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Lindsey Graham struggles to get fellow Republicans to join pro-environment group

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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at Thursday's Pints and Politics forum sponsored by The Post and Courier. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Teddy Roosevelt had his Rough Riders following him up San Juan Hill.

But U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham can't get much of anyone from South Carolina to follow him into the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus just yet.

A month after announcing the caucus as a GOP-fueled effort to claim a pro-environmentalist message, the ranks aren't filling up with the state's other Republicans.

Maybe it's because the announcement came the same day Graham, R-S.C., said President Donald Trump should “admit that climate change is real” and help find solutions that protect the environment without destroying the U.S. economy.

The caucus has 24 Republican members — 11 from the Senate and 13 from the House. None is from South Carolina, according to a recent list of participants provided by Graham's office.

Some say they don't need to join a caucus to speak out against what they see as an issue being pushed to the extreme on the left heading into 2020.

"The Trump administration along with Congress have unleashed an economic and environmental revival for our country through common-sense deregulation and encouraging innovation," U.S. Sen. Tim Scott's office said in a provided statement.

"Not being a member of a caucus does not prevent (Scott) from speaking up on the socialist-leaning Green New Deal and its $93 trillion price tag."

Others say they are interested in talking about the caucus after the August recess ends.

"As soon as time permits, (U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.) looks forward to sitting down with Sen. Graham and others to discuss the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus and their goals," said Norman's office.

The office of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, said he supports the caucus' mission and there are staff-level discussions about him joining officially.

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The Roosevelt Caucus, of which Graham is a co-chair, is named after Republican President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and worked to conserve 230 million acres during his presidency.

The group's stated goal is to "embrace and promote constructive efforts to address environmental problems, responsibly plan for all market factors, and base policy decisions on science and quantifiable facts.”

Graham, at Thursday's Post and Courier Pints & Politics forum, told the crowd he believed man-made conditions dating to the Industrial Age have worked to trap greenhouse gas heat, making the planet hotter.

Everybody he's talk to who has made science their life's work has reinforced this, he said.

"Climate change is a real, scientific phenomenon and a problem for the planet," he said.

The solution, he said, is encouraging the private sector to partner with other groups to find solutions that makes the U.S. a more carbon-friendly economy.

"I do believe the sooner we can become energy independent, the better," he said. 

Jim Rothnie, chairman of the S.C. chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said the Republicans are missing an opportunity if they don't sign on. Conservation is easily a conservative issue, he said, based on the number of South Carolinians who enjoy the outdoors and promote stewardship of the land, water, and hunting and fishing.

Graham said he expects more of his colleagues will sign on. All it will take is time.

"Republicans are going to be looking for a place to land eventually," he told Palmetto Politics. "We're either going to have a relevant position on the environment or begin to lose ground."

He added, "if you don't admit it's a problem, then you're going to be shut out in terms of being listened to." 

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

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