President Donald Trump’s meeting with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott on Wednesday will put in one room two Republican men with vastly different experiences of what life in America looks like — and it couldn’t be more important.
Scott, the first African-American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction, is set to sit down with Trump weeks after the President faced bipartisan criticism for drawing equivalence between white supremacists protesting the removal of confederate monuments with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Scott was one of Trump’s sharpest critics, telling VICE News last month that the President’s “moral authority” was “compromised” by his response.
“I’m not going to defend the indefensible,” Scott said.
The White House, so far, has provided little detail about the substance of the meeting; White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it was “certainly a conversation that Sen. Scott wanted to have with the President, and the President wanted to have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the senator.”
But a source with knowledge of the meeting told CNN’s Ryan Nobles that Scott plans to discuss what happened in Charlottesville with the President, as well as race and specific issues facing people of color.
Two different paths
To understand why this meeting carries so much consequence, it’s important to look at where the two men came from.
Scott, 51, was raised by a single mother and, by his account, owes his success and political affiliation to a conservative Chick-Fil-A owner that he met in his youth. Scott’s political career began on Charleston’s city council and he joined Congress in 2010 after defeating former Sen. Strom Thurmond’s son in the Republican primary. He served one term in the House before he was appointed to the Senate by then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
In the seven years he has been in Washington, he moved more toward using his position to press members of his party for a better appreciation of racial issues. Last year, on the Senate floor, he delivered an emotional speech, describing what it’s like to be questioned by police simply because of his race.
“There’s a deep divide between the black community and law enforcement, a trust gap,” Scott said in that speech. “I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life.”
The state that Scott grew up in and now represents has a history of racial violence, most recently the 2015 shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel A.M.E. church in which a white man fatally shot nine members.
Trump, by contrast, grew up in the wealthy Jamaica Estates section of Queens in a 23-room house, and has regularly acknowledged that his multi-millionaire father loaned him money to begin his own business. He launched his campaign for the White House in the lavish Trump Tower where Trump made his home until he moved into the White House in January.
To imagine one man in the spot of the other is almost impossible.
Still, Scott — who initially backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican primaries — ultimately came around and said he could vote for Trump, despite a number of comments that he said were “racially toxic,” “indefensible” and “disgusting.”
So why sit down with Trump? In a recent interview with CBS News, Scott shed some light on why he thinks that could make a difference.
“We need our President to sit down with folks who have a personal experience. A deep connection to the horror and the pain of this country’s provocative racial history,” Scott told CBS. “If the President wants to have a better understanding and appreciation for what he should do next, he needs to hear something from folks who have gone through this painful history. Without that personal connection to the painful past, it will be hard for him to regain that moral authority, from my perspective.”