Transcript

Senator Lott Speaks on Reelection Plans

CQ Transcriptions
Tuesday, January 17, 2006; 1:27 PM

PASCAGOULA, MISSISSIPPI

JANUARY 17, 2006

SPEAKER: U.S. SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R-MS)

[*]

LOTT: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much. Please be seated.

I know that applause was for the hometown girl here this morning. 

(LAUGHTER)

And she has been very good over the years of standing and trying to look like she's really paying every attention to what I'm saying, but I'm going to suggest that she have a seat. 

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you all for being here. It's great to see a lot of friends and supporters and neighbors and former employees, as well as representatives of the news media. Many of you in the news media have been covering me for several years. We won't say quite how many. Some of you are new. 

But I thank you for being here today and for giving me an opportunity to speak through your medium to the people in Mississippi over these many years. 

LOTT: This is a special place for me, not just Pascagoula, our hometown. Tricia and I grew up here, of course, went to school here. And many of the things that we've been blessed to be able to do in our lives came as a result of the people here in this community.

We love it dearly, and we couldn't go forward into the future without saying what we were going to do right here in Pascagoula. 

And also this very spot is very important to me, because this is where I've announced every campaign that I've had for Congress, House and Senate, and where I had some tough press conferences over the years. And so I just -- when I look out into the future, I had to do it here at the LaFont Inn in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Thank you all so much for being here.

We've been through an awful lot in the last few months here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in our state of Mississippi. And Tricia and I spent the Christmas holidays in Mississippi talking with many of you, consulting with family and neighbors and friends and supporters from Mississippi and from other places, too: I talked with a number of my colleagues in the Senate.

It became quite a time of reappraisal and recommitment, as we looked to the future. As I thought about what we've done in Mississippi over the past 37 years -- and that's how long I have been allowed to be in Washington, as a staff member to Congressman Bill Colmer, as a congressman from the old 5th Congressional District here in South Mississippi for 16 years, and as a senator for 17 years -- I thought about the many good experiences we have had. And I thought about the things that we have achieved. 

And there have been a lot of positives. We have been able to make progress in education. We have been able to make progress in housing and highways and transportation generally, and also in the creation of jobs.

I've enjoyed working with elected officials in our state, of both parties, at the state level with the governor and the lieutenant governor and the auditor and treasurer, all of our state officials, the secretary of state, but also particularly with our supervisors and mayors. We worked as a team.

I've been reading a book recently about Lincoln, and the title is "Team of Rivals." And you could just apply this to so much of our lives. Sometimes you have disagreements on a political basis, sectional basis, whatever. But in the end, you need to work as a team.

And we have learned in Mississippi to work more as a team. And I'm proud of the progress that we were making. 

And then, of course, last August, we have a devastating blow that was even worse than Camille. And we never thought we'd have something worse than Camille.

LOTT: And so now we're having to do as Mississippi has done in the past, where we've struggled to deal with the events of history and now we're struggling to deal with the events of nature. And it has given us a new and difficult challenge.

But I've enjoyed working for the people of this state and working for the people of America. I think the people here in my hometown know that while I look at the world through a telescope with a small end in Pascagoula, Mississippi, I do try to look at the broader picture too: What is best for our country, and what do we need to do in a very challenging world when it comes to terrorism, and what do we need to do to keep our government responsible and focused? 

We learned once again this past year that the government cannot do it all, and certainly not the federal government. We wouldn't have been able to make it in the aftermath of Katrina if it had not been for individuals, volunteers, churches and synagogues, and people of all religious backgrounds and faiths, people that just came here, students, people -- women driving trucks from Illinois coming down to help us recover. The government is an important part of it. 

And I'm proud that finally, right at the end of the session, we were able to pass legislation that will help us recover: Medicaid additional funds, significant tax opportunities for everything from reforestation to jobs creation to low-income housing tax credits, and, of course, the big appropriations bill that will help us make sure that people that lost their home that have a slab, a mortgage and not insurance that they have a way to get back on their feet. And I'm very proud of that. 

But I thought, once again, as I look to the future, about the limitations of government, the responsibilities of governments and what we need to do ourselves. 

And so for me it became a choice: Do I spend the future with my wife Tricia and our family, spending more time with the grandchildren, or do I continue to ask the people to allow me to serve this great state in our nation's capital?

LOTT: And I've made a choice and it's been one of consultation and one of support by my wonderful wife.

But I have chosen Mississippi and America once again. I am going to ask the people to reelect me to another term in the United States Senate.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. I appreciate that.

LOTT: You know, I was talking to my staff coming down here. Susan Irby, who works with me, has been handling communications for me off and on for over 20 years, used to with the old Daily Herald and we'd talk about a lot of things.

And she came up with an old spiritual that, sort of, expressed how I felt. It said, "Keep your hand on the gospel plow. Hold on, hold on." And this is no time for me or any of us to think about quitting.

LOTT: The people of Mississippi have shown an indomitable spirit, a resiliency that has made me very proud, a determination, even though we've in many instances, as I've told my colleagues in the Senate, some of our people lost their house, their job, their truck, their car, their dog and their neighbor and they need help. But they're working, they're digging, and they're planning for the future. And I just felt a real need to be a part of that.

I want you to know that as long as Mississippi is hurting and needs help, I'll be there for this state if the people will allow me to continue to serve in the Senate. And I ask them to do that, and I hope they will.

I read I guess it was a letter to the editor in one of the local newspapers, just a week, that said, "You know, Trent Lott lost his house, too, and that'll make him a better senator, because he understands some of the pain and some of the emotion that we're all experiencing." And maybe there's some truth to that.

This has not been an easy decision, because you've been good to me, and I've served a long time. And as your grandchildren begin to get up to be 7 and 4, you begin to realize the years are passing by. 

But you also realize that they are what it's really all about. It's about their future and their ability to make a decent living and live where they choose and have all the freedoms that we have in America. And they are not free, and they should not be taken for granted. 

So I will rededicate my efforts to the people of Mississippi. I've got another year in this term, and I proved, I think, in December that if I have to get agitated with my colleagues in the Senate, I will. But it was a very serious threat because I basically said, "I can't go home without this help for Mississippi, and if I'm not going home, nobody's going home." It's amazing the effect that had on my colleagues. 

(LAUGHTER)

But it is about our country, too. I see some thing that are happening nationally that cause me concern and consternation. 

It always worries me when we as human beings and elected officials make mistakes and make people have some reservations or questions about their elected officials. We can't let that stand. We have to take actions to keep people faith in our commitment to do the right thing in an honorable way.

But it's been a true honor to represent this congressional district and the state of Mississippi, and to be in the leadership in the Congress.

LOTT: It's been a lot of fun. And I guess that was one thing that affected my thinking and maybe affected Tricia's, too.

I think you leave what you're doing when you're not enjoying it anymore and when you don't get up every morning fired up and thinking, "Hey, I can make a difference today."

I still get up excited about going to work and still believing that we have been so blessed to have, you know, the greatest country that the minds of men have ever been able to create with our freedoms and opportunities.

And so I want to keep working in that effort.

And so, again, I ask for your support. All of you in this room have been there. You know, the media is doing their job, but all the rest of you have meant so much to us and you've been there for us in the past and I ask you to do that again for us. And we'll just continue to do the job for this state and do our very best to be helpful at the federal level, too.

So thank you very much. 

And let me take questions now from the media. 

I see you still got that LSU thing around your neck there, so...

(LAUGHTER)

... this is a multistate meeting here today.

QUESTION: Well, Senator, I was going to ask you, with Senator Frist, Bill Frist stepping down as majority leader, would you make another run at the office of majority leader?

LOTT: I'm just going to take everything one step at a time.

You know, this is a decision that we've meditated upon and prayed about and consulted with a lot of people. And, you know, we didn't talk a lot about it because we were seriously thinking about what's the right thing for us and our family and for the people we love the most.

And so, you know, let's get this behind us.

All of the future opportunities I have will depend on, you know, my ability to get reelected and who else gets reelected and events in Washington.

But as you know, I've never been shy about trying to get in a position where I could do the most that I could for the people that I care about in Mississippi and America.

LOTT: So the options are open, but this decision is not predicated on anything that might happen a year from now or two years from now, who knows.

QUESTION: Senator, how close did you come to not running? And what was the factor, besides (inaudible) what happened three years ago, with all that you went through, some of your own party not backing you up, was that a factor in terms of yes, running or no, not running?

LOTT: You know, this is a six-year term, after 33 years or what will be 34 years in the Congress, so any time you're making a commitment for two years or four years or longer, you have to think about that very, very carefully. 

There's no question that I've had the opportunity to be on mountain tops and I've seen the valleys, just like anybody else that lives a life. You know, you go through disappointments.

But I think I have shown that I'm willing to take my lumps and go back to work. In Washington, you've got to be prepared to do your best, fight the good fight. Sometime you win, sometime you don't, sometime you have to compromise. 

That's one of the things that bothers me right now about the Senate: We seem to be always looking for a way to disagree than trying to find a way to make things happen. You've got to bring people together, of all backgrounds and races and sex and parties. And sometime I think we've lost the ability to do that.

So there's no question that, you know, we did think about it very seriously. 

The hurricane affected us in all ways, like everybody else.

LOTT: First of all, you know, it -- what we've gone through is hard to explain to people until they've seen it. You've seen it. People that live in Biloxi, everybody on the coast. I still find it extremely difficult to come and see what's happened.

And we've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. We've seen the best in people and we've seen some of the bad in people. 

But we took a financial hit like everybody else. And that's never been what motivated me, but it is something that you have to take into consideration for your wife and your family and your grandchildren. And, certainly, I did.

But, on the other hand, this is a time when Mississippians need to work together, pull together and support each other and do all we can now. 

The people have given me the opportunity to serve all these years. So I built up seniority; I built up understanding of some kind of how you get things done. And I just felt like it would be totally inappropriate for me to leave at a time when that experience the people have given me could be of value to them.

But, yes, we thought seriously about it. And a part of it was a personally financial situation. But Tricia understands what we had to do.

QUESTION: Senator, the congressional members who where here (inaudible) people should not still be living in tents; they need help.

It's got to be gratifying to you because you and the other Mississippians in the congressional delegation have been telling your colleagues that, for how long now?

LOTT: Five months. 

I did talk to Susan Collins from Maine last night. She is chairman of our Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee. She and a delegation are in Gulfport today. And I spoke with her about that and I talked to her. 

She's helped me get some legislation through the Senate. 

LOTT: And I have made the point to her personally and to my colleagues repeatedly that more needed to be done. More is going to have to be done. (inaudible) And there has been disappointment.

Now, I always have to remind myself and everybody this was a cataclysmic event. This was an event of biblical proportions; as people say, a 100-year storm, you know. It took away things that have been here 150, 200 years. So it's more than a 100-year storm.

So I think we were all a little overwhelmed. I think even here on the Gulf Coast we didn't full appreciate initially, maybe even not for a month or two, exactly we were going to have to deal with, people are still dealing with -- "What do I do with what's left of my house?" and, "How do I deal with the insurance problem?" and, "How do I deal with EPA saying, 'We've got to see if there's asbestos in that house?'" and, "How do I get a trailer and how do I get it hooked up?" 

And so it has been overwhelming, and you have to acknowledge that. 

We found out, once again, as I said, the government is not all that efficient. I was disappointed clearly in the delivery of the temporary housing and how they were set up. 

I spoke to the president the Friday after the hurricane and I said, "Mr. President" -- you know, you're not supposed to quote what the president says to you or what you say to him, but I think that he would understand, wouldn't mind in this case -- I said, "based on my experience from past hurricanes, particular Camille, one of the earliest problems you're going to have is getting temporary housing to the people. And it's not a question of getting the trailers or other opportunities for housing, it's a question of the logistics of getting them to the people." 

But it exceeded even my concerns, the difficulty in dealing with temporary housing. 

And with FEMA, I continue to plead with FEMA officials and Homeland Security Department officials and say, "Use common sense, please," because so much of what happens just defies common sense.

LOTT: So I have been disappointed, and that's one reason why I feel the need to stay. 

When I get back in Washington this week and next week, we won't have legislation pending immediately. We'll be working on the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court and his confirmation. But what I'm going to focus on is talking with government officials at the department level, the head of FEMA, the Corps of Engineers. 

I want to come down and again look at what has happened that's good. And you've got to, you know, point out the good. 

But also, you know, when I see the amount of debris still piled up in a lot of places, like Waveland, I just say, "Why?" And the only way you're going to get answers or get results is to get right into the middle of it and start pushing and asking questions.

And I don't mean that necessarily as derogatory or critical of individuals. But we still need a lot of help and it's doing to take a good long while. We're not going to get over this in another month or a few weeks.

But we could have done better. But that's history. What I want to know is what we're going to do to make it better in the future. And so I will be focusing on that.

QUESTION: There are people who are volunteers in Mississippi who are saying that there are people who were victims of Hurricane Katrina who are worried about losing their homes in the newly defined eminent domain for economic development.

LOTT: That's one of the things I care about, actually, on the national level. 

The battle for the Supreme Court is much bigger, in my opinion, than just the recent nominees, Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. I really do feel like over a period of years our federal judiciary's, kind of, got out of sync with what they should be doing.

I have a good friend that's a federal judge. And he asked me recently, "Why do people feel so angry toward us?" And I said, "Well, Your Honor" -- well, I didn't say "Your Honor," he's a close friend. I said, "It's decisions like the Supreme Court made on eminent domain that infuriate people." 

When you go to other countries around the world, or when you talk to people in other countries, one of the things they look at at America and try to understand and want to have is private property rights. It's in our Constitution. It's a part of being an American, you know, and have that little piece of earth.

LOTT: And if the government can get too much ability just to come in and take away what you have, that is a big loss in what makes America what it is, in my opinion.

So there is a problem with eminent domain when it comes in and it's just for a, you know, commercial development as opposed to a road or clearly a public works-type project.

I realize that here along the coast that is going to get to be a challenge in some areas where leaders are saying, "Well, we need to make this area different; we need more, if you will, green space or more job opportunity," and you may have a whole area of people who say, "Yes, we want to live somewhere else or we want to sell our property," but you may have somebody right in the middle of it who says, "No, I don't want to."

That does make it difficult and complicated. But that is democracy and there is a way to deal with that in an appropriate way.

But we are going to be challenged in Pascagoula, in Gautier and Ocean Springs. Biloxi has got a lot of interesting things they're considering (inaudible) we would, in effect, buy out what you had and your mortgage. And the mayor, I think it was of Waveland, said, "Well, wait a minute. Do you mean the people would have to give up their property?" And the response at the time from an official was, "Well, maybe so." And he said, "We don't want it. We don't want it. We don't want people to have to give up their property. We want them to be able to keep their property and come back and build."

So it's one of many things that we're going to be -- you know, have challenges. We're going to have to work together and think together. 

I've been very proud of the state. Our elected officials where we had the charette -- you know, we're getting pretty fancy when we have a big meeting like that. Somebody called it a charette, not that we knew what it was, but it made us very proud that we had one. 

(LAUGHTER)

And I looked at the results of that. There were some very good ideas. And some people -- there was an editorial in the Washington Post today by Eugene Robinson, and he said "Biloxi is a good bet." 

LOTT: And he wasn't just talking about the casinos. What he was saying is, "These people are really thinking. They're really working. They have a vision." 

We may not be able to achieve all of our visions of what we'd like to have on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Mississippi, but we are looking over the horizon. We're thinking about not what we had, but what we want for the future. So I think we should look at it that way.

We'll argue over what's going to go in different places. We'll argue over the heights of bridges or whether it'll be a drawbridge or not or how many lanes it's going to have. 

I'm just glad we're going to have the ability to do that. I'm glad the Congress finally came through with $740 million for our roads and bridges, because we'd run out of money. 

And most, I'm happy that we've got an incentive for more jobs to stay and more jobs to be created and that we are going to have a way to help people that lost their house and still have a mortgage and don't have any insurance.

So we're making some progress, but it's going to take a lot of coordination and cooperation and thinking and working together to get down.

You know, our mantra after Camille was "Together we rebuild." Well, we did, together. And it's going to take a lot of togetherness after Katrina, too.

QUESTION: You talked about how hard it is for you still to come down and see some of what you see here. Can you talk a little bit about how your personal experience of losing your home has played into your negotiations and work in Washington? How have you dealt with your own frustration with how slow everything has been?

LOTT: Well, first, I won't exaggerate because this hurricane was a great equalizer. The blue tarps are on little houses and bigger houses. People with big houses lost everything they had and people with little houses lost everything they had. 

One of the things that impressed me so much about Biloxi -- you know, Biloxi is, sort of, an international city. You've got all kind of ethnic backgrounds and minorities there. And yet, they were pulling together and helping each other. I felt very proud of that.

So what happened to us is irrelevant, except for this. I was able to say, "Look, this house was 151 years old. This house was 11 feet above sea level, 10 feet off the ground," to give you some idea of the magnitude of what we were dealing with here.

But it helps me to -- you know, it's not a distant remote thing with us. You know, we felt it. Tricia and I stood there and hugged that big oak tree in our backyard that survived and had our good cry.

LOTT: And, you know, it's not just about our house. It's, you know, about Paul and Jean's (ph) house; it's about, you know, Ms. Ford's house; it's about everybody's house in that quaint little neighborhood.

And it's not just about Pascagoula. Last time I was here, I didn't just stay in Pascagoula and meet with the mayor and the city manager. I went to Gautier. 

I didn't have any big press events. I rode around and looked to see what had happened and what work had been done and what more work needed to be done.

And I went to Ocean Springs. Clay Williams and I went over and looked at his house. He had damage, too. We all were hit.

And I looked along the beach and saw roofs sitting on the ground and one chimney standing where there was a house (inaudible).

And, you know, we did that in Biloxi and I'm going to keep doing that. But it does make a difference. You know, I'd said before and I think it really sums up how I (inaudible) feel and what we've experienced.

Over the years, I've found that when Mississippi celebrates, I celebrate. And when Mississippi hurts, I hurt. And when Mississippians lose their house, I lose my house.

So it gives you a bond. They know I'm not just pontificating and that I've had the emotional roller coaster that they've had. But I also feel the same determination that I've seen in people, some of whom that stayed in their houses and rode it out.

I question their sanity, but some of them did it.

(LAUGHTER)

I was with a group of folks in Biloxi and Gulfport last week. We had dinner. We all felt like evacuees. You know, we all had a story to tell. 

And you know what? I've always been close to the people here in Mississippi, but never before have I felt the need to hug them when I see them.

So, you know, it's like the brotherhood is stronger than it's ever been and I think it helps...

(END OF AUDIO FEED)

END

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