Pres. Biden Awards Clyburn, No. 3 U.S. House Dem, Highest Civilian Honor

WASHINGTON — Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. James Clyburn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Friday from President Joe Biden, the leader whose presidential campaign Clyburn, a South Carolina native, re-energized in 2020.

Clyburn, the former House majority whip who has represented South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District since 1993, was awarded the highest civilian honor in a White House ceremony alongside 18 fellow recipients, including former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore.

“Always grounded in faith, family and service, Jim has guided South Carolina and our country with a steady hand and honest heart for over the last half century,” Biden said when introducing Clyburn.

“And I can say this without fear of contradiction: I would not be standing here as president making these awards were it not for Jim. I mean that sincerely,” Biden continued. “And neither of us would be standing here without (his late wife) Emily Clyburn, a woman of enormous character who we all miss. We’re a great nation because we have good people like Jim and Emily Clyburn and our honorees today. All my fellow Americans, Jim is the best.”

Biden pumped his fists when Clyburn’s name was called. Before placing the medal around Clyburn’s neck, Biden placed his arm around the congressman.

This year’s honorees also included Michael Bloomberg, a former New York mayor and rival to Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary, journalist Phil Donahue, Olympic swimming champion Katie Ledecky, actress Michelle Yeoh and Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in one of the nation’s most high-profile anti-gay hate crimes.

“Words cannot express the profound honor and gratitude I feel upon receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This recognition is not only a testament to my work, but also to the countless individuals who have supported my journey; the giants who fought alongside me for justice, equity, and the pursuit of progress; and the support of my loving family,” Clyburn, 83, said in a statement.

“I am immensely grateful to President Biden for this incredible honor and take seriously the responsibility it carries. While it serves as a recognition of one’s accomplishments, it is also an astute reminder of the challenges that lie ahead. It speaks to the duty each and every one of us has to further the founding fathers’ dream of a ‘more perfect union.’ I accept this award with deep humility and the promise to uphold this vision,” he continued.

Clyburn spent much of his time in Congress as a leader, quickly rising to chair the Congressional Black Caucus and serving in Democratic Caucus leadership for the past two decades. He was the longtime third-highest-ranking House Democrat behind Pelosi and Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, though his title shifted depending on whether the party held a House majority.

Clyburn was elected as the party’s vice chair in 2003 and subsequently served as House majority whip from 2007 to 2010 and from 2019 to 2022. During that time, Clyburn also chaired the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Between his tenures as Democratic whip, Clyburn held the title of assistant Democratic leader from 2011 to 2018 and again in 2023 until he stepped down in March.

His endorsement of Biden in the 2020 South Carolina primary is credited as a major boost to Biden’s presidential run, helping Biden secure the nomination and eventually defeat then-President Donald Trump.

Among his work in Congress, Clyburn touts his work on targeting resources to communities experiencing persistent poverty, advocating for federal loans for rural energy savings projects and expanding broadband internet access as part of the 2021 infrastructure law.

In a review by States Newsroom of the South Carolina delegation’s 2022 financial disclosures, Clyburn reported far less in assets than his congressional colleagues, most of whom reported assets in the millions.

Clyburn’s district includes large swaths of central and southwestern South Carolina, including Charleston and the outskirts of Columbia.

Clyburn was a teacher and state government official before being elected to Congress.

He was born in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1940 to a minister and beauty shop operator.

According to his biography, he met his late wife, Emily, a fellow student protester, in jail in Orangeburg, South Carolina in 1960. They had three daughters, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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