The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is about to do something terrible and destructive. The GOP must own the consequences.

(Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg News)
Placeholder while article actions load


At 3 p.m. today, President Trump is set to announce his decision on whether he intends to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. Most of the reporting suggests that he will go through with it.

But if so, the story does not end there — far from it. There will likely be a window of several years before our withdrawal takes effect — and paradoxically, some of the consequences of our pending exit from this 195-country accord could begin to take hold in the interim. Which means it is not totally outlandish to imagine that, if the blowback is severe enough, Trump could come under great pressure to reverse his decision. He almost certainly won’t, but at a minimum, those who care about the Paris deal — and international engagement more generally — can do everything possible to clarify those consequences to the public and ensure that Trump and Republicans own them.

As CNN reports this morning, the deal stipulates that countries can’t withdraw until three years after the deal took hold, plus a one-year notice period, which means even if Trump pulls us out, that won’t take effect until late in 2020. It’s possible that Trump could pull us out in only one year, by withdrawing the United State from the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty to combat global warming that provides the Paris deal’s underpinnings. But that would be a truly drastic step — it was signed by former Republican president George H.W. Bush and overwhelmingly ratified by both parties in the Senate. So it’s likely several years will pass before our exit is formal.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

The projected consequences have already been spelled out by many others. Beyond whether Trump succeeds in unwinding our climate policies, making it harder for us to meet our commitments to the deal, the withdrawal will send a signal to the world that the United States does not see global warming as a long-term challenge and no longer has any intention to lead on it. It could squander the position from which we can monitor global progress in combating that challenge. It could weaken other countries’ commitment to the deal. Though early signs are that Europe and China remain committed, it’s possible that developing countries could be less likely to act. All that would be bad for the planet. Last I checked, the United States remains firmly grafted to that aforementioned planet.

President Trump has decided to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. Here's what you need to know. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

As Eric Roston argues, pulling out could send a discouraging signal to domestic energy innovators and undermine the United States’ economic future. Roston notes that clean energy “may become the greatest opportunity for wealth creation of the 21st century,” and a “climate-renegade U.S. will only empower and encourage China, Europe, India, and virtually everyone else to focus on these increasingly profitable technologies and markets.” Pulling out could undermine our alliances and the prospects for cooperation on multiple other fronts.

It is perfectly plausible that there could be serious diplomatic consequences and scalding criticism from the business community. Leading companies are making a final pitch to Trump to remain, arguing that pulling out could harm the economy and weaken the United States’ global standing. David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, suggested a scenario along these lines in an email to me:

Trump is underestimating the political and diplomatic blowback if he withdraws from Paris. The business community is against withdrawal. A majority of Americans are against withdrawal. If Trump sticks his finger in every other foreign leaders’ eye on Paris, who will lift a finger for him when he wants something from them? On top of the recent trip, Trump will have squandered more U.S. influence and power in two weeks than any other president. A Paris withdrawal wouldn’t take effect for years, so there’d be time for the next president to reverse it. Who knows, even Trump could see the magnitude of his mistake and call off the exit.

This raises an important point: If we do see these consequences, they should be tattooed on Republicans. Because, broadly speaking, what we’re seeing now isn’t just Trump’s doing. It’s also the doing of the GOP. While Trump has been most visibly crazy in his assertions that climate change is a hoax, many Republicans have spent years doing a careful little dance in which they avoided fully conceding the anthropogenic global warming threat in the least-crazy-seeming way possible, by claiming, for instance, that “I’m not a scientist,” so you know, who knows whether it’s something to seriously worry about? It has been forgotten, but in 2015, Mitch McConnell launched a crafty plan to get GOP governors to challenge Obama’s climate policies for the explicit purpose of making it harder for the United States to meet its commitments to the Paris deal, thus discouraging other countries from participating.

During last year’s GOP presidential primaries, the GOP candidates kept up the attacks on any and all Obama actions on climate (the GOP posture was to kinda sorta admit climate change is real, while opposing just about any government action to combat it). Meanwhile, many of them carefully avoided weighing in on the Paris deal, and I can’t recall them disagreeing with Trump’s vow to shred it with his strong and manly hands. So isn’t it fair to argue that this outcome is pretty much what Republicans implicitly endorsed all along?

Only a handful of Republican senators — such as Bob Corker, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham — have called on Trump to remain in the accord. Yet even Corker — who is seen as a serious GOP foreign policy thinker — has endorsed Trump’s trip abroad, during which he dramatically undermined NATO, revealing a weird reluctance to admit the obvious about the destructiveness of Trump’s “America First” vision and agenda. If we do see serious diplomatic consequences emanating from Trump’s withdrawal from Paris, you’d think such Republicans — and here’s an insane idea, perhaps a few more — would raise their voices and condemn the decision, or even call on him to reconsider. If not, Republicans should own the consequences, and own them they must.

* EUROPEANS RAGE AT TRUMP OVER PARIS DEAL: Trump will announce his decision on the Paris climate accord today, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is angry that Trump doesn’t understand that pulling out is legally and logistically hard:

“This notion — ‘I am Trump. I am American. America first, so I’m going to get out of it.’ — that is not going to happen,” Mr. Juncker said. “We tried to make that clear to Mr. Trump in clear, German principal clauses in Taormina, but it would appear that he did not understand.” He added, “Not everything in international agreements is fake news.”

My worry is that any criticism from these Euro-weenies will only stiffen Trump’s resolve to pull out of the deal.

* HOW TRUMP CAN PULL OUT OF PARIS DEAL: CNN reports that pulling out of the deal in the conventional way would take three years. But he can also withdraw the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provides the Paris deal’s underpinnings:

Any country that leaves the UNFCCC “shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement,” according to Article 28 of the Paris Agreement. The US could leave the UNFCCC with one year’s notice, which gets it out of the Paris Agreement without having to wait until November 2020.

And that would allow Trump to boast that he tore up that big bad deal with Obama’s name on it a lot quicker, too!

* WILL TRUMP INVOKE EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE? The New York Times suggests Trump could try to invoke executive privilege — in which presidents insist their conversations remain secret — to limit James Comey’s testimony about any private efforts to block the Russia probe:

Courts have recognized a president’s constitutional right to keep his discussions a secret in most instances. A White House spokeswoman had no comment on whether Mr. Trump planned to try to block Mr. Comey’s testimony.

As one expert points out, Trump has made this a lot harder to do politically by publicly discussing his conversations with Comey. But you can’t rule out this possibility.

* IS TRUMP ‘REWARDING’ RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE? The Post reports that the Trump administration is mulling returning two diplomatic compounds to Russia that his predecessor took in retaliation for sabotage of our election. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) responds:

The administration had initially said this would induce Russia to lift its freeze on construction of a U.S. consulate, but dropped that argument. So Schiff’s question stands.

* A TIMELINE OF TRUMP’S EVASIONS ABOUT RUSSIA: Michelle Ye Hee Lee has a comprehensive timeline of all the instances of Trump claiming reports of ties to Russia were invented by Democrats:

Trump says the latest reports of ties between his staff and Russians are the Democrats’ attempt to undermine his presidency. But a look at his comments over the past year shows Trump used the same explanation for every new development in stories involving Russia, the election and his staff.

Maybe if Trump keeps shouting that all these stories are the fault of Democrats and the “fake news” media, he can make the special counsel’s probe disappear. In the minds of his supporters, anyway.

* THE TRUMP TWEET OF THE DAY, LOOK-OVER-THERE EDITION: Good morning, Mr. President. Thinking about the Russia probe again, are we?

Actually, the special counsel will decide what the “big story” is, but thanks for the suggestion.

* AND A TOP TRUMP AIDE RIPS CBO: In an interview with the Washington Examiner, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney claims the CBO score of the GOP health-care bill is suspect, because a former Clinton administration person is a senior health analyst:

“At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself, has the day of the CBO come and gone?” Mulvaney said. “How much power do we give to the CBO under the 1974 Budget Act? We’re hearing now that the person in charge of the Affordable Health Care Act methodology is an alum of the Hillarycare program in the 1990s who was brought in by Democrats to score the ACA.”

Yep, even the fact that empirically based analysis might serve as a constraint on Trump/GOP lies about the impact of their health-care bill is Democrats’ fault.