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Rep. Cleaver Pushes To Prep Black Voters


First, your response to the Reverend over there. He's heard pastors say that they're actually telling people in their congregations not to go to the polls.

REPRESENTATIVE EMANUEL CLEAVER: Well, I don't think there's any question that there are some short-sighted pastors who are ill-advising their congregants not to vote in the upcoming election, which is, in fact, a vote. When you stay home, you are voting. And the reality is that pastors have not thought through that. And to refuse to vote is to refuse the sacrifices and gifts of the generations of African-Americans who came before us.

And so we've got to vote. You know, the issue that seems to always crop up every four years is one that centers around same-sex marriage, and the truth is, that's not an issue, and when we're talking about 14 percent unemployment, when we're talking about an assault on Medicare, when we're talking about the need to try to improve urban schools, when we are in the throes of continuing battles abroad and other battles that may be looming in the shadows, why in the world are we going to talk about something that most of us don't have to deal with on a daily basis, or even a monthly or yearly basis?

HEADLEE: Or President Obama's not being asked to sign it.

CLEAVER: Well, and I've said over and over and over again, the president never proposed legislation. He can't introduce legislation. Most people in the country don't seem to know that. So all he did was stated his opinion. And he stated his opinion and all of a sudden there were political operatives, I think on the other side, who thought and who realized that African-Americans, contrary to TV and movies, are very, very, very conservative people socially.

HEADLEE: Socially. Yeah.

CLEAVER: Maybe the most socially conservative people in the country. And so they thought this is a way to create some separation between black voters and the president. It worked with George Bush when he was able to peel off more than 10 percent of the black vote. But I think there's a higher level of political sophistication now than even four years ago.

And we are facing not only some, I think, some very good and decent pastors giving some very bad information, but there is a very intentional effort to suppress the vote.

HEADLEE: You're talking about the new voter ID laws.

CLEAVER: The new voter ID laws. There are 40 states that put up voter ID laws and when you look at the facts - the Brennan Institute has done a lot of studies - you're more likely to be struck by lightning than to witness or even find a factual attempt to impersonate. One study showed out of some millions of voters - there are 143 million voters in the United States and we had nine cases of voter impersonation. It's a ridiculous issue.

HEADLEE: Well, we're speaking with congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat and the chairman of the Black Congressional Caucus, but here's the reason why so many people are talking about it at this point, congressman. It's that--say, for example, North Carolina. Black voters delivered North Carolina for President Obama in 2008. If there's any effect of any issue - say single sex-marriage or voter I.D. laws - peel off two percent of voters, in some states, that could be decisive.

CLEAVER: No question about it and that's the whole point. I don't think that those who crafted this wedge believed that they were going to get the overwhelming majority of African-Americans to bite, but if they can just get a few who believe that somehow a vote for the president creates salvation for them or protection from them, and if you are able to shave off two or three percent in some of the key states, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia...

HEADLEE: Nevada - yeah. can create a problem. But we are trying to make sure - and I think we're being successful at doing it - that African-Americans, like all voters, understand that we have some major issues facing us, not the least of which are issues of revitalizing the urban core, so why am I going to be concerned about somebody marrying somebody?

Right. But you are concerned about voter I.D. and you're actually hosting...

CLEAVER: Absolutely.

HEADLEE: ...a nationwide For the People Voter Protection Rally on Tuesday, an event.

CLEAVER: Tomorrow, all around the country, at least in cities where we have members of Congress who are African-American, we are going to have rallies. And then we're going to have huge rallies later on this month in Cleveland, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; and Kansas City, Missouri where we'll have major entertainment coming out. People will be able to come and get in for free if they show their voter registration card. If they don't have a registration card, they can register at the door and get in free.

We're trying to make sure that every possible vote gets out. It is - we owe that to our progeny, but more importantly, we owe it to our ancestors.

HEADLEE: But no matter - regardless of who they're voting for, your message is, vote, anyway.

CLEAVER: That's right. I mean, I think most people are going to vote their conscience, anyway, and so we - telling people how to vote is not going to matter. They're going to vote, if they vote, for the right person.

HEADLEE: Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, joined me in studio here in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much.

CLEAVER: Good to be with you.


HEADLEE: Coming up, The Economist magazine called Africa the hopeless continent 12 years ago, but a more recent cover reads, Africa Rising, and the U.S. global aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, has supported that turnaround.

DANIEL YOHANNES: Africa is really poised in the next 10, 15 years to see a major economic growth.

HEADLEE: Daniel Yohannes, the CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, talks about helping to rewrite the economic story of Africa just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee.

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