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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.