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Sen. Tim Scott says polarization one of the "greatest national security issues"

Extended interview: Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy
Extended interview: Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy 29:57

Sen. Tim Scott, the self-described "highest ranking African American in politics today" who grew up in a poor, single-parent home and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who grew up in an affluent white family, view their friendship as an unlikely one.

But it's exactly the kind of friendship they believe is needed to bring about more unity in a politically and racially divided time. Both of the South Carolina Republicans sat down with CBS News' "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan to talk about their new book, "Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country." 

"Well, we were raised very differently, we have different perspectives," Scott told Brennan. "While we're both Republicans, the reality of it is we come down very differently on a lot of the issues. I think about -- an affluent fellow from a doctor's house. A poor kid, single parent household."

Scott laid out what he hopes readers will take away from reading their book. 

"I think if you look at the polarization that exists in this country, we have to find a path back to being one nation. I found that path through a horrific church shooting that provided me a chance to reflect on progress and pain," said Scott. 

He added, "I think it's perhaps one of the greatest national security issues we have in this country -- that if we allow the polarization to continue in this country, those outside of this country that want to bring harm will eat, will feast on the division in this country and create more polarization."

Sen. Scott: "We have to find a path back to being one nation" 17:55

Gowdy agreed, saying he has drawn inspiration from Scott's life ever since they became friends. Scott's story, he said, benefits the country.

"I think he has a compelling life narrative," Gowdy said, asked why they wrote the book. "I find it inspirational from the moment we became friends. I think his -- the story of how he got where he is, is a story of hope that our whole country would benefit from. I think contrast is good. I think conflict is debilitating. We're in a dangerous time in our in our history in terms of political discourse ... I think there's a hunger and a yearning for unity. And if you can find it with a handsome bald headed guy from Charleston and a middle aged son of a doctor from the upstate of South Carolina then I think everyone can benefit from unlikely friendships."

That 2015 mass murder of nine black worshippers at Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina, committed by Dylan Roof, is what drew them closer together. 

"I think about the challenges of race in our state," Scott continued. "We have a very provocative history on race in South Carolina. The truth is that after the 2015 Mother Emanuel Church shooting, I found myself turning to a white guy in the aftermath. It became clear to me that there is a chance to bridge real gaps in this country. And if that was an example of one real bridging of a gap -- after a racially motivated shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, led me to turn to a white guy that I did not know before I came to Congress. Are there lessons within this friendship that can help our nation that seems to be so polarized, in such conflict, mired in challenges, and sometimes heading towards tribalism? If there's a way to bridge that gap, can we and should we tell that story? I think we can, and I think we should, and we did."

Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy on racial divides in America 02:41

The congressman said the shooter's intention to start a race war that fateful day had the opposite effect, recalling the phone call he received after the Charleston shooting. 

"We have a provocative history in our state when it comes to race," Gowdy said. "My first thought was a spiritual thought: 'God, how can you let nine people be murdered when all they wanted to do was go learn about you?' And then, 'What it would mean to a black man to know that they were murdered simply because of the color of their skin?' It just, kind of a, 'Let's don't -- oh Lord, let's don't go here again in South Carolina.'"

But America still has much further to go in healing race relations, something evidenced by the violence in Charlottesville last summer, Scott noted. Scott criticized President Trump last year, after the president blamed "both sides" for the deadly day. Scott met with Mr. Trump shortly after that event.

"I will say that when I went to the president after the Charlottesville incident, he asked me, what could he do?" Scott said. "We were not on the same page as it relates to the history of race in this nation. But we found a common position on legislative remedies that could help people in distressed communities. The opportunity zones that we're talking about throughout this country, the president said he would commit to supporting that legislation. He did. It's now law and now 50 million Americans may see reasons to breathe hopefully about the future because of that legislation that will bring more resources into distressed communities."

Scott stood by his previous position that the president isn't racist, but is racially insensitive. 

"Absolutely. Yeah, the president is not a racist, but is he racially insensitive? I think the answer is yes," Scott said. 

Gowdy said the police shooting of an unarmed 22-year-old black man, Stephon Clark, is part of a "national conversation." White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called it a "local matter" earlier this week. 

"No, it's a national conversation," Gowdy said. "I actually took the 'local matter' to be, maybe because I'm a prosecutor, that it's a state crime. That it's a local law enforcement matter, from a criminal justice standpoint. But it's a national conversation. Tim knows my bias, I'll put that word in quotes, is towards law enforcement, as you would expect a prosecutor's to be. I am not oblivious to the fact that there are bad police officers, just like there are bad everything else."

"He has helped me remarkably," Gowdy said of Scott. "Not just him, but also other people of color in my life have helped me understand. Every interaction I've had with the police, it's been because I was speeding. I should have had an interaction with them. I've never been stopped by Capitol Police, and I don't wear a member pin. He's been stopped wearing a member pin. So I am naive to believe that my life experience covers everyone. I have no idea what he sees when he sees blue lights. And I think he's benefited. Well, I know he has. He calls the widows of fallen police officers before I call them in South Carolina. So he gets the dangerous side of it, but he is also a black man who's had a very different relationship with law enforcement than I have."

Their book, "Unified," will be released Tuesday.

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