Given the diplomatic directives from the GOP-controlled Congress these days, Capitol Hill might easily be mistaken for Foggy Bottom, the D.C. neighborhood that is home to many an embassy.
First, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3 without first conferring with President Obama. Boehner ignored protests by the administration and Democrats, later calling the speech one that “the American people needed to hear, plain and simple.”
Then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and 45 other GOP senators sent an extraordinary open letter to Iran’s leadership. They said that any deal struck with the Obama administration over Iran’s nuclear program could be cancelled by a future president or Congress.
Cotton said he had no regrets about the letter despite the Democratic furor and added, “Iran’s leaders need to hear the message loud and clear.” Boehner, meanwhile, is leading a Republican congressional delegation to Europe and Israel this week to add support to Netanyahu’s campaign to tank any nuclear agreement with Iran.
On Tuesday, McConnell also cautioned other countries against entering into a climate control agreement with the U.S. that may be “unattainable” given the GOP-dominated Congress’ determination to block it. “Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the clean-power plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal,” McConnell wrote.
It’s true that the Senate has the constitutional authority to advise and consent on foreign policy and to ratify international treaties – but it is far less common for lawmakers to go over the president’s head influence policy with foreign leaders.
The Republicans’ aggressive style stems in part from a profound disagreement with Obama over whether Iran can be trusted to keep an agreement that prevents them from developing a nuclear weapon that would threaten Israel and further destabilize the Middle East. It also stems from an ongoing feud between the two branches of government over Obama’s extensive use of executive orders. He has weighed in on air pollution, immigration and other politically charged issues to circumvent congressional authority.
Although 59 percent of Americans would like to see a deal with Iran that limits their nuclear capability, an equal number don’t believe that any deal would stop them. Republicans say Obama has far exceeded his executive authority – while the White House says Obama had no choice, given the GOP’s determination to destroy his programs and policies.
McConnell’s statement yesterday closely followed Obama’s announcement of an ambitious plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent over the coming decade. It was part of an international agreement brokered by the United Nations.
Administration officials said that most of the carbon reductions that are closely linked to global warming would come from regulations already approved or proposed. Those include tougher fuel-economy standards for vehicles and proposed curbs on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
McConnell, whose state of course has a large coal-mining industry and numerous coal-fired power plants, has vowed to block Obama’s clean air initiatives. That includes, if necessary, torpedoing the nascent global warming accord. Earlier this month McConnell urged individual states to defy the EPA’s proposed rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants – and he provided extensive legal research to help back up their case.
So far 30 countries responsible for about 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions have made pledges to the United Nation’s Framework Convention. Others may do so over the next seven months ahead of an international climate change conference in Paris on a proposed climate treaty. “Even if the job-killing and likely illegal Clean Power Plan were fully implemented, the United States could not meet the targets laid out in this proposed new plan,” McConnell said in his statement.
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