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In new memoir, Sen. Tim Scott discusses the GOP, goals and political grace

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, has this to say about his political future.

TIM SCOTT: I am only running for my reelection in 2022.

SUMMERS: Reelection to the Senate. I asked him about that when we spoke last week because a summary and advance copies of his new memoir, which is out today, said he was preparing to run for the White House. The book's publisher said that was their bad.

SCOTT: Fortunately, they were kind enough to get it right by issuing an apology and recognizing their mistake.

SUMMERS: Almost seems like a fitting way to roll out a memoir titled "America, A Redemption Story." In it, Senator Scott recounts how some vulnerable moments of shaped his worldview, like being raised by a single mother who worked grueling shifts as a nurse's aide, or the pain of struggling with his own self-image, which led him to an orthodontist's office at age 19 because, he said, it affected every facet of his being.

SCOTT: From asking girls out to being teased at school for having buck teeth. I know that it sounds kind of simple to people who can afford braces, but for me, it wasn't. It was, literally, going into an office with my knees buckling, asking for help, and then being treated with respect and dignity.

SUMMERS: But Scott also writes in equal measure about his confidence and what he calls his first presidential bid - that was to lead his high school student government association in 1982. He won. But he says at the time that he almost doubted whether a young Black man in the South even had a chance. So I asked Senator Scott about his party today and whether he thinks we currently live in an environment where a Black man could be the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

SCOTT: My answer - the short answer is yes. My long answer is that we have to go back three years before I ran for president of student government and realize that in my eighth-grade year, there were race riots at my high school. And to then walk into the school and three years later to become the president of the student government with a 70% majority white student body showed me the progress that can be made in very little time. I would say that the Republican Party today - I hope that we are all the great opportunity party, those of us who believe. And if you understand the evolution of the Southern heart that made the possibility of me becoming president of the student government, I hope that that same evolution has been manifest in the policy positions that I have fought for and have successfully accomplished on the Republican side of the aisle.

SUMMERS: I have to ask, though, you did say in 2022 you're running for reelection. But the next presidential election is in 2024. Any comment on that?

SCOTT: I think you are right that the presidential election is in 2024.

SUMMERS: All right. I want to turn - switch gears here a little bit and talk about policy. Throughout the course of your career, one thing that you've done again and again is speak out about people who do not get a fair shake from the U.S. justice system. You've talked about inequality, even your own experiences of being pulled over while driving simply because you're a Black man. And I know - and I have followed closely your work on the issue of police reform, which you also write about in your book. There was a bipartisan bill that you co-sponsored after the killing of George Floyd, and that stalled late last year. I know that President Biden has signed since an executive order to enact some policing reforms. Where are your goals on that issue now?

SCOTT: Well, I do think that we have made so much progress in the last 30 years. Frankly, we have made progress since the George Floyd incident. There is still progress to be made. The truth is that America is becoming a more perfect union. In the justice system, I want us to be perfect. And we are not there yet.

SUMMERS: Are there any legislative solutions that you plan to pursue or that you think could help begin to solve that issue? - which I acknowledge is a large issue that cannot be solved by simply one bill.

SCOTT: Yes, ma'am. So the legislation that I have been proposing, and that I am now working on again, is focused on making sure that law enforcement has the resources to better equip their officers with the duty to intervene. Think George Floyd. The escalation. The necessity of body worn cameras. Think of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C. When you think of those circumstances and situations, with more training and more resources and, frankly, with consequences, I think we find ourselves in a better place for law enforcement and the communities where they serve.

SUMMERS: I want to talk for a moment about your experience on January 6 because you wrote about the tension and pain as you and your fellow senators took refuge in a Senate office building and the moment in which she called for Senate Chaplain Barry Black to minister to the group of lawmakers and aides who were gathered. And I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about what it was like inside that room.

SCOTT: It was just chaos in the beginning. But one of the things that I loved about that moment was this calm that came over us as Chaplain Black led us in prayer. And what walked out of that room was a unified front to affirm the election. If you had been there earlier, several hours earlier, you would have thought we would never have left that room on the same page. But we decided that before the night was over, we were going to finish the job.

SUMMERS: Senator, in the book, you describe January 6 as a tragic day - and I'm quoting you here - "the culmination of individuals making bad choices." What do you mean by that?

SCOTT: What I mean by that is that we saw the darker angels assembling together and breaching the Capitol. That should never happen again. I do think that we have to reconcile ourselves to what happened on January 6, and we shouldn't downplay it, but we should also place the blame on those individuals who showed up with not only malice in their hearts, but their willingness to act upon that malice.

SUMMERS: Senator, I have to ask you because you've written a lot and talked a lot over time about the power of one individual to change the course of events. Did former President Trump do enough to stop the attack that day?

SCOTT: I wish he would have done more. I don't think we should blame him for the day. But could have done more? I think the answer is he could have.

SUMMERS: Over the course of reading this book, the big thing that I came away with is that you're using your story and the stories of others around you and stories of people from history to uplift a message of redemption for this country. And so is there anything in your career or in your life that you are hoping for redemption on?

SCOTT: I am trying to make sure that the second chance that has been afforded to me, A, by my mother when I was failing out of high school - she never gave up on me - B, by my constituents when I lost an election in 1996, and they gave me a second chance. And there are so many facets of my life had I not been given a second chance, I would not be here with you today. And so what I'm hoping to do is to encourage all of us to look across into other groups and say, I'm going to give them a second chance, or I'm going to provide them with a measure of grace, unmerited favor that they may not have earned yet. But I'm going to assume the best of them. I have benefited from people who saw something in me that I could not see in myself. And to that end, I hope this country lives to our highest ideal.

SUMMERS: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is the author of the new book "America, A Redemption Story."

(SOUNDBITE OF DE BROWN SONG, "EXPRESSIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.