WASHINGTON (CN) – The passage of climate and energy legislation was delayed after a key negotiator, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, withdrew his support over the weekend. Graham issued a letter Saturday accusing President Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., of using a “cynical political ploy” to insert immigration legislation before climate change.
Sens. Graham, John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., were planning to introduce the climate bill for debate on Monday after working on the legislation for months.
Graham said he dropped out of negotiations after reports circulated that Obama and the Democratic leadership were making immigration legislation the top priority after last week’s flare-up on the issue.
A strict immigration law signed Friday by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer reignited the national immigration debate and put the issue at the top of the Obama administration’s priority list, Graham said.
“This has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year,” Graham wrote. “I deeply regret that election year politics will impede, if not derail, our efforts to make our nation energy independent.” Graham criticized the Democratic leadership’s decision to take up immigration in a “hurried, panicked manner,” and predicted it will take more time to make even “limited progress” on the issue.
Graham was a key Republican negotiator during the 2007 immigration debate.
“Unlike this current ‘effort,’ it was a good-faith attempt to address a very difficult national issue,” Graham wrote of his 2007 efforts.
“Let’s be clear: a phony, political effort on immigration today accomplishes nothing but making it exponentially more difficult to address in a serious, comprehensive manner in the future,” Graham wrote, calling the rush for immigration reform “ridiculous.”
Reid issued a statement Saturday in response to Graham’s letter.
“Immigration and energy reform are equally vital to our economic and national security,” Reid wrote.
“I appreciate the work of Sen. Graham on both of these issues and understand the tremendous pressure he is under from members of his own party not to work with us on either measure,” Reid wrote. “But I will not allow him to play one issue off another.”
He reinforced his commitment to get an energy bill passed this session.
Kerry said he and Lieberman are pushing forward with the bill.
In a statement, Kerry acknowledged Graham’s success with rallying support for the climate bill from environmentalists and the energy industry.
“Joe and I deeply regret that he feels immigration politics have gotten in the way and for now prevent him from being engaged in the way he intended. But we have to press forward. We can’t allow this moment to pass us by.”
Kerry also expressed hope that Graham would rejoin negotiations after the immigration issue died down.
The three Senators say they have been meeting daily for more than six months on the climate and energy bill.
Kerry says they were “excited to announce it on Monday.” Graham had also said in his letter that he was excited to debate the issue on the Senate floor.
White House energy czar Carol Browner also expressed her hope that the bill will continue to progress.
“We’re determined to see it happen this year, and we encourage the Senators to continue their important work on behalf of the country and not walk away from the progress that’s already been made,” she said in a statement.
“We have a historic opportunity to finally enact measures that will break our dependence on foreign oil, help create clean energy jobs and reduce carbon pollution.”
Graham’s decision to walk away from negotiations reduces the chance that the bill could be passed before November elections.