Sen. Lindsey Graham’s opposition to the Boehner plan should come as no surprise to House conservatives. Late Tuesday, July 19, Graham rallied members of the Republican Study Committee in the Capitol basement alongside Sen. Jim DeMint, a fellow South Carolina Republican. He urged RSC members, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) and a slew of tea-party freshmen, to hold firm as default looms. He told the closed-door crowd that if Republicans did not cave to President Obama, their leverage would increase as the clock ticked.
Graham, a well-known dealmaker, continued on this riff for over ten minutes, longer than any speaker in the session, which included remarks from Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), and others. Many of the conservatives in the room applauded when Graham gave his take on the government shutdown in 1995. Republicans, he said, buckled, right before President Clinton was ready to give in and sign on to a balanced-budget amendment. After reading All Too Human, the political memoir by former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, he said that he learned that Republicans had played their cards wrong, that Clinton might have been willing to yield. Just watch, he predicted — if Republicans block a deal now, they could get their best chance at a balanced-budget amendment in a generation. If they don’t, he warned, such a moment may take years to reappear. After Graham finished, DeMint, the meeting’s moderator, took care to praise his colleague in front of the right-wing crowd.
Following the meeting, I walked back to the Senate with Graham and spoke with him about his position. He reiterated his themes from the evening’s discussion, saying he was ready to take up arms with the RSC. So it may be news today, but for the past few weeks, Graham has been a vocal member of the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” camp. His appeal to conservatives seems to be working, too, especially as he looks toward reelection in 2014. When I speak to tea-party darlings in the lower chamber these days, they talk about Graham as an ally.