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Senator Trent Lott Discusses Democratic Power Shift

Aired June 5, 2001 - 14:16   ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Lott is now speaking over at the Capitol.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: ... to make some progress on those amendments this afternoon and perhaps have a vote or two. We'll hope to continue that tomorrow.

I've talked to Senator Daschle about the schedule for the balance of the week. And I believe he intends to proceed with the education bill and stay with it until we get it complete. That could very well, obviously, go over into next week because among the 300 amendments pending there are probably 30 or 40 that really will require some debate time and some of those will require votes.

But there's nothing more important that we could be doing right now than having a good debate about how we can improve education in America and have a world class education system. Now, that's something that is bipartisan. And I think it's important to emphasize that in spite of other transition or changes that may be taking place, we're going to continue to have a discussion on very important issue of education.

With regard to the organizational resolution, last year Senator Daschle and I exchanged ideas, memoranda for probably close to a month. We were here for a few days. We had a lot of active meetings on both sides. We came up with what was known as the power-sharing agreement. I think most people would concede we were more than fair in the way we handled that particular situation, and I expect the same is going to occur now.

I have discussed the resolution with Senator Daschle. He sent me a preliminary suggestion last week. We hope to have some return suggestions to him within the next few hours, presumably early in the morning or tomorrow. And so, the process will go forward. And I fully expect that we will get an organizational resolution done that will be fair to both sides.

I think we do need to get some clarification on committee ratios and how new members will be added or how staff will be handled, what will happen if the numbers change again. And so, this is a legitimate discussion, but we're not going to be focused entirely on process. We're going to be focused more on issues. That's where the Republicans are, and I believe that's where the Democrats are.

QUESTION: When do you expect to get that done?

LOTT: I don't have a specific time. We've just really gotten started in earnest today. And the actual transition takes place tomorrow, to the Democratic majority here in the Senate, and hopefully within a rather short period of time.

But I've got a group that is working with me on this, of senior members that are going to be discussing the issue with me, with our conference and with the Democrats.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) memo last Friday.

LOTT: Oh, you saw that?

QUESTION: Yes, I did. In which you said in essence that Senator Jeffords conspired with the Democrats to thwart the will of the voters and undermine democracy. Can you elaborate on what you...

LOTT: Well, obviously I have not been happy with the process that led to Senator Jeffords to changing his position to independent and organizing with the Democrats. It has shifted the majority in the middle of a term.

But I think the important thing is for us to deal with this, whether it's a plurality or a majority, the point is there are going to be 50 people voting with the Democrats, plus Jeffords as an independent, and 49 Republicans. And we're going to acknowledge that. They're going to have a one-seat majority on the committees. They're going to be chairmen.

And I would like for us to get a fair agreement of how all the details are going to be worked out, and then go forward with the issues. We should have a war of ideas, and we should have a full campaign for the Senate in 2002. And I think that's what the people would expect of us. In fact, I think they would expect nothing less. Go ahead.

WATERS: Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott, who will be minority leader in the Senate tomorrow, talking about not only the process, but his plan for the future, not only in the education bill, but other workings within the Senate. He also mentioned, Bob Franken, planning for should the numbers change again. Did you hear him say that?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, sure. There is all kinds of speculation that the genie is out of bottle, and there might be others, for a variety of reasons, who might switch parties. There's a lot of intrigue going on, a lot of implications of intrigue. There are other possibilities in both parties that somebody might become disaffected and switch over. We've heard name like Zell Miller of Georgia, for instance, who denies repeatedly that he has any plans to switch over.

But it looks like it's going to be that kind of -- it can only be described as guerrilla warfare that's going to be going on, and everybody is well aware that the power could shift again. But for the moment, it's shifting to the Democrats. If I could very quickly tell you what will happen to make that official tomorrow.

Senator Robert Byrd will take over as president pro tem of the Senate. The real president is the vice president of the United States, but the number four man in succession to the president, the one who is actually president of the Senate pro tem, a ceremonial office, will be Robert Byrd. It had been Strom Thurmond.

Byrd will immediately appoint Tom Daschle the leader of the majority of the Senate. That's when all this is official. The Democrats become the majority party, and they are able to control the committee assignments for chairman, but they're not able to control yet the composition of the committees because of a parliamentary quirk.

That is the leverage that the Republicans have. That's what Lott talking about as the basis of a negotiation. So, it's going to be very polite turmoil in the Senate. It already is, as a matter of fact.

WATERS: OK, Bob Franken. It's going to be a big day tomorrow, and Bob we'll be talking to you much more. We left John King to pick up on Senator Lott's remarks, and John had been referring to what he calls the new world order here in Washington, but you heard Senator Lott referring to the fact that the numbers might change again, and then Bob Franken alluding to the guerrilla warfare going on here. So, this is a highly volatile season in Washington.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, a very fluid situation. No one here at the White House expects any more party switches in the short term. So, they're planning right now is to assume that the Senate will be in Democratic hands within a matter of hours. That's why the president having that bipartisan meeting we showed earlier in the show here. Right now, that's why he referred to Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts as Mr. Chairman, although he's not quite the chairman just yet.

The president promising quote. "a lot of give and take on key issues," and there is one agreement so far. There is an education bill right now before the Republicans Senate, and the Democrats have promised to keep the bill on the floor when they take power. But there's a great deal of disagreement.

We stopped to go to Senator Lott when we were discussing the reason Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party. He says he wants more money in that education bill. So this new political environment in Washington will quickly be put to test. The Democrats, with the help of independent Jim Jeffords, will try to add more money to the education bill.

Then, if and when the education bill clears the Senate, they will move to the patients' bill of rights. The president, again, promising to work in a bipartisan manner, but substantial differences between the White House view and the leading view of Congress. Senator Kennedy again the chairman and the point man on that issue about how could you sue an HMO? How many money could you win in damages?

So, some substantial issues to get to once they resolve all these procedural hurdles that Senator Lott and Bob Franken were talking about.

WATERS: We heard the reference to these amendments to the education bill. I think one reporter at the White House said -- referred to about 100 amendments. Senator Lott was talking about 30 or 40, many of which will have to be voted upon. This sounds like it could take a whole long time.

KING: Well, the rules of the Senate allow you to bring an amendment to the floor unless there is a bipartisan consensus to shut down the debate. So one of the tactics the minority often uses, and the Democrats did this on the tax debate, look for the Republicans to do it now, whether the issue is education, patient's bills of rights, or down the road, if they're unhappy with the Democratic leadership, one of the ways you can influence a debate, even if you don't ultimately have the votes to win it, is to prolong it by proposing amendment after amendment after amendment.

It is a time-tested practice in the United States Senate. The Democrats did it when the Republicans were running the show, and guess what, the tables are about to turn on them.

WATERS: I guess so. John King, senior White House correspondent.



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