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Larry King Live

Will Congress and the Next President Get Along?

Aired January 18, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET



RICKY MARTIN, SINGER (singing): Here we go, ole, ole, ole.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, it's countdown to the inauguration. And we're talking to top political players: the dean of Capitol Hill, eight-term Democratic senator, Senator Robert Byrd in a rare interview. Also in Washington, the man who road to George W. Bush's rescue in Florida: the former secretary of state, James Baker. And then two key Republicans from the split-down-the-middle Senate: John Warner of Virginia, Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

All that and more next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We begin first, though, with a continuing story today, the story that befell Reverend Jesse Jackson, who, as we have now learned, fathered an out-of-wedlock daughter with the former director of the Rainbow Coalition's Washington office.

Joining us to discuss this at the beginning of the program is Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. In a statement released today, Reverend Jackson said: "This is no time for evasions, denials or alibis. I fully accept responsibility. I'm truly sorry for my actions." Jackson also said, "No doubt many close friends and supporters will be disappointed in me."

Reverend Sharpton, are you one of those disappointed?

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well, I think that Reverend Jackson has shown an understanding and compassion for 35 years of stellar service. And I think it's time for us to show that same compassion and understanding to he and his family. I don't know anyone that has served more unselfishly, and who has done it at greater risk.

He has admitted to something that he needs to correct and will correct. But I really don't think, at this point, when we're seeing a president being inaugurated that we feel lost in the election, we see these issues that only a Jesse Jackson can deal with, that we can afford to lose his voice, that we can afford to elevate a private matter in his life any differently than we dealt with the president and others with private-lives issues that they've had to deal with. KING: Have you spoken to him?

SHARPTON: I've spoken to him. And he has certainly shown contrition. And he's praying and dealing with this. But he's being encouraged by thousands of leaders and millions of people to please do not abandon us now. This is certainly a time that we need Reverend Jackson to move forward. We certainly want his family and him to heal. But we do not want them to do to him what they attempted to do with Dr. King and others, and that is use personal issues to try and divert from very serious public-policy questions.

KING: But you will admit, Reverend Sharpton, that when a man's life often discusses high moral principles, especially one who bears the pulpit behind him, faces a morality himself, there comes the question of hypocrisy.

SHARPTON: There comes the question. And I think it has to be dealt with fairly and squarely. And I think his statement has done that. And I think he will continue to do that. But I also think that we realize that heroes are flawed. And one of the things about a hero is that a hero can fall. But if they're a real hero, they can get up.

And I believe Jesse Jackson has allowed many of us to get up. And we are going to say we must give him the same opportunity. I remember, in 1984, he had America weeping when he talked about he had made some political misjudgments, but God was not through with him yet. I still don't think God is through with Jesse Jackson. And many Americans are not through with him either.

KING: Are you concerned that some the finances spent on the woman may have been contributions to the Rainbow Coalition?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, we don't know that. Second of all, if she worked for the Rainbow Coalition, I would assume that someone is supposed to get their wages. So I don't see where that is an issue. I think that, again, we're seeing now some political-enemy types trying to muddy the waters on a very personal and private matter that he's dealing with his family. The timing of this, again, is very suspect to some of us -- if not a conspiracy.

KING: How do you mean?

SHARPTON: Well, I think, when you look at fact that Reverend Jackson was on the forefront of questioning the election, questioning the selection of not only George Bush by the courts, but of the nomination of Ashcroft and others, it is very curious how this comes out now. So even if it wasn't planned that way, certainly some that want to steal his voice will exploit it. And we cannot afford for that to happen.

KING: A couple other things: What do you think the impact will be on black America?

SHARPTON: I think that, in the long run, that we will remember that for 35 years, if it was union, picket lines, if it was getting prisoners of war that were American soldiers abroad, if it was service at high risk, Jesse Jackson was there. If anyone has earned a second chance with not only Black America, all America, it's Jesse Louis Jackson.

KING: And do you think the future will give him that chance?

SHARPTON: I think the future gives him an opportunity to show that not only can you arise from where people never expected you to make it in the first place, that if you take a fall, you can get back up. And he and that family -- Mrs. Jacqueline Jackson -- I feel they have the strength to get back up and show the world again what we can do, what we have the best internal fortitude to move forward.

I think it's something that he has expressed remorse for, regret for, but I do not think that it is a time that we must say this is the end. It is only a bend in the long road toward what I think has been a great journey for a great person.

KING: Thank you, Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. Reverend Sharpton will be a special guest tonight on "THE SPIN ROOM" at 10:30 Eastern Time.

And as we go to break, and before we talk with Senator Byrd, here was -- in August, 1998 -- a quick snippet of an interview with Jesse Jackson after he had consoled President Clinton over the Lewinsky affair.


JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: One cannot justify what he did. That was morally wrong and indefensible. And for that, you can only atone, seek forgiveness and redemption.



KING: You don't see him on television a lot. What an extraordinary American. He is senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, now in his eighth term, second-longest serving member in the history of the Senate. Until noon on Saturday, he is president pro tem of the Senate, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee as well. He served more years in Congress than anyone else currently on Capitol Hill.

He's held more leadership positions in the Senate than anyone in American history. "George" magazine recently cited him as one of the 10 people who really rule today's divided America.

First, on what we were talking about -- and also siphoning into President Clinton -- what do you make as you -- do you think contrition is possible? Do you think people can rebound?

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Oh, yes, I'm sure of that. Yes, I can.

KING: Are you surprised when you hear things like this? BYRD: Sometimes.

KING: Surprised tonight?

BYRD: I was.

KING: Can, though -- in a position like this, can a reverend resurrect himself, when someone has led a kind of a moral pulpit?

BYRD: Of course he can. It's between him and God, not between him and Robert C. Byrd. It's between him and God.

KING: So Robert C. Byrd is not going to judge him?

BYRD: I have my own problems.


KING: But not like this.

BYRD: No, not like this. But I've lived a long life: 83 years. And I made my mistakes also.

KING: Why do you stay? Why do you stay on?

BYRD: As Cato said, there's no greater honor than that of serving the commonwealth.

KING: And you still continue to feel that?

BYRD: Yes, I do.

KING: Every day you walk into the Senate, you feel it?

BYRD: I do. I feel proud of the Senate. I feel like this is a new day. I have new opportunities to serve my people and my nation.

KING: Well, we have a divided Senate. Before we talk about that and your involvement in patching this together, what do you think -- everyone is talking about it, will be the legacy of this president who spoke tonight for seven minutes in saying good-bye?

BYRD: I have served with 10 presidents. I have a different perspective because I've served with other presidents, and I've seen their accomplishments. I think if we're going to talk about the legacy of this president, up close, today; we need to view it in the context of the accomplishments of other presidents. And I've been here.

KING: And on that basis?

BYRD: Well, only history will really tell us what his legacy looks like because history is the best judge. My judgment is this: He's smart; he had great opportunities; great talents; he squandered his great opportunities. He rendered some good judgments with respect to the budget deficit. He and the Democrats in 1993 put together a budget reduction package that started us on the way away from the triple-digit, billion-dollar deficit to surpluses, which are not in hand, but on paper; we're rendering surpluses. And it's because of President Clinton and the Democratic Congress. There wasn't a single Republican vote for that package in 1993 in either body, either the House or Senate.

KING: So performance, you've given him good grades?

BYRD: On that issue, but he squandered a lot of his time and his talents. He could have done a lot more, and a lot more good. He's been a disappointment in many ways to the American people.

KING: How good a politician? You've seen them all.

BYRD: Very good; he was an astute politician, and there are -- I admire him for that, but being an astute politician is not like being an astute statesman.

KING: How do you rate this, the public's look -- where they every rating -- in character they give him very low rate, in performance they give him very high ratings, and he comes out, the latest, with the highest plus performance rating of any president in recent memory?

BYRD: I think one needs to study his performance, compare it with the performance of Lyndon Johnson or Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon; put it against theirs, and then compare them.

KING: And you think it's too short a time to do that?

BYRD: Up close?

KING: Yes.

BYRD: It's a pretty short time, yes. But if one has lived through these others and can see what they did, and -- I can compare his performances with theirs.

KING: And?

BYRD: To me, his performance is really not outstanding.

KING: Compared to Johnson, Nixon or Eisenhower?

BYRD: Compared to Johnson.

KING: Johnson, especially?

BYRD: Compared to Truman, and in many ways compared to Nixon. Nixon had great -- he did some things in the international arena and foreign affairs. He was outstanding.

KING: And you'd rate Johnson above, even with Vietnam? BYRD: Oh, yes. Yes, I would. Absolutely. If I had the time to go into it, I could do it.

KING: Well, we want to discuss a lot of other things, but one night, you'll come and sit here and just do an hour of this on history...

BYRD: I'd love to.

KING: ... because there's no one like you are. All right, were you involved in this Daschle-Lott get-together? What are we going to do with a 50/50 Senate?

BYRD: What are we going to do with it?

KING: Were you involved in those discussions?

KING: Slightly, slightly. I was in on some of the discussions. This was a demonstration of statesmanship, especially on the part of Trent Lott. He had a lot to give up, and so I think he did it magnanimously. I think it indicates that we can work together, and I salute him for it.

But let's look at this 50-50 for a moment. There's not much difference in having a 49-51 Senate.

KING: Nope.

BYRD: Here, we don't think much about, I mean, 51, 49, or 48..

KING: 52.

BYRD: Fifty-two, we've seen that before. So, 50-50 is 50-50. But what I credit Mr. Lott for is doing what he thought was best. He did his president a great service...

KING: Because?

BYRD: ... when he entered into this agreement...

KING: He served Bush well?

BYRD: ... giving the Democrats an equal shot on the committees. I recommended to Mr. Daschle that we ought to get 50-50, but that the Republican or Republicans ought to be in control because they are, as long as they have the vice president. So, I think this was...

KING: So, why was it a favor to President Bush?

BYRD: Because Mr. Bush, if he hopes to get his program through, whatever it is; he has to have the help of the Democrats, and he has said he'll reach across the aisle, and he's a uniter not a divider. This should be right down his alley. It helps him on his nominations. It was -- it was an act of grace on the part of Mr. Lott. It promotes goodwill, respect, and after all, that's what the Senate is all about. KING: Our guest is Senator Robert Byrd, one of the distinguished gentlemen in the history of the American Senate. We have lots of things to talk about and then former Secretary of State James Baker.

As we go break, here's a snippet of the good-bye address from the president. Watch.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll leave the presidency more idealistic, more full of hope than the day I arrived, and more confident than ever that America's best days lie ahead. My days in this office are nearly through, but my days of service, I hope, are not. In the years ahead, I will never hold a position higher or a covenant more sacred than that of president of the United States.

But there is no title I will wear more proudly than that of citizens. Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.




BYRD: I wanted to say something about that motion, not just about the treaty.


KING: There he is, appearing in that familiar spot on the aisle; floor of the United States Senate. And when Robert Byrd gets up to speak, people listen. He's the distinguished senator from West Virginia.

What are your expectation for this new president?

BYRD: He may be a good president. He's conservative. He told us that. If he reaches across the aisle; if he really does try to bring us together, we need that. I think the time is ripe, and if he hopes to have some pluses on his escutcheon at the end of his four years, he's going to have to reach across and bring us together.

So, it may be a good thing for the country. I can -- I can conceive of a situation in which all of us will try harder to do better, and he can be the calculus.

KING: That's not polyannish? You believe that that can -- that all of you can work together?

BYRD: We can.

KING: Common goals?

BYRD: Absolutely, and we should. KING: Is Ashcroft's nomination a hindrance?

BYRD: I don't think so. I'm going to vote for him.

KING: You served with him in the Senate?

BYRD: Because he -- he was a legislator. His opinions at that time were the opinions of someone who writes the laws. He is now going to be an officer who enforces the laws. He will put his hand on the Bible, he will swear to uphold the law, that he will enforce the law. He has said so, and I take him at his word.

I'm a legislator. I can have different opinions, but if I were thrust in the position of being attorney general and I took that oath, I could forget my opinions.

KING: Won't it be hard, though, since he is so strong, let's say, in the area of abortion, his feelings are so intense -- he has said if he could change one piece of legislation, it would be in the field of abortion -- that he now wants a job where he will have to actively pursue the opposite of what he feels in executive actions?

BYRD: He can do that. God gave man a will. That's what Milton was writing about in "Paradise Lost." He has the will to put his opinions aside and to uphold his oath to enforce that law.

KING: Do you expect a filibuster?

BYRD: Well, I hope not. This is not a time for filibuster. This is a time for us to work together. The president has nominated this man. He has had hearings. He's had an opportunity to explain his positions. He has had time and time again that his opinion was one thing when he enacted the laws but he is swearing an oath to enforce them now. There are two different things, two different offices. And I believe Ashcroft means what he says.

KING: We'll spend some more moments with Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and then we'll meet former secretary of state -- and it's always good to see him -- James Baker. And later, senators Thompson and Warner. And tomorrow night, Julie Nixon Eisenhower will be with us along with her husband, David. Wayne newton will be aboard.

Remember Pierce Bush, George W. Bush's nephew, the little 13- year-old kid, Neil's son, from the conventions. Going to be here tomorrow. We'll be right back.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm honored to serve and I am ready to start.




KING: First, there will be inaugural festivities tonight at the Lincoln Memorial. Senator Robert Byrd, who in the future will come back, sit for an hour and give us history lesson takes -- let's take a call or two.

Dallas, Texas for Senator Byrd, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, Senator Byrd. I was wondering if you were ever in position to seriously consider seeking the nomination for president. And, if not, what was your calling to really focus your career in the Senate?

KING: Why did you stay so long? Why do you love the Senate? Did you ever think of running for president?

BYRD: I thought of it.

KING: And?

BYRD: But I would never get the nomination.

KING: Back when you -- in the younger days?

BYRD: Yes.

KING: Why do you love the Senate so much?

BYRD: The Senate is the greatest institution. It's the spark of genius that the framers brought forth. It was the central part of the great compromise which was developed on July 16, 1787, which was the concept of federalism. And out of that great compromise came the Senate, with each state having equal power. West Virginia, with 1,808,344 people has two votes, as many as California, with more than 30 million.

KING: Which seems unfair at the top of it. But it's fair, why?

BYRD: It's fair because there are more little states -- by a lot -- than there are big states. And the little states are entitled. Otherwise, there -- who -- what president would come to see West Virginia? This is the concept of federalism.

KING: So you favor the electoral system as well?

BYRD: I do.

KING: St. Albans, West Virginia, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Senator and brother Byrd.

KING: Brother Byrd!

CALLER: What would you consider Bill Clinton's biggest success in the last eight years, and, at the same time, his greatest failure? Thank you, sir. KING: Thank you.

BYRD: I didn't get the first...

KING: Biggest success, you've already mentioned.

BYRD: Oh, the biggest success I've already mentioned.

KING: Biggest failure?

BYRD: The failure to do something about -- use his talents, the time and his strength, his popularity with respect to performance, in doing something to solve the Medicare problem, the Social Security program. And I think he passed up the opportunity.

KING: Before you leave us, explain something to me: How did this country come together so well, when you consider that one man beat another man by over 500,000 votes -- there will always be this Florida question -- yet we peacefully gather and hail a new one?

BYRD: This is a repetition. Maybe it's by coincidence of what happened 200 years ago in 1801 when the Federalists, after six years, after six Congresses -- 12 years -- were defeated by the Jeffersonian Republicans. At that point, the Senate changed. It had been under the control of the Federalists.

The presidents had changed, from a federalist president, John Adams, to a Jeffersonian Republican, Thomas Jefferson. We had a change in the executive branch. We had a change in the Senate. We had a change in location. We came from Philadelphia down to Washington. And yet, out of that great change, that was the first -- that was the very beginning of our nation.

The nation picked up, went forward and forgot the past. One other thing: The Civil War in 1861, 140 years ago, this country went through a tremendous trauma -- 600,000 men killed. And yet it came together. There is something about this Constitution. And I have always felt that there was a divine design that brought those illustrious men together at that particular time, and that those men -- most of whom were from the -- their ancestors were from the British isles. These were English peoples.

They had a yen for organization, for order, for stability. I went around the world in 1955 -- 45, 46 years ago -- and all around the world, I could see the British -- the imprint of the British and their administration. And so these men who wrote the Constitution were...

KING: Divine design.

BYRD: They knew -- they knew about...

KING: May I say -- we're out of time -- but may I say, I...

BYRD: They knew about the Magna Carta.

KING: I think they had you in mind.

BYRD: Thank you. Thank you.

KING: Thank you, Senator. Look forward to another visit.

BYRD: Thank you.

KING: Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Another fine American joins us next: the 61st secretary of state, James Baker. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with the 61st secretary of state, served under President Bush, 67th treasury secretary, served under President Reagan -- also served stints as White House chief of staff for both Bush and Reagan -- James Baker, the man who they say rode to the rescue when things went haywire in Florida.

I don't want to dwell on Florida. That's over. We saw enough of you every day.

Thank you for coming.


KING: What do you make of Senator Byrd?

BAKER: Oh, he's an American treasure, Senator Byrd, and he is the -- he is the preeminent authority on the United States Senate in this country. He has a wonderful record of public service, and he is respected. And when I was up here for the 12 to 14 years I was here in Washington, he was respected on both sides of the aisle. Still is.

KING: How -- how -- I don't want to go into all the details again, but how did you get to Florida? How did they choose you?

BAKER: Well, I got a call the morning after the election, as a matter of fact, asking if I might be available to go down there. This was right after, I think, the Gore campaign announced that former Secretary of State Warren Christopher was going to go down and head up the effort for the Gore campaign.

KING: Call came from?

BAKER: Came from Don Evans, who was Governor Bush's chairman, and then a call subsequently from Governor Bush asking me.

KING: Not from President Bush?

BAKER: President-elect Bush.

KING: But not from President George Bush, who...

BAKER: Oh, no. Not from -- not from...

KING: Everyone thought that he was the one that...

BAKER: Not from former President Bush, no, no.

KING: Yes. He did not get involved in bringing you back?

BAKER: Well, he didn't call me, he didn't talk to me. I don't know whether he talked to anybody else or not.

KING: Were you glad that was over?

BAKER: Oh, sure.

KING: Was that a tough period in your life?

BAKER: No, it was not a tough period in my life. It was an arduous effort, as I indicated in one of the statements toward the end. I think it was a tough -- it was a long and arduous effort for both sides. It was very tough, I think, on all of us who were down there on both sides, because you never knew which -- what was going to happen. One day things would go one way, the next day they would go another way.

And we were under the gun all the time. We were filing briefs with only 10 or 12 hours notice...

KING: Did you ever think...

BAKER: ... responding to decisions late in the evening and that kind of thing.

KING: Ever think you might lose?

BAKER: Sure.

KING: Good lawyers have to think that?

BAKER: You bet. Yes, and there was a good -- there was -- darn right we thought we might lose, particularly when we began to get these adverse decisions from the Florida Supreme Court, particularly that first 7-to-nothing decision.

KING: Are you concerned about these newspapers and other outlets counting ballots now?

BAKER: No, I'm not concerned about it. You know, they've gone down here recently and counted in Miami-Dade. I don't know what they counted, I don't know what standard they used, but the net effect of that count, recount, was that George Bush picked up six votes.

I think if they're going to count, they have to -- they will confront the same question that arose and that created the problem we had down there. By what standard? Because the law of Florida is very vague on that subject. And that's why seven out of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court agreed with us that it was unconstitutional.

KING: We saw some rip-roaring lawyering, though, didn't we?

BAKER: Yes, we did.

KING: Both sides?

BAKER: Both sides. You bet.


KING: Compare for me, as you see them, former President Bush, incoming President Bush.

BAKER: Oh, boy! That -- now, that -- you're -- you're getting me into an area that I'm going to be very reluctant to -- to move into, Larry.

KING: Personalitywise?

BAKER: Well, I think that -- I think that incoming President Bush may be a bit more outgoing than former President Bush, although former President Bush was -- he was a good people person. He loved people. He enjoyed campaigning. People used to say that he didn't -- wasn't really fond of campaigning, that's not correct. And I ran every one of his campaigns, the winning ones and the losing ones, and he was fond of campaigning.

KING: You think George is going to be a good president -- George W.?

BAKER: I think he's going to be a superb president.

KING: Because?

BAKER: I really do, and I don't buy this business, Larry, that it's going to be so difficult because the win was so narrow and -- I think he's got a great opportunity for because for the first time since 1956 or maybe '52, I can't remember which year, we control both houses of the Congress. I was up here for 12 years with Presidents Reagan and Bush, we never had a Republican Congress. We may have had one house from time to time.

KING: Do you agree with Senator Byrd that how this Senate and House react is very important now, and that he is optimistic?

BAKER: I think that what -- I think the deal that's been cut in the Senate is very encouraging. That is bipartisanship, it seems to me, and that's what I heard Senator Byrd say, and I really do agree with that.

KING: That Lott gave a lot?

BAKER: That -- well, I think that equal representation on the senatorial committees is not only good bipartisanship, it's fair. I mean, I think the country will see it that way, and I don't believe that's going to lead to gridlock. There is some chance, I suppose, that it could because you can't get every issue up to the floor for the vice president to break the tie.

KING: In a moment -- in our remaining moments with James Baker we'll talk about the of the role of secretary of state. I spent some moments tonight with the expected-to-be-approved -- next secretary of state, Colin Powell. I'm going to ask Jim Baker to tell us what he thinks -- kind of secretary of state Colin Powell will be.

And then we'll meet Senators Fred Thompson and John Warner, and talk about process as we go into a new government. Don't go away.


SANDY PATTI, SINGER: ... my home, America.



RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am honored not only to assume the vice presidency, but to serve with a chief executive who is equal to this great office. He's a good man; a man of generous instincts and high standards; a man of integrity; worthy of the trust America has given him.


KING: He was talking about incoming president George W. Bush, and I'll ask our guest, Secretary James Baker about Colin Powell, who told me tonight he's really looking forward to be secretary of state and confident he'll be a good one. Will he?

BAKER: I think he will be an excellent secretary of state.

KING: Because?

BAKER: Well, he knows the job. He's been working with secretaries of state for quite some time in positions of immense importance. He'd been national security adviser to President Reagan. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Bush during the days of the Gulf War and during the entire first Bush presidency. So, he knows the job.

KING: But have we ever had a military man come to State? And is -- should we...

BAKER: George Marshall, and he was a pretty good secretary of state.

KING: Not bad.

BAKER: Not bad.


KING: Should we have any concerns in that regard?

BAKER: I wouldn't have any. I would have absolutely no concerns, because he understands the job, he understands the nature of it. A national security adviser, let's not forget, has to split his time and attention between State and Defense.

KING: Biggest problem he'll face?

BAKER: Well, I think the biggest problem that the entire administration faces, including the secretary of state, is defining what America's intervention role in the world should be: When should we go in and when should we stay out? What are the rules? What are the conditions? That's going to be difficult.

There's also a job of rebuilding support for America's global leadership role. Notwithstanding some of the things that were said tonight in the valedictory address by the outgoing president, our alliances are not in good shape. There's resentment of the United States out there on the part of a lot of people. There's a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done in that regard.

We've got the question of national missile defense to deal with. That's going to be a very sensitive issue.

KING: How important in that regard is personality?

BAKER: Personality is -- personality, I think, is very important with respect to any job, any major role in public service and government.

KING: And he has that?

BAKER: Certainly does. I mean, he's -- Colin knows how to get along with people. He gets along with people. He's very good at bringing people. He's a leader, and he knows how to lead.

KING: How about Condoleezza Rice?

BAKER: She'll be very good in that job of national security adviser. She was on the national security staff the four years I was secretary of state. She served us extraordinarily well in the area of Soviet relations.

KING: And Rumsfeld?

BAKER: Don? He's been there before. He knows the job.

KING: Saw him tonight. He looks young?

BAKER: He'll be terrific.


BAKER: Sure. Well, he is young. He's only 68.

(LAUGHTER) KING: I know, but he looks younger. He's still young.

BAKER: Going to do well.

KING: Before you leave us, you said something during the break. You said what happened in Florida will never happen again. Why?

BAKER: In our lifetime, I said.

KING: In our lifetime. Because?

BAKER: Because -- because I don't think -- because I think the election was so very, very close. The closeness of the election will not be replicated in our lifetimes, in my opinion.

KING: Because of statistics?

BAKER: Well, yes, because -- yes, I just think statistically it's very, very unlikely that we would get -- that we would have one that close again.

It was an extraordinarily unique situation. It was a very historical situation. We've never had something like that before. We've had elections go to the House of Representatives, we've had things like that. But we've never...

KING: Someone win the popular vote and not win the electoral.

BAKER: That -- we've had people win the popular vote and not win the electoral vote at least three times before, but we've never had a situation like this. We've really never had a situation where the -- the election was decided in the courts, decided by lawyers and judges in the courts. It hadn't happened before. And the reason it happened this time was because it was so very, very close.

And you asked me during the break, what could we do to improve our system? And I don't think there's a -- I don't think there's anything wrong with our system for the very reasons that Senator Byrd mentioned. I mean, there are no tanks rolling in the streets. We...

KING: How about the polling system?


BAKER: We had a problem. We resolved it well. There are a couple of things that ought to be looked at very, very carefully. Punch-card ballots ought to be looked at. Standards -- state standards for counting ballots -- it's worth taking a look at that. Whether you do that on a federal basis or not, I don't know. But the states ought to look at having some uniform and objective standard so that it is not subjective as it was down there in Florida, with no -- with no standards.

And lastly, it would be very, very worthwhile to look at this -- at this tendency on the part of the press to want to call an election prematurely. There's a lot of competition out there. We all recognize that. Everybody wants to be the first to call state x or state y. But boy, can that distort the results, and it distorted the results in this case.

KING: Do you miss public life?

BAKER: No. I really -- I had an awful lot of it, Larry. I had five campaigns, presidential campaign, and then Florida, and State and Treasury and two stints as chief of staff, and stint as undersecretary of commerce. That's a lot of time. That's a lot of public service. There's -- there are other things that are enjoyable.

KING: One would guess you'll be at the Texas ball tomorrow.

BAKER: I will be there.

KING: Thank you as always.

BAKER: Thank you.

KING: Former Secretary of State James Baker. When we come back, two distinguished members of the Senate, both Republicans. John Warner and Fred Thompson are next. Don't go away.


KING: Two of America's most eligible bachelors, I'm reminded. Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia; ranking Republican on Armed Services Committee, resumes that chairmanship at noon on Saturday.

And Senator Fred Thompson, Republican of Tennessee; ranking Republican on Governmental Affairs. He takes back that chairmanship also at noon on January 20th.

So far, Senator Warner, as things -- transition so good or is the Ashcroft thing throwing things up?

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Bob Byrd set the tone right here.

KING: Tonight.

WARNER: He was magnificent, and the way he commended Trent Lott. You know, I was one of the last of the holdouts fighting against having equal numbers on the Senate. But Trent was very persuaded, persuaded me. Fred, we marched off, and he'll make it work.

KING: Fred, so far, so good?

SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), TENNESSEE: Yes, I think so. Everybody is talking a good game now, and I think we mean it. I hope we mean it. The proof's in the pudding, and when the tough issues come down the road, we'll see whether or not we're going to actually do what we're talking about or whether or not we're going to be concentrating on the elections two years from now, and every decision that each party makes is based on trying to take back control of the Senate. If we do that, it'll all fall apart. But I'm hopeful that just maybe we won't do that.

KING: You are both Republicans. Do you have any, either of you, concerns about John Ashcroft? Senator Warner, any concerns?

WARNER: You know, it's interesting. Let's put this thing in a different perspective. This has been a tough, thorough hearing. I think John Ashcroft emerges a stronger and better man. And also, let's remind the country that he took the oath right before all -- I swear to uphold that law. He serves at the pleasure of the president. George W. Bush, as president, will not let John Ashcroft deviate from those commitments, and the consequences are he'll get through the Senate.

THOMPSON: There is something that can be said negatively, I suppose, about all of us -- for sure, about all of us. But this is a man who won statewide office in a swing state, three -- for three different offices. Now that tells you something.

John got caught in between two elections: the past election and those who want to continue the Florida recount on up into the floor of the United States Senate, and the next election, and many of those senators are up there dealing with Senator Ashcroft and they're going to run for president on the Democratic side next time, and they're having their chain yanked, quite frankly, and they're stepping up to the plate now, and many of them, I'm sure, think that they're disadvantaged if they don't give Ashcroft a hard time.

So, John's in the middle of that, but it's all going to work out, and he's going to be confirmed, and I think that he'll be an excellent attorney general.

KING: What are your thoughts about the -- well, first, the Clinton good-bye tonight?

WARNER: You know, as I listened to him, I share Bob Byrd's thoughts. He could have been a greater president for reasons we all know and been reviewed. But I -- I wished he had in a way said, look, this economy, which really made him in the end, the strong economy, that the foundation was laid by Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the former president, when they did certain things...

KING: But he ran on it?

WARNER: Well, of course he did. But they laid the foundation. You've never seen an economy like America's experienced without a very solid foundation having been laid, and two those presidents did. He could have looked over his shoulder and said, you know, I respect them, and not heads to the future as if to say, I've said tonight what I did, and if something goes wrong, it's not my fault.

KING: Senator Thompson, when you think Bill Clinton, what do you think?

THOMPSON: I don't have anything new or imaginative to add to that Larry. I think again, Senator Byrd touched on something that was very important, and I guess, I think along the same lines, and that is somewhat of a waste. You got to give the man his due, and we all know he's done good things and he, frankly, picked up on Republican things: balanced budget, welfare reform, free trade. All of those were things that we were pushing long before he came on.

He came along, we worked together and got some things done. But there are very few issues in Washington that are very important. One of them has to do with the demographics that we're facing now. We're a society where the baby boomers are going to start retiring. We all know that Social Security and Medicare are going to go bankrupt in a few years.

We know that. There's no avoiding that. We know we've got to do something about it. He had the personality and the political skill and the will on the part of Republicans and Democrat alike to do something for generations to come.

KING: And he failed?

THOMPSON: And he chose not to try. He wanted the issue for Vice President Gore in the next campaign. He wanted the issues more than he wanted the solution.

KING: We'll take a break, and get these gentlemen's thoughts on what they expect from George W. Bush. Don't go away.



KING: This time, we'll start with Senator Thompson. What do you logically expect from President-elect Bush?

THOMPSON: I think he's going to surprise a lot of people. I just saw an interview tonight that he had with Brit Hume. The first time I've really seen him give in-depth interview since he'd been elected, really, I think. And I think the guy's got courage. I think the guy's got guts. You know, there's an old saying going around that, you know, some people run for office to be something; some people run for office to do something.

I really don't think he's enamored of the job. I think that he ran for president in order to do something, and I think he's got those ideas firmly in mind, and I think the real test -- you talk about how Congress is going to work out. I tell you how Congress going to work.

It's going to depend to the extent to which George W. Bush can go over our heads to the American people. I think he's going to be able to relate to the American people. I think they're going to see the goodness in this guy and the sincerity in him, and if he's able to do that, we'll go along.

KING: Any aspect you worry about, Senator Warner?

WARNER: Of course, there's always some things you're concerned about. I wish he had a little more experience in the area of foreign affairs and national security. But he put together perhaps the most brilliant team ever in recent history. So, he's had the magnetism to go out and get the Don Rumsfelds to come back into public service. I'm surprised he didn't get Jim Baker back. But he wanted to have his generation, which is thoroughly represented. He -- I think I'd join Fred. He's going to be surprise.

KING: Do you agree with Senator Byrd? Do you think the Democrats will come -- do you have high expectations that this is going to be a come-together Congress?

THOMPSON: I think it depends on what I just said, Larry, quite frankly. The strong tendency, as much as we'd like to believe otherwise, the strong tendency is going to be to start the next presidential election tomorrow. The strong tendency is going start the next Senate campaigns and congressional campaigns tomorrow, which are two years from now, as you know.

I hope we're able to resist that in, and at least for a year or so, try to do things a little bit differently. But, you know, it's hard to keep dogs from chasing cars, you know. It's our habit. I mean, we're used to doing it for a long time, but if the president is able to lead the way, I think he'll be able to -- I think we'll be required to go along because the public will demand it and we'll suffer the political consequences.


WARNER: Just to add a word, I think that the 50-50 split is going to bring the realization of the country, you've got to do it bipartisan way. And his strength is reaching across, bringing people together. He proved that in Texas. And the consequence of the 50-50 gives him the opportunity to go to the American people and say, big legislation requires votes from both sides of the aisle, and he'll reach across and get those votes.

KING: So, Senator Byrd when he said the deal between Daschle and Lott may work very well to Bush's benefit?

WARNER: That's correct.

THOMPSON: I think that's right.

KING: I thank you both for having you with us.


WARNER: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

KING: Fred Thompson, who said Tennessee would go to Bush.

THOMPSON: That's right.

KING: He said it here.

THOMPSON: There are a bunch of us taking credit for it. KING: Senator John Warner, still loved by Elizabeth Taylor; she said the other night, and Senator Fred Thompson.


KING: Join us tomorrow for an inauguration extravaganza. We've got a great show: Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, David Eisenhower and others. Plus: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bo Derek, live from the Texas ball. And for more -- you like that -- and for more Q&A with Bo Derek, check out "Table Talk" on my Web site: Stay tuned for Bill Hemmer and "CNN TONIGHT."

I'm Larry King. For my guests, thanks for joining us and good night.



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