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Clyburn Discusses Obama's CBC Speech


President Obama's difficulty in selling his own ideas can be seen even within his own party. Some of the most aggressive complaints about the president's policies and leadership style have come from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, or CBC.

President Obama addressed the CBC this past weekend, urging members to get behind his jobs plan and get over their discontent.


P: Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We've got work to do.

NORRIS: Our next guest was in the audience when the president delivered that speech. Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is the assistant Democratic leader in the House. And he's also a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. And he's also a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, otherwise known as the supercommittee. He joins us now from his office in Columbia, South Carolina.

Welcome back to the program.

NORRIS: Oh, thank you so much for having me back.

NORRIS: Let's start with the criticism that's being lodged at the president. Why are the people who are perhaps the most enthusiastic about his election now frustrated with him as president?

CLYBURN: Well, I think a lot of what you hear has to do with style as opposed to substance. And those of us who are in office, most of us have a style that's a little bit different from the president's, 'cause it's his style to try to seek common ground or try to compromise, and he keeps getting the thumb in his eye. And those of us who come from a different era tend not to appreciate that style.

NORRIS: And is it that people want him to be more pugilistic? Is that what you're saying?

CLYBURN: Well, yes. No question about that. Because if you are not going to get it done, what's wrong with going down swinging? That is what people tend to want to see. They want to see you fight for the issues, even when they question whether or not you can you can be successful.

NORRIS: I'm curious about your reaction to the president's speech. Now, he said many things that evening. We just heard the end of the speech, where he told people to put on their marching shoes, take off their bedroom slippers, stop complaining. Your reaction to that.

CLYBURN: Well, when I heard it, I cringed because I kind of anticipated that so much of what came in the first part of the speech would get lost and people would be hanging on to those words.

Though, I'm of the opinion that it is a little bit unusual for people to believe that any one segment is going to be a hundred percent. When the president ran in 2008, he did not have a hundred percent of the black vote. He won't have a hundred percent when he runs next year. We're not monolithic, I guess is the best way to put it, as a black community.

NORRIS: There are some within the Democratic Party, even in leadership positions and also Democratic watchers, who look at some of the comments that people like Maxine Waters in particular have made and said it's hard to imagine a Republican in office speaking that harshly of, say, President Bush. Are they right?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, there's always been much more diversity and independence in the Democratic Party than you're going to find in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is by and large very vanilla - and that's an intended pun there. And they tend to abide by an 11th commandment - speak no ill of another Republican.

Democrats are not that way at all. Never have been, I don't think they ever will be. We tend to sometimes not agree on everything. But so what? I don't agree with everything in talking with my own wife, when it comes to politics.

NORRIS: I want to turn to your work on the supercommittee. I wonder what you would even think about that title. People, I guess, expect that you're moving around with capes on or something like that.


NORRIS: And maybe that's required because of the work that you have to do. The prospects of the committee agreeing and working on this very tight timetable that you're on, with both sides being so far apart. Is that timetable that you've set out realistic?

CLYBURN: Well, the timetable is realistic 'cause it has to be. The fact of the matter is we don't have forever. And nobody in the House can amend what we do in this committee. Nobody in the Senate can filibuster what we do in this committee. So we're on a fast track that no other process has ever had given to it, except in the BRAC committee.

NORRIS: The Republican leadership has said that the supercommittee understands that anything that comes out of that body that includes a tax increase is a nonstarter. Do you agree with that statement? Do the Republicans who sit on the supercommittee understand that to be true?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't know. I think the Republican leadership is free to say what it wishes to say. The Democratic leadership, some have said the same thing about entitlements. They are free to say what they want to say.

The 12 members of this committee, I believe, will do collectively what we think is in the best interest of the country. And we have said that everything is on the table and everything is going to stay on the table. And we'll come out with a product. And the leadership on either side of the aisle can then decide how to muster its troops to do whatever it wants done.

NORRIS: Congressman Clyburn, thank you very much for your time.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

NORRIS: That's Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.