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SC Sen. Tim Scott calls Trump's words 'racially offensive;' Lindsey Graham backs Trump

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Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

South Carolina Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham (left) and Tim Scott. File

South Carolina's two Republican senators gave opposite reactions to President Donald Trump's "go back" tweets, with Tim Scott condemning them as "racially offensive" and Lindsey Graham calling the four targeted congresswomen a "bunch of communists."

Graham took to the offensive on "Fox and Friends" by saying there is no cause to believe the president went too far.

"Well, we all know that (New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and this crowd are a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country," Graham said during his appearance on the Fox show.

"They're calling the guards along our border, the Border Patrol agents, 'concentration camp guards.' They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They're anti-Semitic. They're anti-America," said Graham, a staunch Trump ally.

His comments came as Scott became the first South Carolina Republican — and one of a handful nationally— to speak out against the president by condemning Trump as "aiming for the lowest common denominator."

"Instead of sharing how the Democratic Party’s far-left, pro-socialist policies — not to mention the hateful language some of their members have used toward law enforcement and Jews — are wrong for the future of our nation, the President interjected with unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language," Scott said in a statement.

"No matter our political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further,” he added.

Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, issued his statement as Trump doubled down Monday on his weekend position attacking the four Democratic women.

Trump takes on the four

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that the "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen" should "go back" and help fix the "broken and crime infested" countries they came from and then come back and "show us how it is done."

Trump appeared to be referring to the four new lawmakers — Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar-D-Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. — who are among the most outspoken against Trump administration policies and have made headlines in their ongoing divisions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They all support impeachment.

Three of them were born in the United States; Omar is a refugee from Somalia.

On Monday morning, Trump kept his position, saying it is up to the women to apologize for "their horrible & disgusting actions!"

Criticism of his comments "doesn't concern me because many people agree with me," he also said.

Scott remained one of the few Republicans in Washington to call out the president. Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who faces a potentially tough reelection alongside Trump in 2020, called the president's comment "way over the line."

While Collins said she disagrees "strongly" with many of the views of the "far-left" members of the House Democrats, she said the president's tweets should be removed.

"There is no excuse for the president's spiteful comments — they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican from Alaska.

Still, the criticisms of Trump were coming initially from rank-and-file lawmakers, not Republican leaders. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had not commented by mid-afternoon.

Time and again, Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to confront Trump, more wary of enduring a backlash from the president than standing up for what have been considered the norms of political rhetoric.

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It's similar to past instances, most starkly when Trump said there were "good people" on both sides of a white supremacist, neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., when Republicans gave mixed comments.

"You ought to be a little more concerned about the Republican brand," said Jeff Flake, the former Arizona senator and outspoken Trump critic, in an interview with The Associated Press.

Some Republicans chime in

John Kasich, the former Ohio governor and one-time Trump rival for the White House, said, "We all, including Republicans, need to speak out against these kinds of comments that do nothing more than divide us and create deep animosity — maybe even hatred."

Another minority Republican who condemned the president was was Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. He called Trump's tweets against the women lawmakers "racist and xenophobic."

"It's behavior that's unbecoming of a President of the United States," Hurd told CNN.

Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey said in a statement, "President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from." Toomey said their citizenship "is as valid as mine."

The senator said, while he couldn't disagree more with the four congresswomen's views on "virtually every policy issue ... they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be."

In Michigan, two Republican congressmen who serve alongside Tlaib, criticized Trump.

Rep. Fred Upton, serving his 17th term, told Michigan-based radio host Michael Patrick Shiels that Trump's comments were "really uncalled for" and "very, very disappointing."

Fellow GOP Rep. Paul Mitchell, whose district heavily backed Trump in 2016, tweeted: "We must be better than comments like these. I share the political frustrations with some members of the other party, but these comments are beneath leaders."

Scott's statement said Trump's words came as the Democrats were embroiled in their own racial issues.

“Prior to this weekend, we saw the Democratic Party embroiled in racial controversy," his statement said. "From Kamala Harris attacking Joe Biden on segregationists, to four black and brown women chastising Democratic leadership for attacking women of color, it is clear the Democratic Party has serious issues along these lines."

Graham did say on Fox the president should "aim higher" in his political rhetoric by challenging the four congresswomen on their political policies, not their beliefs.

"You don't need to; they are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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