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Majority Whip Clyburn warns Senate candidates in Georgia against 'defund the police'

Jessica Smith
·Reporter
·3 min read

House Majority Whip James Clyburn is making the case that “socialism” and calls to “defund the police” cost the Democratic party seats in the 2020 election — and is warning Senate candidates in Georgia against embracing those progressive ideas if they want to win their run-offs in January.

“I've been Black a long time. I don't know of any Black people that I've been with, in politics, who are comfortable with socialism,” said Clyburn in an interview with Yahoo Finance on Monday.

Democrats held on to control of the House, but lost several seats in the Nov. 3 election, even though they had largely been expected to expand their majority. Clyburn (D., S.C.) pointed to two Democratic incumbents who lost their seats in Florida as proof that socialism — or attacks tying Democratic candidates to socialism — is an issue for the party.

“We lost two seats down there and it was about socialism,” said Clyburn. “That's the real thing. So people can say what they wish to say about it, but the fact of the matter is that's a real problem.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) has publicly rejected the idea that progressives hurt the Democratic party, saying in an interview with the New York Times that some party leaders “are becoming so blinded to this anti-activist sentiment that they are blinding themselves to the very assets that they offer.”

“All five of the vulnerable or swing district people that I helped secured victory or are on a path to secure victory. And every single one that rejected my help is losing. And now they’re blaming us for their loss,” said Ocasio-Cortez.

In this Feb. 26, 2020 photo, House Majority Whip, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., background, listens as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, speaks at an event where Clyburn endorsed him in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
In this Feb. 26, 2020 photo, House Majority Whip, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., background, listens as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, speaks at an event where Clyburn endorsed him in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

‘Soundbites will kill you’

Clyburn said the “Defund the Police” slogan and attack ads depicting Senate candidate Jaime Harrison as a socialist also hurt Harrison’s chances of unseating Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

“I don't know of a single African-American that wants to defund the police,” said Clyburn. “And they tell me that's not what they mean when they're saying it. Well, soundbites kill you. If that’s not what you mean, don’t say it.”

Clyburn told Yahoo Finance the problem is reminiscent of a struggle he and the late Congressman John Lewis faced during the Civil Rights movement.

“John Lewis and I were in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. We were doing great work. All of a sudden we woke up one day [and] “burn Baby burn” was the big slogan,” said Clyburn. “It destroyed our efforts and I saw the same thing happening to Black Lives Matter when it comes to defund the police. Nobody wants to defund the police.”

The “burn baby burn” slogan is associated with riots in the 1960s, when people set cars and businesses on fire.

As two Senate races in Georgia head into a January run-off, Clyburn warned the slogan could hurt the Democratic challengers’ chances.

“Georgia was a mecca of the so-called non-violent movement. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis — they were all right there in Georgia,” said Clyburn. “That’s what killed us. Sloganeering killed us back then. I hope we don't allow sloganeering kill us today. If you're going to win those seats in Georgia, we're going to have to connect with voters and you will not connect with Southern voters with defund the police hanging over your head.”

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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