It was supposed to have been a simple ceremony symbolizing a new bipartisan spirit in Washington:
The outgoing House majority whip, Republican Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, was to hand his successor, Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, an actual whip that had been on display in Blunt’s leadership office at the U.S. Capitol.
But racial overtones apparently undermined the plan.
As camera flashes popped and video recorders whirled Thursday, Clyburn, a 66-year-old African-American from the South, did not receive the whip from Blunt, a 56-year-old white man from a border state.
Instead, Clyburn was given the whip by former Rep. William Gray of Philadelphia, who in 1989 became the first black House majority whip.
Blunt’s spokeswoman, Jessica Boulanger, said it was her understanding that Gray wanted to give Clyburn a whip as a gift, “but you’d have to check with Mr. Clyburn’s office.” A Dec. 22 press release from Clyburn’s office said Blunt would be presenting the whip to Clyburn. Clyburn, now the second African-American to hold the House’s No. 3 post, declined repeated requests Thursday to explain why the ceremony was changed.
Ronald Walters, a black political science professor at the University of Maryland, said he had little doubt that racial sensitivity prompted the decision to have Clyburn receive the whip from a fellow African-American instead of from a white man.