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Robert Graham On His Possible Primary Challenge To Sen. Jeff Flake


Trump wants Republican senators to pass some version of a health care bill and has even suggested publicly that he'll back primary challenges to those Republican senators who may not go along with them. Robert Graham is the former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and one of several people the White House has reportedly encouraged to challenge Arizona's Republican Senator Jeff Flake at the 2018 primary. Robert Graham joins us now from KGZZ in Phoenix. Mr. Graham, thanks so much for being with us.

ROBERT GRAHAM: Hey, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

SIMON: Well, let me just ask first off, are you going to run for senator against Senator Flake?

GRAHAM: Well, I'll tell you, it's definitely not in the immediate plans here. It's been an interesting time to say the least. Senator Flake has - given his behavior during the general election and stiff opposition to the then candidate Donald J. Trump and then now being pretty open - openly against a lot of his agenda items, there is definitely a mood in our state and in the nation to find people that will align with the president's agenda so we can really push forward to do what we can to make America great. And that's - it sounds cliche. But at the same time, it is truly what the agenda and the vision that our president has.

SIMON: You haven't personally gotten a phone call from the president, or can you say?

GRAHAM: No. So it's been reported in Politico that in one of our rallies in the election cycle, President Trump spoke to a few of us. And he was very motivated to take out Senator Flake at that particular time to the point where he stated clearly - I don't know who actually reported this to Politico. But the $10 million comment that he would put 10 million of his own money into a PAC to take out Senator Flake - I can tell you verifiably that that's true.

Look, here's the thing. The president's been very clear he's doing this with the real intent of helping the country. And that's when some folks get in their way maybe for soundbites, maybe because they want a little bit more attention. That's when the frustration comes up because, like, comments like - probably, the most famous comment from Senator Flake was when he was asked if he's going to the Republican National Convention, he said, no, he had to mow his lawn. Those are the kind of comments that aren't productive, OK? That's where you start to create disjointedness and you start to destroy relationships.

SIMON: Now, Senator Flake points out that he's actually in favor of a two-year repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

GRAHAM: Yeah, so this is...

SIMON: Is that not enough for you, or?

GRAHAM: No, that's fine for me. This is way beyond health care. OK, look, we're talking about health care now because it's front and center. What about NAFTA, where his position - he's been openly in disagreement with the president on any positions that they've taken on NAFTA so far. How about the southern wall - OK? - the border wall? How about Cuba? How about statements regarding the religious rights and the executive orders that he put in place? So you look at this culmination together. It's not one issue. Like, there's a pattern that's taking shape here.

And the fear is - and this isn't just with Senator Flake. It's with anybody out there, whether Democrat or Republican. If they get reelected, especially in the Senate - they have six-year terms - what type of obstacles will they create if they don't - if they're not tethered by any fear of retribution or strategic re-alliance or what have you to put pressure on them in their office? So I think that, ultimately, you get to the point where it is a long-term perspective to try to, again, facilitate the best outcome for the agenda.

SIMON: Want to ask this, finally - Deedra Abboud, Phoenix attorney, is a candidate in the Democratic primary for Senator Flake's seat. And she's been the object of attacks for being a Muslim. Senator Flake sent her a message of support on Twitter this week. Good thing to do?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think so. It's disgusting that people will take such personal assaults when a lot of people don't even know who she is and they're judging her by her religion. And again, if people would actually take the time to learn a little bit more about the religion, they may be very surprised at the real tenets of their religion, not just the media hype or the big push from some extremist groups. So I think that, again - I was back to saying this about Senator Flake - Senator Flake and his wife Cheryl and his family, I've known them for some time. He's a great family man. He's a good - he's a good person. There's no question.

SIMON: Robert Graham is the former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Graham.

GRAHAM: Hey, my pleasure, Scott. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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