As California burns, the right fumes over Boxer

But what did the state's senator actually say?

Published October 24, 2007 1:57PM (EDT)

When you get an e-mail that expresses outrage over somebody's comments but doesn't actually quote the comments, it's a pretty safe bet that the comments weren't all that outrageous.

So it was with a little skepticism that we read an e-mail we received Tuesday night from the pro-war group Move America Forward. "Shame on you, Barbara Boxer!" the message begins. It goes on to accuse Sen. Boxer of playing "petty and pathetic political games" by taking "a political shot at the missions and abilities of our troops" in the context of the fires now burning in California.

Gateway Pundit picks up on the Move America Forward attack and does it one better, claiming that Boxer made "outrageous and false comments on the Senate floor about the war in Iraq and the fires in California."

OK, so what did Boxer actually say? Move America Forward seems to be referring to remarks Boxer made Tuesday during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on climate change. We're still watching the video of that hearing, but here's what we've seen so far:

Missouri Sen. Kit Bond -- a Republican -- says that his state will do whatever it can to help California fight the fires. Boxer responds by thanking him and explaining the problem.

Boxer: Thank you so much for your offer of help. It is so important right now for California. So I know we have differences on climate change, but there's no difference in helping each other when our states are in trouble. Right now, we are down 50 percent in terms of our National Guard equipment because they're all in Iraq, the equipment, half of the equipment. So we really do need help. I think all of our states are down in terms of equipment.

Bond: Sen. Leahy and I on the National Guard caucus will welcome your help because the Guard has traditionally been underfunded, when Iraq started, when Katrina hit --

Boxer: You're right.

Bond: ... The Guard had only one-third of the equipment it needs. This is a battle we fight with the Pentagon, and our colleagues have been most helpful.

Boxer: That's another area where we can work together, and I think it's good for people to see it. I joined your caucus several months ago, and I'm really ready to go because I have a letter that states, from the Pentagon itself, that if there's a real catastrophe, such as the one we're having now, we're really in some kind of trouble. So thank you very much for that.

A few things worth noting here. First, we didn't see anything in the Move America Forward release attacking Kit Bond. Second, the exchange between Bond and Boxer -- on the fire issue, at least -- could not have been calmer or more cordial. Third, Boxer is right about that letter she got from the Pentagon.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates dated May 24, 2007, Boxer noted a recent press report that said that "state military officials" were worried that National Guard equipment shortages caused by the Iraq war would mean that they would be "slow in providing help in the event of a major fire, earthquake or terrorist attack." Boxer asked Gates to certify that the California National Guard was at a "full state of readiness" to respond to domestic emergencies -- "and specifically" to "fires."

On July 13, 2007, then Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren responded on behalf of Gates. He said that while California's National Guard has "adequate capability to respond to small and medium domestic missions ... equipment shortages could potentially limit their capability to respond to large-scale emergencies such as a catastrophic earthquake or major flood."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Barbara Boxer D-calif.