COLUMBIA, S.C. (CBSDC/AP) — A day after soundly defeating six Republican challengers, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said he will try to push the GOP to solve hard problems such as immigration.
The South Carolina Republican, who authored the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year, said Wednesday that it would be a mistake to scuttle reform efforts after the stunning upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia. Cantor’s little-known Tea-Party challenger focused his challenge on the immigration issue and won by double digits.
“As long as our borders are broken — we have 11 million illegal immigrants and they’re coming over by the thousands — for it to be dead is a sad day for America,” Graham said.
Immigration, he said, is “not a Republican issue.”
“It’s not a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue. It’s a national security issue. For God’s sake, let’s fix immigration before it destroys our economy, our culture and leads to another 9/11-type attack.”
Graham said he’s confident that Republicans in both South Carolina and across the nation would accept a “rational solution” if they were confident it would fix the problem.
The senator, who’s seeking a third term, has been criticized for working with Democrats on the issue. It’s one reason why a half-dozen or so of the state’s 46 county Republican parties passed resolutions chastising Graham during his second term.
But he said the primary shows most Republicans applaud him for at least trying.
“People know I’m for immigration reform. I took it head-on, and most South Carolina conservatives want a solution,” he said. “They realize that yelling about this won’t fix it.”
Graham said he can’t explain what happened with Cantor in Virginia, but “South Carolina was a referendum on whether or not you can be a conservative and solve a problem, or at least try.”
While his six opponents were allied with the Tea Party, Graham said he and the Tea Party are not at odds. He believes many people who consider themselves aligned with the Tea Party saw the criticism against him as off-base.
“My enemy is not the Tea Party. My enemy is the status quo. My enemy is liberal Democrats trying to take the country and turn it upside down. They’re my political enemy. The real enemy is al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” he said. “When the Tea Party looked at me, they didn’t see an enemy, they saw a guy who understood the threats we have as a nation.”
Speaking before donors in the Boston suburb of Weston, Mass., Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said that Cantor’s loss does not mean the end of immigration reform.
“It’s interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts, and some conventional wisdom talks about how the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now,” Obama told about 40 big-dollar donors. “I fundamentally reject that and I will tell the speaker of the House he needs to reject it.”
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