STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Stem cell research is a divisive issue for Republicans, and Democrats have a debate of their own. This week, the freshman Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, said he will vote against any legislation that would allow additional federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Democrats are sorting out what they stand for on many issues now that they control Congress, so this week we've been talking to a variety of lawmakers.
This morning we meet Yvette Clarke, a newly elected member of Congress from Brooklyn, New York. Like many lawmakers, she represents a district that is heavily weighted toward her party. We reached the new lawmaker in the midst of a busy day in Washington.
Representative YVETTE CLARKE (Democrat, New York): Well, today I've started with a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She meets with the freshmen members of Congress occasionally. And following that, the freshman members of the caucus met with one another. Following that, I had a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, and now I'm on the telephone with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Oh, there must be quite a variety of people when you look around that room full of freshman Democrats.
Rep. CLARKE: Oh yes. Oh yes.
INSKEEP: I mean we have some very liberal members, and you also have people like Brad Ellsworth of Indiana or Heath Shuler of North Carolina who would be seen as moderate to conservative.
Rep. CLARKE: Yeah, we definitely span the spectrum. But I think that you'll find that in any party. You'll find, you know, those who are to the extremes, the right and the left, on both sides of the aisle.
INSKEEP: What's your district like in Brooklyn?
Rep. CLARKE: Oh, it's very diverse. We have extreme wealth, abject poverty. We have every major religion represented there. Certainly, it's a unique blend of longtime stakeholders and new Americans - many immigrants. It's very diverse.
INSKEEP: Is there something that you will be seeking for the members of your district that goes beyond the initial steps that Democrats are passing now through the House, the minimum wage increase and so forth?
Rep. CLARKE: Well, there are real issues around housing and the pressures in the housing market. The pressure that has mounted to create opportunities for affordable housing is at an all-time high right now.
INSKEEP: Now, what will you be seeking on that issue, if anything, from the United States Congress?
Rep. CLARKE: Well, I think that there has been this stalemate around Section 8, which in an urban area like mine, has been sort of the first rung on the ladder for many in the working class and the working poor to get their foothold in the housing market.
INSKEEP: Section 8 is federal subsidies for rent, right?
Rep. CLARKE: That's right.
INSKEEP: For people below a certain income level?
Rep. CLARKE: That's right. That's right. And I know that if we have an opportunity - and I know we will. There'll be a lot of conversation about this because it's not only New York City. It's places like Washington, D.C. and other urban areas.
INSKEEP: Earlier this week, we spoke with Patrick Murphy, who is one of your fellow freshman Democrats.
Rep. CLARKE: Yes.
INSKEEP: He's representing, as you may know, Bucks County and some surrounding areas in Pennsylvania - upscale suburbs. He's a member of the Blue Dog Democrats. They're a little more conservative. They're worried about the budget deficit. I wonder if as you push for more assistance for the poor and he pushes for a balanced budget, if you guys are going to have some discussions to have along the way.
Rep. CLARKE: I'm sure we'll have to have discussions along the way. We want to make sure we create as many win/win scenarios as possible. And we want to be fiscally responsible. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that one of your other meetings on this day that we're speaking was with the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. CLARKE: That's correct.
INSKEEP: Do you think that African-Americans, by and large, have been entirely comfortable in the Democratic Party in recent years?
Rep. CLARKE: I think that there are - certainly have been challenges along the way that need to be addressed head on. And again, I'd like to think that we have a new day, a new moment and a new hour. And I can say that certainly, I'm bringing my unique chemistry to this body, and I will be very vocal in letting folks know when they're stepping on my corns.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Well, let me make sure I understand where you stand. You're saying you're hoping for better things.
Rep. CLARKE: Yes.
INSKEEP: And you're even saying that you expect better things.
Rep. CLARKE: That's right.
INSKEEP: Would you go so far as to say the Democratic Party had better deliver better things?
Rep. CLARKE: I think it only makes us a better Party when we deliver better things, when we include everyone in the deliberation and that their voice is a part of the chorus.
INSKEEP: Well, Congresswoman Clarke, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.
Rep. CLARKE: Steve, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.
INSKEEP: And our conversations continue tomorrow when we meet Congressman James Clyburn. He's the man charged with keeping Democrats in the House voting the same way as the new Democratic Whip.
And now here's an update on a story we've been following all week.
President Bush offered a new strategy for Iraq last night. And today, some of his top aides have been defending it. New Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared along with a top general at the White House. It's worth noting Rice's praising. She says the president has conveyed to Iraqis that we will support their good decisions, but that Americans' patience is limited.
Secretary Rice also says that she wants to get people out of the Green Zone -out of the fortified zone in the center of Baghdad - and get those American civilians out into the field where they can help with reconstruction. And American reconstruction teams, as they're described, will be expanded. Secretary Rice herself says she is headed to the Middle East to speak with U.S. allies, and she's one of those testifying before Congress to defend the president's policy.
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