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Western wildfires highlight divergent stances of Trump, Biden on climate change

The wildfire disaster in the American West is highlighting a major political difference between President Trump and Joe Biden: their perspectives on climate change. While scientists increasingly warn that climate change is driving extreme weather events like the western fires -- a view Biden adopts -- Trump blames the phenomenon on poor forest management. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wildfires are threatening more of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California tonight, as dry, windy conditions return in places.

    So far, at least 35 people have died, and thousands have been forced to flee. Half-a-dozen small towns have burned, and drone footage today showed entire neighborhoods in Southern Oregon turned to ashes. Streets were stained red by fire retardant. We will look at the situation in Oregon later in the program.

    The wildfires exposed two starkly different points of view on the campaign trail.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage with a look at how President Trump and Joe Biden divide on climate change.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In California, President Trump arrived to assess a sweeping disaster, the latest round of wildfires scorching the Western U.S. He met with officials near Sacramento.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We want to thank these incredible people, the first responders, service members.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Critics have said the president should have paid more attention to the fires, which started last month.

    At the least, his approach has revealed a chasm in environmental philosophy with his presidential opponent, Democrat Joe Biden. While scientists increasingly raise concerns about climate change, that it is driving more extreme weather like the Western blazes, the president has blamed poor forest management.

    Nearly 60 percent of California's forests are federally managed. In an exchange with the state's natural resources secretary, the president today faced a direct confrontation on the issue and bluntly denied science.

  • Wade Crawfoot:

    We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests, and actually work together with that science.

    That science is going, going to be key, because, if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to succeed together protecting Californians.

  • President Donald Trump:

    OK. It'll start getting cooler.

  • Wade Crawfoot:

    I wish…

  • President Donald Trump:

    You just — you just watch.

  • Wade Crawfoot:

    I wish science agreed with you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, I don't think science knows, actually.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This while, in Wilmington, Delaware, today, former Vice President Biden was explicit, saying climate change is a fundamental issue of our time.

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    The unrelenting impact of climate change affects every single, solitary one of us. 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?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Also today, another contrast from Biden, though one without words.

    As he does regularly, Biden wore a mask when he and his wife went to vote in a state primary. President Trump, however, has resumed holding large-scale rallies, including one last night near Las Vegas. Thousands packed into a warehouse indoors, violating Nevada state guidelines banning any gathering over 50 people.

    In addition, while those behind the president largely wore masks, most of the audience facing him did not. CNN reported that no broadcast networks had reporters inside out of health concerns. The president doubled down on his reopening push.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We are not shutting down our country.

    (BOOING)

  • President Donald Trump:

    A shutdown will destroy the lives and dreams of tens of millions of Americans.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Before the rally, Nevada's Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak tweeted the president was — quote — "taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger."

    President Trump told The Las Vegas Review-Journal Sunday he did not think he was bound by the state's rules.

    Then today, Vice President Pence held an indoor rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, where cases of COVID-19 have been ticking up. As he draws crowds, the president is also looking to target his campaign, including to Latino voters, like this weekend with this roundtable in Las Vegas.

    It's a vital group for both campaigns, and in key states like Florida, where polls show Democrat Joe Biden is slipping with Latino voters. Florida is where billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hopes to make a difference, pledging to spend $100 million to aid Biden there.

    Biden himself heads to the Sunshine State tomorrow for events with veterans and Hispanic leaders.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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