Streetcar Line

The Worst Republican Senator

Lindsey Graham's sorry record.

By 5.15.08

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South Carolina's Lindsey Graham is a flop. He pretends to be a conservative, but sells out conservatives and insults them while doing so. He pretends to be effective at reaching across party lines, but the only thing he effectively does is help the other party. He inhabits the Senate seat of Strom Thurmond, legendary for great attention to his South Carolina constituents, but Graham spends most of his time trailing behind John McCain like a valet as McCain criss-crosses the country in pursuit of the presidency. He called Ted Kennedy "one of the most principled men I've ever met." In sum, in the words of conservative movement stalwart Richard Viguerie, "Lindsey Graham is part of the problem."

What, for example, could possibly have possessed Graham, in April of 2006, to write an essay for Time magazine about the virtues of Hillary Clinton? He called her "a smart, prepared, serious senator." She is "sought out by her colleagues to form legislative partnerships." She has managed to "build unusual political alliances with...conservatives."

He praises liberals, but reserves particular venom for conservatives who disagree with him. The most infamous example came at a speech to the utterly radical Hispanic group La Raza -- it was bad enough that he spoke to them, much less what he said -- when he described what he would do to opponents of the awful immigration proposal he helped Ted Kennedy craft: "We're going to tell the bigots to shut up." The idea that only a bigot could oppose the Kennedy amnesty plan was a recurring theme with Graham: On This Week, he told George Stephanopoulos that opponents were like those in earlier years who put up signs that said "No Catholics, no Jews, no Irish need apply."

MEANWHILE, GRAHAM deserves every bit of abuse conservatives can heap on him for his record on judicial nominees, which swings back and forth between pathetically ineffective and absolutely counterproductive. Of his leading role in the "Gang of 14," which saved the Democrats' unprecedented option of filibustering President Bush's nominees, Graham clearly thought his gesture of goodwill would win him some chits with Democrats. Think again. Right now his home circuit, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, suffers from the most serious official "judicial emergency" in the country, with only 10 of the 15 seats filled.

Again and again, Graham has stood by helplessly, without seeming to lift a finger in public protest, as Fourth Circuit nominees have been hung out to dry -- except for the time (more on this later) when he himself was the enthusiastic hangman. Even though he sits on the Judiciary Committee, he cannot even secure a hearing for his home-state nominee, the superbly qualified, Reagan Administration veteran Steve Matthews, who has been waiting for eight solid months. On the other hand, more aggressive Republicans on the committee have had far more success: For instance, John Cornyn of Texas has effectively shepherded Texans Jennifer Elrod and Catherina Hayes to confirmation since the Democrats re-took the Senate majority -- and without once sucking up to the Democrats to do it.

In a conference call with conservative bloggers and reporters a few weeks back, Graham defended the Gang thusly: "It was about a process. It was about whether we were going to change the rules to get a simple majority vote to get approval for the bench. If you change the rules, you weaken the Senate." But he had it backwards. It was the Democrats who had thrown out the understanding of the rules that had applied for 214 years, an understanding that it was exactly a "simple majority" that was all that was necessary for confirmation. It was to restore the proper understanding of the rules that Republican leaders threatened the "constitutional option" against Democratic filibusters -- and it was Graham who saved the day for the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Gang at least was supposed to make it somewhat easier to confirm judges by ruling out filibusters except in "extraordinary circumstances." It didn't work. Before the Gang, when there were just 51 Republican senators, the Senate approved 19 of 31 appeals court nominees. After the Gang, even with a larger bloc of 55 Republicans in the Senate, the confirmation rate was actually lower: just 16 out of 28. What's worse, other than the three nominees immediately approved through the Gang's deal, the few other post-Gang nominees who were approved tended to be less solidly conservative than the ones approved in the previous Congress.

And, of course, once the Democrats re-took a the majority, none of the Gang's supposed goodwill did any good: So far this Congress the Senate has confirmed just seven appellate nominees, and just one this year -- again, without Graham making much of a peep about it.

GRAHAM'S WORST ACTIONS on this front, though, came when he led the fight against South Carolina native Jim Haynes for a Fourth Circuit spot, supposedly because Haynes advocated "torture" at Guantanamo Bay. That issue has been well covered here, here, and here. In just the past month, though, new releases of Justice Department documents show conclusively that the impetus for the enhanced "stress positions" at Guantanamo came from Justice, and in stronger fashion even than had previously been known, to Haynes; and fair consideration of those memos make it all the more clear that Haynes' subsequent actions to make the interrogation methods more lenient should have earned him Graham's praise, not his calumny.

Less well known than Graham's apostasies against conservatism on judges and immigration was his horrendous performance when President Bush was pushing personal accounts for Social Security. After putting himself forward as Bush's point man in the Senate, he failed to make any headway -- and then it became obvious why: Graham never really cared about personal accounts to begin with. "We've now got this huge fight over a sideshow," Graham told Washington Post reporters and editors. "It's always been a sideshow, but we sold it as the main event." Added Graham: "we're off in a ditch over a sideshow." He said this in March of 2005, directly undercutting Bush while Bush was still just getting fully geared up to fight the good fight for this crucial conservative reform. By the end of that month, he was pushing his own plan for what the Post called "significant tax increases" to make Social Security solvent.

Graham also has an absolutely terrible record on tort reform, not just voting against GOP-backed reforms but actually joining filibusters against them. As class-action plaintiffs' attorneys terrorize businesses and doctors with spurious lawsuits seeking jackpot justice, Lindsey Graham roots them on.

On family issues, the conservative Eagle Forum gave him just a 44% rating in 2006. That same year he did terribly by the lights of the English First, which explains itself thusly: "Our goals are simple: Make English America's official language. Give every child the chance to learn English. Eliminate costly and ineffective multilingual policies." Graham received just a 25% rating from the group.

"Graham doesn't seem to have any conservative vision," Viguerie said. "He doesn't seem to walk with conservatives. I'm not aware of any movement conservatives on his staff."

But for South Carolina's senior senator, who needs conservatives when getting in the good graces of Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy is so much fun?

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.