‘America is not a racist country’: Sen. Tim Scott delivers GOP response

‘America is not a racist country’: Sen. Tim Scott delivers GOP response

Sen. Tim Scott on Wednesday offered up a GOP alternative to President Joe Biden’s vision for the country, pushing back on Biden’s agenda in a wide-ranging speech that propelled the South Carolina Republican further into the national spotlight.

In the official GOP response to Biden’s first joint address to Congress, Scott, the only Black Republican in the upper chamber, drew on his own personal experiences to push back on the drastic expansion of government that has defined Biden’s first 100 days in office — from his pandemic relief package to the president’s proposals on jobs and infrastructure.

“We should be expanding options and opportunities for all families — not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best,” Scott said.

Scott’s racial identity and conservative politics have made him a rarity in Congress, where he hasn’t been afraid to lean into both. And Wednesday was no exception. During his speech, Scott reiterated that he has “experienced the pain of discrimination.” But he also emphasized that “America is not a racist country” and cautioned that “race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants,” citing voting rights as an example.

Scott’s speech will likely raise his profile — and it will all but guarantee more speculation about a potential 2024 presidential run. The South Carolina Republican has already visited Iowa this year. A well-liked member of the GOP conference, he is also taking the lead on the Republican police-reform effort.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said that she “of course” sees Scott as a potential presidential candidate. “I have so many phenomenal colleagues in the Senate right now and I think any number of them would just be really wonderful for 2024 and he most certainly is among that group,” she said Wednesday before the speech.

In his speech, Scott criticized Biden for a perceived mismatch between his rhetoric and his actions. Biden has frequently spoken about a desire for bipartisanship, but he has not seen Republican support on major legislation, such as his Covid-19 relief package.

“Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes,” Scott said. “We need policies and progress that brings us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart.”

Scott also nodded to former President Donald Trump in his remarks Wednesday, praising the previous administration for its work on Operation Ward Speed, which set the groundwork for the nationwide effort to develop and distribute Covid-19 vaccines. He said Biden “inherited a tide that had already turned.”

While Biden urged Congress to reach an agreement on police reform, Scott hit his Democratic colleagues for blocking his proposal last year. But he struck a note of optimism in his speech.

“My friends across the aisle seemed to want the issue more than they wanted a solution,” he said. “But I’m still working, I’m hopeful that this will be different.”

In recent weeks, Scott has been in talks with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) to reach a consensus on police reform legislation that both parties would back. After his speech Wednesday night, Scott said he would be meeting with Booker and Bass again this week. He predicted the group could announce a proposal as early as next month after the Senate returns from a brief recess — a possibly optimistic timetable, since Democrats and Republicans failed to come to an agreement on the topic just last year.

Last summer, Scott introduced a police reform bill that focused on creating incentives for local police departments to reform their policies. Democratic senators who wanted to establish stiffer federal standards torpedoed the GOP effort, calling it “not salvageable.”

Efforts to pass police reform were galvanized last year, when the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests. During his address, Biden urged lawmakers to act quickly and pass legislation by next month, which would coincide with the first anniversary of Floyd’s death.

When asked a day earlier about his preparations, Scott said on Tuesday that he had “lots of input” on his rebuttal speech from those who have done it in the past, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.).

There were no notable gaffes in Scott’s response, an issue that has plagued past politicians who have taken on the role. In 2009, Bobby Jindal, a rising Republican star who was Louisiana governor at the time, was criticized for his amateur delivery in a speech that opened with “Good evening, and happy Mardi Gras.” Rubio himself faced ridicule in 2013 after lunging for a water bottle to take a sip mid-speech.

Scott, 55, was first elected to the House in 2010. Three years later, he became the state’s first Black senator after then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to replace Jim DeMint, a Republican.

Scott has spoken openly about his own experiences with race. In 2016, he shared on the Senate floor multiple instances in which he felt discriminated against because of the color of his skin, including being stopped by a U.S. Capitol Police officer who did not recognize him as a senator even though he was wearing his lapel pin identifying him as such.

At times, Scott also tussled with Trump over his rhetoric on race. In 2017, he sharply rebuked Trump’s equivocating in response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. The two later met at the White House for a roughly 40-minute meeting to hash out their differences.

“He is who he has been, and I didn’t go into it to change who he was,” Scott told POLITICO at the time. “I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. To assume that immediately thereafter that he’s immediately going to have an epiphany is unrealistic.”

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