Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," January 6, 2019

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that aired Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will turn now to South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who joins us from Clemson. Senator Graham is someone, as we've been describing who- who speaks to the president, often shares his advice. Senator did you speak to the president this weekend about the shutdown?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah. It was pretty clear to me that we're never going to have a deal unless we get a wall as part of it. Dick Durbin is a reasonable guy, but he's not leading this parade. We're having to negotiate with people who want to abolish ICE, not support ICE. We're having to negotiate with people who see the Border Patrol agents gassing children, rather than defending our borders as professional law enforcement officers and we're negotiating with people who will give us one dollar for the wall, even though it's immoral and accuse all of us who support a wall as part of border security as racist. As long as the radical left is in charge we're never going to get anywhere. The president will compromise but he will not capitulate. So that's where we're at.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the people in the room are your colleague Senator Durbin along with--

SEN. GRAHAM: He's not in the room.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --along with Speaker Pelosi. You don't--

SEN. GRAHAM: He's not in the room. Neither one of them are in the room.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was on Friday. He was--

SEN. GRAHAM. Neither one--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --on Friday with the president

SEN. GRAHAM: They sent staff. They sent staff people to do the negotiation. The vice president's in the room with a bunch of staffers.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Today.

SEN. GRAHAM: Dick Durbin is a good guy. He's a reasonable guy. But Nancy Pelosi has made progress. She's gone from not a penny to a dollar. Nancy Pelosi sees the border crisis as manufactured. President Trump sees it as real. Until we see the same movie you're never going to reach a conclusion. The president is right to dig in to get money for a wall as part of border security. It will not be a concrete wall it will be steel barriers. And every plan I've supported in the past with Dick Durbin has had money for physical barriers including walls and fences. Except now when Trump is president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well there are about 800,000 federal workers who are in this limbo not being sure--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: when they're going to get paid. So--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, with that in mind, with them in mind why can't you reopen the government while you argue about the things you just laid out?

SEN. GRAHAM: Why would you negotiate with somebody who calls you a racist if you want a wall? Who gives you a dollar for a wall when the Democratic Party supported twenty five billion dollars in the past? We're not going to negotiate with people who see the world this way. We'll negotiate with Dick Durbin but I'm not going to negotiate with somebody who calls the Border Patrol agents a bunch of Nazis when they're trying to defend the border against a mob. These caravans have changed everything. The reason you need five billion dollars now and not one point six is the border is deteriorating in terms of security. We've got 11,000 unaccompanied minors coming from Central America. And it cost us seven hundred and fifty dollars a day to house these minors and only God knows what they go through to get here. The Democrats see our law enforcement officers as the problem, we see the illegal immigrants, the coyotes, and the drug dealers as a problem--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what about--

SEN. GRAHAM: --until that changes there's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: those people who work for homeland security who are carrying out the policies you're talking about and who are not going to get paid?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about the Coast Guard? Who are not going to get paid.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. They're being held hostage. They're being held hostage by people who say you need one dollar to secure the border. They're being held hostage by people--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't want to--

SEN. GRAHAM: --who accuse them--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Open the government and then continue talking?

SEN. GRAHAM: I do want to open up the government but the goal is not to open up the government. The goal is to fix a broken immigration system to bring reality to this table. That ICE is not the problem, it's the solution. The goal is to repair a damaged, broken immigration system. It's to implement policies Democrats have voted for in the past on President Trump's watch. We're not going to give in to this radical left - ever - until we can find a rational way forward. We'll have wall as part of a border security plan. We're going nowhere. Wall plus DACA plus TPS makes sense. But you'll never convince me--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the president open to--

SEN. GRAHAM: --that we don't need a wall.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is the president open--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah I think so.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to that compromise you just floated there?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I really believe that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That DACA and TPS for a wall?  

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. But what he's not open to is a lecture by the Speaker of the House. I'll give you a dollar. He's not open to the people on the left accusing his Border Patrol agents of being Gestapo agents gassing children. He's not open to the idea that the wall is immoral. So if you bring Dick Durbin's to the table, we'll fix this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But let's dig into that--

SEN. GRAHAM: If the left is going to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: because that's significant what you said there--

SEN. GRAHAM: Okay.

MARGARET BRENNAN: If you think the president--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah I think he is open to it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: is indeed open to a DACA for wall trade here because he stood in the Rose Garden the other day and said no you've got to wait till the court rules and we're some time out from that.

SEN. GRAHAM: OK. Here's what he's open to. He's open to getting his wall money. We need five billion dollars for the wall in light of the increased threats. He has always put on the table- he put one point eight million illegal immigrants having a pathway to citizenship in his own plan. So how can you say he's not open minded to it. Here's what I think the deal would look like: given the money we need to secure our border in five billion- five, six could be well spent. And I think we can put on the table TPS reform. There's four hundred thousand people going to lose their legal status soon who've been here for decades. I'd like to deal with that problem and I would--

MARGARET BRENNAN: When is that going to be put on the table? That offer.

SEN. GRAHAM: I think we'll have offers on the table when we find somebody that's not crazy to deal with. We're not going to put any offers on the table as long as people in charge of these negotiations accuse all of us who want a wall of being a racist and see our Border Patrol agents as gassing children. Until you get that crowd put to the sidelines, I don't see anything happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've worked with the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner on criminal justice reform.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He is cited as someone open to the deal you described of- of DACA for wall.  

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes he is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the president really seemed to shoot that down in the Rose Garden the other day.

SEN. GRAHAM: I am here to tell you--

MARGARET BRENNAN: When would we see that put on the table? Is that- that's a bigger immigration overhaul than what we're talking about right now which is simply the wall.

SEN. GRAHAM: When you see Dick Durbin and others in the room not a bunch of staffers. When you see this rhetoric that those who want to build a wall are racists stop. When you see the idea one dollar is enough for the wall. When that stuff ends, the real negotiations begin. Right now, the people running the show on the left are radical, liberal Democrats who don't see a border security problem. They see their own government being the problem, not the illegal immigrant. Until that changes, we'll never get anywhere. There is a deal to be had here, but it will include a wall. And if there is no wall in this deal we'll never have a deal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Syria. I know you watch the region and you had criticized the president's decision to pull out. The National Security Adviser John Bolton is in the region right now and is saying now there's no timeline for a U.S. drawdown and it'll be dependent on Turkey agreeing not to slaughter our Kurdish allies. It sounds like he's describing an indefinite timeline of U.S. troops staying in Syria.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I had lunch with the president last week and I came away a bit encourage. There are three things that we want to accomplish as part of a withdrawal. We want to make sure that when we leave the Kurds do not get slaughtered. And I don't trust Turkey to take care of the Kurds. It'd be like Putin trying to police Assad. That didn't work well. We need a plan to protect the Kurds from Turkey and others. We need to make sure ISIS doesn't come back once they're defeated and Iran is not the biggest winner. If you can accomplish those three objectives by reducing our forces, which I think we can, then count me in. But those three things have to be accomplished for us to successfully leave Syria. And the president's slowing down and he's re-evaluating his policies in light of those three objectives. Don't let Iran get the oil fields, don't let the Turks- Turks slaughter the Kurds, and don't let ISIS come back. I think I share the goal of the president to withdraw our forces. Let's just do it smartly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this an admission that the president made a mistake?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think this is the reality setting in that you got to plan this out. President Obama ended the operations in Iraq against sound military advice. The president's getting sound military advice about the status of the Kurds - what will happen with Iran if we leave too soon. And the- bottom line here is we want to make sure we get this right, that ISIS doesn't come back. And I applaud the president for re-evaluating what he's doing. He hasn't changed his mind but he's listening to a lot of good advice. And President Obama never would do that. And you saw what happened when a president shuts people out. This president's not shutting people out. He has a goal in mind of reducing our presence. I share that goal. Let's just do it smartly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Graham, thank you for joining us.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.