GREENVILLE — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said in Greenville Wednesday that he expects the Republican Party to rethink its strategy following a partial government shutdown that he said helped Democrats politically more than Republicans.
Graham called for party unity against Democrats, but his three challengers for the GOP nomination criticized him for not standing up for conservative principles.
Graham also called for a bipartisan effort to pass a one-year “timeout” from President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law during a press conference as he campaigned for a third term.
He said Republicans couldn’t focus public attention on the “disastrous roll-out” of the Affordable Care Act because the partial government shutdown “got in the way” of the Republicans’ message.
Graham said the shutdown further damaged the institution of Congress, with 60 percent of voters now wanting to fire every member, and he doesn’t think Republicans will repeat the scenario.
“Right or wrong, we got blamed for this, and we can’t continue to do this as a party,” he said. He called for party unity.
“At the end of the day, the biggest beneficiary of a divided Republican Party is a Democratic Party,” he said.
Graham said a GOP that remains unified amid regional and ideological differences would lead to more Republicans in Congress.
“Numbers matter,” he said. “If we had had one more (Republican) senator, there never would have been Obamacare.”
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, said it was a “disgrace” that most S.C. Republicans in Congress held the country “hostage” during the shutdown “in order to play Tea Party politics,” even if they disagreed with the Affordable Care Act.
“So it’s no wonder there’s a division in their party,” he said.
Graham said the GOP ultimatum “was a tactical choice that I didn’t think made a whole lot of sense, quite frankly. I never expected President Obama to sign a bill into law defunding his signature issue. Having said that, Obamacare is a disaster for our economy, is a train wreck in the making.”
Graham said he expects more Democrats to call for revisions to the law in addition to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who has asked the president to extend open enrollment for insurance exchanges in the wake of major problems with a federal website.
Appearing with Graham was local restaurateur Carl Sobocinski, who talked about wrestling with the choice of continuing to provide health-care insurance for employees at a cost of $3,600 a person or paying the health-care law’s penalty for no coverage at a cost of $2,000 for each employee.
Sobocinski said his 300-employee, seven-restaurant group was not “a high-margin business” and the Affordable Care Act was “changing the way we do business.”
State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, one of Graham’s challengers for the GOP nomination next year, said Graham was the only Republican in South Carolina’s congressional delegation who voted in favor of a Senate deal to end the shutdown.
“Ted Cruz basically flushed out the folks in the Senate who were willing to cave to Obama’s demands,” Bright said. “Now, we have a list for voters to decide if they’re going to tolerate that kind of behavior.”
Another Republican challenging Graham, Powdersville businessman Richard Cash, said Graham’s call for a one-year “timeout” from the health-care law is redundant and hypocritical since the House already passed a one-year delay and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked a vote on it.
“Sen. Graham did not support the efforts of House Republicans over the past six weeks, and his criticism of Senate conservatives and organizations such as the Heritage Foundation undercut the entire effort to defund or delay Obamacare,” Cash said.
Charleston public affairs consultant Nancy Mace, who is also challenging Graham from within the GOP, said adding Republicans to Congress is “meaningless” if they are not “strong conservative leaders who will stand on principle.”
“As far as coalitions go, I believe we should speak directly to individuals about personal freedom, not play the Democrat game of catering to specific interest groups,” Mace said in a statement issued by her campaign.