Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said Congress should be sending a stronger signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin as fears of an imminent invasion of Ukraine persist.
On “This Week,” anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Graham on Sunday whether he is convinced Putin will invade the neighboring Baltic state.
“No, I’m not, but I’m convinced that we could do more in Congress and should,” Graham answered.
The Senate’s prospects of passing a sweeping bipartisan sanctions bill have stalled, and Graham said the White House “keeps pushing back” against pre- and post-invasion sanctions being considered by Congress.
Stephanopoulos followed up: “You’re saying the president is pushing back against, but you also have some pushback from your Republican colleagues in the Senate?”
“Yeah, but not in a real, meaningful way. There’s 70 votes in the body for invasion sanctions, pre-invasion sanctions with a waiver, post-invasion sanctions,” Graham responded. “So, the problem has been secondary sanctions. It’s not just enough to sanction a Russian bank. You want to sanction anybody that does business with that bank.”
On Saturday, President Joe Biden spoke with Putin for a little more than an hour from Camp David, pledging to “impose swift and severe costs” if Russian forces invade Ukraine.
Graham said the US-Russia relationship “would be forever changed,” possibly harmonizing the diplomatic process for decades to come, if Putin launched an invasion.
“This is not the last president America will have. If Russia invades the Ukraine, you will destroy the US-Russia relationship for decades and every president in the near-term will be put in a box when it comes to dealing with Russia, so I hope Putin understands that,” Graham said.
When asked about whether the Biden administration’s release of intelligence on a possible false flag operation has been effective in deterring a military advance into Ukraine, Graham said the US government should be doing more.
“I don’t want to ring alarm bell as much as take action. They’re telling us the invasion is imminent. But they’re not telling Putin with clarity what happens if you invade,” Graham added. “He should be punished now.”
Recently, the South Carolina senator came under fire by the former President Donald Trump after disagreeing with Trump suggesting he would pardon Jan. 6 rioters if reelected to office. Trump even called Graham a “RINO,” a Republican in name only, during an interview with NewsMax.
Stephanopoulos pressed: “So where do things stand with you and President Trump right now? Do you support his comeback in 2024?”
“If he wants to be the Republican nominee for the Republican Party, it’s his for the taking,” Graham responded. “Donald Trump is the most consequential Republican in the Republican Party today. He has a great chance of being president again in 2024.”
Despite some Republicans still casting doubt on the legitimate results of the last presidential election, Graham said “the 2020 election is over for me” and that he’s not “contesting” the results.
The key GOP senator gave advice to the former president as well, suggesting that “if he looks backward, I think he’s hurting his chances.”
Given Trump’s fractured relationship with longtime Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, Stephanopoulos asked Graham: “If (Republicans) take the Senate back, will you vote for Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader? In the past, you have said that he’s got to fix his relationship with President Trump if he’s going to earn your vote.”
“Yes, I think any Republican leader in the House or the Senate has to have a working relationship with President Trump, because most Republicans like President Trump’s policies,” Graham said. “And so Mitch McConnell, if he runs, or anyone else, I think, would have to show a working relationship with the president.”
US District Judge J. Michelle Childs, who sits on the federal court in South Carolina, is reported to be one of Biden’s top contenders to replace Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who recently announced his retirement.
Graham, a fellow South Carolinian, has previously voiced his support for Childs to become Biden’s nominee.
Stephanopoulos asked: “Is Judge Michelle Childs of South Carolina the only Biden nominee you could support?”
“I think she’s the one that would get the most Republican votes. I would be very inclined to support her because of her background,” Graham said. “She didn’t go to Harvard or Yale, which I think is a plus. She went to the University of South Carolina. But we’ll wait and see what President Biden does.”