There was a moment this week when what appeared to be a challenge to the leadership standing of South Carolina’s Rep. Jim Clyburn could have turned nasty.
It didn’t because, according to Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Clyburn is “ridiculously loyal.” And that, he added, avoided “an explosion” within the already stumbling Democratic Party.
Clyburn, as the assistant to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. On the heels of the party’s failure to take control of the House, Senate or president’s office in the November elections, there were calls for change within the party’s House leadership. The leadership, some younger members were saying, was too old.
Pelosi, 76, appeared to be bolstering her authority by offering the also-76-year-old Clyburn’s spot to a younger member. It was a notion that died quickly, and Wednesday afternoon Clyburn was returned to his position without challenge. Pelosi was re-elected to her role, as well, though there was a strong challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.
Clyburn said he was humbled by the support.
“Looking forward, I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where they do not have to fear the next decision of the Supreme Court of the United States for the impact it could have on their lives and communities,” he said in a statement.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who officially nominated Clyburn to return to his powerful role, said a Democrat from a deeply red and Southern state was what the party needed right now as it lamented its failure among white, working-class voters in the recent elections.
“I think Clyburn is one of the strongest advocates in Congress for working-class families,” Richmond said.
Democrats were spending a lot of time Wednesday talking about failures in this last election. They’d assumed backing among many who were considered traditional supporters, but too many looked elsewhere in the presidential election. The party needed a new approach to getting out its message, but that didn’t mean it needed new leaders, lawmakers said.
Former South Carolina Democratic leader Richard Harpootlian said Clyburn also was a strong advocate for the state. Being the third-ranking member among Democrats means that Clyburn is in the room for important decisions and negotiations.
“It’s important for South Carolina that Jim Clyburn will continue to wield a tremendous amount of influence,” he said. “He makes sure that South Carolina is considered in everything that happens in Congress.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said he understood the thinking behind wanting younger members in leadership roles but couldn’t see removing an effective leader.
“If what we wanted to accomplish was showmanship, then, yes, we should have tossed out everyone in the leadership and started from scratch,” Engel said. “But that’s not the smart way forward. I don’t believe in the sort of thinking that removes someone from authority just because they’re older than 70.”
Cleaver said he’d stood up during a Congressional Black Caucus meeting to announce he’d oppose “anything that’s trying to hurt Jim Clyburn, that’s trying to challenge his position” and that he watched heads nod in support as he spoke.
He called Clyburn “one of the shrewdest people in the Democratic caucus.”
In fact, he said, had Clyburn used the outpouring of support to voice even slight disappointment in Pelosi’s actions, “he could have really twisted the knife. It could have hurt her. But he’s ridiculously loyal.”