Biden BOISE

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center on Monday in Boise.

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President Joe Biden came to Boise on Monday for a briefing on wildfires at the National Interagency Fire Center, the first presidential visit to Idaho since then-President Barack Obama visited Boise State University in 2015.

Biden’s visit came just days after he announced plans for sweeping COVID-19 vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans; in vaccine-resistant Idaho, the announcement has drawn opposition including protesters near the site of Monday’s presidential visit and Gov. Brad Little’s announcement Friday that he’s exploring legal action against it. Idaho has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country; it also is experiencing one of the nation’s worst surges of the virus, with north Idaho hospitals operating under Crisis Standards of Care that permit rationing of care amid scare resources.

But it was the wildfire situation, and related climate change issues, that drew Biden to Boise. His trip was part of a western swing that also was scheduled to include stops in Sacramento, Calif.; an aerial tour of the Caldor Fire in the Sierra Nevada mountains; a campaign stop Monday evening with California Gov. Gavin Newson, who faces a recall election on Tuesday; and a stop in Denver on Tuesday to promote his economic agenda.

Biden said climate change is driving the nation's catastrophic wildfires. “It’s not a Democrat thing, it’s not a Republican thing. It’s a weather thing," he declared. "It’s reality. It’s serious.”

He pledged additional federal resources, saying fighting fires is part of national defense.

"We have a commitment at the Department of Defense to defend home as well as abroad, and that includes the fire service," the president said.

Biden arrived in Boise around 11:45 a.m. on Air Force One, flying in to Gowen Field, and held a roundtable briefing with federal and state fire officials and Idaho Gov. Brad Little at NIFC. He departed shortly before 2 p.m.

"It is imperative we keep lines of communication open with our federal partners — right up to the president — on ways to build a more fire resilient range and forest ecosystem," Little said in a statement after the meeting. "There is plenty I disagree with the president on right now, but today we came together to listen to one another and discuss solutions on wildfire."

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Tuesday's edition of the Idaho Press. Also, Idaho Press reporter Carolyn Komatsoulis has a full story here on the protesters who gathered outside the gates of NIFC today to protest the president.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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