- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

Sen. Trent Lott yesterday said he will not step down as incoming Senate majority leader but asked for forgiveness for remarks he made last week praising Sen. Strom Thurmond and his 1948 presidential bid on a platform favoring racial segregation.
"I can't say it was prepared remarks as a matter of fact, I was winging it," Mr. Lott said yesterday at a news conference in Mississippi. "I was too much into the moment. But I only hope that people will find it in their hearts to forgive me for that grievous mistake on that occasion."
It was his third apology and explanation of his comments at Mr. Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Mr. Lott repudiated any suggestion he meant to endorse segregation by praising Mr. Thurmond's presidential bid and accepted President Bush's sharp scolding for having left that impression.
"The president was right when he said that every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding principles and our Founding Fathers," Mr. Lott said, recalling growing up in segregated Mississippi.
"I've asked and I'm asking for forbearance and forgiveness as I continue to learn from my own mistakes and as I continue to grow and get older. But as you get older, you, hopefully, grow in your views and your acceptance of everybody, both as a person and certainly as a leader."
But Democrats said Mr. Lott's record on civil rights belies his apology, citing Mr. Lott's 1983 vote against creating a federal holiday for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., his 1982 vote against the Voting Rights Act extension, and his 2001 vote against the confirmation of Judge Roger Gregory, the first black seated on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Congressional Black Caucus, made up of about three dozen Democratic House members, yesterday renewed their call for Mr. Lott's censure.
"We believe that Senator Lott's record on issues of race and equality is extremely troubling and casts a shadow over his leadership ability," caucus leaders said in a statement. "It is offensive and morally reprehensible that a public official with such a record would be permitted by his party to serve as Majority Leader of the United States Senate."
Mr. Lott, a Republican, in paying homage to Mr. Thurmond, said he was proud that Mississippi had voted for Mr. Thurmond. "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."
After those remarks drew sharp criticism this week Mr. Lott apologized, first in a statement and then in interviews with two talk-show hosts. Yesterday, following the public advice of several fellow Republican senators, he made a broader apology and faced questions from reporters in his home in Pascagoula, Miss.
"I had a blind spot. I was insensitive in the words I chose, of the extra phrase I added. I did not in any way mean to be endorsing policies of 54 years ago. I was trying to make happy an incredible, legendary human being."
But Mr. Lott said he knows he has to live up to a high standard and that he fell short. "When you're from Mississippi, and when you are Republican leader, you've got an extra burden to make sure you think about every word, and every phrase, so that it doesn't convey the wrong impression or hurt people," he said.
Mr. Lott has agreed to an in-depth interview on Black Entertainment Television to air on Monday night.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and the incoming Senate majority whip, said Mr. Lott's apology was enough.
"Senator Lott expressed his heartfelt regret over the pain his words caused and reaffirmed his commitment to making sure that every American has a fair and equal opportunity in life. I believe the American people will accept his apology and want us now to move forward together," Mr. McConnell said in a statement.
Many Republican senators this week rallied behind Mr. Lott, with several of them saying they agreed that Mr. Lott's remarks were not an endorsement of segregation but rather an offhand remark honoring Mr. Thurmond.
But Mr. Bush issued a sharp rebuke Thursday. Speaking to a mostly black crowd in Philadelphia, Mr. Bush scolded Mr. Lott for suggesting "the segregated past was acceptable or positive" and said Mr. Lott was right to apologize. Still, Mr. Bush has not called for Mr. Lott to step down as Senate majority leader.
"The president's judgment call is that what Senator Lott said was offensive and that was wrong, that Senator Lott has rightly apologized for it. And that's what the president said yesterday," spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday afternoon before Mr. Lott's remarks.
Several Democrats have called for Mr. Lott to resign as leader, but no Republican has yet publicly called for him to step down. Capitol Hill aides and Republican Party strategists said senators will see how Mr. Lott weathers the weekend, but some said his latest explanation fell short.
"He is not going to be able to extricate himself," said one Republican strategist after watching Mr. Lott's speech. "He had no coherent story to tell. If you're going to lie prostrate on the ground in sackcloth and ashes, you've got to do that. If you're going to fight, you've got to do that. He didn't do either."
For their part, Democrats have already shown that they will not be shy in making Mr. Lott and his comments the face of the Republican Party.
"Senator Lott has segregated himself from the moral conscience of the country. The Republican Party is defined by his leadership position in it," said Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement yesterday.
As of yesterday afternoon, though, the story was not causing widespread outrage among Republicans throughout the nation.
"There's really not a strong sentiment one way or the other, quite frankly," said Scott Baker, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, who described discussion of Mr. Lott's future as "water-cooler talk" but not much more at this point.
A Republican activist in Mr. Thurmond's home state of South Carolina said it is a nonissue there.
"People are more interested in Christmas shopping. Unlike Washington, we are all not sitting home watching CNN all day," the Republican said.
But it is spurring some reaction in Colorado, said Jack Stansbery, executive director of Colorado's Republican Party.
"This is one of those cases where the number of calls we've received daily has definitely increased since his remarks, and most of those calls are asking that he step down," he said, adding that a few of those callers have said they will change their party registration or voting habits if Mr. Lott remains.

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