Trent Lott has a reputation as one of the more ambitious and conservative Republicans on the Hill, yet he hides it beneath the refined veneer of a gregarious facilitator with strong tactical skills.
Lott honed his Southern charm as a male cheerleader at the University of Mississippi where he also learned his politics. After law school, Lott joined the office of conservative Mississippi Democrat Rep. William Colmer and soon became a top aide. When Colmer retired in 1972, he encouraged Lott to run for his seat despite the fact that Lott ran as a Republican.
Lott's charm and ambition helped him to move through the ranks to House minority whip. Along the way, Lott was the youngest member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, staunchly defending President Richard Nixon during the impeachment proceedings.
In 1988, Lott won the Senate seat vacated by seven-term conservative Democrat John Stennis. Lott's record in the Senate has been that of a social conservative, hawkish on military matters, in favor of a balanced budget amendment and strongly opposed to abortion. Lott was a strong believer in the supply-side economic proposals of the Reagan Administration.
After Bob Dole's retirement from the Senate, Lott fought a tough battle against fellow Mississippian Thad Cochran for the position of majority leader. Lott stated at the time that "The torch has been passed, but the flame is the same."
Since his election, Lott has been a pragmatic leader and has compromised with Democrats to pass the minimum wage increase and welfare reform.
More openly partisan than Dole, Lott nonetheless has a pragmatic streak that allows him to negotiate and compromise when necessary. Lott also has a close relationship with House Speaker Newt Gingrich dating back to his time as minority whip. Lott acted as an intermediary between the party leadership and Gingrich's vocal and fiery young Republican followers.
Much of Clinton's success in his second term will depend on his ability to get along with Lott. With the gain in Republican-held Senate seats, as well as Gingrich's ethics investigations, Lott is the most powerful man in Congress. Many speculate that Lott's ambition will eventually drive him toward a run at the White House.
Updated Jan. 31, 1997
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