CNN THE SITUATION ROOM - Transcript
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KING: Just a few hours ago the Florida Republican Party announced its replacement for former Congressman Mark Foley in the November election. It's Florida State Representative Joe Negron. He joins us now from Orlando.
Joe Negron, thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're in a very difficult position. You will be the Republican candidate, but the voters in your district will be asked to vote for Mark Foley, the disgraced former congressman, because his name is printed on the ballot. You had to have second thoughts bout accepting this assignment.
JOE NEGRON (R), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I don't think so. I think that this is something that will be a great opportunity for me and the Republican Party to bounce back from the tragedy of mark Foley.
People are not being asked to vote for Mark Foley. His name is simply appearing on the ballot as a placeholder for the Republican nominee. I'm now the Republican nominee. I have five weeks to get my message across.
If people in this district want a conservative Republican, this is a 60 percent for Jeb Bush House district. It's not all of a sudden going to swing to Tim Mahoney, who's hanging out with John Kerry. And Nancy Pelosi's on her way to the district. So I'm optimistic that I can get the word out. And people are pretty smart; they'll figure it out.
KING: You say people are pretty smart. They'll figure it out. You're also going right after the Democratic leadership, so you've hit the ground running, if you will.
Obviously, you have a communications issue, and the voters will see Mark Foley's name when they walk into the booth to vote. Have you been promised money from the national party to help you communicate the point you just made with voters: yes, you may have to hold your nose and push a lever, push a button that says "Mark Foley", but you're not voting for him, you're voting for Joe Negron when you do that?
NEGRON: John, we have strong support from not only the state and local party, but we've been in contact with the national party. They don't want this seat to become part of the Democratic column.
Only 15 seats separate the Republicans and their maintaining a majority in Congress. I think it's important to the president, to the war on terror, to national security that we keep this good Republican seat in Republican hands. And I'm prepared to work as hard as I can to make that happen. KING: There are questions not only about conduct for Mark Foley. I think we would agree if proven is despicable. There are questions about how the Republican leadership handled it. If you win this seat and the Republicans keep their majority in Congress, do you think Denny Hastert should remain the speaker, based on what you know about how this was handled?
NEGRON: Absolutely. We learned about this Friday afternoon. And here we are Monday, and the speaker of the House has already requested a full criminal investigation.
KING: Let me stop you there, sir. Forgive me -- forgive me for interrupting. Let me stop. We learned about the graphic sexual text messages to a student.
But as far back as 11 months ago some members of the Republican leadership knew that Congressman Foley had sent an e-mail to a 16- year-old boy, asking him to send a picture. That is, if you have any training in these matters, a red flag for inappropriate behavior, perhaps, pedophilia.
And they went to Congressman Foley and said, "Stop." They didn't say get counseling. They didn't bring in any lawyers. They didn't even bring in any of the Democrats or other Republicans on the page board. Was that the right way to handle this?
NEGRON: Well, John, I share your outrage at what Congressman Foley did. But we need to have an investigation before we jump to conclusions. And not only does Speaker Hastert ask for Mark Foley's conduct to be looked at but also who knew about these e-mails, what was the context, how did they know about it, and what can we do to prevent it in the future?
So I don't think anything has been covered up. I think there's a full investigation under way. And whatever penalties need to be meted out and whatever we need to do to make sure that this never happens to another young man or young woman who becomes a page in the U.S. Congress.
KING: Let me ask you lastly in closing, you've hit the ground running here. You're obviously a seasoned politician. What is your sense of the mood in the district and in the country because of this? They're already this talk that it's not a great year to be an incumbent, not a great year to be a Republican just because of the national tide. Does this affect the climate? I'm sure it affects it somewhat in your district. Do you think it affects the climate nationally for Republicans?
NEGRON: Well, I think that the American people are very fair and very just. And they're not going to penalize me for something that another person did.
So I sense that Republicans are in a fighting spirit and they're saying, you know what? Let's not compound the problem this Mark Foley and the disgrace he's brought on himself by losing the seat to the Democrats. This is a Republican district. I'm willing to fight to keep it in the Republican column and to make sure that this congressman supports our president.
KING: Florida State Representative Joe Negron, for just a few hours now the Republican nominee to take Mark Foley's place on the ballot. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
NEGRON: Thank you, John.
KING: Thank you.
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