Contentious immigration issues are flashpoint for Senate Republicans
A top priority for President Obama suffered a severe setback over the weekend as Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham withdrew his support for climate change legislation which was to be introduced in the Senate this week. His action came as Democrats prepared to change the sequence in the legislative calendar taking up immigration reform ahead of the massive climate bill. The move by Graham throws a huge monkey wrench in plans by the Obama administration to support the nation’s international commitments to cut greenhouse gases.
The climate bill developed by Sen John Kerry was expected to have a strong section on nuclear energy. Republican support for the climate bill was to have relied heavily on leadership from Graham who’s home state of South Carolina uses nuclear energy for a substantial portion of its electricity. The state is also expected to be home to the construction of at least two new reactors.
Graham’s withdrawal of support for the climate bill actually removes pressure on Sen. John Kerry and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who come from the two most anti-nuclear states in the country. They’ve had to swallow hard to support the climate bill and its support for nuclear energy.
Arizona is heart of immigration issue
At the heart of the dispute is the political firestorm ignited in Arizona last week when Republican Governor Janice Brewer signed a new immigration measure that gives local police unprecedented powers to arrest people suspected of being illegal aliens. The constitutionality of the measure will likely be tested in the courts. The new law has inflamed the entire U.S. Hispanic population and created social unrest in Arizona and other border states. Graham charged that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved immigration to the front burner in the Senate in response to the situation in Arizona.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the Hispanic population of the country at just under 50 million with half that number split between California and Texas. These two states also control a significant number of electoral votes. Florida and New York hold the third and fourth rank positions for Hispanic population. Arizona, at the fifth position, which is at the heart of the controversy, has an estimated two million people of Hispanic origin and just 10 electoral votes.
Democrats sense they have a political opportunity to pass immigration reform and capture support of Hispanic voters in the mid-term elections. The immigration reform legislation would reform rules for temporary workers which is a major priority for U.S. businesses and the Hispanic community.
Amidst Graham’s strident protest stands the reality that only one bill, climate change or immigration, is likely to emerge from the Senate prior to the 2010 mid-term elections. Republicans know Arizona has backed them into a corner, and they are in no mood to cooperate with Democrats.
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