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President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda was thrown into turmoil yesterday after a key Republican abruptly pulled his support for a compromise energy and climate bill in a blow to Democrats.

Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican from South Carolina, abandoned what Democrats said was a painstakingly negotiated climate bill in outrage over a decision by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid to move an immigration bill in the Senate ahead of it.

White House officials appeared to be taken aback by the move, unsure how to respond to the unravelling of a major component of the president’s strategy both for meeting his international pledges on climate change and shifting the U.S. economy from its heavy reliance on foreign oil.

“We need and we welcome that co-operation from Senator Graham. They are both important. There is no either/or between energy and immigration reform,” said Lawrence Summers, the head of the White House National Economic Council.

“Even though immigration reform and energy reform are both crucial issues for the business community, there has been an enormous back pressure against the kind of bipartisan co-operation that Senator Graham has engaged in, and that perhaps has made this a more complex situation, more difficult for him than it would otherwise be,” Summers told CBS’s Face the Nation.

“But we are prepared to go ahead vigorously with any partner who wants to join us on both energy reform and immigration legislation because we think gridlock needs to end,” he said.

Reid’s sudden shift in legislative priorities comes as Democrats face an increasingly hostile climate before November midterm elections.

© The Montreal Gazette, 26 April 2010