Lott’s of Trouble

Lott’s of Trouble
What you need to know about Senator Trent Lott’s comments, his critics and his future.
 Related Resources
Race and Politics: How race shaped Election 2002.
In Retrospect: Race and Presidential Election 2000
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Two Faces of Trent Lott

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Republicans in Crisis
Nickles Urges New Election
Lott’s True Colors Shining Through
Lott’s Hypocritical Accusers

The Issue: 

On December 5, 2002, Senator Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said at the 100th birthday party of Strom Thurmond, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it, he said to applause. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”

Then South Carolina Governor, Strom Thurmond, ran for the presidency in 1948 as a segregationist Dixiecrat. Thurmond is retiring after holding his Senate seat for 48 years.

The Backlash:

Following Lott’s speech, several political figures spoke out against his comments, and against the Senator himself, as “racist.” Harsh words against Senator Lott came from Democrats and Republicans alike, including Al Gore, black conservative Ward Connerly, Senator John Kerry, D-Mass. and Robert George, a black Republican who writes commentary for The New York Post.

In response to the backlash, Lott apologized for his statements on December 9, 2002, saying, “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”

On December 10, 2002, members of the Congressional Black Caucus rejected Lott’s apology and considered plans to call for his resignation as Senate Republican Leader, a position Lott will take in January 2003, when the next Congress convenes.

On Thursday, December 12, 2002, President Bush spoke out in a surprise move, saying that any pro-segregation sentiment is “offensive and it is wrong.”

The Background:

According to CNN, Lott’s comments aren’t the first of their kind to leave the Senator’s mouth. In 1980, Lott was quoted in The Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson, Mississippi, newspaper, as saying, “You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

Senator Lott’s affiliations have also been called into question in the past. He has been linked, according to The Washington Post’s Thomas B. Edsall, with the controversial Council of Conservative Citizens, a group which openly advocates “against minorities and racial integration.”

It was this association that led The Multiracial Activist to call for Lott’s resignation in 1999.

The Multiracial Activist’s editor and publisher, James A. Landrith said of Lott’s associations:

“In light of the recent discoveries regarding your affiliations with the racist, white supremacist organization known as the Council of Conservative Citizens and your long history of affiliation and advocacy efforts on behalf of other racist organizations such as Bob Jones University, I ask you do the only honorable thing left – RESIGN. Your recent statements disassociating yourself from these types of organizations is a classic case of too little, too late.”

Time magazine has also reported that in the 1960s, Lott was a vigorous opponent of the desegregation of his fraternity as student at the University of Mississippi.

What’s Next:

Sen. Lott apologized on Friday, December 13, 2002, for a fourth time during a televised news conference saying, “I apologize for opening old wounds and hurting many Americans who feel so deeply in this area.”

Still, Lott is refusing to resign his position, despite intensifying criticism.

On Wednesday, December 11, 2002, Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, called on Lott to resign his leadership post, saying, “I simply do not believe the country can today afford to have someone who has made these statements … be the leader of the United States Senate.”

His post as Republican leader, however, may still be in question. On Sunday, December 15, Senator Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma, Lott’s deputy, called for a new election for the Republican leadership, stating on his website:

“I am concerned Senator Lott has been weakened to the point that it may jeopardize his ability to enact our agenda and speak to all Americans. There are several outstanding senators who are more than capable of effective leadership and I hope we have an opportunity to choose.”

Lott appeared on Black Entertainment Television (BET) on Monday, December 16, 2002, in a one-hour program to discuss the situation and his “hopes and dreams for the people in this state and this country,” but the appearance did little to persuade his critics. 

On December 20, 2002, Trent Lott announced his resignation as Senate majority leader, saying, “In the interest of pursuing the best possible agenda for the future of our country, I will not seek to remain as majority leader of the United States Senate for the 108th Congress, effective January 6, 2003.”

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