In a speech on the Senate floor today, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) paid tribute to Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), who recently announced his resignation. Smith remembered Lott’s “warm slap on our backs” and the “steely look in his eye.” He also defended Lott’s comments in 2002, which heralded the segregationist platform of former senator Strom Thurmond:
I watched over international news as his words were misconstrued, words which we had heard him utter many times in his big warm-heartedness trying to make one of our colleagues, Strom Thurmond, feel good at 100 years old. We knew what he meant. But the wolfpack of the press circled around him, sensed blood in the water, and the exigencies of politics caused a great injustice.
In 2002, however, Smith claimed he was “deeply dismayed” at Lott’s statements about Thurmond.
UPDATE: Former attorney general John Ashcroft remembers Lott as “Lincoln-esque.”
UPDATE II: Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) also defend Lott’s statements on Sturmond.
UPDATE III: Politico has more samplings of the praise heaped upon Lott today.