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South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn shares his view of Biden's presidency


Two years ago almost to the day, the Joe Biden for President campaign got a lifeline. Shortly before the South Carolina primary, Biden won the endorsement of his old friend James Clyburn, a Black congressman from South Carolina. That rallied Black Democrats across the South and paved a path to the party's nomination. Tomorrow night Joe Biden reports to the country as President Biden in his first State of the Union address. And with us again is Congressman Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Clyburn, thanks for making time for us.

JIM CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

PFEIFFER: You may be unhappy but unsurprised to hear that an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found recently that President Biden's approval rating was at 39%. Even given the extreme challenge of the pandemic, has he been the president you had hoped for so far?

CLYBURN: Yes, he has been. You know, we live in a soundbite world. People tend to want things to happen right away, instantaneously. And literally, the process doesn't work that way. When we look at what President Biden promised to do, his platform was for four years. He's been in office for one. We've done the Rescue Act. We've done the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill. These are big things. Both of those things were bigger than anything that has ever been done in that space before. We have not done voting, and we have not done the so-called Build Back Better. Now, that's about half. So that's 50%. So with 25% of his time in office, we've done about 50% of what he said he would do. That's a glass half-full. And if people want to spend all their time talking about the glass half-empty, then we've got a problem.

But what we've got to do as Democrats is go out here and remind people of where we were a year ago and where we are now. And if you get to COVID-19, I chaired the select subcommittee on the coronavirus, and I can tell you we are in a much, much, much better place today than we were when he took office. So we're going to just have to do better with that. I hope he will tonight - or tomorrow night, I hope he will tell the American people what we have done and what we plan to do to build upon it.

PFEIFFER: Our poll found that inflation is far and away the top concern for Americans. And fairly or not, some people blame Biden for not doing enough to fight inflation and aid economic recovery. What do you think the White House could be doing for Americans financially and economically any more than it might be right now?

CLYBURN: Well, I'm not an economist, but I know this - what we needed to do because of COVID-19. We needed to get people incomes in the people's pockets. And when you start putting money out the way we did with the Rescue Act, you're going to fan inflation. It just - that I know. That's elementary. But beyond that, all I can say - we may have a better job preparing people for what was going to take place. But remember; it is a pretty good thing to have something to inflate. But this president's got to worry about those people with nothing to inflate. And we got to take care of them as well. And so I think that he has a formidable challenge. I think that the American people will come around to a better way of thinking about this, but we've got to do a little better job of helping them.

PFEIFFER: When you mentioned some of Biden's successes, you said, we have not done voting yet. I think that's how you put it. Many states have restricted voting rights. As you know, voting rights legislation has stalled in Congress. In about the 30 seconds we have left, what do you want to see from President Biden on that front?

CLYBURN: I want to see the president talk about what he might do with executive authority to address that issue. Remember; the armed service was indicated with a - by an executive order. Truman signed an executive order to do that. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order. And I think the president ought to use his executive authority to do something about voting as well.

PFEIFFER: That's House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn from South Carolina. Thank you.

CLYBURN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.

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