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White House: Immigration Is ‘Important’ And Energy Is ‘Critical,’ But Reid ‘Sets The Agenda’

By Brad Johnson on April 26, 2010 at 5:39 pm

"White House: Immigration Is ‘Important’ And Energy Is ‘Critical,’ But Reid ‘Sets The Agenda’"

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Although both immigration and climate reform are top priorities for the Obama administration, White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said, it is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who “sets the agenda.” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd questioned Barnes this morning over the conflict between Reid and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that derailed the expected unveiling of comprehensive climate legislation Monday. Barnes said that energy reform — what President Obama has called one of his “foundational priorities” — is “critical to this country,” while immigration reform is “important.” However, she repeatedly indicated that the responsibility for moving forward lies with Reid:

MELODY BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. Immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.

CHUCK TODD: Can either be signed this year?

BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.

Watch it:

Reid’s staff had leaked to reporters that the majority leader wanted the Senate to consider an immigration bill before climate legislation, a statement that made little sense other than a response to local political pressures. As Graham, who has been the lead Republican on both issues, voiced his displeasure, it seems neither Reid nor the White House reached out to quell his anger. Graham and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) American Power Act is ready to be unveiled for direct floor consideration, but immigration reform requires “significant committee work that has not yet begun” — as Reid said. President Obama has been keeping his pledge to immigration reform advocates to raise the issue with Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown (D-MA) to get on board with Graham and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) immigration effort, but the two bills aren’t on the same timetable.

In addition to the fealty of most Republicans to killer fossil industries, Democrats have competing camps on the best pathway to energy action, with senators like Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pushing for alternate strategies to President Obama’s comprehensive climate reform. Reid has waffled on whether he would be willing to risk conflict with Democratic committee chairs by taking climate reform straight to the floor. This potential conflict with senators like agriculture chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and finance chair Max Baucus (D-MT) would likely have to be mediated by the President, even as Graham would have the responsibility of locking down Republican votes other than himself.

When it comes to setting the national agenda and leading the Democratic Party, the buck stops at the President’s desk, not at Harry Reid’s. The real people who need real action on immigration and climate reform need the White House to assert leadership.

Transcript:

TODD: I understand that there’s this idea that everybody here wants to walk and chew gum at the same time but we will know Washington sort of can handle one big issue at a time. Financial reform at some point feels like it’s going to wrap interrupt next couple weeks. It sounds like energy, immigration, can you really expect this town to handle both at the same time or is there going to have to be one over the other?

BARNES: When we walked in the door we inherited big problems. I think what this president has shown is he can handle a number of challenges at the same time.

TODD: Maybe he can but Congress is a different story. We know they have their priorities. I guess what I’m asking, would the White House accept immigration going before energy?

BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.

TODD: Can either be signed this year?

BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.

TODD: If he’s picking immigration, he’s setting the agenda.

BARNES: He’s the majority leader.

Update

“President Obama’s deference to Congress is getting annoying,” Monica Potts writes at Tapped.

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