Key White House officials are denying any change in President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, but supporters of Trump’s position are increasingly concerned by the growing number of treaty supporters in the president’s inner circle and by he unwillingness to kill the treaty once and for all.
Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal quoted European Union’s Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Canete as suggesting Trump may be mulling a change in policy.
“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” said Canete, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Trump administration immediately sought to pour cold water on the report.
“Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
On Fox News Sunday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called the speculation a “false report.”
“The president decided to pull out of the Paris accord because it was a bad deal for the American people and a bad deal for the environment,” said McMaster.
Trump’s top economic adviser also joined the chorus.
“Per the White House statement on Saturday and consistent with the president’s announcement in June, we are withdrawing from the Paris Agreement unless we can re-engage on terms more favorable to the United States,” said Cohn.
But that statement actually raises more questions than it answers for those concerned about Trump sticking with his decision to withdraw from the treaty.
“The position itself is inherently ambiguous. What President Trump announced June 1 in the Rose Garden was that he was going to withdraw in November 2019, taking effect the year after that, unless he found better terms. They have yet to define what those better terms are,” said Christopher C. Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who served on Trump’s transition landing team at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Horner says the debate within the White House before Trump’s announcement in June was a battle royale and he says it still hasn’t stopped.
“The struggle that led up to the June 1 announcement and was particularly acute in May among administration staff, not just Obama administration holdovers and not just career resistance types at the State Department, but some Trump appointees at the White House in the National Security Council and elsewhere, who are fighting to reverse this,” said Horner.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has consistently advocated for staying in the treaty. On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, Tillerson said remaining in the deal is still possible.
“The president said he is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue,” Tillerson said.
Horner says Tillerson’s position is not surprising because the State Department bureaucrats are licking their chops to implement this agreement.
“This is the biggest boon for the State Department, possibly ever. You’re talking about the creation of an enormous climate diplomatic corps,” said Horner. “They think, oddly enough, when you rob Peter to pay Paul, Paul thinks it’s a great idea.”
“The politicos they’ve brought on board are not the ones you’d want if you wanted to keep the president’s promise,” said Horner.
Horner says the issue is simple. On Trump’s present course, the debate could rage for another two years.
“The struggle continues. Until President Trump sends that letter on November 5, 2019, this fight goes on,” said Horner.
Trump’s decision to exit the treaty via letter in 2019 is what aggravates Horner most, pushing fiercely for Trump to declare the agreement a treaty and force the Senate to vote on and likely kill the agreement.
He says by taking unilateral executive action, Trump’s decision is only good for the remainder of his presidency.
“If he wants a durable withdrawal, meaning something that President Warren cannot turn the key on on January 20, 2021, you’re going to have to have the Senate vote,” said Horner.
Horner sees multiple options by which Trump can bring an end to the issue, whether by submitting the treaty to the Senate now or renegotiating the plan and then submitting the amended plan for a vote that would still likely fail, since ratification requires two-thirds of senators to approve.
But Horner says one reason Trump may not be taking that action is because the Senate doesn’t want to touch it.
“So far the Senate has not stirred. In fact, to my understanding, the Senate told President Trump they don’t want him to involve them,” said Horner.
The treaty is non-binding, leaving many to wonder why Horner and others are wringing their hands over a possible Trump reversal or his allowing his successor to rejoin the agreement. Horner points out the deal tightens the screws on emissions every five years, so the longer we’re attached to the deal the more pressure we’ll be under to comply.
Already, he says the Germans are desperately trying to keep the U.S. in the fold.
“We have obtained records from the State Department, a cable, saying the Germans are worried that if the rest of the world doesn’t do this to themselves too they will lose billions,” said Horner.
“In other words, ‘It’s not fair that we did this to ourselves. You’re mean if you don’t do it to yourself too,'” said Horner.
Horner also explained that the real strategy is for the climate change movement to enforce the plan – both at home and abroad – is to use the courts to their advantage.
“The United Nations, just before the president made his announcement, issued a report about how activists could use the Paris treaty to really put the screws to signatories who are claiming it’s not binding,” said Horner.
“The pointed to a decision out of the Hague that’s fairly recent, in which the court said, ‘I know you’ve got your agreement and you’ve got your number here and you’ve also got decades of saying I’m so awful. I’m so responsible, I’m so obligated,'” said Horner.
Horner says the court at the Hague assigned an even more aggressive plan for reducing carbon emissions and liberal activists in the U.S. are already trying to get federal judges in the Ninth Circuit to enforce the treaty and make the terms even more burdensome.
“So you can say non-binding, but the people behind this know what they’re up to and they know who occupies our judicial benches here,” said Horner.
Not only does Horner warn that failing to get the Senate to vote on the treaty allows the next president to reverse Trump’s decision, but he says keeping the Senate out of the fray will permanently damage the separation of powers.
“This is simply a beginning point for the courts. That’s a key reason why it’s so dangerous. The other is, of course, that you have outsourced policy making to this body instead of to our Senate as our Constitution dictates. You’ve gutted the treaty power, probably forever, if you just shrug at this usurpation of the Senate’s treaty role,” said Horner.