Chait and Klein: Lindsey Graham is Right

Senate staffer: Graham’s been “completely genuine” in bipartisan negotiations for climate and clean energy jobs bill

If email, comments on CP, and some eco-bloggers are to be believed, conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been planning to walk on the climate bill for a long time — perhaps, nefariously, from the very beginning! And I certainly understand where that sentiment is coming from, given that the GOP strategy on health care and financial reform has been to feign interest and then bolt.

In fact, however, that view lacks plausibility, as The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait explained in his Sunday column, “Lindsey Graham Is Right.” Indeed, the WashPost’s Ezra Klein argues today that Graham, “is not only right to be annoyed, but as far I can tell, is actually right.”

I spoke to a Senate staffer today who is familiar with Graham’s multi-month efforts with Kerry and Lieberman and the White House to develop a bill. He said Graham has been “completely genuine.” Long-time readers of this blog know that Graham has made stronger statements than almost anybody on the Democratic side about this bill (reposted below). He could easily have walked away months ago, say, when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election or when the Dems used the reconciliation process to pass health care.

As Klein writes, “He’s taken a huge risk to be the lone Republican on climate change.” Chait goes further, saying it “seems unfair” to accuse Graham of having “negotiated in bad faith,” pointing out:

Graham has been painstakingly attempting to assemble a political and business coalition for legislation to mitigate climate change. He has also been working on immigration reform, but the Democrats’ weak signals of interest before last week have helped contribute to an atmosphere where nobody expected a bill to advance this year, and thus little headway has been made. There has been no House immigration bill, whereas the House has passed a climate bill already. Graham was set to unveil his bill on Monday when Harry Reid pulled the carpet out from under him by announcing that immigration would come first and climate — which gets harder to do as the elections gets closer — probably never.

As for bad faith, Graham is a Republican Senator from South Carolina. His highest risk of losing his seat, by far, comes from the prospect of a conservative primary challenger. Indeed, I’d say that prospect is far from remote, and Graham is displaying an unusual willingness to risk his political future. He has little incentive to negotiate on these issues except that he believes it’s the right thing to do. So when Democrats put climate change on the backburner to take up immigration, and so so for obviously political reasons, Graham has every right to be angry. He’s risking his political life to address a vital issue, and Harry Reid is looking to save his seat.

If you don’t think Graham can get a serious challenger from his right because of this, one need look no further than his good friend John McCain, who went from being his party’s standardbearer to just another insufficiently-hard-line-ideologue for the Tea Partiers in a matter of months.

And consider Graham’s various statements on this subject. Back in January, he said:

But the idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon.

And he also said:

“Six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China,” said Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has been deeply involved in climate change issues in Congress. “Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy.”

He added: “China has made a long-term strategic decision and they are going gang-busters.”

This just isn’t the language of somebody who is acting in bad faith, who has been planning to bolt for months. Indeed, I expect we’ll be waiting a long, long time to hear such blunt language about pricing carbon from any significant number of moderate Democrats.


Finally, the fundamental difference between the GOP bad-faith feints on healthcare and what Graham is doing on the climate bill is that, as we saw, the Democrats in the Senate could get 60 votes for a health care bill. They never actually needed the Republicans. It was only (misguided) Democratic desire for bipartisanship that led them to being suckered by Republicans into wasting several months trying to get a single GOP vote. Dems wanted Reps, they didn’t need them.

From the start, however, supporters of climate action needed multiple Republicans, as I pointed out many times. But Olympia Snowe, the most obvious candidate, never was successfully engaged. And Maria Cantwell helped enable Susan Collins to avoid negotiations on a bill that could plausibly pass the Senate. Absent Graham, Dems had no plan B.

In short, if Graham wasn’t doing this because he firmly believed in it, then none of his actions this year actually make any sense. Now it is sometimes [often] the case that politicians repeatedly do things that make no sense. But Graham certainly knew that the Democrats needed him infinitely more than he needed them.

UPDATE: I’m currently expecting that the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham will soon be sent to EPA to be modeled. It is not yet clear that Graham and Reid will come to an understanding. If they do, the story can move from being about Lindsey Graham’s alleged bad faith, to the actual bad faith of the anti-science ideologues who are the primary obstacle to passing a serious climate and clean energy jobs bill.

If that doesn’t happen, I think it will be mostly due to the ongoing wishy-washiness of the White House — see Brad Johnson’s latest Wonk Room post: White House: Immigration Is ‘Important’ And Energy Is ‘Critical,’ But Reid ‘Sets The Agenda’, which notes:

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.

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