The good, the bad and the ugly

As Tom DeLay continues to get riddled, Trent Lott is shooting from the hip again.

Published April 14, 2005 3:18PM (EDT)

While the current House Majority Leader's ship appears to be in danger of sinking, a former Senate Majority Leader whose career plummeted like a stone through water two years ago could be on the rise again. So says the Washington Post today, in a profile of Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, who's been making efforts to work his way back up through the ranks.

A refresher on his downfall: "Lott's demise after six years as majority leader and Republican leader was self-inflicted. At Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th-birthday party Dec. 5, 2002 -- a month after the Republicans reclaimed control of the Senate from the Democrats -- Lott noted Thurmond's 1948 run for president on the anti-civil-rights 'Dixiecrat' ticket and said that 'we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years' had Thurmond won. Lott insisted he was just trying to flatter the old man, but once the line received widespread media attention it triggered a national furor."

Lott, who has served time in exile as a more lowly chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, said of recent pet projects, "I'm just rooting around trying to find ways to be useful." That's included helping to arrange a deal on the 2006 budget, working to change immigration laws and pass highway funding, and trying to quell a Democratic uprising over judicial nominations. And planning a nice little quail luncheon for President Bush's inauguration.

He's even been courting some of the folks who served him humble pie over the Thurmond blunder. "In recent months, Lott also has made a determined effort to ingratiate himself with some of the Senate leaders who helped depose him -- although his relationship with the White House appears to remain strained. This new, cooperative spirit in the Senate has raised a few eyebrows among Lott's colleagues, who wonder whether he's plotting a leadership comeback."

Lott says he's most interested in the post of Senate whip, according to the Post, because the whip is in the thick of everything but "doesn't have to make every damn decision." And though on the one hand Lott is bending over backward to return to good graces, apparently he's still inclined to step out with guns blazing when it comes to the Bush administration and other party colleagues who abandoned him during rough times.

"I feel perfectly at liberty now to shoot at anyone," Lott told Rotary Club luncheon guests.

And it was Rummy who took the first bullet. Of Bush's defense secretary, Lott said, "His degree of arrogance just turns me off."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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