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. toni

    This Clyburn fellow has no right to tell anyone else to chill!
    And they say it's not all about race?
    We "have to be very careful of what we say"?
    That sounds like Ari Fleischer out of the current White House!
    I think it would be best if Obama stop complaining at every turn. Will he do this when he's running against the GOP?

    January 21, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  2. Ginny CA

    Wow! Because Bill Clinton is a former president and "his viewpoint carries with it extra weight" he isn't supposed to call Obama down about his distortions and dirty tricks. We have always heard former presidents weighing in on issues and they were never told they should "chill a little bit". Please, just because Clyburn is squarely in Obama's corner, doesn't give him the right to try to muzzle legitimate comments coming from Hillary's side, no matter who is making them. Bill Clinton has not been distorting or lying about Obama's actions, his character, or his campaign. It's fair.

    What isn't fair is the free pass Obama and his wife Michelle have been given, no matter how much they engage in dirty tricks. What isn't fair is the monumental, 100% positive press coverage Obama has been receiving. Example: this morning the leading article on CNN Ticker was "Obama, I Feel I'm Running against Two Clintons", where a petulant, whining Obama goes off again about how unfairly HE'S being treated. Where was the news that the respected and popular Pastor Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem had endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday? Nowhere! Not a peep about it.

    Every word out of Bill Clinton's mouth is recorded and analyzed, looking for something that can be fashioned to look as if he's "out of control" or "losing it". Then, it's played over and over on TV for days, shown on every cable news show with lengthy biased comments by news "analysts". Why haven't news cameras been recording the speeches Michelle Obama has been making? She has been unashamedly playing the race card in the South and no one is making an issue of it? Why not? If Hillary's spouse is fair game so is Obama's.

    I wonder if CNN will actually post this comment?

    January 21, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  3. Eric in Massachusetts - still awaiting moderation

    Eric to Clyburn: 'Chill a little bit'. Nobody has annointed you the POTUS campaign referee. Go back to South Carolina State College and re-read your notes. Your degree was in history, so you should know that the House Majority Whip does not monitor and control the POTUS campaign.

    In actuality, the Whip's job is to ensure that his party's legislators show up to vote. It comes from the British Parliament 'Whipper-in' the votes. The Majority Whip is responsible for making sure that his party does not lose a vote because some members don't show up to vote..... the minority party can beat the majority if a number of majority members don't show to vote.

    With that background on what your responsibility is, Mr. Clyburn, how can you not call out Obama on his voting record? Hmmm? As a History major, I would expect you to know your job, your place and to comment on what you know. So, let's hear you defend Baracka's voting record in the Senate as well as his limited time in the Illinois legislature.

    January 21, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  4. Perry

    What interviews were you looking at. The interview with CNN, he made the most since out of everyone. He simply said everyone had a part in the Civil Rights Act ; from MLK to the president, he also explained even white Republician Senators had some part in it. He just simply express that you shouldnt down play anyone role in the Movement. Like Clinton was doing to make a point, she was out of line.

    January 21, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  5. jimmy

    I didn't see Oprah instigating race either. Are you mad she is not supporting Hill? People like you, who cannot read through media spin need to chill

    January 21, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  6. Jen Cedar Falls, IA

    PuLLLEEEZZZ get the Clinton's off the stage!!!!!!!!!! They had their 8 years already!

    It's time for our country to fall in love with itself again and there is no way on God's Green Earth that would happen if the Clinton's take the White House again!

    The Dem's had BETTER vote for Obama, or there will be another Republican in the White House for the next 4 yrs.

    We are SICK and TIRED of the HATE that spews from the CLINTON'S!

    January 21, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. James springfield mo

    sooner or later he will show his true colers.

    January 21, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  8. roger, conway sc

    Maybe Clyburn needs to chill he says he is remaining neutral but it seems he is taking up for Obama BUT if Obama is the nominee or president get ready this is what we will be listening too...everytime something is said the entire black leadership will scream rasicm & then it will hit the media & they will spin for weeks. As a white SC democrat I have always supported Jim Clyburn but after this mess I am not sure, the black leadership have turned what the Clintons said into a racial issue & I have listened to what was said several times & feel differently...Anyone offended were either looking for something or are very thin skinned..

    January 21, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  9. jimmy

    I agree with you Kellie, the Clinton's are single handedly ripping apart the democratic party. Hell I'm even thinking of voting republican.

    January 21, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  10. steve

    Jim, what kills me is when we have a country of people with no understanding. It's obvious what the clintons are doing. I was a fan of thiers for years. But, when you attack a persons charater for personal gain, it's just wrong. Jim I don't know you ... but that's like me wanting something and lying on you to get it. The Clintons are no different than any other politcians. If she wins the nomination, the only way she gets my vote is if the republicans nominate Mitt ... Other than that I'm going with the other candidate. I'm a life long democrat, but Hillary has a mountain to climb to get my support now. ... And with that, who is really running for president Hill or Bill

    January 21, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  11. Bob Potter

    The Clintons are triggering an interesting reaction that I am encountering more and more frequently. Democrats who were looking forward to toppling the Republicans in November are so turned off by the Clinton's do-whatever-it-takes tactics that they are beginning to reconsider: If the nominee is Hillary they will either not vote or will vote Republican, especially if the choice is McCain. The Democratic Party will probably incur long-term damage as a result of the Clinton's activities.

    January 21, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  12. Ron, TX

    It's not becoming of an ex-president to lie and deceive the public about a fellow democrat, simply because said ex-president is forced by his wife to defend her, after years of documented infidelities.

    January 21, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  13. Danny G. Boca Raton, FL

    Kellie, you are so naive... this is about the future of the country, not just the Democratic party! Sen. Clinton is putting out her message and Obama doesn't like it! he also decided to make it a personal attack when he suggested Sen. Clinton was not giving enough respect to MLK. the fact is that it did take the Pres. of the United states to sign that piece of legislature, it took MLK to open people's mind to the idea that this was possible, it was a group effort. but the notion that Sen. Obama should be crown president because he can put together a very persuasive speech is also ridiculous. if the party splits is because both candidates feel passionate about their campaigns and americans are identifying with them, this are important times in our country and some of us want us to do the right thing and not settle for second best. in the end you need to respect both of these Americans, they have great ideas for this country. I just hope that their message resonates with enough of the electorate to get them in the white house. Sen. Clinton is a wonderful person and she will not be out-worked by anyone and is about time everyone recognizes this.

    January 21, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. Anitra in NC

    Every American and especially every African-American should rethink the domino effect caused by Bill Clinton's moral character and decisions. He practically gave the White House to the Republicans after his scandal. The good impact to the African-American people during his term is already overwritten by the impact of electing George Bush. Forgiven? Yes! Is he a credible source who should get so much press during this campaign? Not at all! Please silence President Clinton! He's done more than enough.

    January 21, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  15. Fernando

    As one who respects the former president, I am surprised at his recent behavior.More suprised that the Democratic party would allow this. The Clintons are determined to win at any cost. She may win the nomination but by the time she is done, the Democratic party will be so frractured that the Republicans will cruise to victory. I cannot see the young and excited Obama voters or the independents supporting Hillary. People are tired of the Clinton slash and burn politics. Hopefully the Democrats will realize this before its too late.

    January 21, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  16. Abi

    Why is everyone pouncing on Clinton now?? Clyburn needs to chill, his comments started the controversy now he's coming out again?? Clinton has always been pounced on before the polls started now she's having back to back wins, everyone is going so sour... IN YOUR FACE people.. come Jan 2009, Hilary Clinton's inauguration!!!

    January 21, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  17. sue

    Bill always lies. And Hillary covers up. We learned that already. Do you want more?

    January 21, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  18. Howard, NY

    Clyburn is right. It would be one thing if Bill Clinton was only "defending his wife's honor," but he's gone much further than that. When he started attacking and distorting Obama's record, he crossed the line.

    January 21, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  19. veronica

    Obama is a crybaby. Now he has Clyburn fighting his battles for him?

    January 21, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  20. Robert Zuckschwerdt

    I don't see color, I hope the Black community doesn't either! I vote on past track record, it should be that way !!!!

    January 21, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  21. Sandy

    Bill has a right to speak the truth about his record and the set record straight about the Obama's misrepresentation of his own war record.

    January 21, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. Gil - California

    Is this a surprise? Bill is a proven liar. He lied under oath and was punished for it. If Bill will lie under oath, why does anyone think he will tell the truth when he is not under oath. If you want to see a couple who is morally bankrupt, just look at the Clintons.

    January 21, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  23. case

    The Democratic Party should truly beware of the Clinton's motives. They have made it clear that they will leave none standing unless "they" are the nominee. This attitude is how the Republican got to where they are with Bush/Cheney who were willing to burn any fellow Republican who got in there way.

    January 21, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  24. kevin from alaska

    Hillary cries before New Hampshire. Wins. Takes heat after. Bill attacks before Nevada. Wins. Takes heat after. Obama better stay on his toes and fight off the dirty tricks this time before South Carolina votes.

    Who is falling for the Clintons tactics by the way? You're probably the same people that voted for W because you got "tricked into it." Well, you're getting tricked again! Don't say I didn't warn you.

    January 21, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  25. Spanieluvr

    How about saying the person he's supporting (Obama) for FUTURE President needs to show more dignity?? Or is dignity only for FORMER Presidents? (Good GOD!!). We all need to stop focusing on electing a first BLACK President, or first WOMAN President, and start focusing on just electing the first COMPETENT President in wayyyy too long a time (Good GOD!!!).

    January 21, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
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