Donald Trump removed the United States from the Paris Agreement on Thursday without once mentioning the words climate change. Given his past position that climate change was a hoax created by China, this raised the question of whether or not he made this decision in part because he believes man-influenced climate change is not real (which it is).
But the president and at least five White House officials have refused to answer that question in recent weeks. This spectacle entered the realm of the absurd on Friday when Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, refused to answer the question and then repeatedly lied and said that he had answered the question.
Here’s the first version of the very simple question, as asked by a reporter during Friday’s White House press briefing. As you can see, if you speak the language English, it can be answered one of three ways: “Yes.” “No.” Or “I don’t know.
First reporter: Just hoping you can clear this up, once and for all. Yes or no. Does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?
Here was Pruitt’s response, which included none of those answers and was thus not an answer:
Pruitt [failing to answer the question]: You know, it’s interesting about all the discussions we had through the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue: Is Paris good or not for this country? That’s the discussions I’ve had with the president. So that’s been my focus. The focus remained on whether Paris put us at a disadvantage and in fact it did, it put us at an economic disadvantage. You may not know this, but Paris set targets at 26 to 28 percent with the entire agenda of the previous administration, we still fell 40 percent short of those targets. It was a failed deal to begin with and even if all of the targets were met by all nations across the globe, it only reduced the temperature by less than two cents of one degree. So that is something that the president focused on with respect to how it impacted us economically. Whether there were good environmental objectives achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was “no” and that was the extent of our discussions.
Leaving aside the factual claims, which were disputed as a misrepresentation by the very source that provided them, Pruitt’s statement that his and the president’s focus was the simple “deal good or deal bad” question ignores what the reporter was asking. It does not answer if Trump believes in man-made climate change, if he does not, or if Pruitt does not know. When this reporter again tried to get Pruitt to answer this question, he ignored her and moved onto the next question.
Reporter: So on climate change, yes or no?
Pruitt to next questioner: Yes mam. Yes mam.
Another reporter in the room noticed that Pruitt had not answered the question and decided to ask it again as a follow-up:
Second reporter: I’d like to go back to the first question that was asked that you didn’t answer. Does the president believe today that climate change is a hoax, which is something of course he said in the campaign. When the pool was in the Oval Office with him a couple of days ago he refused to answer. So I’m wondering if you can speak for him.
Pruitt’s response was to blatantly lie and say that he had answered the first question, then to continue to not answer it yet again. You can watch video of that here:
And here is the text of his response.
Pruitt [lying and again refusing to answer the question]: You know I did answer the question, because I said the discussions that the president and I have had over the last several weeks have been focused on one key issue: Is Paris good or bad for this country? The president and I focused our attentions there. He determined that it was bad for this country. It hurt us economically, it didn’t achieve good environmental outcomes and he made the decision to reject the Paris deal.
Again, this did not answer anything. A third reporter attempted to explain why it might be a problem why none of the president’s staff can answer this very simple question, considering that President Trump has said that his desire is to renegotiate a better international deal on the topic of climate change, which he refuses to say whether or not he believes in:
Third reporter: Give the fact that you and other administration officials haven’t been able to outline the president’s views on climate change, why should other countries believe that the president wants to negotiate any deal in good faith.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pruitt ignored this question as well. Again, though, he suggested that the issue had already been put to bed:
As I indicated in my comments yesterday and the president emphasized in his speech, this administration and country as a whole—we have taken significant steps to reduce our carbon footprint to levels of the pre-1990s. …
Finally, a fourth reporter asked Pruitt for a third time “does the president believe climate change is real or not?”:
Fourth reporter: You’re the EPA administrator. Shouldn’t you be able to tell the American people whether or not the president still believes that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand?
Yet again, Pruitt outright lied and said he had already answered the question and then he yet again refused to give an answer.
Pruitt [lying again.]: As I indicated, several times in the process, there’s enough to deal with with respect to the Paris Agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue. That’s where our focus has been over the last several weeks. I’ve answered the question a couple times.
Perhaps this epic bit of gaslighting will make Pruitt a rising star in the White House. Maybe he’s even trying to groom himself for the No. 2 job!