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Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump has privately told multiple people, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave the Paris agreement on climate change, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Publicly, Trump's position is that he has not made up his mind and when we asked the White House about these private comments, Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks said, "I think his tweet was clear. He will make a decision this week."

Why this matters: Pulling out of Paris is the biggest thing Trump could to do unravel Obama's climate policies. It also sends a stark and combative signal to the rest of the world that working with other nations on climate change isn't a priority to the Trump administration. And pulling out threatens to unravel the ambition of the entire deal, given how integral former President Obama was in making it come together in the first place.

Caveat: Although Trump made it clear during the campaign and in multiple conversations before his overseas trip that he favored withdrawal, he has been known to abruptly change his mind — and often floats notions to gauge the reaction of friends and aides. On the trip, he spent many hours with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, powerful advisers who back the deal.

Behind-the-scenes: The mood inside the EPA this week has been one of nervous optimism. In a senior staff meeting earlier this week, Pruitt told aides he wanted them to pump the brakes on publicly lobbying for withdrawal from Paris.

  • Instead, the EPA staff are quietly working with outside supporters to place op eds favoring withdrawal from Paris.
  • The White House has told Pruitt to lay off doing TV appearances until Trump announces his decision on Paris. (In past weeks, the EPA Administrator has gone on TV to say the U.S. needs to quit Paris, but Pruitt told aides he'll be keeping a lower profile. He doesn't want a Paris withdrawal to be seen as his victory. "It needs to be the President's victory," one source said, paraphrasing what Pruitt has told aides.)
  • Pruitt's aides have told associates in recent days that they remain confident the President will withdraw from Paris but they've been worried about him being overseas and exposed to pressure from European leaders and the environmentalist views of his top aides like Ivanka and economic adviser Gary Cohn. Top EPA staff were relieved when Trump refused to join the other six nations of the G7 in reaffirming "strong commitment" to the Paris agreement.

One level deeper: If Trump follows through and announces publicly he plans to withdraw from the Paris deal, an administration official laid out three ways he could do that:

  1. Trump could announce he is pulling the U.S. from the deal, which would trigger a withdrawal process that wouldn't conclude until November 2020 at the earliest. Under the deal's terms, any country can't send notice of its intent to withdraw until three years after the deal entered into force, which was Nov. 4, 2016. The actual process of withdrawal would then take one year. In this time, it's feasible Trump could change his mind, the administration source said.
  2. Trump could declare that the Paris deal is actually a legal treaty that requires Senate approval. Such a vote would fail, and then Trump would have Senate backing to not abide by the deal, which he deems a treaty. A letter that 22 Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent to Trump this week urging him to withdraw from the deal, increases the odds of this happening, the source said. Trump could also call for a Senate vote in combination with either the first or third option.
  3. Trump could withdraw the U.S. from the treaty that underpins the Paris deal, which is called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This would be the most extreme option because it would take the U.S. out of all global climate diplomacy. This process would take just one year.

Will we always have Paris? All of these scenarios take more time and maneuvering than a simple announcement, which ensures the debate about what to do with the climate deal won't be over with any time soon.

Go deeper

Alabama trying to use COVID relief funds to expand prisons

Inside the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., in 2018. Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Alabama state lawmakers are trying to funnel up to $400 million of the state's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for a $1.3 billion plan to build and renovate prisons across the state, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Diverting dollars from the COVID-relief package, passed in March, is prompting criticism over misuse.

2 hours ago - World

Jake Sullivan discussed human rights and Yemen with Saudi crown prince

MBS in 2018. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed efforts to end the war in Yemen, the de-escalation of regional tensions with Iran, and Saudi Arabia's human rights record in their meeting on Monday, a senior U.S. official told Axios.

Why it matters: This was Sullivan's first trip to the Middle East since taking up his post in January, and he was the most senior visitor to the kingdom so far from the Biden administration, which has kept the crown prince at arm's length over his roles in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Top Pentagon officials contradict Biden on Afghanistan advice

Photo: Carolone Brehman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Top military leaders confirmed in a Senate hearing Tuesday they recommended earlier this year that the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and that they believed withdrawing those forces would lead to the collapse of the Afghan military.

Why it matters: Biden denied last month that his top military advisers wanted troops to remain in Afghanistan, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "No one said that to me that I can recall."