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Prominent black lawmaker scolds Bill Clinton

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  • NEW: Rep. James Clyburn speaks to CNN on Bill Clinton's conduct
  • S. Carolina Democrat: Many blacks upset over remarks about Sen. Barack Obama
  • Clyburn said runner-up will need to bring the party together
  • Clinton spokesman says election "is not about President Clinton's record"
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By Alexander Mooney
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(CNN) -- The most powerful African-American in Congress again scolded former President Bill Clinton for his comments during the Democratic presidential race.

Rep. James Clyburn says ex-President Clinton's actions have deeply upset many African-Americans.

And he said he's concerned that the venomous nature of the campaign might create wounds that won't heal before the general election in November.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, told CNN Friday that Bill Clinton's comments on the "race card" before Pennsylvania's April 22 primary upset him.

Clinton's tone in a phone interview, said Clyburn, "caused people to say things to me [about Clinton] that I never thought I would hear."

In that interview the former president said, among other things, that the Obama campaign "played the race card on me."

After the phone interview but before he hung up, Clinton was recorded saying: "I don't think I should take any s*** from anybody on that, do you?"

In the wake of Barack Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary, Clyburn told Clinton to "chill out" after the former president made comments that angered some blacks, including Clinton's comparing Obama's blowout win to the Rev. Jesse Jackson taking the state in 1988.

"I was talking then about not angering our voters to the point where they wouldn't show up in November," Clyburn said. "So what I'm saying now is no different than what I said back in January."

"And I don't think it's all racial. I think it has to do with the tone of this campaign and how people are reacting to the campaign." Video Watch Clyburn discuss "venomous" tone of campaign »

Clyburn said he thinks the most important person in the process is going to be the person who finishes second.

"And if that person takes a walk -- no matter who he or she may be -- we are going to have a problem in November," he said.

"If you tell me that Obama cannot win if he can't get white votes in Ohio, but Hillary can win even if she doesn't get black votes in New York, I don't think so. I don't think so."

Reacting to Clyburn's comments, Jay Carson, communications director for the William J. Clinton Foundation, said the former president "has an impeccable record on race, civil rights and issues that matter to the African-American community."

"When he addressed the issue of race in this election recently he was simply reacting to a deeply offensive accusation that runs counter to principles he's held and worked for his entire life," Carson said.

But Obama said Friday he does not believe in "irreparable breaches."

"I am a big believer in reconciliation and redemption," the senator from Illinois said. "This has been a fierce contest. I am confident, come August there are going to be a whole bunch of people standing on the stage with a lot of balloons and confetti raining down on the Democratic nominee and people are going to be excited about taking on John McCain in November."

Earlier this week, the former president vigorously defended his words in a radio interview, saying it was the Obama campaign that "played the race card on me."

"We were talking about South Carolina political history, and this was used out of context and twisted for political purposes by the Obama campaign to try to breed resentment elsewhere," Clinton told WHYY-FM on Monday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"And you know, do I regret saying it? No. Do I regret that it was used that way? I certainly do. But you really got to go some to try to portray me as a racist."

Clinton later told a reporter he didn't say the Obama campaign had played the "race card."

In January, the former president also was criticized for calling parts of Obama's position on the war in Iraq a "fairy tale." The former first lady then took heat for remarks that some critics said suggested President Johnson had more to do with passage of the Civil Rights Act than did the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Clyburn said he's already noticing diminishing enthusiasm among younger voters, citing a difference in a visit to a college campus in January and a recent one.


"We have young people -- African-Americans that are as enthusiastic about this party as they've been in the last 40 years, and we cannot tamp down that enthusiasm or we will not be successful in November if we do," he said.

Both Obama and Clinton heavily courted Clyburn ahead of his state's primary, but the congressman has remained neutral. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.

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