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Five must-read stories on Paris

By Robert Costa

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord is the latest example of his raw political instincts pulling him away from the center, in spite of a chorus of moderates in the business community and in the administration urging him to stick with the agreement.

But the president’s anti-establishment passions were only a partial explanation for why he ended up walking away

There were other swirling factors, including an aggressive, behind-the-scenes effort by Paris opponents to convince him to ditch the deal. And there was pressure from Republicans, who warned Trump that anything but a rebuke of Paris would be a betrayal of the base.

These five stories illuminate the nuances, figures and forces that led to this monumental decision.

As reporters scanned the crowd at the Rose Garden on Thursday, they didn’t see Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson until recently helmed ExxonMobil, a company that supports the Paris accord. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who has spoken of climate change as a national security threat, was traveling. These members of the Cabinet are well-liked by Trump and part of his circle, but they do not appear to be major players on shaping the administration’s climate policy. The question some observers have had in the wake of Trump's decision is: why not? Slate looks at their past associations and statements and asserts that the Paris discussions were “an important test, not only for President Trump, but for the heavyweights in his Cabinet," who could not sway him.

This story, which features some of my reporting, gets at how it wasn’t just White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon who was influential. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is close to oil-and-gas industry interests, was also highly involved and instrumental in making a detailed policy pitch to the president in recent weeks. Pruitt was one of the people who “came armed with reams of documents filled with numbers and statistics showing what they said would be the negative effects on the U.S. economy if the United States remained in the climate deal.”

Peter Baker captures how Trump’s occasionally tenuous standing with conservatives loomed over the decision. Many blocs on the right remain skeptical of Trump, a former Democrat, and were paying close attention to whether he’d be wooded by corporate-friendly moderates. Amid that environment, Baker writes, Trump chose to make a “political gamble” ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 race, hoping to cultivate the “narrower conservative base that delivered him to the White House,” rather than trying to expand his reach into the center. 

Leaders in the business world have long thought that President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, would be their conduits to an outsider president. The young couple, now both senior White House staffers, have Trump’s ear as well as solid relationships with Wall Street titans, Silicon Valley CEOs, and high-profile foreign officials. Yet, as Annie Karni reports, their status as powerful voices on policy has been challenged by the Paris decision. Why couldn’t they convince Trump? This article delves into that question and the “demoralizing moment.”

Jonathan Swan, who has scored several scoops on Trump and Paris, was on Friday’s program. In this post, he looks at how Republicans on Capitol Hill wanted Trump to drop the Paris accord. “A group of 22 heavyweight Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,” sent him a letter, Swan writes. It’s a reminder that while much is being written about the Bannon versus Kushner dynamic, the congressional side of the equation weighed on the president, too. Withdrawing meant approving nods from the GOP leadership — a leadership that the White House needs to reengage as they try to jumpstart their legislative agenda.