CROWLEY: I'm joined by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator, happy new year. Thanks for being here.
Let me first talk about Chuck Hagel. You have said and predicted that very few Republicans would vote for him. I want to read you something from ambassador -- former Ambassador Ryan Crocker. As you know, he's been ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, certainly qualified to talk about matters of foreign relations, and he says "Chuck Hagel is a statesman, and America has few of them. He knows the leaders of the world and their issues. At a time when bipartisanship is hard to find in Washington, he personifies it. Above all, he has an unbending focus on U.S. national security, from his service in Vietnam decades ago to his current position on the intelligence advisory council. Mr. Hagel would run the Defense Department. It would not run him."
What is -- you know as a senator, you say lots of things that make people angry. You've done that yourself, and it -- it has a long record. You can go back. But for now and for here why isn't Chuck Hagel the man should the president nominate him?
GRAHAM: Well, it's a controversial choice. Ryan Crocker truly is a diplomat in the best sense of the word. I like Chuck Hagel. He served with distinguish in Vietnam as an enlisted man, two Purple Hearts, but quite frankly Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking I believe on most issues regarding foreign policy. I expect the president to nominate people different than I would think. I'm going to vote for Senator Kerry. I don't agree with him a lot, but I think he's very much in the mainstream of thought.
Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the State of Israel in our nation's history. Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won't work, that Israel must negotiate with Hamas, an organization, terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel. He also was one of 12 Senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union trying to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
He has long severed his ties with the Republican Party. This is an in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel. I don't know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon, little, if any, so I think it's an incredibly controversial choice.
And it looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in-your-face term. I'm not going to talk to you at all about the about ceiling and here's my secretary of defense nominee that will get a lot of bipartisan concern.
CROWLEY: Well, let me ask you. He is the president. He did win. You say all the time.
GRAHAM: He won.
CROWLEY: Elections have consequences.
CROWLEY: One of the consequences is barring some horrible felony or something awful, the president ought to get the cabinet he wants.
CROWLEY: And he wants Mr. Hagel. And that's the kind of thing in the past you have said to fellow Republicans, when you supported not so popular nominees from Democratic presidents.
GRAHAM: And I will continue to support people chosen by President Obama that I would not have chosen. Senator Kerry has a lot of different views than I do. We're on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I respect him. I think he's a thoughtful man. I think he's in the mainstream. I'll have a hard time voting for anybody to be secretary of defense who believes that the surge was a foreign policy blunder. I'll have a hard time supporting anybody for secretary of defense who believes that the Iranians are misunderstood, we should just negotiate with them and not sanction them and to ask Israel to negotiate with Hamas who is trying to kill Israeli children and not recognize that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and to be so wrong on Afghanistan, it's probably going to be a bridge too far for me and a lot of others. This is a controversial pick. He is an antagonistic figure when it comes to the state of Israel. It's a signal you're sending to Iran at the worst possible time and to our allies.
CROWLEY: Are you opposed enough to filibuster the nomination?
GRAHAM: The hearings will matter. He can set some of this straight. Maybe these are statements taken out of context, but when you put all the statements together, you have somebody who is very antagonistic towards the state of Israel and the issues we jointly face.
GRAHAM: And there is no Jewish lobby. There's a pro-Israel lobby. His hearing will matter. There will be a lot of bipartisan concern about a lot of the issues I've just discussed, and this will be a controversial choice, and we'll see where the votes go.
CROWLEY: Let me move you on to President Karzai, as you know, is coming to town. The U.S. is now looking at a year where there will be significant drawdowns of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Yet the latest assessment that they have is only one of 23 Afghan brigades in the army can actually operate without U.S. ground or air support.
CROWLEY: What does that tell you about the speed with which you think the U.S. should withdraw the 66,000 remaining troops in Afghanistan? How quickly should that be done?
GRAHAM: I think it should be done based on the best military advice our commanders can give.
CROWLEY: Apparently General Allen wants them to stay until the end of next year -- until fall, through the fighting season.
GRAHAM: I think that's a -- right. I think that's a good decision. Come fall, let's reassess and you can -- I want to withdraw our forces in a reasoned way. But the biggest strategic decision President Obama will make in his presidency as a whole is the follow- on force in 2014. I would love to be able to support President Obama's winding down Afghanistan. I would love to be able to say you've done a good job here. Don't withdraw the 68,000 too quick. Leave them through next fall and withdraw in an organized manner, but announce soon, Mr. President, that we're not leaving Afghanistan. we're going to have a robust military force left behind.
CROWLEY: What's robust. Give me a number.
GRAHAM: As an insurance policy against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
I think somewhere in the 15,000 to 20,000 range, depends on what the military commanders say..
The worst possible solution is have a small footprint left behind in Afghanistan where they become sitting ducks and it will lead to failure. We fought too long and too hard not to get this right. His decision about a post-2014 force will affect our national security interests for decades, and would I like to support the president in it's a robust number.
CROWLEY: Let me move you on finally to what's going on on Capitol Hill on the domestic side, and that is this debt ceiling that will need to be raised sometime in February. Where are you on the idea of a partial or a full government shutdown to stop the spending in order to get some cuts in exchange for republicans raising the debt ceiling.
GRAHAM: I believe we need to raise the debt ceiling, but if we don't raise it without a plan to get out of debt, all of us should be fired. Every American owes $52,000 in terms of their share of the national debt. We've raised the debt ceiling last August. We went through $2.1 trillion in 17 months. The size of the debt 2013 -- 2037 will be twice the size of the economy.
I want to raise the debt ceiling, but I will not do it without a plan to get out of debt. Senator Durbin has done some hard work with the Republicans on entitlement reform. If you raise the debt ceiling by a dollar, you should cut spending by a dollar. That is the way to go forward.
And we need a budget. Our Democratic friends haven't passed a budget in three years, contrary to the law of the land, and why raise money and spend it if you don't have a budget. So a dollar for dollar offset and a budget I think are two conditions to raising the debt ceiling.
CROWLEY: And you would not raise them unless you've got cuts certain in spending. You will not raise the debt ceiling.
GRAHAM: I'm not going to borrow trillions more dollars without a plan to get out of debt, and one last thing about Afghanistan, if we don't get this right, the place falls apart and all those who helped us get killed and the Taliban come back and it becomes a safe haven for al Qaeda, that's the worst possible signal to send to Pakistan, Iran. We fought too long and too hard. We can get this right. Please, Mr. President, listen to your commanders. Let's end the war well in Afghanistan. Let's do immigration reform in 2013. Let's start saving Social Security and Medicare from bankruptcy.
I want you to have an historic presidency. I'm willing to work with you. It's going to take effort on your part as well as mine.
CROWLEY: And one last thing, since we're kind of going back a little. You sound very much as though you have made up your mind to vote no regardless of whether you would filibuster on Senator Hagel, correct?
GRAHAM: Well, I think the hearings will matter, but I'm very inclined not to support him based on his antagonistic approach to Israel and some of his decisions.
And in terms of the debt ceiling debate, the rank and file in my conference have had it with last-minute deals where you can't read the bill before the ink gets dry. We've got to do better in the future than we've done in the past. This doing things at the last-minute behind closed doors must stop.
CROWLEY: Senator Lindsey Graham, always so much to talk about, so much going on. We really thank you for your input today. Appreciate it.