ATLANTA — Republicans can find common ground with President Barack Obama, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said Monday as he met with college students from Atlanta’s historically black campuses.
The South’s first elected black Republican senator in the modern era, Scott cited trade policy, workforce training and changes to the No Child Left Behind education law as areas the administration and GOP congressional leaders could negotiate.
Scott still emphasized conservative policies on education, spending and taxes, saying that his party’s approach, not the president’s, will help the nation and the GOP expand its reach into minority communities. He criticized Obama’s proposals to pay for community college tuition as a “federal takeover,” saying policy makers should always lean to the private sector.
“I think 2014 was a great indicator that the center-right message resonates in this country,” Scott said, referring to the GOP’s midterm election sweep.
Scott addressed a few dozen students, faculty and staff from the schools that make up the Atlanta University Center. He came at the invitation of the Morehouse College Republicans, a small group on a campus that welcomed Obama as its commencement speaker last spring.
Scott has served in the Senate since January 2013. He was first appointed to the post by Gov. Nikki Haley, but easily won election in November, making him the region’s first black elected GOP senator since post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Having climbed the political ranks since serving as a Charleston city councilman, Scott has become a face of the Republican Party’s outreach to minorities. Like many Republicans, he notes that white voters are an increasingly small share of the American presidential electorate, meaning the GOP must attract more non-white voters if it hopes to remain viable in national elections.
The senator did not explicitly tie race to politics in his remarks Monday, but he outlined a policy agenda that he says will help “the black community and America as a whole.”
Scott advocates expanding K-12 educational choices beyond neighborhood-zoned schools with charter schools and policies such as private school tuition vouchers.
Improving K-12 education, he said in his remarks, will increase the proportion of adults who have a college education, and thus reduce poverty and unemployment. When questioned about high-profile incidents of police officers killing unarmed black civilians, Scott also cited education as the best remedy to reduce violence in the black community.
He endorsed body cameras for officers and said he “would be open” to independent prosecutors or investigators handling inquiries of officer-involved killings.
On Obama’s community college tuition plan, meanwhile, Scott said the price tag is too high. Existing Pell Grants, he said, usually will cover the cost of attending two-year schools. Students may prefer to go straight to more expensive four-year schools, he noted. But he added, “That’s a choice you make, and not one that I necessarily want to subsidize.”
Some debt for a college education is “worth the investment” because it increases a person’s lifetime earning potential so much, Scott said. Scott offered a similar assessment of the president’s push for subsidizing child care with more tax credits for parents and his call for more paid parental leave. Those ideas, Scott said, would cost taxpayers and impose new mandates on employers.