As Assistant Democratic Leader, he is the third-ranking Democrat in the House behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
Clyburn was born in Sumter, South Carolina, the son of Enos Lloyd Clyburn, a fundamentalist minister, and his wife, Almeta (née Dizzley), a beautician. A distant relative of his was George W. Murray, an organizer for the Colored Farmers Alliance (CFA), who was elected as a Republican South Carolina Congressman in the 53rd and 54th U.S. Congresses in the late nineteenth century. He and other black politicians had strongly opposed the 1895 state constitution, which essentially disfranchised most African-American citizens, a situation that the state maintained for more than half a century until passage of federal civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.
Clyburn graduated from Mather Academy (later named Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy) in Camden, South Carolina, then attended South Carolina State College (now South Carolina State University), a historically black college in Orangeburg. He was initiated into the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and graduated with a bachelor's degree in history.
For his first full-time position after college, Clyburn taught at C.A. Brown High School in Charleston.
After an unsuccessful run for the South Carolina General Assembly, he moved to Columbia to join the staff of Governor John C. West in 1971. He was appointed as the first minority advisor to a South Carolina governor. In the aftermath of the Orangeburg massacre of 1968, when protesting students at South Carolina State were killed by police, West appointed Clyburn as the state's human affairs commissioner. He served in this position until 1992, when he stepped down to run for Congress.
Following the 1990 census South Carolina's district lines were redrawn. Due to prior racial discrimination before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Supreme Court required the 6th district, which had previously included the northeastern portion of the state, to be redrawn as a black-majority district. Before this ruling, African Americans were a minority in all six of South Carolina's districts.1992–2006
The reconfigured 6th stretched across most of South Carolina's Black Belt, but swept south to include most of the black precincts around Charleston and west to include most of the black precincts around Columbia, including Clyburn's home. Five-term incumbent Robin Tallon's home in Florence was in the district, but he chose to retire. Five candidates, all of whom were African American, ran for the Democratic Party nomination for the seat. As this district was heavily Democratic, the primary was understood to be the real contest.
Clyburn secured 55% of the vote in the primary, eliminating the need for an expected run-off. As expected, he won the general election in November handily. He has been reelected eight times with no substantive Republican opposition. From 1998 to 2006, his opponent was Gary McLeod, a conservative Republican from Clarendon County.2008
Clyburn defeated the Republican candidate Nancy Harrelson by 68%-32%.2010
Clyburn defeated the Republican candidate Jim Pratt, 65% to 34%.2014
Clyburn defeated the Republican candidate Anthony Culler, 73% to 25%.
Jim Clyburn was elected as vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus in 2003, the third-ranking post in the caucus.
He became the chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the House in early 2006 after the caucus chairman Bob Menendez was appointed to the Senate. After the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 2006 election, Clyburn was unanimously elected as Majority Whip in the 110th Congress.
Clyburn would have faced a challenge from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel, but Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi persuaded Emanuel to run for Democratic Caucus Chairman. Clyburn was interviewed by National Public Radio's Morning Edition on January 12, 2007, and acknowledged the difficulty of counting votes and rallying the fractious Democratic caucus, while his party held the majority in the House.
After the 2010 elections, the Democrats lost their majority in the House. The departing Speaker Nancy Pelosi ran for the Minority Leader position in order to remain the House party leader, while Clyburn announced that he would challenge Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House and the outgoing Majority Leader, for the Minority Whip post. Clyburn had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, which wanted to keep an African-American in the House leadership, while Hoyer had 35 public endorsements, including three standing committee chairs. On November 13, Pelosi announced a deal whereby Hoyer would stand as Minority Whip, while a "number three" leadership position styled Assistant Leader would be created for Clyburn. The exact responsibilities of Clyburn's assistant leader office remain unclear, though it is said to replace the Assistant to the Leader post previously held by Chris Van Hollen. He had attended all leadership meetings but was not in the leadership hierarchy.
In August 2014, Clyburn warned that he expects President Barack Obama to be impeached should Republicans hold onto control of the House of Representatives in November 2014. Republicans suggested that they do not plan to do so at this time and commentators considered the remark an effort to generate support for Democrats in the midterms.Ideology
Clyburn is regarded as liberal in his political stances, actions and votes. A recent ranking by the National Journal ranked him as the 77th most liberal of all 435 US congressional representatives, and with a score of 81, indicating that the conductors of this study found his voting record to be more liberal than 81 percent of other members of the US House of Representatives based on their recent voting records.
Clyburn has an established liberal stance on health care, education, organized labor and environmental conservation issues, based on his legislative actions as well as evaluations and ratings by pertinent interest groups.Healthcare
In 2009, Clyburn introduced the Access for All Americans Act. The $26 billion sought by this Act would provide funding to quadruple the number of community health centers in the US that provide medical care to uninsured and low-income citizens.
The American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, The Children’s Health Fund, and other health care interest groups rate Clyburn highly based on his voting record on pertinent issues. Other groups in this field, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, give Clyburn ratings of zero.
Despite his opposition to partial-birth abortion, Clyburn is regarded to be pro-choice on the issue of abortion, as shown by his high ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and low rating from the National Right to Life Committee.Education
Clyburn has continuously sought new and additional funding for education. He has gained additional funding for special education and lower interest rates on federal student loans. In many sessions has Clyburn sought, sponsored and/or voted for improvements in Pell Grant funding for college loans.
The National Education Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals rate Clyburn very high, as do other education interest groups.Ports
Although he was criticized for a previous expenditure of 160 million dollars to expand South Carolina's ports, he stated he would continue to make funding available for further expansions. The plan is to deepen the ports to allow for larger commercial ships to arrive from the Panama Canal which is currently being expanded to allow for larger ships to pass through. This is due primarily because of larger commercial ships coming from China, and also China's extremely high demand of soy beans, which are produced in South Carolina, but must be sent to larger ports for exporting. This measure will benefit South Carolina business and farmers and is thus heavily backed by these groups.Labor
Clyburn has consistently voted for increases in minimum wage income and to restrict employer interference with labor union organization.
Many national labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, the Communication Workers Association, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, give Clyburn outstanding ratings based on his voting record on issues that pertain to labor and employment.Environment
Clyburn has opposed legislation to increase offshore drilling for oil or natural gas. Instead, he has promoted use of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, cheaper than wind and solar energy. Members of the nuclear power industry have expressed that there is a mutual respect between Clyburn and themselves. Clyburn pushed for a 2010 contract to convert plutonium from old weapons into nuclear fuel.
Clyburn has been viewed favorably by organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters and Defenders of Wildlife. However, he did anger environmentalists when he proposed building a $150 million bridge across a swampy area of Lake Marion in Calhoun county.War in Iraq
On July 31, 2007, Clyburn said in a broadcast interview that it would be a "real big problem" for the Democratic Party if General David Petraeus issued a positive report in September, as it would split the Democratic caucus on whether to continue to fund the Iraq War. While this soundbite caused some controversy, the full quote was, in reference to 47 member Blue Dog caucus, "I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us."Bill Clinton comments
Clyburn was officially neutral during the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, however former President Bill Clinton blamed Clyburn for Hillary's 29-point defeat in the South Carolina primary and the two of them had a heated telephone conversation. Clyburn himself had voted for Obama, saying "How could I ever look in the faces of our children and grandchildren had I not voted for Barack Obama?" Clyburn negatively viewed Bill Clinton's remarks regarding Barack Obama winning the South Carolina primary. Clinton had compared Obama's victory to Rev. Jesse Jackson's win in the 1988 primary election. "Black people are incensed all over this," said Clyburn. Clinton responded that the campaign "played the race card on me," denying any racial tone in the comment. Speaking with the New York Times, Clyburn said such actions could lead to a longtime division between the former president and his once most reliable constituency. "When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar," Clyburn said. "I think black folks feel strongly that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation."Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
Congressional Black Caucus
House Democratic Caucus
International Conservation Caucus
Congressional Arts Caucus
Congressional Cement Caucus
During the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries, Clyburn supported Dick Gephardt until he dropped out of the race and afterwards supported John Kerry. He was one of the 31 who voted in the House not to count the electoral votes from Ohio in the 2004 presidential election.
Clyburn, a superdelegate, remained uncommitted throughout most of the 2008 presidential primary elections. He eventually endorsed Obama on June 3 immediately before the South Dakota primary (the result of said primary would have otherwise secured his party's nomination).
On February 19, 2016, Clyburn endorsed Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential campaign.
Clyburn's eldest daughter, Mignon Clyburn, was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission by President Obama.