White House officials hosted a briefing call with the media yesterday, and one reporter asked whether Donald Trump believes human activity leads to climate change. The unnamed official – the ground rules for the call mandated that no one from the president’s team be identified by name – hedged.
“I have not talked to the president about his personal views on what is contributing to climate change,” the official said. “That’s not the point. Can we stay on topic, please?”
Trump’s perspective on the climate crisis, while he withdraws the United States from a landmark international agreement on climate change, is apparently seen as a distraction.
The question, however, remains. Kellyanne Conway was asked this morning, repeatedly, whether Donald Trump believes global warming is a hoax. She refused to say. Soon after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was asked the same question, and he dodged, too.
The Washington Post reported what happened in the White House press briefing room this afternoon.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was asked the same question over and over and over again during a Friday briefing with reporters: Does President Trump still believe global warming is a hoax?
And each time, Pruitt refused to answer with a “yes” or a “no,” telling reporters that as he and the president discussed exiting the Paris climate deal, the topic of climate change never came up.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked, too, and like the others, he also refused to give a straight answer.
Just so we’re clear, the president’s position on one of the world’s most pressing issues is, at this point, a White House secret.
Trump has effectively already given away the game. In 2012, the Republican said he believes that climate data is part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by China to undermine the American economy. That, of course, made Trump sound hopelessly insane, and he avoided repeating the line during his presidential campaign.
But does that tweet reflect Trump’s current perspective? Probably – there’s overwhelming evidence he’s a brazen climate denier – but it’d be nice to get some clarification from the president or someone who can speak on his behalf.
And that leaves the White House with something of a dilemma. The president’s aides could say Trump rejects climate science, but that would make him sound like an ignorant loon, positioning him far outside the national and international mainstream. It would also raise questions as to why Trump used to call for urgent action to deal with a crisis that he no longer believes as real.
On the other hand, the president’s aides could say Trump accepts climate science, but that would annoy his radicalized base, and it would also create a responsibility to do something about the problem.
Since these aren’t especially appealing options for Trump World, they’re going with Door #3: the president’s views on the looming crisis are, and must remain, mysterious.
It’s a rather pathetic posture, but don’t be surprised if the White House sticks to it until reporters get tired of asking.