WASHINGTON — President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the international Paris climate change accord, sought to roll back or weaken over 80 environmental regulations and is seen “around the world as a Darth Vader-like figure,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who has specialized in books about environmental policy.
But Monday afternoon, Mr. Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech billed as “America’s Environmental Leadership.” He will be flanked by his two senior environmental officials — one a former lobbyist for the coal industry and the other who once worked for big oil.
Short of announcing a 180-degree policy pivot, it is unclear what Mr. Trump’s argument will be or why he would be giving it now. But the idea for the speech did not start with the president: It started with consultants on his re-election campaign who have discovered that his environmental record was a definite turnoff to two key demographics — millennials and suburban women, according to two people familiar with the plans.
In an administration that has often had a muddled approach to policy, both Mr. Trump’s allies and enemies agree that in launching the rollback of environmental rules he has clearly delivered on his campaign promises. And in his speech, he is expected to tout that rollback as part of what administration officials say is a common-sense approach to the environment that could appeal to at least some of the voters unhappy with his record.
As part of that approach, Mr. Trump is expected to deliver a “center-right” speech, according to one White House official, and criticize policy proposals put forth by Democrats — especially the Green New Deal proposed by Democrats in Congress — that he will try to paint as aggressive and unreasonable.
Mr. Trump’s most notable efforts to weaken environmental protections have been on climate change, which many environmental scientists and policy experts call the defining threat to humanity of the twenty-first century. Mr. Trump has publicly mocked the established science of human-caused climate change.
And he has proudly sold himself as a champion of the coal industry — even as emissions from burning coal remain one of the chief causes of global warming.
A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to not disclose internal discussions and who had reviewed internal campaign polling, said that the numbers showed Mr. Trump was “never going to get” the type of voter who feels passionately about tackling climate change.
But, the official said, there were moderate voters who like the president’s economic policies who “just want to know that he’s being responsible” on environmental issues. And that is who the speech will be aimed at convincing.
Mr. Trump is expected to give remarks in the East Room of the White House. He will be joined by Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and former coal lobbyist, who has played a lead role in crafting rollbacks of rules on climate change and clean air, and David Bernhardt, the secretary of Interior and former oil lobbyist, who has led the way in opening up the nation’s public lands and waters to more drilling.
The incongruous message of environmental preservation is so starkly at odds with Mr. Trump’s own record, experts say, that the moment already smacks of the surreal.
“It is an utter farce for the president to talk about America’s environmental leadership, when he has been a champion of the polluters,” said Mr. Brinkley.
Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant and pollster, said he has presented Republican lawmakers with data in recent weeks that shows that the public — and particularly younger people — want to see action to safeguard the environment, but that the issue is seen as owned by Democrats.
“It is still not a top five priority” among Republicans, Mr. Luntz said. “These guys, they really do care, but they don’t know how to get it done in this polarized environment.”