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MICHEL MARTIN, host: We turn now to Representative Emanuel Cleaver. He is a Democrat from Missouri. He's the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and he joins us now from the House studio. Welcome back, Congressman. Thank you so much for joining us.

Representative EMANUEL CLEAVER: Sure. Good to be here with you.

MARTIN: What's the atmosphere like in Congress right now?

CLEAVER: It is very tense. And it has been this way during the past four or five days. And I think the tension will only grow as we move toward D-Day, or I should say T-Day, with next Tuesday. So it's - we don't have an atmosphere of camaraderie. It's an atmosphere where one side is kind of bunkered in trying to get their side to go along with the leadership. And then there are those of us on the other side who are waiting to react to the plan. And I don't think there's much going on that the American public could celebrate.

MARTIN: Now, you had just heard my conversation with Shelby Blakely. She's with the Tea Party Patriots. It's one of a number of groups and you heard her perspective. She apparently just does not believe that this is as a big of a crisis as people like you, economists, the president are saying that it is. Do your fellow - are there fellow members of Congress who share her perspectives? They just don't believe it.

CLEAVER: Yes. Unfortunately there are. There are about 13 in the Senate. And we don't know the exact number here, but I would say that many of the recently elected freshman actually possess that kind of an attitude. And we are told that they are between six and 13 votes away from 218 - the necessary number to get anything through the House of Representatives.

And so there are people here with that attitude. And it is amazing because it means they have ignored Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Fed. They have ignored the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is a Republican organization. They have ignored a meeting with Wall Street. Former members of the House have come in and spoken to them. Mark Zandi, economist. The list goes on and on and on. And their position is, you know, we would like to have a fact-free discussion. Because...

MARTIN: Go ahead. No, I was going to say, we need to take a short break. But we're going to come right back to you. And so we only have about a minute left in this segment.

You're saying they'd like to have a fact-free discussion. Is there any sign that anything is persuasive with this particular group?

CLEAVER: Absolutely not. Not anything is able to push them to one side or another. And I need to say very quickly, before the break, you know, your guest said that the government doesn't need to spend any more money. Raising the debt ceiling is not spending any more money. It's ordering dinner in a restaurant and paying for it, as opposed to running out of the door.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break, but when we come back we'll continue this conversation with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver. He's the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He represents a district in Missouri. We want to talk more about the debt ceiling issue. We also want to talk about the expanding wealth gap between African-Americans and Latinos and whites. And we'll also talk about how these discussions are affecting Congressman Cleaver's constituents the most. Please stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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