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Obama Will Need GOP Help To Accomplish Some Issues, Rep. Clarke Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All this morning we've been hearing reaction to President Obama's State of the Union address last night. And next, we'll hear from Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. She's a Democrat from New York and a board member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She's on the line with us. Congresswoman, good morning.

REPRESENTATIVE YVETTE CLARKE: Good morning, how are you?

GREENE: I'm well, thank you very much. Thanks for coming on. I know it was a late evening for you, listening to a speech. And I wanted to ask you - I mean, the president sounded very optimistic about the economy last night. But a few things come to mind. I mean, looking through numbers, inequality has expanded on his watch. In terms of wealth, the gap between rich and poor is higher than ever by some estimates. The gap between white Americans and minorities is growing. I mean, was this speech in some ways too optimistic?

CLARKE: No, I mean, it was a leadership speech. Clearly, you know, we've been navigated through some extremely harsh waters with respect to rebuilding after a recession. And now we have an opportunity to do a reset. And he's going to need a bipartisan support to really address this inequality. He spoke very forcefully about the need to address the tax code, one way of addressing sort of the lack of revenue in our federal budget to really expand upon opportunity for Americans. And so I know that he clearly has his sights set on what has become a very vexing problem across our nation, and it's the widening gap that exists and the stagnant wages that exist in our nation at this time.

GREENE: Well, Congresswoman, another vexing problem this country has faced recently has been racial tensions. I mean, we've all followed the events in Ferguson, the Eric Garner case in New York. The president brought both of those up last night, didn't go into much detail. Did you hear what you wanted to hear on that last night?

CLARKE: Well, I'm just really happy that he mentioned it. At one point, I was a bit concerned about whether that had made it into his address. And I think he signaled to the nation, particularly with respect to the criminal justice system, a need to really engage in reform so that - you know, again that there's a reset in America about how - the disparities in the way in which justice is kneaded out in this nation. And clearly, you know, there's a lot that needs to be done. And if we can start there, we can begin to repair some of the risks that currently exist.

GREENE: We have just about a minute left. And let me just ask you about that rift. I mean, polls have shown that Americans see more racial division in the country since President Obama took office. And I just wonder, I mean, given that, are we going to look back at Barack Obama's time in office as a period when we came together as a country or were pulled apart?

CLARKE: Well, I'll say this. People are seeing what they want to see now. These are issues that are rooted in inequalities that have existed for quite some time, going back to, you know, the civil rights movement. You know, it was the Supreme Court that did the rollback on voting rights; it wasn't President Obama.

GREENE: Much more to talk about on this topic of course. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

CLARKE: Thank you for having me, and I look forward to the discussion.

GREENE: Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.