Obama, and around 150 other world leaders, are in Paris this week to discuss climate change and looking to limit it’s effects. This in itself is a good example of the President playing the role of Head of State (rather than Head of Government). A move for President’s to focus on foreign affairs as their presidency advances is common as their are much fewer constitutional checks on them in this area and it allows them to maintain their power.
However, in this instance, Obama’s trip may be fruitless. Even before he left, the Senate voted 52-46 to block Obama new climate change regulations which would form the backbone of his Paris negotiating stance. This resolution, passed largely along party lines, has been promised a veto if it reaches Obama’s desk. Nonetheless, the fact the Senate are seeking to undermine his position before he even leave suggests perhaps a weakness in Obama’s final year of his presidency. Equally, they seem unwilling to allow him to rely on his powers over foreign affairs, being more keen to apply pressure, if not checks, to this policy area too. This could be a great example of the impact of divided government.
Finally, there were a number of defections in this vote. Notably, three moderate Republicans broke ranks, two of whom are up for re-election next year. This could be used to suggest the lack of importance of parties within Congress, factions within parties, or the importance of pleasing your state over your party, especially in an election year.
The House have also now approved these two Senate resolutions meaning they will be on Obama’s desk for his signature or veto when he returns. This could further undermine his position in Paris. Also, having threatened to veto these resolutions, he will look weak if he doesn’t, but could be argued to be weak because he is having to rely on such a blunt power. Great stuff for ‘imperial/imperilled’ presidency essays.