Trump threatens to punish San Francisco over its homelessness problem

President Donald Trump on Wednesday escalated his political fight with California by threatening to have the Environmental Protection Agency pursue action against San Francisco for its homelessness problem.

“It’s a terrible situation that’s in Los Angeles and in San Francisco,” Trump said of homelessness to reporters aboard Air Force One, according to a pool report. “And we’re going to be giving San Francisco — they’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.”

“EPA is going to be putting out a notice,” he added. “They’re in serious violation.”

He said pollution was flowing into the ocean because of waste in storm sewers, specifically citing used needles, though he did not provide details or evidence, and it’s unclear on what grounds the city would be in violation of EPA regulations.

Asked by a reporter on Thursday about Trump’s comments, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he had staff looking into the issue as recently as last week and that the agency is “taking a look at whether or not permits have been in violation.”

Responding to a question about what jurisdiction the EPA would have on homelessness, Wheeler said, “Our jurisdiction is more on the water side and impact on wastewater. I had a couple of staff over in southern California last week take a look at some of the issues and problems, not just in San Francisco.”

Trump’s remarks, made as he returned to Washington from a two-day fundraising swing through the Golden State, represent his latest effort to utilize the power of the federal bureaucracy in clashes with state and local governments led by Democrats. Earlier Wednesday, the President directed the EPA to revoke the state’s waiver with the agency, which allowed it to set more stringent vehicle emissions standards than those set at the federal level.

Responding to Trump’s threat, San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed on Thursday defended the city’s efforts to combat homelessness in a series of tweets.

“If the President wants to talk about homelessness, we are committed to working on actual solutions, like adding 1,000 new shelter beds by next year and working to pass a $600 million affordable housing bond to create more badly needed housing,” tweeted Breed, a Democrat, who also called on the federal government to “offer support on solutions that help people exit homelessness.”

This story has been updated to reflect new comments from Wheeler.

CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Rene Marsh, Fredreka Schouten, Maeve Reston and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.