Rep. James Clyburn, Herding (Democratic) Cats

U.S. Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) in 2005. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images. i i

U.S. Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) smiles at a press conference announcing him as House Democratic Caucus chairman on Capitol Hill on Dec. 16, 2005. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Joshua Roberts/Getty Images
U.S. Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) in 2005. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images.

U.S. Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) smiles at a press conference announcing him as House Democratic Caucus chairman on Capitol Hill on Dec. 16, 2005.

Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) entered Congress in 1992, just as Republicans were taking control. He rose through the Democratic ranks and is now the House Majority Whip. He predicts the 2008 presidential campaign will soon overshadow the Democrats' agenda. What follows is an edited version of his interview with Steve Inskeep:

Your job as whip is like "herding cats." How's it going?

Well, to be sure, it's easy stuff this week. We got a unanimous vote on one bill. But today, we'll be dealing with pharmaceutical prices. And it's going to get tougher, even next week.

You've seen times when Democrats were deeply divided. Will divisions continue now that you're in the majority?

One thing that I think the public tend not to focus on... is the composition of our caucus. We have 233 Democrats. But the fact of the matter is, 42 of those members are African Americans. We have around 21 Hispanic Americans.

We have seven distinct caucuses within our caucus. You've got the Progressive Caucus, they're basically the "out of Iraq" people. We've got the Hispanic Caucus. We've got the Congressional Black Caucus. We've got the Asian-Pacific Islanders. We've got a women's task force. Blue Dogs are the conservative Democrats. We've got the New Dems.

Are the many Democratic caucuses an illustration of your challenge as whip?

[People say] "well, you Democrats can't seem to get your act together;" we do have our act together. It's just that our act is reflective of the kind of debate that goes on in our nation.

Are Democrats united on the issue of immigration?

I think we're going to have an even harder time [on immigration], than the Republicans had, simply because of the makeup of our caucus. And so, all those discussions will be very, very difficult for us.

How does it affect you that some of your members are in Republican-leaning districts?

These people help put us in the majority. And I think it's my responsibility to do whatever I can to help them stay a part of this body, and to make it as palatable as I possibly can for them to be effective legislators.

How much time do you have to do business before the 2008 election overshadows everything?

I think August of 2007. There's no question about that.

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