Transcript: Sen. Trent Lott on 'FOX News Sunday'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published November 26, 2006 / Fox News Sunday

The following is a partial transcript of the Nov. 26, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: It was four years ago that Trent Lott, poised to be the new Senate majority leader, was tossed aside by fellow Republicans after remarks he made at a party for Strom Thurmond. Well now he's back, having just won the number two job in the Republican leadership.

Senator, we should — we should introduce you and say that you're joining us today from your home state of Mississippi.

President Bush is going to meet this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to discuss the way forward in Iraq. Given Maliki's dependence on the Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and his refusal to crack down on the militias, do you still have confidence in the prime minister?

LOTT: Obviously, the situation in Iraq is not acceptable, and changes are going to have to occur. That's why the vice president was in the region meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia, and that's why the president's going to meet with Maliki.

There are problems with him. He's going to have to decide whether he's going to really try to control his militia groups, whether he's really going to try to govern and protect the people and move forward or not. But, obviously, we have problems there we have got to address. I'm looking forward to hearing the Baker-Hamilton commission report and seeing what recommendations they have.

WALLACE: Are we stuck with the Maliki government or is there some way we could make a change there?

LOTT: I'm — you know, I assume we're stuck with him. They made that choice. They selected him. But, you know, I don't know whether the government is going to be able to survive if the circumstances don't change there. If the insurgency continues to grow, I don't know whether he can survive or not.

But that is a democracy. They passed their constitution. They elected him. And hopefully, he can exert strong leadership and bring the situation under control. But it's not been encouraging, to say the least.

LOTT: Well, I was going to ask you about that, because for all the talk and the anticipation in this meeting this week in Jordan between the president and the prime minister, the fact is, they've talked before. President Bush has tried to put pressure on him to crack down on the militias and he's failed or refused to do that. How short of beginning — beginning to pull troops out, U.S. troops out — how do we put pressure on the Maliki government?

LOTT: I think we're going to have to be very aggressive and specific with him. And if he doesn't show real leadership, doesn't try to bring the situation under control; if, in fact, he becomes a part of the problem; we're going to have to make some tough decisions. Do we go in there, try to do it for them?

Or do we make it clear to them, look, we've done what we needed to do, we got rid of Saddam Hussein, we've tried to help you with the infrastructure, we've tried to train your police, your military, we tried to set guideposts of what must be done. And if you don't want to, you know, deal with that, then we're going to be done with it. At some point, they're going to have to decide if they want to live in democracy and peace or freedom or not. And right now it's in doubt.

WALLACE: When you say at some point, how much time is there left?

LOTT: I think the circumstances have to change. I think we have to think about what we do. I think they have to think about what they're going to do with their own situation. We're reaching a critical point. I think the president and the vice president and the administration, the commission that's working on this issue, know that. Do they know it in Iraq? And that's what has got to be determined.

WALLACE: At some point, would you now, as the number two man of the Republican leadership in the Senate, would you consider getting out ahead of the president and calling for a specific dramatic change in Iraq policy?

LOTT: I probably would not want to do that. I think we need to do this thoughtfully and carefully. We've invested a lot of treasure and manpower and lives and injuries and money. We need to do this in an orderly way. If we just, as the saying goes, cut and run, we've invested an awful lot for very little.

So we need to do this in a coordinated way, with Republicans and Democrats and independents working with the president, listening to our best experts that we can possibly find, working with the more moderate elements in the region to deal with this problem. Because if we don't contain the situation in Iraq, it will get outside those borders. It will spread.

And I still believe that if we were not fighting them there, if we didn't have them tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq, they'd be, you know, somewhere else, in England or even right here.

WALLACE: Senator, let's talk about your comeback. Back in 2002, you were at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond. It was his 100th birthday party, as a matter of fact. And you said if the rest of the country had joined Mississippi in voting for him for president back in 1948, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years. You said later you were just trying to make him feel good, that you weren't endorsing his segregationist policy in 1948. But what did you learn about yourself and what did you learn about friendship and loyalty here in Washington?

LOTT: Well, I was not endorsing those policies at all. In fact, I was, I guess, six or seven years old when that was happening. But we all learn from our mistakes, hopefully. And you can do one of two things. You can just quit and go away, or you can go back and try to do your job, to make amends and to focus on the issues that really affect people's lives — job opportunity, quality education, health care, you know, a transportation system that leads to economic opportunity. That's what I've been working on in my own state.

But I also — you know, I love the institution of the Senate. I like working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I've done that before. I also like working across the Capitol with the members of the House. I've worked with their leadership on both sides. I've worked with Charlie Rangel on the African Free Trade Act. If we hadn't worked on that together, it wouldn't have happened. I can tell you for sure. I've worked with John Dingell on the telecommunication bill. We worked during the '80s and we developed a trust for each other.

So I just went back to work. I — you know, I acknowledged my mistake. I'm not looking back now. I'm looking at the present and I'm looking at the future. What can I do to help the people in my state, who have been so devastated by Hurricane Katrina, that need so many economic opportunities? And also work with my colleagues in the Senate to advance a positive agenda for the future. And we need to do a better job of that. And I want to be a part of that effort, working with Senator Mitch McConnell, our new unopposed minority leader.

WALLACE: Senator, over the last four years, though, you did have some harsh things to say about the White House, and I wonder whether you still stand by them. You said Karl Rove should resign. Still believe that?

LOTT: Look, I've been in sort of a liberated mode. Some people say that they hope, in my new leadership position, I won't give that up. I do believe in trying to be honest and respectful. I've had problems with some of the conduct of Karl Rove. But I have a good relationship with the president and most of the people around him. I think Josh Bolton is doing a great job as his chief of staff. You know, the president and I can communicate. And I want to see him succeed, because he is the president.

And we have to work with Democrats because they are in the majority. But the Republicans have a job to do. We can, with 49 Republican senators out of 100 — we are going to be a part of the agenda. We can block something if it's really bad, not in the country's best interest, or we can help move it forward in a positive way. I hope we'll be on offense and be positive.

You know, I've seen it happen. Ronald Reagan was behind 30, 40 votes every day in the House of Representatives, and he passed a lot of great things for our country. I worked with Bill Clinton when he was president. I was majority leader. We did pass a minimum wage increase. We passed safe drinking water. We passed a balanced budget. We passed tax cuts. It can be done, and I want to help be a part of that effort in the next two years, the final two years of the president's administration.

WALLACE: But part of moving forward, Senator, is also understanding where you went wrong. You wrote an online column just after the election and you said one of the reasons that the Republicans lost the election — let's put it up on the screen — you said is that "The Senate has been in the doldrums lately, just drifting aimlessly in circles, reacting to ever-changing winds and going nowhere."

Now, listen, this was a time at which you had a very sizable majority in the Senate. What went wrong?

LOTT: In terms of the election, I think Iraq clearly was part of the problem. But I do think that we lost our ability to really push a specific agenda and to get our message out there. You know, this year was very difficult to get things through the Senate.

The Democrats were requiring 60 votes on everything. We didn't get them a minimum wage because we couldn't get 60 votes. We had a clear majority to extend the tax issues and also to deal with the minimum wage. And we found it more and more difficult to work across the Capitol. We can do better. The people, I think, sent us a message. I think we've got it. We're going to be working hard together.

WALLACE: So, Senator, give me an example of one or two specific things that you think that the Republican minority in the Senate needs to be pushing to say to the American people, this is what we stand for over the next two years.

LOTT: Well, first of all, I can't lay out the agenda by myself. I'm going to be working with our leadership team. We will work on an agenda for next year. But there are issues that are going to come up. I mean, you don't have to be a genius to figure out immigration reform is going to be an issue that we're going to have to deal with. Energy, obviously, is something that we're close to doing something with, maybe even in this lame duck session. Health care issues.

I mean, the broad areas are clear. What are going to be our plans? We're going to be working with our best thinkers, seek the advice of the American people. Mitch McConnell and our leadership team in the Senate will have a specific agenda and a message to explain to the people what we're trying to do. We kind of got away from that, and we paid a price for it.

WALLACE: Senator Lott, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for coming in and sharing part of your holiday weekend with us.

LOTT: Glad to be with you again, Chris. Thank you.

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