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Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott Meets with the New President to Discuss Policy

Aired January 22, 2001 - 2:47 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And for more about this, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has just returned from a luncheon with President Bush.

Our congressional correspondent Chris Black is standing by with him now -- Chris.


And thank you, Senator Lott, for joining us here today.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

BLACK: Well, we understand that you had a very interesting lunch today with the new president of the United States. Could you give us a sense of President Bush's priorities and what he plans to do to get those priorities through Congress?

LOTT: Well, first, it was an exciting experience to go in on his official first day in office. I -- even though he was there Sunday. He's already very hard at work. I like the fact he started on time. And we ended on time: started at 12:00, ended at 1:00. He's very focused. He's going to be reaching out to members of the Congress and people outside the Congress as he moves forward an his agenda.

Now here is the surprise: He seems determined to do what he said he said was going to do. He is going to be focused on those agenda items that he talked about: education right out of the box. He clearly is going to go quickly to tax relief for working American people. He is very much into what we need to do to reform our Pentagon, make sure our Defense Department is what it needs to be, that we've got the equipment, the manpower, the modernization. But how do we get that done?

He's working aggressively on that. And he continues to always talk, as he did during the campaign, about the need for Medicare reform with prescription drugs and Social Security. I'm mean, he -- he hasn't changed. And he is...

BLACK: I'll have to interrupt you just for a second, Senator. We have go back to Lou Waters. We have breaking news. But we'll come right back.


BLACK: We're back to Senator Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, who had lunch today with President Bush on his first full day on the job.

What sort of advice did you give President Bush about how he deals with a Senate that is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats?

LOTT: Well, we had members of the Senate leadership there -- and the House Republican leadership. The senators made it clear that we thought it was important that he start off by having the meeting that he had at lunch, and that he go beyond that and meet with the chairman of the committees, meet with the Democratic leadership -- you know, both individually or collectively. And he's going to do that.

I guess that was our major message -- and be sure to talk to all of our different leadership people and be prepared to talk to senators individually. You know, a lot of them are former governors. And governors -- kind of like senators, I guess -- have a relationship. You have a number of former governors in the Senate, including Bob Graham of Florida and Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. And I think George W. as president will have a good opportunity to work with them.

BLACK: How does President Bush move towards the middle -- which is where you have to move to get any Democratic support, especially on these big issues -- but still maintain the support of the conservatives, the core of your party?

LOTT: Well, I think he'll need to focus on the principles that he is trying to accomplish and acknowledge and be candid with the American people, say that in order to achieve these goals of principles he talked about, you have go through a legislative process where you may not get every detail that you wanted.

But the issues he's talking about are centrist issues, in a way. I mean, education is not left or right. Education is about your children, about the future of your country. And I'm the son of a school teacher. I went to public schools all my life. So I really care about education. And in my own state of Mississippi, we are convinced that, as we move forward economically and do more with our neighbors, education is one of the areas we must concentrate on -- the same thing with Medicare and Social Security.

Those are broad-based issues. So I think his agenda is centrist. He will come at it from the standpoint of a governor, a businessman and a conservative. But I think that the issues are something all Americans want us to deal with. BLACK: One issue that has been very contentious, though, is campaign finance. Today, Senator John McCain and a number of other senators reintroduced legislation that George Bush actually had opposed on the campaign trail. Now, you have been talking to Senator McCain about the timing and the composition of that legislation, which is a big change for the Republicans. Why the change and what is the status of those talks?

LOTT: Different times call for different approaches. And maybe this is an issue whose time has come. John McCain is not going to let go of it. He's been persistent. But also, we have seen things in the last couple of elections that senators in both parties say: You know, I believe we need to do a little better. And it's not just about the so-called soft money. It's sewer money. This is money that is not reported by anybody. It's also about: How do you raise the money to put on a campaign?

We are still bound by the same limits that were put in place, I don't know, 25 years ago. And wouldn't it be ironic that even though, when the Democrats had the White House, the House and the Senate, they didn't do campaign-finance reform, but when the Republicans wound up having all three, we actually got it done? I think that the persistence of President Bush in doing it the right way, coupled with the persistence of John McCain determined to get it done, may actually bring us together in a way where we produce a result that would be good for the election process in America.

BLACK: Can you reach an accommodation in terms of timing?

LOTT: Well, we have certainly got to try, because it's going to come up. I would like for it to be done in a way that's fair to all, where I'm not surprised or where the other side of the aisle or the issue is surprised. Let's do it a common-sensical way. I would like to give the president an opportunity to lay out his agenda. I would like to move a couple of those issues that he is focused on first.

But I want to assure Senator McCain and others that we are going to take this up in a fair way and early. Hopefully, it won't be the first issue. But it will be among the first issues that we deal with this year.

BLACK: Well, today, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat from Georgia, introduced President Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut. A lot of Republicans have thought -- including some Republicans on this side of the aisle -- of the Capitol -- have thought it was a good idea to break that up into more bite-size pieces. What's your sense of that now?

LOTT: Again, I think we ought to talk with the president about his options and how we handle it procedurally. I don't think the American people are going to want to get too deeply into that. But the House could move these tax bills through in pieces much easier than the Senate. The Senate rules: If we just bring a small bill up, all of a sudden, it can become a big bill. So we need to look at that. Also, I think we ought to see how we can move it as early as possible. And that will be our focus, without getting too caught up in procedural questions.

BLACK: Thank you so much, Senator. We appreciate your time.



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