Transcript: Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," August 25, 2019

Graham warns against "really risky" Afghanistan drawdown

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that aired Sunday, August 25, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee South Carolina senior Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator, good to have you here. 

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you. That was fun. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I- I want to know what you think about what Larry just described there. He said the president does have the authority to block private investment in China. You said the other day you don't--

SEN. GRAHAM: Well I don't- I don't--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --think he does. 

SEN. GRAHAM: -- know how the statute works. I think he can levy tariffs on countries that he- that- that are creating a national security threat to us. Maybe he can, you know, do something about exporting to countries that he believes are national security danger. I don't know. But if you start getting into that, it's a global economy. The one thing- I love Larry Kudlow. It's a global economy. I'm glad American companies are in China doing business because there's a lot of customers. What I don't like is they close off markets to the American business community in China. They require you to have a Chinese business partner when you do business in China and they steal all of your stuff. Every Democrat and every Republican of note has said China cheats. The Democrats for years have been claiming that China should be stood up to. Now Trump is and we just got to accept the pain that comes with standing up to China. How do you get China to change without creating some pain on them and us? I don't know. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: How much pain should people of South Carolina be prepared for?

GRAHAM: Some. Consumer prices on commodities are gonna go up. We're now that part in the trade war where you feel price increases at Walmart. The president has backed off because he's worried about the Christmas shopping season. I'd tell you, Mr. President, listen, you got more bullets than they do. They sell us a lot more stuff than we sell them and the goal is get them to change their behavior. The Chinese government, the Chinese army and the Chinese business community are one in the same. They're very mercantile. You don't have these disputes among democracies, but the Chinese Communist Party runs everything in China. Until they feel the pain, they're not going to stop. They- they need to change their intellectual property theft practices. They need to open up their markets to us. They need to become a reliable trading partner rather than a mercantile system that cheats everybody out of market share.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And they- a lot of people, as you say, support the president in that China hasn't agreed to do those things--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- up to this point--

SEN. GRAHAM: And they never will until they pay a heavier price. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you think possibly not until after the election--

SEN. GRAHAM: I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of 2020?

SEN. GRAHAM: --they're trying to wait Trump out. I think they've made a calculation that our elections are right around the corner. They can play this game to 2020. If Trump keeps piling on, I don't know if they can make it that long because the supply chain is beginning to move. The more expensive it create- you to produce products in China, the more likely you are to relocate the supply chain which would be a death blow to the Chinese economy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's been happening for- for some time but do you, because South Carolina has so many auto plants in particular--

SEN. GRAHAM: Steel and aluminum tariffs hurt us a lot. But, you know, the steel and aluminum business has a chance of coming back. China produced more steel in one year than the entire world consumed. That's an unfair trade practice. They should be in the WTO as a developed nation not a developing nation. Everybody- I had a bill with Chuck Schumer seven or eight years ago to label China a currency manipulator and to put a 27 and a half percent tariff on every product that benefited from currency manipulation. Bush would never do it. Obama would never do it. Trump did it. So to my Democratic colleagues, he's doing the things you've been calling for all these years.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about the threat of tariffs and this dispute with the E.U. that could really impact the automakers?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think tariffs are tools. When you look at the world tariff regime, 67 percent of all the tariffs in the world disadvantage America. There's a higher tariff on American products in the country in which we do business with. India's the worst. I've been introduced a bill that allows the American president to charge the same as the country we're doing business with changes- charges. So like in India.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SEN. GRAHAM: They have a 100 percent tariff on a lot of our products. Either we increase tariffs on Indian products or we all go to zero. The goal is to go to zero.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about a report out this week from the Congressional Budget Office. They raised the estimate, the budget deficit, to now one trillion dollars for 2020.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As a Republican, do you still believe deficits matter?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, deficits matter, but they're driven by entitlement spending. I don't believe defense spending is the problem with the deficit. I don't believe--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of the tax cuts--

SEN. GRAHAM: --discretionary, domestic- I don't believe the tax cuts--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --also were unpaid for.

SEN. GRAHAM: I think the tax cuts are going to pay for themself, I believe that. I think an infrastructure bill would probably pay for itself. You'll never get deficits in order and out of debt and to reform Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Afghanistan. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you have been tracking these peace talks that--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the Trump administration is holding with the Taliban. There were two American service people killed in Afghanistan this week. More than 2,400 Americans have been killed on that battlefield over--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the past 18 years. Virtually every single Democrat running for president says they're going to bring the troops home. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's exact- exactly what President Trump is saying. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I have no--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why are all of them?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well I think they're all wrong. I think in one day, we lost three thousand Americans because we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Almost three thousand Americans died because we ignored Afghanistan. To Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, read the intelligence assessment by our Intelligence Committee as to what would happen to our homeland if we pulled out of Afghanistan tomorrow. Mr. President, if you don't have a counterterrorism force left behind, even if you gotta deal with the Taliban, which I doubt but you might, they don't have the capability or will to protect the American homeland. Every national security adviser to this president unanimously believes we need a robust counterterrorism force to make sure that ISIS and al-Qaeda do not regenerate in Afghanistan to hit the American homeland. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you concerned the president's not listening--

SEN. GRAHAM: I am concerned--

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- to all of those advisors?

SEN. GRAHAM: --that the president, in his desire to get out, is going to make the same mistake that President Obama did in Iraq. I don't want you to be like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. I want you to take good, sound military advice. Mr. President, lowering the cost of this war is a noble endeavor. We've lost 14 soldiers this year. God bless them all, but they're an insurance policy against another 9/11. They act as a virtual wall against ISIS and al-Qaeda. You may get a peace deal with the Taliban, but you'll never get a peace deal with al-Qaeda or- and ISIS. They have an intent to strike America. They just don't have the capability yet. If we leave and outsource our national security to the Taliban that they're gonna take care of al-Qaeda and ISIS, that would be a disastrous decision. And when you're on the stage with Bernie, Elizabeth, or Biden I wish you'd look them in the eye and say, "Unlike you, I'm gonna listen to my commanders. Unlike you, I'm not gonna expose the American homeland to another 9/11 because of politics."

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is that number--

SEN. GRAHAM: The number--

MARGARET BRENNAN: of forces? 

SEN. GRAHAM:  --is gonna be around eighty-six hundred. To go below that I think would be really risky. So I'm going to introduce legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State to certify to the Congress that to go below eighty-six hundred does not create a- an additional national security risk of the homeland. ISIS-K which is the Afghan version of ISIS and al-Qaeda is alive and well. And it's our American soldiers, our intel community have the capability to protect the homeland. And if you've got to deal with the Taliban, 80 percent of the people in Afghanistan reject the Taliban. I hope it's an honorable deal. I hope we don't throw the women back in the soccer stadiums to be shot and killed for sport. I think you might get the Taliban to the- to the table, but you'll never get ISIS and Al-Qaeda to the table.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the one year anniversary of your good friend John McCain's passing. His widow Cindy McCain has called for acts of civility to try to remember him. Is that possible anymore? Has the rhetoric just gotten so rough and tumble that--

SEN. GRAHAM: It's a rough and tumble--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that's a past age?

SEN. GRAHAM: It's a rough and tumble America, but America's always been pretty rough and tumble. John was a rough and tumble guy, but he had the ability to- to stop the fight and get results. What's missing is his desire to get results. I don't care what language you use, I want to produce results. What do I miss most about John McCain? That steady, understanding of the world. If he were alive today he would be saying exactly what I'm saying about Afghanistan. I know we're all tired of being over there. I know it's been costly in blood and treasure, but there is no way to leave Afghanistan in my view honorably and safely without having a counterterrorism force with intel capability to protect the American homeland. John McCain never sold false peace. He never sold the illusion of peace. So, Cindy McCain has taken over his job for the family. Nobody was ever better taking care of in illness than Cindy provided care to John. She's doing a great job on her own and- and human trafficking, and to the four boys and three daughters, they're doing- doing great. They miss their dad. I miss him, but my job is to carry on and help this president where I can and I will.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Senator. We'll be right back.