What is the Deal with Lindsey Graham?

Graham is blocking a vote on a non-binding resolution on the Mueller report.

Aaron Blake in WaPo asks:  The House voted 420 to 0 to release the Mueller report. So why is Lindsey Graham blocking the bill?

On Thursday, the House passed a bill urging the public disclosure of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It did so nearly unanimously — the vote was 420-0. The four members who didn’t vote for it instead voted “present.”

But almost immediately, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blocked the Senate from even taking it up. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman demanded that Democrats also vote on appointing a special counsel to look into alleged “Department of Justice misconduct” in the investigations into President Trump and Hillary Clinton. Democrats are refusing.

Above all else it should be noted that the resolution is non-binding.  It is symbolic that the House passed it, let alone with 0 nays, but it is likewise symbolic that Graham is blocking it.  The demand about the DoJ is likewise symbolic since it is a diversion.  If the GOP-led Senate wants to vote on a resolution asking for an investigation of the DoJ (or if they want to investigate it themselves, what with having oversight authority and whatnot), they are free to do so and there is no need at the moment to quid pro quo one resolution for the other. That demand is for show, plain and simple.

While I do not think that Graham was some bedrock of integrity, and I even get the political forces that have made him pivot towards Trump.  What I don’t get is the utter toadiness of it all.  (The best hypothesis that I can come up with, and that is discussed in this edition of The Daily (which includes an interview with Graham), is that he desperately wants to be relevant).

At a minimum, this act is one of someone who appears desperate for the approval of Donald Trump.

I understand that a politician from South Carolina would need to work with the Republican president, even to the point of walking back comments made during the primaries (including calling him a “kook” and having to smash his own cell phone because Trump gave out the number in public), but the obsequiousness to the point of practically being a henchman à la the old Batman series is just bizarre.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    There is a good probability that Graham is a closeted homosexual. My best guess is that either the National Enquirer, Putin or both has incriminating video. Pure speculation, no proof.

    33
    8
  2. James Joyner says:

    I was going to reference The Daily episode as well. It’s incredibly cynical but it’s worked.

    Politicians who are liked by the other side because they’re sometimes willing to cross the aisle (Daniel Patrick Moynihan is perhaps the archetype as are Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe) are often frustrating. They talk a good game that’s enticing to the other side and then, wham, wind up voting with their party. I think Graham wants to do right by the country and, yet, knows he can’t do squat without getting re-elected and powerful committee chairmanships. So he waffles.

    11
    13
  3. gVOR08 says:

    From his WIKI page, on his 2014 re-election,

    Of all the Republican Senators up for re-election in the 2014 cycle, Graham was considered one of the most vulnerable to a primary challenge, largely due to his low approval ratings and reputation for working with and compromising with Democrats.

    This seems sufficient explanation given he could face a primary from an even more crazed state GOP Party in 2020. He may believe, as I think Churchill said, that his first duty is to win election so he can act in the best interests of the country. Or he may just be protecting his career. Occam’s razor may apply.

    10
    2
  4. @James Joyner: @gVOR08: I totally agree that his most basic motivation is renomination.

    He has just taken it to a remarkable level. I think that he really craves being relevant and without McCain he needs another pathway.

    10
    3
  5. mattbernius says:

    @MarkedMan:
    This is a long running rumor that (beyond certain behavior ticks of Grahams than can be interpreted as “gay”) stays popular because it feeds into a sort of unified grand conspiracy. As with most grand conspiracies, I think there are far better, less convoluted explanations (that also don’t paint Graham as a sort of victim).

    I simply think that Graham cares more about elected office than anything else (to @James Joyner’s point). I also think that, while these tendencies were always there, what changed was the loss of John McCain as a moderating force.

    I also think that Graham truly believed that Kavanaugh was getting railroaded. And suddenly finding himself as welcomed home by the right, and realizing that going against Trump would be threatening to his career, he went all in (which matches past behavior).

    To some degree, Graham’s embrace of the president feels far more organic that Thom Tillis’ sudden shift.

    I still suspect that if McCain was still alive, Graham would have stilled tacked right, but would have been far less toadying.

    11
    2
  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    The one extra tidbit in this all is that Graham apparently pushed back against the administration hard on the subject of withdrawal from Syria. For instance, he said, and this was a headline, the withdrawal was the the “dumbest f—ing idea I’ve ever heard” (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/02/lindsey-graham-trump-syria-policy).

    So, Graham seems to feel that opposing the president on this is fine, and important. He’s also quoted in that piece as saying,

    “Well, if the policy is going to be that we are leaving by April 30, I am now your adversary, not your friend,” Graham told the acting Pentagon chief, according to Graham. (Several other lawmakers confirmed this exchange.)

    This feels to me like we’re seeing the tip of an iceberg. That Graham has told Trump that there are limits within which Trump must stay to get Graham’s support, and that Graham’s support will look a lot like all the other bootlicker’s support (even if meaningless like the situation in the OP). Trump doesn’t care about substance, just how it looks on TV.

    So, Graham wants us to know he has limits, but that doesn’t seem like a staged drama.

    2
    1
  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m with @MarkedMan. The change is so dramatic, so total, so lacking in dignity I suspect blackmail. Occam’s Razor does not answer the question for us. Sure, fear of the Republican electorate, but we do know the National Enquirer is a Trump tool and that they blackmail people. The only reason to prefer the ‘electorate’ answer is that under normal circumstances blackmail would be so unlikely. In the age of Trump it is not at all unlikely.

    But I never believe in single motives. I think it’s a combination of blackmail, the death of McCain, fear of the electorate and a feature evidently all-too common among white males: groveling to a perceived alpha. Add them together and what we have in Senator Graham is a weak, cowardly man almost eager to submit and abandon any pretense of principle.

    What makes me lean a bit more on blackmail is the totality of Graham’s moral collapse and his shameless willingness to be seen as an invertebrate. That suggests duress.

    29
    4
  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think Graham wants to do right by the country and, yet, knows he can’t do squat without getting re-elected and powerful committee chairmanships. So he waffles.

    He want’s to do something but if he does he won’t get re-elected, so in order to do something he does nothing? I guess being there is more important than accomplishing anything.

    8
    1
  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    While scrolling through past posts at NY Magazines, Intelligencer blog, I came across one on the death of Birch Bayh, the headline described him as a Lion of the Senate. There are no current senators who will be described as lions of the senate in their obits. Though some maybe described as cowardly lions. Graham will be remembered as a coward who isn’t even searching for courage.

    10
    2
  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Hey, can’t you cut him a little slack? He obviously has no need of courage, so why waste his time trying to acquire any?

    5
    5
  11. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The change is so dramatic, so total, so lacking in dignity I suspect blackmail. Occam’s Razor does not answer the question for us.

    It’s especially so because it’s hard to think of any other Senator who has done such a complete 180 on Trump. Many of them flip-flopped, of course, but never so dramatically. Rubio, for example, can be explained purely on the basis of his being weak and opportunistic. Rand Paul has maintained shreds of independence in a state that went for Trump by a much wider margin than SC. Cruz has always been a slimy lizard who built his entire career on the far right, so it makes sense why he’d want to remain relevant to the Trumpists despite their past personal squabbles, and even he hasn’t become quite as big a toady as Graham.

    13
    3
  12. Kathy says:

    It seems he wants the Democrats to “admit” Clinton was given preferential treatment by the FBI and DOJ, while Dennison is being screwed over unfairly.

    Good luck with that. Unlike el Cheeto, Pelosi didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

    I’m not saying the Democrats shouldn’t throw Clinton, or the Clintons for that matter, under the bus. They’re played out, and in politics that means they matter little by now. But if you’re going to do that, you’d better get a good prize in return. Shutting up an orange-loving senator for five minutes is not it.

    7
    6
  13. Mister Bluster says:

    I still suspect that if McCain was still alive,..

    John McCain is very much alive in Chump’s head.
    Trump attacks McCain, who died last year, over ‘Dossier’ leak

  14. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    He want’s to do something but if he does he won’t get re-elected, so in order to do something he does nothing? I guess being there is more important than accomplishing anything.

    I’m too bound by intellectual honesty for politics. Graham is perhaps too squishy in that regard. But he’s right that he can do more of what he wants to do if he’s 1) re-elected and 2) can influence party leaders, including the President. So, presumably, he’s going to be less courageous closer to election time than right after an election, given a 6-year term. And maybe he’s calculated that he gets a lot of points with Trump by grandstanding on an issue where Trump is losing face—and yet it really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans because Democrats will make sure the Mueller report gets out regardless of what Graham does.

    For that matter, it’s not as if John McCain didn’t do this very same thing all the time. He was smoother at it than Graham but he took courageous stands on issues like immigration only to take a hard right turn when he thought it was necessary to get re-election or win the Republican nomination for President.

    7
    1
  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod:

    Rand Paul has maintained shreds of independence in a state that went for Trump by a much wider margin than SC

    I think you are arguing facts not in evidence here. Paul is a skeevy little slime ball who will go wherever his grifter heart leads him. He and his nut job father made millions off publishing a newsletter with the most vile racist trash (think debates about whether African Americans are really human) for well over a decade and when it blew up Republicans played their usual game and said, well if he denies he knew what was in the newsletters we just have to take him at his word. His latest escapade was harassing a neighbor in a vicious 13-year-old-boy-making-life-hell-for-the-dweebie-kid-with-OCD kind of way, and then when he finally drove the poor schmuck to the breaking point and the guy snapped and tackled him, sued him for every cent he had.

    Paul pretends to have a backbone, but it bends in exactly the way the scent of money is coming from.

    9
    1
  16. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    For that matter, it’s not as if John McCain didn’t do this very same thing all the time. He was smoother at it than Graham but he took courageous stands on issues like immigration only to take a hard right turn when he thought it was necessary to get re-election or win the Republican nomination for President.

    This is absolutely correct and shouldn’t be forgotten in the current deification of McCain. I truly have mixed feelings about him, putting him into a “worst of the mediocre” category. He definitely played the Susan Collins game as well as she does. It should never be forgotten that he ultimately turned a blind eye to the torture of POWs by the US government. Given his past, if he wouldn’t hold fast against that, is he really so far above Lindsay Graham?

  17. Guarneri says:

    “That demand is for show, plain and simple.”

    And politics. Of course it is. As has been everything about this silly investigation. This may come as a shock; two sides can play the game. Spare us the tin foil hat and amateur psychologist musings. It makes you guys look deranged, or light.

    1
    17
  18. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I think you are arguing facts not in evidence here.

    Here’s a bit of evidence: He has the third lowest Trump score of any Republican in the Senate, and by far the lowest relative to the partisan lean of his state.

    This is not meant as a defense of Paul. I’m not his #1 fan, and he does have a habit of pretending to take courageous stands only when he knows his vote won’t make a difference, and folding otherwise. But he is not a pure Trump lackey, and he has a voting record to prove it.

    5
    1
  19. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod:

    He has the third lowest Trump score of any Republican in the Senat

    Thanks for the link. I have to admit, I’m astounded by this. It makes me think that my intense dislike of the guy may be clouding my judgement. I’m going to have to dig a little more.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Graham is simply a toad. And he doesn’t care about the good of the country. Never has. Never will. When it has seemed like he did in the past, it was purely coincidence. He’s there for the aggrandizement of Lindsay O. Graham, and he was rebuffed thoroughly by the voters in 2016. It had to hurt and he has regrouped, is working on recovering his ego now. and the new toadiness is part of the package.

    3
    1
  21. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan: Going back to your comments on Ron Paul: Yes, Ron Paul was a racist, a lunatic, and probably the first Republican candidate before Trump to foster an enormous following among white nationalists. But he was also the only Republican candidate at the time who was seriously pushing back against the War on Terror and Bush’s abuses of power. Maybe that’s less to his credit than to the GOP’s blame.

    Does this mean he was a model of courage? Not exactly. He was building a brand. His unique blend allowed him to stand out in a way that a Texas Congressman would have had a hard time doing spouting standard GOP talking points. He may well be a true believer in the ideas he preaches–but in the end they were a way of selling himself.

    When Rand Paul started running for the Senate in 2010, he was essentially aiming to be Ron Paul 2.0–to carry at least the trappings of his father’s idiosyncratic views, but far more within the framework of the mainstream GOP. It’s also a brand, and it’s what he’s built his career around. My point isn’t to praise him as a principled maverick, but simply to argue that it’s possible to understand what’s he’s trying to do, what type of Senator he aims to be.

    I have a much harder time explaining Lindsey Graham, which is why I lean toward the conspiracy theory. It isn’t just that he’s flip-flopped, as virtually all politicians do, or that he’s shown a lack of spine or principle. Even his brand is hard to explain. I could be misremembering, but I don’t think he was even this much of a lackey toward Bush, who was far closer to him ideologically than Trump.

    6
    1
  22. dazedandconfused says:

    Worth noting he once had powerful friends in Sessions and McCain. McCain is gone and he betrayed Sessions. He probably feels vulnerability to a degree he has never felt before.

    Yet to so shamelessly knuckle under to Trump?? They have something on him and/or a spine of Nerf.

    4
    1
  23. David M says:

    People, people. Stop overthinking this. Graham objected to Trump for two reasons: because he would lose, and because he wasn’t seen as enough of a cheerleader for the forever war party.

    Graham was obviously wrong about both, so his current support of Trump is to be expected.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @David M:

    Graham objected to Trump for two reasons: because he would lose, and because he wasn’t seen as enough of a cheerleader for the forever war party.

    That may be, but he did call him a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot,” which is pretty strong, particularly for an SC politician, and it provides a striking contrast to his more recent remark that he “never heard [Trump] make a single racist statement.” That’s a remarkable flip-flop even by the usual standards of Republicans. Many of Trump’s other rivals and critics within the GOP hesitated to call him a racist.

  25. JohnMcC says:

    Lots of good ideas here. But no mention of Mark Sanford. He appeared slightly critical of Mr Trump; he’s gone. If Sen Graham wants to remain Senator he cannot repeat that mistake. Period.

  26. While I can’t quite get myself to subscribe to the blackmail theory, I still have to say that the primary vulnerability argument, which I think is quite valid, is insufficient to explain he utter turn-around, let alone blocking this vote. I checked the roll call and all 6 of Alabama’s GOP Representatives voted “Yes” (as did all of SC’s).

    He could kiss up to Trump without this action. And, really, he could kiss up to Trump, especially to score primary-worthy points without the toady behavior.

  27. In other words: if blocking this resolution is seen as helping Graham in the primary, why didn’t 190 Rs in the House not see it that way?

  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    It comes down to a character assessment, and that’s complicated by the fact that Graham lived for so long in McCain’s shadow. Was there ever a genuinely independent Graham? Was it all just an act? We lack data, but the fact that he was willing to have himself seen as McCain’s mini-me without ever pushing back adds to the possible explanation that we have servility, submission as a key character trait. I tend to believe it’s a matrix of motivations, fear of exposure, psychological weakness, or perhaps a genuine BDSM kink, and the rationale of ‘Well, I have to get re-elected.”

    Cut it any way and it’s still not a pretty picture. I’d have to change my name and leave the country if I ever displayed that level of flamboyant weakness. I don’t know how people like this can live with themselves.

  29. Gustopher says:

    Since no House Republicans voted against this, and almost all voted for it, I have to wonder what makes Graham special.

    Has anyone from Mueller’s office talked to him? Did he have information that he didn’t divulge, or did he leak information that he shouldn’t have?

    I assume there is some wrongdoing here — more likely petty but damaging — that he would prefer not to have come out.

    Or maybe it’s just simpler than that. With the House, they couldn’t prevent every Republican having to take a “difficult” vote, but they can just cut it off in the Senate. But it doesn’t explain the shift to 100% toady.

    I don’t see how the Mueller Report doesn’t become public, so it seems like a losing battle. If nothing else, it will get leaked, and Mueller will testify before the House.

  30. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    I think that Lindsey Graham likes to be relevant. And he thinks that the only way to be relevant is to try to exert influence over Trump. Maybe he fears being primaried, I don’t know.

    @mattbernius:

    This is a long running rumor that (beyond certain behavior ticks of Grahams than can be interpreted as “gay”) stays popular because it feeds into a sort of unified grand conspiracy.

    Some years ago during the Municipal elections in São Paulo a candidate for mayor pointed out that her opponent was single. She was a pretty pro-LGBT politician, but people attacked her as a homophobic.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m too bound by intellectual honesty for politics. Graham is perhaps too squishy in that regard. But he’s right that he can do more of what he wants to do if he’s 1) re-elected and 2) can influence party leaders, including the President. So, presumably, he’s going to be less courageous closer to election time than right after an election, given a 6-year term.

    1) But what exactly pray tell, is it he is going to do?
    2)What, pray tell, is he going to influence the president into doing?

    Any evidence of courage is lacking, without which your argument does not hold up

    For that matter, it’s not as if John McCain didn’t do this very same thing all the time. He was smoother at it than Graham but he took courageous stands on issues like immigration only to take a hard right turn when he thought it was necessary to get re-election or win the Republican nomination for President.

    John McCain – Torture.

    McCain had many faults (don’t we all?) but he did have lines he would not cross. Sadly, the same can not be said of Graham.

  32. Teve says:

    John McCain – Torture.

    McCain had many faults (don’t we all?) but he did have lines he would not cross. Sadly, the same can not be said of Graham.

    it’s been said many times that Republicans seem to have difficulty empathizing about any problem until it immediately affects them.

  33. gVOR08 says:

    The question before the Reps was, ‘Pelosi has forced me to vote on this, what do I do?’ The question in front of Graham, and McConnell, is, ‘Do I force the Senate GOPs to vote on this or try to quietly kill it.’

  34. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    John McCain – Torture.

    McCain had many faults (don’t we all?) but he did have lines he would not cross.

    You are forgetting that he capitulated in the end on the torture report.

    McCain was a complex figure, who strove to be a better person than he really was. Unfortunately, he didn’t succeed very often.

  35. Barry says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I’m with @MarkedMan. The change is so dramatic, so total, so lacking in dignity I suspect blackmail. Occam’s Razor does not answer the question for us. Sure, fear of the Republican electorate, but we do know the National Enquirer is a Trump tool and that they blackmail people. The only reason to prefer the ‘electorate’ answer is that under normal circumstances blackmail would be so unlikely. In the age of Trump it is not at all unlikely.”

    The way that I put it is that Trump is not the Corrupter; he’s the Revealer (the Revelation). Almost all of these guys, including McCain, were the beneficiaries of inflated reputations from a corrupt media and ‘think tank’ crowd. They are now facing living up to those reputations, and are at 99% failure.

  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Barry:
    It’s been a depressing process. I’ve said before that after 2008 I vowed to try and tamp down my innate corrosive cynicism. I was really trying to believe in my fellow Americans. But 2016 slapped that sht right out of me, and the period of time since has ‘revealed’ just how widespread cowardice and weakness are. As cynical as I thought I’d been, I had not even begun to appreciate just what servile, stupid and corrupt people are.

  37. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In other words: if blocking this resolution is seen as helping Graham in the primary, why didn’t 190 Rs in the House not see it that way?

    Frankly, I’m still astounded that it didn’t have a single R “nay” in the House.

    I could be misremembering, but I don’t think he was even this much of a lackey toward Bush, who was far closer to him ideologically than Trump.

    Bush really didn’t need a lacky in the the lead-up to the reelection. And beyond that, they were already really closely aligned in terms of the wars.

    Graham always has had a tendency to go “over the top” in whatever direction he goes, so I really don’t find the swing all that surprising. I also wonder if he felt he need to go all-in at this level so he could overcome everything he said about Trump in 2015 and 2016 (which I think he expects would come back up again in the primary).

  38. @mattbernius:

    Frankly, I’m still astounded that it didn’t have a single R “nay” in the House.

    Me, too. As such, they (collectively) do not view it as a threat. Hence, it waters down primary competition as an explanation for his actions.

  39. Teve says:

    Lindsey Graham
    @LindseyGrahamSC

    I’m honored to announce that Vice President Mike Pence will help kick off my 2020 Senate re-election campaign by attending events on Saturday, March 30th in Myrtle Beach and Greenville!

  40. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Trump got 46.1%, compared to Romney’s 47.2%, and McCain’s 45.7%.

    The distortions created by the Electoral College in 2016 obscure the fact that GOP voters are a consistent minority.

  41. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Teve:
    Isn’t that a bit like reassuring me that only 46% of my skull is filled with tumor?

  42. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: yes! I’m much happier that they’re the declining minority. If angry uneducated racist bible-thumpers were getting more numerous with time I’d be pondering which pills pair well with a handle of Burnett’s vodka.

    (The answer is ‘All of them, Katie!’)

  43. dazedandconfused says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In other words: if blocking this resolution is seen as helping Graham in the primary, why didn’t 190 Rs in the House not see it that way?

    Graham’s best buddies were Sessions and McCain, both of whom earned Trump’s ire. Graham himself has said a few things bad about Trump on occasion.

    Graham probably considers himself on double-secret probation, so he toadies up on all non-binding opportunities without even a whiff of hesitation.

  44. gVOR08 says:

    @mattbernius: Quite right, it’s the behavior of the House GOPs that needs explanation, not Graham’s.

  45. Jake says:
  46. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jake:
    Ever hear the phrase ‘horse whisperer?’ Tucker Carlson is the moron whisperer.

  47. DrDaveT says:

    @Jake:

    Tucker tells the truth.

    For Trumpian values of ‘truth’, perhaps.

    I thought worrying about truth was a libtard obsession…

  48. Teve says:

    Based on those leaked chats and emails by Identity Evropa members, white supremacists are Tucker’s biggest fans. They say he’s mainstreaming their beliefs. In Tucker’s defense, when they called Iraqis “primitive monkeys”, maybe he was just joking?

    anyway, smart of Jake not to use his last name. White Supremacy will get you fired these days.

  49. An Interested Party says:

    It makes you guys look deranged, or light.

    As opposed to who, you? Certainly no one would want to take that look from you…

    Since no House Republicans voted against this…

    Oh don’t you know? Apparently they were told not to…

    Tucker tells the truth.

    Was he also telling the truth when he made misogynistic and racist comments

  50. Teve says: