Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday both refused to answer repeated questions of whether President Donald Trump believes climate change is a hoax.
The two officials faced a barrage of questions during the White House briefing, one day after Trump sparked a global backlash by announcing the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries holding out from the pact.
Pruitt first dodged a question about whether Trump believes in climate change by suggesting that he and the president did not even discuss the topic over the course of their deliberations.
“What’s interesting about all the discussions we had through the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue: Is Paris good or not for this country,” Pruitt told reporters. “That’s the discussions I’ve had with the president. That’s been my focus. The focus remained on whether Paris put us at a disadvantage.”
The Paris agreement, signed by 195 countries, was negotiated specifically to combat man-made climate change by setting targets for reducing carbon emissions. Since his announcement Thursday that the U.S. will exit the deal, Trump and his surrogates have pitched the decision as good for the American economy and have largely avoided talking about climate change. His advisers have described Trump as committed to keeping American water and air clean but not addressed his commitment to fighting climate change.
Despite the consensus among many scientists that global temperatures are warming because of human activity such as carbon emissions, Trump has previously called climate change a “hoax” manufactured by the Chinese.
Asked this week whether Trump still believes climate change is a hoax, several White House officials have declined to say. Several reporters asked Pruitt that question at the briefing on Friday, and he repeatedly dodged.
One reported quipped that “obviously a lot of people from the White House are not willing to answer this question of what the president’s view is on climate change” and asked Pruitt about his own views.
Pruitt cited his congressional testimony and said “global warming is occurring, that human activity contributes to it, in some matter” but questioned whether it poses an “existential threat.”
Scientists say that climate change is on track to cause large rises in sea level over the next century, which could displace populations worldwide, as well as changes in weather patterns, such as more natural disasters.
Spicer also dodged a reporter’s question on whether the president believes in climate change.
“I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion,” he said.
When pressed about whether he will ask Trump the question and report back at the next briefing, Spicer responded, "If I can, I will."