Obama puts new national security team in place

CIA Director Leon Panetta.

WASHINGTON -- As the Obama administration confronts the politics around immigration, especially given a new law in Arizona, its hopes for a bipartisan compromise on the broader issue rest with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

But the White House also needs the South Carolina Republican if it wants to pass comprehensive energy legislation this year. And the West Wing's delicate negotiations over the fate of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being quietly conducted by ... Lindsey Graham.

It's as if the senator -- who campaigned tirelessly against Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign -- has been awarded the titles of chief negotiator, senior adviser and top strategist in the Obama White House.

"Rahm has a good relationship with him," press secretary Robert Gibbs said, noting the frequent meetings between Graham and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. "The president has a good relationship with him. Many folks here do."

On immigration, energy and terrorism, Graham has run hot and cold with the administration, sometimes pleading with officials in private, sometimes cajoling them in public, sometimes lapsing into silence as he seeks to move them.

He has a direct line to Emanuel, and more than once has met with Obama to discuss detention policy.

During months of negotiation over energy legislation, Graham and his staff have worked with the White House directly through Emanuel and environmental adviser Carol Browner.

But if the soft-spoken and intense senator is a rare Republican willing to cooperate and negotiate with the administration, he's also a cantankerous one.

In a blistering letter to Obama over the weekend, Graham threatened to pull out of bipartisan climate change talks if Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., moves to take up immigration reform before the energy legislation.

"This has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year," Graham wrote. "Moving forward on immigration -- in this hurried, panicked manner -- is nothing more than a cynical political ploy."

Reid said Tuesday he is willing to bring up the climate change legislation ahead of an immigration bill, but Graham said nothing has changed.

"The energy bill is ready. We will move to that more quickly than a bill we don't have," Reid said. "I don't have an immigration bill."

The fact that Reid won't take immigration off the table, said Graham, "tells me all I need to know about him and energy and climate."

Republicans close to Graham say his anger over the immigration issue is directed largely at Reid; pursuing immigration reform would please the many Hispanics and union workers in Nevada, the majority leader's state.

"It's so cynical, shockingly, that they would pass up a once-in-a-generation chance to pass climate-change reform in order to curry more favor with a certain voting bloc," said GOP consultant John Weaver, a longtime friend and adviser to Graham.