South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) said Friday that Black people and immigrants can achieve success in his state, they “just need to be conservative, not liberal.”
The comments were made as the Republican senator took aim in a refashioned rhetorical sparring event for his Senate seat against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, who is Black.
“I care about everybody,” Graham said. “If you’re a young African American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative, not liberal.”
Graham highlighted Sen. Tim Scott (R) – another South Carolina senator, who is also the only Black Republican senator – as well as former Gov. Nikki Haley, as people of color who rose to success at least in part due to sharing that state’s “values.”
Hours before the event, debate organizers were forced to switch up the debate’s format, offering one-on-one televised interviews with two journalists while abandoning a traditional debate format after Graham refused to take a test for COVID-19 by the request of the Democratic Senate candidate.
Harrison had issued a statement on Thursday saying he would not appear to debate Graham in person if the lawmaker refused to take a COVID-19 test following a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with GOP senators who have since tested positive for coronavirus.
In the statement, Harrison said that he could not “responsibly debate in person” if Graham denied the test and suggested that doing so would put his family, staffers for both candidates and members of the press “at unnecessary risk.”
Graham rejected the request, saying that he had previously tested negative and that the Senate physician had told him further testing was not needed.
COVID-19 concerns were central to Friday’s event following the controversy.
Graham, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked about potential coronavirus testing ahead of Monday’s scheduled confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
The nomination ceremony at the White House on Sept. 26, has been dubbed a “super-spreader” event by public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci who told CBS News Radio that what has emerged as a White House cluster was unsurprising amid a failure among a majority of attendees to mask at the event.
Graham said federal guidelines would impact the hearing’s set up but refused to say that lawmakers involved would be tested ahead of the hearing.
“I’m not going to live my life differently than you have to live yours,” Graham said, in an apparent reference to Americans who work alongside colleagues who have not been tested for the virus according to the Associated Press.
“For those of you who work for a living, you can’t do what Mr. Harrison has demanded tonight,” he added.
Graham has vowed to confirm Trump’s nominee ahead of the election.
“The Senate’s floor schedule will not interrupt the thorough, fair and historically supported confirmation process,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wrote last week. Graham added at the time that senators could attend the hearings remotely.
Prominent Democrats have responded to to McConnell’s decision to plow ahead with the hearing by suggested that McConnell’s move to delay the return of the Senate amid positive COVID-19 tests of at least three GOP senators last week was also reason to delay convening Barrett’s confirmation hearing due to safety concerns.
“No plausible public health or scientific rationale justifies proceeding with Senate Judiciary Committee hearings next week,” the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committe wrote in a letter to Graham on Friday. “We need not proceed in such a reckless and blind fashion.”