WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened Saturday to withdraw his support for energy and climate legislation if Democratic leaders move first on immigration reform in what he dismissed as ``a cynical political ploy.''
The South Carolina senator is one of three co-sponsors of a comprehensive energy and climate change bill scheduled to be unveiled Monday. But in a letter Saturday to Senate leaders, Graham said he will back away from the measure if Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moves immigration reform first.
Pushing immigration ahead of climate legislation would anger environmentalists, who see this as their best chance in recent years to pass a bill addressing global warming. But Reid told fellow Democrats this week he wants to pursue legislation that would offer legal status to many unlawful immigrants before tackling climate change.
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.
Graham said Reid's apparent shift toward immigration would derail months of effort on climate change, a difficult issue involving critically important economic priorities. And he warned that Republican lawmakers would not take kindly to being put on the spot with Hispanics. Many rank-and-file Republicans are adamantly opposed to what they call ``amnesty'' for illegal immigrants.
``Moving forward on immigration _ in this hurried, panicked manner _ is nothing more than a cynical political ploy,'' Graham said. ``Let's be clear, a phony, political effort on immigration today accomplishes nothing but making it exponentially more difficult to address in a serious, comprehensive manner in the future.''
In a statement Saturday that was both conciliatory and noncommittal, Reid said he is committed to passing both immigration and energy this year.
``Immigration and energy reform are equally vital to our economic and national security and have been ignored for far too long,'' he said.
Both measures will require bipartisan support, Reid said, ``and energy could be next if it's ready.'' Comprehensive immigration reform requires significant committee work that has not yet begun, he noted.
Reid said he appreciates Graham's work on both issues, but added: ``I will not allow him to play one issue off of another, and neither will the American people. They expect us to do both, and they will not accept the notion that trying to act on one is an excuse for not acting on the other.''
Graham and Democratic Sen. John Kerry and Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman have been planning to unveil their environmental legislation on Monday. The long-delayed bill aims to cut emissions of pollution-causing greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It also likely will expand domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
The House of Representatives last year narrowly passed a bill creating a system to cap emissions blamed for global warming, but has not acted on immigration.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has long said the Senate must vote before the House on an immigration bill.