fresh voices from the front lines of change







When 47 Republican Senators wrote an open letter to the Iranian government designed to undercut President Obama’s negotiating strategy, they not only were excoriated at home for mischievous meddling in foreign policy, they also were humiliated when the gambit didn’t work.

The Republicans thought they were informing the Iranians that President Obama needed congressional approval to permanently lift sanctions under our system of government.

But the Iranians aren’t stupid. They knew that already, and proceeded with a preliminary deal anyway. The widely held assumption is: Congress or the next president would be hard-pressed to arbitrarily re-impose sanctions if Iran is sticking to the deal and all the other international parties remain on board.

Yet Republicans often are gluttons for punishment. So it’s not surprising that they’re gearing up for another futile and embarrassing letter campaign.

This time, Republicans want to undercut President Obama’s international climate negotiations, which are expected to culminate in a final deal when 200 nations convene for Paris conference in December. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Last month, 47 Republican senators signed a letter telling Iran’s leaders that the next president could revoke any nuclear agreement and that Congress could modify it at any time. Some Senate Republicans say they want to send a similar message to the countries negotiating an agreement that would rein in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Mr. Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to hold a hearing this summer focused on the Senate’s advice-and-consent process and its possible application in international climate negotiations.

Mr. Inhofe said the Iran letter, which was penned by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), could be a useful model to send a message about the climate agreement.

“The Tom Cotton letter was an educational effort,” Mr. Inhofe said in an interview. Other countries think “if the president of the United States says something, it’s just automatic…His letter was over there saying, ‘the president says he can do this; he can’t do this.’ ”

Inhofe may need a science lesson, but other countries don’t need a civics lesson from him. The outlines of the emerging deal allow nations wide latitude in how they will meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, because everyone knows each nation has its own unique political and economic challenges.

Further, Obama has already kickstarted the negotiations, proving America’s commitment with planned EPA regulations on power plant emissions and striking a deal with China for a reduction in its rate of emissions growth. The specific EPA plan will face a legal challenge, but the Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA has the general authority under the Clean Air Act – passed by a previous Congress and signed by a Republican president – to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Obviously, future presidents can try to undo Obama’s work – this is true for any international agreement short of a treaty — but a threat from Congress carries even less weight in Paris than it did in Tehran. There’s nothing Congress needs to do now and, lacking a veto-proof majority, nothing Congress can do to stop Obama. A Republican climate letter will be mocked as quickly as the Iranians mocked the Cotton letter.

We should do more than just laugh at the Republicans. We should also remember that they used to insist that America should not take action on climate unless there was an international agreement. After all, global warming is a global problem.

However, President Obama is demonstrating that showing American leadership was necessary to move the international community towards an agreement. Now that an agreement is coming together, Republicans have junked their past argument in favor of simple sabotage.

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