Rep. James Clyburn, Herding (Democratic) Cats 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.
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Rep. James Clyburn, Herding (Democratic) Cats

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Rep. James Clyburn, Herding (Democratic) Cats

Rep. James Clyburn, Herding (Democratic) Cats

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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OK, let's talk about the unity of the other major party. All this week we've been talking to Democrats with different views representing different kinds of voters in different parts of the country. Next we're meeting the man for whom that can all be a problem.

Congressman, good morning.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): Good morning.

INSKEEP: It's good to talk with you. We've talked with a number of your colleagues throughout the week, and now we wanted to talk to the guy who gets to herd the cats.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. CLYBURN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is the new Democratic whip. That means he has to round up votes for the narrow Democratic majority in the House.

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

INSKEEP: Of course, you have been in Congress long enough to know times when Democrats were deeply divided on major votes, having to do with Iraq, having to do with tax cuts, having to do with trade, we could go on for some time like this.

Rep. CLYBURN: Sure. One thing that I think the public tend not to focus on a whole lot, and that 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 are basically the out of Iraq people. We got the Hispanic caucus. We got the Congressional Black Caucus. We've got the Asian Pacific Islanders. We've got a women task force, blue dogs or the conservative Democrats. We've got the new Dems.

INSKEEP: Is that an illustration of your challenge? Because I bet everybody in those caucuses who's a Democrat can agree on the minimum wage, say. But then, every one of those caucuses probably has a bill or a policy, or a number of them, that they especially want to be dealt with first.

Rep. CLYBURN: That is absolutely of why I mentioned that, because I want people to understand that this is the kind of debate that we have here. And I do believe that within our caucus you will get much more effective legislation as a result of that debate that you would get otherwise. So that's why I tell people all the time, they 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.

INSKEEP: Congressman, early this week we spoke with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, one of the votes that you're charged with counting, I suppose.

Rep. CLYBURN: Yes.

INSKEEP: She's from Brooklyn, New York. And here's something that she had to say about immigration reform.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

Rep. YVETTE CLARKE (Democrat, New York): For a gateway city like New York it's a lot different than places along the border like, you know, certain parts of California. So I know that there's going to be a lot of late-night discussions around immigration reform.

INSKEEP: Republicans, as you know, Congressman, had trouble getting unified on immigration changes. Are Democrats going to have an easier time?

Rep. CLYBURN: No, we won't have an easier time. I think we're going to have an even harder time than the Republicans had simply because of the makeup of our caucus. And so all of those discussions will be very, very difficult for us. And so I think Ms. Clarke is exactly right.

INSKEEP: How does it effect your job that you have a number of newly-elected members who are vulnerable, who are in Republican leaning districts and have to be thinking about their reelection already today?

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, they're thinking about it and I'm thinking about it. These people helped 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.

INSKEEP: And speaking generally, how much time do you think you have to get productive business done before the 2008 election overshadows everything?

Rep. CLYBURN: Oh, I think that we've got until August 1st of - I believe by the time we get through our summer break, which will be the beginning of August.

INSKEEP: And just to be clear, you're saying August of 2007, this year?

Rep. CLYBURN: I think August of 2007, there's no question about that.

INSKEEP: Well, Congressman Clyburn, thanks very much.

Rep. CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: James Clyburn is majority whip in the House of Representatives. He represents South Carolina's 6th District.

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