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Palmetto Politics: Lindsey Graham taking on the Kremlin

December 10, 2016 GMT

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham

Democrats are excited by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s promise to investigate Russia’s alleged cyberattacks against the United States in the midst of the 2016 presidential election.

So-dubbed progressive activists have been calling the South Carolina Republican’s offices to thank him for his commitment to uncovering whether Russian hackers skewed the election toward Donald Trump, instead of Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and fellow House Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland introduced legislation last week to establish a commission to evaluate foreign interference in U.S. elections. They hope Graham would be interested in sponsoring a companion bill.

But Graham, who has long criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “thug,” isn’t interested in pursuing the country’s illegal activity to undermine the election results.

Instead, Graham said his probe into supposed illegal activity by the Russians is “designed to address what I think is a growing concern. (Russians) are doing more in other countries, and they will keep doing more here until they pay a price.”

He has said he’ll prioritize hearings on this subject in his capacity as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

As for the activists clogging up his phone lines, Graham told Palmetto Politics, “That’s coming from the left. I don’t need to hear from them. I’ve made up my own mind on this one.”

McMaster acting gubernatorial

Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster might not be governor yet, but he’s beginning to act like one.

He helmed the Dec. 2 meeting of the S.C. Military Base Task Force where he was briefed by installation commanders from across the state. Six days later, McMaster donned a hardhat and picked up a shovel for the groundbreaking of a plant from fiberglass products maker China Jushi.

Gov. Nikki Haley typically would have attended both events, but she has begun to hand over some of those duties since becoming President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. McMaster, a Columbia attorney who lost to Haley in the 2010 Republican primary for governor, will succeed the governor after her confirmation, which is expected soon after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

McMaster’s first groundbreaking was in his backyard. The new $300 million, 400-employee plant is the second richest economic development investment in Richland County history, trailing only a $600 million project by Union Camp (now International Paper) in 1981.

Large economic-development groundbreakings were a staple for Haley to attend during her economic development-centric administration.

On an overcast morning last week at the China Jushi’s Shop Road site five miles southeast of Williams-Brice Stadium, McMaster seemed at ease in the role. He offered a peek at what could be a cheerleading, “chamber of commerce” style of governorship.

“This is a grand marriage we are entering into now,” McMaster said last week about China. “This is a grand partnership. This is a great company. A big, powerful company. It is an innovative company. It is coming to a place in this world called South Carolina, which is also unique and magnificent.”

While McMaster chatted with company officials and Chinese dignitaries, he remained silent with one crowd. He left the groundbreaking without speaking to reporters.

The normally chatty former U.S. attorney and state attorney general has not spoken with the media since word of Haley’s nomination (and his anticipated ascension) broke on Nov. 23.

Spider senses tingling

A new member of the S.C. Senate couldn’t let go of spider analogies in the Statehouse.

Freshman Mike Fanning, D-Great Falls, in his first Senate speech last week said spiders can tackle huge problems if they work together.

“I come to you today nothing but an itsy-bitsy spider seeking to work with each of you as we unite our webs conquering the lions that we face today,” he said.

Those lions, Fanning said, are the state’s crumbling roads, school funding woes, massive pension fund shortfall and a complex tax code, all of which need to be fixed.

“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion,” Fanning said.

Fanning thanked the “spiders” that joined him in the chamber, including his wife, parents and supporters for “putting up with my story of spiders for a year.”

East Cooper keeps Ways and Means seat

When state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Mount Pleasant, announced his retirement, Charleston-area lawmakers were concerned their presence on the state’s budget-writing panel would shrink from three to two.

But the addition of Republican Rep. Mike Sottile, R-Isle of Palms, will keep a Charleston lawmaker in that spot.

“I think it was real important to keep that seat in Charleston,” Sottile said.

Sottile most recently served on the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and previously served on the Judiciary Committee. He now joins Reps. Jim Merrill, a Republican, and Democrat Leon Stavrinakis on the budget-writing panel.

Sottile, who retired from the insurance business a year ago, acknowledged how important it is to be among the group of people in charge of writing the state’s $27 billion budget.

Emma Dumain, Chris Trainor, Andy Shain, Gavin Jackson and Maya Prabhu contributed.