During an interview with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on Tuesday’s NBC Today, co-hosts Matt Lauer and Hoda Kotb fretted that Donald Trump was single-handedly destroying the American presidency. Noting that Graham was an “outspoken critic” of the President, Kotb wondered: “What do you think the President could do starting today to regain your confidence?”
After Graham called for greater White House discipline and being “focused like a laser” on reforming health care, Kotb worried: “Do you feel that he’s damaged the Office of the President, just the credibility of the office, over the last six months?” While the Republican lawmaker acknowledged that Trump has “done some things...that to me are unpresidential,” Graham assured that “his presidency can still be very consequential.”
Lauer demanded the Senator attack the President: “With all due respect, though, you didn’t quite answer her question. Do you think to date, in the last six months, he has damaged the credibility of the Office of the Presidency?” Graham quipped: “...a lot of people thought Obama had.”
After listing examples of GOP disagreements with Trump on certain issues, Graham concluded:
I will push back against him, I will call him out when I think he’s saying things bad for the country. But I have an obligation to work with him. And if he will help me and others deliver a new form of health care, I need to help him. He is our president, by the way.
Later in the exchange, after Lauer asked about the threat posed by a nuclear North Korea, Graham asserted: “The only way they’re going to change is if they believe there’s a credible threat of military force on the table.” Lauer pressed: “But every military expert says there is no good military option.” Graham replied: “Well, they’re wrong. There is a military option, to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself.”
The morning show host was aghast at the possibility of military action being necessary: “Just to be clear, are you saying it’s okay to use a military option that immediately endangers the lives of millions of people in that region?”
The fact that North Korea has been endangering millions of lives for years didn’t seem to dawn on Lauer.
The biased interview was brought to viewers by Mazda, Walmart, and Citi.
Here is a full transcript of the August 1 exchange:
7:05 AM ET
MATT LAUER: We're joined now exclusively by Senator Lindsey Graham. Always good to see you, Senator.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM [R-SC]: Good morning.
LAUER: Thanks for coming by. We have so much to talk about. I want to ask you about this Washington Post story that says that President Trump may have been the one who crafted that memo released by his son, Donald Trump Jr., about that meeting with the Russian lawyer that said it was primarily about adopting Russian children. We know that's not true now.
LAUER: If the President was directly involved in creating that statement, it’s not illegal to lie to the press, does it bother you?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Did Trump Mislead on Russia Meeting?; Report: President “Personally Dictated” Son’s Explanation]
GRAHAM: Yeah, it bothers me a lot because, one, he put his son in jeopardy. Now we have to wonder about what Don Jr.’s team will tell you about what he actually did. If he didn’t know about the e-mail, the statement may have fooled you. If you know about the e-mail with Don Jr., then it’s a misleading statement.
LAUER: But it sounds like the President himself was trying to cover up the truth about that meeting.
GRAHAM: If that’s true, then that was a bad decision by the President, which will make us ask more questions. When you get caught in a lie about one thing, it makes it hard to just say, “Let the other stuff go.”
LAUER: Let me ask you about John Kelly’s first day on the job. He’s a military guy, he knows what discipline smells and looks like. He wasted no time in getting get rid of a loose cannon in Anthony Scaramucci. Do you feel confident that John Kelly can bring discipline to the West Wing?
GRAHAM: Well, the Marines can do almost anything. So the Marines have landed in the White House, he has a beach head, he’s clearing the beach, and the only person who can kick me off the beach is President Trump. This will only work if President Trump will empower him to continue to do what he’s doing.
LAUER: And if he can install some discipline in the President himself.
GRAHAM: Yeah, I mean, you know, we’re talking about health care and about 40 other things in the same week. If you want to get health care passed, you’ve got to have a laser-like focus. To give up on health care would be a mistake. I’ve got a bill that would block grant all ObamaCare money back to the states, it’s never even been presented to the Senate. I think there’s another round of health care coming, but the President has to work with the governors. We should look outside of Washington to fix ObamaCare, it was a mistake by Republicans not to do that. But for this to work, Mr. President, you’ve got to listen to the governors, work with a group of us in the Senate, and stay on message for round two of health care.
HODA KOTB: Senator Graham, you’ve been an outspoken critic, obviously, of the President. And as we just heard, Senator Flake – and I’ll just repeat what he said in the piece, he said of Trump, “We created him and now we are rationalizing him, when will it stop?” What do you think the President could do starting today to regain your confidence?
GRAHAM: Firing General – having General Kelly in charge really helps. Focusing on health care. Can he make it between now and September 30th focused like a laser on trying to rally the Congress, working with governors of both parties to come up with a new way to deliver health care? Discipline is what I’m looking for. We didn’t create him. The American people chose him. You know, I like Jeff Flake, he’s a good guy, but he beat me and 16 other Republicans and the former Secretary of State. We should honor his win, but he has an obligation to be president for all of us and to stop the chaos. Most of the chaos is generated by him, and no one else.
KOTB: Do you feel that he’s damaged the Office of the President, just the credibility of the office, over the last six months?
GRAHAM: I think he’s done some things that most – that to me are unpresidential, but it’s not hopeless. If you can pass health care to get money and power closer to the patient, away from Washington, if you can move on to taxes, if you can effectively deal with North Korea, his presidency can still be very consequential. But General Kelly was probably the best choice available to him. He’s a good man, listen to him.
LAUER: With all due respect, though, you didn’t quite answer her question. Do you think to date, in the last six months, he has damaged the credibility of the Office of the Presidency?
GRAHAM: I don’t – a lot of people thought Obama had. It’s in the eyes of the beholder. Rather than me critiquing the Office of the President, why don’t I do this, not empower him when he does dangerous things. We’re not going to change the rules of the Senate because he tells us to. We’re not going to deal out our Democratic colleagues, for 200 years the minority’s had a voice in the Senate. I don’t want to become the House. I've been in the House, I love it, but I’m not going to change 200 years of history because Donald Trump’s mad.
At the end of the day, we rebuked him when it came to Russia, 97 to 2 to pass new sanctions, where we have to look at any waiver that he may give the Russians is a pretty strong push-back against Donald Trump. I will push back against him, I will call him out when I think he’s saying things bad for the country. But I have an obligation to work with him. And if he will help me and others deliver a new form of health care, I need to help him. He is our president, by the way.
LAUER: On the subject of North Korea, the President has said, “We’ll handle North Korea, we’re going to be able to handle them, it will be handled.” In your opinion, over the next year, is it more likely that there is some sort of military conflict on the Korean peninsula, whether that's a surgical strike or something larger, or is it more likely that North Korea will cement its place as a nuclear threat in the world?
GRAHAM: Well, this is the ultimate question. I know it’s early in the morning, but President Trump has said, “I will not allow them to get an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top to hit America.” They’re headed that way. The only way they’re going to change is if they believe there’s a credible threat of military force on the table. The Chinese are miscalculating Trump, and so are the North Koreans. He’s got to choose between homeland security and regional stability. Japan, South Korea, China would all be in the cross hairs of a war, if we started one with North Korea, but if they get a missile, they can hit California, maybe other parts of America.
LAUER: But every military expert says there is no good military option.
GRAHAM: Well, they’re wrong.
LAUER: What’s a good one?
GRAHAM: There is a military option, to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself. He’s not going to allow – President Trump – the ability of this madman to have a missile to hit America. If there’s going to be a war to stop them, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there, they’re not going to die here. And he’s told me that to my face. And that may be provocative, but not really. When you’re President of the United States, where’s your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States. This man, Kim Jong-Un, is threatening America with a nuclear-tipped missile. President trump doesn’t want a war, the Chinese can stop this. But to China, South Korea, and Japan: Donald Trump is not going to allow this missile threat to mature.
LAUER: Just to be clear, are you saying it’s okay to use a military option that immediately endangers the lives of millions of people in that region?
GRAHAM: I’m saying it’s inevitable unless North Korea changes because you’re making our president pick between regional stability and homeland security. He’s having to make a choice that no president wants to make. They’ve kicked the can down the road for 20 years, there’s no place else to kick it. There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM. He’s told me that, I believe him. And if I were China, I would believe him, too, and do something about it. You can stop North Korea, militarily or diplomatically. I prefer the diplomatic approach. But they will not be allowed to have a missile to hit America with a nuclear weapon on top. And to allow them to do that is really abandoning homeland security.
KOTB: Can we end with just a quick note on Senator John McCain? He’s in a tough challenge, he’s a friend to you, he’s a patriot. Just describe what he means to you and to the nation.
GRAHAM: I can’t think of anything I’ve done in 20 years of politics plus that John hasn’t been by my side. I’ve been his wing man, he’s been my wing man. I’ve traveled every place in the world, mostly crappy places. I am inspired by him. He has taught me what it means to be an American patriot. He’s a good example of what it means to be a senator. And above all, that he’s a friend. Not a Washington friend – a friend. I don’t know what God has in store for John. Every day that he’s here is a blessing. He wants to come back to the Senate, and God willing, he’ll come back and help us fix health care and rebuild the military.
LAUER: It’s nice to have you here, Senator.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
LAUER: Thank you so much.
KOTB: Thanks for coming on.
LAUER: Really appreciate it.