Vulnerable Dem slams Obama over UN climate change effort

Greg Nash

A vulnerable House Democrat is slamming President Obama's reported effort to launch an international summit to address climate change without congressional input.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) says Obama's plans to get a "politically binding" international climate agreement endorsed by the United Nations next year is "fruitless" for a president whose popularity is lagging even at home.

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"It is fruitless for this Administration — or any Administration — to negotiate agreements with the rest of the world when it cannot even muster the support of the American people," Rahall said Wednesday in a statement.

"This Administration's go it alone strategy is surely less about dysfunction in Congress than about the President's own unwillingness to listen to our coal miners, steelworkers, farmers, and working families," he added.

The Democrat, a 19-term House veteran, is distancing himself from Obama as he fights for his political career against Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins in West Virginia, where the president's energy policy is deeply unpopular. The Cook Political Report, an online election handicapper, rates his race a "toss up."

As reported by The New York Times Wednesday, the Obama administration is working to expand an international accord to address climate change, which most scientists say is exacerbated by human activity.

The current gridlock in Congress would likely preclude the possibility that the Senate would ratify a new treaty. Officials, though, are planning to sidestep Congress by pushing for a "politically binding" deal, in lieu of a legally binding accord, the Times reported.

Republicans wasted no time hammering Obama over the news, saying it's another instance of the administration abusing its power.

"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,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.

Rahall agrees, and he's letting Obama — and West Virginia voters — know it.

"Whether it's the regulatory overreaches that would shut coal out of our energy mix, or this latest end-run around Congress on climate change, these actions cannot stand," he said. "I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do everything we can to stop them." 

Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the State Department, said Wednesday that the criticisms are premature, and that the administration has not ruled out the possibility of seeking Senate approval.

"Not a word of the new climate agreement currently under discussion has been written, so it is entirely premature to say whether it will or won’t require Senate approval," Psaki said in a statement. "Our goal is to negotiate a successful and effective global climate agreement that can help address this pressing challenge.

"Anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate," she added. "We will continue to consult with Congress on this important issue."

This story was updated at 1:55 p.m.