FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
So the race is tightening. People are picking sides and are some members of the Congressional Black Caucus caught between competing demands for their support? Barack Obama is, after all, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the only senator in the group. But Hillary Clinton has worked for years with caucus members.
Before yesterday, 17 members of the Congressional Black Caucus had endorsed Obama, while 15 had given Clinton the nod. Well, yesterday, influential California Representative Maxine Waters finally made her decision.
Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): I have been through a lot in my political career and I'm looking for concrete proposals. I'm looking for, not only concrete proposals, proposals that are well-thought through and people who, you know, a credible and being able to implement them.
I think that, for me, Hillary is the policy wonk and I am focused on public policy, and I'm thinking about action and thinking about what people say, how they present themselves and whether or not they sound really credible on hardcore concrete ideas and proposals. And she just emerges as that one for me.
I know that I will have access for my constituents. I need to be able to be a good advocate for them with someone who will understand, you know, my concrete proposals and be willing to engage me and talk with me and act on them. And she just emerges as that person for me.
CHIDEYA: What does it mean to put your hat in someone's ring? Does it mean that you are, for example, trying to lead your constituents that you're trying to lead other people, who are a part of the Congressional Black Caucus or part of Congress? What exactly does you putting your chips on the table mean?
Rep. WATERS: For the past 20-something years, I have been putting out a sample ballot. And if people don't get it at the time that they think they should, my office is inundated with calls. You know, through the media, through your sample ballot operation, I let people know what's on my mind. And I try and let them know why I'm doing what I'm doing and then they make their decision.
CHIDEYA: Congresswoman, I've had a chance to come to your offices in South Los Angeles and you have a multi-racial coalition of staffers - black, white, Asian…
Rep. WATERS: That's right.
CHIDEYA: …Latino, Latina - and your district is very mixed.
Rep. WATERS: Yes.
CHIDEYA: It's very much a part of urban Los Angeles and part of the mix of…
Rep. WATERS: Yes.
CHIDEYA: …native-born people, immigrants, people from different backgrounds.
Rep. WATERS: That's true.
CHIDEYA: When you think about leading a district like yours, how do you serve people who have such different interests?
Rep. WATERS: I think it's not so difficult. I think in the final analysis, if people think you're fair and you're open in your decisions and you work - that's transparent. They respect that and that's how we try and do it.
CHIDEYA: Congresswoman, what if Senator Barack Obama becomes president? Let me give you two scenarios.
Rep. WATERS: Okay.
CHIDEYA: One scenario is you go down as someone who was on the wrong side of history…
Rep. WATERS: Uh-huh.
CHIDEYA: …as part of a group of African-Americans who could not endorse a black man running for president. Scenario two is, that's not a big issue, but people in your district feel the pinch because you're not on the inside of the winner's circle. What about those two scenarios?
Rep. WATERS: Well, first of all, let me just say that, you know, when I worked for Jessie Jackson in 1984 and 1988, there were many people who did not support him. And people started out being divided in terms of you supported Jessie, you didn't, and people got over it and they went on and, you know, lived their lives with all of the complicated decisions that people have to make.
When you take a look at elected officials and what they do, you will find you have African-American elected officials who have not supported other African-Americans and I think if you look at Obama, you will find the same thing. You know, people make their decisions, they stand with them, and they get over it. And then you have people who are running now didn't support a Jessie Jackson. They had the opportunity, too, and I don't know where they were at their time but I don't think anybody holds them responsible for not having done that. I just don't think it works that way.
CHIDEYA: Well, this is one of those points at which people make decisions about how to lead. People who are leaders like yourself can either say I'm here to represent the people and what that means is that I speak their voice or I'm here to represent the people which is that I make decisions in their favor.
Rep. WATERS: You described the diversity of my constituents better than most people and understand that district and so certainly, I can't say that I operate in ways that I know exactly what they're thinking and I'm representing them. I think that we are elected to provide leadership and I think in doing that, you listen as much as you can, you take into consideration the information that you get, you evaluate from your vantage points in ways that people may not be able to see behind the scenes and you take all that information, you put it together, you make a decision.
CHIDEYA: Well, you have so many different roles that you play. Are you going to hit the campaign trail and try to do some campaign stumping for Senator Clinton?
Rep. WATERS: Yes. Well, I'll do as much as I can. As you know as a member of Congress, we are here in Washington voting usually Mondays through Thursdays so you don't get a chance to do a lot of stumping. But I will, I'll do some. Sure.
CHIDEYA: Well, congresswoman, I want to thank you for sharing your time with us.
Rep. WATERS: You're certainly welcome.
CHIDEYA: That was Representative Maxine Waters. Yesterday, she endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president. You can find out more about how members of the Congressional Black Caucus have lined up in the presidential race on our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org.
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