Climate Bill Derailed: Graham Accuses Dems Of Playing Immigration Politics

April 24, 2010 12:31 p.m.

A bipartisan deal on climate change legislation suffered a major setback today as a key author of the measure accused Senate Democrats and President Obama of abandoning the issue to instead focus on an election-year immigration bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was set to release a climate change plan Monday with Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, but today Graham wrote a letter to “leaders in the energy independence effort” saying it was obvious the energy bill would have “no chance of success.” He said politics will “impede, if not derail” the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham efforts that have been in the works for months.

Graham (R-SC) charged that Obama and Senate leaders have signaled immigration is their priority. Graham said that “has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year.”“All of the key players, particularly the Senate leadership, have to want this debate as much as we do. This is clearly not the case,” Graham wrote in in the letter, obtained by TPMDC and included below.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) swiftly responded in a statement pledging that both immigration and climate change are top priorities. He said while he appreciates Graham’s work on both issues, “I will not allow him to play one issue off of another.”

Reid said energy “could be next” if the measure is ready, and said immigration would require “significant committee work that has not yet begun.” The majority leader said the American people “expect us to do both, and they will not accept the notion that trying to act on one is an excuse for not acting on the other.”

I’m told a Lieberman statement will be out this evening. The White House released a statement urging Graham to keep working, saying climate legislation can pass “this year” and saying both issues need bipartisan support. (Update: Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement that he and Lieberman are “pressing forward” with or without Graham.)

Graham said the hasty immigration push (following Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signing a controversial bill Friday) is a “cynical political ploy” and cited the 2007 effort that fell apart under President George W. Bush despite months of negotiation. Earlier this spring, Graham told TPMDC that the process of passing health care was a bad sign for both immigration and climate change.

Here is Graham’s letter, dated today:

I want to bring to your attention what appears to be a decision by the Obama Administration and Senate Democratic leadership to move immigration instead of energy. Unless their plan substantially changes this weekend, I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time. I will not allow our hard work to be rolled out in a manner that has no chance of success.

Recent press reports indicating that immigration — not energy — is their priority have not been repudiated. This has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year. All of the key players, particularly the Senate leadership, have to want this debate as much as we do. This is clearly not the case.

I am very disappointed with this turn of events and believe their decision flies in the face of commitments made weeks ago to Senators Kerry, Lieberman and me. I deeply regret that election year politics will impede, if not derail, our efforts to make our nation energy independent.

I truly appreciate Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and their staff for the long hours of work. They have been tremendous partners who have negotiated in good faith and stood ready to make the tough choices necessary to bring forward a comprehensive energy bill.

I continue to believe our nation’s reliance on ever-increasing amounts of foreign oil poses a direct threat to our national security and economic well-being. I know we can create thousands of jobs by pushing for a renaissance in nuclear power, expanded offshore drilling, and unleashing America’s innovative spirit. One only needs to look to China and Europe, where 21st Century clean energy jobs are currently being created while we fail to act.

Like you, I share the belief that becoming energy independent and better stewards of our environment are complementary — not competing — standards. I was greatly looking forward to the opportunity to address these issues on the floor of the U.S. Senate as we pushed energy independence legislation forward into law. But it appears President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership have other more partisan, political objectives in mind.

Moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical political ploy. I know from my own personal experience the tremendous amounts of time, energy, and effort that must be devoted to this issue to make even limited progress.

In 2007, we spent hundreds of hours over many months with President Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and nearly every member of the U.S. Senate searching for a way to address our nation’s immigration problems. Unlike this current “effort,” it was a good-faith attempt to address a very difficult national issue.

Some of the major provisions we embraced in 2007 — such as creation of a Virtual Fence using cameras, motion detectors and other technological devices to protect our borders — have been scrapped for the time. Other issues we found agreement on at the time, such as a temporary guest worker program, have unraveled over the past three years.

Expecting these major issues to be addressed in three weeks — which appears to be their current plan based upon media reports — is ridiculous. It also demonstrates the raw political calculations at work here.

Let’s be clear, a phony, political effort on immigration today accomplishes nothing but making it exponentially more difficult to address in a serious, comprehensive manner in the future.

Again, I truly appreciate the tremendous amount of time you have committed to the effort to make our nation more energy independent. I look forward to continuing to work with you so that when the U.S. Senate finally decides to address this issue we will be prepared for battle and confident of a successful outcome in the effort to make our nation energy independent once and for all.

Lindsey O. Graham
United States Senator

Support The TPM Journalism Fund
  • Contributions allow us to hire more journalists
  • Contributions allow us to provide free memberships to those who cannot afford them
  • Contributions support independent, non-corporate journalism
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: