E&E's Samuelsohn discusses developments in Senate climate negotiations

Will the Senate take up immigration reform before climate and energy legislation? During today's OnPoint, E&E reporter Darren Samuelsohn discusses the latest developments in the Senate climate debate. He explains how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to proceed with climate negotiations and talks about alternatives to the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is E&E senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn. Darren, nice to see you.

Darren Samuelsohn: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Darren, you've been following developments on the future of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill. What's the latest from Senator Reid on when and if this bill will be released and when we might see it on the floor?

Darren Samuelsohn: Well, Reid is digging in. He says that he'll take up both the climate bill and immigration this year. That's, of course, a no-go for Senator Lindsey Graham, the key co-sponsor on the climate bill, and so you basically have two positions that are just getting harder and harder to overcome. Reid says that he wants to take up both of them. He also said that he can actually move the climate bill without Lindsey Graham. We're going to see how the implications of that come out, because I mean obviously he's going to need some Republicans to pass the bill. Reid acknowledged he's going to need Republicans to pass the bill, but who are those Republicans, and Lindsey Graham was the first.

Monica Trauzzi: This idea of taking up immigration and climate over the next couple of months, I mean can it be done? Is that even enough time to do both?

Darren Samuelsohn: Well, there could be enough time if they wanted to pack everything together. They're going to try and knock off financial regulatory reform first and then the question is what's next? Obviously, a climate bill is going to need about six weeks of EPA analysis, which would mean that it wouldn't really be ready to go until after the Memorial Day recess. So there is the time in May. They still have all the appropriations bills to do. There is eventually going to be a Supreme Court nominee to take up. They've talked about food safety as another big issue that they want to try and tackle, so there's a lot on the plate. I mean, obviously, they've got the Memorial Day to July 4 recess period of time, that's a four-week, and then after July 4 to the August recess. So there are about nine, ten weeks of legislative business left. It's a matter of which ones do they really want to get into and what do they have the votes on?

Monica Trauzzi: So this idea of moving forward without Graham, I mean, are the votes there for something like that?

Darren Samuelsohn: That's going to be a tough one. Obviously, we're in a bunch of chicken-and-the-egg situations here. Kerry and Graham and Lieberman are not going to release the bill unless all three of them are together, at least that's what John Kerry is saying. So, you need to kind of get the bill out there in order to get people to start responding to it. That had been the remarks from everybody on Capitol Hill over the last couple of weeks, is, well, we want to see the bill; we want to read it before we actually start to talk about whether or not it has a chance for going forward, whether or not we would vote for it. So, no one has seen the bill. Obviously, if it moves to the U.S. EPA, that becomes something and then it's open for public -- you could FOIA the document if they don't release it or if it doesn't leak. So pretty soon we should see it if they move it over to EPA. Now, once the bill gets out and once people can start picking it apart, then you start to get back into the coalition building of the manufacturing Democrats. There's a bunch of Republicans who could potentially come along, but I mean if Lindsey Graham is saying no, no, no, you've got to wonder who those Republicans are. I mean, it's an obvious list of about seven or eight moderate Republicans that they could pull from.

Monica Trauzzi: Was Senator Graham set in turn a signal that there were issues with the actual content of the bill?

Darren Samuelsohn: Well, Lindsey Graham has been getting pummeled from the right for a long time for even working with the Democrats on the issue, back home. The administration has been saying that this was percolating for a while. People have been talking about, you know, has Lindsey Graham been trying to get out for a while? Obviously, he stayed through the health care debate, which he said was a polarizing debate. He has warned that if the Supreme Court nominee that Obama puts forward is too liberal that could cause problems, but he never had really bolted the way he seems to have bolted this weekend from the bill. As for the substance, he was not happy with a Fox News story that ran about two weeks ago that called the way that they were going to control transportation fuels a gas tax. That's the way the story was written. It quoted unnamed administration officials calling it a gas tax and saying that it was Lindsey Graham's idea, at least that's the way the story was reported. Graham was not happy with that. He was upset with the administration for being quoted on this. Obviously, with unnamed sources it's kind of difficult to know what really happened, but Graham was upset about that. He talked about that the other day and said I should have walked maybe when that came out. So, there have been a whole sequence of events that happened where Graham has kind of been toeing the line here. He wants to work and he's been investing a lot of energy and time on the bill. It's interesting to note that he only has one staffer working on the energy bill and it's the same staffer who's working on the immigration bill as well, so one staffer kind of juggling both issues.

Monica Trauzzi: What's the administration's take on all of this and are they changing their stance on climate and energy legislation at all this week?

Darren Samuelsohn: No, they've been pretty firm that they think you can do both. It's kind of the same thing that you're hearing from Harry Reid right now, so they're coordinating their talking points. Obviously, Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, is a good friend with Lindsey Graham. They talk on a regular basis and you can imagine that there have been a lot of conversations there trying to figure out how to keep Graham on board on the climate issue and, no doubt, immigration has been a regular topic of conversation. The White House officials have been up in the capital regularly, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Phil Schilliro, the president's top legislative adviser. So you got the sense behind the scenes that they're trying to salvage these two issues, politically though it's a big issue, immigration for the president. He sees this as a way to maybe turn out the Hispanic vote, which is going to be very crucial for Harry Reid in Nevada as he faces a challenge for a fifth term. Also Barbara Boxer in California, it's a big issue. So politically the administration is trying to push immigration, but they're also maybe pushing Lindsey Graham out of the picture as well.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what's the most likely path forward at this point? Do they salvage this bill? Do they move to the Cantwell-Collins bill? Do they do energy only? There are a couple of different options here.

Darren Samuelsohn: Yeah, the reaction on the Hill as the Graham news broke seems to be that the people who have been pushing alternatives are sort of circling like sharks waiting to sort of grab their opportunity now for their particular idea. You're starting to hear from some of the moderate Democrats, well, if we can't do the climate bill, let's do an energy bill. We haven't heard much yet from Cantwell-Collins and, again, that bill, the questions on how many votes that could really pick up for Midwestern senators who are going to want free allowances for their electric utilities indicates that bill probably doesn't have a very good political shot at moving this year. So, what's going to happen? I mean Graham and Reid have to work out their differences. Right now they're sort of dug in. The administration has to sort of weigh in and decide which of these issues do they really want to push now versus maybe next year. And Harry Reid is thinking, you know, Lindsey Graham could be - you know, he's one Republican senator and he's trying to control the entire Senate agenda.

Monica Trauzzi: Ultimately, is this too much of a setback for climate? I mean is this basically the end of the road for climate this year?

Darren Samuelsohn: That's what we're wondering. I mean, as Kerry has been saying, this is the last best chance and they're worried about the prospects of Republicans picking up seats and potentially flipping the House or Senate next year. And if that were to happen we'd be looking at a whole different lineup in terms of congressional investigations of the Obama administration, as opposed to trying to pass climate legislation. So, it's really all on the line and there are just a couple more weeks here where this could really be resolved and the hard work of getting to 60 votes on this bill, which has kind of been completely pushed off to the side in light of this Graham issue, all of that still remains and, you know, the bill and the details of what the bill are and the horse trading that has to go on, that was all supposed to happen in Harry Reid's office. And if bad will is being created right now, you've got to wonder. At the same time, Harry Reid was successful on health care in cobbling 60 votes together before Christmas, so you can't underestimate him either.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it there, great reporting as always.

Darren Samuelsohn: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks are coming on the show and thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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