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Why No. 3 House Democrat Clyburn voted to start Trump impeachment proceedings

Emma Dumain, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jim Clyburn, saying he was compelled to vote his conscience, broke with House Democratic leaders Wednesday and backed a measure to start impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

The South Carolina lawmaker and Assistant House Democratic Leader said he voted on the impeachment resolution, sponsored by Texas Democrat Al Green, because "I do not feel that (Trump is) fit to be in office."

He was one of 58 Democrats to vote against Republicans' effort to kill the resolution after Green forced a House floor vote using procedural maneuvers. Four Democrats voted "present" rather than take an up or down position.

Clyburn's vote was particularly noteworthy because his colleagues in the leadership -- particularly House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California -- have urged members to tamp down discussions of impeaching Trump, arguing that kind of rhetoric will not play well with voters.

Discussions of impeachment are also premature, Pelosi and others have said, while a special counsel is overseeing a complex investigation into alleged misconduct by Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Clyburn told McClatchy on Wednesday he agreed with Pelosi that, at this point in the 2018 election cycle, focusing on impeachment isn't appropriate, though he suggested that could change as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe continues.

"It all depends on the timing," he said. "We don't know what's gonna happen. We don't get on the campaign trail, at least for me, until May of next year, and at that time maybe we'll have information from Mueller. Who knows?"

He said he had a "long conversation" with Green, a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus, about Green's insistence to force a House vote this week despite pressure to hold off. Once Green was resolved to forge ahead, Clyburn said there was nothing left for him to do.

"I've questioned (Trump's) fitness to serve," Clyburn explained. "I don't like the timing of it. I wish we would wait. But I thought it was important for me to vote my emotions.


"I took the vote because the vote was on the floor," he said. "It's not anything I would have put on the floor, but it was there."

This is also a different position for Clyburn to take regarding Trump and the extent to which he's willing to protest the president. In January, dozens of his Democratic colleagues decided to boycott the inauguration, spurred by Trump's personal attacks on Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon, after Lewis questioned Trump's legitimacy.

Clyburn said at the time he understood Democrats' misgivings about attending, but as a member of leadership felt his presence was obligatory.

"We all have roles to play," he explained.

Green's impeachment resolution did not charge Trump with criminal misconduct, but argued that the president "has brought disrepute, contempt, ridicule and disgrace on the presidency" and "sown discord among the people of the United States."

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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