Saturday, September 16, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took both sides of the Paris Accord withdrawal question simultaneously.

The Wall Street Journal reported that today, Trump administration officials at a global warming summit in Montreal announced that the United States would not pull out of the Paris Agreement. The WSJ article attributed that position to White House senior advisor Everett Eissenstat. Almost immediately, White House spokesperson Lindsey Walters made this statement: "There has been no change in the United States' position on the Paris agreement. As the President has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country."

But Eissenstat and Walters both appear to be describing something that is, in fact, a very different position than the one Trump held a special Rose Garden ceremony to announce in June. In June, Trump announced the United States' withdrawal unless, possibly, the agreement could be re-negotiated on terms more favorable to the US. Since there are 194 other signatories, that was an obvious nonstarter. Now, however, according to a European delegate to the summit, "The US 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." Such a "review" might involve little more than minor changes to self-imposed targets for emissions reductions, allowing the US to remain a signatory without any substantial change.

Neither Eissenstat's nor Walters's statements explain the reason for change. The only element that has changed much in the last three months is Trump's political fortunes, which were not helped by the withdrawal announcement. Given that Trump has tended to take whatever position on climate change is politically convenient (which has led to him taking almost every possible stance at one point or another), this may be yet another example of Trump being more interested in a splashy announcement than in the actual details (or direction) of his administration's policy.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents are entitled to change their minds, but it's bad if they can't or won't say why.
  • It's bad if a president doesn't realize there's more to governing than Rose Garden ceremonies.