White House shows no sign of reopening Paris talks

Three weeks after President Donald Trump pledged to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and negotiate a better deal, foreign allies and U.S. officials alike remain perplexed about the White House’s plans going forward.

Two U.S. officials told POLITICO that senior White House aides, who are prioritizing health care legislation and increasingly preoccupied by the expanding Russia probe, have had very few internal conversations about the administration’s Paris strategy since Trump’s announcement. One official said the administration likely won’t begin mapping out its next moves until after the July G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

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Interviews with a half-dozen foreign officials and veteran climate negotiators show the international community is deeply uncertain in the meantime about how to interpret Trump’s June 1 Rose Garden speech, in which he vowed to “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States.”

“Nobody has a clue what the administration is thinking,” said one foreign diplomat, who like others quoted in this story requested anonymity to discuss the issue. “The announcement is so vague. Nobody knows what it means.”

Left unsaid in Trump’s speech: What will it take for the U.S. to re-enter the Paris agreement? What exactly would a new negotiation entail? Will the U.S. cease participation in United Nations climate negotiations altogether? Is Trump even interested in staying in the agreement if he wins concessions?

The deep divide within the administration over the Paris deal makes it nearly impossible for foreign diplomats, who have had sporadic contact with U.S. officials, to know who is best articulating Trump’s current thinking on the issue. White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ivanka Trump and others all argued for staying in the agreement, while chief strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pressured Trump to withdraw altogether.

Diplomats said their early communications with the United States about next steps on Paris have yielded little new information. One well-connected foreign diplomat explained that he’s heard “nothing from a unified voice of the administration that suggests they have a cohesive policy.”

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s strategy, saying only that the administration continues to “engage with our international counterparts about shared environmental goals.”

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is increasingly clear: there is almost no chance other countries are going to agree to reopen the Paris deal itself, which was the product of decades of diplomacy and won the support of nearly 200 nations when it was finalized in 2015.

Within hours of Trump’s announcement, France, Germany and Italy declared in a statement that the agreement can’t be rewritten. “The Paris agreement is here to stay and the 29 articles of the Paris agreement are not to be renegotiated,” EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete told reporters earlier this month.

Conservative opponents of the agreement, who hope Trump’s announcement portends the permanent end of U.S. involvement in the Paris deal, are thrilled that the other countries have ruled out renegotiation.

“The Europeans in particular are not going to renegotiate Paris, and therefore, it’s really just kind of a PR exercise,” said Myron Ebell, a vocal critic of climate change science who led the Trump transition operations EPA team, of Trump’s pledge to negotiate a better deal.

Ebell put the odds of the U.S. remaining in the Paris deal at 50 to 1. “I just don’t see how we can do it,” he said.

Any effort by Trump to remain in the agreement would be met with fierce opposition from conservatives, who mounted a months-long behind-the-scenes campaign to pressure the president to withdraw. Hardline critics of the agreement, including Pruitt and Bannon, have no intention of allowing for a path back into the accord, said an administration official familiar with their thinking.

But those in the administration who argued vehemently in favor of remaining in the agreement see some wiggle room in Trump’s remarks, according to the administration officials.

Some U.S. and foreign climate experts are beginning to privately make the case to the administration that even a minor concession from other countries — or a weakening of former President Barack Obama’s domestic climate change target — could be enough to declare victory and stay in the deal. The tough talk in the Rose Garden is enough to satisfy Trump’s base, they argue.

Yet since Trump’s speech the White House’s most powerful figures have again disengaged, turning their attention to health care, tax reform and other policy issues – while the government’s climate policy experts are increasingly disempowered.

“The people who have the keys to the ignition aren’t driving the car, and the people who want to drive the car don’t have the keys,” one diplomat quipped.

The recent meeting of G7 environment ministers gave the international community little hope that the U.S. is open to finding a middle ground on climate change. While the environmental ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom signed on to a joint statement reaffirming their “strong commitment” to the Paris deal, Pruitt abstained.

It also remains unclear what role Trump administration negotiators will play in future climate talks. Since the U.S. has not formally withdrawn from Paris yet, the State Department can still participate in future Paris-related discussions, including a high-profile summit in Bonn, Germany, in November. The U.S. also co-chairs a United Nations working group tasked with increasing transparency as countries comply with the Paris deal.

Noting that the U.S. is still a member of the United Nations treaty that governs international climate talks, a State Department official told POLITICO the administration “will participate in international climate change meetings consistent with its national interests,” but declined to offer any specifics.

During the G20 summit, foreign officials will be watching closely for signs of whether Trump is serious about trying to find a way to stay in Paris.

Trump could also find more like-minded foreign leaders among the G20’s broader group of participants. Though nearly every G20 country has signaled its intention to remain in the Paris deal, some nations are seen as being less committed than others. The Europeans have privately raised fears that Trump could team up with countries like Saudi Arabia to form a coalition of nations that are less focused on climate change, blowing up an effort by the Germans to show unity when it comes to the global commitment to reduce emissions.

But, at least in public, European officials remain confident that other countries aren’t wavering in their commitment to tackling climate change.

“Clearly, we regret that the United States has decided to take a different path so early in the life of this agreement,” David O’Sullivan, the European Union’s ambassador to the United States, told members of Congress this week during an event hosted by House Democrats. “But we are reassured that the Paris agreement will live on as the other signatories show unity and resolved in pursuing collective action to ensure the future of our planet.”

Tara Palmeri contributed to this story.


These local Democrats feel guilty for sitting out last year’s election. So they are venturing into GOP territory to register voters for 2018

Dan Henrickson rapped on the door of a stucco townhouse perched on a cul-de-sac in the north Los Angeles County suburb of Santa Clarita and awaited his fate.

As a volunteer for the Democratic Party on L.A.’s Westside, the 63-year-old information technology consultant was still getting used to the awkward art of door-knocking — earlier in the afternoon, he choked on a sip of water just as a voter opened his door.

The man who answered this time looked Henrickson and his door-knocking partner up and down as they started their spiel. He asked them a single question: “Are you Democrats?”

The man shut the door when he got the answer.

Tracy Stevens, 52, seemed puzzled when he saw the duo on his doorstep. “I thought you were gonna bust out the Bible,” he said.

He’d never had political canvassers come knocking, and he took the opportunity to express his frustrations with the political system and how it “just doesn’t seem to matter” what people do to try to change things.

“I didn’t vote for this guy, but you have to support him,” he said. “A lot of people give up on the system.”

Sparrow waited in silence as he spoke. Then she invited him to attend the next meeting of area Democrats.

“We participate in the process when we don’t participate,” she said.

They wrapped up their tasks and met back up at the park to see how it went for the others in the group.

Lisa Newman, a 55-year-old karate instructor from Simi Valley, suggested the outsiders get familiar with hyper-local issues to have better success with their efforts. Two out-of-towners in her group had been asked about vacant business space at the local mall during their rounds. When they were clueless how to answer, Newman had to intervene.

Meg Sullivan also struggled. The 58-year-old retired publicist from the tony Cheviot Hills neighborhood near the 20th Century Fox Studios said most of the doors she knocked on didn’t even open.

“Were we able to make a difference?” she asked. “I don’t know.”

Sullivan said she hadn’t as much as “lifted a finger” since 1972, when her mother took her to knock on doors for Democrat George McGovern when he ran against President Nixon.

Trump’s election changed that. “Never again,” she said, shaking her head.

“I do this for my mental health,” she said. “Just to have a sense that I’m doing something to combat this terrible tsunami that’s taking over.”


Twitter: @jpanzar


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10:25 p.m.: This article was updated to mention the special election in Georgia.

This article was originally published at 12:05 a.m. on June 19.


Trump’s Russian pipeline policy

The Trump administration is on a diplomatic offensive against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, lobbying across Europe to kill off the project while also boosting its own gas sales to Europe.

The geopolitical rationale behind the U.S. position is to keep Russia from dominating European gas markets. There is also a growing commercial imperative as the U.S. starts to sell liquified natural gas to the EU and Russia’s Gazprom becomes a competitor.

Unlike Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, breaking with Obama administration support, the new administration is sticking with its Democratic predecessor’s position on the pipeline — even if the commercial reasons are more obvious.

The U.S. offensive also comes as EU countries consider whether to give Brussels the green light to start negotiating with Russia on how the pipeline should be regulated. The issue is so contentious, there is even a push to get on the EU leaders’ agenda at this week’s summit.

The U.S. administration’s pressure on the pipeline was boosted by a separate move late last week from the U.S. Senate, which  proposed new sanctions against companies supporting Russian energy export projects. The move sparked a furious response from Germany and Austria. Both have companies helping Russia’s Gazprom with the €9.5 billion pipeline.

“They are actively trying to promote their LNG in Europe and make a business case out of it,” said Severin Fischer, senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies in Zurich, referring to the administration’s efforts to kill the pipeline project.

The pipeline would carry an additional 55 billion cubic meters of gas directly from Russia to Germany, doubling the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipe.

Although the chances of stopping the pipeline are remote, the European Commission and Eastern European and Baltic countries oppose the project, worrying it would tighten Moscow’s grip on the region’s gas market, undermine EU efforts to diversify supplies away from Russia and bypass the Ukrainian transit route. Nord Stream 2 would see 80 percent of Russian gas imports to Europe flow directly into Germany.

That’s also the U.S. concern.

“A project that could increase or centralize deliveries of gas through one particular route to Europe is something that ought to be thought about carefully,” said Mary Warlick, acting special envoy for international energy affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

“Europe needs to really think about its total energy balance and its energy security, and recognize how dependent they remain on Russia” — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

She passed that message along to European capitals in May, visiting Austria, Latvia, Slovakia and Norway. She also had several bilateral meetings with Polish and Lithuanian officials. Her trip came just weeks after Robin Dunnigan, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for energy diplomacy, traveled to Denmark and Brussels, where she also met EU officials on Nord Stream 2 with the same message.

“Europe needs to really think about its total energy balance and its energy security, and recognize how dependent they remain on Russia,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a U.S. Congress hearing last week.

At a time when the Trump administration has few warm West European friends, its efforts to block Nord Stream 2 find favor with Central European countries worried about a resurgent Russia. Most of the Polish government turned out last week to celebrate the first U.S. LNG delivery to Poland’s new Baltic terminal.

“The first gas delivery from the USA to Poland will be noted in future history books,” Prime Minister Beata Szydło said.

The U.S. diplomatic push “gives Central Eastern European countries the reassurance that Uncle Sam is still looking out for them,” said Sijbren de Jong, strategic analyst with The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

But there’s a strong commercial interest at work as well.

American LNG has been delivered to Spain, Portugal, Malta, Italy, and the Netherlands as well as Poland, and Warlick said that there’s a “strong signal” from European countries for increased supply. The topic came up “with quite a few number of officials” during her trip to Europe, she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images |

The U.S. will become a “dominant energy force” in the world by using its “massive shale gas resources to begin shipping [LNG] overseas,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said at the end of April. “Energy policy is not just a vital element of U.S. economic policy, but also a vital element of U.S. foreign policy.”

Washington’s effort to build an anti-Nord Stream 2 coalition puts it at odds with Berlin and Vienna, which see the pipeline as a commercial venture and not a geopolitical threat. Warlick said she encouraged EU countries “to weigh in to reflect their national concerns” over proposed negotiations between the European Commission and Russia on how to apply EU energy rules to the offshore project.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who rarely speaks publicly about the project, last week rejected the need for EU-Russia talks on the pipeline.

Germany, together with Austria, also hit back last week at proposed U.S. Senate sanctions that would threaten European companies participating in the project, accusing the U.S. of politicizing its economic interest in selling natural gas to Europe.

“We cannot accept … the threat of illegal extraterritorial sanctions against European companies that participate in the development of European energy supply,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said in a joint statement.

Gabriel and Kern said the aim of the Senate bill is to secure jobs in the U.S. oil and gas sector, adding that “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America.”


Macron’s price for saving Europe: Trade defense

The move to screen foreign investments is a thinly veiled threat to Chinese companies buying up Europe’s crown jewels | Getty Images

France will push for tougher trade defense and screening of Chinese investments in return for ‘saving’ the EU from populism.

Emmanuel Macron made Europe’s spring. Now the French president wants payback.

Having seen off the populist challenge to the European Union in France’s elections, the young centrist comes to his first EU summit with a list of demands: He will ask EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for three measures to bolster trade defenses and crowd out competition from China.

It will be Macron’s attempt to deliver on his campaign promise to defend citizens against the impact of globalization, while continuing to address some of the root causes of populist nationalism not only in France, but across Europe.

“The president led a campaign that was very engaged towards Europe by insisting on the theme of a Europe that protects,” said one French official. “But Europe can only be supported and understood if it brings a certain protection which is felt as such, which is visible and concrete, to our fellow citizens.”

In his election program, Macron promised “effective” tools to control foreign investments and to punish social, fiscal and environmental dumping.

When EU leaders’ talks turn to trade on Friday morning, the French message will be: “If we want to save trade policy in Europe, it will need to be firmer, more robust,” said another senior official. “Macron will want to show other leaders what Europe can bring in terms of protection.”

Macron faces opposition from Northern European member countries including Sweden and Finland.

The three priorities Macron will put on the Council table are: a strong push against dumping, screening of foreign investments, and reciprocity in public procurement markets. The European Council meeting needs to “affirm that Europe will mobilize anti-dumping tools when it’s necessary,” the first official said. “Europe shouldn’t allow itself to be, somehow, a victim of unfair trade competition.”

France has secured the support of political heavyweight Germany and other industrial countries in Central European, capitalizing on a growing sense of unity in the face of the U.K.’s impending departure and wary relations with the U.S.

However, Macron faces opposition from Northern European member countries including Sweden and Finland — as well as European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, a Swede and a convinced free-trader who has repeatedly opposed controls that could amount to protectionism.

‘Politics at its worst’

Malmström voiced her scepticism at a POLITICO event Tuesday. “We don’t want to hurt investment,” she said, adding that there would be legal hurdles to controlling foreign investment. “We have to see what is legally possible to do.”

Christofer Fjellner, a Swedish MEP from the center-right European People’s Party who sits on the Parliament’s trade committee, said the Macron proposal was “politics at its worst.”

“The Chinese market for investment is not open for European businesses, that’s the real problem. But by adding another layer of protectionism, you won’t solve that issue,” he said. “We just had a debate on the lack of investment … putting a burden on investment sounds plain stupid.”

As the EU trade war with China intensifies around products from steel to solar panels, France wants the European Commission to increase the number of staff dedicated to anti-dumping cases.

“There are two times fewer staff dealing with trade defense in the Commission than in the United States,” the French official said. These remarks were echoed by two other officials, with one suggesting France could seek to double the number of EU probes in this area.

Macron also hopes to speed up EU investigations, all three officials said. “The Commission needs to accelerate the procedure, put in place a systematic follow up, and get equipped with human and financial means,” according to one.

One Belt One Road

The move to screen foreign investments is a thinly veiled threat to Chinese companies buying up Europe’s crown jewels.

“We feel the need to establish surveillance at EU level,” the French official said. In draft Council conclusions seen by POLITICO, EU leaders call on the Commission to “examine ways to identify and screen investments from third countries in strategic sectors, while respecting member states’ competences.”

The EU should also close its public procurement markets to countries — including China — that don’t reciprocally allow European companies to compete for public contracts, France will say.

German politicians had a change of heart after China encroached on the industry of national pride.

As leaders gather to consider Macron’s requests, China’s acquisition last December of Kuka, a German robot maker whose machines are the backbone of Germany’s car industry, could prove a definitive influence. For a long time German politicians opposed action at EU level, but they had a change of heart after China encroached on the industry of national pride.

Tanja Alemany, spokesperson for the German economy ministry, said the EU has reached a “critical time” on foreign investment.

“China has the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, and you see protectionist tendencies in America. The EU needs its own answer on how we can do well in future,” she said.

Laurens Cerulus contributed reporting. 


Battered and bruised, Theresa May limps into enemy territory

Theresa May.

The only thing keeping the British PM in power is Brexit. It could also be what finishes her off.

LONDON — Theresa May arrives in Brussels Thursday as a caretaker prime minister in all but name — unable to govern but trapped in office.

After two weeks of crisis management following the botched general election, she remains in place, limping on to see through the hard Brexit most of her party demand and fear is in jeopardy should they get rid of her too quickly, opening the door for Labour to take power.

“We will hold it together and must do otherwise it’ll all disintegrate,” one government minister told POLITICO, expressing the sentiment of many in his party.

Brexit is the one issue keeping her in place — and yet it is also the noose around her neck, strangling the lifeblood from her government.

In the queen’s speech setting out the government’s policy agenda Wednesday, much of the prime minister’s planned legislative program as outlined in the Conservative Party manifesto was either ditched or kicked into the long grass. The bulk of what remained was all about Brexit.

Senior MPs and Conservative aides who spoke to POLITICO said without Britain’s impending departure from the EU May would now be gone, having lost her parliamentary majority and mandate to pass any meaningful domestic legislation.

Such is the scale of the challenge that Brexit poses, it is also the issue which could see May removed from power at any moment. This forces her to stick to her hard Brexit vision but also find compromise with soft Brexit colleagues who she’ll need in order to pass the legislation to successfully navigate Britain’s departure.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, May set out in detail the scale of the task facing her.

She must pass eight separate pieces of Brexit legislation, any of which could be defeated.

Before that, she needs to pass the queen’s speech itself — an effective vote of confidence in her government — next week.

Another government minister said: “If the queen’s speech vote goes our way then there will be no challenge. The ball is in her court. She could decide to walk away, but when she said she wanted to get us out of this mess, I think she meant it. Her Anglican sense of duty is very strong.”

Should she survive the queen’s speech vote next week, her next major test will be the “Repeal Bill,” without which there can be no Brexit. The bill repeals the act of parliament which gives EU law its legal status in Britain. It also downloads the entire body of EU law onto the U.K. statute book.

Should this be shot down, May will not be able to survive — and that’s before she tries to pass separate immigration, customs, trade, agriculture, fisheries and nuclear bills required to avoid legal chaos after Brexit.

Adding a further layer of complexity, the prime minister revealed to MPs Wednesday that part of the Repeal Bill may need the approval of the Scottish parliament. “It’s possible that a legislative consent motion will be required in the Scottish parliament,” she said. It’s hard to see Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon not making hay with that.

Waiting in the wings

Such is the precariousness of May’s situation any of her top team of ministers could oust her with one well-timed public intervention. “If DD [Brexit Secretary David Davis] said her lack of authority was stopping him negotiating Brexit she would be gone in minutes and he would be PM,” one senior former government aide said on condition of anonymity.

And yet, for now, she has the job no one wants — or, at least, can be seen to want. An uneasy peace has broken out among the big beasts in cabinet. Chancellor Philip Hammond enjoys more power than at any moment of May’s premiership to date — it’s unlikely he would win the leadership but he cannot be sacked.

Hammond is determined to use his newfound influence to shape Brexit — softening it at the edges with a long, smooth transition to an eventual clean break.

He used to be stopped from putting his concerns to May by her now departed chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, according to one senior former government aide who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity. His “negativity” riled the pair, who blocked him from making explicit warnings to the PM about the dangers of a hard Brexit.

Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson are favorites to land the job should May go but realize they cannot be seen to be the ones to make the first move. “Boris wants it, obviously, but doesn’t want to do all the hard work first. He wants to come in after Brexit with all the pizzazz,” said one Tory MP who did not want to be named.

Clinging to Brexit

So May limps on, trying to avoid the next crisis and playing for time. Providing she can overcome the string of parliamentary and diplomatic hurdles in her path she could hold on for sometime, as Britain sinks into the legislative mire of Brexit.

But it’s a weakness which saw the government compromise straight out of the blocks on Monday, accepting the EU’s step-by-step agenda after months of insisting there had to be parallel talks on the future trading relationship as well as the divorce. May is expected to set out her proposal on citizens’ rights — the first issue in the negotiations — over dinner with the other EU27 leaders Thursday but they are not expected to enter into any discussion.

After a desperate fortnight in office, May has survived and travels to Brussels after a performance in the Commons Wednesday which won admiration among her colleagues — joking with opponents, praising colleagues and taking regular interventions across the house in a sign of a changed, more open style of government.

Tory MP Julian Knight — critical of May’s performance during the election — said it was “the most polished performance by the PM in months.”

But she also cut a depleted figure.

Labour MP Wes Streeting gave the most brutal of many brutal put-downs during the debate on the queen’s speech. “She asked for a personal mandate in the election and didn’t get one,” he said to cheers. “The only question is, why is she still here?”

May had earlier been cheered to the rafters by her MPs — but perhaps a little too fulsomely. Labour MPs’ cries of “resign!” appeared more heartfelt.

The faces of the prime minister’s frontbench colleagues were certainly glum throughout, watching on as she apologized for her own response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Two months earlier the Tories were heading for a landslide and relished the prospect of a generation in power. Now they were forced to endure the spectacle of an opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, long derided as a left-wing throwback, with his tail up.

Whitehall aides believe a crunch is coming — either for May or the Tory party after they have got rid of her.

“This country is fucked,” one senior Tory said. “We are tethered to the mast of Brexit and when it goes wrong we’re screwed. They all know it. All Labour have to do is hedge their bets. When the public realize they have been sold a pup they will turn on the party.”