U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham condemned U.S. Rep. Steve King in Columbia on Friday night, after the Iowa Republican drew fire Thursday when he questioned when the terms “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization” became offensive.
But the Seneca native stopped short of calling King a racist.
“All I can say is that his view of white supremacy and mine are different,” Graham told reporters outside the annual S.C. Citizens for Life dinner. “He says he’s not a racist. I know Steve. He’s apologized. But, at the end of the day, it’s just perplexing in 2019 somebody could be confused about what these terms are associated with.”
In a Thursday interview with The New York Times, King – an immigration hardliner who has been openly criticized for past inflammatory comments – said: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
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He later backtracked, saying he was not an advocate for “white nationalism and white supremacy,” The Times reported.
“If you don’t understand that these terms are associated with racism, you haven’t looked very hard,” Graham said. “There’s no place for this in the Republican Party or anywhere else in America.”
The most heated response to King’s comments came from the U.S. Senate’s only black Republican, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
“When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole,” Scott wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Friday. “They want to be treated with fairness for some perceived slights but refuse to return the favor to those on the other side.”
Separately, Graham also addressed the government shutdown, which will enter Day 22 on Saturday – the longest shutdown in history.
Early Friday, Graham called on President Donald Trump to issue a national emergency to more easily secure funds to build a barrier across the U.S.-Mexico border. After flirting with the idea earlier, Trump said he’s not going to declare an emergency “right now.”
“I don’t know how this ends,” said Graham, who added he has met with Trump and will continue to try to work with Senate Democrats to broker a deal. “I hope we don’t have to use the emergency declaration, but the president has to fight as hard as he can, as long as he can to get to get the border secured.”
Until cooler heads prevail, Graham said Friday, “This thing could go on for a while.”
“I don’t know what the president’s supposed to do,” Graham said. “Nobody will talk to him in a meaningful way about finding a compromise. He has nothing left but an executive action. It’s not the preferred route for sure. But ... stopping and quitting is a non-starter.”