Sen. Lindsey Graham polishes conservative credentials ahead of 2014 race

(L-R) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, hold a news conference about Benghazi at the U.S. Capitol October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Facing a bevy of primary challengers eager to exploit his periodic deviations from conservative orthodoxy, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is polishing his bona-fides in advance of his 2014 reelection fight, continuing to demand answers about the 2012 attack in Benghazi and introducing a stringent 20-week abortion ban in the Senate.

Whether his decision to tether himself to a series of conservative causes will pay dividends for the veteran lawmaker remains to be seen. But it's clear he's making every effort to defang a potential mutiny on his right flank.

At the end of October, Graham vowed to block a vote on all of President Obama's nominees until the administration allowed the survivors of the attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya to testify before Congress.

"Where are the #Benghazi survivors?" Graham asked in a tweet. "I'm going to block every appointment in the U.S. Senate until they are made available to Congress."

But now, with three such survivors - CIA employees who were in Benghazi on the night of the attack - scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations during the week of November 11, Graham still isn't relenting.

"Still have holds in place," Graham's spokesman Kevin Bishop told Foreign Policy.

Graham explained his insistence earlier this week on "Fox News Sunday." "I don't think it's over the top to find out what happened to four dead Americans," he said. "I don't think it's over the top for the Congress to be able to challenge the narrative of any administration when an ambassador's killed. I don't think it's over the top for us to be able to talk to the survivors."

The survivors' lawyer, Mark Zaid, told Foreign Policy that the administration had never sought to prevent his clients' testimony: "Actually, the executive branch has been very cooperative with us to date."

For more than a year, conservatives have accused the administration of whitewashing or outright misrepresenting the details of the attack on Benghazi, which claimed the lives of four Americans, raising the possibility that the administration could have launched a more exhaustive rescue effort but decided against it.

On Thursday, Graham offered another fig leaf to the right wing of his party, pushing Senate leaders to schedule a vote on his proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

"I'm asking for [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid to allow us to vote on this, in 2014," he said at a news conference with other anti-abortion lawmakers, according to the Washington Post. "I know we are really busy around here and there's no room to do anything, but we'll find some time to talk about this issue."

The House of Representatives passed a similar measure in June, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced a similar bill in the upper chamber. Still, the proposal is destined to go nowhere in the Democratically-controlled Senate, and Graham acknowledged on Thursday that he lacks the 50 votes necessary to pass the bill, much less the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster.

At Thursday's press conference, Graham nodded at his problems among some elements of the GOP base, but he denied any electoral motivation behind his decision to push the abortion ban. "Did I wake up because I got a primary and say, 'Hey, let's be pro-life?' No, I'm honored to do this, this is important to me, this is why I want to be a senator," he said. "Will it wipe away all the other criticisms? No."

  • Jake Miller

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