FTN 12/15/02

face the nation logo, 2009
BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face the Nation, the Lott controversy and Iraq.

Should Senator Lott resign from his leadership position in the wake of his comments on Strom Thurmond's past? We'll ask former Bush and Reagan Cabinet member Bill Bennett, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, and political scientist Merle Black of Emory University, plus conservative editor of the National Review, Rich Lowry.

Then we'll talk about Iraq with Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware.

Gloria Borger is here, and I'll have a final word on the Catholic Church in crisis. But first, the Lott situation, on Face the Nation.

Good morning again. And we start this morning with some news. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, Republican, has become the first Republican senator to say that he now questions the leadership of Senator Lott as the leader of the Republicans in the Senate.

He told me in a telephone interview that he accepts Senator Lott's apology, but he says that is not the point. He is worried now that Senator Lott has become a liability to getting the Republican agenda accomplished. He said, "I'm afraid now when he goes out to sell our agenda, he will be jeered. He has become a lightning rod."

He refers, of course, to those remarks that Senator Lott made two weeks ago at the 100th-birthday party of Strom Thurmond, when he said that the country would have been better off had Thurmond, at that point a segregationist, been elected president.

Well, after hearing that, we go now to the people who've come here to talk about it. Joining us in the studio, William Bennett. Wade Henderson is here in the studio. From Atlanta, professor Merle Black, and in New York, Rich Lowry. We're going to begin with Mr. Bennett.

Well, in light of what you just heard Senator Nickles told me this morning, Mr. Bennett, can Trent Lott survive as majority leader? Should he survive?

WILLIAM BENNETT Former Education Secretary: I don't think he can, I don't think he will, and I don't think he should.

As I said last week, Trent Lott has to explain the statement he made earlier at the Strom Thurmond birthday party, give a satisfactory, an innocent explanation, or he needs to resign his leadership. He's apologized any number of times, but he has not explained what he meant by that statement.

I think the plain meaning of that statement was deeply offensive to almost all Americans. And, therefore, I think Senator Lott should step down.

I don't think Senator Lott is a racist. I think that this country has changed a great deal since the time he was talking about. But both on grounds of principle and politics, Senator Lott should relinquish his leadership position.

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Well, there is a lot of talk, though, that if he decides to step down as leader that he might just decide to leave the Senate. And if he decided to leave the Senate, that would put the Senate back at 50-50, which would be a real problem for the Bush administration.

BENNETT: I can't believe that Senator Lott would do that. Imagine the scenario you describe. He would then be saying, "I got my party in a great deal of trouble by this comment, and now I will get my party in even worse trouble by handing the Senate back to the Democrats or doing whatever is in my power to give it back to the Democrats."

He can't do that. He needs to remember how he got to be Senate majority leader, partly through his own able efforts, but more through the efforts of George Bush, president of the United States.

He has to take the perspective of saying, "What's best for the country, what's best for the president, what's best for this party?" And if he makes that judgment, I think the conclusion he will have to come to is that he steps down as majority leader and stays in the Senate.

SCHIEFFER: Well, we heard the president, and there was no question where the president came out on all of this. I have never heard a president go after a member of his own party in quite the way that the President Bush did. Yet he did not say he ought to resign.

BENNETT: Right. I think he expects Senator Lott to do the right thing, and I believe the right thing is for Senator Lott to resign.

You know, there was thunder on Thursday, and many of us were very distressed at this. You know, there are a lot of people in this party who have worked very hard to overcome the notion that this party is somehow not open to everyone in this country.

This is the party of Abraham Lincoln. Some of us take these principles, most of us, I think, take these principles very seriously, and I'm sure Senator Lott does, too.

But there are some things you just can't, if you're in a leadership position to, give credence to, and one of those things is the old idea segregation.

Let me mention some of the other things that are out there. Remember Charles Pickering? This is a judge from Mississippi. What is the status of Charles Pickering if Trent Lott's majority leader?

We have one of the biggest and most consequential cases on race coming up before the Supreme Court, the Michigan case, which I think describes a segregated admission system, blacks over here, whites over here.

How are we going to stand with the Senate majority leader when that issue comes up and the response from Democrats, who will take full advantage of this, is to say, "Well, you have a leader who is in favor of segregation"?

So I think politics, good sense and, again, fundamental principle require the senator to do the right thing.

SCHIEFFER: In all fairness, we should point out this morning, in other forums, on other Sunday talk shows, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said, "This is a forgiving country. We should accept Senator Lott's apology and move on."

Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania says he believes that Senator Lott will stay and that Republicans will support him.

BENNETT: Of course it's a forgiving country and Senator Lott can be forgiven. That's a separate question from what the right thing to do is, and it's a separate question from what the politically sound thing to do is, as well.

We had this during the Clinton era. There was a lot of talk about forgiveness, but there was also serious questions about leadership and whether people can maintain their credibility. I'm not equating the two, by any stretch of the imagination.

But Senator Lott has to do the right thing. And he has to again look at this through the lens of what's best for the party, what's best for the president, and what affirms the most important principle.

BORGER: Do you believe, very quickly, that President Bush should ask Trent Lott to resign?

BENNETT: No, I don't think he should have to. I think Senator Lott should come to this decision on his own when he takes into account all the relevant factors. And I think Senator Lott will, because at the end of the day he is a patriot and he cares about his party and his country.

And I think we have come too far in this country on this issue, his state has come too far on this issue -- I lived in Mississippi in 1967. It is a very different state now. And I think he'll come to that realization.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Bennett, thank you so much.

BENNETT: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: Let's go now to the rest of our panel. Merle Black is in Atlanta this morning. He, of course, is a political scientist. Many people consider him the authority on Southern politics. He has just co-authored a book on the rise of Southern Republicans.

Professor, set the stage for us here. Explain to us, what is the impact? And what impact do you see all of this controversy having on the Republican Party and on the Democratic Party in the South?

MERLE BLACK, Political Scientist, Emory University: Well, right now, what Lott has been able to do is to take the Republicans back to 1948 and raise this question of segregation. He praised the wrong Thurmond. He praise the Thurmond of '48 instead of praising the Thurmond who voted for the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982, something that House Member Lott, at that time, voted against.

So the problem with Lott is that he symbolizes exactly the wrong thing that Southern Republicans really kind of have stood for, especially with regard to voting rights legislation. Back in 1981, out of the nine Deep South representatives, Republicans in the South, Newt Gingrich voted for the voting rights extension, Carroll Campbell voted for it, Trent Lott voted against it.

Trent Lott's segregationist past has now caught up with him. I think he is incredibly tarnished by this, and I think he will be unable to lead the Republican Party.

So, the Republican Party in the South that wants to reach out to moderates as well as to conservatives needs new leadership, and they need someone other than Trent Lott as head of the party. Right now this is a big thing for the Democrats.

SCHIEFFER: Well, is this is a serious enough issue that it could take down the Republican Party in the South? Because we've seen it make enormous gains all across the South.

BLACK: No, I don't think it's going to take down the Republican Party in the South. The main basis of the Republican Party in the South is this huge urbanized middle class out there in these Southern suburbs. That's a huge social group. It's one of the most important changes that's taken place in the last 50 years in the South, along with the civil rights movement and the introduction, again, of blacks back into the political system in the region.

I don't think it's going to take down the Republican Party. But I think George W. Bush needs to win on this issue. What Bush is trying to do is to really go back to the party of Lincoln rather than the party of Reagan, rather than the party of Goldwater. And if Lott remains as the leader of the party, I think that's really going to interfere with what President Bush is trying to accomplish.

BORGER: Mr. Henderson, Trent Lott supporters say he has apologized four times. He finally had a press conference last Friday apologizing yet again. He is going to Black Entertainment Television to apologize one more time. Is that enough?

WADE HENDERSON, Executive Director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: Well, Gloria, I don't want to trivialize what I think is really an important moment in American history. I think that the issue is not whether Senator Lott has apologized sufficiently. I think most Americans would like to accept his apology, myself included.

I think the difficulty in evaluating Senator Lott's circumstance is the entire context of his record over a period of 35 years in public life, as well as his history as a citizen and resident of Mississippi.

Now, obviously, every person in the country can change and evolve, and thinking over time can certainly change to reflect the circumstances of today. And certainly I don't think that Senator Lott should be held accountable for one isolated incident in his life, even if it were brought to bear by virtue of his statements last week, if that were the only issue at stake.

What we're talking about, however, is an individual who has had a public life of supporting individuals and organizations that reflect the very segregationist policies and views that he has now been accused of having embraced in his remark about Senator Thurmond.

After all, Senator Lott spoke before the Council of Conservative Citizens on more than one occasion. It's a neo-Confederate organization that promotes the interests of white supremacy.

This is an individual who opposed the Martin Luther King holiday because of alleged fiscal reasons, and yet he supported the restoration of citizenship to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

This is an individual with a demonstrated record of insensitivity and, in some instances, hostility to the interests of all Americans.

And I guess one last point. You know, if this were, again, an historic matter alone, it would not be so problematic. But I think we have to evaluate the context of Senator Lott's role as majority leader. He is not nearly the spokesperson for his party. He is also the individual who determines which important pieces of legislation and policy are debated on the Senate floor. And in that sense, there is a question raised about whether Senator Lott can be fair to the interests of all Americans. And that's where I think we question him.

SCHIEFFER: All right, let's go to Rich Lowry.

I'm using you this morning as the cleanup hitter, Rich, there in New York.
You're the editor of sort of the conservative bible. You called, before all of this developed into the firestorm that it is, on Senator Lott to step down and you made no bones about it. Why so?

RICH LOWRY, Editor National Review: Well, our criticism of Senator Lott has always been that he is an ineffective and clumsy leader for Republicans in the Senate. We don't think he's a racist. But we do think the last week has been a catastrophic confirmation of that judgment on Senator Lott's effectiveness.

So I think the attitude of a lot of conservatives out there is spare us -- spare us the serial apologies, spare us the parsing of what you did or didn't say about Jeff Davis, spare us the baggage you are going to bring to a whole host of conservative issues, spare us the whole sorry spectacle.

SCHIEFFER: What about the role of the White House in this now? Should the president publicly call on Senator Lott to resign?

LOWRY: Well, I don't think the White House is going to do that, but I think the White House has made it clear that its support for Senator Lott is extremely lukewarm at best.

And now, Bob, you know, it's up for the club to take care of this. The question is for Senate Republicans, what is more important, the interests of the Republican Party and the interests of the conservative cause or your relationship with one man whom you happen to like a lot and be friends with?

And so far, it seems as though most senators are going to choose the feelings of Trent Lott and their personal relationship with him.

And the fact is, this may sound cold-hearted to say, but if you make a cold, political calculation here, what are the upsides to Trent Lott? He's going to become a lightning rod. But is he an LBJ-style legislative master in the Senate? No. Is he a Newt Gingrich-like strategic visionary? No. He is going to be a lightning rod with, really, no political upside to Republicans. And Senate Republicans should realize that and take care of the problem themselves.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Henderson, we'll give you the last word.

HENDERSON: You know -- thank you. This is really not just about Senator Lott. Even if Senator Lott were to step down, there are policies and positions he has promoted which have become the positions of his party that need to be examined.

Mr. Bennett mentioned the nomination of Charles Pickering. And obviously, Charles Pickering has been nominated for a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Our organization and many others have opposed him. And he was defeated by the Senate Judiciary Committee in large measure because of his own demonstrated racial insensitivity. Senator Lott is encouraging that he be re-nominated again, but it's up to the president to make that decision.

Carolyn Kuhl, who has been nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, also has had a position on the Bob Jones case consistent with that of Senator Lott.

I'm hopeful that these policy issues will be examined even in the wake of Senator Lott stepping down. That's what's important.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Gentlemen, thanks to all of you. We could continue this, but the clock has run out on us.

We'll be back in a minute to talk to the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden.


SCHIEFFER: With us now from Wilmington, Delaware, Senator Joe Biden, of course the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is also just back from the Gulf region. He's been in Qatar and other states out there.

But, Senator, obviously the first thing we have to ask you about is this thing that has turned into a firestorm over Senator Lott.

There is some talk of a censure of Senator Lott by the Senate. Do you think that would be a wise thing to do?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-Delaware: I think the Republicans have to come to the milk and decide what they want to do.

Look, one thing we should have all learned by now, you cannot be insensitive to race issues from positions of leadership. And unfortunately for Trent, his comments are not measured just in the context of the incident where he made them, but in the context of his whole record.

And I thought the point that Wade Henderson made about the whole context of how the president responds, not only to Lott but to who he sends up to us -- I mean, Pickering was mildly insensitive on cross-burning when people put a cross in some black family's lawn.

You know, you can't hold Lott accountable for this insensitivity and not the policies, as well.

But that's a Republican deal here. They've got to define for themselves what kind of face they want to put on their party. And my guess is, out of their self-interest, they may very well decide that Trent has to go.

BORGER: Just one more question on this, Senator. If Lott decides that he doesn't want to resign as majority leader and he survives as majority leader, how do you expect that to affect the agenda in the Senate?

BIDEN: Well, it's really hard to tell. It depends on what the president pushes. If the president pushes judges, for example, who say the kind of things Trent said, then it makes it very, very difficult. If the president decides on matters relating to social policy that he is going to, you know, take a road that is viewed as being insensitive on race issues, then it's going to be a big problem. If you're talking about economic issues, foreign policy, I'm not sure how much impact it has.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, let's talk a little bit about your recent trip out to the Gulf states region. There was a story this morning in the New York Times that says that the president has now authorized the CIA to assassinate certain terrorist leaders. Of course, we have a law in this country against assassinating leaders of another country.

I know you've read this story. What do you know about it, and how do you feel about it?

BIDEN: Well, let me make one distinction. It does not authorize assassination. It lists the people who are the most wanted terrorists in the view of the president and our government, and says that if you are unable to capture them, you are able to use lethal force. And that is different than a policy of assassination, which is proscribed.

I think the president had no choice but to do that. We're not going to put, for example -- for example, those -- the inability to capture a high-ranking leader in Yemen, knowing that we would be putting too many people in harm's way to try to go in and capture him, using a Predator Hellfire missile fired at him to take him out is totally appropriate as an act of war, because that's what we are. These are combatants in war. And I find no difficulty with it.

BORGER: Well, you're just back from the region. Can you tell us whether it's your assessment that we're closer to war now?

BIDEN: Well, I'm not -- I don't think we're any closer than we were before. We're more prepared. I spent an extensive amount of time with General Franks in Qatar and with dozens of generals during the war games they're preparing. I've never been so impressed with preparation as I have been. I've been a senator a long time now.

We are prepared. Everyone in the Gulf region from the king to the princes to Bashar Asad in Syria and Turks, the prime minister, they all think we are absolutely hell bent on going in. But I'm not sure that's -- I think is a 45 percent chance that we won't still.

BORGER: Well, what's your assessment of how the inspections are going?

BIDEN: Well, I think they're going, quite frankly, as should have been predicted, which is that it's going to be a methodical process. I think the president is approaching it correctly by not demanding, based on the submission of 11,000 pages, that this is not accurate without thoroughly vetting it with the IAEA and with UNMOVIC and moving ahead.

Because, look, I think what came -- Gloria, what I came back from the region, including northern Iraq, with, is it's not so much the day before the war, but it's not the day after. It's the decade after the war.

You see what's going on in London now with 350 disparate groups of Iraqis trying to figure out what kind of government they're going to have if Saddam comes down. And you'll notice the one thing they're all united on is they do not want a U.S.-imposed government, they do not want a military presence of the United States there for a long time. Yet the entire region and the world says we can't take the risk of that country splintering.

And so we've got to keep our allies in the deal here, because what we need is a model after Saddam more like Kosovo, where you have, you know, a German civilian head or a Dutchman or a Frenchman, not an American general sitting in Baghdad, where we go from being liberator to occupier very quickly.

So, it really -- the dynamic here is, what are we going to do the day after Saddam comes down? And there's not been nearly enough planning on that, in my view.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, that is the key question. I know it's a question that has worried you from the beginning, and it seems to me it is the question that is still unanswered.

Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

BIDEN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

SCHIEFFER: When we come back, some final thoughts on the crisis in the Catholic Church, in a minute.


SCHIEFFER: Finally today, some thoughts on the crisis in the Catholic Church.

When Cardinal Law stepped down on Friday, The New York Times headline said the resignation may well be just the start, quote, "as priests and laity challenge the hierarchy."

I hope so. I say that not as a Catholic; I am a Protestant. I do consider myself a religious person, but that, too, is irrelevant since we do not yet know if God shares the assessment.

So I speak only as an outsider who has spent a lifetime observing politicians and bureaucracies. But I speak as an outsider who loves the Church for its good works, for being the repository of learning during the Dark Ages and, along with those of the Jewish faith, for shaping the values upon which Western civilization is based.

Believer and non-believer alike, we are all the product of those values. The values remain true, and they have stood the test of the centuries. What has gone wrong here is what happens so often when bureaucracies become too large and there is no accountability.

Aging leaders have put their own survival ahead of their reason for being, and in the process, forgotten their own history. It was the Church bureaucracy's refusal to reform so long ago, after all, that brought about the Protestant movement.

People will seek God in many ways, but never in ways that put their children at risk. Until the Church bureaucracy truly comes to terms with that, whatever the cost, and once again places its reason for being ahead of the survival of its leaders, the Church as an institution remains at risk.

That's it for us. We'll see you next week, right here on Face the Nation.