Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Tis the Season for Brutal Senate Infighting ; Trent Lott Rallies Some Colleagues to Avow Support, but Others Maneuver for His Ouster

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Tis the Season for Brutal Senate Infighting ; Trent Lott Rallies Some Colleagues to Avow Support, but Others Maneuver for His Ouster

Article excerpt

A card read aloud at one of those ubiquitous Senate holiday parties this week shows two starfish commenting on the star impaled at the top of a Christmas tree: "Ouch. That must hurt." Everyone laughed.

"That must be Lott and Nickles," quipped someone in the mainly Democratic crowd. Everyone laughed harder.

It may be time to be jolly in the malls, but it's a mean season on Capitol Hill. Leadership battles are always bruising, but the bid to oust Senate Republican leader Trent Lott is shaping up to be rougher than most, because it was so unexpected and the stakes are so high.

Republicans had hoped to spend the holidays planning the legislative honeymoon their president never had the first time around. Instead, they find themselves locked in a leadership struggle in the Senate.

"It's a very muted civil war," says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. "It's not the fight that they wanted at this time of the year."

As the battle heats up, GOP staffs are dusting off "opposition research" skills usually reserved for Democrats and turning it on colleagues. From off-the-cuff comments at obscure meetings to voting records on race, it's all grist in the widening battle to decide whether Mr. Lott stays or goes, and who might replace him.

Two weeks and five apologies after a racially sulfurous comment, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott insists he has the votes to hold on to his job. Supporters count a dozen senators who say they will back the leader at a Jan. 6 meeting on the controversy; Lott claims he has a majority of senators in the 51-member Republican caucus.

SO FAR, most of the voices calling for Lott's ouster have come from off Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island became only the second Republican senator to publicly suggest the need for a change in leadership. Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the outgoing No. 2 in the Republican caucus, was the first.

The wild card in this struggle has been the White House. While the official word is that President Bush is staying out of the issue, his own withering criticisms of Lott's statements last week, as well as critical comments this week from Secretary of State Colin Powell, send a different signal - and opened the door for other Republicans with doubts about Lott to speak out. …

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