U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn could find himself in hot water.
A flippant response the Columbia Democrat made to reporters while walking in the Capitol is drawing the ire of many.
When asked about sexual harassment allegations against colleague Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Clyburn seemed to suggest elected officials should be held to a different standard than other public figures.
In a video posted on Twitter, the 77-year-old Clyburn is walking to an elevator with Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), when asked “Other men in other industries have faced similar accusations … and gotten out of the way, resign, stepped down, far faster than he has, right … Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer?”
Clyburn’s response, “Who elected them?”
That was followed by another question, “So it’s different because he’s elected,” but the elevator doors closed before Clyburn might have responded.
A HIGHER STANDARD
But after 5 p.m., Clyburn posted his official statement regarding a House Resolution that read very differently than the flippant response to reporters in the halls of the Capitol.
“As elected officials, we ought to be held to a higher standard,” Clyburn said in his statement. “Congress must review and improve the current administrative procedure for victims to come forward. All harassment and discrimination allegations must be taken seriously.”
This might have been in response to the criticism leveled at Clyburn.
Many comments critical of Clyburn have been posted on social media. Among them, people are questioning his logic, asking him to resign – in delicate and powerful terms – and calling him a poor representative of South Carolina.
After the backlash, Clyburn released his statement to Congress. In it, he said he strongly supported the House Resolution “which would require each Member, officer and employee of the House to complete anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training.
“Enacting this legislation ought to be a first step toward affirming with one voice that there is absolutely no place for discrimination nor harassment of any kind in the halls of Congress.”
A writer for The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic tweeted that Clyburn invoked the name of Susan Smith, South Carolina’s infamous child murderer, in his defense of Conyers.
“James Clyburn compared Conyers’ accusers to the child murderer Susan Smith, who initially claimed a black man had abducted her kids. Clyburn said, these are all white women who’ve made these charges against Conyers,” Robert Draper tweeted.
When asked if that comment was true, Draper said he verified it through two sources, adding “Clyburn has used the Susan Smith parallel more than once, to members & staffers.”
Clyburn responded on Twitter, saying “This is inaccurate in many regards.”
The Congressional Black Caucus tweeted about the alleged Susan Smith comment, saying Clyburn “used the Smith example to illustrate the dangers of convicting people before getting all the facts.”
This isn’t the first time Clyburn has opened himself up to criticism on the issue of Conyers.
On Nov. 21, the assistant Democratic leader, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House told The New York Times he was unsure whether the claims against Conyers “have any real substance.”
“You can’t jump to conclusions with these type of things,” Clyburn told The New York Times. “For all I know, all of this could be made up.”
The following day, Nov. 22, Clyburn had a somewhat different on Twitter.
Clyburn tweeted that any claims of sexual harassment are very serious and can’t be tolerated.
“The allegations against Congressman John Conyers are very disturbing, and I am aware he has emphatically denied them,” Clyburn wrote. “The House Ethics Committee should conduct a prompt, deliberate and thorough investigation.”
Clyburn might not be in the minority among his peers on this issue.
The Democratic caucus held a meeting Wednesday morning, and according to a post on Twitter, Rep. Linda Sanchez complained that elected members of Congress shouldn’t “be held to a higher standard” than others when it comes to sexual harassment.
Conyers, the longest serving member of the U.S. House, is currently being investigated by the U.S. House Ethics Committee after BuzzFeed News first reported the 88-year-old representative settled a wrongful termination complaint in 2015 by a staffer who accused him of sexual harassment.
NOT GOING ANYWHERE
Conyers has denied the allegations and resisted calls for his resignation, but stepped down from his role as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
On Monday, Clyburn asserted he isn’t planning on retiring after 25 years on the job. He said he will seek re-election next year as the incumbent in the South Carolina’s 6th District congressional seat.
“My health is good. I feel fine,” Clyburn said, adding, “I don’t think I’ve detected any angst with the voting public about my service.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s statement to Congress
U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (SC) released the following statement for the record on H.Res.630:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.Res.630, which would require each Member, officer and employee of the House to complete anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training. Enacting this legislation ought to be a first step toward affirming with one voice that there is absolutely no place for discrimination nor harassment of any kind in the halls of Congress. But we must also do more than agree to mandatory training.
“As elected officials, we ought to be held to a higher standard. Congress must review and improve the current administrative procedure for victims to come forward. All harassment and discrimination allegations must be taken seriously. After enacting this measure, Congress must streamline the process, protect victims that wish to be protected, and ensure all allegations of wrongdoing are investigated with professionalism, urgency and due process.
“I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation and encourage the House to take whatever administrative steps are necessary to make it easier for victims to come forward. More importantly, I respectfully ask all of my colleagues to take a close look inward at themselves and their offices and to put an immediate end to the cultural climate that has allowed harassment and discrimination to tarnish the institution of Congress. We can do better and we must.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield back.”