WASHINGTON – Two of President Barack Obama’s top remaining domestic policy initiatives – energy and immigration – appeared on the brink of collapse on Saturday, after a Republican senator at the center of both efforts threatened to jump ship in a dispute with Democrats over timing.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Saturday that they would postpone the introduction of their long-anticipated energy and climate bill, which they had planned to roll out on Monday. The announcement came after their third partner, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, abruptly pulled out of the effort – at least temporarily.
Graham was irate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unexpectedly told fellow Democrats last week that he planned to move an immigration bill in the Senate before the climate bill, a move widely seen as a nod to Latino voters who could make or break Reid’s re-election bid, and which Graham said would cripple the energy bill’s chances.
In a scathing letter on Saturday, Graham blasted Reid and the Obama administration for putting “partisan, political objectives” ahead of the energy bill, and he warned that “Moving forward on immigration – in this hurried, panicked manner – is nothing more than a cynical political ploy.”
Graham said he would re-engage on the energy bill if Reid backed off his plan to move immigration first. Reid did not directly commit either way, issuing a statement saying immigration and energy “are equally vital to our economic and national security.”
Losing Graham’s support could effectively doom both issues this year. Along with months of work with Kerry and Lieberman on the climate bill, Graham has partnered with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to draft an immigration bill. Republican votes are essential to pass either measure, and Graham was widely seen as a White House beachhead in a GOP caucus that has largely opposed Obama’s initiatives.
The Senate calendar is already strained in the wake of the marathon health care debate. With midterm elections looming, few analysts expect the Senate to accomplish much after July.
Once a climate bill is introduced, its drafters had planned to send it to the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency to model its effects on the federal budget, the U.S. economy and the environment – a process that is expected to last more than a month. Only after those analyses come back could a bill move toward a vote.
Schumer and Graham do not appear close to producing an immigration bill or lining up the votes for one. But Kerry, Graham and Lieberman had scheduled a morning press conference on Monday to announce their plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions and spur domestic energy production. A host of environmental and business leaders were set to fly in to flank them.
Kerry postponed the announcement in a press release, saying he and Lieberman “deeply regret that (Graham) feels immigration politics have gotten in the way and for now prevent him from being engaged in the way he intended … . Joe and I will continue to work together and are hopeful that Lindsey will rejoin us once the politics of immigration are resolved.”
The White House appealed for calm, with Obama’s top climate adviser, Carol Browner, saying Obama still supports a bipartisan push on both immigration and energy.