Republicans jockey for post-Lott positions
Republicans jockey for post-Lott positions
By: Martin Kady II
Nov 26, 2007 07:11 PM EST
Sen. Trent Lotts 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
The ink wasnt even dry on the Mississippi
Republicans 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 whips 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 Lotts 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
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
As soon as Lotts 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
Sen. Alexander has not ruled out running for whip or
conference [chairman], but hes not committed yet to
either, said his spokesman, Lee Pitts. Hes 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
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 Lotts 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 theyre 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 Lotts 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
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 Thurmonds 100th
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
Let me make it clear there are no health problems.
I feel fine, Lott said. This is not a negative
thing. Theres nothing but happiness and pride.
Lott denied that the strict new rules prohibiting
senators from lobbying for two years, which take
effect at years 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
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
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