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In the Crossfire

Carville extends olive branch to Lott

Carville: "If we think about it, in terms of racial and ethnic strife or things, if we don't forgive, we'll just stay the same. If we don't forgive people, we can never make any progress."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Sen. Trent Lott has come under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike for comments praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign for president.

"Crossfire" host James Carville has been one of Lott's harshest critics. But following the lead of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, Carville says he is willing to forgive the Mississippi Republican, whose leadership in the Senate is threatened.

Carville discussed Wednesday why he's had a change of heart about Lott with hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

CARLSON: ... Now it's not that your viewers don't love you [James], but I would bet at least 50 percent don't believe you. You've come to make a kind of peace with Trent Lott. Sum it up from portions ...

CARVILLE: I'll read you two paragraphs just to give you a sense. "You've asked for forgiveness. This letter is to inform you that, on the heels of a statement by my dear friend, Congressman John Lewis, a man I admire and respect as much as any living American, I do forgive you."

"As a result of that forgiveness, I will never criticize or attack any of your past actions or remarks concerning matters of race relations or civil rights. Remember senator, we all make errors. Committing errors is not a tragedy, but failing to learn from them is a great one."

"You say you've learned. I believe you. That settles it."

CARLSON: Let me just ask a quick follow-up here. I'm speaking again for the people ... at home who are thinking, well, this is part of an elaborate strategy to keep the Trent Lott thing there to benefit the Democrats.

Lewis: "It is my hope that Sen. Lott's words and his actions from this day forward demonstrate that his apology is sincere."

CARVILLE: ... If anything, I probably hurt Trent Lott by saying this. The more I attack him, I would suspect the more Republican senators I would drive in his corner.

This is part of a real simple strategy that John Lewis woke me up [to], and ever since I was in a child in the Catholic Church, we were taught that Hitler and Stalin themselves on their deathbed, that if they sought forgiveness, that it would be granted to them. And you know, I said, "Here I am." The guy has [asked for forgiveness] five times. It's not up to me to judge, and I will need forgiveness in my life.

And I said, "You know what? We did this show, and it was you that put up John Lewis' letter. I went to dinner with my wife, and I came home and it was put on one of the tables that the guy was taking a pounding. You know, he's got a wife, he's got kids, he's a human being, and I just said, "We know what he did, it was wrong, he said it was wrong." ...

But if I wanted to ensure him to be majority leader, I would keep attacking him. There's nothing to make those Republican senators, you know, rally around anybody other than me savaging him. I'll guarantee you that.

BEGALA: Well, let me take a look also at what John Lewis said. I mean, like you, he's one of my political heroes. Actually, several years ago, Esquire magazine asked me to write a story, "Who's your hero?" I picked John Lewis.

CARVILLE: Viewers, John Lewis is a congressman from Georgia who was called the living saint of the civil rights movement. A man who was literally almost beaten to death.

BEGALA: By George Wallace's thugs. He led the march from Selma to Montgomery ... where he was set upon by George Wallace's thugs and beaten almost to death.

Today he's a congressman from Georgia. He issued this press release two days ago that moved you and many other Democrats, including me. He said this: "Just like so many leaders of the old South, Trent Lott has the potential to become a better person and a better political leader. It is my hope that Sen. Lott's words and his actions from this day forward demonstrate that his apology is sincere."

Right in the Christian tradition, we say go forth and sin no more. In other words, what kind of deeds are you looking for? Should he file a friend of the court brief from the University of Michigan's affirmative action case?

CARVILLE: No. I mean, I don't expect him to become a Democrat. He said he wanted to do an outreach thing; he said he learned from his mistakes. He said he wanted to get people together and talk about this. He certainly is in a unique position to speak about this issue.

If we think about it, in terms of racial and ethnic strife or things, if we don't forgive, we'll just stay the same. If we don't forgive people, we can never make any progress. And certainly, just like Congressman Lewis, whom I spoke to [Wednesday] morning, who said, "It is the essence of nonviolence to forgive. "

... Frankly, I've had thoughts about black people that I shouldn't have. I have said words about black people when I was young that I shouldn't have said, but you move on, you mature, you grow.

And the idea that somehow Trent Lott is 61 years old and he's incapable of growing, I reject. ...

There was an article in the paper that [says] he never went to black churches, and he's starting to do that [now.] I hope that he does that. He said he wanted to put people together and do something about the dialogue.

I'm looking for him to walk down to the Republican National Committee and tell them to cut the crap in terms of suppressing people's votes and making these idiotic phone calls in trying to get people not to vote. I'm looking for him to take that kind of leadership.

He doesn't have to become the great sort of champion of civil rights or affirmative action or anything like that. He's a conservative -- I understand that. But there are things he can do. He can reach out to minority business people, as he said that he wants to.

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