Senator Graham was my guest for a wide ranging conversation that covered whether he will run for president in 2016, ISIL, the president’s lagging response to the Ebola epidemic, and the Kansas Senate race:
HH: Leading off with United States Senator Lindsey Graham from the great state of South Carolina. As far as I can tell, the only thing that got done in Washington in 2014 was the result of Senator Graham’s leading the effort to restore career military’s benefits, so it’s great to talk to you, Senator, and I know you’re, you’ve got a lead down there in South Carolina, but we want to remind everyone they’ve got to get out and vote.
LG: You got that right, but thank you for all your help to make sure that we did do away with the effort to restrict military retirement COLAs and nobody else’s, and that was one of your finer contributions to democracy. I appreciate it.
HH: Well, I’ve got to ask you. I want to talk about ISIS primarily, but your colleague, John McCain, in Arizona, said yesterday you ought to be running for president in 2016. Have you ruled that out?
LG: Well, I’ll tell you what I’m ruling in, and that’s getting elected as the senator from South Carolina, replacing sequestration early next year before it guts the military, and try to be a good voice for a positive agenda for Republicans in the Senate, and say no to a bunch of the bad ideas that Obama has put on the table. And we’ll see down the road what happens in terms of our party and national security. We’ve got a lot of good candidates, and the Ronald Reagan view of national security seems to be coming back pretty strong.
HH: Well, that’s an open door, then, Senator, isn’t it?
LG: I think, well, what I’m trying to tell you is that I’m running to get reelected. I’ve got a lead, and I’m taking nothing for granted, and I’m focusing on 2015. Don’t you think the party is really beginning to embrace peace through strength, a strong America makes a safer America and a safe world? I’ve been really worried for the last couple of years at the drift of the party, and that’s my main concern. So my statement wasn’t about personal ambition as much as about concern for where the party’s going. And I’m feeling better every day about that. And I think I can be a very good voice in the Senate for what we want to have happen.
HH: And on that campaign debate stage when it starts going under the Priebus reforms, but I’ll leave you alone on that. I understand you’ve got to get reelected first, but that wasn’t, that was not a Shermanesque statement of not running in 2016. Let’s turn…
LG: Well, that’s being honest. Let me tell you about running for the presidency. I’ve been with McCain twice. You’ve got to raise a ton of money, you’ve got to have an organization all over the country. You go through bursts of hell. I am nowhere near making that commitment. It’s not something I idly talk about. I know what’s required to make a serious run for the presidency. I am nowhere near there, but I am all in for being the senator from South Carolina. And hopefully, I’ll be in the majority.
HH: Well now, let’s talk about that majority. I am spending a lot of time over this week focusing on Kansas, and urging everyone in Kansas not to fall for Harry Reid’s trick and go for this Orman guy.
LG: Please, please don’t.
HH: …but to support Pat Roberts. And I’m sure every conservative in America that’s paying attention knows that a vote for Orman is a vote for Harry Reid.
LG: Well, I just hope the average person in Kansas understands that the Obama presidency’s been a disaster for job creation, our national security is in shambles, Obamacare is a nightmare for every business in the country in terms of insuring their employees, energy costs have been driven up by an EPA that’s out of control. I hope Kansas doesn’t want a bunch of liberal judges for the next two years, because they’re packing the court with the 51 vote requirement. If we can hold Kansas and get the majority back, then you can shut off all the liberal judges and all the radically liberal people running the EPA and the National Labor Relations Board, and you can do oversight. I hope it matters to the people in Kansas, because it matters to the country as a whole.
HH: And Pat Roberts is a great conservative. He did a fine job as chair of the Intelligence Committee. He’s a Marine…
LG: Yes, he did. He’s a Marine, for God’s sakes. The guy has served his country. He is with it on national security. He’s not an isolationist. He wants to take the fight to the terrorists. He wants to repeal sequestration and replace it with cuts that won’t gut the military. He’s been the Intelligence Committee chairman. He understands the world in which we live in. He’s a friend of mine. I think he would, I think his voice is indispensable in these troubled times, and this other guy, who the hell is he for? What does he believe? Who’s he going to vote with? What drives his train politically? What does he think about national security? What does he think about the Keystone Pipeline? Does he believe that Democrats have done a good job? Does he think President Obama can be checked by having one more aligned Democrat?
HH: Well said, and we will make sure everyone hears that. Let’s turn to the issue at hand. At the New York Times this afternoon, President Erdogan of Turkey said that the Syrian border town of Kobani is going to fall to militants, the air strikes aren’t working, and that more needs to e done. What’s your reaction to this latest ISIS offensive, and is the President’s policy working?
LG: Well, the President’s goal should be the shared goal of every person in the world to destroy ISIL. It is not working. If the goal is to destroy ISIL, they’re on the move, air power will not destroy ISIL. And does it matter to us if they survive in Syria and Iraq. What does the town of Kobani matter to the people in the United States? It means that ISIL is withstanding the air assault, they’re getting stronger, not weaker, and the stronger they are in Syria and Iraq, the richer they become, the more jihadists they have sign up to serve under their banner, the more likely we are to get hit here back at home. This is a risky strategy of half measures that’s making the homeland more at risk. So please understand, America, that our, President Obama’s lack of leadership in allowing ISIL to become a terrorist army growing by the day is a direct threat to us here in America.
HH: So what ought we to be doing, Senator Graham, that we are not presently doing right away?
LG: Okay, destroying ISIL will require degrading their command and control. It will require eventually not just blowing up trucks, but killing ISIL members. It’s going to require somebody to go in on the ground and dig them out. Two-thirds of ISIL is in Syria. One-third is in Iraq. It’s going to require partnering with the Iraqi army, the Kurds and the Sunni tribes, to take back Mosul and Fallujah and drive them out of Iraq. You’ve got to create some army somewhere to go into Syria. This mythical Arab army people talk about, I’d like to know who’s going to be in it and what capability they have. But at the end of the day, the Iraqi military and any army you send in Syria is going to have to have a major U.S. component – intelligence gathering, Special Forces, forward air controllers. We’re talking about thousands of Americans that have to be part of this coalition to make sure ISIL doesn’t defeat the Iraqis or this army going into Syria. I’m dying for the American president, President Obama, to level with the American people that to destroy ISIL, you have to have a ground component, and that ground component will include Americans, or they will fail.
HH: Well said. I also have to ask you about Ebola. Earlier today, the clip circulated from of your colleague from Arkansas, soon to be retired, I believe, Mark Pryor, being asked by a reporter about the President’s response to Ebola. Here’s that exchange, Senator Graham.
Reporter: Do you think that the Obama administration has done an appropriate job handling the Ebola crisis?
MP: Um, I would say that it’s hard to know, because I haven’t heard the latest briefing on that. You know, all of this, I mean, I read the paper and all of it, but my impression is that we have people over there both from CDC and other medical type people, and even some engineers to try to build medical facilities. That’s what they need over there. They need the medical infrastructure.
Reporter. But if he aggressive enough in helping people over there?
MP: Um, again, I’d have to see the latest numbers.
HH: That is not confidence-building, Senator Graham, but that is simply…
LG: Um is never, you know, Winston Chuchill seldom said um. So at the end of the day, this strategy toward Ebola has to be Africa-centric. The President’s right about you’ve got hit it at its source. So sending troops into Africa to help contain the spread of Ebola makes sense to me. Why wouldn’t you do the same when it comes to radical Islam? The one thing about Ebola, it doesn’t have an agenda. It’s not, it doesn’t think for itself. It goes wherever it’s transmitted. Radical Islam has an agenda, and their agenda includes hitting America and destroying the state of Israel and killing ever Christian in the Mid-East, and driving us out of the Mid-East, and hitting us here on our homeland. So at the end of the day, I wish the President would show as much resolve against radical Islam as he’s shown against Ebola. And to me, the Ebola epidemic is sort of a day late and a dollar short approach.
HH: It is to me very viral. They’re both viral. You’ve just made this analogy which I’ve been making for weeks, and we are doing the right thing, though not fast enough, vis-à-vis Ebola. We’re not doing anything, as far as I can tell, that is serious about stopping IS. It just doesn’t seem to me to be serious, Senator.
LG: Well, Hugh, here’s the point I’ve been trying to make with Senator McCain for three years. To think that what happens over there after 9/11 no longer matters to us is just dangerous. This is, you know, there’s a perfect storm building for our nation to be attacked again. We’ve got a weak president, a dysfunctional Congress that’s cutting the military and our intelligence community, and the CDC through sequestration cuts. You’ve got a war-weary public. You’ve got weak and shaky allies, and an emboldened enemy. And this storm has been building for three years. We’ve gone from a terrorist organization to a terrorist army that’s holding territory the size of Indiana. They’re richer than any terrorist organization in the history of the world, and they do mean to hit us here at home. There are Americans and Europeans going to the fight. They present a direct threat to our homeland. And the President of the United States seems to be more worried about managing this problem until he leaves office than defeating ISIL, which is a direct threat to the United States. This is a risky strategy. And if you’re thinking about running for president in 2016, as a Republican or Democrat, I want you to be asked the following question. Do you believe destroying ISIL is in our national security interest? And how do you destroy ISIL without boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq? And how can you do it without an American component?
HH: Well said, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Good luck on the campaign trail. We’ll talk to you perhaps on the campaign debate trail next.
End of interview.