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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript


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CROWLEY; Joining me now Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Good to have you with studio.

GRAHAM: Glad to be with you.

CROWLEY: I want to start with a couple of your colleagues, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum talking about the Trayvon Martin case, both saying it was a tragedy. But going out after the president saying that he is raising the race issue by saying if I had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin.

CROWLEY: Do you have a problem with that comment?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think it was overly helpful to the debate. We all know there's a racial component to this and when the president highlights it, I don't think it adds a whole lot. But nobody suggests that the president is insensitive to the 17-year-old if he had been white.

So I think the criticism by our guys was a little off-base and I don't really think the president added a whole lot by interjecting himself into it. So this is a situation that's very emotional, and justice will be done.

It's good that we're looking at the actions of the man in question because the young man who lost his life wasn't armed and apparently running in the other direction, not exactly a classic self- defense case in its initial impression.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to some other things that are going on out there, in particular there's a Republican primary race.

GRAHAM: You noticed?

CROWLEY: And one of our colleagues, a close one, as a matter of fact, Senator Jim DeMint, was out the other day talking about Mitt Romney.

I'm sorry. We don't have that sound but what he said was, "I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee."


GRAHAM: It was pretty big.

CROWLEY: That's pretty big. Where is Lindsay Graham on this?

GRAHAM: Oh, I think when the primaries are over Romney will be the nominee. Fiscal and social conservatives will unite and form a bond with libertarians and independents. And we'll win the White House if we can run a good fall campaign. Won't be easy, but I like our chances.

The president's three-and-a-half years haven't produced a whole lot in terms of good policy, "Obama-care," the stimulus package. None of his big issues have seemed to work very well and gas prices going through the roof. And so I like our chances, but it will be Romney. The elephant hasn't sung yet, but she's warming up.

CROWLEY: So and he's your guy and you're happy?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, I haven't endorsed anybody but I think -- yes, I'm very comfortable with him. The other two candidates have run phenomenal races. Rick keeps exceeding expectations, but, you know, Romney won five delegates in Louisiana. He will get to 1,144.

The last thing I want is a brokered convention. I want us to come out of Tampa united behind Romney, conservative socially and fiscally working together with libertarians and independents to take back the White House before it's too late.

You know, "Obama-care" is going to the Supreme Court. If for some reason there's an Obama second term, this thing becomes etched in stone, "Obama-care" does, and the only way you can repeal it is to get back the White House.

CROWLEY: So let me talk then, since you bring it up, about health care. As both a court watcher, you're a lawyer, as well as a campaign watcher...

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: How does -- I mean, this is certainly the nexus of the two.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: How does this affect the debate in 2012 if the Supreme Court says, listen, this individual mandate forcing people to buy health insurance for themselves or face a fine is OK with us. What if it's -- the whole law stands? GRAHAM: Well, you know, I think a lot of Democrats hope that the law gets stricken down, that the mandate is ruled unconstitutional because the political issue sort of is watered down.

I don't know what the court is going to do. From a political point of view, this is a -- this is probably the centerpiece of the debate in the fall, the proper role of government. Did the "Obama- care" live up to its billing the way it was passed in the dark of night behind the 60th vote, behind closed doors. The process was bad. The substance is going over like a lead balloon.

You know, the vice president whispered to the president when they signed the bill two years ago, this is a big "f-ing" deal. Well, now it has become a big "f-ing" mess for the Democratic Party and the country as a whole.

So the court could say that the power to tax, defined as a tax, and Obama would be -- could actually win the argument that the fine is really just a tax and we're going to tax you to create a centralized health care system.

I think the public will not like the substance anymore if the Supreme Court agrees with the Obama administration on the tax.

CROWLEY: But, as David Plouffe pointed out, there are some very popular parts of this bill, that you can keep an adult child on for longer now if they don't have insurance, that children cannot be denied insurance simply because they have a pre-existing condition. It has helped seniors with prescription drugs. There are a lot of places and a lot of things that people like about this law.

GRAHAM: Sure. Let's take those things that we all could agree on and sit down and pass a bipartisan bill, actually negotiate in a bipartisan way to get a bill that's not going to bankrupt the country, that's not going to drive up premiums.

It was supposed to lower premiums by $2,200 a person. They are $2,500 a person and climbing. No employer is going to hire robustly until they know what the health care cost is going to be.

If "Obama-care" becomes fully implemented in 2014, it's going to bankrupt states. Medicaid expansion under this bill is dramatic, 31 percent of the people in South Carolina will be Medicaid eligible, a billion dollars more in matching funds for my state. It will wreck our state budget.

Watch for the court to strike down the Medicaid expansion as an overstep, by the Supreme Court. They could say the fine is actually a tax and we're going to wait to see how that happens...

CROWLEY: So they might keep the individual mandate.

GRAHAM: I think they will split the -- they might say it's too early to judge the fine because it hasn't gone into effect yet, it's really a tax. But they could say this Medicaid expansion actually is a federal government takeover of state budgets and strike that down. That's one outcome. I don't know what the court is going to do but the public doesn't like "Obama-care." They don't like the way it was passed and they don't like the substance. And it will be a signature issue for the Republican Party.

CROWLEY: Somewhat of a split issue, as the country is on many things, at this point. Let me move you on to a couple of overseas issues. One of them is Afghanistan. We heard two of the Republican candidates out there, Santorum and Gingrich, saying, look, it may be time to just get out of there. This was after the massacre by...

GRAHAM: And I shot back very hard at Newt. I like Newt. He's a smart guy, but listen to the general. We don't need a punch of politicians trying to create a military exit strategy. We're withdrawing from Afghanistan. The question is how. Do we listen to General Allen or do we listen to politicians who are trying to get a sound bite?

Rick Santorum has never said that. Romney would listen to General Allen. And here is my hope that President Obama will too. It is my hope that President Obama will follow General Allen's withdrawal plan in a strategic partnership agreement between us and Afghanistan. It's the last card to play.

I wish the president would do an Oval Office address and tell us why Afghanistan is important. It is the center of gravity in the battle in the war on terror. It's the place we were attacked from, where the 9/11 attackers had safe haven. It really matters that we get it right. And General Allen has a plan to bring us home with security honor.

And this counterterrorism that would be left behind in 2014 would be an insurance policy against the Taliban ever taking over Afghanistan. It would be a signal to the Pakistanis, quit betting on the Taliban. It would be telling the Iranians, America doesn't abandon its allies.

So I would like to, in a bipartisan way, support General Allen as he withdraws our forces, and support a strategic partnership agreement being negotiated by the Obama administration, which I think is the trump card to be played, the way to end the war with security and honor.

CROWLEY: To get that agreement.

GRAHAM: Yes, I hope so.

CROWLEY: OK. Senator Lindsey Graham, as always, we appreciate your coming.


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