Lott: The Fallout
By Douglas Waller
Trent Lott's capitulation, stepping down as Senate majority leader when the ruckus over his remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th-birthday party simply wouldn't go away, ended a very rough patch for the Republicans.
And Tennessee Senator Bill Frist spared the party another potential battle when he quickly locked up the votes to replace Lott. But it may take longer to heal relations between Senate Republicans and the White House, whose heavy hand in the affair has both Lott supporters and opponents on Capitol Hill grumbling.
After harshly rebuking Lott on Dec. 12 for his praise of Thurmond's segregationist presidential bid in 1948, Bush went silent -- annoying Senators who wanted to give Lott an embrace as well as those who wanted a push.
Instead Bush played the old Washington game he claims to disdain: letting surrogates put out the message. Anonymous White House aides leaked daily that Bush wanted Lott to resign, while Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush's brother Jeb, the Florida Governor, went public with anti-Lott comments. Even House Speaker Dennis Hastert became miffed when he felt he was being used. Hastert visited Bush early in the week for a long-planned conference on issues affecting his state of Illinois. But afterward, Bush aides declined to douse press speculation that the two were meeting without Lott to plan Congress's legislative agenda.
"They got too cute by half down there," a senior Senate G.O.P. aide says of the White House. Frist, who led the G.O.P.'s drive to recapture the Senate in November, has always been the favorite of the White House, which believes he has the political savvy and media skills to repair the damage from Lott's statement and push Bush's aggressive agenda in the next Congress. But Frist will first have to re-establish goodwill with Pennsylvania Avenue.
Copyright © 2002 Time Inc.