President Obama touches down in Fresno this afternoon to meet with farmers, examine agricultural fields, and announce $160 million in federal drought aid for California. He'll be joined by a host of Democrats — Governor Jerry Brown, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and the Congressman who represents the district, Jim Costa.
Republicans say they weren't invited.
Congressman Costa says he and others have been "suggesting" to the President that he come see for himself the impact of the drought on farmers and farmworkers. Costa says the White House contacted him last Friday and asked if he’d be willing to host the President, “And I said yes.”
Costa is the only Central Valley Congressman who will be attending the President's announcement. Five Republican Congressmen represent parts of the valley. Devin Nunes of Tulare says he wasn't invited. Hanford Congressman David Valadao, who sponsored the GOP drought legislation that passed the House last week, says he "formally reached out" to the President to request a meeting on the drought. According to his office, Valadao was denied.
GOP Congressman Tom McClintock, one of the strongest voices on water issues, says there wasn't an invite in his inbox the last time he looked. He says he wouldn't necessarily endorse the president's policy on California water, but he'd "never turn down a presidential invitation; they just don’t come that often."
Republican Darrell Issa represents farming areas in northern San Diego County. He complains that he's "never been invited by the President to anything."
Congressman Costa says he doesn't know who was on the Presidential guest list and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
This is an election year. Costa says water "of course" is important to his constituents, where he says the local motto is "where water flows, food grows." Costa won his last election by 10 percentage points and his is a majority Democratic district. He's run on past efforts to bring water to the San Joaquin Valley. The Friday visit also sends a message to voters. "The fact that I'm bringing the President, the Governor, and the United States Senators all in one place to amplify that we can't make it rain, but we can sure try to change the paradigm."
Three weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner also lent a political helping hand to a pair of Central Valley Republicans facing tough re-elections: Valadao and Jeff Denham. The Speaker touted GOP drought legislation at an event in Bakersfield, the district of House Whip Kevin McCarthy. No House Democrats attended.
Included in President Obama's assistance to California:
- $100 million in livestock disaster assistance
- $5 million to help farmers and ranchers implement water conservation practices and reduce wind erosion
- $5 million in emergency money to protect watershed
- $60 million in emergency aid for California food banks
- $3 million in emergency water grants for rural communities facing water shortages (17 communities in 10 California counties say they could run out of water in the next few months)
The President is also promising non-monetary assistance, ordering federal offices to immediately curb water use, including a moratorium on "non-essential" landscaping.