Sen. Lindsey Graham doesn't sound like someone who's abandoned the push to pass a global warming bill.
Standing in the Senate's historic Kennedy Caucus Room, the site of hearings on the sinking of the Titanic and Watergate, the South Carolina Republican told a room full of environmentalists and Obama administration officials Tuesday night that he is still in the fight to enact legislation that caps greenhouse gases and expands domestic energy production.
"I'm not playing the game to win 43 [votes]," he said, referring to the high-water mark of past Senate climate bill roll calls. "I'm not in this to make a statement. I'm in this to win."
Graham's speech at the private event hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund took place in the same room he and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) had reserved eight days earlier for a press conference to roll out their energy and climate bill -- an event that got postponed when Graham protested over Democratic leadership's insistence that immigration also belongs on the Senate agenda this year.
During his remarks, Graham repeatedly praised Kerry and Lieberman for their work bringing the climate bill toward the center and including many industry demands, including drilling provisions that have proved unpopular following the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And he also stressed the importance of immigration, an issue that he first grabbed a leadership spot on in 2007 while working with then-President George W. Bush's administration and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Graham's office didn't comment as of press time on his status in the climate negotiations, leaving many to guess where he officially is.
"I think it's like the hokeypokey," said Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas). "You put your right foot in. You take your right foot out. I'm not sure where he is right now."
"He wants to do it," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken skeptic of climate science who has clashed with Graham on the climate issue. Inhofe noted that Graham's involvement on the climate bill, along with immigration and closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison, is "all McCain stuff" -- a reference to the Arizona Republican senator who has shifted hard to his right headed into a tough primary against a more conservative GOP opponent.
"And they are very close," Inhofe said of Graham and McCain.
Kerry insists that the Senate trio continue to talk behind the scenes on their climate proposal, even amid Graham's protests over immigration. "He's standing by the work product, and he's standing by the bill, no matter what," Kerry said.
The Massachusetts Democrat also acknowledged that he and Lieberman are considering rolling out their bill next week, with or without Graham. "We haven't locked it in yet," Kerry said today. "There's talk about it."
Democrats need Graham
As they go forward, Democrats are banking on Graham to maintain his role as a top spokesman for the issue, and in his ability to win over more votes.
Graham won accolades from environmentalists earlier this year when he warned against passing a "half-assed energy bill" that doesn't also cap greenhouse gases. He also scored headlines in all the major newspapers with his declaration that "cap-and-trade is dead" -- even though he later acknowledged that the remark was more about framing the debate for public consumption -- and trying to remove a likely GOP attack of "cap and tax" -- than it was about describing the details of a measure that still involves capping and trading of emission permits.
Chris Miller, the top climate aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said yesterday the climate bill probably won't come to the floor if sponsors are not within striking distance of 60 votes, and that means more than just winning over Graham.
"Because of the way the Senate works these days, we can't even consider moving to a bill unless you've got 60 votes," Miller said, adding that it "might not be worth taking a bill to the floor at all just to see it fail" if it is shy of 60.
Several other senators agreed today that the climate debate needs to get beyond the small cadre of Kerry, Graham, Lieberman and their staffers, who so far are the only ones to actually see their document. "You've got to start the button," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "You've got to start it going if you're going to get it done this year."
Like Kerry, Cardin said he wants to see Graham at the unveiling of the climate legislation because the proposal includes so many of the details he helped negotiate. And that, in turn, could help win over industry support and domino into more Republicans.
"It's clearly got his work product in it," Cardin said. "But more importantly, Senator Kerry is optimistic that many of the stakeholder groups that can impact bipartisan support are prepared to support the bill. That's where the process needs to move forward."
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