Politics & Government

Sen. Lindsey Graham defuses Donald Trump feud

By Mary Orndorff Troyan

Greenville News

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year Getty Images

Sen. Lindsey Graham defused his long-running feud with Donald Trump Tuesday by identifying several ways he expects to support the president-elect’s agenda, including more spending on infrastructure and the military.

The South Carolina Republican, who once called Trump a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot, said he would probably support Trump’s Cabinet and Supreme Court nominees, and said there were deals to be made with Democrats on issues like replenishing the Highway Trust Fund and amending the Affordable Care Act.

“The bottom line is I think Donald Trump really does want to make a difference and the only way to make a difference is to bring us together,” Graham told reporters late Tuesday in the U.S. Capitol.

It was a remarkable shift in tone for Graham, who vehemently opposed Trump’s candidacy and warned voters that he was dangerously unprepared for the White House. Graham, one of 16 Republicans Trump trounced in the presidential primary, personally voted for independent Evan McMullin and predicted that Trump would lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

One week after Trump’s victory, Graham carried on paper a list of things he and Trump are likely to agree on: more money to deepen the Port of Charleston, lifting spending caps on the Pentagon, increasing the budget to counter Islamic State terrorism in the Middle East, and providing leverage for Trump to alter the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran.

“I’m going to try to help President-elect Trump, when he becomes president, to be successful,” Graham said. “Clearly I was not on the Trump train, but he won.”

Graham spoke favorably about Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who are both in line for top appointments in a Trump administration. As a rare Republican who voted to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Graham said Trump’s picks should be shown similar deference by his Democratic colleagues.

“I can’t imagine voting against someone unless they completely fall apart,” Graham said.

But there were plenty of areas of disagreement, although Graham was more diplomatic in voicing his concerns than he was on the campaign trail.

While he’ll support Trump’s efforts to increase security along the border with Mexico to prevent illegal border crossings, Graham said Trump “needs to think about” the consequences of trying to deport children and young adults who don’t have legal status but have lived here most of their lives.

“I won’t vote for a bill that treats a grandmother and a drug dealer the same,” Graham said about Trump's forthcoming immigration policy proposals on how to deal with the estimated 11 million in the country without legal status.

And while Trump has spoken favorably about improving relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graham is plotting a series of hearings about “Russia’s misadventures throughout the world,” including war crimes, cyberattacks against U.S allies, intervention in Ukraine and attempts to influence the U.S. election process.

“He is president, but Congress has a role,” Graham said.

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