By Justin Sink - 08/27/14 03:03 PM EDT
The White House pushed back Wednesday against bipartisan criticism over reports the administration is seeking an international deal on climate change that would bypass the Senate.
The administration defended its position by expressing concern that a formal treaty could fall victim to "dysfunction in Congress."
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the president was working on a voluntary international agreement that would add new commitments to a 1992 United Nations treaty.
The deal would reportedly "name and shame" countries that did not live up to their commitments to cut emissions. The new targets are technically voluntary, which may enable the administration to sign the agreement without the two-thirds Senate approval required of treaties.
The proposed move drew immediate criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who argued the White House was overreaching by cutting Congress out of the negotiations.
But press secretary Josh Earnest made clear that the administration did not mind entering international agreements without congressional approval, if it believed it could do so.
"We would not want to enter a situation where we did try to broker an agreement that did require some sort of Senate ratification and then have that fall victim once again, as so many other priorities have, to dysfunction in Congress," Earnest said.
The White House will weigh the impact of a nonbinding agreement against the likelihood Congress could "buck their own reputation for inaction and actually take some important steps on something as important as reducing the causes of climate change," Earnest added.
Earnest also brushed back directly at criticism leveled by Rep. Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat locked in a tough reelection battle who said it was "fruitless" to negotiate an agreement "with the rest of the world when it cannot even muster the support of the American people."
"There's a little flaw in the argument, right?" Earnest shot back.
"Just because Congress doesn't support it doesn't mean the American people won't support it," he continued. "There are a whole lot of things the American people support right now that Congress doesn't and that Congress has refused to act on."
The White House wouldn't lay out its specific desires for the deal, which is expected to be focused upon at a United Nations summit next year in Paris. But Earnest did say that the "name and shame" method had proven effective on climate change issues in the past.
"I certainly wouldn't rule out that strategy," he said.
More generally, Earnest said the State Department would be pushing for a deal that "tangibly [has] an impact on reducing the causes of climate change and the causes of the kinds of pollution that has such a detrimental effect on public health in this country and in communities all around the world."