, Biden met privately with first resoinders and then with families who’ve been impacted by the blazes.
President Joe Biden talks to responders at the State Emergency Operations Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Saturday
The Hermits Peak fire, which is currently the largest in New Mexico, is now 66 per cent contained, the White House said Saturday, ahead of Biden’s meetings.
There are now more than 4,000 wildfire personnel on the ground in the state fighting the blazes.
‘You only protect firefighters with more firefighters,’ Biden said twice at the New Mexico events.
The president approved a disaster declaration in early May.
Upon Biden’s arrival he hugged Lujan Grisham and grabbed the hand of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who was masked after recovering from a recent bout of COVID.
As the president stepped off Air Force One in Albuquerque, it was a balmy 99 degrees.
President Joe Biden spoke to reporters Saturday morning from the tarmac at LAX encouraging March for Our Lives attendees to ‘keep marching’
Biden made the New Mexico stop after spending three days in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, the U.S.-hosted gathering of the leaders of North, Central and South American nations.
While there, Biden also attended two high-dollar fundraisers in Brentwood and Beverly Hills, and did a sit-down with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.
On Saturday morning, after arriving at LAX on Marine One, Biden took questions from reporters including on the March for Our Lives, which was taking place in Washington, D.C.
‘Keep marching – it’s important,’ he said. ‘This has to become an election issue – the way people listen, senators, congressmen, is when people say this affects my vote.’
He also said he was ‘mildly optimistic’ about the Senate’s ongoing discussions on gun reform.
The president also told reporters he hadn’t made up his mind about taking a trip to Saudi Arabia.
After he departs New Mexico Saturday he’ll head home to Wilmington, Delaware for the rest of the weekend.