On Friday morning, Byron York got a note from the office of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asking if I would be interested in coming by Monday to talk with Graham about the new energy and climate bill he was scheduled to unveil with co-sponsors John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman. We quickly sent a few emails back and forth, trying to arrange a time, until about an hour later, when radio silence descended on the Graham office.
Within hours, it became clear that there would be no unveiling, and, at least as far as Graham was concerned, no bill, either. Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats decided to remove the measure, on which Graham and others had worked for months, from the Senate schedule and replace it with some sort of unformed and so-far-unwritten measure on immigration “reform.”
Saturday afternoon, a clearly angry Graham decided to go public with his version of what happened, releasing an extraordinary open letter accusing Reid and other Democratic leaders of engaging in “phony” and “cynical” political maneuvering by dumping energy and climate in favor of immigration. Reid, of course, is in deep trouble in his re-election fight in Nevada, where about 26 percent of the population is Hispanic. President Obama hopes to increase Hispanic voting and fire up the Democratic base to avert potentially disastrous Democratic mid-term losses across the country. Pushing aside the energy and climate bill — which had at-best iffy prospects in the Senate, anyway — for “comprehensive” immigration reform might possibly save a few Democrats. Or at least Reid. Of course, at the moment there’s no bill and no real probability that one could pass, but some Democrats apparently believe even a losing fight could help them politically by motivating the base.
So Graham was out of luck. “I am very disappointed with this turn of events and believe [the Senate Democratic leadership’s] decision flies in the face of commitments made weeks ago to Senators Kerry, Lieberman and me,” Graham wrote in his open letter Saturday. “I deeply regret that election year politics will impede, if not derail, our efforts to make our nation energy independent.”
“Moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical political ploy,” Graham continued. “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.”
Graham’s angry words — senators don’t usually throw “phony” at each other — suggest a man who believes he’s been double-crossed. And indeed, a talk with aides familiar with what happened reveals a senator who thought he had deal only to find out — mostly from press reports — that he didn’t.
Ezra Klein has an interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham that explores Graham’s opposition to moving on immigration legislation before tackling a climate bill. As the piece’s title quote suggests, to an extent Graham comes off like a parent trying not to offend either of his difficult children. But it’s a fairly candid Q & A, and one worth reading:
I’m playing pretty delicate politics here. I’m trying to let the business community and the Hispanic community know that I’m in. I ain’t going away. But while we’re trying to do this very hard thing that’s energy and climate, I can’t go down that road. I can’t be pressured down that road. If you go, I can’t go with you. Some supporters of immigration reform think I’ve abandoned them. But they’re not listening. This is just too far for me and for the issue this year.