Scott Pruitt is the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Six days ago, with his strong approval, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate accords – making America one of only three countries, along with Nicaragua and Syria, to do so.
Given that context, you might think that Pruitt and Trump might have discussed the president’s views on climate change – since the Paris accords are entirely focused on reducing carbon emissions to slow the heating of the planet.
Pruitt’s appearance Tuesday morning on “Morning Joe” was a master class in evading a direct question that begs for a “yes” or “no” answer. Here’s Pruitt’s extended exchange with Willie Geist, Joe Scarborough and Steve Rattner on the subject (and kudos to CNN’s David Wright for transcribing it):
Morning Joe: You said just a couple of days ago, and repeated again you haven’t had a chance to talk to the president of the United States about whether or not he believes climate change is real or whether or not humans have impacted it. Have you had a chance to talk to him about that?
PRUITT: No, what I’ve talked about is – our focus the last several weeks has been on the merits and demerits of the Paris deal.
MJ: Right but have you talked to the president about –
PRUITT: I have not talked to the president of late –
MJ: In your conversations you’ve never talked to him about whether climate change is real and if it’s impacted by humans?
PRUITT: The focus of our discussions was and has been on the merits and demerits of the Paris accord. And the reason for that is, look, he took input from a variety of his cabinet, very informed, thoughtful approach. It took weeks of evaluating this. And he put America first with respect to this decision.
MJ: And climate change never came up in those meetings? Climate change never came up in those meetings?
PRUITT: I want to say this to you. He also emphasized in his speech Thursday the importance of engagement. That’s what’s being missed in this. The president did not exit Paris. He exited Paris because it’s a bad deal.
MJ: So the conversation about Paris, which at its core it’s about climate change and the world’s impact, human impact on it, you never raised that with President Trump in a meeting?
PRUITT: The focus of the discussion was on the merits and demerits of what Paris sought to achieve. What’s interesting about the whole discussion, when you look at what was achieved.
By Wright’s count, Pruitt was asked whether Trump believed in climate change 10 times(!) in the interview. Eventually the EPA administrator allowed: “The president said the climate is changing.”
That’s very similar to what UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told CBS over the weekend. “The president believes the climate is changing, and he does know that pollutants are a part of that equation,” she said.
The problem is that it’s not entirely clear that Trump, you know, believes that. This deep dive by PolitiFact into the various things Trump has said about global warming and climate change reveals that he has long been a skeptic of the idea. In fact, his most recent tweet on the subject before running for president in 2016 was this one from January 2014: “Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air - not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.”
Even on the presidential campaign trail, Trump was very suspicious of the idea of climate change – particularly with any sort of man-made roots. “I’m a huge believer in clean air,” Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper shortly after he announced his presidential bid. “I’m not a huge believer in the global warming phenomena.”
Pruitt, then, really doesn’t want to answer questions about Trump’s views on global warming for one of two reasons – and maybe both:
1. He doesn’t actually know Trump’s position on global warming.
2. He doesn’t want to make Trump mad by saying anything too declarative about the president’s views on warming.
Which, given what we know of how much TV Trump consumes and how little he likes those who work for him making news, is probably a smart way for Pruitt to keep his job.
But man oh man does it make for awkward interviews.