Dec. 13, 2002- Delegate Donna M. Christensen said on Friday that U.S. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, who is scheduled to become the majority leader when the Republican Party claims control of the Senate in January, should step down from the leadership post because of racially offensive comments he made a week ago.
"It is the right thing for him to do," Christensen said of the Mississippi Republican in a release issued by her Washington office on Friday morning.
Further, she said, "I will support the motion to be introduced that calls for him to be censured."
On Friday afternoon, Lott held a nationally broadcast press conference in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to address the controversy raging over his comments at a 100th birthday party on Dec. 5 for soon-to-retire Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
At the party Lott noted that Mississippi was one of four states that voted for Thurmond for president on the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket 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," he said.
On Friday, Lott said: "I apologize for reopening old wounds and hurting so many Americans … I take full responsibility for my remarks and only hope that people will find in their heart to forgive me for this grievous mistake. Not only have I seen the destruction wrought by the racist and immoral policies of the past, I will do everything in my power to ensure that we never go back to that kind of society again."
The Congressional Black Caucus, of which Christensen is a member, had called earlier in the week for Senate Democrats to seek a formal vote to censure Lott. The group renewed that call after Lott's press conference, according to an Associated Press report.
Each party's leadership serves at the will of that party; neither the Democrats nor the Senate has the power to remove Lott from the majority leader post.
On Thursday, amid continuing outrage over Lott's remarks, President Bush said in an address that the senator's statements "do not reflect the spirit of our country." He was speaking to a mostly African-American audience of religious leaders in Philadelphia.
White House officials had said earlier in the week that the president had received and accepted Lott's apology for the remarks. Bush in his address stated: "Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong." He continued, "Recent comments by Sen. Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so."
On Friday, Lott said that "the President was right when he said that every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals."
At Thurmond's party, Lott said, "in celebrating his life, I did not mean to suggest in any way that his segregationist views of 50 years ago were justified or right. Segregation was immoral then and it is wrong now." He added, "By the time I came to know Strom Thurmond — 40 years after he ran for president — Strom himself had long since renounced these repugnant views."
Christensen said in her Friday release: "All persons in positions of leadership are, and should be, held responsible for what they say. With his years of experience, I don't accept that he didn't realize what he was saying." Further, she said, he has "said almost exactly the same thing before."
Since making the comments, Lott said, he has asked and is continuing to ask "for people's forbearance and forgiveness as I continue to learn from my own mistakes and as I continue to grow as both a person and a leader."
Lott also said at the press conference that he has been in contact with Crucian-born Roy Innis, national chair of the Congress of Racial Equality, and with Robert Johnson, head of the Black Entertainment Television network, about appearing on an hour-long TV program in the next week to clear the air further.
Bush in his Thursday speech did not comment on whether Lott should step aside as majority leader, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was quoted by The New York Times afterward as saying in an interview that "emphatically and on the record, the president doesn't think Trent Lott needs to resign."
According to national media reports, senior White House aides privately pressured Lott to make a public apology. One Republican senator, John McCain of Arizona, publicly called on him to do so. Democratic politicians, including several senators, have said he should give up the majority leadership. Lott said at the press conference that no Republican colleagues have suggested that he do so. and "I'm not about to resign for an accusation for something I'm not."
Analysts have noted that Congress is not about to take marching orders from the White House, no matter what the issue. According to commentators on National Public Radio, Lott has let it be known that if were to step aside as majority leader, he would also step down as senator from Mississippi. In that event, his successor would be named by the state governor, who is a Democrat. And that, they said, would in all likelihood be the end of the majority the Senate just won in November, which would be a major setback for the administration.
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