WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he is willing to bring up climate change legislation ahead of an immigration bill, a possible first step toward resolving a dispute with Senate Republicans that threatens to derail a bipartisan effort months in the making.
But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, still angry that Reid considered putting off the climate bill, said nothing has changed. The majority leader appears not to be serious about either the climate bill or the immigration measure, said Graham. He has threatened to withhold support for the climate bill if Reid pushes ahead first on immigration.
In remarks to reporters, Reid said the long-delayed climate bill "is much further down the road in terms of a product" than the immigration measure, which remains unwritten.
"The energy bill is ready. We will move to that more quickly than a bill we don't have," said Reid, D-Nev. "I don't have an immigration bill."
The fact that Reid won't take immigration off the table, Graham said, "tells me all I need to know about him and energy and climate."
"If you cared about energy and climate and you really were committed to that issue, you would not put immigration on the table knowing it will never pass," Graham said.
Last week the South Carolina Republican called Reid's idea -- floated at a meeting of Democratic leaders -- a "cynical political ploy" that would destroy bipartisan efforts to move forward on climate and immigration.
Graham's threat to withdraw support for the climate bill led Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, the measure's lead sponsor, to postpone a Monday news conference unveiling the climate bill. The legislation aims to cut emissions of pollution-causing greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, while expanding domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
Kerry said Tuesday he was working with Reid, Graham and others to revive the bill, which he, Graham and Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman have been developing for more than six months. The bill also has the support of the Obama administration and a variety of business and environmental groups.
"We're not stopping, not one moment. We're meeting, we're talking, we're continuing to work at certain issues," Kerry said. "So we're full-speed ahead, folks, notwithstanding this moment of public stall, and we hope the issue can be resolved soon."
Legislation to overhaul immigration laws and grant legal status to millions of long-term immigrants unlawfully in the country could create problems for Republicans in the midterm elections. The bill is a top priority for Hispanic voters -- and most Republicans are opposed.
Pushing immigration ahead of climate legislation would have risked angering environmentalists, who see the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill as their best chance in years to address global warming.
Hispanics voted heavily Democratic in 2008, and they've been disappointed with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for not following up on campaign promises to reform immigration laws.
Reid is up for re-election this year and trailing in polls in Nevada, where Latinos are an important constituency. With Democrats facing a tough political climate in the midterm elections, energized Hispanic voters could make a difference in several states.
"Immigration and energy are equally vital to our economic and national security and we've ignored both of them for far too long," Reid said Tuesday. "I'm committed to doing both this session of Congress."
White House spokesman Bill Burton said there is wide agreement that more progress has been made on energy and climate than immigration, although he would not specifically say whether the administration would hold off on an immigration bill until a climate bill was finished.
"We are closer to an energy bill than we've been in a very long time," Burton said.
Burton praised Graham for working with Senate Democrats and the White House on a range of bills, including energy immigration and the closing of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.