Top Senate Republican Demands Obama Disclose Plans for International Climate Change Negotiations

The powerful Foreign Relations Committee leader says the State Department must consult the Senate.

Committee chairman Senator Bob Corker ,R-TN, speaks during a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee met to debate and vote on S.615, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images (National Journal)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker is pressing the the Obama administration to reveal its plans for the international climate change accord that nations hope to reach in Paris late this year.

“Longstanding Constitutional precedent as well as current law requires the Executive branch to engage in meaningful consultations with the Senate on the form that a significant and far-reaching international agreement such as the Paris Agreement will take,” Corker says in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

In the letter obtained by National Journal, Corker asks whether the administration plans to treat the hoped-for accord as a formal treaty that would be submitted to the Senate for approval -- and for the reasoning if the answer is no.

The Sept. 22 letter also asks a series of other questions about the legal obligations that the pact may or may not create.

For instance, Corker asks: “The Paris agreement may contain both legal and political commitments, but it is my understanding that the core of the agreement will establish legal obligations. Does the Administration consider the expected Paris agreement to be an agreement that legally binds the U.S. under international law or a non-binding political document?”

While the Paris deal is still in flux, many observers do not expect it to take the form of a formal treaty, in part because it’s impossible to imagine Republicans allowing such a measure to win the support from two thirds of voting members that’s necessary for ratification.

The potential Paris deal appears to be shaping up as a hybrid of national emissions-cutting pledges that are not binding at the international level, tethered to a wider accord that does include internationally binding measures on issues like review and verification of nations’ domestic actions.

However, even with some internationally binding elements, negotiators could structure the pact to avoid creation of a new treaty that requires sign-off by the U.S. Senate. As The New York Times reported, the binding portions could be done under the auspices of the existing 1992 treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Corker’s letter signals a new phase of Senate interest in the looming talks, because has Corker’s jurisdiction over the State Department, which is negotiating the pact on behalf the U.S.

The Tennessee Republican has also proven adept that muscling Congress to a seat at the table in Obama administration diplomacy. He co-authored the recent law that gave the Senate a formal role reviewing the Iran nuclear deal, though Republicans did not corral enough votes to thwart the agreement.

The letter arrives as the White House is putting increased diplomatic and political muscle behind efforts to secure a new international climate pact that would be a key part of President Obama’s legacy on global warming.

The U.S. and China this week laid out their joint views on the United Nations climate talks looming in Paris in December.