Politics & Government

Graham gets earful of voters’ concerns at Columbia town hall

Lindsey Graham Town Hall

Lindsey Graham during his town hall meeting followed by commentary from town hall attendee Margie Williamson.
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Lindsey Graham during his town hall meeting followed by commentary from town hall attendee Margie Williamson.

It wasn’t all bad for Lindsey Graham on Saturday.

During a Columbia town hall event, Graham was occasionally cheered by a crowd that, based on vocal reactions, was not primarily composed of Republicans. Attendees particularly supported his critical stance on the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and potential collusion with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

But for much of the event, Graham had to deal with a critical reaction from voters who were upset about Trump’s agenda and made clear they wanted Graham to more forcefully oppose the president’s agenda.

Graham was occasionally booed or shouted over by many of the estimated 600 people in attendance, when he didn’t go as far as some in attendance wanted.

“What you want is an outcome and not a process,” Graham said when he was jeered for one answer on the Russia investigation. “You want me to say he’s guilty and he’s not the president.”

People stood or waved red pieces of paper when the senator, in response to submitted questions read by aides, said something they disagreed with – as well as green cards when they were in agreement.

Graham, who co-chairs a Senate panel looking into Russian cyberattacks targeting Democratic campaign officials, promised to “get to the bottom” of Russia’s involvement and proposed new sanctions on Russia over the election interference.

“An attack on one party is an attack on all,” Graham said. “It was Democrats this time. It might be Republicans next time.”

Graham criticized the way members of the House intelligence committee had publicly handled the issue so far, even saying it was “about to fall apart,” and suggested he might call for a joint select committee to handle the investigation.

But he declined to say he would support a special prosecutor, arguing incoming Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could credibly handle the investigation now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself over his own undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador.

“We’ll see where it goes,” he said.

I understand they are frustrated, but I’m not a screamer.

Graham town hall participant Mary Ann Hinson of Aiken

Attendees submitted so many questions about Russia, toward the end of the more than hourlong event, Graham started waving off more Russia questions from aides, saying he wanted to get on to other topics.

He was also cheered for saying climate change is real, for opposing cuts to the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency, and for saying he wouldn’t support a ban on Muslims entering the country.

But on other issues, Graham and the audience clashed. He said he would vote to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, then reminded the crowd he had voted to confirm President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court picks as well. He said Democrats would be “making a mistake” if they tried to filibuster a qualified nominee

When one questioner asked if Gorsuch’s nomination should be held up until the Russian investigation is over, Graham said, “When Hillary Clinton was under investigation by the FBI, you didn’t say she couldn’t run.”

Kim Baker of Irmo, a former teacher in Richland-Lexington District 5, said she was disappointed Graham defended his vote for education secretary Betsy DeVos by saying the president deserved to have his choices in his cabinet.

“He’s the one making it political when he says, ‘the president’s in office, he can do whatever he wants’,” she said. “I think that’s so cold. What about the children?”

At a Tea Party rally, I would get the same reaction.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca

Many said afterward they hoped Graham came away with the impression many voters are unhappy and plan to stay engaged with politics, although Mary Ann Hinson of Aiken was turned off by some of the participants’ behavior.

“I wish people had listened more. I understand they are frustrated, but I’m not a screamer,” she said. “I didn’t agree with a lot of what (Graham) said here today, (but) I like that he reaches across the aisle.”

Graham emphasized he tried to “make a lot of people mad” when it came to crafting his positions.

“I could keep this job for 200 years if I just keep you mad and nobody else,” Graham said. “At a Tea Party rally, I would get the same reaction.”

Lindsey Graham on:

Why we need entitlement reform: “We’re all living like we’re Strom Thurmond.”

Proposed cuts to the State Department: “We won’t win a war just by killing terrorists. Soft power is as important as hard power.”

Changes to health care: “I don’t want to take the private sector out of health care, because I don’t believe in socialism.”

Why he won’t support a Muslim ban: “Most Muslims hate radical Islam more than you do, because they are the ones getting killed.”

Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped him: “That seems not to be the case.”

Ivanka Trump moving into the White House: “I don’t know about you, but I’m glad she’s there.”

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