President Obama’s election-year plan to win a new international climate change accord is making vulnerable Democrats nervous.
The administration is in talks at the United Nations about a deal that would seek to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by “naming and shaming” governments that fail to take significant action.
One Democratic strategist said the proposal would put swing-state candidates who are critical to the party keeping its Senate majority “in front of the firing squad.”
“You're ... making it more difficult for them to win and certainty putting them in a position to lose,” the strategist said.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who pushed a climate change bill through the House in 2009, said the Times story was inaccurate but had no further comment.
Other Democrats immediately distanced themselves from the proposal.
“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,” Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.) said in a statement. Rahall is in a difficult reelection race.
Republicans in tight Senate contests, for their part, quickly seized on the issue.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who’s trying to unseat Udall, called on the incumbent to denounce Obama’s “latest executive power grab.”
“Coloradans don’t elect Senators to watch them toss their power to the president, whether Republican or Democrat,” Gardner said.
Republicans have been seeking to make the 2014 elections all about Obama, whose approval numbers remain low. They’ve sought to tie candidates such as Udall and Landrieu to Obama, and the Democratic strategist said the climate change proposal gave them ammunition.
Republicans have also sought to portray Obama as a figure abusing his power with executive actions. House Republicans approved legislation in August that would allow Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to file a lawsuit challenging Obama's actions.
“Once again, the president is circumventing the wishes of the American people and their elected representatives, and doing so in a fashion that will destroy more jobs,” Boehner said Wednesday of the climate report.
Both the White House and State Department said the climate agreement is still being discussed, and they denied that it was a sure thing that the administration would seek to go around Congress.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “it is entirely premature to say whether it will or won’t require Senate approval.”
Countries often make agreements that are not treaties, for various purposes, said Paul Bledsoe, who was the top spokesman for President Clinton’s climate change task force and is now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank for European-American relations. He took issue with framing the potential pact as an end-run around Congress.
“The obsession with a treaty is standing in the way of agreement. And that agreement can actually deliver reductions in global emissions.”
This story was updated at 3:32 p.m.