House Majority Whip James Clyburn accused his fellow members of Democratic leadership of engaging in "tokenism" in their hiring practices, before backtracking in a later interview.
Clyburn told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Thursday that unlike Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, he's always maintained a "fully-integrated staff."
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"Pelosi doesn’t have that experience, nor does Hoyer have that experience," he told the paper. "To them, tokenism is all right with them."
When asked what he meant by "tokenism," Clyburn responded, "What I mean is, how many black folks are on Hoyer’s staff? I’m going to let you check it out."
The South Carolina Democrat said that he never pressed his concerns about staffing to either of his colleagues. "I don’t have to tell them. They’re grown people. They can read. They can see."
Both Hoyer and Pelosi's spokespeople pushed back Clyburn's remarks, pointing out that majorities of both their staff were either women, LGBT, or people of color. When the Wall Street Journal asked about that fact in a later interview, Clyburn softened his stance.
"I did not intend anything as any criticism of Steny or Nancy, because I don’t think they deserve to be criticized on hiring practices," Mr. Clyburn said. "Nancy’s got a whole lot of black folks on her staff."
The African-American congressman himself hit back against criticism that he was a "token"when campaigning for the majority whip position. "This whole notion that I'm some kind of, or was some kind of a token is a bunch of poppycock," Clyburn said in November. "You expect those things … to be used in these campaigns, and I expect to hear dog whistles in campaigns. I never expected to hear it coming from friends and supporters of my colleagues."