I’ve been on the offensive against Senator Graham for the past two days, expressing frustration with his mind-boggling hypocrisy and wholly apparent lack of integrity. I believe his participation in the crafting of climate change legislation was completely disingenuous, and I don’t think he ever actually intended to see it through to completion. His rhetoric throughout the process has been anything but helpful, and it was becoming apparent by mid-March that he was looking for an excuse to bail on the effort, blaming superficial process concerns for his lack of resolve. And as it turned out, that is exactly what happened yesterday. If Democrats have an ounce of sense they’ll never again take anything Senator Graham says at face value.
Now, that doesn’t at all mean that Harry Reid doesn’t share the blame for the Senate’s failure to address the issue this year. Those who blame Senator Reid for his decision to prioritize immigration reform over the climate bill make a number of good points. Senator Reid’s decision does in fact appear to be, as Senator Graham put it, a cynical political ploy designed to shore up his chances to maintain his seat this November. So yes, I think Senator Reid’s decision, which may have been implicitly backed by the Obama administration, was a plainly political move that played no small part in how all of this unfolded.
But that does not at all mean that Senator Graham has no agency in this. David Roberts writes:
It looks like an ass-covering decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is about to scuttle efforts to bring a climate/energy bill to the floor this year.
How exactly is Senator Reid responsible for Senator Graham’s decision to reverse course? That decision was Senator Graham’s alone, regardless of how he frames it or who he tries to pin the blame on. Even after rumors began circulating that immigration was being prioritized over climate, Senator Kerry indicated that he still intended to move forward with his bill. And indeed, if Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman had introduced their bill on Monday and managed to cobble together 60 votes, Harry Reid would have brought it to the floor for a vote. I’m quite certain of that. Yes, Senator Reid hurt the cause by making a foolish and politically selfish decision. But Senator Graham was the one who put the nail in the coffin, and he probably would have come up with some other excuse to do so if this hadn’t come along.
Moving on, I’m baffled by Jon Chait’s truly strange argument that Graham is actually in the right here. He writes:
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 do 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.
Both of the bolded sections above seem to ignore who Senator Graham is and what he is about. On the claim that Graham’s motivation for working on this bill was entirely pure, I’d love to see some substantiation. Graham may have been working on the bill in order to weaken it at every step in the process, in a role similar to the one Chuck Grassley played as the health care bill moved through the Senate Finance Committee. And indeed, that is what he has been doing throughout the process, all the while taking every opportunity to stick his thumb in the eye of environmentalists, as insult to injury. Republicans frequently pretend to be interested in working on an issue in a bipartisan manner when they are actually just trying to weaken or derail it. This is not a new tactic, and Democrats are going to have to stop falling for it eventually. Or perhaps Senator Graham was trying to bolster his image as somewhat of a maverick who would love to pass bipartisan bills if it weren’t for those hyper-partisan Democrats. As David Dayen notes, this is classic Lindsey Graham:
I think Graham was dying for a reason to kill these bills where he was the “sensible Republican moderate” on them. This has been his pose for some time, to show to Washington that he’s willing to work across the aisle, but to never actually do it.
Based on how this has played out, either of those two scenarios seems far more likely to have been Graham’s motivation than that he simply ‘believes its the right thing to do.’
On Chait’s other point, that Graham ‘has every right to be angry,’ I agree, but with a caveat. Graham would have found an excuse to throw a fit and bail on the effort regardless. Whether it was the use of reconciliation on unrelated legislation, the Constitutionality of healthcare reform, or some other perceived slight, it was becoming pretty clear that Graham was searching for an excuse to take his ball and go home. Graham was going to throw a tantrum no matter what. Harry Reid just made it easier for him by making a selfish blunder at the worst possible moment.