Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had a message for his Republican colleagues who helped Democrats raise the debt ceiling earlier this month.
And it wasn’t a Christmas greeting.
In a meeting of GOP lawmakers held behind closed doors, Graham delivered a blunt warning that former President Donald Trump would come after anyone who moved to help Democrats.
Graham – a close ally of the former president – declined to discuss the warning publicly, but told The Hill that any move to help Senate Democrats on the issue was a “mistake” that could backfire.
“We’ve been telling our Republican base for four months, ‘[Democrats] are spending money by themselves, they should raise the debt ceiling by themselves through reconciliation,’” he told the website, adding: “It’s pretty obvious to me that this will not be received well by the Republican faithful, including Donald Trump.”
He didn’t mention Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by name, but Punchbowl said he “berated” the GOP leader during the meeting.
Just as Graham warned, Trump pounced shortly after.
“Mitch McConnell just folded on the Debt Ceiling, a total victory for the Democrats,” he said in a statement. “He has all the cards to win, but not the ‘guts’ to play them. Instead, he gives our Country away, just like he did with the two Senate seats in Georgia, and the Presidency itself. The Old Crow is a disaster!”
As Graham noted, McConnell vowed over the summer that Republicans wouldn’t help Democrats raise the debt limit.
“If our colleagues want to ram through yet another reckless tax and spending spree without our input, if they want all this spending and debt to be their signature legacy, they should leap at the chance to own every bit of it,” he said in August as he declared “they won’t get our help.”
In September, he was even more firm… or so it seemed.
“There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible,” he said.
But shortly afterward, he brokered a deal that allowed the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling anyway, vowed it was the last time.
“I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis,” he wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.
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As Graham noted, that’s not what happened.
Fourteen GOP lawmakers signed off on a plan not to raise the debt ceiling, but to allow Democrats to do it on their own via a majority vote – unilaterally disarming themselves of their filibuster power.
Most of the 14 are either not up for reelection next year or are retiring at the end of their term. Just two will face voters in November: Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John Thune (South Dakota).
Of the two, expect Trump to go after Murkowski the hardest, as she has been a persistent thorn in the former president’s side and has often crossed the aisle to work with Democrats, against Trump’s wishes.
More significantly, she is one of the seven GOP senators to vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment.
Trump later ripped her as “a disloyal and very bad Senator” and vowed to endorse and campaign for a primary challenger. He’s since backed Kelly Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner.
He hasn’t commented on Thune’s race yet.
But if Graham’s warning is any indication, would-be Republican challengers in South Dakota might be arranging for some time at Mar-a-Lago over the winter break.