Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman Monday urged the White House to help salvage climate change and energy legislation by working with a key Republican who withdrew his support for the compromise bill.
A bipartisan group of senators, including Lieberman, had aimed to unveil on Monday a climate change bill, a cornerstone of the Obama administration's energy strategy, but the plan was called off when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham raised 11th-hour objections.
Graham, seen as a bridge to win over other Republicans, said he could not support the deal if Democrats pushed ahead with a debate on an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy before voting on the huge environmental and energy legislation.
"We're working really hard to get this back together," Lieberman said in an interview on MSNBC.
"I think the White House could really help us on that," he said, referring to a move to win back Graham's support.
The Senate climate legislation, under close international scrutiny, would have reduced U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide pollution, which is blamed for causing global warming and results from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to generate electricity, power factories and operate cars and trucks.
That legislation also was expected to introduce a new trading system for pollution permits on power plants and later on manufacturers, similar to programs under way in the European Union and among 10 northeastern U.S. states.
Lieberman said there still was support for the bill from lawmakers, businesses and environmentalists. "The problem is process," he said. "But around here sometimes process can stop good policy."
He said working out a clear separation between the climate change and immigration bills was the key to resolving the impasse with Graham.
Progress still possible?
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it was possible to make progress on both issues, adding whichever bill has the support to be passed should move first.
Gibbs said reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, along with the national security and environmental problems it creates, is a priority. He said the federal government's failure to deal with immigration issues also is important.
Gibbs acknowledged Congress is working with "a crowded calendar" as the Senate still has to vote on financial overhaul legislation, the administration's Supreme Court nominee and still find time to campaign for the congressional mid-term elections in early November.
There is speculation Graham pulled out of the climate bill because of pressure from Republican colleagues. Gibbs said Graham may be suffering within his own party for his willingness to work with the Obama administration.
"I don't know the degree to which that has complicated his life," Gibbs said. "I think there is no doubt that he has heard from Republicans in the leadership and in his home state in not wanting that progress to be made with us."
Republicans for Environmental Protection, a group supporting green issues, said pushing immigration reform first would be a "historic strategic blunder" that could kill a climate and energy bill for this year.
"The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip," the group said. "There is nothing to be gained by once again putting off climate and energy legislation and a great deal to lose."
Another group representing 3,000 businesses called on the Senate to pass a climate and energy bill as soon as possible. American Businesses for Clean Energy said such legislation would make the United States a world leader in clean energy technology and create millions of jobs.