President Elect Trump Should Allow Senate to Reject Paris Climate Agreement
When it’s all said and done, the lasting legacy of the Obama presidency may end up being a clearer understanding of the risks associated with implementing a policy agenda largely by executive action.
Facing a recalcitrant Congress, President Obama rather infamously said during his first Cabinet meeting of 2014 that “[w]e’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” In the ensuing years, we’ve seen the Obama administration make good on this promise, from the détente with Cuba and a nuclear agreement with Iran to a deferral of immigration enforcement and even a new federal regulation governing overtime pay.
As many commentators have recently pointed out, a President Trump will also have a pen and a phone. And with that pen and phone he will be able to single-handedly eliminate or significantly curb much of what Obama would consider to be his top policy successes. That said, Trump should refrain from unilaterally “canceling” the Paris Climate Agreement as has been promised. Instead, he should count on a freshly re-energized Senate to help him.
The Paris Agreement is the latest attempt by the United Nations to curtail emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The agreement employs a hybrid legal structure with both legally-binding and nonbinding components, overtly designed to circumvent the treaty-making process that would require Senate ratification. However, Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation has written convincingly that despite the agreement’s inventive design, State Department protocol suggests that it should still be handled as a formal treaty.
In order to ratify a treaty, the Constitution requires two-thirds approval – or 67 votes – in the Senate. With the Republicans expected to hold 52 seats in the upcoming 115th Congress, there should be no problem in coming up with the votes needed to jettison the proposal. Indeed, the 2016 party platform that Republican candidates ran on explicitly “reject[s] the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement” and further states that “no such agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate.”
When the Obama administration signed the Paris Agreement without Senate approval, conservatives cried foul, and rightfully so. If Trump were to withdraw from the agreement by executive action, he would, in effect, be tacitly endorsing Obama’s dangerous policy of unilateral treaty-making. As evidenced by the most recent presidential election, political winds can shift quickly and a new president – citing precedent set by his two immediate predecessors – could just as quickly agree on their own to a new treaty.
When it comes to implementing public policy, process should matter more than outcome. Trump should take heed of this axiom, respect the American tradition of separation of powers and carry out his presidency within the confines of the Constitution. How President Elect Trump decides to handle the Paris Climate Agreement could very well serve as an omen for how he plans to govern over the next four years.