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Bush denounces Lott’s remarks

President condemns ‘any suggestion’ backing segregation, makes no public move to help oust majority leader

MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Dec. 12 — President Bush spoke out Thursday on the controversy enveloping Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, calling the Mississippi senator’s praise of Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist presidential bid “offensive” and requiring the apology Lott offered. Meanwhile, a new report on Lott’s efforts in the 1960s to prevent his college fraternity from admitting black pledges to its chapters added fuel to the furor. And late Thursday, Democrats hinted that Lott’s comments may derail Mississippi jurist Charles Pickering’s second chance for a federal appeals court seat.

‘Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.’ — PRESIDENT BUSH

WHILE A STUDENT at the University of Mississippi 40 years ago, Lott helped lead the battle to prevent the Sigma Nu fraternity from admitting black students to any of its chapters across the nation, according to a story published on the Time magazine Web site Thursday.

EX-CNN PRESIDENT RECALLS INCIDENT

“Trent was one of the strongest leaders in resisting the integration of the national fraternity in any of the chapters,” former CNN President Tom Johnson, then a Sigma Nu member at the University of Georgia, told Time reporter Karen Tumulty.

Johnson, who voted with Lott to keep the racially exclusionary policy, told Tumulty that the vote was “one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”

Johnson said he believed over the years that Lott had repeated the story of that vote to mutual acquaintances in order to embarrass him.

In Bush’s remarks — made before an audience in Philadelphia — Bush did not call on Lott to step down from his post as Senate majority leader, to which his fellow Republican senators electrats hinted that Lott’s comments may derail Mississippi jurist Charles Pickering’s second chance for a federal appeals court seat.

‘Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.’ — PRESIDENT BUSH

WHILE A STUDENT at the University of Mississippi 40 years ago, Lott helped lead the battle to prevent the Sigma Nu fraternity from admitting black students to any of its chapters across the nation, according to a story published on the Time magazine Web site Thursday.

EX-CNN PRESIDENT RECALLS INCIDENT

“Trent was one of the strongest leaders in resisting the integration of the national fraternity in any of the chapters,” former CNN President Tom Johnson, then a Sigma Nu member at the University of Georgia, told Time reporter Karen Tumulty.

Johnson, who voted with Lott to keep the racially exclusionary policy, told Tumulty that the vote was “one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”

Johnson said he believed over the years that Lott had repeated the story of that vote to mutual acquaintances in order to embarrass him.

In Bush’s remarks — made before an audience in Philadelphia — Bush did not call on Lott to step down from his post as Senate majority leader, to which his fellow Republican senators elected him on Nov 13.

One practical difficulty that stands in the way of ousting Lott from his majority leader post, as some GOP activists and pundits want to do: Lott ranks only 14th among GOP senators, so by a strict seniority rule, he would not be entitled to a major committee chairmanship if he decided to step down as majority leader. And any GOP committee chairman would be reluctant to give up his post in order to give it to Lott.

‘IT IS WRONG,’ BUSH SAYS

In his remarks, Bush assailed Lott for his praise of Thurmond’s pro-segregationist presidential candidacy in 1948. “Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong,” Bush told an audience in Philadelphia.

“Recent comments by Sen. Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country,” Bush declared. “He has apologized and rightly so,” he said. “Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.”

Bush was animated as he condemned Lott’s original remarks.

Audience members, many of them minorities who work in religious groups and charities in inner-city communities, repeatedly cheered approval of Bush’s words. “Uh-huh ... amen,” came the reply at several points, accompanied by hearty ed him on Nov 13.

One practical difficulty that stands in the way of ousting Lott from his majority leader post, as some GOP activists and pundits want to do: Lott ranks only 14th among GOP senators, so by a strict seniority rule, he would not be entitled to a major committee chairmanship if he decided to step down as majority leader. And any GOP committee chairman would be reluctant to give up his post in order to give it to Lott.

‘IT IS WRONG,’ BUSH SAYS

In his remarks, Bush assailed Lott for his praise of Thurmond’s pro-segregationist presidential candidacy in 1948. “Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong,” Bush told an audience in Philadelphia.

“Recent comments by Sen. Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country,” Bush declared. “He has apologized and rightly so,” he said. “Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.”

Bush was animated as he condemned Lott’s original remarks.

Audience members, many of them minorities who work in religious groups and charities in inner-city communities, repeatedly cheered approval of Bush’s words. “Uh-huh ... amen,” came the reply at several points, accompanied by hearty applause.

“The president thought what Trent Lott said was wrong,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Thursday. “The president does not think that Sen. Lott should resign.”

Lott’s office immediately issued a statement embracing the president’s comments.

“Sen. Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong, and he is sorry. He repudiates segregation because it is immoral,” Lott spokesman Ron Bonjean said.

CENSURE, NOT RESIGNATION?

The Congressional Black Caucus, composed of 38 Democratic members of the House, called Thursday for a formal censure of Lott.

“This is not an isolated incident but a longstanding pattern of behavior that can no longer be ignored or tolerated,” the Democratic House members said in a statement.

“It is offensive and morally reprehensible that a public official with such a record would be reinstated to serve as Majority Leader of the United States Senate.”

The caucus did not demand that Lott resign as Senate majority leader, but did criticize Bush for not doing so. “It is astounding that he has not called for Senator Lott to step aside as incoming Majority Leader,” the caucus statemenapplause.

“The president thought what Trent Lott said was wrong,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Thursday. “The president does not think that Sen. Lott should resign.”

Lott’s office immediately issued a statement embracing the president’s comments.

“Sen. Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong, and he is sorry. He repudiates segregation because it is immoral,” Lott spokesman Ron Bonjean said.

CENSURE, NOT RESIGNATION?

The Congressional Black Caucus, composed of 38 Democratic members of the House, called Thursday for a formal censure of Lott.

“This is not an isolated incident but a longstanding pattern of behavior that can no longer be ignored or tolerated,” the Democratic House members said in a statement.

“It is offensive and morally reprehensible that a public official with such a record would be reinstated to serve as Majority Leader of the United States Senate.”

The caucus did not demand that Lott resign as Senate majority leader, but did criticize Bush for not doing so. “It is astounding that he has not called for Senator Lott to step aside as incoming Majority Leader,” the caucus statement said.

A NOMINATION IN THE BALANCE

‘What has happened has reinforced my belief that the Senate will reject Charles Pickering, whether by a majority vote or through a filibuster.’ — RALPH NEAS People for the American Way

Democrats and liberal groups late Thursday offered a possible strategy for dealing with the Lott controversy, saying they hope to use it to dissuade Bush from renominating Pickering, a personal friend of Lott, to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“That Pickering’s chief Senate sponsor is now praising the ‘Dixiecrat’ platform places the Pickering nomination in an even dimmer light,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Pickering, a U.S. district judge in Hattiesburg, faced the same accusations of racial insensitivity during a heated, racially charged party-line defeat of his promotion this year.

When Republicans regained control of the Senate in last month’s election, Lott said Pickering’s confirmation would be the first thing he pushed through the Senate next year when he becomes majority leader.

But liberal groups say renominating Pickering would reopen a battle over Southern politicians’ past on the Senate floor, a battle Republicans might not want to face to start off the congressional year.

“Whatt said.

A NOMINATION IN THE BALANCE

‘What has happened has reinforced my belief that the Senate will reject Charles Pickering, whether by a majority vote or through a filibuster.’ — RALPH NEAS People for the American Way

Democrats and liberal groups late Thursday offered a possible strategy for dealing with the Lott controversy, saying they hope to use it to dissuade Bush from renominating Pickering, a personal friend of Lott, to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“That Pickering’s chief Senate sponsor is now praising the ‘Dixiecrat’ platform places the Pickering nomination in an even dimmer light,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Pickering, a U.S. district judge in Hattiesburg, faced the same accusations of racial insensitivity during a heated, racially charged party-line defeat of his promotion this year.

When Republicans regained control of the Senate in last month’s election, Lott said Pickering’s confirmation would be the first thing he pushed through the Senate next year when he becomes majority leader.

But liberal groups say renominating Pickering would reopen a battle over Southern politicians’ past on the Senate floor, a battle Republicans might not want to face to start off the congressional year.

“What has happened has reinforced my belief that the Senate will reject Charles Pickering, whether by a majority vote or through a filibuster,” said Ralph Neas of the liberal People for the American Way, who led the opposition against Pickering this year.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum lamented in his National Review column Thursday that “Lott will try to save himself by jettisoning the conservative agenda in the Senate. Democrats are only too willing to offer Lott just such a deal.”

MAKING AMENDS?

Frum cited a remark Wednesday by Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat, who said Lott could make restitution for his offensive comments by speeding the passage of legislation favored by the Congressional Black Caucus, pushing for a minimum wage increase, and expanded federal subsidies for low-income housing.

The Lott firestorm began last week with his remarks at an event marking Thurmond’s 100th birthday. Lott said Mississippians were proud to have voted for Thurmond in 1948. “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

Thurmond in 1948 ran for president on a segregationist platform. “Racial integrity, as well as peace and good order, requires laws providing for the separation of the two races,R has happened has reinforced my belief that the Senate will reject Charles Pickering, whether by a majority vote or through a filibuster,” said Ralph Neas of the liberal People for the American Way, who led the opposition against Pickering this year.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum lamented in his National Review column Thursday that “Lott will try to save himself by jettisoning the conservative agenda in the Senate. Democrats are only too willing to offer Lott just such a deal.”

MAKING AMENDS?

Frum cited a remark Wednesday by Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat, who said Lott could make restitution for his offensive comments by speeding the passage of legislation favored by the Congressional Black Caucus, pushing for a minimum wage increase, and expanded federal subsidies for low-income housing.

The Lott firestorm began last week with his remarks at an event marking Thurmond’s 100th birthday. Lott said Mississippians were proud to have voted for Thurmond in 1948. “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

Thurmond in 1948 ran for president on a segregationist platform. “Racial integrity, as well as peace and good order, requires laws providing for the separation of the two races,” he said during the 1948 campaign.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Thurmond changed his views, becoming the first Southern senator to hire black staff members and voting for the Martin Luther King national holiday.

Lott apologized Wednesday, saying his words were “terrible” and “insensitive.”

‘OF THE HEAD, NOT THE HEART’

Lott said on Wednesday’s “Sean Hannity Radio Show” on WABC-AM in New York that he made “a mistake of the head, not the heart.”

Lott admitted the comment could be seen as offensive and asked for holiday forgiveness. “I’m sorry for my words,” said Lott, attacked in recent days by some fellow conservatives as well as liberals.

“I wanted to honor Strom Thurmond the man. It was certainly not intended to endorse the segregationist policies that he was advocating 54 years ago,” Lott said.

On Wednesday , Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota demanded “a fuller explanation and apology” from Lott.

Daschle, who initially accepted Lott’s explanation, pushed for more as the furor over the remark escalated with reports Wednesday that Lott made a similar comment in 1980 during a rally in his state by then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, at which Thurmond was a keynote21; he said during the 1948 campaign.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Thurmond changed his views, becoming the first Southern senator to hire black staff members and voting for the Martin Luther King national holiday.

Lott apologized Wednesday, saying his words were “terrible” and “insensitive.”

‘OF THE HEAD, NOT THE HEART’

Lott said on Wednesday’s “Sean Hannity Radio Show” on WABC-AM in New York that he made “a mistake of the head, not the heart.”

Lott admitted the comment could be seen as offensive and asked for holiday forgiveness. “I’m sorry for my words,” said Lott, attacked in recent days by some fellow conservatives as well as liberals.

“I wanted to honor Strom Thurmond the man. It was certainly not intended to endorse the segregationist policies that he was advocating 54 years ago,” Lott said.

On Wednesday , Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota demanded “a fuller explanation and apology” from Lott.

Daschle, who initially accepted Lott’s explanation, pushed for more as the furor over the remark escalated with reports Wednesday that Lott made a similar comment in 1980 during a rally in his state by then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, at which Thurmond was a keynote speaker.

Referring to Thurmond, Lott told the crowd at that 1980 rally, “You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today,” according to a story in the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger newspaper.

Daschle defended Lott on Monday, saying he had spoken with Lott and had accepted Lott’s explanation that he hadn’t meant the remarks to be interpreted as they were.

“There are a lot of times when he and I go to the microphone and would like to say things we meant to say differently, and I’m sure this was one of those cases for him, as well,” Daschle said.

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