‘I think Ted Cruz is the problem,’ Graham tells U.S. News.
It’s like a fresh season of a fall television sitcom: Sen. Lindsey Graham says another attempt to shut down the government is coming and Sen. Ted Cruz will play the starring role again.
“Absolutely. Just as sure as the sun rises and sets,” the GOP senator and 2016 presidential candidatetold U.S. News in an hour-long interview Tuesday. “At the end of the day, I think Ted Cruz is going to do this. He’s going to be the purest of the pure and it will fail and he’ll blame me and everybody else and the band goes on.”
Congress needs to pass a temporary spending plan by Sept. 30 to continue funding the government. But Cruz could gum up the legislation by staging a protest over a wide range of spending items, including the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. In 2013, Cruz, now Graham’s presidential rival, staged a marathon talk on the Senate floor to lambast President Barack Obama’s health care law. He talked so long he resorted to reading the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham” out loud.
“I think we’re going to be reading ham and eggs again,” Graham says. “It’ll end the way it always ends. He’ll wind up losing.”
But Graham worries another high-stakes threat to shut down the government could wound his party heading into next year’s presidential election. How to combat Cruz this time around?
“Make sure to say no to him before we do more damage,” Graham says. “There’s a group in the House that are going to make this their reason for living and all I can say is every time you lose a Republican, you’ve got to find a Democrat. You want to lose in 2016? Let it be seen that the Republicans in the House and Senate can’t govern, then that’s the end of our 2016 hopes.”
“I think I’m the solution, not the problem.” he added later. “I think Ted Cruz is the problem.”
In the U.S. News interview, Graham also says he’s counting on a good showing in the New Hampshire primary in February to propel his campaign forward. If he doesn’t place in the top three or four, he may decide to cease his campaign before the South Carolina primary that is likely to take place the following week.
“I want to do well, show a viable candidacy before my state and if I don’t, I’ll reassess,” he says.
Graham has been averaging just 1 percent in New Hampshire polling, leaving him in 12th place.
“Ask me after the 50th town hall how well I’m doing,” he says.
But he believes his non-ideological, national security profile will gain more prominence there over time, as it did for his friend Sen. John McCain, who won that primary in both of his presidential runs in 2000 and 2008.
Below is an edited transcript of Sen. Graham’s wide-ranging interview with U.S. News:
Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis and Religious Freedom: “If I were a judge, I would not have put the lady in jail. I would’ve ordered her to issue the license and if she didn’t comply, I would’ve held her in contempt, fined her and told somebody else in Kentucky, ‘Go issue the license.’ I don’t feel the need to put the lady in jail, but we’re a nation of laws. Marbury vs. Madison is one of the oldest cases we’ve got. It is her job as a clerk to issue these licenses. I’m sympathetic to traditional marriage, but I am a believer in the rule of law.
Immigration: “The goal is 90 percent operational control of the border. We’re not there yet, we’re in the 70s, we can get better. You can improve border security, but to say we’ve done nothing is not fair. E-verify, if you don’t do that, you’ll never stop it. If you don’t increase legal immigration . . . you’ll never fix it. You don’t ask 11 million people to walk home like the second exodus, including their legal U.S. citizen children. You say, ‘If you’ve done nothing but break our border laws, raise your hand.’ Most people will because they live in the shadows. Have the good ones raise their hand, biometrically identify, pass an English exam in six years, pay a fine over three years and call it a day. You can find the bad guys easier when the good people come out of the shadows. You just can’t build a wall. I want to compliment Jeb [Bush], he hasn’t taken the bait. Jeb’s done a good job. Chris Christie. There’s a lot us who have said, ‘C’mon, knock it off.'”
Refugees from the Middle East: “They’re not coming here to get better jobs, they’re coming here because their wives are being raped and their kids are being slaughtered. This is not illegal immigration, this is people fleeing for their lives from tyranny. Go read the Statue of Liberty. The goal is to make your country safer by helping others. Killing terrorists is just one part of the equation. Helping others is the ultimate antidote to terrorism. So my goal is to make sure they don’t have to flee, that they can go back home. They’re not wanting to go to Hungary, they’re having to go to Hungary. And I’ve been saying this for three friggin’ years. Three years ago, [Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.] and I were the only ones saying ‘No fly zone, train the Syrian army.’ It would have worked. You’ll never fix Syria if you don’t get rid of Assad. He’s the magnet for radical Islamic Sunnis. If he’s in power you can never repair the damage because his army has slaughtered 200,000 Syrians. The average Syrian wants two things: destroy radical Islam and get Assad out of the way. That’s what we want. Most fathers and mothers don’t want to turn their sons and daughters over to ISIL. That’s the good news for us. We’re on the right side of this thing, we just gotta pick sides. People in my party look at everybody as a terrorist. They’re not. I promise you the overwhelming majority of Middle Eastern people don’t want what radical Islam is selling. They just need the capability to push back when they have the will.”
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders: “I guess the ultimate nightmare for the country is an illegal immigrant who became a billionaire. Basically what we’re selling is victimization, that you’re a victim of something, that you’re a victim of an unfair economic system, that you’re a victim of people from over there coming here and there’s always been a certain market for that. But at the end of the day, that seldom wins. [Trump] will get less votes than the person who beats him. I don’t think [he’ll become the nominee], I don’t want to be that definitive, but I don’t think so. The best chance we’ve had in a long time has been 2016. After eight years, I don’t care who you are, people are looking for something new. I just don’t think Hillary [Clinton] represents a new way of doing old business. But if you’re looking for something new, it has to be something you’re not afraid of. And you’re not going to pick something new that has a very scary face on it. If this is a Trump-Hillary race, demographics take over. Before this thing is over with, you’re going to be voting for the person who sucks the least.”
Whether He’d Consider an Appointment to Become Secretary of Defense: “Nah, you know, being a senator is a good gig. I have a lot of say about my area of the world. I like the Senate. Secretaries of this and that seemed to be controlled by 35-year-old political people. I think Karl Rove started this stuff and Obama’s taken it to a new level. I’d be glad to give them some advice as to who I’d pick. I’m not running to be a cabinet official. I think I’d be a good commander in chief. I think I’d actually be a very good president, I really do, because somebody’s got to bring us together. I know all the Democrats and most of them I can work with.”
On the Islamic State Group: “Whatever it takes, as long as it takes. This is not a regional problem. It’s a world problem. Radical Islam has to be destroyed, just as Naziism had to be destroyed … Iraq and Syria are one battlespace now. You can’t look at them as separate threats. They’re a joint battlespace. The most likely 9/11 is coming from a radical Islamist who goes through jihad in Syria and works his way here. So what would I do? I’d add more American military combat power on the ground in Iraq to neutralize the Shiite militias. You give enough capacities so the Sunni tribal leaders break away again like they did in the past, marry up with enough military capability, marry up with a new Iraqi security force to take down ISIL in Ramadi. And Mosul’s completely different operation — the Kurds can actually help you up there. So at the end of the day, there’s a way to go forward in Iraq. Syria’s complete hell on earth. That’s the one that’s 100 times harder.” ”
The Iran Deal and the ‘Military Option’: “What you have to convince the Iranians is that the price to be paid of noncompliance or breaking out or being defiant would be overwhelming. So what would a military option look like? It would destroy their offensive capability as well as limit their nuclear capabilities. We’ve come to the point now where they have to believe their regime is at stake. We’re not talking about a land invasion but we’re talking about neutering their air force and their navy. They have a very small navy and an old air force. They have a lot of rockets. They would hit us in the region, they could hit our bases, they could hit our allies, they could do a lot of mischief, but it wouldn’t last very long because the response would be overwhelming. What I would have as my military option is to shoot down their air force, sink their navy and punish the Revolutionary Guard as well as their nuclear facilities, and hope to create conditions where people inside the country could take back their country. Under Obama, I don’t know what it would be like. I don’t think he’d ever pull the trigger. I don’t think they could do enough to get Obama to use the military option. Maybe they could, but I don’t see it being sustained. I don’t see it having as a goal to punish the regime. My goal would be to neuter their offensive capability. The ayatollah has probably written off Obama and the Europeans. But I don’t think he can write Israel off. And that’s the unknown part of this: What does Israel do?”
U.S. Involvement in the Middle East: “Hillary [Clinton, then secretary of state] did a good job convincing Obama to go in [to Libya in 2011]. The mistake in Libya was not to go behind Gadhafi falling. Filling in that vacuum with a police force and a military that was loyal to the people would have been the solution. What I can’t believe is Obama made the same mistakes Bush did. You didn’t have the right configuration. So what did I learn from Iraq? Without a certain level of security you won’t have political progress. With it, you can. The Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites, they were moving forward on a hydrocarbon law, a passive de-Ba’athification law where everybody is not a Nazi. So they were getting there. Then security collapses [following the 2011 U.S. withdrawal] and they go back to their sectarian corners. Young people are not going to live under dictators for our convenience. Young people, women in particular, are not going to accept that model of governance. So what do you do? You just stick it out. You learn from your mistakes, and if we’d left Germany and Japan right after World War II, we’d have made a huge mistake. Let’s say you do what I would like in Syria and Iraq. You go in on the ground, you destroy ISIL, you pull them out of Iraq, Raqqa. You take Assad out, but then you’ve got a political problem, an economic problem, you have a lot of problems. How do you fill in that space? Clearing, holding and building. We would have to be part of the military operation to ensure success, but the world’s commitment to Syria has to be robust and it has to be long-lasting, because the country has been raped.”