POLITICS
05/25/2010 04:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lindsey Graham To Obama: 'Smaller Version' Of Energy Bill Is All That Can Pass

The chief Senate Republican negotiator on energy legislation urged President Obama and Democrats to abandon comprehensive reform for the time being and push passable components of the bill instead.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday said that in the wake of the massive oil spill in the Gulf the votes simply aren't there for the Senate to pass far-reaching legislation.

"You have a comprehensive approach that can sell and I don't think many people believe that the oil spill has helped get more votes for offshore drilling," he said. "It has made it a hard climb. Let's do smaller version of the energy climate bill... and be realistic about what is possible or not."

Asked what exactly that small version would be, Graham replied: "There are some things we can do on nuclear power. There are some things we can do on the alternative energy side which would make it easier for our country to start creating technologies... without having to price carbon or expand drilling. But let's see where the body goes."

They are some of the South Carolina Republican's most dire comments -- Graham, for all his histrionics about immigration reform going before energy legislation, remains the most likely Republican vote on climate change. But Graham's reading of the political landscape seems generally accurate. Following BP's spill in the Gulf, Sen. Bill Nelson's (D-FL) office insisted that energy legislation was now dead in the water. Too many Democrats would vote against a bill that contained offshore drilling and no Republicans would back a bill that didn't have that provision.

"I don't believe right now there seems to be an appetite in the body to take on comprehensive energy and climate reform," Graham said on Tuesday. "The number of votes we have lost in terms of expanded drilling has been greater and not less... When you lose those senators, you have to make them up. So, from my understanding of what people are saying publicly about expanding drilling, the challenge of putting together an expansion of drilling, capping carbon, nuclear power has gotten more difficult, not less."

Graham said he relayed this opinion to Obama during the meeting the president held with Senate Republican leadership on Tuesday. A White House official confirmed the conversation but didn't elaborate much further. An official statement sent out from the White House communications shop read:

On energy, the President told the conference that the gulf oil disaster should heighten our sense of urgency to hasten the development of new, clean energy sources that will promote energy independence and good-paying American jobs. And he asked that they work with him on the promising proposals currently before Congress.

The idea of scaling down the energy bill came as news to members on the other side of the political aisle. Asked if he had considered a water-down approach, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) -- the second in command in the Senate -- said he hadn't heard of such a proposal. "There has been no discussion," he said. "No discussion."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a potentially tough vote to get on energy legislation, said much the same -- though he, like Graham, acknowledged the difficult climb ahead as a result of the Gulf spill.

"I know there is a major concern about it, that whatever you do has to be done in a manner that you don't end up with the environmental impact we have had and witnessed," he said.