Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was asked the same question over and over and over again during a Friday briefing with reporters: Does President Trump still believe global warming is a hoax?
And each time, Pruitt refused to answer with a “yes” or a “no,” telling reporters that as he and the president discussed exiting the Paris climate deal, the topic of climate change never came up.
“All the discussions that we had through the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue: Is Paris good or not for this country?” Pruitt said when asked the question a first time. “That's the discussions I've had with the president. So, that's been my focus.”
Pruitt gave that sort of answer again and again as he dodged similar questions, then he turned the stage over to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who also repeatedly refused to answer the simple question.
“I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion,” said Spicer, who gave a similar answer to a similar question at a briefing earlier in the week. “I think that administrator Pruitt pointed out that what the president is focused on is making sure that we have clean water, clean air and making sure that we have the best deal for the American workers.”
The question has yet to be answered by anyone in the administration, even as aides and others appear on television and hold briefings to explain Trump's decision to leave the Paris agreement — despite protests from members of his own administration, environmental experts, corporate titans and fellow foreign leaders.
Trump has long been skeptical of climate change, despite vast scientific evidence showing that human activity has contributed to the problem, and has repeatedly suggested that it is a “hoax.” A Vox analysis found that Trump has tweeted such skepticism at least 115 times since 2011, describing global warming as “mythical,” “nonexistent,” “fictional,” an “expensive hoax” and “bulls---.”
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump wrote in a November 2012 tweet.
And whenever New York was hit with a cold spell or snowstorm, Trump would often tweet a joke about global warming. In October 2015, when Trump was the front-runner for the GOP nomination, he tweeted: “It's really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!”
It's unclear if the president has changed his position on climate change, with many of his aides insisting this week that they do not know their boss's position on a key issue that's at the heart of a deal that the administration wants to exit.
Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic adviser, repeatedly dodged the question in a CNN interview on Thursday evening. So did Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, on ABC News's “Good Morning America” on Friday morning.
“The president believes in a clean environment, clean air, clean water. He has received awards as a businessman, in that regard,” Conway said. (The Washington Post's fact-checkers have yet to find any evidence of those awards.)
When ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed Conway to answer the question, she responded, “You need to ask him that, and I hope that you have your chance.”
As Trump announced in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon that the United States would exit the Paris deal, he and members of his administration pitched the decision as an economic one and did not dwell on the environmental implications.
“We're going to have the cleanest air. We're going to have the cleanest water,” Trump said at one point. “We will be environmentally friendly but we're not going to put our businesses out of work, we're not going to lose our jobs.”
After the president's speech, the White House arranged a briefing for reporters with two officials but insisted that neither be named in reports. The two officials peppered reporters with reasons the Paris agreement would hurt U.S. industry but were unable to answer environment-related questions. When asked if the president has a long-term strategy for combating climate change, the two officials debated who should answer, with one murmuring to the other, “You go.”
Another reporter asked the unnamed duo if the president believes that human activity contributes to climate change.
“So I think that — I mean, the fact that the president in his speech today said that he wants to come back and renegotiate a better deal for the United States and for the world I think pretty much speaks for itself,” one of the officials said.
The reporter followed up: “So is that a yes?”
“Again, I think — I think that speaks for itself,” the official said.
Asked a third time, the official said: “Whether he — you know, I have not talked to the president about his personal views on whether … I was not with the president on his trip. I have not talked to the president about his personal views on what is contributing to climate change. That's not the point.”
The official then added, with a tinge of annoyance: “Can we stay on topic, please?”