Joe Biden’s climate agenda is deadlocked in Congress, and no matter how much the Democrats want it, there is no executive solution to it.
In a memorably ridiculous formulation, Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has said that “with legislative options now closed, the President must act. It’s time for executive Beast Mode.”
While it might be fun and interesting to watch Joe Biden, who had nothing on his public agenda for two days after returning from the Middle East, try to pull off Beast Mode, he has yet to make the climate emergency declaration that Whitehouse and other Democrats yearn for. .
That could still be coming. Meanwhile, Biden announced a series of executive actions on Wednesday, arguing that since Congress won’t act, he must.
Or as Biden put it at his Massachusetts event, slightly confusingly: “Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world. So my message today is this: Since Congress is not acting as it should… this is an emergency. An emergency. And I’ll look at it that way.”
This is, at best, a deeply unconstitutional sentiment, and taken to its logical conclusion, it poses a threat to our system of government.
Executive aggrandizement at the expense of the legislature has been on the rise for some time, and at the hands of Democrats and Republicans in the White House. President Barack Obama took it to another level after he was blocked on Capitol Hill, when he said on immigration reform: “If Congress doesn’t act, I will.” He proceeded to rewrite immigration law on his own, an effort that was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court. For his part, Donald Trump declared a border emergency to divert funds for the purpose of building the wall, a move that was dubious legal at best and certainly an infringement of congressional prerogatives.
Our constitutional order deserves the loyalty of all who serve under it. So even if it is inconvenient for presidents to acknowledge that the exclusive granting of legislative powers to Congress is an absolutely essential part of the Founders’ design, they should always keep that in mind. If that’s too much to ask, Congress should at least protect its own role.
Instead, in a development that would have shocked and confused James Madison, members of the legislature routinely lobby for presidents to usurp their powers and implement measures that Congress as a body has either defeated or refused to implement.
It was all too typical, then, that Democratic senators wrote a letter to Biden this week, urging him, in effect, to go ahead and pick up the baton dropped by Congress.
“For too long, we have been waiting for a single piece of legislation and a single Senate vote to take bold action on our climate crisis.” Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and others wrote. “Congressional action to address the climate crisis appears to have stalled. As a result, we urge you to put us on hold and aggressively use your executive powers to address the climate crisis.”
Embedded in this defense is the premise that when Congress refuses to do something, it is a failure of the system. it is not A bicameral legislature that represents all parts of the country and does so in different ways (two-year terms for House members from roughly equal-number districts, six-year terms for senators elected from all the state) requires a broad national consensus for large and consequential changes.
If Congress refuses to pass some radical initiative, it should be cause for members of Congress on the losing side to maintain their defense and try to persuade more members to agree with them or elect different members of Congress. It should not become an order to short-circuit the process and have the president issue edicts instead of legislation.
The Supreme Court has recently handed down important decisions that police the constitutional limits here and reserve legislative power for the legislature. Last summer, he struck down Biden’s eviction moratorium for not being explicitly authorized by Congress, and this session blocked an EPA regulatory scheme for the same reasons.
Rather than rejoice that the court is reining in an arrogant executive, Democratic members of Congress have been outraged. Progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib called the court “fascist,” explaining that “the federal government will not be able to regulate anything meaningful in the absence of a clear directive from Congress to do so.”
It’s hard to imagine that a member of Congress has ever considered soliciting consent for major changes in domestic politics dragging totalitarianism, but there’s a first time for everything.
Still, the balance between the presidency and Congress will never return to a more reasonable balance until lawmakers from both parties stop encouraging acts of unilateral rule from the White House simply because they like the outcome.
Substance-wise, an emergency declaration doesn’t make any sense either. Emergency presidential powers are best reserved for terrorist attacks or pandemics, rather than the temperature rising above 90 degrees in Boston for a week or so.
There is no “existential threat” to the United States from climate change. The idea that an advanced 21st-century society that, unlike Western Europe, has prodigious air conditioning cannot deal with the extra heat during the summer, or more adverse weather events for that matter, is laughable. What Notes by Roger PielkeHeat deaths have declined in the United States, despite a larger population and more frequent heat waves, and the WHO says no one needs to die of heat if the right steps are taken.
The United States is a rich, innovative, continental nation where settlement patterns have changed greatly over time and will continue to do so, regardless of temperature trends. We will be able to adapt to and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change better than any other society in the world.
Even if you accept the basic premises of climate advocates (and I don’t), climate is not an emergency, or an urgent threat that demands and is amenable to immediate action. Global warming is a long fuse phenomenon that has steadily built up over time and will not be affected soon even by radical measures. If enacted in its entirety, the Green New Deal would have a negligible effect on global temperature.
The focus of members of Congress and advocates who hold a different and more dire view should be to keep their shoulders behind the wheel and work to write their priorities into law, rather than seek to pervert our constitutional system because legislating is difficult.