There’s a handful of showboating, self-styled moderates in the House who fancy themselves a check on the Biden agenda. More notoriously, a pair of alleged centrists in the Senate have taken a wrecking ball to that agenda. One of the latter is occasionally called “President” Manchin given his ability to dictate his terms (“nothing”), and if his fellow obstructionist wasn’t such a flake, she’d probably get co-president billing.
But there’s one congressman who is not only an honest-to-dog moderate Democrat (in that he has a record of taking an incremental approach rather than defining himself in opposition to his own party, wherever it happens to be) but is also able to bend national politics in his direction without laying waste to his party: Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
Clyburn is credited with resurrecting Biden’s faltering campaign with his endorsement in 2020. He also urged Biden to pick a black woman as his running mate and nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. And now he’s using his considerable clout — and the temporary absence of New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Lujan — to try to swing the pick to his favored nominee, Judge Michelle Childs of South Carolina:
“I know how to count. I’m the whip,” Clyburn said. “It has to be bipartisan. So I’m reaching out to the two Republicans from South Carolina. I’ve asked them for their support, but I’m talking to other Republicans, as well.”
Clyburn did not say who the other Republicans are that he had spoken to besides Graham and Scott, who he dined with Wednesday in Washington. Graham shared a photo of the trio to his Twitter account. Graham has committed publicly to supporting Childs, if Biden chooses the University of South Carolina Law School graduate.
Senator Lujan is expected to make a full recovery and be back at work in 4-6 weeks. Biden committed to naming a pick by the end of February. The Biden admin chose Doug Jones to act as a “sherpa” for the nominee, signaling that even if they fast-track the nomination, they plan to conduct meetings with senators. They aren’t going to ramrod Biden’s nominee through with the undue haste Republicans did while playing “Beat the Election Clock” with Bony Carrot.
So what’s the big rush, aside from the ever-present terror of the Democratic majority hinging on the health of every member of the caucus, some of whom, unlike Lujan, are truly ancient? It almost seems like Clyburn is manufacturing the bipartisan imperative to gain an edge for his favored pick. That’s either damned cheeky or extremely shrewd or both, depending on your point of view:
In an interview on Friday afternoon, Clyburn said that he met with the Republican senators to seek their support for Childs’ possible nomination.
“The meeting was just about informing them of what I was doing, and knowing full well that you got to have more than 50 votes to get anybody on the court, and it’s got to be bipartisan for us to do that,” Clyburn said.
“We only have 49 votes up here. We have 50 Democrats, with one that will be out for several weeks because of a stroke, and we cannot get it done, unless we get 50 votes,” Clyburn said.
The McClatchy article linked above says Biden spoke with Senator Durbin, who chairs the judiciary committee, as well as Grandpa Grassley (ranking member) and Mitch “Grim Reaper” McConnell. Biden reportedly said he wants “the advice of the Senate as well as the consent.”
If you’re an eleventy-dimensional chess kinda person, you might suspect Clyburn and Biden are orchestrating this whole thing in an attempt to gain Republican support, however scant, for a Biden pick. Maybe. I suspect it’s just another example of Clyburn being an extremely effective and powerful lawmaker who gets what he wants.