Senators Considering Trip to Paris During Climate Summit

By Dean Scott and Anthony Adragna

Oct. 28 — As many as five U.S. senators are weighing whether to travel in December to the Paris climate summit, where nearly 200 nations hope to sign a global climate accord. The five include Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), several senators and aides told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 28.

Inhofe, the Senate's most vocal opponent of the U.S. signing on to the climate agreement, chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. At this point he is the only Republican senator seriously considering the trip, Senate aides said.

Negotiators in Paris hope to get the first truly global climate agreement, in which developed and developing nations alike agree to actions to address greenhouse gas emissions (198 ECR 198, 10/14/15).

Several Democrats who back President Barack Obama's efforts to get the U.S. to sign onto a deal along with rapidly developing nations such as China and India are among those most likely to attend.

They include Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he is leaning toward going. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Ed Markey (Mass.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) also are considering making the trip.

“I'm trying to get there,” Cardin told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 28. “Obviously the schedule here is going to make it challenging, but we're going to try,” he said. Democrats hope to work with the Obama administration “to see if we can play a useful role in advancing the progress of the Paris climate change talks.”

A Lone Voice of Opposition?

Complicating travel plans for Democrats and Republicans alike is a packed Senate agenda, from the need to get an omnibus spending bill through both chambers to meticulous negotiations toward a longterm highway bill, several aides said.

Several senators and aides said the exact roster of who is or isn't going to Paris may not be clear for several weeks. Inhofe, who traveled to the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit to say the U.S. shouldn't sign a climate deal that doesn't bind developing nations, said he is leaning toward making a short trip to Paris.

In Copenhagen, Inhofe said, he appeared at the talks for only a few hours to deliver remarks and take questions at a press event.

But the environment committee chairman said he expects once again to be the lone Republican senator at this year's summit in Paris. “I don't think so,” he said when asked if he'd be joined by any Republican colleagues. “The last time we did this,” in Copenhagen, Republicans “pretty much deferred to me to do this,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Other critics of the administration's approach say they have ruled out going to Paris, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “Each senator will make a decision on their own,” Barrasso told Bloomberg BNA. “I'm not going to go.”

Barrasso, who chairs a Foreign Relations subcommittee, grilled Obama's top climate negotiator, Todd Stern, at an Oct. 20 hearing and said Obama has made a “calculated end-run” to avoid Senate ratification of the Paris deal .

The administration argues that the president can negotiate the deal using existing executive authority, particularly given the global accord is not expected to include legally binding targets for cutting emissions, only pledges (202 ECR 202, 10/20/15).

A Midpoint Arrival?

Republican and Democratic senators alike would likely depart for Paris as early as Dec. 3 and stay as late as Dec. 7, essentially the midway point of the two-week Paris talks, which are scheduled to end Dec. 11. “There's a fair amount of interest in going, and the timing has definitely been discussed as the end of first week to the beginning of the second week of talks,” a Senate Democratic aide said.

“We're going to have to shoehorn this in, and we're going to make it at a time when we think it's most valuable,” Cardin said. “We've been told by our team that it would be extremely useful for us to reinforce the congressional interest, considering there's been mixed messages sent by Congress” on whether it would support a deal negotiated by the president that isn't ratified by the Senate.

Democrats would likely try to reassure negotiators at the summit that Obama's approach—a deal that would combine nation-by-nation pledges to cut emissions with more binding measuring and recordkeeping requirements to verify those cuts are made—has political backing in the U.S. Republicans such as Inhofe argue that Obama can't bind the U.S. to a deal without Senate backing, and they have tried to undercut the talks by arguing that a future president could abandon such a deal.

The Paris summit will serve as the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-21). It opens Nov. 30 and is expected to draw more than 100 world leaders to prod negotiators to get a deal.

Chairman's Travel Conflict

Corker, the foreign relations panel chairman, said the summit isn't on his radar.

“I haven't given any thought to going,” Corker told Bloomberg BNA. A trip he plans to the Middle East trip just before Thanksgiving makes it unlikely he'd travel to Europe weeks later, he said.

“I can't imagine I'm going” to Paris, Corker said.

Aides to Markey and Whitehouse said they are leaning toward attending. Whitehouse “is aiming to go,” a spokesman for the senator said, but his plans are “not set in stone yet.”

No Confirmed House Members

On the House side, several House Republicans and Democrats who have attended past high-level climate summits including the 2009 talks in Copenhagen are unlikely to appear in Paris.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who has chaired both the House Science Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, is unlikely to attend, a Sensenbrenner spokeswoman said.

Plans for a delegation of House Democrats remains just as murky. A spokesman for the House Safe Climate Caucus, formed by the Democratic minority to highlight Republican inaction on climate change, said he is unaware of any plans for House Democrats to attend.

That would stand in stark contrast to Copenhagen, when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrived with a delegation flanked by then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and nearly a half dozen Democratic committee chairmen.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.comand Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com