President Donald Trump today said he initially “didn’t really care about” opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration until he received a call from a friend in the oil industry, but Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan says Trump was onboard all along.
Trump told the story while giving an overview of the GOP’s tax bill during a retreat with Republican lawmakers today, explaining that he wasn’t sure ANWR would stay in the tax bill until he took a call from a friend “who’s in that world and in that business” who told him how big of a deal ANWR is, including to President Ronald Reagan.
“After that, I said, ‘Oh, make sure that’s in the bill,'” Trump said to laughs.
“It was amazing how that had an impact. That had a very big impact on me, Paul,” he said, turning to House Speaker Paul Ryan. “I didn’t really care about it and then when I heard everybody wanted it–for 40 years they had been trying to get it approved. I said, ‘Make sure you don’t lose ANWR.’ It’s great for the people of Alaska.”
But Alaska Sen. Sullivan spoke with the Washington Post shortly after the speech to set the record straight, and explain just how hard Alaska’s congressional delegation worked to put ANWR on the map. Here’s an excerpt from the story, GOP senator says Trump knows more about Alaska than his speech suggested:
“No, no, no, look,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said in an interview after Trump’s speech, recalling exactly how he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) made their pitch. “We had the opportunity to brief the president last year. It was early, like February or March. Over an hour, in the Oval, you know, that’s a lot of time.”
Sullivan said that the senators went into deep detail about the controversial project.
“It was maps, it was on his desk, Zinke was there. And it was all about Alaska, all about Alaska issues, all about our priorities. And we talked about ANWR,” he recalled.
Trump’s story, if true, would seem to diminish the role Alaska’s congressional delegation had in bringing home authorization to begin the first steps to open the 1002 area of ANWR to resource development, but there’s also the very real possibility that Trump was playing for laughs.
The Washington Post notes that the entire speech “doubled almost as a comedy routine” and that “Trump repeatedly made it sound as if a New York real estate guy would know little about the issue.”
Trump described the interaction with the industry representative as follows:
“I never appreciated ANWR so much,” Trump recalled. “A friend of mine called up who’s in that world and in that business and said, ‘Is it true that you’re thinking about ANWR?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to get it, but you know…’ He said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s the biggest thing by itself. Ronald Reagan and every president has wanted to get ANWR approved.’ After that, I said, ‘Oh, make sure that’s in the bill.'”
Sullivan declined to speculate to The Washington Post on whether or not the president was trying to make legislators laugh with the story.
But if you need any idea whether or not Trump was in a joking mood, just look to how he closed out the story after being reminded to thank Rep. Don Young alongside Murkowski and Sullivan.
“Where’s Don Young?” he said. “He’s such a quiet guy.”
Here’s the video to judge for yourself: