July 12th, 2015
10:37 AM ET

Sen Lindsey Graham calls Trump "a wrecking ball" on State of the Union

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, 2016 GOP Presidential Hopeful, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), joined chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, video & text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a "demagogue" and a "wrecking ball" after Trump's immigration comments.

Sen. Lindsey Graham says he would use military force against Iran if they break nuclear deals on his watch.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Graham on Donald Trump being a “demagogue” and affecting the GOP’s relationship with the Hispanic community: “What I think he's doing is being a demagogue. …I think he's hijacked the debate. I think he's a wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party with the Hispanic community. And we need to push back.”

Graham on Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants: “After 10 years of working on illegal immigration, I have come to conclude that most illegal immigrants are decent, hardworking people, and some are criminals. This is a defining moment for the Republican Party. We need to reject this. To all the candidates who think that Donald Trump is telling the truth, I think you have lost your way. As to the Republican Party, if we do not reject this way of thinking clearly, without any ambiguity, we will have lost our way. We will have lost the moral authority, in my view, to govern this great nation.”

Graham on how the Republican Party should move forward after Trump’s immigrant comments:  “Chairman Priebus [GOP Chairman] has done a good job of rebuilding a party that was in tatters. …for us to have the moral authority as a party to govern a great nation, we have to reject this demagoguery. If we don't, we will lose, and we will deserve to lose. …it's not only incumbent upon the chairman, but anyone in a responsible position with the Republican Party needs to say the following to the American people. We do not agree with Donald Trump when he says that most illegal immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. We have quite the opposite view, that this is a hard problem that needs to be solved, but most of these people are decent, hardworking folks coming from poor countries to try to improve their lives, and we need to create order out of chaos.”

Graham’s plans for Iran if they step outside of the nuclear deal: “What I said is, if the Iranians walk away from the table, and they tried to break out and get a nuclear weapon, if we can't end their program peacefully, and they try to break out, as president, I would stop them. The worst possible nightmare for the world at large is the ayatollahs in Iran with nuclear weapons. So, if I'm president, to the Iranians, if you try to break out and get a nuclear weapon, we're going to stop you… If they get a nuclear weapon, the Sunni Arabs will want a nuclear weapon of their own, and we're on the road to a nuclear arms race in the Mideast. …But if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, they're the biggest threat to the world. And I would not allow that to happen, and they need to know that.”

Graham congratulating Secretary of State John Kerry on the Iran interim deal & wanting to keep the interim deal in place: “…I would keep the interim deal in place. I would allow a new president to try to close out the deal. The interim deal has worked better than I thought it would, so hats off to John Kerry. I think the best thing for the world and our country is to let a new president have a chance to conclude the deal with Iran, because Obama's so weak in the eyes of the Iranians and our friends at large, to keep the interim deal in place. But if they sign this deal, they're going to ensure that Iran's a nuclear power. Under this deal, if Iran does everything we ask, at the passage of time, they're going to be a nuclear nation, which is going create a nuclear arms race. And if you give them any money without them changing their behavior, you're funding terrorism.”

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Joining me now from New Hampshire is fellow Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator, thanks for joining me this morning. I want to start off with the fact that, look, a lot of people in your party are trying to laugh off Donald Trump. But when he gets those kinds of crowds, you have to take him seriously, don't you?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm very worried about where we're headed as a party. I don't think this is the way to get the Latino vote. At the end of the day, this is a defining moment for the Republican Party. There's a lot of frustration with broken borders. I get that. I have been trying to fix the border for 10 years. I would double the Border Patrol, triple the number of drones. All the hijackers who attacked - attacked us on 9/11 were visa overstays. So it's more than just the border. You have got to control your visa program.

But, as to Donald Trump, he has said, openly, repeatedly, that he believes that most illegal immigrants are drug dealers and rapists, and there may be a few among them that are decent people. After 10 years of working on illegal immigration, I have come to conclude that most illegal immigrants are decent, hardworking people, and some are criminals.

This is a defining moment for the Republican Party. We need to reject this. To all the candidates who think that Donald Trump is telling the truth, I think you have lost your way. As to the Republican Party, if we do not reject this way of thinking clearly, without any ambiguity, we will have lost our way. We will have lost the moral authority, in my view, to govern this great nation. And I hope we will reject this kind of thinking.

BASH: But how do you do that? Look, he talked about the fact that he is awakening a new silent majority. And the fact is that, when he talks about building a wall and sending undocumented immigrants back to Mexico that has a lot of appeal with a lot of the people in your party.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: And you know that.

GRAHAM: Well, I can tell you the majority of my party wants to secure the border, control who gets a job. They come here to work. What happened in San Francisco is appalling. It's a good example of why you need to fix the system. But to say that all the 11 million illegal immigrants for the most part are rapists and drug dealers is not only offensive at every level. You're telling the Hispanic community, who are friends, neighbors, and relatives of the illegal immigrant population, exactly what we think of you.

BASH: And, Senator...

GRAHAM: And I'm not going to be part of that.

BASH: Senator, you said that the Republicans need to reject it.

GRAHAM: Yes.

BASH: As you know, your party chairman put in a phone call, a private phone call to Donald Trump, asking him to tone down his rhetoric on immigration. Is that enough, or does he need to do more?

GRAHAM: Chairman Priebus has done a good job of rebuilding a party that was in tatters. Financially, we were broke. He's rebuilt the infrastructure there. He did a postmortem on the 2012 election, explaining to all of us that we have hurt ourselves with Hispanics. I expect that he will do more. At the end of the day, for us to win a national election, we have to do better with Hispanics. And for us to have the moral authority as a party to govern a great nation, we have to reject this demagoguery. If we don't, we will lose, and we will deserve to lose.

BASH: But, just to be clear, are you saying that the Republican Party chairman should say publicly what he said privately to Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I think it's not only incumbent upon the chairman, but anyone in a responsible position with the Republican Party needs to say the following to the American people. We do not agree with Donald Trump when he says that most illegal immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. We have quite the opposite view, that this is a hard problem that needs to be solved, but most of these people are decent, hardworking folks coming from poor countries to try to improve their lives, and we need to create order out of chaos. If we can't get this right, Dana, then we're going to keep digging a hole, and it's going to cost us the 2016 election, at a time when we could win.

BASH: What has he done to the conversation within the Republican nominating process?

GRAHAM: I think he's created a defining moment for all candidates. There are some candidates who agree with Donald Trump that want to make him their vice president. There are some people who love Donald Trump and say that he's speaking the truth.

What I think he's doing is being a demagogue. I think he's uninformed about the situation regarding the illegal immigrant population. What happened in San Francisco is appalling. But it does not represent the 11 million. And I think he's hijacked the debate. I think he's a wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party with the Hispanic community. And we need to push back.

BASH: What if he says, you know what, you pushed me too hard, if he doesn't get the nomination, and I'm going to go run as a third- party candidate? Aren't you just then handing the keys to the White House to the Democrats?

GRAHAM: I have learned a long time that I can't control others. I'm not responsible for what he says. I'm responsible for what I believe. My party is responsible for who we are. This is a defining moment in the future of the Republican Party. We can't worry about what Donald Trump might do. We have to focus on what we should do. And, as a party, we should reject what he says, because it's not true. And if we don't reject it, we have lost the moral authority, in my view, to govern this country.

BASH: OK. Let's turn abroad to an issue I know that you have been very outspoken about, which is Iran. This week, you told Jake Tapper that, as president, you would move to not only destroy Iran's nuclear program, but even take out its Air Force and Navy if they went too far with this nuclear program. Do you really think that Americans have the stomach for another war in the Middle East?

GRAHAM: What I said is, if the Iranians walk away from the table, and they tried to break out and get a nuclear weapon, if we can't end their program peacefully, and they try to break out, as president, I would stop them. The worst possible nightmare for the world at large is the ayatollahs in Iran with nuclear weapons. So, if I'm president, to the Iranians, if you try to break out and get a nuclear weapon, we're going to stop you. We're going to put all the force on the table that's necessary to keep you from getting a nuclear weapon, because I'm afraid they would use it.

If they get a nuclear weapon, the Sunni Arabs will want a nuclear weapon of their own, and we're on the road to a nuclear arms race in the Mideast. You know, when Dunford said that Russia was the biggest threat to the United States, I understand that, to a point. But if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, they're the biggest threat to the world. And I would not allow that to happen, and they need to know that.

BASH: Now, negotiators are back at it in Vienna, trying to reach a deal with Iran diplomatically. If they don't reach a deal - I know you have your own views on whether or not it would be good or bad - but if they don't reach a deal, then what would happen?

GRAHAM: Right. Well, I would keep the interim deal in place. I would allow a new president to try to close out the deal. The interim deal has worked better than I thought it would, so hats off to John Kerry. I think the best thing for the world and our country is to let a new president have a chance to conclude the deal with Iran, because Obama's so weak in the eyes of the Iranians and our friends at large, to keep the interim deal in place.

But if they sign this deal, they're going to ensure that Iran's a nuclear power. Under this deal, if Iran does everything we ask, at the passage of time, they're going to be a nuclear nation, which is going create a nuclear arms race. And if you give them any money without them changing their behavior, you're funding terrorism.

BASH: Can I just underscore one thing that you just said, a Republican who is incredibly outspoken against the way the administration is handling Iran? You said that the interim deal that the Secretary of State has negotiated is good and that it should be kept in place?

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes. I think a good outcome is to basically leave the interim deal in place. I think everybody running for president, except Rand Paul, could negotiate a better deal than the Obama administration, because when they drew that red line with Assad and did nothing about it, they're weak in the eyes of the Iranians. They don't believe Obama would use military force. So, give the next president a chance to conclude a final agreement with the Iranians. And please understand, of all the mistakes we can make as a world and as a nation, getting a bad deal with Iran is the worst possible outcome, because it's going to start a nuclear arms race.

And under the agreement they're talking about, you're ensuring they're going to become a nuclear power. The goal was to dismantle their program. Now we're going to lock it in place. So let's let somebody new negotiate with the Iranians, because Obama is so flawed as a negotiator.

BASH: Senator Lindsey Graham, thank you so much for joining me. Appreciate it.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

END INTERVIEW


Topics: CNN • Dana Bash • State of the Union
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