WashPost’s Ezra Klein has posted an interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about the immigration and climate bills.  Since my Monday post, it’s been hard to tell whether the Senator has been principled or petulant — or perhaps a bit of both.

I’ll excerpt the parts of his interview with Klein about the climate bill and you can decide:


EK: You told Talking Points Memo that you would filibuster your own climate change bill if immigration moves this year.

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LG: Yeah, I was asked a question. They said, “You would vote against your own bill?” And I said yes. I care equally about immigration and climate change. But if you stack them together this year you’ll compromise climate and energy. You’ll compromise my ability to get votes on climate change. When I told everyone I would do climate, in fact, I was assured we also wouldn’t be doing immigration….

EK: So what allows climate to move forward now? What do you need to hear from Reid?LG: Here’s the problem with climate. Do you have any chance of bringing it up and getting 60 votes in this environment? There’s a controversial provision in the transportation section. We have done as good a job as we can to get oil and gas companies to pay for their pollution. Some of that cost will be passed onto consumers. But it’s not a gas tax. I need Harry Reid to say I agree with you. I support that. I won’t introduce a bill and have the majority leader, who I have less than a strong bond with, say, “I can’t support that gas tax.” There was also a Fox News article where the White House said they couldn’t support Graham’s gas-tax gambit. I will not let this get blamed on me. It would be the worst thing in the world to take the one Republican working with you and make him own the one thing you don’t like.

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I must say this is a semi-lame excuse.  First, this was a Fox News White House blog report!  Presumably one can’t entirely trust them to get the story exactly right.  It might be the case that there are people in the administration who are not thrilled at going forward with the climate bill and might have said something like what the story says.

BUT the story clearly quotes a White House spokesperson on the record saying “The Senators don’t support a gas tax, and neither does the White House.”  What else is there to say?

EK: So what you need isn’t just an assurance on immigration. It’s an assurance that if you’re going to do the dangerous things on climate reform, you won’t be hung out to dry on it.

LG: Right. Ask yourself: Why did they leak the story to Fox News? That told me they weren’t committed to this issue. Why let a story start on a venue that would hurt your partner the most?

Again, since when do people in the White House “leak” stories to Fox News?  LG ain’t making a compelling case here.

EK: Have you asked the White House?

LG: Yeah. They say, “Oh, we didn’t do it.” And it’s true: Rahm and David didn’t. But somebody involved in energy and climate there did. They’ve always worried about being in a bad spot on this. So someone pretty clever said, “Okay, we’re going to get on the record against this.”

Uhh, how about three other theories.  First, Fox News basically spun this non-story up out of nothing.  Second, maybe they spoke to somebody who doesn’t really follow the issue closely, and doesn’t realize all the ins and outs about what you all are doing in the transportation sector.  Third, maybe they spoke to somebody who doesn’t want a climate bill, a view that doesn’t represent that of the President or Rahm.

EK: Do these assurances go in the other direction, though? You want to make sure the Democrats don’t leave you hanging on this. But they’re worried that this bill comes out, and you’re with them, but 40 other Republicans are hammering them for supporting what they’ll call a gas tax, cap-and-tax.

LG: This is exactly what they’re going to say. I have never suggested they won’t. And they’ll say it about me, too. So we have to hold hands so I can make a credible argument, alongside business, saying it’s not a gas tax. But you can’t make this into my idea alone. It wasn’t my idea.

EK: Do you think there’s a chance for climate to move forward this year?

LG: Yeah.

EK: And for more Republican support on it?

LG: Maybe if business gets involved. It’s all about business. I can say I changed the face of the debate. This is no longer about economy-wide cap-and-trade. The business community is on-board with this proposal and they were against Waxman-Markey. I’ll sit down with my colleagues: If you believe we need more domestic energy supply, we’ve got offshore drilling. We preempt the EPA from regulating carbon. That’s a big get for business. About 80 percent or 90 percent of our caucus believes nuclear power is the way to go. We triple the current program of loan guarantees, do regulatory reform to make building plants easier. T. Boone Pickens’s plan is in here.

And what do we give the other side? A cap on emissions from utilities. It takes four years to come into play so they have time. On the transportation side, we take them out of cap-and-trade but they pay a fee, it’s their idea this fee, and the money helps you solve the overall problem. It goes into the transportation trust fund, or goes back to the consumer, or to business people, because that’s where all the money goes. The money will be passed on just like the cost of cleaning up an oil slick is passed on. It could be up to 15 cents a gallon, but not for many years. I really believe in this product. I think it’s a damn good solution.

Hard to know exactly where this is going to go.  It’s pretty clear that both the President and Reid doubt a bill could make it to the Senate floor even by the election.  So I remain somewhat hopeful Graham will join the effort before the bill gets back from EPA analysis in June.