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CNN BREAKING NEWS

First Republican Senator Calls For Lott to Step Down

Aired December 18, 2002 - 13:20   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: It's the third such quote from Senator Lott, and it comes as Lott's political future remains an open question.
CNN's Jonathan Karl is on Capitol Hill, and I understand we have a bit of late-breaking news possibly on this matter -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have the first Republican senator to go on the record saying that he thinks Trent Lott should step down as majority leader. That senator is Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Republican, a rather liberal Republican from the state of Rhode Island.

He went on a local Rhode Island radio station, WPRO, and said -- quote -- "I think the biggest problem has been that his apologies haven't connected. The only way to have a change in my opinion is for the White House to come in here and say to Majority Leader Trent Lott, it's time for change."

So that coming from Lincoln Chafee. Meanwhile, we also have today, this just coming in, Kyra, one of Trent Lott's strongest supporters up to this date, J.C. Watts, the outgoing Congressman from Oklahoma, the only African-American in the Congress. He has been somebody who, from day one, has defended Trent Lott. We caught up with him today at a book signing here in Washington, and he said that if it were him, that if he were Trent Lott, he would step down for the sake of his family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: I would not put my family, my kids, my friends, my party through what I think the senator's going to have to go through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: So that from J.C. Watts. Meanwhile, just a few minutes ago, I caught up with another Republican senator up here, a chairman, a committee chairman, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and had an interview with him. He is, for now, expressing support for Senator Lott, but as you can see, it's not exactly emphatic support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I believe we have to give him some running room here to try to establish his credentials and get back in the good graces of, basically, the American people, for lack of a better word. He is a decent and good person. He is someone who has spent a career working for people who are less fortunate than he. He comes up the tough way himself. So I believe you shouldn't judge a man on one statement, but clearly he is -- that statement was wrong, and those words have to be accounted for.

KARL: Are you prepared to say that when you guys come back on January 6 that you will support him for majority leader?

GREGG: I would expect to support him. I'm still not clear as to how this is all going to work out, but I would expect to support him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: He's not clear on how this is all going to work out, and he would expect to support him. Certainly not saying now that he will definitively support him. And Kyra, that's the way most of the Republican caucus is up here. Senator Lott does have several high profile and influential Republicans who say they do want him to stay on, people like Orrin Hatch and Ted Stevens, but most of the Republicans up here are saying simply nothing, and now you have at least one moderate Republican, Lincoln Chafee, saying that he should go -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, whether there is support or no support for Senator Trent Lott, the talk of replacements, everyone's been talking about it, I guess, at this point. Three possible replacements. Let's touch on Mitch McConnell, Don Nickles and Bill Frist, talk about each one of them quickly, and let's talk about their voting records, and how they are different or not from Trent Lott -- Jon.

KARL: Well, we can go first with Mitch McConnell. He is perhaps Lott's strongest ally right now here, kind of whipping up support for Lott to stay on as leader. He is the number two in the Congress, incoming in January he'll be the number two Republican. Don Nickles has been Lott's biggest critic. He is somebody who, along the way, has expressed interest privately to colleagues, even before this controversy, of becoming majority leader, and he has been the one coming out -- he was the first person to say that the Republicans needed to vote on whether or not to keep Lott as leader.

He's somebody who, clearly, would be expected to go for the job. And then Bill Frist, who you might call the White House favorite up here, a Republican from Tennessee, somebody that George W. Bush considered as a running mate back in 2000. He is not saying he is a candidate, he's not even criticizing -- not even saying that Lott needs to go at this point.

But he is somebody that certainly comes up in a lot of conversations. A lot of people expect that if there were a change, Bill Frist would be right there at the top in terms of who would be replacing Senator Lott.

Now, they all have conservative voting records. These are all -- you can imagine, Democrats are poring through all of them to find examples of where they have voted against issues of importance to the civil rights community. PHILLIPS: Jonathan Karl, live on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Jon.

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