January 21st, 2008
12:45 PM ET
14 years ago

Congressman to Bill Clinton: 'Chill a little bit'


Watch Clyburn on CNN's American Morning.

(CNN) - House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, whose criticism of Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks on Martin Luther King Jr. helped fuel a heated back and forth between the New York senator and Barack Obama, said Monday it was time another Clinton watched his words.

Bill Clinton’s attacks on Barack Obama, Clyburn said in a CNN interview, were unfair because a former president’s viewpoint “carries with it extra weight.”

“I think they would say in Gullah-Geechee country, he needs to chill a little bit. I hope he understands what that means,” Clyburn told John Roberts on CNN’s American Morning. “I can understand him wanting to defend his wife’s honor and his own record, and that is to be expected. But you can’t do that in a way that won’t engender the kind of feelings that seem to be bubbling up as a result of this.”

“I think he is a former president of these United States. He is revered in many sections of the African-American community, and I think he can afford to tone it down,” he added.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, the South Carolina congressman had said he was disappointed with comments from Hillary Clinton that some took to suggest President Lyndon Johnson had more to do with passing the Civil Rights Act than Martin Luther King, Jr. He also expressed frustration over Bill Clinton's recent remark that the characterization of Obama's record on Iraq as consistently anti-war is a "fairy tale."

“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics," he told the New York Times. "It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”

Last week, Clyburn said it was time for both Hillary Clinton and Obama to move on. He said Bill Clinton had called twice to explain what he meant by his comments — most recently, an hour after the congressman returned to the United States from a trip abroad. He also said he'd spoken to Hillary Clinton about the issue, and has accepted both Clintons’ explanations of their comments.

"I don't think we ought to be so politically correct about everything that we say every time someone makes a mistake, 'throw the person off the campaign,' or something of that sort," he said. "I think what we do is accept their explanation as to what they meant by what they said and go on. A lot of people who work in campaigns get very excited sometimes."

Clyburn, one of the most powerful African-Americans in Congress, has continued to insist he will not endorse any presidential candidate, upholding a pledge to the candidates and to the Democratic Party that he would stay out of the race ahead of his state's key January vote.

Related: Watch Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina on American Morning.

–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand and Alexander Mooney

soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. Bianca

    This is so ridiculous. Can we please get back to the issues that matter, which for me is the weak US dollar and the failing economy.

    These kinds of trivial back and forth is the reason George Bush is president and how the US entered into Iraq conflict (we have to fight them there, so we don't fight them here).

    I recognise that a large part of the voting public probably fall for this kind of silly rhetoric, but I would hope that every now and then we can raise the intellegence level, so those of us who care about real issues can get to know the candidates' positions.

    January 21, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  2. Bria

    Well said. He's only hurting the both of them – and not for the first time either.

    January 21, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  3. Kay, Washington DC

    I agree with you Jim!!! Say it again!

    January 21, 2008 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  4. Sonny

    Hillary needs to relax. After all she has Bill doing the negative talk now.
    One problem is that during the time of MLK and LBJ she was a republican and put her energy elsewhere for Barry Goldwater...

    January 21, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  5. toni

    This Clyburn fellow has no right to tell anyone else to chill! This bowing down to black leaders or else they will chastise you or withhold their votes or endorsements is really getting sickening to watch.
    And they say it's not all about race?
    I think it would be best if Obama stop complaining at every turn. Will he do this when he's running against the GOP? "Wah, wah, they're picking on me"?
    I'll vote for McCain if he's the Democrat's nominee.

    January 21, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  6. therealist

    The politics of division. The Clintonians continue to use it with glee, even on their own..

    This is exactly why Hillary will not win nationally. We the people are tried of this same old divisiveness at our expense. So lets all embrace "Change", at least until we all think the same way, huh..

    January 21, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. Kellie

    I always wondered, who is running.....Hillary or Bill?

    Obama is right! I watched a clip on Good Morning America about an hour ago. They showed a comment he made and in the next instance how Bill "interpreted" it. He was right. Bill outright lied!! The Clintons want to win at all costs...including the demise of the DEMOCRATIC party!

    January 21, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  8. Joe Ossai, Bedford, NH

    Slick Bill should chill, he is a bold face liar.

    January 21, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  9. Roxanne NY

    I am a Black woman, a Hillary Clinton supporter and I think it is Clyburn who needs to chill! How inappropriate for him to think that Michele Obama gets to defend her spouse on the Campaign trial and not Hillary. They are ratcheting up the race-tension again, well in advance of the South Carolina's Primary. I guess I know which side he is on!

    January 21, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  10. Lyman

    Yeah Jim because MIchelle and Oprah were attack Hillary Clinton and distorting her words. Get a clue buddy

    January 21, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  11. Roxanne NY

    This is as close as he gets to an endorsement, I guess!

    January 21, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  12. Chaunda

    Clyburn please stay neutral in this. You are only giving fuel to the media's race fire. Do not become their tool. It cheapens the legacy of black people.

    January 21, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  13. Dee

    I would not vote for "Slick Whilly " Bill again if he where running... why vote for Hillary....
    no more..Please! He probably misses that hide away office he had!

    We need a change"BADLY". Its call improvement "OBAMA finally!

    January 21, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  14. Bill in CT

    Jim, You are obviously a Clinton support. but I think that Mr. Clyburn sees as I that a former President making false claims and distrorting the truth means he needs to stop all that " ir depends on what is is statements. We all know Bill can twist the truth and believe it at the same time.

    Oprah and Michelle are not former presidents with the reverance that title should hold.

    January 21, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  15. Dave

    Now Bill Clinton can't say anything? Even if it is his wife running for President? Now would anybody say that if he said something in defense of someone else he was giving his support to? Would someone claim foul if he said something in favor of Al if Al Gore was the one he supported in a Democratic Primary? Would someone say that they felt like they were running against the former President too and that that was unfair in some way?

    This is ridiculous. It is like the Clinton campaign saying that it was unfair in some way that any well known African American coming out for Obama made Hillary Clinton feel like she was running against them along with Obama.

    An ex-president has just as much right to speak his mind as Obama or any Obama supporter who is popular.

    It stinks of an attempt to suppress free speech to me. If Obama and his campaign cannot stand the heat, well they need to stay out of the kitchen, or is this well used metaphor now to be misinterpreted as a slight of some kind?

    January 21, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  16. jamesnpwilliams

    he is right, it is more of the clinton's working to discredit obama that anything else. all the have to do is make the senate voting record public to see who telling the truth. and what is hillary's 35 yrs. of experence. she move to new york just to take advantage of a vacant senate seat. if you doesn't win the white house will she move to another nation and try to be president there.

    January 21, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  17. Dave

    Respectfully, I do not agree with you. Michele and Oprah did not distort the facts by truncating the quotes nor did they send negative barbs to the opposition. That is what senator Clyburn is referring to. Please engage your brain and realistically consider the request of the senator. It is fine to campaign for those whom you support, just do it fairly is all he is asking. Is that too much?

    January 21, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  18. Gary

    look what he did to this country over his infidelities.The man is obsessed with winning not honesty and fairness only to spin. Hillary needs to speak for herself and agree that she disagree's with her own party and stick to the issues. Bill take a chill pill the shock statements by Bill on the eve of caucaus's is exactly what will beat Hillary in the end. Hillary should put a lid on it pronto. I voted for Bill and Hillary has to step up and to be leader of the free world in this economy she has to be able to take on Obama period without her husband.

    January 21, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  19. John Okonye

    My comment is on Bob Jonhson's comments about Obama. It is OK for Bob Johnson to support who ever he wants but not personally attacking Obama. Bob should realise that Obama represents the future of African American kids. Does Bob know or understand how many African American kids will be positively impacted by Obama's courageous effort to run for president? Does he realise when Obama is elected, how this will promote a positive attitude amongst African Amerian children that it is possible for African Americans to achieve anything? Yes, the Clintons have helped the African American Community but African American Children will not see the Clintons as Mentors and Role Models as much as they will see Obama. We are looking at the bright future of a generation and not the glories of the past.

    January 21, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  20. DJ, Philadelphia

    Clyburn is disingenuous. His actions prove that he has not stayed out of the race, he is endorsing Senator Obama and to do so in this manner is not fooling anyone. He didn't stand by his word.

    January 21, 2008 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  21. hp

    Hilary 08.
    She represents people with income $50,000.00 and less. She represents people with all races. She represents the INVISIBLES.

    January 21, 2008 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  22. Jim in Orlando, FL

    No, the instigation lies squarely on Bill and Hillary, and no one else. Her comments demeaning the achievements of MLK were one reason she has slipped so much with the black vote. As for the honor for the office of President, Slick had none while he occupied such. Why should we expect any different now ?

    January 21, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  23. Scott, Madison, WI

    Thank you Mr. Clyburn. Stated with more honesty, clarity and integrity than the Clintons could ever hope to have in their total lives.

    As for Oprah and Michelle ... At least they are not playing to the media and cameras on cue with a teary moment here, a human moment there, or an angry and shrill moment when challenged and questioned about the truth. They know who they are and who Barack is so they don't have to resort to the slimey, sleazy smear that embodies the Clintons.

    The Clintons are the masters of hystrionics and political theatre and neither is a very good actor. How many more remakes of (the masks of) Hillary will we be seeing? As for Bill, he's about due for one real soon!

    January 21, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  24. GP

    I agree Jim, he did and he needs to chill...I am not sure whose side he is on...maybe Obama...it seems...nothing can be said about him without it being taken out of context...I am sick of it

    January 21, 2008 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  25. Ean

    That's because Michelle and Oprah are not making idiotic remarks that are soon recanted. There are only so many times that a person or campaign should be able to recant or apologize before they need to be muzzled. I can't believe voters are falling for this. Although, this is the same group of Americans who felt it was a good idea to allow GW to run the country for 8 years (I have little faith left in the American people). This Obama vs. Clinton circus is ridiculous. One candidate is using a former president to smear (while she somehow stays above the fray) while the other is afraid to play politics as usual (thank god). Wake up people! Are we really going to give into the pre-packaged politics (complete with baby kissing and photo opportunities driven by polling data…aka standing at the pulpit of a predominately African American church)? Are you really going to vote for a candidate that can't even truthfully answer what her biggest flaw is? I think her biggest flaw is not being able to answer questions directly without having some type of political spin involved. This is old school politics at its finest…and it’s why young people like me have historically not turned out to vote. It makes me sick.

    January 21, 2008 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
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