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Senators Fight to Revive Climate Bill

Senate Democrats struggled Monday to salvage a compromise climate change bill after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) walked away from the deal over the possibility of immigration reform taking center stage on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) agenda.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who have worked with Graham on climate change for months, were hoping a Monday evening meeting with their erstwhile GOP collaborator would convince him to return to the fold.

David Wade, Kerry’s chief of staff, said Monday that Kerry “absolutely believes we can get around this roadblock, and many people inside the Senate and the administration are working overtime in good faith to make that happen. Frankly he’s been buoyed by the calls from inside and outside the Senate, from environmentalists as well as industry, not to lose momentum or risk losing an historic breakthrough on reform. Everyone knows this is the last, best chance to get the job done.”

However, Graham dimmed the prospect of reviving the deal even further Monday night, saying he wouldn’t get back on board unless Democrats pledged to take immigration legislation off the agenda for the year.

And a Republican aide familiar with the situation downplayed the likelihood that Monday’s meeting would bring Graham back to the table. “I wouldn’t read too much into that,” the aide said of the meeting, adding that it is the decision by Reid and Obama to move to immigration that has caused the rift. Kerry and Lieberman are “not the problem here.”

Nevertheless, Democrats including Reid remained hopeful.

Reid “is committed to trying to enact comprehensive clean energy legislation this session of Congress,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “Doing so, however, will require strong, bipartisan support. Sen. Reid will continue to consult with Sen. Kerry about next steps and strategy, but given the amount of work that has already gone in to the this issue, it makes sense that climate change may go before immigration.”

Kerry, Lieberman and Graham had been scheduled to introduce their compromise bill Monday morning, and they had lined up support from business groups, environmentalists and union officials.

But in the wake of reports that Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were contemplating moving immigration legislation before the climate bill, Graham balked. According to Democratic aides, by Friday Graham was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of rolling out the legislation without a commitment from Reid to not push immigration first, which Reid has refused to do.

On Saturday, Graham released a letter to stakeholders warning that, “Unless [Reid’s] plan substantially changes this weekend, I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time.”

Reid responded with a statement assuring his colleagues that neither immigration reform nor climate change had precedent over the other.

“Immigration and energy reform are equally vital to our economic and national security and have been ignored for far too long,” Reid said in the statement.

But the damage had been done.

The collapse of the climate bill set off an intensive push by Kerry, Lieberman and their supporters to get the legislation back on track.

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