Losing a Lott and putting Frist First; What Will Black Voters Think of the Republicans Now?
Aired December 20, 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: losing a Lott and putting Frist first.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill Frist is the person who is most capable of accurately portraying the sentiments of Senate Republicans.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should select Bill Frist by (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
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ANNOUNCER: Who is Bill Frist? Who will be the real powers in the Senate? And what will black voters think of the Republicans now?
Tonight on CROSSFIRE.
From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE on an amazing day here in Washington. Trent Lott has decided to give up the post of Senate majority leader. And his fellow Republicans are stampeding to endorse Bill Frist of Tennessee to take his place.
In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and the man who was the only African-American member of the Republican congressional leadership, retiring Congressman J.C. Watts. But first, let's start with the best little political briefing in television: our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
Well, as we said, it's over. Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott today announced that he will step down as leader of the Republicans in the Senate. Now Lott will remain a Senator from Mississippi, leaving his party safely in control of the Senate when lawmakers convene here in January. Lott, of course, had been mortally wounded by his comment that the nation would have been better off if Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign for president had defeated Harry Truman. "The past," William Faulkner once wrote, "is never over. It isn't even past." Trent Lott, of Faulkner's Mississippi is proof that he was right.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Now the one thing that all the Republican senators say, this was really unfair to Trent Lott.
BEGALA: It was. I agree.
NOVAK: Once Trent Lott announced his resignation as the Senate majority leader, it became clear that Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee will succeed him. The clincher came when majority whip to be, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Frist's political possible opponent, endorsed him. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was on the phone to fellow senators making a late pitch for himself.
Now Santorum is a conservative, Frist a moderate. Santorum is a Senate man. Frist the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the White House. Doesn't that give Santorum an edge? Not at all.
The Republican senators are running scared after the nightmare of the Trent Lott affair. Santorum dropped out. And they're going to elect Frist by unanimous vote in an unprecedented telephone caucus on Monday.
BEGALA: That is amazing. Of course, I don't get a vote in this. I think they're probably with Frist than Santorum. Santorum is a good guy, but he's way more conservative than the average American.
NOVAK: That worries me if you think he's a good guy.
BEGALA: Well, I'm just trying to be nice to him. I think he's a right-wing kook, OK Bob? Does that make you feel better?
NOVAK: It makes me feel better, yeah.
BEGALA: I'm just trying to be decent. It's the Christmas season.
One of the most interesting and embarrassing aspects of the Lott story has been the role played by George W. Bush. He has had, by my count, at least seven different positions on what should have been a very clear-cut issue. Consider this: in the initial days after Lott's controversial remarks, the president was silent. Then he was supportive, saying through a spokesman he supported Lott, and I quote, "unquestionably."
Then after a week, during which one presumes the White House did some polling, Mr. Bush suddenly found himself outraged. Then he publicly said Lott should stay on as leader, while his aides savaged Lott in the press and said Bush never really liked the Mississippi Senator. Next, Mr. Bush was reported to favor Bill Frist as leader. And today, our president called Lott, and I quote, "a valued friend and man I respect." Mr. Bush's own political and pathetic conduct in this Lott matter suggests he might be a guy you want to trust either with friendship or respect.
NOVAK: Paul, I admire you. There's no story that you can't transform into attack on George W. Bush. I mean you are really remarkable.
BEGALA: This one is easy. This one was easy.
NOVAK: On January 22 next, thousands of Americans dedicated against abortion will come to Washington for the 31st annual march for life. But there will be a new presence at the march this year: big brother, in the form of surveillance cameras installed by the district of Columbia government. The cameras will spy on the anti-abortion demonstrators all over Washington.
Now, in 30 years, there never has been a hint of violence, as mothers with babes in arms, nuns, high school girls silently march against the plague of abortion. What's the D.C. government looking for? At any rate, big brother is here.
BEGALA: You know who won't be there? George W. Bush. He goes to pro-lifers, people of profound religious convictions, and he uses them for his political ends, and then doesn't even show up at their big rally. If he believes abortion is murder, isn't he morally bound to go and at least give a speech opposing murder?
NOVAK: You're attacking Bush, but you're not answering. What do you think of big brother being there?
BEGALA: I don't like cameras at all. But what I don't like more are politicians who play politics with abortion. And that's what Bush does. Shame on him. If he actually believes in this position, he should go out and say so. But it's politically unpopular. He took a poll...
NOVAK: All right, all right.
BEGALA: Well, our president today said Iraq's arms declaration is proof that Saddam Hussein is not serious about disarmament. Mr. Bush called the Iraqi report "not encouraging." The chief UN Weapons Inspector, Hans Blix, grumbled the United States and great Britain have not been giving the inspectors the intelligence support they needed. But Secretary of State Colin Powell has pledged more intelligence assistance for the inspectors will be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, administration officials say Mr. Bush will double the 50,000 troops already deployed in the Persian Gulf region; a sign some interpret as ramping up to war. Mr. Bush did not explain why his profound outrage over Saddam Hussein did not stop him from selecting as his running mate Dick Cheney, a man who was trading with Iraq just a few years ago when he sold Saddam Hussein oil field equipment. It seems he ought to be consistent, don't you think?
NOVAK: Paul, without being insulting to you, can I tell you how sick I am of that Cheney story? Because it is just a lot of baloney.
BEGALA: Are you saying it's not true?
NOVAK: It is just nonsense.
BEGALA: It's true.
NOVAK: New Jersey's Democratic Governor James McGreevey, who took office a year ago as a penny-conscious reformer, has had quite a debut. He stuck taxpayers with $70,000 for banquets, boutique hotel bills, $16,000 for cell phone use, and a trade mission visit to McGreevey's home country of Ireland, not to mention lots and lots of helicopter rides.
His homeland security aide could not get security (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because he is a citizen of Israel. So he was assigned to an unspecified job paying $110,000 a year. His state police head had to resign after being charged with bankruptcies, assault, and alleged ties with organized crime.
Not surprisingly, Governor McGreevey's approval rating is only 37 percent. But after all, this is the home of "The Sopranos," New Jersey.
BEGALA: You know, it's also the home of a whole lot of people who love and support Israel, like Jim McGreevey does, and who love and support Ireland, like Jim McGreevey does. And I think it's fine if he wants to go to those countries and support them. Good for him.
NOVAK: Are you endorsing a crook like McGreevey?
BEGALA: He is not a crook. I endorse Jim McGreevey. He's a great guy. He's a good governor.
NOVAK: You like any Democrat.
BEGALA: Most Democrats. You're a Democrat. I like you.
NOVAK: The only one I (ph) don't like.
Coming up: the Capitol Hill coup and the Republican Party's hangover. Retiring Congressman J.C. Watts steps into the CROSSFIRE to talk about the GOP's problems with black voters.
And later, we'll ask Senator Sam Brownback about Trent Lott's sudden fall and Bill Frist's even quicker rise to leadership. And now that Trent Lott is a political corpse, will the media and Congressional Black Caucus be content or, and I predict they will be, will they go out for fresh blood?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BEGALA: After Trent Lott's abdication today, J.C. Watts, who has been the only African-American member of the Republican leadership in the House or the Senate, the only black Republican in Washington, issued a statement calling Lott, "a teammate and a friend who put the healing of our nation in the future of our party ahead of himself." But after what's happened, does the Republican Party really have any kind of a future with black voters? Congressman J.C. Watts joins us from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in his home state of Oklahoma.
He is the outgoing chairman of the House Republican Conference. He's also the author of a terrific new book: "What Color is a Conservative?" He's good enough to join us. Congressman Watts, thank you.
REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: Hey, Paul -- hey, Bob, let me say, I'm not only in my home state, I'm in my home town. And Paul, you pronounced it right off stage. And thanks to State National Bank, we're able to be with you tonight. So...
BEGALA: Thanks to State National Bank, Congressman.
NOVAK: You know, just a little correction, Paul. I know you didn't mean to say that J.C. was the only black Republican in Washington. You mean in Congress.
BEGALA: In Congress. Thank you for that correction.
NOVAK: I always like to correct you.
BEGALA: Well I always appreciate it.
NOVAK: OK. J.C., when President Bush made his statement after the resignation of Trent Lott, he said the following: "As majority and minority leader of the Senate, Trent Lott improved education for the American people; he led the way in securing tax relief; he strengthened our national security; and he stood for a bold and effective foreign policy. Trent is a valued friend and a man I respect."
Now, if the president had said any of those things in the last two weeks -- he didn't say one kind word about Trent Lott -- he must have saved him. That's a little disingenuous to shower Senator Lott with praise after his -- after he's out of the picture, isn't it?
WATTS: Well, Bob, you know, Washington is a tough city. And I do think the president wanted to support the majority leader, but the reality is that the politics of this thing, he had to be careful. He had to be -- had to tread on -- he was treading on thin ice. But I do think that the president sees Senator Lott as a friend, as a decent man. I don't think that he believes that Trent Lott is a racist.
But when this issue got into the arena of politics, nobody ever cared about the personal apology, and that's unfortunate. But when they got into politics, let me tell you, it took on a life of its own. And that's unfortunate.
NOVAK: Congressman, let me just press you on that a little bit. You're about to leave the great Congress of the United States. You can be candid about this. If the idea that Trent Lott had spent all these years -- and I have known him for most of that time -- as a staff member in the House, a House member, a senator, spending all this time in the service of his country, that in those two weeks, could the president have said one kind word about him without committing suicide? Wasn't it possible just out of -- your a lay preacher -- out of Christian decency, say a nice word about him?
WATTS: And Bob, I honestly can't talk for the president, the administration or any other member of Congress. I can talk for me. And I think it was unfortunate, you know, how the thing was being handled. I talked to Senator Lott several times. And I asked him, I said, "Trent, you know, understand what your family's fixing to go through, what your fixing to go through, what your grand kids are going to go through. Man, weigh that cost."
And you know, I think you do have to be careful in times like this that you don't pile on and you try to see this thing objectively and still try to have some decency about you in spite of the fact that you're in a very partisan poisoned arena.
BEGALA: Congressman Watts, I want to play a piece of videotape -- or actually read you, rather, a quote from Senator Charles Schumer. Chuck Schumer of New York is a man who gets elected by putting together biracial multiracial coalitions in a very, very diverse state, New York. And this is what he said about the aftermath of Trent lott's resignation.
"Changing the conductor won't make a difference if the band plays the same tune. In the wake of this episode, I hope the Republican Caucus will choose a leader who will work to bring Republicans and Democrats together to craft policies geared toward healing the racial divide."
Now he sounded very similar to Arlen Specter, a Republican, who on this program last night said much the same thing, and, in fact, called on President Bush to support the University of Michigan's affirmative action program to show that Republicans, as well as Democrats, are committed to affirmative action. Is that a good policy?
WATTS: Well, you know Senator Schumer, bless his heart, he still doesn't get it. He thinks that because you don't pass his liberal policies that, you know, you're not doing anything. To say that Trent Lott and President Bush hadn't been involved in helping historical black colleges, working to pass the faith based initiative that helps undeserved communities, minority healthcare disparities, anti-poverty legislation -- Trent Lott has been on the front line in the Senate and assisted Rick Santorum and myself in those efforts.
And I really do think -- I think Senator Lott went too far. I think he crossed the line. I think he made a mistake. But I think it was unfortunate the things he had to go through over the last couple of weeks. Because my eight years of dealing with him -- and I didn't know who Trent Lott was in 1994. But in '95 when I came and I met him, I have known him for the last eight years, and I just have not seen anything in his character and my dealings with him that would impress me or define, you know, a racist flaw in his character.
So, you know, Senator Schumer, that's his mantra. He's supposed to say that. He plays this race issue much better than Trent Lott can play it, and it's unfortunate again that he -- I'm saddened that he would say that.
BEGALA: Well, let me come back to Bob's point earlier. If George W. Bush had said any of the things that you just said about Lott, he'd still be your party's leader. In fact, many prominent Democrats, John Lewis, my friend James Carville, me, we forgave him and were ready to just get off his back on this. But it was the Republicans who sunk him.
And here's my theory. President Bush, I believe -- and I think most people agree -- doesn't have a racist bone in his body. And that's wonderful and commendable. But he doesn't have much of a backbone either. Not much of a spine when he's dealing with racial issues. Let me go over the Bush record on civil rights, sir.
When one of his citizens, James Byrd, was effectively lynched, he refused to attend the funeral. Now he went to the funeral of six white people who were shot in a church. He refused to go to James Byrd's funeral. He refused to support the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act.
He went to Bob Jones University, an anti-Catholic and anti- African-American school. He refused to speak out on the confederate flag. And he campaigned in Georgia with Sonny Perdue, a man who was elected on a very racially divisive issue of the confederate flag in Georgia. Now this suggests to me a man who probably doesn't have the same kind of courage as you do to talk candidly about civil rights, doesn't it?
WATTS: Well, Paul, let me tell you. I don't want to get into a tit for tat with you tonight, but if you want to say those things about President Bush and mention the confederate flag, surely you would have to mention that Ernest Hollings, as a Democrat governor of South Carolina, was the one that raised the confederate flag. Surely you would have to say something about Bill Clinton honoring...
BEGALA: But he was defeated.
WATTS: Well, no, no, no, Paul. Bill Clinton as president of the United States said that William Fulbright, who was a segregationist, said that he was his mentor, he was his hero. Surely you would have to say something about Robert Byrd, who is a senator from -- a Democratic senator from West Virginia, who was a Ku Klux Klan member, who used...
BEGALA: That should say something about George W. Bush.
NOVAK: J.C. Watts...
WATTS: No. Paul, you asked the questions, let me answer. Now, surely you would have to say something about this form of Ku Klux Klan member that used the grandfather of all racial epithets here about 14 months ago. But, you know I'm not going to tit for tat with you. I'm saying that it is unjust what Senator Lott had to go through. I think he did the right thing in stepping down. I think he went too far in what he said...
NOVAK: J.C., we're running out of time. And I want to get in for a minute.
WATTS: If you point at Republicans, you still have to point at Democrats.
NOVAK: J.C., I want to get in for a minute here.
WATTS: I'm sorry. What did you say, Bob?
NOVAK: I want to get in here for a minute. Paul did the same thing last night, this long list bringing out this old chestnut of the Bob Jones University. And this, what this shows to me is that, now that they have destroyed Trent Lott, they are going to say Trent Lott is -- all the rest of them are just as bad as Trent Lott. George W. Bush.
This had nothing to do with Trent Lott. This is an attack on the Republican Party to make it look racist, isn't that correct?
WATTS: Well, and let me tell you what -- Paul and Bob, it was mentioned that James Carville and John Lewis said that we don't want Trent Lott to step down, we don't think he should resign. But their mantra would be, over the next two years, they would be murphing (ph) people into Trent Lott and campaigns and all the things that they do.
Eight years ago, when I first came to Washington, the mantra of the Democrats was they're cutting Medicare, they're cutting Social Security, they're throwing women in the streets on Welfare, they're cutting education. In spite of the fact that none of that stuff ever happened in the eighth year -- in my eighth year of Congress that was still the mantra.
NOVAK: J.C., we're out...
MATTS: You know, to say that he should step aside or he shouldn't step aside is a little disingenuous.
NOVAK: I agree. J.C., we're out of time. I just want to ask you, are you glad after your eight years to be free of Congress?
WATTS: Free at last, free at last. Thank god almighty I'm free at last. NOVAK: Thank you, J.C. Watts. We appreciate it.
WATTS: Thank you very much, sir.
NOVAK: Next: we'll ask a couple of Washington insiders whose fingerprints are on the knives in Trent Lott's back. And later, we'll ask Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas if the Republicans can regain their post election momentum.
NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, D.C.
This year, biographer Robert Carroll (ph) made the case that Lyndon Johnson was the most powerful, effective and ruthless Senate majority leader of all time. Now, I knew and actually covered LBJ as majority leader, and I can tell you Bill Frist is no LBJ. But what is he?
In the CROSSFIRE now are Democratic Strategist Vic Kamber and Republican Strategist Terry Holt.
BEGALA: Thank you very much. Before we start exploring who the new apparent majority leader of the Senate will be, Bill Frist, a heart and lung surgeon from Tennessee who's in his, I think, eight year as senator, let me go back -- seventh year. Excuse me. Let me go back to the scene of the crime, though, and let's take a look at the fingerprints, as Bob said earlier, on the knives in the back of Trent Lott.
And I think that you will see some very elegant Republican cufflinks there with the initials GWB. Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, my pal, said this today. Let me get you to take a look at what Ari said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know, the president did not think that Trent Lott needed to resign. Trent Lott has come to this conclusion and the president respects it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Now, moments after that he was struck down by a bolt of lightning by God almighty for fibbing. He said -- I'm sorry. He said, "As you know, the president did not think that Trent Lott needed to resign. Trent Lott has come to this conclusion and the president respects it."
TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That was very complimentary.
BEGALA: That means that someone is deceiving the American people out at the Bush White House. Either the aides who tell the press, clearly on Bush's orders, that Bush never liked Lott and wanted him gone and wanted Frist, or Mr. Fleischer's sent out there to say something that he knows is patently false. Why is Bush being so two- faced about this, Jerry?
HOLT: I think the president laid out a pretty clear message when this first happened. It was an unacceptable statement, but he's one who's never been somebody to get into the business of Congress. This is between the senators. This is a very small very clubby group. And the decision about who their leader was going to be was always going to be decided by the members of the United States Senate.
BEGALA: In fact, when this began, the president said, I support him unquestionably through his spokesman. That was Fleischer's quote: "The president supports him unquestionably." Then a week later, he expressed a great sense of outrage. Why did it take him a week to express outrage over a racist statement?
HOLT: Well, I think that he had a good forum. And that was one of the best places to make that statement. But obviously, when Senator Lott goes down to celebration of Senator Thurmond, he's gonna be out of the Washington beltway. These guys are busy. They're running a war; they're trying to fix the economy. Give me a break. He's got other things to worry about.
BEGALA: It wasn't a polling day. It was just, oh, he wasn't reading the papers.
NOVAK: Vic Kamber, if we could just get away from Paul Begala's nightly attack on George W. Bush in to some other questions. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee...
VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I've heard of him.
NOVAK: You've heard of him? He put out a statement today after Lott's resignation. He said, "There were many disgraceful incidents of minority voter intimidation in the '02 election, particularly in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and New Jersey Senate campaigns. It is disturbing that the senator who ran these races is head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Senator Bill Frist is now a leading candidate for Senate majority leader."
So you know I think that is the king is dead, let's kill the next king. I mean, it just leads me to believe that this never had anything much to do with Trent Lott's good natured remarks that he didn't mean anything by. It's an attack, it's the politics of personal destruction. And let's turn to Frist now that we got rid of Lott.
KAMBER: No. I think that what it is, Bob -- I think what it is what the Republicans themselves have said. This is a learning experience for the Republican Party. Trent Lott was a disgrace in terms of what he did that night. He went overboard.
Then his record became the issue. Trent Lott, it wasn't one statement he made. His record, from his college days through today, became the record. He stepped down. I'll get to Terry McAuliffe.
NOVAK: Well, let's...
KAMBER: No, let me finish this, Bob.
NOVAK: I think we're through of Lott now.
KAMBER: He stepped down because he was a disgrace to the Senate and the Republican Party. Now the question about Bill Frist that you're asking, he has to stand scrutiny, as do every Republican and Democrat there. Ask...
HOLT: Trent Lott took one for the team.
KAMBER: Oh baloney.
HOLT: He did a hard thing, he did an honorable...
KAMBER: Honorable? Honorable was three weeks ago. Honorable was stepping down the day he realized what he did, not honorable three weeks later, when he looks at the polls, and...
HOLT: It didn't mushroom into the politics of personal destruction until...
NOVAK: Whoa, whoa. Vic, let me tell you that all this somebody has revealed what you're really up to. Do you know who revealed who you're really up to? Bill Clinton. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that the way the Republicans have treated Senator Lott is pretty hypocritical since right now their policy is, in my view, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everything this country stands for. They've tried to suppress black voting, they ran on the confederate flag (UNINTELLIGIBLE) South Carolina. And from top to bottom, the Republicans supported it. So I don't see what they're jumping on Trent Lott about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: I don't see what they're jumping about Trent Lott about -- see, that's what -- it's not what you said, Vic. It's this is all part of a plot to...
KAMBER: A plot?
NOVAK: Yes, a plot, to tar the Republicans as racists.
KAMBER: With their message, Bob.
HOLT: The last (ph) left wing conspiracy.
KAMBER: And Republicans have done nothing to do it to themselves. Their voting record, what they've stood for, what they've supported, what they haven't supported, that's what this is about. It's not -- we're not talking about -- who voted against Martin Luther King's birthday? It wasn't Bill Clinton, it wasn't the Democrats. It was Trent Lott and some of his friends in the Republican Party.
NOVAK: I would have (ph) voted against it.
BEGALA: In fact, Harry Truman who defeated the segregationist campaign of Strom Thurmond. When they said, "give'em hell, Harry," he answered, "I don't give them hell, I just tell them the truth, and they think it's hell." This is not personal destruction. I know the politics of personal destruction, it's when you attack a man for having a girlfriend on the side.
Politics of policy is saying, that person (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
HOLT: Where did that come from?
BEGALA: That's what your people did. What my people did in this case, is go looking right at the record. Let me read to you from "The Washington Post" one example of an alleged case of voter intimidation, or suppression, in a Senate campaign. Bill Frist chaired this Senate campaign this year. This is what "The Washington Post" reported, it's just what Bill Clinton said, now here is "The Post": "Workers in the Mary Landrieu campaign, the Democrat campaign, cited what appeared to be an unusually aggressive Republican efforts" -- Republican efforts -- "to dampen black turnout. They produced a flier they said has been distributed in black public housing complexes in New Orleans, apparently designed to mislead black voters. The flier reads in part: 'Vote. Bad weather, no problem. If the weather is uncomfortable on election day, Saturday, December 7, remember, you can wait and cast your ballot on Tuesday, December 10."
Plainly wrong, plainly trying to disenfranchise black voters. That's disgraceful, isn't it? And shouldn't Bill Frist have disavowed it?
HOLT: I looked at that press clipping and I noticed that the source is solely the Mary Landrieu campaign. And I have managed a couple of campaigns, and I can tell you, it's the dumbest tactic in the world. It never works, and it's usually done by someone who doesn't know very much about how to run campaigns, and certainly wouldn't waste their time and energy on a program that isn't going to get any votes for their candidates.
KAMBER: And, therefore, should be condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike. But we haven't heard Senator Frist say a word about it, have we?
NOVAK: Senator Frist is in the bull's eye. I just...
NOVAK: ... because people like you have come into politics. But you don't know there's a time when you didn't automatically attack the next Senate majority leader.
KAMBER: It's not attacking. I'm questioning, Bob.
NOVAK: Oh, you're attacking him, come on! Don't give me that.
KAMBER: I'm the first to say he's a good looking man. I have nothing to deal with.
NOVAK: What's that got to do with anything?
KAMBER: That's my point to you. What does it have to do with anything? Let's look at his record, let's look at what he stands for and what he says. That's what you're dealing with.
BEGALA: I would say this for him personally. I don't know him well, but I interviewed him at some length for "Esquire" magazine. You can read the interview yourself. It's laudatory. I mean, it's a total puff piece. Why? Because he deserved it. I think he's a perfectly decent guy and there are many things wonderful about him.
NOVAK: Then why are you attacking him?
BEGALA: I am saying, however, he chaired a campaign during which there were allegations of racial voter intimidation. He should, and I think he will, condemn those tactics just like you did, won't he, Terry?
HOLT: Well, I think that it's a stretch to suggest that the chairman of the Senatorial Committee engineered a silly tactic like that.
BEGALA: I didn't say that. He should condemn it just like you did.
HOLT: The fact is that this guy's going to be a star. He stepped up when we needed help in Tennessee and delivered Tennessee for the president. He is close to the White House. That's a good thing. This is about passing the president's agenda.
HOLT: He's also -- he saved Strom Thurmond's life on the Senate floor a couple of years ago, so he's a star.
NOVAK: There's such baloney being fed around here. I just want you to listen to what a Democrat, Senator Tim Johnson, I'm sure somebody you admire, what he said about this whole Lott affair. Put it up on the screen. He says: "I thought this might be a one- or a two-day story, but it really grew and took hold of the country. It may be a reminder to political leaders that if they're going to say something wildly stupid, try not to do it during a slow news time."
KAMBER: It is the truth, Bob. But, Bob, the question is, who made the story live? Republicans made the story live.
NOVAK: Because they're chicken.
KAMBER: That may be. And you're the one calling them chicken. That's exactly correct. They walked away from Trent Lott and they're the ones that screwed him in this process.
BEGALA: What does that say about your party and your party leader? No, I will never get off George Bush's back until he resigns and gives the keys to Al Gore, as he should. He went to Bob Jones University. Bob Jones University preached anti-Catholic bigotry. As a Catholic, I was offended. It said black kids shouldn't date white kids. And Bush asked for forgiveness. He apologized. And he was given that forgiveness, and Trent Lott was first in line to back him up and support him when he did something very divisive, going to that school.
Trent Lott made a mistake. He asked for forgiveness. John Lewis, Carville, myself, lots of Democrats said, you know, good point, we should forgive him. What Republican should ever trust Bush again now that he cut the legs out from under Trent Lott, who's been his most loyal supporter on Capitol Hill?
HOLT: It's not about George Bush.
BEGALA: Sure it is.
HOLT: It's about the president's agenda and the agenda of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is a party of ideas, not about personalities. And we have always been more reflective and maybe a little hard on our people than we should be. In this case, he did apologize. It probably should have been let go. But after six weeks of solid, the Democrat sky is falling, we have to have a Republican story.
NOVAK: We're out of time.
KAMBER: I think he's wrong.
BEGALA: That would be the last word. Vic Kamber, thank you very much. Terry Holt, Republican strategist, thank you very much.
That's the briefest last word I think we've ever had. Thanks, Vic. Can the Republican Party refocus on the agenda Terry was just talking about, or will the whole next month start the ultimate Republican grudge match as scores are settled? In just a minute, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas will step into the CROSSFIRE.
Then, in our "Quote of the Day," we have another congressional Republican who said another thing really crazy -- maybe even, believe it or not, worse than Trent Lott. Stay tuned.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The way virtually every Republican is singing the praises of Trent Lott's accomplishments, patriotism and selfishness you'd never know they just dumped him as their party Senate leader. That's the way senators are. And we're about to talk to one of them. Joining us from Topeka, Kansas, Republican senator Sam Brownback.
BEGALA: Good for you to take the time to come into the studio...
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Happy to do it.
BEGALA: Let me just ask you plainly, in your Mid Western plain- spoken way. Is Trent Lott gone today because of principle or because of political expedience.
BROWNBACK: I think Trent Lott did an honorable thing today. I what he saw was such a fire storm around a comment that he had made and the examination that took place with that, that he just said, I can no longer lead in the United States Senate.
And rather than putting the body itself through an election, through another couple of weeks of this, he just said, I'm not going to be the leader. That was an honorable and a courageous and a correct thing for Trent Lott to do.
BEGALA: But sir, with respect your party dumped him for offenses that are nowhere, I think, at least comparable to say the voting record of Dick Cheney, your vice president.
He voted, Cheney, voted against a congressional resolution calling for free Nelson Mandela. He voted against the Civil Rights Restoration Act in 1987. He opposed federal funds to help pay for school desegregation. Why are you dumping Trent Lott when he's got the same record as Dick Cheney?
BROWNBACK: Well, what about Bob Byrd? Why don't you examine his record? Why don't you examine...
BROWNBACK: If you give me a chance to ahead and answer your question, I think there's plenty of people in the United States Senate, I think there's plenty of people in the United States Congress that you could examine the record and question it.
And I also think that we need to have an overall special committee to look at race relations in the country because clearly what's come forward in this episode is the difficulty. And we've not resolved the issue of race relations in America. Whether it's Republican, Democrat, wherever it might be, that's needs to be a focal point and it's something that we're going to need to do in this upcoming Congress.
NOVAK: Senator Brownback, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a former Kansan, I believe...
NOVAK: ... somebody I like, somebody you like, he had this to say today in reaction to the resignation of Trent Lott as majority leader. Let's listen to him.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA (via phone): I think now that there has been this loud wakeup call to the Republican Party we ought to come forward with an agenda. We ought to be supporting hate crime legislation. We ought to be supporting the University of Michigan on this case that racial diversity is a serious governmental interest. And we ought to stop talking about being the party of Lincoln and act like it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NOVAK: I wonder what you think, Senator, about the whole concept of -- because of the unfortunate developments of the last two weeks, the Republican Party is supposed to abandon all its positions on racial quotas, on hate crimes legislation. These are principled positions. The party's been taken. And just go along with the bogus civil rights leaders. Do you think they should do that?
BROWNBACK: Well, I don't think that's what this calls for. What I do think that Arlen put his finger on was that is that there is a serious problem of race relations in America.
I held a hearing in Kansas two weeks ago on a national African- American museum on the mall, something we need to have. You just could feel coming forward this very angst and anger that was there amongst a number of people that participated, saying we have not dealt with the problems of race relations. We have not dealt with the lingering problems of segregation.
I think that's that's accurate. But now I don't think that the answer is that you immediately go to an agenda that is full of other issues associated with it other than dealing with race relations. That's why I'm saying we should have a select committee and really focus in on some of these things.
NOVAK: Senator, I can smell in the air, and I bet you you can, I want you to say whether you agree or disagree with me, that what we see now is that anybody who takes the position against the University of Michigan's quota system, which I think is outrageous, is going to be accused of being a racist, just as Trent Lott was? Isn't that what's in the air?
BROWNBACK: Well, unfortunately, I think some of that is in the air. And there's been a number of people across the country that have had questions about these sort of racial quotas overall and questioning even the constitutionality of it.
But I would hope that those sort of issues wouldn't be the ones that then define are you for or against good race relations in America.
BEGALA: Senator, let me ask you, I think a lot of what happened to Senator Lott was the result of a long-time Republican strategist who was playing footsie, being real cute in the South particularly on issues of race.
Let me tell you this. Last election, not going back 30, 40 years, 2002, in my home state of Texas, my Democratic ticket was led by Tony Sanchez, Mexican-American, Ron Kirk, an African-American. They got those spots leading our ticket by winning competitive difficult primaries.
But here's what the spokesman for the Republican candidate, now Senator-Elect John Corning said about that ticket. And I quote the Associated Press, "The Kirk/Sanchez ticket is based on a racial quota system."
Don't you think it's unwise for Republicans to play a race cad that way, sir, in campaigns?
BROWNBACK: I think it's unwise for either party to play a race card. You can go down through electoral politics in this country in the last few years and find that in both sides, Paul. And I think you know of a number of cases where it's been played on the other side as well.
But I would hope that maybe this would be an episode where we would look at it and say, This is not a healthy thing for us to do in America, whether it's Republicans or Democrats. And that both parties have done that.
And that's why I really think that this is something we should delve into in depth. A series of hearings, let's look and see what each side has done, because I think by exposing the light on that, we will see that sort of card and that sort of push from either side coming forward. That's not healthy overall. But hopefully also, Paul, we can start to get at some real policy issues that will improve the race relations in the country.
I think President Clinton with his overall commission had started an admirable work. Hopefully that can be engaged, enlarged and pushed forward so we can really start to bring this to be one nation regardless of color.
BEGALA: Senator Brownback it may hurt you with your Republicans when I say this , but I think you have a terrific idea. I thank you very much for joining us on our program tonight. Sam Brownback from Kansas.
NOVAK: Thank you, Senator.
BROWNBACK: Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Bob.
BEGALA: Coming up our viewers have "Firedback" plenty of comments about Trent Lott's fall, but first a Republican Congressman admits having what he calls, quote, "segregationist feelings," unquote and his recent lie is "Our Quote of the Day." Stay with us.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Some of Capitol Hill's most strident members will be missing when the new Congress convenes next month, including now former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, whose outrageous statements were too much even for her Democratic constituents who refused to renominate her as she went down in defeat at the Democratic primary in Georgia.
Among the colleagues Cynthia McKinney had offended, apparently, was North Carolina Republican Congressman Cass Ballenger. He gets our "Quote of the Day" today for telling "The Charlotte Observer" newspaper, quote: "I must admit I had segregationist feelings. If I had to listen to her, McKinney, I probably would have developed a little bit of a segregationalist feeling, but I think everybody can look at my life and what I've done and say that's not true. I mean, she was such a" -- blank, he actually used a word I can't use on television. Use your imagination. It rhymes with witch.
What is the matter with this guy?
NOVAK: Now, Paul, I'll tell you something, what he said was really offensive and inexcusable. It wasn't like Trent Lott, who was just kidding around, but I'll tell you the difference. Trent Lott is majority leader of the Senate. Cass Ballenger is not speaker of the House, so they left him alone.
BEGALA: Good point. So his colleagues didn't vote for him. If his constituents want to throw him out, they can, the way that the Democrats threw out Cynthia McKinney. That's a good observation.
NOVAK: Next on "Fireback," a viewer reports on one of last night's segments had exactly the opposite impact of what he intended.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for our "Fireback" segment. Lots of e-mail still about the Trent Lott matter. Sharon Shadville of Tahuya, Washington, forgive me, Sharon, if I got it wrong, writes: "Mr. Bush, who demands complete loyalty, does not apparently give loyalty in return. I'm sure Mr. Lott must pay for exposing the underbelly of the GOP." I think that's a good point. Bush should have been loyal to his guy.
NOVAK: That's the whole liberal line now. I hope people understand it isn't Trent Lott's fault; it's the Republican Party's fault.
Glory Johnson of Brooksville, Florida, has a message for you, Paul: "Your negativity and shrillness is in sharp contrast to the gentlemanly actions of Senator Trent Lott, who is able to surmount it all and do the right thing. I feel sorry for Senator Thurmond, who at age 100 probably feels badly that he put Senator Lott in that spot." Glory, you hit a triple play. You're right about Paul, you're right about Trent and you're right about Strom Thurmond. BEGALA: This is wrong about all three. I mean, Lott, I don't think he did the right thing by stepping down. And I forgave him, unlike George Bush, who stabbed him in the back. I said at first Lott should step down, but when he apologized and John Lewis said that I as a Christian should forgive him, I agreed with Lewis.
Allan Rhea of Aurora, Illinois, writes: "Paul, I was impressed with your defense of your book "It's Still the Economy, Stupid," last night, against Tucker and Bob." Both of them interviewed me on the book, and I kicked their butts. "So today, I am the proud owner of my own copy." Allan, thank you very much. I appreciate that. And my publisher appreciates that. Simon & Shuster, available everywhere.
NOVAK: Can I ask you, how much did you pay that person to say that?
BEGALA: I should give him a free copy or sign it for him or something.
OK, Angie Veria of Overland Park, Kansas says: "Bob, you're the only Republican that can smile while spewing nonsense. But you are the oldest and the best. Thanks to your long affiliation. You're a real asset!"
To that, Angie, I say thanks, I think.
BEGALA: I think, yeah.
NOVAK: I think, yeah.
BEGALA: She's half right, I think.
NOVAK: OK. Question? Question?
BEGALA: Yes, ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm Lynne (ph) from Portland, Oregon, and I'm just wondering if we're OK with Lott being a senator, why we're opposed to him leading a party? So why don't we just kick him out altogether?
NOVAK: Why do you -- I don't think that's not enough. I think he ought to be imprisoned for years and maybe even executed. How dare he make a little joke for a 100-year-old man. Off with his head!
BEGALA: Bob gets the thing wrong on both ends. He should have never praised a segregationist campaign. But he should have been forgiven when he asked to be forgiven, and Republicans stabbed him in the back because they don't want an honest discussion about their racial, civil rights record. That's what happened.
NOVAK: That's the line, folks.
BEGALA: That's what happened.
NOVAK: That's the line. Question? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. My name is Galen (ph) and I'm originally from Demarest, New Jersey. And my question is...
NOVAK: Where are you now from?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Washington, D.C., going to school here. And my question is, how does Senator Strom Thurmond survive from his 1948 campaign into 2002 and Lott not survive? Do words now speak louder than actions?
NOVAK: No, if you're 100 years old, you can survive. That's the answer.
BEGALA: Also, Thurmond had a much more liberal voting record on race than Lott did. Thurmond supported the Martin Luther King holiday. He supported extension of Voting Rights Act. He came around on civil rights much further. Lott opposed the King holiday, he opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act. And so Thurmond was more racially progressive at the end of his career.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Anthony Sassmon (ph) from (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Minnesota. With Bill Frist becoming the new majority leader in the Senate, will that propel him into the Republican nomination for president in 2008?
NOVAK: Everybody in this town who's interested in politics knows that what Bill Frist had his mind on was the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. They didn't think he wanted to do this. And I'm sure he and his advisers, people like Paul Begala for Bill Clinton, they sat around at night, saying, boy, Bill, should we go for the majority leader or not? They decided to go for it.
BEGALA: It is very interesting, because I suspect, I'm sure, that Bush would like to be succeeded by his brother, Jeb, the governor of Florida, not by Bill Frist, and so you can see a whole lot of tension in the family coming up here, and I couldn't be happier. But Bill Frist is a good guy. I wish him luck in his new job.
From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.
NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins.
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