CNN's Soledad O'Brien teed up Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to pick out the "code words" in GOP opposition to Susan Rice's nomination to Secretary of State, on Tuesday morning's Starting Point.
"Would you agree with what she's saying that there's a racial or a sexist component to a lot of these comments?" O'Brien asked, quoting the incoming chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). "Or would you say as the letter seems to say, they use the word 'incompetent,' and they use the word undermining the desire to improve U.S. relations?" [Video below the break. Audio here.]
Clyburn, himself a member of the CBC, obliged and said the criticism was racially-coded. "You know, these are code words," he insisted. "During this recent campaign we heard Senator Sununu calling our President 'lazy,' 'incompetent,' these kinds of terms that those of us, especially those of us who had grown and raised in the south, we would hear these little words and phrases all of our lives and we'd get insulted by them."
Conservative guest Will Cain thrashed that reasoning, but after Clyburn went off the air. "Yeah, I would I just have to ask you is Maureen Dowd a racist? Does Dana Milbank, does he speak in code? Because in the last two or three days those liberal columnists suggested that Susan Rice is not qualified to be Secretary of State for reasons that have nothing to do with Benghazi," he argued.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 20 on Starting Point at 7:45 a.m. EST, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Are you frustrated with the Republicans who seem to be going after Susan Rice? Are you frustrated with the intelligence community that kind of left her hanging out there? Are you frustrated with the 97 Republicans who signed a letter now urging the President not to nominate Susan Rice for the Secretary of State position? All of the above?
CLYBURN: Well, I guess, all of the above. Just have to say all of the above. The fact of the matter is, the expressions came from the senior Senator from South Carolina, and Senator McCain. That letter, signed by 97 people, was circulated by Congressman Jeff Duncan who is from South Carolina.
So I have some personal feeling about this. I have said before that Susan Rice's father, Emmitt, was born in Florence, South Carolina, the district – my congressional district. I knew him very well. He was just an outstanding person. As Susan Rice is an outstanding person, and to have her sullied like this really frustrates me to no end. And I hate to see representatives from South Carolina, where her roots run deep, out in the forefront of this. It is just unseemly to me.
O'BRIEN: I want to read a little bit of this, this letter, what they write is she's – Ambassador Rice viewed as having either wilfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter, her actions plausibly give U.S. allies and rivals abroad reason to question U.S. commitment and credibility when needed.
Thus we believe that making her the face of U.S. foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people. The Congressional Black Caucus incoming chair, Marsha Fudge, is who you know well, says that she actually thinks that this is more about the fact that Susan Rice is a woman, and that she's – she's black, I want to play a little bit of what she said.
Rep. MARCIA FUDGE (D-Ohio), Incoming Chairwoman, Congressional Black Caucus: How do you say a person like Susan Rice is not qualified? You may not like her. You may not like the administration, but don't say she's not qualified.
It is a shame that any time something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSONS: Come on now.
FUDGE: I have a real issue with that.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Would you agree with what she's saying that there's a racial or a sexist component to a lot of these comments? Or would you say as the letter seems to say, they use the word "incompetent," and they use the word undermining the desire to improve U.S. relations.
CLYBURN: You know, these are code words. We heard them during the campaign. During this recent campaign we heard Senator Sununu calling our President lazy, incompetent, these kinds of terms that those of us, especially those of us who had grown and raised in the south, we would hear these little words and phrases all of our lives and we'd get insulted by them.
Susan Rice is as competent as anybody you will find. And just to paste that word on her causes problems with people like Marcia Fudge, and it certainly cause a big problem with me. I don't like those words. Say that she was wrong for doing it, but don't call her incompetent. That is something totally different. A lot of very competent people sometimes make errors. And to say that she erroneously did it, I don't have a problem with it. But to call her incompetent, a PhD, Rhodes scholar being called incompetent by someone who can't hold a candle to her intellectually.
By someone who said, and Senator McCain called her incompetent, as well, but he told us that Senator Palin was a very competent person to be Vice President of the United States. That ought to tell you a little bit about his judgment.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Jim Clyburn joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. We appreciate your time. Will Cain I know that you are not a fan of the whistle so we'll chat about this a little bit more on the other side. Because –
WILL CAIN, CNN contributor: Yeah, I would I just have to ask you is Maureen Dowd a racist? Does Dana Milbank, does he speak in code? Because in the last two or three days those liberal columnists suggested that Susan Rice is not qualified to be Secretary of State for reasons that have nothing to do with Benghazi.
O'BRIEN: I think that those two completely – I think those are two com –
CAIN: They have suggested the way she's conducted herself as a diplomat is not conducive to Secretary of State. What I have issue with is you using – not you, Soledad – people using the generic term "they" and then suggesting they speak in code terms. So we need to talk about who is they? Who are we accusing of racism?
O'BRIEN: I am happy to discuss "they" with you on the other side of our break so that we get there on time. Still ahead on Starting Point – you make a good point, though I think.