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In the Crossfire

What's up with Watts' move to leave Congress?

(CNN) -- U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House and only black GOP member, has said he will not seek re-election to a fifth term.

Watts cited family concerns as the reason for vacating his congressional seat. His departure will be a setback to GOP efforts to broaden the party's appeal among African-Americans.

"Crossfire" guests Donna Brazile, former manager of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, and Republican consultant Charles Black discuss the reasons behind Watts' decision to step down with hosts James Carville and Robert Novak.

CARVILLE: J.C. Watts is obviously a well-reared young man, has some fine parents.

And let's see what J.C. Watts' father had to say about Republicans and the Republican Party please. ... "A black man voting for the Republicans makes about as much sense as a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders."

I guess Bill Clinton smiled when he said that.

What do you think about a man's own father saying a black man voting for a Republican makes as much sense as a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders?

BLACK: Well I guess J.C. would have won bigger if he got his father to vote for him. I didn't realize that he hadn't.

Listen, we Republicans understand that we have a very, very hard time attracting votes in the African-American community. That does not discourage us. We will campaign in the African-American community.

We will continue to recruit great leaders like J.C. Watts, who helped our party understand issues of importance to African-Americans from home ownership to education reform, school choice, which is very popular in the African-American community, which now the Supreme Court has basically legalized.

J.C. was a great Republican leader before he came to Congress. He'll continue to be a leader and make sure that we campaign ...

BRAZILE: ... This is a major embarrassment to the Republican Party at a time that they're out there trying to improve -- and that's the word Karl Rove used in his presentation there -- standing with African-Americans.

The highest elected African-American official in the country is leaving the Congress. Why?

Because I believe the White House mishandled and disrespected J.C. Watts when he went to them and asked for support for the Crusader artillery system, which was being built in his district. He also complained time and time again that he wasn't at the table when major public policy decisions were being made by the Republican Party.

So that raises a big question of whether or not this whole, you know, tent idea is just baloney and lip service.

NOVAK: Wait a minute, Charlie. I want to get in on this. Donna Brazile, you're not -- I can't believe that you're sitting there and making this a racial issue. ...

BRAZILE: I didn't use the word "race."

NOVAK: Just a minute -- yes, you are.

BRAZILE: How? ... Bob, he's on the Armed Services Committee.

NOVAK: Wait a minute -- wait a minute ...

BRAZILE: He's one of the highest ranking -- he's a leader ...

NOVAK: You can't -- you can't answer my question until I ask it.

BRAZILE: Is that a race issue when you say that he's on the Armed Services Committee, and you have the president and the vice president of the United States ignoring ...

NOVAK: You're saying ...

BRAZILE: ... his request to save this system, which will help him get votes.

NOVAK: Can I ask my question now without being interrupted please?

BRAZILE: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: ... They're saying -- you're saying they disrespected J.C. Watts.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

NOVAK: Just -- let me just finish my question, and then you can barge in.

CARVILLE: You're kind of an uppity black woman, aren't you?

NOVAK: Well, she's not very polite.

BRAZILE: And I'm not going to stop eating fried chicken, and I'm not going to stop voting Democratic either, James.

CARVILLE: Let him ask his question.

BRAZILE: All right. Sorry.

NOVAK: You're saying they disrespected him. I know that code language. You're saying that he didn't get the word -- now the senator -- Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, Republican, is upset about the Crusader decision, who is white. The white congressman -- that's an Oklahoma question.

How can you dare raise this and imply that he was not given that information because he was black? How can you do that?

BRAZILE: I'm not saying ...

NOVAK: You're implying that.

BRAZILE: I'm implying that this is a leader. When someone is a part of your leadership, you bring them to the table, and you work out a compromise, and you give them what they need.

I mean, if he's in the room and he's part of the decision-making apparatus, then if he comes in and says I need this -- you know everybody likes to bring home a little pork. The guy couldn't bring home no pork. Now what's up with that?

NOVAK: Go ahead Charlie.

BLACK: Can I just say, as somebody who's been a friend of J.C. Watts for over 10 years, long before he came to Congress, that that's not why he's leaving Congress.

It would disrespect him not to take him at his word when he says that's he's a family man, he's got to put his family first. He's got three children still at home. His family still lives in Oklahoma.

He's a courageous man who's been a trailblazer in a number of fields, and he'll continue to be a leader for the Republican Party.

Listen, he was one of the three co-chairs of President Bush's campaign. He has a seat at the table anytime he wants it.

BRAZILE: Well, it looks like he's lost a seat.

But let me just say something. J.C. Watts was the only person in the Republican leadership that members of the Congressional Black Caucus could go to when they wanted to put forth the idea of an African-American museum, when they wanted to talk about historical black colleges and universities, saving black farms.

Now they won't have anybody to go to in the Republican leadership ... because there's nobody there with a conscience who will listen to African-Americans in Congress. .... And that's a problem for the Republican Party. ...

NOVAK: Just let me say that J.C. Watts is an American, a conservative Republican, and did not join the divisive Congressional Black Caucus. You know that.




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