Graham Says Spill Not Obama's Fault, More Cleanup Help Needed (Transcript)

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend that legislation aimed at getting China to raise the value of its currency has “huge” support in Congress, and President Barack Obama “runs the risk” of being overridden if he vetoes it.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

AL HUNT: And we start the program with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator, thank you for being with us.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Glad to be with you.

HUNT: Let’s start - President Obama and the BP oil spill catastrophe. How has he handled it and should he have done anything differently?

GRAHAM: Well, I don’t think he’s done anything to prevent the leak from being fixed. If there was anybody with a better idea, the administration hasn’t kept them out the game. So at the end of the day, we’re trying everything under the sun to stop the leak and it’s not his fault that we can’t find a way to cap it.

I think the criticism is fair that he has been less than responsive to state officials and local officials about ways to mitigate the effects of the spill. The governor of Louisiana has been begging for more help, the ability to build barriers to keep the oil from coming into wetlands and estuaries. So I would give him fairly low marks in terms of responding to the consequences of the spill, but stopping the leak, nobody could do any better.

HUNT: He said this week that he wanted to find out “whose ass to kick.” Do you have suggestions?

GRAHAM: Oh, a long list. No, at the end of the day, he gets accused for not being emotional.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: I don’t know what he’s supposed to do. I mean he is who he is. He’s been very successful in life being Barack Obama. My advice to the president is to be yourself. And he is a measured guy. Emotion doesn’t come easy to him.

He’s the president of the United States and you have to be reserved. But I think a lot of people would have liked to have seen more. Bill Clinton is very good at this kind of stuff.

HUNT: Yes.

GRAHAM: And President Bush I think showed some empathy and leadership right after 9/11 with the bullhorn.

HUNT: Yes.

GRAHAM: What he needed was sort of a bullhorn moment where he went to the Gulf and said, ‘We’re going to get this right. I’m going to get on it.’

HUNT: (Inaudible) that?

GRAHAM: Well, I tell you what, he’s making up lost ground.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: But start with the companies that were involved that were in charge of the drilling, make sure that we hold them accountable for the damage done. And find out what happened and have regulatory and measures in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I don’t think most Americans want to particularly kick anybody’s ass as much as they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again and get it fixed.

HUNT: Right. Let me shift this to climate change. Are man- made emissions the main cause of climate change - a simple yes or no?

GRAHAM: You know, I don’t know. You’re asking the guy that made a D in science. That’s what I love about this job.

HUNT: You did better than I did.

GRAHAM: Only in America can you make a D in science and be involved in climate change. The idea that man-made emissions are contributing to the planet heating up makes sense to me in theory, but I think they’ve oversold. I think Al Gore is - gets a lot - deserves a lot of credit for bringing up environmental concerns, but at the end of the day, I think they’ve oversold.

How much the planet is heating up is pretty verifiable. From 1840 to now the planet has heated up.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: How much C02 gases have contributed to that I don’t know. But here is the way I look at it. You don’t have to be certain as to how much man-made emissions are causing global warming to want to control carbon pollution.

The stuff coming out of cars and trucks and coal-fired plants I don’t believe is good for you. If you think fossil fuels are good for you, go swimming in the Gulf. You’ve got the whole beach to yourself.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: What would make burning it and breathing it better for you? If you wouldn’t want your kids to jump in a bunch of oil in the water, why do you think turning it into gasoline and burning it is going to be a healthy thing?

I don’t believe that man-made emissions are going to cause the planet to melt any time soon. I do believe that a low-carbon economy is good for our national security and would be good for our environment. I’m in the camp that carbon pollution is something worthy of my time as a Republican to deal with.

HUNT: And you’ve spent a lot of time on it. Now you’ve dropped -

GRAHAM: Yes, I have.

HUNT: - off the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill -

GRAHAM: Yes.

HUNT: - and you’ve just supported an energy bill that gives the industry incentives -

GRAHAM: Right.

HUNT: - to do better - no caps, no price. Can this measure be compromised with Kerry-Lieberman or is that climate bill dead?

GRAHAM: You know, here’s where I think we’re going to go eventually. Sherlock Holmes said that what’s left on the table is the answer. So we’re working our way through this climate- energy debate. The one thing we’ll never get 60 votes is a bill based on the idea of prevent global warming.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: There’s not a consensus in America to turn the economy upside down to prevent global warming. There is a consensus that carbon pollution should be controlled, that energy independence is a must.

HUNT: But could you still put that kind of a compromise -

GRAHAM: Sure.

HUNT: - together this year?

GRAHAM: OK, you’ve got to do three things. I don’t know about this year. You’ve got to do three things this year or soon. Break our dependency on foreign oil; that means to change the way we drive our cars, find more and use less. Domestic exploration has to be part of any solution that I will embrace.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: The environmental community has been pretty reasonable quite frankly. Kerry, Graham and Lieberman moved the ball a long way. Why did I get involved? Not because I believe that global warming was the imminent demise of mankind, but I believe we need a rational energy policy to break our dependency on foreign oil, to create jobs here rather than China, and to clean up the air.

And here is what I was willing to do. If you’ll allow me to expand domestic exploration, revenue sharing with those states who agree to offshore drilling, preempt the EPA so my business community doesn’t have to be hit by carbon regulation, expand nuclear power production, I will agree to put a price on carbon. And that is the grand bargain.

What happened? The oil spill compromised the oil offshore drilling provision.

HUNT: (Inaudible) bargain?

GRAHAM: Well, I don’t see how in the world I could get 50 votes for expanded drilling when we don’t know what happened.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: I wouldn’t even vote to expand drilling right now.

HUNT: Right. I have read everything you said I think the last month about Elena Kagan.

GRAHAM: I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

HUNT: And you’ve said Elena Kagan is not a nominee that a Republican would have put up, but that -

GRAHAM: Right.

HUNT: - her prior judicial experience isn’t a disqualifier. You respect her. She’s smart. She’s done a good job as solicitor general. I take that to indicate that like Sotomayor you are leaning - unless something comes out at the hearings - you are leaning to voting for her.

GRAHAM: Well, here’s what I do with nominees. I believe elections matter.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: President Obama won the election. He has a right to pick qualified people. So I’ve got a checklist in my mind - is she qualified. The lack of judicial experiences doesn’t mean she’s not qualified. I think she’s got a stellar academic background.

I need to know a little more about her thought process. When she praises -

HUNT: Am I exaggerating to say you’re leaning towards voting for her?

GRAHAM: I’m open-minded to voting for her, but here’s what has to be resolved in my mind. She has made some statements about ROTC, recruiting judge advocates, Harvard was denied because of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. I want to find out is that a political position. Is she someone who is going to use the robe to carry out a political agenda? I don’t think so, but I need to look under the hood and do some probing there.

Now this idea of embracing this Israeli Supreme Court judge who has written some pretty provocative things about the role of a judge in a society, I want to find out, OK, you say this guy is your role model. He’s your judicial hero. Well, I’m going to share some passages from his writings with her that are pretty disturbing to me and see if she embraces that part.

HUNT: (Inaudible).

GRAHAM: Yes.

HUNT: China currency. You’re involved in everything.

GRAHAM: Yes, God, yes.

HUNT: You and Senator Schumer are going to push a measure on the Senate floor that would require the Treasury to in essence force China to revalue its currency. Now we’ve been there. We’ve been there before.

GRAHAM: Yes.

HUNT: And nothing ever happens. It’s the same time, the same thing this year?

GRAHAM: All right, we got 67 votes about four years ago -

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: - for a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese products unless they floated their currency. We were hoping to get 41. When we got to 67, I started talking people out of voting for it because we unleashed some hidden forces in the Congress.

HUNT: Right.

GRAHAM: The frustrations with China’s trade practices are growing by the moment. Our deficit with China is going through the roof. They are manipulating their currency.

The laws of basic economics would suggest if you export as much as China does, they’re an exporting economy, your currency should go up not stay stagnant or go down. So we’re going to push a provision - a bill - that would allow the Treasury secretary and the commerce secretary to deem China as having a misaligned currency and allow the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department to take action against China consistent with the WTO.

HUNT: And what are the odds that will become law this year?

GRAHAM: The odds of it passing the Senate are about 90 to 10.

HUNT: And how about becoming law this year?

GRAHAM: Well, this is going to be a test of the Obama administration. There’s something in the water -

HUNT: Don’t you think it’s pretty unlikely he’ll sign that?

GRAHAM: Well, let me tell you. He campaigned that he would stand up to China currency manipulation. We’re going to get a huge vote in the Senate. They’ll get a huge vote in the House. I don’t know if the president will veto it or not, and if he does he runs the risk I think of having it overridden.

HUNT: Let me ask you about politics. Senator, you represent wonderful people.

GRAHAM: Yes, smiling places, -

HUNT: (Inaudible).

GRAHAM: - beautiful faces.

HUNT: They are. But to an outsider, first all the stuff with Governor Sanford.

GRAHAM: With a little taste of bizarre.

HUNT: With the weird stuff about the gubernatorial contest, -

GRAHAM: Yes.

HUNT: - people demanding lie detector tests. I guess what I want - why does politics in the Palmetto State seem so bizarre?

GRAHAM: You know, I really don’t know. We’re a spirited group. You know, we’re a Scot-Irish breed and we like a good fight. But it’s funny to a point. Now I’m getting worried quite frankly.

The Democratic nominee for the United States Senate is a gentleman named Alvin Greene. He filed to run for the United States Senate on the Democratic side. He never left his house, literally didn’t spend any money on his campaign, and he wasn’t going away.

Senator Jim DeMint is going to be reelected from South Carolina as a Republican, but I worry about democracy being not guarded. You know, you don’t want a contest this shallow.

HUNT: Right, right.

GRAHAM: And on my side, what I worry about is the person who say gets out of the service, goes home, joins the Rotary Club, civic groups, picks up garbage on Saturday, coaches a Little League baseball team. How did they get through the primary now? There are a lot of money on the left and the right that’s only given to people who support pretty radical agendas in my view.

So what I worry about in my state and the country at large is that the primary process is going to get so difficult and politics is going to get so nasty that that civic-minded young man and woman who usually would be attracted to politics is going to see this as kind of a sleazy business and not want to lend their name to a political career.

HUNT: Let me ask a final question because you’ve been criticized by some of those people in South Carolina.

GRAHAM: Sure.

HUNT: For a general election now, -

GRAHAM: Right.

HUNT: - should Republicans run by energizing the base, which everyone agrees they ought to do, and is it a mistake to reach out to centrist independent voters?

GRAHAM: If it gets impossible to do compromise on immigration, energy and climate, then the country is going to go away from the two-party system. Here’s the problem I see. Blanche Lincoln dodged a bullet. You’ve had other people here lose their jobs in primaries and the big charge against them was that they were less than cooperative with a left or right agenda.

So my belief is that the middle - the center of country is mad because we can’t work together. The left and the right is mad because we won’t do everything they say. And somebody has got to break this cycle. My belief is that I come from a state that will reward conservatism that also can find compromise.

Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to save Social Security from bankruptcy. Ronald Reagan said if you agree with me 80 percent of the time, you’re my friend. Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings came from the Democratic and Republican parties - one conservative, one left of center, but they were able to deliver for the state.

I don’t want the job if I can’t sit down and do the hard things that my country needs to do. If I can’t sit down and work with a Democrat to save Social Security from bankruptcy, who the hell is going to do it? If I can’t find middle ground on energy and climate policy to make us energy independent, create jobs here so China doesn’t on alternative energy, economy and clean up the air we all breath, what good is it for me to be here?

So I’ve come to conclude that the best thing I can do for my party, my state and my nation is to work on the hard things in a reasonable way, fight when I must, compromise for the good of us all. And I’m going to continue to do that. And I’m making a bet that that’s where the future of American politics is going to be because if it’s not, our best days are behind us.

HUNT: Well, Senator Graham, thank you so much for being with us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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