Finds Battle for Senate Unity as Easy as Herding Cats
Independent on Sunday, January 31, 1999, page 16
© Copyright 1999 Newspaper Publishing P.L.C.
can tell from his immaculately groomed hair, as smooth and neat
as a dog at Cruft's, that Trent Lott is a fastidious man. He even
irons his shirts again when they come back from the cleaners,
writes Andrew Marshall.
Mr Lott cannot keep everything so tidy. As the Republican chief
in the US Senate, he has had to contend with the increasingly
unmanageable task of keeping senators together as they march towards
the end of the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.
evident that he is not entirely enjoying the task. Using a metaphor
once employed by the veteran political arranger Howard Baker,
he likened it last week to "herding cats".
striven to maintain cordial relations with Tom Daschle, who leads
the Democrats in the Senate, but that is not the main task. Mr
Lott knows that united, the Republicans cannot be defeated: they
have 55 seats to the Democrats' 45. The errant felines that Mr
Lott has had to keep in line have principally been his own.
most of his productive time for the last week closeted in an oak-panelled
room behind the Senate Chamber, caucusing with the Republicans
and trying to keep them in line. He knows that the major mistake
made in the House of Representatives was to let the party fall
apart, and he saw what happened: there was a revolt, and Newt
Gingrich, the party's leader in the House, was ousted.
for all the headlines he has earned over the last few weeks as
a skilful manager and conciliator, Mr Lott, 57, is far from being
a mainstream character. Mississippi, his home state, is a place
where politics has been a deadly and divisive game for much of
the last century, and Mr Lott has his dark secrets.
last year that he had addressed a group called theCouncil of Conservative
Citizens. Though this may sound like a group that meets on Fridays
at Dorking Golf Club over sherry, it is rather more extreme. Some
members have far-right, anti-Semitic and racist views.
group itself has been called in the US press an heir to the White
Citizens Councils, sinister groups that fought desegregation in
the days when Mississippi was on the edge of a second civil war.
Mr Lott denied all knowledge of its views.
senator has worked on an impeachment before. During the House
hearings on Richard Nixon in 1974, he was a young congressman
from the Gulf Coast, the youngest on the Judiciary Committee.
He defended the President longer than virtually anyone else,which
makes his present job all the more ironic.
last week, the reviews of his performance had all been favourable.
Now, they are a little more wobbly. The trial is going on (and
on, and on) and some of his own troops are not happy.
to be seen if Mr Lott can emerge with his reputation intact, or
if the long shadow of Bill Clinton will fall over him as it did
over Mr Gingrich.