Yesterday, Senate Republicans chose Trent Lott (R-MS) as their new Minority Whip. In 2002, Lott was forced to step down as Majority Leader when “comments he made at former Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-SC) birthday party touched off a racially charged controversy.”
At the time, Sen. Charles Hagel (R-NE) said the remark was a “dumb statement” that “raises questions about his judgment.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Lott needed to “proactively send a message to his colleagues in the Senate and the American people that he is absolutely opposed to any segregation in any form and racism in any form and discrimination in any form.”
What was racism in 2002 is a non-issue in 2006. NPR interviewed several senators — including Hagel and McCain — who said that Lott’s racist comments didn’t even come up in his whip nomination:
Here are the Senate Republicans’ comments from the NPR report:
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX):
HOST: In that closed room, did anyone mention specifically the Strom Thurmond birthday party incident that led to–
CORNYN: It didn’t come up.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME):
We understand what happened. There’s no point going over. It’s in the past now, you know, and he has expressed, you know, his deep regret, as he should.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):
I think most people think he paid a pretty heavy price for the mistake that he made. We all believe in redemption, thank God.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE):
Everyone has an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves if they want to do it, and I admire Trent Lott for coming back and offering himself. The conference spoke, and we go forward.