- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott promised an audience in Mississippi yesterday he would fight to hold his leadership post, even as a Republican senator became the first to publicly call for him to step down.
"I'm telling you here this morning, I'm hanging in there," Mr. Lott told the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Lott, speaking to reporters after his appearance, said he would serve out his Senate term even if he doesn't remain leader, putting to rest the threat that if he loses the leader's slot he might resign altogether and allow Mississippi's Democratic governor to appoint a successor.
"I was elected by the people of Mississippi to a six-year term," Mr. Lott said. "I've served two years of that contract. I have a contract and I'm going to fulfill it."
He also said he has the support of the White House and disputed reports that President Bush's advisers are working to have him step down or lose a new leadership election.
The furor over Mr. Lott stems from his remark two weeks ago that the nation would have been better off had it elected Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina Republican senator who in 1948 ran for president on a segregationist platform.
Mr. Lott has apologized numerous times for the remarks, but Republican senators have called a meeting Jan. 6 to hash out their leadership situation.
Although a senior administration official said there is a growing consensus among the GOP rank and file and among White House aides that Mr. Lott should step down, the White House yesterday stuck to its hands-off policy.
"All potential leadership races on Capitol Hill, if there is a leadership race, the White House plays no role and will play no role and offers no thoughts and opinions and offers no advice about this matter. It is a congressional matter if it gets to that point," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.
"The president does not think he should resign," he said.
Meanwhile yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he was "disappointed" in Mr. Lott's comments.
"There was nothing about the 1948 election or the 'Dixiecrat' agenda that should have been acceptable in any way to any American at that time or any American now," he said. "I will let the senator and members of the Senate deal with this issue."
Still, he did say he thinks Mr. Lott now is "speaking with sincerity" in his multiple apologies.
Some senators have questioned whether Mr. Lott can still be an effective leader, but yesterday Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island became the first Republican to call publicly for Mr. Lott to step down.
"I think the biggest problem has been that his apologies haven't connected," he told WPRO-AM radio.
Still, several key senators have said Mr. Lott has enough support in the caucus to remain, and Mr. Chafee said he expects any change will require intervention by the president.
"The only way to have the change, in my opinion, is for the White House to come in there and say to Majority Leader Trent Lott, 'It's time for a change.' That's the only vehicle, I think, that is going to work," he said.
President Bush declined to address the growing controversy directly when queried by reporters after his Oval Office meeting yesterday with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
"Why shouldn't Senator Lott resign, sir?" a reporter asked.
Said the president: "Vamos a verles en la fiesta en la noche."
When the reporter, playing along, said, "No comprende."
Mr. Bush translated "I said, 'I'll see you at the party tonight,'" referring to a White House reception for media last night.
The president has steadfastly avoided questions from reporters about Mr. Lott and has not spoken to him since the controversy began. Mr. Fleischer said yesterday that the Mississippi senator "talked to other officials in the White House on the staff level. He did not talk to the president."
The president has steadfastly avoided questions from reporters about Mr. Lott and has reportedly not spoken to him since the controversy began. Mr. Fleischer said yesterday that the Mississippi senator "talked to other officials in the White House on the staff level. He did not talk to the president."
Another senior White House official disputed reports in the New York Times that senior presidential adviser Karl Rove had stepped into the matter, calling party members seeking advice about what the White House should do.
"He is not involved, either directly or indirectly," the official said.
Mr. Lott complained yesterday about leaks out of the White House calling for his removal.
"I understand how that happens because you've got a lot of people who work there that have different points of view," he said. "But I believe they do support what I am trying to do here and the president will continue to do so."
The White House said there had been no leaks about Mr. Lott.
"I think that there is a sense that you can't help but pick up a newspaper and read things, and you see that things are being said that are wrongly wrongly being sourced and attributed to people in the White House," Mr. Fleischer told reporters.
James G. Lakely contributed to this report.

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