WASHINGTON (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda was thrown into turmoil Sunday after a key Republican abruptly pulled his support for a compromise energy and climate bill in a blow to Democrats.
Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican, abandoned what Democrats said was a painstakingly negotiated climate bill in outrage over a decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to move an immigration bill in the Senate ahead of it.
White House officials appeared to be taken aback by the move, unsure how to respond to the unraveling of a major component of the president’s strategy both for meeting his international pledges on climate change and shifting the US economy from its heavy reliance on foreign oil.
“We need and we welcome that cooperation from Senator Graham. They are both important. There is no either/or between energy and immigration reform,” said Lawrence Summers, the head of the White House National Economic Council.
“Even though immigration reform and energy reform are both crucial issues for the business community, there has been an enormous back pressure against the kind of bipartisan cooperation that Senator Graham has engaged in, and that perhaps has made this a more complex situation, more difficult for him than it would otherwise be,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show.
“But we are prepared to go ahead vigorously with any partner who wants to join us on both energy reform and immigration legislation because we think gridlock needs to end,” he said.
Reid’s sudden shift in legislative priorities comes as Democrats face an increasingly hostile climate in November midterm elections.
Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 presidential elections, but Hispanics have grown impatient with the administration as immigration reform has been sidelined by other priorities.
Ironically, Graham and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York had hammered out an immigration reform bill that would lay the path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants, reinforce border controls and create a process to admit temporary workers and produce biometric Social Security cards.
But in a letter Saturday, Graham accused the administration of putting “partisan, political objectives” ahead of the energy bill, warning that “moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — was nothing more than a cynical political ploy.”
Graham’s partners in crafting the climate bill, Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, called off plans to introduce it on Monday as they regrouped.
Kerry warned that this year was “our best and perhaps last chance” for Congress to pass a comprehensive reform bill that encompassed both climate change and energy.
“We have no choice but to act this year. The American people deserve better than for the Senate to defer this debate or settle for an energy-only bill that won’t get the job done,” he said.
He credited Graham with helping to build “an unprecedented coalition of stakeholders from the environmental community and the industry who have been prepared to stand together behind a proposal. That can’t change. We can’t allow this moment to pass us by.”
But Republicans questioned whether either the climate or immigration reform should be brought to a vote at a time when Congress has its hands full with reforming the regulation of the US financial system and major pending appropriations bills.
“I’m not sure how you can really justify bringing either one of them up at this point. I mean, we’ve got a budget to deal with,” Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss told CNN’s State of the Union.
“We’ve got a lot of work left on our plate between now and the rest of the summer,” he said.
Summers also suggested that climate bill-immigration reform flap was a distraction for the administration.
“Frankly, for our part, what’s really overwhelmingly important is that financial reform pass as soon as possible as the next step,” he said.
The bill devised by Kerry, Graham and Lieberman was to have dropped a so-called “cap and trade system” advocated by Obama and passed by the House of Representatives last year.
Instead of caps on emissions of greenhouse gases and a market for trading pollution rights among companies, the Senate bill was to have set a price on carbon pollution and promoted offshore oil drilling, new nuclear plants and development of renewable energy sources and other “clean” technologies to wean the United States off oil imports.