President Donald Trump will soon exit the Paris climate agreement. It is uncertain whether he will withdraw from the deal — a process which could take up to three years — or if he will simply exit the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from which the Paris climate agreement originated. Regardless, I think this is another example of Trump doing the right thing the wrong way.
The Paris climate agreement is flawed, legally and substantively. (Disclosure: My firm represents oil and gas companies.) It would not have been difficult to organize experts in the Trump administration and GOP officials to argue that much in advance of a final decision by the president, but in typical Trump fashion, the president is ripping the bandage off without much coordination inside or outside the White House. Once Trump goes in alone on something, recent history has shown the result will be days of after-the-fact scrambling, unorganized surrogate appearances, unclear and changing explanations for the action, and angry tweets about negative process stories.
Republicans could score a major victory if the White House brought the Paris climate agreement to the Senate floor for a vote — where it would certainly fail. For one, I think the agreement should substantively be treated as a treaty. The Senate is constitutionally required to weigh in on such a matter. And, politically, a treaty vote would allow the White House to avoid the uncertain consequences of going in it alone through unilateral action.
Yet, rather than have a debate on the Paris climate agreement’s merits, or lack thereof, we will be left with an enduring cacophony of wailing from the Democrats and an unorganized distribution of mixed and uncoordinated messages from the president’s allies. In all likelihood, a public debate would have at least brought out the conservative public policy community to support Trump’s assertion that “the United States pays billions while China, Russia, and India have contributed, and will contribute, nothing.”
By agreeing to the agreement, President Barack Obama committed the United States to a deal that will have little bearing on the climate and only serve to adversely impact the American economy. By 2035, it is estimated that more than $2.5 trillion in gross domestic product will be lost if the United States follows through on Obama’s commitments. And for what? Even Gina McCarthy, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, testified before Congress, “there is not a single country that signed [the Paris climate agreement] expecting that the 2020 goals would get us where we need to be.” So, if abiding by the terms of the agreement don’t accomplish what we need and only serve to jeopardize the health of the American economy, then why move forward with it? Rather than debate these points, we are all left bracing for the bandage to be ripped off.
Typically, liberals say climate change is the most egregious and alarming cataclysm this world has ever come to know. The planet is in peril, they argue. But, in an effort to lessen the political and economic blow of the Paris climate agreement, they claim its terms are less than onerous and non-binding. Well, which is it? If the world is about to come to an end, wouldn’t the usual rabble-rousing suspects on the left want to make sure the terms of this agreement would be as binding and onerous as possible? But they either don’t know or they simply don’t care. Democrats just want to bash Trump, no matter what he does or how inconsistent their message is.
Obama knew Congress would never agree to the agreement and its tax dollar giveaway to foreign countries, so he decided to avoid the democratic process altogether. His administration’s actions were lazy and dishonest. They didn’t want to fight because they knew they couldn’t win.
Trump is doing the right thing by withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, but we are left wondering, why now? With a couple of leaks and tweets, the Trump White House is veering away from Republican priorities of repeal-and-replace and tax reform, staggering to put a sensible gloss on another erratic nonsequitur. The clock is ticking, and the 2018 elections are soon approaching, so why the inexplicable timing? Sigh.
By withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Trump is rightfully taking back power from the vast pool of unknown and unapproachable bureaucrats at home and abroad to allow the United States to set its own energy policy — but his exit strategy may make it harder and more alienating than it needs to be.
Ed Rogers is a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour in 1991.