At a joint news conference with his Brazilian counterpart on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry praised Brazil for its commitment to climate change initiatives, and he promised that the Obama administration also is determined to do something about it.
“So the challenge is ahead of us, for all of us, and I know that the United States has a great commitment under President Obama to take our own initiatives, not even to wait for congressional action, but to move administratively in order to do our part. I know we can continue to work with Brazil on this issue of climate, and we look forward to doing so.”
President Obama repeatedly has said he won’t wait for Congress to act — on jobs, recess appointments, immigration, gun control, and other issues — where “we can act administratively without additional congressional authorization, and just get it done,” as he said in October 2011.
Congressional Republicans have done little more than complain about the president exceeding his constitutional authority. One of the most vocal critics is Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who told Fox News on Monday that he agrees with those who say that Republicans should sue the president to check his executive overreach:
“I would sue,” Paul told Sean Hannity. “We did sue over the recess appointments (to the National Labor Relations Board). Remember, the president declared a (congressional) recess even though we said we weren’t in recess? And the court has rebuked him severely on this. When it goes to the Supreme Court, I think they’re going to once again say he usurped power that’s not his. We should do the same thing here,” Paul said, referring to Obama’s decision to delay various elements of the new health care law.
On Tuesday, Sen. Paul told Fox News, “The way our country works is, legislation is written by Congress, passed by your representatives. The president doesn’t get to write legislation. And it’s illegal and unconstitutional for him to try to change legislation by himself.”
‘Phase down hydrofluorocarbons’
Back in Brazil, Kerry touted his longtime concern about climate issues, noting that he has “great memories” of his first trip to Brazil for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio — where he met his wife Teresa.
Kerry said the mission now is “very clear.”
“We need to inspire meaningful reform and action within the Major Economies Forum (on Energy and Climate Change). We need to lead the effort to phase down hydrofluorocarbons in the Montreal Protocol. (Hydrofluorocarbons are “greenhouse gases” used for refrigeration and air conditioning.) And together, Brazil and the United States need to join with other countries in an effort to negotiate a climate agreement in 2015 that is ambitious and flexible and that works for all of us.”
The first question posed to Kerry at the news conference had nothing to do with climate change. A reporter asked him about “this issue of espionage — and if by any chance…the United States will stop spying…”
Kerry told the Brazilian reporter he was prepared to take such a question, and that he would answer it. But first, he urged the people of Brazil to “stay focused on the important realities of our relationship.”
In response to the spying question, Kerry said he wouldn’t discuss “operational issues,” but he did say that “all three branches of the American government have been involved in reviewing” the NSA surveillance program.
He said the Obama administration will continue to discuss the issue — “with a view to making certain that your government is in complete understanding and complete agreement with what it is that we think we must do to provide security, not just for Americans but for Brazilians and for people in the world.
“So I would respectfully say to everybody that the United States, as the president said last Friday, the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations in order to protect their citizens, in order to protect our citizens. And our activities are firmly based on law and they are subject to oversight by all of the branches of our government. We are convinced that our intelligence collection has positively helped us to protect our nation from a variety of threats, not only protect our nation but protect other people in the world, including Brazilians.”
Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota called concerns about the NSA data-gathering program “legitimate,” and said the “clarification process” is “not an end in itself.”
Kerry, in response, said the U.S. “will guarantee that Brazil and other countries will understand exactly what we’re doing, why and how, and we will work together to make sure that whatever is done in a way that respects our friends and our partners…”