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Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Trent Lott Has Got To Go
By Joe Giardiello
joe@politicalusa.com
5/23/2001

Someone came up with a saying some time ago. I think it went something like, "Three Strikes, You’re Out." Apparently Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is a little weak on his baseball (or modern crime fighting) colloquialisms. A little weak in the leadership department also, if the current direction of the U.S. Senate is any indication.

Ah, remember with me if you will the halcyon days of yesteryear when we actually talked about a veto-proof majority in the Senate. The House may be a dead heat as far as numbers go, but it was the Senate that could be reliably expected to remain in Republican hands. It would be the bulwark against any eventual Democratic takeover of the House. Indeed, 60 Republican senators didn’t seem all that out of reach.

But then Trent came to bat. Either it was fate, crafty Democrats or maybe just dumb luck that blew three fast balls over the plate that is Senator Trent Lott.

And we’re not talking little strikes on Lott’s part here, either. If it was a matter of Lott’s affinity for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or some other minor misstep, that could be forgiven. Lott, you will recall, allowed, in the early days of the 2000 presidential campaign, a gun-control bill to come to the floor that was tied 50-50. This gave Vice President Al Gore the opportunity to "look Presidential" by riding into the Senate on his white horse and break the tie. Then there was Lott’s appeal to the military to "get real" during the Kelly Flinn Air Force affair. Slip ups like these have been all but forgotten.

Of course this isn’t about Lott’s ability to be a good Senator. He has arguably done a laudable job representing his constituents in Mississippi. His voting record was solidly conservative before he became Majority Leader. Lott has received universal praise for his ability to play the inside game. You could even argue it’s the Senate Majority Leaders job to maintain the facade of neutrality on many issues.

But Trent Lott has shown a remarkable inability to get things done in the U.S. Senate as the lead Republican. Take a look at just a small part of the Lott record (and let’s keep it to the last six months – we only have a limited amount of time),

Strike 1

Trent Lott took over the Senate in 1996 with a 55-45 edge. Now, after just three election cycles with Lott in control of the Republican caucus, the split stands at 50-50.

In just the last two election cycles Republicans have lost such institutional names as William Roth of Delaware (while the Republican at-large congressman was coasting to a 37-point victory), Washington’s Slade Gorton and New York’s Al D’Amato (remember Alfonse?) in addition to first-termers such as Rod Grams of Minnesota.

If it was a nationwide trend it would almost be tempting to say there was little the Republican leadership could do about it. Too bad for Lott there is the junior senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum. While Bush went on to lose Pennsylvania, Santorum ran away with a race that was almost universally expected to be one the best chances for a Democratic pickup.

So while a Republican was winning the White House, incumbent Republican Senators were dropping like flies.

But election losses are not the only weak spot of Team Lott.

Strike 2

The new President’s tax cut is arguably the most important vote that will be cast during the entire Bush Presidency – the defining vote of the early Bush days. It is what every following major vote will be compared to in the next four years. This is more than just your average tax-cut vote. Yet even then, Lott couldn’t keep the Republicans in line.

Now, with a compromise deal all ready to be voted on, Lott stares into the cameras, stunned, absolutely stunned, that Democrats would attempt to delay the budget vote.

Even though the tax cut winds up being a still staggering $1.35 trillion, the media has dedicated considerable coverage to the fact it wasn’t the $1.6 trillion Bush said was "was just right" during the campaign. So even in victory, Republicans are the losers again. The Democrats protected the elderly, those damn children and social security.

Strike 3

Now comes the case of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords. As of this writing the conventional wisdom seems to say Jeffords intends to defect – or at least declare himself an independent. For my money, I’m voting on the independent route. A man who has lived his life almost devoid of principles clearly belongs somewhere in that hazy netherworld.

Then he can delay changing the leadership in the Senate for a few months and get some more press time while the world ponders how he'll vote in Senate organization.  Yup, Mr. Jeffords will really enjoy his 15 minutes then.  

Some good may come out of a Jeffords’ defection after all. It may give the Republicans in the Senate the shove they need to change leadership.

It has been said Jeffords and Lott are good friends. Maybe Jeffords and his new friends will allow Lott to stay on as leader. That way he can sell out the Democrats for a change.

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