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Rep. Katherine Clark becomes the most senior woman in the House of Representatives


When Nancy Pelosi officially passes the baton as speaker of the House, she'll be passing on another title, too - most senior woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Going forward, that distinction will belong to our next guest.

KATHERINE CLARK: I'm Congresswoman Katherine Clark from the fifth District of Massachusetts, currently assistant speaker of the House.

KELLY: Clark, who has represented Massachusetts in Congress since 2013, will become minority whip in January, the No. 2 Democrat in the House behind Representative Hakeem Jeffries. Well, Katherine Clark joined me earlier today from Capitol Hill. I began by asking how much harder she thinks it'll be to accomplish her party's agenda with House control flipping to Republicans.

CLARK: Well, it's never hard to be on the side of the American people and to keep our focus there. And I think we have a blueprint from the midterms.

KELLY: But you need the votes to do everything that you want to do, and you're not going to have them anymore in the House.

CLARK: That's right. But we will continue to oppose extremism, to fight back. But also, we are going to find ways with this administration to make sure that people's needs and the solutions that they are looking for are the ones that we continue to promote. And we hope we will find partners in the GOP in that work.

KELLY: To focus on a specific issue or two, do Democrats need a better plan for border security? And I'm asking especially in light of incoming GOP majority who say they are planning to focus on this. And there's some discussion even of a move to try to impeach Secretary Mayorkas, Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, over his handling of the issue.

CLARK: Well, I think who needs a better plan for the border is the GOP. What we have seen is they want to demonize immigration. They want to divide us. They want to turn neighbor on neighbor not just on border security but on almost every issue that is important to the American people. What we haven't seen from them is anything close to solutions. Come together with us. You cannot govern with no, an obstruction. And that's where they are.

KELLY: Are you concerned about the unprecedented number of people crossing the border?

CLARK: We all should be concerned about the state of our immigration system and border security. And we know that our system isn't working for anybody. It's not working for those who are seeking asylum. It is not working for our employers, who are looking for a workforce that they need. So we have to come together on solutions.

KELLY: May I ask you to put one on the table? What do you think should change in how people trying to cross are handled?

CLARK: You know, the Dream and Promise Act is a key example. We have so many young people who are contributing and are American in every single way except on paper. We have put this forward for years now with no Republican response.

KELLY: One other issue to ask you about - I know you've worked as a member of the Women's Caucus to message around access to abortions. Where does that fight go in this next Congress in a Republican-controlled House?

CLARK: That fight remains one that I am proudly going to bring to my new position. Americans understand that if their government - if politicians are dictating if and when they can have children, that there is no control.

KELLY: Is there specific legislation you would like to see advance or specific legislation you would like to block?

CLARK: We've put forward all sorts of good legislation. Just look back to the Women's Reproductive Health Protection Act. We want to codify Roe. We want to make sure that we protect this right that has been rolled back. But the Republicans are going to go forward with their federal ban, and we are going to stand shoulder to shoulder in opposition. We saw women come out in droves to vote. Those voices are not going away.

KELLY: Before I let you go, I have a somewhat more personal question. You wrote an op-ed this year - earlier this year for the website of our member station WBUR. And the headline was "The Politics Of Going Gray," the decision being to stop touching up your roots and just...

CLARK: Yeah, and just to let my hair go its natural color. But I quickly realized that it's also a political decision.

KELLY: You write in this essay, quote, supporters pulled my staff aside and asked if I was ill because that was the only explanation they had for why I would age myself. People told me I would no longer be able to pass legislation, that I was throwing away my reputation as hard-working and, most confounding to me, that I would no longer be taken seriously by the public and my colleagues. I read that, and I thought, really, seriously?

CLARK: It is - sadly, it is true. The good news is I am now whip-elect in the House. And so all of that has turned out to be incorrect. And I hope that it will be an example of, live your own truth. Be who you are, and you will find that the world will adjust to you.

KELLY: We've been speaking with the proudly gray-headed congresswoman from Massachusetts, soon to become minority whip, Katherine Clark. Congresswoman, thank you.

CLARK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kat Lonsdorf
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Patrick Jarenwattananon
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Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.