Lindsey Olin Graham (born July 9, 1955) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator from South Carolina, a seat he has held since 2003. Since 2019, he has been the Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in psychology in 1977, and from the University of South Carolina School of Law with a J.D. in 1981.
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.
Following his departure from the Air Force, he joined the South Carolina Air National Guard in 1989, where he served until 1995, then joining the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
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.
*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1994, write-ins received 13 votes. In 2000, Natural Law candidate LeRoy J. Klein received 1,122 votes and write-ins received 33 votes. George Brightharp ran under both the Democratic and United Citizens Parties and received 2,253 votes on the United Citizen line.
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 (33%) and Ed Allgood (15%). 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.
Although Graham had earlier signed Grover Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in June 2012, he went on record supporting the closure of tax loopholes without compensating decreases in other tax revenue, saying "We're so far in debt, that if you don't give up some ideological ground, the country sinks." As U.S. Representative from South Carolina, Graham received grades of B in 1995, B+ in 1996, A in 1997 and 1998, B+ in 1999, A in 2000, B in 2001, and C+ in 2002, and as U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Graham has received grades of A in 2003, B+ in 2004 and 2005, A in 2006 and 2007, C in 2008, A in 2009 and 2010, B- in 2011, B+ in 2012, and C+ in 2013 from the National Taxpayers Union, a conservative taxpayers advocacy organization. The Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies identifies Graham, during his U.S. House and U.S. Senate tenure, as having a mostly protectionist and pro-subsidies voting record.
In 1996, Graham voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.
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%.
In 1997, he took part in a leadership challenge against House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
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."
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 (the second count of perjury in the Paula Jones case, though he voted in favor of the other three Articles), famously asking: "Is this Watergate or Peyton Place?"
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, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held that it was improper for Graham to serve as a military judge while a sitting member of the Senate.
Graham supported John McCain's presidential bid in 2000 and served as national co-chairman of McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 2002, write-ins received 667 votes. In 2014, write-ins received 4,774 votes.
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 (54%) to 487,359 (44%). 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.
In the National Journal's ideological rankings of Senators, Graham was named 41st most-conservative in 2003, 38th most-conservative in 2004, 43rd most-conservative in 2005, 33rd most-conservative in 2006, 24th most-conservative in 2007, 15th most-conservative in 2008, 26th most-conservative in 2009, 24th most-conservative in 2010, 42nd most-conservative in 2011, 33rd most-conservative in 2012 and 40th most-conservative in 2013.
In response to this and a June 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing detainees to file habeas corpus petitions to challenge their detentions, Graham authored an amendment to a Department of Defense Authorization Act attempting to clarify the authority of American courts. The amendment passed in November 2005 by a vote of 49–42 in the Senate despite opposition from human rights groups and legal scholars who contended that it limited the rights of detainees.
On May 23, 2005, Graham was one of the so-called Gang of 14 senators to forge a compromise that brought a halt to the continued blockage of an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees. This compromise negated both the Democrats' use of a filibuster and the Republican "nuclear option" as described in the media. Under the agreement, the Democrats would retain the power to filibuster a Bush judicial nominee only in an "extraordinary circumstance", and subsequently, three conservative Bush appellate court nominees (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William H. Pryor Jr.) received a vote by the full Senate.
In July 2005, Graham secured the declassification and release of memoranda outlining concerns made by senior military lawyers as early as 2003 about the legality of the interrogations of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
In 2016, several news stories reported that Graham was the only Republican to receive political contributions from the Boston-based trial lawyer firm, Thornton Law Firm. The Thornton Law Firm is nationally known for its expertise in asbestos-related litigation. Over a ten-year period, Graham receives $62,800 in campaign contributions from the firm's partners. In 2006, the firm was opposed to a congressional bill that would have shifted asbestos cases from courts to a trust fund-based system. According to The Boston Globe, Graham "helped peel away enough GOP support in the Senate to ensure the trust funds bill's death on Valentine's Day 2006."
During the Judiciary Committee's January 2006 confirmation hearings for the nomination of Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, a question arose concerning Alito's membership in a Princeton University organization which some said was sexist and racist. In response, Alito stated that he "deplored" certain racist comments that had been made by the organization's founder. While Graham allowed that Alito might just be saying this because he wanted the nomination, Graham concluded that he had no reason to believe that because "you seem to be a decent, honorable man." Alito's wife and sister characterized Graham's statements as supportive.
In February 2006, Graham joined Senator Jon Kyl in filing an amicus brief in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that argued "Congress was aware" that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 would strip the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to hear "pending cases, including this case" brought by the Guantanamo detainees.
Graham supports an interventionist foreign policy. Graham and his fellow Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who were frequently dubbed "the three amigos", travelled widely, pushing for American military intervention, particularly after the September 11 attacks. Their influence reached its zenith in 2007 as President Bush advocated for his surge strategy in Iraq, declining shortly before Lieberman retired from the Senate in 2013. Kelly Ayotte, who joined the Senate in 2011, has been considered Lieberman's replacement in the group.
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.
Graham was a supporter of "comprehensive immigration reform" and of S. 2611, the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform Bill of 2006 as well as S. 1348 of 2007, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. His positions on immigration, and in particular collaborating with Senator Ted Kennedy, earned Graham the ire of conservative activists. The controversy prompted conservative activists to support a primary challenge in 2008 by longtime Republican national committeeman Buddy Witherspoon, but Graham won the nomination by a large margin.
In August 2011, Graham co-sponsored with Senator Jeanne Shaheen Senate Resolution 175, wherewith he contended that "Russia's invasion of Georgian land in 2008 was an act of aggression, not only to Georgia but to all new democracies."
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 (66.82%) to 92,547 (33.18%), 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 (57.53%) to 790,621 (42.25%), having out-spent Conley by $6.6 million to $15,000.
In a May 2009 CNN interview, Graham referred to the domestic internment of German and Japanese prisoners of war and U.S. Citizens as a model for domestic detention of Guantanamo detainees by saying, "We had 450,000 Japanese and German prisoners housed in the United States during World War II. As a nation, we can deal with this."
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.
Graham opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
On December 10, 2009, Graham co-sponsored a letter to President Barack Obama along with then Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman announcing their commitment to passing a climate change bill and outlining its framework. Graham was identified as a potential Republican supporter of passing a climate change bill and was thought to be a likely sponsor for the final bill. However, he pulled his support for the climate change bill, saying that he disapproved of Senate Democrats moving forward with legislation to deal with immigration issues, a reaction to Arizona's passage of an illegal immigration law, Graham's withdrawal of support left passage of the climate change bill in doubt.
Graham told reporters in June 2010 that "The science about global warming has changed. I think they've oversold this stuff, quite frankly. I think they've been alarmist and the science is in question. The whole movement has taken a giant step backward." He also stated that he planned to vote against the climate bill that he had originally co-sponsored, citing further restriction of offshore drilling added to the bill and the bill's impact on transportation. In 2015, Graham said he "completely understand[s] and accept[s]" that climate change is real, but said "I don't know" as to the role that human activity played.
In July 2010, Graham suggested that U.S. citizenship as an automatic birthright guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be amended, and that any children born of illegal immigrants inside the borders of the United States should be considered illegal immigrants. Graham alleged that "Half the children born in hospitals on our borders are the children of illegal immigrants." Responding to the Graham claim, The New York Times cited a Pew Foundation study estimating that illegal immigrants account for only 8 percent of births in the United States and that 80 percent of the mothers had been in the U.S. for more than one year.
On November 6, 2010, at the Halifax International Security Forum, Graham called for a pre-emptive military strike to weaken the Iranian regime. He has also argued that "the U.S. needs to keep at least 10,000 troops in Iraq into 2012," saying that "If we're not smart enough to work with the Iraqis to have 10,000 to 15,000 American troops in Iraq in 2012, Iraq could go to hell."
In December 2010, Graham was one of twenty-six senators who voted against the ratification of New Start, a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russian Federation obliging both countries to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads as well as 700 launchers deployed during the next seven years along with providing a continuation of on-site inspections that halted when START I expired the previous year. It was the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years.
During an appearance on Face the Nation on April 3, 2011, Graham "suggested that Congress take unspecified though formal action against the Koran-burning by Florida preacher Terry Jones," in light of an attack on United Nations personnel triggered by Jones' actions. In asserting that "Congress might need to explore the need to limit some forms of freedom of speech," Graham argued that "Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war," and claimed that "during World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy."
In 2012, Graham's endorsement was highly sought, but he declined to endorse one of the Republican candidates ahead of the January 2012 South Carolina Republican primary. After Rick Santorum withdrew from the race in April 2012, leaving Mitt Romney as the presumptive nominee, Graham endorsed Romney.
In November 2012, Graham and Schumer re-opened their talks on comprehensive immigration reform. On January 28, 2013, Graham was a member of a bi-partisan group of eight Senators which announced principles for comprehensive immigration reform. On June 23, 2013, Graham said that the Senate was close to obtaining 70 votes to pass the reform package.
On January 29, 2013, in an interview with Fox News, he claimed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "got away with murder", following her testimony about the 2012 Benghazi attack. But the next year he would concede that the House Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi was, as he put it, "full of crap", and that the Administration had been cleared of many of the charges therein.
In the run-up to the Republican primary, Graham's approval rating improved. According to a Winthrop poll from February 2013, he held a 59% positive rating among Republican likely voters. In the primary, held on June 10, 2014, Graham won with 178,833 votes (56.42%). His nearest challenger, State Senator Lee Bright, received 48,904 votes (15.53%).
On February 28, 2013, Graham criticized President Obama and both political parties on the Senate floor for allowing the budget reduction to occur with "two-thirds of the budget" exempt from reductions and said the impact on the Department of Defense would create a "hollow military" that "invites aggression".
Graham opposes extending background checks, saying that "universal background checks are going to require universal [gun] registration." He has, however, called current gun laws "broken", citing an example of a woman who pleaded guilty by reason of insanity to attempting to kill President George W. Bush, but who was later able to pass a background check and buy a gun. To this end, in March 2013, he joined with Senators Jeff Flake, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor in introducing a bill that would close a loophole by flagging individuals who attempt to buy guns who have used an insanity defense, were ruled dangerous by a court or had been committed by a court to mental health treatment. It did not address the gun show loophole.
On July 16, 2013, Graham suggested the United States should consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, because of "what the Russian government is doing throughout the world." Graham also said the U.S. should aim to "drive the Russian economy into the ground."
On July 25, 2013, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations unanimously adopted an amendment by Senator Graham to the "Fiscal Year 2014 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill" that would seek sanctions against any country that offers asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
During his Senate re-election race in October 2014, while discussing immigration and foreign policy issues with a reporter from The Weekly Standard, Graham said: "If I get through my general election, if nobody steps up in the presidential mix, if nobody's out there talking ... I may just jump in to get to make these arguments." And on March 7, 2015, at a "Politics and Pies" forum, Graham advocated the reversal of defense spending cuts and quipped: "If I were President of the United States, I wouldn't let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to."
In 2015, Graham sponsored the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to the Senate, which bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation on a national basis, with some exceptions. In 2018, Graham said that he is pro-life, but believes that Roe v. Wade is precedent that should not be overturned without "good reason."
Graham supported the NATO-led military intervention in Libya. In March 2015, he supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. Graham said: "We want to have a relationship with Saudi Arabia. They're a strategic partner. They're a mortal enemy of the Iranians."
On April 19, 2015, Graham told Chris Wallace, on the Fox News Sunday show, that he was "91% sure" he would run for president. "If I can raise the money, I'll do it," he said. On May 18, 2015, Graham informally announced that he would run for president on CBS This Morning, saying he was running because he thinks "the world is falling apart."
In May 2015, Senator Graham said: "If I am President of the United States and you are thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIS, I am not going to call a judge. I am going to call a drone and we will kill you."
He made an official announcement of his candidacy for President on June 1, 2015.
Following a multiple shooting incident at an historic African American church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, Graham canceled all campaign events to return to South Carolina. In response to questions from the press regarding the calls from some, following the incident, to remove the Confederate flag at a war memorial on the South Carolina State Capitol grounds, Graham said: "Well, at the end of the day it's time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision. [That] would be fine with me, but this is part of who we are." He continued, "The flag represents to some people a civil war, and that was the symbol of one side. To others it's a racist symbol, and it's been used by people – it's been used in a racist way." Regarding the shooter responsible for the incident, Graham said, "We're not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read, or a movie he watched, or a song he listened to, or a symbol out anywhere. It's him ... not the flag."
In July 2015, Graham called Republican candidate and frontrunner Donald Trump a "jackass" during an interview on CNN. In response, Trump criticized Graham for asking him for help to get on Fox & Friends and gave out Graham's mobile phone number.
On December 21, 2015, Graham suspended his presidential campaign, due to lack of support and polling poorly, and, on January 15, 2016, endorsed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. After it appeared certain that Donald Trump would become the Republican candidate for President in May 2016, Graham announced that he would not vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton, commenting: "I think Donald Trump is going to places where very few people have gone and I'm not going with him." On November 8, 2016, Graham announced that he had voted for Evan McMullin.
On January 5, 2017, Graham condemned President Obama for abstaining from UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as a violation of international law.
In April 2017, Graham flew to Houston, Texas to raise money from "superstar plaintiffs lawyer Mark Lanier" and "tort reform foes." The fundraiser was timed just as House Republicans began to advanced tort reform legislation such as class action lawsuit and the asbestos bankruptcy trust system. (Graham used to be a trial lawyer before he entered public office. ) Because of the makeup of the number of Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, if Graham voted against the proposals along with Democrats, he could effectively stop them in their tracks.
In October 2017, in the wake of the Tongo Tongo ambush which killed four U.S. soldiers, Graham expressed surprise that there were a thousand U.S. troops in Niger: "I didn't know there was a thousand troops in Niger." A few days later, Graham called for an expanded role of the U.S. military in Niger: "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."
In January 2018, and in the first known congressional criminal referral in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Graham, along with Chuck Grassley, recommended charges against Christopher Steele, one of the people who sought to expose Russian interference. Grassley and Graham said that they had reason to believe that Steele had lied to federal authorities. According to The New York Times, "It was not clear why, if a crime is apparent in the F.B.I. reports that were reviewed by the Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department had not moved to charge Mr. Steele already. The circumstances under which Mr. Steele is alleged to have lied were unclear, as much of the referral was classified."
In April 2018, following the FBI raid on the hotel room and offices of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, Graham, together with Cory Booker, Chris Coons, and Thom Tillis, introduced new legislation to "limit President Trump's ability to fire special counsel Robert Mueller". Termed the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, the legislation would allow any special counsel, in this case Mueller, receive an "expedited judicial review" in the 10 days following being dismissed to determine if said dismissal was suitable. If negative, the special counsel would be reinstated. At the same time, according to The Hill, the bill would "codify regulations" that a special counsel could only be fired by a senior Justice Department, while having to provide reasons in writing.
In November 2018, Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that he would become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and that Graham would take his place as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pending his formal selection by colleagues.
On March 11, 2019, Graham said that he would encourage the Trump administration to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
On March 14, 2019 Graham blocked a resolution calling for special counsel Robert Mueller's report to be made public after it passed the House unanimously.
On May 14, 2019, Graham came under extreme scrutiny from many individuals, including Congressman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), after encouraging Donald Trump, Jr. to ignore a subpoena delivered by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. This sparked the #LindseyGrahamResign hashtag to immediately begin trending on Twitter.
In early 2010, Graham began working with Democratic New York Senator Chuck Schumer on immigration reform. The talks broke down later in the year.