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Clyburn Vows Independence as Assistant Leader

Tom Williams/Roll Call

In a wide-ranging interview in the lush office that he’s about to relinquish to the GOP, Majority Whip James Clyburn vowed to be an independent voice with a broad portfolio in the newly created post of Assistant Leader.

The South Carolina Democrat was elected to the post by acclamation Wednesday, and he spoke Thursday with Roll Call about where his party went wrong during the past two years, where it needs to go and the expansive new role that he plans to play.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) created the Assistant Leader post for Clyburn late last week after Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) gained the edge in a divisive battle for Minority Whip in the next Congress.

Clyburn made it clear that he will not be beholden to Pelosi. “One of the reasons I insisted this position had to be elected by the body was in order for me to have an independent portfolio,” he said. “There will be times I will agree with the Speaker ... there will be times when I will agree with Steny Hoyer and there will be times when I may not. This should not be an extension of her office.”

But he endorsed her decision to stay on as Minority Leader despite the fact that 43 returning Members voted Wednesday to fire her as leader. In an earlier vote, 68 unsuccessfully sought to postpone the leadership elections.

“The question is, who can best get us to where we need to be? ... She brought us out of 12 years in the wilderness into the land of milk and honey. Now, we didn’t stay there but four years, but if she’s done it before, she can do it again. I believe that,” he said.

Clyburn acknowledged that that some Members suggested he run for leader, an idea he quickly dismissed. “I don’t think that I could raise the money that’s necessary to do what needs to be done. ... I may think well of myself, but I’m not stupid,” he said.

Clyburn said there’s no ill will between him and Hoyer over the Minority Whip race. “Look, man, I’m too old for that, and Steny’s too old, too,” he said.

He discussed the race almost daily with Hoyer, he said. “If this goes to a vote, the people that I represent, the people we need to keep in this party, will be upset if I lose,” Clyburn said he told Hoyer. “I said if this goes to a vote, and you were to lose, the people we need to bring into this party are going to be upset. ... And I thought he had a clearer path to victory.”

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