The optics of withdrawing from the Paris climate deal

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 1, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


THEN-PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are getting out. This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won't be.

I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Trump in the Rose Garden today saying the U.S. is pulling out of the climate change agreement. That started a whole bunch of reaction all over the place. Here's just some of it:


SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: The agreement says we need to reduce our carbon output by 20 percent but China doesn't have to do anything for the next 20 years. How in the world can that possibly be fair?

SEN. ED MARKEY, D-MASS.: We are going to lose millions of jobs for hardworking Americans because the president is going to honor a promise to the coal industry.

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH: Why do we need to enter into an agreement that's very favorable to other nations and their political ambitions and their political worldview?

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: The president who talked about putting America first and has now put America last together with Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war, and Nicaragua, which thought the agreement didn't go far enough. He's made us an environmental pariah in the world, and I think it is one of the most self-destructive moves I've ever seen by any president in my lifetime.


BAIER: Other commentator said the president resigned as the leader of the free world, so all kinds of reaction.

Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The hysteria from the left on this is a good reminder that their hysteria is not just because of Donald Trump, because Donald Trump is president, but it's based on policy. Some of the comments that you've heard Fareed Zakaria saying the United States had resigned as the leader of the free world, Tom Steyer saying this was a traitorous act of war on the American people suggests just how invested in the left is.

But there is a deep irony, I would say, in this hysteria. It is, as you have described, a nonbinding, unenforceable, voluntary, non-ratified agreement. So how is it on the one hand that you have the left crying about this meaning doom for the planet and on the other hand this not having any enforcement mechanisms.

BAIER: I guess, Mara, when talking about this in the framework of how President Obama signed onto it and how he put into that, it still wasn't a treaty. It never went to the U.S. Senate. It never got a vote. You know why? Because they would have voted it down.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: They would have voted it down. But, as Steve just said, the goals were voluntary and they were chosen by each country individually. So if it was toothless and it wasn't binding, what's the harm of staying in? In other words, I think that, yes, there was hysteria on the left about getting out, but what President Trump, the picture he painted just doesn't comport with reality.

He could have ratcheted down Obama's goals if he wanted to. He already was getting rid of all of the mechanisms that was supposed to get us to the Obama goals. But this was something that every single country in the world except for Syria, which, as John Kerry said, is in a civil war, and Nicaragua, which is going to join even though they want it slightly tougher, has agreed to.

And the interesting thing is even today, even when White House officials briefed, they could not say whether President Trump believed that human activity causes climate change or not. That is a consensus, a big, overwhelming consensus around the world.

BAIER: So Mollie, go to that about the environmental leadership, American leadership, as you look at the map and the three countries, the U.S., Syria, and Nicaragua. And as Mara rightly points, Nicaragua wants it tougher, not -- it doesn't go tough enough.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: And we are talking about how it wasn't binding, but it's also true that the idea was to set up agencies within the administrative state to enforce what we had committed to under this accord and that would have, according to analysis, cost $3 trillion the next few decades. It would have cost more than 6 million jobs. And so not taking part in an agreement that causes a great economic damage for no environmental benefits is not a bad thing. It's actually a mark of leadership to say why would we do this to ourselves?

BAIER: The president also saying in this statement, Charles, that he is open to renegotiating this deal. Take a listen:


TRUMP: So if the obstructionists want to get together with me, let's make them non-obstructionists. We will all sit down and we will get back into the deal and we'll make a good and we won't be closing up factories and we won't be losing our jobs, and we will sit down with the Democrats and all of the people that represent either the Paris accord or something that we can do that's much better than the Paris accord. And I think the people of our country will be thrilled.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I don't know how sincere or realistic that is, but that's the right idea. I'm all in favor of an international treaty on climate and on controlling emission of CO2, but Paris wasn't that. That was one where it essentially said the U.S. is going to export its coal industry to India and China, who don't have to do a damn thing for 20 years. And the argument of the developing countries was, well, you have a 100 year head start in the industrial revolution. We're catching up, so we're not going to stop our development now when you're already are developed, to which I would say we are not going to apologize for having invented the steam engine. We are where we are. If we are going to have controls on admissions, it's going to be equitable. You're not going to have a 20 year hiatus where the Chinese don't have to reduce anything and the Indians are going to double their emissions from coal.

So I think withdrawing -- I didn't like the language around it that the president hurled. It will be useful in a presidential campaign, the next presidential campaign. But withdrawing from a treaty which was toothless except that it would have been used in our courts to enforce restrictions on us was a good idea.

BAIER: All right, Mara, let's talk about where climate change as an issue stands. If you look at Fox News polls just out, climate change, concern, the time trend, this is number one, extremely or very concerned. In 2017 it's 60-40 to not very to not at all. And it is breaking now on FOX poll four as far as issues that face that people are concerned about, government spending, Russian meddling, the economy -- climate change is at 29 percent.

Looking at what happened today, the reaction from environmentalists, Democrats, it seems like they are always losing to the argument about jobs and they are always losing to it even though the issue seems to be more concerning for American people.

LIASSON: That's because jobs is usually the number one issue. Now, there is huge consensus around climate change and it's been growing, as you just showed. It's been growing. It's becoming one of those big consensus issues. That doesn't mean it's the number one thing that motivate someone to vote.

Donald Trump has aligned himself with his base today very, very strongly. As he said I am representing Pittsburgh, not Paris, even though the mayor of Pittsburgh pointed out that they went for Hillary. But we know what he meant. He is aligning himself with his rustbelt base. He's fulfilling a campaign promise.

But the general issue of climate change, which he did not address. He talked only about jobs and the economy today. That is the number one issue, but he didn't say what he wants and exits to about this other than what we've already done. You heard Scott Pruitt say we are already making such great strides. So this is an issue.

Can the Democrats somehow make the argument, as Ed Markey tried to make in that clip, that doing something about climate change will actually produce jobs because of all of this green technology? They haven't been able to do that yet.

HEMINGWAY: It's also worth noting that this deal itself, according to analysis, wouldn't do anything to help out with the climate change problem. And it's one thing to say we intend to help out with climate change and entirely another to actually do something. And particularly when you are asking middle Americans to support this with their jobs and with their loss of income and with the extra costs applied to them, it makes no sense to know have no democratic accountability --

BAIER: I will just say that in that part of the speech where he went to the degree of Celsius, I mean, it is a big deal if you move the world temperature a degree if you talk to the scientific community.

LIASSON: He said it was tiny but actually it's big.

BAIER: And even a portion of that, it is a big deal if you talk to scientists who are in this realm.

Steve, but I want to get back to the moment. It's not just about the base, right? It's about the common sense when he says India is getting hundreds of billions of dollars and doubling their coal plants and China doesn't have to do anything until 2030, as Charles mentioned, and yet they're a developing as of the last agreement.

HAYES: It was literally the case that countries could set their own benchmarks for what they wanted to do, for they would declare a success. So they could have said if we continue on along on our current projections in terms of emissions, we will count that as success. But that's crazy to think of that. That would be like me saying I'm going to consider it a success in two years if I am just as fat as I am now. This diet is great. But I'm still gaining weight. It doesn't make any sense.

BAIER: Don't --

HAYES: Thanks for the buck up. There is other polling, too, that I think builds on what you asked Mara about that shows that climate change in terms of intensity of an issue is very small. The number of people who regard it as the most important issue are mired in the low single digits. It's just not the kind of issue that Democrats I think are likely to be able to move. And we've heard Democrats again and again and again say that they're going to marshal their forces to fight for climate change. It hasn't worked before. I am skeptical that it will work again politically.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: The left is showing that this has become an issue of almost religious beliefs. You could shut down every coal mine in America, the effect on the climate, on temperature, would be negligible. You couldn't even measure it.

And second, if this is such a popular issue, such a consensus issue, when the Democrats had the White House when Obama concluded this, why didn't he go to the Senate? We have a constitution. There's a reason why we have provisions because you want to treaties to have substance and permanence. So you go to the Senate, you get a consensus in the country expressed by a two-thirds majority rather than some executive agreement like I would say the Iran deal which they knew would not have consensus. The Kyoto agreement was voted down by like 99 to one in the late 1990s because people didn't want it. And I think if Democrats are so attached to this and think that this is so apocalyptic if it is withdrawn from, why didn't they go to the Senate and have it inscribed as a treaty? Because it would never have gotten the vote.

BAIER: Finally, I just want to play this sound bite from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who was on Neil Cavuto's show summing it up.


SECRETART OF COMMERCE WILBUR ROSS: It's not that he doesn't want a climate deal. He wants a deal that is fair and a deal that doesn't cost us trillions of dollars of GDOP and millions of jobs just to line the pockets of developing countries and European countries.


BAIER: It sounds like the trade deals.

HEMINGWAY: Well, and it gets to the point again about the need for democratic accountability on this. We have seen globally people not appreciating even things that are good for them like free trade deals. But when it comes to something like this where are there so many downsides, so many cost politically and economically, and, again, negligible gain for what the whole reason that we are supposed to be into this, the environmental benefits, it's just not going to pass muster with the American people.

BAIER: The environmentalists, Mara, are not getting it done, as far as --

LIASSON: I think the big question now is, can it become an issue? It's low intensity, broad support. So can they make it something different? And among young voters, this is a very long term project, among young voters this is an article of faith.

KRAUTHAMMER: Why don't Democrats demand a vote in the Senate tomorrow if it were that popular? Why don't they? Because they're hypocrites. They know it's not going to pass.

HEMINGWAY: And it's also true, I think, that this is something that is very meaningful to Donald Trump's voters. Donald Trump voters are so used to people on the right, so used to Republicans and conservatives claiming that they're going to get out of things like this. This is officially part of the Republican platform to exit the Paris accords. And yet you had Mitt Romney, the previous presidential nominee, just yesterday begging Trump to stay in. And so it was a refreshing thing for a lot of Trump voters to see someone actually follow through with a campaign promise as Trump did today.

BAIER: It is a different president, a different administration.

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