WASHINGTON — Four days after President Trump announced his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, the American people still don’t know what the president actually thinks about global warming.
In the days surrounding announcement, the White House press corps has repeatedly asked Trump and other officials about whether he believes human activity contributes to climate change. Despite staffers promising to answer this basic question about the president’s views on a major policy issue, they have not done so.
It’s not the only area where the Trump administration has been stonewalling the press in recent days. Officials are also refusing to answer questions about a far more quotidian issue — the president’s golf game.
Prior to launching his presidential campaign in June 2015, Trump’s position on manmade climate change was clear. He didn’t believe in it even though there is overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are accelerating the pace of global warming.
On many occasions prior to 2015, Trump took to Twitter to dismiss the concept of manmade climate change. In one 2012 post, he described it as a false narrative “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” On New Year’s Day in 2014, Trump blasted what he called “this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bulls***.” A few weeks after that explicit tweet, Trump sent another one in all caps calling manmade climate change a “HOAX.”
Trump seemed to modify his view somewhat on the campaign trail. In March 2016, he described himself as “not a great believer in man-made climate change” while admitting that there certainly has been “a change in weather” that might be naturally occurring. After he was elected last November, Trump gave an interview to the New York Times where he was asked about the Paris accord and his personal view on climate change. Trump indicated he would “have an open mind” about the Paris agreement and suggested he had come to believe the widespread scientific consensus that human activity has contributed to climate change.
“I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much,” Trump said.
Trump’s decision on the Paris accord put his views on the issue in the spotlight last week. More than 190 countries joined the agreement, which is designed to slow the pace of climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide.
On May 31, one day before the Paris withdrawal announcement, Trump ignored a question from a reporter in the Oval Office about whether he still believes manmade climate change is a hoax. The day before, White House press secretary Sean Spicer got the same question. Spicer said he had not asked Trump about his view on the issue and indicated he would get an answer for the press corps.
“I can get back to you,” Spicer said.
Other White House officials including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt similarly declined to answer questions about Trump’s position on manmade climate change after the president announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord. On June 2, Yahoo News followed up with Spicer to see if he had made good on his prior promise to get an answer.
“I have not talked to the president,” he said.
This silence has generated extensive press coverage. On Monday, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducted the daily briefing. Afterward, Yahoo News asked her if she could say whether the president believes in manmade climate change. Sanders indicated the White House had prepared an answer after the days of questions.
“I’ll send you something on that. I’ve got something. I just don’t have it right here in front of me,” Sanders said.
Yahoo News pressed Sanders about whether the answer would come before the end of the day on Monday.
“Yup,” she said.
Despite this promise, we still have not received any answer from Sanders or anyone else in the White House about the president’s views on manmade climate change. Neither Sanders nor Spicer responded to a follow-up email asking if we would receive the statement.
Then there’s golf. Trump is an avid golfer who owns several courses that bear his name. Since taking office, Trump has spent extensive time at these courses, but his staffers often don’t answer questions about whether he is golfing. The White House’s unwillingness to address this simple question has been made even more glaring by photos that emerged on social media showing Trump wearing golf shoes and riding a cart around the links during these visits.
Last weekend, Trump spent both days on his golf course in Virginia. And on both days, the White House would not answer questions about what the president was doing. On Sunday, a photographer for the New York Times observed aides removing golf clubs from the president’s motorcade when it returned to the White House. On Monday, Yahoo News asked Sanders if she could confirm Trump had indeed been golfing when he went to the golf course with golf clubs.
“I’m not sure, honestly,” Sanders said. “I wasn’t here this weekend.”
Yahoo News pressed Sanders on why the press has “trouble” getting answers to these questions on golf and climate change. Sanders indicated she would try to follow up on the golfing question.
“I’ll ask,” she said.
But neither Sanders nor Spicer responded to a follow-up email asking if Trump was golfing last weekend.
President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, regularly spent weekends on the golf course, and his press shop told the press what he was doing and who he played with. Trump repeatedly mocked Obama for his golf habit and indicated he would not have time to play the game if elected president. Back in March, Yahoo News asked Spicer about Trump’s past criticism of Obama. Spicer suggested Trump might be taking meetings rather than playing during his course visits.
“So many people jumping to the conclusion that he was going down and playing golf. Just because you go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean you did it,” said Spicer.
Yet it’s impossible for people to confirm what the president is doing when he’s on the course because the White House won’t answer questions about it. In other administrations, the White House has willingly provided this information so the people can be informed about how much time the president is spending on recreational activities.
The questions about whether Trump believes in manmade climate change and whether he played golf are of vastly different magnitude. One is a major policy issue and the other is a game. However, both have very simple answers — yes or no. And in both of these cases, the Trump administration keeps promising answers they then fail to supply. It’s an alarming trend for people who seek honesty and transparency from the White House press shop, on matters great and small.
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