WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham lashed out at President Donald Trump's executive order targeting immigration from the Muslim world, saying the long-term effects could play right into the armed hands of militants.
In a statement issued jointly with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Graham, R-S.C., became the first member of the S.C. congressional delegation to publicly criticize Trump's executive order banning refugees from majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.
"We should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation, and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children," they said.
"This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country," they continued. "That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security."
Trump did not back down. As he did on the campaign trail, he used a series of tweets to chide Graham and McCain for their statement opposing his action.
"The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong— they are sadly weak on immigration," Trump tweeted. "The two Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III."
Another critical voice from South Carolina came from U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, the 1st District Republican from Mount Pleasant.
"I'm hearing a voice of concern that things are moving from weird to reckless in their view," Sanford said of constituent comments. "And that even if you're going to enact this policy, the way in which it was done just seems bizarre."
Sanford said members of Congress were not given a heads up that the executive action was imminent, which is customary.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who served in an advisory capacity on Trump's presidential transition team, released a joint statement with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who he endorsed for president during the 2016 campaign.
"We generally support additional vetting for many of those entering our country from nations where the United States has identified there are serious concerns regarding terrorist activities and planning," they said. "But given the broad scope and nature of these policy changes, we have some unanswered questions and concerns."
Scott and Rubio also said they were seeking more information about the implications for the visa waiver program, which typically allows individuals traveling for business or tourism to come to the United States without a visa for a period of 90 days. The lawmakers called the visa waiver program "critical to the economies of our respective states."
The S.C. delegation's lone Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, tweeted Sunday: "Acceptance of all religious backgrounds and nationalities is the core of what this country stands for. That must not change."
Protests have erupted around the nation following Trump's decision to bar individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for at 90 days, ostensibly while more vetting procedures are put in place to prevent terrorists from slipping under the radar.
Demonstrations have also taken over airports across the country where individuals are being detained and threatened with deportation. Since Trump's executive order went into effect immediately upon being signed on Friday afternoon, many who were cleared to come to the United States that very morning were already on airplanes en route to their new homes.
The state delegation's most enthusiastic supporter of the executive action so far has been 3rd District Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of Ware Shoals, who has for years been decrying "political correctness" getting in the way of combating "radical Islamic extremism."
On Twitter, Duncan, of Laurens, accused "liberals" of wanting background checks and waiting periods to purchase firearms but not for possible terrorists to enter the United States. On Facebook, he blamed Democrats and media for distortions.
"Never have seen more distortion, hyperbole, and outright lies about President Trump’s national security executive order from Democrats and the media over the past few days than I have seen on about any other issue since I came to Congress," he said.
Other Republicans in the S.C. congressional delegation were either silent or avoiding the issue. U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach acknowledged the executive action on his Facebook page, but refrained from taking a stance.
"Interesting Article which provides a little deeper analysis of President Trump's immigration order," Rice said, linking to a story by Real Clear Politics. "What do you think?"