CNN "State Of The Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Aug. 1, 2010
Location: Unknown

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CROWLEY: Senator Lindsey Graham is from South Carolina, one of the most conservative states in the country. He scores an 88 on a scale of 100 from a leading conservative group. He is also one of a handful of Republicans who have worked periodically with Democrats on major issues. Graham has been at the Obama White House some 20 times, and it has cost him. Glenn Beck calls Graham "Obama lite."

Graham supports a secure border, but also bucked party orthodoxy supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here. Rush Limbaugh labeled him Senator Gramnesty. Though he eventually walked away from the table, Graham teamed up with Democratic John Kerry and independent Joe Lieberman to put together climate legislation, and he was the lone Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote to confirm President Obama's two nominations for the Supreme Court. Limbaugh theorizes Graham has been trying to make up for having been a manager on the Clinton impeachment bill.

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RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: He is groveling, he's hoping they will forgive him. They never will, but this is what happens to you when you leave your integrity at the cloak check.

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CROWLEY: When we come back, a conversation with Senator Lindsey Graham in his office.

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CROWLEY: Senator Graham, thank you so much for joining us here on State of the Union.

Let me talk about Afghanistan. We have heard so much about this June 2011 date, which now seems to be, well, maybe that's the time that we should have things turned around. In all honesty, could we turn things around in Afghanistan by June of 2011?

GRAHAM: Not country wide. If the president has a goal of transitioning to Afghan control in certain areas of Afghanistan by next summer, there is probably some areas that you can actually do that. We would be in a support role. The Afghan security forces would be in the lead role. But generally speaking, this time next summer, we are still going to be engaged in one hell of a fight. We're going to need every troop we have today I think still in Afghanistan next year. But if the goal is to transition in certain areas based on conditions, I share that goal. If the policy is going to be we're going to withdraw no matter what next summer, we're going to lose.

CROWLEY: Do you think that -- can you envision a circumstance under which more troops might be needed?

GRAHAM: Yes, I can. I mean, if we get the enemy on the run and they are having safe havens, let's say down in Kandahar -- that's really where the center of gravity is -- there is a lot of open terrain down there. And if we begin to clear the city and our intelligence says they are going out in the hinterlands and they are regrouping, we may need more troops to keep them on the run.

But I'll say this, if by December, we are not showing some progress, we're in trouble. And the question is, what is progress? Without some benchmarks and measurements, it's going to be hard to sell to the American people a continued involvement in Afghanistan.

CROWLEY: Well, on that score, we have seen dozens of House members who first voted for funding for the war in Afghanistan who have now turned against it. It was an easy vote in the sense that there were enough to pass the money bill.

GRAHAM: Sure.

CROWLEY: But do you think this administration has the stomach for the kind of fatalities that we are beginning to see and should see, told we should see more of, the money it is going to cost -- and you know, I hate to get into poll numbers where there is something this important, but he's losing his base on this?

GRAHAM: You know what I am most worried about? An unholy alliance between the right and the left. There are some Republicans who are not going to take a, you know, do-or-die attitude for Obama's war. There are some Republicans that want to make this Obama's war. You saw some Michael Steele's comments.

GRAHAM: There will be some Republicans saying you can't win because of the July 2011 withdrawal date, he's made it impossible for us to win, so why should we throw good money after bad, why should any more lives be lost in a hopeless cause because Obama screwed it up? You got people on the left who are mad with the president because he is doing exactly what Bush did and we are in a war we can't win.

My concern is that for different reasons, they join forces, and we lose the ability to hold this thing together.

Do I think the president has the stomach for it? Yes, I do. Do I think the president understands the consequences of losing? Yes, I do. He has got a political problem, but we have got a national security problem. How do you win in Pakistan if you lose in Afghanistan? And I asked the president that. How we can be successful in Pakistan, protect that regime from extremists if all goes to hell in Afghanistan? So I do worry about an unholy alliance with the right and left coming together next summer if we're not showing progress, to basically defund this war.

CROWLEY: Give me your best guess. How long will U.S. troops be in Afghanistan?

GRAHAM: Let me -- maybe the better question, and I don't mean to be presumptuous here, how much longer will we suffer a lot of casualties?

CROWLEY: OK.

GRAHAM: That's what people care about. We have been in Korea for, you know, since the end of the Korean War. We've been in Europe since World War II, nobody cares. They do care when Americans die.

Here is what awaits us. We are going to lose more troops in the foreseeable future. Casualty rates are going to go up each month. The cost of the war is going to increase. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

I hope by next summer, that we can show progress in Kandahar, that we not only cleaned and cleared Kandahar, but we have got some governance in place that we never had before.

They don't want -- the Afghan people -- the Taliban to come back, but they don't want to be left in a lurch. They don't know what to do right now. They're not sure about our commitment. They're not sure we can beat the Taliban. They'd like us to beat them. So next summer hopefully we can show that Kandahar has changed, that we have got better governance, and the Taliban has been cleared and the city is on its road to recovery

CROWLEY: When you look at Afghanistan, we went in there to get Al Qaida. Now we are in there building governance, all that kind of stuff. Is that the proper role?

GRAHAM: I think what we understand -- Afghanistan is one battle in a long series of battles. Some of these battles are ideological, where aid will turn the tide. Sometimes you have to use military force. Stabilizing Afghanistan would be a monumental blow to Al Qaida and to the extremists called the Taliban.

The war is not over. It's moving into Somalia and to Yemen. We are going to be fighting these people probably for the rest of my life, but we won't have to use 150,000 troops in every engagement. But if they beat us in Afghanistan, if the Taliban capture or regain control of part of Afghanistan, it is going to make it hard in Yemen to get people to help us because the ones who chose to help us in Afghanistan are going to meet a very unseemly, bad fate.

So what I try to tell my colleagues, people back in South Carolina -- I know you are tired, I know you are weary, but nobody is more tired than the people fighting the war. Why do these young men and women go back four times? They tell me they would rather fight them than have their kids fight them.

Afghanistan is a work in progress. To lose there would be disastrous. To win there would be monumental. And I think we have got a good chance of winning, but by no means is the outcome certain.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the leaking of thousands of --

GRAHAM: 91,000. CROWLEY: -- pages of documents. I know you have called for the prosecution of not just of who leaked it, but also of the website itself. What if it turns out that the person who leaked it was a military person?

GRAHAM: They should be court-martialed. And here is why I believe that. The 91,000 -- one, who the hell is watching 91,000 documents and let them get -- hey, where did those 91,000 documents go? We have got a serious security problem.

The documents themselves I think have put at risk people who have chosen to help us in different regions in Afghanistan. This makes prosecuting the war much more difficult. And the crime that needs to be punished here is undercutting those who are in the fight, because what you have done by linking (ph) this information, you may have a noble reason in your mind, in your heart, but you have put at risk people within Afghanistan who are trying to make things better for their family and for their country and you made it harder on our troops to win. So if that's not something worthy of prosecution, I don't know what would be. CROWLEY: One of the things that came out of it -- so set aside that it was leaked -- one of the things that came out of it was that the Pakistan military spy service is helping the Afghan insurgency. This is a country, this is a government -- an arm of the Pakistani government, and we give them $1 billion a year. And people are going, wait a second. They are training people to come fight us, and we're giving them money.

GRAHAM: Well, they're doing a couple of things, some good, some bad. Put yourself in the shoes of Pakistan. You hear this talk about America may be leaving next year. How much do you hedge your bets? It makes perfect sense to me that if people think we are going to leave and the Taliban may reemerge, that they are going to hedge their bets.

Things generally are the best they have been with Pakistan in a long time. And this is one area where President Obama doesn't get enough credit. His team, in my view, have brought out the Pakistanis into the fight better than anybody in recent memory. They are cooperating with us more, they are allowing us to use these drone attacks. We are punishing the Haqqani network and Al Qaida that's hiding in Pakistan. The aid packages that we have given to the Pakistani army have been well used. General Kayani has been a good partner in taking the fight to the frontier regions. So I would say that the Obama administration has done a very good job of taking the fight to the enemy in Pakistan and trying to bolster the Pakistanis' capability to take the fight to the enemy.

CROWLEY: Senator Graham is going to stick with us. We'll be right back after a quick break.

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CROWLEY: We're back with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Let me ask you, there has been a lot of talk, and certainly the Democrats have said this is the party of no. But the truth is there have been a lot of things that the Republicans have said no to.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: Is that enough to have a good election in the midterm?

GRAHAM: Well, it's kind of odd that the things that we say no to are the same people -- the American people don't like. You know, the American people are not sold on the health care bill. They've tried to sell it, they can't sell it. The American people believe the stimulus package has been a flop. I believe it has been a flop.

GRAHAM: But the idea of us fighting the Democratic agenda when it's bad makes sense, but we have to do more than say no. You're right.

What are we for as a party?

Now, we've been in power where we had 55 senators and we had a Republican president. You can look back and say we were not the -- the best stewards of government spending.

I think what we need to go forward as a party is an agenda that gives us resonance with a broader group of people. What are we going to do, if we get the Congress back, on spending?

So I would suggest to my colleagues in the House and the Senate that we come up with a common agenda for both bodies to say, if you give us power back, not only will we check the Obama administration; we'll try to turn the country around.

CROWLEY: You once said that -- that Ronald Reagan wouldn't recognize this party, that this -- that the Republican Party has gone too far to the right. You have said things about the Tea Party. You think that they will not last long.

Are you comfortable in the Republican Party?

GRAHAM: Yes, I'm very comfortable. And I'm comfortable with the Tea Party being a -- a strong force in American politics. What I'm not comfortable with is saying -- pointing out problems without solutions.

Now, the Tea Party -- what I said to the reporter was that the Tea Party is expressing anger that a lot of average Americans feel. We're spending way too much money. We've lost our way. It really was started as a reaction to overspending.

There are some signs in these rallies that I think disturb up a lot of Americans, but I'm not going to label the whole group by that.

What I worry about is that the public is rightfully upset about their Congress not delivering, but when we try, you know, groups on the left and the right just yell and scream.

So what I want to do is make sure that we can find a way to move forward. The current status quo is unacceptable. Be mad; get involved; insist that the Congress act better. But to me, the only way we can move the country forward is to find common ground on these big-ticket items. And I hope that people in the country will start rewarding that more instead of punishing it.

CROWLEY: The ruling on the Arizona law -- does that speed up a possible federal -- some sort of bill that deals with immigration, or does it slow it down?

GRAHAM: Let me tell you what the Arizona debate has done, is reenergized interest about fixing immigration. The people in Arizona are being overrun. The border is broken. They're dealing with illegal immigration unlike people in South Carolina.

So they decided to pass a law that would allow the help the federal government. The law in Arizona basically was an effort by the people of Arizona to say, we want to be your partner; we're going to use our cops to find people who are here illegally and we're going to turn them over to you, federal government.

Well, the federal government said, we don't want your help. And the judge said, hey, the federal government, you can say no if you'd like. But it's an act of frustration. They were trying to create a partnership the federal government didn't want.

What I want to do is try to find a way forward here in Congress. Because the Arizona law has hit a legal wall now. It's going to be very difficult, I think, to sustain this law on appeal now that the judge has ruled the way she's done.

So we're three years out from the last attempt to solve immigration. Everything has gotten worse. Nothing has gotten better. So I hope next year we can find a way to start with border security, sit down as Republicans and Democrats and acknowledge the obvious.

We need a temporary worker program because people come here to get jobs. The American people are looking for a solution that makes sense. Let's secure the border.

I'm willing, Candy, to have every American take their Social Security card and turn it into a biometric document; put your ID on there, a fingerprint, so when you go get a job or I go get a job, we can present a Social Security card to our employer and they can verify we are who we say we are.

If we all agree to do that as a people, you wouldn't have to look at somebody based on their accent or their background. You would have a document that's trustworthy and verifiable. I can get you a fake Social Security by midnight.

I am willing to do the hard things. I'm willing to push my party, but at the end of the day, the Democratic Party has to be willing to push their base.

And to the American people, immigration is broken and will never be fixed until we change our laws. Our laws are broken. If you want to fix immigration, allow Republicans and Democrats to get in a room and do some good old-fashioned horse trading to -- to get this thing fixed. If we keep yelling at each other; if we keep just saying no to each other's idea, we're going to have one thing in common: we're going nowhere together.

CROWLEY: Senator Lindsay Graham, thank you so much for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

CROWLEY: We'll be right back.

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