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Text: Cheney, Lott on the GOP Agenda

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Following is the transcript of a news conference with Republican vice presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

CHENEY: I have been up here today on regular transition-related business, had an opportunity to meet with the Senate Steering Committee, as well as with the group of moderates led by Jim Jeffords and Olympia Snowe, and had some meetings over on the House side as well, too, with Denny Hastert, Chris Cox, chairman of the Policy Committee.

And, as always, enjoy very much coming back to the Congress. We're moving forward on the transition. Things are going well. I really don't have anything else I can give you at this time. I know you've got a lot of questions, but I'm going to have to defer until later this evening.

And at this point, I'll turn it over to my good friend and colleague, the Senate leader, Mr. Lott.

LOTT: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the governor going to be coming up here at some point?


LOTT: Well, ladies and gentlemen, I believe now that we can expect that you've just heard from the next president of the Senate, which is the highest of the titles he will have, obviously.

But hopefully now when the Electoral College meets on December the 18th, it will be made official that Governor George W. Bush will be in line to be president-elect and that Dick Cheney will be vice president-elect. Of course, we still have to see how the events play out today.

I do want to say that I've been very proud of the way Governor Bush has handled himself during this interim period--period of uncertainty. He's always exhibited a very calm manner, a very reassuring demeanor that I think has served him well, and I believe has been well received by the American people.

But now, we do have work to do. We've got a lot of work to do. Once we hear from Vice President Gore, I know that the transition team, which will be headed by, then Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, will have to go into overtime. And, in fact, they're going to have less than half the time normally available for a transition period. I think they're going to have to be prepared to get through the transitioning very quick, and get into governing very soon.

But we need to be prepared to work very closely with them. I think it's very important that former Secretary Dick Cheney is willing to come up to Capitol Hill and meet with the Senate and House members.

Once a final decision is known, I know he will also be quickly coming up and meet not only with Republican leaders but also with Democratic leaders in the Senate and in the House.

I'm absolutely convinced that George W. Bush will be the right man for the difficult times we find ourselves in. I think he is going to reach out. He's going to try to bring this country together.

I think he is going to ask for the people's support and their help, and I think that will be well received.

But in the Senate, we also have to deal with the realities of where we are. I call on my colleagues in the Senate to work with this new administration that will be coming in next year.

And while obviously I pledge my commitment to Governor George W. Bush, as he becomes president-elect and president, I want to assure my colleagues in the Senate that I want to work with them also so that we can take up some very important issues that the American people expect us to deal with.

It may not necessarily be a long agenda, but it will be a very important agenda and I will do everything I can to help facilitate that possibility.

QUESTION: There seems to be a question, of course, whether Vice President Gore will use the word "concede" tonight. Does that make any difference to you? What is your opinion?

LOTT: Well, I've tried not to say a whole lot about all of this throughout the last four or five weeks, because I knew that whenever it was over I was going to have to deal with what was left and with the people that were going to be in charge. I don't know that it makes a great difference. I wouldn't expect him to have to say a particular word, but I do think that the vice president's tone will be extremely important. I've seen other senators say that the most important speech perhaps at this juncture will be the one that is made by the loser rather than the winner although I think they're both going to be very important.

I would expect Vice President Gore to step up to this task and do what's necessary and say what needs to be said as he can best determine.

I expect he will be magnanimous. I expect he will ask the American people to join him in supporting the next president of the United States.

But I can't put words in his mouth, and we'll know soon exactly what he's going to do and when he's going to do it and what he'll say. But I expect it will be an appropriate statement.

QUESTION: What do you want to hear from Governor Bush?

LOTT: I want him to make a very positive, unifying sort of speech, as I just pointed out. I think that he needs to reassure the American people. I think he needs to ask for their help and their support. And I think he'll need to make some commitments of his intentions. I think he, too, will rise to this occasion.

These are extraordinary circumstances, and they both really need to do an unusually good job in addressing the American people.

QUESTION: If it needs to be a healing process, was it your recommendation to Cheney that he come up to--Secretary Cheney that he come up and meet with Democrats or was that his own idea?

LOTT: I think they've been intending to do that all along, but I've urged him to do it all along.

As a matter of fact, I remember back right after the election, I think it was November the 9th--8th or 9th--Governor Bush called and said, we were talking about what was going on with the election. And he had realized that Tom Daschle from the Senate was going to be in Austin to give a speech at the Lyndon Johnson School of Government--or something like that--and he said, you know, "Would it be appropriate or should I consider giving him a ring, and say, come over, let's have a cup of coffee?" And I said, "Absolutely."

Well, as it turned out, things, you know, devolved into a very uncertain situation. And, Tom, I think fly in and fly right back out. It didn't work out. But that's the kind of attitude that he'll have and had, even as far back as November the 8th or 9th, whenever that call came in.

QUESTION: Senator, do you have any advice for Cheney--Secretary Cheney about how they might proceed with the new Congress and legislative agenda to facilitate this healing process?

LOTT: Well, the first thing we could do to facilitate a healing process is complete our work on the remaining legislation this week and leave town, and go be with our constituents and our families and celebrate this season that we have before us.

I'm planning to go to Pascagoula, Mississippi, and be in some good places like Biloxi. And I hope that they'll be senators from Kalamazoo to Sioux City and we'll go all across the country and think a little bit about this situation, get a little rest, and come to terms of where we're going to be.

Then I think that in that period of time, even during the holidays and right after the first of the year, that Governor Bush and Vice President-elect, hopefully, Dick Cheney will be communicating with senators, House members, leadership, average members, that they will seek counsel as to who could be in the Cabinet and other positions--just a lot of reaching out.

And then also, there's got to be a lot of input exactly what will be early in the agenda and what will be on the agenda, legislatively. I think we need to look for some bills early on that have broad bipartisan support and try to address those.


LOTT: I'm working on that nomination at this time, but I'd rather not say it now. I'd like to develop it and pass it on to the transition team, to Governor Bush, and let them think about it. It's their call, in a lot of respects, and not mine. But we'll have input going both ways.

QUESTION: How much has all this post-election acrimony affected your agenda--the Republican agenda and what it wants to get through?

LOTT: I don't think that the experience we've had the past four or five weeks is significantly affected or changed what we might like to do.

We had an election. Our candidates talked about issues and they talked about a lot of the same issues.

I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we have developing energy problems in this country--rolling brownout, blackouts. What are we going to do for the future to have a national energy policy? We've got to do something about that.

We're going to have to take a good, firm look at our defense and foreign policy operations to make sure we get the right people in there and to make sure we have reforms, if they're needed, make sure that we have a strategic plan, make sure we have what we need.

Now, you would expect to hear that from a Republican; now, let me say some things that you wouldn't necessarily expect to hear from a Republican.

There is broad bipartisan and almost universal agreement that education system in America today is not doing all it can do. We need more accountability. We need more parental involvement. We need choices that lead to better education. We need higher test scores. There's a whole list of things in that area that we've heard a lot of talk about. Governor Bush is absolutely committed to that, he showed that when he was in Texas. That probably ought to be high on the list.

Medicare reform, this is not a question of will we do it; we're going to have to do it. Now, exactly when it would come and how it would be done, should we go back to the Medicare commission, should we have another Medicare commission, what do you do about prescription drugs--big, important, fundamental questions. Patients' bill of rights, that came very, very, very close, two or three times, to being completed this year. It could be something maybe we can complete without a long protracted battle this time.

So, I mean, there's a list of, you know, several things that I think we can take up. I don't know exactly in what order or what would be President-elect Bush's choice as far as order or how we would make sure that the Democrats have input.

But, look, the things I just mentioned, I took particular pains to mention things that we really have talked about and care about, but also some that our colleagues on the other side specifically have talked about and that was not an all-inclusive list. I mean, Social Security...

QUESTION: So none of this...

LOTT: No, no, no. Bill O'Reilly would want me to say this is not a spin-zone. This would be a spin-free zone.

Look, the reality is this was a close, tough election. It went into three overtimes and the court decisions and all that's gone on has made it very difficult. There's a great potential for people to have resentment or say, you know, "We're going to resist this in every way." But it shouldn't be that way. It doesn't have to be that way. And I'm not going to start out by saying, "Woe is me, it's negative, there's no hope." I'm going to say, "Look, the glass is half full, it's going to be tough, but we're going to make a yeoman's effort to deal with it."

I've met with Tom Daschle on a regular basis for the last several days. I'm absolutely convinced he wants to do some positive things for the country. I think it'll be a loser for either party that is perceived to be just trying to have their way or block things.

I've learned from past experience, if you're trying to help make things happen, it's positive; and that if you're working together and making things happen, it's positive for everybody.

Can't we at least take a little time, at least a quarter or two of the next two years, and see if we can't get some positive things done?

QUESTION: Senator?

LOTT: Yes?

QUESTION: Senator Chafee said just a few minutes ago, his prediction is that Democrats are going to fight, fight this all the way down the line, and that they gain by not working with Republicans. Is he wrong? Or, if he's right, how long is this talk of cooperation going to last?

LOTT: I'm not going to prejudice what might happen or start suggesting that it's going to be bad or question their motives. That has been the way they've acted in the past, but that is the past. I'd like for us to make an effort to do it differently this year or this coming year.

QUESTION: And you think on January 5 that things will go smoothly, there won't be any speeches about this election?

LOTT: Oh, no, no, no. I expect there are going to be some pretty fiery speeches now and then, too. But fiery speeches don't necessarily reflect what's going to be happening in the legislative process.

I don't deny it's going to be hard, and I admit that my job's going to be a challenge. But it always was. It was a challenge when I had 55 Republican senators. I don't think it's going to be a whole lot more of a challenge with 50. Now, I guess you could argue that case, but the real magic number here to make things happen quite often is 60, not 50 or 51.

QUESTION: Are the talks there with the White House coming up on Medicare and Medicaid? I gather you're having the Senate sponsor backing off some of the Medicaid issues. There's about a $1 billion agreed to, to put into welfare-to-work, some other issues, I gather there's a problem now with the Senate.

LOTT: You obviously are parroting what you heard from the Democrats.


LOTT: You're saying there's a problem with the Senate. There was a very clear statement of what we were talking about doing. I went back and checked my script to make sure exactly what I said, because I read the exact words that were written down, and I have witnesses.

Again, we need to get this concluded and, you know, we're continuing to work to finish up the final details.

But there was no question in my mind what we were agreeing to. And I had it written down.

But has happened is, we--a little bit of what's happening here, without being too critical about it is, I thought what we agreed to were the things we agreed to the other day. There's some people who are saying, ``Well, no. wait a minute, it was that and what we agreed to the last time when we had met,'' the week before.

But, of course, that doesn't apply to the other things agreed to that day.

You know, there's always a little opportunity for moving the goal posts around or misunderstanding, legitimate misunderstandings. But we're close, close. And I hope that those involved will, you know, get it worked out very soon.

But when you asked the question--well, you did--you're reflecting their line. Which was a prejudiced question.

QUESTION: It's not a prejudiced question.

LOTT: Yes, it was too.

QUESTION: Do you feel that you agreed to the welfare-to-work provision and Medicaid?

LOTT: Yes.

QUESTION: You did?

LOTT: Yes.

QUESTION: Did Dick Cheney agree to that?

LOTT: One-year extension of the welfare-to-work Medicaid provision, yes.

QUESTION: Did you have a dispute whether it was one year or longer?

LOTT: I don't think there's any problem there; that clearly was in there. And there also was the--I want to use the exact words--the school program for the SCHIP. That clearly was in there. And I looked at the exact words.

But there are those that thought that we were agreeing to something more than that on the so-called SCHIP, based on discussions the week before.

But what I said and what I intended, was very clear, I understood it, and I read it exactly as I had it written down.

QUESTION: My question only applied to that million dollars. And you're saying you agreed to that?

LOTT: Agree with what?

QUESTION: You have agreed, then, to do the welfare-to-work and the presumption of...

LOTT: The what, now?

QUESTION: The presumptive eligibility of welfare-to-work; you agreed to that?

LOTT: I agreed to the welfare-to-work one-year extension.

Is that different from what you said?

QUESTION: I don't know enough about the issue. I simply...

LOTT: I may not either.


QUESTION: Senator, you said that there's a great potential for people to have resentment. How do you plan to deal with that? Do you have any...

LOTT: Well...

QUESTION: Reach across the aisle or...

LOTT: Yes, sure, sure. A lot of how that's going to be handled is this period where there could be some resentment is going to be, I think, affected by how the American people react, how the two candidates handle their statements, how George W. Bush handles himself, our efforts to, you know, reach across the aisle, and the way we do business around here. A lot of thing will affect it.

So I'm hoping for a period of good will and not of acrimony.

Thank you very much.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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