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Lott apology draws praise, not total acceptance

Lott apologized for
Lott apologized for "opening old wounds and hurting many Americans who feel so deeply in this area."

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U.S. Senator Trent Lott from Mississippi speaks at a press conference to apologize for his remark praising Strom Thurman's segregationist past (December 13)
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President Bush denounces Sen. Trent Lott's remarks. (December 12)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's public mea culpa Friday was welcomed by some of his fellow Republicans -- but did not change the minds of some Democratic critics who want him to resign his leadership post.

Lott apologized about comments he made about Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential bid. (Full story)

"Sen. Lott expressed his heartfelt regret over the pain his words caused and reaffirmed his commitment to making sure that every American has a fair and equal opportunity in life," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

"I believe the American people will accept his apology and want us now to move forward together," McConnell said.

"I know that these are the words that express the true spirit of the Trent Lott who has been my friend for 40 years," said Jack Kemp, co-director of the conservative group Empower America.

Kemp had sharply criticized Lott's comments last week that America would have been better off if Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948.

Moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Lott "needed to offer a personal, passionate and sincere renunciation of racism and segregation in all its forms, and he did that."

She also called Lott's announcement that he will appear on Black Entertainment Television next week to reach out to the black community "a significant first step."

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee had no kind words about Lott's apology.

"After having eight days to think about it, the only civil rights accomplishment Trent Lott could come up with was that he supported legislation to have a bust of Martin Luther King put in the Capitol," said DNC head Terry McAuliffe.

Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, said Lott "deserves a fair chance" to fulfill the pledge he made Friday to work for equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race.

"Sen. Lott acknowledged that he made a serious mistake, and he has made a humble, honest effort to apologize and accept responsibility," Warner said.

The support of the GOP colleagues who re-elected Lott as their leader last month will be key in determining whether he can weather the controversy over his remarks about Thurmond and hang on to his majority leader post. Lott reiterated Friday that he does not intend to step down, and he said no Republican senators had asked him to do so.

His apology Friday, during a news conference in his hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was also well received at the White House, where spokesman Ari Fleischer called it "candid and forthright."

"He apologized again, and rightly so. I reiterate the president does not think he needs to resign," Fleischer said.

On Thursday, Bush had used a speech in Philadelphia to publicly rebuke Lott, saying any suggestion that segregation is acceptable is "offensive" and "wrong." The two men later had what both sides described as a "positive" phone conversation.

But the Congressional Black Caucus, which has called for the Senate to censure Lott, issued a statement saying its position "has not changed with his statement today."

"It is offensive and morally reprehensible that a public official with such a record would be permitted by his party to serve as majority leader of the United States Senate," the CBC statement said.

And one of the two Democratic senators who had called for Lott to step down as GOP leader, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said he was also not swayed by Lott's latest apology.

"While I respect the contrition expressed today by Sen. Lott, I stand by my previous statement in its entirety," said Kerry, who is mulling a 2004 presidential candidacy.

The other senator who has called for Lott to step down is Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.

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