Rep. Tim Scott, a Republican, was appointed Monday to the U.S. Senate seat that South Carolina’s Jim DeMint is vacating, making him the only black member of the Senate and the first black Republican to serve in the chamber since 1979.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tapped the Charleston congressman to serve the last two years of the term of DeMint, who is leaving the Senate to serve as president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. The appointment continues a rapid rise for Scott, 47, who was elected to the House two years ago after winning an intense primary that included the son of the late Strom Thurmond.
The appointment is not a surprise, as Scott is an ideal fit for seat. With Republicans just having lost an election in which more than 80 percent of non-white voters nationally backed Democrats, the party is looking to elevate minority figures. And in addition to his race, Scott holds strongly conservative views that have made him popular among the Tea Party Republicans who have embraced Haley and DeMint as well. He has been a strong opponent of President Obama’s agenda on nearly every issue, which will make him a controversial figure among African-Americans. Scott has pointedly refused to join the Congressional Black Caucus, which is comprised solely of Democrats.
“We have a spending problem, America,” Scott said in the press conference announcing his selection. “And you can take the revenue from the top two percent and you could not close off the deficit.”
Scott’s tenure is officially only two years. But he will be the heavy favorite to be reelected in 2014, as fellow Republicans are unlikely to challenge Scott in a primary and the state is so conservative a Democrat has little chance of winning.
His selection is a historical milestone. Only six blacks have ever served in the Senate. The last three were Democrats from Illinois: Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama and Roland Burris.
The last Republican was Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who lost reelection in 1978 after serving two terms.
The appointment is also a sign of resurgence for black Republicans, who suffered major setbacks on Election Day when Florida Rep. Allen West lost his reelection attempt and Utah House candidate Mia Love also was defeated.
Scott, who has worked in insurance, served on the Charleston City Council for more than a decade and then the state’s assembly before his successful accent to the House. When he arrived in 2011, House Republican leaders created a leadership slot for him, making Scott one of two members of the House class of 2010 who would serve as liaisons to leadership.
He has voted consistently with the Republican majority in the House, but avoided the controversial anti-Obama rhetoric of West.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr