Politics & Government

Top black lawmaker slams Obama over advice to New York governor

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC)
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) Chuck Kennedy/MCT

WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, in an unusual public spat involving three of the nation's most prominent black politicians, criticized President Barack Obama for reportedly pressuring New York Gov. David Paterson not to seek a full term.

In an interview for broadcast Sunday on "Washington Watch With Roland Martin," a new talk show, Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress and a close Obama ally, reacted sharply to published reports that Obama emissaries had advised the unpopular incumbent against running next year.

"Now, I am not saying that anything in this process was done correctly," Clyburn told Martin, a CNN political analyst whose new show will air on TV One, a cable channel that's geared toward black viewers and reaches 50 millions homes nationwide.

"In fact, I abhor what I hear," Clyburn said. "If what I hear is true, it was absolutely done in a sophomoric way."

Clyburn made his comments Friday, when Martin's program was recorded. They were part of a transcript provided to reporters Saturday by TV One.

Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, was a key campaign supporter of Obama, helping to persuade other Democratic "superdelegates" to back him against then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in their primary battle.

Paterson, who was lieutenant governor, became New York's first black governor in March 2008 when a prostitute scandal forced Gov. Eliot Spitzer to resign.

Paterson's low approval ratings have prompted fears among Democrats that if he seeks election in 2010, he'll drag down other party candidates running for Congress or other posts.

The coming election year is unusual, because both of New York's U.S. Senators — Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — are on the ballot. Paterson appointed Gillibrand, a member of the House of Representatives, to the Senate in January to succeed Clinton, who became Secretary of State. Gillibrand now faces election for a full term, and the Democrats' filibuster-proof Senate majority could hang in the balance.

Obama was scheduled Saturday evening to address a Washington dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus, with Clyburn attending. Obama belonged to the influential Democratic group as a senator from Illinois until he resigned his seat in November, shortly after his election as president.

Clyburn and other black lawmakers pushed the House to pass a Sept. 15 reprimand of fellow South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican, for having yelled "You lie!" the previous week as Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on live TV.

Vice President Joe Biden, appearing on Martin's new program in a separate segment, said Obama hadn't directly asked Paterson not to seek re-election.

However, senior Obama aides earlier didn't deny previously published reports that emissaries of the president had interceded in the New York race.

Biden sent a strong signal that Paterson should step aside if he appears to be facing political defeat.

"But there's a reality that I think the governor has to decide upon, and the Democratic Party has to decide upon — how are we going to win?" Biden told Martin. "If it can be shown that he can win, then he should stay in the race."

Clyburn also acknowledged the importance of holding the governor's seat, saying that "the fact of the matter is you have other political considerations to make."

Clyburn, though, added that he was a "great friend" of Paterson's father and didn't appreciate the White House's involvement in the governor's political fortunes.

"There is a way to deal with these kinds of things, and for some strange reason, some pretty astute politicians dealt with it wrongly, in my opinion," Clyburn said.

(William Douglas contributed to this article.)


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