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Mitch McConnell Thinks the U.S. Should Follow China's Lead

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, often asks President Barack Obama to show greater leadership—at least when it comes to international relations and the economy. But he will make an exception for climate change. At his first and only scheduled debate against his Senate challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell said on Monday that he would rather the U.S. do less on climate change and let other countries take the lead.

"Well the president has been trying to take a leadership position, but of course nobody is interested in tying their hands behind their back and creating more problems for their people in pursuit of a goal they do not think we can achieve," McConnell said. "My job is to look out for Kentucky’s coal miners.”

McConnell, who has railed against the Environmental Protection Agency and rejected human responsibility for global warming, suggested that the U.S. take its cues from other countries, "noting Australia’s carbon tax repeal and China’s growing energy demands," according to Politico.

McConnell often chides Obama for his lack of leadership fighting the Islamic State or counterbalancing Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I think a passive approach to foreign policy, which basically means not asserting American interests, is a mistake," he said in March. "Some leaders are going to exercise power [and] will push limits as far as they can if they think that there's no pushback."

But that's exactly what Obama has been doing on climate change, rallying the world to act ahead of a critical United Nations conference in Paris next year. And McConnell's suggestion that China is content to join the U.S. on the sidelines is not exactly true. Like the U.S., China has taken the initiative over the past year to lessen its reliance on coal. It expects to implement the world's largest carbon-trading system by 2016, while Beijing looks to go coal-free by 2020.

And who is pushing China to set even more ambitious targets? Obama.