Here’s a New Senate Odd Couple: Cory Booker and Tim Scott

The Democrat and Republican team up for their legislation meant to boost apprenticeships.

National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
April 9, 2014, 9:33 a.m.

When it comes to polit­ics, Sens. Cory Book­er of New Jer­sey and Tim Scott of South Car­o­lina have very little in com­mon.

Book­er, the former may­or of Ne­wark, N.J., be­came a na­tion­al polit­ic­al celebrity while at­tempt­ing to po­s­i­tion him­self as a pro­gress­ive on is­sues like un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance (al­though his pro­gress­ive bona fides have been called in­to ques­tion).

As for Scott, he was a rising star in the tea party class of 2010 in the House and is a reg­u­lar on the con­ser­vat­ive-con­fer­ence cir­cuit, with a 90 per­cent score­card rat­ing from Her­it­age Ac­tion.

Book­er’s score? Zero per­cent.

But the two — who were spot­ted hav­ing a spir­ited dis­cus­sion in the Cap­it­ol base­ment as they made their way to Tues­day votes — have un­veiled le­gis­la­tion they hope will in­crease ap­pren­tice­ships in Amer­ica.

The Lever­aging and En­er­giz­ing Amer­ica’s Ap­pren­tice­ship Pro­grams, or Leap Act, is meant to in­crease youth em­ploy­ment while build­ing up skills for good-pay­ing jobs. The bill would give fed­er­al tax cred­its to em­ploy­ers in ex­change for hir­ing people who are re­gistered as ap­pren­tices, either with the Labor De­part­ment or a state agency. The cred­it is $1,500 for hir­ing ap­pren­tices un­der 25, and $1,000 for those over 25.

Ac­cord­ing to the sen­at­ors’ of­fices, it would be paid for by cut­ting back on print­ing costs. Es­sen­tially, it would bar the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from print­ing pub­lic­a­tions that are also on­line, ex­cept for ma­ter­i­al in­ten­ded for seni­ors, Medi­care re­cip­i­ents, or places with lim­ited In­ter­net ac­cess.

Book­er and Scott do have a couple of things in com­mon. They both came to the Sen­ate mid-cycle. Scott was ap­poin­ted by South Car­o­lina Gov. Nikki Haley to fill former Sen. Jim De­Mint’s seat when the lat­ter de­par­ted to head up the Her­it­age Found­a­tion. Book­er ran and won a spe­cial elec­tion to fill the late Sen. Frank Lauten­berg’s seat.

Oh, and they are the Sen­ate’s only two Afric­an-Amer­ic­an mem­bers.

Book­er has riled up pro­gress­ives in the past, with his as­so­ci­ations with Wall Street and agree­ing with Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Chris Christie on is­sues re­lated to school re­form, such as ex­pand­ing charter schools.

But for all the cri­ti­cism he has re­ceived in the past as try­ing to con­stantly po­s­i­tion him­self in the spot­light, he’s taken a de­cidedly more low-key ap­proach to be­ing a sen­at­or — you won’t find him rush­ing to the mics or hold­ing court with re­port­ers in the halls of the Cap­it­ol.

Scott is a tea-party fa­vor­ite. At a time when the GOP is strug­gling to reach out to minor­ity voters, he, for many, rep­res­ents pos­sib­il­it­ies for the fu­ture of the party. He is the first black Re­pub­lic­an to be elec­ted to Con­gress from the Deep South since Re­con­struc­tion. But tak­ing a low-key ap­proach on the Hill is very typ­ic­al of his polit­ics; for in­stance, when the NAACP’s North Car­o­lina chapter pres­id­ent ba­sic­ally called him a “dummy” be­ing used by a “vent­ri­lo­quist,” he de­clined to fire back. “The best way to re­spond to at­tacks from someone you’ve nev­er met, who’s nev­er been there dur­ing the most dif­fi­cult times of your life, is not to re­spond at all,” Scott told Na­tion­al Journ­al at the time.

So these two low-key yet rising stars in their re­spect­ive parties have struck some com­mon ground. Wheth­er their bill will make it through the Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled Sen­ate in a midterm elec­tion year is un­clear, es­pe­cially since Demo­crats’ midterm agenda is fo­cused on party pri­or­it­ies such as min­im­um wage and equal pay. But this bill and some oth­er pending bi­par­tis­an bills, like one re­form­ing man­dat­ory min­im­um sen­ten­cing from an­oth­er polit­ic­al odd couple (Sens. Dick Durbin and Mike Lee), could get some of the spot­light this year, too.

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