The Democratic Leader House Members Feared The Most Wasn't Nancy Pelosi

The person you didn't want to have a meeting with was her whip.

The first two years of President Barack Obama's first term in office will be remembered as a time of tremendous legislative productivity. Part of it, of course, was owed to the Democratic Party's complete control of the lawmaking branches of government. But some of it was due to the deft legislative maneuvering by members of the party's leadership.

In the House, in particular, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gained near-mythical status for her ability to rally her caucus behind politically divisive bills: from the bailout, to the stimulus, to cap and trade and, of course, health care. She never actually lost a vote.

In the latest "Candidate Confessional" podcast, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) praised Pelosi's chops as a floor manager. But he revealed that it was her whip at the time, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), whom he feared the most.

"People always wondered how tough the showdowns were with Pelosi," Perriello said. "The call you didn't want to get was from James Clyburn. He is a son of the preacher. He was part of the struggle back in the day.”

Clyburn is a towering figure within the Democratic caucus. He spent his youth in the civil rights movement, leading demonstrations and playing a role with the NAACP. After being elected to office in 1993, he quickly rose up the ranks. Obama called him "one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens."

Perriello was actually a fairly easy target for Clyburn. Though he hailed from a conservative district in southern Virginia, he had committed himself to supporting a broadly progressive agenda and then defending it back home. He voted against Wall Street regulatory reforms (on the ground that they didn't do enough) but backed the party on all the other major bills. Still, Clyburn loomed large in his memory for his ability to quickly dispense with the type of legislative gamesmanship that many members like to use to extract promises.

Perriello recalled one moment when the House was considering the DREAM Act and he went to Clyburn to try to get a promise that the Senate would move on it too.

"I was trying to force something later," Perriello recalled, "and he just laughed at me and was like, 'Tom, do you think for one second I think you're not going to support this bill?'"

Perriello supported the bill.

This podcast was edited by Christine Conetta. Listen to it above or download it on iTunes. And while you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when our guest will be former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson on his 2012 presidential campaign.