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Lott Controversy Continues; Interview with Michael Dukakis

Aired December 17, 2002 - 16:00   ET



SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I'm looking for this to be not only an opportunity for redemption, but to do something about it.

ANNOUNCER: Trent Lott tries again to put controversy behind him, and to salvage his post as Republican Senate leader.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's in a jam. We don't need him to vote for the King holiday now. We have it.

ANNOUNCER: How did the latest apology play? We check in with residents of Lott's hometown.

The White House tries to keep the controversy at arm's length. Has the president given up on Senator Lott?

MICHAEL DUKAKIS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The same reason that George Bush was in a tank, at least two or three times in that campaign. You do these things.

ANNOUNCER: Michael Dukakis talks about the tank, and the lessons he learned on the campaign trail.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Trent Lott's latest televised apology has sparked new reaction from around Washington and across the nation.

In this news cycle, new response to Lott's fifth public apology, after he praised the 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond.

In an interview with Black Entertainment Television, Lott says he has changed through the years. He called his recent comments about Thurmond's segregationist campaign -- quote -- "repugnant and inexcusable."

For the latest on the controversy and the threat it poses to Trent Lott's position in the party leadership, let's turn to Capitol Hill and to our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl -- Jonathan, I know you've been up there taking the temperature all day long. How strong a position is Trent Lott in right now? JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the vast majority of the Republican conference, the 51 Republican senators up here, have refused to say it publicly, and more significantly, privately, whether or not they will vote again for Trent Lott as majority leader.

What that means, Judy, is that right now, Trent Lott does not have the votes to remain majority leader. That said, there are also not the votes yet to throw him out, but even some of Trent Lott's closest allies here in the Senate have refused to say, refused to commit to him that they will vote for him again as majority leader. That means his situation up here is quite perilous.

WOODRUFF: Well, John, you interviewed the Senate outgoing majority leader, Tom Daschle, today. What is he saying about Lott?

KARL: Well, Senator Daschle, we had a far ranging interview, but one of the things I asked him about was this question of whether or not the Democrats would come in and censure Senator -- Senator Lott when they come back in January. What he said is that any decision on a Democratic censure motion would be put off until the Republicans decide whether or not Lott will remain their leader.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: There is no excuse for racially insensitive comments. They're outrageous regardless of who makes them. But I would say there's a big difference between Senator Byrd and others. Senator Byrd has an outstanding civil rights record, as does Senator Hollings. I think it's actions, rather than words, that ultimately bring anyone to some conclusion about where someone's heart and soul is.

KARL: Why were you so slow to denounce what Senator Lott said?

DASCHLE: Well, maybe for the same reason you were so slow in reporting it. I think that it's really just a function of looking at it in proper context. You and I didn't know the context when we made our comments about it. When I first made my decision about these comments, I really felt that it was an isolated incident.

I didn't know the entire history that has obviously been reported since then, and I think once you look at it in its context, there is absolutely no question but that you have to come to another conclusion.


KARL: Now, Daschle also said that he would expect that if Trent Lott were to resign from the Senate, that Mississippi's Democratic governor would appoint a Democrat to replace him. There's been a lot of speculation down in Mississippi about Mike Espy, the African- American former member of Congress, former Agriculture secretary, about whether or not he would be named to replace Lott if, of course, he stepped down from the Senate. Senator Daschle said that he would welcome that, and as a matter of fact, he said that if Mike Espy were to come in to replace Trent Lott, he would drive down to Mississippi to pick him up.

Now, one bit of news on that, Judy, is that Mike Espy met last night with the governor of Mississippi, Ronnie Musgrove at a fund raiser. Aides to both men say that he did not -- they did not talk about this situation about replacing Trent Lott, but they did meet last night, and Democrats familiar with Espy's thinking say that he would be very, very interested in the job if he were to have the opportunity.

WOODRUFF: Interesting. All right, Jon Karl at the Capitol. We know you did have more in that interview with Senator Daschle about his own presidential aspirations, and we are going to get back to that in just a little while -- thank you, Jon.

Well, timing may be everything, if Trent Lott changes his mind and decides to step down from the Senate entirely. If Lott resigns, Mississippi governor, as Jon just said, Ronnie Musgrove would appoint a replacement. Musgrove is a Democrat, and he could fill Lott's seat with a Democrat.

Now, if Lott steps down before January 1, the replacement would only serve for about 90 days, until an election would be held. But, if Lott resigned after January 1, the election wouldn't be held until next November, and that would permit Lott's interim replacement to stay in the Senate for most of next year. You can bet the Republicans are focusing on that.

For many viewers, one of the most surprising statements in last night's interview was Lott's comment that he favors affirmative action.


ED GORDON, BET: What about affirmative action?

LOTT: I'm for that. I think you should reach...

GORDON: Across the board?

LOTT: Absolutely across the board.


WOODRUFF: Critics say that Lott's House and Senate voting records contradict those comments. Going back to 1975, Lott voted against a bill to extend the Voting Rights Act. In 1980, he voted against a measure to strengthen the Fair Housing Act. And a year later, he was against another attempt to extend the Voting Rights Act. In 1983, Lott voted against the Martin Luther King holiday, which he now says he would support, and critics also point out that more recently, Lott opposed a 1990 bill that was designed to restore affirmative action programs that had been struck down by the Supreme Court. In Mississippi, people in Trent Lott's hometown took a special interest in last night's interview.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has reaction from viewers in Pascagoula.


GORDON: We welcome Senator Trent Lott. Thanks for being with us, Senator.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They may not share many of Trent Lott's views, but they share his hometown. So here at this African-American social club in Pascagoula, Mississippi, they watched his interview on Black Entertainment Television particularly intently.

LOTT: This is an opportunity for me to do something about years of misbehavior.

TUCHMAN: Smiles were plentiful, mostly because the audience was often amused.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I think he was playing the same note (ph), that he thinks black Americans want to hear. I think he would say anything now. Wouldn't you say anything if you were in a jam now?

TUCHMAN: None of these community leaders and everyday citizens said they felt worse about Lott after the interview, but most felt he was doing this to help himself more than anything else.

LOTT: I made a mistake, and I would vote, now, for Martin Luther King holiday.

GORDON: All right. Let me hear this. Let me take a break, and we'll come back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's in a jam. We don't need him to vote for the King holiday now. We have it.

LOTT: I am for affirmative action, and I practice it.

TUCHMAN: The expressions on people's faces spoke volumes.

(on camera): I was watching your face when Trent Lott said he was in now in favor of affirmative action, and you looked surprised. Were you surprised?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was not surprise, Gary. That was, quite frankly, disbelief.

TUCHMAN: They watched carefully for the half hour, sometimes talking back to the TV.

LOTT: That's irrelevant now. That was 30, 40 -- 40 years ago.

TUCHMAN: But mostly, they just listened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He realizes he's in pretty deep, and I think that caused him tonight to make some admissions that he never would have made in a public way a month ago.

TUCHMAN: And now they wonder, like most others following the story, if Trent Lott will be able to hang on to his job.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Pascagoula, Mississippi.


WOODRUFF: And as for the rest of the country, a new poll finds slightly more than half of all Americans think the senator should not continue as the Senate majority leader. The "Washington Post" ABC survey finds 51 percent think Lott should leave his post, 41 percent say he should continue. A majority of Republicans, 56 percent, say Lott should remain the Republican Senate leader.

Well, beyond the Trent Lott issue, President Bush is dealing with the departure of several important aides and advisers. With me now for word on the latest member of the Bush team to announce his resignation, our senior White House correspondent, John King.

John, this is an important player, the liaison to the Congress.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Judy. Across the country, many may not have heard the word -- the name Nick Calio, may not be familiar with his picture, what he looks like, but behind the scenes here at the White House and especially on Capitol Hill over the past two years, Nick Calio a key player in every success and the failures, for that matter, of this administration in trying to sell its legislative agenda in the Congress.

Nick Calio telling the president he would resign today. He's the president's point man in Congress. His formal title, the assistant to the president for legislative affairs. His resignation takes effect on January 10.

In a statement, the president said he will miss Nick Calio's integrity and his loyalty. In an interview a short time ago, before Nick Calio made this decision official, he said he will leave believing that the first two years of the Bush presidency will, in his words, be remembered as one of the most productive in modern history.


NICK CALIO, CONGRESSIONAL LIASSON: It started out with a budget that passed on a bipartisan basis. It passed patently the groundwork for the biggest tax cut in a generation. That was followed by the education reform bill, "no child left behind," major education reform. So, right off the bat in the first year, you've got two major bills.

This year, we had trade promotion authority, the use of force resolution against Iraq, and now the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: White House aides give Calio special credit on that last thing he mentioned, the new Department of Homeland Security. They say he was key to striking that compromise. Since the midterm elections, Calio has known he is leaving, but one of his jobs since those November elections, is convincing conservative groups around town, especially social conservatives, who see a Republican Senate, a Republican House and a Republican president come January, and are asking for quite a bit to be done, one of Nick Calio's jobs since the election has been to tell people, Do the numbers, look at the slim margins on Capitol Hill, and calm down.


CALIO: I think people have to take a look at the Congress and how it's going to be constructed for the 108th Congress realistically. There's been a lot of talk, I call it hyperventilation, about what we will now be able to do, and what Republicans can do now that they control the presidency, the House, and the Senate.


KING: Calio initially had promised to stay just one year. The president and the vice president convinced him to stay on for two years. His resignation takes effect, Judy, on January 10.

WOODRUFF: Now, John, the 10th happens to be four days after the Republican Senate conference meeting, that planned meeting where they are going to discuss Trent Lott's future. Is this just a coincidence?

KING: Nick Calio would like us to think that he is resigning on that day because it is his 50th birthday, Judy, but it is no coincidence. Nick Calio has promised to stay to get A, some of the nominees, the new Treasury secretary, for example, to get the paperwork and other things prepared for the new Congress, but also to be here as Senate Republicans come back to decide Senator Trent Lott's fate.

He is the person who has the closest relationships with all of these key lawmakers and their staffs. He will be here to be involved in any of those discussions.

Of course, the official position here at the White House is that the White House has no comment on that meeting, and probable election to decide whether or not Trent Lott keeps his job, but Nick Calio will stay here to navigate. He also is working the senior White House staff, Judy.

We are told the president is not happy to see his aides quoted or people attributed anonymously to White House aides getting involved in the Lott story. One of Nick Calio's jobs inside the White House is to tell people, stay out of it, let this run its course.

WOODRUFF: It will be interesting to see if anything happens between now and January the 6th, of course. All right, John, thank you very much.

Support for Trent Lott from across party lines. Up next, I'll chat with Democratic Congressman and civil rights legend, John Lewis.

A trial run in Boston. Democrats commit to their convention city, and get a head start on the traditional balloon drop.

And later, when the words "I'm sorry" just aren't enough.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. Why aren't five apologies from Senator Lott enough? Let's look at some history.



WOODRUFF: Trent Lott is fighting for his political life, and he is receiving help from an unlikely source.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis says -- quote -- "I believe his apology is sincere, and I except his apology. The ability to forgive, to heal, and come together for the common good is very much consistent with the philosophy of non-violence of the civil rights movement."

Are these surprising comments coming from a man who marched with Martin Luther King? I'll speak with Congressman Lewis next.


WOODRUFF: "On the Record" today, Congressman and civil rights activist -- long-time activist -- John Lewis. He's a Georgia Democrat, but he joins us now from Park City, Utah.

Congressman Lewis, a number of civil rights leaders are saying Trent Lott should go, he should resign his leadership position, some even say resign from the Senate. You're prepared to give him a second chance. Why?

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Well, I'm not prepared to suggest that he should step down or that he should go, leave the Congress. It is not my call. That decision should be made by his colleagues in the Senate, and especially his Republican colleagues.

It is very much in keeping with the philosophy and the discipline on nonviolence to forgive people. When someone issues an apology and asks you to forgive them, you forgive them. We forgave Governor Wallace. We forgave (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we had the capacity and the ability to forgive Sheriff Clark. I don't have any malice or ill feeling toward the people that beat me and jailed me during the '60s. So why should I feel bitter or hostile for a colleague of mine in the Congress?

WOODRUFF: So you believe he is genuine when he says that his comments in praising Strom Thurmond back in 1948, those comments were repugnant and how he now renounces them?

LEWIS: I think he's real. I think he'd like to find a way to compensate, to make up. In my telephone conversation with him, he said he had hurt a lot of people and caused a lot of damage, and he wanted to find a way to make up, to build a greater sense of community. And that's what the movement was all about, bringing people together. You don't do that by continuing to tear people down: You find a way to build people up. If people can lay down the path and come together and work together for the common good, I'm all for that.

WOODRUFF: He said in this interview on Black Entertainment Television last night that he is for affirmative action. One of your colleagues in the Congress, Representative Gregory Meeks -- he's in the Congressional Black Caucus -- says, those "remarks and what he said, that he is for affirmative action, that was almost laughable" -- Congressman Meeks said -- "when you look at his voting record."

LEWIS: His voting record is not anything to be proud of when it comes to affirmative action, comes to voting for Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday, voting to extend the Voting Rights Act. But I think he's learned, and hopefully he's grown. You know, sometimes, Judy, you have to be baptized, and sometimes people are baptized by fire, and sometimes by water. And it is my hope that Senator Lott has learned from his mistakes and from his blunders.

WOODRUFF: One other comment I want to ask you about. Spike Lee, the movie director, was quoted today in an ABC interview as saying, "Prominent African-Americans in the Bush administration, what's this" he said, "you're going to let some guy say something like that and you're not going to say a word?" In other words, he's asking why people like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have not spoken out in condemnation of what Senator Lott said.

LEWIS: I can understand why these two highly appointed individual whose happen to be African-American, they're both dealing -- one is dealing with national security, the other one is dealing with international affairs. And I can understand why this administration and why President Bush in particular and why the two of them wouldn't like to get involved in domestic politics and domestic concerns.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying you don't expect them to speak out in his -- in condemnation.

LEWIS: No, I don't expect them to speak out. And that's not their role. Condoleezza Rice is involved with national security, and Secretary Powell is involved with trying to prevent a war.

WOODRUFF: Do you believe, finally, Congressman John Lewis, that Trent Lott will continue in his position as leader in the Senate?

LEWIS: Again, I don't know what is going to happen. It is my understanding that the Republican members of the Senate, his colleagues, will meet, first part of the year to be exact, January 6, and they will make a decision. But I think Senator Lott must prove himself to his colleagues that he can serve and be an effective leader.

WOODRUFF: Representative John Lewis of Georgia, we appreciate your talking with us. Thanks very much. It's good to see you.

LEWIS: Thank you. Good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

Coming up, what is then Texas governor George W. Bush doing on an Enron company party videotape? We'll tell you, coming up on INSIDE POLITICS.

And a near riot at the White House? We'll tell you how the president saved the day for some school children.



WOODRUFF: Senator Trent Lott's apology on Black Entertainment Television last night was the latest in a string of apologies he's made since his comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. So why are Lott's troubles continuing? Here now, our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield with some answers.


LOTT: I made a mistake.

GREENFIELD: Another day, another apology from Senator Lott. This time, with an assertion that seemed to stun his interviewer.

GORDON: What about affirmative action?

LOTT: I'm for that.

GREENFIELD: But today's headlines provided the clearest signs yet, clear in that classically Washington deep background, not for attribution way, that Lott's hold on his Senate leadership post was about as secure as Wile E. Coyote's grip on the Roadrunner.

So the question is why? Why haven't Lott's repeated acts of contrition brought an end to his troubles?



GREENFIELD: Part of the reason is history. White Southerners began facing up to the tough questions on race a generation ago. Here is Texas' Lyndon Johnson before a joint session of Congress in 1965.

LYNDON JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice, and we shall overcome. GREENFIELD: Georgia's Jimmy Carter declared, "The time for racial discrimination is over," in his inauguration as governor in 1971.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), SPEAKER: But I think we have a greater challenge.

GREENFIELD: Georgia's Newt Gingrich candidly acknowledged his own party's failures when he was sworn in as speaker of the House in 1995.

GINGRICH: It was the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that ended segregation.

GREENFIELD: And George W. Bush explicitly argued the link doing his conservative beliefs and equal opportunity in his acceptance address before the Republican convention two years ago.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity.

GREENFIELD: By contrast, Senator Lott's comments not only implied that America might have been better off had the civil rights revolution never been fought, it opened the door to his record of votes and comments that suggested at least a wistful nostalgia for a segregated past.

And this history helps explain why so many Republicans and conservatives are so angry.

Next month, a White House and a Congress under unified Republican control has a real chance to enact a conservative agenda on school choice, tax policy, an end to racial preferences, in each case conservatives argue that this approach will, in fact, lead to more opportunity for those least well off.

That argument becomes much harder to make if the leader of the Senate is seen as a figure who has never much sympathized with black aspirations in the first place.

So why doesn't the White House simply say, flat out, Lott must go? More history. Senators traditionally guard their prerogatives very carefully, even jealously. They never want the White House telling them what to do.

The one thing that could most help Lott right now with his colleagues is a sense that there be muscle from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, which is exactly why that is so unlikely to happen.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.


WOODRUFF: No muscle, but a distinct distance. Well, Democrats sign on the dotted line just ahead. Boston gets ready to host the 2004 convention.



WOODRUFF (voice-over): What's your I.P. I.Q.? Earlier, we asked: Who did Senator Trent Lott defeat for the post of Senate majority leader in 1996? The correct answer is C: Senator Thad Cochran, Lott's fellow Republican senator from Mississippi.


WOODRUFF: So now you know.

Well, he's the top Democrat in the Senate, but is Tom Daschle setting his sights on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? And can he hold down his day job while running for the White House?

Stick around. INSIDE POLITICS is back in 90 seconds.


WOODRUFF: Beantown balloons: Boston gets an early start in preparing for the 2004 Democratic Convention. We'll have details in our "Campaign News Daily."


WOODRUFF: We turn now to the Democrats considering a run for president in 2004 and the handful of well-known names who are still trying to make up their minds about getting into the race.

In his interview earlier today, our Jon Karl asked Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle about a possible White House run.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, you've said that you cannot be both minority leader and a candidate for president. So, my question today is, when do you step down as minority leader?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Well, that depends on whether I've made a decision to run for president. And I haven't made that decision yet, Jon.

So, it's a ways off. I'm in no particular hurry. I want to do this right. I want to talk to a lot of people and get around the country. And that's exactly what I'm doing right now.

KARL: There's a report in "The Washington Post" that says that some of your closest allies have advised you that you should stay right here in the Senate, because your party needs you in the Senate. Is that true? DASCHLE: Well, I'm grateful. I've had colleagues that have advised me to run for president, a lot of them. I've had colleagues that have said: We'd love to have you stay where you are.

So, I think there's probably a lack of consensus right now.

KARL: Does Al Gore's departure from the race make you more likely to run?

DASCHLE: Not necessarily. I've never looked at who else was running as a factor. I think you've got to make your own decision based on issues that are a lot more important than who else may be seeking the same position.

KARL: Just to clarify, when would you need to step down? Would it be at the start of your candidacy or at some other point?

DASCHLE: No, I don't think so. If I were to run, I think I could -- I would want to make this transition from leader to candidate in an orderly way and make sure that my caucus had an opportunity to make that transition properly.

So, I don't -- again, I don't see any real hurry to depart either, to make an exit, prior to the time when I think it's right.


WOODRUFF: We'll have much more from Jon Karl's interview with Senator Daschle tomorrow right here on INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, with me now on the various Democratic hopefuls and the impact of the Al Gore decision not to run: political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Let's talk about Al Gore's decision, Ron. What effect immediately does it have on all these other Democrats thinking about running?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's less in the practical term of -- practical impact of divvying up assets than it is in opening up space in the competition.

Al Gore was not going out, the way a typical candidate would do, and lining up a lot of fund-raisers and activists and organizers to work for him. So, there really isn't much of a carcass to pick over, in that sense. But what he does do is leave a lot of space in the field among constituencies that would have been attracted to him, particularly organized labor, where he still had a lot of strength, and also the African-American community, particularly in the South.

Judy, this may be the most wide-open competition for black voters in a Democratic primary since 1976 or 1972. There simply isn't anyone with an inside track, which Gore would have had.

WOODRUFF: Nobody has a leg up in those two communities, is what you're saying. BROWNSTEIN: Well, especially on the black community. On organized labor, Dick Gephardt has a lot of support among the industrial unions. But there's more skepticism about his ability to win when you get a little further out in some of the white-collar unions, the government employees, the teachers, the sort of unions that were closest to both Gore and Bill Clinton before him.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about Tom Daschle. We just saw part of Jon Karl's interview with him.

Clearly, part of his calculus -- and he's hearing this among his own staff -- is, if he runs, is it a problem for him to be also serving as a Senate leader, even though he is the minority leader, still the leader of the Democrats in the Senate? Is it a problem for him?

BROWNSTEIN: It's a complicated calculation.

I think they've pretty much concluded that, if he was majority leader, as Bob Dole showed, it's not really possible to do both. But minority leader is a different question. Daschle would start with a disadvantage. He has been focused on the Senate for the last year and a half, while the other potential candidates have been going out, organizing support, making themselves better known.

In that sense, remaining minority leader would be attractive, because it is really an unparalleled platform to project himself to Democratic activists around the country. The downside is not only the time of doing both things, but, also, the political demands of the two jobs are different.

As a presidential candidate, there's enormous pressure to maximize your conflict and contrast with Bush. And, as minority leader, he has to deal with a caucus where you have a lot of members from states that Bush won that don't want to be defined in a very confrontational posture toward Bush. So, I think he would find the two jobs difficult to meld not only in time, but in terms of the political imperatives that they each present.

WOODRUFF: And plus a lot of questions as about how it would affect the other senators who are running among the Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, thanks very much. Good to see you. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And now checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": Al Gore's decision not to run for president again is having a ripple effect all the way down to the Indiana governor's race. Former Democratic Party National Chairman Joe Andrews says he may consider a run for governor, since he won't be busy working on Gore's campaign. Yesterday, we told you that White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels is also looking at the Indiana governor's race. Democrats have officially agreed to hold their 2004 convention in Boston. City and party officials held a simulated version of the real thing today to celebrate the agreement, complete with a practice balloon drop.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack says he's flattered by the attention, but he has no plans for higher office. Our Bob Novak yesterday reported that Vilsack is thinking about a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In response, however, a spokesman tells CNN that Governor Vilsack has ruled out a run for president in 2004.

Our "Taking Issue" debate is just ahead. "CROSSFIRE" hosts James Carville and Tucker Carlson weigh in on Trent Lott's latest apology -- when INSIDE POLITICS continues.


WOODRUFF: With us now from the CNN "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University: James Carville and Tucker Carlson.

Gentlemen, President Bush, by sitting on the sidelines, not getting actively involved, is he sealing the fate of Trent Lott?


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, he is actively involved, just not publicly involved.

Nobody should misunderstand what's going on. Trent Lott is on his way out because of the White House. Now, you can agree with that or disagree with that, but it's unarguably true. His original statement about Trent Lott, not backing him up, and the behind-the- scenes machinations that are going on ever since between White House political advisers and people in the Senate all have the net effect of pushing Trent Lott out. So, again, Lott's leaving because of George W. Bush, period.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": That's just not true. Ari Fleischer today said he doesn't see any need for Trent Lott to resign. And that's pretty consistent with George W. Bush's political career. He's publicly saying there's no need to resign. Then he's telling the press he's working to get him out.

What the president needs to do is say, there's not a place for people with Trent Lott's views in the Republican Party. And I would go one step further and say there's not a place for people with John Ashcroft's views in the Republican Party. I've started a group called Liberals for Lott. I don't see why Lott has to go and Ashcroft gets to stay. Frankly, I think it ought to be equal treatment for both of them.

WOODRUFF: What about that, Tucker?

CARLSON: Well, what you have here is really the classic definition of McCarthyism. The rap against John Ashcroft is not that he's really a racist, but, at some point in his life, he spoke to someone affiliated with "Southern Partisan" magazine and made some stupid remark that is being willfully twisted into racism by his opponents. That is McCarthyism. Both these people have said explained their views on race. They're mainstream and they're not racist and they're not being taken at their word.

CARVILLE: The some point in his life happened to be the year 2000. So, let's be careful about that. And the some point in his life when he was helping people with the CCC was when he was governor of Missouri. The some point in his life when he bitterly fought the desegregation plan in St. Louis, he was governor of Missouri.

So, he gave an interview where he expressed sort of some admiration for the Confederacy to this group called "Southern Partisan" that has T-shirts that glorify the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.


CARLSON: Nobody is defending crackpot viewpoints.

WOODRUFF: I just want to bring it back to Trent Lott for a minute.

CARLSON: OK. Please do.

WOODRUFF: What Trent Lott must be thinking is: Why should I be drummed out of the leadership position, maybe drummed out of the Senate, when I've simply voted the way I have and a number of my colleagues have voted the same way? Why am I being picked on?

CARLSON: Well, sure. Senator Byrd voted against the Civil Rights Act. And so did a lot of other Democrats in the Senate.

It's got to be enormously frustrating for Senator Lott, who clearly doesn't see himself as a racist. And I don't think most honest people see him as a racist. But he's on his way out anyway, whether he knows it or not. There's is certain poignancy about it, but it's just a fact.

WOODRUFF: James, what about Lott's comment last night that he is for, absolutely for affirmative action?

CARVILLE: Well, he said he didn't realize that the Martin Luther King holiday was important to black folks.

The problem with Senator Lott right now is, no one believes any of this. So, it just becomes kind of -- it's kind of a laughable thing. No one believes that Senator Lott is really for affirmative action. No one really believes that Senator Lott did not know that Martin Luther King is a historical figure of great importance to not only African-Americans, but to people like me and people all over this country that believe in equal opportunity. But the truth of the matter is, voting against that holiday is not a view that will get you in very much trouble in the Republican Party.

CARLSON: And coming out for affirmative action, I think, really ended any remaining support he might have had among conservatives. You sort of undermine your own moral case when you say: Actually, I am not for a color-blind society and for racial preferences.

I don't know. What moral case do you have after you've said that? Really none.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. We have a case for coming back to you all as often as we can.

Tucker Carlson, James Carville, good to see you both.

CARLSON: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We'll watch you tonight on "CROSSFIRE."

Well, the man who carried the Democratic banner in the presidential election of 1988 is speaking out about politics then and now. Michael Dukakis sits down with our Bill Schneider when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


WOODRUFF: I'm watching the pasta cooker there.

Well, it has now been nearly a decade and a half since Michael Dukakis ran for president. Our Bill Schneider caught up with the 1988 Democratic nominee in Boston and he asked Dukakis about a number of political issues, including the controversy swirling around Trent Lott. Dukakis also spent time in the interview looking back at some of the mistakes he made in his failed bid for the White House.


MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did a terrible job of dealing with Bush's attack campaign. And if you don't deal with that, you're never going to be able to say what you want to say.

Kerry will do that. I've watched him be on the end of attack campaigns. And let me tell you, if this administration and this president thinks they're going to beat John Kerry on an attack campaign, they're picking the wrong guy. He knows how to deal with it. He's tough. And he'll give it to him both bells. And we all learned, needless to say, from my experience in 1988.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: The lesson that you learned was, what, fight back?

DUKAKIS: If the other guy comes at you with an attack campaign -- and there is no question that Republicans will do that -- that's standard Republican operating procedure -- you've got to be ready for it and you have to have a carefully thought-out strategy for dealing with it, preferably one that turns it into a character issue on the guy that's doing it to you.

SCHNEIDER: You were not ready for it?

DUKAKIS: I was not -- no, I made a deliberate decision not to respond, to basically blow it off. And it was a mistake. You just can't do that.

SCHNEIDER: You mention your campaign and the word that comes up instantly is the tank. How did that happen?

DUKAKIS: Well, the same reason that George Bush was in a tank at least two or three times in that campaign. You do these things. I didn't see any -- but the other side either was smart enough or clever enough to use it in a spot.

I mean, that's what happens these days. And the fact that both of us had been in a tank was unremarkable, as the doctors say. But the fact that they used it obviously made it an issue. These days, my standard reply is, well, I've never thrown up all over the Japanese prime minister. So...

SCHNEIDER: I want to ask about the Clinton legacy. He was president for eight years. Would you argue that he left the Democratic Party in a stronger position or in a weaker position?

DUKAKIS: I think Al Gore would have won and won easily in 2000 had it not been for Clinton's personal issues and the impeachment and all that kind of stuff. That was the only thing Bush had to run on. It was the only thing he had to run on. And, even then, he didn't win the popular vote.

So, I think, had those problems not been there, Gore would have won. I think we'd have done even better on the congressional front. And I think we'd be in a commanding position today. And it's regrettable, because Clinton is probably the most capable person I've ever worked with in public life. We go back a long ways, as you know. We were governors together. We worked together. I asked him to nominate me in Atlanta.

And yet, this thing just -- it hurt him. It hurt us. It hurt the Gore candidacy. And it was probably the single most important reason why we don't have a Democratic president today.

I think the fundamental issue where I hope my party will get out there and stand tall is very simple. The little guy in this country is getting screwed every day. And he's not getting any help from the current administration. This is a rich man's government. Trickle- down economics, we haven't heard that lately. We heard it from Clinton all the time. And he was right.

These guys in the White House think that the way you build a strong economy and a good society is to give money to the rich and maybe a few crumbs will fall off the table. And then they turn around and say, well, it's class warfare. That's nonsense.

SCHNEIDER: One thing I'd like to get is your opinion of the Trent Lott controversy. Do you think he should step down as majority leader in the Senate?

DUKAKIS: The Republican Party has had one foot in the civil rights business and one foot in the race business for a long, long time.

I mean, what was Willie Horton all about, anyway? Are you telling me that George Bush, the elder, when he looked at those spots -- I assume he did -- if he didn't, then he shouldn't have been running for the presidency -- didn't at least ask himself: What does this say to the American people? What's it all about? Why did Lee Atwater apologize before his death anyway? He knew it was racist.

So, there's always been that thing in the Republican Party, kind of catering to racism at the same time they're kind of up here playing the civil rights game. And this may just be a continuation of it. I don't know. But it seems to me, it goes far beyond Trent Lott. This has to do with the Republican Party and what they really believe.


WOODRUFF: Still some very partisan thoughts from the 1988 Democratic nominee.

Well, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the White House. Coming up: President and Mrs. Bush spend time with Washington-area students, reading them some holiday stories -- more when we come back.


WOODRUFF: You won't be surprised to know there's a festive mood at the White House as the holiday season moves into full swing.

Today, President Bush and the first lady hosted some Washington- area third-graders for story hour. The first couple read "The Night Before Christmas" to the children. Even the first dog, Barney, came out to greet the youngsters, you know, the one with the cam they tried to put on him last week.

And Mr. Bush had to intervene when the Scottish terrier frightened some of the children.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is Barney. He wanted to come. He wanted to hear the story. He is good boy. He won't hurt you. I can see why he scared you, though. He is pretty ferocious-looking when you first look at him.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: But he is very sweet.

G. BUSH: No, he doesn't bite. He is a little guy. He is a young boy. He is a young boy. His name is Barney.

L. BUSH: And he is just 2 years old.

G. BUSH: He wants to be a reindeer for Christmas.


WOODRUFF: Mr. Bush told the children one reason they were invited to the White House was to encourage them to read. So, read.

Well, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.



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