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Rep. Jim Clyburn Endorses Joe Biden Ahead Of South Carolina Primary


I will win South Carolina - the words there of Joe Biden. He was on the debate stage last night in Charleston, along with six other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, maybe none of whom had quite as much at stake last night as the former vice president. He has described South Carolina as his firewall, and when pressed about it in the debate, he added he plans to win the African American vote in South Carolina. Well, Biden got some help today on that front from Jim Clyburn. The longtime South Carolina congressman, House majority whip and most senior African American leader in the House endorsed Biden today. And he joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, welcome.

JIM CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

KELLY: Was this an easy call? Or did you wrestle with it?

CLYBURN: Oh, it was easy for me to vote for Joe Biden. I did wrestle with whether or not I should be public and whether or not to publicly endorse simply because I did not feel that I should impose on my constituents. But last Friday, I went to a funeral service for my accountant, who was also a good friend. And when I got to the service - I was there a bit early, and I walked around the church speaking to people. And a rather elderly African American woman was sitting on the front bench of the church. And she called me over to her, just sort of beckoned me. She didn't say a word. And I went over to her, and she said to me, people in this community want to hear from you. But if you don't think you want anybody to hear you, please just lean down and whisper in my ear and tell me who you voting for.

KELLY: (Laughter).

CLYBURN: And when she said that to me - I don't know - it brought tears to me. And I decided, I'm going public as soon as the debate is over.

KELLY: When you spoke this morning and gave your endorsement, you talked about your late wife, Emily...


KELLY: ...And that she loved Joe Biden...

CLYBURN: She did.

KELLY: ...And that that factored into your decision. I raise it because politics can feel like such a cold, sharp-elbowed business these days, and listening to you now and listening to you this morning, it's clear it's the opposite for you. This is personal.

CLYBURN: It's all very personal. You know, I grew up in the '60s. I'm a 1961 college graduate. I met John Lewis October 1960. I met my wife in March 1960. We met in jail. We were partners throughout this whole process, and we were right up until she passed away last September. And we talked about politics all the time. We didn't always agree. I used to tell people all the time, I can only accept my wife's word that she voted for me.

KELLY: (Laughter).

CLYBURN: (Laughter) I'd never know. She never told me...

KELLY: Trust but verify.

CLYBURN: ...How she was going to vote.

KELLY: Yeah.

CLYBURN: Yeah, but she loved Joe Biden, and it's all because she could relate to his background. She could relate to his experiences. And a lot of people don't realize it, but the state of Delaware is No. 8 percentagewise in African Americans in the state. And people who live in that kind of environment, who grew up in that kind of environment, who work in that kind of environment tend to relate.

KELLY: Since you raised how far back this relationship goes, I need to ask you, does Joe Biden's age give you pause? And I ask that with great respect. I realize you're in...


KELLY: ...Your 70s, too. But as we at NPR are talking with...

CLYBURN: (Laughter) And I'm older than Joe.

KELLY: Yeah, by a year; I checked. As we speak with voters, we hear some of them saying, hey, I like Joe Biden, but he's too old.

CLYBURN: What I've said to people when they say that to me, I say, well, it's a little bit like whether or not you would rather have an old Thurgood Marshall or a young Clarence Thomas. You don't define that by age. You define that by people's philosophy, so the age ought not be a factor unless there are other things at play.

KELLY: You have been pretty frank in talking about whoever the Democratic nominee is, they're going to have a big impact down the ballot...


KELLY: ...Which you will be on, I should note, come November.


KELLY: How worried are you about Bernie Sanders on that front?

CLYBURN: Well, I've said many times that I think that anybody who refers to themself as a socialist - remember; I studied history (laughter). You know, I used to teach history. And I know what the feelings are about these labels. And if a label like that sticks, it can be detrimental not just to your candidacy but anybody who's identified with you.

KELLY: Do you think Bernie Sanders could cost you the House - you meaning Democrats?

CLYBURN: Well, if that becomes - if he gets defined that way, it would. And we have to ask ourselves, what's the chance of us holding those seats? Who gives us the best opportunity to hold those seats? Who gives us the best opportunity to defeat Trump? And I believe in science. I look at the scientific polls, and scientific polls tell me that the best person out there running for president now to defeat Trump is Joe Biden.

KELLY: Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina talking with us about his endorsement today - you heard it there - of Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Congressman, thank you.

CLYBURN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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