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CNN CROSSFIRE

President Joins In Scolding Trent Lott; Landrieu Talks About Sweet But Narrow Victory

Aired December 12, 2002 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE tonight: increasing criticism of Trent Lott from the left and the right. Now the president's weighing in publicly on what some say were Lott's racist remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Black voter turnout helped her keep her Senate seat. So did some last-minute Bush bashing. Louisiana's Mary Landrieu talks about her sweet but narrow victory.

And out of the closet and into the comics, "The Rawhide Kid" rides again straight into the CROSSFIRE.

Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Tonight, the "Rawhide Kid's" secret is out. He's in love with the Lone Ranger. Are comics ready for a gay superhero?

And the president scolds fellow Republican Trent Lott. How long can he remain Senate Republican majority leader? But first, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Here it is.

The president of the United States today responded to the growing controversy over comments made by Mississippi Senator Trent Lott. Mr. Bush left no doubt about where he stands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: By Washington standards, it was more than a repudiation. It was a spanking. And it was echoed by Republicans on Op-Ed pages, at cocktail parties, and on television. Many of whom called for the Senate majority leader to step down. Trent Lott apparently is running out of friends.

As of tonight, Mr. Lott's most fervent support came from across the political divide from democratic strategists and ad makers eager to use his words against Republicans in 2004. The outcome of all this is likely to be clear by Monday, and, of course, we'll keep you posted.

PAUL BEGAL, CO-HOST: Good for the president so far as he went. But it is -- I have a big problem with his timing. It took him seven days to figure out what most people saw in first blush was wrong. And I suspect he wasn't searching his conscience, which is clean, but instead he was consulting his pollsters, which I think is really a shame.

CARLSON: One suspects there's nothing he could have said that would have pleased you.

BEGALA: No, right away he should have jumped ugly with him, and I would have been very happy. Once in a blue moon he pleases me, but I guess that's not his highest ambition in life. Is it?

Well back home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Senator Trent Lott's hometown newspaper whipped him like a barbed mule. While praising his work for the region, the "Mississippi Press" says senator Lott's job as Senate Majority Leader, "... is a position that should not be held by anyone who holds the beliefs that Lott espoused last week and 22 years ago." "We encourage the Senate Republicans," the paper went on, "to replace him with someone with more progressive beliefs."

Now the "Mississippi Press" joins a long list of papers calling on Lott to step down. But this one is especially noteworthy. Because losing Lott as majority leader would likely reduce the amount of federal pork coming to Pascagoula. So congratulations to the paper there for putting principle ahead of self-interest. If only our president had done the same, found the courage, and today gone the next step and called on Trent Lott to step down as the leader of the party of Lincoln.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I must say, the Democrats -- and we'll get into this in a minute. There is a long, very long list -- I didn't know how long it was until today, I did a little research -- list of examples of Democrats refusing to criticize their own when they do things that are egregious, some less egregious, some more egregious than what Mr. Lott is accused of doing. And I have to say, Republicans always beat Democrats when it comes to breaking ranks and telling the truth about people in their party, I think. BEGALA: That's a fair comment (ph). You should bring it up in the debate. But actually, maybe it's just the opposite side. I always feel like the Republicans are more cohesive and strong about protecting their own, and the Democrats always turn on their own.

CARLSON: Two words: Robert Torricelli. But we'll talk about that in a minute.

"The New York Times" reports this morning that Al Gore may not be running for president after all. According to half a dozen of Mr. Gore's friends, the former vice president will likely announce next month that he's stepping aside to let "fresh faces" --meaning middle aged Democratic senators -- challenge Bush in 2004. Friends say Gore has been stung by the reception he's received while traveling the country promoting his new book "Joined At The Heart."

And no wonder. As of today, the book has come to rest at number 2,644 on Amazon's sales list. To put that number in some perspective, Gore's book is 2,510 places behind the 365 cats a day calendar and 2,642 places behind the "Soprano's Family Cookbook."

In other words, it's taking a bath, embarrassingly so. As would Gore if he ran again. But, after complaining that he was cheated the first time, he ought to do it anyway for his party, for history. And most of all, for the amusement of the rest of us.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Two words: January 23. January 23, Al Gore has agreed to come on CROSSFIRE. We're going to ask him any kind of questions that we want. We can also talk about his book. I like the fact that a politician wrote a book about other people instead of himself. I hope more people buy it for Christmas. It makes a lovely Christmas gift.

CARLSON: But they're buying the cat calendar instead.

BEGALA: Well, you know, they're buying "It's Still The Economy, Stupid." I can't remember who wrote that, but...

CARLSON: You're actually beating him. I checked today. By quite a bit.

BEGALA: I know. Not that I care, but thank you for buying the book.

Clarence Thomas of the United States Supreme Court is known, of course, for sitting stoically through the high court's oral argument. He rarely asks questions and he never seeks the limelight in the court's chambers. So long-time court observers were stunned yesterday when Justice Thomas unleashed a withering critique of cross burning during oral arguments.

Justice Thomas said that a burning cross is unlike any other symbol in our society, and suggested it should not be protected by the first amendment's free speech clause. Supreme Court veterans say that Justice Thomas showed a passion and an interest he normally only reserves for cases that involve particularly graphic displays of pornography. So good for Clarence Thomas for really showing some passion and support.

CARLSON: The reason, I suspect, that Justice Thomas rarely speaks is I can't think of a person in public life who's endured worse attacks, more vicious racist attacks, actually, than Clarence Thomas has from the left.

BEGALA: They weren't racist at all. They were well deserved.

CARLSON: It's unbelievable, calling him an Uncle Tom and....

BEGALA: Oh, I'm not for that at all. But he was unfit for the court. He shouldn't have been confirmed. I regret that he's on the court. But he is, and I'm glad now that he's working hard.

CARLSON: But the personal attacks are really beyond the pale.

The streets won't be any safer, but as of this spring, you won't smell cigarette smoke when you go to bars in New York City. In a major advance for the forces of authoritarian social control Mayor Bloomberg has announced what amounts to a total ban on indoor smoking in the city. Bars, clubs, restaurants, wedding reception halls, anywhere you want to have a cigarette, now you can't.

According to "The Daily News," Bloomberg is only "reluctantly allowing people to light up while seated outside." Critics have complained that the ban will take the pleasure out of going to nightclubs. The mayor responded by assuring New Yorkers that drugs will still be available in the men's rooms and they can still have anonymous sex with strangers in the shadowy area next to the stage.

BEGALA: Oh, yuck. No, but god bless Mike Bloomberg. As a former bartender, who used to have to breathe all that crap that everybody else smoked, I'm glad he's protecting the little guys.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Yeah, it's nice.

BEGALA: It's called public health. God bless him.

CARLSON: It's called (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BEGALA: One of my favorite Republicans, Mike Bloomberg.

Well, speaking of, as I was a moment ago, our Supreme Court, Janet Rehnquist is the daughter of the election-stealing chief justice of the United States. She's also the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. But Ms. Rehnquist is in a bit of hot water these days.

At the urging of Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the General Accounting Office is investigating Ms. Rehnquist. Among the allegations, Ms. Rehnquist allegedly delayed the audit of a Florida pension fund to benefit the political fortunes of Governor Jeb Bush. Also alleged, documents may have been shredded after the investigation had begun. She's also acushioned of keeping an unlicensed gun in her office.

Says a spokesman for Ms. Rehnquist, if we can't bend the rules for Jeb, shred documents and pack heat, what's the point of being a Bush Republican? That's a good point.

CARLSON: Senator Grassley is from Iowa. She hasn't done anything wrong. Nothing wrong with having a gun in your office, as I know you agree. And fourth, I have to say, you wouldn't be criticizing her if she weren't the daughter of a person whose decision you didn't like.

BEGALA: No, no. If any high-ranking Bush person was accused of being investigated of that kind of stuff, I think it's fair game.

CARLSON: Nothing wrong. Good for her for keeping a gun.

Next up, just what was Trent Lott trying to say? The debate continues, and so does the bipartisan pile-on. Is Lott about to lose his job? We'll debate that.

And later, a fifty's comic book hero returns only to make a pass at the Lone Ranger. Are your children ready for the "Rawhide Kid"? We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. There's no let-up tonight in the controversy over what some say are racist remarks uttered last week by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Lott has repeatedly apologized for praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential bid. But so far, it hasn't much helped. Democrats are mad, Republicans may be even madder.

This afternoon, president Bush denounced Lott's words as offensive and wrong. Joining us to debate Mr. Lott's future, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, Republican Consultant Charlie Black.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Charlie, thank you. Good to see you again. Thank you both for coming on.

Charlie, you and I have been through these before. This is, I think, a full-blown, F-4 feeding frenzy from the media. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Because one of the things that's come out, for example, has nothing to do with the speech he gave last week, but except it's part of a larger pattern that the media is finding on Senator Lott and issues of race.

Today's "New York Times" on the front page reports this, let me read it to you. This is, I think, even more troubling than what he said about Trent Lott -- I mean what he said about Strom Thurmond. "Critics pointed today to Mr. Lott's intercession in the 1980s to try to help Bob Jones University keep its tax-exempt status despite his prohibition on interracial dating. 'Racial discrimination does not always violate public policy,' Mr. Lott, then a congressman, said in a 1981 Friend of the Court filing, 'Why is your party led by a man who thinks racial discrimination does not always violate public policy?"

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, what he meant was that a private university that did not take any federal funds privately should not be dictated to by the IRS as to what their social policy should be. There were a lot of other people at that time, including President Reagan, who agreed that it was none of the IRS' business what a private institution did. I don't think that disqualifies Trent Lott from being a leader of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was a pretty good leader of the Republican Party.

BEGALA: But do you endorse this statement that racial discrimination does not always violate public policy?

BLACK: I believe that, in certain circumstances, private organizations -- for example, I don't have anything against all-male golf clubs. Maybe you could bring me on that show. If they're private and they don't take public money, I think there are limits on what the federal government should dictate.

I am against racial discrimination. I don't belong to any clubs that racially discriminate. Neither does Trent Lott. Things were a lot different in the old days in the south, as you know.

Trent Lott's worked for 30 years against racial discrimination and to help African-Americans in his state. He's helped them with economic development and in other ways. He's got a 30-year record of proving that he does not believe in racial discrimination.

CARLSON: Now, Steve, one of the most striking things about this whole story, as it unfolds, the number of Republicans who have broken with their party to criticize Trent Lott to the extent that it can't even really be thought of as breaking with their party. They've just said I think this is wrong, he ought to step down. There's a whole variety of views.

This, in profound contrast to the way Democrats behave when one of theirs does something stupid or gets in trouble. Witness (ph) Clinton, Robert Torricelli, who was dealing with a foreign government, may have committed crimes. No Democrat denounced him at all. Jim Traficant made anti-Semitic statements. No Democrat ever denounced him.

All the way back to current Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, who a number of years ago said to a now CNN producer named Charlie Keys (ph), he described black voters as "darkies." Now this was on the AP wire, this was on a television report. I'm wondering why no Democrat said word one about it then or now.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, maybe I missed the many, many, many Republicans who have come out and called for Trent Lott to either step down or not run as majority leader. And perhaps that's on the wire that I didn't see. But I haven't seen any except for perhaps Ann Northrop. So it's not like they jumped out there.

But let me just say this. I think there is an important distinction here. And that is the difference between making a mistake one time and making a series of mistakes over a long period of time. When Senator Lott was at the University of Mississippi, he fought the desegregation of his fraternity. He said at the time, or he said in an interview in "TIME" magazine in 1997, that he was a segregationist then.

Can I just finish? He came to Congress and worked for a segregationist member of Congress. He then was elected on his own and went to these CCC meetings, which is not very far away from KKK, and shares many of the same views. And gave speeches and wrote columns.

He said in 1980 that the segregationist views of Strom Thurmond should have carried the day. And he said just last week. So it's not like he...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: This is a long, long history. I know what's in his heart, but I know what's in his record.

CARLSON: I know I'd love to debate 40 years of history, but if we could just stick just to today. The president of the United States gets up and unequivocally denounces the sentiment and the statement.

MCMAHON: And hurray for the president. Where's the rest of the party? And, by the way, the best thing that Trent Lott has going for him is a secret vote. Because if these guys had to cast a vote in public, and they should cast this vote in public for majority leader, he would set the president's reaching out to African-Americans, which he's done, and I think he's done relatively sincerely and effectively, back ten years.

BEGALA: Charlie, isn't the difference that the voters in South Carolina, if they don't approve of Senator Hollings outrageous statements, or in other places, the voters can take care of that. But your party has selected Trent Lott to be its leader. Not simply voters of Mississippi, who have a perfect right to vote for him no matter what record he compiles if they like that record. But your party has chosen him to be its leader. Doesn't that give him a special burden?

BLACK: I think it does. And I think he realizes that.

BEGALA: He's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that burden even with these racist comments.

BLACK: He did not make racist comments.

BEGALA: It's not racist to say Strom Thurmond would have been a better president even though he was a segregationist?

BLACK: He was trying -- he did not endorse segregationist policies. He was trying to flatter and humor an old man on literally his last day ever in the United States Senate. He did it in a very inartful way. He didn't endorse segregation or racial discrimination. That's not what he meant. He said that over and over and over.

He's got a 30-year record that belies that he would have meant that. The president was right to come down...

BEGALA: His hometown paper actually says something different. They've been covering him for all of those 30 years. This is what the "Mississippi Press" in Pascagoula, not exactly a liberal bastion, says. "What should be Lott's fate? The fact that he has repeatedly made these comments is an indication that he truly believes what he said." So sayeth Trent Lott's hometown paper. They know him better than I do.

BLACK: He truly believes that Strom Thurmond is a great man who deserved to be honored on his last day at the Senate. Trent Lott is not a segregationist. This paper should know of his 30-year record of employing African-Americans, creating thousands and thousands of jobs in predominantly African-American areas of Mississippi. Endowing a chair at Jackson State university, supporting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) state.

Lott has a long, long record, not just of reaching out to African-Americans, but of helping them in their everyday lives with jobs and economic development. He made one mistake, he admits it was a mistake. He's apologized repeatedly. The president was right to condemn him, and Tom Daschle was right, the day after this happened, when he said he misspoke, he shouldn't have done it. We all do it sometimes, let it pass.

Only, when you guys decided you saw on opening to play the race card did Daschle and all the Democrats start piling on.

BEGALA: We will have a firm response to that when we come back. But for now, hang on, because we've got a lot more words to come after this. There's a whole lot of controversy, if I can make a little pun. We'll have more of it when we return.

And then, Louisiana's conquering Democratic hero, Senator Mary Landrieu, on how she beat the Bushes. Later, first it was Ellen, then Rosie, now the "Rawhide Kid." A gay comic book hero in the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We are talking about one of my favorite topics, Trent Lott's big mouth, with Republican Consultant Charlie Black and Democratic Strategist Steve McMahon. Guys, thanks for staying through the break.

CARLSON: Now, Steve, we all agree, if there's one thing we agree on, that race baiting, playing the race card, playing upon racial division is wrong. Take a look at a...

MCMAHON: Why does this sound like a set-up to me?

CARLSON: Because it is. I want you to take a look at an ad the Democrats ran in 2000. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RENEE MULLINS: I'm Renee Mullins, James Byrd's daughter. On June 7, 1998 in Texas, my father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and then dragged three miles to his death all because he was black. So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again. Call George W. Bush and tell him to support hate crimes legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Well, that's disgusting, trying to tie Mr. Bush to hate crimes. Will you pledge, as a consultant not to run racially divisive ads like that?

MCMAHON: Well, first of all, it's a matter of opinion whether it's a racially divisive ad.

CARLSON: Oh, come on. Accuse the president of a hate crime.

MCMAHON: That's not an ad I don't think the Democratic Party ran anyway. I think it was a third party group. And it was on an issue, and it was about an issue. And it was about an issue that's very important to the African-American...

CARLSON: So you're defending it?

MCMAHON: Well, listen, if you're an African-American, particularly if you're an African-American who's been the victim of a hate crime or someone in your family has been the victim of a hate crime, this is a very serious subject.

CARLSON: Well no kidding. But President Bush isn't responsible for the hate crime. And to imply he is, is wrong, isn't it?

MCMAHON: Well, no one was implying that he was responsible for the hate crime.

CARLSON: You saw the ad. Come on.

MCMAHON: But the point is he was against hate crimes legislation. And that's, you know -- listen, do you think it's any less fair than saying Max Cleland, who left three limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam, is unpatriotic or doesn't support his troops or doesn't support America?

CARLSON: I think we both agree...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me bring this back to Charlie Black. I'm torn, as an American, which I am before any partisan inclinations. I think Lott should leave. I think it's not right for a party with the legacy of the Republican Party to be led by somebody who's made racist statements.

You are the party of Lincoln. You should be honored for that. And you have 48 other guys you could turn to, and women, who have a better record, I think, on race. But I have to say as a Democrat, keep him. Because we're going to use that to beat you. And Trent Lott will be in all of those ads from the Democratic Party and you will lose elections because of Trent Lott, so what are you going to do, keep him and lose?

BLACK: At least if you're going to play the race card that you guys like to play, at least we walked into it this time. It's not an outrageous connection like that ad there. But, listen, Trent Lott may be...

BEGALA: It's not playing the race card to play the tape of Trent Lott praising Strom Thurmond's segregationist ticket. It's Trent Lott playing the race card, but we're just going to play the ad. Trust me, we will play it.

BLACK: I said we walked into it if you play it. But he made a mistake. He did not endorse segregation, did not mean to endorse segregation. The implication that he did was wrong. The president has condemned it. All Republicans condemn it.

BEGALA: But wouldn't your party be better off without him?

BLACK: This is not a capital crime that deserves the death penalty. It was a simple mistake. The people who decide this issue are 50 other Republican senators. And despite what Tucker said earlier, not a single one of them has come out for Trent Lott to leave his job. That spans the spectrum. Conservative, moderate and liberal Republicans are still behind Lott.

CARLSON: And we're out of time. But Steve, very quickly, would you like to see Senator Lott step down as majority leader?

MCMAHON: Well, I think he should. And I think the Republican Party is either condoning the behavior is repudiating it on the basis of how they vote.

CARLSON: That's ludicrous.

MCMAHON: And they should be asked to vote in public. Because these senators shouldn't be able to do in private what the public will want to know about where they stand on this thing.

BLACK: And all 50 publicly endorse what the president said today. That's all you need to know. This should be over.

CARLSON: OK. Well thank you both very much, Steve McMahon and Charlie Black, we appreciate it. Thanks.

Evidence of a secret nuclear program in Iran. Connie Chung will have details next in the CNN NEWS ALERT. Also, Democrats console themselves with one high profile Senate win. Joining us in a moment, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu. We'll ask the secret to her success.

Then, the "Rawhide Kid," a gay gunslinger coming to a comic book near you. Are you prepared? We'll debate it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Still ahead on CROSSFIRE, "The Rawhide Kid" rides again this time as an openly gay comic book hero.

And when we come back, Mary Landrieu's victory tour makes a stop right here on CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you live from the George Washington University where you can join us when you're in Washington, D.C.

Well, she tried campaigning on local issues like sugar imports. In the end her sweet victory was the result of higher African-American turnout and a little last-minute Bush bashing.

Please give a warm CROSSFIRE welcome to Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.

CARLSON: Good to see you. Congratulations.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Thank you, tucker.

BEGALA: Well, Senator, congratulations.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

CARLSON: I must admit I predicted you would lose. As did others. But for much of the campaign, you boasted about your closeness to the president, and about how your voting record tracked his agenda fairly closely. And at one point, in October, during a debate in Louisiana, you said, I'm quoting now, "There's not a federal judge that the president has put before the Senate that I haven't voted for." Wondering, hoping, in fact, you're going to keep to that pattern of essentially doing everything the president asks.

LANDRIEU: Well, that's not what I have done. That's not what I am going to do. What I did is run on my record. Which said that when the president was right for Louisiana and when I believed he was right for the country, I was proud to support him. And when he was wrong I voted no. The only way I know how to run as a candidate is to run on my record. I don't run away from it. I ran on it. I stood on it. And that's why we had a tremendous victory.

And the victory really belongs to the people of my state who gathered together, across racial lines, geographic lines, and said that we don't send labels to Washington, we send leaders. And they rejected the Washington rhetoric that said I need a label, I need a rubber stamp, because people in this country know they need leadership in Washington. And they sent me back. BEGALA: Amen. And glad they did. Let me put you on the spot. It's not our party, but that leadership in Washington, in your body of the United States Senate, will be led by Trent Lott. Do you think Trent Lott, given the racist statements he made last week, should be the majority leader of the United States Senate?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all the statements were, in fact, racist and they were wrong. And they need to be repudiated at the highest levels. And I have said myself I'm disappointed I was in those statements. But also, I want to say something about what the president said today. And the president said that these remarks don't reflect the spirit of the country, and he's correct.

The question is, do they reflect the spirit of the Republican party. That's the question. The president is the head of the Republican party. And so it's really incumbent upon the party to say, do we want this kind of leadership. Now it's not just this statement this time. It's statements that Senator Lott has made in the past. It's associations he's had in the past, and it's the Republican party's evidence mounting against a party that wants to either embarrass or disrespect African-Americans. And that evidence is mounting in our last elections. It was evident in my election.

So I think it's a very, very serious matter, but it really is a matter the Republican party, Paul, has to take care of. Is this the kind of leadership they want to put forward to the American public? I don't think it is.

BEGALA: So you join John Kerry, another member of the Senate, a fellow Democrat, has said Senator Lott should not lead the Senate. Do you agree Senator Lott should not lead the Senate?

LANDRIEU: I agree with that. The real issue -- Yes, I agree with that. But it's the real issue is does the Republican party think this should be their leader. I can promise you, if a Democratic leader said something like this or close to this, they -- their leadership position would be pulled, because our party feels very strongly. Now is the Democratic party perfect on this issue? Absolutely not. But are we a lot better than the Republican party? We absolutely are. And the evidence and the record will reflect that. Not any spin that I might say or you all might say. That's what the record says.

CARLSON: Really? Because you had some fairly well publicized run-ins with black leaders in this recent election. One of them, Jesse Jackson showed up to raise money for you. Your campaign apparently issued a statement saying it had quote nothing to do with his appearance and his endorsement. Later State Senator Cleo Fields went after you saying quote, "If you don't respect us," us meaning black voters, "don't expect us." Why did he think that you didn't respect black voters?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, Senator Fields did endorse my candidacy. And I'm happy to have his support. And pleased that he was able to come join us in this great victory. But my record is a 91 percent record with the NAACP. A record that I'm very proud of. Because African-Americans want nothing more than everybody else in this country wants, a fair shake, a fair shot, equal opportunity for their kids to go to college, a chance to own a home, to own their own business.

And I'm proud of that record. I ran on it. There were two state senators in my state, of all the thousands of elected African-American leaders that just suggested that my record might not be good enough. I obviously disagreed with them and so do the people of my state. I got 98 percent of the black vote. I am proud of that, but I also got an equal number of white voters. I also had rural voters. I also had urban voters. Because we ran a campaign that said everyone is welcome.

We're fighting for what all Americans want. And I'll also tell you what we also did is say parties, while we are proud to belong to them, are not cults. Parties are not cults, and they've gotten almost to be that way. The Republican party, with all due respect, the national Republican party, if you don't support me every time, every day well you're not an American, you're not patriotic, and you're not a Republican. Well that's hogwash. People need to have...

CARLSON: No one ever said that.

LANDRIEU: Well, but that's the message that they give out. And so that's hogwash. So I think we have to get back to a place in this country where we're proud to be part of our party. I'm proud to be a Democrat. I don't support the Democrats 100 percent of the time. Sometimes they happen to be wrong. And so I think that's what people in this country want. They want leadership. They want honesty. And you know, that's why this is causing such a fur. Because it's not just one statement by Senator Lott. It's several statements, which has been documented by the press not by myself, but by the press, as well as a pattern of the Republican party to disrespect and discredit African-American voters, and that's wrong.

BEGALA: Tucker mentioned Senator Cleo Fields a moment ago, an African-American leader in your state. He had an interesting summary of your campaign strategy in the "Times-Picayune" in New Orleans.

This is what he said, "All that talk from Senator Landrieu about Support for the president turned my stomach. To her credit, she changed all that in the runoff and worked hard to distinguish herself from the Republicans and really reached out to African-American voters. If she keeps up that attitude, only God knows what she can do."

So it sounds like you turned a critic into a supporter by turning your guns and finding principled, policy disagreements with a popular president and that worked, didn't it?

LANDRIEU: Well first of all, with all due respect to Senator Fields, I do not take my vote back for supporting the president for the use of force resolution, or my vote to strengthen the military, or my vote to add funding to the military because I believe that we can't leave these guys or gals on the battlefield without our full and complete support. So just because I voted with the president on military matters and stood up homeland defense doesn't mean that I'm not for Democrats or for America, or for African-Americans. Frankly, there are many African-Americans in the armed services that I fought very hard for, because they need housing and they need education, they need health care, just like everyone that fights.

Now, what I said was that on the issues of steel tariffs, on the issue of sugar, on the issue of setting up accountability for education and then not funding it, no, I don't support the president on that.

CARLSON: OK. Unfortunately we have a number of more pretty tough questions, but we're out of time...

LANDRIEU: Oh.

CARLSON: ...Senator, sadly.

LANDRIEU: Well I saw that sugarcane right there.

CARLSON: Especially in my case, this was our present to you.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

BEGALA: Quickly though, Texas is going to beat LSU in the Cotton Bowl? My Longhorns are playing your Tigers on News Years Day.

LANDRIEU: Oh, my goodness. My Tigers are tough. We're going to get you.

BEGALA: Bet you a barbecue lunch against Louisiana.

LANDRIEU: Against gumbo.

CARLSON: You can see Paul's savage question. Thanks very much, Senator, we appreciate you coming.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

CARLSON: Another spat between our Canadian viewers and our American viewers. We'll get into that as CROSSFIRE continues in our "Fireback" segment.

But next, a wholesome '50s hero gets a makeover for the new millennium, some would say not for the better. A gay superhero. We'll explain in great, even vivid detail when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

BEGALA: Baby boomers probably recognize that music, as the theme from the classic TV series "Rawhide." And some may remember comic book hero of the same name, around the same time, "The Rawhide Kid." Well, he's back in a new century. But this time his little secret is out. The Rawhide Kid is gay. A first for the title character of a mainstream comic book.

Joining us from Los Angeles, we're honored to have the chairman emeritus of Marvel Comics, the creator of "Spider-Man" himself, Stan Lee. And here in Washington, equally honored to Andrea Lafferty, the executive director of Traditional Values Coalition. Thank You both for coming on CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Mr. Lee, thanks for joining us. You created the original "The Rawhide Kid," so I'm particularly interested to know what you make of the following panel from the new, gay-er Rawhide Kid. This is the Rawhide Kid responding to a question about the Lone Ranger.

Here's what he says, "I just want to meet him. I think that mask and powder blue outfit are fantastic. I can certainly see why that Indian follows him around."

So he's hitting on the Lone Ranger. what do you think about that?

(AUDIO GAP)

STAN LEE, CHAIRMAN EMERITUS, MARVEL COMICS: ... really clever. And I think the readers are going to love it.

CARLSON: OK, well let me hit you with another panel. And this panel, when I read it, I thought of my own son, and what he would make of this.

This is the Rawhide Kid being asked about Wild Bill Hickok. And the Rawhide Kid said, quote, "He's a very nice man. Big, I mean bigger than life."

You get the joke, maybe 8-year-olds would get the joke. But that's vulgar. Should that be in a comic book?

LEE: You want to know something? I saw that yesterday. And I called the editor, and I think that ought to be expunged. And he agreed with me. And I don't think it will be appear in the finished book.

BEGALA: Well, there you go. In fact, Miss Shelton, Marvel Comics tells us "The Rawhide Kid" will be published under their adult imprint Max which clearly features a parental advisory label on the front of every book cover. This is for adults. What's wrong with that?

ANDREA LAFFERTY, TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: There is a warning on this. But they're pitching this as a comic book for kids. You have to remember who's behind this.

BEGALA: They tell CNN that this is an adult (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LAFFERTY: OK, but kids are going to get their hands on this. Kids have been reading these comics for a long time. But the point I want to make is that who's writing this stuff? The same guy who's bringing us Howard Stern. And parents need to be aware of that.

BEGALA: Well I'm a Don Imus man, not a Stern guy. So I can't defend Howard Stern.

LAFFERTY: I'm glad to hear that Mr. Lee says he doesn't support this. There's sexual innuendo after sexual innuendo in here. The point I want to make here, we are sexualizing our kids too soon.

LEE: If I can just say -- I guess I can't say.

CARLSON: Mr. Lee, tell us.

LEE: Can I just mention that the writer of "The Rawhide Kid," he may be doing things with Howard Stern, but he was also one of the early producers and writers of "Seventh Heaven," a show that's highly regarded by Christians and conservatives. At present he's working on developing something with Tim Allen.

I mean, we are not dealing with people who aren't really good writers and ethical people. And this book itself, the lady just said that it's aimed at kids. It's not. It's a comic book. Today comic books are read by everybody. Not just little kids.

CARLSON: But I know, Mr. Lee, I know for years in comic books, Carl Barks wrote about this before he died, the people who wrote comic books made some attempt to keep politics out of them and heavy handed social statements out of them with the idea that, I don't know children read them and you ought not to impose those views on kids.

LEE: This isn't political. Years ago, I did a book called "Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandos." His platoon consisted of a Jewish fellow named Izzy Cohen, an Italian named Deno Minelli, a black named Gabriel Jones, and so forth.

Now, it wasn't -- we weren't making a political statement, and nobody ran out after buying the book and decided I'm going to become Jewish or I'm going to become Italian. People read it. They enjoyed it. That was it.

LAFFERTY: You know what? But kids are going to read these comics. And now we've got...

LEE: We hope so.

LAFFERTY; You see, that's -- you hope so. And there's a lot of parents that are concerned about their kids being sexualized at an early age. And the fact that this guy had been shy and now we know why he was shy, because he was gay.

There are a lot of men who are shy and aren't homosexual. We're sending real confusing and mixed messages to our kid. Again, homosexuality has invaded children's -- the childhood of so many kids. They've invaded Hollywood. They've invaded Disney. They've invaded Nickelodeon.

BEGALA: Invaded? In years (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Alexander the Great was an invader and he was gay. But, no...

LAFFERTY: I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Actually, let me raise a more relevant hero. A real- life hero, Mark Bingham. I don't know if you know who Mark Bingham was. But he was one of the heroes of Flight 93, he was one of the heroes who saved lives, maybe even our lives, particularly those who live in Washington, by helping to bring that plane down. Lost his own life to save others.

Isn't that the Christian ideal, greater love hath no man than to give up his life for his friends?

LAFFERTY: Were talking about -- let's bring it back to...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I want to honor a hero and this is a real one.

LEE: Even more than that...

LAFFERTY: Kids pass these comic books around. There's this rating on them. Kids pass them around like trading cards. It's a constant and continual pushing of the envelope. And to take this comic book, and to homosexualize it, I think parents are going to be upset about.

LEE: If I could just say something just for a moment.

CARLSON: Yes, please.

LEE: Let me just mention that Marvel Comics, we are entertainers. And we do books for everybody. And the characters in our books represent everybody. We have in the "X Men," we have characters from all nationalities. We have both sexes. Among us -- and I didn't write this book. I only learned about it yesterday. But I think it's fine. Among us today, there are gay people. We have one gay hero. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm sure there are gay heroes who exist.

LAFFERTY: You're going to push the envelope with this to the point where there's a lot of...

LEE: We're not pushing anything.

LAFFERTY: There's a lot of sexual innuendo in here.

LEE: No there isn't.

LAFFERTY: Why can't kids be kids? Why do we have to push this on them? Why? LEE: There is no sexual innuendo. I read the book.

LAFFERTY: Oh, there is. Talking about his big ahum, whatever. Come on!

LEE: That will not be in the book. That will not be there.

LAFFERTY: But it's in there. And it shows the intention, the heart of the writers.

CARLSON: Mr. Lee, are there any -- tell us now, you've obviously been in comics longer than almost anybody in America, are there any other super heroes we ought to wonder about? And can you tell us about Robin?

LEE: Well, I'm not going to get into that. But the book I mentioned years ago that I did Sergeant Fury, that had a gay character. One member of the platoon was called I think Percy Pinkerton. He was gay. We didn't make a big issue of it. In this comic book that I read, the word gay wasn't even used. He's just a colorful character who has -- he follows his own -- different drummer. He follows a different beat. But we're not prothatizing (ph) for gayness.

(CROSSTALK)

LAFFERTY: This is more than that. This is very, very sexual, along the lines of what Howard Stern would be proud to produce.

CARLSON: OK, I'm sorry. We are completely out of time. Mr. Lee, yes or no, Robin gay or not?

LEE: You'll have to ask somebody at D.C. I have too many friends there to answer that question.

CARLSON: OK. I think we can infer the answer. But thanks very much, Stan Lee, Andrea Lafferty, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Who should "Rawhide Kid's" nemesis be? One viewer has some archrivals in mind. Next in "Fire Back."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, time now for "Fire Back." Lots and lots of e-mail about Trent Lott's colorful if not color blind comment last week.

Gerald Meyer of Orange County, Florida writes "A Canadian calls Bush a moron and is forced to resign for the rude and senseless remarks. A Republican majority leader makes a racist and hurtful remark about how things would have been if segregation still existed. I don't know about you but I smell the stench of hypocrisy."

Well, Mr. Meyer pretty good point.

CARLSON: They are different countries, however. But still.

BEGALA: America should be held to a higher standard.

The Canadian standard, right.

CARLSON: Thomas of Cape Coral, Florida writes, "Why is it that when Bill Clinton perjured himself and lied to the American People on television all he had to do was say he was sorry and the Dems said it was good enough and we should forget it, but the same isn't allowed for Trent Lott"?

Well that's a great question.

BEGALA: Who suffered more, Clinton and his girlfriends or all black Americans under segregation?

CARLSON: Trent Lott did not make all black Americans suffer.

BEGALA: To compare a goofy, embarrassing and wrong affair with crazy segregation...

CARLSON: Clinton lied about everything.

BEGALA: No, he only lied about sex. Bush lies about everything but sex. That's the difference between the two of them.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Don Fermoyle of Akron, Ohio writes, "Paul, I don't know why you, Sharpton and the Democrats are urging the removal of Trent Lott as Senate leader. Let the Republicans keep him as a symbol of the current GOP, which says one thing to its own audience and another to the American people."

That is the conundrum. As an American first he should go. But as a partisan Democrat my party is better off with Trent Lott leading their party.

CARLSON: Let's hope something quickly happens because I am getting real sick of this story.

Next up, Dave Campbell of Galesburg, Illinois writes, "Who's the 'Rawhide Kid's' arch rival? A guy that goes around tastelessly decorating home interiors? Or perhaps a guy that sends out bad floral arrangements? Give us a break Stan Lee."

BEGALA: That is a great -- Dave Campbell from Galesburg, Illinois ought to be writing for Marvel Comics.

CARLSON: He fights tasteless man.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kent Bagerts (ph) from Texas. My question is, how can the liberal media and the Democrats continue to exploit the poor judgment of Senator Lott when, in fact, their own leaders are guilty of the same lack of judgment? For example, Senator Byrd.

CARLSON: And Senator Hollings as we brought up tonight. Well, simply because it plays to type. Democrats think they do better and they actually may, in fact, in real life do better by painting the entire Republican party as racist, so it works.

BEGALA: No, the entire Republican party is not racist. But the entire Republican party should remove someone who made a racist statement from their leadership. Until they do that. Until they remove him...

CARLSON: You want to execute him?

BEGALA: No, no, no. But until they remove him from a position of leadership it's going to be a legitimate political issue. We will continue to debate it. I hope they leave him there as a partisan. But as a citizen I'd like to see him gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Himan (ph) from Washington, D.C. Having grown up in Mississippi, I know that many Mississippians believe what Trent Lott said. So how can he remain the Republican majority leader? What gall?

CARLSON: So the idea is, because a lot Of Mississippians are for segregation, no Mississippian should be majority leader? I'm not exactly sure why Trent Lott's responsible for the sins of his state. He said something stupid, he's been creamed for it. I don't know what you want.

BEGALA: I was impressed with a hometown paper saying he actually does believe these things. I have no idea what he believes in his heart. But his hometown paper says he actually believes this and the hometown paper says he should go, and I think their right.

OK, yes sir, quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bobby Thompson (ph) from Louisiana. I was just wondering why the Democratic party has to pull out the race card for every Southern Republican that poses a threat to their party?

CARLSON: Because, again, it's absolutely effective. I mean, you need to raise turnout. That's the best way to do it.

BEGALA: It's not a left wing conspiracy. No Democrat is holding a gun to Trent Lott's head and say say racist things Trent. He did it himself he should suffer the consequences.

CARLSON: The Democrats are delighted that he did and that's the most telling thing about it.

BEGALA: I am disgusted that he is the leader. They should remove him now.

From the left I am, Paul Begala. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right I am Tucker Carlson. Good night Connie Chung's next.

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