Sen. Lindsey Graham: Spotlight On A Deal Maker In the past year, political controversies as diverse as climate change, immigration, Guantanamo and Supreme Court nominations have had one thing in common: Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has broken ranks with his party to collaborate with Democrats.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham: Spotlight On A Deal Maker

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Sen. Lindsey Graham: Spotlight On A Deal Maker

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Spotlight On A Deal Maker

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

NPR's Ari Shapiro has this profile of a Senate Republican who reaches out.

ARI SHAPIRO: A few years ago, there were Senate Republicans who regularly worked with Democrats on major legislation. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona - but Specter became a Democrat, Warner retired, McCain tacked to the right to defend himself against a conservative primary challenger. And today, on one subject after another, the man who works with Democrats is Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: There's a middle ground, and I'd like to find that middle ground, to not only protect the country, but to start over and create a new process that we all could be proud of.

SHAPIRO: Senator John Breaux was a conservative Democrat from Louisiana until he retired five years ago. Breaux often crossed the aisle to work with Republicans, and he sees Graham playing a similar role today.

JOHN BREAUX: It's a difficult role because many times your own party doesn't want you to participate in those type of endeavors. And I think, to Lindsey's credit, he said, look, I want to get things done and I know that if you're in the minority, you're going to have to work with the majority or nothing will ever get done.

SHAPIRO: Republican strategist Charlie Black says these alliances could be valuable in the future.

CHARLIE BLACK: When you have closer margins in the Senate and everybody realizes a lot of bipartisan work has to get done, he'll be there front and center with some experience at it.

SHAPIRO: A few other Republican senators have made tentative steps across the aisle in the last year: George Voinovich of Ohio, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. But as Senator Breaux points out, those are northern states with a lot of Democrats.

BREAUX: It's much more difficult, I think, to reach out to Democrats being from South Carolina than it is being from the state of Maine. When Lindsey steps out, I mean, he does it at - to some degree, at a political risk to himself.

SHAPIRO: But Graham is hardly a moderate. The American Conservative Union gives him a 90 percent lifetime approval rating. And liberal activists fear that dealing with Graham is pulling Democrats off-course.

ELISA MASSIMINO: It's tempting to say that if we can just draw in one person with an R next to their name, you know, the White House can say it's acting in a way that's bipartisan.

SHAPIRO: Elisa Massimino, of Human Rights First, believes there is a right way and a wrong way to close Guantanamo. She sees Graham's plan, with military trials and indefinite detention, as the wrong way.

MASSIMINO: That's not principled pragmatism. That's getting it off the table at whatever cost.

SHAPIRO: And the White House does run the risk of losing support from Democrats while it gains support from Graham. Democratic Senator, Ben Cardin of Maryland, chairs of the judiciary subcommittee that oversees closing Guantanamo.

BEN CARDIN: I want to make sure that we have a system in place that is true to American principles and meets international accountability. And I don't believe we can compromise those principles.

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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