For several days, reporters asked White House officials if Donald Trump still believes everything we know about climate change is a hoax, and in each instance, members of the president’s team refused to answer. That changed over the weekend.
Finally, in an interview set to air on Sunday, UN ambassador Nikki Haley gave a more straightforward response: “President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation,” she told Jake Tapper.
Haley wouldn’t address Trump’s infamous claim that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” saying only that, “[He] knows that it’s changing and that the U.S. has to be responsible for it and that’s what we’re going to do.”
That’s not a horrible answer, but it’s hard not to wonder: just how much does Nikki Haley’s perspective comport with the White House’s?
In the same interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Haley added that Trump administration officials “absolutely think Russia meddled” in last year’s U.S. elections. That’s an encouraging acknowledgement of reality, I suppose, but as recently as last month, the president personally and publicly questioned the intelligence pointing to Russia’s role in the attack on our democracy.
It’s not that I think Haley is lying; it’s just that I think Haley and Trump are struggling to stay on the same page.
On U.S. policy towards Syria, for example, Haley’s stated line was largely the opposite of what we heard from other leading Trump administration officials. A month earlier, when the president dismissed the need for a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, Haley said the exact opposite a day later, telling reporters, “We absolutely support a two-state solution.” Even Haley’s line on U.S. policy towards Venezuela also contradicted Trump’s State Department.
With this administration, it’s difficult to know what to make of a dynamic like this. Is Haley freelancing? Are there contingents within Trump World fighting it out, each pushing their own distinct foreign policy agendas? Does Trump, without a coherent foreign policy vision of his own, tell different factions that he’s with them, leading to widespread confusion? Is everyone in this administration just making things up as they go along due to ineptitude in the Oval Office?
No one seems to be able to answer these questions with any confidence, but it’s worth remembering that in April, the New York Times reported that administration officials had noticed Haley’s departures from the official White House line, and the State Department planned to start reigning her in.
If that was the plan, I don’t think it worked.