In a wide-ranging interview in Greenville on Monday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized what he called President Barack Obama’s inaction in Ukraine, criticized calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and said he’s the best candidate to represent South Carolina in the Senate and “we’re not auditioning for a reality show.”
Graham’s “reality show” comment was an obvious dig at Thomas Ravenel, the former state treasurer and convicted drug felon who’s filed to run as an independent in the November general election and has also signed up to be featured in a second season of the reality television show “Southern Charm.”
“We’re not auditioning for a reality show,” Graham said. “We’re trying to be the best senator for the sake of South Carolina in dangerous and serious times.”
Ravenel said the difference between his reality show and Graham’s reality show is simple.
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“His has cost taxpayers trillions of dollars and thousands of lives,” Ravenel said. “And unlike my show, you can’t change the channel when his show comes on and you can’t stop paying for it either. I’ll take Southern Charm over adventures in nation building any day of the week.”
Graham, R-Seneca, said Ravenel came from a good family and he looked forward to a spirited campaign.
“It’s not within my ability to figure out Thomas Ravenel and why he does what he does,” Graham said when asked if Ravenel’s campaign should be taken seriously. “My goal is to talk about what I have done and what I will do for the state, and what I am capable of doing.”
Graham said he thinks he will win decisively because “South Carolinians want somebody in Washington who is respected, that can solve problems and knows what they’re talking about.”
Graham spends far too much time and energy on foreign affairs and doesn’t fight for South Carolina problems like roads and schools, said Lachlan McIntosh, campaign manager for state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
“He’s gone Washington on us,” McIntosh said. “It’s too bad we’re not in the Middle East because he’d spend more time paying attention to us.”
Graham did address foreign affairs while in Greenville and said the Obama administration is failing to lead from the backseat and has been too slow to react on the Ukraine crisis.
Days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 was shot down in the sky above territory controlled by Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board, Graham said he believes Vladimir Putin is winning the battle for Ukraine and won’t stop until the U.S. imposes harsh economic sanctions on both Russia and Putin himself.
Minutes after President Barack Obama gave a speech saying Putin and Russia need to “pivot away” from their actions so far in the Ukraine and get serious about negotiating with Ukraine, Graham said he heard nothing in the president’s speech that would change Russian behavior.
The U.S. should go after Putin’s personal finances as well as Russia’s, Graham said.
“We should name him as a world bad actor, put him on the sanctions list, make sure that no American banks or international banks could accept his money,” Graham said. “He has ripped his people off.”
Europe isn’t capable of taking the lead on Russian sanctions because its nations are too politically disjointed and rely too heavily on Russian natural gas and oil, Graham said.
The onus falls on the U.S to take the lead by imposing sanctions on banking and placing a tariff on Russian energy sources, he said. Then, he said, Europe will follow.
Graham wants to begin exporting natural gas from wells in the U.S. to supply European markets and break Russia’s energy monopoly.
In addition, the U.S. should arm Ukraine with weapons to defend itself, perform joint military exercises with NATO and rebuild the dismantled missile defense system in Poland, Graham said.
In a speech on the White House lawn Monday, Obama said the U.S. first needs to make sure a full and prompt investigation is conducted, but Russian-backed separatists have interfered.
“Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts,” Obama said. “We have to make sure that the truth is out and that accountability exists.”
Graham said it’s clear what happened and the U.S. needs to take action now.
“How do you expect change when there is no action that will bring about change?” Graham said. “Putin is not going to respond to criticism and being considered an outlier in the international community. He’s very comfortable with the position he’s taken. He believes he is winning, and he is.”
Asked by The Greenville News how sanctions on Russia and exporting natural gas to Europe would affect domestic energy prices, Graham said sanctions would hurt the short-term economy both here and in Europe.
“For sanctions to really cripple Russia, we would feel it,” he said. “But it is better for us to experience some pain today than to allow this chaos to continue.”
Israel and Gaza
The U.S. should back Israel in its military operations against Palestinian militant-group Hamas in Gaza, Graham said.
He called tunnels that run underground from Gaza into Israel a direct threat and said Obama misunderstands the dilemma by calling for a ceasefire.
“You’re in Gaza,” he said. “Clear the place out so you will one day know peace.”
Graham said he led the charge to double funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in an appropriations bill last week.
S.C. ocean energy exploration
Graham applauded the move to allow seismic testing off the coast of South Carolina to explore for oil and gas reserves.
He called it a “small step in the right direction” that could one day lead to drilling for oil and gas off South Carolina’s coast.
It could lead to energy independence and a financial boon for South Carolina since the state gets to keep a portion of profits gained through offshore energy production, he said.