Senator Lindsey Graham joined me today:
HH: Right now, I do want to go back to presidential politics and welcome back United States Senator Lindsey Graham, who by most accounts dominated the first debate a week ago tonight. Senator Graham, haven’t talked to you since then, great to have you back.
LG: Well, thank you very much. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to have a debate where there were people in the audience.
HH: You seemed, you liked that a lot more when you can get a good laugh line coming back to you with some chuckles.
LG: Yeah, you know, it’s what happens when you grow up in a bar. You know, you like to interact with people. And yeah, it did. I’ll be honest with you, it really did matter. And I thought it was a good debate. The setting was unbelievable. To the people, you know, watching the debate, Air Force One in the background, the stage that CNN created, was awesome.
HH: Now I have to ask you in terms of the next debate, are you dropping out, or are you staying in? Scott Walker quit yesterday. Are you staying in?
LG: I am staying in. He urged everybody to drop out and get behind one candidate. I’m doing the same. Drop out and get behind me.
HH: All right. So do you believe it’s time to go to one debate for everyone who’s viable? Or do you think the two debate format still has another cycle to run through?
LG: I think it’s time to give everybody a chance on equal footing. The one thing we’ve learned from these two debates is that Carly did well twice. Polling with no ending was not an indication early on of her talents. I hope and pray that I get a chance to be in the main debate. I think a lot of us deserve that, and I hope the RNC will make that happen. It would be nice to have somebody else talk to Trump.
HH: And what would you talk to Donald Trump about?
LG: About his foreign policy, and why do you doubt that Obama was born in Hawaii. (laughing) I mean, we’ve got to get over that issue, and move on.
HH: He doesn’t want to talk, he doesn’t want to talk about that. He told…
LG: No, he doesn’t. If I were him, I mean, you’re running to be president of the United States. You’re going to carry our banner if you get the nomination. It’s going to be hard to win the White House if you can’t look the camera in the eye and say that you believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, he’s not a Muslim, and he’s a bad president. That’s what I would say.
HH: I had Donald Trump on Monday’s show, Senator Graham, and I asked him about his national security team, as I did during the debate. And he told me again it’s coming soon. It will roll out. How important will that list be to Lindsey Graham’s assessment of his seriousness?
LG: It will be important. Will serious people gravitate to his campaign? The people in the foreign policy world, military commander types, people who understand the world, and have helped shape it, will they gravitate to his campaign? I think it will be very interesting to see what type of person he draws, because his foreign policy analysis, to me, is just gibberish. When he said to Great Van Susteren that he’s okay with Russia fighting ISIL, well, I’m not okay with it, because they’re not just fighting ISIL. They’re protecting Assad. They’re digging into Syria. And this is a nightmare for Syria and us.
HH: Senator Graham, I pointed out yesterday that the development of having Russian fighter jets lined up in a row in Syria is ominous. I don’t know if it’s Cuban Missile Crisis ominous, but it’s really ominous. How significant is that picture?
LG: Ominous is a very good way to say it. Number one, we were able to kick the Russians out of the Mid-East when Henry Kissinger was able to flip the Egyptians. They’d been basically persona non grata. Now, this failed policy in Syria has allowed chaos to reign. Assad is being supported by Russia. That means that Assad is not going to leave anytime soon. The war continues. Assad is a recruiting magnet for ISIL, al-Nusra and all the other Sunni radical, Sunni groups. The region is never going to accept Assad, and I’m afraid that this foothold in Syria can be used by Russia to leverage their interests throughout the region. And people are going to start betting on Russia, not us.
HH: Now Senator Graham, a couple of things I learned in the debate that I didn’t know about you. I know you’d been to the Middle East a lot. I didn’t know you’d made 35 trips. Now what does a trip to the Middle East involve? Would you walk people through one of them?
HH: I had a case study with Trump about the old Post Office pavilion, and how Donald Trump was making that work. Walk us through just one trip and what, why that matters so much in assessing you.
LG: Okay, the normal trip would involve going to Iraq and Afghanistan. You start with a briefing by your commanding generals. Then you go to forward bases to talk to the soldiers. Then I would have sub-meetings with people involved in rule of law issues. You’re never going to bring peace and security to the Middle East until you establish the rule of law. There would usually be three to five days. Sometimes, they would be eight days involving multiple countries. On about, oh, a dozen-plus occasions, I can’t remember now how many trips, I would stay behind as Colonel Graham. I would come in as Senator Graham, get in on the ground, get out and about. And let me tell you why it was important. Before the surge, it was obvious to Senator McCain and myself that our footprint in Iraq was not right, that Secretary Rumsfeld did not have it right. It was not a few dead-enders, that security was deteriorating. We couldn’t travel after about three trips. And you talked to the soldiers. I asked one guy, what are you doing over here, Sergeant? And he said I’m driving around waiting to get my ass shot off. After the surge, we went to the same unit, asked a different sergeant, same unit, what are you doing over here, and he said we’re kicking their ass. So that’s what you learn by going a lot. I go every, you know, 90 to 120 days for the last several years, and you can see things get better or deteriorate.
HH: Now Senator Graham, I asked in the second debate what I were hoping were commander-in-chief questions, and I specifically referenced the active duty military watching at home and around the world and their families. What do you think of commander-in-chief questions, and who in the second debate, as you watched it, if you watched it from our green room trailer, who displayed commander-in-chief qualities not named Lindsey Graham?
LG: Well, you know, I think Marco is, gets the big stuff. I think Jeb understands the role that we play in the world. But the next commander-in-chief needs to understand what it means to have a 420,000 person army versus 500,000. It means longer deployments, less reach. A 275-280 ship Navy means that you can’t be out and about, and that people have to be deployed longer, and the training cycles are shorter. So what does it mean when a Guard unit, Reserve unit is deployed overseas? It means their family is basically left with half pay sometimes, because of the difference between military and civilian pay. The size of the military really does mean a lot to the quality of life for the families and those who serve. Training budgets really do matter. The better trained people are, the better morale. So I think we’ve got several people out there that understand that Obama has got it wrong when it comes to leading the world, leading from the front versus behind, that the details matter. Not one person has really embraced setting aside these Defense cuts with the passion I have, because they’re destroying the ability to defend ourselves. We’re robbing our operational maintenance accounts to modernize, taking money out of modernization just to pay the bills, and it’s taking a toll on families and our readiness.
HH: Now I asked Donald Trump on Monday if Pakistan becomes unstable because of their insurgency groups, they have 90 nuclear weapons, if not more, what would he do? His answer, which people can read at Hughhewitt.com, in truncated form, is I’d get India involved, and I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do, because that gives away too much.
LG: What?!? (laughing) Oh, God. You’re not joking, are you?
HH: No, that’s what he said.
LG: He said he’d get India involved to stabilize Pakistan?
LG: Well, I thought John Kerry had the biggest can of gasoline in the world. John Kerry shows up at every hot spot and pours gasoline on it. I may have found somebody to top John Kerry. To suggest that you’re going to go to India to destabilize Pakistan…
HH: No, not destabilize, to help out if Pakistan became destabilized.
LG: Help out? You want to start World War III? No. Here’s the problem. Afghanistan does matter. We’ve got to stabilize Afghanistan. Defeat the Taliban, put them in a box in Afghanistan. They’re less likely to create problems in Pakistan. We have a very good relationship with the Pakistani military. We have good monitoring of their nuclear weapons. But if there is a meltdown in Pakistan, the last group of people I’m going to call on to fix it are the Indians.
HH: What, do you send in American troops? That was my initial question. He said he doesn’t want people to know what to do. I thought it was Nixonian.
LG: You protect, you protect the stockpile. You do whatever is necessary, working with the international community to protect the nuclear stockpile. We have plans for this. This is not something that’s new to me. There are plans on the books to deal with a failed state in Pakistan. I’m not going to discuss those plans, but there are contingency operations available to us, and our allies, to make sure that the weapons stockpile doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. The Pakistani military…
HH: And those plans do not involve, those plans don’t involve asking India’s help?
LG: I can promise you they don’t involve getting India. They don’t include getting India involved in trying to stabilize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, no.
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HH: Joined by United States Senator Lindsey Graham, who I’ve just learned is not reading the transcripts that I post over at Hughhewitt.com of my candidate interviews, otherwise he would have known about Donald Trump and Pakistan and India. So that’s a minor scold on you, Senator Graham.
LG: I’m guilty as charged.
HH: I want, well, you’ve just got to do it every day, Hughhewitt.com.
LG: Yeah, I’ll do it. I’ve got to up my game.
HH: I’ve got to go and ask, I’m not perfect, I’m just the best. That’s what I say. I want to go to the question you weren’t on the stage for, global warming. Jake Tapper asked, and I think Jake did a marvelous job moderating the debate.
HH: A lot of people have asked me did I, yeah, are you upset, they ask me, if I didn’t get enough questions in. I say no, he is Cardale Jones, I’m Braxton Miller on the wide out, and Dana Bash is J.T. Barrett, and he went to us when he needed us. It worked out fine. You might not understand that, because you’re probably an SCC football player and don’t know much about the best team in the country. But let me ask you about global warming. First of all, do you believe in it?
LG: Well, I know the best team in the country dodged a bullet. If they don’t up their game, they’re not going to continue to be the best team in the country. Who did they play?
HH: Northern Illinois is very good. They’re very good, Senator.
LG: (laughing) Go ahead.
HH: So do you believe in global warming?
LG: Yes, I believe that the planet is heating up. Manmade emissions are somewhat of the cause, absolutely contributing to the heating up of the planet. How much, I don’t know. I think CO2 emisisons are creating greenhouse gas effects. A lower carbon economy would make us more energy independent. I think it would be good for the environment. It is a problem for me, not a religion. I accept the science. The solution is where we should have the fight. Al Gore has turned this into a religion. I’d like to turn it into a problem that can be solved working with business and the environmental community. Hillary Clinton today completely capitulated to the whackos on the left. The environmental left is dominating her. She feels like she’s losing to Bernie. Not to build the Keystone Pipeline does not help the environment. It hurts our economy, and it hurts our quest to be energy independent from Mid-East oil. So when she says she would not build the pipeline, that means she’s turned her agenda over to the extreme environmental left. I would build the pipeline.
HH: Now Donald Trump also said on the show on Monday he does not believe in climate change. He believes in weather. It goes up, it goes down, and a few years ago, they were warning us about global cooling. So I gather there is distance between you and Donald on that issue as well?
LG: Well, I’ve been to Alaska. I’ve been to the Arctic. I’ve spent some time studying the problem. Most climatologists, about 90%, believe that CO2 emissions creating greenhouse gases have led to heating up of the planet. The temperatures are rising. We can have debate about how much CO2 emissions are causing the problem. North America contributes a relatively small part of CO2 emission. If you don’t deal with India and China, you’ll never solve the problem. But going to a lower carbon economy makes sense. I am not a scientist. But when most scientists tell me the phenomenon is real, I have no reason to doubt them. I’ve been to the Antarctic. I’ve been to Alaska. I’ve been on the ground to see the changes. I’d like to solve the problem. It’s a national security issue to me as much as anything else. Getting off our dependency on foreign oil would be a good thing. Fracking for natural gas, exporting it to our allies in Eastern Europe would undercut Putin. So consider me an all of the above guy, but also consider me somebody who is not going to fight the science, but will fight the solution. The Democrats won’t.
HH: Now I was also on CNN last night with Don Lemon who was asking me about Trump and Carson comments on Muslims, and he asked me about Jeb Bush commenting on multiculturalism. And I made the flat statement that not one Republican on that stage is a bigot. Do you agree with me?
LG: Oh, 100%.
HH: Good. And I just, I just, it’s a non-story. Now let me argue with Lindsey Graham. At the end of the first debate, you made a speech that resonated with a lot of people about saying I’m not going to sell you soap, I’m not going to tell you that we’re going to shut down the government, because the President will eventually get Planned Parenthood. What you didn’t answer, and I didn’t have any time left on my scorecard, or I’d have thrown hard one at your head. I’ll do it right now. Why not break the filibuster, send the Defense Appropriations to his desk, because he dare not veto that, and you’ll get at least the military rebuilt.
LG: Okay, changing the 60 vote hurdle to 51 means that we can get several items to his desk that he would have to veto or sign. But it means that the floor of the Senate now is turned over to 46 Democrats plus 5 Republicans, if they can find five. If you got to a 51 vote hurdle, turn the Senate into the House, and the Democrats win in 2016, the first thing to go is the right to work laws. They will repeal it. The filibuster has helped stop a lot of bad things, and it’s also denied us some good things. Since World War II, the Democrats have had control of the House, the Senate and the White House for 22 years. We’ve had control for 6. I am not willing to change the rules of the Senate. I think it is better for the institution and the country to keep the 60 vote hurdle in place, even when I don’t like the outcome.
HH: You see, that’s a much better answer than Planned Parenthood, in my view, but it doesn’t answer my question. Do you think the President would sign the Defense Appropriations bill if you passed it out of the Senate under a category of one, like your friend…
HH: Go ahead.
LG: No. You know why?
LG: Because he has said he will not lift Defense spending caps unless you replace non-Defense spending sequestration. Sequestration, $550 billion is left on sequestration. Half of it is Defense, half of it is non-Defense. The FBI, the CIA are being sequestered like the National Institute of Health. The President is not going to just raise Defense caps without non-Defense being raised, too. And I am willing to raise non-Defense caps, because I think the FBI and the CIA need to be funded. But I want to pay for it. I don’t want to increase the cost of government. I want to find savings in other places. So yes, I think at the end of the day, the Democrats are not going to just allow us to raise Defense spending without addressing non-Defense cuts.
HH: How about offering, how about cutting the $500 million that goes to Planned Parenthood, and putting in $600 million to other women’s health organizations? Any thoughts of that given?
LG: Totally agree. We’re going to do that. Here’s what I think we should use. Use reconciliation. You familiar with reconciliation?
HH: You bet. You bet.
LG: Okay, I would defund Planned Parenthood using reconciliation. You bypass the 60 vote hurdle in the Senate. You’ll get it to the President’s desk. He’s probably still going to veto it, but at least we get him to act without having to shut the government down. That’s my belief. My belief is that we should use reconciliation to defund Obamacare. We can get it on his desk, or at least part of Obamacare can be defunded. Use reconciliation to get these items to the President’s desk. That way, you don’t risk a government shutdown, and you have the same outcome.
HH: All right, last question, here’s my prediction, tell me where I’m wrong. The government is going to shut down for two weeks. It will reopen with additional domestic and Pentagon spending. McConnell will stay, Speaker Boehner will be the human sacrifice and will retire, and we will go on as we did last year with higher spending into the presidential campaign. Am I wrong?
LG: I hope you’re wrong about Boehner. Here’s what I would say. Lindsey Graham is going to be hard over on this issue. I am not going to vote for any budget that doesn’t life the Defense caps. Now I’ve just made some news. I am not going to vote for any budget that doesn’t change Defense spending. Having said that, I know I’ve got to find some offsets for non-Defense spending. I will be willing to work with Democrats on this issue. But I am going to resist any budget that doesn’t raise Defense spending, because we’re gutting our military. So I want to let you and your audience know that when it comes to Defense cuts, I’m not going to sit on the sidelines any longer. We’re going to fix sequestration, or you’re never going to get my vote.
HH: Bravo, Lindsey Graham. Glad to hear it. Thank you for joining us, Senator.
End of interview.