Several black Democrats, scolding Sen. Trent Lott for his remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party and saying his apology is insufficient to allay their anger, directed some of their ire yesterday at Sen. Tom Daschle for defending his Republican colleague.
“I think that Mr. Daschle moved too quickly to explain Mr. Lott,” said Rep. Maxine Waters of California. “It is not enough to simply defend or to explain these kind of statements and then at election time talk about why black Americans should turn out in large numbers.”
Mr. Lott last week praised Mr. Thurmond for his candidacy as the 1948 presidential nominee of the States Rights Democrats popularly called the Dixiecrats on a platform endorsing racial segregation at a time when segregation of the races was rarely questioned in the South. Criticism of the remarks ranged from the Congressional Black Caucus on the left to the Family Research Council and several pundits on the right.
President Bush, on the other hand, thinks that Mr. Lott has addressed the issue and backs Monday’s apology, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “He has apologized for his statement, and the president understands that that is the final word from Senator Lott in terms of the fact that he said something and has apologized for it.”
He said the president is comfortable with Mr. Lott as leader of Senate Republicans. “The president has confidence in him as the Republican leader, unquestionably,” he said.
At a party celebrating Mr. Thurmond’s 100th birthday last week, Mr. Lott said he was proud that Mississippi cast a majority of its votes for Mr. Thurmond in 1948; “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” Mr. Lott did not elaborate on what “these problems” have been, but his critics assumed that he meant an endorsement of segregation.
Mr. Lott apologized twice, saying he meant no such endorsement, and after several black figures, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as well as former Vice President Al Gore demanded his resignation as majority leader, he issued a second statement Monday.
“A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past,” Mr. Lott said. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
Mr. Daschle said he accepted the explanation. “There are a lot of times when he and I go the microphone and would like to say things we meant to say differently, and I’m sure this was one of those cases for him, as well,” Mr. Daschle said.
However, after Mrs. Waters and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus dismissed Mr. Lott’s apology, Mr. Daschle revised his defense of Mr. Lott. His colleague’s words, he said, “were offensive to those who believe in freedom and equality in America.”
Mr. Lott’s spokesman, Ron Bonjean, yesterday reiterated his boss’s stance.
“Senator Lott made a sincere apology, stands by it, and it speaks for itself,” he said.
The incoming House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, joined in the criticism yesterday. Mr. Lott’s remarks, she said, were “an astounding betrayal of what was on his mind.”
“If he didn’t think that, then why would he say it?” she asked.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus said they would meet again to decide how to further respond to the remarks.
“It sends a chilling message to all people,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, who was elected to be the caucus chairman in the next Congress. “The fact is that this is a man who is four heartbeats from the presidency, and we cannot have in 2002 those kinds of views being expressed by someone who is setting policy.”
Party leaders are not, in fact, in the line of succession to the presidency. But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several Congressional Black Caucus members called for Mr. Lott to step down as Senate Republican leader. “I think he needs to step down, and I certainly am going to do all I can to see that that occurs,” said Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat.