WASHINGTON - As wildfires raging through the West force millions of voters to confront the consequences of a warming planet, the presidential race became intensely focused Monday on climate change - an issue that has been overshadowed through much of the campaign.
The realities of communities ablaze, mass evacuations and curtains of thick smoke settling over large, densely populated swaths of the Pacific coast pushed the rival candidates to detour from the battleground states and lay out starkly contrasting visions for reversing the cycle of worsening natural disaster.
Landing in California, where state officials say his unyielding efforts to undermine global action on climate have intensified the crisis, President Donald Trump continued to express skepticism about climate science.
In a briefing with state and federal officials, Gov. Gavin Newsom told Trump: "We feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier."
"Something has happened to the plumbing of the world, and we come from a perspective, humbly, that we assert that the science is in, and the observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real. Please respect the difference of opinion out here with respect to the fundamental issue of climate change," he said.
The president said, "Absolutely."
A few moments later, however, during a presentation by California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, Trump said: "It will start getting cooler, you just watch."
When Crowfoot said that science disagreed, Trump shot back: "I don't think science knows."
The exchange came as Crowfoot emphasized the effect of warming by noting Death Valley has broken a world record with temperatures reaching 130 degrees. Trump raised his eyebrows and smiled, signaling he was impressed but not alarmed.
Just before Trump landed, Democratic nominee Joe Biden denounced Trump as a "climate arsonist" and laid out how different policies would be under a Biden administration.