WASHINGTON -- Even as the Senate grapples with the third impeachment of a president in the nation's history, ask a Democrat or Republican in Congress about Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who's become one of President Donald Trump's most aggressive defenders, and they'll likely start with a laugh.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, recounted a congressional trip overseas in which Graham took a sleeping pill too late in the flight and was struggling to stay awake when his turn came to ask a foreign leader a question.
"He's totally zonked out," Collins recalled, chuckling, as protesters shouted at her to vote to remove Trump. "Lindsey asks a question along the lines of: 'Is it fun being president?'" The whole room laughed, and Graham quickly recovered, shooting off a serious query.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, described how Graham welcomed her to the Senate: With a castration device, a reference to her 2014 campaign video touting her experience on a farm castrating hogs. Ernst says she keeps it in her office in the Capitol as a reminder to maintain good humor even in "the darkest and scariest of times."
"That's what he's so good at," Ernst said. Still, she allowed, Graham can embody a "sharp contrast."
"When we need it the most -- he doesn't have to dig deep for this, it's bubbling at the surface -- he can flip a switch," she said, "and be the most scathing, on-target adversary that Putin, or al-Qaida, or name X, Y, Z terrorist, will ever face."
With the impeachment trial underway, the characteristically affable Graham has increasingly directed his fire at domestic antagonists, the president's Democratic opponents. He clearly relishes his role as Trump's attack dog, whether on Supreme Court nominees or the impeachment articles centered on his actions toward Ukraine. And that role will take on even more prominence this week, as senators begin questioning lawyers for the two sides amid a heated debate over witnesses brought to a boil by new allegations from John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser.
"You can say what you want about me, but I'm covering up nothing," Graham said last week, in one of a number of heated news conferences as House impeachment managers laid out their case. "I'm exposing your hatred of this president to the point that you would destroy the institution."
Hours later, however, off-camera in a Capitol corridor, Graham ran into Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the lead manager and one of Trump's favorite targets, who had just laid out the case against the president.
"Good job," Graham told Schiff, shaking his hand. "Very well spoken."