Jonathan Chait

Sticking By Lindsey Graham

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Josh Nelson at Enviroknow says my defense of Lindsey Graham gives him too much credit:

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.

Here's the problem with that line of thinking. Health care reform had been building up steam for years, Democrats had been committed to it for decades, it had extensive interest group buy-in -- in short, there was a lot of reason to think it would happen with or without GOP support. Therefore, the Chuck Grassley slow-walk retreat from bipartisanship was an effective way to kill it.

Climate change is altogether different. Many Democrats from resource-producing states oppose it. The sense all along was that it needs extensive Republican support to pass, and may not happen at all. If Graham really wanted to weaken climate legislation, he'd have just opposed it outright from the beginning.

Moreover, the notion that he was trying to "bolster his image as somewhat of a maverick" is crazy. The guy is from South Carolina. They don't like mavericks. He may well lose his seat because of his maverick image. There are Republican Senators who stand to gain by posturing as moderates, but Graham is emphatically not one of them.

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