COLUMBIA, S.C. — After a largely non-confrontational speech from President Joe Biden, South Carolina’s Sen. Tim Scott, delivering the GOP response, accused the president and his party of dividing the country with partisan politics.
In the nationally televised speech, Scott, a Charleston Republican, alternated between calling for unity among citizens and attacking Democrats and their initiatives.
Scott kicked off his speech commenting on Biden’s campaign promise to be a leader that represents all Americans’ interests and works across the aisle. The senator said while the United States needs policies to bring its citizens together, he did not believe Biden was delivering that.
“We need policies and progress that brings us closer together,” Scott said.
“Three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart,” he added, after noting what he described as the successes of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Scott highlighted several Republican accomplishments from the last few years, including the passage of five bipartisan COVID-19 rescue packages in 2020. He touted the pre-pandemic economy, citing record low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.
The Charleston Republican said the country should be experiencing a “joyful springtime,” but instead, it was seeing residents feeling “divided and anxious.”
“A nation with so much cause for hope should not feel so heavy-laden,” Scott said. “A president who promised to bring us together should not push agendas that tear us apart.”
Being tapped to deliver the speech is certainly significant for the Charleston Republican. Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston called it “a huge night for Tim Scott.”
Giving a speech on a national platform could also help bolster Scott’s reelection prospects, Knotts said. Scott is up for reelection in 2022.
“He is the heavy favorite to get reelected in 2022, but the national exposure has a number of benefits,” Knotts said. “It will help stave off competitors and will also help with fundraising.”
Knotts called Scott a “mainstream Republican,” adding that he operates in the realm of politics much differently than former President Donald Trump.
“He’s much more collaborative and has shown a willingness to speak out against Trump, particularly on issues of race,” Knotts said.
Scott has frequently been outspoken on his own experiences as a Black man, especially when it comes to encounters with police officers. As the only Black Republican in the Senate, he is uniquely situated to do so.
Scott revisited the topic during his speech Wednesday night, recounting being pulled over by police “for no reason” and getting followed while shopping at a store.
“Nowhere do we need common ground more than in our discussion of race,” Scott said, accusing Democrats and progressives of weaponizing race.
“From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal,” he said.
“You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present,” he said.
Scott, however, struck out at Democrats for not working with him to pass his policing reform package in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after police officer Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. Chauvin was convicted by a jury of murder and manslaughter charges. Democrats used the filibuster to delay the debate on the package, calling it inadequate.
“My friends across the aisle seemed to want the issue more than they wanted a solution,” Scott said.
“Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants,” he later added.
Scott’s speech was a stark contrast from Biden’s, televised only a half hour before.
In his speech, Biden celebrated his administration’s accomplishments over the last 100 days when it comes to their COVID-19 response. Biden outlined his priorities going forward, and he specifically promoted his wide-reaching, $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which would cover improvements ranging from expanding broadband access to combating climate change through promoting clean energy. Throughout the speech, Biden refrained from calling out specific Republicans and used softer language when calling them out for not working with their Democratic counterparts.
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