WASHINGTON -- The only climate change Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was interested in Wednesday was the one coming to the U.S. Senate, as he greeted a new crop of GOP senators-elect on Capitol Hill.
As for President Barack Obama's announcement on Wednesday of a climate agreement with China, McConnell was far less impressed, and slammed the White House for ignoring the desires of the GOP.
The likely Senate majority leader's warm welcome of new Republican lawmakers, coupled with his harsh assessment of Obama, was the latest sign suggesting that the relationship between Congress and the White House will be even more contentious over the next two years.
McConnell, however, cast it differently.
"We're here to make the place function again, and begin to make progress for the American people," he told reporters, standing amid a group of senators-elect who will be part of the new GOP's majority in the upper chamber come January.
But for McConnell, making progress does not include the new deal with China. He made that clear when he was asked whether he would also aim to move his caucus more towards the middle in the hopes of getting deals done with the White House.
"The problem is the president continues to send signals he has no intention of moving to the middle," McConnell said. "I was particularly distressed by the deal that apparently he has reached with the Chinese on his current trip, which, as I read the agreement, requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states around the country."
The US-China agreement that Obama announced alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday has already been heralded as a major sign of progress toward an international climate accord. Obama announced a target of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This would require steeper and faster cuts than the previous target of cutting emissions by 17 percent by 2020.
China announced that it would seek to reach peak emissions by 2030, after which it would start to reduce its carbon dioxide output. In addition, China said it would seek to draw 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030.
While China did not agree to specific targets for reducing its emissions, the 2030 target is notable, as it is the first time the country has agreed to a date to begin reducing emissions. The still-developing nation is already the world's biggest emitter, and the agreement on a peak date is seen as a major shift for the country.
The agreement is also seen as opening up a pathway for an international climate agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Negotiators hope to secure such an agreement by the end of 2015.
Previous attempts at an international climate treaty have failed to meaningfully reduce global emissions, largely because they lacked commitments from the United States and China. The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 but was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, only included targets for developed nations. At that time, the Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which vowed that the U.S. would not agree to any treaty unless it included developing countries as well. The successor agreement -- whose legal format is still being determined -- is expected to include pledges from all nations, though each country's specific commitment will be unique.
Similarly to McConnell, GOP leaders in the House also criticized both the agreement with China and Obama's attempt to craft it.
“This announcement is yet another sign that the president intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact for America’s heartland and the country as a whole," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "It is the latest example of the president’s crusade against affordable, reliable energy that is already hurting jobs and squeezing middle-class families."
"Republicans have consistently passed legislation to rein in the EPA and stop these harmful policies from taking effect, and we will continue to make this a priority in the new Congress,” Boehner added.
“The President appears to be undeterred by the American people’s clear repudiation of his policies," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a statement. "The House will continue to fight this Administration’s cavalier approach of jamming through harmful regulations without regard to economic consequences."
Still, McConnell suggested Republicans would be happy to work with Obama.
"I would welcome the president moving to the middle. I've said before, I hope we can do some business on trade and tax reform," he said. "The first indications have not been very hopeful."