In 2014, one moderate Republican senator made a strong stand against the Tea Party, which he believed was pushing the GOP off a cliff. “Somebody, somewhere, had better up their game, because our country is going in the wrong direction. And if it’s not me, who’s it going to be?” That senator was Lindsey Graham, who went on to comfortably win re-election in the midterms that year.
Last week, that very same senator rolled out the Graham-Cassidy bill, the GOP’s last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare. The legislation has been condemned as the most destructive repeal effort yet. It would eliminate Obamacare’s Medicaid expansions and subsidies, replacing them with state-run block grants. It would reverse the individual mandate, while those with pre-existing conditions would not be guaranteed coverage. Millions of people would lose their insurance, although the exact number remains unknown because the Senate is rushing ahead without time for a full CBO score.
The legislation is about as extreme as it gets, and not only because of the immense damage it would cause. It is also extreme in its nihilism, a bill that has no function, no reason to exist, except to fend off right-wing primary challengers who could pummel incumbents if they fail to vanquish that great partisan bogeyman, Obamacare. It is evidence that no legislator is immune to the pull of extremism in the modern GOP—certainly not Lindsey Graham.
Graham has spent nearly his entire career positioning himself as a reasonable moderate. He proudly touts the moments he has broken with his caucus: Graham was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, doing the same again a year later with Elena Kagan. He is pro-immigration and believes that climate change is man-made. In 1998, he was the only Republican to vote no on an article of impeachment during Bill Clinton’s trial. In 2010, a longtime Obama aide told Newsweek that “Graham is a vision of the most bipartisan the GOP gets these days.”
Graham’s level-headed moderation was the main feature of his short-lived 2016 presidential campaign. “After a few drinks, we’re going to stop the B.S. and work together,” he told voters at the Iowa State fair. At another campaign event, Graham stated, “If we keep yelling at each other, we’re all going down the drain together.” The Washington Post called one of Graham’s speeches denouncing the GOP’s rightward shift on immigration and abortion a “moderate primal scream.” After Charlottesville, Graham openly attacked President Donald Trump for his “many sides” comment, saying that he was “dividing Americans.”
And back in May (also known as four months ago), when the GOP was trying to push through the American Health Care Act, Graham declared on CNN, “We’re stuck as a party. What I’d like to see is a bipartisan solution to replace ObamaCare, not just a Republican solution.” He was also “concerned with the process” that was rushing a repeal bill through the House without proper scoring, debates, and amendments.
As many have pointed out, Graham’s hypocrisy is pretty ripe here. Now he is the architect of what is considered the “most radical” of all of the GOP’s health care repeal efforts. The bill will go to a vote next week, a mere two weeks after it was introduced. And it will only be given 90 seconds of debate, which is not enough time to have even one drink with his Democratic counterparts, let alone a few.
If Trump’s short presidency has revealed anything, it’s that the moderate Republican congressman does not exist. Graham might feud with Trump over Twitter, but he votes with the president nearly 90 percent of the time. Despite all of his previous misgivings about “process,” Graham still voted for the Better Care Reconciliation Act—the so-called “skinny” repeal bill—that would have uninsured tens of millions of people and that flouted all the Senate’s democratic conventions. And his own bill makes so little policy sense that senators have had to construct elaborate Thelma and Louise metaphors to explain why they’re voting for it.
If you look closer, Graham’s fraudulence was always there to see. While he may have voted for Obama’s Supreme Court justices, Graham blamed Democrats for the GOP’s decision to blow up the filibuster in Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, despite the fact that it was Republicans who broke the norm with their unprecedented refusal to consider Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland (Graham held that egregious party line). While he may have voted no on an article of impeachment, Graham also served as a prosecutor for Bill Clinton’s trial. And while he preached bipartisanship during Obama’s tenure, Graham is now threatening to completely rip apart Obamacare, a piece of legislation that was composed of one bipartisan compromise after another, despite the fact that not a single Republican senator ended up voting for it.
There is just no way Graham can credibly preach bipartisanship, while he pushes for one of the most partisan bills in recent history. Neither, for that matter, can any of the Republican lawmakers who continue to follow Trump off the cliff.