Rep. DeGette on Clinton, kumbaya, cash and the convention

The Colorado Independent spoke to Denver-area Congresswoman Diana DeGette, and key Clinton superdelegate, as she made the media rounds Thursday calling for party unity, sizing up the blogger primary flame wars and convincing Obama to let loose his fundraisers on a cash-strapped 2008 Democratic National Convention Committee.

TCI: Have you talked to Sen. Clinton recently?

DG: I was part of a conference call yesterday with about 10 or 15 of her key House supporters. We talked to her about where things are at. Basically, what we urged her to do was to make an announcement by the end of the week that she’s going to support Sen. Obama and that she’s going to support a unified party as we move forward into the November election.

After that call she did announce that she’s going to have a big announcement on Saturday.

TCI: What does the phrase "unify the party" mean especially with your dual roles as a member of the women’s congressional caucus and a key leadership position with the convention committee?

DG: The good news is that Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton’s views on most all issues, including women’s issues, are identical. So it’s not like you have a real ideological differences. I also had a private meeting with Sen. Obama last week when he was in Denver. I met with him, just the two of us, for about 15 minutes.

Basically, what I told him was that if he won the popular vote and delegates as we expected on Tuesday then we really needed to unify the party. He was quite gracious. He said that he recognizes that to win in November he’s going to have to work hand-in-hand with the Clinton supporters. He’s going to welcome everybody into the campaign on a full basis and really try to work hard with us.

I offered to Sen. Obama, and he agreed, that I would help with some of the female Clinton superdelegates … who are members of Congress.

I think the party is coming together very nicely.

TCI: What are the specific tactics you’re employing to unify the party?

DG: Expediting Sen. Clinton’s announcement certainly has been helpful. My staff is already talking to Sen. Obama’s staff at a high level.

One of the things I told Sen. Obama is that he needs to send some of his fundraising staff over to the convention pronto. He said that he recognized that and he’s doing that.

We’re starting to make that transition with the convention as well.

TCI: Do you think that the controversy over the women’s vote belonging to Sen. Clinton — as in it’s time for a woman to rise to the highest political office in this nation — has been overplayed?

DG: No, I think that many women did feel that way. I think that they are sorely disappointed that Sen. Clinton didn’t win. But the truth is, and what they need to realize is, that they cannot mistake being a maverick for being a moderate.

Sen. McCain is right wing. He has supported every one of President Bush’s judicial nominees. He has not only opposed abortion; he’s opposed birth control. He is no friend of women. If they don’t want to see Roe vs Wade overturned, or see women’s rights put backwards, they need to get behind Obama.

It was a spirited, wonderful primary. We worked very hard. And Hillary Clinton came up a little short. She can certainly hold her head up high for running a great campaign.

TCI: What’s it going to be like for Sen. Clinton to go back to Congress?

DG: Sometimes when people run for president and lose, they come back and they have an even more stellar congressional career. The best example of that is Mo Udall, who ran for president, lost and made a splendid career for himself in the House.

Ted Kennedy, who ran for president, and came back to become really one of the great senators of all time.

The thing about Hillary Clinton that, frankly, I don’t think she played up enough in the campaign was that she’s well respected on both sides of the aisle over there. So I know she’s going to play a really key role in the Senate for getting her health care plan passed — assuming that she’s not the vice president. I think she’s got a great career ahead of her. She could even be the senate majority leader.

TCI: What was it like to be out there in front as the first member of the Colorado delegation to endorse a candidate?

DG: That’s my personality. I believed in her but my support for Hillary had nothing to do with being against Barack. I just had known her for a long time. I thought she was the more qualified candidate. But, I’ll tell you, there’s not even an iota of doubt that Barack Obama will be a far better president than John McCain.

TCI: Do you expect to have a role on Sen. Obama’s campaign?

DG: I’m sure I will because Sen. Obama has worked with me on the stem cell bill. He knows I’m the leader in Congress on it. And as the vice chair of Energy and Commerce, he will also be working with me when we put together comprehensive health care reform.

TCI: The viciousness of the progressive bloggers engaging each other in this primary race was particularly acute. How does the in-fighting affect a campaign especially when it starts filtering into media coverage?

DG: Politics is not for the faint of heart. While I think that since the new medium of blogging is not face to face there’s more bare honesty. On the otherhand, you just take the medium for what it is and you move on. You have to do that. I don’t think it’s going to damage the presidential campaign.

I would say to the bloggers who have been supporting one candidate or another as I told my brother who was a Green [Party member] I hope you’re enjoying your president — George W. Bush.

If the Hillary Clinton partisans don’t get behind Obama, we’re going to have four more years of the Iraq War, retrogressive energy policy, and we’re going to lose a woman’s right to choose and on and on.

It’s time for us to come together and unify as a party and move on towards November.

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