As presidential hopeful Tim Scott slowly edges up in the polls, his 2024 opponents are gearing up to attack one of the only Black candidates for being soft on crime.
Republicans have increasingly insisted the United States is falling into a state of lawlessness, with violent crime on the rise and Democratic leaders unable or unwilling to do anything about it. (Violent crime has actually gone down in the past six months.) Many GOP candidates at all levels of governance are promising to be “tough on crime.”
Scott has actually been a big champion in Congress for police and criminal justice reform, making him a prime target for accusations of being soft on crime. He co-sponsored the First Step Act in 2018, which reduced some mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related charges and also allowed some people already incarcerated to request shorter sentences.
The South Carolina senator also pushed for police reform in 2020, after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer who was arresting him. Scott introduced the JUSTICE Act, which would withhold federal funding from local police departments until they changed their operating policies. (The bill went nowhere.)
Still, his little action on police reform seems like it will become fodder for his Republican rivals. Some Republican presidential candidates are already attacking the First Step Act. Ron DeSantis said in May he would want to repeal the law, while Mike Pence tried to be cute and said he wanted to “take a step back from the First Step Act.”
Except … DeSantis voted for an early version of the act in 2018, when he was still a Florida representative in Congress. Pence also championed the legislation while serving as vice president. And current Republican front-runner Donald Trump signed the act into law. So if this is the point they’re going to use to try to take down Scott, they all may want to look in the mirror.
Meanwhile, Scott may actually have sabotaged a bipartisan police reform measure so he could seem tough on crime during his presidential campaign. Excerpts released in June from Washington Post writer Ben Terris’s book The Big Break reveal that Scott worked with Democratic Senator Cory Booker to craft legislation in 2021. Shortly after Booker’s staff gave Scott a copy of the bill, it was leaked to the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“With the Sheriffs’ Association as a shield, Scott rejected the offer,” Terris wrote. “Even though the bill would have added millions of dollars to police department budgets, he accused Democrats of wanting to ‘defund the police,’ something that almost no one in Congress had been saying for months.”