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Photo via "Axios on HBO"

I'm not surprised that Bill Gates remains optimistic that we can avoid ecological disaster despite little progress toward reducing carbon emissions. But I am a bit surprised he won't take a tougher public line against President Trump.

Driving the news: Gates has met several times with Trump, most recently in March. And while he has yet to get concrete positive action from the president on climate or other issues close to his heart, he refuses to talk critically about the president. Pressed several times on the matter in an "Axios on HBO" interview, he briefly acknowledged areas where the executive branch hadn't taken action before quickly shifting to point out others who have acted — including Congress, business leaders and other countries.

Why it matters: In his post-Microsoft life, Gates has emerged as one of the world's biggest philanthropists, focusing on global health and other issues. Many of those benefitting from Gates Foundation investments are also those feeling the impact of climate change most severely. Gates has also been an investor in a number of energy projects, including Terrapower, a small-scale nuclear energy startup.

Between the lines: Gates isn't alone among tech leaders. While some are clearly outspoken critics, others have preferred to either pick their battles or otherwise work with Trump even as they oppose his positions.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook also continues to meet with Trump, even as he opposes a number of the president's policies, including his positions on environmental issues, immigration and LGBTQ issues.
  • In addition to being an eternal optimist, Gates is also highly pragmatic. Evidently he has concluded there just isn't enough to gain by publicly criticizing the president.
  • My thought bubble: While tech CEOs have to consider their fiduciary duty to shareholders in weighing how much to confront Trump, Gates is freer to take a tougher line if he chooses. Trump seems to crave approval and playing hard to get might be an effective tactic.

The big picture: Gates did talk about the challenges that make this a tough issue, broadly speaking, on which to summon political will.

  • "It's not an easy problem to engage people in because the effects come just gradually," Gates told Amy Harder and me in the interview. Plus, he says, the problem is complicated. People tend to focus on transportation and clean energy, but that's only a small piece of a much larger problem. (Amy Harder has more on this in her column.)

The bottom line: Gates said there is a fundamental unfairness in the impacts of climate change.

  • The rich will be disappointed on vacations: "Our visits to coral reefs won't be as nice as they've been in the past."
  • But the poorest will starve: "The people who didn't do the emissions are the ones who will will suffer the most," Gates said.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

“You blew it”: GOP activist turns on corporations over vaccine mandates

The chairman of the American Conservative Union said on "Axios on HBO" he accepts "Joe Biden is my president, and I want him to succeed," but predicted Republicans retake the House and Senate in 2022 — with greater than 50% odds Donald Trump runs in 2024.

The big picture: In a joint interview with his wife, Mercedes, Matt Schlapp also refused to share their vaccination status. And he told corporate America "you blew it" by embracing vaccine mandates and liberal social stances that have alienated GOP voters and politicians.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Pelosi expects “billionaire’s tax” to pay for Biden social spending

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday she expects the chamber to pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan by week’s end, and alternatives to corporate tax hikes and a “billionaires tax” will be used to finance President Biden’s promised expansion to the social safety net.

Why it matters: Pelosi’s comments come as House and Senate leaders try to wrap up a deal. What will get cut — and how the remainder will be paid — are linchpins to a final agreement.