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Can a 50-50 Senate work in a fractured political environment?

Even for veterans of Capitol Hill Wednesday was a day like no other. As an angry mob broke into the Capitol Democrats in Georgia captured both runoff elections, creating a 50-50 split in the Senate. Mississippi Republican Trent Lott and South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle shared power for their respective parties the last time the body had a 50-50 split in 2001. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even for veterans of Capitol Hill, this has been a day like no other.

    And with the results in Georgia, which you have just heard about, with both Democrats winning, we want to turn now to two men who have led the Senate for their respective parties during the time, the last time, the Senate was split 50/50, and that was in 2001.

    Trent Lott, Republican from Mississippi, and Tom Daschle, Democrat from South Dakota, shared the power.

    And we are so glad to welcome both of you back to the "NewsHour." It's very good to see you.

    Trent Lott, I'm going to start with you, and ask you about the events that unfolded today at the Capitol.

    President Trump continues to insist the election was stolen. His supporters basically overtook the Capitol today. A woman has died in part of what happened as a result. What are you — what do you take away from this?

  • Trent Lott:

    Well, first, Judy, it's good to be back on with you again. I enjoyed being with you over the years when I was still in the Senate.

    But today has just been, to me, a very sad day. I have just been almost to the point of tears. And it's disgusting. When I see people breaking in to the United States Capitol, breaking windows and going on the floor of the Senate, and sitting in the presiding officer's chair, that is just disgusting to me.

    And so I have nothing but just sadness. And I have always viewed the Capitol Building as the citadel of freedom. And what was going on inside that building was a constitutional process. So, that was a very sad exposition. And I hope we don't have it anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tom Daschle, you have spent a lot of time in that building representing the state of South Dakota. What can you say about today?

  • Tom Daschle:

    Well, Judy, I don't know how you could possibly articulate the feelings that all of us have, the tragedy, the shock, the sickness that was so clearly demonstrated today, breaking windows, going on to the floor, doing all that destructive work across the building.

    That's a sacred temple to democracy. And it was abused today, unlike anything we have seen in well over 100 years. It's tragic. It's tragic. And I hope those responsible are held accountable and that we never see something like this ever again.



  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tom Daschle, who is responsible?


    Well, I think there's a lot of responsibility to go around.

    I — frankly, I think the president has to take some of that responsibility himself, with what he said this morning, with his tweets this afternoon. I don't think you can avoid taking responsibility when you make comments like that.

    I think there are others as well who have incited this kind of violence. It's all those who are behind the conspiracy theories, the — all of the social media that goes on by the day is just — I think all of that has now reached a crescendo here, and we have seen the results. We have seen a death, tragically, this afternoon.

    We have seen destruction of property. We have seen desecration of one of the most important buildings in the entire country. All of that has to be understood and those responsible have to be accounted for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Trent Lott, how do you see who's responsible here, and how much of it is — should be laid at the feet of the president?

  • Trent Lott:

    Well, certainly, he has to take part of the blame.

    His remarks today, certainly, I think, contributed to what happened. Look, I don't like the results of the elections, but I must say that his conduct since the election and today even is just not what we expect from a president of the United States.

    But here's what I want to talk about, Judy. Here we are. We had a terrible day. We have got a 50/50 Senate. But the country has a lot of needs, a lot of things that need to be done.

    Are we going to be able to rise to the occasion? Are we going to be able to make a 50/50 Senate work, like Tom Daschle and I found a way to do in 2001? That is the big question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what do you think, Senator Lott?

    Because, right now, there are Republican senators raising objections to the very counting of the electoral vote that led to — that is leading to Joe Biden being elected, being inaugurated president?

    How is that going to lend itself to the two parties working together down the line in the future?

  • Trent Lott:

    You know, Judy, it takes communication. It takes respect.

    One of the reasons that we — one of the ways we were able to get things done is that Tom Daschle and I talked a lot. We had a friendship. I respected him. I trusted him. And we were determined to find a way to deal with the situation at hand and do some things for the country.

    It's called communication and it's called leadership. This is a terrible day. Now, what are we going to do to get beyond this? I mean, there's got to be some blame and maybe some — maybe even some prosecutions involved, but we have got to find a way to get the Congress, the Senate and the House and the president to work together.

    Joe Biden's going to be president of the United States. We only have one president at a time. We need to find a way to make it work. And so a lot of that is going to depend on Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Can they make it work?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator Daschle, do you think the two sides can work together?

  • Tom Daschle:

    Well, you have got to hope, Judy.

    I mean, there's really no alternatives. Our country so desperately needs leadership, leadership across the board. We have got so much to do, with COVID and with the economy and with all of the challenges we're facing, both domestically and internationally. That's going to require leadership. It's going to require partnership.

    It's going to require a new level of understanding of the challenges we're facing and what happens if we fail. So, you have got to be hopeful. And I think, perhaps, this could be a transformational moment. Maybe people could see this for what it is and recognize that we have bottomed out. You can't get much lower than what we saw today.

    Let's climb out of this hole. Let's try to put some pieces together and make this country work better again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think a lot of people agree with that, Senator Lott, but they're wondering how it can happen, because you have seen such vitriol since the election.

    And, again, you have seen most Republicans in the House, House of Representatives, and most Republicans in the Senate, the vast majority, supporting the president in his belief that the election was stolen, that it needs to be examined again and again, even though it's already been through the courts.

    I'm just struggling to understand, how do the two sides come together, given the hard feelings, the strong beliefs that have kept them apart?

  • Trent Lott:

    Well, it won't be easy.

    And I should note that the majority of the Republican senators did not support disposing or doing away or challenging the Electoral College. So, there are — I have talked to a couple of them today, and they are upset about what went on in the Capitol. They're concerned about, how do we get things done?

    I mean, we still are facing a pandemic. We need to do more about getting this virus under control and dealing with the economy, as Tom so aptly said. We need to get legislation on infrastructure in America. There's a lot that needs to be done.

    And I'm hoping that Joe Biden, when he does get into office, will be a healer, and — but also reach out to senators and congressmen in both parties and say, OK, look, the election is over. We have got big problems we have got to deal with, and I want to work with you to get results.

    You know, leadership begins at the top. It really begins at the White House. And we have seen how that leadership can create problems sometimes.

    And, also, it's in the Congress, in the House and the Senate. Our leaders of both parties have to got to quit trying to gotchas, and do something for our country. I think they will. I think Tom may be right.

    You know, 9/11 was an awakening event for us, and we got a lot done in the aftermath, in the fall after 9/11. We worked together. And, actually, the approval of the Senate went up to a historic high, because they saw us working together to help our country at a difficult time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's true. The country did come together, up until the dispute over the war in Iraq.

    But, Senator Daschle, even if Joe Biden tries to work with Republicans, presumably, you're still going to have President Trump out there, the people who support him, advocating for something else and still insisting the election was stolen.

  • Tom Daschle:

    Well, that's right, Judy.

    I think they're going to have a decision they're going to have to make. Who do they follow? And what does the Republican Party look like going forward?

    It could be the party of a Trent Lott and a constructive party with conservative values that has an important role to play in this country, or it could be the destructive approach that President Trump has reflected now for four years.

    That's going to be a choice every Republican has to make. How do we define the party going forward? And I'm just hopeful there are enough people that will follow the model that Trent has so exemplified in all of his public life and take that approach.

    This is a critical moment. They have got a decision to make, and I would hope they put their country first.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator Lott, very quickly, you think the two divide — the big divide in the Republican Party can be healed?

  • Trent Lott:

    Well, it can be.

    And I know right now people are angry and upset and a lot of accusations. But, at some point, in elections or in political decisions, in life, you have to say we have given it our best shot, but now we have got to move forward.

    We need to be thinking about positive things to do for the country and work together. And I know a lot of Republican senators still, and I know there are a lot of them that are thinking about that. In fact, I have already had two of them today reach out to me and say, how did you all make a 50/50 Senate work? Send us a memo on that.

    And I have done that. So at least they're beginning to think that way. And, certainly, I would be glad to talk to them any time. But a lot of it is, you see the kind of relationship that Tom Daschle and I have. I respected him, I admired him and I trusted him.

    And that facilitated us doing a lot of good things for the country, even when we were a 50/50 Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are very glad to have the two of you speaking with us this evening. Thank you so much.

  • Trent Lott:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Trent Lott, Senator Tom Daschle, we appreciate it.

    Wish you well. Wish you both very well.

  • Trent Lott:

    Thank you.

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