Clyburn reiterates 'opportunity' in pandemic as inequalities laid bare in disaster response 

Clyburn: Time to "admit we've got a problem"

click to enlarge Clyburn laid out his goals for coronavirus recovery in a video conference Wednesday

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Clyburn laid out his goals for coronavirus recovery in a video conference Wednesday

Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn said Wednesday he will push for "bringing in" states such as South Carolina that haven't expanded Medicaid under federal packages intended to help buffer the impact of the pandemic.

The state's highest-ranking and longest-serving congressman said there needs to be more money invested in mobile units to deploy for testing and treating the virus in rural and impoverished areas.

"What can we do in these states that did not expand Medicaid? Do we go forward and leave these people out of this? Or do we work to bring them in? We're trying to work to bring them in," the House Majority Whip said during an hour-long call with Third Way, a center-left think tank.

Clyburn said the coronavirus pandemic is hitting close to his Orangeburg County home with the death of one of his cousins Wednesday morning, and data showing that minorities are more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

As of Wednesday, data from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control found that while black people made up 41 percent of coronavirus cases in South Carolina, they accounted for 56 percent of the deaths. Statewide, 27 percent of residents are African American, according to the Census Bureau. On the call, moderator Akunna Cook quipped about a saying in the black community: "When America catches a cold, black folks catch pneumonia."

"When we were putting this package together, I made a statement that this is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things," Clyburn said, referencing a March quote that earned him plenty of heat from conservatives. "Our healthcare system ought to be accessible and affordable to all. We believe rural hospitals ought not to be closing …

"What we have to do really is admit we've got a problem. You're never going to solve a problem by ignoring it or pretending it doesn't exist. We've got to admit our healthcare system needs to be restructured. There's no question about that. We've got to admit infrastructure in this country is crumbling … Nothing is a bigger threat to health in this country than the water we drink."

Clyburn delved further into the politics of the current pandemic on the call. He took shots at his Republican colleagues in the House for "playing games" during the effort to pass a relief package this month. He was asked about how Republican President Donald Trump attempted to derail Clyburn's oversight committee to review stimulus spending.

"We're going to make sure we aren't playing favorites, that we are responding to what's necessary for the American people," Clyburn said. "We are going to be … carrying out this responsibility and I hope we can get back to Washington real soon."

When it came to voting in the pandemic, Clyburn said he is focused on "organizing not agonizing."

"Having been born and raised in South Carolina, I know what voter suppression is all about," he said. "Yeah, let's fight the voter suppression but let's not put all of our energy in that. Let's make sure we begin now to organize."

When asked how he would help build resilience among minority communities during this time, Clyburn responded:

"We have to take a hard look at our educational structure, at infrastructure (including broadband and water), at our health infrastructure and see what we can to make sure everybody has access and everybody can afford the greatnesses we have in this country," Clyburn said. "People need to be able to look to their government for relief."

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