U.S. Sen. Tim Scott defended Republicans as "the Great Opportunity Party" on the NBC News show "Meet the Press" in his first Sunday national TV interview since being sworn-in to office more than a year ago.

The phrase came as host David Gregory re-addressed an NAACP leader's criticism that Scott, R-S.C., the state's first black U.S. senator, was a puppet of the tea party.

Gregory quoted the Rev. William Barber II, president of the NAACP in North Carolina, who told a group in Columbia last month: "A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy. ... (T)he extreme right wing down here (in South Carolina) finds a black guy to be senator and claims he's the first black senator ... and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and articulates the agenda of the tea party."

"You had to be pretty upset about that," Gregory said.

Scott answered, "You just can't really respond to someone who's never taken the time to get to know you, So when he's talking about me, he wasn't there when I was growing up in a single parent household struggling through high school."

He added, "so for him to have comments about me I don't really get it."

Scott went on to promote his legislative agenda that includes his Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act, which covers expanding school choice opportunities for children with disabilities, children who live on military bases and children living in impoverished areas.

Also, his Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act that targets helping low-income workers, individuals with disabilities who are in the job market, and at-risk youth by emphasizes job training and streamlining services.

"Maybe he (Barber) doesn't like the fact that I believe that we can create hope and opportunities in our inner cities by making them centers of excellence and an engine of economic activity bursting for those kids who grew up in ways I did," Scott said.

Gregory then followed up by quoting Colin Powell who previously said on the show there was a "dark vein of intolerance" in the Republican Party.

"Do you believe that's the case?" Gregory asked.

"I don't," he answered. "I'll tell you what. The GOP has really become the 'Great Opportunity Party.' I look at how I became a Republican and the messages I heard and received early on."

Scott went on to detail running for Charleston County Council, being mentored as a youth and learning there is a way out of poverty in America that doesn't involve athletics or entertainment.

"Having a job is a good thing but if you create jobs you will be better and your community gets better," he said.

Scott also termed the multi-pronged idealistic divisions among conservatives within the GOP as good for its growth.

"The reason why the party continues to grow is because we like disparity, we like the diversity of ideas and when we have that diversity of ideas it helps us build the best party for the future," he said.

Following up on the State of the Union Speech from last week, Gregory asked "Is Obamacare here to stay?"

Scott, who said he's voted against the effort several times, pointed out one ill effect has been the reported loss of the 40-hour work week for some employees, as employers look to cut their health provider costs.

"Another aspect of Obamacare that we should address very quickly is the medical device tax," he added. "Here's another $29 billion leaving the pockets of small business owners which makes it more difficult to create jobs," he said.

The interview lasted about five and one-half minutes of an hour-long show.

Scott, of North Charleston, who replaced Jim DeMint in the Senate after he resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation, has two announced Democratic challengers in the fall: Rick Wade, an official in the former Gov. Jim Hodges administration, and Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551