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. LEE

    The Democratic party need to wake up, Bill and Hillary Clinton are systematically destroying this party as we know it and the leadership of the party is apparently incapable of doing anything about it, mayor Bloomberg is on the side line waiting to see if Hillary can get the nomination, if she is sucessful then he (Bloomberg) will run as an independent and win the election by pulling the majority of African American votes. Most blacks will simply not vote for the Clintons.

    January 21, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  2. Felly

    If Hillary wins the nomination, Bill Clinton becomes her Vice President. This is a bad prescription. And the strategy of buy one, get one free in this case becomes a bad product. The Bush -Clinton dynasty is not good for America in this era. Americans should embrace change without fear. Bill Clinton wants to be back at the White House at all cost that he is willing to denigrate his legacy as a former President and disenfranchise part of the Democratic party. Too much greed!

    January 21, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  3. purple

    I don't know how many times Clyburn can save Obama. So far Obama has engaged in race baiting, disenfranchising Nevada teachers, and being connected with Culiniary Union leaders trying to get workers who supported Clinton from voting in the caucus.

    This guy doesn't stand a chance in the general election.

    Myself and the rest of the Republicans would like to say- thanks.

    January 21, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  4. Steven

    Bill is certainly the best thing the republicans have to finally capture the black vote. Most folks feel if u win fair and square its alright. Bill has not been playing fair. Some say politics is all fair. But in the long run they are splitting the party and leaving a bad taste in folks mouth. The senior Bush had more style than the Clintons. Winning at what expense is gonna be the rally cry.Alot of Blacks are turned off by this whole thing. Its looking more like the same old thing! What hurts most is that its coming from the Clintons. I have never pulled the republican lever in my life-now I can't say that anymore. Shame on u Bill

    January 21, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  5. Biggdawg, Chicago

    Relax, Clyburn. We get it. You endorse Obama, ok. I know you pledged not to take a position, but it's obvious who you support. And Obama will win South Carolina as a "race man", not a candidate of the American people.

    But this African-American is solidly behind Hillary.

    January 21, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  6. Jay

    If Obama is whining now. He needs to wait until the general election. The republicans will not go easy on him. WHining to the press won't help.

    January 21, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. A.M.

    Is anyone suprised at the Clinton's (Bill in particulars) tactics? Yes, I am a Obama supporter. Imagaine if Bill Clinton sat down and shut up? As it is now, his wife is barely holding her own, if she were left to herself, she wouldn't be where she was in the delegate count. Yes, he is running against both of them and doing a very good job. It's time for a changing of the guard in the democratic party. Good bye, and good riddance to the Clinton's

    January 21, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  8. Skonkey, Atlanta

    I'm disappointed that the first serious female contender for the presidency has gotten there not by the force of her own merits, but by that of her husband's. Let's face it, if Hillary hadn't been first lady no one would even THINK about nominating her. The primary reason she is even a contender is because her husband paved the way and now the general populace seems to believe that she has 'experience'. It's just typical that America would only back a woman if there were a popular former president by her side. And, I might add, a former president that won't keep his mouth shut. He smiles and says he'll let Hillary drive her own campaign, but's that's horse maneur. He's stumping like it's his own campaign to glory all over again. Now I've been a Bill Clinton supporter and I voted for him, I even have an affinity for Hillary... but this misconception that she has experience in the White House is ridiculous.
    Give me a candidate that got there her or himself and isn't entrenched in the Beltway Bologne, one that contested the War from the beginning and doesn't make me wonder, above all else, what ELSE they'll say just to get ahead.
    Politicians practice politics and no one is completely above it all, but frankly I just trust Obama's character more.

    January 21, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  9. Orell

    There needs to be some rule where former Presidents are limited in what they can do when it comes to helping others get elected. It's great the President Clinton wants to help get his wife elected however due to who he actually is it gives an extremely unfair advantage to Hillary Clinton and greatly blurs the line of what a former Presidents role should be when it comes to electing a new president. He is way to close to the situation. It's one thing if he would have been helping Gore. She's his wife and there is just way to close of a connection. It's at the point now it does look like there are two people actually running instead of just one on the Clinton side.

    I'd honestly would have more respect and a better feeling toward Hillary Clinton if it was clear this was her bid for the White House instead of it being about getting the "Clintons" back into the White House. I'm considered a Dem officially but I'm more of a Independent since I don't really agree with neither side on a lot of issues (socially I'm more conservative for example) but this whole mess on the Dem side is really making take a closer look at the Republican side of things.

    January 21, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. ella

    Obama has gotten a free ride from the media, and at the same they have unfairly bash Hillary, the front runner is Chris Matthews. I guess it is Ok with Clyburn when Michelle Obama attacks Hillary, did he tell her to cool it, end of story?

    January 21, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  11. Moderate In Florida

    I have spent years defending Bill Clinton, both during his presidency and afterwards. Now, with the disgraceful way he is manipulating Obama's statements, through using incomplete quotes and out-and-out misquotes, I have no more slack to cut for Bill. He has always been a liar, but, somehow, I tried to look past his lying problem because (1) his lies were about personal matters, such as his cheating on his wife, and (2) I believed that he was out fighting for the middle and lower classes. In fact, when I now look back on Clinton's record, I see Clinton as a politician who consistently co-opted the Republicans' issues, such as welfare reform, to remain in power, and that he, in reality, did nothing for me and my economic peers. His presidency was all about himself. Now, in this election, he is doing and saying ANYTHING, including OUTRIGHT LIES, to get his wife elected. It's about his wife, but, mainly, IT'S ALL ABOUT BILL TRYING TO GET BACK TO THE WHITE HOUSE. BILL CLINTON IS A DISGRACE, HIS WIFE IS EITHER 100% COMPLICIT OR CAN'T CONTROL HIM (EITHER WAY SPELLS BIG TROUBLE). BILL CLINTON WILL GET NO MORE SUPPORT FROM ME, HIS LEGACY IS NOW PERMANENTLY TARNISHED, AND I AM NOW GOING TO POUR 100% OF MY SUPPORT TO BARACK OBAMA, a modern-day DAVID going against the tag-team Clinton GOLIATH!!!

    January 21, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  12. Tom Davie

    All you Obama lovers make it seem like the guy isnt ALLOWED to canvass for his wife. He isnt ALLOWED to attack the precious Obama.

    When are you guys going to get the fact this is SOFTBALL STUFF.

    The clintons arent even hitting him very hard. Its more like bashing him with a pillow. They have to ENDORSE Obama if he wins the nomination.

    If Obama cant take this softball stuff, and Clyburn to rushing in and coddle him (I actually dont think Obama asked him though) .

    Hillary has NEVER run from Obama. She has never run from any challenge. She fights tooth and nail.

    She cried when she thought she was going to LOSE. She knew if she lost NH nobody had ever won when losing both Iowa and NH.

    Not cause Obama 'hurt her feewings' ............

    Obama has to GROW UP and face the music. Yes. He is fighting hillary clinton who has an impressive resume herself, AND Bill clinton , the only successfull Democratic President in the last who knows how long, 40 years?

    January 21, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  13. Dennis L. Waters Sr., Mount Airy, Maryland

    It is unfortunate that politics functions in this way. Most people are not happy with the vitriolic tone of what is happening with the Democratic front runners. Stick to the essence of what you began with.

    Iraq was an unjust war. It was begun on a faulty premise. It destroyed the credibility of some very good people, including Colin Powell, who lied, perhaps knowingly, before the U. N.

    Something is wrong with this economy. We are chastising people who need help, yet we are rewarding the very companies who steal from these people. Corporate wellfare is wrong, especially when you tell the people who are fighting so hard to make their lives work that they are of no value, and that they have no worth, when they need help. Country Wide had money pumped into it by Bank of America, then it is bought by bank of America. There are people who in their own little sphere have the same challenges of a Country Wide. We need someone who helps us to weather those challenges. Something is wrong with this economy.

    There are many other issues that should be addressed and corrected. Stick to this. Now, I keep trying to figure out, what makes Obama Black as opposed to White. His father was Black. His mother was White. He is American. He is what this country stands for. I respect Bill Clinton, he has a very astute political mind. I respect Hillary Clinton. I don't like the way they are running this campaign. Yes it does appear that Obama is at a disadvantage. However, if this is the game, that he has agreed to play then this is the way this game is played. I am not really calling for this to stop. As a matter of fact it will probably get worse, and then we have the race for the White House between the Democrats and the Republicans.

    It is amazing that this country, with all the news, with all the Internet, with all the commentary, that we can see the same things and still end up so divided. This is America. It is made to function this way. After all could you have an America in which everyone saw things the same way. Probably not. It is not that the facts of the moment are different, it is that our perspective on the present and on the past are different. No one can down play the contributions of Dr. King. Yet, from what I have understood about LBJ, he was a truly dangerous politician, and may have done a lot of things to get the legislation passed. Both people were necessary. I agree with the comment. What would have happened if MLK had been the President. This is the promise of an Obama. Someone who is a visionary as a King and as practical as an LBJ. This is why this moment is so ripe.

    Finally, as I said I admire Hillary Clinton. I do not want to see any more of the ugly from this woman. Her love for her husband is instructive. Her political preparation extraordinary. Her commitment to this country, the best of this country beyond question. Should it so happen that she wins the Democratic nomination to represent this party, I am voting for her. Play fair, both of you, play fair.

    January 21, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. Dee

    Yes lets do what all the media seems to be doing now adays back Sen. Osama I mean Obama...heh. This is clearly another example of the man's skin colour and not what the man stands for giving him the edge. If Osama...er Obama wins its going to be cause he's black. And NONE of you can prove me wrong, cause every debate the moron has gone into was less then interesting. The only thing the man can do is whine, I have no confidence in his ability to run this country. But since he's black he'll get a free card to do what he wants or he might cry racism.

    No I am not prejudice and I am not a Clinton backer, in fact I am backing Giuliani. But I am sick and tired of Obama crying about the Clintons getting nasty, he's a big boy and definetly just as guilty of saying nasty things as Bill. Only difference is every one ignores what Owahwah says because...oh wait for it...because he's black. I don't want some one like that as president.

    Thats my opinion like it or not I don't care. I like you have a right to say what I want.

    January 21, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  15. Lynn

    I voted for Bill twice, and I was a huge fan of his during his entire presidency...but I will not vote for Hillary and I doubt I would ever vote for him again. I am so disappointed and disgusted with the way he is conducting himself! He certainly has the right to express himself and it's nice to see him support his wife, but he misrepresents facts and statements in a way that embarasses all Democrats. I believe he drastically damaged the Democratic party when he was in office and he is doing even more damage now!
    I have been an Obama supporter for a couple of years now. I also really like Edwards and Biden, though neither of them will obviously win at this point. There is a lot of talent in the party and I don't understand why there has to be so much focus on the negative. Liberals are supposed to be tolerant. I am already sick of this whole process.
    I do know that I won't vote for Hillary. I am a feminist and I've been a Democrat my entire life, and I don't support her at all. She can't ever admit she is wrong, and we already have one of those in the White House!!!

    January 21, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  16. PSbro

    You lost your chance to be relevant in all this. When Obama's people were pushing their Hillary is a racist info, something he admitted to in the last debate you never opened your mouth.
    When one word from you could have calmed the waters, you never opened your mouth. Well don't change continue to keep your mouth shut. You are making the Black vote irrelevant, shame on you & Obama. Who is he not to be put in check?

    January 21, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  17. v.cifaldi&paul




    January 21, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  18. Sarju

    Well, I am not an American but if I am to put my two cents in this matter, I will say it scares me to see a past president carring out a strong and aggressive campaign as if he was the one on the ticket. It brings to question the capibility of the person who's name is on the ticket. How well can they bring people in ther camp? But as usual Americans think the way they think.

    January 21, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  19. Chris, Orlando FL

    Slow moderation day, CNN? It's been 50 minutes and my comments are still waiting to be posted.

    January 21, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  20. Leigh

    So very tired of seeing the "nasty attitudes" in yet another political race. If they were children we would give them a time-out !! Bill, you were a wonderful President, but you seriously need a TIME-OUT... you're not doing Hillary any favors by acting like a spoiled child.

    Let the Candidates be measured by their plans, their records and their intelligence – bottom line.

    Let's vote with our conscience and our heart. Let's come together and try to make this country better. Think of the people you want to serve, rather than yourself. Be nice and respectful to each other – it will take you further than you ever expected.

    January 21, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  21. Dave

    Congressman Clyburn, I understand your loyalty to the Clinton's, many of us in the Democratic party felt the same way. But the behavior of both Clinton's in this campaign have been so disgusting, Bill by his words and actions and Hillary by not denouncing Bill, that I think it is now clear to many of us that they are in this for themselves only. I hope you will join us by telling the establishment that the politics of lies and destruction are over.

    Ask yourself this; what would Dr King do?

    January 21, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  22. PZ

    Hillary should be fighting her own battles.

    Either she can stand on her own or she can't.

    When Bill Clinton gets involved, the message is that she can't.

    January 21, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  23. Jill Penney

    I have listened to all the canidates and am totally feed up with Bill Clinton. If Hillary can't get votes and support on her own without her husband's "so called help", then what kind of president will she make!! I was for her in the beginning but now they are making this a vote on race, color, and creed and anger. STOP the stupid beckering and act like an adult instead of like youngsters pointing fingers, ect. She and Bill ARE the past, and not the change people want. And I am not a young college kid, I am 66 years old and do want change and someone that can become a great president. And my vote now goes to Obama.

    January 21, 2008 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  24. Jay Graham, Dallas, TX

    It appears that the whole media including rep. Clyburn like figures are against Hillary. There was nothing wrong said against Obama on MLK. Obama was shown that he is not MLK just delivering oratory skills. MLK was jailed, beaten, marched and fulfiiled his dream thru LBJ. Why was Cluburn got upset on that? Ane when Obama was critisizing Hillary on her Iraq votes, someone has to show Obama his record which kept changing from 2000 to 2007. Bill as a spouse has to defend his wife and there's nothing wrong. Is Clyburn going to cover Obama when Rove attacked Obama's record as an Illinois senator? Now that Obama lost in Nevada, he is trying to get sympathy thru Clyburn and other leaders. That bis just plain wrong. By doing so, the media and leaders like Clyburn are creating racial tensions.

    January 21, 2008 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. dennis

    Guess if I expressed my feelings on why I am not supporting Obama I would be considered a bigot. In my circle of friends we were under the impression our country as a whole was well past all of this nonsense. I guess we are just average americans that really do not understand much of anything, thats why we leave everyhting up to these...leaders?

    January 21, 2008 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
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