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Sen. Mike Lee: President Trump put people before Paris agreement

June 1, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement signals a victory for some leading Republicans. Judy Woodruff speaks with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah -- one of 22 Republican senators who signed a letter to President Trump last week urging him to withdraw from the accord -- about why he’s applauding the decision.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now for an opposing view, we turn to Senator Mike Lee of Utah. He was one of 22 Republican senators who signed a letter to President Trump last week urging him to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Senator Lee, welcome to the program.

I believe you just heard the response of California Governor Jerry Brown, who argues this is a fundamentally wrong decision. He said it’s going to set back the cause of fighting climate change.

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-Utah: Yes, I think he’s wrong. I think I disagree with every word, every syllable he uttered, including the words but and the.

Look, this was a right decision. This was the right thing to do. When President Obama entered into this agreement a couple years ago, he didn’t submit it to the United States Senate for ratification as a treaty.

He didn’t do that because he knew there was absolutely no way he could get the two-thirds supermajority vote necessary in order to get this ratified, in order to make it the law of the land as a governing treaty. He didn’t do that. And, consequently, it was entirely foreseeable that when a different president from a different party with a different point of view came along, he wouldn’t move forward with it.

President Trump did that today because he decided this wasn’t in the interest of the United States of America. He did the right thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, one of the arguments that we heard Governor Brown and others making today is that President Trump and those who are pushing this decision today don’t understand the way the climate and jobs, the economy interact, that, in fact, when you do less to fight climate change, as this — as what the president, in effect, is doing, he’s missing a chance for the United States to move ahead with clean energy technology, so, in other words, that what he’s done is going to cost jobs, rather than increase them.

SEN. MIKE LEE: You know, I would flip it on them.

I would point out, quite to the contrary, what has brought down emissions both from stationary sources like power plants and from mobile sources like automobiles is innovation, improvements in technology that have occurred as a result of free market forces, and in the absence, I would add, of anything like a treaty comparing to the Paris agreement.

So, this has happened through innovation, through free market forces. I think quite the opposite of what Governor Brown was saying, that when the government gets involved, it tends to squelch innovation. And that innovation is needed for us to control emissions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me quote something that your predecessor, the former EPA administrator, Gina — not your predecessor — I’m sorry — the former EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, said today.

She said: “This is an embarrassing day for the United States.” She went on to say: “Make no mistake. Because of this reckless decision, our businesses will lose investment opportunities. We will cede technology breakthroughs to countries that will take over our leadership role, and the rest of the world will question whether the U.S. can be trusted.”

SEN. MIKE LEE: Yes, that’s pretty apocalyptic.

And I think that’s apocalyptic to the point of straining credulity. But, look, these are smart people, but they are not omniscient. And I think their prophesies of doom and gloom are entirely unwarranted. And, in fact, I think they’re inappropriate.

Again, we have to get back to the fact that this power, the power to enter into binding international agreements, this is a shared power. This is something that was decided, should be a shared power, at the Constitutional Convention some 230 years ago.

As I explain in my new book that came out this week called “Written Out Of History,” these powers that are vested in the federal government have to be clearly enumerated. They have to be limited.

And we can’t give excessive, unfettered power to a president to act alone, to bind an entire country to a set of principles, a set of rules that the president, him or herself, makes. That’s what we would be allowing presidents to do if we said any time a president, like President Obama, wants to subject an entire country to a new set of rules, that president can do so without submitting that international agreement to the Senate for treaty ratification.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, maybe this is alone those lines, but I’m now reading comments even from some Republicans who have a problem with this decision.

A Republican congressman from Florida, Carlos Curbelo, was interviewed, I heard, just within the hour. He is saying this is a mistake. He said: I’m already seeing the impact of climate change on my part of the state. And we need to move forward with technology to address it.

And I want to quickly quote the former Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who said he’s dismayed and disappointed. He said: “By moving ourselves to the sidelines of an evolving global conversation,” he said, “we have left a void for others to fill. Regrettably, this undermines U.S. credibility, weakens our ability to lead in other areas.”

SEN. MIKE LEE: Yes, look, I completely disagree.

The fact that you can point to some people who call themselves Republicans who disagree with this decision doesn’t change this analysis. And I notice there wasn’t a corresponding pushback to the person who preceded me. You didn’t push back like this to Governor Brown. I understand that you might disagree personally with what the president did today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator — Senator …

SEN. MIKE LEE: But that doesn’t make it — I’m sorry. I would like to answer your question.

That doesn’t mean that this was wrong. This was the right thing to do. The president put people before this Paris agreement. He put Pittsburgh before Paris. He did the right thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, just to set the record straight, I quoted President Trump several times back to Governor Brown in my interview with him, just as I have quoted some who criticized the president’s decision in my interview with you.

Finally, Senator, let me …

SEN. MIKE LEE: Yes. But I want to be clear.

The reason I made that point is, you didn’t try to identify some Democrats who might have supported this. You quoted the president himself.

And what I’m saying is, you are pushing back on me in a way you didn’t push back on him. That’s fine. That’s your right to do that as a reporter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me finally ask you, Senator, the president said he’s open to renegotiation. We’re already hearing from European officials that it’s — that this is an accord not open for renegotiation.

So, how do you foresee moving ahead in that direction?

SEN. MIKE LEE: Well, if they’re saying this is not open for renegotiation, and this negotiation was itself something that couldn’t get through the United States Senate, and that’s why President Obama never submitted it to the Senate for treaty ratification, then we’re at an impasse, and we will proceed.

We will proceed, by the way, I should add, as a global leader in environmental regulation. We are a global leader in the rule of law. We have brought down emissions in this country through our legal system and through technological innovation.

We can do this on our own. We don’t have to have the permission of countries all over the world to do that. We have done it pretty well. We have done it much better than a lot of our would-be partners in this agreement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Mike Lee of Utah, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. MIKE LEE: Thank you.

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