Graham accuses Obama and Reid of planning immigration debate for “partisan political objectives”

Jon Ward Contributor
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Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, sent a letter Saturday to groups who have worked with him on an energy security bill — which is being co-sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent — that was to be introduced Monday.

In the letter, Graham says that press reports indicating that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, will move forward on immigration legislation after financial regulation, instead of the energy bill, “have not been repudiated” by Reid or the White House.

Graham is clearly outraged in the letter, accusing Reid and the White House of having “partisan, political objectives in mind.”

In fact, both Reid and the White House would stand to gain from having a debate on an immigration bill, even if (maybe especially if) it never went anywhere. Reid is in a tough reelection fight in a border state, and the White House could be betting that an immigration debate would draw out some of the same angry sentiment from GOP lawmakers as we saw in 2007, further cementing Democrats’ support among Hispanics in particular.

In fact, a replay of 2007 is likely the best way that Democrats think they can continue to paint Republicans and their opponents as driven by anger and tainted with racist elements. An immigration debate also holds potential for distracting much of the Tea Party movement from their focus on government spending, which is a far more important issue to independent voters than immigration is.

Kerry announced Saturday that the bill will no longer be released Monday as planned.

Here is the full text of Graham’s letter:

April 24, 2010

Dear XXX,

I want to bring to your attention what appears to be a decision by the Obama Administration and Senate Democratic leadership to move immigration instead of energy. Unless their plan substantially changes this weekend, I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time. I will not allow our hard work to be rolled out in a manner that has no chance of success.

Recent press reports indicating that immigration — not energy — is their priority have not been repudiated. This has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year. All of the key players, particularly the Senate leadership, have to want this debate as much as we do. This is clearly not the case.

I am very disappointed with this turn of events and believe their decision flies in the face of commitments made weeks ago to Senators Kerry, Lieberman and me. I deeply regret that election year politics will impede, if not derail, our efforts to make our nation energy independent.

I truly appreciate Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and their staff for the long hours of work. They have been tremendous partners who have negotiated in good faith and stood ready to make the tough choices necessary to bring forward a comprehensive energy bill.

I continue to believe our nation’s reliance on ever-increasing amounts of foreign oil poses a direct threat to our national security and economic well-being. I know we can create thousands of jobs by pushing for a renaissance in nuclear power, expanded offshore drilling, and unleashing America’s innovative spirit. One only needs to look to China and Europe, where 21st Century clean energy jobs are currently being created while we fail to act.

Like you, I share the belief that becoming energy independent and better stewards of our environment are complementary — not competing — standards. I was greatly looking forward to the opportunity to address these issues on the floor of the U.S. Senate as we pushed energy independence legislation forward into law. But it appears President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership have other more partisan, political objectives in mind.

Moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical political ploy. I know from my own personal experience the tremendous amounts of time, energy, and effort that must be devoted to this issue to make even limited progress.

In 2007, we spent hundreds of hours over many months with President Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and nearly every member of the U.S. Senate searching for a way to address our nation’s immigration problems. Unlike this current “effort,” it was a good-faith attempt to address a very difficult national issue.

Some of the major provisions we embraced in 2007 — such as creation of a Virtual Fence using cameras, motion detectors and other technological devices to protect our borders — have been scrapped for the time. Other issues we found agreement on at the time, such as a temporary guest worker program, have unraveled over the past three years.

Expecting these major issues to be addressed in three weeks — which appears to be their current plan based upon media reports — is ridiculous. It also demonstrates the raw political calculations at work here.

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.

Again, I truly appreciate the tremendous amount of time you have committed to the effort to make our nation more energy independent. I look forward to continuing to work with you so that when the U.S. Senate finally decides to address this issue we will be prepared for battle and confident of a successful outcome in the effort to make our nation energy independent once and for all.

Lindsey O. Graham
United States Senator