Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott blames his fall from power in 2002 on a “personal betrayal” by an ambitious Sen. Bill Frist, his successor, adding in a new book that President Bush, Colin Powell and other GOP associates played a role.
Frist, R-Tenn., “didn’t even have the courtesy to call and tell me personally that he was going to run,” the Mississippi Republican wrote of a tumultuous period in which he lost his position as Senate leader after making racially tinged remarks.
He said Frist’s actions amounted to a “personal betrayal,” since he had taken the Tennessean “under my wing” in earlier years.
“If Frist had not announced exactly when he did, as the fire was about to burn out, I would still be majority leader of the Senate today,” Lott said in “Herding Cats, A Life in Politics.”
A spokeswoman for Frist, Amy Call, said the senator “hasn’t read the book, so he can’t comment directly, but he always appreciates Senator Lott’s advice.”
In the book, Lott described an unusual partnership with President Clinton that worked to the detriment of 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole; praised former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota as trustworthy; and recalled that Vice President Gerald R. Ford personally cautioned him “not to go so far out on a limb” in defending President Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
A native of Mississippi, Lott recalled feeling “anger in my heart over the way the federal government had invaded Ole Miss to accomplish something that could have been handled peacefully and administratively,” the admission of the first black student to the University of Mississippi in 1962.
As a law student at the school, Lott wrote, he remembered the visiting professors from Yale, brought in to teach constitutional law. “Instead of making us more liberal, they helped create a generation of thoughtful, issue-oriented conservatives who grew up to run Mississippi politics.”
Lott, first elected to the House in 1972, moved to the Senate in 1988.
He became majority leader in 1996, succeeding Dole when the Kansan quit to campaign full time for the White House.
In the book, Lott wrote he quickly formed an unusual alliance with Clinton. Political consultant Dick Morris was the go-between.
The “backstairs arrangement” produced major health and welfare legislation, “but I was treading on dangerous territory,” Lott wrote.
Dole protested. “But I thought there was more at stake than Dole’s chances at winning the White House,” Lott wrote. “Dole wasn’t providing as much coattails for other Republicans on the ticket as we had hoped,” Lott added.
Republicans lost their thin majority in 2001 when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the GOP to become an independent.
“I had raised money for Jeffords; in 2000, I had even campaigned for him in Vermont. Six months later, this was the way he repaid me,” Lott wrote.
“He’d always had a habit of bartering his crucial vote on legislation for his own pet projects,” Lott said.
Lott said that Jeffords once demanded $1 billion for a child health program and also sought provisions to help Vermont’s dairy industry.
Lott’s final fall from power was triggered when he said at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday that the country “wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years” if it had elected Thurmond president in 1948.
The remarks directed to the one-time segregationist were delivered off the cuff, Lott wrote, saying he often kidded Thurmond, R-S.C., by telling him he would have made a great president.
The uproar was slow to build. But, Lott wrote, by the time it was over, former Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma had helped bring him down, and he recalled a tense conversation with Sen. George Allen of Virginia, who told him to resign for the good of the party.
Bush’s tone ‘booming and nasty’
“‘I’m not going to do it,’ I yelled back at him. ‘I’m not going to do it and I’m very disappointed by your call,” Lott wrote.
Bush “struck at me,” Lott wrote, when he said that Lott ‘has apologized and rightly so.’”
Lott added, “I couldn’t argue with the words he chose. But the tone he employed was devastating ... booming and nasty.”
Powell, who was secretary of state at the time, called in reporters to deplore Thurmond’s Dixiecrat campaign of 1948. “I couldn’t understand it. I’d worked with him enough over the years that he should have known I wasn’t a racist,” Lott wrote.