White House officials struggle to answer questions about Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Trump appeared in the Rose Garden on Thursday and announced his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, a pair of White House officials spoke with reporters about the move. They could not provide answers to any of the major questions about the withdrawal, including how Trump came to his decision and whether the president believes in the science behind climate change.

Although Trump had expressed interest in reaching a new agreement that he said would be more favorable to the U.S., the White House representatives provided no information on what that might look like or how the accord could be revised when other countries have said it cannot be renegotiated.

In his Rose Garden speech, Trump framed the move as the fulfillment of his campaign promises and suggested the climate pact unfairly disadvantaged the American economy.

“The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers — so we’re getting out,” Trump said.

The White House officials, who had offered to shed light on the thinking behind the announcement but did not want to be named, were asked which specific elements of the deal would need to change for it to earn Trump’s support. They would not answer beyond saying it should be “better” and “fairer.”

More than 190 countries joined the Paris Agreement after talks in 2015. It is designed to slow the pace of global warming by reducing emissions. Nicaragua and Syria are the only other countries that are not part of the pact.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. is the world’s second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, behind China. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement saying the Paris Agreement “cannot be renegotiated.”

The White House officials were asked why Trump expects other countries would be willing to restart complex negotiations now that the U.S. has pulled out. They would not explain how the renegotiation process might work but expressed confidence it could be successful.

President Trump announces his decision that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

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“If you look at the Europeans and you look at other major economies or allies or partners, they have a strong interest in finding common ground with the United States,” one of the officials said. “And, you know, again, we don’t want to get out ahead of ourselves here with what may be discussed or not. There’s no question that other countries, particularly our allies and partners and other major emitters, are going to want to sit down with us and talk about the potential way forward. I don’t know what that looks like per se, but there’s no question that there’s going to be interest.”

Trump reportedly reached his decision after receiving different opinions from conflicting factions in his administration. His daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner — who are two of Trump’s top advisers — were reportedly in favor of staying in the agreement. The pair was conspicuously absent at the Rose Garden announcement.

The White House officials declined to “get into any specifics” about who pushed Trump to exit the climate pact or when he made a final decision. They simply said the president consulted with people in the White House and the business community. In recent days, CEOs from major companies urged Trump not to withdraw. Asked about this, one of the officials stressed Trump’s promise to enter into a new, renegotiated pact.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that the president is very sincere when he says he wants a better deal. He wants to negotiate, potentially bringing us back into Paris, depending on what that looks like,” the official said.

Although there is a broad consensus in the scientific community that humans are accelerating climate change, Trump has previously expressed skepticism about the phenomenon. In the days leading up to the announcement, Trump ignored questions about whether he now believes in manmade climate change. One of the White House officials similarly dodged when Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum asked if “human activity contributes to climate change.”

“I think that 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 pretty much speaks for itself,” the official said.

The administration officials were repeatedly pressed for a simple yes or no answer but declined to give one.

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