S.C.'s Top Democrat Looks Ahead To The Primaries

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South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House and only high-ranking elected Democrat in the state, is known as the "kingmaker" in politics.

As primary day nears for the "First in the South" Democrats, many are watching to see if Clyburn will make an endorsement of either Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the presidency.

He speaks with Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson about the issues he's most concerned about going into the 2016 South Carolina primaries.

Interview Highlights: Jim Clyburn

What’s the most important issue to you as you decide who to endorse?

“Well, it’s important to me that the candidate run the kind of campaign that I think connects with the issues that are important to the African-American community, which basically are issues that are important to everybody else. I think that we make too big of a deal out of black votes versus brown votes or white votes. The fact of the matter is, people are basically the same, the question is whether or not people feel a certain degree of authenticity to your candidates and to your expressions.”

Back in 2008, you did not endorse a candidate. Do you wish you did?

“No, I am very proud of the way I conducted myself back in 2008. The election came out well, the person I voted for won, so I don’t know if I have to make public my wishes in order to be satisfied with the result.”

Why did you decide to endorse a candidate this year?

“Because family and friends have begun to say to me that my constituents deserve to know where I stand, and so I’ve decided that my wife knows best and so I am going to let people know where I stand.”

Do you have any worries about electability with either of the Democratic candidates?

“Well, you know, I think of both candidates being a certain cachet to the system. Bernie is really energizing young voters, and we need them. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated that the older voters feel that she is very reliable, and we need reliability. Hopefully, when one is successful and the other is not, we can combine our forces and resources.”

Is it important to you that the candidate who gets the nomination be willing to discuss gun control?

“I think gun issues are important. I don’t like to use the term ‘gun control’ because no one is trying to control guns, I don’t care how many guns you sell to a gun collector. What we want to do is, whether or not you will deal with the issue, keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. One of the problems that exists in this campaign is that people, I think, are muddling that message.”

What do you think the next president needs to do on the issue of criminal justice reform?

“Well I think that the entire judicial system cries out for reform. Sentencing practices, and I am glad to see that the judiciary committee in the House needs to be dealing with some of that. I’m not too sure if all of what they’re proposing is all that good. I mean, you don’t reform the system by expanding mandatory sentencing. I think that’s one of the big problems with the current system. We need to have reform all across the board.

Do you feel safe around the police in South Carolina?

“Yes I do. But there are a lot of neighbors who don’t.”

Do you think there will ever be a time when South Carolina is a state that’s contested again in a presidential election?

“Yeah, you know, the pendulum goes back and forth. I’m sure there will be a time. There are people who thought the South would always be Democratic, and you see where it is today.”

Why do you think Obama is so disliked in your state?

“Well the same reason, with many people, that I am so disliked. There are a lot of people in my state that dislike me, and it’s got nothing to do with ability, that’s just a fact of life and I don’t know why people don’t want to admit that. I mean, I get the mail and the phone calls so I know what people feel about me because of my skin color, and a lot of that is because of what’s going on with Obama, and whether he wanted it or not, that’s the case.”


This segment aired on February 18, 2016.


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