Obama reaches out to Graham, wants to work together

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters in his Columbia office.

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters in his Columbia office.

Last night, President Barack Obama called Sen. Lindsey Graham. They spoke for about 20 minutes, which suggests that the president didn’t make very many such calls.

Graham told reporters in Columbia today that the president wanted to find a way to work with him and other Republicans so that the next two years aren’t just a continuation of gridlock of the last two.

Obama wasn’t looking for miracles. He wanted “a medium or small-sized deal” or two that could build confidence, persuade everyone that it’s possible for the two sides to work together for the good of the country and then who knows? Maybe a big deal would be possible.

“The President wanted to find ways to create momentum for problem-solving because he believed rightly that it would help the American people, restore their belief that the government is not hopelessly lost, and would increase our standing overseas,” said Graham. “And I think he’s right about that.”

What sorts of things might constitute such a modest deal? The first thing Graham mentioned was the fact that the highway trust fund is depleted — as on the state level, the gasoline tax no longer brings in enough to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs. He said he and Barbara Boxer are already working on a deal that would put a 10 percent tax on money earned by American corporations overseas, to replenish the fund.

He said he and the president also spoke about port modernization, the Keystone pipeline, tax reform — and immigration.

The senator suggested that Republicans would be wise to accept the president’s offer:

“President Obama’s biggest problem is that he campaigned as a centrist, but he’s governed from the left ditch,” Graham said. “Here’s gonna be our problem: If we take the car from the left ditch to the right ditch, we’re gonna be in trouble, too. People want the car in the middle of the road — they want it in the right-center lane of the road — and not in the right ditch.”

Could the two sides ever reach that big deal on the major challenges facing the country? Graham doesn’t know, but “Without the small and medium-sized compromise, there will never be a big deal.”

“So, Mr. President: Here I am. I’m ready to go to work…”

He said as soon as he got done with the presser, he was going to return a call to Harry Reid…

26 thoughts on “Obama reaches out to Graham, wants to work together

  1. Doug Ross

    Gee, I wonder (immigration) why Obama (immigration) would call (immigration) Graham? Any guesses (immigration) which legislation (immigration) Graham will push (immigration) first? I’m sure it (immigration) will be that Keystone (immigration) pipeline.

    I wonder if Lindsey discussed this statement he made in March: ““You can’t fix Obamacare, you’ve got to start over”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The president indicated that he knew they would continue to disagree about a lot of things. But he wanted to work on things they COULD agree on. And that would be a lot of things.

      As for immigration — I don’t know. That might be the “big deal” that would have to wait until the sides built up their confidence with some “medium or small-sized” deals…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Well, I don’t know about y’all, but this makes me feel better than I did awhile ago. This kind of thing, as you know, is right up my UnParty alley. Imagine: Working together for the betterment of the country, rather than sinking further into the hopeless gridlock, as has been predicted. The parties used to do this routinely, but not for the last decade or so.

    Sen. Graham didn’t call Sen. Reid immediately after the reporters left; he stayed and talked with me for awhile first (I had shown up late, as I hadn’t seen the release about the presser until after it had already started, so I only caught the end of it).

    I was glad that a) the president had reached out to him this way, and b) that Graham was eager to advertise his willingness to cooperate.

    Yeah, I know: It’s flattering to be called by the president that way (just as it’s flattering to me for the senator to bat the breeze with me while Harry Reid is waiting), and natural to want to brag about it. But I’m still greatly encouraged by the president reaching out, and by the senator’s willingness to respond positively.

    Graham was optimistic. He said that the Republicans elected to the Senate are coming back to Washington with a more centrist message than in, say, 2010. And I suppose that’s right, they having survived challenges on the right — think Cochran, Roberts, Alexander, and yes, Graham. In fact, Graham specifically mentioned Cochran. and the way he won by reaching out to black voters in his primary. ..

  3. Silence

    So, let me get this straight. The Democrats get shellacked in the election by a Republican party whose candidates largely ran on shrinking government spending, reducing the power of the federal government, small government, etc. and the suggestion that President Obama comes up with for an opportunity to “work together” is a G.D. TAX INCREASE? You have got to be kidding me! Is the President living in a bubble? Is Senator Graham?

    1. Doug Ross

      Seriously – how stupid do they think we are? (Don’t answer that).

      Centrists didn’t win yesterday. The ones who won are the candidates who doubled down on Obama being the problem.

      The best hope for the Republican Party in 2016 is to keep Obama neutered and appearing ineffective. They are going to make him cry “Uncle” for at least the next year.

      Lindsey got what he wanted. He played the game as he always has – say one thing before the election, do another after. He’s a phony of the highest order.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think that Democrats and Republicans BOTH heard voters being disgusted with Washington’s dysfunction.

      Obama has the motive of working with them because he doesn’t want the next two years to be like the last two years. The Republicans want to work with him, where they can, because they don’t want the country going, “Well, look: They’re no better than the Democrats. They’re just as useless, just as much about pointless conflict.”

      It’s a situation in which self-interest and the country’s interests can coincide…

  4. Brad Warthen

    This is sort of becoming the story of the day. It’s not just Graham talking about this. Obama and McConnell have weighed in this afternoon…


    “President Obama said he was ready to work with Republicans, but he promised to go forward with unilateral action on immigration; Senator Mitch McConnell also vowed a spirit of compromise.”

  5. Bryan Caskey

    You know who’s probably really unhappy today? Eric Cantor.

    I can see him right now: “Hey…um…guys? The door’s still locked. Big joke…ha, ha, ha, really funny. Seriously, though, can I come back in the house now?”

    1. Brad Warthen

      Yep. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy…

      He was an exception to the rule of incumbents winning out over extremists from the right. But he deserved it for having carried water for the extremists earlier… Poetic.

  6. Brad Warthen

    It was interesting to me that POTUS and Graham spoke only about domestic issues.

    It’s because they’re so far apart on international affairs. But it was not always thus. After the election in ’08, the stage was set for the two of them to work closer on national security. I made a big deal about it at the time — so I fully expect you cynics who want to dismiss these latest overtures to say to me, “How did THAT work out?” And I’ll have to admit, not so well.

    I mentioned this to Graham, and he sort of shook his head about it, noting that the president came in as the guy who was going to “end wars,” and he was just SO invested in that. But the Mideast, he noted, is “like flypaper.” It’s just not that easy to extricate yourself. If only, he said, the president had succeeded in arriving at a workable Status of Forces agreement in Iraq…

    At that point I noted that McCain had been right that maybe we needed to be there for a century… I mentioned it because the senator is one of the few people I can say that to who doesn’t look at me like I have two heads. So he and I started riffing on a litany of trouble spots where we’ve kept troops for decades with good effect: Germany, Korea, the Balkans…

    Anyway, you see why they stuck to domestic issues? It’s easier for them to find agreement there…

    1. Michael Prince

      Involvement does not necessarily imply military presence.
      That’s the distinction I sometimes feel the senator from Seneca doesn’t properly appreciate.

  7. Phillip

    Graham’s “flypaper” analogy is fascinating, and actually right on the money. But if you are trying to extricate yourself from flypaper, doesn’t that argue for NOT sticking more of your limbs or body onto the sticky surface, which will only make it MORE impossible to come unstuck? Or put another way, more unwise, panicked, and ill-considered global interventionism indeed does make it more difficult to extricate the US from the mess created. Of course, if like Graham, one likes the idea of an America “stuck” everywhere in the world…

    1. Silence

      Phillip, I think what you and Senator Graham are describing is wha’ts known as a “Tar Baby”

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      In response to Phillip’s “Of course, if like Graham, one likes the idea of an America ‘stuck’ everywhere in the world…”

      Actually, I think he believes, as I do — we spoke about this briefly — that the military should be where its presence does some good, rather than sitting at bases in the U.S. doing nothing. Such as keeping the North Koreans from crossing the 38th parallel, acting as a deterrent to the Warsaw Pact in Germany, stopping and preventing genocide in Kosovo. And yes, maintaining a residual presence in Iraq so that there’s no vacuum for ISIL to flow into — an opportunity we missed.

      1. Michael Prince

        I agree that American engagement abroad, including military involvement, can have positive effects and supported our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But there are a number of “vacuums” in the world today — including in particular on the Horn of Africa and in Yemen. And yet we do not seem to be as frantic about those (despite the presence there of groups equally as voracious and fanatical as ISIS) as we are at the moment about Syria/Iraq. So I have to wonder if our view of the latter is perhaps a bit out of tilt and whether we might be becoming something of “control freaks” when it comes to certain kinds of perceived threats.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, we feel (or should feel) a particular sense of responsibility toward Iraq, in keeping with the “Pottery Barn” rule.

          And thanks to ISIL, Syria and Iraq are now, in important ways, the same conflict.

          1. Michael Prince

            Yes, the “Pottery Barn Rule” does give me pause. I do support the current air campaign and I am willing to hear out proposals for what else we might do there. However, Powell’s rule also implies that it is our job to fix or replace whatever it is we’ve broken. To that I would counter by offering the “Humpty-Dumpty Rule:” what’s broken may not be reparable — not by all our horses and men, at least. While I am at heart a Wilsonian who would love to bring the “blessings of liberty” to the world, our experience of the past decade indicates that we are not very adept at doing much more than keeping the pot from boiling over (most of the time, though not always) — and that only at a cost of many lives and much treasure. If we see terrorists lurking under practically every bed, then we will be willing to take all sorts of measures, regardless of cost. But I’m not sure we have yet gained the kind of equilibrium to properly judge threat vs. cost. And our current political discourse is generally not very conducive to creating that equilibrium.

            And lest we get too enamored of the good we’ve done in Korea, Germany and Bosnia (mentioned elsewhere), we should not forget that there is a vast difference between a peace-keeping operation and a peace-making operation.

            1. Brad Warthen

              From one Wilsonian to another, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

              We were indeed obligated to fix what we’d broken, and it was a generational endeavor. Graham, for one, used to talk about that at length — about how much time, and diligent effort on our part, it was going to take for civil institutions to take root in Iraq. However, we ran out of political will, and left. And we see the result.

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