Lindsey Graham on Roe v. Wade: "You Don't Overturn Precedent Unless There's A Good Reason"


In an exclusive interview with Meet the Press, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tells Chuck Todd that he believes President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee won’t have to recuse him or herself if questions of presidential power make their way to the Court and talks about what a new Supreme Court justice could mean for Roe v. Wade.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM -- ANKARA, TURKEY: Conservative, not crazy, solid. I like a John Roberts type myself, but I'm not picky. President Trump ran on the idea of who he'd pick, a conservative judge. And he gave us a list.

So, I would expect the name would come from that list. And the people on that list are highly qualified.

TODD: One of the big issues that's probably going to come up at the confirmation hearing is the issue of abortion. When he was a candidate, Donald Trump said that overturning Roe v. Wade would happen automatically because his picks for the Supreme Court would all be pro-life.

Do you view that connection as automatic, that if you're pro-life it means you're for overturning Roe v. Wade and that should be how the public assumes when they hear of a Supreme Court justice being -- a potential nominee being pro-life?

GRAHAM: Well, I'm pro-life. And the job of a judge is to call -- decide cases before the Court. But one of the concepts that really means a lot in America is stare decisis. That means you don't overturn precedent unless there's a good reason.

And I would tell my pro-life friends, you can be pro-life and conservative, but you can also believe in stare decisis. Roe v. Wade, in many different ways, has been affirmed over the years. But I would hope the justice that sits on the court, all of them, would listen to the arguments on both sides before they decided. But stare decisis is a well-known concept in our law.

TODD: And that's important to you? You’re not going to vote -- are you going to vote for somebody that doesn't believe in that?

GRAHAM: I'm not going to vote for anybody that tells me they're going to decide a case before the facts are presented to them. I don't expect the judge to say, I'm going to overturn Roe v. Wade, or, I will never listen to an argument about abortion. I have a bill that says, because a baby can feel pain at 20 weeks during the birthing process, 20 weeks post-conception, that there's a compelling state interest to protect a child from an abortion at that period, five months of the pregnancy.

That's a novel issue that's never been decided under Roe. So I hope the justices -- this one and all of them -- will listen to the arguments before they decide.

TODD: The president's pick may end up having to rule on issues having to do with the Mueller investigation. And this nominee -- Neil Gorsuch didn’t come up, he came up before there was a Robert Mueller special counsel. Now, he exists.

Do you believe this nominee needs to commit to recusing him or herself for anything having to do with the Mueller probe directly right now if it makes its way to the Supreme Court, especially given one of the potential nominees has said flat out they don't believe a president should be susceptible to a lawsuit while sitting in office?

GRAHAM: Well, I've been a lawyer before I was a politician. To recuse yourself is proper in some cases. Elena Kagan recused herself from all the cases she worked on as solicitor general. You can't really review your own homework.

But the idea that you can't judge somebody who picked you is probably not a ground for recusal. You've got to show there's a connection between the case at hand and the activity of the judge.

It makes perfect sense to me that Jeff Sessions can't oversee an investigation of the campaign he was part of. But I wouldn't have a broad rule that you can't, you know, review anything against President Trump because he chose you.

TODD: All right. It sounds as though there, there may be instances where you might think a recusal is appropriate under -- having to do with --


TODD: -- this investigation?


TODD: So, where would that -- where would that line if they had a direct --

GRAHAM: Well, it depends what the facts are. I don't know. I don't know who he's going to pick. And, you know, I think whoever he will pick will be asked about the connections to the Trump campaign, pending litigation, any conflicts of interest.

A conflict of interest in the law is different than just, you know, again, you can't judge anything Trump did because he chose you. That's not a conflict of interest under the law. And we'll see where this goes.

TODD: All right. Let me move to your favorite topic, foreign policy. I have a bunch of things to get to. I want to start with North Korea.

As you know, we here at NBC are reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies believe that the North Korean regime is already cheating on the commitments that Kim Jong Un made to President Trump. In fact, they've apparently stepped up production of enriched uranium.

Is this deal already headed to failure?

GRAHAM: That's a good question, Chuck. If it is true, they're saying one thing and doing another, nobody should be surprised.

But here's what I would tell North Korea. There's no place for Donald Trump to kick the can down the road. You met with him in person. He's offering you a deal of a lifetime. I would take it.

TODD: But, Senator, as you could tell, the president already knows this information. We've learned it, this is U.S. intelligence. He's already been told this information.

Does it concern you he has yet to act? Does it concern you, for instance, that he hasn't said, you know what, the exercises with South Korea are back on?

GRAHAM: I'll be honest with you, Chuck. I just know what I read. I'll follow up when I get back. But it would concern me a lot if they are expanding the nuclear program as they meet with the president. I don't want a war with North Korea. It would be devastating. A lot of people would be killed and hurt.

TODD: Let me move to another summit that's coming up. You were very skeptical when a President Obama in 2015 was about to meet with President Putin.


TODD: You were worried that, that -- you thought, no, he's going to get walked all over.

And President Obama was there to confront him about Crimea and confront him about some of these things.

I've got to ask you, President Trump is already hinting that he's ready to get out of Syria, that he's ready to hand him Crimea. How much concern do you have about this summit?

GRAHAM: I'm glad he's meeting, but I've got a lot. It's not Obama's fault that Crimea was taken by Russia. It's Russia's fault. It's up to President Trump to make sure that we don't give Russia and Iran, Syria.

I'm in Turkey today. This is a strategic ally. We've got many problems, but people in this region look at us as an unreliable ally. We've allowed ISIS to rise by leaving Iraq. We've now got ISIS in a good spot, but a lot of people over here are very worried about leaving Syria and giving it to the Iranians and the Russians, which would throw the whole region into chaos.

So I'm concerned by what I hear. I'm concerned when the president tweets, you know, Russia denies they meddled in our election. When they say they didn't meddle, they're lying. So I'm glad the president is going to confront Putin. Show him the evidence you've got, Mr. President, because it's overwhelming.

TODD: You actually think he'll show him the evidence? I mean, again, the president is out there tweeting that he believes the Russians. You actually expect him to present the evidence that we have that's, like, you don't have it?

GRAHAM: Well, here's what I would say, that in many ways, this administration's been tough on Russia. We've armed the Ukraine, we've imposed sanctions, we've kicked out diplomats.

But the idea that Russia did not meddle in our election is fake news. They did meddle in our election and they're doing it again in 2018.

TODD: You know, one of the messages you regularly have brought back from the Middle East during the Obama era was you were concerned that, you would say that our allies in the Middle East, for instance, they don't know if they can count on the United States. Can our allies in Europe count on the United States right now?

GRAHAM: Yes. Congress is firmly in Europe's camp. I think the president is trying to get NATO nations to contribute more, but there's no serious effort to get out of NATO. I think the president appreciates the alliance. I can’t -- I'm not going to be on this show and tell you what he should say or not say, I'm going to judge him by what he does.

I like some of the things he's done against Russia, but this whole idea that there's doubt that they meddled in our election is probably not helpful at all. The idea of leaving Syria means you're going to have ISIS come back.

The only thing I can tell President Trump for sure is if you leave Syria without thinking about it, conditions on the ground being the reason you leave, ISIS will come back. And if you leave any time soon, you're giving Damascus to the Iranians. So, everything you said about Obama and Iraq, you're going to do in Syria. Please don't do that.

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