President Obama is in full legacy mode this week as he proclaimed America’s share of the guilt for climate change. Obama’s speech at the Paris climate conference was an effort to appease developing nations like India that have no interest in being asked to limit their economic growth as part of a solution to the problem that the president seriously believes is a bigger threat to the world than terrorism. So in order to be able to have posterity look upon him as the man who, as he grandiloquently claimed in 2008, would slow “the rise of the oceans,” he promised the West would help fund the efforts of poorer nations to comply with the emissions restrictions he hopes will be agreed upon in Paris. That appears to be a promise to fulfill Hillary Clinton’s 2010 promise — when she was Obama’s secretary of state — that developed nations would annually fork over $100 billion to the undeveloped world to compensate them for such a scheme in what many in the Third World see as “reparations” for the West’s climate sins. That’s a hefty financial commitment, and that’s not even taking into account the vast cost to the American economy that will be exacted if Obama gets the agreement he wants.
Even if we ignore, as Obama and the liberal mainstream media insist we must, any skepticism from the scientific world about the assumptions that are the foundation of this new world climate order, there is an interesting question about all this diplomacy that virtually no one is asking: Why will a pact that will have such a far-reaching impact on the American economy and that will create a vast new federal entitlement not be submitted to Congress for approval? Did someone amend the Constitution while we were dozing and allow the president to conclude treaties on his own without having to submit them, as the Constitution mandates, for the advice and consent of the Senate?
The answer to that question is so painfully obvious that few feel the need to mention it. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted in his testimony to Congress about the Iran nuclear deal — another treaty that the administration chose not to consider a treaty — it’s just too hard to get 67 votes for something the White House and the foreign policy establishment supports. So rather than do the hard political work of persuading Congress of the wisdom of a pact the president supports, Obama chooses to ignore the Constitution and commit the United States to deals that will impact the lives of ordinary Americans without bespeaking the permission of their representatives and Senators as the Founding Fathers insisted he must.
In the case of Iran, that led to an upside down approval process that allowed Obama to pass the most consequential foreign policy treaty in a generation with the votes of only 42 Democrats rather than the 67 senators he should have been required to persuade. That he did so without coming clean about possible side deals that ought to render the pact illegal is beside the point. That weak and likely unenforceable deal will endanger the U.S. and its allies. But in the case of the climate deal, we’re not talking about potential threats to our security that Democrats are prepared to leave to their successors when the agreement expires. For all of the overheated rhetoric about the climate that we’re hearing this week, which ignores any of the skepticism emanating from the scientific community about the assumptions that are the foundation of the effort, it’s important to remember that what may be agreed to in Paris is very much a domestic bread and butter issue for Americans. Indeed, it may well have an even more serious impact on the economy and on the ability of ordinary Americans to make a living than any of the free lunch schemes Clinton and Bernie Sanders are promoting to gain the votes of Democratic primary voters.
Yet unlike the Iran deal, which at least had a sham approval process that allowed the country to debate the issue even if the opposition of the majority wasn’t enough to stop it, the administration will treat whatever comes out of Paris as not the business of a meddling Congress.
Seen from the point of view of the White House, this stance is eminently defensible. The president really does believe lowering carbon emissions is a matter of life and death, more so than the threat of actual death from ISIS terrorists. As such, he thinks any means are legitimate and necessary to obtain the result he believes is right. If saving the planet means ignoring the Constitution, then as far as he is concerned, so much the worse for the Constitution.
Of course, the president is no stranger to this sort of reasoning. His rationale for ignoring the Constitution on illegal immigration was no different. His executive orders that would — if the federal courts do not continue to thwart him – grant effective amnesty to as many as five million illegals were justified by the administration on the grounds that Congress had refused to pass bills that might do the same thing.
President Obama isn’t the first president to use executive orders in this manner or even to agree to treaties that he doesn’t submit to Congress. But the scope of his actions exceeds that of any precedent previously set. If a climate treaty that is not called a treaty, but which will place the U.S. under these kinds of onerous obligations is put into effect without even the fig leaf of an approval process, then we will have truly taken a step toward a kind of presidential government that is utterly alien to the model of representative democracy that is the foundation of the American constitutional system.
At such moments, it’s apt to remember that the Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution specifically states that the power of the president to make treaties is specifically limited to those that have the support of two-thirds of the Senate. Moreover, as Alexander Hamilton stated in the Federalist Papers, the reason for this provision is that to give to presidents that are no more than “elective magistrates” the “entire power of making treaties” would be to give them the status of a “hereditary monarch.”
Such concerns may seem minor to a president that is so convinced of the righteousness of his cause that he thinks it beneath his dignity to actually defend or debate the wisdom of his ideas. And since he believes midterm elections that go against his party are somehow not as legitimate as presidential votes that he wins, he thinks any deference to the Constitution that would give the Senate a say would be somehow wrong.
Let’s concede that any deal rammed through in this manner won’t have the force of law and can be ignored or rejected by Obama’s successor. But if we allow this precedent to pass unnoticed, we will be merely reinforcing a new reality in which the whims of any president will be sovereign rather than the rule of law.
Whatever you may think about climate change or its relative importance when compared to the threat of terrorism, the process by which Obama is effectively abrogating the Constitution’s Treaty Clause ought to scare you. A president that can do anything he likes simply because he won’t be limited to legislation passed by Congress is one that can justify any act no matter how illegal because of what he thinks are his good intentions. In any constitutional republic, that’s the thin edge of the wedge of tyranny. While we argue about global warming and the short shrift given by this administration to the need to defeating ISIS, we ought to spare a moment for the way any climate deal will be imposed on the nation.