Trump’s Paris rejection a defeat for deal’s White House backers

Greg Nash

President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord split his White House, delivering a stinging defeat to advisers and close family members who had advocated for Trump to keep the United States in the pact.

The final, frenzied internal debate at the White House pit Trump’s “America First” economic nationalists against the moderates, who were eager to see the U.S. stay in an agreement championed by an international coalition of world leaders.

By choosing to withdraw from the agreement, Trump delivered on a key campaign promise that thrilled his core supporters and illustrated the influence of his advisers who are seen as closest to the base: chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Vice President Pence, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.

{mosads}On the losing end were those whom some of Trump’s supporters have dubbed as the White House “liberals”: daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, and economic adviser Gary Cohn.

“It was an epic win for Bannon — remember, he was left for dead only a few weeks ago — and a huge blow for Gary Cohn and Jared and Ivanka,” said one GOP operative with close ties to the White House. “They will be spinning this hard, but it was a brutal loss. It shows that when it comes to issues that are important to the base, they have no sway.”

White House officials reached by The Hill denied that there was any lingering bitterness over the decision.

The administration continues to be frustrated by what it views as the false media narrative about rival wings within the White House. Officials pointed to the packed Rose Garden ceremony and Cohn’s chipper performance on the Friday morning cable news shows as evidence that everyone is on the same page.

“The president made a promise and he kept it. There was no gnashing of teeth or bitter aftertaste because there are no ideological camps at the White Hose, there are only individuals,” said a senior administration official.

“We have to blow up this idea in the mainstream press that there are warring factions at the White House,” the official continued. “People had different views on this issue because it had political consequences, and that’s why there was a debate. But it wasn’t ideologically heated. It’s the kind of political debate that you want to have.”

Still, the internal struggle over whether to leave the Paris accord was fierce and forced Trump to take sides between family and longtime allies, a dynamic that could be an ongoing source of tension at the White House.

Ivanka Trump lobbied hard for her father to remain in the deal, a position that was also held by her husband, Jared Kushner, who is a senior adviser to Trump.

Sources inside and outside the White House familiar with Ivanka Trump’s efforts say she spent weeks working on a case to persuade her father to stay in the Paris accord.

She spoke with Paris deal supporters inside and outside of government, including Apple’s Tim Cook and DOW Chemical chief Andrew Liveris, who penned a letter with 30 other companies asking Trump to stay in the deal. She pressed her argument with Pruitt, who was one of the administration’s most prominent advocates for leaving the accord.

“She did whatever she could to try and push her case,” said one source close to the first daughter.

After Trump rendered his decision, those close to Ivanka Trump sought to downplay her role, noting that the environment is not a part of her usual portfolio of women’s issues.

One White House official said Ivanka Trump played only a “limited role” in the process.

Still, she has in the past advocated for the U.S. to take a more aggressive role in addressing climate change, notably meeting with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio — two prominent environmental advocates.

Cohn, meanwhile, dutifully hit the cable news circuit. He was ostensibly there to discuss Friday’s numbers, but the economic adviser couldn’t avoid discussing Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accord.

Cohn was the go-to figure for many business executives who were eager to see the White House remain in the accord.

“He was the point person for all the businesses — he heard from dozens of CEOs and others who said it was a bad direction,” said Mindy Lubber, the president of the nonprofit group Ceres, which mobilizes business leaders for environmental advocacy. “This is not a comfortable place for Gary Cohn to be in.”

As a former Democrat and Goldman Sachs executive, Cohn is a punching bag for many of Trump’s core supporters. In a Friday morning interview, Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney gave him a hard time about it.

“I always thought of you as a Democrat, and I think that was your party affiliation before you joined Mr. Trump in the White House,” Varney said. “And here we have Democrats complaining loudly about our withdrawal of the Paris climate accord. I saw you applauding though. You think it is a good thing, as a Democrat, you think it’s a good thing for the economy to withdraw?”

Cohn responded diplomatically: “I’m supportive of the president in driving economic growth.”

In a separate interview on CNBC, Cohn had to shoot down a question about whether he had interest in a job outside the White House as Federal Reserve chairman.

“I have a great job right now,” Cohn said. “Serving the president has been a dream come true. I come into work every day and I’m very excited to be at the White House.”

Cohn was pressed to defend the administration’s Paris decision against criticism that it was an indication the U.S. would withdraw from the world stage.

“We’re not America alone,” Cohn said. “We’re part of a world, an important part of the world. World leaders look to us.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who met with Trump only a day before Thursday’s announcement and had advocated for the U.S. to remain in the agreement, sought to downplay the significance of the decision. Tillerson told reporters at the State Department that the decision would not diminish U.S. efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“Hopefully, people can keep it in perspective,” Tillerson said.

A day earlier, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross split with Tillerson in a televised interview.

“I have a great deal of respect for Secretary Tillerson. I happen to disagree strongly with him on this particular issue,” Ross said. ‘The sky didn’t fall when we pulled out of [the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement], and the sky certainly won’t fall now that we’ve pulled out of the Paris accord.”

White House officials acknowledged the spectrum of views, but insisted that they just represented healthy debate around a president who values a range of opinions. Trump’s inclination was always to pull out of the accord, officials said, pointing to his campaign trail promise to leave the agreement.

“Ultimately this was not about one adviser or ideology,” an official said. “The president fulfilled a campaign promise that he believes will benefit the American worker.”

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