- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

Republican lawmakers said yesterday that their party has to increase outreach to blacks after the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott as Senate majority leader, but they held fast against endorsing affirmative action.
"I don't believe that Republicans are going to start endorsing quotas or preferences, and that's really the area that tends to divide us" from Democrats, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and incoming Senate majority whip, said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday." His opposition to affirmative action was echoed by Republican lawmakers who appeared on news talk shows yesterday.
One Republican, Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, said there was nothing racist in remarks made by Mr. Lott, of Mississippi at a 100th-birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond, when Mr. Lott said the nation would have been better off had it elected Mr. Thurmond to the presidency in 1948. Mr. Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, ran as a "Dixiecrat" on a platform that advocated racial segregation and states' rights.
"I think a great disservice was done to Trent Lott," Mr. Inhofe said on CBS' "Face the Nation." Mr. Lott resigned Friday as incoming Senate majority leader because of the public backlash caused by his remarks at the party for Mr. Thurmond on Dec. 5.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, also interviewed on "Face the Nation," said that today Senate Republicans "are going to elect, I suspect unanimously, a new leader, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee."
"He is a highly regarded, respectable United States senator. I think we will now move into the 108th Congress with the leadership of Senator Frist," Mr. Hagel said.
Regarding Mr. Lott's political downfall, Mr. Inhofe said: "I think he got sucked into this thing, and he reacted improperly in that he was trying to be compassionate, instead of just saying, 'Look, you guys are wrong. There's nothing racist about what I said. We were talking about a great man,'" Mr. Inhofe said.
"Instead of that, he started going sideways and disavowing some of the things that distinguish Democrats from Republicans, and that was very confusing to a lot of people," Mr. Inhofe added.
He also blamed what he called the "pile-on thing" that he attributed to the press and black Democratic activists, such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
Mr. Inhofe said the press corps, along with Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton, suggested that "if you're not for the Democrats' liberal social agenda, the agenda of [Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy and [Sen. Tom] Daschle, then you're a racist."
"They seemed to get by with that, which was totally unfair," Mr. Inhofe said.
Despite stepping down as Senate Republican leader, Mr. Lott said he would not give up his Senate seat. His decision means that the Republicans will maintain their majority of 51 seats in the chamber.
On Fox yesterday, Mr. McConnell, who will be the Senate's second-in-command in the 108th session of Congress, denied that Mr. Lott was promised a political plum for agreeing to stay on. "He's not in line to chair a committee," Mr. McConnell said, noting that such assignments have been made.
But he noted that "Senator Lott is doing us a tremendous favor by staying in the Senate."
Mr. McConnell said Mr. Lott made a "huge" mistake that would put any leader in an "unsustainable" position.
"Race was America's original sin. This is one issue the Founding Fathers did not get right in the Constitution, and we've been working on that problem ever since. We've made some substantive progress over the last 30 to 40 years. But it is, in many ways, America's most difficult, persistent problem," Mr. McConnell said.
But he does not see the Republican Party as having suffered long-term damage from the Lott affair. "The image of our party is the president," Mr. McConnell said. "He has a very good image on race and reaching out to others," Mr. McConnell said.
Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, who appeared on CBS, said the Republican Party has to promote greater outreach to blacks. "I think it's important that we make it clear that we're interested in the people of African-American origin and other minorities as well, and reach out and show that we have genuine concern and a plan for dealing with their interests," he said.
But he said blacks, like other Americans, are primarily interested in an improved economy and jobs. "We need to stick to basic, conservative approaches when dealing with issues such as the economy," Mr. Cochran said.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, also said the Lott affair showed that race is "still a simmering problem in America."
Mr. Santorum said he shares President Bush's commitment to "move this country forward in a colorblind way." He said he believes that Mr. Lott's resignation has re-energized Mr. Bush's goals, along with those of "many of us here in the Senate to build this country from the bottom up and provide equal opportunity for every American to succeed."
Mr. Bush has made it clear that he's not for "traditional affirmative action," said Mr. Santorum, who argued that the approach has not solved the country's economic or racial problems.
There was disagreement among Senate Republicans about whether the Bush administration should join in a lawsuit against the University of Michigan brought by a white woman who says she was denied entrance to make way for a minority applicant.
Mr. Santorum and Mr. Cochran said they are not sure the administration should participate in that case. But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said on ABC's "This Week" that he believes the administration should file a brief challenging the constitutionality of the university's affirmative action program.


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