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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Keep Energy on the Front Burner

For months, every article or column discussing the Democrats’ 2010 agenda has come with a disclaimer warning of the expiration date for meaningful progress on major issues. As the midterm elections approach, so the warning goes, political season sets in and spoils the will to tackle issues like climate change and immigration reform in a meaningful way.

Most commentators, including me, predicted that proponents of reform had until at least mid-summer to make a go of it. Unfortunately, a recent decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggests that time has already run out.

Last week, Reid announced he would tackle comprehensive immigration reform ahead of legislation dealing with climate change and energy. This decision came just as the “tri-partisan” team of Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were scheduled to release the product of their months of negotiations on climate change. In response, Graham abruptly abandoned the climate bill, arguing that a politically divisive immigration debate would prevent proper consideration of climate legislation.

This sudden push for immigration reform comes on the heels of Arizona’s passage of the nation’s most severe effort yet to crack down on illegal immigration. The bill, subsequently signed into law by Arizona’s governor, displays such ignorance of the mechanics of America’s immigration problem that it would be laughable if it were not so blatantly racist and unconstitutional. Under the law, police officers are allowed to harass and potentially detain or arrest people reasonably suspected of being in the country illegally. It does not take an expert to realize that this standard of suspicion roughly translates into “reasonable suspicion of being Hispanic.”

The controversy that has erupted in the wake of the law’s adoption apparently awoke President Obama to the fact that he had virtually ignored the issue of immigration during his first year in office. Last week, the White House began feeling out the issue, a welcome and reasonable step by the administration. Then, Reid jumped on this newfound interest and ran full speed ahead.

Since then, the administration and progressives everywhere have found themselves in an awkward position, wondering whether and how to prioritize climate legislation and immigration reform.

This is a false dilemma. Democrats do not face a choice between addressing climate change or immigration reform. They face a choice between addressing climate change and playing politics.

Immigration reform, like climate change and health care reform before it, is an issue that requires extraordinary legwork to build a 60-vote consensus in the Senate. Yet as of now, there is not even a draft of immigration reform legislation, let alone a schedule for committee hearings on the bill or a strategy to bring the measure to the floor.

Compare that scenario to climate change. Kerry, Lieberman and Graham spent about six months working behind the scenes to draft language acceptable to their colleagues on both sides of the aisle as well as a diverse swath of interest groups from environmentalists to big oil.

Reid, facing daunting odds of re-election, clearly determined that his political future depends upon getting Nevada’s Latino population to turn out in droves this November. Picking a fight on immigration is a stunt designed to do just that. Or perhaps he reasoned that neither bill ultimately had the votes but that the political upside of a quixotic immigration battle was far higher.

Still, there is no excuse for this abrupt agenda reshuffling. Democrats must learn that they need Republicans to usher through reform on most contentious issues. Health care reform was a rare exception and such efforts will be impossible next year when Democrats have far fewer seats.

Now that John McCain has abandoned the “maverick” label, Graham is the sole remaining Republican willing to take a seat at the grown-up table of negotiations on the major challenges of the day. But he is under tremendous pressure from the petulant talk radio titans that lead the Republican Party to abandon these efforts. By burning Graham on the climate bill, Democrats risk not only alienating Graham but also giving other Republicans little incentive to step forward in the future.

In a legislative session that saw the passage of sweeping health care reform, it feels odd to complain of failure on other issues. Yet the myriad challenges of the day demand nothing less.

Sam Harbourt is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at This is his final installment of The Pragmatic Progressive.

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