Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," May 13, 2018

This week, a White House communications aide was roundly criticized for insensitive comments about ailing Arizona Sen. John McCain. In a meeting with White House staffers Thursday, Kelly Sadler reportedly dismissed McCain's opposition to President Trump's nominee for CIA director, saying it "doesn't matter, he's dying anyway."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, joined us to discuss the remark, the president's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and upcoming negotiations with North Korea.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Graham that aired Sunday, May 13, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Jerusalem and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He is leading the congressional delegation attending the opening of the U.S. Embassy there. Thank you for joining us today, Senator. I want to talk to you about the Middle East but start first...

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: ...here at home. Your good friend John McCain-- I know you were just visiting with him and there's been some controversy here over a White House aide's comments that Senator McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel for CIA doesn't matter because he's quote "dying." Are you satisfied with how the White House has responded?

GRAHAM: Uh, no, not really. It's [a] pretty disgusting thing to say. If it was a joke, it was a terrible joke. I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate -- that's not who we are in the Trump administration. And John McCain can be criticized for any political decision he's ever made or any vote he's ever cast but he's an American hero. And I think most Americans would like to see the Trump administration do better in situations like this. It doesn't hurt you at all to do the right thing and to be big.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should the president himself apologize?

GRAHAM: I'll leave that up to him. But if something happened like that in my office-- somebody in my office said such a, such a thing about somebody, I would apologize on behalf of the office.

BRENNAN: Let's turn now to the Middle East. When you were on this program back in March you said President Trump doesn't have a strategy to contain Iran and that Israel was careening towards a war. Do you think President Trump has a strategy now?

GRAHAM: Well he's got a strategy to deny Iran a pathway to a bomb by withdrawing from this agreement. 15 years from now, all the restrictions on their uranium program go away. They can enrich and reprocess uranium and potentially plutonium without limitation. So getting out of the agreement I think stops a nuclear arms race, but when it comes to containing Iran on the ground in Syria and other places, we don't have much of a strategy.

BRENNAN: How does exiting the existing deal to freeze nuclear--the nuclear program, stop Iran from getting a bomb? I mean, many would say the president didn't present an alternative to cut off all the pathways.

GRAHAM: The mere passage of time, they can have an industrial-strength enrichment program, and every Arab nation in the region has said that this deal is terrible. It means that Iran one day will get a bomb without cheating. Israel believes it's a bad deal. I believe it's a bad deal.

BRENNAN: But U.S. allies that I have spoken with say they were very disappointed President Trump didn't allow them to broker this side deal to address what you are talking about, but still preserve the deal itself. And they say this has really damaged relations with Europe.

GRAHAM: Here's what I say to our European allies. This deal you made was terrible in the eyes of everybody in the region. The closer you are to Iran, the worse this still is. So I hope we can find a new deal. What would a new deal look like? Nuclear power available to the Iranians and the Arabs without any of them having a capability to make a weapon. If all Iran wants is a nuclear power program, they can have it. If they want an enrichment capability, unlimited in nature, the answer is no.

BRENNAN: But do you believe that John Bolton and President Trump actually want --

GRAHAM: We're telling our Arab allies they can have nuclear power but they can't enrich --

BRENNAN: -- another diplomatic deal? Because our allies doubt that.

GRAHAM: I think they do. I think they want a deal where Iran cannot, over the passage of time, develop a nuclear weapon. The current deal is terrible. They took $150 billion dollars. They didn't spend it on hospital, roads, and bridges. They rebuilt their military. They're dismembering the Mideast. They hijacked our sailors on the high seas. How much has to happen before you realize that Iran's not getting better, they're getting worse? How many times do they have to fire missiles with "death to Israel" on the side of the missile, before you believe that they're not they're up to no good. So let's cancel this deal and get a better one where they can have nuclear power but they can't make a bomb. And let me just say this -- if they try to enrich again, if they try to go big in terms of enrichment then I think that's a hostile act toward the state of Israel and the United States.

BRENNAN: You're in Jerusalem now sir, do you believe that the two state solution is dead?

GRAHAM: No, because it can't be. If you had one state that was Jewish in nature, eventually you'd have to have some kind of apartheid where Arabs and Palestinians couldn't vote. Two states means a Jewish state with an Arab component, a Palestinian state living in dignity side by side with Israel. The problem is, the Palestinians are divided. You have Hamas controlling Gaza, Palestinian Authority controlling the West Bank, Gaza is a rocket launching factory against Israel, until the Palestinians reconcile under one flag, there will never be peace.

BRENNAN: If President Trump can pull off a diplomatic agreement with North Korea, does he need congressional consent for a treaty?

GRAHAM: I would urge the president if he can negotiate an agreement with Kim Jong Un that he takes that agreement and sends it to the Senate. I think that would be a good thing to do. This is a historic opportunity. But if the past is any indication of the future, you've got to watch North Korea like a hawk. But I do believe they're at the table because they see a different person in Donald Trump. And they believe if he had to Trump would use military force. China certainly believes that.

BRENNAN: Secretary Pompeo said on Friday that the U.S. is willing to help North Korea achieve prosperity if they denuclearize. Is there an appetite in Congress to provide that kind of investment or sanctions relief?

GRAHAM: Be the best money we ever spent. If you could--if you could really get North Korea to give up their nuclear program than I think there'd be a lot of support in Congress to give North Korea a better life. Provide aid, relieve sanctions with one condition: that you give up your nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way. When it comes to North Korea, I think there'd be a lot of congressional support.

The average North Korean is about three inches shorter than those--their friends in south--their neighbors in South Korea because of the terrible conditions in North Korea.

BRENNAN: And you would want U.S. troops to stay at current levels?

GRAHAM: I'd want U.S. troops to stay in South Korea to stabilize the region. China's moving around. I want to stay close to our allies in Asia but if you had a peace treaty that ended the Korean War, you had a verifiable agreement where North Korea gave up their nuclear weapons and they really meant it and we could prove it, then I'd leave it up to the president if he wanted to reduce troops and send them somewhere else. I don't want a war with North Korea. The best thing could happen is for them to give up their nuclear weapons program. I'm not trying to spread democracy to North Korea. I'm not trying to unify South Korea and North Korea. I'm trying to stop a unstable regime from having more weapons that can hit America.

BRENNAN: Senator thank you for your time. We'll be back in a moment.