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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Trent Lott Gets Even

The Senate is crammed with "lone wolves and immense egos," former Majority Leader Trent Lott writes in a memoir that settles a few scores with fellow Republicans and recounts an improbable partnership with a Democratic president.

The Senate is crammed with “lone wolves and immense egos,” former Majority Leader Trent Lott writes in a memoir that settles a few scores with fellow Republicans and recounts an improbable partnership with a Democratic president.

In “Herding Cats, A Lifetime in Politics,” Lott wrote that Sen. Bill Frist, his successor as majority leader, was one of the “main manipulators” in the events that resulted in his own loss of power. Lott lost his post in 2002 after making racially tinged remarks at a 100th birthday party for one-time segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond.

“Frist’s actions amounted to a “personal betrayal,” Lott wrote. “I had taken him under my wing. … He was my protege. … We’d been friends off and on the floor, and that’s pretty rare in a governmental body loaded with lone wolves and enormous egos.”

Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Frist, R-Tenn., said the senator “hasn’t read the book, so he can’t comment directly, but he always appreciates Senator Lott’s advice.”

President Bush also played a role in his downfall, Lott wrote, not so much with what he said, but by saying it in a tone that was”devastating … booming and nasty.”

Colin Powell damaged his chances, Lott wrote. “That one hurt,” he added, saying he once had prevailed on the president to name the former secretary of state’s son to the Federal Communications Commission.

And Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont was a “loose cannon,” going back for years, Lott said of the one-time Republican whose defection from the GOP handed Democrats the Senate majority in 2001. “He’s always had a habit of bartering his vote on crucial legislation for his own pet projects.”

A conservative Republican from Mississippi, Lott said his partnership with former President Clinton blossomed in 1996, when he became majority leader. His predecessor, Bob Dole, had resigned the Senate to campaign full time for the White House, and Lott said political consultant Dick Morris quickly became a critical go-between with the president.

Eventually, there were “scores of direct conversations between President Clinton and me. I took to calling Morris `Mr. Prime Minister; he dubbed me `HMO _ His majesty’s opposition,'” Lott wrote.

The “backstairs arrangement” produced major health and welfare legislation, “but I was treading on dangerous territory,” Lott wrote.

Dole protested, “But I thought there was more at stake than Dole’s chances at winning the White House. Dole wasn’t providing as much coattails for other Republicans on the ticket as we had hoped,” the Mississippian added.

Sometimes, he recalled, Clinton would call late at night. “I seemed to offer some sort of rare zen role for Clinton _ the careful listener on the other end of the line who politely acknowledged the high-level ramblings of the commander in chief, and just as promptly forgot them.”

Later, Lott said he thought Clinton deserved to be removed from office, but knew there were never enough votes in the Senate to convict the president at his 1999 impeachment trial.

Lott had had earlier experience with presidential impeachment. As a young House member, he voted against impeaching President Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

But then, he wrote, Vice President Gerald R. Ford “told me not to go so far out on a limb for the president. I was speechless.”

Race relations is a recurrent theme of the book, from Lott’s student days to what he described as off-the-cuff remarks that eventually cost him his leadership post.

A native of Mississippi, Lott recalled feeling “anger in my heart over the way the federal government had invaded Ole Miss to accomplish something that could have been handled peacefully and administratively,” a reference to the admission of the University of Mississippi’s first black student in 1962.

Later, as a law student at the same school, he remembered the visiting professors from Yale University, brought in to teach constitutional law.

“Instead of making us more liberal, they helped create a generation of thoughtful, issue-oriented conservatives who grew up to run Mississippi politics,” he wrote.


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