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If America forgave Clinton, why not Sanford? senator asks

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted to impeach President Clinton, cites the former president as an example of someone whose on-the-job performance trumped personal problems.

By Staff writer / June 28, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford tries to keep the media back as he makes his way to the Statehouse after a cabinet meeting Friday.

Mary Ann Chastain/AP

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A clearly emotional Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina Sunday invoked former President Clinton as a defense for why embattled Gov. Mark Sanford, also of South Carolina, should potentially be allowed to finish his term.

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Senator Graham is the godfather of Governor Sanford’s fourth and youngest son, and he fielded questions about Sanford’s admitted infidelity with difficulty on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In a contrite moment, he called the GOP “a party of sinners” – apparently referring to his own religious convictions, because he added that the same was true of "every other group in America."

Along with Sen. Jon Ensign (R) of Nevada, Sanford was the second major Republican politician to admit in affair in two weeks. Sanford was considered an up-and-comer with national aspirations before this week.

Asked if Sanford should now step down as governor, Graham said Sanford should be given the chance to set things right, so long as he can reconcile with his wife, Jenny.

In a curious example, Graham noted that former president Clinton was discovered to have had an affair while in office, yet his approval rating remained high among Americans because of his job performance, Graham noted.

“Bill Clinton had his problems. People looked at his job performance, they looked at his personal failings and they said, ‘You know what, we're going to put one over here and the other over there,’ ” Graham said. “That's no justification for what Mark did, but I think the people of South Carolina appreciate what Mark tried to do as governor to change their state.”

Graham voted to impeach Clinton, though he said Sunday that vote was based on his perceptions that Clinton had obstructed justice – not because he had had an affair.

Graham also mentioned a surprising antidote to the current spate of politicians behaving badly: President Obama. Going so far as to call him a role model as a good parent, Graham added: “Obama has done a lot of good in the area of family.”

Good role models are exactly what politics needs, said former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, also appearing on “Meet the Press.” Though he said he was not commenting specifically on the Sanford situation, he said: “You have to recognize that people that are in public life ought to be held to a higher standard,” he said. “We expect [these] people to live by a higher standard, because what they do is going to be magnified.”

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) of Minnesota said Sanford was guilty of serious political mistakes. He “should not have left the state and not allowed people to know how to contact him in case something happened,” said Governor Pawlenty. “Your staff has to be able to reach you and reach you quickly for all the obvious reasons – natural disaster, terrorism, or other events.”