By DAVID GREENE, AP ReporterBy DAVID GRACE, AP StaffWASHINGTON — In a stunning twist, President Donald Trump has chosen his first African American to be his first Cabinet member, naming Sen. Lindsey Graham to be secretary of health and human services.
Graham is a Republican and an African American who has led the Senate in the Senate and the House for more than a decade, but he is not part of the administration and has been the subject of some controversy in recent weeks.
A staunch opponent of Trump during the 2016 campaign, Graham has also clashed with the president over his comments about women.
The president has repeatedly criticized Graham’s appearance and called his record “disgraceful” during a White House news conference Wednesday.
In a statement, Graham’s office called Trump’s choice “a good first step to moving America forward.”
“Sen. Graham has a long history of fighting for working families, the middle class and the American dream.
That’s why I am thrilled that the President has chosen Sen. Graham as Secretary of Health and Human Services,” the statement read.
Graham, 68, is a former South Carolina senator who became the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1993.
He is one of the Senate’s most conservative members.
He was not asked by Trump to run for president.
He will serve as a vice chair of the committee overseeing health and economic issues.
Graham also is known for his criticism of Trump’s travel ban on Muslims, which he has said is a step in the wrong direction.
His comments have drawn criticism from civil rights groups.
“He is the most qualified candidate to serve as the Department of Health Secretary,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who was among the lawmakers who voted for Trump in the election.
“He has a deep understanding of the challenges facing the American people and will be an outstanding Secretary of HHS.”
Carper also noted that he is a supporter of Trump and has spoken at his inauguration and other events.
“I hope that Sen. Trump will appoint Sen. Sen. John McCain to the Cabinet,” he said.
“John McCain is the former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces.
I have known John McCain since we were both children in Washington, D.C. He served with distinction in Afghanistan and has earned the trust of the American public.”
Carney also praised Graham’s record as a member of Congress, which includes leading a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to pass the Affordable Care Act.
“While Senator Graham has not been the face of his own political campaign, his hard work and service to his constituents are evident in the fact that he has never held public office,” Carper said.
In his statement, Trump said the Senate has a “tremendous opportunity” to make progress on health care and that he would nominate Graham for the position.
Graham has criticized the president’s travel restrictions, calling them “a step in a dangerous direction.”
“He has been a champion for working Americans and the middle-class and has shown his commitment to working with Democrats to achieve bipartisan health care reforms,” the White House said in a statement.
“Sen. Lindsey should be commended for his hardworking record on working families and ensuring that the Affordable Health Care Act is fully implemented.
His strong leadership on behalf of his constituents is a critical ingredient to advancing President Trump’s agenda.”
A spokesman for Graham, Joe Reed, said in an email that the senator was not aware of the nomination until after it was announced.
“Senator Graham has been an important leader in the work of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for many years and he will serve with pride and distinction,” Reed said.
Graham’s nomination comes after Trump has repeatedly defended his decision to keep Vice President Mike Pence on the campaign trail for the White Trump campaign.
The White House has not provided details on what role Pence will play in the administration.