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Rep. James Clyburn (D)

South Carolina | District 6

Leadership: House Assistant Democratic Leader

jclyburn@mail.house.gov

clyburn.house.gov

Biography

Elected: 1992, 12th term.

Born: July 21, 1940, Sumter, SC

Home: Columbia, SC

Education: SC St. U., B.A. 1962

Professional Career: Teacher, 1962–66; Dir., Charleston Neighborhood Youth Corps, 1966–68; Exec. dir., SC Comm. for Farm Workers, 1968–71; Asst., SC Gov. West, 1971–74; SC Human Affairs Comm., 1974–92.

Ethnicity: Black/African American

Religion: African Methodist Episcopal

Family: Married (Emily England) , 3 children

James Clyburn, a Democrat elected in 1992, is the the highest ranking African-American in Congress and the dean of his state’s otherwise all-Republican delegation. He is the assistant minority leader, the third-ranking position in the House Democratic leadership—a job created for him after his party lost its House majority in 2011.

Clyburn grew up in Sumter, the son of a minister, and was educated at a private, all-black boarding school. As a young man, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which took its cues from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1960, he was one of seven people who organized the state’s first sit-ins, at a five-and-dime store in the Orangeburg town square. He met his wife while in jail for three days. Clyburn worked as a teacher, as an employment counselor, and in government antipoverty programs. In 1970, he ran for the South Carolina House and lost narrowly. Democratic Gov. John West appointed Clyburn as state Human Affairs commissioner, and he served 18 years, under two Democratic and two Republican governors. He ran twice for secretary of state, in 1978 and 1986, losing narrowly.

Then, the new black-majority 6th District was created. Clyburn ran for the seat and in the Democratic primary won 56% of the vote against four African-American opponents, all with serious claims to the nomination. Clyburn was better known, ran first or second in every part of the district, and piled up 88% of the vote in his home county of Sumter. Clyburn became the first African-American to represent South Carolina in Congress since George Washington Murray (a distant relative of his) left in 1897. He has not faced serious opposition for reelection.

In the House, Clyburn established a moderate-to-liberal voting record and, in his early years, focused on local priorities. He also joined the moderate New Democrat Coalition at its inception in 1997, the only African-American House member to do so. Like other South Carolina lawmakers, he is a proponent of expanding the use of nuclear power, which provides more than half of the state’s electricity. On the Appropriations Committee from 1998 to 2006, Clyburn focused on securing federal funds to develop the Interstate 95 corridor, which passes through rural counties in the district that historically were dependent on tobacco and cotton. The House twice passed his bill to create a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor from northern Florida to North Carolina.

Clyburn was chosen as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1999, and in that role, he urged the Democratic National Committee to become more responsive to African-Americans. After the 2002 election, he ran for vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, arguing that the leadership needed to better reflect the party’s diversity. He prevailed with 95 votes to 56 for New York Rep. Gregory Meeks and 53 for California Rep. Zoe Lofgren. In 2006, he was elected Democratic Caucus chairman, the No. 4 position in the party leadership, and later that year, after Democrats won control of the House, he was chosen majority whip, the No. 3 post. Then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois also wanted to be whip but had less seniority than Clyburn, and he backed down at the urging of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who favored Clyburn. Emanuel took Clyburn’s spot as Democratic Caucus chairman in recognition of his work raising money and successfully recruiting challengers in the pivotal 2006 election, when he chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Clyburn sought enhanced influence for his whip organization in crafting policy, a way of getting more points of view from across party factions into the process of drafting major legislation. In 2007, he held a series of “listening sessions” with Democrats to explore options for an immigration bill. He also coordinated the House’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leading the Hurricane Katrina Task Force, which had regular meetings with local officials. “I truly believe that if the demographics of the affected areas had been different, the response of the federal government would have been different,” he said in a 2007 speech in Baton Rouge. Clyburn also finessed a solution to a longstanding complaint by the CBC that they were prevented from advancing in the Democratic caucus because they couldn’t pay their “dues” by raising large amounts of political donations in their disproportionately low-income districts. Clyburn convinced Pelosi to adopt a modified system that rewarded Democrats for non-financial contributions, such as making appearances for candidates and doing press interviews.

As the most prominent black politician in the state, Clyburn has been a player in South Carolina’s often pivotal Democratic presidential primary. In 2004, after his first choice candidate, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, withdrew after the Iowa caucuses, Clyburn endorsed front-runner John Kerry rather than South Carolina native John Edwards. Although he did not take sides in the 2008 primary, he clashed with Hillary Clinton when she seemed to suggest that President Lyndon Johnson, in signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, had a more important role than King and other key civil rights figures at the time. He later wrote in his 2014 memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black that an angry Bill Clinton called to personally blame him for his wife's defeat in the primary.

As the leader of an older generation of civil rights leaders, he was initially skeptical that Obama could win the nomination. When Obama clinched it in June 2008, Clyburn told a radio interviewer that he went home to watch it alone on television “because what I was feeling was indescribable, and I was afraid that I would not be able to control my emotions.”

After the election, Clyburn got into an unusual conflict with Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who said that he would not use all of the money available to South Carolina in the Democrats’ economic stimulus bill enacted in February 2009. Clyburn called the action a “slap in the face” to the predominately black constituents who would benefit. He also wrote a clause into the $787 billion stimulus bill that enabled state legislatures to bypass governors who rejected the money. Clyburn took on another South Carolina conservative, House colleague Joe Wilson, after Wilson infamously called out “You lie!” during Obama’s health care address to Congress in 2009. Clyburn pressed a resolution formally reproaching Wilson for a breach of House rules, which passed on a largely party-line vote.

When Democrats lost the House majority in 2010, they no longer controlled the speakership and so lost one spot in their leadership lineup. Pelosi became leader, the top job in the minority. But a battle shaped up for the No. 2 position of minority whip between Clyburn and former majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Both had a legitimate claim: Clyburn had already been doing the whip’s job for four years in the majority, and for his part, Hoyer had a right to expect to remain in a No. 2 role, as he had in the majority. An intense, behind-the-scenes rivalry unfolded, with each camp touting his greater level of support in the caucus. To avoid a divisive outcome, Pelosi created the new job of assistant leader and made it the No. 3 post in the minority hierarchy. Clyburn was named assistant leader, and Hoyer became minority whip.

Clyburn’s new job wasn’t well-defined, but he used it to become one of his party’s main messengers. After the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, he compared the push for gun control to the civil rights movement. When President Barack Obama’s health care law was a hot topic on the 2012 campaign trail, he told a gathering of South Carolina Democrats, “Do not be afraid to use the term ‘Obamacare.’ You should be proud of Obamacare.” He spoke out forcefully against state voter-identification laws that he and other critics said disenfranchised minority voters. He also occasionally did spin control, such as after Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley answered “no” when asked if Americans were better off than they were four years earlier. “I think the governor was trying not to be too boastful,” Clyburn told reporters. But he wasn’t always on the same page as other Democrats; an Obama campaign spokeswoman disavowed his May 2012 remark that Republican Mitt Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital was guilty of “raping” other companies.

During the frequent closed-door talks on taxes and spending in the 112th Congress (2011-12), Clyburn went to bat for low-income minorities. At one such meeting in June 2011, according to Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do, he listened to Minority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., propose turning food stamps into a block grant program and allowing states to do what they wanted with the money. “If you knew the history of my state, you wouldn’t be in favor of that,” Clyburn reportedly responded. Cantor never mentioned the idea again, although Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, resurrected it as part of his 2012 budget proposal.

Black Caucus members in February 2013 suggested Clyburn as a potential replacement for former Rep. Ray LaHood as secretary of Transportation, but his spokesman shot down the idea. Several months later, he joined other Black Caucus members in blasting a Supreme Court decision that struck down a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Even before I came to Congress, there has been a drift away from the Voting Rights Act," he said. "And I think it is just the Supreme Court using an excuse to do what they didn’t have good excuse to do before.”

For months before Republicans added to their majority in the November 2014 midterm elections, Clyburn repeatedly predicted that the GOP would find "some reason" to impeach Obama. “These Republicans have decided that this president must have an asterisk by his name when he leaves office, irrespective of whether or not he gets convicted,” he told MSNBC. Republican leaders repeatedly rejected such asssertions. But most of his attention came from publishing Blessed Experiences. He told The Post & Courier of Charleston that writing the book made him realize he was "much more faith-based than I thought I was ... I just found out those teachings in that parsonage [during childhood] shaped me more than I ever through, and I don't know if I would have come to grips with that if I had not written this book."

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-3315

(202) 225-2313

CHOB- Cannon House Office Building Room 242
Washington, DC 20515-4006

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-3315

(202) 225-2313

CHOB- Cannon House Office Building Room 242
Washington, DC 20515-4006

DISTRICT OFFICE

(803) 799-1100

(803) 799-9060

1225 Lady Street Suite 200
Columbia, SC 29201-3347

DISTRICT OFFICE

(803) 799-1100

(803) 799-9060

1225 Lady Street Suite 200
Columbia, SC 29201-3347

DISTRICT OFFICE

(843) 355-1211

(843) 355-1232

130 West Main Street
Kingstree, SC 29556-3344

DISTRICT OFFICE

(843) 355-1211

(843) 355-1232

130 West Main Street
Kingstree, SC 29556-3344

DISTRICT OFFICE

(803) 854-4700

(803) 854-4900

176 Brooks Boulevard
Santee, SC 29142

DISTRICT OFFICE

(803) 854-4700

(803) 854-4900

176 Brooks Boulevard
Santee, SC 29142

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

501 Juniper Street
Columbia, SC 29203

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

501 Juniper Street
Columbia, SC 29203

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Trade

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Chief of Staff

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Chief of Staff

Transportation

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Election Results

2012 GENERAL
James Clyburn
Votes: 218,717
Percent: 94.42%
Nammu Muhammad
Votes: 12,920
Percent: 5.58%
2012 PRIMARY
James Clyburn
Unopposed
2010 GENERAL
James Clyburn
Votes: 125,459
Percent: 62.86%
Jim Pratt
Votes: 72,661
Percent: 36.41%
2010 PRIMARY
James Clyburn
Votes: 50,138
Percent: 90.07%
Gregory Brown
Votes: 5,527
Percent: 9.93%
2008 GENERAL
James Clyburn
Votes: 193,378
Percent: 67.48%
Nancy Harrelson
Votes: 93,059
Percent: 32.47%
2008 PRIMARY
James Clyburn
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (63%), 2008 (67%), 2006 (64%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (72%), 1998 (73%), 1996 (69%), 1994 (64%), 1992 (65%)

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