Clinton calls GOP 'hypocritical' on Lott

Former president lashes out at Republicans

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Clinton says it is "pretty hypocritical" of Republicans to criticize incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for stating publicly what he said the GOP does "on the back roads every day."

"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending Wednesday. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

He added: "They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."

Clinton's comments were strongly refuted by a Republican spokesman, who called on the former president to "check his facts."

And Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot told The Associated Press that Clinton's comments were "misleading" and "divisive rhetoric."

"This is another tired example of Bill Clinton misrepresenting the facts and misleading the American people to gain political advantage," Racicot said to the AP.

Lott, a Mississippi Republican, has been fighting for his political life since he suggested that the United States would have been better off had it elected Strom Thurmond president on a segregationist ticket in 1948. Lott has since repeatedly apologized.

Many Republicans, including President Bush, have denounced Lott's comments, saying they don't reflect the party's spirit. Bush has called broadening the GOP's appeal to minorities one of his priorities.

Meanwhile former Clinton political adviser and Democratic strategist James Carville said he accepted Lott's apology.

Carville, also a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," faxed a letter to Lott's office Wednesday in which he both accepted the senator's apology and pledged not to criticize him further for comments made recently or further in the past on the issue of race.

Carville said his decision to send the letter was influenced at least in part by the comments of Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a former civil rights leader, who accepted Lott's apology this week.

Senate Republicans are to meet January 6 to discuss Lott's fate as the party's leader in the Senate.

Asked if Lott should be removed, Clinton said, "That's up to them, but I think they can't do it with a straight face."

The former president then said, "He just embarrassed them by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day."

He accused Republicans of "trying to run black voters away from the polls" in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida. Clinton also cited recent gubernatorial elections in Georgia and South Carolina, won by Republicans.

GOP spokesman points to minority outreach

Jim Dyke, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, disputed Clinton's characterization of the party's election gains.

"We worked hard to make sure that more people were registered to vote, more people went to the polls and more people voted for Republicans on Election Day. President Clinton should check his facts."

In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes was defeated by the GOP's Sonny Perdue, who promised voters a referendum on whether to return the Confederate emblem to a position of prominence on the state flag. In South Carolina, some political analysts have said Republican Mark Sanford's defeat of Gov. Jim Hodges could be attributed in part to Hodges' decision to remove the Confederate flag from atop the state capitol.

"I think the way the Republicans have treated Senator Lott is pretty hypocritical since right now their policy is, in my view, inimical to everything that this country stands for," Clinton said.

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