MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.
Loyalty versus constituency - that's the choice facing members of Congress and other superdelagetes who've endorsed a presidential candidate only to have their district vote for someone else. It's an especially tough decision for members of the Congressional Black Caucus who support Senator Hillary Clinton despite Senator Barack Obama's popularity among black voters.
The longtime congressman from Georgia, John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement had endorsed Clinton, but the New York Times reports today that because Louis' district voted overwhelmingly for Obama, the congressman would do. Louis' office says the Times story is inaccurate.
Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, another member of the Black Caucus, is wrestling with this issue. He represents Missouri's 5th District, including Kansas City. He endorsed his longtime friend Hillary Clinton back in August and he's sticking with her.
Representative EMMANUEL CLEAVER (Democrat, Missouri): This is an ethical entanglement. One, do you maintain your loyalty and your word or do you say my district went one direction and I am therefore ethically obligated to follow the district. Now, in the 5th District of Missouri, which I represent, we had almost a 50-50 split between Senators Obama and Clinton. So I'm not as compelled to consider following the district as some of the other members of Congress. I've got to - I think, struggle with this whole issue of ethics, and it's an internal struggle.
BLOCK: Mm-hmm. What sort of lobbying is going on from other members of the congressional Black Caucus? Who are you hearing from?
Rep. CLEAVER: There is no lobbying. That's what is amazing. In fact, members of the Congressional Black Caucus end up joking about the race almost every day. I don't know of one single member who's become angry at another member because of who they are backing in the presidential primaries.
BLOCK: What kind of joking?
Rep. CLEAVER: Well, I mean, we joke. I mean, I walk up to Jesse Jackson Jr. who is a very good friend of mine, and I'll say, Jesse, you know, you have until Friday to switch. And if you switch, I'll try to put in a good word and maybe you can get a position as secretary of energy.
BLOCK: Switch to Clinton you're saying?
Rep. CLEAVER: Yes. And so, we'll - then we'll go back and forth and back and forth and, you know, he says to me, Cleaver, let's say we are at the convention in Denver and everything is all tied up and it boils down to you, you have the last superdelegate vote. Do you want to go down in history as denying the first African-American a seat in the Oval Office. And it's a powerful question.
BLOCK: Did you have an answer for him, that really puts you on the spot?
Rep. CLEAVER: Well, it does. And I always answer the question by saying, loyalty trumps everything.
BLOCK: Loyalty trumps everything, including race?
Rep. CLEVER: Yes. It is not probably as hostile as what some would believe, at least here in Congress. Now, when people go home, it's quite a different story. African-American members, you know, are being threatened and it may also be a reflection of the absolute pride that people have in the possibility of an African-American president.
BLOCK: You said you're being threatened, Congressman?
Rep. CLEAVER: No. There are African-American members of Congress who support Senator Clinton who've been told if they didn't switch they were going to get - they would end up getting an opponent to run against anyone who does not support Barack Obama, and have been victims of robocalls. John Lewis is one who ended up the victim of a robocall, saying some very, very derogatory things about him.
BLOCK: And just to be clear. Have you been the target of those threats yourself?
Rep. CLEAVER: Well, I had a person in my district to send out a newsletter, which I know he didn't pay for. It was distributed primarily in the African-American community, during which he suggested that I had been paid by Senator Clinton to support her. I don't know if there's anybody who hasn't taken some grief for supporting Senator Clinton who's African-American.
BLOCK: You know, Congressman Cleaver, it sounds like you, yourself, have been caught off guard a bit by what's going on here, what's evolved in this campaign. Is it fair to say that when you endorsed Hillary Clinton back in August last year, that you didn't anticipate that you would be in this situation now where Barack Obama has emerged as, apparently, the frontrunner and Hillary Clinton is struggling?
Rep. CLEAVER: No. I thought that Senator Clinton would win then. I frankly think she's going to win now. But if the question is do I think that the race would end up this close and that the nation would become this emotional, the answer is no. Had I known that this would happen, I still would've endorsed my friend, a person with whom I had a relationship.
I have a good friend, Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee. We were sitting together at the State of the Union speech, chatting about this race, and he is for Senator Obama and I'm for Senator Clinton, and we were kind of jawing each other. And Jim got up to leave and he asked me to hold his seat. As you know, seats are at a premium during…
BLOCK: Yes. Especially if they're near the aisle, right?
Rep. CLEAVER: That's right. So while he was gone, one of the African diplomats who was at the State of the Union speech walked over, looked at the empty seat and said, may I sit there? And I said, no, this seat is being held for Congressman Cooper.
And so when Jim came back, I said, Jim, you know, I was holding this seat for you, but a black man came along and I didn't know him well, I didn't know him at all, really. And I said, so I had an ethical entanglement. Should I give this seat to a black man because he is black or should I hold the seat for my friend, someone who lives down the hall from me who I work with everyday. And he said, I get the point.
BLOCK: Now, Congressman, I know you're a Methodist minister and I think you just told us a parable there.
Rep. CLEAVER: Yes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rep. CLEAVER: But, you know - and I think that for me, that's the way life is, you know. You don't abandon your friends.
BLOCK: Well, Congressman Cleaver, thanks very much for talking with us today.
Rep. CLEAVER: Good to talk with you.
BLOCK: That's Democratic congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.