As he prepared for a late Wednesday meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss potential options for shutting the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention center, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) defended his high-profile efforts at bipartisanship, arguing that he has a responsibility to find common cause with Democrats when he can.
“I’ve got a responsibility to the state, to the nation, to try and solve hard problems. That’s going to require bipartisanship. Very few Republicans, quite frankly, object to bipartisanship if it makes sense. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill worked together to save Social Security,— Graham told Roll Call on Wednesday, referring to former Republican President Reagan and former Speaker O’Neill (D-Mass.).
Graham also had strong words for the Charleston County Republican Party, which voted last month to censure him over his many forays into bipartisanship on issues ranging from climate change to immigration.
“I’m the only Republican to win Charleston County. At the end of the day, what I would challenge the Charleston County Republican Party to do is win. If you don’t want to win an election, form a club. Don’t be part of a party,— Graham said. “I’ve got a 90 percent conservative voting record. I’m not the problem. I’m able to win Democrat and independent votes to support a 90 percent conservative. That’s a good thing.—
And while his meeting about Guantánamo at Obama’s invitation is sure to set off a new round of complaints from conservative bloggers and home-state activists, Graham’s colleagues said they remain squarely behind him.
Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) praised Graham’s ability to find ways to work across the aisle. Graham “has in the past shown a sort of flair for trying to reach across the aisle.—
Thune also rejected complaints that Graham is not a true conservative, noting that despite his attempts to negotiate with Democrats, his colleague remains a solidly conservative lawmaker. “People up here know that he is a right-of-center Republican … and his voting record reflects that,— Thune said.
Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who works closely with Graham on the committee, also praised him. “Lindsey is a valuable member of the Republican Conference and an extremely articulate and valuable advocate— for Republican positions, Sessions said.
Although Graham has a penchant for seeking bipartisanship on controversial issues — his work with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on climate change legislation has angered conservatives recently, as did his involvement in the failed 2006 push for immigration reform — he has generally been a solid conservative vote in the Senate.
The American Conservative Union, one of the nation’s largest conservative organizations, has given Graham a 90 out of 100 lifetime voting score. Graham is also a reliable vote on procedural issues — for example, he voted with the rest of the GOP last month in a failed effort to filibuster the start of debate on the Democratic health care bill.
Graham has also been a particularly effective communicator for Republicans on a number of issues. For instance, while he ultimately backed the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the only Judiciary Republican to do so — he was one of her sharpest questioners during her confirmation proceedings earlier this year.
And Graham’s performance during the committee’s oversight hearings on the Guantánamo plan late last month also won him high praise.
Graham performed a “brilliant examination— of Attorney General Eric Holder, Sessions said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) argued that critics are using the wrong metrics to judge Graham, maintaining that they should look at the results of his bipartisan efforts rather than the simple fact that he is willing to work across the aisle.
“If you’re not engaged, you cannot solve problems,— Isakson said. “People’s judgment on engagement should be based on the outcome.—
With Graham not facing re-election until 2014, it is unclear whether his critics will be able to gain much traction between now and then, particularly given his electoral history. In 2008, Graham beat primary challenger Buddy Witherspoon with 67 percent of the vote, going on to become the first person to secure 1 million votes in the general election. According to CNN exit polls taken at the time, Graham won 93 percent of the GOP vote in the general, 57 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats — including 17 percent of those voters who backed Obama.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) brushed aside conservative complaints about Graham, quipping “Lindsey’s never one to make things dull. He always keeps things interesting. I think he’ll be just fine.—
And Graham said it is a small minority of Republicans who complain about his approach to legislating.
“At the end of the day, with some people it’s not enough that you agree with them on the issue, you’ve got to hate who they hate. I’m not going to play that game. I’m 54 years old I’m not going to go around proving to people I’m conservative by hating somebody. That’s crazy,— Graham said.
Correction: Dec. 3, 2009
The American Conservative Union has given Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) a 90 percent lifetime rating, not 80 percent as originally reported in the article. Graham’s ACU rating for 2008 was 82 percent.