A new lord takes giant strides up Capitol Hill
Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, is a man made to be a mediator, writes Rupert Cornwell
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Friday 10 January 1997
As Senate majority leader, the post he took over from Mr Dole, Chester Trent Lott is lord of Capitol Hill and the most powerful Republican voice in the land. He will be his party's chief negotiator with the President and prime shaper of the Senate's business. Bipartisanship is the catchphrase of the hour. Whether word is transformed into deed depends on him, at least as much as Mr Clinton. And thus far the omens are good.
When he defeated his fellow Mississippian Thad Cochran to become Majority leader last June, Mr Lott was expected to be far more confrontational than the pragmatic and non-ideological Mr Dole. Was he not a former Democrat with the special fire of the converted, an obdurate who in his first term as a Congressman in 1974 was one of the very few to reject impeachment of Richard Nixon until almost the very end? But things have not worked out like that.
In one way certainly, Trent Lott is an emblem of his times, and the extraordinary grip of Dixie on the pinnacles of American politics. An Arkansan holds the White House, a Tennesseean the vice-Presidency; the Speaker is a Georgian, and the House Majority leader a Texan. And now another Deep Southerner at the helm of the Senate. The rest though is paradox.
Mr Lott may be an unabashed conservative, opposed to abortion, gun control and strong supporter of a balanced budget amendment and a reduced role for government. But he is also a mediator who seems, oddly, to have learnt that skill much as Bill Clinton did, as a boy forced to intercede to keep the peace between his mother and an often drunken father (the couple would later divorce).
He is calculating and openly ambitious; never more so than when he successfully ran for the second ranking post of Republican Whip in 1994, after just one term in the Senate. But Mr Lott is also gregarious and widely liked. He can sport a Southern drawl befitting one who grew up in Pascagoula on Mississippi's Gulf Coast - but can talk faster than a Brooklyn car salesman and dresses like a duke.
Above all, colleagues say, he is an organiser and an operator, scarcely less skilled at building legislative coalitions than Mr Dole himself: in short a compromiser, as he must be in an institution of 100 individuals of whom a true majority is not the arithmetical 51, nor the present Republican strength of 55, but the 60 votes required to cut off a filibuster. Managing a body each of whose members are wont to look into a mirror and see a future President has been likened to herding cats or - to use Mr Lott's preferred metaphor - "putting bullfrogs in a wheelbarrow".
And he might be forgiven some delusions of his own. His relative youth (Mr Lott is only 55), the eminence of his job and his smoothness in front of the cameras virtually guarantees him a place on the list of potential Republican Presidential aspirants in 2000 or thereafter. For the moment though, in a system of divided government, most important is how he works with the present occupant of the White House, who is of course no mean operator himself. And the start has been promising. Buttressed by a reinvented moderate called Bill Clinton and the dealmaker Trent Lott, that famous "vital centre" might just prevail after all.
- 1 Toddler throws a tantrum at the White House – in front of Barack Obama
- 2 Irish people are travelling home from all over the world so they can vote to legalise gay marriage
- 3 Picture of couple posing with beached dolphin 'that later died' causes outrage
- 4 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
- 5 Witch doctor arrested after forcing newborn baby to walk in Indian village
Toddler throws a tantrum at the White House – in front of Barack Obama
Maryland mother found pushing her dead child on a swing in a playground
16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
Picture of couple posing with beached dolphin 'that later died' causes outrage
Nicola Sturgeon did want David Cameron to win the general election, report concludes
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...