Cory Booker and Tim Scott Are the Senate's Newest Odd Couple
Opposites do attract. And truer words could not be said about the congressional bromance going on between Sens. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat.
Sure, they're both completing terms begun by others and they're the only two African-Americans in the chamber, but it would be easy to assume they have little else in common. Booker, with 1.46 million followers on Twitter and 37,700 tweets, has kept his head low since coming to Congress, but that hasn't dulled the national celebrity status that helped him get to Washington.
Scott, by contrast, though a Tea Party favorite, is much lower key and is still working to increase name recognition as he campaigns across his state. His star is still rising, and the South Carolina lawmaker was recently tapped to deliver the Republican weekly message.
They also disagree on a host of issues, from extending emergency unemployment insurance to confirming Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department's civil rights division.
But since Booker's earliest days on the Senate floor, that stage when a neophyte lawmaker is tempted to leave a trail of bread crumbs to guide him or her through the maze of the U.S. Capitol, the pair has been forming a serious bond. And although they are two of the most junior members of the Senate, they hope their example will teach their colleagues how to work through the gridlock that has paralyzed Congress in recent years.
Last week they introduced their first piece of joint legislation, which offers tax credits to employers who expand the number of registered apprenticeships they offer. African-American and other young adults of color would particularly benefit from such opportunities, they say. In addition, they participated in the first bipartisan Facebook chat.
"On my first day, when I didn't even know where the bathrooms were," Booker told reporters, Scott, whom he jokingly refers to as "the old man," an elder statesman with more time served, embraced him and demonstrated a "real generous spirit."
One night, while dining out with other people, their paths crossed, which provided them with an opportunity to socialize in a non-work setting the way Democrats and Republicans did in a bygone era.
"It was clear to me, listening to Sen. Scott in an impersonal setting, that here is a guy who is driven by so many of the same values and wanting to come to the Senate to address problems and not to just be posturing or spewing the kind of rhetoric that I think makes many Americans disgusted," Booker said.
That dinner, and the kindness Scott showed him when he first arrived at the Capitol, set a foundation for them to work together, the New Jersey lawmaker added.
The key to working across the aisle, Scott explained, is being able to go out of one's comfort zone, which he said Booker mastered as mayor of Newark and continues to do in the Senate.
"My [feeling] has always been that I'll work with anyone, anywhere, anytime, who wants to address real issues and that's our goal," Scott said. "If we can get more folks involved, that's fantastic, but we're going to go where the need is and meet those needs."
Members of the House have already expressed an interest in creating a companion bill to their legislation. Booker and Scott hope that it will be a springboard not only for them to produce more bills together related to education, criminal justice, the war on drugs and other issues that are critical to the African-American community and the nation, but will also encourage other lawmakers to find common ground as they have.
"We polled it and New Jersey [voters] are upset with partisan gridlock, and people who can't work together, can't sit down with each other," Booker said. "I came down here not to be a great Democrat, [but] a great American and that involves relationships and partnerships with people across the aisle who actually deliver for the people."
Dewey Clayton, a political scientist at the University of Louisville, said that Booker and Scott are setting a good example and increasing their visibility.
"You get people who've been there for 20, 30 years who have never introduced any legislation. They're on the talk and news shows but are not doing anything," Clayton told BET.com. "This is a plus for them. Both are up for election and can use this to raise their profiles."
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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(Photo: Tim Scott via Twitter)