Majority Whip, U.S. House of Representatives; U.S. Representative from South Carolina (D); Chairman, House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis
Former Foreign Secretary, National Academy of Medicine; Former Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Member, Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations
HAMBURG: Thank you so much and welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations virtual meeting with House Majority Whip, James E. Clyburn. I'm Margaret Hamburg, a member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the Obama administration, and served as the New York City Health Commissioner serving under both Mayor Dinkins and Mayor Giuliani. It's such an honor to welcome Congressman Clyburn. James E. Clyburn is the majority whip, the third ranking Democrat in the United States House of Representatives, and currently serves also as the chairman of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. He's also the chairman of the Rural Broadband Task Force and Democratic Faith Working Group. He came to Congress in 1993 and representing South Carolina's sixth congressional district, he rapidly demonstrated his leadership skills. In the very first year he was elected copresident of his freshman class, quickly rose through the leadership ranks, subsequently elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and vice chairman and then later chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
He also previously served as minority whip from 2007 to 2011, and served as assistant Democratic leader from 2011 to 2019. But I understand that he actually began his service and elected office at age twelve when he was elected as president of his NAACP youth chapter, so he has long standing skills in elected office. He also, I must say, comes from very humble beginnings in Sumter, South Carolina as the eldest son of an activist, fundamentalist minister, and an independent, strong, and civic minded beautician. And clearly, his family taught him many important values that he draws on now -- the importance of family and community of faith, of integrity, and respect and public service. So we really do both admire you and your service, Congressman, but also, we need you now. So thank you for joining us to reflect some on important issues before us. And I thought that it would be probably only appropriate to really begin by, by asking you to reflect in a in a broad way on the state of race and race relations issues, social justice issues and inequality in our country. This has been a sad and challenging time with the loss of so many key figures in the civil rights movement. CT Vivian, Reverend Joseph Lowery, Elijah Cummings and of course last week laying to rest your friend and colleague, you know John Lewis. You mentioned that John Lewis was a hero to the country and icon to the movement and importantly, your friend. With his loss, you now really take up the mantle in some ways as, as you know, a leading voice on civil rights issues in this country with your history and experience, but also with the work you're doing now. So perhaps I could turn to you just for some broad reflections as I said.
CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much for that and thank you for having me. And for your tremendous service, especially to the health field that I'm very, very concerned about. As for my 60-year long friendship with John Lewis, John and I first met back in October 1968. The weekend of October 15, on the campus of Morehouse College, is also the same day that I met Martin Luther King Jr. That night, as many may be aware, there was a little bit of a disagreement between students and Martin Luther King Jr. and others as to what the approach ought to be. King was advocating nonviolence, breaking unjust laws, and paying the penalty of going to jail. But as of that weekend, King himself had never been to jail. And so a lot of us felt -- I was in that group -- that you lead not just by precept, but by example. And we were challenging some of those notions. In order to resolve those differences, we met that night in a room there on the campus, and we went into that meeting around ten o'clock in the evening and didn't come out until four o'clock the next morning. It was supposed to be an hour long meeting, but it lasted much longer than that. When I came out of the meeting, I called it my Saul to Paul transformation. I was a different person. I was enamored by King. I grew dramatically in those four or five hours.
Now, John Lewis was also committed to that movement, But I tell everybody, there's always been a civil rights movement in this country. You could go back to the 1700s Stone Rebellion; the Denmark VC episodes in Charleston, in the 1800s; the Niagara movement in the early 1900s, which led to the creation of the NAACP. All of those were civil rights movement, but in every movement, somebody rises to the top. It's usually somebody who saw head and shoulders above everybody else. That was John Lewis and the civil rights movement of the 60s. I always kind of cringe when people said, you know, you took part in the civil rights movement. I say no; I took part in a civil rights movement. For as long as you have people who are subjected to suppression and other sorts of unjust laws, there's gonna be a civil rights movement.
But John, internalized nonviolence. A lot of us accepted nonviolence as a tactic, but John internalized it, and it became his way of life. John was near sainthood, as far as I'm concerned and I often talked to him. When he got ousted it as a chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, that people called us, I think that was 1966. And John then got involved in voter education stuff. He chaired, or he was director, of the Hood Education Project down in Atlanta, and I chaired the board education activities going on in Charleston County. So we interacted again. We went all over the South, registering people to vote. You can imagine in 1965, when John crossed that bridge, only 2% of African Americans in the state of Alabama were registered vote. And so we had our work cut out for us and it worked well, but as a result of that Bloody Sunday, March 1965, we got the 1965 Voting Rights Act in August of that year. And John became the symbol of voting rights in this country. And I think that President Obama was pretty accurate, that he is a founding father of the new America that all of us have worked so hard for. So John Lewis, to me, deserves every accolade that has been given him and even much more.
That's why I moved to change the new Voting Rights Act, change the name to the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. And our hope is that it will pass the House and I hope the Senate will pass it because what we're trying to do now is to restore the efficacy of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was destroyed by a quick decision. Seven years ago the Supreme Court in the case of Shelby County vs Holder threw out the formula. And so we worked, John worked, in a bipartisan way with Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin. They worked together to put out a new formula to update it the way the court asked us to, and that's what we did when we passed the law. But the Senate is refusing to pass that law. So this is gonna be the first election since 1965, that there won't be the protections of the Voting Rights Act. And that's why I think you hear so much of these shenanigans going on in Washington today. Because people know that voting precincts can be changed the day before the election. That's what they did in Louisville. I think they did two days before elections in Louisville, Kentucky last time. They've done the same thing here in South Carolina like voter ID laws requiring you to put your full social security number if you want an absentee ballot. These are suppression tactics that ought not be in this country. And I've been warning people. One thing I learned by studying history and teaching it: anything that's happened before can happen again. It doesn't have to just be confined to other countries. This democracy is very tenuous. This democracy could be lost if we're not careful.
HAMBURG: Well, those are powerful words. And I think we all deeply appreciate, you know, what they mean, (and) also appreciate the role you're playing in trying to help protect our democracy and protect the right to vote as we go into a set of very important elections this fall. I think voting, and access to the polls and to appropriate ballots, is very much on all of our minds. You know, you were talking about a set of critical inflection points and moments in our country in the history of the civil rights movement, this certainly feels like another critical moment; of course, not only the recognition of what we've lost in terms of key leaders like John Lewis, but also, you know, this summer seeing the remarkable rising up of protests and calls to action to address the issues of continuing social injustice and racial discrimination, you know, following the terrible and senseless murder of George Floyd and called in this country but echoed really around the world.
Then of course, we find ourselves in the midst of this unprecedented coronavirus crisis. Which is having devastating and disproportionate burdens on people of color in terms of health, but also in terms of economic security and economic futures. You now are leading the House Select Committee on the coronavirus crisis, and of course, you're responding to this broader landscape around these concerns of racial disparities and discrimination and injustice. Do you see reason for hope? Do you see a path forward there? Do you think that we can really build on this current tragedy and crisis towards a better future?
CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely. You mentioned two things in your introduction to me. Number one, I'm South Carolinian and the motto of my great state is "While I breathe, I hope." I believe in that motto, very much. But I'm also was born and raised in the parsnips. And my father taught me the efficacy of that Hebrew, the 11th chapter, the first verse, faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. And so I keep faith in this. John Lewis more than anybody ever knew, kept his faith. Even when he was lunging and within an inch of his life. He never lost faith. This morning, I read a letter from a police chief down in Florida, who sent me a letter asking me to convey to the family of John Lewis, how much he thought of John Lewis. And he talked about a chance meeting he had with him in an airport I guess it was Logan Airport up in Boston, Massachusetts. That's what you learn in this stuff, you don't give up.
This country is in pursuit of perfection. It's there in the preamble, the pursuit of a more perfect union. We'll never get there, but we should always be in search of that. And so, no, I'm not giving up on the country. I believe that we are going to get through this pandemic. I think we're gonna get through this racial strife. I often think about (how) my wife and I met in jail. It worked for us. We stayed married fifty-eight years. She passed away last September, having lost the thirty year battle with diabetes. But, we'd never given up on this country -- we talked about it often. I mean, right up to when we could not communicate anymore, right after Labor Day, she was still talking about this election, a little bit like John Lewis. Last night at the John Lewis Center, the former mayor of Atlanta, (Bill) Campbell, who spoke at his funeral, tell people to vote. So no, we're not giving up on this country. I think we're gonna get beyond all of this, and I'm gonna do everything I can. I've always said, and I believe I really mean this when I said, that if the political differences between me and an opponent on any issue requires five steps, I don't mind taking three of them. That's just the way that I approach governance. That's the way I approach trying to run my position and our whole job. We're trying to meet people more than halfway. And so I'm not giving up on the country. I think we're gonna get through all of this.
I know COVID-19 is revealing fault lines in our system, especially in our healthcare system. Which is one of my readings, in fact, I re-read Tocqueville's two volume book Democracy in America. And Tocqueville says something that was in the book was very interesting to me. He said that America is not great because it's more enlightened than any other nation, but rather because it has always been able to repair its faults. And that's what I believe. We have some fault lines that have been exposed in healthcare, education, and housing. COVID-19 has exacerbated some of that. So what we've got to do now as a country, is repair those faults. That's where our greatness is. So Congress has to do what they can to repair those faults. And we don't do that by shirking the issues. We do that by wrapping our arms around it, joining hands with others, and do what's necessary to overcome it. So I think we're gonna get through this. It's not going to be pleasant. But we're going to survive. We're going to have an election. And I think the election will do what it has always done, and that is set this country back on track.
HAMBURG: Well, I want to get to the election in a minute. First, I want to talk just a little bit more about COVID-19 because it is, you know, such a pressing issue. You feel it in your own state, which is seeing, unfortunately, a significant rise in cases and in deaths and across our whole nation. You know, sadly, we are leading the world in this terrible scourge. And you know, when we compare ourselves to other nations that have already grappled with this virus, we see that our response has not been as effective and has not allowed us to really begin to resume some of the activities we all care so much about in the way that other countries have because of having had a stronger national response.
I watched your hearing on Friday on COVID-19 with doctors Fauci, Redfield, and Giroir. And first I have to congratulate you on your patience and diplomatic skills, because there were some fairly wild moments, but I guess you're used to that. But I thought overall, it was, it was, you know, a constructive hearing. But you did say something at one point that really stuck with me that builds on what you were just saying. You quoted Martin Luther King saying "the time is always right to do the right thing" and asked the question, the critical question, are we using our time well? And I guess, you know, from what you've been learning about the response to COVID and what you're seeing in your own district, your own state and of course, our nation .What do you think are the critical next steps that we need to take? You know, clearly, as you noted, we don't have a national plan and that has put us in a bad place. But, but drawing on your optimism and your hope, what are some critical next steps?
CLYBURN: Well, I think that the most critical step that we could take is to develop a national plan. Dr. Fauci did not stray away from saying that the reason that the European Union has done so much better than we've done with this virus is the fact that when they shut down, they shut down from 90 to 95%. When we finally got around to shutting down, after postponing it for so long, starting out with one person coming from China to fifty decent people who may be affected, and the fact that some miracle would occur and it will go away. Finally, we decided to do some shutting down, but we only went to about 50% and did not have the patience to hold to that and we opened back up too soon. So now we are in a second surge. I don't think we've started a second round, we're in the second surge of the first round. And I think what we're gonna get -- now I'm no expert in this, I'm just studying this stuff as any other layman would study it -- but I think that we're gonna have a real problem reopening schools. We just had a camp down in Georgia, young people there, they had to shut down the camp. And if my memory serves 75% to 80% of those students affected—that was in this one-week camp—lasted for one day.
These are the kinds of things we have to be very, very careful about. So I believe that the only thing for us to do is to get a national plan and if the current administration will not do it, that's all the more reason for us to show up at the polls in November and let's put somebody in place to develop a national plan. You can't have fifty different plans and think you're going to cure this problem. That's the kind of states’ rights approach that lead to John Lewis, the John Lewis you see today. Because he had a different right he said for Alabama, in a little town of Troy, where he grew up, then then one would have in other states in the union -- not South Carolina, but some other states in the union. So we can't have a fifty state approach to this. There needs to be one unified, coordinated, comprehensive plan and it requires leadership. I spoke earlier about leadership being by precept and example. It can't just be precepts. A guy told me one time when I first got my first administrative job, I was a twenty-five year-old out in Charleston, South Carolina. He stopped me in the restaurant one day, he says, I've been watching you for a while I'm gonna tell you something. You've got these leadership positions now and just remember, leadership is as leadership does, I have never forgotten that, leadership is as leadership does not as you express it but as you do, that's our problem.
HAMBURG: Well picking up on that, let me turn to leadership at the national level. We all I think know how important your voice and your support for Vice President Biden has been in terms of moving him into the clear front runner position and as we go into the national election in in November. There was an article in the New York Times, not this Sunday, but the Sunday before about the sort of circle of advisers around Vice President Biden, and you made the observation that you get letters and telephone calls from people saying, this is what Biden needs to do, this is what you need to tell Biden to do, but that you don't tell him any of that. But I'm hoping that in this intimate group, you'll tell us what you do actually tell Biden. And maybe you'll even tell us who the VP is gonna be.
CLYBURN: Good try. You know, I don't tell him what to do. And I've said publicly that one of the reasons my wife and I stay married for 58 years was because she often offered suggestions. She never told me what I must do. She always told me what I should do. Now, I might have interpreted should as must. But the fact of the matter is, I share with the vice president my thoughts when he asks for them. I have never called him and volunteered anything. What I said publicly, if he wants to hear more about what I've said, he's got my number, and I'll talk to him. But I think we have to allow leaders to do that which their hearts and their heads guide them to do. I have said to him and I've said to the public, when it comes to a vice president, a partner, he should allow the vetting and the polling to instruct him. But once he gets that kind of instruction, he should apply his head and his heart to the process and find someone that will compliment him as a candidate. He calls it simpatico. I've never looked the word up. I'm assuming that means compatible. But whatever it is, I think that he should be allowed the freedom without any pressure from me, or anybody else, to make that decision, because he's the one that's gonna have to live with that. I don't know exactly what led John McCain to make the decision he made, but I've read enough about it since to know that it wasn't long before he regretted that decision. Mondale, with Ferraro, made a decision. And it cost him dearly, though I don't think he would've won the election anyway. But the fact of the matter is that the vetting that should have been done before the announcement did not take place until the campaign was going on. And by that time, it's too late. So this is the kind of past experiences that I think ought to be used by the nominee and informed by the vetting and the polling.
HAMBURG: Well, we all certainly recognize that this is a very important election. That brings me back to what you were touching on earlier. How worried are you about voting? Do you feel that we're going to be able to have fair and open elections? That we're going to be able in the COVID crisis to to get people safely to the polls or do the kind of mail-in absentee voting that that might be indicated? And, you know, how worried should we be?
CLYBURN: I am very worried, because I think that the country has allowed itself to become susceptible to manufactured crises. For the last ten to twelve years, I've noticed that because maybe more forms of communicating, the internet, the other sound bites. I can't tell you how many times. I have three daughters. They're all grown into internet people. They are what we call social media people. I'm not but they, every now and then, in fact, more now than then they are informing me about what is being said about me on social media. And 90% of the time, it's just wrong. It's just outright wrong. Because people allow someone's opinion to become fact, and they act on it. And I can't tell you how many times I've seen this and I've wondered, why do we allow this to happen? The President of the United States, expressing his opinion about mail-in voting. It's not the facts. The state of Washington has been doing this forever and they have found there's almost no fraud. You will have fraud in almost anything. I was born and raised in the process. One of my first meetings, not a meeting of mine, but one of my first memories was a meeting my dad was having -- he was the president of the presbytery -- when they bought the de facto minister. They didn't burn down the church. They got rid of the minister. So you don't get rid of an election when you find fraud. You find fraud up in North Carolina. The President's own party, the guy he endorsed, committed the fraud, and he never took office, had to put the election off forever. We just heard out in the Midwest, another big fraud case, the President's party. Both parties may be subjected to fraud, but we should not develop our entire approach to this election based upon the possibilities of fraud. Let's put in place the kind of processes to protect that. We can do that. Congress can appropriate the necessary funds to have voting take place up to election day.
Election day is going to be November third, there's no reason why we can't start voting in earnest at the same time states start absentee and early voting. They do it for thirty days. Most states do it for thirty days. Why don't we have voting in earnest for thirty days? Why not put the resources in the budget so that we can say that you can vote over a period of two or three or four weeks and have all those votes, if you're going to mail it in, have it postmarked by the Saturday before election day in order for the votes to count. This whole thing about nobody voting absentee until the day of election, and you're not knowing for fifteen or twenty days, maybe thirty days who the winners are, you can do that proactively, and it's so easy to do. So I'm worried that we will sit back, knowing full well that there's somebody trying to disrupt this election. Trying not to have this election at all, and trying to install themselves as a strong man. I've said this before, and a lot of people get nervous when I said, but you know, there's one thing about turning eighty, which I did last week, which would (make) you feel like saying it's almost hey, I don't think this man plans to have an election. I think this man thinks he's gonna hoodwink the people of this country, much the way that the people of Germany was hoodwinked back in the 1930s. That's what I said, and that's what I believe.
HAMBURG: Wow, well, a lot to think about and a lot for us to do. And I know that I'm not the only one that wants to ask you questions. So I want to invite members to join our conversation now with their questions. And I also want to remind people that this meeting is on the record, and I think that the operator will now start to open up the queue.
Staff: (Gives queuing instructions.) We will take our first question from Maryum Fatima Saife.
Q: Thank you Representative Clyburn, especially for your leadership right now. My question is related to our foreign policy. Like many institutions across this country, we are seeing pretty stark racial disparities and especially in the Foreign Service. Out of 189 career ambassadors only three are black and four are Hispanic; of the Foreign Service in total, only 3% are African American women. And these numbers from the GAO are from 2017. So they actually predate the Trump administration. In philanthropy 92% of foundation presidents in the U.S. are white. So what are some tangible ways we can ensure the gatekeepers to power beat it in philanthropy, national security, or other sectors are more reflective of the demographics of this country?
CLYBURN: Well, if that question is intended for me, I am not a foreign policy expert, but I will say this. I have said in my discussions with the president, or who I hope will be the president. That I think when we talk about having an administration that reflects the demographics of this country, it's more than who's on your personal staff. It's more than who happens to be in the cabinet. It's all about who represents you, or who represent you around the world. And I don't need to tell anybody participating in this meeting that this world is made up of a much higher percentage of people of color then that's reflected in the Foreign Service. And I think the time has come for us to be remember that credibility requires that we have people working in the Foreign Service in countries respects where their countries were the people of color that requires more credibility than we are having. So I would hope that I'm not a part of the transition stuff. But when I was asked, I made it very clear. I don't want to be in any kind of transition role. So whoever may be running this preparation, I wish they would keep that in mind. Since I'm saying it publicly here, I will say to them privately as well. Be sure that when you're putting together the Foreign Service look at people of color, especially when you look for credibility around the world.
HAMBURG: Thank you. I think that's a very thoughtful answer to that question and it will make a difference I think. Could we have the next question please?
Staff: We will take our next question from John Austin.
Q: Good afternoon and thank you very much. Congressman Clyburn. I just want a little clarity in your comment when you said that if I understood you correctly, that Vice President Biden should be informed by the polling for his running mate. At the same time, you should make that decision based on his head and his heart. What I'm a little confused is why should polling influence that decision if it's such a personal decision with a person that has to work with him in the administration, or did I misunderstand what you said?
CLYBURN: No, you understood me perfectly well. Look, there are a lot of people that get along personally with me, feel good personally about, but that doesn't mean that something will not show up in the vetting. Remember I said vetting and polling, and polling to me, it also includes focus groups. If you are looking for people to vote for you, then I think, it's incumbent upon you to try to get people who the constituents or the voters feel creditable about. So I said that let your vetting take place, let your polling take place, and when that is over, then you then look at that and let your heart and your head then look at it. That's not the poem is not final, your head and your heart are final. But I think you would be a bit foolish not to take a look at the vetting, if you don't pay attention to the vetting, stuff jumps out that you would never know anything about. And the same thing goes with polling. If you like somebody and you find that they are polling at 2% because people that you want to vote for you may not like the person, I think you need to take a look at that. No, you heard me perfectly well.
HAMBURG: Thank you. Let's take the next question.
Staff: We will take our next question from Sally Horn.
Q: Thank you. I would like to go back to the issue of voting by mail. I am very concerned, as are most of my friends, by what has been revealed by I think the Washington Post or New York Times, about the efforts of Trump's appointee Postmaster General, to slow down the postal service to make it a less reliable service and what that might mean for voting. And for both the absentee ballots getting out to people, and when they have filled them out getting that (back). What might the Congress be able to do with regard to this problem, particularly in the context of ensuring there's enough money so that the post, the mail people are getting overtime pay? Because that's one of the things that the Postmaster General has forbidden, among others. What can you do to stop this effort to make the post office less reliable, especially in the context of the elections?
CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for asking that question. I have the same concerns that you have about the Postal Service. I do believe that this administration is trying to slow down the postal services and I think it's that's what's so disheartening to me. Because when you slow down the Postal Service is not just about whether or not they deliver ballots on time, it's whether or not they are delivering people's mail on time is what not that we are balancing now. And they already complaining that they can't get the mail out. Which means that people are gonna have their utilities disconnected because they aren't getting the bills that they ought to get, and other things as well. So just think about what it is that you get from the Postal Service. We ought not to be thinking about this in terms of just voting. But when it comes to voting, here is what I would suggest. I use the Colorado model. I've studied the way they voted in Colorado. It's not just the Post Office, everybody gets the ballot in the mail. You don't have to put your ballot in the mail.
There are drop boxes around town that you can go to when you go into the grocery store or going to the drugstore, you can drop off your ballot. I think that thirty-day window prior to Election Day ought to be used in such a way that we were fund enough for polling places or ballot deposit boxes thirty days out. Having enough boxes to accommodate a population. I don't know what the best would be one box every one thousand people or something. I think that's what we ought to do. And I believe that is what's required, especially when we had this pandemic idea that we know that people ought not be gathering. What happened in Wisconsin was crazy and a lot of people got sick. People believe in this country and they will run the risk of getting sick to participate in this democracy. We ought to make it as convenient for them as we possibly can, as safe for them as they possibly as we possibly can. And I do believe that that ought to be in this bill that's being negotiated. Now, we can say to Mitch McConnell, okay, if this is what you want, you get it when there's enough money put here for us to have an election and put the procedure there. And that way, the American people will see exactly who is trying to subvert this democracy. I think that is a much more serious issue than suppressing the vote, subverting democracy. That's what's taking place here.
HAMBURG: Well, thank you very much. You know, I guess this election, we also probably can anticipate that we may not have an answer the evening of the election or even the next day. That this may be a prolonged period of counting votes and assessing the situation and that that may be fraught as well. But you know, a lot for us to be worrying about. Next question, please.
Staff: We will take our next question from Khalil Byrd.
Q: Hello, representative. This is Khalil Byrd of Invest America. I'm also good friends with Gabby, your chief of staff. Democrats in the House of Representatives are also up for the vote this November. I'd like to know and if you could share with the community what is the argument that you and Speaker Pelosi and your leadership team are making with regards to your record? What are the accomplishments that you're laying out and that you're proud of as a House of Representatives?
CLYBURN: Well, you know, when it comes to voting, I think that each congressperson has to be very in tune with what takes place with the constituents in their own congressional district. I tell people all the time, the first congressional district of South Carolina splits eight or six counties with the sixth congressional district, that's me and Joe Cunningham. We're both Democrats. I could not get elected in Joe Cunningham's part of those six counties, and he could not get elected in my part of those six counties. That's just the way it is. So I think that when we lay out national proposals, we have to keep in mind that we people have to be free to vote for their constituents and advocate for their constituents.
Now, when you look at the product as a whole, all you have to do is look at the bills, we just did the Justice in Policing Act. We passed that in the House and the Democrats passed it. We hold that out to the American people we are doing what over -- in fact, I saw a number saying 90% of the American people think that something is amiss with law enforcement in this country, and we've fixed that. You know, I don't know of anybody who doesn't believe that we ought to outlaw chokeholds. In a time, a 130-pound young man who was timid and a violinist, gets choked to death. In the next day, we see a video, two or three officers mimicking his death. 130-pound young man who pleaded for his life and told people how sick he was and they're laughing about the next day. 90% of the American people think we ought to do something about that. And Democrats just did something about it, and it's now being held up in the Senate by Mitch McConnell. That to me is a great accomplishment. We passed these appropriation bills that ought to be passed.
We passed the Heroes Act. Look at the Heroes Act. If Mitch McConnell would've put that on the floor, I think it would pass. And state and local governments would be taken care of. You know what's gonna happen to these state and local governments if we don't fund them? They came with a plan with no money for state and local governments, but $2 billion to build a new FBI building. And I forgot how much they put in there so that business people, you get 100% tax deduction for their business lunches. That's what's in this bill coming from the Republicans. So what we're going to do is lay out to the American people: here is what's in the legislation we're passing. And just remember, Democrats control one third of the process. That's the House. Republicans control the Senate. And the Republicans control the White House. They got two thirds, and we got one third.
And when we lay out these proposals, these bills to be appropriated to pass the appropriation bills, justice and policing. I'm just talking about the big bills that get in the headlines. Then I think the American people will see what it is and why we are proud of what we've done. And be able to compare that to what these other guys are proposing. I don't understand why we will not fund unemployment insurance for people who aren't working so they can take care of their children because childcare centers are closed, and they got to go and find innovative ways to take care of their children if they happen to be an essential worker. I don't understand this. Why they don't have food stamps for poor people, but you can have a business lunch deduction tax deduction for business people. I don't understand that. And that's the kind of stuff you can lay out to the American people going into this election so they can compare with care and do what's necessary to preserve this democracy.
HAMBURG: Well, I think we've got time for a couple more questions. We're grateful to have this time with you. Obviously, so much important work that you're doing on the Hill and such challenging times. But let's take another question.
Staff: We'll take our next question from Glen Fukushima.
Q: Hello Congressman, can you hear me? Yes. Congressman, I want to first thank you for all the efforts you're making to make America a more perfect union. My question has to do with Black Lives Matter, given the fact that there's such huge disparities with regard to criminal justice, education, employment, health care, housing, income, whatever. What are the concrete steps that you recommend that a Biden administration take in order to make significant progress in alleviating the problems that are posed by Black Lives Matter, in addition to restoring the Voting Rights Act? Thank you.
CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much. First of all, let's take healthcare. I think that a Biden administration ought to do three things. Number one, it ought to improve upon make more accessible, the Affordable Care Act for everybody. Number two, I think we need to make broadband available. So we can have telehealth. And number three, I think we ought to create a national network of federally qualified community health centers. To me the ultimate safety net is in healthcare, or community health care centers, and we ought to put one within commuting distance of everyone in the country. I propose that and it cost about $65 million to do that. I'm sorry, $65 billion to do that.
Let's look at education. I think we need to improve and broaden the Element of Secondary Education Act. We need to enhance the Higher Education Act. And we ought to do something immediately to get rid of some of the student debt. We ought not have financial institutions making big profits off students while they're in school. And then they got to come out of school and start paying a got a big debt when they come out of school, can't start a family, can't buy a home, and then build it become almost wards of the state. So that's in education. In housing, one of the first things we ought to do is get rid of this tax deduction that we gave that's now eliminated. We can't afford to build affordable housing anymore, because one of the things we did reduce the corporate rate down to 21%, which Joe Biden has already said he will move back up to 28%. One of the reasons you want to move it back up to 28% because what we've done we make it uncomfortable for people to do affordable housing. So the people who were doing affordable housing many of them have gotten out of the affordable housing market, so we cannot get people in affordable housing that some of them need to rent. And at the same token, we need to enhance markets amended.
Now one of the things a lot of people talk about my civil rights background and one of the things that I never hear people talk about too much, I spent fourteen years on bank boards, to predecessor banks that are now part of Bank of America, system, Southern system Southern sovereign, I was on those boards. I was on the audit committee, I chaired the Community Reinvestment Act, and I know what we need to do to stop redlining and begin to make mortgages more accessible and affordable for people. All of that is what Black Lives Matter is all about. It's much more than law enforcement, law enforcement is important. But that's not all to life. There are people who never come in contact with the law. But they're trying to live everyday trying to educate themselves and their children, trying to get health care, trying to get affordable housing.
These are the things and finally, back when we were doing the so called Recovery Act back in 2009. I said to those gathered, Democrats and Republicans, House and the Senate, that I am one of the few Democrats that you run across that ain't all that enamored with Franklin Roosevelt. I don't have anything against him, he's a nice guy, except that when we had the recovery from the Great Depression, CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, WPA Work Projects Administration, those jobs that were created when they came south, they had a little tag on them whites only. That I remember. And I said to them, I don't want to be a part of anything that calls for a recovery and everybody can't recover side by side. So if we're going to do something, let's do something to make sure that people who are in need get addressed according to their needs. Rather than keep satisfying people according to their greed.
They asked me what I would do, and I said this. I said, the Census Bureau says that whenever 20% or more of a community is locked beneath the poverty level for the last 30 years, that is the persistent poverty community. What we need to do, and Joe Biden's put this into his platform. That is to say that in the appropriation, be it housing, education, healthcare, at least 10% of all the money appropriated here must go into those communities where 20% or more of the population been stuck beneath the poverty line for thirty years ten, twenty, or thirty. We did that in in the Recovery Act in four accounts. It worked famously. People got water systems that they never got before. And then they didn't have to go out and compete for them. They got it because they were eligible according to need. When you tell a poor county, and I have a lot of in my district, that you gotta compete against these rich counties that can hire professional grants writers, in order to get money from the federal government, they are going to stay poor. So these are the kinds of things I would do. I've said those with the vice president and I think that if you do just those things, and there's other things that go into now, but I don't want to waste all your time today.
HAMBURG: Well, I think we appreciate your insights and your passion. I think we only have time for one more question, though. And I asked the questioner to be, be brief so that we can.
CLYBURN: I think you're really asking me, okay, I understand.
Staff: We will take our next question from Uzra Zaya.
HAMBURG: Are you there?
Staff: All right. Moving on. We will take our next question from Antonio Fins.
Q: Very quickly, I am here in Florida. I'm with the USA Today Florida network where we're watching the VP pick very closely. Could be historic if it is a woman of color. Val Demings is somebody we've watched very closely. So the question is have you spoken to the Trump campaign? I'm sorry, the Biden campaign about her and B, what would you tell the country if she is chosen about her?
CLYBURN: I think Val Demings is a tremendous person. I've known her for a long time. Before she became police chief down there. She's an AME and so I'm I, I've been to church with her. I was there a big supporter of hers when she ran for Congress the first time. You may remember, her district got refigure reconfigured while she was in it. And it was made almost impossible for her to win. But she stuck it out. She took the loss and did not give up and came back and won the next time. I think she's a fantastic person. And I get very upset when people tell me that because of her law enforcement background as a police chief, that that should be disqualifying. I think it's a shame. If you ask people to go into law enforcement, and they excel at what they do, working all the way up to become the chief of police. That's what we want most people of color as Chiefs of Police. So why should we be holding that against her? No, I don't hold that against her. I've said that to the to the Vice President and some of his people. I think that she's under serious consideration, and she ought to be.
HAMBURG: Well, thank you so much, Congressman Clyburn. Thank you for your time and the work you do every day. Thank all of you for joining our virtual meeting. Let me remind you that the audio and transcript of today's meeting will be posted on CFR's website. I hope everyone has a good day and stay well. Thank you.