Lindsey Graham's Swing Shtick

You have to like Lindsey Graham's air of reasonableness. My colleague, Chris Good, notes that the senior senator from South Carolina put on a good performance this morning, saying publicly that he might vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Amidst all the preening by the Senate Judiciary Committee members, Graham's hiccups of honesty--saying Sotomayor would be confirmed barring a meltdown--seemed refreshing even if they were obviously true. It's a good week, though, to read Geoff Earle's 2005 piece in The Washington Monthly on Graham, who is less moderate than he appears to be. Graham earned a reputation as a thoughtful moderate during the Clinton impeachment hearings, but in fact he'd signed on to a resolution calling for an impeachment inquiry--months before the Lewinsky scandal came to light. (The measure was introduced by Bob Barr, the former Republican congressman who would become the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2008.) Earle notes that while Graham was a consistent voice against torture--a position stemming from his role as an Air Force attorney--he was never a tough voice against Rumsfeld at the time of Abu Ghraib.

Washington loves and adores moderates, and Graham deserves attention for breaking with knee-jerk conservatives on issues like immigration where he backed his friend, John McCain's, plan for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. That's a plan McCain himself would later abandon.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Graham is making moderate noises about being undecided on Sotomayor. He did the same thing during the Clinton impreachment hearings--before voting for impeachment and becoming one of the floor managers of the fight for impeachment. I suspect, and it's just a guess, that this time he will vote for Sotomayor. I think he's smart enough to know that Hispanic voters are going to remember who voted against the first Latina justice. And I think, like Orin Hatch, who supported Clinton's nominees to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, Graham will be inclined to defer to the president on judicial matters. This time Lindsey, I bet, really will be a moderate. That's one of the few sources of tension in this hearing thus far.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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