Trying to Find Common Ground in Washington

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., with host Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nnation," Sunday, March 7, 2010.
In the last week, the Obama administration has been considering changing the venue for terrorism suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from a civilian court to a military tribunal. The possible change in the administration's position has been met with some praise on the right and harsh criticism on the left, including a critical advertisement in The New York Times that shows Mr. Obama gradually morphing into George W. Bush.

Amid all the rancorous talk between Democrats and Republicans about terrorism and the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) both said they're in favor of taking middle ground, common-sense solutions to problems that are often politically divisive. Dan Balz from the Washington Post and Jim VandeHei from Politico also had input.

Graham is in favor of closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, a position that has not found favor among many on the right.

"It used to be when the nation was at war, we were able to get along better than we are today," said Graham. "Joe Lieberman got run out of the Democratic Party. I'm getting a lot of grief because I do believe it's best to close Gitmo safely.

"I don't believe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed robbed a liquor store - he's the mastermind of 9/11," said Graham, who argued that there is a place for military trials in some cases: "We have used military commissions before. I'm a military lawyer. I have a lot of faith in the military legal system. I'm willing to give robust due process. There's a place for civilian court, but I will stand by my president to make rational detainee policy."

He added, "And [alleged Sept. 11 terrorist attack mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, if he's not an enemy combatant, who would be?"

Graham added that he'd help Mr. Obama get Republican votes to close Guantanamo if the President agreed to try some suspects as enemy combatants.

Graham believed that if the Obama administration reversed course and tried Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military court instead of a civilian court, it would be accepte dby the public as "an act of leadership."

"He's getting beat up badly from the left," he said of the president, "but the ACLU theory of how to manage this war, I think, is way off-base," said Graham. "And those who want to waterboard on the right and believe that we should keep Gitmo open forever and use any technique to get information, I think they're equally off-base. We have got to win this war within our values system, but understand that it's a war."

The use of military tribunals are one of the areas in which Bayh and Graham agree. "I think the administration gets something, and yet the public gets reassured," Bayh said. He added, "If [the Obama administration] want[s] to make progress in the war of ideas by eventually closing down Gitmo, they're going to have to give a little bit from their point of view that perfect scenario."

Balz suggested that Graham and Bayh had the right idea, but trying to gain bipartisan support for the way terrorism detainees are handled is bigger than the two of them. Their parties will remain divided over the best course of action for terrorism - and just about everything else.

"It's very difficult for an individual senator or a couple of individual senators to overcome that," he said.

VandeHei concurred. "Most of the country is somewhere between the two of you. Most of the Congress is on the other side."

The kind of rhetoric that Bayh and Graham displayed is the kind of rhetoric that VandeHei and Balz said sounds good, but doesn't achieve tangible results, especially the way politicians seem to be constantly campaigning.

VandeHei said redistricting for the House is a big problem. "[T]he way the redistricting process works, you essentially guarantee yourself that you're going to get a bunch of ideologues who are not representative of the country; they're representative of the extremes of both parties," he said.

The constant campaigning by the political parties has led to dramatic changes in the way the Senate has run. "You're raising money all the time," said Bayh. "And it's about to get worse because of the Supreme Court decision," with the Senate being pulled further right and left and pushed less toward the middle.

Graham added soberly, "The worst is yet to come."