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Clyburn offers Manchin history lesson to clear Senate path for Biden reforms

Richard Luscombe
·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip, said on Sunday he intends to give Joe Manchin a lesson in US history as he attempts to clear a path for Joe Biden on voting rights and infrastructure.

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Manchin, a moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia, has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president’s ambitious proposals by insisting he will not vote to reform or end the Senate filibuster, which demands a super-majority for legislation to pass, to allow key measures passage through the 50-50 chamber on a simple majority basis.

His stance has drawn praise from Republicans: Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, hailed Manchin as the politician “almost singlehandedly preserving the Senate”.

But Democrats appear to be losing patience – and none more vociferously than Clyburn.

“I’m going to remind the senator exactly why the Senate came into being,” Clyburn, from South Carolina, told CNN’s State of the Union, refreshing criticism of Manchin that has included saying he feels “insulted” by his refusal to fully embrace voting rights reform.

“The Senate was not always an elective office. The moment we changed and made it an elective office [was because] the people thought a change needed to be made.

“The same thing goes for the filibuster. The filibuster was put in place to extend debate and give time to bring people around to a point of view. The filibuster was never put in place to suppress voters … It was there to make sure that minorities in this country have constitutional rights and not be denied.”

Clyburn has assailed Manchin for promoting a bipartisan approach to voting rights and refusing to endorse the For the People Act, a measure passed by the US House and intended to counter restrictive voting laws targeting minorities proposed by Republicans in 47 states and passed in Georgia last month.

“You’re going to say it’s more important for you to protect 50 Republicans in the Senate than for you to protect your fellow Democrat’s seat in Georgia? That’s a bunch of crap,” Clyburn told Huffpost this month, referring to Senator Raphael Warnock’s 2022 re-election battle that supporters feel has become much harder due to the new voting laws.

On Sunday Clyburn also reached into history to repeat his contention that the Georgia law is “the new Jim Crow”, a claim repeated by Biden but which Republicans say is unfair.

“When we first started determining who was eligible to vote and who was not,” Clyburn said, “they were property owners. They knew that people of colour, people coming out of slavery did not own property.

“…And then they went from that to having disqualifiers. And they picked those offences that were more apt to be committed by people of colour to disqualify voters.

“The whole history in the south of putting together those who are eligible to vote is based upon the practices and the experiences of people based upon their race. So, I would say to anybody, ‘Come on, just look at the history … and you will know that what is taking place today is a new Jim Crow. It’s just that simple.”

Senator Joe Manchin removes his mask to speak.
Senator Joe Manchin removes his mask to speak. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Despite the urging of Clyburn and others, Manchin remains steadfast in his belief bipartisanship is Biden’s best path to implementing his agenda. In a CNN interview last week, the senator said the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol “changed me”, and said he wanted to use his power as a swing vote in the 50-50 Senate “to make a difference” by working with Republicans and Democrats.

“Something told me, ‘Wait a minute. Pause. Hit the pause button.’ Something’s wrong. You can’t have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other,” he said, of watching a riot mounted by supporters of Donald Trump seeking to overturn his election defeat on the grounds it was caused by voter fraud – a lie without legal standing.

Manchin said he had a good relationship with the White House and wanted to meet Warnock and Georgia’s other Democratic senator, Jon Ossoff, to discuss voting rights.

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On Sunday, Clyburn said the riot also had “a tremendous effect” on him.

“When I saw that Capitol policeman complain about how many times he was called the N-word by those people, who were insurrectionists out there, when I see [the civil rights leader] John Lewis’s photo torn to pieces and scattered on the floor, that told me everything I need to know about those insurrectionists, and I will remind anybody who reflects on 6 January to think about these issues as well,” he said.

Clyburn was among the first major figures to endorse Biden last year, helping nurse him through bleak times after rejections in early primaries.

The congressman has Biden’s ear and in an interview with the Guardian in December promised to keep pressure on his friend to fulfill a promise in his victory speech directed to African Americans: “They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”

“I think he will,” Clyburn said. “I’m certainly going to work hard to make sure that he remembers that he said it.”