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Alexander backs Frist for Republican Leader

'He's my neighbor, my friend, my senior senator'

Senator-elect Lamar Alexander:
Senator-elect Lamar Alexander: "If Bill Frist is a candidate for majority leader, I'm for him."

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CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on embattled Sen. Trent Lott's vow to hold on to his job as majority leader (December 19)
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Former U.S. President Bill Clinton says the Republican Party is being hypocritical in its handling of Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi (December 18)
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On CNN's Crossfire, Democratic strategist and co-host James Carville forgives Lott (December 18)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a rebuke to Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, U.S. Sen.-elect Lamar Alexander announced he will support Sen. Bill Frist to be majority leader next month when the new Congress takes power.

"If Bill Frist is a candidate for majority leader, I'm for him," Alexander of Tennessee said in a statement. "He's my neighbor, my friend, my senior senator and one of our best national leaders."

Frist, a physician from Tennessee who is a favorite of the White House, is the first Republican to publicly say he is considering a challenge to Lott for the majority leader post.

He issued a statement late Thursday, saying several senators had approached him and asked him to seek the job. (Full story)

"These are serious times for our country," Alexander's statement said. "The Republican Party has a rare opportunity for leadership. I intend to be a part of the discussion with Bill (Frist) and with Trent Lott and my other colleagues about the best course for our party and our country."

Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, also announced his support for Frist and said he had spoken with other Republicans, including Sens. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and George Allen of Virginia, who also back Frist.

Lott has been fighting for his political life since he suggested December 5 that the United States would have been better off had it elected Thurmond -- then a segregationist -- as president on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948.

He has since repeatedly apologized, but the remarks drew a strong rebuke from President Bush, who called them "offensive" and "wrong."

Many GOP senators have condemned Lott's comments, but so far, only one GOP senator -- Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island -- has said publicly that Lott should step down as Senate Republican leader.

A conference of the 51 Republican senators has been scheduled for January 6 to consider whether they want to vote on a new leader.

Lott has picked up the public support of about 10 Republican senators, including such senior figures as Alaska's Ted Stevens and Utah's Orrin Hatch.

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