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Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who announced his presidential campaign on Monday, is the first Black Republican senator from the South in more than a century and has been one of his party’s most prominent voices on matters of race, often navigating a political tightrope.
Here are five things to know about Mr. Scott.
A rapid rise
Mr. Scott was elected to Congress during the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent South Carolina’s First District, which would flip to Democrats in 2018 and back to Republicans in 2020. He was previously an insurance agent and served on the Charleston County Council and in the South Carolina House.
Just two years after winning his U.S. House seat, he was appointed to the Senate to replace Jim DeMint, a conservative hard-liner who resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank.
The woman who appointed him was Nikki Haley, then the governor of South Carolina and now one of his opponents in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Mr. Scott quickly gained national attention, not only for the historic nature of his appointment — he was the fifth Black person, and the first from the South, to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction — but also for his personal story. He was raised by a single mother and was a failing student before meeting a Chick-fil-A owner who mentored him and, he wrote in an opinion piece for The Post and Courier in 2010, taught him conservative values.
He won a special election in 2014 to fill the remainder of Mr. DeMint’s term, then was elected to a full term in 2016 and re-elected in 2022 by wide margins.
A Republican voice on race …
Mr. Scott has used his platform as one of the few Black Republicans in Congress — there are four in the House, and he is the only one in the Senate — to argue that Democrats are wrong about the persistence of structural racism in the United States.
It is a standard Republican argument but has carried different weight coming from Mr. Scott. He has presented his success as evidence that Black Americans are no longer marginalized, telling Iowans in February that he was “living proof” that “we are indeed a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression.”
His grandfather grew up under Jim Crow and had to leave elementary school to pick cotton, but lived to see Mr. Scott win a House primary over the segregationist Strom Thurmond’s son. He is fond of saying his family went “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.” In a speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, he credited his constituents with fulfilling the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream by judging him “on the content of my character, not the color of my skin.”
In 2022, as Congress debated voting rights, Mr. Scott clashed with the Senate’s two other Black members, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, both Democrats. As the grandson of a man disenfranchised by Jim Crow, he said, he took offense at a term some had used to describe the voting restrictions Republican-led states had enacted: “Jim Crow 2.0.”
It is “hard to deny progress,” he said, when two of three Black senators “come from the Southern states which people say are the places where African American votes are being suppressed.”
… with some breaks from the party line
Mr. Scott has spoken forcefully about modern-day racism while maintaining that it does not reflect any systemic blight.
After the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, he criticized President Donald J. Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides,” and ended up giving Mr. Trump a history lesson in the Oval Office.
He told the president about “the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country’s history have made it their mission to create upheaval in minority communities as their reason for existence,” he said at the time. He said he had also shared his thoughts on “the last three centuries of challenges from white supremacists, white nationalists, K.K.K., Nazis.”
The next year, Mr. Scott sank two of Mr. Trump’s judicial nominees. The first was Ryan W. Bounds, who had written a column in college denouncing “race-focused groups.” The second was Thomas A. Farr, who had defended a North Carolina voter ID law that a court said targeted Black people with “almost surgical precision.” Mr. Farr had also been involved years earlier in a campaign in which Senator Jesse Helms was accused of intimidating Black voters.
Mr. Scott’s most emotional moment may have come in 2015, after the massacre of Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. In a speech on the Senate floor, he choked back tears while quoting a victim’s son who he said had expressed hope “that this evil attack would lead to reconciliation, restoration and unity.”
Still, he described the shooting as “the hateful and racist actions of one deranged man,” not as evidence of a larger social issue.
A proponent of police reform
Mr. Scott has broken from other Republicans in acknowledging bias in policing and pushing for reform, though not to the extent Democrats have.
“While I thank God I have not endured bodily harm, I have, however, felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted,” he said in 2016, after a series of police shootings of Black men and the shooting of officers in Dallas. “I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you are being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself.”
He said that he had been pulled over numerous times, and that a Capitol Police officer had once demanded to see identification even though he was wearing a lapel pin identifying him as a senator.
He initially promoted bills to increase the use of body cameras and the tracking of police shootings. When protests exploded in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd, he took on a deeper and more formal role, writing Republicans’ legislative response to the crisis.
What came out of that was the Justice Act, which, among other things, would have funded de-escalation training, outlawed chokeholds and made officers’ disciplinary records from past police departments available to new departments considering hiring them.
He was also instrumental in a bill — stymied in 2020 but passed in 2022 — to make lynching a federal crime, but opposed a Democratic effort to change qualified immunity, which limits officers’ civil liability.
A conservative record
His work across the aisle on policing notwithstanding, Mr. Scott has a conservative record on most issues.
He describes himself as “strongly pro-life” and has supported legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks and permanently prohibit federal funding for abortion. In a fund-raising email last year, he told supporters that if Republicans didn’t take back the Senate, Democrats would “grant abortions up to 52 weeks” — 12 weeks longer than pregnancy lasts.
Challenged on that claim in an interview with PBS, he said that the email had been “hyperbolic” and accused Democrats — as many Republicans have — of supporting abortion “until the day of birth,” which does not happen even in states with no legal limits.
Mr. Scott has co-sponsored legislation to repeal the federal estate tax — which applies after a person’s death if the estate of the deceased is worth more than about $12.9 million — and, this spring, pushed the Biden administration to delay new energy standards for mobile homes, under which he said low-income Americans would be “unfairly asked to bear the costs imposed by climate alarmists.”
He has also been a major proponent of “opportunity zones,” which were introduced in Republicans’ 2017 tax bill. The initiative aims to create tax incentives for private investment in areas with high poverty and low job growth. Describing the provision, Mr. Scott’s Senate campaign website last year put “PRIVATE” in all caps, presenting opportunity zones as an alternative to government safety-net programs, though many of the beneficiaries have been wealthy.
Maggie Astor is a reporter covering live news and U.S. politics. She has also reported on climate, the coronavirus and disinformation. @MaggieAstor
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