Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

By John King, USA - February 7, 2011

KING: Senator Graham, I want to get your sense of how you think the president is handling this crisis with Egypt. And in doing so, I want you to help me break a tie. I want you to listen here to the 2008 Republican ticket, Senator John McCain, Governor Sarah Palin on this question, they disagree.


SARAH PALIN, FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is that 3:00 a.m. White House phone call and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House, it seems that that call went right to the answering machine.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I have to say the president I think is handling this situation well under the most difficult kind of circumstances. We are paying a price for historic neglect of human rights, which we have traditionally stood for throughout our history.


KING: Who is right, Senator Graham, John McCain or Sarah Palin?

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Quite frankly, President Obama has handled it well, Mubarak has said he's going to go. He's announced he is not going to seek re-election. The question for the president, Obama, and the country and the world is what do we do between now and September? The sooner we can get a transition government, the quicker we can build opposition capacity, to have a full and fair, free transparent election, in September the better. But I really have no fault with President Obama the way he's handled this crisis.

KING: What would you say to Governor Palin, if you had a chance to call her up. I assume you wouldn't wait until 3 a.m. to do it. Call her up and say, look, Governor, you're wrong here. And this is why?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, she's a friend and we just disagree on this one. I thought the Iranian crisis last year, maybe a little over a year from now when President Obama really was slow to react and not get behind the demonstrators was a missed opportunity. And I think what he has done in Egypt has been sort of lessons learned from Iran. So I disagreed with governor Palin over this particular issue. But I think a lesson from Iran is that if you don't behind the right side of history quickly, you will regret it. And I think we lost an opportunity in Iran, and I think we're creating an opportunity in Egypt by being involved.

KING: There's some disagreement, obviously, among Republicans on how the president is handling this. There's also, as you know, a conversation among Republicans that now will get more attention, because of the uncertainty in the Middle East. Rand Paul, a new Senate Republican, one of you colleagues, now among those saying in this time of record deficits, we need to cut foreign aid, including the aid that goes to Egypt and Israel.

You're now the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that makes those decisions, what will you say when Rand Paul and others come to you saying, Senator, we just can't afford it.

GRAHAM: This is what I would say to Senator Paul and Senator Leahy, who is the chairman, let's watch what we say and do when it comes to making statements about funding for Egypt. The army is the most stable institution in Egypt. They're respected by the people, and most of our aid for the last 30 years has gone to the army. And before the 30-year involvement by the United States, they were in the Soviet sphere. Where the Soviet empire has collapsed, but it's good that we have a relationship with the army. They buy American equipment, their officers train here in America. And this relationship we have had with the army has been a godsend during this crisis.

I would say to all of my colleagues, let's slow down, take a deep breath, the foreign operation budget is less than 1 percent of total federal spending. But to Rand Paul, my friend from Kentucky, you're right, we can reform that budget, we can some money, but getting out of the foreign operations assistance to our friends business only buys trouble. It's a penny wise and a pound foolish in my view.

KING: Let me ask you about some other debates.

The new Republican House has been in business for a few weeks, you have more Republicans, still in a minority on the Senate side. As you know, the Democrats are now starting this narrative.

What about the jobs? It's a narrative the Republicans used against the Democrats back in the health care debate. When you look at what's happening, right now, the health care repeal has been priority one on the House side among Republicans, priority one on the Senate side among Republicans. On the House this week they're going to do some antiabortion legislation, should the Republicans be putting forward first and foremost some kind of a jobs program?

GRAHAM: I think what we should do first and foremost is put together a budget that gets our fiscal house in order. Yes, jobs are important, but our country is in a fiscal situation on spending and debt that is untenable. So, the best thing the Republican Party could do for America is to come up with budgets that reduce spending and in a bi-partisan fashion deal with entitlements.

President Obama has a unique opportunity this year to do something on Social Security that I think would get a lot of bi- partisan support and help us to turn around our long-term liability. So, I would challenge him to work with Republicans on entitlement reform, starting with Social Security.

KING: You are working with a Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York right to try to have yet another set of conversations about whether it's possible to bring forward some large-scale immigration reform measure. Is that a fool's errand? And I ask in the context, I know you have dedicated a lot of time for this over the years. Is this it a fools errand, in the sense that do you have a commitment from the House speaker, for example, if you could somehow get a bill out of the United States Senate. Is there any chance this House Republican Majority would even bring it up?

GRAHAM: I think from a national security perspective it is irrational to continue the current policies we have on immigration, and the common ground is securing the border. Senator Schumer is very good on immigration, President Obama and Senator McCain had a discussion about the way forward on immigration. I think my House colleagues, Republicans and Democrats would rally around the idea of stronger border security as a start. The McCain Kyl 10-point plan for border security, I think is the best way to start the debate. Pass those border security measures as stand-alone bills, then it puts the pressure on all of us to forward on temporary worker programs.

KING: You think you could do it this year?

GRAHAM: I think that's the way forward. You know, I've taken a beating at times for trying to come up with a comprehensive immigration solution. Starting with border security is essential, but 40 percent of the people here legally never came across the boarder, they overstayed their visas. What do you do about 10 million plus people that are here legally. I don't think you can put them all in jail, but you need a rational system to make sure you don't have a third wave.

I've been involved with this issue, I continue to talk with the president, with Democrats and Republicans. But I think the way forward on immigration is to secure the border first, then move forward to the other moving parts.


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