Newsom Accuses Trump of ‘Open Corruption’ at Vatican Climate Summit

By: Alex Trent | Published: May 21, 2024

California Governor Gavin Newsom was invited to give a keynote speech at a climate summit hosted by the Vatican last week.

Newsom took advantage of the extra spotlight, going off on his many critics during the ten-minute speech. One section was dedicated to highlighting the corrupting force of oil companies and Donald Trump in “denying science” and overturning climate policies.

Calling Out Oil Companies

In the speech, Governor Newsom repeated one of his favorite lines of attack, where he accused oil companies of deceiving the American public on climate change.

Governor Gavin Newsom, in a dark suit, is captured from behind, gesturing while giving a speech at a podium

Source: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

“And with respect and, forgive me, if this comes off a little too harsh. It’s been said and I’ll repeat it: the polluted heart of the climate crisis are these fossil fuel companies that have been lying to us,” said Newsom. “They’ve been deceiving us. They’ve known the science. They’ve denied the science. They’ve delayed advancement.”


Trump's Corruption

Newsom, a Democrat, would call out Republicans and Trump by name, characterizing Trump’s actions as openly corrupt.

Donald Trump speaks at Cpac in a red tie and an American flag pin.

Source: Vox Espana/Wikimedia

“Former President Donald Trump, who just last week, I never thought I’d see this. I’ve heard it, but I’ve never seen it. Donald Trump, just last week, had oil executives convening, talking about his election. And he openly asked them for $1 billion to roll back the environmental progress of the Biden administration, the environmental progress that we’ve made over the course of the last half century. Open corruption,” Newsom said.

Mar-A-Lago Meeting

Governor Newsom was referring to comments made by Trump at a private dinner meeting at Mar-a-Lago where he hosted top oil executives.

A close up of President Donald Trump's face whith a slight smile.

Source: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia

News outlets, citing anonymous sources from the Washington Post, reported that in April, Trump asked for a $1 billion contribution in exchange for dismantling Joe Biden’s climate policies.

Turning Off Voters

A survey from Data for Progress released on May 20 found that six in ten voters are “concerned” about a Trump second term after hearing the Tump oil meeting news.

A group of people wait to get their chance to vote in 2020.

Source: Bart Everson/Wikimedia

61% of respondents said they would “reconsider” voting for a politician who made an offer like that.

Fundraising War

The reported meeting with oil executives from Trump comes amidst previous struggles for his campaign to fundraise faster than Joe Biden. 

A briefcase filled with $100 bills.

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

While Biden’s campaign held the fundraising lead and still maintains a cash advantage, in April Trump’s campaign announced better numbers for the first time in 2024.


California as a Leader

Newsom used the speech to contrast the actions of oil companies and Trump with those of the state he represents, bragging constantly throughout about California’s economy and environmental achievements.

A California flag flying above a palm tree.

Source: Humberto Portillo/Unsplash

“California has exceeded its nation-leading environmental goals,” Newsom said. “We’re in the ‘how’ business, and it’s about the power of emulation, proving that we can run the fifth-largest economy, its economic engine, as we change the way we produce and consume energy.”


Ecological Sin

The Vatican summit Newsom was invited to was a major effort by Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. Francis had previously deemed the issue of climate change as an “ecological sin.”

Pope Francis gestures to a crowd of people surrounding him.

Source: Ashwin Vaswani/Unsplash

“It is a sin against future generations and is manifested in the acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment,” Francis said in 2019.


Newsom’s Faith

Newsom himself is a Catholic whose beliefs follow “the Spirit of St. Francis” which he says includes being good to others but not necessarily following religious doctrine.

California Governor Gavin Newsom is pictured speaking at a podium with the Seal of the Governor of California. He is dressed in a blue suit and tie, gesturing with his right hand. Flanking him on both sides are the United States flag and the California state flag

Source: CAgovernor/X

Pope Francis praised Newsom for his efforts to halt the death penalty in a May 16 meeting between the two men, and according to Newsom told him, “how proud he was of the work we’re doing in California.”


Political Speakers

Newsom was one of several political speakers who were invited to the Pope’s climate summit. New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey were also among the attendees.

Governor Kathy Hochul at Grand Central-42 St on Saturday, Oct 22, 2022 to announce new initiatives in subway safety and security.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Wikimedia Commons

Each of these governors represents blue states, which is interesting given that US Catholics slightly lean Republican as a whole in the United States.


What Newsom Gets

Political professor David Campbell thought Newsom had much to benefit from positive attention from the Pope.

Governor Gavin Newsom dressed in business attire, interacting with a group of people inside a building

Source: CAgovernor/X

“What [Newsom’s] getting from this is the opportunity to lean into an issue that is popular on the left by associating himself with someone who has widespread appeal and can also help with ensuring that he doesn’t alienate the more religious folks within the Democratic coalition,” Campbell said.


Changing Minds

Campbell is skeptical that even though religion is being used to argue for climate change, it is unlikely to sway many Catholic conservatives on the issue.

A person standing beside many others outside wearing a red backward Make America Great Again hat.

Source: James McNellis/Wikimedia Commons

“Research shows that people increasingly put their politics ahead of their religion,” Campbell said. “But it could lead to small changes here and there, and in American politics, it’s all about the margins.”