Whisper Campaign Derails Climate Bill Rollout

Posted by Wonk Room Mon, 26 Apr 2010 15:21:00 GMT

Lindsey GrahamThe unveiling of green economy legislation by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Monday has been indefinitely postponed, following a whisper campaign that Senate leadership preferred tackling immigration reform instead. Below is the timeline of the last four days, in which political reporters quote anonymous “Democratic officials” and “Senate Democratic aides” to promote the rumor:

Wednesday, April 21: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) meet. Based entirely on comments from anonymous “Senate Democratic aides,” Roll Call’s John Stanton claims that “Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with plans to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year — even if it means punting on energy legislation until next Congress.” The Hill’s Ben Geman cites “a Democratic aide” to claim Pelosi said she is “fine” with “the Senate taking up immigration reform before climate change legislation.” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler cites “three Democratic officials” to claim “both leaders said they would put immigration ahead of energy on their priority list.”

Thursday, April 22, Earth Day: The Associated Press’s Laurie Kellerman and Matthew Day cite “two Democratic officials” to repeat the immigration-first rumor.

Pelosi holds a press conference, and is asked about the rumor. Pelosi responds that “energy security and addressing the climate crisis is the flagship issue of my speakership,” notes that the House has “already passed our energy bill,” and “if the Senate is ready with an immigration bill, we don’t want anybody holding it up for any reason, and we would be pleased to welcome it to the House.” Fox News’ Chad Pergram interprets her remarks to claim “Pelosi Okay On Delaying Climate Bill in Lieu of Immigration.”

Graham tells reporters that “If immigration comes up then that’s the ultimate CYA politics,” and “It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate” to jump to immigration reform legislation, because “We haven’t done anything to prepare the body or the country for immigration” and “business and labor are not together on a temporary worker bill.”

In a story by Politico’s Marin Cogan about Graham’s comments, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “declined to say which bill she’d prefer be taken up first.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) tells the Christian Science Monitor’s Linda Feldmann, “I don’t know that anybody made a determination in the discussions I have had with leadership that immigration is more important than energy,” and agrees with Graham’s assessment, “I am not sure the Senate can move an immigration bill.”

Friday, April 23: A “Democratic aide” tells Politico’s Kasie Hunt: “Immigration is gaining steam; climate change may suffer.”

“I think these are separate issues on separate legislative tracks,’’ Lieberman says in a conference call. “One will not adversely affect the other.” Hartford Courant’s Daniela Altimari reports “Lieberman said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured him that he will bring the climate and energy bill to the floor, likely in late May or early June, barring any obstacles.”

Saturday, April 24: Graham sends a letter to business, religious and conservation leaders that “I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time” because of “what appears to be a decision by the Obama Administration and Senate Democratic leadership to move immigration instead of energy,” unless “their plan substantially changes this weekend.”

Reid, the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin writes, “declined to assure Graham on Saturday that he would put immigration behind energy in the legislative lineup,” responding in a statement instead: “I will not allow him to play one issue off of another, and neither will the American people.” The Hill’s Eric Zimmerman interprets Reid’s statement to claim he “said today that Democrats might push climate legislation before immigration reform.” Reid’s statement blames Republicans, specifically “the tremendous pressure he is under from members of his own party not to work with us on either measure.”

The White House “also declined to indicate whether it would address Graham’s concerns,” issuing a statement by climate advisor Carol Browner saying, “We believe the only way to make progress on these priorities is to continue working as we have thus far in a bipartisan manner to build more support for both comprehensive energy independence and immigration reform legislation.” Talking Points Memo’s Christina Bellantoni notes Browner says about climate reform, “We’re determined to see it happen this year.”

In the evening, Kerry releases a statement that “regrettably external issues have arisen that force us to postpone only temporarily” the Monday unveiling because Graham “feels immigration politics have gotten in the way and for now prevent him from being engaged in the way he intended.” “Joe and I will continue to work together and are hopeful that Lindsey will rejoin us once the politics of immigration are resolved.”

In summary: although Lieberman and Hoyer attempted to debunk the rumor, Senate leadership and the White House refused to address the rumor of timing spread by anonymous Democratic staffers and officials. Graham, who has also been the lead Republican working on immigration with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), announced Saturday he would not participate in a bill rollout with its fate on the Senate calendar placed in competition with unwritten immigration legislation.