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Aides: Bush felt duty to denounce Lott

President doesn't want senator to step down, spokesman says

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush recognized he had to make a public statement denouncing Sen. Trent Lott's remarks on Strom Thurmond, aides say.
President Bush recognized he had to make a public statement denouncing Sen. Trent Lott's remarks on Strom Thurmond, aides say.

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President Bush denounces Sen. Trent Lott's remarks. (December 12)
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Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has again apologized and disavowed comments he made that some critics took as an endorsement of segregation. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports. (December 12)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's decision to rebuke GOP Senate leader Trent Lott publicly over comments that seemingly endorsed segregation came because the president felt an obligation to speak out, aides said Thursday.

They said that the administration also concluded that a failure to do so would compromise any political outreach to African-Americans.

Bush received less than 10 percent of the African-American vote in the 2000 presidential election and has vowed to do better in his 2004 re-election campaign.

"This is the principle that guides my administration: We will not and must not rest until every person, of every race, believes in the promise of America because they see it in their own eyes, with their own eyes, and they live it and feel it in their own lives," Bush said Thursday, after declaring that any suggestion that segregation is acceptable "is offensive and it is wrong."

The president's remarks, delivered before a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, audience that included many blacks, were roundly applauded and cheered.

Lott has apologized for saying the nation would have been better off if segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had won the 1948 presidential election. The incoming Senate majority leader, a Republican from Mississippi, made the remarks last week at a celebration of Thurmond's 100th birthday.

"The president thought what Trent Lott said was wrong," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush flew to Philadelphia.

"Trent Lott has apologized. The president feels strongly about this. The president knows that we're a nation that's been improved as a result of civil rights."

Fleischer added, "The president does not think that Trent Lott should resign." He reiterated that position after the president's speech.

A few Senate Democrats have called on Lott to resign his leadership post, and Bush's rebuke was certain to stir the debate. Senior administration officials said they were aware Bush's statement would add to the controversy. But the president did not intend to do so by speaking out, they said, adding that Bush recognized that he had to make a public statement denouncing the remarks.

One senior White House official said top Bush aides were in the same camp as many of Lott's allies on Capitol Hill and believed the senator needed to deliver a major speech reiterating his apology and spelling out his views on race relations.

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