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Republicans jockey for post-Lott positions

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1107/7053.html Republicans jockey for post-Lott positions By: Martin Kady II Nov 26, 2007 07:11 PM EST Sen. Trent Lott’s
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 26, 2007
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      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1107/7053.html

      Republicans jockey for post-Lott positions

      By: Martin Kady II
      Nov 26, 2007 07:11 PM EST

      Sen. Trent Lott’s stunning departure from the Senate
      forces a hard choice upon his remaining Republican
      colleagues: Will they abide by Senate seniority and
      allow lower-ranking leaders to slowly move up the
      hierarchy? Or will a new generation of restless young
      conservatives stake their claim to the future of the
      GOP?

      The ink wasn’t even dry on the Mississippi
      Republican’s retirement speech before some of his
      colleagues began positioning themselves as his
      successor as minority whip.

      “This thing is wide open,” said a Senate GOP
      leadership aide. “While the whip’s race looks
      resolved, the race for the other [leadership posts] is
      really up in the air, and because of the campaigns by
      senators, you could have a real domino effect
      throughout the whole leadership.”

      The conventional route is for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
      to take over Lott’s whip position and for Kay Bailey
      Hutchison (R-Texas) to run for chairmanship of the
      Republican Conference, the No. 3 leadership post now
      occupied by Kyl.

      Kyl is thought of as the conservative brains behind
      the Senate Republican operation, while Hutchison has
      been a loyal partisan who has quietly worked her way
      up the ladder as the top-ranking Republican woman in
      Congress.

      But four younger conservatives, Sens. Jim DeMint of
      South Carolina, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Richard Burr
      of North Carolina and John Thune of South Dakota are
      angling for a variety of mid-level leadership posts,
      which would bring rebellious voices to the GOP
      establishment at a time when the party is trying to
      rediscover its identity.

      Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who lost by just one
      vote to Lott in the leadership race last year, is
      considering another run for the whip job, which would
      add a moderate voice to the mix. And Sen. John Cornyn
      (R-Texas) is poised to run for the GOP Policy
      Committee chairmanship.

      As soon as Lott’s closely guarded decision became
      known by other senators, GOP aides said a flurry of
      phone calls began as Kyl, Hutchison, Alexander,
      DeMint, Sessions and Burr all discussed leadership
      runs.

      “Sen. Alexander has not ruled out running for whip or
      conference [chairman], but he’s not committed yet to
      either,” said his spokesman, Lee Pitts. “He’s looking
      at all the options.”

      An aide close to Burr said the North Carolina
      Republican is considering running against Hutchison
      for the Senate Republican Conference chairmanship,
      while Cornyn seems to have the inside track for Senate
      Republican Policy Committee chairman, the No. 4 slot.

      DeMint, meanwhile, has been approached by
      conservatives who want him to rattle the leadership
      election with a conservative-focused campaign. DeMint
      has made a name for himself as a rabble-rouser on the
      Senate floor, often challenging earmarks in
      appropriations bills.

      “DeMint is being urged to run for [a leadership post]
      as a fresh face who has proven effective in earmark
      and immigration battles,” said one GOP aide familiar
      with the internal battles.

      Regardless of how the internal power struggles shake
      out in the wake of Lott’s retirement, there will be
      new faces at the top of the Senate GOP hierarchy as
      the party heads into an uncertain 2008 election.

      Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remains
      unchallenged as the leader of Senate Republicans. But
      his office, which declined to comment about the
      internal GOP power struggle, will be flooded in the
      coming weeks with those bidding for leadership posts.

      With an unpopular lame-duck president dragging down
      the GOP, a wave of Republican retirements in both
      chambers and little chance of taking over Congress in
      the next election cycle, there is a simmering debate
      within Republican ranks over the future look of the
      party. Many GOP stalwarts believe the party lost its
      way amid record spending and earmark scandals, and
      they are ready to rebuild it on conservative
      principles, even if moderate Republicans or
      established leaders need to be pushed aside.

      “I see a generational shift in the House and the
      Senate,” said former Rep. Dick Armey, a Texas
      Republican who along with Newt Gingrich co-authored
      the Contract With America when Republicans swept into
      power in 1994. “The old bulls are quite uncomfortable
      with [young conservatives], because they’re restless
      and want change.”

      Virtually no Republican Senate aides were willing to
      talk about leadership ambitions on the record Monday,
      and their public comments were all geared toward
      praise for Lott’s three decades in office.

      Lott made his announcement in his hometown of
      Pascagoula on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, not far
      from the coastal property where his family home was
      swept from its foundation by Hurricane Katrina in
      2005.

      The news stunned many Washington insiders, who
      believed the senator was enjoying his political
      rehabilitation, having risen to the No. 2 spot as
      minority whip four years after his own party ousted
      him as majority leader in the wake of his racially
      insensitive remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th
      birthday party.

      At that event in 2002 for the South Carolina
      Republican, Lott suggested the country would have been
      better off if Thurmond had been elected president as a
      segregationist in 1948.At his announcement Monday,
      Lott said he simply believed it was time for him to
      move on, and that he was not resigning because of
      illness or lurking scandals.

      He also said there are no major job offers looming —
      yet.

      “Let me make it clear — there are no health problems.
      I feel fine,” Lott said. “This is not a negative
      thing. … There’s nothing but happiness and pride.”

      Lott denied that the strict new rules prohibiting
      senators from lobbying for two years, which take
      effect at year’s end, are causing him to jump ship
      now, as opposed to next year or at the end of his
      current term in 2013.

      “That did not have an impact on the decision,” Lott
      said. “There are already limits now” to how soon
      ex-senators can lobby their colleagues.

      Lott considered retiring in late 2005, after Hurricane
      Katrina destroyed his family home and devastated the
      Mississippi coast. But he decided to stay on the job
      and handily won reelection last year.

      He unabashedly used his Senate post to advocate for
      Mississippi homeowners whose insurance claims were
      denied after Katrina. And he himself won a settlement
      with State Farm after suing the insurance company.

      He admitted to being frustrated in the congressional
      minority, saying that the divisive climate has made it
      “awfully tough” to craft bipartisan compromises on
      legislation.

      Whatever his next job is, Lott seems poised to cash in
      with a lucrative lobbying or consulting job that
      allows him to split time between Mississippi and
      Washington.

      “A lot of options will hopefully be available,” he
      said. “I am not really involved in negotiations. ...
      There are some opportunities out there I want to be
      able to consider.”

      John Bresnahan and Daniel W. Reilly contributed to
      this report.
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