In the run-up to today’s disapproval resolution against Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), it’s become clear that House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) has taken the lead in pushing for the resolution, even over Speaker Pelosi’s initial inclination to see that matter as closed. But it’s also clear that Clyburn’s push for a formal apology from Wilson is rooted in a long and troubled relationship between the most senior African-American politician in South Carolina and a four-term congressman who until recently was best known as a die-hard proponent of keeping the Confederate flag flying over the State Capitol in Columbia.
Indeed, the friction has popped up quite recently. Clyburn recently told the Washington Post that he was particularly incensed when Wilson held a town hall at a high school in Columbia — which Clyburn says is in his district, and is the place where his children went to school. “He came into my district, the high school where my kids went, where I was an officer in the [Parent Teacher Association], and that was on purpose,” Clyburn said. “That was as unethical as one can be, and he didn’t say one word to me about it.”
(Ed.Note: A search of Google Earth and the House site’s district finder shows that the high school — identified in the local media as having been W.J. Keenan High School — appears to actually be in Wilson’s district, not Clyburn’s. At least that’s what the nine-digit ZIP code seems to suggest. But it is in fact just a few blocks from Clyburn’s house. Clyburn lives right near the district border, and we can probably take him at his word that his kids went there, that he served on the PTA, and that he didn’t take kindly to a right-wing GOP House member holding a town hall at that particular venue.)The day after Wilson made a written apology to the White House, Clyburn said it wasn’t good enough, pushing for the apology from the House floor that Wilson has refused to give. “That’s a cowardly way to do it,” Clyburn said. “He ought to man up and go down to the well of the House and say, I acted with a lack of decorum the last evening, and I apologize to the President of the United States, and I apologize to my colleagues in both bodies, and I apologize to the people of South Carolina for having done so.”
As the Politico reported, Clyburn also personally asked Wilson on the House floor for an apology — asking three times in the course of their confrontation. Wilson rebuffed Clyburn, who has nine years of seniority over him, and since then Clyburn has been leading the fight against Wilson.
The Washington Post also points out that while Clyburn has not directly called Wilson’s outburst racist, he did tell reporters immediately after the speech that Obama was the only president to have been treated in this manner — and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been more direct in alleging a racial element.
Clyburn also told Maureen Dowd: “A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president.”
Clyburn also said that cracking down on Wilson is a matter surviving in the cut-throat politics of South Carolina. “In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” said Clyburn. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.'”
Calls and e-mails to Clyburn’s office were not returned.