Trump decision on Paris was announced Thursday
Speech signals rising influence of Steve Bannon
President Donald Trump, facing historically low approval ratings, stuck to the script Thursday that won him the White House: Nationalism.
Trump, with the help of former Breitbart head Steve Bannon, won the 2016 election with a nationalist message that swayed disaffected working class voters to the businessman-turned-president. In announcing his plan to withdraw from the sweeping Paris climate agreement, Trump echoed the campaign rhetoric, delivering in the sweltering sun what could have been a campaign stem-winder.
Trump argued Thursday that by pulling out of the agreement, which required countries to curb carbon emissions, he was putting towns like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio, ahead of foreign cities like Paris.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump, standing in the Rose Garden, said to applause from invited guests.
The White House was laser-focused on nationalism and the economy, rather than the impact of global warming. In a background briefing after the announcement, two White House officials dodged questions about whether Trump believes human activity contributes to climate change.
The speech signals a rising status for Bannon, the chief strategist who had recently found himself on the decline inside the White House. Bannon told crowds earlier in Trump’s presidency that Trump’s message during the 2016 campaign was “economic nationalism” – Thursday’s speech was exactly that.
Trump said the Paris accord was an effort by foreign leaders to hamstring the American economy, while those same world leaders laughed at the US in private.
“The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance,” Trump said.
“You see what is happening, it is pretty obvious to those who want to keep an open mind,” he added. “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”
The idea that world leaders are laughing at the United States is a common Trump refrain. Just days ago he tweeted that Russian leaders were “laughing at” the US over investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. And during the campaign he would commonly say different groups of people were laughing at the United States.
“The Persians are great negotiators,” he told CNN in an interview about the Iran nuclear deal on July 2016. “They are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.”
Trump was under pressure during his first foreign trip, with culminated with stops in Brussels and Italy, to stay in the Paris agreement, the climate deal that 195 countries signed onto. Multiple world leaders told reporters that while countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris agreement, the United States made clear they desired to renegotiate the deal.
Thursday’s speech was an evolution on those tense negotiations, with Trump looking to embody his “America first” mantra.
“The Paris agreement handicaps the United States economy in order to win praise from the foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our county’s expense,” Trump said. “They don’t put America first. I do and I always will.”
He later added: “And time to pursue a new deal that protects the environment, our companies, our citizens and our country. It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.”
CNN’s Athena Jones contributed to this report.