Wednesday marks the first official day of the 112th Congress, and included in the much-talked about takeover of conservative lawmakers are Allen West and Tim Scott. Both become the first black Republican members of the House since 2003, and the first from the Deep South since Reconstruction. But both politicians are still weighing whether or not to join the Congressional Black Caucus.
The CBC is the oldest and most influential organization representing black members of Congress, and it’s historically been dominated by Democrats. That, of course, is no surprise: the overwhelming majority of black voters in the U.S. are registered Democrats. But, as West has it, the tide is steadily turning. At least 32 black lawmakers ran on the GOP ticket in 2010; fourteen made it to the general election, and two – West and Scott – eventually won House seats.
Of course, that doesn’t make their relationship with the majority of African American lawmakers any easier. Still, CBC leaders have welcomed both men to join their ranks.
“Membership in the Congressional Black Caucus has never been restricted to Democrats,” Caucus chair Barbara Lee said in a statement to Politico. “Should either of the two African-American Republicans recently elected to the House of Representatives request membership in the Congressional Black Caucus, they will be welcomed.”
West, who political scientist Jason Johnson told NPR’s Morning Edition was “fervently against 99 percent of what the [Caucus] stands for,” has actually expressed interest in joining.
“I think I want to bring in that intellectual debate and discourse,” he told Fox News Sunday. “I think there are different voices coming out of the black community.”
Notably, West has taken up more of the national spotlight because of his outspoken approach and Tea Party roots. He likens President Obama to a coward and reportedly wasn’t moved an inch by the election of the nation’s first black president. The former army lieutenant colonel retired after being investigated for firing a gun close to the head of an Iraqi police officer in 2004, and beat Democratic Representative Ron Klein for Florida’s District 22 seat. He then caused a national controversy after it was discovered that his chosen chief of staff, firebrand radio talk show host Joyce Kauffman, advocated for the hanging of undocumented immigrants. Although West ultimately replaced Kauffman, he blamed the meltdown on the “sexism” and “misogynist behavior of liberal media.”
Scott, meanwhile, who’s considered slightly more moderate than West, has so far said that he’ll decline the CBC’s offer to join. That position can be chalked up to this previous experiences as a state representative, when he joined the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus during his first year in office back in 2008. While the experience proved to be a good way to stay engaged, Scott lamented that it “didn’t meet his legislative objectives” and declined to stay on a second year.
The South Carolina lawmaker may have summed up his and West’s role in the new Congress best in a interview with his hometown paper.
“Obviously, when you’re an oxymoron, it creates more attention,” Scott told Charleston’s Post and Courier about being a black Republican. “It’s what you do with that attention that matters.”