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Rep. Jim Clyburn Comments On Biden's Decision To Pick Harris As His Running Mate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The pick is in. Joe Biden has chosen California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate for November's election. Now, not so long ago, the two were rivals. Harris ran in the Democratic primary. She dropped out before the Iowa caucuses. Biden fared poorly in that contest, and then he got thumped again in New Hampshire. It was in South Carolina that his luck changed. He won the state, and many believe that was thanks to the endorsement just before the vote of Jim Clyburn, longtime South Carolina Congressman, House majority whip.

And he joins us now. Rep. Clyburn, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JIM CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much for having me back.

KELLY: I got to ask, did you advise Joe Biden to pick Kamala Harris?

CLYBURN: Well, we consulted over the - a dozen or so people that he was considering. And he asked my opinion of various ones, and I gave it. To that extent, maybe I advised, but I never gave him any single one as a choice.

KELLY: Ha. Well, do you think, now that he has picked her, she's the right choice?

CLYBURN: I think so. I am really pleased with the choice. I think that it was demonstrated during the contest between the two of them that she is the kind of person that will complement him very well on the campaign trail.

KELLY: Why? I mean, what qualities do you think she brings that will complement him?

CLYBURN: She has tremendous debating skills. I mean, I watched her having been an old debater myself. I was very proud of the way she acquitted herself during various hearings on the Hill. The Kavanaugh hearing - I thought she was great. She was outstanding questioning Barr the other day. So she has won statewide office twice in California, and I thought she did well on the stage even with Biden. A lot of people got upset with her for the way she went after Biden on the busing thing, but that's - you're trying to win. You're in a contest, and you're debating the other person. You go to win, so I'm not upset with her at all.

KELLY: You're talking about - yeah, the moment that was maybe her most memorable appearance on the campaign trail, when she attacked Joe Biden for his stance decades ago on school busing.

CLYBURN: Sure.

KELLY: And the two have obviously mended fences since then. I do want to ask about the historic significance of this pick. And if I may, I'm going to make this personal. The last time I interviewed you, Congressman, was the day you endorsed Biden. That was February 26. And we talked about your late wife Emily and that she loved Joe Biden.

CLYBURN: Right, right.

KELLY: And I - it crossed my mind as I was getting ready to interview you to think, I wonder what she would make of today and this news of the first woman of color on a major party ticket.

CLYBURN: Oh, she would - yes, that is interesting. But right after this announcement, I got a text from a friend of mine - a gentleman out in Ohio, and that's the same issue he raised. He said, boy, Ms. Emily is rolling over, cheering. And he talked about John Lewis and - in the same way. So sure, they both would be happy with this. John was crazy about Joe Biden as well. We talked about Joe before he left Washington.

KELLY: I do want to ask about some of the questions that people are already raising - and they're going to be a lot of them as this campaign continues to play out - about Sen. Harris' past as attorney general of California and as a local prosecutor. And I want to put to you, how does that fit with where the Democratic base is right now, given all of the protests this summer against police violence and brutality all over the country?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, it's kind of interesting, but every single person I know interested in moving this country forward, they are forever saying (ph) that people of color should be represented up and down the decision-making trail. And that includes the prosecutors. We need prosecutors with the backgrounds and experiences that Kamala Harris has. We need police chiefs with the background and experiences of a Val Demings. And so when we get people in these positions, we can't hold it against them. That's what we're trying to do. We should judge them based on how they conducted themselves in the position. Now, if you've got a problem with the way Kamala Harris conducted herself as a prosecutor, then that's fair game. But you can't criticize her for being a prosecutor. That's what we're trying to do - get people of color and people of the various backgrounds, gender, into these positions.

KELLY: So you're saying if people have questions about her track record, as she put it in her own words, as a former top cop, they should make them specific and about how she actually conducted herself as a prosecutor and just for beyond (ph).

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

KELLY: What about how she might be able to - or not - unite the party? And I'm putting this - I put this question earlier tonight to former Sen. Claire McCaskill because a big question after Biden secured the nomination was, what was going to happen to Bernie Sanders supporters, to Elizabeth Warren supporters, to the progressive wing of your party? Where are they left tonight with this ticket?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, I've been saying forever that this is all about reclaiming - using Joe Biden's term - the soul of America. I have been saying that this is about helping our country repair some of its faults. And the fact of the matter is this being the first woman of color on a national ticket is a significant step. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people say the Democratic Party takes Blacks for granted. The Republican Party ignore Blacks. Well, this demonstrates that Joe Biden, as head of the Democratic Party, will not be taking Blacks for granted. He just put one on this ticket. And he said - on the day that I endorsed, his response to my endorsement - part of it was, I am looking forward to putting an African American woman on the Supreme Court. So that, to me, demonstrates that he's bringing this party together, not taking anybody for granted, being as inclusive as any that we've ever had.

KELLY: Take the question of race out of it, though, for a second. If you are a supporter of "Medicare for All" or some more radical reforms, would - do you feel that this ticket is going to be able to bring in those type voters, who your party still needs?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, I've looked at Medicare for All like I've looked at civil rights. When we got the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it didn't have voting in it. Voting didn't come until 1965. It didn't have housing in it. Housing didn't come until 1968. So what we do is take significant steps toward accomplishing what you want to accomplish. We want to have access to health care for everybody, but you need to do that by going incrementally. And that's why Joe Biden says he will improve upon the Affordable Care Act, and he will start out with a public option, which is what we tried to do and couldn't do it back in 2010.

KELLY: Congressman, thank you so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

KELLY: That's South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn talking about Joe Biden's pick as his running mate, Kamala Harris. Jim Clyburn is in support, as you just heard here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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