The business of a U.S. Supreme Court confirmation physically pulled Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) off the campaign trail just three weeks before the election during the race of his life.
But he hardly checked that election at the door of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chambers on Tuesday. Graham, the committee chairman, invoked home state concerns and the fate of his campaign against Democrat Jaime Harrison multiple times during his half-hour block of questioning of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Graham began not by addressing Barrett but by addressing his Democratic colleagues, who’d spent all of Monday making the case that the confirmation battle hinged on the Affordable Care Act—a pitch that is central to Democrats’ case to oust GOP senators at the ballot box this fall.
In an argument that was more common in the GOP the last time Graham ran six years ago than now, the senator laced into President Obama’s signature health care law, saying that it disadvantaged South Carolina for the benefit of coastal blue states and left ordinary people with unaffordable premiums. He spoke of closed rural hospitals and argued the GOP had a better vision for health care, even though the experience of the Trump era has found the party unable to turn that into a cohesive law.
“All of you want to impose Obamacare in South Carolina,” said Graham. “We don’t want it… We want South Carolina care, not Obamacare.”
Ending his argument before addressing Barrett, Graham framed what he’d just said in starkly political terms that aren’t often found from committee chairmen in high-profile hearings.
“That's the political debate,” said Graham. “My fate will be left up to the people of South Carolina.”
At another point, Graham alluded to Harrison’s record-breaking fundraising numbers—he raised $57 million over the summer—with a joke to his colleague, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), that he might be moving closer to the devoted liberal on the issue of dark money.
“I don’t know what’s going on out there,” laughed Graham. “I can tell you there’s a lot of money being raised in this campaign. I would like to know where the hell some of it is coming from, but that is not your problem.”
A spokesperson for Graham clarified on Twitter that Graham was referring to a recent article on Fox News about a report from a conservative group that raised questions about the integrity of the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue, which has been an engine of Harrison’s money machine.
A few hours into the hearing, Harrison's campaign took notice of Graham's comments.
"In the middle of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, @LindseyGrahamSC can’t help but bring up... his fundraising," Harrison tweeted. "You’re the chairman of the committee, Senator. Save it for Hannity."