U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham promised Tuesday to end military budget cuts and “substantially increase” defense spending when Congress passes a budget in December.
“Every single day, Sen. Graham tries to make sure the men and women of our armed forces are taken care of,” said Patrick Bryant, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, at the event aboard the USS Yorktown.
“Every day, he hears about things that he’s not doing and hears about things that his constituents don’t want him to do,” he said. “But today, we wanted to do something entirely different in this particular political atmosphere and simply say ‘Thank you.’”
Graham said the military footprint in Charleston has always been large — the military accounts for approximately 67,000 jobs in the Charleston area and contributes $10.6 billion to the Charleston economy.
He said the U.S. needs to spend more to support the military not only in Charleston but across the country.
“It has been really tough the last four or five years on those serving to have to do so much with so little,” he said. “And that is about to change.”
Graham, who played golf with President Donald Trump on Monday, said that he and the president spoke about the issue and that Trump is committed to rebuilding the military.
Since forced budget cuts took effect in 2013, Graham said, the world has become “one series of foreign policy challenges after another,” including the crisis in Syria and Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
The senator also addressed the threat North Korea poses if it gains the ability to hit the United States with a nuclear weapon, which Graham predicted would occur in about a year. He added that Trump is committed to preventing that from happening.
Graham touched on the agreement the United States made with Iran in 2015 to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. The senator said the spirit of the deal has not been upheld, with Iran testing missiles and using money from sanctions relief for the military, rather than for infrastructure.
“I believe if we don’t get a better deal, it’s just a matter of time under this deal until the Iranians have a nuclear capability,” Graham said.
Graham said it was “insane” that the United States has a reduced military budget amid these global events, saying that the world relies on the United States and that bad things happen when America isn’t there to help.
“I embrace the fact that we’re the last, best hope for mankind,” Graham said. “We’re not the only good people in the world, but we’re the people, when the world falls apart, (who) puts it back together. We’re not the world’s policemen but we’re the glue that holds it.”
Bryant said the chamber wanted to honor South Carolina’s senior senator because he has always supported the military and the chamber.
Graham is the first recipient of the chamber’s Patriot’s Award. A spokeswoman said that the award would not be an annual event but that there was potential for others to be honored.
Graham said the award breakfast wasn’t really about him; rather, it was about the members of the military who live and serve in Charleston and about the chamber that supports them.
“We need to make sure you can train, that you feel welcome, and that will continue as long as I’m around and as long as the people in this room are around,” Graham said.
Graham said Charleston’s blend of culture, religion and ideology is the “envy of the United States,” and he commended the Charleston region for supporting the military community.
“It’s not just a good place to come and have a good time, vacation with your family and friends and see America at its best,” he said. “It is a place for those in uniform to serve and train. ... It is a place that opens its arms to those in uniform to make sure you have the space, the time and the ability to do whatever you need to defend America.”
Charleston was also presented the Great American Defense Communities award from the Association of Defense Communities, which recognized the city and the surrounding area for supporting the defense community.
Bob Ross, a member of the association’s board of directors who presented the award, said Charleston’s application was filled with interesting partnerships, including in medicine, recreation and education.
“This community shined,” Graham said. “There’s so much competition for this award. The fact that you received it is a compliment to the people of Charleston.”