Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., spoke about his career and the philosophy of his work at the Elliott School of International Affairs Wednesday.
Clyburn, the House majority whip and South Carolina’s 6th District representative, talked about his recent endeavors in politics, like his endorsement of now-President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election and his efforts to help alleviate the student debt crisis. GW College Democrats hosted the event and GWCD President PJ Johnson moderated the talk.
Clyburn said pieces of legislation like the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will serve as accomplishments for voters questioning the Democratic Party’s effectiveness heading into the midterms.
“To me, when people examine these programs, they find plenty to vote for,” he said.
Clyburn said he is working with Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to pass student loan forgiveness legislation. In 2019, they introduced a bill advocating for debt elimination of up to $50,000.
“I think the student loan debt is a big suppression on livelihoods,” he said. “If you’re coming out of college with $100,000 student loan debt – and I’ve had some employees come out with $130,000 of student loan debt – how can you start a family, purchase a home, with that kind of debt hanging over you from student loans?”
He said he first faced the quandary of who to support in the 2020 Democratic primaries at his Fish Fry, an annual event he hosts with food and dancing festivities, which often draws powerful politicians from around his home state and the country. He said 7,000 people attended the 2019 event, including 20 Democratic presidential candidates.
He said he later asked his wife, who died in Sept. 2019, for counsel on who to endorse, who told him he should endorse Biden to improve the odds of a Democrat winning the election.
“She said ‘I don’t care how many people are running for president,’” Clyburn said. “‘I don’t care how many are good friends of ours. If we want to win this race, we better nominate Joe Biden.’”
Before publicly endorsing Biden, Clyburn said he met with him to outline a few requests, like the appointment of a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Biden nominated Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson earlier this year, and the Senate confirmed her nomination to the bench earlier this month.
Clyburn said if someone wants to go into public service, he recommends they get to know and try to understand the people they are going to serve.
“You get to know what their dreams and aspirations are,” he said. “And then you figure out how you can develop an approach, a proposal, some policy that will help them fulfill their dreams and aspirations. If you can do that, they will reward you handsomely.”