WASHINGTON (WCSC/AP) - U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said if Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol was not “a wakeup call” about security, he said he doesn’t know what would be.
“Yesterday, the Capitol of the United States was taken over by domestic terrorists that are not patriots,” he said. “They overwhelmed the Capitol Police. They destroyed the house. They took over the place and said in the presiding officers chair. They went through my desk. And all of us had to go to a single room to be protected. This shall never happen again.”
Graham spoke about photos showing those who had broken into the building sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office chair.
“They should go from sitting in the speaker’s chair to a jail cell,” he said. He called for a task force to identify and prosecute those who forced their way into the building.
“The first thing that stands out to me is how embarrassed and disgusted I am that the United States Capitol could be taken over by domestic terrorist while we’re in session, transferring power from one president to the other,” he said. “That a band of people who are terrorists not patriots literally occupied the floor of the house, drove the Senate, out of its chamber. And the question for the country is how could that happen 20 years after 9/11.”
He said anyone in charge of defending the Capitol failed in their duties. If they had been in the military, he said, “they’d been relieved or commands and most likely court-martialed.”
“How could we not be prepared?” he said. “Black Lives Matter protests, have you seen the images on the Capitol steps? We had National Guard members in riot gear. Why weren’t you as prepared this time around?”
Pointing to 2021 marking the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, he asked how authorities could have “failed so miserably.”
“Yesterday they could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all,” he said. “People coming through the windows had backpacks, as big as my desk on the Senate. They should have been challenged, warning shots should have been fired and lethal force should have been used once they’d penetrated the seat of government. Those backpacks could have had bombs chemical agents, weapons. We dodged a major bullet yesterday. If this is not a wake up call, I do not know what it is. Is that a money problem? If it is we’ll fix it. Is it a leadership problem? Obviously. Is it an Intel failure of the highest proportions? Absolutely.”
But he also criticized the lack of tough talk and tough action earlier this year when protests turned violent across the country.
“We’ve lost our will and our determination to stand up for law and order, and when you let a courthouse [in Portland, Oregon] be attacked and nobody gets prosecuted, the next thing you know, it gets worse,” he said.
Graham said he thinks the nation has “a pretty good grip on a political protest.”
“But we haven’t been protesting lately. We’ve been burning down cities. We’ve been attacking federal courthouses. We’ve been looting in the name of social justice. And now we’ve occupied. This needs to stop,” he said. “To my Democratic colleagues, I share your disgust and embarrassment and determination to make sure that what happened in our Capitol never happens again, but you need to speak up when this happens in other places. Lawlessness in one place breeds lawlessness everywhere. When one cause resorts to violence, and people not prosecuted. Other causes believe, maybe this is okay.”
He challenged all mayors who have discord and unlawful behavior in their cities to “get on top of it.”
Graham addressed many of the questions he said reporters have been asking him and his colleagues since the riot Wednesday. He said it was “mind boggling” how such an event could occur.
While he had harsh words for his longtime ally, President Donald Trump, he praised Vice President Mike Pence.
“I just want every Republican to know that in my view, limited government applies when you don’t like the outcome, just as much as when limited government applies, and you do like the outcome,” he said. “The Constitution needs to be followed as written, even though you wish you could do something that constitution does not allow to get your way, that’s the very essence of activism. To those who are pushing the idea that Vice President Pence had the power to unilaterally set aside, certified electoral votes from a single state or send them back, you have cheapened the idea of Constitutional Conservatism.”
When Pence was asked to do something against Conservative values, he said Pence said no.
Graham said the reason went from being an opponent of Trump to becoming close to him was because the people of South Carolina wanted him to.
“I did the same with Obama; I’ll do the same with Biden, but this is a Republican president. He changed my opinion of who he was, through his actions,” Graham said.
He said he thinks Trump did tremendous things for the country.
“It breaks my heart that a president of a consequence would allow yesterday to happen, and it will be a major part of his presidency,” Graham said. “It was a self inflicted wound. It was going too far.”
Graham said the next two weeks can begin “to right the ship” depending on how Trump behaves.
“I think the best thing the president can do is encourage a transition to be peaceful, to be professional, and to use the voice he has in the next 14 days to talk about his successes and to bring us together,” he said. “And over time, his presidency will be viewed in a fuller context. I have absolutely no regrets of helping this president, make a safer, more prosperous. I’ve enjoyed my relationship with him. I say these things, not because of animosity. I say these things because I have to.”
But Graham also took aim at the media, which he said has not covered Trump fairly.
“The Mueller investigation you covered breathlessly turned out not to be the event that it was built to be,” he said. “And when we looked at the abusive Department of Justice, we found it in the obituary page.”
He also said coverage of Hunter Biden represented a double standard.
“If a Trump had done those things would be front page news everywhere,” he said. “So there’s a lot of people on my side of the aisle, who believe that the president, the way he’s been covered, has contributed to a lot of discourse.”
But Graham said he did not support invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to force Trump’s removal from office, an idea some in Washington have suggested. allows for the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to declare the president unfit for office. If that were to happen, Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term.
“My hope is that we can move forward in the next 14 days,” he said. “I am hopeful that the worst is behind us and we can transfer power on Jan. 20.”
Late Wednesday night after Congress reconvened following a riot at the Capitol, Graham told his fellow Republican colleagues who were trying to challenge the Electoral College vote, “Count me out. Enough is enough.”
Grahams aid that “if you’re a conservative,” the idea that Pence could reverse the results of the election, as Trump had urged him to do, was “the most offensive concept in the world.
Graham told the Senate he had traveled the world with Joe Biden.
“I hoped he’d lose. I prayed he would lose. He won. He’s the legitimate President of the United States,” Graham said. “I cannot convince people, certain groups, by my words, but I will tell you by my actions. Maybe I, above all others in this body, need to say this: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the President and the Vice President the United States on Jan. 20.”
When asked Thursday about his outlook for the elections of 2022 or 2024, he said he was worried about just getting through the next 14 days.
He said he thought Biden did ”a really good job” of talking about how bad Wednesday’s riot was and the need to get it behind us.