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Trent Lott Announces Agreement With McCain on Campaign Finance Reform

Aired January 26, 2001 - 3:34 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Joie Chen at CNN Center. We want to take our viewers straight to Washington. We are expecting any moment now the Senate Republican leader Trent Lott to come forward. As you see, he's getting ready to come to the microphones there.

He's going to speak of compromise in the issue of campaign finance reform; actually, compromise on the issue of debating campaign finance reform. Let's listen.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I just wanted to come up and respond to inquiries that we have been receiving about my meeting this afternoon with Senator McCain.

We had a good discussion and we have come to an agreement in principle of how we will proceed on the campaign finance reform issue. We still have to work out the details, and we will be having some discussion about it on the floor of the Senate early next week. It might entail relatively limited unanimous consent, but also some colloquy as exactly how we'd like to proceed.

I think that it's important to emphasize that Senator McCain and I worked through this very carefully and I think he has been very fair in the way that he has approached it. He has been willing and has agreed to wait until the last part of March and early April to take this issue up, giving President Bush the opportunity that I thought he deserved to get sworn into office and begin to work with the Congress and to roll out his agenda that he talked about in the election.

Last week, of course, we had a lot of discussion about his education proposals. Next week, he'll have some other issues he'll want to talk about. We're going to early on have discussions about budget and tax cuts. That's really sort of under way already. So the president will have two months now to focus on bringing out his issues and Congress will begin to have hearings on everything from education to energy to budget and tax policy.

This past week, we had some hearings on tax cut issues. And Alan Greenspan came in and testified. Next week, we hope to have hearings on the education issue, in the next couple of weeks on the energy issue. So I think there will be plenty of time in the next two weeks to bring out the agenda and begin to move bills. We hope to get to the education bill in early to mid-March. And we hope to have the budget resolution ready by mid-March or not later than early April. And that is the one thing that is a little flexible.

If the budget resolution is ready by the middle of March, we would go ahead and go to that, which usually taking about a week. If it's not available, then we will go ahead and go to campaign finance reform a little earlier, get that done, and then go to the budget resolution, say, the first week in April. So we will have about a two-week window with the idea, for instance, if we begin on March the 26th, we would complete it not later than the weekend beginning April the 6th. Or if we begin May the 19th, we would finish campaign finance reform not later than the weekend beginning March the 30th, so that we could then go to the budget resolution. Was that a little too confusing?


LOTT: OK, basically, we're going to start March the 26th and go for two weeks ending April 6th or there about, you know, without just shutting things down. We'll have to, you know, complete action on amendments if they're pending. If the budget resolution is ready earlier. If the budget resolution with the tax provisions are not ready to go by the middle of March, then we would move up the campaign finance reform issue, and take up the budget resolution that first week in April.

So, again, what we have achieved here, I think, is something that, accommodates everybody. President Bush will have his agenda out; we'll have the education bill done. Could have the energy issue addressed in some way. Other bills that were left over from last year can be taken up, and the budget resolution will be ready and will be completed, hopefully, before the Easter recess. Then when we come back in late April and May, we can -- we'll be prepared to complete the budget process and move to the tax bill.

So I think that it's -- it's a win-win for all concerned: for the president because we will keep our emphasis on the issues he wants to talk about, for Senator McCain because his issue will be considered in the early part of the year, and for the American people because all of these major issues that we have talked about we'll be able to move to them in an orderly way and get results, whether it's education and the tax policy and budgets and energy and campaign finance reform and health-related issues also will be coming up soon this year.

So I feel like it was a -- it's good all the way around. I had thought earlier that it would be better to wait even later on campaign finance reform. But as I looked at the actual legislative calendar, it was obvious to me that as time went by, we would need the time for tax policy or Medicare issues in May and April. And of course, we are always -- and in June, we have to do the appropriations bills, and that it was not going to get easier to do something like campaign finance reform with time; it's going to get harder. So I think this is a good arrangement. I'll be glad to take a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Senator, is there any kind of an agreement that they're wont' be a filibuster at the end of it but they'll be an up or down vote? LOTT: Well, as you know, no leader or no one senator can guarantee there won't be extended debate or even a filibuster attempt by a senator or a group of senators. It's not my intent to have that happen. I would discourage it and would not, you know, at this point, support a filibuster. And when I say at this point, you never know exactly what would happen. But I don't think that would be wise. I think we can have a full debate with a number of amendments offered and a number of issues addressed. You got a lot of senators who have got some good ideas in this area, including people like including Senator DeWine that's working on a provision. You've got the Hagel- Kerrey bill. You've got the election reform issue, which is not necessarily a part of this, but it may be offered, because you can't tell a senator you can't offer an amendment on election reform, and the election -- the mechanics of elections. But I do hope that within two weeks we can have a full debate, and a number of amendments and to come up with a bill that can be taken conference with the House and worked out in such a way the president can sign it.

I mean the president has made it very clear that he'd like to have some campaign finance reform. He thinks that it has to be fair and balanced. Is that the -- I didn't mean to be encouraging the Fox logo, but he would like to see this done. But he also has said there's some things that he would find unacceptable. And I believe he means it when he says that. Yes.

QUESTION: Would you vote for a filibuster, to stop a filibuster?

LOTT: I probably would at this point. You know, I want to get this issue done and out of the Senate. Yes? Beg your pardon.

QUESTION: You have the floor for two weeks?

LOTT: For two weeks.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Senator Daschle about this schedule at all?

LOTT: Just briefly. I can't remember when it was now. Yesterday morning or the day before. I think it was the day we were down at the White House with a bicameral meeting and we talked just a little bit about it. And we talked about the, you know, the likely date, late in March. I didn't get into specifics but he seemed to be OK with that.

QUESTION: And how did you make this arrangement with Senator McCain? Was that just a telephone conversation?

LOTT: Oh, no, he came over. We sat down and visited at 2:00 this afternoon.

QUESTION: Senator Lott, is your agreement in principle only on the timing of the scheduling or is it also on any substance?

LOTT: No. You know, when you start down that trail of trying to figure every contingency and trying to get unanimous consent that locks down everything, then you have to enlarge the loop of who's in the discussion. You have to have every senator be willing to go along with the UC. Some senator may want more debate time, some senator may want less. And we just thought that we could just get some agreements on the time frame and that basically, he and I could agree to that.

Now, you could still have somebody who might object when we try to do it Tuesday, but I don't think so. I think this is a kind of halfway between where we started. John wanted to do it right out of the gate; I was thinking we needed to do it later in the year, and perhaps in late May. I think this is a reasonable time zone to take this up.

CHEN: All right. To our viewers here on CNN, we've been watching a statement by the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott speaking before reporters at the Senate in Washington coming out to talk today on behalf of compromise on the issue of campaign finance reform. Not the issue itself mind you, but the discussions of it on the Senate floor.

What Senator Lott was talking about is the compromised that he has worked out with Senator John McCain, who has, of course, wanted to bring up the subject of campaign finance reform very quickly in the beginning weeks of the new administration. Republican leaders, of course, have been opposed to Senator McCain's plan. In the past, they have kept that issue for coming up for debate and vote.

Now we hear from Senator Lott and in a separate statement from Senator McCain, which we do not see on the air, but Senator McCain also explaining to our producers in Washington what they have worked out with that there would be a compromise which would allow debate and a vote coming up sometime toward late March, early April. We couldn't exactly pinpoint a specific date on that. That's based on what Senator Lott was trying to explain here, that they have set up an agenda for the Senate that would begin with the issue of education reform, which, of course, President Bush wants to move very quickly on, followed by budget issues that might adjust to allow campaign finance reform to come up before the budget, slightly afterwards. In any case, Senator Lott, points out that he would be talking about two weeks of discussion on the subject coming some time at the end of March or early April. Now that relieves GOP leaders of Senator McCain's attempt to move this through quickly and get this going right away.

On the other hand, it ensures Senator McCain, that they will be taking this up on the agenda as well. And he won't have to fight to keep a filibuster from happening. Senator Lott said that he would recommend against a filibuster, although, we note here, he said that he could not guarantee that that wouldn't happen.

CNN's continuing to follow developments in Washington as well as the rest of the world. Bring you more of the news later. Now let's go and take a break and come back with more of TALKBACK LIVE.



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