South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham joined me on today’s show and we covered a half-dozen key subjects:
HH: Hour two of the Hugh Hewitt Show begins with United States Senator Lindsey Graham of the great state of South Carolina. Senator Graham, welcome back, congratulations on your reelection victory.
LG: Well, thank you, Hugh, for helping me in the primary, and we did very well in the general election. And I’m excited about being in the majority.
HH: Not today, there’s an article about your speech to the question of what to do about Iran. I have a piece in the Washington Examiner that says I hope the first thing the new Congress does is repudiate any bad deal and reimpose sanctions. I don’t think we’re too far apart on this.
LG: Well, I think we’re dead on. I have a simple request of the Congress. Take any deal that we may negotiate with the P5+1 regarding the Iranian nuclear deal and bring it to Congress for review, debate and vote.
HH: Do you have the votes to override a presidential veto of a law repudiating it?
LG: That’s the magic question. Number one, I want to take the vote before November the 24th. So last week, I made a unanimous consent request to bring up the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations Act that would require any deal would come to Congress for a review, debate and a vote. It was blocked by Democrats. They will continue to block it. I will call it up again tomorrow. And then in January when we take over, I am confident that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will make this legislation one of the priorities of the new Republican controlled House and Senate, and that we will get 90% at least of Republican votes, and that if Democrats had to vote on a deal with Iran, that gave them thousands of centrifuges to only be controlled by the U.N., in terms of becoming a weapons program, that we would get enough to override a veto.
HH: That’s what I think, and I hope you move forward on that. And I hope that the leader gives you priority, because it seems to me that the upside of that would also be to demonstrate that there are issues on which the President’s party will depart from him on matters of national security.
LG: Yes, good point. When you think of the Iranian nuclear deal, think of North Korea. What they have in mind is a, on paper, small enrichment program being monitored by the United Nations and other international organizations to prevent it from becoming a weapons program. That’s exactly what we did with North Korea. See how well that turned out.
HH: Is it not also…
LG: It is insane to give the Iranians any enrichment capabilities. If they want a nuclear power program for peaceful purposes, fine. Build a reactor, control the fuel cycle. Enrichment should be off the table.
HH: Is it also not the case that their heavy water reactor hasn’t even been discussed, yet?
LG: Well, it’s being discussed, but it’s supposed to be dismantled, not disabled. I’ve got a simple goal. When the deal is done, I don’t want any capability left in the hands of the Iranians that could be converted to weapons use.
HH: Well, that’s exactly, that’s the best deal.
LG: Any other…it’s that simple.
HH: That’s the best deal.
LG: No heavy water reactor. You don’t need a heavy water reactor to make peaceful power.
HH: And that could go to the Senate in the first week, the second week of the new Congress, do you think, Senator Graham?
LG: Yes, sir, and we’re going to need your listeners to help me here. So I want to make sure, to me, of all the things that Barack Obama could do between now and the time he leaves office to screw up the world, this is the top of the list. If he did a bad deal with Iran regarding their nuclear capabilities, the Sunni Arabs are going to want whatever we give to the Shia Persians. You could literally start a nuclear arms race with a bad deal with Iran. Bring it to the Congress. If it is a good deal that dismantles their program, allows them peaceful nuclear power without any chance to make a weapon, I’ll vote for it. If this is the deal I think they’re going to contemplate, I believe I can in a bipartisan fashion stop it.
HH: And even if the President says it’s an executive agreement, there are ways to still bring that forward to the Congress, are there not?
LG: Yes, there…here’s what the bill does. It says within 72 hours of any agreement being signed, that it’s submitted to the appropriate committees in the House and the Senate. Within 15 days of submission, you can file a resolution of disapproval, and have that voted on within 30 days. And if it’s voted, the resolution of disapproval passes, then there will be no funding allowed to dismantle the sanctions. And it automatically reimposes the sanctions against the Iranian regime. The sanctions were created by Congress. You have some executive sanctions, you have some U.N. sanctions, you have some European sanctions. But the main sanction regime against the Iranian government came from Congressional statute.
HH: Who is your counterpart author in the House of this bill, Senator Graham?
LG: Okay, Ed Royce is probably going to take it up. I just talked to him a few minutes ago. Bob Corker is the primary sponsor of the bill. He will be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. What I would envision, Hugh, is that sometime early in January, Bob Corker would take our legislation, mark it up in the Foreign Relations Committee, going through regular order. I think it will get a strong bipartisan vote. A guy like Bob Menendez, I think, would vote for it, and get it on the floor for debate. The question is will they do a deal between now and the middle of January? I don’t know. The chances are they will, because Obama wants a deal so badly. And once you concede the right to enrich as part of any deal with Iran, I think you’re going down the North Korean road.
HH: It’s a bad deal. It has to be repudiated. I agree.
HH: A few other questions…
LG: Well, it is the most dramatic national security change that I could envision, a process by which the ayatollahs could acquire nuclear capabilities.
HH: I agree with that. Other questions about the new Congress, Senator, do you imagine that there will be expansion of the House Select Committee on Benghazi to include Senators?
LG: I hope so. I’ve been calling for this for two years. Trey Gowdy and Elijah Cummings have done a good job. What I would envision is a select committee being formed in the Senate of members from the appropriate committees instead of a stovepipe approach. We would create a select committee in the Senate to marry up with the select committee in the House, become a joint select committee, bootstrap on the work already done by the House, and take this to its logical conclusion. If you ask me the big winners and losers of the midterms, I’d say the big winners is getting to the bottom of Benghazi. The big losers are the Iranian nuclear ambition, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the big winner is going to be Israel, because I’ll be in charge of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee that deals with all foreign aid to Israel, to the Palestinians and the United Nations. And I’m here to tell your listeners if the United Nations continues to be the anti-Israeli body that it’s become, they’re going to put their funding at risk.
HH: Do you want to chair that select committee on Benghazi, Senator Graham?
LG: I don’t care. Maybe somebody senior to me, but I want to be on it. I’m dying to ask some questions of people who have never been interviewed before – Susan Rice.
HH: Let me ask you as well about winners…
LG: She’s said on TV shows the level of security at the consulate was strong, substantial and significant. Who told you that? That’s not part of the talking points. And nothing could have been further from the truth. Where did you get that information? Or did you just make it up?
HH: Among the other winners could be the Department of Defense if sequestration goes away.
HH: Your colleague, John McCain, said it might. What do you think?
LG; I think, you know, it is the thing that we’ve got to fix. We’re looking at the smallest military by the end of the decade since 1940 level for the Army, 420,000 members of the Army, the smallest Navy since 1915 under sequestration. I’m looking at a bipartisan replacement of the sequestration cuts, doing some entitlement reform, and maybe some tax code reform to buy back sequestration before we destroy the finest military in the history of the world at a time when we need it the most. It’s not just the military that gets cut to the bone. It’s the intelligence community and the FBI.
HH: Another national security issue is the border. I am not one of those who want the Republicans to walk away because the President’s doing unusual things and unconstitutional things with his executive authority.
HH: I want an immigration bill, one that secures the border and regularizes people. Will that work go forward regardless of what the President does?
LG: You know, if we were smart, we would, you can’t capitulate to this overreach by the President, and you can’t overreact. So what I would like to do is try to use the funding mechanisms of Congress to limit his ability to do executive action, and to do what he’s doing, and at the same time come up with legislation that first secures your border, defines what securing the border would be. And when that point is achieved, you start allowing people who are non-felons to get a legal status, and create order out of chaos. I think we should do two things at once. We should limit the ability of the executive action through funding, not shutting the government down, and at the same time, come up with a solution apart from Obama.
HH: If you’ve got a long, strong, double-sided, thousand mile fence on there, I’m with you, Senator Graham. I hope it does. Let me turn to two other things before I let you go. One is not political at all, but it’s deeply involved with the Senate. The filibuster has been broken.
HH: I don’t want it be brought back for at least two years, and I’d like a Republican president to get the same rule for two years. And then I’d like to see it rebuilt. But what does Lindsey Graham think about the judicial filibuster?
LG: I think we should go back to 60 votes to approve any nomination. I think it stood the test of time. If you keep it at 51, all they have to do is pick up three, four Republicans and I’m worried that you’re no stronger than your weakest link. Having to get to 60 is a much more collaborative process. I want to have the ability to say no to executive appointments and judicial appointments with a 60 vote hurdle as it stood for over 150 years. That’s my view. I think it would be smart for us to go back to the way it used to be, getting the Senate back to the way it’s always been, and making it harder to get people into the court and into the executive branch, not easier.
HH: Now we would agree in four years, but that which gets rewarded gets repeated. And if you don’t punish the Democrats a little bit for breaking the rules, there’s no incentive for them when they get the majority back just to break it again unless you’ve really driven home…
LG: You’re right. To me, you’re punishing yourself by not changing it to 60. We’ll have 54 Republicans. We’re going to win Louisiana. Under a 51 vote confirmation process, all they’ve got to do is pick off three. Under my construct, they’ve got to get to 60, and it gives you a chance to have a say about what kind of judges we’re going to put on the bench the next two years, who will run the executive branch. I think it’s in our self-interest to go back to the way the Senate used to work and have a 60 vote hurdle. If you get a Republican president, then we’ll see what Democrats do on their watch. But the next two years, I think, in our self-interest, to make it harder to get people into the judiciary and executive branch, not easier.
HH: Well, I’ll send you a note on that, because we disagree. I would put it back after two years.
LG: Fair enough.
HH: But last subject, this is an important one, the presidential campaign, it matters a great deal whether you’re going to run because of the Palmetto State’s placement on the calendar? Have you decided when you have to decide by?
LG: Well, the way I’m looking at it now is I want to see who runs and what they say about issues that mean the most to me, and apparently to you, too. How do you defend the nation? How do you get good standing with our friends and make our enemies fear us once again? So I’ll let you know. My first task is to stop a bad deal with Iran and try to get the military funding back to where it should be. And let’s see who offers their name, puts their name in the hat, and what kind of view they have of how you defend America, and I’ll let you know. I’m looking for a voice that sees the world where America is exceptional, and that we engage the enemies of this nation affirmatively and aggressively, and rebuild the military infrastructure we’re losing, and we reattach ourselves to our friends like Israel, and we really go after the bad guys. I’m looking for somebody who understands that the NSA program should be reformed, not gutted. The terrorists are trying to breach our security every day, trying to hit us here at home. Now is not the time to gut the NSA program.
HH: Now there’s this enormously long list – Jeb, your colleagues Rob Portman, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, you’ve got Governors Christie, Kasich, Walker, Perry, Pence and Jindal, you’ve got Governors Martinez and Haley, you’ve got former Senator Santorum, former Governor Huckabee, they both won Iowa in the past. You’ve got Paul Ryan and Ben Carson and Peter King and John Bolton. If they have everyone on a stage for even eight or ten, that’s a roller derby, Senator.
LG: Well, you know, it’s like preseason polling in football. You know, you’ve got a lot of names that are very talented people in their own right. But when you contact, and you actually, you know, make contact, things begin to change. And the idea of running for president is no small task. I’ve been with John McCain twice in his presidential campaigns. I know the hell you go through as an individual. I know the amount of money you have to raise. But talking about it and doing it are two different endeavors. We’ll see who actually pulls the trigger, because to mount a presidential campaign, you need to have your act together, and it’s just not a speech you’ll give, but can you put an organization that can finance the campaign, turn out people in Iowa, be competitive in New Hampshire, and do well in the South. That’s no small task. Jeb Bush, obviously he would be competitive. You’ve got, Rand Paul has groups all over the country from his dad, so they’ve got some built-in networks.
HH: And a very, you brought up football for my last question. Would you agree Ohio State has to be in the top four after this weekend?
LG: I would say yes, they would have to be.
HH: That’s, we’ll leave it on that. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, that’s for spending time with us.
LG: Thank you.
End of interview.