CNN INSIDE POLITICS
Trent Lott Resigns As Senate Republican Leader; Bill Frist Appears Poised To Succeed Lott
Aired December 20, 2002 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
Senate Republicans will soon have a new leader. Mississippi's Trent Lott, who has led his party in the Senate for the last six years, said today he is resigning his post as majority leader.
In this news cycle, a look at the crushing political pressures that forced Lott to leave the party leadership, and the swift rise of Tennessee Senator Bill Frist as Lott's all but certain successor.
Plus, some Democrats claim the comments that got Lott in trouble are part of a much bigger problem for President Bush and his party. I'll talk with South Carolina's Republican Governor-elect Mark Sanford.
Trent Lott's exit and days of criticism end a succession of attempted apologies. Standing by on Capitol Hill is our Jonathan Karl. He's been following this story from the very beginning.
And, Jonathan, I don't remember a development on the Hill moving as quickly as this one has.
JONATHAN KARL, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's incredible. As early as this morning, allies of Trent Lott were saying he was dug in, he was firm and he was going to fight this. And then by 11:00, we had this surprise decision.
Now, in the wake of this, we've heard from Senator Bill Frist who has put out a statement saying that he thinks that Trent Lott was an effective leader. He called him a close friend who has made a selfless decision.
A little while ago, we caught up with Senator Frist, who told us essentially that he wouldn't have much more to tell us until he meets with his colleagues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BILL FRIST (R) TENNESSEE: I'm not going to be doing any press conference or anything formal. We're working out everything within the caucus. John Warner and I have been talking today, and I'll continue to be talking to my colleagues, on the phone nonstop, pretty much, as we work out some resolution where we're going.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KARL: One critical player in all of this, Judy, has been Mitch McConnell, the incoming number two man in the U.S. Senate, who all throughout this has been Trent Lott's ears and his liaison to the rest of the Republicans in the Senate, been the one counting votes for him, been the one whipping up support for him.
And Senator McConnell is also somebody who as soon as Trent Lott dropped out, came out very quickly and endorsed in a very full way Senator Bill Frist to be his successor. We also caught up with Senator Mitch McConnell. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R) KENTUCKY: This has really been a nightmare for those of us in the Republican caucus in the Senate and for Senator Lott. He did the courageous and correct thing this morning in stepping aside. And I think it's important that we not have a contest in the middle of Christmas for the new leader. And I've endorsed Senator Bill Frist. I think he's the right man for the job at this particular time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: And, in fact, Senator Bill Frist has the support of more than 26 of his colleagues, 26 being the magic number that he needs.
Now more than that have come out publicly and said that they will support him, including some of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, people like Mitch McConnell, people like Don Nickles. And even those in the moderate wing as well, Lincoln Chafee has also come out and supported him.
So it looks like when the Republicans get together on January 6, they will elect Bill Frist as their leader. Although, Judy, I must point out, we still haven't heard from Rick Santorum who has been -- to his aides has been saying that he is considering challenging Bill Frist for that leadership post.
But right now, Bill Frist seems to have all the votes he needs to win.
WOODRUFF: Jon, we know that Frist is a favorite at the White House. When did the movement toward him really begin?
KARL: Well, it started to happen after Friday night, last week, Friday, when Trent Lott had his press conference, what was it? His third or fourth apology. Many Republicans up here simply did not think that it went far enough, did not think he was convincing enough.
One of those Republicans, Senator George Allen of Virginia, I'm told by several sources, approached Bill Frist over the weekend, over last weekend, and asked him if he would consider getting in to the race if things got worse for Senator Lott in the coming days.
And Bill Frist at that point said he would consider it. So at that point, things started to move. But when things really started to move was after Monday night. Monday night was when Trent Lott went on BET and made another attempt to come clean, to give an apology, but also did some things that concerned some conservative Republicans, like endorsing affirmative action.
On Tuesday morning, following that Monday night interview, there started to be a real movement away from Senator Trent Lott and towards Senator Bill Frist.
WOODRUFF: Jon, we know that as recently as last night at 8:30, Lott's office was putting out a statement from him saying I intend to be the majority leader in the next Congress. What changed for him? What ultimately forced his hand?
KARL: Well, talking to several people in and around Trent Lott's strongest supporters, what I've learned is that there were a couple of factors. One was the news he was getting, the very frank and candid news he was getting from the people that were essentially counting votes for him, especially Mitch McConnell, who were very candid with him that support was eroding rapidly and the situation was not looking good for him. He was getting that news, and Trent Lott is also known as being quite a good vote counter. He was seeking the writing on the wall.
Another factor, I've been told by somebody that spoke to him within the last 24 hours, is that Trent Lott was convinced that this thing was not going to go away, that even if he could survive a leadership battle, Democrats would continue to be coming after him, raising questions, continuing to bring this up, that he was not going to be through with this, even if he could win and hang on as leader.
WOODRUFF: All right. Jon Karl, a remarkable story and some terrific reporting. Thanks a lot.
Well from President Bush today, carefully chosen words of praise for Senator Lott as well as support for Lott's decision to resign. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is standing by with more at the White House.
Suzanne, what are they saying in reaction to all this?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're praising Lott. We found out that President Bush actually got the news from his chief of staff, Andy Card, this morning. He then called Lott. They talked for about ten minutes. It was a warm conversation. We are told that the president thanked him for his leadership, for his role in the Senate, as well as for his friendship.
He went on to talk about some of his accomplishments, we're told, very similar to the public statement that was released by Ari Fleischer, that statement being that I respect the very difficult decision that Trent made on behalf of the American people.
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. I am pleased he will continue to serve our nation in the Senate, and I look forward to working with him on our agenda to make America safer, stronger, and better.
Now, again, Ari Fleischer reiterating that the president did not think that Lott needed to resign his post as leader of the Senate, that he felt that it was not in the White House's position to even get involved in taking a position one way or the other about this potential Senate leadership race.
Ari Fleischer, of course, this day acknowledged, Ari Fleischer saying that the president indeed supported him, but White House sources acknowledging that really the administration was in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, the White House was very much aware that it might receive some sort of backlash from senators if it got involved at all in the potential leadership race. Also acknowledged at the same time it needed to create some distance from Lott, or at least from the comments that he had made.
But, again, Ari Fleischer reiterating that the president was very firm in his position that he was not going to get involved, and that he did not believe that Lott needed to resign.
(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. The president is going to continue to work with Trent Lott and with all senators in both parties, on behalf of an agenda that is good for the country as well as good, of course, for the Republican party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Now, for many on the Hill, as Jonathan had mentioned, really, it was the silence at the White House that perhaps was much louder than the words of the president or even his aides, the fact that they were not more aggressive publicly in saying that he was the man for the job, and that they did not express an opinion when asked who they thought would be the best person to lead the Republican party.
There was some concern, and a lot of back and forth from White House aides inside, Judy, a lot of back and forth, some concern about whether or not this would ultimately affect the Republicans' agenda as well as the white house domestic agenda going into the new year as well as perhaps even undermining some of the outreach to African- Americans.
But bottom line, is, White House aides, those closest to the president saying that he strongly felt that he should not take a position on this, and that he did feel that Lott should remain in his position -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right.
Suzanne Malveaux, at the White House, thanks very much.
Well, as we reported, Senator Bill Frist appears to have a lock on replacing Trent Lott as the majority leader.
Our Jeanne Meserve has more on Bill First and what he brings to the party leadership.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When two Capitol Police officers were shot in 1998, the only doctor who's a member of the Senate rushed to help, resuscitating the gunman.
FRIST: Multiple gunshot wounds to the extremities and chest.
MESERVE: Is the doctor the right medicine for the Republican Caucus? Since ousting Senator Jim Sasser in 1994, health care issues have been Frist's legislative priorities. When anthrax was delivered to Capitol Hill, Frist surged to the forefront.
FRIST: That Americans face a real bioterrorist threat.
MESERVE: He held briefings, wrote a book, and eventually pushed through bioterrorism legislation. He was mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee in 2000, but Frist's political stock really rose this fall, when he headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Frist teamed up with President Bush and the White House to power Republicans to a two-seat pick up in the Senate.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Doctor and Senator, Bill Frist.
MESERVE: The relationship with the White House cuts both ways.
RON BROWNSTEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Because on the one hand it does allow him to mediate between the Senate and the administration and the president, but also, a majority leader is going to have to be seen by his members as someone who's going to defend their interests if and when they come into conflict with the White House.
MESERVE: some conservative Republicans say Frist is not their first choice for majority leader.
DAVID KEENE, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: His ties or lack of ties to conservative activists around the country can be a bit of a problem for a Senate leader, because they require -- they need outside support.
MESERVE: Democrats are raising questions about Frist and allegations of voting rights violations during the last election.
And some watchdog groups are uneasy about Frist's to and investments in HCA, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, founded by Frist's father and brother. To settle claims of Medicare and Medicaid fraud, the firm has had to pay the government $1.7 billion.
If Frist ascends to leadership, predictions are health care will be a priority, but shaped by the White House.
RON POLLACK, FAMILIESUSA: I think it increases the likelihood we will see a prescription drug benefit enacted in to law as well as doing something about the uninsured. It probably will be very closely in line with what the White House wants.
MESERVE (on camera): Many Republicans see Frist as an articulate, moderate spokesman for his party, just the sort of fresh face the GOP may want and need to put forward now.
Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: And having heard that, where does Bill Frist stand on civil rights, the issue that brought down Trent Lott?
Well, the record shows that several of his key votes mirrored those of Lott. Both the senator from Mississippi and the senator from Tennessee voted "yes" on banning affirmative action. That vote was in 1995. And both voted "no" two years ago on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
Well, the Trent Lott controversy has opened the door for some Democrats to question the Republican party's overall record on race issues. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said today -- quote -- "The new Republican leader in the Senate must do more now than merely disavow Senator Lott's words. He or she must confront the Republican party's record on race, and embrace policies that promote genuine healing and greater opportunity for all Americans."
In the House, incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed a similar theme.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Clearly, it is an issue that the Republicans could not ignore. It became too hot handle, and I think the American people conveyed to the Republican Party that this would be an unacceptable way to proceed with its leadership. But it's up to the Republicans to choose their leadership, and they have done that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: A little later in the hour, South Carolina's incoming GOP governor, Mark Sanford, will join me to talk about race and the Republican Party.
More on Trent Lott's resignation just ahead. Senator John Warner of Virginia will be here to talk about why he was among the first to get behind Bill Frist for Senate leader. That's next.
Also, investigating September 11. I'll talk with the new chairman of the independent commission Tom Kean.
And later, spending the night at city hall. A Missouri candidate for mayor goes camping with all the comforts of home.
WOODRUFF: It's time to check your I.P. I.Q. When did Trent Lott first become Senate majority leader? Stay tuned to INSIDE POLITICS. we'll tell you later on.
WOODRUFF: Shortly after Bill Frist announced that he was considering a run for Senate majority leader yesterday, Virginia Senator John Warner stepped forward to issue an endorsement.
Senator Warner is with me now to talk more about this day's remarkable developments.
First of all, Senator, it's pretty clear Trent Lott did not want to step down from the leadership until this morning.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Oh, I wouldn't try and examine the recesses of his mind, but he did the responsible thing. And he should be commended. And he's done it with dignity.
WOODRUFF: But as recently as last night at 8:30 he put out a statement saying, I will be the majority leader in the next Congress.
WARNER: That was about the time when I was in the rotunda replying to questions from the press. I had spent much of the evening with Bill Frist, quietly discussing the situation, and the he issued that brief statement. And I came out and reiterated some of the things that he told me.
WOODRUFF: But is it unprecedented, Senator Warner, for a leader to be in effect forced out?
WARNER: He did it on his own decision. History will show that he was not forced in that sense. Trent Lott was a very effective floor leader, and in every other respect. We wouldn't have Homeland Defense Agency today had he not brilliant he resolved things in our caucus.
But I come to this point: Bill Frist never wanted to force him out. And I can tell you that because all this week, quietly, each day, talked this together. What Bill Frist felt was necessary is to give the Republican caucus a choice as soon as Don Nickles had made it known that he was stepping down. Otherwise, it was just a wide-open field with Trent Lott.
WOODRUFF: You were just saying you had just spoken, within the hour, to Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. He has not declared for Bill Frist. Is he going to make a run for leader, or has he given up on that?
WARNER: We talked just a short while ago. I understand exactly what he's doing. And that is he's a very strong leader himself. He has a strong base of support, all of whom are urging him to go forward. So he felt he needed some time to sit down and talk with his base and reason with them.
WOODRUFF: This is Senator Santorum.
WARNER: That's Senator Santorum. And I think within perhaps today or tomorrow, he'll be making a general announcement. I can't make a prediction, but I really have confidence that he's going to do the right thing.
WOODRUFF: Some people are already asking, Senator Warner, whether having Senator Frist there is going to be like having somebody who is doing the bidding of the White House as the majority leader of the Senate?
WARNER: Bill and I talked about that during the course of the week, and recognizing this was an issue. Just before this afternoon, I sat down -- Bill, this is my understanding: Is it correct? One, you haven't talked to anybody in the White House about this Senate leadership race for how long? And he said, three weeks. And even then, it's the last call, and I'm not sure that he remembers what the subject was. So that's...
WOODRUFF: But you're not suggesting the White House had no preferences here, are you?
WARNER: Well, you'll have to ask those folks in the White House. I've had no calls to or from the White House, even though I've worked with Bill very closely. I was sort of like Bill's blackboard. You know? You got to scribble things on, erase it, and then throw the chalk? I performed that function with him.
WOODRUFF: Senator, what about the broader questions here? Some of the Democrats are saying, Look, you're replacing him with a new face, a fresh face, but the voting record of these two gentlemen, particularly on civil rights issues, issues of interest to the minority communities, are exactly the same. How is Bill Frist going to be different from Trent Lott?
WARNER: I'm not so sure "exactly" is the correct word, but I have not had the opportunity to go back over it. But I know this man very well. My father was a prominent doctor, and when Bill came to the Senate, he sort of sought me out because I come from a doctor's family. And we became good friends, and somewhat confidantes.
He's an honest man, pure of heart. You say someone says, That record? Let me tell you about the record. He frequently quietly goes to Africa and operates. People don't realize that -- still today, this past summer -- on to underprivileged -- the distress, the sickness. His personal goal is to have a new framework of laws and regulations to help America in the health programs.
WOODRUFF: Just very quickly, Senator, because we are almost out of time. You were just telling me before we went on camera that amidst all the calls for the Republican Party to do something about civil rights in the wake of all this, you said something is going to happen when the Republicans meet on January 6.
WARNER: I simply said that I'm hopeful that this problem can be resolved before January 6 so that someone can take charge now and move us right in to this period of time, when we want to start legislating when we get there. I'm going to encourage my colleagues to have a telephone conference. Remember I was the first to come out and say last week let's get together, talk this over. Telephone conference, and ratify -- hopefully unanimously -- Bill Frist as our leader.
WARNER: I would say shortly. I hope it would be shortly.
WOODRUFF: Within the next day or two?
WARNER: Well, I'm not going to predict. We've got to work through, give Santorum an opportunity, respectfully, to work through his situation. But I'd like to see this done before Christmas so that this nation can turn its full attention to this joyous period for all of us, and particularly our families. When I talked to Rick today, he was home with his children, trying to do a few things in preparation for Christmas.
WOODRUFF: Senator John Warner, thank you very much.
But pretty clear, it may not wait until January 6, then?
WARNER: I would hope. And I'm going to urge my colleagues let's get on the phone, all 51, talk it through to the extent anything needs to be said and then get behind this wonderful man and let him lead this great Senate.
WOODRUFF: Senator John Warner, we thank you very much for coming by to talk with us.
WARNER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
WOODRUFF: We appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up next, President Bush makes his case against Baghdad. We'll tell you what he said this afternoon about Iraq.
Plus, did the White House give the military a green light to move ahead with war preparations? We'll have the latest on the showdown with Iraq.
WOODRUFF: It's time to check your I.P. I.Q. Earlier we asked, When did Trent Lott first become the Senate majority leader? Is it, A, 1995? B, 1996? or, C, 2001? The correct answer is -- B, 1996. Lott defeated fellow Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran to win the post of majority leader.
WOODRUFF: Fifteen months after the terrorist attacks, many questions remain unanswered. Coming up, I'll speak way with a man who is leading an independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks.
But first, this "News Alert."
WOODRUFF: Fifteen months after 9/11 and the start of the war on terror, a independent commission is about to probe the attacks on Washington and New York.
President Bush has named former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean to lead that panel, replacing Henry Kissinger, who resigned because of conflict of interest concerns.
A few hours ago, I interviewed Tom Kean, first asking his reaction to Trent Lott stepping down as Senate leader.
TOM KEAN, CHMN. NATL. COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS: I think it's probably in the best interests of the country at this point. It's unfortunate, but Trent Lott said some things that were unacceptable, and they have made his job in trying to carry out an agenda, not just for the president and the party but for the country much more difficult, and I think he probably did the right thing today in stepping aside.
WOODRUFF: Governor Kean, you just were telling me you've just been meeting for several hours with family members who lost loved ones on September the 11th. As head of this commission to look into what went wrong, are you going to be able to satisfy these family members?
KEAN: We're going to do our best to satisfy them, because what they're asking for, I think, is the same thing the country is asking for. And that is for answers to the questions that are still unanswered.
They want to know how it could have happened, why it happened. And they want us to come up with some very specific recommendations to make sure it doesn't happen to anybody else in the future, or at least we're doing our best as a country to make sure it never happens to anybody in the future.
WOODRUFF: We'll have more of my interview with Tom Kean on Monday, including the one instruction President Bush is giving him and how this independent commission will work with the White House.
Now a quick look inside "Their Politics" at campaign news from across the globe that directly affects the U.S.: President Bush today called newly elected South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun to congratulate him on his victory yesterday. Roh campaigned for a more even relationship with South Korea's main ally, the U.S.
He was helped by anti-American protests spurred by the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers whose armor vehicle killed two South Korean girls; 37,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea. Roh also favors a more conciliatory approach than Washington when it comes to North Korea and its suspected nuclear weapons program. But Roh says he will fully cooperate with the U.S. to find a solution to the North Korean standoff.
More on the politics of race just ahead: Trent Lott's comments leave Republicans open to criticism. Is the issue being exploited for political gain? I'll talk with South Carolina's governor-elect, Mark Sanford.
WOODRUFF: Another member of Congress in the segregation spotlight -- we'll tell you who is when we come back.
Plus: Who gets the "Political Play of the Week"? The winner is coming up on INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: The Trent Lott controversy has revived political debate over the issue of race and how the two political parties approach race issues.
With me now from Charleston, South Carolina, is Republican Mark Sanford, who takes over as governor of that state next month.
Mr. Sanford, congratulations...
MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR-ELECT: Thank you much. Appreciate it, Judy.
WOODRUFF: ... on your election last month.
If you look at the civil rights voting records of both Trent Lott and Bill Frist, they're really not that different. So, how is Bill Frist going to be any better for the Republican Party in terms of its image when it comes to civil rights issues?
SANFORD: Well, I think that it's a question of how you view civil rights issues.
In other words, one can have a legitimate difference of opinion on an issue like affirmative action or an issue like school choice. The problem was, in Trent's case, it became supercharged as racist as well. The difference is, I think, quite clear. You can, again, have a legitimate difference of opinion. In one case, you're going to be charged as a racist. In the other, I think you'd be charged as somebody who has a legitimate difference of opinion. WOODRUFF: Let me quote something to you, or at least cite something that former President Bill Clinton said this week, he and other Democrats, criticizing Republicans for exploiting the issue of race.
At one point he said, "I mean, the whole Republican apparatus supported campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina on the Confederate flag." What do you say to...
SANFORD: I've just got to say, with all due respect to the former president, he's wrong.
If you look at the ideas, for instance, our campaign was based on here in South Carolina, it was not at all a debate about the flag, but it was a debate about, how do you advance income levels, raise income levels, and education and health care for everybody in South Carolina, whether they're black or white?
And what was so upsetting about this whole Trent Lott episode was that there are a lot of us out here, as Republicans in the trenches, who are trying to work to make people's lives better, be they white or be they black. And to somehow cloud those efforts with this racist notion I think was disruptive to the very ideas that we're trying to advance.
WOODRUFF: And what about the incoming Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who said today in a statement, she said the Republicans have repeatedly exploited the issue of race as recently as the election in November in Georgia. She said what happened in Georgia was a shameful manifestation of the same sentiment expressed by Senator Lott.
SANFORD: To be talking that talk is to be exploiting race. So, there's a problem.
So, with all due respect to Nancy, I think she is, again, raising the race card. And that's why I think so many of us thought that it was probably in the best interests of the party for the change to occur with Lott. I think that somebody, whether it's Bill Frist or somebody else, has the very capable ability of moving forward the ideas that the Republican Party is based on.
So, whether it's the president or whether it's Nancy Pelosi or others who try and play the race card, I think that, if you really examine the ideas of the Republican Party, the modern-day Republican Party is based on, what you'd see are a lot of good ideas that, again, are all about making for better people's lives -- better lives, whether here in South Carolina or in the nation as a whole.
WOODRUFF: Governor-elect Mark Sanford in the state of South Carolina, we thank you very much. Good to see you.
WOODRUFF: We appreciate it. Thank you. Well, a North Carolina Republican is backing away from comments that he made to "The Charlotte Observer" newspaper. Responding to a question about Trent Lott, Congressman Cass Ballenger referred to conflicts that he's had with Georgia Democratic Congresswoman -- or we should say recently retired Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who is African-American.
Ballenger said -- quote -- "I admit I had segregationist feelings. If I had to listen to her, I probably would have developed a little bit of a segregationist feeling. But I think everybody can look at my life and what I've done and say that's not true."
Late today, Ballenger issued a statement from his Washington office which read in part, "My choice of words to express my distaste for a divisive member of Congress was a mistake and was wrong" -- end quote.
We know the story of the week, but who will get the "Play of the Week"? Senior political analyst Bill Schneider reveals the winner when we come back.
WOODRUFF: A little while ago on INSIDE POLITICS, Virginia Republican Senator John Warner told me in an interview -- he, by the way, somebody instrumental in pulling together Republican support behind Bill Frist -- said that it may be before January 6 that Republicans agree on a new leader. It may be in just the next few days.
And now, in fact, our congressional correspondent Jon Karl has a little more on that.
Jon, what have you learned?
KARL: Well, we have learned that Senator Warner is right.
Rick Santorum, who is the chairman of the Republican conference and also somebody who, all day today, has been weighing running against Bill Frist for leader, is about to put out a statement. The statement will be two parts. In the first, he will endorse Bill Frist to be the Republican leader. And, second, he will announce that, as chairman of the Republican conference, he will move to have a conference call on Monday to convene to elect Bill Frist as the majority leader for the Republicans.
So, it looks like no longer will the Republicans have to wait for January 6 to formally have their new leader. If Santorum gets his way, it will be on Monday December 23 where the Republicans, via conference call, will their give their handoff to Bill Frist. One aide said this won't be an election. This will be a coronation.
WOODRUFF: Fast-moving snowball. All right, Jon Karl, thanks very much.
Well, it's been quite a week here in Washington. And our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has had many things to consider in choosing a "Political Play of the Week." He joins now.
Bill, what did you decide on?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the White House did not handle the Lott affair particularly well. It sent mixed signals and it irritated Republican senators. So, how could this be a "Play of the Week" for the White House?
Well, let's see.
(voice-over): Both parties have had dilemmas with race. Democrats historically seem to pander to African-American voters. When candidate Bill Clinton drew the line in the Sister Souljah affair in 1992, he broke with the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON (D), CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT: You had a rap singer here last night named Sister Souljah. I defend her right to express herself through music. But her comments before and after Los Angeles were filled with the kind of hatred that you do not honor today and tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Finally a Democrat who did not pander. Republicans have the opposite problem with race.
It goes back to Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, when he reached out to George Wallace's racial backlash voters. Since then, every time Republicans appear to endorse racially tainted causes, they get into trouble. Ronald Reagan did in the 1980 campaign when he talked about states' rights in the South. Candidate George Bush got in trouble in 1988 when supporters ran the Willie Horton ad and the Bush campaign did not quickly repudiate it.
His son got in trouble in 2000 when he spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which has a history of racial discrimination. President Bush drew the line at Trent Lott's remarks.
BUSH: Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country.
SCHNEIDER: Bush broke with the past, including his own past. The White House tried to distance itself from Lott's ouster.
FLEISCHER: Is there is a leadership race, the White House plays no role and will play no role and offers no thoughts and opinions.
SCHNEIDER: But its fingerprints are everywhere.
In the end, the White House got what it wanted, Lott out, and its favored candidate, Bill Frist, building momentum to take over.
SCHNEIDER: With the ouster of Trent Lott, President Bush has made a statement just as clearly as Bill Clinton did in the Sister Souljah affair. This party will not traffic with racism. Maybe it wasn't handled with skill or delicacy. But, as they say, all's well that ends well.
In this case, it ends with the "Political Play of the Week" -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider.
And we quickly turn to the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University, magically appearing on the screen, Bob Novak.
Bob, there's no question the White House got what they wanted, didn't they?
ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right.
And the question is sometimes that you regret getting what you want, because of two things. No. 1, the Democrats are now saying, well, Lott is just a symbol. Bill Clinton on Wednesday set the pattern, where he said: Everybody is a racist in the Republican Party. It isn't just Trent Lott.
And then, secondly, the question is, is the president going to be inhibited on issues which are very important to the Republican base, such as intervening in the Supreme Court on the University of Michigan affirmative action case and renewing the nomination of Trent Lott's friend, federal district Judge Charles Pickering in Mississippi for the appellate bench?
WOODRUFF: There's already pressure on the part of the Democrats to the administration to prove that they do, have turned a page when it comes to civil rights.
Bob, what about this question of whether Bill Frist is too much in the pocket of the White House? You are already hearing that.
NOVAK: Well, you hear that from senators. One senator who I thought was Frist's friend told me that the other day, that he is like a White House aide. He was working very closely with the White House as the Senate campaign chairman.
But the ways things worked, they did not want a fight. I think, if Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had run, it would have been a very close fight between him and Bill Frist. But the Republicans, after the terrible experience of the last two weeks, did not want a fight.
Now, there's another thing, Judy. Bill Frist has a terrific learning curve. He's never been in the leadership. Trent Lott was a very experienced leader when he became majority leader. He had been Senate whip. He'd been House whip. He's got a learning procedure to do. And it's not like you take over a staff.
He's got to build a whole new Senate staff to do this, because, obviously, he's not going to hire Trent Lott's people.
WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Bob, are conservatives in the Republican Party going to work with Bill Frist?
NOVAK: Well, a lot of them -- when Rick Santorum was making his aborted little run, he was saying he's the conservative and Frist is the moderate. And that's the way he is considered.
I think the Republicans are so frightened by losing the momentum after the midterm election, thanks to the Lott affair, they certainly don't want, aren't going to criticize him. But, believe me, Judy, there's a lot of uneasiness beneath the surface on the Republican side in the Senate tonight.
WOODRUFF: All right, once again, Bob Novak with some inside reporting.
It is a first in the Senate, but a long line of House leaders have been forced out. That is, in the House. We'll take a look back.
Plus: why one would-be candidate is kicking off her campaign with a campout -- today's edition of "Campaign News Daily" coming up.
WOODRUFF: Trent Lott's saga is unprecedented in the Senate, but not in the House, which has a long history of scandal and power plays.
Senior analyst Jeff Greenfield joins us now from New York with that -- hi, Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: That's right, Judy.
Trent Lott's abdication is obviously one of the biggest political dramas of the year. It is also a piece of history. For what is the first time in history, a Senate leader has been forced from office. That's right. As far as anyone can tell, it simply has never happened before in the Senate.
(voice-over): Democrats, from Lyndon Johnson to Mike Mansfield to Robert Byrd to George Mitchell to Tom Daschle; Republicans, from Ev Dirksen to Hugh Scott to Howard Baker to Robert Dole, all of them served until they moved on or stepped down on their own.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's the lowest thing that I've ever seen!
GREENFIELD: But, over in the House of Representatives, bigger, more fractious, it has been a very different story.
Back in 1965, a congressman named Gerald Ford led a revolt that ousted House Republican leader Charles Halleck. He became the GOP leader himself, the job from which he became vice president and then president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Mr. President.
GREENFIELD: In 1989, Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright left the chair and the House after coming under ethical fire, a campaign led by a firebrand Republican named Newt Gingrich.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R), GEORGIA: I intend to be the House Republican whip.
GREENFIELD: Gingrich become House Republican whip in 1989 and, a few years later, openly declared his intention to challenge the Republican leader, Bob Michel, for the top job. Michel decided to retire.
And the 1994 Republican sweep saw Democratic Speaker Tom Foley swept out of office. And Gingrich became speaker of the house. But barely two years later, Gingrich's top deputies, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, tried to launch a coup to remove Gingrich. It fizzled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is stopped.
GREENFIELD: After the 1998 election saw surprising Democratic gains, Congressman Bob Livingston said that he would challenge Gingrich for the speakership.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON (R), LOUISIANA: ... tell you that I've come to announce my candidacy.
GREENFIELD: Gingrich quit the House. And Livingston, the speaker-to-be, followed him out the door in the wake of a sex scandal.
GREENFIELD: So, why did Senator Lott earn this dubious distinction as the first Senate leader forced from his post? At root, he hit an exposed nerve in American politics, one that is never very far from the service: race.
Remember, Jerry Ford's agriculture secretary, Earl Butz, was fired in 1976 after telling an obscene racist joke. Ronald Reagan's interior secretary, James Watt, was forced from office in 1983 after a dismissive, scornful comment about blacks, among others.
A nation still working at healing this American dilemma of race reacts very badly when that scab is peeled away, however unintentionally -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much.
And now checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": A candidate for mayor in Saint Ann, Missouri, near St. Louis, is going to great lengths to make sure her name appears on the ballot. Carrie Cafazza has been camping in a tent near city hall since December 11, so that she can be first in line when filing begins Christmas Eve. Her name would then be first on the ballot. Cafazza, whose tent includes a heater and a color TV, says she wants to pick up the extra handful of votes the first name on the ballot sometimes receives.
Alaska's newly elected Republican governor, Frank Murkowski, today named his replacement to the U.S. Senate. In an unprecedented move, Governor Murkowski named his daughter Lisa to serve the remaining two years of his Senate term. Lisa Murkowski is a member of the Alaska Statehouse. Governor Murkowski held that Senate seat for 22 years before winning the governor's race last month.
California Governor Gray Davis presented gifts to a group of children at the state Capitol yesterday because he was barred from visiting their Catholic school. Monsignor Edward Kavanagh, the director of the St. Patrick's Home for Children in Sacramento, said Governor Davis will not be allowed to visit the school until Davis -- quote -- "changes his whole philosophy on the unborn." Davis described himself as unapologetically pro-choice and said he has no plans to change his position.
Well, on this news-filled day, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS.
I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us.
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Appears Poised To Succeed Lott>