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Trent Lott

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Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS)

Chester Trent Lott, Jr. (born October 9, 1941 in Grenada, Mississippi) is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi and a member of the Republican Party.

He was United States Senate Majority Leader from June 12, 1996 through January 3, 2001. Vice President Albert A. Gore Jr.'s deciding vote gave Democrats the majority until January 20, 2001, when Richard B. Cheney became vice president. His deciding vote gave Republicans the majority until June 6, 2001, when Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords announced his resignation from the Republican Party and decided to join the Democratic caucus as an independent. Lott subsequently became minority leader.

With the Republicans' victory in the 2002 Senate elections, Lott was once again slated to become majority leader when the 108th Congress convened on January 7, 2003. However, comments he made at a 100th birthday celebration for South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, a former segregation proponent, that appeared to be nostalgic for racial segregation made Lott's leadership position untenable, and he resigned from the leadership on December 20, 2002.

Contents

Political Biography

Lott attended college at the University of Mississippi. He obtained an undergraduate degree in public administration and later a law degree. He served as a Field Representative of the University and was president of his fraternity, Sigma Nu. He was later criticized for his involvement in the all-white fraternity (which had a reputation for racism). Although eligible, Lott chose not to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

He was administrative assistant to House Rules Committee chairman William Colmer from 1968 to 1972. When Colmer retired after 40 years in Congress, he endorsed Lott as his successor even though Lott ran as a Republican. Lott won handily. It's very likely that he'd have won without Colmer's endorsement, as this was the year of a titanic Republican landslide in which Richard Nixon captured 49 of 50 states and 78 percent of Mississippi's popular vote. He and his current Senate colleague, Thad Cochran (also elected to Congress that year), were only the second and third Republicans elected to Congress from Mississippi since Reconstruction, as well as the first Republicans reelected to Congress from Mississippi since that time. He was reelected seven times without much difficulty, and even ran unopposed in 1978. He served as House Minority Whip (the second-ranking Republican in the House) from 1981 to 1989.

He successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988, filling the seat formerly held by retiring John C. Stennis. He was re-elected in 1994 and 2000, and is a heavy favorite for reelection in 2006. He became majority whip when the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1995, succeeding as majority leader in 1996 when Bob Dole resigned from the Senate to focus on his presidential bid.

He is currently a cosponsor of the bill to create a Director of National Intelligence. Despite his alleged racism, Lott has been a strong supporter (http://grades.betterimmigration.com/testgrades.php3?District=MS&VIPID=466) of high levels of immigration from non-white and third world countries.

Controversy and resignation

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Trent Lott speaking at a political rally in Mississippi.

Tremendous political controversy ensued following remarks Lott made on Dec. 5, 2002 at Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Thurmond ran for President of the United States in 1948 on the Dixiecrat (or States' Rights) ticket, whose primary campaign issue was the perpetuation of racial segregation in the United States. Lott said:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

At first, the comment, broadcast on C-SPAN, was largely ignored by the mainstream media but was widely discussed on political blogs such as Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, which also uncovered Lott's history of actively supporting segregation during college and making similar statements at various points throughout his career. Five days later the story was picked up by all the major news networks, and repeated and discussed extensively.

Lott's attempts to explain the remark grew from a mild dismissal as an off-the-cuff remark supporting Thurmond's national defense platform to an explicit repudiation of his racist past and assertions of support for affirmative action in a BET interview, by which time his political fate was sealed.

Once reported in newspapers and television, calls for his resignation as majority leader from both ends of the political spectrum grew.

Some Democrats and Republicans considered the remark unconscionable, or as Al Gore put it, "fundamentally racist", and many conservative groups and media outlets attempting to create an image for the Republican Party as inclusive of minorities were quick to distance themselves from Lott and criticize the incident. Centrist Democrats and Republicans at first defended Lott, insisting the remarks had been blown out of proportion.

After President George W. Bush voiced his own harsh criticism of Lott's remarks: "Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized and rightly so. Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals," it was evident that it would be difficult for Lott to remain majority leader, although the official White House line was that Lott did not need to resign.

Lott later agreed with the President's speech. In the aforementioned BET interview, he said, "Segregation is a stain on our nation’s soul... Segregation and racism are immoral."

Under pressure from Senate colleagues, and having lost the support of the White House, Lott resigned as Senate Republican Leader on December 20, 2002. Bill Frist of Tennessee was later elected to the leadership position.

In contrast, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) has compared American Armed Forces interrogation methods of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison camp, to those methods used by dictatorial and murdering regimes such as Pol Potís Khmer Rouge, and Adolf Hitlerís Nazi SS. Some members of the Democratic party have offered their criticism of his remarks. However, to date, there has not been a comparable outcry asking for his resignation. Perhaps because he was speaking against what he saw as inhumane treatment, whereas, Senator Lott's comments where seen by some to endorse government sanctioned discrimination of the past.

Senator Lott was chosen by his colleagues as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules after the controversy. Some of his critics for the original remarks have noted that this position still carries a great deal of power, and that conservatives and Republicans were mainly using the whole controversy to get rid of a leader they regarded as weak, particularly in the conduct of the 1998 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Recent Developments

Since he lost the Majority Leader post, Lott has kept relatively quiet. However, Lott started to show an unusual shift from his traditionally strong conservative views when he said that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign within a year. He has also battled with President Bush over military base closures in his home state.

Lott is rumored to be making a push to become Majority Whip once again after the 2006 elections.

Trivia

He was one of the Singing senators along with Jim Jeffords, John Ashcroft and Larry Craig.

External links

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Preceded by:
John C. Stennis
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
1989–
Succeeded by:
Incumbent
Preceded by:
Robert Dole
Senate Majority Leader
1996–January 3, 2001
Succeeded by:
Tom Daschle
Preceded by:
Tom Daschle
Senate Minority Leader
January 3, 2001–January 20, 2001
Succeeded by:
Tom Daschle
Preceded by:
Tom Daschle
Senate Majority Leader
January 20, 2001–June 6, 2001
Succeeded by:
Tom Daschle
Preceded by:
Tom Daschle
Senate Minority Leader
June 6, 2001–2002
Succeeded by:
Bill Frist

Template:End box Template:MS-FedRep Template:Current U.S. Senatorsfr:Trent Lott

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