WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn previously said he wanted to stay neutral between the two remaining Democratic presidential contenders, but now he appears to be reconsidering.
The third-ranking House Democrat on Capitol Hill and arguably South Carolina’s most influential black lawmaker told The Post and Courier on Wednesday that he planned to make a decision “later this week” on entering the fray.
Clyburn would not say outright whether he was leaning toward endorsing Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. He hinted, however, it would have to be Clinton, given his pressure to endorse was coming mainly from his family members.
“I have a wife and three daughters, so you figure it out!” Clyburn said with a long laugh. “And two granddaughters!”
But Clyburn later said he didn’t know how his daughters planned to vote, further complicating anyone’s ability to predict his next course of action. He would only say, “They’re telling me I need to take a stand.”
On Wednesday afternoon, he told MSNBC he would not be making any announcement this week. The Washington Post first reported the possibility.
Clyburn is becoming something of an island in his Washington circles for not getting on the Clinton bandwagon. He is one of the last holdouts in House Democratic leadership to endorse Clinton, and also one of the last members of the Congressional Black Caucus to decline picking a side.
Virtually every member of the CBC has publicly endorsed Clinton, and on Thursday morning the CBC’s official political action committee will formally endorse the former Secretary of State, according to the PAC’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. Meeks said “90 percent” of the PAC’s 20-member board voted to endorse Clinton, with the remaining members abstaining. Of the 20 board members, seven are sitting members of Congress.
Next week, nearly a dozen CBC colleagues will descend on his home state to stump for Clinton. They’ll be taking aim at black churches, barbershops and community centers to secure Clinton’s stronghold with the African-American base ahead of South Carolina’s Feb. 27 Democratic primary.
Clyburn might feel at a certain point he has no other choice than to speak out for Clinton, who is still leading in state polls but is taking nothing for granted after just squeaking a victory over Sanders in Iowa and losing unceremoniously to him in New Hampshire.
Still, as of Wednesday afternoon, Clyburn was denying any significant pressure was coming from lawmakers. Several of his CBC colleagues offered confirmation of that fact, though they didn’t pretend Clyburn’s endorsement would be insignificant.
“Mr. Clyburn is so well respected in South Carolina, anyone that he would endorse would get significant votes because of it,” said CBC chairman G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.
“I don’t think there is any one thing that’s critical,” said a former CBC chairwoman, Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, “but I clearly give (Clyburn’s endorsement) a high priority.”
Emma Dumain is the Washington correspondent for The Post and Courier.