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Why Graham is rejecting a bipartisan deal he helped negotiate

Lindsey Graham helped negotiate a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure. Now that the deal is in place, he's ready to oppose it.

Early on in the Obama era, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) not only recognized the climate crisis as real, he also believed that federal action to address the crisis was likely. In the summer of 2009, the South Carolina Republican began detailed negotiations with then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a comprehensive climate/energy bill.

In time, a framework came together, and it looked like it might even pass -- right up until Graham walked away. It was 11 years ago this month that the GOP senator, complaining about the order in which Democrats intended to vote on legislation, said he wouldn't just oppose the proposal he helped write, Graham would also join his party in filibustering it.

The climate bill died soon after. Had it passed, the legislation likely would've made a big difference toward curbing the intensifying crisis, but Congress still hasn't addressed the issue in meaningful ways.

The incident served as a reminder that Graham will work on bipartisan agreements, but that doesn't always mean he'll follow through on them. Keep this in mind when reading this morning's report from Politico on the South Carolinian and infrastructure.

We caught up with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday night as he was boarding a plane to California. Graham, you may remember, is one of the 11 Republicans who signed onto the original bipartisan infrastructure framework, which seemed to prove that there were enough Republicans to overcome a filibuster.... After hearing what Biden said about linking the small bipartisan bill to the big reconciliation bill, Graham told us ... he's out.

"If he's gonna tie them together, he can forget it!" Graham said, referring to President Biden and the Democratic strategy. "I'm not doing that. That's extortion! I'm not going to do that. The Dems are being told you can't get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I'm not playing that game."

Graham went to tell Politico that the five Senate Republicans negotiating the deal never told him about the linkage strategy and he does not believe that they were aware of it. "Most Republicans could not have known that," he said. "There's no way. You look like a f***ing idiot now." He added, "I don't mind bipartisanship, but I'm not going to do a suicide mission."

In reality, White House officials started pushing the two-track approach -- one partisan bill, coupled with a more ambitious reconciliation bill -- as far back as March. It's the sort of thing Republican senators clearly noticed.

And yet, there was Graham last night, expressing shock and horror when confronted with Biden announcing his intention to follow the White House's own plan.

Just as important is the implication of the senator's outrage: Graham is apparently of the opinion that the president shouldn't just accept a modest infrastructure compromise, he should also be prepared to sacrifice much of his domestic policy agenda because some Republicans have offered him a modest infrastructure compromise.

Or put another way, Graham says he'll oppose one bill he helped craft unless Biden scuttles an as-yet-unwritten separate bill that Republicans won't like.

Stepping back, there were five GOP senators at the White House yesterday, finalizing a deal on infrastructure: Ohio's Rob Portman, Maine's Susan Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Utah's Mitt Romney, and Louisiana's Bill Cassidy. Obviously, that's not enough to overcome an inevitable Republican filibuster.

That said, as we discussed earlier, there's another group of Republican senators who helped shape the framework that was agreed to yesterday, and if they follow through, that would presumably put the legislation on track to succeed.

Graham was part of that group. Last night, he said he's walking away.

I can appreciate why a bipartisan breakthrough generated excitement, but there's no reason to assume this agreement will pass.