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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham Lashes Out At Democrats Over Kavanaugh


Senator Lindsey Graham may be best known as a sidekick of the late Senator John McCain and a jovial man with a reputation for bipartisanship. The ongoing nomination process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh has shown a different side of the longtime lawmaker. This highlights his evolution from the man who once called Donald Trump unfit for office to one of President Trump's reliable allies. NPR's Tim Mak has more.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: You might think of Lindsey Graham as a moderate voice in the Senate known for reaching across the aisle on issues like immigration, climate change and torture. But he first appeared on the national stage as a member of the House of Representatives, a manager of the House impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. Here he is speaking in 1999.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.

MAK: His major influence when he first came to the Senate in 2002 was Senator John McCain. Like McCain, Graham also developed a reputation as something of a maverick and was a driving force for comprehensive immigration reform that passed in the Senate but was ultimately never signed into law. Here is Graham on the Senate floor after McCain passed away in August.


GRAHAM: And the void to be filled by John's passing is more than I can do. Don't look to me to replace this man.

MAK: Much like McCain, Graham also ran for president but with much more limited success. In 2016, Graham dropped out early in the race, endorsing Jeb Bush, then later Ted Cruz. A constant throughout the early campaign process was his disgust for Trump.


GRAHAM: Here's what you're buying. He's a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party. Doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.

MAK: But after Trump's surprise victory in November 2016, Graham changed tactics and has become a prominent ally of Trump's. Though McCain and Trump never made peace with one another, Graham framed his work with Trump as the sort of thing McCain would have done in another era.


GRAHAM: I am not going to give up on the idea of working with this president. The best way I can honor John McCain is help my country.

MAK: The president and Graham also have linked political fortunes. Should Graham decide to run for re-election in 2020, he'll presumably be running on the same ballot as President Donald Trump. Graham has become an outspoken supporter of the president's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In a display of anger before that Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham lashed out at Democrats who he believes brought forward sexual assault allegations at the 11th hour.


GRAHAM: God, I hate to say it 'cause these have been my friends. But let me tell you when it comes to this. You're looking for a fair process. You came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.

MAK: Graham has been a believer in the idea that judges should be assessed based on their qualifications rather than their philosophy, so he sounded betrayed as he stressed that he had voted for two of Obama's Supreme Court picks.


GRAHAM: When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello 'cause I voted for them. I would never do to them what you've done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics.

MAK: It was an angry moment that showed the stark contrast between the lighthearted political moderate he once was and the pro-Trump booster who he has become. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.
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