Sen. Lindsey Graham’s public fury dissipated Friday afternoon, however briefly.
After unleashing one television tirade after another for the previous 24 hours, claiming that Democratic calls for the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh were nothing more than a partisan ploy to smear Kavanaugh and derail his nomination, Graham finally relented after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake lent his name to the cause.
“I think the people in the country who are going to feel differently a week from now, you can probably put in a phone booth,” Graham told reporters after Flake secured a handshake agreement with GOP leaders to delay a final floor vote to allow the FBI to conduct a time-limited investigation. “However, if Jeff feels better about it, I feel better about it.”
Graham’s about-face wasn’t a shock. Republicans needed Flake’s vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination out of the Judiciary Committee on Friday, and they’ll need it again, along with other moderate Republicans like Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to confirm Kavanaugh. Graham and the rest of the GOP just can’t afford to alienate Flake or anyone else in their own party. Still, Graham’s abrupt change of tune—from Democrats should be ashamed of themselves to My fellow Republican makes a fair point—was nonetheless stunning.
A quick refresher.
Early Thursday afternoon, only moments after Christine Blasey Ford finished testifying, Graham stepped in front of the cameras outside the hearing room to deliver a four-plus-minute rant. “All I can say is that we’re 40-something days away from the election, and their goal—not Miss Ford’s goal—is to lay this past the midterms so they can win the Senate and never allow Trump to fill the seat,” Graham said. He added: “That’s the facts I’m left with—a nice lady who has come forward to tell a hard story that’s uncorroborated. And [if] this is enough, God help anybody else that gets nominated.”
A few hours later, Graham offered a repeat performance inside the hearing room, a moment that marked an inflection point for many Senate Republicans, who up until then had largely ceded their time to Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor the GOP had flown in to do the questioning. “What you want to do,” Graham told Democrats on the panel, as Kavanaugh sat in the hot seat, “is destroy this guy’s life, hold open this seat, and hope you win in 2020.” (After Graham spoke, no Republican on the panel gave their time to Mitchell again.)
The affirmations from Trump world were enough to make you wonder if that was Graham’s intended audience the whole time:
Graham then offered up an encore performance that same evening on Fox News. “I am now more convinced than ever that he didn’t do it, that he’s the right guy to be on the court, that Ms. Ford has got a problem, and destroying Judge Kavanaugh’s life won’t fix her problem,” he told Sean Hannity.
A night’s sleep didn’t change Graham’s mind, either. On Friday morning, as the judiciary panel was getting ready to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Graham offered up another indignant lecture, this one lasting a quarter-hour. “I know I’m a single white male from South Carolina and I’ve been told I should shut up,” Graham began, “but I will not shut up.” As Republicans did several times on Thursday, Graham then used an old Joe Biden quote—misleadingly—to suggest that an FBI investigation would be worthless. “This has never been about the truth, this has been about delay and destruction,” he said, adding later: “If I am chairman next year … I’m gonna remember this. There’s the process before Kavanaugh and the process after Kavanaugh.”
The anger and warnings, though, were conspicuously absent a few hours later, after Flake secured a “gentlemen’s and women’s agreement,” in the hot-mic words of Chairman Chuck Grassley, to have the FBI perform a time-limited investigation into Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. “Thirty-five years ago—you know what you know and have heard what you are going to hear,” Graham told reporters. “Having said that, this is called democracy.” He continued: “This is Jeff Flake being very sincere and what he is trying to do—I respect the hell out of this—is trying to get some Democrats to buy in.”
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus