In a remarkable story in the New Yorker, journalist Ryan Lizza reveals that President Obama, who frequently complains about the intransigence of congressional Republicans, may have tanked action on one of his top priorities by spurning the pivotal Republican senator negotiating the bill.
Lizza’s story, which provides new details about negotiations between key Washington insiders, threatens to alter the conventional wisdom that Obama has encountered lockstep Republican intransigence at every turn.
In fact, Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham spent months negotiating with the liberal Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and the more moderate independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in pursuit of a cap-and-trade bill loathed by conservatives.
Cap-and-trade is one way government could limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions scientists say are warming the planet.
But at a pivotal moment, the White House betrayed Graham by leaking details of the negotiations in a way particularly damaging to Graham politically, Lizza reports.
At issue was a gasoline tax in the proposed legislation. The tax was actually supported by the gas industry for various reasons, but Graham knew if public debate centered on a “gas tax” in the bill, constituents in his conservative home state of South Carolina would be deeply unhappy.
While Graham, Lieberman and Kerry struggled with how to keep the public from realizing a gas tax was in the bill, the White House leaked to Fox News that it opposed a “gas tax” in the bill supported by Graham.
Since the gas tax was toxic to conservatives more so than to Democrats, leaking the news to Fox News – which Obama has occasionally been at war with during his presidency – was a particularly galling act of betrayal to Graham, Lizza reports. It was perhaps the single most damaging way the news could have been delivered to the public on a sensitive issue the three negotiators had spent weeks discussing.
Besides the gas tax issue, Lizza’s story includes numerous other instances of Obama and other key Democrats thwarting negotiations over the bill.
In several instances, the Obama-led Environmental Protection Agency announced policies that Graham was planning to offer would-be Republican supporters as concessions to capture their vote.
In another episode, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doomed the bill by suddenly bringing the hot-button issue of immigration just as Graham, Lieberman and Kerry were poised to announce the details of their carefully-crafted legislation.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
Update: The Daily Caller erroneously reported Joe Lieberman is a senator from Vermont. Joe Lieberman is a senator from Connecticut.