- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Sen. Trent Lott made the right decision by stepping down from his Leadership post on Friday, Dec. 20. His inflammatory remarks at a benign birthday party for an aging senator and his bizarre behavior in the aftermath opened the wounds of racial disharmony in America. Such conduct is unacceptable from a leader of any major political institution, and the Republican Party will be better served under new leadership in the 108th Congress.
It is therefore a credit to the senator that he put his personal ambition aside by allowing the nation to refocus on the issues that lie ahead. After all, the new Majority Leader of the Senate faces significant challenges now that it is back in session.
The incoming Republican leadership, with Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee as the new majority leader and backed up by Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, must immediately complete the unfinished business from one of the least productive sessions in modern Senate history. Beginning with appropriations for the 2003 budget, which one year and one lame-duck session could not produce, the next majority leader will also be tasked with filling a slew of judicial vacancies at the federal level and moving forward with a plan to protect Social Security for the next generation of working Americans.
Mr. Frist, former head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and current member of the Budget, Foreign Relations, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, will immediately provide a much-needed boost of leadership in several areas where we need it most.
His first priority will undoubtedly be steering the Senate through complex negotiations over appropriations bills for the 2003 budget. While outgoing Majority Leader Tom Daschle failed to produce a budget resolution before the appropriations process began in 2002 thereby unleashing a torrent of deficit spending in the ensuing months it will be up to Mr. Frist to clamp down on spending and find a responsible resolution to the budget impasse.
That will be difficult due to election-year pork barrel spending that crippled the budget writing process. Nevertheless, Mr. Frist will do well to push forward with a Republican plan to slash $10 billion from this year's batch of domestic spending bills. Those savings will allow Congress to meet the increasingly expensive challenge of defending the United States in the future.
Mr. Frist also offers an experienced hand in foreign affairs at a time when U.N. weapons inspectors face impudence from the Iraqi government and America gears up for war. His understanding of the Middle East will serve the chamber well, and offer the president an ally in the fight against international terrorism at home and abroad.
And African-Americans can take heart in the fact that while serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Frist was the ranking member of the Subcommittee on African Affairs. In that position he traveled to the region and became a driving force in America's effort to bring peace while relieving the suffering of millions.
Among other initiatives, Mr. Frist authored and helped pass several Senate measures overhauling America's relief policy in the Sudan, while working with Democrats and Republicans to stop the crippling spread of HIV/AIDS all over the continent. That experience will benefit the long-term relationship between the United States and Africa in the future, while we both confront challenges Africa faces in developing economic institutions and confronting the rampant spread of extremism.
Yet no matter what the incoming majority leader has accomplished in the past, the immediate future must include visible efforts to ease tensions created during the Trent Lott controversy. If Mr. Frist is indeed chosen to lead the Republican caucus in the 108th Congress, he should have no problem presenting the African-American community a positive vision for the future, based both on his record and his ideas.
But political opportunists will no doubt seek to exploit the Trent Lott controversy for short-term advantage. Already enduring a slew of unfounded attacks by his political enemies on the left, including the Chairman of the Democratic Party, Mr. Frist will confront a Democrat feeding frenzy hungry to erase the memory of a disappointing election cycle. In fact, a recent press release from the DNC insinuated that the former NRSC chair initiated a national campaign of voter intimidation and suppression during the 2002 campaign allegations that are unfounded at best and irresponsible at worst.
This is unfortunate but not unexpected. Since national Democrats have no real solutions for reversing the impending demise of Social Security, providing tax relief for working Americans or any other issue important to African-American voters, they are forced to rely lock, stock and barrel on conspiracy theories and scare tactics.
Yet actions speak louder than words, and Senate Republicans will have the burden of producing results and healing old wounds in the African-American community. One thing is certain: The Republican Party and America at large will benefit from Mr. Frist's leadership in the next Congress.

Alvin Williams is president and chief executive officer of Black America's Political Action Committee (BAMPAC).

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