“Even a Senator Can Learn Something”
I wrote this for the American Friends Service Committee’s “Governing Under the Influence” website. See more at http://gui.afsc.org/
The Concord Snowshoe Club, a rustic and out-of-the-way venue in New Hampshire’s capital city, was the site of a kick-off event for Senator Lindsey Graham’s possible presidential campaign on Sunday afternoon, March 8.
Hosted by the City Republicans, the “Politics and Pies” event was free, open to GOP members and unaffiliated voters, and open as well to the press. Senator Graham arrived on time, took a position by the fireplace, gave a short speech about his priorities, and responded to questions for more than an hour.
Graham is an aggressively hawkish critic of President Obama’s foreign and military policy, but at the same time takes a perspective on domestic issues that tends toward the pragmatic rather than the ideological. Immigration is an example.
Graham was among the 14 Republicans who voted with the Senate majority for a complex immigration reform bill in 2013. Had it passed the House, the bill would have increased funds for “border security” (i.e. more police, soldiers, weapons, and fences for the US-Mexican border) and created a tortuous path that would have enabled many of the country’s 11 million undocumented residents to gain legal status and qualify eventually for citizenship. Graham described it as a “rational and practical” approach to immigration.
In the Q&A session, I asked Senator Graham about the budget provision which mandates that federal authorities have 34,000 immigrants in detention on any given day. “The big beneficiaries of this seem to be the private prison companies, the for-profit companies, which is where about half of the immigrants are housed. And of course they turn around the profits and lobby for more prisons and immigration policies that benefit them,” I said, asking how we can get to a rational policy in the face of such realities.
“I thought I knew everything about immigration until now,” Senator Graham responded. “Even a Senator can learn something.”
Without discussing the detention bed mandate, Senator Graham launched into an explanation of the need for immigration reform, starting with the fact that the reason so many immigrants are coming here is to work and that the country has a long-term labor shortage. The Senator also believes GOP support for immigration reform will help the party woo Hispanic voters.
In response to a question from Rev. Dwight Haynes about a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Graham said he “would like to control money in politics to the extent that it will destroy the political process.”
“Here’s what we’re going to lose in democracy if we don’t have control over the money. The most influential people in the country will be the ones with the most money, and the ads you see on TV ad nauseum, you don’t know where they’re coming from, you don’t know who’s responsible for them.” Graham said he would support a constitutional amendment as long as it applies to union funds as well as funds from corporations. Then he joked he wouldn’t walk as far as Granny D did.
Senator Graham spent much of the time outlining his support for higher levels of military spending, aggressive action in the Middle East, and a “generational struggle to defeat radical Islam.”
“You could close Gitmo tomorrow and give the Palestinians everything they’ve ever hoped for and this would still be trying to kill us, Israel and everybody that disagrees with them because God commands them to do so,” he said. “They’re crazy.”
Senator Graham has launched a political committee, Security Through Strength, to help him “’test the waters’ for a potential 2016 run for president.” We can look forward to picking up where this discussion left off next time he’s in town.