EDITOR'S NOTE: U.S. Rep.-elect Tim Scott will be sworn into office today as the state's first black Republican in Congress in more than a century. Reporter Robert Behre talked with him about his plans and lessons learned so far.
P&C: When you take the oath of office, what will be at the forefront of your mind?
Scott: 'The opportunity that the citizens of the First Congressional District have afforded me, and that would be the opportunity to listen. I think what they've been saying for the last several months is that we're spending too much money in D.C., and there doesn't seem to be a connection between what they're saying and what Congress has been hearing.'
P&C: What two pieces of legislation have you decided to co- sponsor and why?
Scott: 'I'm going to co-sponsor the Fair Tax. The Fair Tax is an opportunity for us to fundamentally reduce the cost of our goods and make us globally more competitive. The second bill I hope to co-sponsor is the repeal of Obamacare. ... I think it taxes too much, spends too much and is bad for business.'
P&C: Do you favor raising the federal debt limit?
Scott: 'I don't. I'm not going to say it's out of the question. I'm just going to say I've not seen enough evidence, nor enough effort in cutting spending. We certainly need about $300 billion worth of cuts. ... If we're going to raise the ceiling, I think we're going to have to cut spending. I think from a conservative standpoint, we're going to have to cut spending either way, even if there is an increase in the debt ceiling.'
P&C: Since you will be one of only two black Republicans to serve in Congress since 2004, you can expect more attention. Do you feel more pressure as a result of that?
Scott: 'Obviously, when you're an oxymoron, it creates more attention. It's what you do with that attention that matters. ... If I can use that attention in a way that presents solutions to problems based on a conservative construct, then I think — whatever the reason why I receive the attention I receive — I will serve my constituents well.'
P&C: What is your biggest priority when it comes to the unique needs of the First District?
Scott: 'I think you have to go back to jobs and the economy. I think that's the priority of our country. I think the fastest way to grow our economy is to cut government spending and put the focus back on the private sector.'
P&C: Who in Washington has been the most helpful to you?
Scott: '(House Majority Leader-elect) Eric Cantor. He was there before I won my primary, at least before the runoff. He's very consistent.'
P&C: Have you bonded with anyone in the South Carolina delegation? Anyone else in Congress?
Scott: '(3rd District Rep.-elect) Jeff Duncan is fantastic. (4th District Rep.-elect) Trey Gowdy is wonderful. I've spent a lot of time with both of those guys. Of course, (2nd District Rep.) Joe Wilson. We all love Joe Wilson. I haven't spent as much time with Joe, but he's been available.'
P&C: Have you talked much with Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.?
Scott: 'I have not. He has reached out, and I have talked to his office. ... I hope we'll have a healthy working relationship, because it will take all hands on deck to move our state and our nation forward.'
P&C: What do you think of the buzz about a possible Jim DeMint presidential run?
Scott: 'Interesting. It's always good to have someone from South Carolina seen nationally as a figure that could lead the country. That's always a positive.'
P&C: What has been the biggest lesson you've learned about Washington since you won the 1st District race in November?
Scott: 'Becoming comfortable drinking from a fire hydrant.'
P&C: What's been your biggest surprise so far?
Scott: 'It's kind of a nice surprise to walk into an environment that's interested in what you have to say and puts you in a position to say it from the leadership table. I was surprised to be at the leadership table. ...
'The other thing that's surprising is how much Charleston County Council prepared me for what I'm doing so far. ... While certainly the national debt is different than the county debt, it's still debt.'
P&C: Talk about your new leadership role as a new whip under House Majority Whip-elect Kevin McCarthy.
Scott: 'Basically what we'll do — the only word that comes to mind is concierge service — we'll be customer service for parts of the Republican conference, giving us an opportunity to become more aware of the needs and inclination of some of the members so we can help them help ourselves get the information necessary to make good decisions.'
P&C: What advice did your mother give you?
Scott: 'Her basic advice is to be who you've always been. ... At the end of the day, be your own man and make your own decisions.'
P&C: You recently talked briefly to the Charleston Tea Party about the coming fight within the Republican Party. Can you recap what you said?
Scott: 'Philosophically the question arises: What is the definition of a conservative? Many of us believe the definition of a conservative will be defined by the way we approach the debt ceiling. One side simply says it's important to raise the cap, period. The other side says we must first find whether we can cut spending enough to avoid a debt-cap increase. ... We have yet to discover whether we can find the spending cuts.'
P&C: Anything else on your mind?
Scott: 'It's just an awesome responsibility and an amazing opportunity to represent the folks that I've had the good fortune of living with all my life, basically, and to take seriously the opportunity and responsibility, but to enjoy it. This is an amazing country, and we have an amazing future. As Ronald Reagan said a long time ago, to paraphrase him, ‘Believe in the people.'?'
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.