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Lindsey Graham and the Real "Cynical Political Ploy" on Immigration

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Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been courageous in working with Democrats on both comprehensive immigration reform and climate change legislation. He has seemed deeply committed to both.  So why exactly is he threatening to derail a climate bill because he’s angry that Democrats are promising to move forward on immigration reform?

Yesterday he called the Democrats’ renewed calls to advance immigration reform “a cynical political ploy.”

Senator Graham has stood up to many in his party and his party’s leadership on comprehensive immigration reform. He has been working diligently with Senator Charles Schumer on a comprehensive proposal for nearly a year. In mid-March, the two senators published a framework for reform that was embraced by the President and constituencies across the political spectrum.

Senator Graham has repeatedlyand very publicly – challenged President Obama and the Democrats to act. He privately asked the President to help secure the support of other Republican senators. The idea was to prepare the country and the Senate for a legislative debate.

Subsequently, President Obama spoke out on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, touted the Graham-Schumer approach as a solid foundation for reform, and made multiple phone calls to Republican senators to build support for the measure.

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made clear his commitment to bringing immigration reform to the Senate floor – in addition to, not instead of climate change legislation – and Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised quick House action on immigration following Senate approval.

Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a radical state bill that shows the consequences of Congressional inaction. Despite the protestations of apologists, this law does nothing less than institutionalizes racial discrimination and racial profiling against the 30% of the state that is Latino. It has turbo-charged the national debate over immigration reform and compelled Democrats to lean into this issue as never before.

It’s about time. I can tell you first-hand that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are pleased that the President and Democratic leadership are finally stepping up. And up until this past week, it gave us hope that we were headed for the introduction of a Schumer-Graham bipartisan bill in late April or early May and Senate Judiciary Committee action in May. We expected Senator Graham to be reassured as well.

Instead of embracing these developments, Senator Graham has pitched a fit and accused Democrats of playing politics on immigration.

What’s going on here?

Here’s my theory: Senator Graham wanted to do immigration reform, but it became clear this spring that his friend, Senator John McCain, was in a fight for his political life. In a state where the Republican Party has become consumed by nativism, McCain is in a close primary battle against anti-immigrant fire-breather J.D. Hayworth. With the primary scheduled for late August, Graham does not want to subject his friend to a ‘tough vote’ this summer.

So he decided to blame the President, slow walk the immigration bill, and gear up on climate change. Now that the ‘perfect crime’ isn’t working out the way he wanted, Graham is threatening to take his marbles and go home – refusing to work with Democrats on either issue.

Meanwhile, Senators McCain and Kyl, both of whom fought for comprehensive immigration reform in the past, are threatening to filibuster a bill if it is brought forward. They, too, seem determined to head off an immigration reform debate, even though their state is ground zero for the issue. Senator McCain went so far as to embrace the Arizona state law that is eerily similar to a 2005 Congressional bill he once denounced as “anti-Hispanic.”

So, let’s review. The President and Democratic leaders do what Senator Graham asks of them. They embrace a bipartisan framework drafted by Graham and similar to bills championed by McCain and Kyl in the past. All of this is being done in the name of securing additional Republican support and preparing for a legislative debate… and now, Senator Graham accuses the Democrats of playing politics with the immigration?

Tell me again, Senator, who exactly is engaged in a ‘cynical political ploy?’

Cross-posted at America's Voice.