Third-rank Dem Clyburn accuses Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi of ‘tokenism,’ before walking it back

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

House Majority Whip James Clyburn believes he is but a mere “figurehead” to some, and accused fellow members of party leadership of engaging in “tokenism” when it comes to hiring African Americans.

The shocking assertions were part of a Wall Street Journal interview Clyburn took part in, as he called out House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., while noting that he maintained a “fully-integrated staff.”

But his bravery came with a short shelve life, as Clyburn later backtracked.

More from the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Clyburn said he brings something to the table. “I’ve always managed a fully-integrated staff. Pelosi doesn’t have that experience, nor does Hoyer have that experience. To them, tokenism is all right with them,” he said.

What does he mean by tokenism? “What I mean is, how many black folks are on Hoyer’s staff?”

He added: “I’m going to let you check it out.”

Have Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer been told they should hire more black people? “I don’t have to tell them,” Mr. Clyburn said. “They’re grown people. They can read. They can see.”


Clyburn clarified his remarks in a subsequent interview — likely after enduring Pelosi’s wrath — saying they were “pointed at the tokenism on the Hill” more broadly, according to the paper.

“I did not intend anything as any criticism of Steny or Nancy, because I don’t think they deserve to be criticized on hiring practices,” Clyburn said. “Nancy’s got a whole lot of black folks on her staff.”

“To the extent that that was not made clear, I apologize,” he added. “I was not talking about their staff; I was talking about the broader caucus. Our staffs are fine. The whole caucus is not fine.”

So why did the lawmaker single Pelosi and Hoyer out by name?

As for their respective staffs, the WSJ noted that Clyburn’s office is 58% black, while 24% of Hoyer’s staff are black, with 70% identifying as female, people of color or LGBT. A spokesman for Pelosi said that 84% of Mrs. Pelosi’s leadership and district staff identify as either people of color, women or LGBT — the percentage of black staff members was not included.

Pelosi told the Washington Post that “of course” she accepted Clyburns’s apology, but Hoyer said he was “totally inaccurate.”

“I mean, you’ve seen my staff. The irony is, my floor staff are all minorities — a Mexican, a Chinese American and an African American. I looked at him and said, ‘Jim, you’ve known me for 60 years. What are you saying?’” Hoyer said.

But the “figurehead” remark stands out even more, which is in reference to some Democrats suggesting that he was in Pelosi’s inner circle only because of his race.

Matt Deputy, the director of communications for President Trump’s 2020 campaign, shared the exact WSJ paragraph online, without commentary.

With Trump being relentlessly accused of being racist, it’s hard not to see the irony in Clyburn’s views on his own party.

The only reasonable action for Clyburn to consider, according to one social media user, is to join the #Blexit movement.

The dust-up is getting little play in the media, other than reports that Clyburn apologized, but here’s a sampling of other responses from social media users:


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