WASHINGTON — House members unanimously elected Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn and Republican Rep.-elect Tim Scott to powerful leadership posts Wednesday, elevating two South Carolina black lawmakers from opposite parties.
Clyburn's colleagues voted to create a tailor-made leadership post for the Columbia Democrat and then elected him to fill it when the new congressional session starts in January.
Scott's peers chose the North Charleston Republican as one of two newly elected members to represent the largest GOP freshman class in more than a half-century.
The promotion of Clyburn and Scott to top congressional posts signifies how far South Carolina has come from the years when a leading segregationist, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, represented it in Congress — and, more recently, when politicians quarreled over whether the Confederate flag should fly over the statehouse.
"What it says is, we continue to evolve as a state," Scott told McClatchy after nabbing his leadership spot. "The most important characteristics for our constituents are not the obvious ones, but (rather) our characters and our value systems."
Scott, who will replace the retiring Rep. Henry Brown, defeated Thurmond's son, Paul Thurmond, in winning the 1st Congressional District's Republican primary in June and then breezed to victory in the Nov. 2 general election.
Scott, a state representative for the last two years, and Rep.-elect Kristi Noem of South Dakota will join 10 other House Republican leaders led by Speaker-elect John Boehner of Ohio for key strategy sessions and policy meetings.
"I am looking forward to working with leadership to ensure that the central goals of our class — fiscal responsibility, limited government, spending cuts, and a responsible and transparent Congress — remain front and center in the new Congress," Scott said.
Clyburn thanked his Democratic colleagues for their confidence in him.
"The results of the elections a few weeks ago have made it clear that we have work to do to regain the American people's trust in our ability to govern on their behalf," Clyburn said.
Clyburn said the Republican rout in the Nov. 2 elections will prove temporary.
"We have been at similar crossroads before, and we will navigate back to a Democratic majority," he said. "I look forward to working with our tremendous team to create jobs and continue moving our country in the right direction."
The closed-door vote for Clyburn left intact the Democrats' trio of House leaders from the current session of Congress despite calls from some party members to jettison Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the wake of the Democratic election debacle.
Pelosi, who's been the top House leader for almost four years, easily survived a challenge from moderate Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina in a 150-43 vote.
The Pelosi-Shuler contest was the only contested House leadership race for either party. Democrats didn't identify who cast ballots for Pelosi or Shuler in the closed-door vote.
Clyburn was chosen to be assistant Democratic leader, a position Pelosi established to avoid a divisive internal battle between him and Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland for minority whip.
House Democrats elected Pelosi as minority leader and Hoyer as minority whip shortly before voting to place Clyburn in the new post.
With Republicans' regaining the House majority they lost in 2006, Democrats will relinquish the speaker's seat.
That left Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn to vie for the House Democrats' top two remaining posts, minority leader and minority whip.
When Pelosi announced plans two weeks ago to run for minority leader, Hoyer and Clyburn launched bids to be minority whip. Hoyer is currently majority leader, and Clyburn is majority whip.
The Hoyer-Clyburn contest took on racial overtones when 30 lawmakers, none of them African-American, declared their support for Hoyer, and the Congressional Black Caucus came out for Clyburn.
Pelosi, from San Francisco, spent most of last week negotiating with Hoyer and Clyburn before crafting a deal to create the new post.
While Clyburn will remain the highest-ranking African-American lawmaker, Scott will join Allen West of Florida as the first two black Republicans in Congress since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma retired in 2003.
Clyburn will be the only Democrat in South Carolina's eight member congressional delegation in the new Congress following the defeat of House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of York.
(David Lightman of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.)