President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning woke up and decided to attack the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), one of the most powerful and politically active unions in the country, after it endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.
I’ve done more for Firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid ZERO! https://t.co/Tw0qwTiUD6
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2019
IAFF endorsed Biden on Monday, and defended that decision on cable news.
In a Fox & Friends interview that day, host Brian Kilmeade doggedly questioned Harold Schaitberger, the president of the IAFF, on why the union was using the dues of its members to support Biden over Trump. Schaitberger informed them that it’s not — the IAFF’s political arm uses a separate money stream from members who voluntarily contribute.
On Wednesday, Trump said he’s “done more for Firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid ZERO!” He then spent the next 20 minutes retweeting replies to a tweet from one of his fans, Dan Bongino, which said he personally did not know any firefighters who supported Biden.
Neither the White House nor IAFF responded to requests for comment.
None of the replies retweeted by Trump state exactly what the president has done for firefighters specifically, or why firefighters actually support Trump. Perhaps that’s because, on issues specific to firefighters, Trump’s record is much murkier than he would have the public believe.
Perhaps the most visible example of Trump wading into firefighters’ issues has been his commentary on forest management tactics after massive wildfires on the West Coast.
Last year, Trump tweeted falsely about the “gross mismanagement of the forests” following the deadly Camp Fire in California. He vaguely threatened that if the policy didn’t change, he would cut funding.
There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice said in a statement at the time that Trump’s threat was “dangerously wrong,” and also “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.” He concluded: “In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.”
IAFF’s Schaitberger called Trump’s comments “reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected.”
More recently, Trump has delayed a disaster relief bill that targets communities affected by storms and wildfires, over his belief that it gives too much money to Puerto Rico. Firefighters in Puerto Rico face perilous conditions due to “the precarious conditions of its stations, the lack of firefighting equipment, the age of its personal fire safety gear, and the obsolescence of its first response units,” as El Vocero reported Tuesday.
In the president’s most recent budget proposal, which has little chance of becoming law, he proposed cutting the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs by more than $11 million, according to the Congressional Fire Services Institute. The budget document also proposed cutting the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) by one-third, and also zeroes out the “State Fire Training Assistance, a program that allows the National Fire Academy to partner with state fire training academies in delivering its classes at the state and local levels.” The budget would also cut the Volunteer Fire Assistance and State Fire Assistance programs.
Trump’s record as a businessman and property owner also reveals another, even darker side of his relationship with firefighters. In the 1990s, Trump lobbied against laws requiring fire sprinklers in existing skyscrapers, according to the New York Times. Sprinklers were not installed in Trump Tower, and last year, a fire broke out on the 50th floor of the residence, resulting in the death of one resident and injuries to six firefighters. The building had caught fire in a separate incident earlier last year, resulting in two injuries.
Elsewhere in New York City, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act established the World Trade Center Health Program, which helps first responders like firefighters and other volunteers get the care they need for health problems stemming from their work at Ground Zero. As a candidate, Trump was quieter than many firefighters would have liked when it came for the act to be renewed.
First responder advocates have faulted Trump’s budget proposals for attempting to make changes to the World Trade Center Health Program that would make it harder for the people who worked at Ground Zero to receive the care they need by separating the program from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The budget plan, like many budget plans, did not manifest into a policy change.
Despite all this, Trump has repeatedly sought to voice his support of firefighters and to cloak himself in their sterling reputation.
“I pledge that you will have the support of our country — the police, the firefighters, first responders — you will always have the support of President Trump,” he told a group of Georgia firefighters in a visit to the White House in 2017. That is, so long as he has their support in return.
Correction: An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect figure for the proposed budget cuts to the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs.