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Sen. Tim Scott speaks in fireside chat, discusses memoir and state of politics

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) struck notes of optimism and unity in a fireside chat on Friday morning, discussing his book “America, A Redemption Story: Choosing Hope, Creating Unity.” 

Scott, a potential 2024 presidential candidate who has beefed up his political operation in recent months, released the memoir in August. At an event hosted by the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, he joined political science professor Vincent Phillip Munoz onstage at the Carey Auditorium in Hesburgh Library to discuss various parts of the book, as well as the current state of the country, politics, race and the Republican Party.

With various quips and references to Bible verses scattered throughout his answers to Munoz and audience members, Scott focused on the themes of his new book.

Scott, one of 11 Black members of Congress to have ever served, and the first African American to serve in both the House and Senate, visited Notre Dame for the first time this weekend. 

“I was looking for Rudy,” Scott joked, “but I didn’t see him.”

Scott touched on the story of a Chick-Fil-A operator whose mentorship changed his life, as well as the impact his grandparents and single mother had in raising him. He recalled helping his grandfather, whom he disagreed with politically, to vote for Barack Obama.

Scott said the ability of the country to move from the prejudice his grandfather had experienced to electing an African American president represented the ability of the United States to advance. 

He described his personal experience confronting race and racism, including “being pulled over for DWB — driving while Black — more than twenty times.” In 2016, he delivered a viral speech to the Senate about those experiences, which included being asked to provide identification and being physically barred from entering the Capitol as a sitting congressman despite wearing the House or Senate pin on his lapel.

Scott said that blame over issues of race and policing lie on both sides of the political spectrum.

“If you think the country is irreparably broken and racist to the core, you look for it, darn near celebrate it. The other side seems to suggest that if you see any racism at all, you’re just thinking about 1865, and you’re stuck in the past. I think if you’re going to have an honest conversation about race in America, I think you have to share both sides of the ledger. You honestly have to understand that life is harder for some people based on the color of their skin than it is for other people,” Scott said. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t made incredible progress at the same time.”

Scott’s proposed legislation around police reform in the summer of 2020 was blocked by Senate Democrats.

The topic of Donald Trump came up, and Scott recounted saying the former president had “lost his moral authority” in the wake of the 2017 Charlottesville Unite The Right rally.

He said the condemnation led to a conversation with Trump, one that ultimately allowed for Scott to shepherd his “Opportunity Zones” proposal into law. The initiative directed the governors of each state to designate economically-distressed communities that were ripe for investment and tie them to a federal tax incentive to drive private investment. It has brought “almost 80 billion dollars into the poorest communities in this country,” Scott said.

“I thank God almighty that … President Trump was deferential enough to listen and then act as opposed to trying to defend his comments. We didn’t come to the conclusion where we were on the same side of racial history — I don’t want to pretend like we did. We didn’t need to, though,” Scott said. 

Scott says the conversation led to a positive working relationship.

“From that moment forward, there was a new level of respect, and we worked on funding for historically Black colleges and universities that we took to the highest level ever. We worked on sickle cell anemia funding. We brought the unemployment rate for African Americans and Hispanics and Asians to the lowest level in the history of this country. We did that together,” he said of his relationship with Trump. “We did all that together as a result of the conflict in Charlottesville, so thank God for a president who listened in that moment.”

Scott also looked forward during the event.

He unsuccessfully predicted a Clemson win over Notre Dame, 31-23. He also spoke to Republican chances in the midterm elections, warning that the “road to socialism” runs through division in the GOP.

“On Tuesday, I think we’ll be happy that we coalesced around our candidates no matter what side of the Republican Party you may or may not be in. I think we’re far more unified about winning and restoring sanity to the country than we’ve ever been,” he said.

You can contact Isa Sheikh at isheikh@nd.edu