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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Sen. Lott Resigning Post

Aired December 20, 2002 - 11:07   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I want to catch comments, Lamar Alexander from Tennessee making his comments. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), SENATOR-ELECT, TENNESSEE: ... to ask Senator Baker, who first took me to the United States Senate years ago how to be a good senator. And I want to talk about committee assignments and other things, but obviously another story has taken precedence over our discussions. The news media is reporting that Senator Lott has issued a statement saying that he won't seek to remain as majority leader.

I wanted to say of Trent Lott, who was my roommate when I first went to Washington more than 30 years ago, that he's a good man, he's an honorable man, and he will gain distinction to his career by showing that he understands that he can make a decision that is bigger than he is. I commend him for his leadership and his willingness to put the Republican Party's future and his country's future ahead of him. I look forward to being his colleague in the United States Senate. He has a long and useful life there, and I look forward to working with him, and I'm proud of him for his decision.

As far as my colleague Bill Frist, I hope he's the new majority leader. Bill Frist is one of our nation's most outstanding leaders. He is not a person who seeks power. He seeks to serve other people. He commands widespread support among the Republican senators. I would say he's the most admired Republican senator today, he may be the most admired senator. I cannot think of a better individual than Bill Frist to lead the Republican caucus, and now that Trent Lott has made his decision, perhaps we can come to a consensus among ourselves about what is best for the Republican Party, and what is best for the country.

Senator Baker.

I guess I should say ambassador Baker. Excuse me.

FMR. SEN. HOWARD BAKER (R), TENNESSEE: Private citizen Baker is the best part, but I'm proud of the opportunity to have somebody who served this state as senator for a long time and to have been majority leader in the Senate for a long time, and I'm pleased to be here with Lamar Alexander.

Lamar Alexander is a truly unique political personality and a personal friend. He was my first legislative assistant when I went to the Senate. And he has done -- did he extraordinary work there, and he will do extraordinary work in his own right in the Senate. So I'm pleased that he's there. I'm pleased that he will have an opportunity to represent our state in the United States Senate.

I think Trent Lott made the right decision. I feel sorry for Trent. He's been under intense pressure in the last few days. I can really understand that, but I think he made the right decision.

I think as he himself said, that it was in the best interests of the country, or the party or the Senate for him to do that. It was a painful thing for him to do, I'm sure, a difficult thing for him to decide, but it's not untypical of Trent Lott to do difficult things, to do them in a timely way. So I congratulate him for it.

Bill Frist, I'm for Bill Frist for anything he's willing to do, and it's not my purpose as a former senator to tell my friends and former colleagues in the Senate who they should elect leader, but I will say there's no possible way they could do better than Bill Frist.

Bill is a real champ. He has a great future. I think he will run, and I think he has indicated his availability if the caucus wishes him to serve as majority leader.

And in the final analysis, I think he will run and will be elected. Now my purpose in being here is to attend a board meeting in the Baker Center for the study of public policy at the University of Tennessee.

Lamar Alexander will leave that board by reason of...

KAGAN: We've been listening to voices from Tennessee, both Senator-elect Lamar Alexander and former senator from Tennessee, Howard Baker, both saying they definitely support what Trent Lott has decided to do, not to go for the leadership position in the Senate. Also, even though it is perhaps a day or two ahead of this, supporting Bill Frist, the other senator from Tennessee, in perhaps what be his efforts to gain that leadership position.

Let's go back to Capitol Hill, and that's where we find our Jon Karl -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not a surprise that Lamar Alexander would be supporting Bill Frist. After all, they are both from the state of Tennessee. One thing that's significant is Bill Frist must try to see if he has the support to replace Trent Lott as leader. He is the person that was in charge of the Republican effort in the midterm election. You have these freshmen Republicans, eight of them, who have come into the Senate, and they are people that have a lot of loyalty to Bill Frist, because he helped them get here. Lamar Alexander is one of those freshmen.

Interesting footnote that I've learned in finding out how all this transpired, I've learned that Senator Frist as far as my sources told me has not spoken to Trent Lott during these last several days before he got into the race or after he got into the race, did not call his colleague to tell him that he was going to be getting into the race. That's the kind of thing that some Lott partisans, you can expect, to be talking about in terms of whether or not they want to throw their support to Bill Frist.

Of course, right now, Frist is the only Republican in this race. Republican sources have told me that Mitch McConnell, who had been a subject of speculation, will not go into the race, but that Rick Santorum, who is talking to his colleagues and weighing the possibility of jumping into this race for leader. No decision yet from Rick Santorum. He's no doubt looking to see what kind of support he might have. Frist has a nice head start on this, influential colleagues in his camp. There's the factors in terms of how Trent Lott was treated, and there's factor in terms of the White House involvement. As you have been talking about, senators don't like the idea of the White House picking their leader.

So this is definitely not a done deal yet. Bill Frist has a big lead, a big head start, but we're waiting now. The next question is, will Rick Santorum jump into this race?

KAGAN: January the 6th is the date that the Republicans in the Senate will gather to pick their next leader.

KARL: Until then, Trent Lott will be the leader. He is stepping down effective January 6th.

KAGAN: Got it, Jon Karl, on Capitol Hill.

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