Climate backers seek to salvage bill after Graham halts action over immigration

Authors of Senate climate legislation are working to defuse a standoff between Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over immigration reform that has threatened to kill the climate bill’s prospects for floor action this year.

Graham on Saturday threatened to abandon his work with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the climate and energy bill that was supposed to be rolled out Monday, forcing an indefinite postponement.

Congressional aides said that Kerry and Lieberman had discussions with Graham and White House officials over the weekend as they try and bring Graham back into the fold.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman plan to meet again on Monday, a Senate aide said.

Lieberman acknowledged Sunday that the bill is dead without Graham, who is furious that Democrats might move ahead first with immigration legislation that he calls an election-year gambit.

Graham is seen as a bridge to other GOP votes.

“We need him to come back. Our hope is something can be worked out where he's comfortable about the separation of these two issues and the primacy of energy and climate legislation in Sen. Reid's scheduling,” Lieberman told The Wall Street Journal.

Lieberman, according to the Journal, also said Reid told him Sunday that the majority leader is “ready to do energy and climate legislation as soon as it's ready and that he assumes it will be ready sooner than immigration reform.”

Reid has not commented specifically on the sequencing of the measures, but hinted in a statement Saturday that a climate and energy package is further along than an immigration bill.

“I am committed to trying to enact comprehensive clean energy legislation this session of Congress. Doing so will require strong bipartisan support and energy could be next if it's ready,” Reid said. “I have also said we will try to pass comprehensive immigration reform. This too will require bipartisan support and significant committee work that has not yet begun.”

With Democrats expected to lose seats in the midterm elections, climate change advocates fear that their best chance at winning emissions-capping legislation may slip away.

Kerry himself said this month that 2010 represents the “last and best shot” to win the 60 Senate votes needed for a sweeping climate and energy package.

We Can Lead – a network of businesses and green investing advocates pushing for emissions legislation – issued a statement Sunday calling for a resolution to the standoff.

“We Can Lead have been strong supporters of this effort and hope that this latest speed bump can be resolved soon, so the Senate can act on a plan that will help create 2 million American jobs,” the group said.

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