As the field for the Democratic presidential nomination continues to swell — there were 20 candidates as of April 26 — the eyes of the political world will increasingly turn to South Carolina, one of the earliest primary voting states.
Specifically, many will wonder which candidate will receive the support and endorsement of longtime Sixth District U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip.
On April 25 — during an hourlong, freewheeling conversation with several members of the Columbia press corps — Clyburn said he wasn't yet prepared to endorse a specific candidate.
"I've given considerable thought to it," Clyburn says, adding, after a long pause, "I'm still thinking."
Some prominent South Carolina Democrats are already making endorsements of 2020 candidates. For instance, CNN pundit and former state Rep. Bakari Sellers is throwing his support behind U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, and a number of black members of the state House of Representatives recently endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clyburn says he plans to wait until the primary gets closer to endorse. The S.C. Democratic primary is on Feb. 29, 2020.
But the longtime congressman couldn't help but take notice of the most recent entrant in the large Democratic field: former Vice President Joe Biden, who formally announced his long-teased candidacy on April 25.
"I've known him well and I think he's a great guy," Clyburn says. "I think he will add significantly to this discussion. You have to be pragmatic about how you do government. And to have someone in the mix who's had this kind of extended experience will allow the conversation to get to where I think it needs to be. Everybody will be out there running. ... Biden being in it certainly adds a lot of experience and wisdom to it that I think will be beneficial to everybody.
"I think the numbers indicate he enters as the frontrunner. His challenge is going to be in maintaining that status. We'll see whether or not he'll be able to do that."
The congressman also shared his position on possible impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, based on the findings in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's recently released report into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Some Democrats have continued to push toward the idea of impeachment, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped the brakes.
Clyburn says Democrats should be measured in their response and fact-gathering in the wake of the Mueller report.
"Impeachment is not a legal question, it is a political question," the congressman says. "When you are going to make a political decision, it should be an informed one. The way to be informed and to inform the public is to go through the process. We ought to have hearings, each one of the committees doing their hearings. Hearings will allow the public to look in on this stuff and develop attitudes about it.
"And it will give us the kind of record that will let us know whether or not this man is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. ... I think that we would do a tremendous disservice to the political process were we to short circuit and go immediately into some kind of impeachment process without having the kinds of hearings that will be informative and educational and people will know exactly what it is we're dealing with."
Clyburn also has his eye on the possibility of an infrastructure bill in 2019. Such a bill has long been thought to be a place where Democrats and Trump could find some common ground.
The House Majority Whip says he'll work toward a bill that could lead to hundreds of millions — if not a trillion — dollars in infrastructure upgrades nationwide, but insists that he wants to make sure the expansion of broadband internet availability, particularly to rural areas, is part of the discussion.
"We are not going to be able to get an adequate education to our children if you don't have broadband," Clyburn says. "We are not going to be able to deliver healthcare to citizens throughout rural South Carolina without broadband. We, in South Carolina, seem to be focused [that] whatever is minimally adequate for education is enough. That, to me, is not a good standard.
"I am going to be as strong as an advocate for broadband being a big part of the next infrastructure package as I ever have been for anything in my life, because I am convinced that is going to be key to whether or not we have any real opportunities open up to people in rural America."