Will Immigration Crowd Out Climate?

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 3:10 PM EDT

 When senators unveil a climate and energy bill on Monday, they say it will have the support of industry groups that have long opposed addressing global warming. But now they may face a new challenge: keeping the climate bill on the agenda.

Climate was originally going to be the number two issue on Democrats' to-do list after health care reform. Earlier this year, it was bumped down to third place, after financial reform. Now the Democratic leadership is indicating that immigration reform may jump the queue ahead of climate, too.

The move—likely due at least in part to Majority Leader Harry Reid's tough reelection battle in Nevada this year—won't please the lone Republican at the center of both issues: Lindsey Graham. Graham has been working for months with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the energy and climate effort. He's also working with Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on an immigration reform bill. But he's not happy to hear talk of immigration cutting in line.

Moving on immigration now would be "the ultimate CYA politics" (as in, "cover your ass"), Graham said (via The Hill), explaining that he believed Democrats would be prioritizing it only because they saw it as politically beneficial to them, not because the necessary work had been done. He also warned that moving immigration now "destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate."

Graham got even more fired up in the Wall Street Journal on this subject:

"What bill are we going to take up?" he asked in an interview. "What are we going to do? I mean, you’ve done nothing to lay the groundwork for this, we’ve spent all of our time on health care. What bill are we going to take up? Do you expect me to write a bill? Am I going to write every bill in this Congress?"

And this:

Asked about immigration, it’s fair to say that Graham went into something of a rant. "I thought we had a game plan here," he said. "I thought we were going to take up energy and climate if we could put together a package. You throw immigration into the mix, this is a CYA effort, this is just not a rational way to do comprehensive immigration reform."

Whether climate and energy moves first will depend a lot on what happens on Monday. If Kerry, Graham and Lieberman roll out a bill that has the kind of backing that Kerry is promising, it could be next in line after financial reform. But if the senators can't deliver that support in the coming days, climate and energy might have to take a back seat. Again.