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Graham on Trump’s State Department Cuts: ‘Over My Dead Body’

WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered a strong defense of foreign aid and had a direct message for the Trump administration over its proposal to reduce the State Department’s budget, describing himself as a “pretty hawkish guy but I understand the limits of military power.”

Graham also said China has done more in the last 80 to 100 days to “push back” against North Korea than they’ve done in 20 years because of President Trump’s “determination” to prevent North Korea from hitting the U.S. with a missile.

“We’re cutting the State Department’s budget by 29 percent and, over my dead body, that ain’t happening,” Graham told the audience at the Freedom House annual awards ceremony in D.C. on Thursday evening.

“To those that want to get out of the foreign assistance business, who want to take soft power off the table, General Mattis said it better than I could have ever hoped to say it, when he’s a four-star Marine general, he said if you cut the State Department’s budget, you better buy me more ammo,” he added.

Graham revealed the lesson he learned after his trips to the Middle East.

“I have learned a lot going to Iraq and Afghanistan, that this war will never be won by military force alone. You can’t kill enough of these bastards to destroy radical Islam. What you have to do is build up the lives of others who reject the ideology. They just need your help. They’re offering a glorious death. We need to offer a hopeful life,” he said.

“A small schoolhouse in a remote region of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, educating a poor young girl, will do more damage to radical Islam than any bomb we could drop on their head. And if you don’t get that, you don’t know how to win this war,” he added.

Graham called on Congress to “restore” the State Department cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

“We’re going to win this war and there’s no substitute for America in this struggle. If we’re not for freedom, who will be? To all our allies out there who are wondering who we are and what we believe, I hope in 2017 we can show you America is back. The Republicans and Democrats can work together for the good of mankind starting with restoring the State Department’s budget,” he said.

“I’m a pretty hawkish guy but I understand the limits of military power. To those who support Freedom House, God bless you. To those who are out the field collecting the data at your own risk, God keep you,” he added.

Graham was the co-recipient of the Freedom House Leadership Award with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

In an interview with PJM before the ceremony, Graham applauded Trump’s handling of China and his “determination” to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said Trump is not being tough enough on China. Graham disagreed with Schumer’s assessment.

“Let’s see what happens with President Trump’s effort to get China involved with North Korea. The North Korean threat is real to America and the world at large. It’s the worst regime on the planet. You don’t want them to have a missile with a nuclear weapon on top to hit America, so the Chinese are the key,” Graham said.

“I still think they’re a currency manipulator, but Obama and Bush never designated China as a currency manipulator, so the bottom line is let's give President Trump some time. I will say China has done more in the last 80 days, 100 days, to push back against North Korea than they have done in 20 years. I think what’s gotten China’s attention is President Trump’s determination not to let this regime hit America with a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Graham outlined the next move he would like to see the U.S. make with regards to North Korea.

“Basically tighten the noose, get China to be more aggressive in the UN against North Korea, to tighten the economic screws but basically to convince the regime that if you think survival is best achieved by having a nuclear weapon and a missile to hit America, you’ve miscalculated – that will be your demise,” he said.

“There will never be any change in North Korean behavior, I believe, until they believe a military option is truly on the table to stop their missile program from maturing, and China can deliver that message better than anybody. It is not in China’s interest to have a neighbor who could bring about a war in China’s backyard because they’re so provocative,” he added.

Graham also called for Congress to pass sanctions against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election process. PJM asked Graham if he is worried about backlash from increased sanctions.

“No, Putin won’t stop until the equation changes. Right now, he’s getting away with a lot and he’s going to keep going until the costs are too high. If we hit him and his cronies hard for his provocative behavior, it will stop,” he said.

“I don’t want war with Russia but I’ll tell you this: if you really do believe in freedom and democracy, you have to stand up to the Putins of the world because they don’t, and every time we stand on the side of freedom, it’s the best decision we ever make over the arch of time – so hit him and hit him hard, because he won’t stop until he pays a price. His economy is weak,” he added.

Graham continued, “Obama was seen as weak in the eyes of the Russians. At times, Trump has empowered the Russians. Now I think, Trump’s beginning to realize that Putin is not going to respond to kindness – that Putin is going to keep going until somebody stops him.”