While there’s at least a perceived growing number of Democrats who say they want to replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker, Rep. Jim Clyburn has emerged as a favorite among his peers to become the first African-American to hold that role.
However, the 25-year congressman told NNPA Newswire in an exclusive interview that while he’s ready for the challenge, Democrats currently have much bigger fish to fry.
“The first order of business is to win the election on Nov. 6, the midterms,” the South Carolina congressman said. “That’s what I’ve been concentrating on.”
Clyburn and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond, told the NNPA Newswire that they’ve identified 37 districts across the country they believe can be won by Democrats this year, which would wrest control of the House from Republicans.
“We feel with the right kind of effort, we can win,” Clyburn said.
The congressman listed three keys to success this November.
The first, he said, is not to take the African-American vote for granted. The second is not to rely on an anti-President Donald Trump wave, while the third is that candidates must advertise in the Black Press.
“We are also talking about districts where Barack Obama won twice and where Hillary Clinton also won but these voters don’t turn out for the so-called off year elections,” Clyburn said. “We can’t let these voters feel like we’re taking them for granted.”
Clyburn, 78, said he was recently taken aback by one candidates’ approach in which the unnamed individual said he could win the Black vote by running on an anti-Trump platform.
“Wait one second,” Clyburn said he told the individual. “We can’t just go around being Republican-lite, we have to be out there and putting forth an alternative message for our base and we have to reach out to Black voters and let them know we’re not taking them or any of our base for granted.”
To that end, Clyburn said advertising campaigns must largely include the Black Press.
“It’s very, very important and Chairman Richmond and I have had candidates in and we’ve been telling them that one of the best ways to demonstrate that you’re not taking the Black vote for granted is to advertise in the Black Press,” Clyburn said.
The NNPA is the trade organization that’s comprised of 220 African-American-owned newspapers around the country.
“I’ve been in [the Black Press],” Clyburn said. “My daughter and I ran a newspaper down South so I know that candidates tend to take Black media for granted. They tend to judge Black media the same way they do other media and you just can’t do that because the business model is totally different.”
Each Sunday after attending Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., Clyburn said he and other churchgoers habitually pick up the local Black-owned newspaper.
“People tend to pay attention to the headlines, the stories and the ads in the Black Press so it’s vitally important that candidates know this,” he said.
A former history teacher, Clyburn said Trump’s obsession with dismantling Obama’s legacy is reminiscent of tactics employed by Andrew Johnson to demean his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln.
“If you remember, it’s the same kind of reaction Johnson had to Lincoln and I remember sitting alone once in the Oval Office with Obama and I told him this would be the kind of reaction he could expect,” Clyburn said.
Johnson, who was impeached by House, had a vision of America as a White man’s government, according to historians.
His idea was that the South had never really seceded because it was illegal – secession was illegal – and so they had never really left the United States which meant, to Johnson, that once the hostilities ended, the country would go back to how it was before the Civil War, only without slavery, one historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, told NPR.
“[Obama] was never going to get the kind of respect for his presidency that was shown to presidents before him,” Clyburn said. “The narrative that exists in this country is that certain things Black folks are not supposed to do and one of those is being the president of the United States and this man, his administration, feel they have to do whatever they can to wipe out any semblance that Barack Obama was ever president of the United States.
“This man has a deep-seated hatred for people of color and it manifests itself every day,” he said of the current president.
Though he doesn’t support or agree politically with former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, Clyburn said he was deeply troubled when Trump referred to her as a “lowlife,” and a “dog.”
“I’m the father of three daughters and I’m deeply insulted by the president of the United States referring to an African-American woman the way he referred to her,” he said. “Politics aside, I’m insulted greatly so by any person, irrespective of their station in life, to do this, but to have the president of the United States denigrate the office in this way? The president asked an important question when he was running, ‘What do we have to lose?’ We have lost dignity and the respect of the presidency because of his coarseness in the office. When you lose respect, you’ve lost about everything there is to lose.”
While he still supports Pelosi, Clyburn said he’s up for the job as speaker.
“I have always supported her, but I have always remembered a sermon I heard my father give a number of times,” Clyburn said. “That sermon stayed with me and he said keep your lamps trimmed and burning so as to be ready when the bridegroom comes. My point is, I’ve never forgotten that sermon so I keep my lamp burning so as to be ready.”