Trump's Delay Opens Door for European Lobbying on Paris Pact

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump hasn’t decided if the U.S. will remain a part of the Paris climate accord, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, as pressure mounts from Pope Francis, European leaders and Democratic lawmakers at home to remain in the historic pact to address global warming.

Trump’s decision on Paris will probably come after he returns from his first foreign trip as president, Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One on the way from Rome to Brussels. 

“The president indicated we’re still thinking about that,” Tillerson said, describing a meeting at the Vatican Wednesday. The trip has been "an opportunity to hear from people" about the issue, he added.

The delay has created an opening for foreign and religious leaders who are imploring Trump to honor the Paris commitment despite his criticisms of the deal as bad for American workers and his description of climate change as a hoax. That list includes the pope, who gave Trump a copy of his 2015 encyclical on climate change following a half-hour meeting in his private study Wednesday. The Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also brought up climate change.

"They were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord," Tillerson said, noting that administration officials are "developing our own recommendation" on whether to stick with the Paris agreement. He described "a good exchange" on climate change, including how to address the issue without jeopardizing "a thriving economy."

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni highlighted the pact in his meeting with Trump, and newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron was set to press the issue during his first face-to-face meeting with the U.S. president. At home, Democrats say honoring the agreement among roughly 200 nations is important for U.S. strategic interests.

"This is about U.S. leadership,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in Washington. “Our allies know how important U.S. leadership is for there to be acceptable world action.”

Trump is in Brussels Wednesday for a NATO meeting. He’ll be back in Italy again on Friday for talks with Group of Seven leaders in Taormina, Sicily. The world’s developed nations are hoping for a signal from Trump about the fate of the Paris pact during the summit, Germany’s environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, said Monday.

Supporters of the pact argue that a U.S. withdrawal could prompt other nations to follow suit, undermining the deal that is the cornerstone of worldwide efforts to address climate change.

Top Trump administration officials have clashed over whether the U.S. should formally remain a party to the pact signed in December 2015, with environmental chief Scott Pruitt and top strategist Steve Bannon pushing for a pullout. White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, have advocated sticking with the deal.

Daughter’s Influence

Republican Senator James Inhofe, who opposes the Paris agreement, said he wasn’t worried about Trump caving to pressure from foreign leaders during his overseas travels. The stronger influence may come from within the president’s own family, Inhofe said.

"His biggest problem, I think, is his daughter," Inhofe told reporters. "You’re always influenced more by your kids."

Forty Senate Democrats sent a letter to the president insisting that a pullout would be devastating for the U.S. economy as well as the environment.

Leaving the deal would be "a historic misstep" that would "damage our standing on the world stage" and turn the U.S. into an "international pariah," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said at a news conference. A U.S. withdrawal would "cede economic and moral ground to China" to appease fossil fuel interests at the expense of middle-class, he said.

While running for president, Trump promised the U.S. would leave the accord, taking aim at the cornerstone of former President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. As recently as April, Trump criticized the agreement as a one-sided deal that disadvantages American workers -- suggesting that if he decides to maintain U.S. involvement, he may try to renegotiate its terms.

Even without a formal decision, the Trump administration is rolling back a series of Obama-era climate policies and regulations viewed as critical for the U.S. to fulfill its Paris pledge to slash carbon dioxide emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.