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Understanding the political calculus behind leaving the Paris accord

June 1, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
How did politics play into President Trump’s move to withdraw the U.S. from the global agreement on combating climate change? Judy Woodruff analyzes the decision with Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Karine Jean-Pierre of, plus the effects of ongoing tensions from within the White House over the ongoing Russian investigations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn our focus to politics now, from tensions inside the White House to pulling out of the Paris accord.

And we break it all down with Matt Schlapp. He is chair of the American Conservative Union. And Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser to

And welcome back to both of you.

So, let’s be crassly political here. We talked earlier, Matt, in the program about the substance of the president’s decision.

MATT SCHLAPP, The American Conservative Union: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the pushback on it.

What was the political calculus behind this, do you think?

MATT SCHLAPP: You look at all these polls. Most polls will tell you that Americans supported the idea of fighting climate change. But that’s really not right the question. It’s digging down deeper.

The real question about climate change is, are they willing to pay more to fill their tank with gas? Are they willing to pay more for their utility bills? Are they willing to take some of this American energy — we’re now the world’s leading supplier of energy — and take it offline, which has a big impact on U.S. jobs?

That’s the real question. By the way, it cuts across party lines. Most Americans think that what they’re asking them to pay for, for this crusade on climate is simply not worth losing jobs or paying more for energy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It makes it sound like a winning decision today, Karine.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, I think what happened today, what we saw today, what Donald Trump did was — it was a political play. That’s all it was. It wasn’t about the economy. It wasn’t about the environment. It wasn’t about businesses.

It was purely about that small, shrinking base that he has that he needs to placate with — when it comes to every tweet, every action, every message that he puts out, it’s all about them. He continues to give them the red meat that he feels that they need, and that’s what we saw.

And, if anything, we really saw Steve Bannon winning the day with that speech as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is there any risk, political risk, in what the president did, Matt?


I think, if it is about politics, people will see through that. I actually think it’s something deeper. It’s a campaign promise he made to the working men and women across this country who have not seen their economic prospects improve. You see that in poll after poll.

I think it’s the number one reason Donald Trump is president, and that his number one gauge of his success is if the economy can get chugging and we can make these folks feel and actually know that their economic prospects are improving.

If he can’t do that, I think he’s going to have political trouble.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Can I just add, Judy, there is a poll — speaking of a poll, there’s a poll that shows 70 percent of Americans actually agreed with the Paris accord; 55 percent were Republicans. So, there were Americans who were behind, behind this.

MATT SCHLAPP: But if you dig deeper, the real political question is, are you willing to pay the higher taxes, the credits and all the things that you have to do to make carbon more expensive to take it off the grid? And that’s where it gets dicey for your side.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think the bigger question is our planet and what are we going to leave our children with — you have five kids, I have a kid — and our grandchildren with, if we don’t take actually responsibility to what this country, our country is doing to the climate?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s also talk about what has been happening inside the White House now.

A lot of suspense built up today over what the president was going to this, at a time when there’s been a lot of reporting about unsettled — the unsettled nature of how things are going now with the staff.

MATT SCHLAPP: I haven’t read any of that.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s been in a couple of news organizations. Let me put it that way.

You talk to people in the White House.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that overblown?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Are people feeling — OK, what is going on?

MATT SCHLAPP: No, it’s not overblown. And my belief is that the president is impatient over the fact that there’s been some bungling on some of these rollouts and some of these decisions. There’s been way too much leaking.

There is always leaking in White Houses, but this is a journalist’s dream come true, because you have 18, 20, 22 people talking for stories. It’s out of control. And I think he knows it needs to tighten up.

And I believe that he’s communicated internally that he expects it to tighten up. And if it doesn’t get better — and he has got to up his game, too. If it doesn’t get better, I think he’s going to make a lot more changes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Karine, what is — I mean, is this just all an upside for Democrats, if the president continues to have these kinds of issues, or are Democrats basically just watching from the sideline?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I think we just watch on the sideline. I think he’s his worst enemy.

I mean, look, when it comes to situations like this — and you know. You have worked for a president. I have worked for the president. The fish really rots at its head. This is Donald Trump’s responsibility. There is no one else to blame but himself.

He’s the one that tweets off-message, not his staff. He’s the one that says things that doesn’t make sense that really angers a lot of people, including, you know, people who even voted for him are a little concerned about what he’s doing. And we see that in focus groups.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say he needs to up his game, your words, what did you mean?


Well, look, there’s an independent counsel. There’s an investigation going on. He’s got to be careful about how he talks about that. My advice is for the White House is simply go along with the investigation. Do not comment on the investigation. Don’t do anything that makes it look like you’re putting any pressure on the investigation.

I understand the president and his team are frustrated because they don’t see any there there. But I think they need to do that.

I think, as far as the staff is concerned, I think it was absurd that the Russian delegation was able to go into the Oval Office with recording devices and cameras. They didn’t know who was going to get the photos. The Keystone Cops part of this must end.

With an outsider president and an investigation going on, the staff has to be twice as good, and they can’t afford to make these kind of mistakes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Karine, no matter what is going on in the White House, if Donald Trump’s base, the people who voted for him, like the basics of what he’s doing, whether it’s the climate decision or, I don’t know, his attempts to set up a travel ban, even though that hasn’t happened yet, does it really matter politically whether the White House is — quote — “dysfunctional” or not?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I think it will at some point.

I mean, there’s 2018 coming right around the corner. And that’s going to hurt Republicans, what we see Donald Trump doing, because it’s not just Republicans. It’s not that small base that got him to the White House. It was also Democrats and independents that got him into the White House.

MATT SCHLAPP: That’s true.


MATT SCHLAPP: And, by the way, he has a lot of them on his staff at the White House, too.


But here’s the thing. If you look at the House in some of these suburbs that they have to win, the Republicans have to win, you need support outside of your Republican base. So, it is going to hurt them when it comes to 2018.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I have a feeling this may not be the last time we have a chance to talk about this.


MATT SCHLAPP: Let’s hope not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karine Jean-Pierre, Matt Schlapp, thank you both.

MATT SCHLAPP: Thank you.