Aw: Learning to love Lindsey Graham

The question of how to bring accused terrorists to justice is an important issue to Graham. Unlike many Republicans, he supports shipping the Guantánamo detainees to the president’s proposed prison in Illinois. And he can live with civilian trials for lower-level detainees. But Graham insists on keeping open the option of military trials for the most dangerous, high-stakes suspects like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Early in Obama’s presidency Graham warned against trying to bring the trials to New York. “It will blow up in your face,” Graham told the president. He said Republicans would mutiny, “and you’ll lose me.” Emanuel told Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to call Graham. The two men had four marathon discussions. “We talked until we were blue in the face,” Graham recalls. But Holder was unmoved and announced civilian New York trials for the detainees. Graham’s predictions of a massive political backlash—by Republicans and Democrats—came true. The administration backpedaled. The White House now looks like it is moving toward the compromise Graham first suggested…

Graham struggles to maintain his country-lawyer equanimity when Republicans declare him guilty by association. “I’m not going to let anybody choose my friends,” he says. “If you don’t like Ted Kennedy, fine. I’m not asking you to like him. But you’re sure as hell not going to tell me I can’t like him. I don’t want to live my life that way.” When he sat down with a group of 30 tea partiers at his office in the Russell Building this winter, the conversation was anything but friendly. The activists castigated him for buying into global warming; Graham shot back that there would be plenty of jobs in green technology. “Nobody in the room was buying it,” says Randy Simpson, a tea-party organizer. Graham tried to find middle ground. “I’m going to please you on some things, and on some things I’m going to disappoint you,” he told the gathering.

“At times, elements of the base have a mentality that ‘I can’t win if the other guy gets anything,’?” Graham laments. “It’s not enough that you agree with them on the issue. You have to hate the other side.” Graham can dine with Democrats and un-apologetically con–front the much-feared-at-the-moment tea partiers in part because he has the luxury of time. As the questions at the meeting in his office grew more hostile, Graham had finally had enough. If they didn’t like the way he was doing his job, he told his guests with an aw-shucks smile, they could vote him out of office. In 2014.