Senate GOP Picks Gingrich Ally Lott to Follow Dole as Leader
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Republicans overwhelmingly chose Trent Lott on Wednesday to succeed Bob Dole as majority leader, picking a Newt Gingrich ally and continuing the ascendency of the GOP’s more aggressive conservatives.
Lott, who at 54 is already a 23-year veteran of Congress, won a lopsided 44-8 ballot of GOP senators over his senior colleague from Mississippi, Sen. Thad Cochran.
He immediately pledged to pursue the familiar Republican agenda of balancing the budget, shrinking government and trimming taxes and spending.
``The torch has been passed,″ Lott said, referring to Dole’s Senate resignation Tuesday to campaign fulltime for the White House. ``But the flame is the same.″
Still, the vote symbolized the clout of Congress’ swelling ranks of newer GOP lawmakers eager for quick action, and the dwindling influence of veteran Republicans who revere Capitol Hill’s tradition of patient consensus building. It also capped the evolution that took hold nearly two years ago in the House, when avuncular GOP leader Robert Michel of Illinois retired and was replaced by the fiery Gingrich, a close friend and one-time House colleague of Lott’s.
In a brief interview, Gingrich _ now House speaker _ said Lott was his mentor when he was rising through the ranks.
``He’s a terrifically energetic and courageous guy, and a part of the Reagan Republican movement,″ Gingrich said. ``I’m delighted.″
Lott and Cochran, who is 58, have similar conservative ideologies, but Lott is garrulous and outgoing to Cochran’s more softspoken, gentlemanly approach. Lott, a senator for seven years compared with Cochran’s 17, is also seen as the more assertive and ambitious of the two. And he is being counted on by many of his GOP colleagues to unhesitatingly draw election-year contrasts with Democrats.
``There’s likely to be a more aggressive tone″ in the Senate, said freshman Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
All day long, Lott said his job was to reach out to Republicans of all stripes _ and to Democrats _ to move bills through the Senate, a chamber whose rules allow even one disgruntled member to slow legislation to a crawl.
``My approach is going to be, `Let’s see if we can find a way to work things out,‴ he told reporters.
Some Democrats reacted with expressions of hope for cooperation. Others expressed optimism that they had found a juicy new political target.
``I begin this day and this new period ... with great expectations, with optimism, with the belief that we can ... come together,″ said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
``The Republican Party is now completely led by extremists,″ said liberal Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. ``The Senate is about to become a replica of Newt’s House.″
In fact, few consider Lott to be quite as ideological or unyielding as Congress’ newest class of GOP freshmen. However, he is partisan enough that as a House freshman in 1974 he was one of President Nixon’s staunchest defenders during the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment proceedings.
And he is ambitious enough that he leapfrogged more senior colleagues when he became GOP whip _ the No. 2 job _ after just eight years in the House and six years in the Senate. He captured the Senate whip job from Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a Dole friend.
Despite his experience, Lott’s glib manner sometimes leads him to say surprising things. At his news conference Wednesday after winning his new job, he contrasted himself with Dole by saying, ``There is a difference in age and maybe that will affect things some″ in the Senate _ this amid a presidential campaign in which the 72-year-old Dole is trying to soften the age issue.
In a written statement, Dole called Lott ``a talented, loyal and effective whip,″ adding, ``I am proud to join my former Republican Senate colleagues in calling him leader.″
Dole telephoned Lott immediately after the vote was taken, said Lott spokeswoman Susan Irby. Lott then placed separate calls to his mother, Iona, 82; his wife, Tricia; his daughter, Tyler, and his son, Chet.
As for Cochran, he trailed in the campaign for the leader’s job from the start. Senators cited everything from Lott’s sturdy job as whip to his ability to communicate well on television news shows.
``I started with a small base of support, and during the campaign it got smaller,″ said Cochran, who will remain in his No. 3 job of conference chairman through the year.
In other Senate GOP leadership races decided Wednesday, Don Nickles of Oklahoma inherited Lott’s whip job, running unopposed, and Larry Craig of Idaho defeated Dan Coats of Indiana and Robert Bennett of Utah for policy committee chairman.