Lindsey Graham wages war against Iran deal

Senator Lindsey Graham speaks near Senator John McCain during a press conference at the David Citadel hotel on Jan. 3, 2014. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
Senator Lindsey Graham speaks near Senator John McCain during a press conference at the David Citadel hotel on Jan. 3, 2014.

NEW YORK -- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is building on his long-shot Republican presidential campaign to pressure Congress to reject the historic nuclear deal between world leaders and Iran. 

Appearing alongside Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut during a town hall event in New York, the Graham said he hopes to see the American public voice opposition to the agreement.

“I believe with all my heart and soul that Iran wants a nuclear weapon -- a nuclear power plant -- and that they’ll get them if somebody doesn’t stop them,” Graham said. “The last line of defense is the United States Congress and the power of the next president to protect us and the world at large.”

World leaders struck the historic deal in Vienna last week, culminating years of negotiations that will ultimately require Iran to scale its nuclear program in exchange for harsh economic sanctions on the country being lifted.

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The event was a part of a national tour — spanning Indiana, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Minnesota, and others — for Graham to campaign on his reputation as a foreign policy hawk and gin up public support against the deal.

Americans broadly approve a nuclear deal with Iran by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the latest poll conducted last month by NBC News/Wall Street Journal.

A number of Republicans in Congress, however, remain skeptical of the deal's details and question whether Iran will hold up its end of the bargain. Congress has a 60-day period to review the agreement and ultimately vote on whether to accept the terms. 

“How this debate ends and how this vote goes is very much in the air,” Graham said. “I would say there is a better than 50-50 chance that we can reject the deal with the understanding that the next president will have power to negotiate a better deal.”

In a rare show of bipartisan praise in the midst of a presidential election season, Graham tipped his hat to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, saying the former secretary of state could have negotiated better than her successor.  “I think Hillary Clinton could have gotten a better deal than this,” Graham said.

Despite his prominent national profile in Congress, Graham has fallen behind the pack in a several national polls. But he opened the event by taking aim at the unlikely Republican leading the pack: billionaire and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Trump made personal attacks against McCain during a Republican cattle call event in Iowa over the weekend, saying repeatedly that the Arizona senator was “not a war hero” despite being captured and tortured during the Vietnam War. McCain responded during an exclusive interview on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” by saying the real estate mogul owes an apology to military families affected by captivity during conflict. At Monday's event, Graham defended his friend and Senate colleague, declining to name names. “If anybody that suggests that John McCain and his fellow POWs are somehow lacking in the title of being called ‘American hero,’ you shouldn’t be our commander-in-chief because you don’t know our military,” Graham said.