Climate plan spooks Dems

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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.

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The State Department on Wednesday denied a report in The New York Times that the plan is to come up with a treaty that would not require Senate confirmation, but that appeared to provide cold comfort to Democrats worried the issue will revive GOP cries about an imperial Obama presidency.

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.

Several vulnerable Senate Democrats kept mum on the issue.
 
Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Udall (Colo.), along with a handful of House Democrats, either declined to comment or didn’t respond to interview requests. 
 
Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (La.) cautiously signaled support for the oil and gas industry that is important to her state, without commenting on the plan to sidestep the Senate.
 
“It is important that all nations do what they can to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” she said. “But the president should not take any action that undermines the American energy revolution currently underway that is creating thousands of high-paying jobs for middle class families in Louisiana and across the country.”
 
spokesman for Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who heads a House climate task force, said it was premature to comment on a plan with so few details.

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.