There was a moment this week when it appeared there could be a nasty challenge to the Democratic leadership standing of South Carolina’s U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.
It didn’t because, according to U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Clyburn is “ridiculously loyal.” And that, he added, avoided “an explosion” within the already stumbling Democratic Party.
Clyburn of Columbia was re-elected Wednesday as assistant House minority leader, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.
On the heels of Democrats’ failure Nov. 8 to take control of the House, Senate or president’s office, there have been calls for younger party leaders in the House.
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Earlier this week, embattled Nancy Pelosi, 76, appeared to be trying to bolster her chances of re-election as House minority leader by offering Clyburn’s leadership spot to a younger member. However, it was a notion that died quickly, and Clyburn, also 76, was returned to his position without challenge Wednesday.
Pelosi, D-Calif., was re-elected — 134-63 — withstanding a challenge from U.S. 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.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who nominated Clyburn to return to his leadership role, said a Democrat from a deeply red and Southern state is what the party needs right now as it laments its failure to win over white, working-class voters in recent elections. “Clyburn is one of the strongest advocates in Congress for working-class families,” Richmond said.
Former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Richard Harpootlian said Clyburn also has been a strong advocate for South Carolina. Being the third-ranking member among House Democrats means 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,” Harpootlian said. “He makes sure that South Carolina is considered in everything that happens in Congress.”
U.S. 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 had stood up during a Congressional Black Caucus meeting to announce he would oppose “anything that’s trying to hurt Jim Clyburn, that’s trying to challenge his position” and watched heads nod in support as he spoke.
He called Clyburn “one of the shrewdest people in the Democratic caucus.”
Had Clyburn used the outpouring of support that he has received to voice even slight disappointment with Pelosi, “he could have really twisted the knife,” Cleaver said. “It could have hurt her. But he’s ridiculously loyal.”