EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is settling into his role as the state’s junior senator and says he is busier than ever. He talked this week with reporter Robert Behre about everything from his goals to Trayvon Martin to his political plans — even his favorite new perquisite.
P&C: What have you learned from constituent service requests your office has received as far as how folks in South Carolina are doing?
Scott: “People are very engaged. ... I put my hand in a jar and I call several constituents every week who write in, email or call in, just to get their feedback personally. Health care is a big issue. Job creation, unemployment rates are still huge issues. Immigration is an important issue, but I would say without question that jobs and health care seem to lead our correspondence.”
P&C: A Republican House member this week said the public should “just get over” the Trayvon Martin verdict. What do you think of the verdict and the potential Justice Department’s involvement?
Scott: “You’ve seen leaders throughout the nation say the same thing, including the president, which is you’ve got to have confidence in the judicial process. Ultimately, I think Travon Martin’s parents were shining stars in this entire amazingly excruciatingly challenging situation, where they asked for peace and calm in the streets. I think that’s the model we should follow, realizing we’ve lost a life that will never come back and at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose any more because of the response to it or the reaction to it. I think the Justice Department’s likely involvement seems to be a difficult path forward, according to folks I’ve talked to and listened to, who suggest the evidence doesn’t lend itself to more involvement. I think that’s the exact same situation the Florida jury struggled over as well. It’s a tough path with the evidence.”
P&C: Politically, how would you characterize the Republicans’ efforts to reach out to minority and young voters, and how are you helping?
Scott: “I think we’re getting better, but ultimately, my thought has always been that if you win people, you win elections. And we have to win people, which means we have to be in their space, we have to be where the conversations are happening, we have to understand the means by which they communicate. ... I ultimately think our broader, larger strategy isn’t changing our positions on the issues than it is finding a more articulate way of presenting the issues. It’s the old saying of ‘No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.’ ”
P&C: How optimistic are you that Republicans can win back the Senate next year?
Scott: “I’m 70-30, 65-35. I think we’re in a pretty good position going forward. I think many of the states we have to win, (2012 GOP presidential hopeful Mitt) Romney won by 8 points or more.”
P&C: Your voting record so far has been in lockstep with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders. Do you envision a time or issue where you may disagree with them?
Scott: “I don’t know what their voting record is, so I can’t really answer that question. I know what my voting record is, and we’re consistently conservative — and that’s where we’ll stay.”
P&C: In your first speech from the Senate floor, you said your top priorities are promoting economic empowerment, improving education and curbing federal spending. What are you doing along these lines, and do you feel you’re being effective?
Scott: “Certainly, I think the answer is yes. I think we continue to work on what we believe from an economic development standpoint, an economic empowerment standpoint. ... We had a general contractor, Kenneth Canty of Freeland Construction in town today. I introduced him to the committee, and one of the first things he pointed out was the tax code for an S-Corp like his was nearing 50 percent. So half of all his income goes to government. Fixing the problems that we see with small business owners, family businesses, will help answer the question on economic empowerment.”
P&C: As far as controlling spending, do you think the sequester has been a success?
Scott: “I think the sequester has been a success as it relates to controlling spending. The formula for the sequester has not been a success. ... It’s putting most of the burden, next year a $52 billion burden, on the backs of the military. I think we could find a better path forward if we were to sit at the table and work it out. Unfortunately, not many things like that happen here in D.C. It’s still our goal. ”
P&C: On the education front, a lot of conservatives say this is an issue that should be left to the states. As a senator, what do you hope the federal government can do?
Scott: “I would be one of the conservatives who says we should empower states far more than we empower the federal government. ... Unfortunately, today, the way the system works, the federal government has the stick and the carrot in education, so we’re dictating to the states what they can do, what they can’t do. ... What our legislation does is to empower state and local school districts in making those decisions in the future. We’re looking for a couple of things: One, moving more power back to the states; two, moving more of the revenues back to the states; three, creating an environment that is conducive for parents to have more choices, so their kid has a better chance.”
P&C: Sen. Lindsey Graham said the Senate’s immigration bill does everything to secure the border short of militarizing it, but you disagree. What more did you want to see?
Scott: “The narrative around the bill is better than the bill itself. The narrative around the bill is there’s a way to secure the border without guaranteeing that the border is secure. I just don’t buy into that. The facts are that the change of legal status happens before the border is secure. The recommendation I’ve had, I have and will continue to have is you do that before legal status is even on the table. Fix that, and you have a whole new ball game. ... The conversation, frankly, from my perspective, is one that starts with: What do we need in our legal immigration system? There are parts of the bill that are held hostage by the comprehensive nature of the bill. We could solve overnight, and we should, the need for entry level positions and give employers the power to go find the workforce they want.”
P&C: Your first bill as a senator would prohibit the automatic deduction of union dues from the paychecks of federal employees. Do you think it will pass?
Scott: “You never know. Miracles happen. Here’s my focus: During the most difficult times we have, do I want federal employees having to deduct dues from union members? I think they can use the time to do something differently. Ultimately, the conversation really is about how do we best use the best time that we have and the precious resources we have. I think we can do something more effective for the people than withdrawing dues.”
P&C: How satisfied are you with this week’s agreement that has led Senate Democrats to back off the threat of eliminating the filibuster for appointments?
Scott: “I think the rules of the Senate are important, especially for the minority party. ... One of the things it does is it guarantees a voice, sometimes an unwanted voice, in the legislative process. ... I would say this, however. The likelihood of us having another conversation about the nuclear option (of ending the filibuster) is pretty high. Once you start down that slippery slope and you’re willing to void the rules to change the rules, you find yourself in a precarious position going forward.”
P&C: Sen. Lindsey Graham has suggested the United States should boycott next year’s winter Olympics if Russia gives asylum to Edward Snowden. Do you agree?
Scott: “I’m not there yet. I think how we deal with the revelations of the NSA are incredibly important. What we do with Russia and Snowden is a different conversation, ultimately. I haven’t given much thought on boycotting the Olympics over this.”
P&C: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you personally as a senator? How has your life changed?
Scott: “Very little time is spent at home, sleeping in my own bed. That’s probably one of the most significant changes. More travel, and we’re in session more than the House was. I travel the state more. ... The greatest adjustment has been the amount of time in other places. The issues are the same.”
P&C: What’s your favorite new perquisite?
Scott: “I consistently have 12-D on the plane. My favorite new perquisite is I get to sit next to the bathroom almost every Monday and almost every Friday of every week, without fail. I’m in the aisle seat next to the bathroom, so I get to say hello to every single person on the plane.”
P&C: “One of this summer’s biggest news stories has been the events in Egypt. Should the United States being doing anything different there?
Scott: “What we’ve done so far has not been as effective as we hoped that it would be. It’s a precarious position, where the administration has not yet defined it as a coup, so the question on what we can do continues to be a big question mark. ... There’s a question about the next round of funding and hopefully they solve that problem before we get there. Ultimately, Egypt’s role in the Middle East is an incredibly important role. ... I am very concerned about the situation, and the stakes are very high.”
P&C: You’re organizing two events on July 27 for Korean War veterans. Why did you decide to do that?
Scott: “Both of my brothers are serving in the military. As you know, I didn’t grow up with my dad, but he was 22-24 years in the Air Force, so I have an affinity for the military. ... Having done the World War II event, having had the opportunity to walk through the aisles and shake the hands of over 300 World War II vets, hearing the stories of these guys and a few young ladies. They looked me in my eyes and told me in 50 years, they had not been recognized for their sacrifice to their country. ... A couple of months ago, I was in California Dreaming, and there was a World War II guy there, and he saw me walk in. ... He said, ‘Senator Scott?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Do you remember this pin?’ I said, ‘I should remember that pin.’ He said, ‘You gave this to me at the World War II celebration, and I’ve got to tell you I’ll never forget what you did for us, just recognizing us.’ It brought tears to my eyes, and I’ve got to tell you — something so simple, the opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ meant so much to others, and I’ve got to tell you I want to do that as often as possible for this generation while they’re still with us.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.