House Majority Whip James Clyburn says Biden “ought to modify his behavior”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the House, told CBS News that while allegations that Joe Biden made some women feel uncomfortable are not disqualifying, the former vice president should change his behavior.

“If you know that several people have come forward to say ‘that style makes me uncomfortable.’ Maybe there are a lot of people who feel uncomfortable who may not be saying anything,” Clyburn said in an interview. “So I think he ought to modify his behavior.”

In addition to his leadership position in Congress, Clyburn is expected to play a critical role in his home state of South Carolina, which holds an early primary. Clyburn said he is not planning to endorse a candidate before that time, but his approval will be among the most coveted in that contest. He is hosting his annual fish fry in June, which will likely be a key campaign stop for the candidates.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn

CBS News

Biden has long ties to South Carolina and is beloved by voters there. Earlier this year, Clyburn told The New York Times: “If Biden gets in the race, everybody else would be running for second place.”

Biden released a video on Thursday pledging to be “more mindful” of respecting personal space. “I get it,” he said. But in speaking to a conference of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Friday, he made two jokes about getting permission to hug or touch people on stage. Afterward, he told reporters he was “sorry I didn’t understand more.”

He also said, “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman.”

Clyburn said Biden’s acknowledgement of his behavior “was proper, and adequacy is in the eyes of the beholder.”

“Everything I’ve seen was about being uncomfortable. Not being harassed, not being assaulted. Just being uncomfortable,” he said. “I think Joe is a guy who is very friendly–overly so sometimes. But he’s going to make the adjustment, and is going to be fine.”

Asked if there was a place for Biden in one of the most diverse primary fields Democrats have had, Clyburn said the former vice president “has the expertise that I think will give rise to discussions you need to have in this primary. I think it would be a mistake for us to go through this primary without having the benefit of his wisdom.”

Clyburn was in New York on Friday to speak at the National Action Network conference, hosted by civil rights leader Al Sharpton. Several presidential candidates spoke at the forum, and African-American voters are going to be a key constituency in the primary and beyond.

Asked about his party moving further to the left on issues, Clyburn said the primary is in the “aspirational” phase, and would later shift to the details.

“When you really get down further into the campaign, when people have to talk about how they have to pay for things and how they are going to implement stuff, people will get a little more concerned about what people are proposing,” Clyburn said. “It’s pretty easy to talk about all these things that cost billions of dollars and even trillions and not have to talk about how you’re going to pay for it.”

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats are in a battle with President Trump over his tax returns and the Mueller report. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal officially requested Mr. Trump’s returns earlier this week. But, Clyburn said “I’m not too sure we’ll ever see his tax returns. … We are going to be fighting that battle for a while.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “will never ever allow those taxes to be released,” he added. 

Democrats are also waiting to see the full Mueller report. After Attorney General William Barr released a short outline of the findings, which concluded that there was no collusion with Russia, and declined to bring obstruction of justice charges against the president, Clyburn and other Democrats in leadership were eager to move beyond calls for impeachment. But if the full report reveals otherwise, Clyburn could change his mind.

“If he’s done stuff, obstructing justice, doing stuff that he could be indicted for if he were a private citizen, as president he may need to be impeached for it,” Clyburn said. 

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