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Better Together

Binyamin Rose, Washington, DC

About 15 years ago, a Jewish entrepreneur from Charleston, South Carolina, took a young, local politician under his wing, and helped him get started in business. Little did the entrepreneur know that more than a decade later the politician would be elected to Congress and that his future son-in-law would serve as the congressman’s top advisor. Meet Rep. Tom Scott (R-SC) and Nick (Nosson) Muzin, who have formed an extraordinary alliance on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

politiciansTheir backgrounds could hardly be more disparate. Tim Scott grew up in a single-parent home inCharleston,South Carolina. Nick Muzin was raised in a stable, Orthodox Jewish home inToronto.

While Scott was at risk of flunking out of high school, Muzin was hurtling along on a fast track to earn medical and legal degrees at Albert Einstein and Yale.

Their divergent paths crossed when Muzin served as legal counsel for his father-in-law’s private equity firm inCharlestonand Tim Scott was running for lieutenant governor, seeking support from the local business community. One of the roles ofSouth Carolina’s lieutenant governor is to oversee the state office on aging, so Scott found that tapping Muzin’s knowledge of health care issues produced added value for his campaign.

When local congressman Henry Brown announced his retirement in early 2010, Muzin called Scott and suggested he drop his race for lieutenant governor and run for Congress instead.

“Tim came over to my house on a Motzaei Shabbos, together with his campaign manager,” says Muzin. “I had prepared what I thought was an outline for a winning campaign. We went through it and Tim said, ‘I think I’m going to go for it.’ ”

Scott did go for it and won in a landslide, with 65 percent of the vote. In doing so, he became one of two African-American Republicans since 1901 to win seats in the House of Representatives while running from former Confederate states.

With Republicans having recaptured control of the House of Representatives and looking for fresh blood, the incoming GOP House leaders tabbed Scott to join the Republicans’ 12-member leadership team. They viewed Scott as a Tea Party conservative who appeals to evangelicals and whose strong election showing demonstrated that Republicans can run on conservative political values and still draw strong support from minorities.

Scott has gotten off to a fast start as a freshman congressman. He sponsored the House bill to de-authorize and rescind funding for ObamaCare and has sponsored legislation to prevent the federal government from interfering with the rights of workers.

Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ Magazine) recently ranked Scott 29th on a list of the 50 most powerful people inWashington, thanks to the fact that his membership on the leadership team places him in the same room every week with House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Scott was also invited to address the recent AIPAC convention, a rarity for a first-term congressman. He met in a small, private gathering with some 70 convention delegates and later joined a panel discussion devoted to bipartisan support forIsraelon Capitol Hill. Even though the ground rules required both parties to uphold the spirit of bipartisanship, Democratic congresswoman Nita Lowey deviated when she advised the crop of Tea Party freshmen to remember when clamoring for budget cuts that foreign aid toIsraelis part of the federal budget.  

“Tim is never one to back down from a challenge,” said Muzin. “While he praised Obama’s AIPAC speech for ‘saying the right things onIran,’ he turned to Lowey and added: ‘But let’s see what Obama says when he’s not speaking to AIPAC.’ ”

“For me, labels like ‘Tea Party’ or ‘conservative Republican’ don’t mean that much,” said Rep. Scott, as we sit side by side in armchairs inSuite1117on the first floor of theLongworthOfficeBuilding, one ofWashington’s three offices for House members. “I look at myself as an American who believes in, and lives by the notion that you have to spend a little less than you make.”

That sounds like old-fashioned, Calvin Coolidge Republicanism, I suggest.

“It’s a simple philosophy,” says Scott. “It really is.” 

 

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