A final decision is not expected to come from Thursday's session
Trump's final decision will come to symbolize his aides' influence -- or lack thereof
President Donald Trump’s top advisers plan to meet on Thursday to discuss withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, a point of contention in the West Wing that Trump has vowed to resolve by the end of next month.
A final decision is not expected to come from Thursday’s session, which Trump himself is not expected to attend. But the arguments for and against pulling out of the landmark carbon reduction deal have now been aired publicly, and Trump’s final decision will come to symbolize his aides’ influence – or lack thereof – in the early days of his administration.
Trump’s advisers are set to hold a “robust discussion” on withdrawal from the agreement, a person close to the White House said, following in-house analytical work by the National Economic and Domestic Policy Councils.
The person characterized the debate as going beyond merely a policy dispute over the deal’s carbon reduction targets. Instead, aides are weighing the repercussions of removing the US from a pact that almost every country in the world signed onto in 2015.
“To some people, Paris is more than just an environmental deal,” a person familiar with the talks said. “I don’t want to say heated, but it’s been a passionate discussion.”
“The Paris accord is quite complicated,” this person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “When the United States is in something, you’ve got to be very thoughtful and reflective about how you do it. There are so many moving pieces to Paris.”
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to “cancel” to deal, which was negotiated under President Barack Obama. Almost 200 countries signed on, and most – including the United States – have ratified their commitments to reduce carbon levels over the next decade.
Since winning the election, however, Trump has offered less certain views of the Paris accord. He told The New York Times in an interview in November that he had an “open mind” and planned to look at the agreement carefully.
Upon taking office, the President ordered his team – including chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Reince Priebus and several other advisers and Cabinet officials – to hash out their disagreements on the Paris deal and present a decision.
“The President has been adamant from Day 1,” the person familiar with the talks said. “He wanted to leave the Paris accord. He thought it was another bad deal for the United States. The whole point of this process is to make sure that he had the analytical work done. That he had a range of options.”
As they prepare to advise Trump on his decision, advisers and Cabinet secretaries have staked out different viewpoints. Bannon has encouraged Trump to follow through on his campaign trail promises to remove the US from the plan. He’s supported by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who told “Fox & Friends” earlier this month that he would advise the President to exit the pact.
But opposing voices, including those of Kushner and his wife, senior adviser Ivanka Trump, have grown more influential in shaping Trump’s decisions in recent weeks.
Top Cabinet officials have also spoken against removing the US from the deal, citing the negative effect such a move would have on US diplomatic relationships and global standing.
“I’m not going to tell the President of the United States let’s just walk away from the Paris accord. But what I’m going to say is I think we probably need to renegotiate it, and they need to get serious about,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry – who is expected to participate in Thursday’s session – said at a Bloomberg event in New York this week.
He’s supported by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who argued during his confirmation hearings the deal gives the United States an important seat at the table in international negotiations, and that withdrawing now could erode faith in US leadership, particularly with China and key allies in Europe.
“There are a wide-range of thoughts about that. What you’re reading in the press, quite frankly, is pretty accurate,” the person familiar with the talks acknowledged.
The meeting of advisers was originally scheduled for last week, but aides decided to change the date so all of Trump’s top aides could attend.
No matter what they eventually decide, Trump has already taken steps to undermine the agreement. He ordered his administration to begin dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which undergirded the US commitments toward carbon reduction that were included in the Paris accord.
If Trump does decide to remain a part of the agreement, it’s not clear how the US would continue to uphold the promises Obama made when signing onto the plan. Obama said the US would reduce carbon pollution by 26% from 2005 levels in a decade.
Obama’s plan would have closed coal-fired power plants, which are responsible for much of the United States’ carbon emissions. Trump, however, ran as a champion of the coal industry, and says his policies will bring back lost coal jobs.
Officials said Wednesday they weren’t sure when Trump would make his final decision on Paris, though his spokesman Sean Spicer said earlier this month that an announcement would be made by the start of the Group of 7 summit at the end of May.
“The Paris thing is a process,” the person familiar with the talks said. “(Thursday’s meeting) is not going to be solutions. It’s going to be another step in the process.”