WASHINGTON - After President Joe Biden laid out his aims to reshape the U.S. economy and address racial injustice on Wednesday, Republican Senator Tim Scott argued that the Democratic agenda would divide Americans, lower wages and shrink the U.S. economy.
A rising star in his party and the sole Black Republican in the Senate, Scott said Democrats have no interest in working with Republicans on infrastructure legislation and rejected Biden's American Families Plan as a scheme to put Washington at the center of American life "from the cradle to college."
Biden spent parts of his first speech to Congress reaching out to Republicans. He thanked Senate Republicans for proposing an alternative to his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package and welcomed their aid in addressing the U.S. epidemic of gun violence.
He also fist-bumped House Republican Liz Cheney -- a vocal critic of Biden's predecessor, President Donald Trump -- and made friendly references to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"Our president seems like a good man. He speech was full of good words," Scott said in the nationally televised Republican rebuttal to Biden's address.
"But our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes," he added. "Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams."
The South Carolina Republican credited Trump's Operation Warp Speed for the success of the vaccine rollout and attributed the economic recovery to last year's Republican-supported COVID-19 relief.
"This administration inherited a tide that had already turned," Scott said.
A week after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, Biden called on Congress to pass police reform legislation by next month's anniversary of Floyd's death.
Scott, 55, a leading figure in renewed congressional talks on police reform legislation, warned against using race as a political weapon and defended a new Republican state voting law in Georgia that Biden and other Democrats have denounced as a return to Jim Crow segregation.
"Hear me clearly. America is not a racist country," Scott declared.
He said Democratic attacks on Republican state voting laws are a pretext to win support for a Biden-backed democracy bill that Democrats say would strengthen access to the ballot box but Republicans claim would allow a federal takeover of elections.
"This is not about civil rights or our racial past. It's about rigging elections in the future," Scott said in a comment that appeared to evoke Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
His was not the only speech responding to Biden. Unusually, progressive Democrats tapped Representative Jamaal Bowman to deliver their own address afterward.
Bowman, who is also Black, took a sharply different tone: "The proposals that President Biden has put forward over the last few weeks would represent important steps - but don't go as big as we'd truly need," he said.