"Immigration was interjected before we rolled out the [climate and energy] bill not because anybody's serious about passing it, but because Harry has got a political problem with the Hispanic community," Graham told me tonight. "It makes the heavy lift of energy and climate impossible and everybody knows that."
Graham has said for days that he's dropped out of climate/energy talks, but pressed tonight, he said that he will filibuster his own bill if Reid tries to bring it up without tabling immigration altogether.
"If they can do this without me, go ahead.... I am not going to be part of an energy-climate process that has no hope of success," Graham said. "I am not going to let that happen with my vote."
That complicates things for Kerry and Lieberman, who hoped bumping their climate bill back into the lead would be enough to settle the dispute.
Graham counts himself a supporter of immigration reform in principle, but says that, in the wake of the partisan row over health care reform, he now takes the long view: a goal that may be attainable in President Obama's first term, but not now.
"What we ought to do this year is address what people in Arizona are concerned about, which is a broken border," Graham said. "We should work together this year to try to find a pathway forward, because the 2007 bill is not going to make it." But comprehensive reform will have to wait until next Congress at the earliest.
I asked him how he imagined immigration would pass in 2011 or 2012, particularly with Republicans poised to gain seats in the 2010 election.
"My belief is the Republican party will, like we did in the past...embrace comprehensive immigration reform when they think politically it's possible to do so," Graham said.
That may be wishful thinking. In 2007, Senate Republicans dealt President George W. Bush a stinging rebuke by torpedoing his immigration reform initiative.