Clyburn asks senators 'which side are you on?' for voting rights

"We are not going to roll over," the majority whip said Sunday.

January 16, 2022, 1:27 PM

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., on Sunday asked his colleagues in the Senate who are set to vote on voting rights legislation Tuesday: "Which side are you on?" referencing the iconic union organizing song often sung during the civil rights era.

"You know, this is Martin Luther King Jr.'s weekend. I first met Martin Luther King Jr. back in 1960. And I can remember a song, if you think back, back then, 'Which Side Are You On?,'" the majority whip told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz. "That song comes to mind today when I look at these senators. Which side are you on?"

"So let's have the vote so we can get a definitive answer to the question," he added.

Despite the House passing voting rights legislation Thursday, the outcome of the effort is still a seemingly foregone conclusion with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., opposed to removing the filibuster provision to pave a path for voting rights legislation to pass the Senate.

"Senators Sinema and Manchin have said 'no' to changing the filibuster rules. Do you have any hope things might change before Tuesday?" Raddatz asked.

"You know, South Carolinians live, by and large, by our state motto, 'As I breathe, I hope.' Yes, I do have hope," Clyburn said. "I know that these two Democrats have decided that it is much more important to them to protect the voting rights of the minority on the Senate floor than to protect the voting rights of minorities in this great country of ours, this great country, the minorities that made it possible for them to be in the position that they're currently in. So, I hope, but I don't think that we will change their mind. But we will see."

Clyburn told Raddatz he would support overhauling the Electoral Count Act but thinks voting rights is a more pressing issue given the immediacy of the 2022 midterm elections.

With his sinking approval rating at an all-time low, Raddatz pressed Clyburn, a close confidant to Biden, on how the president can turn the current political tide ahead of the midterms this year.

"You're credited with turning the tide for President Biden in 2020, but as he approaches this one year in office, his poll numbers are at an all-time low. A Quinnipiac poll recently showed a 33 percent job approval rating. How does he turn that around?" Raddatz asked.

"Now, if Joe Biden had quit after he lost those first two races -- three races, he would not be where he is today. I tell people all the time, 'three strikes and you're out' is a baseball rule and he -- he should not live by baseball rules. He didn't live by baseball rules then, he's now the president," Clyburn responded. "Keep pressing, and we'll get to where we need to be."

Biden delivered an impassioned speech on Tuesday, calling for a change to the Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation.

Raddatz asked Clyburn whether Biden's speech went too far.

"I want to go back to President Joe Biden. He got very serious pushback after his speech on Tuesday," Raddatz pressed. "Senator Dick Durbin said he took it 'a little too far' by comparing current voting restrictions to Jim Crow. Mitch McConnell called Biden 'profoundly unpresidential' for this divisive language. So, was that fierce tone counterproductive?"

Clyburn responded, "Absolutely not. I disagree with both of those statements. I know Dick; I like Dick a whole lot. But let me tell you something, that was what Jim Crow was all about."

Thirty-four new laws that restrict voting rights have been enacted in 19 states across the country in 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

"These are Jim Crow 2.0. That is one of the strongest points of the president's speech that I agree with," he added.

Raddatz also pressed Clyburn on the future of the Democratic Party ahead of the looming midterm election cycle.

"This is what Senator Bernie Sanders told The New York Times as we head into the midterms: 'I think millions of Americans have become very demoralized. They're asking what do the Democrats stand for? … Clearly, the current strategy is failing. And we need a major course correction.' Do you disagree with that?" Raddatz asked.

"Well, I don't know what he has reference to, but I think they'll be progressing forward on an agenda. What do we stand for? We stand for the American Rescue Act…. We stand for Build Back Better that we had passed in the House," Clyburn answered. "It is time for the senators to do what they need to do to get those bills across the finish line."

"Come on, Senate, step up. Stand to upend rules and get these bills passed," he added. "Everybody will know what we stand for."