- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Republican colleagues rallied around Trent Lott, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, yesterday as he offered still another apology for remarks made in a tribute last week at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party.
In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Mr. Lott said: "The words were terrible and I regret that, and you know, I can almost say that this was a mistake of the head, not of the heart, because I don't accept those policies of the past at all."
He had intended only to praise a longtime senator on his birthday, he said, not to make a policy declaration.
"That's the vein it was in. It was never intended to say 'because of the policies you advocated in 1948,'" Mr. Lott said. "What are you going to say, 'I wish you'd lost'?"
The explanations satisfied colleagues who came to his defense yesterday.
"I know Trent Lott very well from working with him in the Senate for the last 14 years and can vouch for the fact that he is no supporter of Senator Thurmond's 1948 platform," said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican. "His comment was an inadvertent slip, and his apology should end the discussion."
Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who will be the leader of the Republican majority in the new Congress, boasted that Republicans have a record of promoting civil rights, particularly in helping enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"Any intimation that those old wounds should be reopened is unhelpful and unwelcome. I've worked with Trent Lott for years, and he's always been focused on moving our country forward."
Sen. Jesse Helms said this from his home in Raleigh, N.C.: "What did Trent Lott really say? He said that 'when Strom Thurmond ran, my state voted for him.' He was at a function where Strom Thurmond, 100 years old, was having his friends say the nicest things they could think of.
"Trent Lott in no sense was sending a message of any sort. He was just trying to be nice to Strom Thurmond at a time everybody was being nice to him, and I praise him for that," Mr. Helms said.
Democrats, meanwhile, continued to pound Mr. Lott.
Several Republican senators, reprising Democratic language in defense of Bill Clinton, said it was "time to move on," following the lead of the White House. On Tuesday, spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush noted that Mr. Lott has apologized and he said he stands behind Mr. Lott as Republican leader.
Some conservative pundits, who earlier had criticized Mr. Lott with fervor equal to their liberal counterparts, eased up a little yesterday, and one of them, Mark Levin, writing in National Review Online, unearthed a Thurmond birthday tribute that was evocative of the remarks that got Mr. Lott in trouble.
Mr. Lott, in paying homage to Mr. Thurmond in his office last week, said he was proud that Mississippi had voted for Mr. Thurmond, the States' Rights Democratic candidate for president in 1948, who ran as a segregationist. "If the rest of the country had followed our lead," Mr. Lott said, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, in remarks on the Senate floor Sept. 24, said: "I am pleased to join my colleagues in paying tribute to Senator Strom Thurmond and honoring him for his unparalleled record of public service to the nation. In 1948, when he was still governor [of South Carolina, Mr. Thurmond] ran for president as a States' Rights Democrat and received 39 electoral votes, the third-best showing by an independent in U.S. history."
Mr. Levin, in response to inquiries, issued a statement last night that his remarks were "indisputably correct" and Mr. Lott's remarks were "indisputably offensive."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts denounced the Lott remarks yesterday, calling them "a shocking and irresponsible salute to bigotry."
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, urged Mr. Lott to resign as party leader because the remark would "place a cloud over his leadership."
Sen. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate who had earlier defended Mr. Lott as making an honest mistake, yesterday said President Bush should publicly denounce Mr. Lott's comments.
In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" last night, Mr. Lott said he has no plans to step aside as majority leader, that no Republican senator has asked him to do so, and that the White House has suggested nothing of the sort.
"I think that, you know, some people are, you know, saying how 'Hey, what's going on here? He's apologized and he, you know, has said the things he needed to say and yet it, you know, now it's being spoken about by Al Gore and by John Kerry,'" Mr. Lott said.
Democratic strategists predicted that Mr. Lott's remark would be used to rally Democratic voters in 2004.
"I think he'll become the Newt Gingrich of that election," said Morris Reid, a former Clinton administration official, who said that while he knows Mr. Lott and does not believe him to be a racist, the Mississippian may have set himself up to be treated in the same manner Democrats treated Mr. Gingrich.
"Lott and this new footage will be fodder for Democratic political operatives across the country, in every campaign up in down the ballot," he said.
Alan Secrest, president of Democratic polling firm Cooper and Secrest Associates, said Mr. Lott erred by not realizing the remarks could be misconstrued. "Whatever his intent, it's very difficult to understand how someone of this position retains such a tin ear politically."
Earlier, Democrats cited remarks that Mr. Lott made after Mr. Thurmond spoke at a 1980 rally for Ronald Reagan in Jackson, Miss. "If we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today," he said, as quoted in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
"It is profoundly disturbing that Senator Lott's statement last week was not an isolated incident," Mr. Daschle said yesterday.
The incident has so far gone largely unnoticed in precincts far from Washington. "This is such a small issue in this state, we've gotten about three e-mails and two phone calls," said Jonathan Jordan, communications director for the North Carolina Republican Party.
Brian Perry, editor of MagnoliaReport.com, which monitors Mississippi politics, said Republicans there have also rallied behind Mr. Lott, and think much of the criticism of him is based on a long outdated view of Mississippi.
"What Republicans are saying here in the state is, people in Mississippi know Trent Lott, they know he's not a racist," Mr. Perry said.
Several black Republicans, while denouncing the remarks, yesterday defended Mr. Lott. Michael Steele, the lieutenant governor-elect in Maryland, said Mr. Lott's remarks were a "poor choice of words" but don't reflect his own experiences with the senator. "I know Senator Lott personally and understand him to be compassionate and a tolerant statesman," he said.
Outgoing Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma said the comments "went too far" but were appropriate to the forum.
"I took his comments as complimentary humor that often accompanies personal tributes," said Mr. Watts, the fourth-ranking Republican in the expiring House of Representatives. "His comments were as serious as the venue at which they were delivered at a birthday party."


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