New House Majority Whip James Clyburn

Tony Cox talks with Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) about his new role as the House majority whip.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

We'll get to our regular Roundtable shortly, but first call it Congress gone wild. The Democrats are coming into power and picking their team. Yesterday Nancy Pelosi got voted in as the incoming speaker, the top spot, unanimously.

But she wanted to bring in war opponent John Murtha as majority leader. He lost to Maryland's Steny Hoyer who's butted heads with Congresswoman Pelosi in the past. Meanwhile, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, was elected majority whip. That's the party's third-most powerful position.

NPR's Tony Cox caught up with Congressman Clyburn soon after the votes came in.

TONY COX: First of all, let me thank you for coming on, and also to say to you congratulations on your new position.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina; House Majority Whip): Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

COX: Let me ask you this: tell us how you think in that role you can better advance the agenda of the party and the CBC?

Rep. CLYBURN: The majority whip is the third ranking position in the Congress, and of course it means that I'll have some say-so about how legislation is in fact framed, because it's my job as Whip to get the votes necessary to pass the legislation. And to do that sometimes you have to sit down and make sure that legislation is in the proper form and contain proper ingredients to make it attractive to the voters.

COX: Well, to follow up on that point - the blue dog Democrats have indicated that they will oppose anything that the liberals, in their view, meaning, I assume, the CBC is backing. How will you work through that?

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, I don't know what that really means. I've never heard any blue dog tell me that. I do know this - that the majority of the blue dogs come from my section of the country, from the South. I'm headed to Mississippi now to do their Jefferson Jackson (unintelligible) dinner. I've done a similar event in Louisiana where blue dogs are from. I've done a similar event in North Carolina where blue dogs are from.

I have a very good relationship with those people who call themselves blue dogs. I have a good relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus. I think I'll be able to get 218 votes when we need it. Not just within our caucus but reaching out across party lines as well.

I think I work very well with Republicans. We want to do bipartisan legislation. We want to return civility to this House of Representatives. I think that's what the people voted for last week. That's exactly what we're going to give them.

COX: Let me ask you this final question, sir. And, again, I appreciate your time. I have to ask you: unity is the watchword of the Democrats with their newfound power, but the wrangling over the leadership election suggests that unity isn't necessarily yet a reality. How do you see it? How unified is the leadership?

Rep. CLYBURN: We're very, very unified. I don't confuse unity to unanimity. We are not unanimous in our thought but we are unified as a caucus. And that's what makes us strong, because we have differences of opinion within our caucus.

If you want to have unity, maybe you have everybody who thinks the same way and look the same way - we've had 42 African-Americans in our caucus. The Republicans have got zero African-Americans in their caucus. We got 21 Hispanics in our caucus. The Republicans have got four. We can be unified and not have unanimity.

And so we aren't going to have unanimity. And we aren't going to have unanimity in Democrat caucus because our caucus reflects the American people. The experiences, the diversity, the ethnicity of America can be found in our caucus. The same cannot be said for the Republican caucus.

COX: Congressman Clyburn, thank you once again and again, congratulations.

Rep. CLYBURN: Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox talking with Democratic Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. He was elected House majority whip yesterday.

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