DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:
As Kelsey just pointed out, House Democrats are divided over the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the larger Democratic budget bill. So what does this mean for Biden's agenda on infrastructure and beyond? Democratic Representative and House Majority Whip James Clyburn joins us now on Skype from South Carolina. Good morning, Congressman.
JAMES CLYBURN: Good morning.
ELLIOTT: So you're the man in charge of getting the votes to push this new infrastructure deal through. But House progressives have said that they will withhold support unless they have assurance that this larger $3.5 trillion budget package will become law. So what's the plan to get them on board when a failure in the House could jeopardize President Biden's agenda?
CLYBURN: Well, the plan is very simple. Do the $3.5 trillion bill. As you know, Nancy Pelosi has made it very clear that we are all for this scaled-down package because it is bipartisan, and we are supporting the president in trying to establish bipartisanship. But we do believe that's only a down payment. It may get things kick-started. But in order for this to be successful, we must sustain it. It is one thing to just get the thing rolling. It is something else to build out what is needed in our infrastructure in order to sustain this - create the jobs but sustain them. And that's the way the economy will succeed.
ELLIOTT: Is there...
CLYBURN: And so I think - yes?
ELLIOTT: Is there a concern, though, that there may be a bit of overreach, trying to expand the budget and add provisions that would end up jeopardizing both bills?
CLYBURN: I don't think so. All you've got to do is look at the fires that are raging all across this country. You look at the heat waves that are out there, the flooding. There's something going on with our climate. And the scientists are telling us. I think I heard on yesterday the term code red when it relates to our environment. So we've got to do something about this environment. Man has not been a good steward of this Earth, and we've got to do something about it.
ELLIOTT: Well, meanwhile, there is growing concern over inflation, the surges right now of the delta variant of COVID. Are you worried at all that the Democrats' focus on this massive spending bill could end up costing your party the majority in the midterms, when voters may want more action on the economy and combating COVID?
CLYBURN: Well, it may cost. I hope it won't, but look. I should be the last one to worry about that. I know what it cost my party when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, but it was the right thing to do. And if it costs the party to protect this Earth, it is the right thing to do. And there are other things that may need to be done. I have said over and over again that this bill, this bipartisan deal, is one leg of a three-legged stool. The $3.5 trillion program is the second leg, voting the third leg. And so I just believe that in order for this stool to be balanced correctly, those three things need to be done irrespective of what it may cost the party because I think it's what's necessary to preserve the democracy.
ELLIOTT: We've got about a minute left. You know, you bring up voting rights. Democrats have been trying to move a voting rights bill in the House. There is a scaled-back version that Senate Democrats are expected to roll out this week that would include a compromise on voter ID. Is that something the House is willing to accept?
CLYBURN: Yes. But that's something that may be one part of what we are willing to accept. We also are very concerned about the John Lewis part of H.R. 4 because that's where preclearance is. We see all these nullification efforts taking place. And I don't know why people are reluctant to use the word, but nullification is running rampant throughout the South. For you to have the ability to overturn the results of an election that they're doing in Georgia and they're proposing down in Texas - that cannot be. And we have got to do more than just compromise on voter ID.
And I want people to still remember, there's a big difference in voter ID and photo ID. We do not oppose voter ID. Every one of us who registered to vote get a voter registration card. And you present that card every time you go to vote. That's a voter ID. It's something different when you say that a photo on a student card is not good, but on a hunting license is good. And that's what we oppose. And I wish...
CLYBURN: ...People would stop misrepresenting what it is that we oppose.
ELLIOTT: OK. Thank you for speaking with us. Democratic House Majority Whip and Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina.
CLYBURN: Thank you for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.