Columns

GOP Sen. Scott: Trump 'Not a Racist' but is 'Racially Insensitive'

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) campaign for Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Greenville, S.C., on Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said “a national conversation” needs to occur about shootings by police, and said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has given him a new perspective on the interactions of African-American men and law enforcement.

On March 18, Sacramento Police shot and killed Stephon Clark, 22, after a report that someone was breaking car windows in the neighborhood. Clark ran from police and was confronted in the back yard of his grandmother’s house, where officers fired 20 rounds at the unarmed man after mistaking his white iPhone for a weapon. An independent autopsy ordered by Clark’s family found that the father of two was shot eight times, six of those in the back.

The White House said President Trump would not be commenting on the shooting nor subsequent protests, calling it a “local matter.”

Appearing Sunday on CBS with Scott, Gowdy, who will be retiring from Congress to return to his life as a prosecutor, said “it’s a local law enforcement matter, from a criminal justice standpoint, but it’s a national conversation.”

“Tim knows my bias, I’ll put that word in quotes, is towards law enforcement, as you would expect a prosecutor to be. I am not oblivious to the fact that there are bad police officers, just like there are bad everything else,” Gowdy said. “He has helped me remarkably. Not — not just him, but also other people of color in my life have helped me understand — every interaction I’ve had with the police, it’s been because I was speeding. I should have had an interaction with them. I’ve never been stopped by Capitol Police, and I don’t wear a member pin. He’s been stopped wearing a member pin. So I am naive to believe that my life experience covers everyone.”

In July 2016, Scott gave a landmark floor speech in which he said he’d been stopped seven times in the past year by law enforcement for “trivial” reasons, including when he was driving in D.C. one afternoon and an officer pulled him over because “he thinks perhaps the car is stolen.” Another time, Scott left the National Mall and was followed by a police car through four different left turns to reach his apartment. The officer pulled him over for allegedly not using his turn signal on the fourth turn, which the senator said was untrue.

“I have no idea what he sees when he sees blue lights,” Gowdy said of Scott. “And I think he’s benefited. Well, I know he has. He calls the widows of fallen police officers before I call them in South Carolina. So he gets the dangerous side of it, but he is also a black man who’s had a very different relationship with law enforcement than I have.”

Scott and Gowdy’s new book, Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country, comes out Tuesday.

Scott told CBS that with “a very provocative history on race in South Carolina, the truth is that after the 2015 Mother Emanuel Church shooting, I found myself turning to a white guy in the aftermath.”

“Are there lessons within this friendship that can help our nation that seems to be so polarized, in such conflict, mired in challenges, and sometimes heading towards tribalism? If there’s a way to bridge that gap, can we and should we tell that story?” he addd. “I think we can, and I think we should, and we did.”

Gowdy said he thought about “what it would mean to a black man to know that they were murdered simply because of the color of their skin,” and thought after the Charleston church massacre, “Oh Lord, let’s don’t go here again in South Carolina.”

Scott called polarization “perhaps one of the greatest national security issues we have in this country,” because external foes like the Russians “will eat, will feast on the division in this country and create more polarization.”

The senator said that when he went to President Trump after the August white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., “he asked me what could he do,” but “we were not on the same page as it relates to the history of race in this nation.”

“The president is not a racist, but is he racially insensitive? I think the answer is yes,” Scott said.

Gowdy said he hopes Scott eventually runs for president, because the senator “has a cheery, optimistic brand of conservatism that I think our country would benefit from, and quite frankly, whether he won or not, our country would be better off hearing someone with his life story.”

“The grandson of a man who couldn’t read, picked cotton, and then he grew up to pick out a seat in the United States House of Representatives. That’s the story I wish my fellow citizens could hear. Whether he wins, I hope he runs,” Gowdy said.

Scott noted he’s “not even running for my homeowner association’s presidency.”