- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

President Bush yesterday sharply rebuked incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for comments last week, but he did not ask him to step down from leadership.
"Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong," Mr. Bush told a cheering black crowd in Philadelphia, where he announced an executive order to allow federal money to go to faith-based charitable organizations.
"Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country," Mr. Bush said in his first public remarks about the controversy. "He has apologized, and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals."
Democrats said Mr. Bush's remarks were too little and too late.
"While the president broke his weeklong silence today regarding this matter, it is astounding that he has not called for Senator Lott to step aside as incoming Majority Leader," the Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement yesterday. "This lack of leadership underscores the insincerity of the Republican Party's attempt to court African Americans and other people of color."
The caucus, made up of three dozen Democratic members of the House, demanded that Mr. Lott's colleagues censure him.
Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, in paying homage to 100-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond last week, said he was proud 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."
Mr. Lott apologized later, saying he does not support segregation and explaining he was just trying to say something nice about Mr. Thurmond on his birthday.
Republican senators had rallied around Mr. Lott on Wednesday, and yesterday several other Republicans added their support to Mr. Lott, criticizing his remarks but accepting his explanation that he didn't mean to suggest he supported segregation. So far, no Republican senator has publicly called for his resignation as leader, though several have said he must do more to address the situation.
White House aides tipped off Mr. Lott's office that Mr. Bush was about to deliver an unusual dressing down of Mr. Lott.
Mr. Lott's spokesman, responding to the president's statements yesterday afternoon, said, "Senator Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong, and he is sorry."
The president stopped short of calling for Mr. Lott to give up the post of Senate leader, which he is set to take when Congress convenes in January.
"The president does not think that Trent Lott should resign," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One. "The president thought what Trent Lott said was wrong, and Trent Lott has apologized."
He added: "We're a nation that has been improved as a result of the civil rights movement, the civil rights changes that were made to our country. We're a better nation. We were a worse nation when we were a segregated nation."
Mr. Bush reached back even further into history to make his point, alluding to the Founding Fathers and the emancipation of slaves by President Lincoln, a Republican.
"The founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the founding ideals of the political party I represent, was and remains today the equal dignity and equal rights of every American," he said.
Senate aides and strategists said that for now it appears Mr. Lott will survive as majority leader and said Mr. Bush was doing what he had to do to nudge the story to a conclusion.
Reports about Mr. Lott's past remarks continued yesterday, with Time magazine reporting on its Web site that Mr. Lott helped lead a successful effort to prevent his college fraternity, Sigma Nu, from admitting blacks in the early 1960s.
A Lott spokesman responded, "It was almost 40 years ago, when our nation was in a different era. Senator Lott repudiates segregation because it is immoral."
White House aides said Mr. Bush has no intention of wading further into the controversy, which was expected to rage for at least several more days.
But they said the president wanted to get out in front of an issue that might otherwise be used against Republicans in the 2004 elections.
Mr. Fleischer told reporters traveling with the president that Mr. Bush decided yesterday morning to include the comments on Mr. Lott in his faith-based announcement "because it was the appropriate thing to say."
Mr. Fleischer said the president thought this was the right forum. "It's not the kind of thing you say when you are announcing the chairman of the SEC," he said.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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