CLIMATE:

Senior Dems talk tough on energy, immigration

The Senate's impasse over climate change and immigration legislation heads into the weekend without any sign of resolution.

Democratic leaders yesterday signaled they plan to tackle both controversial issues this year, even if it means ending the "tripartisan" partnership on the climate bill forged more than six months ago between Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other top Democrats released the outlines of an immigration overhaul that they said was aimed at engaging with Republican moderates. They would not commit to a floor schedule for their measure -- which includes enhanced border security and a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants -- but they still insisted the issue was ripe for action before the midterm 2010 elections.

"If I did not believe we could not accomplish immigration reform, I never would have chosen to accept the immigration subcommittee chairmanship," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Committees of inaction and legislative backwaters are not places in which I thrive."

Like clockwork, Graham and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) issued a joint statement moments after the Democrats' press conference ended indicating little desire for a compromise on immigration.

"A conceptual paper that promises everything to everyone is not the same as responsible legislation that compiles the best ideas from both sides of the aisle," the GOP senators said. "The Senate Democrats' proposal is nothing more than an attempt to score political points."

Graham's alignment with the second highest-ranking Senate Republican represents the strongest signal yet how far away he is from returning to the bargaining table on global warming and energy. Graham met briefly yesterday in Kyl's office with Kerry, and also earlier in the day with Lieberman. But Graham said yesterday he would not even vote for his own climate bill so long as immigration is on the table.

"When I told everyone I would do climate, in fact, I was assured we also wouldn't be doing immigration," Graham told The Washington Post.

Several Democrats have not been shy about turning the tables back on Graham.

"There's probably nobody in the House or the Senate who believes more in doing something about our environment, which is under attack," Reid said during the immigration press conference. "We need to do comprehensive energy legislation as soon as we can. I don't know how my friend Lindsey Graham can say this kills energy. It's up to him."

Reid noted that other GOP senators may be willing to help pass a climate bill. "There's 40 other Republicans," Reid said. "Why Lindsey Graham? So, he cannot logically use immigration as an excuse to not help with energy."

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) urged other Republicans to "step up if they believe in this cause, to help us bring it across the finish line."

Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who bolted the GOP last year, said he shares Graham's pain. "I think the pressure on Republicans not to cooperate with Democrats or do anything that looks askance to the far right, the pressure is just intense," Specter said. "I know because I was in that pressure cooker."

Specter also noted the conservative complaints Graham faces back home for working with the Obama administration and Democrats. "Have you seen what they're doing to him in South Carolina? Every county is after his ass," Specter said.

Who's whipping?

Yesterday's immigration press conference served as a symbolic bookend to a chaotic week in the Capitol that was supposed to have started with the rollout Monday of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill.

But with Graham on the sidelines, Kerry and Lieberman have no plans to release their climate bill yet beyond sending key details to U.S. EPA and the Energy Information Administration for economic modeling seen as necessary before the bill can reach the floor.

Beyond that, Senate Democrats do not appear to have a clear path forward, or for that matter be on the same page.

Durbin said that collecting 60 supporters for a comprehensive climate bill rests not in the leadership office, but with Kerry, Lieberman and environmental groups.

"I don't know if it's our hands to get to 60 votes, in other words to pick up another Republican," Durbin said. "We'd sure need the help of environmentalists across the nation to try and persuade them. But at this point, on each of the big bills, we're still looking for a few Republicans who are looking to join us."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), one of the moderate Republicans that Democrats are courting on both immigration and climate, said yesterday he was not very intrigued by the overtures on either issue. On immigration, Gregg said the burden is on the Obama administration to "show leadership on the border."

"I think until they do that, there's not going to be much appetite to do much about immigration," Gregg said.

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