Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina (left). President Donald Trump (right).
Trump losing allies following turbulent week
02:31 - Source: CNN

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Scott says Trump needs to have personal conversations with those affected by racism

He gave a series of powerful speeches from the Senate floor about his experiences

Washington CNN  — 

President Donald Trump and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, two Republican men with vastly different experiences of life in America, met at the White House Wednesday for a 40-minute meeting that Scott said included “no time of tension.”

Scott, the first African-American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction, sat down with Trump weeks after the President faced bipartisan criticism for drawing equivalence between white supremacists protesting the removal of confederate monuments with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville clashes, Scott was one of Trump’s sharpest critics, telling VICE News last month that the President’s “moral authority” was “compromised” by his response.

“I’m not going to defend the indefensible,” Scott said.

After Wednesday’s meeting, asked whether the President regretted his remarks blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence, Scott paused, telling reporters that Trump “certainly tried to convey what he was attempting to say.”

“He was trying to convey that there was an antagonist on the other side,” Scott said of Trump. “My response was, while that’s true, if you look at it from a sterile perspective there was an antagonist on the other side. However, the real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side. It has to do with the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country have made it their mission to create upheaval for minority communities.”

Still, Scott said he wanted the conversation to focus on “the future” rather than the comments the President made that fueled critics on the left and right.

“The Charlottesville comments were the foundation for the conversation,” Scott added, “but the discussion was about making progress in this nation.”

For its part, the White House said in a statement that the conversation included discussion of the “administration’s relationship with the African-American community, the bipartisan issue of improving race relations, and creating a more unified country.”

Two different paths

To understand why this meeting carries so much consequence, it’s important to look at where the two men came from.

Scott, 51, was raised by a single mother and, by his account, owes his success and political affiliation to a conservative Chick-Fil-A owner that he met in his youth. Scott’s political career began on Charleston’s city council and he joined Congress in 2010 after defeating former Sen. Strom Thurmond’s son in the Republican primary. He served one term in the House before he was appointed to the Senate by then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

In the seven years he has been in Washington, he moved more toward using his position to press members of his party for a better appreciation of racial issues. Last year, on the Senate floor, he delivered an emotional speech, describing what it’s like to be questioned by police simply because of his race.

“There’s a deep divide between the black community and law enforcement, a trust gap,” Scott said in that speech. “I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life.”

The state that Scott grew up in and now represents has a history of racial violence, most recently the 2015 shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel A.M.E. church in which a white man fatally shot nine members.

Trump, by contrast, grew up in the wealthy Jamaica Estates section of Queens in a 23-room house, and has regularly acknowledged that his multi-millionaire father loaned him money to begin his own business. He launched his campaign for the White House in the lavish Trump Tower where Trump made his home until he moved into the White House in January.

Why meet?

To imagine one man in the position of the other is almost impossible.

But, as Scott told CBS News in an interview last month, he thought it was important for Trump to sit down with people – like him – who have ” a deep connection to the horror and pain of this country’s provocative racial history.”

According to Scott on Wednesday, he tried to do just that – and he said he was “encouraged and surprised” by the President, who listened more than he talked, and by the attendance of Vice President Mike Pence.

Words, Scott told reporters, are “containers of power … and there is no more powerful voice than the President of the United States without question.”

“I think he understand that and echoed that in our conversation,” he added.

Scott’s comments following the meeting also show a certain realism, notably the understanding that people don’t just change overnight.

“Anyone who walks into a room with someone over the age of three and assumed they are going to change the person’s mind just because you are present and had a 30-minute conversation – I think you have an unrealistic expectation,” Scott said.

Instead, he said he wanted “measurable progress in reasonable time.”

CNN’s Ryan Nobles contributed to this report.