Coronavirus

Clyburn Defends Calling Coronavirus an Opportunity to ‘Restructure Government’

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) / Getty Images

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) on Friday defended his previous claim that coronavirus is a "tremendous opportunity" to advance Democratic policy goals.

"I find it kind of interesting that one of my colleagues said he has a problem with me because I'm a ‘restructure government' person," Clyburn told Roll Call. "Yes, Jim Clyburn is a restructuring government guy and everybody with any common sense, and looking at where we are today, needs to be a restructuring government person."

Clyburn has taken a prominent role in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D., Calif.) coronavirus response. The speaker tapped the South Carolina Democrat on Thursday to lead her select oversight committee on coronavirus relief, which will monitor the billions in federal dollars spent fighting the pandemic. Top Republicans criticized the decision, pointing to Clyburn's March comments calling the coronavirus "a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision."

"What's most telling here is who [Pelosi] appointed. She didn't go with the oversight committee chair, her own, she appointed Clyburn," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said during a Fox News appearance Friday. "And remember what Clyburn said—her majority whip. He said this is a time to restructure into their vision, government. This isn't about oversight, [it] sounds like pure politics."

Clyburn defended his comments in a Friday Roll Call interview, with the South Carolina Democrat comparing America's coronavirus response to World War II.

"I spent some time in the last 24 hours looking at the Truman Committee, looking at the history of it, looking at what went on with it. I think they were very successful," Clyburn said. "We came out of World War II with restructuring some things."

Clyburn also used the coronavirus to tout Democratic priorities on health care, arguing that telehealth expansion could not occur without upending the nation's health care system.

"We gotta have telehealth going forward for these kinds of issues, and to do it we've got to restructure the way we deliver health care in this country," Clyburn said. "That's what we were doing with Medicare and Medicaid, that's what we were doing with the Affordable Care Act—trying to restructure the way health care is delivered in this country."

Though Clyburn defended his portrayal of coronavirus as a political opportunity, Pelosi on Friday indicated that she would back away from adding unrelated Democratic policy goals to the next coronavirus relief bill. The speaker faced criticism for delaying the now-signed $2 trillion stimulus bill in favor of her own legislation, which increased collective bargaining power for unions and raised fuel emissions standards for airlines. She previously indicated that the next relief bill could include "bold action to renew America's infrastructure."

"While I'm very much in favor of doing some things we need to do to meet the needs—clean water, more broadband, the rest of that—that may have to be for a bill beyond that right now," Pelosi said during a Friday CNBC appearance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) welcomed Pelosi’s reversal in a Friday tweet.

"I'm glad Speaker Pelosi is again standing down from efforts to use this crisis to push unrelated left-wing priorities," he said. "The latest proposal had been a massive tax-code giveaway for wealthy people in blue states that was instantly panned by economists across the spectrum."