Lindsey Olin Graham is an American politician who serves as the senior United States Senator from South Carolina, a seat he has held since 2003. A member of the Republican Party, Graham has served as chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary since 2019.
A native of Central, South Carolina, Graham received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1981. Most of his active duty within his span of military service happened from 1982 to 1988 when he served with the Judge Advocate General's Corps in the United States Air Force, as a defense attorney and then with the Air Force's chief prosecutor in Europe based in West Germany. Later his entire service in the U.S. Air Force Reserve ran concurrently with his congressional career. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in 2014.
Graham worked as a lawyer in private practice before serving one term in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1993 to 1995. He served for four terms in the United States House of Representatives for South Carolina's 3rd congressional district from 1995 to 2003. In 2002, Graham won the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican incumbent Strom Thurmond. He is running for re-election to a fourth term in 2020. Graham is known in the Senate for his advocacy of a strong national defense and aggressive interventionist foreign policy. Initially, he was also known for his willingness to be bipartisan and work with Democrats on issues like campaign finance reform, a ban on waterboarding, immigration reform, and judicial nominees. He has criticized the Tea Party movement, arguing for a more inclusive Republican Party.
Graham sought the Republican nomination for president between June and December 2015, dropping out before the 2016 Republican primaries began. He was an outspoken critic of fellow Republican Donald Trump's 2016 candidacy and repeatedly declared he did not support Trump; in particular, he took issue with Trump's comments on Graham's close friend, Senator John McCain. After a March 2017 meeting with Trump, Graham became a staunch ally of the president, often issuing public statements in his defense. His reversal caught both parties by surprise and sparked much media attention. Graham became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2019. Graham led the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, who was successfully appointed Associate Justice in October 2020.
Lindsey Olin Graham was born in Central, South Carolina, where his parents, Millie and Florence James 'F.J.' Graham, ran a restaurant-bar-pool hall-liquor store, the 'Sanitary Cafe.' His family is of Scots-Irish descent. After graduating from D. W. Daniel High School, Graham became the first member of his family to attend college, and joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. When he was 21, his mother died of Hodgkin's lymphoma, aged 52, and his father died 15 months later of a heart attack, aged 69. Because his then-13-year-old sister was left orphaned, the service allowed Graham to attend the University of South Carolina in Columbia so he could be near home and care for his sister as her legal guardian. During his studies, he became a member of the Pi Kappa Phi social fraternity.
Upon graduating from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Graham was commissioned as an officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps in the United States Air Force in 1982 and began active duty that year. His duty began with a stint as an Air Force defense attorney, then was transferred to Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany, where from 1984 to 1988 he was the Air Force's chief prosecutor in Europe. In 1984, as he was defending an Air Force pilot accused of using marijuana, he was featured in an episode of 60 Minutes that exposed the Air Force's defective drug-testing procedures. After his service in Europe, he returned to South Carolina, leaving active duty in 1989. He subsequently entered private practice as a lawyer.
During the 1990–91 Gulf War, Graham was recalled to active duty, serving as a judge advocate at McEntire Air National Guard Station in Eastover, South Carolina, where he helped brief departing pilots on the laws of war. In 1998, the Capitol Hill daily newspaper The Hill contended that Graham was describing himself on his website as an Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran. Graham responded: 'I have not told anybody I'm a combatant. I'm not a war hero, and never said I was. ... If I have lied about my military record, I'm not fit to serve in Congress', further noting that he 'never deployed.'
In 1998, Graham was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 2004, he received his promotion to colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve at a White House ceremony officiated by President George W. Bush. That year, a lower court determined that Graham's service as a military judge while a sitting member of the Senate was acceptable. In 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces set aside the lower court's ruling after concluding it was improper for Graham to serve as a military judge.
In 2007, Graham served in Iraq as a reservist on active duty for a short period in April and for two weeks in August, where he worked on detainee and rule-of-law issues. He also served in Afghanistan during the August 2009 Senate recess. He was then assigned as a senior instructor at the Judge Advocate General's School, though he never went.
In 2014, Graham received a Bronze Star medal for meritorious service as a senior legal adviser to the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, spanning from August 2009 to July 2014, that oversaw the detention of military prisoners. In 2015, Graham retired from the Air Force with over 33 total years of service, after reaching the statutory retirement age of 60 for his rank.
South Carolina House of Representatives
In 1992, Graham was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives from the 2nd district, located in Oconee County. He defeated Democratic incumbent Lowell W. Ross by 60% to 40% and served one term, from 1993 to 1995.
U.S. House of Representatives
In 1994, 20-year incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman Butler Derrick of South Carolina's northwestern-based 3rd congressional district decided to retire. Graham ran to succeed him and, with Republican U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond campaigning on his behalf, he won the Republican primary with 52% of the vote, defeating Bob Cantrell and Ed Allgood . In the general election, Graham defeated Democratic State Senator James Bryan Jr. by 60% to 40%. As a part of that year's Republican Revolution, Graham became the first Republican to represent this district since 1877.
In 1996, he was challenged by Debbie Dorn, the niece of Butler Derrick and daughter of Derrick's predecessor, 13-term Democratic Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn. Graham was re-elected to a second term, defeating Dorn 60% to 40%. In 1998, he won re-election to a third term unopposed. In 2000, he was re-elected to a fourth term against Democrat George Brightharp by 68% to 30%.
He was a member of the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998. He was the only Republican on the committee to vote against any of the articles of impeachment ; background: none;' bgcolor='none'>Paula Jones case, although he voted in favor of the other three Articles), asking: 'Is this Watergate or Peyton Place?'
During his service in the House, Graham served on the following committees:
In 2002, long-time Republican U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond decided to retire. Graham ran to succeed him and won the Republican primary unopposed. In the general election, he defeated Democrat Alex Sanders, the former President of the College of Charleston and former Chief Judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, by 600,010 votes to 487,359 . Graham thus became South Carolina's first new U.S. Senator since 1965. He served as the state's junior senator for only two years, serving alongside Democrat Ernest Hollings until he retired in 2005.
When Graham ran for a second term in 2008, he was challenged in the Republican primary by National Executive Committeeman of the South Carolina Republican Party Buddy Witherspoon. Graham defeated him by 186,398 votes to 92,547 , winning all but one of South Carolina's 46 counties. Graham then defeated Democratic pilot and engineer Bob Conley in the general election by 1,076,534 votes to 790,621 , having out-spent Conley by $6.6 million to $15,000.
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 rating.
Relationship with Donald Trump Trump–Ukraine scandal
Graham and Donald Trump in January 2019 In July 2015, when Graham was a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, he called Donald Trump, then another Republican presidential candidate, a 'jackass', in relation to Trump saying that Graham's close friend, Senator John McCain, was 'not a war hero.' Trump then reacted by calling Graham an 'idiot' and revealing Graham's personal cellphone number at a campaign rally, asking people to call Graham.
In December 2015, Trump, the leading presidential candidate, called for a ban preventing Muslims from entering the United States. Graham, who had very little support as a presidential candidate, responded: 'He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot ... He doesn't represent my party ... I don't think he has a clue about anything ... He is empowering radical Islam ... You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.' Graham additionally said: 'I'd rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with him.'
In June 2016, after Donald Trump criticized a judge of Mexican heritage, implying he could be biased, Graham said to CNN: 'I don't think racist but he's playing the race card ... I think it's very un-American ... If he continues this line of attack then I think people really need to reconsider the future of the party.' Graham told The New York Times that this incident 'is probably it' for anyone looking to withdraw their support of Trump: 'There'll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillar'y Clinton, then the rival presidential candidate to Trump.
In the presidential election of November 2016, Graham did not vote for Trump: 'I couldn't go where Donald Trump wanted to take the USA & GOP.' Graham instead voted for independent candidate Evan McMullin.
In March 2017, Graham had a meeting with Trump. Graham said that the meeting went so well that Graham passed his new phone number to Trump, in a reference to their previous 2015 conflict. In October 2017, Graham and Trump played golf together on multiple occasions, with Graham praising the first outing. In November 2017, Graham criticized the media's reporting on Trump: 'What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy some kind of kook not fit to be president.' Previously in February 2016, Graham himself said of Trump: 'I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.'
In April 2018, Graham declared that he would support a re-election bid by Trump in 2020. Previously, before the 2016 presidential election, Graham had said: 'If we nominate Trump we will get destroyed ... and we will deserve it.' Later, in January 2019, Graham declared that Republicans must support Trump's policies: 'If we undercut the president, that's the end of his presidency and the end of our party.'
Graham joins President Donald Trump for swearing-in of recently confirmed Attorney General William Barr on February 14, 2019 Graham was interviewed by Mark Leibovich for a February 2019 article in The New York Times Magazine. Leibovich asked Graham how he became a prominent Trump supporter. Graham responded that he was attempting 'to be relevant': 'I've got an opportunity up here working with the president to get some really good outcomes for the country ... I have never been called this much by a president in my life ... He's asked me to do some things, and I've asked him to do some things in return.' Graham stated that he had been gaining more and more influence with Trump, and was now attempting to enter Trump's inner circle, where he would reach a level of influence on par with Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Graham also said that he had a 'political marriage' with John McCain, but as for his relationship with Trump: 'I personally like him. We play golf. He's very nice to me.' Additionally, according to Leibovich, Graham said that his positive relationship with Trump was also to ensure that Graham would be re-elected to Senate in 2020.
Seven months after the death of McCain, one of Graham's 'dearest friends', McCain was repeatedly criticized by Trump. Graham himself was then criticized for not standing up for McCain. Graham responded: 'To all those people who bring up this narrative, you just hate Trump ... You're not offended about me and McCain; you're trying to use me to get to Trump ... I'm not into this idea that the only way to honor John McCain is to trash out Trump.' Graham also stated: 'The bottom line here is I'm going to help President Trump.' Earlier, McCain had banned Trump from his funeral. Trump's daughter Ivanka attended his funeral, reportedly at the invitation of Graham, who had supposedly gotten approval from McCain's wife. According to Graham, Trump called him after he delivered an emotional farewell to McCain on the Senate floor, telling him he 'did right by his friend.'
On May 14, 2019, Graham came under scrutiny, including from United States Senator Joe Manchin , after encouraging Donald Trump Jr. to ignore a subpoena delivered by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. This sparked the LindseyGrahamResign hashtag to begin trending on Twitter.
In July 2019, Graham said that he did not think Trump was a racist, and that he did not think that Trump's statements for Democratic congresswomen to 'go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came' were racist. Graham said: 'I don't think a Somali refugee embracing Trump would be asked to go back. If you're racist, you want everybody to go back because they are black or Muslim.' Earlier in August 2018, The Washington Post reported that Graham had stated: 'I have never heard him make a single racist statement. Not even close.'
On October 8, 2019, during an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios, Graham condemned the Trump announcement of an intention to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, stating that the president was putting the nation at risk along with that of his presidency and that it was without the support of key national security advisers. Media focused upon the reversals made by Graham and the apparent lack of appreciation for his advice by Trump.
In December 2019, as two articles of impeachment against Trump moved to a vote before the full House and referral to the Senate for trial, Graham stated, 'I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here,' adding 'this thing will come to the Senate, and it will die quickly, and I will do everything I can to make it die quickly.' Graham also announced: 'I have disdain for the accusations and the process. So I don't need any witnesses' for the Senate trial. Years earlier, Graham was previously a member of the House of Representatives during the impeachment process against president Bill Clinton; at that time he told Senators who preemptively declared that they would not convict the president: 'I have a duty far greater than just getting to the next election ... Please allow the facts to do the talking ... Don't decide the case before the case's end.'