Bob Graham, Former Senator and Governor of Florida HARDtalk


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Bob Graham, Former Senator and Governor of Florida

Zeinab Badawi speaks to Bob Graham. He hails from the liberal wing of the Democrat party. Has his type of politics gone out of fashion?


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Coming up next for you, it's HARDtalk.

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Welcome to HARDtalk, with me, Zeinab Badawi, in the US state of Florida.

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My guest is one of the most popular politicians in contemporary US

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history. He is Senator Bob Graham, the former governor of Florida who

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also served three terms in the U.S. Senate. But with Donald Trump in the

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White House and the Republicans controlling capital Hill, have

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Democrats like him lost the political arguments?

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Senator Bob Graham, welcome to HARDtalk. Thank you very much, I

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appreciate you coming to this side of the Atlantic. Thank you. You have

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spent most of your life in public service as a politician. Does that

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make you a professional politician? In some places that's considered a

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pejorative. I think that being a politician in a democracy is one of

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the highest callings. You have the responsibility to make this

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difficult system of government work for the benefit of the people. And

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if that makes you a professional politician, so much the better. You

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have somebody in the White House now who has styled himself as the anti-

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politician, Donald Trump, businessmen, and that has kind of

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resonated quite well with a lot of voters. -- businessman. Politicians

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are not always held in high esteem. Yes, and there has been a vein of

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American political leadership which has prided itself in not having any

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previous experience in politics all government before they were elected.

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The results of that have been somewhat mixed. I personally think

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that if you have open-heart surgery you wouldn't want to be the first

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person that that position had ever operated on, and I think in

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politics, there is some benefit in having experience and having dealt

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with similar individuals and issues, and we can bring all of that to the

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best resolution of the problem moving forward. So you are saying

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Donald Trump does not have the right experience to do the job he is doing

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now? Well, I think he would be better off in some of his actions in

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the first 50 days of his presidency illustrate this, if he had had some

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previous political experience. Has he packed his Cabinet with lots of

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business people and so on, successful people like Rex

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Tillerson, who had a very polishing career as an oil executive. I mean,

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these are people who have got things done, and it is good to introduce

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cloud like that into the political system. -- blood like that. I

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believe that having had some experience doing the job for which

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you have just been elected is advantageous. So were you surprised

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when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just over 1% in the

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presidential election? Because Florida is not natural Republican

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territory. It was Democrat under Barack Obama, and George W bush won

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it by just a few votes. Were you surprised and disappointed? Yes, I

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was surprised and disappointed. I thought Hillary Clinton was uniquely

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prepared to be president of the United States at a very challenging

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time. But I think one of the lessons, and there are a number of

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lessons from the 2016 election, was that Trump, or people on his behalf,

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had been listening to what the American people were saying, and

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what they were hearing was that many people felt that the government had

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forgotten about them and disrespected them, was not dealing

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with the issues that affected their lives, particularly economic issues.

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Trump, and Senator Sanders on the Democratic side, were the two

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candidates who did listen and they spoke to those concerns. I think one

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of the challenges for the Democratic Party is going to be to reconnect

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with what had been its most reliable source of support, working people

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who deal day today with those economic problems that caused them

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to be so distressed. -- day to day. So have the Democrats lost the plot?

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Barack Obama, after the defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump,

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said this, which is a very interesting quote. " We know that

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the Republicans have been very systematic in building from the

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ground up and communicating to state legislatures and financing school

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board races and public utility commission races, and you know I am

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a proud Democrat, but I do think we have a bias towards national issues

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and International is used". -- International issues. Correct, I

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bought -- I agree with President Obama. I believe we have lost touch

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with our core constituents. The message we were communicating was

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not something they were interested in listening to. We have a challenge

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to come up with some creative solutions to the issue of the

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forgotten Americans and the political skill to put those ideas

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into place. So do you think now about the kind of people in the

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United States who backed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and those

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who backed Donald Trump, that there is a divide there? You know, gay

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marriage, that kind of thing appeals to one group of people indie

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American population, others are more interested in economics. You think

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society is now polarised, or the think Democrats will move towards

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the kind of territory Trump is now occupying? I think there is a

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divide, but it is more in terms of how you express the issue rather

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than sharing common values on the issue. I think if you gave Senator

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Sanders and Hillary Clinton and exam on the key issues, and they would be

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in 90% of instances, their answers would be the same. But Bernie

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Sanders made those issues that he had heard people lamenting about the

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centrepiece of his campaign, and it was somewhat of a less important

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part of the message that Hillary Clinton communicated. I think that

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was a significant reason that Donald Trump was elected President. Do it

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Democrats like you, known as the dog house Democrats, because you are

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from the progressive wing of the party a few years ago, when you have

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the more conservative Democrats and you always in the doghouse with them

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because your liberal stance, you support things like the environment,

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you are very active in trying to get clean water in Florida and so on,

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but these issues again are not necessarily priorities for the

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American people. The pew research survey did a survey in July 2016,

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before the election, and out of 14 issues, the environment was number

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12 out of 14. The top issues were things like economy, jobs,

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healthcare, education, which are the very subjects Donald Trump is

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focused on. He says, you know, unemployment was only 4.7% in

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February, I am bringing jobs in. He is hitting the right notes. Yes,

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clearly he was hitting the right notes. I also believe he took the

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opportunities that were available to him to localise it, to say, well,

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this is not just a theory. I am concerned about the people in

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Indiana who have worked this company that is about to move to thousands

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jobs to Mexico. -- 2000 jobs. He took a general issue and put it in a

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very specific, tangible, understandable setting, and said, as

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president I am going to do something about it, such as changing our trade

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relationships with Mexico. Do you think he is striking the right note

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when, for example, he accuses the Obama admin is to -- Administration

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of, during the election, budding Trump Tower. No... He tweeted that

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Obama was either bad or sick. You do not have to resort to schoolyard

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yelling and defamation of other people in order to listen to people

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and understands what they are fundamental concerns are, and show

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that you care about those people. I think that President Trump has

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fallen into a pattern of making this very emotional, in this case, he has

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just called the former president of the United States a criminal because

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of wiretapping without going through a judicial process, which is a

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crime, and he has... Overstepped the line? He has a responsibility to

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make some basis on making that charge, and to be able to back up

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that basis. It has been over ten days since he has done this and he

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is yet to come forward and say, here is why I feel that President Obama

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committed this criminal act. James Kearney, the head of the FBI, has

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dismissed the claim. -- James Kearney. -- Comey. There has been

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quite a lot of invective held at the US intelligence agencies by Donald

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Trump, in particular over the alleged leaking by them of certain

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activities that he undertook in Moscow. Is it good for a president

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to be a plain speaker like that Lord do you think it is dangerous,

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because he needs to keep the intelligence establishment on side?

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-- like that, or do you think. It is not only bad practice. It is an

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assault against our national security for the President to have

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such a toxic relationship of the intelligence community. The purpose

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of the intelligence community, primarily, is to inform

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decision-makers and especially the president of the United States, as

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commander-in-chief, on issues that might threaten the security of the

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American people. If there is not a relationship of trust and respect

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between the President and the intelligence community leadership,

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we have just wasted tens of billions of dollars every year as we try to

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collect the information that will put the President in the best

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position to make wise decisions that are beneficial to world peace and to

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the security of Americans. You are calling for a bipartisan, bicameral

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enquiry into quite what Donald Trump and his colleagues' links to Russia

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were during and after the election. We already have some enquiries, the

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FBI is doing one. Isn't that enough? Do we need any more? I have

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advocated that the existing intelligence committees in the house

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and the senate take the first shot at doubling the information. That is

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what happened after 9/11. For the first two years, the committees of

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Congress were responsible for gathering the information about what

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happened. Then it was turned over to a citizens' commission, who took

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another two years to further examine 9/11. That is the process. I think

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it is particularly important now, because if we do not show to the

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Russians that we take this very seriously, that an attack against

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the fundamental essence of our democracy is totally unacceptable,

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then I think they are going to hear a message of immunity. We did this,

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lots of people have verified that we were responsible, and yet the

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government didn't do anything, so let's keep doing it. Not only

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against the United States, but next year, or later this year, 2017, we

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are going to have elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands,

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other places around the globe, and they are likely to be subjected to

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Russian interference in their elections. Do you think we will ever

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get to know quite what has gone on? Yes, I think it is a no ball fact.

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-- knowable fact. We just have to take it out of being a partisan

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political issue and make it an issue about the sanctity of American

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democracy. I think we can get fully to the bottom of this and be able to

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answer to the people of the world just what was the nature and why did

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the Russians become so involved in US elections. You were a chair of

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the senate intelligence committee. You also chaired the Congressional

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enquiry into the September 11 attacks. We have also seen, on the

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grounds of security, Donald Trump is saying that it is necessary to ban

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citizens from half a dozen Muslim majority countries. He has also been

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very critical of judges and officials who have said that they do

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not agree with that move. Is that also something that worries you?

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It does. First at a practical level. If we are going to be successful in

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the war against Isis it will be largely because we formed successful

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partnerships with Muslims as individuals and Muslim nations. And

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to go out of their way to throw sand in their face and be disrespectful

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of their religion is no way to build those partnerships. So I think this

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attitude of singling out Muslims and specifically saying that their

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access to the US will be more limited than anyone else to announce

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from the podium that he would like to exclude all Muslims from coming

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to the United States, those are exactly what we'll energise Isis and

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make it even more of a threat than it is today. So when Donald Trump

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says, I want to make America a safer place and therefore these measures

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are necessary and we know that terrorism is one of the top

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priorities for American citizens, you think this kind of measures will

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not make America safer? I think they are absolutely the opposite effect.

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-- they have. Are the right countries on the list? I would have

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put Saudi Arabia on the list. To me, Saudi Arabia is the country that had

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the closest relationship with Osama Bin Laden and in support of the 19

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hijackers who carried out 9/11. To leave them off the list of Muslim

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countries, middle eastern countries which have acted in a way

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detrimental it against the US, to me makes no sense at all. But of course

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the Saudi authorities have said consistently and persistently that

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they had no institutional involvement in the September the

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11th attacks and that was really the finding of the congressional

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enquiry. My conclusion, having read most maybe even more of the

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available material on the issue, is that Saudi Arabia was the principal

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facilitator of the hijackers and that 9/11 would not have occurred

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but for that facilitation. The Saudi government refutes that totally.

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Talking of immigration of a different kind, the wall that

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President Trump says he will build and of course Florida's Hispanic

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population is about 23%. This is actually still, again, a move which

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was quite popular with a lot of people because they are concerned

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about drug pushers coming in and also migrants coming in and pushing

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down wages because they are taking jobs from low paid and unskilled

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workers, so again he is striking a chord with a lot of voters in

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Florida. I have two concerns. One, a history of trying to build walls or

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bans or other physical barriers and keep out your enemies has not been a

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very good one. The French invested greatly in building the marginal war

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before World War Two started and Hitler in a couple of days ran his

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tanks are for all around it. I think the same thing will happen to this

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wall in terms of its ability to exclude people from coming to the

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United States. Second, I think it takes your eye off the real issue.

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The real issue in my opinion is that, yes, we need to have secure

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borders, but we also need to be contributing to the well-being of

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our neighbours, so that they will have less of an impetus to want to

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come to the United States. And more of cooperation, not less, in my

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opinion, is an important key to stabilising the border between the

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US and Mexico. It is interesting that a lot has been made about this

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statement by Trump having to deport 2 million, maybe as many as 3

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million, because President Obama deported 2.7 million in regular

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migrants from Carberry, far more than any other president before him.

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-- migrants, far more. So is what President Trump suggesting very

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different from what Barack Obama did? In the early days of the Trump

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administration, it appears as if he has been more aggressive and

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assertive in deporting those who came to the United States without

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documentation. I think what we need is what President Obama advocated

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and came very close to accomplishing, which is a

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comprehensive immigration law that deals with all of the issues that we

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have. Legal immigration, whether people can come to the US and get

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proper papers and work legally, what do we do about the now 11 million

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undocumented aliens who are in the United States? Do we let them live

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as a shadow class forever or do we figure out some way which they can

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be assimilated into the US? President Trump blustering in his

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proposal of things that are dramatic and intangible, like the wall, have

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taken us away from dealing with what I think is really going to be

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permanent and significant in resolving this issue of immigration

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in the US. Just finally looking at the state of the Democrats in the

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United States, I mean, really your fortunes are very low at the moment.

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The Republicans control both houses of Congress, obviously the White

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House... Ewen McKenzie six states -- you control. Democrats like you are

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really losing the argument. Your kind of politics is out of fashion.

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I don't think so. I think you are being a little bit harsh. Let's

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remember that Mrs Clinton did get almost 3 million more votes than

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Donald Trump. The difference particularly in the US Senate is

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only two... 52. So it isn't as if it's a tidal wave of change. I think

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the Democratic Party does need to look seriously at itself, more than

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trying to organise around specifically identifiable groups of

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voters. That we organise around policies that will be beneficial to

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those voters, as our traditional base. The Democratic Party has been

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the party that represents the interests to the working American

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family. It has done enormously good things from education to healthcare,

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the economic opportunities. We need to go back to those values and I

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think the Democratic Party will be around for a long time. How should

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they conduct themselves now on Capitol Hill? We have the US Supreme

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Court, the Senate hearing will have -- be happening soon. The Democrat

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support is needed. Do you think they should play hardball? It is tempting

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to say that they wouldn't even give a hearing to the person that

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President Obama nominated to fill this vacancy in the Supreme Court,

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why should we give their selection any particular support? I think that

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would add further to the public's discontent about the way that

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government is being operated. It's almost childish to say they did a

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bad thing, so we're going to reciprocate with an equally bad

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thing. I think we ought to judge this... The gentleman who has been

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nominated on his merits, which seemed to be superficially at least

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very solid, and if he stands the test of close scrutiny vote for him.

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Similarly, look for opportunities such as on infrastructure, which

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Democrats have long supported, to find common ground. Let's show the

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American people that the American democracy can work for them. Senator

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Bob Graham, thank you very much for coming on HARDtalk thank you.

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Things are going to turn more unsettled as we head towards the end

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Zeinab Badawi speaks to one of the most popular politicians in contemporary American history - Bob Graham. He has never lost an election and has served as a state legislator, Florida governor, and three time Senator in the US Senate. He hails from the progressive, liberal wing of the Democrat party. But with Donald Trump in the White House and the Republicans controlling Capitol Hill, has his type of politics gone out of fashion?