News and Commentary

Uh-Oh: Obama Will Sign Climate Accord Without Congressional Approval

President Obama is currently in the midst of negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping to finalize the remaining details of the so-called Paris Climate Change Accord aimed at keeping the supposed global temperature rise to around 2 degrees Celsius. Detractors say the ambitious proposal will not not damage growing businesses (but given its lack of enforcement mechanisms) powerhouse polluters like China and India will inevitably maintain the status quo while naive countries in the West abide by all the rules and fall behind in the global economy.

Despite strong pushback by critics in Congress, Obama plans on pushing through the accord anyway and announcing the deal’s ratification alongside President Xi Jinping as early as Friday. In effect, Obama will bypass the entire legislative process, mimicking Communist China’s autocratic procedures.

According to the South China Morning Post, Obama and Xi Jinping are “set to jointly announce their ratification” of the Paris climate change accord on Friday; that’s two to days before the start of the major G-20 economic summit in China.

President Obama’s near-monarchical power play has been in the works for some time.

“The Obama administration has maintained that the Paris Agreement is not a legally binding treaty and therefore does not require Senate ratification, while Republicans have insisted that it does,” notes The Washington Times.

The administration is relying on a technicality here. By law, only treaties require the approval of Senate. You would think that nearly all major international deals should qualify as treaties, but you’d be wrong. For a number of years now, the executive branch has relied on something called an executive agreement to expedite and secure “non-legally binding” deals with international players. Executive agreements do not need Congressional authorization.

“The founding fathers designed the international agreement system with a lot of flexibility, or, depending on your perspective, ambiguity, because even they couldn’t agree on which branch of government should have the dominant say in how the U.S. reached deals with foreign governments,” explains The Wall Street Journal. “In recent decades, presidents have entered into thousands of executive agreements with foreign governments, on a range of issues, both controversial and relatively basic.”

However, there’s one major drawback to executive agreements. They can be easily overturned by the next president. If the next president happens to be Hillary Clinton, though, then the US will likely follow through with the commitments outlined in the Paris accord. In the event that Donald Trump gets elected president, well, who knows what he’ll do?

Nonetheless, Obama’s massive expansion of the executive branch raises many questions about the vulnerabilities of American democracy. Are we still a Constitutional Republic if one branch of government can get its way every time?