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Five things to know about Tim Scott’s record in Congress

Republican could be only member of Congress in 2024 presidential field

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks at The Citadel Holliday Alumni Center in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 16.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks at The Citadel Holliday Alumni Center in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 16. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tim Scott formally jumped into the 2024 presidential race Monday, retelling his family’s story dealing with Jim Crow laws in the South and highlighting his accomplishments in Washington.

Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican, made his announcement at his alma mater, Charleston Southern University in South Carolina.

“My family went from cotton to Congress in his lifetime,” Scott said.

Scott spent much of his remarks criticizing President Joe Biden, including over opposition to work requirements and the administration’s effort to forgive federal student loans.

He also criticized the Biden administration’s criminal justice and policing agenda, as well as education policies, and said that as president he would ramp up research and development, boost manufacturing and improve the supply chain for products.

“I see an era of exponential innovation, where America leads the world with new breakthroughs,” he said.

Speaking ahead of the new presidential candidate, Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., praised Scott’s “boundless hope and optimism.”

“He is a candidate who has a strong record of legislative accomplishments. I worked side-by-side with him through one of the most economically consequential pieces of legislation of the last several decades,” Thune said, referring to that 2017 law that overhauled the federal tax code. “He was a relentless fighter for South Carolina and for the people of this country.”

Ahead of his appearance Monday, Scott’s presidential exploratory committee had already filed to change its name to “Tim Scott for America,” launched a $6 million ad campaign and announced plans to visit Iowa and New Hampshire later in the week.

So as Scott formally became the first — and perhaps only — member of Congress to throw his or her hat into the 2024 presidential contest, here are five things to know about what he’s done since winning an open House seat in 2010, being appointed to a vacant Senate seat in 2013 and subsequently winning three statewide elections.

Anti-lynching law

The only Black GOP senator, Scott’s legislative record includes work on policy areas that have not always had a lot of Republican engagement.

That includes a yearslong effort with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to designate lynching as a federal hate crime. That bill was ultimately signed into law in March 2022 by Biden. Vice President Kamala Harris was the third lead sponsor of that measure when she served in the Senate, and it was a priority for the three Black senators.

The vice president praised both Booker and Scott at a Rose Garden signing ceremony for the law.

“Lynching is not a relic of the past,” she said. “Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation. And when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account.”

‘Opportunity zones’

Expect Scott to spend plenty of time in Iowa and New Hampshire discussing his work to get federal  “opportunity zones” included in the 2017 tax code reconciliation law. The program is designed to provide tax incentives for development in historically distressed areas.

“Investments in these underserved areas make a huge impact on communities — to the tune of billions of dollars. I’ll never stop fighting to build on the incredible work this program has done and help create a better future for all Americans,” Scott said in a statement touting the program in March.

The program is not without critics, who argue that the program’s loose rules can allow investments to be used to benefit wealthy investors.

“Currently, there are no safeguards or transparency measures in place to ensure taxpayers are not simply subsidizing high-end real estate investments by billionaires without demonstrating the benefit they are providing to low income-communities they claim to help,” Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, wrote in letters sent last year to several investment firms.

Law and order

Scott also speaks about his work on criminal justice and policing issues, as he did during a February event at The Citadel Holliday Alumni Center in Charleston. Scott was a key player in the development of the First Step Act, which at the time it passed (and was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump) was heralded as a major bipartisan achievement.

The law provided federal judges with more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses and curtailed some mandatory minimums. One of the goals of the legislation was to reduce the federal prison population. But in the years since 2018, many Republicans have moved back toward a tough-on-crime mentality.

“By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals, and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we have taken a positive step forward tonight,” Scott said in December 2018, when the sentencing overhaul passed.

Scott has also been the lead Senate GOP voice on efforts to overhaul policing, but he has opposed bills led by Democrats like the policing bill the Democrat-led House passed in 2021 that was named for George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Voice on banking

Scott’s ascension to ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee this year lifted hopes for bipartisan collaboration on the panel, particularly on housing legislation, a long-time priority of Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. 

Like most Republicans, Scott is critical of government intervention and regulation, blaming it for burdening small businesses and limiting opportunity. But he has found common ground with Democrats on issues including expanding the data used to determine credit scores and encouraging flood mitigation.

“Under progressive leadership, the American Dream has slipped further and further out of reach,” Scott said in February. “By focusing on commonsense policies like expanding access to credit, fostering innovation, and promoting financial inclusion, we can build an opportunity economy that opens doors, improves lives, and empowers everyday Americans to achieve their dreams.”

In the fallout from this year’s bank failures, Scott has reserved equal blame for bank managers and regulators, saying at one hearing that the Federal Reserve should explore firing examiners who missed the warning signs at Silicon Valley Bank. Brown has said he and Scott are exploring bipartisan legislation to claw back compensation from executives at the failed banks.

Reliable vote

CQ’s annual vote studies show that Scott has been a reliable Republican vote in the Senate.

He voted along with the president’s position 96.7 percent of the time during the years that Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, was president and the GOP controlled the Senate. Trump’s campaign on Friday found one vote to attack Scott about, saying he opposed “America First foreign policy” by disapproving of withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan in 2019. That vote was a lopsided 63-23 against Trump, with all but three Senate Republicans siding with Scott in the majority.

Since Biden took office and Democrats have controlled the Senate, Scott voted along with the president’s position 14.7 percent of the time.

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