Republican presidential hopeful Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at a Roast and Ride event hosted by freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) on June 6, 2015 in Boone, Iowa. Ernst is hoping the event, which featured a motorcycle tour, a pig roast, and speeches from several 2016 presidential hopefuls, becomes an Iowa Republican tradition.
Scott Olson—Getty Images
June 12, 2015 12:32 PM EDT

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is seeking to differentiate himself from his GOP presidential rivals any way he can. On Friday he opens up a new front—challenging his opponents to take a stance on raising the federal debt limit.

Bitter internal divisions within the GOP aired in 2011 and 2013, bringing the U.S. to the brink of defaulting on its obligations. A similar fight is brewing for this fall, when the nation will once again hit its borrowing cap, this time in the shadow of a presidential primary and for the first time with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.

“At the end of the day, something has to be done. We can’t default,” Graham told reporters at the E2 Summit, organized by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “There will be a bunch of people in our party and in theirs saying no, no, no. Somebody’s got to find a way to say yes.”

“When you look at the number of Republicans who say we will never raise the debt ceiling if you put a gun to their head, you’re going to have to get Democrats to do this,” he added. “It’s going to be a challenge for our party and I think people running to be president should speak about what would you do as president, what would you do as a person wanting to be president when it came time to lift the debt ceiling. Because it is about leadership.”

In laying down the gauntlet, the South Carolina defense hawk is further positioning himself as a contrarian on party orthodoxy, with his support for immigration reform and efforts to combat climate change. Graham is also attempting to force his Republican opponents, who are navigating between the wishes of the business community to avoid more uncertainty and the frustration among the conservative base with the growth of the federal government, into a tougher spot.

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