WASHINGTON — Tim Scott of South Carolina was sworn into office Thursday on a historic day that saw him become the first African-American U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction and the upper chambers only current black member.
The only African-American Republican member of Congress, Scotts elevation from the House of Representatives to replace former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., makes the North Charleston Republican a national figure just two years after he arrived in Washington in 2010s Tea Party-fueled election.
Amazing, said Scott, his mother standing by his side, after being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden.
DeMint, who resigned from the Senate to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, and fellow U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina escorted Scott into the Senate for the swearing-in ceremony. It was followed by a ceremonial swearing-in in the ornate Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol.
In a reflection of the significance of Scotts promotion, both for the nation and a Republican Party seeking to become more diverse, dozens of news photographers and TV cameras recorded the ceremonial event, more than those for other new senators.
While Scott downplays race and declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus, he said he understands he now is in a more significant position.
Im certainly aware, Scott said in an interview. I havent missed the fact that there is a uniqueness about my presence in the Senate, yes.
Scott, though, said he feels no added pressure because of his increased visibility. Each senator has the responsibility of representing their state and the nation, Scott said. Thats plenty of pressure by itself.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican from Lexington, chose Scott to succeed DeMint, the hard-line conservative senator who surprised colleagues last month by announcing he would leave Congress two years into his second Senate term.
Graham, a Seneca Republican in his second Senate term, welcomed Scott as the new junior senator from South Carolina, a state that for years has launched major political figures who regularly have produced national headlines, from the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and former Gov. Mark Sanford to DeMint and Graham.
Tim will hit the ground running in the Senate, Graham said in an interview. He is a strong fiscal, social and national security conservative. He is also one of the most decent people Ive ever met in politics.
Scott, 47, grew up poor in a single-parent home in North Charleston, raised by a mother, Frances Scott, who worked 16-hour days. Scott became a high school football star, college graduate and Allstate insurance agent before entering politics.
His new U.S. Senate post continues a meteoric rise for Scott. Just over four years ago, he was wrapping up a 13-year tenure on the Charleston County Commission before serving two years in the S.C. House of Representatives. Then, in 2010, Scott emerged from a crowded Republican primary field to defeat several well-known opponents and win election to Congress from the 1st District.
Ryan Frazier, a black Republican businessman who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, was among Scotts friends who joined him in Washington to help celebrate his big day.
Its really exciting for our country, really to see a guy of his caliber elevated to the Senate, Frazier said. Hes going to do great things for the country. As an African-American, Im very proud that Tim is now in the United States Senate. It just says a lot about our country and the fact that we need diverse folks representing us all over this country.
Among other friends and relatives on hand were Scotts brother Ben, their aunt, plus the widow, sons and daughters-in-law of the late John Moniz, who became a mentor and father figure to Scott when he was a teen-ager in North Charleston.
When Scott entered the Senate to be sworn into office, it was only the second time he had been in the 19th-century chamber.
Just before taking the oath of office, he looked up into the visitors gallery and caught the eye of his mother and his brother.
Its a new chapter a new opportunity for me to continue to tell the story that I think is important to the future of our country, which is that a good economy makes all things possible, Scott said afterward. Hopefully, I can frame it in such way that it helps us grow the economy and have a smarter, easier-to-use tax code for folks to understand that America is great because people believe in hard work and are able to support their families and take care of themselves.