Lott Returns to Leadership Position

Juan Williams discusses the top political news of the week with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and GOP strategist Robert Traynham. This week they discuss Trent Lott's new post as Senate Republican whip.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

And now here's NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams and his crew with news from inside the Beltway. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Thanks, Farai. I'm joined now by Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000. Ms. Brazile now runs her own political consulting firm in Washington. She is also a professor. And Robert Traynham, he is a political strategist for the GOP here in Washington and potentially on the presidential campaign trail in the future. They're joining us for this week's Political Corner.

Robert Traynham, in the fight for the Republican leadership positions in the Senate there's been a big surprise. Trent Lott, who, four years ago, was ousted from the Senate majority role because of making racially insensitive comments, has been reborn as the number two job - second in command to Senator Mitch McConnell - of Republicans in the Senate. What are black people to make of this?

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (Republican Political Strategist): Well, you know, it's I'm sure with mixed emotions. I mean Senator Lott made comments four years ago that were not very sensitive towards African-Americans. He has apologized for those remarks. He's apologized on more than occasion. He seems to be very sincere about his apologies. So hopefully we can certainly take his word of that.

Look, Trent Lott is the best whip person probably in Washington, D.C. This is a position that he's held before in the United States Senate. So Trent Lott knew exactly what he was doing, which was obviously to go in and go in swinging; and to reassure his colleagues in the United States Senate that he would go in with one objective in mind, and that is to regain the majority in two years. And the only way that you can do that is to have a very, very good whip person. And Trent Lott, again, is a very whip.

WILLIAMS: Well, let's tell people what the whip does. The whip counts votes and the whip puts pressure on people and holds them in line so that you get a solid party vote.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: That's correct.

WILLIAMS: Donna Brazile, now what does that mean from the Democratic perspective? Does that mean that Trent Lott, you know, weighs down any Republican effort to win black folks over?

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic political Strategist): You know, I don't think it's about winning the black vote. I think it's about trying to regain control of the Senate. Look, Trent Lott, who I happen to know a little bit over the last year. I've worked with this office very closely on Katrina efforts. And I think that Trent Lott was prepared to retire at the end of his term. And he decided after Katrina, after he saw the federal response to Katrina, he decided to get back out there, run for reelection. He just won by a large margin.

He is somebody that you can work with, that you can find a couple of issues. Look, I don't agree with any of his previous statements about Strom Thurmond or anything like that. But he is somebody you can work with.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me just remind people that what he said - for those who may have forgotten - was basically that America would have been better off is Strom had won back in '48?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: 1948. Yeah, he was at a birthday party for Senator...

WILLIAMS: And of course Strom in '48 had run as a segregationist.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: As a Dixiecrat.

WILLIAMS: There's a lot of fear of racial attitudes now playing out in Republican politics. And you're saying, oh, but Trent Lott, we can work with him. Do you think most people are going to want...

Ms. BRAZILE: Oh no.

WILLIAMS: Robert Traynham, what's Donna Brazile drinking over there?

Ms. BRAZILE: Not anything now. Trent Lott, remember, is number two. He's not number one. Mitch McConnell's the number one person in the Senate. But Trent Lott is the whip. Trent Lott I think will be in a very strategic position in terms of helping George Bush get his agenda through.

WILLIAMS: One last topic for the two of you. Coming out of the midterm elections you hear people asking, what's going to happen to Harold Ford? What's going to happen to Michael Steele? What's going to happen to Lynn Swann? What's going to happen to these folks? You live in the political world, the two of you, what happens to guys and gals who lose?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, look at Trent Lott. There's also a second act in politics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: That's true.

Ms. BRAZILE: He may be defeated, but he's not down. Look, Harold Ford is a young man. He has a bright future ahead of him. I hope he takes some time out to rest, to look at the vote tallies and to see...

WILLIAMS: Maybe he'll go to a Super Bowl party?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRAZILE: But, look, I do believe that Harold Ford has a bright future.

WILLIAMS: But where does he go, Donna?

Ms. BRAZILE: He can find a wife, settle down, get married. There are many options for Harold Ford. And of course there are many options for Michael Steele as well in the business world, and of course, as Robert said, in the Bush Cabinet or perhaps in the private sector.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: I would bet a paycheck that in two to four years we'll be talking about these folks again.

WILLIAMS: All right. Robert Traynham is a Republican political strategist here in Washington. Donna Brazile is a Democratic political strategist. Was the campaign manager for Democratic Presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000. She now runs her own political consulting firm here in D.C.

Donna Brazile, Robert Traynham, thanks for joining us this week on Political Corner.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thank you.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Juan. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins me every Thursday to wrap up the latest news on Capitol Hill on Political Corner.

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