President Trump sided Thursday with the members of his administration who wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and against influential voices who wanted him to stay or renegotitate it from within.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt had become a leading voice for withdrawing completely from the climate pact. He was the only Cabinet member to speak Thursday after Trump's appearance in the Rose Garden.
Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist, was one of Pruitt's top allies in the West Wing as factions battled internally over the future of the Paris accords. He sat in the front row as the president announced his decision.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had advocated for remaining in the deal, arguing the U.S. should not give up its seat at the table by exiting the deal. He was absent from the Rose Garden ceremony. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had voiced support for renegotiating the terms of the agreement, which Trump pledged to do Thursday — but in the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal, not as an alternative to it.
"So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair," Trump said at the White House. "And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine."
Ivanka Trump, the president's eldest daughter, and Jared Kushner, her husband and a top White House adviser, both reportedly pushed for Trump to remain in the deal. Neither attended Trump's speech on Thursday, although the White House said their absence was not related to the fact that the president decided against their advice when it came to the Paris agreement.
Various White House aides and lawmakers had split themselves among the three camps as internal debates dragged on for weeks longer than initially anticipated. Twenty-two Republican senators — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — sent Trump a letter urging him to ditch the deal last month.
Trump aligned himself with the conservative critics of the Paris Agreement in the end, consistent with his campaign promises last year. This group includes free-market activists who disapprove of resolving environmental problems through heavy-handed government regulations, Republicans from energy-producing states and climate change skeptics.
But in his remarks explaining his decision, the president said it all came down to "America first."
"As president, I can put no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens," Trump said. "The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production."
Many of Trump's arguments for ending U.S. participation in the deal drew heavily from the nationalist, populist wing of his administration.
"The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement," he said. "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."
"A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound," the president continued. "We would find it very hard to compete with other countries from other parts of the world."
That, Trump said, was unacceptable to him.
"No responsible leader can put the workers and the people of their country at this debilitating and tremendous disadvantage," he asserted.
"The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States while empowering some of the world's top polluting countries should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wished to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement," Trump added. "It's to give their country an economic edge over the United States."
Trump then told the audience to applause, "That's not going to happen while I'm president. I'm sorry." He tied the accord to unfair trade deals and "lax contributions to our critical military alliance" as part of a broader pattern of the United States being outmaneuvered and cheated by foreign governments.
"At what point does America get demeaned?" Trump asked. "At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We want fair treatment for its citizens, and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers."
The president vowed to protect the coal country states that voted for him last year, protesting, "The current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America."
"I love the coal miners," Trump said at one point in an aside.
"And the mines are starting to open up, having a big opening in two weeks, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, so many places," Trump said.
"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," he declared. Critics pointed out that Trump actually lost Pittsburgh in November, but his win in Pennsylvania helped seal his Electoral College majority.
Trump will likely face pressure, even from inside his administration and especially his family, to show his commitment to environmental protection in other ways. He described himself as "someone who cares deeply about the environment" on Thursday.
But on the Paris Agreement, Trump listened to administration officials who advised him to keep a campaign promise and spoke up for a critical group of his working-class voters.
"We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be," Trump vowed. "They won't be."