James Clyburn Steps Down From House Leadership Role

February 14, 2024 by Dan McCue
James Clyburn Steps Down From House Leadership Role
House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., whose influence during the 2020 South Carolina Democratic primary helped propel President Joe Biden to the White House, said Thursday he is stepping down from his party leadership position in the House.

In a post on X, the social media platform, the 83-year-old Sumter, South Carolina, native and lifelong proponent of civil rights, said while he is leaving his role as assistant leader for the House Democrats, he will still seek reelection in South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.

“I’ve had the privilege of serving under consequential Democratic presidents, balancing budgets in the Clinton administration, expanding health care access under President Obama and rescuing a pandemic-plagued country and economy with President Biden,” Clyburn said in a statement linked to the post. 

Prior to his current leadership role, Clyburn served for many years as House majority whip and House Democratic whip, as part of a leadership triumvirate that included Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both during and between her two tenures as House speaker, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who was House majority and House Democratic leader during this period.

After the 2022 midterm elections, both Pelosi and Hoyer stepped aside from their leadership positions, clearing the path for a new generation of House Democratic leaders.

But Clyburn stayed on as assistant Democratic leader, explaining at the time that he hoped to help Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., as they ascended to their new roles.

“Events of the last several years have made it clear that the greatness of America is at peril, and the threats to our continued pursuit of ‘a more perfect union’ are real,” Clyburn said in his statement, but he added that the results in two special elections on Tuesday gave him renewed hope for the future.

In one of those races, former Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., took back the House seat he vacated for an ill-conceived run for New York governor, replacing the disgraced George Santos.

In the other, Democrats held on to their narrow majority in the Pennsylvania state House.

“Yesterday’s results in New York and Pennsylvania … undergird my devotion to Alexis de Tocqueville’s admonition that ‘America’s greatness is not that she is more enlightened than any other nation, but that she has always been able to repair her faults,’” Clyburn said.  

“I am convinced that a significant majority of Americans are committed to de Tocqueville’s notion, and I feel compelled to expand my efforts to maintain America’s greatness and make that greatness accessible and affordable for all Americans. That has always been my life’s mission and I am proud of my efforts in that regard,” he said.

Clyburn is the only Democrat among South Carolina’s seven House members. 

The son of a fundamentalist minister and a beautician, Clyburn first became involved in politics during a hospital strike in Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1960s. He then went on to work on the city council campaign of St. Julian Devine, who became the first African American to hold a seat on the city council since Reconstruction. 

After an unsuccessful bid to be elected to the South Carolina General Assembly, Clyburn moved to Columbia, the state’s capital, to join the staff of Gov. John C. West in 1971. 

West later said he offered Clyburn a job as his advisor after reading the defeated candidate’s eloquent response to his loss in a local newspaper. West’s decision was history-making: With his hire, Clyburn became the first non-White advisor to a governor in South Carolina history.

Later, in response to the Orangeburg massacre, an incident in which local police killed three protesting students at South Carolina State University, West named Clyburn the state’s human affairs commissioner, a post he held until 1992, when he decided to run for Congress.

Looking toward the future on Wednesday, Clyburn said, “South Carolina, and our already-great nation, have made tremendous progress under the Biden-Harris administration. 

“I look forward to continuing to work alongside my Democratic colleagues in the 118th Congress, and beyond, to regain a Democratic majority, retain our Senate majority, and rally Americans to reelect President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris,” he said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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