Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke to The Daily Signal this week about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the left’s embrace of mob rule. He also addressed the disappearance of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test results. An edited transcript of the interview is below. Full audio of the interview is available on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Bluey: You are here at The Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club meeting to talk about Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh. During the Judiciary Committee hearings, you made some passionate remarks when he was defending himself. Many people felt he wasn’t afforded due process. He was presumed guilty. What prompted you to speak so passionately?
Lindsey Graham: He was being humiliated. I voted for [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan because I thought they were qualified. It used to be that way. [Former Sen.] Strom Thurmond voted for [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg. [Former Sen.] Fritz Hollings voted for [Antonin] Scalia. That’s the way it used to be, so obviously things have changed now.
What got me going so much is that I’ve known Brett for 20 years. We’re not close friends, but we’re friendly. I worked with him in the Bush White House. He’s the cream of the crop judicially. You want to reward President Trump when he makes a good decision. He could not have chosen better, and what I saw was an effort to humiliate a guy who didn’t deserve it. I can’t imagine me doing that to Sotomayor and Kagan.
What got me the most was, “If you’re really innocent, turn to Don McGahn and ask to continue the FBI investigation of your life, and keep ruining your own family.” Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford was listened to respectfully. I think something happened to her, but I don’t think Kavanaugh had anything to do with it. It was just an effort to destroy a good man for political purposes, and I hope it backfires on them.
Bluey: It’s one of those situations where, as you’ve noted, you’ve supported President Obama’s nominees in the past. You even had Ruth Bader Ginsburg lamenting the state of the confirmation process for Supreme Court justices. Where do we go from here? Because obviously you have—
Graham: Good question.
Bluey: … I think 118 vacancies on federal courts.
Graham: Yeah, good question.
Bluey: Are you going to be able to confirm these nominees?
Graham: Well, Mitch McConnell has done a fantastic job. We’ve done a lot with 51 votes. We got one Democratic vote for Judge Kavanaugh, just a handful for Justice [Neil] Gorsuch. The bottom line is, if this is not the bottom, I’d hate to see it. I hope this blows up in their face politically. These red state Democrats had to choose between the mob and decency. I think they’re in trouble, so I hope we have far more than 51.
These red state Democrats had to choose between the mob and decency.
There may be more vacancies coming up sooner rather than later. Only God knows. Justice [Clarence] Thomas is a great guy. He’s in his 70s. I don’t know what his plans are, but I know this, President Trump has chosen two highly qualified nominees that are going to change the court over time, and we don’t want to run good people off from being judges.
Here’s the question for you and anybody else, after what you saw, would you want to be a judge?
Bluey: Well, you posed that question, I believe, during the committee hearing.
Bluey: You said if Republicans voted against Justice Kavanaugh—
Graham: You’re legitimizing a complete character assassination.
Bluey: And you wouldn’t have other people who wouldn’t want to serve in public or step up into that situation.
Graham: No. 1, you’re rewarding them. Just put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s say this is a male Democratic nominee, and someone like Dr. Ford came to South Carolina and gave me information about a 36-year-old allegation. I withheld it from the committee, never confronted the nominee with it. I recommended a conservative lawyer who never told the woman that the Democrats would be willing to come to South Carolina to avoid having to come to Washington, and somebody on my staff leaked her information and betrayed her request to be anonymous.
There’s two things I learned here: how in the tank the media really is for the liberal causes, and how far the left will go.
We’d be killed if somebody on our side said, “We’re only doing this to hold open the seat so that we can get back the Senate and maybe a Republican can fill this seat.” If the shoe were on the other foot, the media would be going nuts. There’s two things I learned here: how in the tank the media really is for the liberal causes, and how far the left will go. I hope it backfires.
Bluey: Now, we’ve also seen quite an enthusiasm among Republicans—
Graham: You’ve got that right.
Bluey: … now and conservatives because I think of exactly what you’re describing. What have you seen back in your home state of South Carolina?
Graham: Unbelievable. I can’t walk 5 feet at home. I mean, I get some criticism, but Republican women are very energized. Dr. Ford, I think something did happen, but you have to corroborate an accusation. The accusation can’t be the proof itself. Really, there was nothing there. Everything that Dr. Ford said nobody could corroborate.
Susan Collins did a fantastic job of explaining why a rational person would vote for Judge Kavanaugh. We’re all united because of what they did to Brett Kavanaugh.
The bottom line is that Judge Kavanaugh has led an exemplary life. Everything goes against these accusations. The Avenatti claim was just the dam breaking, but the bottom line is, the response back home has been incredible.
If you had made a bid that somebody would come up with a plan to get Sean Hannity to raise money for [Sen.] Susan Collins on the radio, nobody could have thought of this. Susan Collins did a fantastic job of explaining why a rational person would vote for Judge Kavanaugh. This has taken libertarians, vegetarians, Trump Republicans, Bush Republicans. We’re all united because of what they did to Brett Kavanaugh, and this is a good time for the Republican Party.
Bluey: At the same time you’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm and support, you also saw [Sen.] Jeff Flake confronted in an elevator, Susan Collins being called a rape apologist, and terrible things happening to your colleagues.
Graham: It’s just awful.
Bluey: How are they taking it personally and handling it?
Graham: Susan Collins is tough as nails. She methodically went through the Democratic reaction to the nomination. They were against Kavanaugh before they even knew who he was. She went through his history of being a judge, how mainstream he is, the allegations. I thought she handled herself beautifully.
What’s on the ballot in 2018 is an attitude. Who are we as a country? Do we really believe in the rule of law, or are we just so angry that mob rule will take over the rule of law?
Jeff Flake wanted to know more, and we worked as a team to have a supplemental, the seventh investigation that confirmed or that helped Kavanaugh.
I appreciate Jeff and I appreciate Susan for taking their jobs seriously. We gave them the space they needed to get to yes, and the bottom line is, I’ve been here for over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like that.
The choice now is not about an issue. It’s about an attitude. What’s on the ballot in 2018 is an attitude. Who are we as a country? Do we really believe in the rule of law, or are we just so angry that mob rule will take over the rule of law? That’s what’s on the ballot.
Bluey: As a member of the Judiciary Committee, you know the Senate’s role of advice and consent very well. You have confirmed 84 of President Trump’s judicial nominees. 20-some circuit court nominees, including two Supreme Court justices.
Graham: Yeah. Historic.
Bluey: How significant is that for our federal courts?
Graham: Generational change. Senator [Chuck] Grassley has done a marvelous job. He’s not a lawyer, but he’s fair-minded. I think he’s tough but fair, and I think that came through. Mitch McConnell has been strategic in his thinking, and I am really proud of our 51-seat Republican majority. Many times, it was just 50. We’ve done a lot.
Harry Reid made this possible. He’s the one that changed the rules. I was in the Gang of 14 when they filibustered all the Bush nominees to stop filibustering judges unless there’s an extraordinary circumstance.
The Kavanaugh effect is real. There was this election before Kavanaugh, and there’s the election after Kavanaugh.
The Senate used to do this. Most Supreme Court nominees were voted on without a hearing. Things have changed. Bork started it, and it’s just gotten worse. The bottom line, I got a call from Senator [Chuck] Schumer the night before they changed the rules in 2013. I said, “You’ll regret this, because it’s Harry Reid’s desire to pack the circuit court that led to this.”
I just hope we don’t run good people away from serving. I hope we get north of 55 senators. The Kavanaugh effect is real. There was this election before Kavanaugh, and there’s the election after Kavanaugh.
Bluey: I want to ask you about two other issues. The first is Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. You’ve been outspoken on this. Where do we stand right now, and what are you hoping to do in the Senate?
Graham: Well, I’m hoping to make them pay a price. I’ve been the leading advocate for this relationship. I was on the floor making sure we didn’t stop arms sales to fight Iran’s proxies in Yemen. I’ve been on the floor to make sure that the 9/11 lawsuits wouldn’t taint the relationship. I have supported the Saudi partnership. I’ve never felt so betrayed.
MBS [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] is 33 years old, and he’s a wrecking ball. They kidnapped the Lebanese prime minister for a while. They imposed an embargo on Qatar overnight without talking to us. He talks about a vision of 2030, then he throws everybody in jail he doesn’t like.
I am convinced that this happened at the direction of the Saudi government, that teams of assassins were sent to the consulate. Every norm that we believe in, which is freedom of expression, journalism, free speech, an independent press, extrajudicial killings, all that was ignored. It shows contempt for us as a partner. President Trump may not see it this way, but it shows a lot of disrespect to him. Name one president that’s been better to Saudi Arabia.
To hatch this plot, and I am a lawyer, I believe in the rule of law, but all the corroboration is there if you want to see it, the way that MBS was behaving before, these people showing up right before the event, luring the guy in for a week. He walks in, and never comes out. They lie about what happened the first time around. Yeah, I’m really convinced that this was an extrajudicial killing of a dissident. We deal with bad people all the time, but when you put it in our face like this, I hope we respond.
Bluey: We’ll be following it closely. Finally, I want to ask you, your colleague from Massachusetts has come out with her DNA results. You have said yourself that you’re willing to take—
Graham: I’m not so sure I would have done that.
Bluey: Are you going to take a DNA test?
Graham: I am taking one. I’ve been told, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, that my grandmother was part Cherokee Indian. I’m going to find out. The bottom line here is that I’ve traveled with Elizabeth Warren. She can be very gracious. I don’t like her political philosophy domestically. She’s visited the troops during the holidays. I appreciate that.
But if the shoe were on the other foot, again, if a conservative had been doing this, saying that, “I’m a member of an Indian tribe,” and academia was selling this, we’d be getting killed. We’ll have a little fun with this. This is politics. I don’t mean to be mean-spirited, but I can tell you this, if you’re less than 1/10th of 1 percent of anything, you need to be careful about what you say.
Bluey: Senator Graham, thanks so much for speaking to The Daily Signal.
Graham: Thank you. All right. That was great.