South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott will become the first ever African-American senator from the state. Governor Nikki Haley appointed him Monday to replace Senator Jim DeMint, who is resigning to run a conservative think tank.
The South Carolina State House was packed with reporters and visitors waiting to watch history.
"It is with great pleasure that I am appointing our next U.S. senator to be Congressman Tim Scott," Governor Nikki Haley said as the crowd applauded and a few even yelled.
Haley said Scott earned it. He’s had a quick rise. He was elected to Congress two years ago after being a Charleston city councilman.
He’s stood out both for his policies and his race. He’s a rarity in Congress – an African-American Republican.
But with his mom standing nearby, he said his family background is what really defines him.
"When you start out in a single-parent household with a mom who works 16 hours a day, and you’re looking at a future that doesn’t look as bright, and you’re living in North Charleston, South Carolina, you build the strength that comes from having the appreciation and understanding that it’s not about you," Scott said.
"It’s about your faith," he said. "It’s about your family."
Scott’s appointment is a major milestone for South Carolina, which had never sent an African-American to the U.S. Senate.
He’ll also be the senate’s first Republican African-American since the '70s. Fellow South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said that distinction will come with a spotlight.
"You have a unique opportunity for the conservative cause," Graham told Scott. "You have unique burdens."
And Catawba College Professor Michael Bitzer said Scott could help the GOP attract more minorities.
"This is certainly going to get conservatives fired up because Tim Scott is a Tea Party conservative, and certainly sends a dynamic that there’s more to African-American politics than just what is typically associated with the Democratic Party," Bitzer said.
The senator Scott is replacing, Jim DeMint, is also a Tea Party favorite. He’s resigning to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Governor Haley called him a conservative rock star who can’t be replaced. DeMint played off that idea:
"Governor, when you say there’ll never be anyone like me in the Senate again, most of Washington says, 'Thank goodness,'" DeMint said with a laugh.
The website Filibusted gives him the title of “most obstructionist” senator. That’s because he’s opposed bringing legislation to a vote at a higher percentage than any other senator during the last two years.
But DeMint has also become a sort of conservative kingmaker who can help candidates raise money and win elections.
As far as policies go, Scott said his brand of conservatism is pretty close to DeMint’s. Take the fiscal cliff debate. Scott does not want to raise revenue by raising taxes.
"So often we have a conversation about how do we create enough revenue to solve the problem?," Scott said. "Well, I learned early in my 20s that if you have a problem with spending, there’s not enough revenue to make up for it."
"We have a spending problem, ladies and gentleman, in America, and not a revenue problem," he said.
Scott said fiscal issues will be one of his major focuses once he becomes a senator in January.
He’ll need to get used to the new title between now and then. When a reporter addressed him as “senator,” he didn’t know whom she was talking to. One of the current senators then leaned over and joked, "Remember this humble moment."