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Despite GOP demands that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) follow the 2002 example of then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and resign his leadership post, observers said key differences in the two Senators responses to their respective scandals mean Reid will remain the chambers top Democrat.
While Reids characterization of President Barack Obama as a light skinned black with no Negro dialect has caught him in an unwanted scandal, Republicans and Democrats alike argued that Lott was brought down by his own slow response, internal opposition to his leadership and a hostile White House.
The president is the leader of the party. When his team is giving the Caesars thumbs down, it makes it very problematic and difficult to survive a crisis, said a Lott insider who worked for the lawmaker at the time.
Lotts downfall ostensibly stemmed from his Dec. 5, 2002, speech at a party celebrating the 100th birthday of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). During his speech, Lott quipped that the country would have been better off if Thurmond, most famous for leading a filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, had been elected president in 1948. His comments were similar to those he delivered in a 1980 speech about Thurmond.
News of the speech, which came at the start of a Congressional recess, was slow to spread, and with Lott on vacation in the Florida Keys, it was two days later that his office commented downplaying the remarks as nothing more than a compliment to the elderly lawmaker.
By contrast, Reids office moved quickly to quash the scandal over his comments. Although Reid aides said he made his comments to author Mark Halperin during a 2008 private conversation on the presidential election, word did not leak until this weekend as part of news reports on Halperins book.
Within hours, Reids spokesman, Jim Manley, had issued a statement from Reid apologizing for his comments, while aides and those close to Reid quickly shifted into damage control mode.
Reid also addressed the media Monday afternoon, apologizing again and thanking black civil rights leaders for supporting him.
Lotts first formal statement, however, came two days after his offices initial slow reaction. On Dec. 9, Lotts office issued a second statement, saying, My comments were not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago.
But by then, the controversy was quickly filling the news hole created by the recess, and cable news coverage had turned the matter into a crisis.
As Lott struggled to control the scandal, long-standing divisions within his own party quickly surfaced. Although Lott had built his control of the Senate GOP largely on his ability to make good on promises to his colleagues and forge compromises, over the years he had developed a number of enemies as well as competitors for his leadership position, most notably Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.), who was widely considered Lotts top rival for the leadership job.
In contrast, Reid has the support of his entire Conference, which has repeatedly come to the leaders defense when Reid has been attacked by Republicans. Democratic aides said that Reid has talked with all of his members all of whom have in turn offered to make public shows of support.