- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

The White House publicly insisted that President Bush's agenda wasn't being harmed during the two weeks in which Senate Republican leader Trent Lott's political career spiraled ever downward.
Yet the Republican senators who persuaded Mr. Lott to resign Friday from his leadership position disagreed. They now say they hope the party no longer will be hindered by the flap about statements by the Mississippi Republican that were widely interpreted as racist.
"We need to portray an accurate view of our beliefs as a Republican Party," said Sen. George Allen of Virginia, newly elected chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Trent Lott remaining as leader would have made that very, very difficult, to be diplomatic about it."
A staffer for a senior Republican senator said that "it's still too early" to talk about how the change in leadership will affect Mr. Bush's agenda in Congress but that the resignation of Mr. Lott did nothing but help.
"He gave the party the opportunity to deal with the crisis we had with the momentum of the agenda," the staffer said. "We had ground to a standstill, and now we can move forward."
Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, who has gathered enough support to be tapped as the new Republican leader as early as tomorrow, is thought by many senators to be someone who can help Republicans regain political momentum with their 51 seats in the Senate.
On the morning of Dec. 5, Republicans were still riding high with confidence after the White House and Mr. Frist, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, helped engineer control over both chambers of Congress in the Nov. 5 midterm elections.
That afternoon, at a reception marking the 100th birthday of Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, Mr. Lott suggested that "we wouldn't be having all these problems" if the country had elected Mr. Thurmond president in 1948. Mr. Thurmond ran as a "Dixiecrat" who advocated state's rights and racial segregation.
Two days later Republicans were denied a 52nd seat in the Senate when Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, the Democratic incumbent, won a runoff election. By Dec. 9, Mr. Lott's comments began to attract the scrutiny of the press, Democrats in Congress and some conservative commentators.
A Senate Republican staffer said the hope is that Mr. Lott's resignation "stops the bleeding."
"This has been harmful, but I think that is temporary," Mr. Allen said. "In the event that we continued with Trent Lott as leader, I think there would have been permanent damage. My concern was that if we did not make a change in leadership and find someone who accurately portrays our beliefs, our principles and our ideas, we would be mired with inaction instead of moving forward."
Morris Reed, former aide to Clinton administration Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and now a managing partner of a consulting firm, said Mr. Frist will help the Republican Party nationally because, unlike Mr. Lott, he is not perceived as a member of the "old guard" in the South.
"He's the face of the new South," Mr. Reed said. "In Frist, the president and the party get a person people think is a nice, decent guy. It allows the president to have a guy more like him" leading the Senate.
Mr. Allen insists that the Republican agenda "has not changed" because of the recent frenzy. At the top of Mr. Bush's agenda in the Senate are more tax cuts, votes on the backlog of stalled federal judicial nominees and a prescription-drug benefit for seniors.
With a presidential election and many key Senate seats to be contested in 2004, Mr. Allen said, there is little time perhaps just one year to act on the president's agenda before politics leads to gridlock.
"We were already talking about the agenda and getting these ideas passed as quickly as possible as early as January rather than doddling the way the Senate and House normally do until after the State of the Union address," Mr. Allen said.
The president gives that address to a joint session of Congress in late January.
Some of the Republican agenda, however, will be made harder to advance because of the political damage caused by Mr. Lott's comments, Capitol Hill staffers say. Democrats are expected to continue to focus on the issue of race.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, told Fox News on Friday that he welcomed the "opportunity to not talk about the offensive statements Senator Lott made" anymore.
"The real issue is the racism that exists in the Republican Party," Mr. Rangel said. "When you have a Republican majority and you don't have one black in it, something is seriously wrong."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he hoped that Mr. Lott's resignation as leader "marks not just the end of a sad chapter on civil rights, but the beginning of a new, more genuine and more effective commitment by the Bush administration and Congress to achieve equal opportunity and full civil rights for all Americans."
In an interview on Black Entertainment Television four days before he stepped down, Mr. Lott said he supported affirmative action "across the board." He vowed that if he were to remain as majority leader, he would help Democrats advance their civil rights agenda despite his previous voting record of opposing affirmative action and racial quotas.
Another Republican senator agreed that it is time for the party to embrace the liberal civil rights agenda.
"This entire situation is a loud, loud wake-up call," Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said. "We have to do a lot more for minorities not just talk about this, but put it on the agenda [and] move ahead with some real, solid programs that demonstrate that we support civil rights."
Mr. Specter also said that Republicans should rethink their historic opposition to affirmative action.
But Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, scoffed at the suggestion.
"Civil rights agenda? What would that be?" Mr. Domenici asked. "We've passed all kinds of civil rights measures. I think my bill on parity for mental-illness insurance coverage is a civil rights issue. There are 5 million [Americans] denied insurance coverage because they are mentally ill."
Mr. Allen said that "everyone has their own views on affirmative action" and that his view didn't conform with that of most Democrats.
"If affirmative action is described as making an effort to have a diverse student body or a diverse work force by race, by gender and by income levels, I think most Republicans will agree with that," Mr. Allen said. "They would not agree on quotas, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is racial discrimination."

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