Political Players: Sen. Graham Sees A "Schizophrenic" State of the Union

The following is an Atlantic interview with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. A key Republican dealmaker--and close friend of John McCain's--Graham says it "takes two to tango" on bipartisanship and

- Attacks President Obama's critique of the Supreme Court, his stimulus plan, and his handling of health care.

- Argues that immigration reform should happen, and shouldn't mean amnesty "like Ronald Reagan did."

- Says Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are "in a good position" for 2012, but Sarah Palin has "a big following."

- Believes South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's "stray animals" comment was "inappropriate and wrong."

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: Wednesday night, the president spoke again about changing the tone of politics, about reaching out to the other side.  You said you know bipartisanship when you see it. Why haven't we seen it here?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, first, there's the health care bill that was never designed to create bipartisanship.  They had a goal of expanding government's role in health care, and they were not going to abandon that goal. Quite frankly, what they did was partisan in terms of tone and substance.Graham embed 2.jpg

The president's call for bipartisanship--I agree with him.  But it takes two to tango. I've tried to work with this administration on energy and climate change legislation that truly would be bipartisan, and I appreciate that part of his speech.  But the one thing that makes it difficult, some of these public addresses are more confrontational than I think they should be.

What he did with the Supreme Court--publicly chastising the Supreme Court, where they can't respond, was I thought an awkward and inappropriate moment. So the speech was mixed and a little schizophrenic at times. And I would urge the President to be consistent in his tone here.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: On health care, the White House will say, we dropped the public option, we made the bill deficit neutral, we're open to tort reform. So what specifically can the president offer on the substance of the bill that he hasn't offered?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Number one, there was no real tort reform in this bill. Being open to it and doing it are two different things. There's nothing in this bill that will bring about ample legal reform. It's not deficit neutral in my view, it's a gimmick. I think we're not going to cut Medicare by $480 billion. That's one of the ways you pay for the bill. I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that would ever happen. This is Enron accounting.

And to get deficit neutrality, you have to raise taxes by $500 billion. So you're never going to get any Republicans to reform health care when the components are reducing Medicare spending to create new programs and raise taxes. We don't need to raise taxes to reform health care.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: Do you agree with your colleague, Senator Jim DeMint, that health care should be Obama's Waterloo?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: No. I think what Jim was saying is that he has made this his signature issue, and he's proposing ideas that are unacceptable to most Americans, not just the Republican Party.

What I would suggest the Republican and Democratic parties do is get a room after Scott Brown has sworn in, and with the Republican leadership there, meet with the White House in a sincere effort to find a more modest way forward on health care.

I would urge the president to do that.  And if he does reach out to Republicans, the spotlight shines on us then, and I think most Republicans understand that this bill needed to be taken down, it was sort of a monstrosity, and sleazy in the way it came about. But taking the bill down and doing nothing is not what I want. I'd rather try to start over and find some middle ground, and I think most Republicans would too.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: Do you think the stimulus was a failure?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, it was a failure on a lot of fronts. It was a missed opportunity to really be bipartisan. Senator McCain had a proposal of 400 and something billion dollars in spending. The difference between 400 and 787, we could've found some middle ground, had more tax cuts, and it would've been a bipartisan solution and all of us would've owned it, the Republicans and Democrats.

But yeah, I don't think it's created jobs at all. We've lost jobs. It's created more government than jobs, and added to the national debt. And it didn't stimulate the economy.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: But the president says he was given no opportunity for dialogue. Republican leaders put out statements opposed to the stimulus before he even announced it.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: That proposal was pretty well known as to what they were doing. I mean, how does doubling the Education Department's budget stimulate jobs? Senator McCain produced an alternative that was $400 billion, that was no small proposal. So the idea that we did not have a proposal of our own that was meaningful, I reject.

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Brian Goldsmith is a contributor to TheAtlantic.com. A former political producer for the CBS Evening News, he is now a student at Stanford Law School.

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