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Democrat House Majority Whip James Clyburn outlines his Party's strategy in the House

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And we're joined by the current No. 3 Democrat in the House, the majority whip. That's Congressman James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina. Good morning, Congressman.

JAMES CLYBURN: Good morning. How are you?

RASCOE: So I'm good. I'm glad that you're here with us. I know you put out a statement, but tell us, with the leadership changes ahead for House Democrats, what are your plans?

CLYBURN: My plans are to be of whatever assistance I can be with the new leadership coming in, making sure that our party continues to reflect a pursuit towards a more perfect union and not get distracted over what seems to have overtaken the Republican Party. It is so easy to allow yourself to get into a contest over who can yell the loudest, who can get the most hits on Twitter. That is not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in passing onto my children, my grandchildren, and all others similarly situated, a good, vibrant country for them to grow up in.

RASCOE: Both you and Speaker Pelosi are 82. Age gets brought up a lot. Do you think that's fair, or do you think the focus needs to be more on switching up strategy?

CLYBURN: Well, in this business of politics, most things are fair. Yes, it's fair. This whole notion of age being the dominant factor - well, I'd be very careful about that. I didn't believe that when I was a 25-year-old because I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church, which says that the old is called upon because they know the way, the young because of their strength. So I've grown up believing there must be a healthy balance of knowledge and strength in order to get things accomplished.

RASCOE: And so, I mean, you're going into the minority. How are you going to get things done?

CLYBURN: It's going to be tough. And that's why we have to have an inside and an outside game. The inside game - this new team on the ground, Hakeem Jeffries and his whip and head of the caucus, are going to have to manage things in the Congress, in our caucus. I don't want them to have to worry about whether or not they are doing things the way the Divine Nine - that is all of the social...

RASCOE: The sororities and fraternities.

CLYBURN: ...Fraternities and sororities - whether or not the faith community, which I am a member of, whether or not the campuses of historically Black universities are in tune with them. You've got a guy sitting there with you. We've got a great relationship with all of them. I know those communities real well. And that's what this is all about, having an inside game and an outside game. I have been inside for a long time. I plan now to move, to do what I can with the outside game so that these three people can get their sea legs.

RASCOE: Congressman Clyburn, you were pivotal in President Biden becoming President Biden, getting that nomination. I know that you have said that people need to focus more on substance than style. And I believe you said that you support him running again because you believe he's done well on the substance. Do you think the substance translates to people who are voting?

CLYBURN: Well, what I said is I will support him if he runs again. He is going to make a decision, he said, over the holidays in consultation with his family and will let everybody know after the first of the year. Now, if his decision is I'm running, I'm going to be out there with him 'cause I do believe that the American people responded in the election to his approach and his agenda. It was a great agenda, and I think that's why we were able to hold the Senate - and I think we're going to pick up a seat in the Senate - and keep it so close in the House.

RASCOE: A lot of recognition for Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the last few days. Do you have a story that you can share about her leadership?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, I was Nancy Pelosi's whip. And the best story that I have on that happens to be back when we were trying to pass the so-called cap and trade bill. I'll never forget. That bill - we were having real trouble. We were approaching the weekend. She asked me what I thought. I said, I think we can get within three votes, but I don't think we can get there. Let's put this vote off and come back next week and see what we can get done. She asked me to show her my list. I did. She took the list. She looked at it. Then she looked at me, handed me the list back and said, let's call a vote. I was shocked. We called the vote. We passed the bill by two or three votes, when, according to my best count, we would lose by two or three votes. That, to me, told me the value of Nancy Pelosi.

RASCOE: I covered energy, so I remember that. It did pass the House. It never passed the Senate, but it did pass the House.

CLYBURN: That's correct. That's correct.

RASCOE: Well, thank you so much for speaking with us, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.