- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott, the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill three weeks ago, today is just another senator, and one not in line to chair even the least-influential committee.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, incoming Republican majority whip, said on "Fox News Sunday" that "there is no apparent position of influence" to which the junior senator from Mississippi could be elected. Asked about giving Mr. Lott a "soft landing" by tapping him to chair a Senate committee, Mr. McConnell said, "It's really not possible."
"We elect our chairmen largely on a seniority basis," Mr. McConnell said. "Senator Lott is not in line to be chairman of a committee."
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and outgoing Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman, assigned the chairmanships weeks before Mr. Lott was forced to step down Friday for expressing admiration about the 1948 presidential run by Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican. Mr. Thurmond then ran as a "Dixiecrat," advocating a platform of segregation and states' rights.
After having lost his position as Senate majority leader, it is not clear whether Mr. Lott will land himself a leading role on any committee.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference said, however, that Mr. Lott "doesn't need any title to exert influence." He added that Mr. Lott might find his departure from the Senate leadership team "liberating."
"He'll have an opportunity to pursue more of his own personal interests," Mr. Santorum said, as opposed to looking out for the "party's interests" as majority leader.
Mr. Lott will have to do so from the middle of the pack. He serves on the Senate Finance; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Rules and Administration committees, but is not at the head of the seniority line to chair any of them.
The committee chairmanships, however, are not necessarily set in stone, and a senator could voluntarily relinquish his committee to Mr. Lott, Republican sources on Capitol Hill say.
Mr. Lott, who enjoys a reputation for funneling military spending to his home state, is considered a long shot to take over the Senate Appropriations Committee, if Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and incoming chairman, agrees.
A Senate staffer also said that Mr. Lott could end up on the Senate Judiciary Committee, bumping out either Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina or Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, both Democrats.
There might also be a spot for Mr. Lott on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, since former Chairman Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican, left the Senate after his election as governor of his state.
Mr. Lott "will, in my view, have enormous influence as someone who knows a lot about how the Senate works, and it's our job to help him get past this," Mr. McConnell said Sunday.
During the two-week political controversy that engulfed Mr. Lott after his comments at Mr. Thurmond's 100th birthday party Dec. 5, sources on Capitol Hill said that Mr. Lott threatened to resign his seat and allow Mississippi's Democratic governor to appoint a replacement and scuttle the Republican Party's one-seat majority in the Senate.
Mr. Santorum denied that such a threat was made and pointed out that Mr. Lott participated in a conference call yesterday that unanimously thrust Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee into his old job.
Mr. Lott set a "gracious" tone for the call, Mr. Santorum said, that was begun with a prayer and included Mr. Lott's expression of gratitude for his colleagues' "support and their prayers."
"No one felt good about what's gone on here the last few weeks," Mr. Santorum said. "But everyone realized that Senator Lott made the right decision."
Cheri Jacobus, a Republican political consultant, said: "This whole ordeal will make [Mr. Lott] a better senator."
"It says a lot about Trent Lott that he stepped down and put his party and his country first," Miss Jacobus said. "He stepped down without cutting a deal first."

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