As President Obama prepares to meet with world leaders in Paris later this month, the Senate's climate change vote on Tuesday sent a very loud message to Obama and other nations: Congress is not on board with environmental efforts. Tuesday's vote focused on the main parts of Obama's Clean Power Plan, which the president unveiled this past summer. On Tuesday, senators passed two resolutions blocking efforts to cut down on carbon emissions from coal powered plants, as well as halting the construction of new ones.
The move is almost entirely symbolic. In order to pass the two resolutions, the Senate had to invoke an obscure and barely used rule allowing it to block new federal regulations, but the resolutions must go to Obama's desk to be signed, and he has already indicated his intention to veto them both. But the vote, while failing to curb Obama's climate change reform, makes it abundantly clear that climate change is not a high priority for Congress.
This point was further proven by the backlash to Bernie Sanders' ongoing comments regarding climate change. During the Democratic debate on Saturday, Sanders once again cited climate change as one of the largest threats facing the United States, a statement that was met largely by ridicule from his fellow senators. John McCain insinuated that Sanders was high when he said it, while Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called it "absurd."
The only tangible result of Tuesday's vote and ensuing message on climate change is that it undercuts Obama's ability to negotiate heading into the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November. While there, Obama will attempt to convince leaders from across the globe to sign accords that will require each country to take substantial efforts to counteract and prevent climate change. Passing the Clean Power Plan is a crucial part of showing other nations that the United States is dedicated to the effort and will uphold their part of the bargain. But it may be difficult for Obama to convince other countries to care when his own citizens are attempting to foil reform efforts.
Additionally, consistent pushback from GOP candidates makes it clear that if a Republican lands in the White House in 2016, combating climate change will not be a top concern. Marco Rubio expressed the Republican sentiment best during the second GOP debate when he stated, "America is not a planet." Turning away from the traditional, skeptical approach, many Republican candidates have claimed that combating climate change will come at the cost of American jobs and economic security.
So it might be difficult for Obama to assure world leaders of American commitment to climate change reform, when the majority of individuals vying for the presidency either don't believe it exists or don't believe its their problem. And coupled with Tuesday's vote, this fear may be even more obvious. The future of the Clean Power Act is, for now, assured. But the future of the accords has yet to be determined.