Graham Quits Climate Talks, Demands Immigration Bill Halt

Posted April 26, 2010 at 6:51pm

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday evening that he will not rejoin three-party climate change talks or support the legislation those talks are close to producing unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) takes off the table any notion of moving comprehensive immigration reform this year.

Graham, whose weekend decision to pull his support for the emerging climate proposal scuttled a planned Monday rollout of the bill, laid out his terms for reporters after emerging from a roughly 45-minute meeting with fellow negotiators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.). Graham said his terms had nothing to do with the substance of the climate legislation and everything to do with taking immigration off the table.

“I am not going to be a party to bringing up immigration this year in a way that will destroy that issue,” Graham said. “And you know what? I’m not going to have my fingerprints on a political maneuver that could wind up breaking this country apart. … Immigration brought up this year is nothing more than a political stunt. It will divide this country.”

Graham said he would not be willing to lend his support to a climate bill – which he said would be “tough, under the best of circumstances” – until he had assurances that immigration was off the table for the year.

“If you bring up immigration, you’re breaking faith with me,” Graham said, referring to public statements Reid made last week indicating he was considering moving an immigration bill in the coming weeks ahead of a climate bill and that he had full faith in Kerry and Lieberman.

“The faith was broken when immigration was injected at the eleventh hour,” Graham said. “What I got to decide is should I continue to do business with people who I think have been less than in good faith.”

Reid spokesman Jim Manley disputed Graham’s assessment, saying, “Sen. Graham has been demanding Democratic leadership on immigration for months, so it’s difficult to understand why we have gotten this reaction to Reid demonstrating his commitment to the issue.”

Manley said Reid would not consider taking immigration off the table for the year to bring Graham back on board with a climate proposal but did say that if a climate bill is ready it could move before immigration.

Graham, who also was the GOP Senator working with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to craft a comprehensive immigration bill, said he felt burned that immigration came up “in a way he never anticipated that poisons the well.” He added that immigration “has no chance in hell of passing,” and that Reid’s indication that he might bring a bill to the floor in the coming weeks was “a political ploy.” He predicted that at least 15 Democrats wanted to “embrace immigration like a hole in the head,” and would oppose any bill that came to the floor, rendering it dead for the year.

“Short-term, it’s about turnout in November,” he said.

Graham accused Democrats of reacting in a “haphazard” way to the strict immigration law enacted in Arizona last week and said a serious effort to secure the border would have to be the starting point for comprehensive immigration reform.

“I believe that we can solve this problem if we focus on the border in a serious way before President Obama’s term is over,” he said.

Graham said he had spoken to Reid about his concerns but did not comment on whether he had any immediate plans for another meeting.

Graham said he was frustrated with the turn of events on climate change and still hopeful that he could get the assurances he needed to be on board.

“I would never have spent all this time working on energy and climate if I’d thought on the day of the rollout you were going to be asking me, ‘What do you think about immigration now that it’s coming up?'” Graham said. “I’ve been seriously working on this. If I wanted to leave on energy and climate, I would have left after health care. … I didn’t want to leave. I still don’t.”

Graham said he would leave the door open for several days and see whether his terms are met before deciding once and for all whether to abandon the climate change talks.

“My position on immigration politics remains the same,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that we can do something on energy and climate. We’ll see.”