‘Climate Change’ a Third-Rail Phrase for Trump

President, top aides mum as U.S. exits Paris Agreement

In his address Thursday, President Donald Trump cited jobs and other countries “laughing at” America among his reasons for pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. But he never said he doesn’t think climate change is real. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
In his address Thursday, President Donald Trump cited jobs and other countries “laughing at” America among his reasons for pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. But he never said he doesn’t think climate change is real. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Posted June 2, 2017 at 8:51am

President Donald Trump uttered nearly 3,000 words Thursday explaining why he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord. But he never spoke the two words the global agreement was designed to combat: climate change.

While candidate Trump dubbed climate change a “hoax” and “bulls—,” senior White House officials are mum about whether President Trump still thinks that. On Friday morning, senior White House aides, including counselor Kellyanne Conway, declined to answer questions about the president’s personal beliefs on climate change during television interviews.

Under a warm late-spring sun Thursday in the White House Rose Garden, Trump cast his decision to leave the global agreement as one about protecting U.S. workers and bolstering national pride — joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only countries not participating. 

“The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production,” Trump said in what conservatives dubbed one of his best speeches since taking office.

[Republican Moderates Jeer Paris Accord Withdrawal]

He said staying in the accord would cost America “as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates.” He said that figure would include 440,000 lost manufacturing jobs.

That would hit the U.S. auto industry hard, and bring “the further decimation of vital American industries on which countless communities rely,” the president said, returning to the populist rhetoric he rode all the way to Oval Office: “They rely for so much, and we would be giving them so little.”

[Washington, California, New York Form Climate Alliance]

Trump also took what appeared to be a jab at European leaders, with whom he clashed at times last week during NATO and G7 summits, as well as at other points during the campaign and his still-young presidency.

“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?” Trump asked, in the spirit of his “America First” philosophy. “We want fair treatment for its citizens, and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be. They won’t be.”

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh,” Trump said to applause from invited guests, “not Paris.”

Climate change

But the president never said he was pulling out of the agreement because he felt climate change is a “hoax,” or as he put it in one 2014 tweet: “bulls—.”

In fact, he never uttered those words during his lengthy remarks Thursday. Nor did Vice President Mike Pence, who introduced Trump. Nor did EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who spoke after Trump.

When a White House official briefed reporters shortly after the Rose Garden announcement, the official declined to acknowledge a reporter’s repeatedly shouted questions about whether Trump believes global warming is a hoax.

And when another reporter pressed the official on whether Trump agrees with many scientists that human activities are driving up global temperatures, the official sidestepped the query.

“The fact that the president in his speech today said that he wants to come back and renegotiate a better deal for the United States and for the world, I think, pretty much speaks for itself,” the official said. “I think that speaks for itself.”

The official added that “I have not talked to the president about his personal views.”

During his remarks, Trump left the door open to negotiating new terms that would bring the U.S. back into the Paris accord or a totally new pact. But, he added, it would be “fine” if neither happened.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer echoed other officials earlier this week when asked about his conversations with the president about climate policy. 

“Honestly, I haven’t asked him,” Spicer said. “I don’t know. I honestly haven’t asked him that specific question.”

[Trump’s ‘Total Authorization’ to Military Gives Some ‘Deep Concerns’]

Though Trump referred to pursuing a “far better deal” in his remarks, the White House official was unable to describe what such a deal would look like. The official, however, did lay down a marker for any coming talks, saying any revised Paris pact or a new one could not place “burdens” on the United States that it also did not place on other signatory nations.

What’s next?

The European Union and China on Thursday — before Trump spoke — announced that they will abide by the Paris accord’s terms, leaving the United States to essentially go it alone on climate policy.

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Asked whether the administration expects new climate talks with other countries, the White House official told reporters there is “no question” that other countries — especially America’s longtime allies — will want to discuss what’s next on climate policy.

And though a list of American CEOs backed staying in the Paris Agreement, White House officials rejected their public remarks. Those comments from industry leaders in favor of remaining in the Paris climate pact with different emissions standards for the United States were interpreted inside the administration as the CEOs actually opposing the Obama administration-negotiated levels, the official said.

As press aides began to wrap up the background briefing, Yahoo News’ Hunter Walker yelled several questions at the official, asking about Trump’s personal views on climate change. Walker pointed out that those beliefs are at “the heart” of his decision.

The official looked his way, then exited the briefing room without answering.