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Special Report Roundtable - November 15

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


TRENT LOTT (R-MS), SENATE MINORITY WHIP ELECT: I'm honored to be a part of this leadership team to support Mitch McConnell and all of my colleagues to do a job that I've always really loved the most, count the votes. And all Mitch is going to want me to do is find a way to count the magic 60 or the magic 51 and I'll do my very best in that effort.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARIZONA SENATOR: He's the world greatest schmoozer. I've never known anybody as much -- as good as Trent is. Sometimes I go home and watch the C-SPAN tapes of the votes you know, because I can see Trent talk to at least 10 or 15 senators during the course of one vote. He's marvelous.


HUME: Well isn't it a happy Republican conference tonight. Thoughts on all this now from Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent of the "Washington Examiner." Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard" and Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of "Fortune" magazine, FOX NEWS contributors all. Well what to make of this, Nina, Trent Lott comes back out of -- seemingly out of no where, his candidacy seemed to have been announced just a few days ago. Lamar Alexander the Tennessee congressman and one time presidential candidate, one time governor down there, seemed to be on his way to being the whip and whoops.

NINA EASTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: That's the thing, Brit you say the happy senate leadership, well this was high drama. Lamar Alexander, two- term governor, presidential candidate, came back to the Senate, was very careful to play junior to Bill Frist as a junior senator, has been lobbying for this job for something like 12 or 18 months, ok.

HUME: He said he had the votes, didn't he?

EASTON: He was sure as of Monday that he had the votes. Trent Lott swoops in, this guy who knows how to herd cats in a reference to his book, knows how to count votes, swoops in at the last minute, its secret ballots, so you don't know who stabbed you in the back, and Trent Lott is leader, the whip.

BILL SAMMON, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": It's sweet vindication for Trent Lott because he felt that he was railroaded out of town about that Strom Thurmond remark, which was interpreted by some as racially insensitive, I think that was a bit of a stretch. But I think this sets up some tension because Bush turned his back on Lott when he made that statement. Now Bush has to work with him again. And McCain --

HUME: I heard about that conversation. Bush calls him and Lott picks up the phone and says Lazarus speaking.

SAMMON: But the other thing is, McCain as you saw in that clip has backed Lott and McCain is another irritant and maverick that is always causing headaches for the White House. So now you sort of have the McCain- Lott part of the Republican happy family. And on the other hand you have President Bush and his pick for the new RNC chairmanship Mel Martinez supported Lamar Alexander. So even though Bush called to congratulate --

HUME: The president supported Alexander?

SAMMON: No, I'm saying his --

HUME: Martinez did?

SAMMON: Yeah, to head the RNC. So there is a little bit of tension within the Republican family and it will be interesting to see how much Lott goes to bat and carries Bush's water.

HUME: Is Lott now in effect, is he now back and this thing behind him and what's your take Bill, on what impact he'll have as the whip there?

BILL KRISTOL, "WEEKLY STANDARD": I think he'll be the inside player and he always was good at that and I think he's back as number two. Mitch McConnell will be leader of the party in the Senate and other people in the leadership, I think will be more -- will do more in the spokesman world. I think Jon Kyl --

HUME: You don't think he will?

KRISTOL: No I think he will not. Jon Kyl will be number three, very strong on foreign policy and very strong on judges. And John Cornyn is now number five, very well spoken advocate for conservative judicial appointments. And if you think as I do that the Justice John Paul Stevens might step down at the end of this term and that one of the biggest issues facing the Senate will be a Supreme Court nominee, having Kyl and Cornyn in the leadership I think actually will help a lot. These are two extremely strong advocates for constitutionalist judges and I think there will be a big fight about -- well there will certainly be a fight about appellate court judges this year anyway.

HUME: The president just renominated a whole bunch of them that had been rejected or not rejected but had been blocked.

KRISTOL: So there will be lots of fights on judges and I think there could be a Supreme Court nominee. So Trent Lott will be an important inside player but I think McConnell, Kyl and Cornyn will be important to the --

HUME: Conventional wisdom has it that now that the Democrats have control of the Senate, Senator Schumer said as much today that the president really isn't going to be able to get a conservative nominee on to the court. What about that?

KRISTOL: Well I was in the first Bush White House when Clarence Thomas was confirmed and I think there were 57 Democratic senators then. I don't buy it, four Democratic senators voted for Alito, I think Bush could hold almost 49 Republicans for a controversial nominee.

HUME: That only gets you to 50 something, you'll need 60, right?

KRISTOL: Well, will they filibuster a Supreme Court nominee, a well qualified conservative, perhaps a woman, for a year and a half. They won't give a vote to a Supreme Court nominee? I would love to have that fight as a Republican. And I think in truth I think they probably can't get the most controversial conservative onto the court, but I think they can get a solid conservative onto the court and I think that will be a very interesting fight this summer.

SAMMON: They could get a Roberts on but it sounds like they couldn't get an Alito on who's slightly more conservative. I think --

HUME: Outwardly maybe. Alito didn't come across in those hearings as all that conservative, did he?

SAMMON: Remember that memo that he wrote about I have been a lifelong conservative and all that? I think the challenge for all of these Republican leaders now is to operate for the next two years in a way that not only tries to get them back into the majority but sets up the 2008 Republican presidential candidate so that they can run against the Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Henry Waxman Congress. And judges will be one of those things. If the Democrats do block judges, that's an issue that actually works for Republicans in the red meat, you know they throw that red meat around for the base and they talk about judges and that actually gets people out to the polls.

EASTON: And keep in mind too, Trent Lott has this back channel. He has these bipartisan roots. He had this back channel to Bill Clinton in the 90's and he even talks in his book about Bill Clinton calling him up late at night with his sort of Zen recipient of these late night phone calls and worked with him on budget and tax issues and could do so again.

HUME: Do you think that will happen, Lott will be a bridge to the Democrats?

KRISTOL: Well he worked very closely with Mary Landrieu for example, of Louisiana on hurricane relief after Katrina. If you were, had the Supreme Court nominee, if I could return to my obsession here, who needs three or four Democratic votes, you could do worse than having Trent Lott work privately with Mary Landrieu or with the two Democratic senators from Arkansas. No, I think he could be quite effective as the number two. I wouldn't want him as number one, but I think as number two.

HUME: You wouldn't want him as number one because you think he's a better technician and vote counter than he is a spokesman. He's a pretty articulate guy. Or do you think that the Strom Thurmond gaff still would haunt him?

KRISTOL: That gaff would haunt him and I think as a -- I think he's a better vote getter than spokesman.

SAMMON: I think that's why he got the post was because he was considered a better deal maker, behind the scenes deal maker like McCain was explaining than Lamar Alexander.

HUME: When we come back with our panel, what did this month's elections tell us about how voters really feel on the issue of immigration. Who won? Who lost? What did the voters say? We'll look into that next.



MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA SENATOR: There's nothing perfect about the legislation we've been discussing in the past on any account, but border security only, enforcement only, harshness only is not the message that I believe America wants to convey. So I think we need to learn some lessons from that.


HUME: That's Mel Martinez, he's the incoming general chairman of the Republican Party, which means that he'll be kind of a figurehead and spokesman for the party while the nuts and bolts work of the kind that Ken Mehlman did until -- will continue doing until he's out in January, will be done by someone else. But what he's talking about when he says that the restrictionist approach is not what the public wants, is reflected to some extent in exit poll information we got from the voters on Election Day. Should illegal immigrants have a chance at legal status? This is what critics call amnesty but a significant majority of the public as you could see thinks that they should. So where does this leave this issue? And that's one result, that's just an exit poll. When it got down to individual races, who won, who lost, how did the restrictionist approach and how did this more, what they call comprehensive approach fare, Bill?

KRISTOL: On the one hand amnesty is unpopular so if you can target your opponent as being a total squish on immigration like I am, that's bad politically I'll stipulate that. On the other hand, the restrictionist I think lost. I mean we tested this. J.D. Hayworth ran as an obsessive anti immigration person --

HUME: Congressman from southern Arizona.

KRISTOL: Safe seat in Arizona, 12 year congressman lost in an upset to a Democrat who said he was tough on illegal immigration but supported the comprehensive Bush, McCain, Kennedy approach. A congressman like Charlie Bass in New Hampshire, Gil Gutknecht in Minnesota, in allegedly safe seats, tried to play the anti-immigration card to save them as their races got tough, they went down to defeat. I think it was a big mistake. The House Republicans talked themselves into a restrictionist position on immigration and it was a political mistake in my view.

SAMMON: I think it's more complicated than that. I think through immigration, I think the Republicans learned that immigration is a two- edged sword. It fires up the base, it gives the real conservative support, but then it alienates Hispanic voters. I mean the Hispanic support for Republicans in this election was down to 30 percent. It was something like 44 percent in the last cycle, 2004. So there is a tradeoff there. I think now that Democrats are in power, they're going to learn that immigration is a two-edged sword in terms of being a political issue.

HUME: The Democrats may be able to come to terms with the president on a measure that mirrors what the Senate passed the last time, which had a bunch of enforcement measures, but also had a guest worker program in it, which would be, what the poll refers to as giving illegal immigrants a chance at legal status. Is that likely to prove a political loser for them if they --

SAMMON: Well, first of all everybody supports fixing the border. Virtually everybody wants tougher immigration because 100,000 people are sneaking across the border every year. I think everybody from liberal to conservative wants that fixed. The question is about the guest worker program, which is basically granting legal status to illegal aliens. That's where the split is. Democrats, but even among Democrats, there is a division of opinion there. Because a lot of Democrats support it, but now that they're in power, a lot of union leaders don't really like this guest worker program that's going to grant legal status because they fear it's going to be a job killer for Americans, it's going to bring down wages of Americans. And so I think Democrats are now a little conflicted about the guest worker program now that they actually have power. There was a complaint I saw from one of the pro-immigration groups the other day that said when they asked Democrats what their top priority is now that they've won the election, immigration reform wasn't in there. So I think they're a little bit conflicted about it.

EASTON: I don't know, you know who was behind the pro-immigration rallies last spring was SEIU, the union, the Service Employees International Union.

HUME: Big union, I think it's now the biggest union in America.

EASTON: Literally potent union, it's a very -- and they were behind those rallies, they helped organize those rallies. So I don't think you can say that labor is completely against a guest worker slash -- some labor might be, but it's not totally clear cut. I think you can't take away anything from this election except that immigration is a motivating and animating factor for the conservative portion of the conservative base. I think if you look at swing voters, you look at this poll -- I went back and looked at polls pre-election and you add up the number of people who want a guest worker and the number of people who want a path to citizenship, it's like 67 percent. It's a large percent. And the other interesting thing was that people in areas where there's high concentration of immigrants are less likely to see them as a burden on society. So there is this sort of conflicting.

HUME: Not really as a paradox.

EASTON: Again, everybody, nobody wants illegal immigration, they want it stopped. But what do you do about the 12 million people who are here. It's a much more complicated picture.

KRISTOL: I'm not even sure that any conservatives were so worked up on this. I heard you say oh the conservative base turned out. Where? Where did conservative voters turn out more when there was an anti- immigration candidate than not. Rick Santorum foolishly I think embraced that in Pennsylvania. That a lot of conservatives weren't otherwise going to vote for him. I'm a disbeliever in the anti-immigration issue A, and B, Bill mentioned two or three times, now that the Democrats are in power -- Bush is in power. Bush is president of the United States. Republicans were hurt in 2006 because the president of the United States said immigration is a huge issue. Republicans controlled the Senate, Republicans controlled the House, they couldn't agree on a bill. The president is still president. If he wants to have a successful two terms, I think he needs to get a comprehensive immigration bill through. And if he gets a majority of Democrats and only a minority of Republicans, I don't think it will hurt him and I don't think it would hurt Republicans in 2008.

HUME: If that happens, Bill, presumably the Republicans will share credit with Democrats for having done this and may neutralize the issue, but suppose it doesn't happen? Who wins, who loses?

SAMMON: I think right now with Democrats in power, I think they have the greater risk now, because they --

HUME: If no bill passes?

SAMMON: Well if no bill passes, they're going to get it from one side. If a bill passes they may get it from some of the labor unions.

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