Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt joined the White House press briefing, one day after Donald Trump announced the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate accord. But when multiple reporters pressed Pruitt about Trump's past climate change denialism, he refused to give a straight answer.
Donald Trump's reckless decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord has already been met with disapproval and condemnation at home and around the world.
But the move was not entirely surprising, considering Trump's well-known history of climate change denialism — including the absurd belief that global warming is a "hoax" perpetrated by China.
And having installed Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency — a man with a documented history of climate change "skepticism" who has spent years attacking and even suing the EPA — it was unlikely that Trump would be turning over a new leaf on environmentalism once he began occupying the White House.
Indeed, there have already been efforts to remove all mentions of climate change from the EPA's website. And the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord only served to drive home the administration's blatant lack of concern about this urgent issue.
And when repeatedly pressed about Trump's denialism by reporters at a White House press briefing, Pruitt stubbornly refused to give a direct answer.
First, ABC News' Mary Bruce asked the simple yes-or-no question, and got a rambling non-answer in response.
— American Bridge (@American_Bridge) June 2, 2017
MARY BRUCE: Just hoping you can clear this up once and for all: Yes or no, does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?
PRUITT: You know, 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? 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. And in fact, it did. It put us at an economic disadvantage. You may not know this, but Paris set targets at 26 to 28 percent. With the entire agenda of the previous administration, we still fell 40 percent short of those targets. It was a failed deal to begin with, and even if all of the targets were met by all nations across the globe, it only reduced the temperature by less than two-tenths of one degree. So, that is something that the president focused upon, with respect to how it impacted us economically, and whether there were good environmental objectives that were achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was no, and that was the extent of our discussions. (To another reporter) Yes, ma'am.
BRUCE: But on climate change, yes or no?
PRUITT: (To another reporter) Yes, ma'am.
When the Washington Post's Phil Rucker tried to go back to the question, Pruitt again offered his boilerplate response about the Paris agreement's economic impacts.
RUCKER: I'd like to go back to the first question that was asked that you didn't answer: Does the president believe today that climate change is a hoax? That's something, of course, he said in the campaign. When the pool was up in the Oval Office with him a couple days ago, he refused to answer. I'm wondering if you can speak for him.
PRUITT: You know, I did answer, because I said the discussions the president and I have had over the last several weeks have been focused on one key issue: Is Paris good or bad for this country? The president and I focused our attentions there, he determined that it was bad for this country. It hurt us economically. It didn't achieve good environmental outcomes. And he made the decision to reject the Paris deal.
NBC News's Kristen Welker next attempted to get a straight answer out of Pruitt, calling on him as the EPA administrator to give the real answer that the American people deserve.
But once again, Pruitt deflected.
WELKER: You're the EPA administrator. Shouldn't you be able to tell the American people whether or not the president still believes that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand?
PRUITT: As I indicated, several times in the process, there's enough to deal with with respect to the Paris agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue. That's what our focus has been over the last several weeks. I've answer the question a couple times.
But in fact, Pruitt had not really answered the question — and when another reporter brought up the lack of information about Trump's climate change views, Pruitt ignored that part of the question and began to lecture the crowd about what the administration has supposedly done to reduce the country's carbon footprint.
REPORTER: Given the fact that you and other administration officials haven't been able to outline the president's views on climate change, why should other countries believe that the president wants to negotiate a deal in good faith?
PRUITT: As I indicated in my comments yesterday, and the president emphasized in his speech, this administration, and the country as a whole — we have taken significant steps to reduce our CO2 footprint, to levels of the pre-1990 —
It is distressing to see, in so many members of this administration, how well-honed the ability to ignore direct questions or offer non sequiturs that sound like substantive answers has already become.
And it is troubling beyond measure to realize that, as Pruitt refuses to say if Trump believes climate change is a real threat, the answer is likely "no."