Miers fight helps Lott
The repercussions over President Bush's pick of little-known Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court are now moving into the upcoming Senate leadership elections set for the end of this year. In the latest twist, former Majority Leader Sen. Trent Lott is picking up strong support from conservatives for a return to the leadership, likely as the No. 2 position of whip, because of his sharp questioning of the president's pick. Some are even talking about having him challenge his friend, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who backs Miers, for the top job being vacated by retiring Sen. Bill Frist.
While few Senate insiders expect the three-term Mississippian to challenge McConnell, conservatives energized and angered by the Miers nomination are talking about encouraging him for leadership as a way to police the president's agenda from a more conservative view. It also comes as fears grow that the current conference chair, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, is in an uphill re-election battle. A loss would take Santorum out of the fight for the whip post.
"Lott may be back in leadership in 13 short months. Santorum goes down; Lott goes up to whip," says a Senate GOP strategist.
Allies of Lott, whom GOP colleagues tossed from his perch in 2002 after he made remarks that came off as endorsing the past segregationist views of Sen. Strom Thurmond, say that his questioning of the president's judgment in picking Miers is just his latest strategic move to get back into the leadership.
"His moves over the past year have been brilliant," says one associate. "From his Gang of 14 judicial nominee blueprint, the handling of the Katrina disaster, and now the Harriet Miers nomination, he knows that the American people expect that the Senate should be a check on the administration and not a rubber stamp."