Rep. Jim Clyburn touted for transportation secretary by Congressional Black Caucus

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 7, 2013 

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus is urging President Barack Obama to nominate House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of Columbia to become the next U.S. secretary of transportation.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, chairwoman of the group of African-American lawmakers, made the request in a letter to Obama on Monday, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy.

“Congressman Clyburn’s legacy of public service to the American people and to the citizens of his congressional district is one of honor and distinction,” Fudge wrote to Obama.

An aide to Fudge said Wednesday she had not received a response from Obama. White House aides did not respond to requests for comment.

The 72-year-old Clyburn, of Columbia, did not rule out the possibility that he might accept the post, which oversees billions of dollars in federal funding for highways and bridges across the country, were Obama to nominate him.

“He is proud and honored that some of his colleagues think enough of him to recommend him for transportation secretary, but the only job change Mr. Clyburn is working on is once again becoming (House) majority whip when the American people reject the Republicans’ failed leadership and extreme partisan gamesmanship and Democrats win back the House,” said Patrick Devlin, a Clyburn spokesman.

Clyburn, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is at least the third African-American lawmaker that Fudge has asked Obama to add to his Cabinet in recent weeks.

“Congressman Clyburn is an exceptionally well-qualified, proven candidate,” Fudge wrote to Obama. “It is without reservation that I urge you to strongly consider this recommendation.”

In a Jan. 10 letter, Fudge asked Obama to nominate U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, as commerce secretary and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Calif., to be secretary of labor.

If nominated and confirmed, Clyburn would replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, the state Obama represented in the U.S. Senate before he became president. LaHood announced plans to leave his post last week.

Obama has been criticized by some black, Hispanic and female lawmakers for having appointed too many white men to head the most important executive agencies, some with little experience working on Capitol Hill.

Since winning re-election in November, Obama has nominated three white men to top Cabinet posts – White House chief of staff Jack Lew to become treasury secretary, then-U.S.. Sen. John Kerry to become secretary of state, and former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to become secretary of defense.

The Senate confirmed Kerry last week. He replaces Hillary Clinton, who had been the most prominent female member of Obama’s Cabinet.

Hagel had a contentious confirmation hearing last week, while Lew has not had a Senate hearing yet.

The pressure on Obama to increase the number of women and minorities among his top aides has increased since the November election, when female, black, Hispanic and Asian voters backed him by large margins, fueling his defeat of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Obama defended himself at a news conference last week, noting Clinton and Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, held top posts in his first term, and he also nominated two women to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“People should expect that the record will be built on during the next four years,” Obama said then. “But I would suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments, who is on the White House staff and who is in my Cabinet, before they rush to judgment.”

Lawmakers also want Obama to appoint people with experience on Capitol Hill and good relationships with current members of Congress.

Obama’s nomination Wednesday of Sally Jewell, chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc., to head the Interior Department would add a woman to his Cabinet but one with no Capitol Hill experience.

Clyburn, South Carolina’s only congressional Democrat, also long has supported transportation projects, contending his district – largely impoverished – needs more investment in infrastructure to attract jobs and development.

Not all of Clyburn’s ideas, however, have been well-received.

For example, the congressman was the driving force behind a now-dormant proposal to build a bridge over the upper portion of Lake Marion that would have connected the sparsely populated communities of Lone Star and Rimini.

Environmentalists attacked the bridge as unneeded, too expensive and threatening the pristine Sparkleberry Swamp.

State staffers Jamie Self and Sammy Fretwell contributed to this article

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