Borg: There's an old saying, three's a crowd. Well, what about nine? Or as of Thursday, what about ten? Crowds apparently don't intimidate Senator Lindsey Graham. With eight republicans already seeking the party's presidential nomination, earlier this week Senator Graham said, me too. He's in his third term now representing South Carolina in the U.S. Senate. Before that four terms in the House. Early in his congressional career, in 1998, the House appointed him as one of the impeachment proceedings managers involving President Bill Clinton. And how he's running for president. Senator Graham, welcome to Iowa Press.

Graham: Well, thank you very much. I'm 0 for 1 in impeachment, by the way. Don't hire me.

Borg: You had an event earlier, about a week ago, in which you retired from the Air Force.

Graham: Yes. After 33 years I hung it up. It was the best thing that ever happened to Lindsey Graham. I loved it. I've been in the Guard and Reserve and active duty and I learned a lot and met some of the greatest friends of my life.

Borg: And you were an attorney in the Air Force.

Graham: Yes, sir, I was a military judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, served on active duty for six and a half years, been in the Guard and Reserve ever since, been to Iraq and Afghanistan more than a handful of times as a reservist doing very short tours. It was a wonderful experience.

Borg: I want to introduce the people across the table.

Graham: Yeah, who are these people.

Borg: James Lynch, political writer for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Senator, I want to ask you about something Americans have heard about just recently. There has been a cyber attack on the government. As a U.S. Senator, what questions do you have that must be answered?

Graham: Well, number one, we're not very well prepared against what I think could be a cyber Pearl Harbor. If you ask me where we're exposed here, the gaps between us and our adversaries in the conventional arena is pretty large, but on cyber not so much. So what I would like to do, working with Sheldon Whitehouse, who is a democrat from Rhode Island, is to harden our critical infrastructure. This is a hard problem to deal with because your power grid, your financial services industries, chemical plants, dams, are all in the private sector. And what the government has to do is to incentivize the private sector in the areas of critical infrastructure to up their game, use best business practices and reward them with liability protections if they do. But what you have is a nation state like China, Russia and North Korea who are trying to penetrate us in terms of stealing our intellectual property and going into our national security infrastructure. China needs to pay a price for this.

Henderson: And what price should that be?

Graham: We shouldn't treat them as a normal nation when they do abnormal things.

Borg: But what should be done?

Graham: We should probably change the way we trade with China. We should put them on notice and we should get with the Europeans. It's just not us they're hacking into. It's easier to steal things than it is to invent it. This is a form of intimidation. The Russians engage in this. So at the end of the day, what I would do if I were president, I'd have a meeting in a private setting with Chinese leadership and say, we know what you're doing and we're tired of it and you're going to pay a price if you continue. We would suffer a bit too. But the only way I know to get people to change the behavior is to up the cost of it.

Borg: But the cost or the price, as you put it, would be interrupting trade.

Graham: I think it would be changing the rules of trade. It would be treating them not as a most favored nation but as an adversary. China is very provocative right now. These islands they're building in the South China Sea is an attempt to basically control resource rich waters where there is a dispute as to who owns the underlying territory, the undersea resources, not by negotiating through international bodies, but by literally building manmade islands with military battalions on top. That to me can't be allowed to stand because you’re destroying the concept of the international rule of law. And if I were president I would tell the Chinese if you don't stop this, everybody in Asia, including the Americans, we're going to build islands right by you.

Borg: But that's all you'd do. You wouldn’t move in military force?

Graham: No, I don't want to go to war with China but I would not allow them to steal resources that belong to others. And if they challenge the free navigation of the seas or the air they would do so at their own peril.

Lynch: You have, your campaign has been described as doom and gloom. You talk about the world is exploding in terror and violence. And as you're talking about China too, are you trying to scare people into supporting you?

Graham: I don't think I have to do much to scare anybody. I'm not trying to scare people. I'm trying to inform people the best I know how that our national security is deteriorating before our eyes, that leading from behind is not working, that President Obama's way of defending this nation has been an abject failure, that when he drew a line against Assad saying you better not use chemical weapons and Assad chose to do so and nothing happened to him and he's stronger than before. Russia, China, Iran, ISIL, all of these threats are growing in number and capability and I'm trying to wake the American people up to a couple of things. Number one, if we don’t up our game on the national security front we're going to get hit here. If America doesn't lead from the front, the world falls into chaos. The thing about Putin invading Crimea is that we signed an agreement with the Ukrainians in the 90s that if you'll give up your 2,400 nuclear weapons, the United States will guarantee your sovereignty. That was a good thing. But Putin tore that agreement up by invading the Crimea and basically dismembering the Ukraine. World order is very much in chaos right now. It is not good for American business or our national security. So I'm not portraying the world as gloom and doom, I'm portraying the world accurately. It is literally collapsing in terms of world order.

Borg: Well, let's take it into what is happening right now in the Middle East, for example. If you were in the White House, Oval Office right now, what would you be doing?

Graham: I would destroy the Caliphate.

Borg: How?

Graham: I would send American military troops back to Iraq in enough numbers to make a different. We have 3,500 on the ground. The American military advisors that have fought in Iraq, that were the authors of the surge that did work, say that we need to thicken the force, that we need about 10,000 Americans. That would give you a trained advise and assist capability at the battalion level, which would make the Iraqi Army better operationally and we would have floor to air controllers in the mix. 75% of the planes come back with their bombs attached because they can't drop the bomb on the target. We need Special Forces units. You know when we took that guy down in Syria, one of the leaders, if I were president we would go after their leadership morning, noon and night in Iraq and Syria, destroy their command to control.

Borg: And how would that correlate with Syria?

Graham: This is the ultimate question. You cannot put Iraq back together until you have political reconciliation. So you have to have a parallel effort of bringing the Sunni's, the Kurds and the Shi'ites back together at the negotiating table. You've got to increase the capability of the Iraqi Army. But if you don't deal with the safe havens in Syria you're doomed to fail.

Borg: So you'd move troops, our troops into Syria too?

Graham: Here's the game plan. President Obama says he wants to degrade and destroy ISIL. Right goal, his current strategy is doomed to fail. There is no plan to create an army to go into Syria. Here's what I would do. I would go to Turkey, I would go to Saudi Arabia, I would go to Egypt and other Gulf Arab allies, we would form an army, a very large army, about 10,000 of us would be integrated into that army doing the things that they can't do, giving them capability they don't have and the objective would be to destroy the Caliphate inside of Syria, hold the territory and push Assad out and give the Syrians some breathing space to try to reconnect politically.

Henderson: Senator Rand Paul, who has a level of support here in the state by virtue of his father's campaign and his own campaign here, has suggested that the Iraq war is one reason and the incursion, the arming of rebels in Syria is why the Islamic militants have risen to the fore.

Graham: Well, all due respect to Senator Paul, this is a religious war. I didn't bring it on America, he didn't bring it on America. The invasion of Iraq happened two years after we were attacked on 9-11-2001. As soon as you understand that what motivates these people is not a grudge or agreements, they're not worried about the Palestinians, they're not mad because we took Saddam down, they're mandated by their religious views to destroy anyone in their religion who disagrees with them, and they're doing that, destroy the Christian faith in the Middle East, they're trying to do that, destroy Israel and come after us. So once you understand this is a religiously motivated conflict, you would not say what Senator Paul said. At the end of the day, the only way you contain, degrade and destroy radical Islam is to form partnership on the military security side. But more importantly, a small schoolhouse in a remote region of Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, educating a young girl, will do more to radical Islam than any brigade of soldiers. I have a whole other government approach, hard power plus soft power, it's a generational struggle. I'm sorry we have to go back into Iraq and eventually Syria but we do. And if we don't stop this, it's going to take Lebanon and Jordan down and the next thing you know the last good ally we have in the Middle East, the King of Jordan, is at risk and the foreign fighters who are flocking to Jihad are going to come here. There are many western passport holders. So you've got two choices, to let it play out, which is a disaster for us, or go in and stop it and turn it around.

Borg: Sounds to me like the Domino Theory of going into Vietnam, however.

Graham: Well, at the end of the day, Communism was an ideology that was beaten by Ronald Reagan and every other President saying, tear this wall down. Radical Islam is never going to be peacefully coexisted with. The Soviet Union has had nuclear weapon, we had nuclear weapons. Mutual assured destruction was the concept to keep us from engaging in a war of nuclear proportions. If you attack us, we'll attack you, all of us lose. Radical Jihad, radical Islam doesn't think that way. They don't mind dying, they just want to take you with them. So once you understand you can't accommodate, appease or compromise with radical Islam, it has to be contained, degraded and destroyed and the only way to do that is to build up others in the region, give them the capability to eradicate this form of radical Islam in their back yard. So the Domino Effect is not what I think is appropriate here. It is the spread of radical Islam taking down one stable nation after another. Jordan is in the crosshairs of ISIL. The Islamic state in the Levant is different than the Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. The Levant includes Lebanon and Jordan. I fear that if this war continues for another year, the slaughter inside Syria will be hell on Earth and the tentacles of this movement is going to go to Libya, Jordan and Lebanon.

Lynch: Senator, your approach sounds like the Bush-Cheney-McCain foreign policy that calls for boots on the ground wherever there's trouble and sort of a series of surges. Will the American people support that?

Graham: Well, this is a really good question. People tell me, how do you -- the public is war wary and you're talking about engaging. What I'm trying to do is convince the American people that we have two choices. Disengagement you see what's happening. Leading from behind has allowed this cancer in the Middle East to metastasize and get worse. That is just not their war, it is our war. Radical Islam is a threat to humanity. They're religious Nazis. They want a master religion. Our way of life is at risk too. It's just not a regional problem, it's not a sectarian problem. And the only way to contain and destroy this is to confront it head on and that means we have to have partnerships. And when President Obama decide to leave Iraq in 2011 against sound military advice, he allowed this problem to come back.

Henderson: Let's shift to domestic policy. You have tried to convince members of your own party that there should be immigration reform. Your actions in that regard --

Graham: I'm not doing that well.

Henderson: There are some republicans in Iowa who just won't vote for you because of that work.

Graham: You know, and I'm okay with that. If you believe that we should just leave the Middle East and forget about those problems over there I am not your guy. I'm weary of a failed foreign policy. I'm weary of the idea that our country is being run over by nation states like Russia and China and thugs like Putin are just running wild. I'm weary of the fact that radical Islam is getting stronger and threatening our nation. As to immigration, I'm weary as a republican of talking about solutions that have absolutely no chance of becoming a reality. Here's the good news. I've been involved for almost ten years in trying to create bipartisan solutions to the immigration problem that start with securing your border, which you must do, increasing legal immigration, which is required because the baby boomers are dying out, controlling who gets a job through E-Verify and dealing rationally with 11 million. Felons are not welcome. The rest can stay on our terms. We have passed three bills, comprehensive in nature, in the United States Senate beginning with President George W. Bush. They have all gone to the House to die. To my republican colleagues, we have gone from 44% of the Hispanic vote, under 43 President George W. Bush, to 27%. You'll never convince me that the market share we have lost regarding Hispanics is not related to the way we have handled this issue.

Borg: Is it retrievable? Can you get them back?

Graham: Yes, but we're running out of time.

Borg: How?

Graham: Embrace rational solutions. Everybody wants to secure your border. Count me in. I've got one goal not to have 11 million 20 years from now. Fix it at its core. We have two borders, one with Canada and one with Mexico. We're not being overrun by illegal Canadians. Here's the problem. When you talk about the 11 million, self-deportation, which was the policy of Mitt Romney, who I love dearly, was a huge mistake. It is not practical. People have been here for decades. They have children, some legal, some not. Sergeant Gonzalez, I'm making up a name, he is a Marine who has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, he comes back home, his mother is illegal, self-deportation means that his mother has to go back. Do you think he's going to vote for a party that would deport his mother? This is not a practical solution. Self-deportation will not work.

Henderson: What do you say to people in your party, like Iowa's Congressman Steve King, who say it's an argument about the rule of law and you cannot reward law breakers?

Graham: I would say to Steve, who I like a lot, that you've got to be practical, that amnesty is doing nothing, that we're going to need workers in the future and those who are here, that have done nothing but break our immigration laws, let's find a place for them to stay here legally, they have to learn our language as a price of staying, they have to pay a fine, get in the back of the line. Paying an illegal immigrant cash under the table hurts the average, everyday working man and woman in Iowa. Let's fix this problem, let's be practical and as the baby boomer generation dies out, the people in my age group, if we don't have a rational immigration system to bring new labor into our country our economy will die. So I respect the rule of law but this is not about the rule of law. This is embracing solutions that I think are just impractical.

Borg: We may come back, and Jim I'll get to you in just a moment, but we may come back to these subjects, but we're running out of time and I want to be sure that we understand what your strategy is in using the Iowa caucuses as a path to the republican presidential nomination. How do you see the Iowa caucuses figuring in with the issues that we have just been talking about, including immigration?

Graham: Okay. There would be about 120,000 to 150,000 people vote here. If you believe that you've got to deport all of the 11 million then I'm not your guy. But if you believe felons should be deported after you secure your border, we give the rest of the group a chance to stay on our terms, let them be productive --

Borg: Are those issues that are going to sell in Iowa is my question?

Graham: Yes, absolutely. There are plenty of people -- 60% of Iowa caucus goers would support a comprehensive immigration reform bill if you first secured your border. As to the war, here's what I'm telling Iowa caucus goers, I believe our nation is at risk, I believe Barack Obama's foreign policy is failing, I believe the idea of gutting our military through these sequestration budget cuts is insane. If you'll elect me President of the United States we're going to go after these guys over there so they don't come here and we're going to pull the Caliphate up by its roots and that's going to take some of our soldiers going over there to fight with their soldiers.

Borg: Jim?

Lynch: You have talked about we need more immigration to deal with an aging population.

Graham: Yes.

Lynch: You have also talked about means testing, Social Security to deal with --

Graham: Absolutely, Simpson-Bowles.

Lynch: Right. And I'm wondering, you get very emotional when you talk about how Social Security helped you and your sister after your parents died. Are you willing to shrink the opportunity for people through Social Security?

Graham: I'm willing to save Social Security from being wiped out because 80 million baby boomers are going to retire in mass in a 20 to 30 year period. We're down to two workers for every retiree. When I was born, in the mid-50s, there were 16. We're a declining population. The amount of unfunded liability for Medicare and Social Security is $70 trillion. So I would take Simpson-Bowles, dust it off. I would adjust it where necessary to get political consensus. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill adjusted the age of retirement because they had to and they should. We need to do it again. People in my income level are going to have to give up some benefits because we can't afford to pay everybody what is promised. I don't want to raise taxes. I want to save Social Security by means testing benefits, Medicare by adjusting the age of retirement. If you make $200,000 a year in retirement the government gives you $109 a month subsidy to pay your Medicare Part D prescription drug premiums. I would eliminate that subsidy. You would have to pay it yourself. I would do whatever is necessary to save Social Security. When I was 22 I had lost both of my parents, my sister was 13, if it wasn't for Social Security survivor benefits we wouldn't have made it. I am now 59, I'm not married, I'm doing very well, I would give some of my promised benefits up to save the system.

Lynch: But if I pay into Social Security but I don't get the benefit, doesn't it just become another entitlement? Doesn't that break the contract?

Graham: I would never let that happen. But I would, I don't know what you make but you look like you're a fairly prosperous fella, I would say that when you and I retire, why don't we take a little less COLA than the COLA promised because that gives more money --

Borg: COLA, cost of living allowance.

Graham: Cost of living allowance. And what I would say is that when we retire, let's pay the entire Medicare premium, don't have it subsidized because we can afford it. I would ask younger people, if you've got kids or grandkids, you're going to have to work a year or two longer because we're all living longer. I bet you if I asked you to do those things you would do it. And if I'm president I'm going to ask. And what do republicans have to do? We've got to flatten out that tax code, eliminate some deductions for our friends, take that money and put it down on debt to get a democrat to do what I just described. That's what Simpson-Bowles does.

Henderson: You recently voted to give President Obama fast track authority on trade deal negotiations.

Graham: I did.

Henderson: That is controversial in your party these days.

Graham: Yeah, it is but the whole goal with TPA is to form trading relationships with Asian nations other than China. They're dying to come our way because they are intimidated by China. China is trying to intimidate its neighbors and they're trying to gain market share through threats of military force. This trade agreement will allow us to trade with Asian nations other than China so they'd have a choice versus the Communist dictatorship. At the end of the day, I do believe in worker protections, and I would go after China's manipulation of their currency. We're losing market share in this country because China cheats. They steal our intellectual property, they manipulate their currency. But I do believe in trade.

Lynch: This week we learned that China wants in on that transpacific partnership, and going back to what you said about punishing them for their --

Graham: They're not getting in if I'm president until they change their behavior.

Lynch: Okay, that would be part of your --

Graham: So if you're listening, buy Iowa pork if you want to, China, but you're not going to take advantage of this trade deal until you stop intimidating your neighbors, until you stop attacking our country. And to the Iranians, if I'm president, you want a peaceful nuclear power program, you can have it. If you want the infrastructure to create a nuclear weapon, forget about it.

Henderson: This month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Obamacare. What should be the response of Congress if they undo the law? And as president, what would you do to ensure that people who don't have access to health care have it?

Graham: Well, when I lost my parents, my mom had Hodgkin's disease, we were an underinsured family, we got wiped out. So I don't need a lecture about the importance of being covered and having enough coverage. I think the court is likely to strike down the federal exchanges. First what I would do is make sure that people are on the exchanges with a subsidy are not just kicked off overnight. But what I would try to do is insure as many people as possible through the private sector. When it comes to Medicaid, I would allow people to have a subsidy to purchase a policy in the private sector rather than having a government fee for service model where they run to the emergency room every time they're sick. Give them a chance to buy a policy in the private sector. If you smoke, it would be okay with me if you had to pay more. I would tie the consumer to their behavior, I would create health savings accounts. I would create more choice, buy a policy -- if there's a better deal in South Carolina than Iowa, buy it. And a little medical malpractice reform.

Borg: I'm going to go back to a question I asked earlier and you went off on another subject. And that is, I want to know how are the Iowa caucuses as a cornerstone in your campaign?

Graham: Right. I have to exceed expectations. I have to finish in the top tier. This is an organizational challenge. I've got to have a message, I've got to have enough money and I've got to create momentum. I've got a military coalition to die for. General Ron Dardis, the former head of the Iowa National Guard, he is leading the coalition, Chris Fox, a retired command sergeant major, these were Joni Ernst's go-to people when it came to her veterans coalition. We're going to organize the Iowa National Guard veterans community the best we can and we're going to ask every Iowan to think about Commander in Chief when you vote. I'm a prolife guy, I'm a good social conservative, I'm a problem solving conservative. So I think there's a lane for me and I've got to work. I had a town hall meeting today. I've got to do that in every corner of Iowa.

Borg: And are we going to see a lot of you in Iowa?

Graham: You're going to see a lot of me. Now, whether you understand what I say, over time you'll learn to as you get used to this accent.

Borg: And top tier is what?

Graham: Well, in '16 it depends on how many people we have.

Henderson: Can you be in the top tier if you're not in the debates?

Graham: I think I've got to get in the debates.

Henderson: How do you do that?

Graham: Well, I've just got to move my numbers. If it weren't for Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, I would have no chance. If it were Florida, California and New York you would pick the nominee like buying soap. But because of Iowa, where you're going to have about 120,000 to 150,000 people vote, where you have to go to birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, that's expected. I had a lady come up today, she says, I love you, after three or four more meetings I may vote for you. That is exactly what is expected. It's an anecdote to big money. God bless the Iowa caucuses.

Lynch: Senator, there are some people that say you're not really running for president, that you're running for some other position. So if President Cruz, Paul or Rubio ask you to be Secretary of Defense, would that achieve your goal?

Graham: I would say thank you a lot, I've got the best job in the world second to being president and that is being a senior Senator from South Carolina. I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified to be Commander in Chief on day one at a time when we need a new, robust foreign policy. I'm running because I'm a problem solving conservative. This is too hard, too taxing on me and my family, my staff and my friends. But it's worth the effort because those who are fighting this war I think deserve a better Commander in Chief than they have today. And when you look around I think I'm their best bet.

Borg: Senator Graham. Thank you very much for being with us.

Graham: I shall return if you'll have me.

Borg: Thank you. Well, another edition of Iowa Press next weekend, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.