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WASHINGTON TODAY: Lott’s not whistling yet despite budget triumph

August 6, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s frustrations in leading have been overshadowed by those of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose difficulties have taken on Shakespearean proportions.

But just because Lott didn’t get reprimanded and fined for ethical misbehavior, become the target of a bizarre political coup plot, or rack up the highest negatives of any national political figure, it doesn’t mean the Mississippi Republican has had an easy ride.

It just seems so, by comparison.

For now, Lott can bask in the euphoria of the balanced-budget, tax-cut deal. Fellow Republicans give him high marks for steadfastness in helping nail it down.

But his problems in running the Senate _ where he’s found himself repeatedly thwarted by Democrats and sniped at by conservatives _ will resurface in September.

Sometimes Lott’s pique with the process surfaces in harsh words and outbursts, which he sometimes later softens.

In June, he called President Clinton a ``spoiled brat″ during a Sunday talk show. They made peace, but only after Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry said Lott was ``a bit frazzled.″

Lott dismayed some conservative colleagues last spring when he strongly defended Air Force 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn, the female B-52 pilot who made national news fighting adultery charges.

More recently, he had harsh words for fellow Republican William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who has crossed swords with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms over his nomination as ambassador to Mexico.

Lott suggested Weld ``accept consideration for another position or look for other work.″

A day later, he took a more conciliatory tone, saying he would be willing to sit down with Weld and Helms _ although not as intermediary.

The news media is a favorite Lott target.

He complained last week about the scantness of coverage when a West Virginia man sporting a Nazi swastika tattoo on his hand appeared at a Democratic news conference at the Capitol.

In an interview with NBC radio, Lott said, ``If I had brought a couple in here from my state and the guy had a swastika or something like that on his arm or his hand, I would have been absolutely crucified and very likely would have been run out of office.″

A recent fundraising letter from the conservative Leadership Institute, bearing Lott’s signature, asserted: ``The national news media has become an extension of the liberals in Congress and the Clinton administration.″ It added, ``left-wing journalism professors are training their new crop of media radicals.″

The letter was later disavowed by Lott’s staff.

Lott got off to a rocky start this year with an early defeat by the administration of the GOP-championed proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

He has frequently expressed exasperation with the pace of the Senate, where parliamentary rules permit almost endless delays.

Lott ``is not a patient man,″ Dick Morris, the political consultant who has advised both him and Clinton, has said.

When Congress returns after Labor Day, Lott must deal with the Helms-Weld spat. Also on the platter: appropriations bills, Food and Drug Administration reform, adoption reform, Amtrak reform, trade legislation, product liability reform, a major highway bill, a religious persecution bill, a juvenile crime bill and labor legislation.

Democrats have warned they may stall all floor action unless Republicans end their investigation of the contested election of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Meanwhile, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., are threatening to attach their campaign-finance reform legislation continually to other bills until they get an up-or-down vote.

It doesn’t give Lott much to whistle about.

Not that he would.

In a July radio address, Lott offered to ``stand in the well of the Senate and whistle `Hail to the Chief‴ if a budget deal could be struck before the August recess.

Easier said than done.

```After checking the rules, it’s against the rules of the Senate, and I knew Senator Byrd would call my hand,″ Lott told reporters, referring to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., a stickler for protocol. ``I couldn’t whistle.″

So he said he hummed the presidential anthem quietly to himself.


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Tom Raum covers politics and national affairs for The Associated Press.

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