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Lindsey Graham: The senator who revels in the 'ugly' issues

If there's a particularly partisan issue, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is likely to be in the middle trying to find a solution – in a conservative way. 

By Staff writer / April 10, 2013

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, (r.) and his aides walk through the subway and corridors underneath the US Capitol, on March 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Sen. Graham is considered a dealmaker because of his ability to work across party lines. Underground corridors connect the Capitol to all the Senate and House office buildings.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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For the first several months of President Obama's second term, the newly reelected chief executive got no gentle treatment from Lindsey Graham, the senior Republican senator from South Carolina.

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Senator Graham savaged UN Ambassador Susan Rice, a close friend of Mr. Obama's, for her public handling of the terror attack in Ben­ghazi, Libya. He excoriated a onetime colleague, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, when the president put up the taciturn Midwesterner as his choice for secretary of Defense. And he balked vociferously at the White House's push for more stringent gun laws.

So whom did Obama call to organize a dinner for himself and often-recalcitrant Senate Republicans as the first serious bipartisan outreach of his second term?

Graham, of course.

Over nearly two decades in Congress, Graham has earned almost singular renown for his political and policy entrepreneurship, a consistent willingness to find conservative ways to solve problems rife with partisan divisions. The bigger the problem, the uglier the politics, the more likely the slight man with the classic Southern-lawyer demeanor will be at the center of the fray.

Sometimes, as with Ms. Rice and Mr. Hagel, it's as a partisan slasher. But in other cases, from offering fixes to Social Security under President George W. Bush to pushing for comprehensive immigration reform to supporting a "grand bargain" on fiscal issues, Graham has shown an equal fidelity to finding solutions in politically uncomfortable places.

Those who have followed Graham see his tenacity in trying to work things out rooted in his personal history. While en route to becoming the first in his family to graduate from college, Graham lost both of his parents in a 15-month span. He became the legal guardian of his 15-year-old sister when just a junior at the University of South Carolina.

"A couple of times we tried, with others, to develop Social Security reform," says former Sen. Joe Lieberman (Ind.) of Connecticut, a longtime Graham ally. "He said to me, privately, 'I'm never going to be part of hurting Social Security because if it wasn't for Social Security, we wouldn't have made it....' As he looks back at his life, I think there's a voice inside his head that says, 'I can't believe it. Now that I'm here, I've got to make it count.' "

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