By: Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
On Friday morning, I 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.
For several days leading up to Saturday’s meltdown, Graham had been trying to secure a commitment from Reid that energy and climate legislation would go forward. “There were flurries of phone calls since Thursday, Friday, even Saturday, trying to get assurances from Reid that we were going to take up energy instead of immigration,” one Senate aide says. “This wasn’t one or two phone calls. We’re talking dozens and dozens of phone calls.”
Reid, who formerly seemed committed to moving the legislation forward, would no longer agree. “There were multiple chances — multiple chances — for them to give the assurances that were necessary,” the aide continues. But nothing came. And Democrats left Graham — one of their best Republican friends in the Senate — fuming.
Reid’s about-face left many in the GOP amazed. Democrats appear to be tossing aside one difficult-to-pass issue in favor of an impossible-to-pass issue. The likelihood is that neither will pass. “There will be no immigration and no energy,” says another Senate aide. “They can do some sort of an energy bill, but it won’t be cap-and-trade. Graham-Kerry-Lieberman won’t pass. The support is just not there, even among Democrats. And on immigration — after having voted for a health care bill that’s toxic, voted for the biggest deficits ever, Democrats are then going to turn around and vote for an amnesty bill?”
Unlikely. The fact is, many Democrats are just as afraid of the immigration issue as Republicans. The conventional wisdom is that immigration reform efforts of 2006 and 2007 split the GOP. They did, but they split the Democrats, too. In the Senate vote that killed the 2007 effort, 34 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted to move the measure forward, while 37 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to block it.
And that bill was the result of long and painstaking bipartisan work. “In 2007,” Graham writes, “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.”
Now, Reid says he would like to have a bill in three weeks. It’s a laughable idea except for the fact that the majority leader is becoming desperate and might do anything to improve his chances of re-election.
But even if Democrats can cobble together some sort of legislation in the next few weeks, they can forget about having the sort of Republican support that existed in 2007. The watered-down border security measures in that bill — the “virtual fence,” for example — have been dumped. Temporary guest worker measures are gone, too. There is no way many Republicans would go along with a new Democratic measure. Even the famously pro-reform GOP Sen. John McCain campaigned for the presidency in 2008 by repeating thousands of times that he “got the message” that the U.S. should “secure the border first.” Now in a primary fight with hardliner J.D. Hayworth, McCain won’t be touching a Democratic immigration reform plan.
Nevertheless, it appears the Democrats’ “cynical political ploy” will go forward. For Reid and his party, it’s a high-risk base-strategy gamble. Maybe it will work. But if it doesn’t, it could mean a Republican victory in November that’s even larger than GOP optimists predict.
Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Why-Graham-balked-can-Dems-win-by-losing-on-climate-AND-immigration-92056569.html#ixzz0mDIRNZ1A