On the surface, word that the Obama administration is negotiating a global climate change pact that probably doesn't need Senate ratification is bad news for Republicans. It could amount to a policy setback for the GOP and offers the president a potential legacy item.
But beneath the surface, an emissions deal that avoids Capitol Hill would give Republicans another political arrow to aim at Democrats, bolstering the GOP's argument that the president circumvents Congress when it serves his policies.
"Any agreement that bypasses Congress would not only violate the Constitution but would be an abusive overreach by a president who continues to think he is above the rule of law," said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.
The topic drew renewed attention Wednesday after a front-page New York Times story laid out in detail what has long been known in climate-policy circles: The United Nations accord that negotiators hope to finalize next year likely won't be a formal new treaty, and therefore won't need sign-off from the Senate, which would have been an impossible barrier.
Privately, Republicans are saying it's too early to sketch a plan to block the move. But foes may still have recourse.
One possibility is using the appropriations process to block funds for implementing the deal, suggested Steve Bell, a former Senate Republican aide to the Budget Committee. "Other than just complaining about it, the only real thing they could do would be through appropriations," he said.
But even if Republicans win control of the Senate, the chances of getting such a measure signed into law are remote.
Still, Republicans, particularly House Republicans, might bring up a messaging bill explicitly prohibiting the president's pact, Bell added. They'd probably find support among pro-coal Democrats such as Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, who knocked the "end-run around Congress."
Wednesday's attacks from Senate GOP leaders and candidates tracks with what is becoming a well-worn political dialogue between the GOP and the White House, one that stretches back at least as far as the president's pledge to use his pen and phone to go around GOP opposition in Congress.
The antipathy runs deep, with Republicans charging that the president refuses to work with them, and the White House lobbing the same charge in return. The result has been a legislative impasse, with the White House casting Republicans as obstructionists and the GOP billing the president as lawless.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, locked in a close reelection contest in Kentucky where he has linked his opponent to the president, panned the notion of avoiding Senate ratification, where a two-thirds vote is needed.
"Unfortunately, this would be just another of many examples of the Obama administration's tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard laws it doesn't like—and to ignore the elected representatives of the people when they don't agree," he said in a statement.
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