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Sunday, December 15, 2002

How Long For Lott?

Don Nickles calls for a change in leadership; Warner and Hagel agree that a meeting is necessary. Think of it as a "confidence/no-confidence" vote - with the events of the last week, the Republican caucus should re-affirm Lott, or not.

The White House position is clear:

Senior White House officials said Bush would not defend Lott from a challenge. And in a clear sign of Lott's weak support in the White House, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, both African Americans, have rebuffed Lott's request for statements defending him.

The White House and the Republican National Committee pointedly refused to defend Lott yesterday. A key party source even voiced a willingness to accept the consequence that if Lott loses the majority leader post, he might quit the Senate and allow a Democratic appointee to replace him. "If he chooses to do that, that's his choice, so be it," the source said.

For a famously non-leaky White House, the Powell and Rice news is brutal to Lott's hopes.

So, will Lott simply step down as Majority Leader, or quit the Senate and allow the Democratic Governor of Mississipi to appoint his replacement?

The recent examples are Jim Wright, former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, and Bob Livingstone, Speaker of the House-designate. In each case, the man stepped down and out, leaving the House entirely.

Given the structure of the House, including the no-filibuster rule, the Speaker is more powerful than the Senate Majority Leader. However, a mere Congressmen is as nothing in the Washington pecking order compared to a US Senator. So, the three recent House examples fell from a greater height to a greater depth than that facing Sen. Lott. Lott is probably in a position where he could remain Senator for life from Mississippi, and hope that some other whippersnapper humiliates himself at Lott's 101st birthday bash.

Furthermore, none of the three examples mentioned changed, or threatened, control of the House. Lott would throw the Senate into confusion by stepping down. The immediate consequence would be a Senate that was 50 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and Jeffords as an independent. At a minimum, a revival of the 50-50 power sharing arrangement (generally described as Daschle snookering Lott) would probably be necessary. In addition, speculation would be intense that Chaffee or McCain would switch parties. They won't, but I'll explain that later.

Quite a legacy for Lott - having been criticized for mishandling Jeffords, he could be the guy who let a seemingly Republican Senate slip to the Democrats twice. His future as a lobbyist might be somewhat dimmed by this, although Democratic chairmen might be delighted to take his call just to laugh about old times when they seemed to be stuck in the minority.

According to Drudge, Lott has told Newsweek he will stick it out regardless - smart decision.

And who will succeed Lott? Various reports suggest that Karl Rove favors Bill Frist, the outgoing chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee that joined with Bush to deliver the GOP midterm election victories.

A possible rationale? Republicans want to be seen as repudiating Trent Lott's apparent attitude, not the South generally. Bill Frist is a new face for the New South. His elevation will reassure the South, and the country, that Republican appeal in the South goes beyond race.

So, Bold Predictions: Lott out, Frist up, all before Christmas.

UPDATE: A good point from the author of the Hauser Report: Given the slim majority and the peculiar circumstances, maybe the next Majority Leader should be Tom Cruise of "Mission Impossible". Frist is a rising star - why wade into this swamp?

Well, the post has recently consumed Dole, Daschle (a much better Minority Leader), and Lott, so it has not been a resume builder But your country and your Party need you, Bill!

UPDATE 2: I predict, you deride! Republicans will settle this in the back Lott on Jan. 6. Well, that's Christmas in the Greek Orthodox calendar, I think.

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