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Opinion The big political takeaways on the U.S. exiting the Paris agreement

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)

President Trump announced Thursday afternoon that the United States will pull out of the 195-country Paris climate agreement, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the world’s only non-signatory nations. The move is sure to stoke anger and anxiety among our European allies and to lift the stature of nondemocratic countries such as China, which will pose as guardians of a new kind of international order.

There will be plenty of time to study the environmental and diplomatic fallout from the decision, but for now let’s look at the domestic side of the ledger.

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First, pundits can dispel the notion that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have the secret sauce for pacifying Trump and keeping him from descending into right-wing lunacy. Whatever influence they exercise is either the antithesis of what one would expect from “Manhattan Democrats” or is ineffectual in moving the president. Arguably, along with women’s entrepreneurialism (which the princess of nepotism touts without self-awareness) and child care, climate change ranks at the top of Ivanka’s issue list. (Recall that she brought in Al Gore to talk to her father.) So much for her sway. It turns out for those hoping for a more statesmanlike, moderate presidency, Ivanka and Jared are hardly indispensable. There is no benefit to the public of their continued presence in the White House (unless helping to seal Trump’s fate in the Russian affair can be considered an unintentional but appreciated contribution to American democracy).

Second, if Democrats needed any more incentive to get their troops mobilized — beyond a Simon Legree health-care plan, a starvation budget (yes, really a starvation budget — “Congressman refuses to say if Americans are entitled to eat”) and evisceration of Environmental Protection Agency regulations — this will do it. The trick for Democrats will be in maintaining through the 2018 elections the exceptional level of engagement they are now experiencing. They will no doubt use Trump’s actions to continue making headway in upscale suburban neighborhoods with more educated voters.

Third, this is one more instance in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson comes up on the losing side of an issue squarely within his department’s domain. (Recall that he couldn’t even hire his first choice for deputy, and that he meekly accepted draconian budget cuts for his department.) Reports indicated that he argued strongly in favor of remaining in the agreement. (To be clear, Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly was in favor of staying in the agreement; he too was ignored.) To his credit, Tillerson, unlike Homeland Secretary John F. Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, has kept to a minimum his rationalizing and spinning on behalf of the president on Russia and other topics more generally. However, he remains a fish out of water. He still has not fully grasped the language of international relations, the role of public diplomacy or the empathetic management style of secretaries such as George P. Schultz, who endeared himself to those who worked for him. He seems downright uncomfortable in his post. It shows. Since he too apparently contributes little to the final decision on major issues, he might do the country a favor and restore the art of resigning on principle (!).

Fourth, Trump’s announcement will not enhance his image as a pro-business president. A wide array of CEOs from virtually every sector of the economy have lobbied strenuously to keep the United States in the agreement. CNBC reported:

In April, a group of 16 companies — including Apple, Google, Walmart, mining company BHP Billiton, and oil majors BP and Shell — laid out exactly why the Paris Agreement will help U.S. companies.
“U.S. business interests are best served by a stable and practical framework facilitating an effective and balanced global response. We believe the Paris Agreement provides such a framework,” the CEOs said.
Tesla chief Elon Musk, who is a prominent prop in Trump’s periodic meetings with business executives, threatens to stop coming to these photo op’s. Others may also stay away.

Trump has been touting his magic powers (“animal spirits”) to talk up markets and give businesses a sunny and predictable business environment in which to hire, invest and expand. Pulling out of the agreement risks putting him in a newly adversarial relationship with businesses — and some big pro-business donors. Watching other countries take the lead in green technologies won’t help Trump’s promise to get America back to winning again.

In short, Trump’s decision is a loser in terms of domestic policy. He seems concerned only with pleasing his most enthusiastic fans, which is a problem when they are a declining share of the electorate.