Sen. Lindsey Graham has made many more national headlines in the two years since Donald Trump took the oath of office than he ever did as a GOP presidential candidate.
The senator, long considered a moderate voice among Republicans in the U.S. Senate, has been alternately portrayed as a Trump foe one day and Trump mouthpiece the next. Fact is, he is neither.
Graham is a conservative. He wants conservatives in position of power, notably in federal judgeships. He is hawkish on defense and foreign policy, but is a realist. He is willing to compromise by working across the aisle in Congress with Democrats, understanding that our system of government cannot function without looking for middle ground.
In the new Congress, Graham has reached the high-water mark of his political career. The South Carolina lawmaker now chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, among whose key missions is approving nominees for the federal bench. He also has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump administration.
Proof positive that Graham is no Trump puppet could be seen this past year when he on one hand said Trump was wrong about any impropriety of the Mueller investigation and then became the leading voice of angry Republicans defending Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“I’m honored to be selected as chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” Graham said. “I will do my best to continue down the path charted by Sen. (Charles) Grassley of having a fair and vibrant committee process. The confirmation of conservative judges will be one of my top priorities as chairman.
“In addition, I will also continue to seek common ground on the major issue facings our nation. I look forward to working with Sen. (Diane) Feinstein and all my colleagues to make this new Congress successful.”
Toward that end, Graham is out front in trying to move Washington toward a solution to the present impasse over border security that has resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.
He has advised Trump to reopen the government for several weeks to continue negotiating with Democrats over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border barrier before the president takes the more drastic step of declaring a national emergency.
"Before he pulls the plug on the legislative option, and I think we're almost there, I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal," Graham said Sunday. "If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off."
Graham favors a border barrier – Trump foes call it the president’s promised wall and remind constantly of his campaign theme of Mexico paying for it – but Democrats refuse to go along with any appropriation to assist Trump in building it.
Perhaps Trump’s use of emergency powers to use defense money may be the only way to break the impasse as on Monday he rejected Graham’s call for a three-week negotiation period with the government back in full operation. The president should reconsider, with the time being used for Graham and others to negotiate even as they stress that the border barrier is going to be built – through emergency powers if necessary.
The president cannot expect to get everything he wants. And Democrats in control of one house of Congress cannot either. Graham understands that and will continue working for a compromise.
As much as moderation appears to be lost in these times, Lindsey Graham is a voice of reason. The Judiciary Committee chairmanship is a new opportunity for him to press for a return to some semblance of bipartisanship in Washington.