Breaking News -- United States
Obama pushes for gun control after Planned Parenthood shooting
by Reena Flores
After a gunman opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood on Friday, killing three people and injuring several others, President Obama urged the nation to increase controls over "the easy accessibility of weapons of war."
"This is not normal," the president said in a statement Saturday. "We can't let it become normal."
"If we truly care about this -- if we're going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience -- then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them," Mr. Obama added. "Enough is enough."
The accused shooter, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear of North Carolina, is in custody after a five-hour standoff with police at the Planned Parenthood facility. Three people, including a police officer, died from the attack, and five other officers and four civilians were wounded.
The president denounced the gunman for "terrorizing an entire community" and said that after the shooting "more Americans and their families had fear forced upon them."
He also praised the officer killed in the line of duty, Garrett Swasey, who left behind a wife, a son and daughter.
"The last thing Americans should have to do, over the holidays or any day, is comfort the families of people killed by gun violence -- people who woke up in the morning and bid their loved ones goodbye with no idea it would be for the last time," Mr. Obama said. "And yet, two days after Thanksgiving, that's what we are forced to do again."
This isn't the first time the president has stepped up calls for gun regulation following a deadly shooting. Just last month, he expressed visible frustration when commenting on the need for gun control after a lone gunman killed 10 people at an Oregon community college.
"Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine, my response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it, we've become numb to this," Mr. Obama said in early October. "It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun."
Obama Hobbled in Fight Against Global Warming
by John M. Broder
WASHINGTON — President Obama came into office pledging to end eight years of American inaction on climate change under President George W. Bush, and all year he has promised that the United States would lead the way toward a global agreement in Copenhagen next month to address the warming planet.
But this weekend in Singapore, Mr. Obama was forced to acknowledge that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year. Instead, he and other world leaders agreed that they would work toward a more modest interim agreement with a promise to renew work toward a binding treaty next year.
The admission places Mr. Obama in the awkward position of being, at least for now, as unlikely to spearhead an international effort to combat global warming as his predecessor — if for different reasons.
In Mr. Bush’s case, he remained skeptical about the science of global warming until near the end of his presidency and dubious about the need for concerted global action.
And his reluctance was echoed by a Congress that wanted to see clear commitments from developing countries like China.
But Mr. Obama has been a champion of climate change regulation. He has moved unilaterally to limit greenhouse gases from vehicles and large sources such as coal-burning power plants. And in recent months, China, India, Brazil and some other developing countries have issued promises to slow the growth of emissions, although with the knowledge that a binding treaty to enforce such pledges will not take effect for at least several years.
Yet Mr. Obama has found himself limited in his ambitions by a Congress that is unwilling to move as far or as fast as he would like.
American negotiators have been hamstrung in talks leading to the Copenhagen conference by inaction on legislation supported by the administration that would impose strict caps on carbon dioxide emissions. The House passed a relatively stringent bill in June, but the Senate is not expected to begin serious debate on the measure until next year.
Without a firm commitment from the United States — for decades the world’s leading emitter of climate-altering gases — other nations have been reluctant to deliver firmer pledges of their own. Mr. Obama’s aides say he remains determined to use his domestic authority and international clout to continue pressing toward a global agreement. despite the latest setback.
“Is this impasse the United States’ fault? Of course. But others are at fault as well,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign in Washington, citing the opposition of polluting industries and the reluctance of emerging economies to commit to binding curbs on emissions. “We have both the obligation and capability of taking the lead on this issue. The longer we delay, the more extreme the steps that will have to be taken.”
Mr. Obama expressed support on Sunday for a proposal from Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark to pursue a two-step process at the Copenhagen conference.
Under the plan, the 192 nations convening in the Danish capital would formulate a nonbinding political agreement calling for reductions in global warming emissions and aid for developing nations to adapt to a changing climate. The group would also promise to work to put together a binding global pact in 2010, complete with firm emissions targets, enforcement mechanisms and specific dollar amounts to aid poorer nations.
“We must in the coming weeks focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible,” Mr. Rasmussen said in Singapore, making clear he would prefer to lock in the progress that has been made to date and not postpone action until countries are prepared to accept legally-binding commitments.
Although many read the compromise as a sign that the Copenhagen talks were doomed to produce at best a weak agreement, Yvo de Boer, the United Nations official managing the climate negotiations, said the statements out of the Singapore meeting did not limit his ambitions.
“Copenhagen can and must deliver clarity on emission reduction targets and the finance to kick start rapid action,” Mr. de Boer said. “I have seen nothing that would change my view on that.”
Not everyone blames the United States for the apparent deadlock. A European Union official, who asked that his name not be used so he could speak more freely, said that Mr. Obama was moving to use his executive authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but that India and China had delivered little beyond promises.
He said that it had been clear for months that Copenhagen was not going to yield a breakthrough and that there was plenty of blame to go around.
Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the compromise agreed to by the leaders in Singapore was an honest admission of what had become obvious over the past several weeks, as negotiations toward a climate treaty stalled.
But he said the admission was a severe disappointment from President Obama and the other leaders.
“It signifies an abandonment of moral responsibility that a position of leadership on the world stage clearly implies,” Mr. Pachauri said in an e-mail message, adding that the scientific consensus on global warming demanded immediate action, not stalling tactics.
Mr. Obama, speaking in Japan on Friday, seemed to anticipate the criticism the United States will face for the setback in the Copenhagen talks. He said he had started a momentous change in American policy on global warming that would take some time to complete.
“Already, the United States has taken more steps to combat climate change in 10 months than we have in our recent history,” Mr. Obama said, “by embracing the latest science, by investing in new energy, by raising efficiency standards, forging new partnerships and engaging in international climate negotiations.
“In short, America knows there is more work to do,” he said, “but we are meeting our responsibility, and will continue to do so.”
James Kanter contributed reporting from Paris, and Andrew C. Revkin from New York.
Obama’s Legacy at Stake in Paris Talks on Climate Accord
by Coral Davenport
WASHINGTON — At a joint news conference here Tuesday with President François Hollande of France, President Obama veered from his focus on the terrorist attacks in Paris to bring up the huge international gathering beginning in the French capital on Monday to hammer out a global response to climate change.
“What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children,” Mr. Obama said of the climate conference.
The segue brought mockery, even castigation, from the political right, but it was a reminder of the importance Mr. Obama places on climate change in shaping his legacy. During his 2012 re-election campaign, he barely mentioned global warming, but the issue has become a hallmark of his second term.
And on Sunday night he arrives in Paris, hoping to make climate policy the signature environmental achievement of his, and perhaps any, presidency.
“He comes to Paris with a moral authority that no other president has had on the issue of climate change,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University who noted that Mr. Obama’s domestic climate efforts already stand alone in American history. “No other president has had a climate change policy. It makes him unique.”
In Paris, Mr. Obama will join more than 120 world leaders to kick off two weeks of negotiations aimed at forging a new climate change accord that would, for the first time, commit almost every country on Earth to lowering its greenhouse gas pollution. All year, Mr. Obama’s negotiators have worked behind the scenes to fashion a Paris deal.
Crucial to Mr. Obama’s leverage has been the release of his domestic climate change regulations, which he then pushed other countries to emulate. So far, at least 170 countries have put forth emission reduction plans.
But even as Mr. Obama presses for a deal in Paris, it faces steep obstacles, not least the legal and legislative assault on his own regulations at home. During the course of the Paris talks, Republicans in Congress are planning a series of votes to fight Mr. Obama’s climate agenda. More than half the states are suing the administration on the legality of his climate plan. And all the Republican presidential candidates have said that they would undo the regulations if elected.
On Nov. 19, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, chairman of the environment committee and the Senate’s most vocal skeptic on climate change science, and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming sent a letter to Mr. Obama, signed by 35 other senators, promising to block the funding for any climate deal unless the Paris pact is sent to Congress for ratification. A vote on the deal would fail in the Republican-controlled Congress.
“Our constituents are worried that the pledges you are committing the United States to will strengthen foreign economies at the expense of American workers,” the senators wrote. “They are also skeptical about sending billions of their hard-earned dollars to government officials from developing nations.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Obama is pushing forward. He unveiled the rules on curbing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions with a tight timeline, ensuring that they would be finalized before he leaves office. He has raised the issue of climate change in dozens of speeches and with every recent visiting foreign leader. In Washington, a team of environmental lawyers is preparing to defend the rules in court, while at the State Department, climate envoys are in constant contact with their counterparts around the world.
If his domestic regulations and a Paris accord withstand efforts to gut them, “climate change will become the heart and soul of his presidency,” Mr. Brinkley said.
Mr. Obama is an improbable environmental champion. Unlike former Vice President Al Gore, fighting climate change was never the driving force of Mr. Obama’s political career.
As a senator and a presidential candidate in 2008, Mr. Obama checked off the standard slate of progressive environmental policies, including a cap-and-trade program to combat carbon emissions and expanded subsidies for renewable energy. He promoted the creation of green jobs. And on the final Democratic primary night of 2008, he predicted that future generations might see that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
But in his first term, Mr. Obama invested most of his political capital in his signature health care law. He also prioritized the economic stimulus law and a Wall Street regulatory package — issues that resonated with voters during the recession.
While Mr. Obama supported a bill pushed by congressional Democrats to cap greenhouse gas emissions and force industries to pay for permits to pollute, its failure in 2010 appeared to make little impression on him. Environmentalists complained that Mr. Obama had done little to promote the measure as it languished in the Senate.
Mr. Obama did enact some environmental policies in his first term, including $80 billion for clean-energy projects and rules curtailing tailpipe emissions.
Yet during the 2012 campaign, advisers urged him not to talk about climate change. “It didn’t poll well,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s chief strategist in 2008 and 2012.
The candidate cared about the issue, Mr. Axelrod said, but voters cared more about the economy. “He felt bridled in his ability to talk about it,” Mr. Axelrod said. “It was no secret to anyone that this was an issue of continuing and big concern to him. But the reality is that you can’t do anything about climate change if you lose an election.”
In his second inaugural address, Mr. Obama surprised many on his staff when he made new climate policy one of the most prominent promises of the speech. That set off an aggressive campaign to use his executive powers to sidestep congressional opposition.
“That inaugural address was the turning point,” said Heather Zichal, Mr. Obama’s former top climate change adviser. “That was his expectation, and we had to deliver.”
In part, the focus on climate change in his second term was strategic. Mr. Obama wanted to move a big policy agenda, but knew Congress would block him on most issues. On climate change, he could use the authority of the Clean Air Act of 1970 to introduce regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases, without new action from Congress.
Other events helped elevate the climate issue. The economy was gradually improving, while oil prices were falling. Polls showed that a growing number of Americans, including many Republicans, would support climate policies. And Mr. Obama, free from running for office again, wanted to build a legacy.
“He spends a lot of time thinking about his daughters, and he does not want to be the guy who was in a position of doing something about a major global threat and did not do enough,” Ms. Zichal said.
The president surrounded himself with advisers and cabinet members who see climate change as the most urgent issue of our time. He named John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as his senior counselor. Mr. Podesta, who has pushed his bosses to act on climate change, mapped a domestic strategy for rolling out regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency. He also found ways to push the issue through other agencies and rule making. A White House that had rarely mentioned climate change began organizing climate-themed events, bringing in mayors, meteorologists and others to help sell Mr. Obama’s message.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been involved in the international climate change process since 1992, prioritized a deal in Paris, and helped secure a climate agreement between Mr. Obama and President Xi Jinping of China. Negotiators say that deal could help pave the way for a broader pact in Paris.
The fate of Mr. Obama’s climate legacy will rest in the hands of his successor and the courts. Even if a deal unfolds in Paris, the next president could opt not to follow its provisions. And another body entirely will rule on the fate of his new regulations: They are expected to end up before the Supreme Court by 2017.
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