President Donald Trump is pressing to settle the U.S. position on the Paris Agreement on climate change before his first overseas trip later this month.
White House officials were expected to close an internal debate on whether the U.S. should withdraw or take more measured steps, but a key meeting on the matter scheduled for Tuesday was postponed at the request of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who would have been unable to attend, an administration official said.
Two weeks after his electoral victory in November, Mr. Trump said he had “an open mind” about the agreement by 190 countries aimed at combating climate change, reversing his campaign pledge to withdraw completely. But after softening campaign positions on China and NATO in recent weeks, the president may be looking to rebalance his approach on the world stage with a major move reaffirming his “America First” principles.
The faction for withdrawing completely is led by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, senior adviser Steve Bannon and White House counsel Don McGahn, several officials said. They are eager for the decision to come ahead of the G-7 and G-20 summits later this month in Italy and Germany, respectively, where world leaders are likely to pressure Mr. Trump to stay in the agreement.
France’s president-elect, Emanuel Macron, urged Mr. Trump not to dismantle the Paris accord during a congratulatory phone call Monday, his spokesman told CNN.
But others inside and close to the administration are urging more tempered steps, such as paring the U.S. carbon-emission reduction targets.
In a recent Oval Office meeting, Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state in the Bush administration, also implored the president to avoid the diplomatic backlash that could result from the U.S. fully withdrawing from the agreement, according to two White House officials.
Within his administration, Mr. Tillerson, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump are all pushing for a more measured response.
Mr. Pruitt and Ms. Trump are scheduled to meet at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the agreement, but that could also be postponed now that the second meeting of the principals committee of the National Security Council was delayed. A make-up date hasn’t been set.
Environmental groups, alarmed for weeks over the rising possibility that the administration may withdraw, have been preparing a response should that occur and simultaneously attempting to undercut the White House’s legal rationale for pulling out.
At the last principals committee meeting, Mr. McGahn took Mr. Pruitt’s side, arguing that remaining in the Paris Agreement could lead to litigation against the U.S. should the administration ratchet down its carbon-emission reduction limits, according to administration officials present. Mr. McGahn declined a request for comment.
Under the Paris Agreement, each participating country determines its own set of emissions targets and a plan to reach them. Mr. McGahn has pointed specifically to Article 4.11, which says that any nation “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition,” noting that lowering goals could prompt lawsuits, multiple administration officials said.
Advocates for the agreement disagree with that analysis.