South Carolina Senator and foreign policy hawk Lindsey Graham announced on Monday in his hometown of Central, SC that he will joining the growing list of contenders for the Republican nomination for the presidency.
Graham stands out from the rest of the pack as one of the few Republicans in the field who have served in the military. His decades-long military career ended on Monday when his retirement from the Air Force Reserve took effect, and his experiences serving the country have shaped his time in Washington.
“I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us,” Graham said in his announcement speech. “Not just penalize or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them.”
Graham was one of the first senators to call for boots on the ground to defeat ISIS and has said that Americans will be “killed here at home” unless Obama sends ground troops into Iraq and Syria to defeat the terrorist threat.
He has already established national security as a central issue in his campaign and he has been actively involved in Senate negotiations to extend the NSA’s surveillance program. But his announcement came just hours after he missed a crucial Senate vote that is being hailed as a victory for his Republican rival in the Capitol, Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-KY). Late Sunday night, the Senate failed to approve a measure extending the National Security Agency’s data collection powers and allowed the Patriot Act to expire at midnight.
“Government’s bulk collection of records is going to end,” Paul said after the vote.
But on Monday morning, Graham claimed that terrorists will continue to threaten the country.
“The Obama administration and some of my colleagues in Congress have substituted wishful thinking for sound national security strategy,” he said in his speech.
Though he didn’t specifically touch on the NSA’s surveillance powers, Graham has been a vocal supporter of the anti-terrorism provisions of the Patriot Act and is one of many Republicans who have been involved in a bitter feud with Paul over foreign policy. When Paul spoke about against the provisions on the Senate floor last week, Graham was caught rolling his eyes and the two men have openly attacked each other’s policies.
“I think he’d be the worst possible person to send into the ring when it came to foreign policy,” Graham said of Paul in an interview with USA Today last month. He also said on Fox News that Paul’s foreign policy is to the left of President Obama.” And when Obama finalized a nuclear weapons deal with Iran, Graham said “I think everybody on our side, except maybe Rand Paul, could do better.”
Paul, in turn, has referred while campaigning to a senator who has a “senseless disregard for censoring the mail.”
Many of the other Republican presidential candidates who will likely or have already declared their candidacy share Graham’s support for renewing the Patriot Act. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio both recently spoke about their support for NSA surveillance, with Rubio saying that “we cannot let politics cloud the importance of this issue.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also recently said “there’s not a shred of evidence” that the Patriot Act violated anybody’s civil liberties.
Meanwhile, the other group of Republican presidential contenders have sided with Paul. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) has also spoken out against the NSA’s bulk data collection since launching his presidential campaign and has praised Paul “for his passionate defense of liberty.”