Sen. Trent Lott (R)|
Last Updated June 8, 2001
seat up 2006
Born: Oct. 9, 1941,
Education: U. of MS, B.A. 1963, J.D. 1967
Marital Status: married
- Political: U.S. House of Reps., 1972-88.
- Professional: Practicing atty., 1967-68; A.A., U.S. Rep. William Colmer, 1968-72.
DC Office: 487 RSOB
202-224-6253; Fax: 202-224-2262; Web site: lott.senate.gov
662-453-5681; Gulfport,228-863-1988; Jackson,601-965-4644; Oxford,662-234-3774; Pascagoula,228-762-5400.
Trent Lott, first elected to the Senate in 1988 and now minority leader, was for exactly five years majority leader, from June 1996 until June 2001 when Vermont Senator James Jeffords defected from the Republican Party. Lott grew up in Pascagoula, the son of a shipyard worker and a teacher, went to Ole Miss (where he was a cheerleader, like his Mississippi colleague Thad Cochran) and worked his way through law school by running the Ole Miss alumni affairs office, accumulating good contacts along the way. After a year of law practice, he got a job with Democratic Gulf Coast Congressman William Colmer, chairman of the Rules Committee. When Colmer retired in 1972, Lott ran for the House seat with Colmer's encouragement and endorsement--as a Republican. He was elected with 55% in what was the strongest Nixon district in the country that year. In 1974, Lott was the youngest member of the Judiciary Committee, loyally defending Richard Nixon in the impeachment hearings. In 1980, he was elected Republican whip, and he ran the Republican National Convention's platform committees in 1980 and 1984. In the House he was an ally of Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich. He supported Kemp for president in 1988, and his decision to run for the Senate that year opened the way for Gingrich's rise: Lott was succeeded as whip by Dick Cheney; when Cheney became Defense secretary in March 1989, Gingrich was elected whip 87-85.
There is a discernible hard core of beliefs in Lott's career, and yet he is less the hard-edged ideologue that Washington insiders presumed than he is an instinctive deal-maker, not much interested in quixotic gestures, an orderly and well-organized man who is dismayed by the dilatoriness of others. His beliefs are reminiscent of the mostly unarticulated beliefs of the coalition of Southern conservative Democrats and small-town conservative Northerners which had controlled the House for most of the 35 years previous to when he arrived there: against increased taxes, hostile to federal regulation of business and local government, for an assertive foreign policy and strong defense, for the traditional rules of moral conduct; on one issue, civil rights, he moved as seamlessly as he changed parties, from Colmer's support for racial segregation to the small town Republicans' backing for equal rights. He can be sharp in debate, aggressively partisan and combative, but he is gregarious and personable, striving to keep on good terms with most other members and careful to cultivate those whose support he needs.
In the Senate Lott moved quickly into the leadership. After the 1992 election, he ran for Conference secretary, the number four leadership post, and won, with 20 votes to 14 for Christopher Bond and 5 for Frank Murkowski. In 1993 he was chosen the Republican point man on Clinton appointments, but he mostly avoided confrontations. In 1994, after he had been re-elected 69%-31%, he challenged Republican Whip Al Simpson. Majority Leader Bob Dole and most Republican moderates backed Simpson, but Lott won most of the younger conservatives elected in 1992 and 1994 and won 27-26--the first Republican ever elected whip in both houses. In the process he leapfrogged over his Mississippi colleague Thad Cochran, who held the number three leadership position. Lott's comment was typically unsentimental. ''There comes a time in life, in politics as in baseball, when you seize the moment or it's gone forever. I ran and he didn't.''
As whip for 17 months, Lott was careful not to usurp the prerogatives of Dole, who kept many decisions close to the chest. Then in May 1996 Dole surprised almost everyone when he announced he would resign from the Senate in June. Lott immediately began canvassing for votes for majority leader and found himself far ahead of Cochran, who ran anyway and lost 44-8. During the summer, Lott moved adroitly, pushing for a vote on welfare reform, disposing of the minimum wage issue, pushing for the compromise health care bill and the Safe Drinking Water Act. He gave Senate Republicans a solid record to run on--but left Dole with fewer issues on which to attack Clinton. He established a smooth working relationship with Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.
After Dole lost and Gingrich faced ethics charges that threatened to topple him, Lott was suddenly the most visible Republican leader in Congress. After sending conciliatory signals that he would wait for Clinton to come forward with a budget in early 1997, he moved relentlessly in closed-door negotiations that led to the May bipartisan agreement to balance the budget and passage of the budget in July. But at times he angered colleagues. His insistence on investigating the Louisiana Senate race results infuriated Democrats. Conservatives were angry when he worked with the Clinton Administration, and against Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, to secure ratification of the Chemical Weapons Treaty in April 1997. Democrats were furious that he sidelined their campaign finance bill in October 1997 by presenting an amendment to require union members to give their authorization before union leaders could use their dues money for political purposes. Lott encountered--or engendered--more controversy in 1998. He tasked Commerce Chairman John McCain with getting a committee consensus on a tobacco bill; McCain did and Lott brought it forward. But most Republicans opposed it as a tax increase, and Lott ordered it pulled from the calendar in June 1998.
Then came impeachment, which tested his influence among Republican senators and his close working relationship with Tom Daschle. In December 1998 after the House voted, Lott encouraged the Gorton-Lieberman plan to allow four days of argument in the impeachment trial, to be followed by a vote on whether the charges, if true, would justify impeachment; if that fell short of the two-thirds required for removal, as everyone assumed it would, the trial would be adjourned. House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, the leader of the House managers, wrote an angry letter and Senate conservatives howled; Lott retreated. Democrats remained furious about the prospect of a lengthy, salacious trial, and raised the specter of partisanship which most senators, after the House debate and in line with Senate tradition, wanted to avoid. On January 7, Lott tagged along with Daschle for a scheduled press conference, and they agreed to an all-senators closed caucus the next day. In that extraordinary meeting, senators agreed to a suggestion by Phil Gramm and Edward Kennedy to postpone the issue of calling witnesses and go on with the trial. There was giddy delight at this demonstration of senatorial comity, though the House managers were furious and the Clinton defense team still wary. The trial proceeded in orderly fashion; the verdict went as expected, mostly along partisan lines, with Lott and most Republicans preventing a vote on censure until after the verdict, at which point Democrats weren't much interested.
In the 106th Congress Lott tried to bar non-germane amendments on appropriations bills, arguing that Democrats were using them to hurt Republicans in elections and that it was better procedure to have "clean votes" on issues. He took to filing cloture petitions when he brought bills to the floor and filed lots of amendments himself, to preclude others. Democrats were immensely irritated, and in spring 2000 relations between Lott and Daschle turned very sour; Daschle said Lott was resorting to "a Senate version of dictatorship that I think is unacceptable." In September 1999 Lott did accede to Democrats' loud demands for a vote on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Then, when Democrats belatedly discovered that Republicans were united against it, they demanded that the treaty be pulled; Lott kept to his earlier commitment and it was defeated. In February and March 2000, Lott allowed some votes on Clinton judicial nominees, to the anger of some Republicans. He supported the move to temporarily suspend the gas tax, which failed by a wide margin, and held up a supplemental appropriation on Kosovo and Colombia, to the wrath of Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens. In June 2000 Nebraska's Chuck Hagel said there could be changes in the leadership if Republicans lost seats in November; Hagel had contemplated running against Lott after the November 1998 elections, and ran unsuccessfully against campaign chairman Mitch McConnell instead. In July 2000 Lott steered estate tax repeal through, but at the cost of allowing votes on many Democratic amendments. In fall 2000 Lott followed a "no veto" strategy and tried to negotiate with the Clinton administration on appropriations; this was opposed by House Republican Whip Tom DeLay, who wanted to set clear conservative markers and get members out of town. The result was relatively high spending, and a delay in many appropriations until after the November elections and, as seemed sensible, after the Florida recounts as well.
By late 2000, almost everyone seemed angry with Lott for one reason or another. "I don't feel unappreciated, and I don't feel exceedingly appreciated," he said. But no one--not even Majority Whip Don Nickles, a frequent critic--moved to run against him, though Lott ally Larry Craig was challenged for his leadership position and kept it by only a 26-24 vote. Lott had lost some of his closest confidants in the Senate--Connie Mack retired, Paul Coverdell died in July 2000 and Slade Gorton, after a long recount, was defeated for re-election. That left the Senate divided 50-50. Democrats demanded equal numbers of members on each committee; some Republican conservatives strongly opposed that, though some committee chairmen offered equal membership. "Look, we got the high ground," Lott said. "We took the leap of faith." On January 5, 2001, after negotiations with Daschle, Lott surprised many by agreeing to equal membership. There was a strong theoretical argument for that--committee membership should reflect the balance on the floor--but even stronger practical arguments; plus not insisting on every ounce of partisan advantage was probably prudent. Democrats, many angry about Florida, were of a mood to filibuster the organizational resolution, which would probably have prevented confirmation of Bush appointees; and Lott wanted to make sure that no Democratic senator would challenge the Florida electoral votes on January 6, and thereby trigger debate on that issue. And there was also the possibility that control could shift to the Democrats. Most observers pointed to 98-year-old Strom Thurmond as one senator who might leave office, but there were 45 senators with governors of a different party, 26 Democrats and 19 Republicans, whose departure could change party control. While there was some hope that Georgia's Zell Miller--much paraded about as a Democratic backer of Bush's tax cut--might cross the aisle and strengthen this fragile majority, it was not much suspected in May 2001 that James Jeffords would defect and unravel it. The visibly angry Lott called it a "coup of one" and said, "The decision of one man has--however else you describe it--trumped the will of the American people."
The fact is that the position of Senate majority leader carries little institutional power. The majority leader can take the lead in scheduling business--as Lott did when he got John McCain to wait two months, until March 2001, to debate his campaign finance bill--but such decisions can often require unanimous consent and can usually be overturned by majorities. With a Republican president, Lott will be less often the national spokesman for his party, as he was many times from 1996 to 2000; he will be spending more time, as minority leader, trying to get the Bush programs through. The day before the Senate balance of power was officially to change hands, Lott remarked: "There's something liberating about being in the minority … You're freer to advocate positions and amendments you really think should be adopted."
In the meantime he will surely keep tending to Mississippi interests. Working often with colleague Thad Cochran, who ranks second on Appropriations, Lott has pressed hard for $375 million for the LHD-8 helicopter carrier, to be manufactured in Pascagoula's Ingalls Shipyards, a ship not sought by the Navy; he has gotten $72 million for projects at the Raytheon plant in Forest; he has worked for $2 million for Mississippi State University's research center where superfast computers do undersea modeling of Navy projects and $2 million for University of Mississippi computer labs receiving information from orbiting satellites; he got $5 million for an electronic targeting system at the Army Reserves' Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg. He got Madison County designated as a "renewal community" on the grounds that it is "right on the edge of" the impoverished Mississippi Delta; but the county is filling up with affluent Jackson suburbanites and can probably use to designation to pave the way for a $930 million auto plant Nissan is planning to build there.
Lott gave up a safe House seat to run for the Senate in 1988, and he had something of a fight for it against Democratic Congressman Wayne Dowdy. But Lott raised plenty of money and beat Dowdy by a 61%-39% margin in the Jackson area, the Gulf Coast and other counties where turnout had increased 10% since 1980; in the rest of the state, Dowdy won only 51%-49%, giving Lott a 54%-46% win overall. In 1994 and 2000 Lott did not have serious competition and won easily, 69%-31% and 66%-32%. The 2000 VNS exit poll shows Lott carrying whites 88%-9% and losing blacks 88%-10%, but the latter figure seems dubious. He carried Hinds County, whose population is 61% black, with 51% of the vote, and ran even in the black-majority Delta; his efforts to win black Mississippians' votes seem to have borne some fruit.
|National Journal Ratings|
Key Votes of the 106th Congress
|1. Educ. Savings Accts.
|2. Prescrip. Drug Benefit
|3. Delay Ergonomic Standards
|4. Phase Out Estate Tax
|5. Review Movie Violence
|6. Gun Show Bckgrnd. Checks
| 7. Ban Part.-Birth Abortion||Y|
| 8. Broaden Hate Crimes List
| 9. NATO War in Serbia
|10. Table Cuba Travel Ban
|11. Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty
|12. Perm. Trade with China
||Trent Lott (R)
|Troy Brown (D)
||Trent Lott (R)
||Trent Lott (R)
|Ken Harper (D)
|2000||Receipts||Receipts from PACs||Expenditures|
|Trent Lott (R)
|Troy Brown (D)
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