Few members of the Democratic Party wield as much influence as House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC). And now he’s back on the campaign trail, putting his thumbs up in some of the most-watched Democratic primaries of 2022.
He stopped by Ohio over the weekend to replace Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH) ahead of her successful rematch against progressive activist Nina Turner. Then he jumped by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in San Antonio, which faces a May 24 runoff election with progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros.
When deciding which races to get involved in, Clyburn said he considered a few things. It assesses the candidates’ records and whether they were — or would be — reliable votes for Biden’s agenda.
But it also targets a more subjective factor: style.
“I look at the record and the demeanor… The style means something. Substance means everything, but style means something,” Clyburn told The Daily Beast in an interview on Sunday.
For Clyburn, style is all about decorum. He does not like low blows or insults. He believes lawmakers have good manners. And although two progressive challengers are currently the losers of his influence, he said it was not about pushing for more moderate lawmakers. “I’m considered pretty liberal by everyone except those who seem to think being progressive means insulting people,” he said.
“I don’t want to be insulted. So I treat people the way I want to be treated. So on style, if you have to shout all the time and insult people, if that’s what makes you a progressive, I’m not one,” he added. “But if it’s your voting record and the programs you support and offer, no one is more progressive than me. »
The congressman also cited Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Wisconsin Senate candidate Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) as examples of progressives he supports.
While his pitch for Brown was expected, the game for Cuellar wasn’t as obvious, as many of Cuellar’s traditional backers were absent following an FBI raid on the congressman’s home in January.
Ahead of the March 1 primary, Cuellar faced some political isolation. But the Justice Department has since said he was not the target of the investigation, according to his lawyer, which could improve his political position.
Cuellar has also drawn ire in Democratic circles for being part of the House Democrats’ ‘unbreakable nine’ pact that blocked passage of the Build Back Better Act until the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed. passed — and to be the only House Democrat to vote against codifying Roe v. Wade came into effect last year.
That stance has become increasingly controversial after Tuesday’s news of a Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. Cuellar defended his anti-abortion stance in a statement, saying “abortion should be rare and safe” and noting that he supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Cisneros on Wednesday called on Democratic leaders to withdraw their support for the congressman.
But on Sunday, Clyburn said he considers Cuellar, one of his deputy whips, a reliable vote for Democratic priorities and appeared alongside him on Wednesday.
“I give him a lot of credit for the success we’ve had in delivering the Biden agenda…People who don’t have to agree with me on everything. He doesn’t agree with me on everything. But he complements my position,” Clyburn said.
And while progressives have sometimes pushed back against national figures trying to shape Democratic primary outcomes, Clyburn says his visits are like providing a reference check for work and telling voters about his experience working with a given member.
“When I run for re-election, as I am now, I call on people from my job in Washington to validate what I say. And that’s all that’s going on here,” he said.
At stake in these broader races is the Democrats’ chance to maintain control in the House, which is under threat this year as the party agenda stalls and redistricting has turned some races against their favor. Clyburn says he thinks the party’s chances of retaining the House are improving, but said “whether or not it succeeds depends a lot on what happens between now and Labor Day.”
“There is nothing that is given. So we will work as hard as we can and hopefully we will succeed,” he said.