For a member of the United States Senate, Tim Scott comes from an unusual background. Instead of the affluence or familial political legacy that characterizes members of the chamber, he recalls growing up in poverty. And he says that experience, coupled with his Christian faith, define who he is today.
"I do think that my experience growing up in poverty, a single-parent household, living with my grandparents in a very small house, sharing a bedroom with my mother and my brother for a couple years, all of that informed me and sensitized me to the average person in the average place in our country today," Scott told the Washington Examiner. "I think it helps me remain grounded and focused on how to create outcomes for Americans and not have a political debate about issues from a partisan perspective."
Though the soft-spoken Republican stays out of the media more than most of his colleagues in Congress, he remains one of the chamber's most popular members. After his appointment in 2012 to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim DeMint, Scott won his first full term in 2014, with just over 61 percent of the vote. In his interview, he discussed moving detainees from Guantanamo Bay, the need for new leadership at the IRS, and school choice.
Washington Examiner: President Obama is trying to move the last detainees, around 80 or so, out of Guantanamo Bay before the end of his term. South Carolina is one of three states he has proposed for their relocation. How would you handle this if you were the executive, and how do you think Congress should respond?
Scott: If I were the chief executive, I would view Guantanamo Bay as an asset that needs to be used more, not less. The fact of the matter is, we have opportunities likely on a consistent basis to capture more enemy combatants. The question is if you capture them, where can you put them, and that's part of the problem. That could be resolved by using Guantanamo Bay to put folks where they need to be.
As a member of Congress, my objective is to make sure we keep American safety as job number one. Our national security objective should be to keep our folks safe, period. In order to do that, I think we need to keep Guantanamo Bay open. I'm a cosponsor of legislation with Sen. Kelly Ayotte that says no more transfers at all. The recidivism rate is too high. The folks who are in Guantanamo Bay who leave have already killed Americans. We could have stopped that.
Examiner: How concerned are your constituents about this issue?
Scott: When the president sends his team to evaluate and analyze a medium risk, medium security facility in Hanahan, S.C., which is a bedroom community with 12 or 13 schools and churches within walking distance of the location, it stirred the emotions of South Carolinians throughout the state.
Frankly, any domestic location is a bad location if you are focused first and foremost on national security.
Examiner: IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently testified in front of you on the Senate Finance Committee that his agency seeks not to verify potentially fraudulent Social Security numbers being used to file tax returns for fear of discouraging illegal immigrants from filing. What do you make of that?
Scott: Ridiculous. The alternate universe in which too many people in this administration live is hard to understand and digest. Koskinen's answers to a number of questions, including that one, should cause us all to stop and say, "What? That really is your response to an answer on the record?"
Examiner: Would it be appropriate to call for his removal?
Scott: I think it certainly is appropriate for us to talk about new leadership. I've done that on a number of occasions, and talked about the need for change. Obviously I need more folks having the same conversation going forward.
But it's obvious that if he was brought in to be the fix-it man, things have gotten worse, not better.
Examiner: On the topic of immigration, there is a proposal circulating in the House that would require the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to have its appropriations come from Congress. The agency is presently self-funding. Is that something you'd support?
Scott: The real question is oversight and responsibility. Autonomous organizations that derive their budgets from outside the congressional appropriations process seem to have less regard for the public's desire to have more information. I think housing the funding sources, especially where there's controversy, with Congress, would bring greater oversight and a higher level of responsibility and accountability.
Examiner: The Department of Labor passed changes to the fiduciary rule on April 6, the rule that governs the relationship that investment advisers have with their clients. Conservative critics have said the changes will make it harder for low-income consumers to get good advisers, because the regulatory burden is pricing them out of the market. Considering you're the Senate's only insurance agent, can you elaborate on that?
Scott: Just think about it this way. You are removing experts from the household, people who would come and provide expert advice to small investors, medium investors. They will now be discouraged from doing so because the federal government is making the $3 trillion retirement industry suffer through a higher regulatory burden with no actual benefit to the consumer.
Examiner: How did your views growing up define your views today?
Scott: I do think that my experience growing up in poverty, a single-parent household, living with my grandparents in a very small house, sharing a bedroom with my mother and my brother for a couple years, all of that informed me and sensitized me to the average person in the average place in our country today. I think it helps me remain grounded and focused on how to create outcomes for Americans and not have a political debate about issues from a partisan perspective.
I was, for lack of a better word, rescued by a conservative mentor in my teen years who taught me the power of education and the power of civic involvement. Coupled with force and optimism and encouragement from my mother, I think that really has shaped my worldview.
Examiner: How does your faith shape how you view your role in Congress?
Scott: My faith is the essence of my existence, without much of a question. I think who I am from a faith perspective is just who I am. So I think it plays an important role and informs me on most of the decisions that I make. It is, in its essence, a love story, about God's love for humanity, and the lengths that he is willing to go and and the sacrifices that he made for us to spend all eternity with him.
So it teaches me how to love my brother. It teaches me the importance of individual responsibility and the need for a compassionate approach towards those who are less fortunate. I think it's made me a much better elected official, and hopefully a better servant.
Examiner: What other members of Congress do you most admire?
Scott: Certainly I'm a big admirer of my best friend in Congress, the great Trey Gowdy. He has an amazing intellect, wit, he's a funny guy, he's pointed and direct at times, but he does a great job as chairman of the Benghazi Committee, but more importantly, I think he takes a practical, honest approach to governing, which I think is very important. He's one of the folks who would like to do something else other than be a congressman, and I think that makes him good at his job.
Examiner: You've coauthored the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, which aims to bring school choice to low income students in Washington, D.C. It has bipartisan support, but the president opposes it, even though his own children go to a private school right here.
Scott: The thing I find hard to digest is that when we have kids trapped in failing ZIP codes, sometimes failing cities from an educational standpoint, if there is a remedy or solution that is available, why not make it available to as many kids as possible?
The reality of it is, the SOAR Act does that. It gives us an opportunity to make school choice a reality for kids. I think the average income for kids that are recipients of the scholarships is $21,000 for household income, and yet they're graduating 90 percent of the time. Kids at the same household income in the other [public] D.C. schools graduate about half the time. And it costs less.
So we can do a lot better. It costs less, better education, better graduation rates, better college attendance rates, higher parental satisfaction. It seems like a no-brainer.
Examiner: What's on your recommended reading list?
Scott: Lee Strobel has a book called Case for Christ. Tim Keller has a book about money, power and sex, called Counterfeit Gods. And my pastor Greg Surratt has a book called Irreverend. So those would be the three I'd recommend.