Rep. Tim Scott: I can make ‘bigger impact’ outside Black Caucus

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Today is the first full session of the RNC after the start was delayed due to Tropical Storm Isaac. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Today is the first full session of the RNC after the start was delayed due to Tropical Storm Isaac. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott didn’t join the Congressional Black Caucus because his goal is to impact Americans as a whole, and he sees the Tea Party as a positive force that’s building a better America.

Scott, a delegate to this year’s Republican National Convention and a surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was elected to Congress with Tea Party backing in 2010, part of a wave of conservatives swept into power in the aftermath of the fight over health care reform.

He made history as the first black Republican elected to federal office from South Carolina in more than 100 years, and one of only two black Republicans elected from southern states during the midterm elections. The other, Allen West, has made a name for himself with incendiary rhetoric, while Scott has served more quietly, but with more influence, as a member of the House leadership. Both men were elected in districts with few African-American constituents — a fact of life for most black Republicans, who tend to fare better in elections where the voters are overwhelmingly white and conservative.

Scott is unconcerned about the Tea Party’s reputation for racial animus — something many African-Americans believe is directed at them.

“Really, what the Tea Party stood for is a force that wants to make this a better country,” Scott told theGrio, as he arrived in Tampa for the GOP nominating convention.

Scott is in some ways an unconventional black politician. Perhaps because of his constituency, but also his belief in being an American first, and not “the black face of anything,” he didn’t join the Congressional Black Caucus, all but one of whom (West) are Democrats. On a recent conference call with reporters, NAACP president Ben Jealous said Scott had “put up a wall” between himself and the civil rights organization “that even Newt Gingrich hadn’t.”

Scott pays little attention to such accusations. He says he didn’t get to Congress “based on race” — and has always “worked under the concept that we are better together.”

“I felt that if I wanted to make a bigger impact on America as a whole, I could do that without being a member of the Black Caucus.”

Still, Scott calls his relationship with the organization “positive for the most part.” He said he has worked with liberal CBC members on issues like education and literacy, and with fellow South Carolina congressman James Clyburn on matters important to their state.

“You find an issue that you care about, and you work that issue,” he said.