Politics & Government

S.C. Rep. Clyburn rejects doomsday predictions for Democrats

WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn emerged from a strategy meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday and defied doomsday predictions of sweeping Democratic defeat in November.

Clyburn said Obama and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate were upbeat at the White House session to discuss election prospects and craft a legislative agenda for the lame-duck session after the Nov. 2 elections.

"Everybody was upbeat," Clyburn told McClatchy. "The president was upbeat, we were upbeat, our members who left (Washington) last night were upbeat. As I travel the country, I don't hear all this gloom and doom out there that everybody's talking about."

After the White House meeting, Clyburn huddled with Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor, to discuss election prospects.

With most analysts predicting that Republicans will regain control of the House, Clyburn said Democratic control will hold — though with a narrower margin.

The Columbia, S.C., Democrat foresees the number of Democratic seats dropping from its current level of 254 to about 234.

That outcome would leave Democrats with a 234-211 margin in the House — and enable Clyburn to maintain his post as its No. 3 leader.

Clyburn is working hard to prevent a Democratic electoral debacle, campaigning with House incumbents and challengers from California to Florida.

Clyburn, who faces token opposition in Republican billboard salesman Jim Pratt, has given more than $3 million to Democratic House candidates in the current two-year cycle from his leadership PAC.

"(Speaker) Nancy Pelosi just called me an hour ago wanting me to ante up some more money," he said with a laugh. "I told her I don't have that much left in the bank now."

At an earlier meeting Thursday with black bloggers, Clyburn criticized them for being too touch on Obama and his Democratic congressional allies.

"I said to them that many of them have not been as fair as I think they should be in terms of what we've accomplished," he said.

Clyburn asked the bloggers what would have happened if Democratic voters had sat home during the 1964 presidential election because they were upset that voting rights weren't included in the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"Suppose people had said they weren't going to vote in the 1964 election and were just going to leave (President) Lyndon Johnson out there on his own," he said. "Do you think we would have gotten to the Voting Rights Act of 1966?"

Saying that some of Obama's supporters have unreasonable expectations, Clyburn added, "The fact is, you can't make the whole journey in two years."

On his recent campaign trips to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Ohio, Clyburn acknowledged that some Democratic activists complained that the health care bill Obama signed into law in March doesn't contain a public option — government-run health insurance.

Clyburn ticked off the new law's positive changes: insurance plans can't dump chronically ill patients; they must cover employees with preexisting conditions; they can't cap total benefits; young people can remain on their parents' plans until the age of 26.

"I say to them — 'Are you telling me we should not have done those things until we got enough votes to pass a public option?,' Clyburn said "I don't think so."

Clyburn believes that House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, completing his 14th term, will survive being one of the most targeted incumbents in the country.

Clyburn said Spratt, facing S.C. Sen. Mick Mulvaney, is enduring the consequences of "one of the most egregious court decisions ever handed down" — the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in January that removed the ban on corporate political spending.

"The day before yesterday, somebody dropped $250,000 in TV ads against John Spratt," Clyburn said. "Last week some other group dropped $123,000 against him. Nobody knows where this money is coming from. It's a lot of money."

While the economy hasn't improved as much as he'd like, Clyburn said it's significantly better than when Obama took office — with the Dow Jones average almost 3,000 points higher and jobs gains for eight straight months.

In South Carolina, with an unemployment rate of 11 percent, income tax collections totaled $130 million more than projected in the last quarter, Clyburn said.

"It's because people have gone back to work and are paying their taxes," he said.

Clyburn also cited a new consumer-protection agency Congress established and sweeping reforms of the financial services industry.

"When people get to understand what we've done, I think we're going to be fine," he said.

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