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S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham Joins Battle For Republican Nomination

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks to supporters after announcing his bid for presidential election in Central, S.C.
Rainier Ehrhardt
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks to supporters after announcing his bid for presidential election in Central, S.C.

Three-term U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has become the latest entrant into the GOP presidential field, announcing his candidacy Monday in his hometown of Central, S.C.

"I want to be president to protect our nation that we all love so much. So get ready. I'm ready," he told supporters. "I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them."

Graham is South Carolina's senior senator, best-known outside the state as a vocal hawk on national security issues and as a reliable opponent of President Obama's foreign policy. During a visit to Jerusalem last week, The New York Times reports, Graham said he would lead a "violent pushback" against the United Nations if it tries to "take over the peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians. The Times adds:

"Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina and an all-but-official contender for his party's presidential nomination, acknowledged on questioning that the pushback would not be literally violent, but perhaps virulent, in the form of withdrawing United States financial aid to nations or international institutions."

It's not the first time Graham's remarks on the campaign trail have raised eyebrows. Earlier this spring, he told an audience in New Hampshire that he wanted Congress to undo the automatic cuts to the defense budget caused by the sequester. According to Bloomberg Politics, Graham said:

" 'I wouldn't let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to.' "

And at a campaign appearance in Iowa, The Washington Post reports that he issued this warning:

" 'If I'm president of the United States and you're thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL [the self-styled Islamic State], I'm not gonna call a judge,' Graham said, a reference to Sen. Rand Paul's earlier remark about how the [National Security Agency] should call a judge to obtain a warrant before tapping into people's phone records. 'I'm gonna call a drone and we will kill you.' "

Graham has been called Arizona Sen. John McCain's wingman. The two were frequent traveling companions during McCain's 2008 White House run and often share the stage at Senate press conferences. He has blasted the Obama administration's actions to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and he wants Congress to have a bigger say in a potential nuclear deal with Iran. He also has opposed efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

On immigration, however, the 59-year-old Graham charts a course to the left of most Republicans. He told USA Todaythat if he were president, he'd veto any immigration reform bill that did not include a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country illegally:

" 'You would have a long, hard path to citizenship ... but I want to create that path because I don't like the idea of millions of people living in America for the rest of their lives being the hired help. That's not who we are.' "

Graham was first elected to the U.S. House in 1994. There, he served on the Judiciary Committee and played a key role in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He was elected to the Senate in 2002, succeeding Republican Strom Thurmond, who had held the seat since before Graham was born.

Immigration isn't the only issue on which Graham has bucked most of his party. A former judge advocate in the Air Force (he announced his retirement from the Air Force Reserves last week in advance of his 60th birthday, the mandatory retirement age), he supported President Obama's attempts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He has also said he believes global climate change has been driven by human activity.

Graham enters the race for the GOP nomination as a distinct underdog, but an entertaining one.

For more on Graham's candidacy, check out our coverage on the It's All Politics blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 1, 2015 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to a potential nuclear deal with Iraq. The deal would be with Iran.
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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