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Senator Trent Lott Reacts to Jeffords Move

Aired May 24, 2001 - 13:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Trent Lott, the majority leader of the United States Senate, is in the Gallery now, addressing -- or is about to enter the Senate Gallery, I see.

He will be the Senate Majority leader until the president of the United States signs that tax bill. At that time, automatically, Senator Jeffords of Vermont becomes an independent. Senator Jeffords said he will not become an independent until that bill is signed. And Senator Jeffords voted for it. And until that happens, the majority leader is Trent Lott.

We'll have to get his reaction here to the tumultuous events of today.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, thank you very much for being here.

Obviously, we've had a very interesting conference this morning, the Republicans in the Senate, but it is a conference that is unified and committed to the very important agenda that we've been working on with the president of the United States.

And we're going to continue our efforts to cut taxes for working Americans, cut spending in an appropriate way while allowing increases where we feel it is urgently needed, like in defense and education.

We're going to continue to work to rebuild our defenses and protect Medicare and Social Security. And we feel also that we must take a look at the future of energy and how to have a national energy policy.

So our agenda is the same.

We obviously note that Senator Jeffords had a press conference and is going to become an independent but will vote to organize with the Democrats.

Now, that will be effective, according to his statement, which I had understood from him yesterday, upon the sending of the tax relief package to the president or June the 5th, whichever is later. And at that point the Democrats in the Senate will take the majority leadership position.

For Senator Jeffords, I've known him personally for 26 years. We've worked on many issues together. We've been friends. I appreciated how he handled his statement. I think that he made it clear that part of this is just a difference in issues, agreements, disagreements on issues, and I understand that, and I wish him well.

I also want to take note of the fact that the president came out, I believe he was in Cleveland today, and made the point that this is not going to change anything in terms of the agenda, the issues that he's going to be working on, his reaching out to the Congress and to work with members on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat.

I spoke with him this morning, and we were talking about business. We were talking about completing the tax relief conference that Senator Nickles is on. We talked about nominations, both Senator Baker's confirmation yesterday and the fact that we're going forward with the nomination of Ted Olson to be solicitor general today.

So we are committed to these issues. We're going to work together. We have a leadership team that is going to be making sure that we have all different views within our own conference heard and considered as we go forward.

But the people's agenda is the same. And that's what we're here for. Our priorities are the same.

Will there be differences with the Democrats? Surely there will be, because we have differences in how we should proceed as a government.

But there will be times when we will come together in a bipartisan way, like we did on tax relief and like we've done on other issues.

Some people say, "Well, it'll change what is considered on the floor of the Senate."

Not actually. Under Senate rules, as we've learned from the Democrats when they were in the minority, you can offer amendments and issues that are important to you as an individual senator or as a party.

So we wanted to come and speak to you this afternoon and to the American people.

And we'll take your questions in a moment, but first let me call on Senator Nickles to join.

SEN. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I thank the Republican leader. Some of you noticed the difference there. And he is still the majority leader, but I'll thank the Republican leader.

Let me just make a couple of comments.

One, I'm very disappointed that Senator Jeffords decided to leave the Republican Party. He's been a Republican for 20- some-odd years, at least up here. I've known him for 20 years and had the pleasure of working with him, and I hate to see him leave. I still, though, if you look at the composition of the Senate, it's the same 100 senators today as it was last week, and our objective is to pass good legislation and defeat bad legislation. And it's a challenge. It's a challenge when you had 50-50, and it's going to be a challenge at 50 and 49 and with one independent. It's going to be a challenge.

WATERS: The Senate majority leader and the majority whip commenting on Senator Jeffords' official announcement in Burlington, Vermont that he will switch and become an independent upon sending up of that tax bill or, as you heard Senator Lott say, June 5, whichever comes later, at which time Senator Lott will become Republican leader of the Senate and Tom Daschle will become the majority leader -- Senator Lott being gracious, wishing Senator Jeffords well.

He said it will not affect the way the Senate GOP handles its spending priorities, especially in the area of education and the military. He said the people's agenda remains the same. There will be disagreements, but, yes, we will come together from time to time on important issues.

Bipartisanship, says Senator Trent Lott, is alive and well in the United Senate.

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