In ensembles of retrospective general circulation model (GCM) simulations, surface temperatures in the east-central United States cool between 1951 and 1997. This cooling, which is broadly consistent with observed surface temperatures, is present in GCM experiments driven by observed time varying sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Pacific, whether or not increasing greenhouse gases and other time varying climate forcings are included. Here we focus on ensembles with fixed radiative forcing and with observed varying SST in different regions. In these experiments the trend and variability in east-central U.S. surface temperatures are tied to tropical Pacific SSTs. Warm tropical Pacific SSTs cool U.S. temperatures by diminishing solar heating through an increase in cloud cover. These associations are embedded within a year-round response to warm tropical Pacific SST that features tropospheric warming throughout the tropics and regions of tropospheric cooling in midlatitudes. Precipitable water vapor over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and the tropospheric thermal gradient across the Gulf Coast of the United States increase when the tropical Pacific is warm. In observations, recent warming in the tropical Pacific is also associated with increased precipitable water over the southeast United States. The observed cooling in the east-central United States, relative to the rest of the globe, is accompanied by increased cloud cover, though year-to-year variations in cloud cover, U.S. surface temperatures, and tropical Pacific SST are less tightly coupled in observations than in the GCM.