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Lott expresses 'hurt' but blames himself

Lott holds his 16-month-old granddaughter at his home in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Lott holds his 16-month-old granddaughter at his home in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

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In his first public remarks since resigning as Senate Republican leader, Sen. Trent Lott said he blamed himself for his political troubles and would support his successor (December 23)
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CNN's Kathleen Koch says Democrats have fired political salvos against Sen. Bill Frist, heir apparent to Trent Lott's Majority Leader job (December 22)
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PASCAGOULA, Mississippi (CNN) -- Speaking publicly Sunday for the first time since resigning as the incoming Senate majority leader, Trent Lott expressed his "hurt" at the events that led to him giving up the powerful position.

"Do I have hurt feelings? Yeah," the Mississippi Republican told reporters outside his home in Pascagoula, Mississippi. "But to whom shall I ascribe them to but myself in the end?"

The day before Republicans are expected to vote in Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, as his replacement, Lott promised to support him "if he is the choice of the conference."

Lott said: "I will make it clear I support our leadership team and will support the agenda I believe strongly in."

Frist is expected to get the nod when members of the Senate Republican conference hold a conference call Monday to vote on his leadership bid. (Full story)

Lott would not comment on an Associated Press report that quoted him as saying he believes he was the victim of a "trap" set by his political enemies.

"There are people in Washington who have been trying to nail me for a long time," Lott said in the AP report. "When you're from Mississippi and you're a conservative and you're a Christian, there are a lot of people that don't like that. I fell into their trap and so I have only myself to blame."

When reporters asked Lott about the quote, he said, "I don't want to get into that. I don't want to be negative about this."

"I regret [that] anybody felt they should take the opportunity to be critical of innocent people in my state," he added.

It was Lott's comment December 5, praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential bid, that triggered the avalanche which ultimately buried his opportunity to become the nation's second top Republican after President Bush. While he apologized repeatedly and insisted he is a strong supporter of civil rights and equal opportunity, public attention was drawn to his record of voting against proposals backed by civil rights groups and to previous comments he had made praising Thurmond.

The lesson he learned from the whole ordeal, Lott said Sunday, is "be careful what you say."

"Obviously I regret all that has transpired and the hurt that I've caused anybody," he said. "I understand how these things happen and I don't have anybody to really blame but myself for some ill-chosen words. And certainly I do regret that."

But Lott said he wants to turn it into a learning experience and make "something positive out of this."

Some have called on Lott to resign from the Senate altogether. On Saturday, about two dozen African-American activists protested outside his Washington, D.C., house, and some accused him of being racist.

"This whole experience portrayed me in a way that really does not reflect how I lived my life," Lott insisted Sunday. He pointed to his work with the Longshoremen's union, and claimed he had helped numerous blacks get jobs.

"There are a lot of people in this state that know me that way. And in other places. I haven't done a good enough job of showing that side of my character."

Lott made clear he has no plans to resign from the Senate.

"I will offer my experience and leadership," he said, "in working for all American people of all races and backgrounds."

But when asked whether he would pursue committee chairmanships, Lott indicated he would not. "I'm not looking for any kind of soft landing."

When Lott was trying to salvage his position as majority leader, he publicly expressed support for affirmative action, though he said he did not support quotas or timetables. His voting record does not reflect support for affirmative action, but Lott insisted he supports such efforts at businesses and schools.

When asked whether he maintains that position despite having lost the position of majority leader, Lott replied, "So much has been made of that. I believe in open, aggressive, active outreach to all people, particularly minorities, to have an opportunity to get a decent education, to get in a college or university, or get a job. ... I still don't support quotas or arbitrary timetables. But I think you've got to have an overt commitment to get results."

Lott did not use the term "affirmative action."

Standing in front of a white picket fence on the front lawn of his spacious home in this Gulf Coast town, Lott said recent experiences have reminded him how grateful he is for the blessings in his life, such as his family.

"In the end," Lott said, "that's what matters -- how you live your life."



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