THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump has reversed himself on a lot of campaign promises lately, and some have rushed to credit him with learning on the job. While one hopes he is capable of this, his reversals also reflect the less admirable factor that his original campaign agenda was mostly fraudulent — and is now colliding violently with reality.
One excellent illustration of this is Trump’s vow to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal. And that’s why it’s good news that Trump is now seriously considering remaining in the accord, now that some of his most senior advisers are apprising him of the folly of withdrawing from it.
The Associated Press and the New York Times report that Trump’s top advisers will huddle Tuesday to decide what to recommend to the president about the United States’ path forward. The Times notes that there is a divide among them that breaks down this way:
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump vowed to “cancel” the climate deal, and his most politically conservative advisers, including his senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, have pushed him to follow through. But Mr. Bannon’s influence has waned in recent weeks, while authority has risen for Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who advocate staying in the accord.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has also spoken in favor of “keeping a seat at the table” in the climate pact, and in recent days, major corporations have stepped forward to embrace that position.
With Kushner and Ivanka Trump on the ascendant, even as the Bannon wing loses clout, the Times notes that “the side pressing the president to remain in the deal enters the pivotal meeting with the upper hand.”
If they prevail, it could have important long-term consequences for the battle against climate change. It is true that Trump is already making it a lot harder for us to meet our commitments as part of the deal, by moving to reverse former president Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sets goals for states to reduce carbon emissions and is key to whether we hit our reduction targets.
But for various reasons, unwinding that plan could prove hard to do and could take a long time. What’s more, even if Trump does make headway on that front, there may still be merits to remaining in the Paris deal even if we fall short of our pledges.
“Staying in the Paris accord signals to the world that the long-term policy of the United States is to control greenhouse gases,” Richard Revesz, an environmental law expert who wrote a useful book about the climate wars, told me this morning. “The U.S. gets large benefits from the greenhouse gas reductions occurring outside our borders, and the actions of the U.S. are likely to have an impact on the actions of other countries. Withdrawing from it is likely to lead some other countries to relax their own commitments, to the detriment of the United States.”
Remaining in the deal would signal that the United States may well continue to play a leadership role in sustaining international efforts to battle global warming — even if it has to wait until after the current president leaves office. “By staying in, the United States would have a seat at the table from which the [next] administration could communicate right away the new commitment of the United States, and then begin taking domestic actions to meet this commitment,” Revesz says.
Of course, there are other actions the United States could take — short of pulling out entirely — that could be damaging. One alternative being weighed would keep the U.S. in the accord while replacing our current commitment — reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below the 2005 level by 2025 — with far less ambitious goals.
Still, it’s telling that Tillerson wants to remain in the deal, because that represents a recognition that reneging on this particular international commitment could have detrimental diplomatic consequences. “Imagine trying to get other leaders’ cooperation on the next international crisis, or any Trump priority, after you stuck a finger in everyone’s eye,” David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me.
In this sense, staying in the Paris accord could deal another blow to the Bannon wing’s “economic nationalist” project. This holds that international engagement is primarily a cause for deep suspicion — it’s a threat to American sovereignty that serves only the interests of allied cosmopolitan international elites who enrich themselves while disdaining and disenfranchising local working peoples. There is little room in this vision for the idea that constructive global engagement can, if done properly, serve America’s long-term interests, as part of a system of mutually advantageous compromises. While our approach to trade should be improved on behalf of American workers, the Bannonite vision is mostly simplistic demagoguery. Plenty of things are objectionable in the worldview of the “globalists” inside the White House, but staying in the Paris deal is not one of them — and represents one way in which they are right and the Bannon wing is wrong. It would reaffirm a reality-based view of the merits of international cooperation and diplomacy.
One last nuance is worth appreciating. It is often stipulated that Trump’s recent reversals show he is abandoning Bannonite economic nationalism (never mind that Trump is retaining the nativism and xenophobia) and embracing orthodox conservative governance. But most conventional Republicans disdain climate change regulations, and many are climate change skeptics or outright deniers. Remember, pretty much all the other GOP presidential candidates fit this mold. And so, if the administration does remain in the Paris accord, it would represent a partial victory over some of the worst elements of both Trumpism and GOP orthodoxy.
* TAX REFORM IS ON VERGE OF DEATH: The New York Times reports that Trump’s dream of a sweeping overhaul of the tax code may not survive, due to internal disagreements among Republicans, and crucially, Trump’s failure to release his tax returns:
A growing roster of more than a dozen Republican lawmakers now say Mr. Trump should release them … The Trump administration’s tax plan, promised in February, has yet to materialize; a House Republican plan has bogged down, taking as much fire from conservatives as liberals … lawmakers do not want to pass an overhaul of the tax code that unwittingly enriches the commander in chief and his progeny.
As ethics expert Norm Eisen predicted to this blog, if Trump wants tax reform — and he really needs a big accomplishment — he may have to make serious concessions on transparency.
* WHITE HOUSE WILL CLOSELY WATCH TODAY’S GEORGIA ELECTION: Axios reports that the White House is taking a keen interest in today’s special election in Georgia, in which Democrat Jon Ossoff is likely to win easily but may not reach 50 percent to avoid a runoff:
Why Trump cares: Whether he likes it or not, the media will portray this election as an early verdict on his presidency. The year’s first special election, in Kansas’ usually reliable deep-red 4th district, was way closer than it should’ve been. A loss in Georgia would further weaken Trump and make his legislative agenda — which relies on him holding his popularity like a knife over recalcitrant Republicans — a fair bit tougher.
And as we’ve seen, Trump’s “popularity” already has totally cowed congressional Republicans into doing his bidding. (Not. And today could make it worse.)
* WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN GEORGIA: Nate Cohn notes that turnout will be very unpredictable, as this is a special election, but the early voting turnout should boost Democrats’ confidence more generally:
Democratic turnout [in the early voting] was impressive by any measure. It’s much higher than it was in the early voting in the 2014 midterm election. … Even if Mr. Ossoff falls short, a strong showing — over 45 percent of the vote — would suggest that he would be very competitive in the June runoff.
As Cohn notes, polls suggest Ossoff will fall short of 50 percent to avoid a runoff, but the possibility that Ossoff could win outright can’t be ruled out, given how hard it is to poll special elections.
* WHAT DEMOCRATS HOPE FOR IN GEORGIA: David Drucker gets the readout from Democratic operatives monitoring the race:
Democratic insiders will be watching how close Ossoff gets to 50 percent. Privately, they concede he is headed to a runoff. But operatives say that in a district where the Democrat typically ends up in the 30s, they’ll be satisfied with anything north of 40 percent, hopeful that it will position Ossoff to compete in the runoff.
The Republican (Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price) won here by nearly 24 points in 2016, but Trump won it by only 1.5 points, so the question is whether Trump’s awful performance puts it within Democrats’ reach.
* TRUMP TRIES TO JUICE TURNOUT IN GEORGIA RACE: Good morning, Mr. President:
Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
This pretty much ensures that Tuesday’s results will be widely read as a referendum on Trump’s tenure thus far. (In my view, we should avoid overinterpreting the outcome, no matter what happens.)
* AND IVANKA’S BUSINESS PROSPERS AMID WHITE HOUSE ROLE: The Associated Press reports:
On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
The scenario underscores how difficult it is for Trump, who has tried to distance herself from the brand that bears her name, to separate business from politics in her new position at the White House.
This implies she wants to “separate business from politics.” Does the conduct of the Trump family suggest thus far that this is what they want?