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Why did Lindsey Graham join a climate group?

Congress has long been a place where climate policy goes to die. That could soon change, and not only because there’s an election coming up in less than a year.

A new bipartisan climate caucus has formed in the Senate. It’s similar to a climate caucus in the House that’s been around since 2016: There must be one Republican for every Democrat who joins, and the group aims to educate members on policy and, ideally, propose pathways to action. But the House version has run into some serious roadblocks: it lost a chunk of its right flank in the 2018 midterm election, and it’s having trouble recruiting enough Republican members for the many Democrats who wish to join.

In the few weeks since it’s been up and running, the caucus in the upper chamber has had no difficulty attracting high-profile GOP members. Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Marco Rubio are among the Republicans who have joined the group. Surprisingly, so has South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters.

“I believe climate change is real,” Graham said in a statement. “I also believe that we as Americans have the ability to come up with climate change solutions that can benefit our economy and our way of life.”

That sounds like the Lindsey Graham of yore, who was more centrist than firebrand. In 2009, Graham teamed up with Democratic Senator John Kerry to push for climate legislation in the Senate. In 2015, he garnered praise for being one of only two Republican presidential contenders who had a history of engaging with climate and environment issues. In 2017, he urged President Trump to stay in the Paris climate accord, arguing that the leader of the Republican Party should not break with the rest of the world on an issue supported by sound science.

In the two years since he disagreed with Trump on the Paris Agreement, an unearthly transformation has transpired: Graham devolved from independent lone wolf to White House lapdog so rapidly that researchers were forced to reevaluate Charles Darwin’s seminal theory. Graham’s sudden zeal for defending the actions of the Commander in Chief — a man he once called “unfit for office” — inspired him to do things like go on Trump’s favorite Fox News show to compliment the president’s golf game. “To every Republican, if you don’t stand behind this President, we’re not going to stand behind you,” he said in South Carolina in February.

Given Trump’s aversion to climate science and working with Democrats, Graham’s decision to join a bipartisan climate solutions caucus is odd. Is Graham reverting to his old centrist ways? Or is there a more cynical explanation for his presence on the caucus?

It’s possible — in the sense that almost anything is possible — that Graham genuinely wants to reach across the aisle to take action on climate change. His recent voting record on the environment is surprisingly strong, by Republican standards. So far in 2019, he has cast five pro-environment votes, according to the League of Conservation Voters, a political group that keeps track of how members of Congress vote on environmental policy. That’s a far better record than other Republican members of the caucus, like Romney and Rubio, who only cast one pro-environment vote this year each.

But there’s another potential explanation, one that’s more in line with the partisan choices Graham has made in the past couple of years of the Trump administration. Perhaps Graham joined the caucus not to work with Democrats, but to stymie them. His motivation might be to ensure that other lawmakers decide to adopt a conservative vision of climate action, instead of something like the Green New Deal.

“If the only thing out there is the Green New Deal, well, the American people will take it,” Bob Inglis, former U.S. representative from Graham’s home state of South Carolina, told Grist. “You’ve got to get out there with an alternative. That’s what Republicans are doing, they’ve figured out how to enter the competition of ideas and present an alternative.”

Whether Graham and his fellow GOP-ers use the caucus as an opportunity to push for meaningful alternatives to progressive climate change solutions remains to be seen. The American Petroleum Institute, a group that has a long history of successfully lobbying against environmental regulations, called the caucus a “promising addition to the national conversation,” something that has climate activists on edge.

But activists would do well to remember that the new Lindsey Graham is in the habit of doing whatever is politically expedient. The South Carolinian may have sensed that denial may not serve the GOP much longer.

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Why did Lindsey Graham join a climate group?

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Lindsey Graham Just Went Off on Donald Trump and the GOP: "My Party Is Completely Screwed Up"

Mother Jones

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Shortly after Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a series of spectacular insults aimed at his former Republican presidential challengers—one of which included the line, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, no one would convict you”—Graham endorsed the Texas senator for president. On the Daily Show on Wednesday, he tried his best to explain why.

“I’m on the Ted train, absolutely,” Graham told host Trevor Noah, grinning and seemingly aware of his own bullshit. “What’s not to like?”

Noah then ran the clip of his memorable Cruz diss, and asked why things have changed. Smiling ruefully, Graham said, “It tells you everything you need to know about Donald Trump.” He later laughed, “I’m gettin’ better at this.”

Graham proceeded to basically call out the entire Republican party, which he called “absolutely screwed up,” even warning Noah to prepare accordingly if Trump were to make it to the White House.

“If Trump wins, your days are numbered, pal,” he said. “Young, black, liberal guy from Africa is not going to work with him.”

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Lindsey Graham Just Went Off on Donald Trump and the GOP: "My Party Is Completely Screwed Up"

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Donald Trump’s 47 Percent Moment

Mother Jones

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Last week, Mitt Romney, the twice-failed GOP presidential candidate, delivered a speech that blasted Donald Trump, the current Republican front-runner, calling the tycoon “a phony, a fraud” and citing Trump’s “dishonesty” and his “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.” It was a clear move on Romney’s part to rally the GOP establishment against the celebrity real estate mogul whose endorsement he warmly embraced during the 2012 campaign. Naturally, Trump responded in kind. Within hours, at a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, he lashed out at Romney.

Trump noted that Romney had “failed horribly” four years ago. He claimed that Romney had begged Trump to endorse him in that race: “I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees.’ He would have dropped to his knees.” His audience roared with laughter. And Trump went on:

It was a campaign that should have never been lost. You’re running against a failed president. He came up with the 47 percent. He demeaned 47 percent of the people in our country, right? The famous 47 percent. Once that was said, I’ll be honest, once that was said, a lot of people thought it was over for him.

On Monday, after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) assailed him, Trump returned to this line of attack, tweeting, “Lindsey Graham is all over T.V., much like failed 47% candidate Mitt Romney. These nasty, angry, jealous failures have ZERO credibility!”

In Trump’s view, Romney lost partly due to the infamous remarks, reported by Mother Jones, in which Romney said at a private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans “believe that they are victims…that government has a responsibility to care for them…that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Romney noted that these people do not pay income taxes and do not “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” His comments indicted nearly half of the nation as moochers and freeloaders who do not contribute to society.

For Trump, that insult helped doom Romney’s campaign. But last year, Trump voiced a strikingly similar sentiment. During a June 2015 one-on-one interview on Fox News, host Sean Hannity asked Trump if he, as president, could get 50 million Americans out of poverty. Of course, Trump said, and he added:

I would create incentives for people to work. People don’t have an incentive. They make more money by sitting there doing nothing than they make if they have a job. We have to create incentives that they actually do much better by working. Right now they have a disincentive. They have an incentive not to work.

This was a routine conservative contention: Assistance programs cause people not to work. And Hannity pressed Trump: Would he insist that recipients of food stamps, welfare, and other government assistance “have to work for it?” Trump replied that this could be necessary, and he remarked that Bill Clinton had pushed such a approach with welfare reform. Then Trump made a broader point:

The problem we have right now—we have a society that sits back and says we don’t have to do anything. Eventually, the 50 percent cannot carry—and it’s unfair to them—but cannot carry the other 50 percent.

So one half of the nation is carrying the other half, and the attitude of those in the latter half is, “we don’t have to do anything.” This is darn close to Romney’s 47 percent analysis, but 3 percentage points greater. Trump was depicting 50 percent of Americans as people seeking a free ride.

Both Romney’s and Trump’s comments hail back to a right-wing talking point—this is a country of takers and makers—that distorts actual statistics. In 2011, 46.4 percent of US households did not pay federal income taxes. (The number was higher that year than the usual 40 percent or so, due to the recession that hit during the Bush-Cheney years.) This is the stat that Romney had obviously had in mind. The problem comes—the demeaning, as Trump would put it—when folks who do not pay income taxes are equated with lazy ne’er-do-wells merely angling for a handout. That’s not what the numbers show. In 2011, 60 percent of those who didn’t pay income taxes did pay taxes for Social Security and Medicare. These people essentially did not make enough money to qualify for the income tax. Another 22 percent of the people who didn’t pay income taxes were retirees. Only 8 percent of US households paid no federal taxes at all. According to a Washington Post analysis, that was “usually because they’re either unemployed or on disability or students or are very poor.”

So many of the those who didn’t pay income taxes are working and paying some form of tax, and many others within this group—pensioners and poor people—shouldn’t be expected to pay income taxes. These people are not shirkers who say, “We don’t have to do anything.”

But Trump, like Romney, seems to believe the country is indeed equally split between strivers and loafers. And last year Trump had no reluctance in demeaning 50 percent, not 47 percent.

His comment, not surprisingly, didn’t cause a stir. He’s been spraying a fire hose of outrageous remarks since he entered the presidential race, and this one got lost in the wash. It’s also a statement fully in sync with his arrogant schtick that divides the world into winners and losers. Though he’s now blasting Romney for the original 47 percent insult to Americans, Trump, too, apparently views many Americans as parasites. The only difference is that his estimate is higher.

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Donald Trump’s 47 Percent Moment

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Lindsey Graham Apologizes to the Muslim World for Donald Trump

Mother Jones

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The GOP undercard debate has almost solely focused on how to deal with ISIS and terrorism, with a lot of talk about how the overall religion of Islam factors into the situation. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham continually stressed that framing the fight against terrorism as a fight against Islam is counterproductive and dangerous. At one point, he even apologized to the Muslim world for Trump’s anti-Islam rhetoric.

“To all of our Muslim friends throughout the world…I am sorry,” Graham said. “He does not represent us.”

Later in the debate, Graham laid blame for the rise of ISIS squarely at President Barack Obama’s feet, and then things got pretty interesting: “I miss George W. Bush,” he shouted. “I wish you were president right now!”

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Lindsey Graham Apologizes to the Muslim World for Donald Trump

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Here’s Donald Trump’s Cell Phone Number

Mother Jones

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Two weeks after publicly releasing a Republican presidential rival’s cell phone number, Donald Trump got his comeuppance on Monday.

Gawker’s Sam Biddle published Trump’s phone number in a story, responding to Trump’s public reading of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s phone number during a campaign speech in South Carolina on July 21. Biddle argued that the release of Graham’s number was important to maintaining open and direct channels of communication between voters and candidates, and felt that Trump should be held to a similar standard.

But before you pull out your own phone and start dialing, remember that the billionaire is hardly the type to limit himself to a single number.

“It’s a very old number,” a Trump campaign spokesperson told Mother Jones. “This is not one he uses. Mr. Trump has several numbers so he has not experienced any issues.”

It remains to be seen which pyrotechnic method Trump will use to destroy his outed phone in response.

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Here’s Donald Trump’s Cell Phone Number

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South Carolina’s Gov. Finally Calls for Removing the Confederate Flag From the State Capitol Grounds

Mother Jones

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Following days of mounting pressure, Gov. Nikki Haley just announced her support for removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

“It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” Haley told reporters at a press conference, where senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham were also present, on Monday.

“Some divisions are bigger than a flag. We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand,” she added.

The flag has been the subject of controversy in the past, including in 2000 when large protests opposing its presence took place in Columbia, the state’s capitol. The issue resurfaced, creating national headlines, after the mass shooting inside a historic black church in Charleston. This weekend, a racist online manifesto apparently belonging to the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, which included images of him posing with the flag, one in which he had a gun in his hand, surfaced.

Following the shooting, a slew of Republican presidential candidates—some of whom shied away from directly stating Roof had racist motives—have been asked about their stances on the Confederate flag. Although he condemned the shooting as an “evil act of aggression,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush ultimately said he did not know what was “mind or the heart of the man” behind it, despite the obvious racist symbolism Roof appeared to embrace. After once defending the flag as a “part of who we are,” Graham joined Haley on Monday in backtracking his longstanding support of the Confederate flag.

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South Carolina’s Gov. Finally Calls for Removing the Confederate Flag From the State Capitol Grounds

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Washington’s Biggest Hawk Wants to Be Secretary of Defense—So He’s Running for President

Mother Jones

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As 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have kick-started their pre-primary, not-yet-official campaigns, a burning question has arisen: Why is Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina with little national following and no hope of securing the nomination, saying that he may toss his hat in the ring? At the end of January, Graham announced his exploratory committee, but he has told reporters that an official announcement won’t come until he knows that he has enough financial backing to run.

Graham doesn’t seem a natural contender. The tea party scoffs at his bipartisan bona fides. His hawkish war rhetoric and interest in foreign policy endears him to Republican senators like close pal John McCain, as well as Kelly Ayotte and the neocon crowd, but this doesn’t offer him much of a launchpad. His fundraising prospects don’t seem strong, though the pro-Israel casino magnate Sheldon Adelson co-chaired a fundraising lunch for Graham at the Capitol Hill Club last week. Graham introduced a bipartisan bill that would ban online gambling, Adelson’s pet cause. Most political analysts, including Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard, have ruled Graham out of the running already. And MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin posits that Graham is just trying to undercut Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul regarding his skepticism toward military intervention overseas.

Yet some political strategists suggest that Graham has a target other than the White House.

“He’s running for secretary of defense,” says Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist in Florida with experience in South Carolina politics. “He’ll never say it, but if you know him well enough, it’s the only logical reason. He’ll make sure foreign policy is a central focus” of his campaign.

“If the Republicans win the White House, Lindsey Graham will have his choice of being secretary of defense or secretary of state, if he does it right,” Katon Dawson, Graham’s longtime friend and the former chair of the South Carolina Republican party, told National Review.

So what would doing “it right” mean?

Graham is popular in his home state of South Carolina, which is one of the three pivotal early states in the primary race. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another 2016 wannabe, is just 1 percent ahead of Graham in early polls of the state. But if Graham does poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire and drops out of the race, he could use his influence in the Palmetto State to benefit another candidate during the primary there. Should that candidate win, Graham’s wealth of foreign policy, military, and national security expertise could lead to his campaign work being rewarded, Wilson says.

Graham says he’s focusing on his “vision for the country and national security,” rather than on defeating other candidates. His PAC is called Security Through Strength, and it is largely dedicated to the fight against radical Islam and ISIS. Whenever a Republican leader is needed to talk about defense or foreign policy on the Sunday morning political programs, Graham is one of the top choices. He routinely appears on Meet the Press, Fox News, and CNN.

Political strategists say that they would be surprised if Graham campaigned negatively against other candidates. “The last thing Marco Rubio and Rand Paul worry about is Lindsey Graham,” Wilson says. Rob Wislinkski, a strategist from Graham’s home state, agrees: “I’d be very surprised if he throws a lot of rocks at the other candidates in the GOP,” he says. And Graham told MSNBC that Rand Paul’s potential bid has “zero” to do with his decisions, hesitating to bad-mouth the Kentucky senator.

Then again, maybe Graham thinks lightning will strike. Larry Sabato, managing editor of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball blog, suggests that Graham may be catching the presidential fever that afflicts many long-time senators: deciding you can do the job better after having watched several presidents in action. “They start whistling ‘Hail to the Chief’ while shaving,” Sabato says.

Graham’s camp is adamant that he actually wants the top job. “If he decided to formally enter the race, he is running to win,” says Christian Ferry, a Virginia GOP strategist who is advising Graham.

Maybe. But if Graham is merely trying to gain an edge in the postelection Pentagon sweepstakes, the experience of retiring Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel might be a cautionary tale, Sabato notes. For all the power of the position, the top Pentagon job involves losing the independence that senators enjoy. But for Graham, being named secretary of defense could be a powerful career capper, and a way to lay out his vision of a hardline national defense—something he probably won’t be doing from the Oval Office.

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Washington’s Biggest Hawk Wants to Be Secretary of Defense—So He’s Running for President

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