Washington Prowler

Regarding Trent

The sound of a Republican Senate leader running on empty. Plus: Democrats in the desert.

By 8.12.02

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EMPTY LOTT
Given that the Senate had been out on recess for close to a week, it was an odd memo for Senate Republican leader Trent Lott to put forward to his colleagues. In fact, despite some press reports, the memo may not have been intended for his fellow senators at all.

Addressed "To: Interested Parties" the memo read like one of Lott's standard press releases to the press after a week's worth of watching legislation stuck in gridlock on the Senate floor. Which has been happening a lot lately, if you haven't noticed.

Lott's main thrust seemed to be to kick back at the Democrats over the economy. In fact, that was the subject line of his memo: "Bipartisanship is needed to help the economy."

One Senate staffer back home on vacation with his boss hadn't seen the memo, but wasn't surprised by the content or tone. "He should have been making the rounds on TV, trying to force the agenda. Instead all you've been seeing is [Senate Majority Leader] Tom Daschle," says the staffer. "He [Lott] doesn't even sound pissed off. If this is the best he can do, we're sunk for the rest of the year."

Read for yourself: "For the past few weeks, the Senate Democratic majority has complained about the state of the American economy. They have encouraged Democratic senators and challengers to openly criticize President Bush and congressional Republicans about the direction of the economy and our proposed solutions. The Senate Democratic leadership is attacking without offering real plans to solve America's economic problems. We have our point of view on how to run the economy, but it has been difficult to work with our colleagues when the Senate Democratic leadership remains partisan and has no constructive answers. Clearly, the Democrats have a difference of opinion, but what is their economic blueprint?"

Lott lays out the Republican agenda. But nothing new or radical. It reads like a standard utterance from the White House press office: "Lowering marginal tax rates, speeding up tax rate cuts and making them permanent, protecting pensions for seniors, establishing a sound energy policy, and expanding free trade will have a positive impact on our economy."

"See, that's the problem," says a Republican Washington lobbyist. "He puts out a memo that says nothing. What are they supposed to do with it? There's nothing to tout, no red meat, nothing for them to take home to their states and lay before their constituents. Next January, when it's time to elect a new Republican leader, this memo should be Exhibit A for who not to vote for. Lott has to go."

Not all Republicans were that upset about Lott's writing. "What's the guy supposed to do? The media's enthralled with Daschle and hangs on his every word, the Democrats have been bickering with Gore, and that makes for sexy headlines. Lott was able to get a bunch of Bush nominations through at the last minute. He did his job, get off his back," says a Republican leadership staffer in the Senate.

LOVING LAS VEGAS
So much for being true to your word. Last September, the Democratic National Committee was to gather in Miami for its annual meeting. "It was going to be bash the Bushes all the time," says a DNC staffer. "A week of revisiting the election theft, the ballot scams, everything."

But days before the scheduled event, the terrorist attacks occurred and the party pulled out, promising to come back.

Well, it's almost a year later, and the DNC is meeting clear across the country in Las Vegas. Perhaps Terry McAuliffe prefers the dry heat to the more humid Floridian sauna experience. Or perhaps there are bigger paybacks underway.

"Two words: retirees and unions," says the DNCer. "Okay, those groups are in Florida too. But we need the unions on board for us and we'd scheduled this event well before last September, so we couldn't do it to our friends two years in a row. We'll make it up to Miami by helping defeat Jeb Bush in the fall."

Given the polls and the almost desperate odor wafting from the Florida state Democratic Party, don't expect the DNC to deliver on that promise either.

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