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Week In Politics: Trump Withdraws U.S. From Paris Climate Accord


Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is where we start with our Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to see you both.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And we begin with President Trump's case that he set out yesterday for withdrawing. He said the Paris Agreement wasn't so much about climate change as it was about other countries gaining an edge over the U.S.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement. They went wild. They were so happy for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.

SIEGEL: And he posed the questions - at what point does America get demeaned; at what point do they start laughing at us as a country? First, E.J. Dionne, thoughts on Donald Trump's action yesterday and his argument for taking it?

DIONNE: Well, I think it was astonishing. It was kind of the paranoid style of the American president that he is treating all of our leaders and, by the way, all these CEOs - General Electric, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft on and on - as stupid and easily duped - as not the shapers of our own fate, as the victims of invidious foreign leaders. It was a profound insult not only to Barack Obama, which he obviously intended, but to the whole country that somehow we can be taken advantage of like this.

And it was very bad for us in the world. Trump himself had to concede that this is a nonbinding agreement. And doing something like this can only weaken our standing in the world, which he already did a pretty good job of at the NATO summit.

SIEGEL: David, what do you make of this - the U.S. not so much as world leader, it seemed, but as sucker on the global stage in this deal?


DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Well, you know, I don't think this is going to do much damage to the environment. U.S. emissions have been going down. The Paris Accord was entirely voluntary anyway. He could have protected coalminers' jobs if he wanted to and stayed within Paris.

And so as Dan Drezner said in the setup piece was that he did it specifically to thumb - stick his middle finger in the eye of every other world leader. And you can't be the leader of the world and do that. And so I think it'll do irreparable damage to America's role in the world and, therefore, make the world a less safe place. If you treat everybody like they're hitting you and that you're selfish, they will behave selfishly toward you. And any sense of world order will be set back.

DIONNE: And there is the small fact that coal jobs aren't being shut down by the Paris Agreement. Natural gas is doing a pretty good job of that. And the factory jobs are also not being shut down because of agreements like this so that there is a kind of deep cynicism here. And it looks like the president is appealing to some base out there. Although, it's shrinking at a moment when the Russia story is metastasizing.

SIEGEL: When you speak of his base - I mean, he mentioned in his speech pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Detroit, Youngstown, Ohio, Pittsburgh - cities, by the way, that happened to go Democratic but the broader areas around them, perhaps, did not. But they were all in key states that elected him. Do you think he's in sync with people in those states?

BROOKS: I think in some sense. I do think people in coal country, with some good reason, think the Obama administration was - had written them off and had more or less cast them onto the ash heap of history. And if you want to defend coal workers, I think that's acceptable. You can find clean coal technologies. If you want to do retraining, if you want to have some massive infrastructure program to help those jobs - to retrain those workers, that would be fantastic.

The Trump administration seems to show no active actual interest in doing any of those things. And so my basic line on Trump has always been that he's the wrong answer to the right question. And so he's focused on the right people. But he's just not actually doing policies beyond this sort of sham symbolism that's actually helping those people.

SIEGEL: So much for the Paris Agreement. Let's go on to the inescapable story, what we might call Russia-Flynn-Kushner-Trump-Comey-gate or something like that.


SIEGEL: Where do we stand now? E.J., what do you figure we are in this complex of stories?

DIONNE: Well, the story just keeps producing more stories, which is very bad for Trump, although probably good for the country in the sense that we are getting more and more information to try to get to the bottom of this. I think the fact that the White House had to explain this week that, in his meeting with the Russian banker, Jared Kushner gave one version of events. The Russian banker gives an entirely different version of events.

Their problem on this story is they consistently behave as if they are guilty of something. We don't know what they are guilty of, if anything. But they can't keep their story straight. They go into denial until the denial doesn't work anymore. And that creates - that's created - they've helped make this problem worse.

SIEGEL: But, David, does inept crisis management mean there's a greater crisis?

BROOKS: No, I don't think so. I'm moved on to the show-me-the-beef phase of this story. If there was actual collusion between the Russians and the Trump people, that would be one thing. If Jared Kushner did need some Russian investor to bail out his building at 666 Fifth Avenue, that would be one thing. But so far, we actually don't have evidence of that.

And I'm hoping that maybe James Comey has it. Maybe somebody will find it. Bob Mueller will find it. But we don't have that. So I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves on the story. They're certainly behaving like there's a covering up going on. They're certainly behaving in a deceptive manner. But so far, there's nothing actual that approaches an impeachable or even a criminal offense.

DIONNE: I just - could I say real quick, I would love nothing better than to get to an answer to this one way or the other. And the fact that they are holding back, notably, on Donald Trump's tax returns, they could help us get to the end of this story. And the fact that they're not doing it is what increases suspicion.

BROOKS: I'm just arguing about what the level of hair-on-fire-ness (ph) we should be approaching this. I think we're over hair-on-fire-ing (ph).

SIEGEL: (Laughter) Next week, James Comey, the ousted FBI director, is scheduled to testify in public. The Trump White House seems to think this whole story is of interest only inside the Capital Beltway, not more than five miles beyond Washington. Do you think that is still true? And do you think it's likely to remain true, David?

BROOKS: I don't think it's true. I do think people - we've seen an erosion in his core support. We've seen erosion - and I would only say, within the Washington community, if you hang around here, you know people who would be potential Trump hires. And those people are now, because of the Comey-Jared-Russia-gate, are now not willing to go in the administration. And this is the only time we've had a scandal before the administration is staffed up. So whatever else is going to happen, it's going to make this a dysfunctional administration.

DIONNE: I think that's absolutely right. And I also think you're seeing an increasing ferocity among anti-Trump conservatives who are getting tougher and tougher on their own party's leadership for not taking Trump on or for going along with him, for not raising enough questions.

And while many of these folks are writers not politicians, I've been thinking about the neoconservatives back in the 1960s who were liberals, who were dissident, who helped pave the way for something new. And I think this anti-Trump right is getting more alienated from its own side. And I got to say for good reason.

BROOKS: Oh, Nathan Glazer is mad now. No, I do think that the disgust with Trump is rising among some sections not so much with the core base.

SIEGEL: OK, David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Good to be here.

BROOKS: Good to be here.