Sen. Lindsey Graham’s, R-S.C., fiery broadside against Senate Democrats for their handling of sex-assault claims against Brett Kavanaugh has earned widespread praise from conservatives, some of whom once dismissed him as a “RINO” for his views on immigration.
Graham exploded at Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday hours into the hearing that included Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford, who testified the Supreme Court nominee had assaulted her at a high school party. Kavanaugh denied the claims.
A furious Graham lambasted Democrats for what he cast as their attempts to destroy Kavanaugh for political purposes.
Red-faced, teeth-grinding, and his whole body shaking, Graham accused Democrats of running “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
“Boy y’all want power, God I hope you never get it, I hope the American people can see through this sham,” he yelled.
“To my Republican colleagues,” Graham said. “If you vote no, you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen in my time in politics.”
Graham has long been known as one of the more bipartisan Republican senators, breaking ranks to vote with Democrats and coming to the table to work out deals -- particularly on immigration. Such stances have frequently gotten him into trouble with the base, labeling him a RINO, or Republican In Name Only.
But Graham has increasingly allied himself with President Trump in recent months, whether over the Russia probe or the Supreme Court confirmation process.
In Thursday's blow-up, Graham highlighted his own bipartisan streak, noting he had voted for both of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court picks.
“When you see [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor and [Justice Elena] Kagan, tell ‘em Lindsey said hello because I voted for them,” he told Kavanaugh before turning again to Democrats. “I would never do to them what you’ve done to this guy.”
“This is not a job interview, this is hell,” he added.
The dramatic moment, which Graham later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity was unplanned, has formed part of a vigorous defense of Kavanaugh that has emboldened conservatives looking for Republicans to finally attack Democrats after days spent mostly on defense.
The outburst drew immediate praise from the White House as well. Counselor Kellyanne Conway praised Graham for “excoriating the outrageous and unfair treatment” of Kavanaugh, while Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that Graham “has more decency and courage than every Democrat member of the committee combined.”
“God bless him,” she said.
Graham and Trump hold almost entirely different views on immigration -- where Trump has embraced a hardline stance focused on border security and limits to migration, and the South Carolina senator was dubbed “Lindsey Grahamnesty” by conservatives for his support for paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But the two share a willingness to buck traditional GOP orthodoxy, and appear to have found some common ground.
Veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” paints a close, if occasionally rocky, relationship between the two, with regular trips to the golf course and Graham being sought by Trump for advice on foreign policy in particular.
In public, Graham has suggested Trump should replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions due to the pair’s feud -- remarks Trump in turn tweeted out. He has also backed Trump’s stance on the FBI probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“A word of caution to the public, a lot of people trying to convict President Trump -- don't be so fast. I've seen no evidence of collusion after two years. [FBI Special Counsel Robert] Mueller is looking at it, we'll see what he says,” he said on "Fox & Friends" last month. “Plenty of corruption at the Department of Justice and FBI, it should be stunning and not one Democrat seems to care.”
This month, he praised Trump’s achievements in office, saying that “we have one of the strongest economies in modern history.”
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh noted this week that since the death of Graham's friend Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Graham sounds like a "different guy."
"He’s taking the lead on things and he’s become one of the biggest and most effective defenders of Trump in the United States Senate. Go figure," Limbaugh said.
Graham's move to help advance Trump's embattled Supreme Court pick marks a significant departure from the campaign, where Trump and Graham had clashed repeatedly and Trump had even given out Graham’s phone number on stage -- a phone Graham later destroyed in a viral video.
On Friday morning, Graham said on “Fox & Friends” that he had spoken to the president Thursday night, and he was very complimentary. He also made reference to the campaign dox.
“I told the president ‘I’m going to give you my new number, just hang on to it,'” he laughed.
Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly contributed to this report.