Lotts to Love at Portrait Unveiling

Posted September 16, 2009 at 6:33pm

Political heavyweights packed the Old Senate Chamber on Wednesday afternoon to honor the career of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and to witness the unveiling his official portrait, with former President Bill Clinton, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leading the celebration.The event served as a tribute to one of the modern Senate’s most notable figures, a man who rose to the top position in the chamber before resigning the post while under criticism for what some termed racist comments and then returning to a leadership role a few years later. Lott now runs a lobbying firm with former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). Among the dozens of current and former lawmakers, aides and friends in attendance: former Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho,), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska); former House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.); Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.); Senate Government Oversight and Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.); Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.); and Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).Reid set the tone for the unveiling of the portrait by Steven Polson, which depicts Lott standing at his desk in the chamber.“I really miss having Trent in the Senate. … of course, I’d miss him more if he’d stayed a Democrat,— said Reid, who called Lott a “pragmatic and very pleasant— opponent during his time in the Senate.Gingrich, noting that he and Clinton would often act in “controversial— ways during the 1990s, said Lott often seemed to stand above the fray. “Trent watched the both of us, shook his head and wondered why we wasted so much energy on being controversial— when so much work needed to be done, Gingrich said.Clinton, who followed Gingrich, chided his former sparring partner, noting that Gingrich “spent $70 million investigating a land deal I lost money on. Which means he thought I was crooked and stupid. Actually, I resented the stupid more than the crooked.—Clinton, who called Lott “a good leader,— praised the Mississippian’s record as Majority Leader during Clinton’s presidency, noting that they passed a raft of sweeping bills, including welfare reform, children’s health insurance, the chemical weapons convention, education legislation, empowerment zones and the HOPE scholarship program.Lott, for his part, heaped praise on Reid, McConnell, Gingrich and Clinton, and he quipped to McConnell: “I know how tough it is being Minority Leader, believe me. It’s much better being Majority Leader. Mitch, keep thinking positive. And be nice, Harry.—He also poked fun at himself and his famous hairdo. Noting that Cochran and Wicker have white hair, Lott said: “I didn’t know you had to have white hair to be a Senator from Mississippi. Of course, they always did accuse me of puttin’ something in my hair.—Even the normally staid McConnell flashed a bit of humor. “President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich: Welcome back to the Capitol,— he said. “Seeing both of you here together reminds us that even the most bitter political battles fade with the passage of time. Either that, or Trent did a pretty good job hiding the invite list.— He then listed the superlatives that Lott won during his senior year in high school.“The seniors at Pascagoula High, Class of 1959, not only voted Trent senior class president, but also most likely to succeed, most popular, a model of Christian conduct, neatest and most polite — in short, all things that most Americans associate with politicians,— McConnell said.McConnell also praised Lott’s time as leader, lauding his ability to see past political concerns at critical moments.“Throughout his years in the Senate, Trent was careful to note that some occasions were historic, not political. An example was his establishment of the Leader’s Lecture Series. At a time of heightened political polarization, bipartisan events like this, held in the nonpolitical setting of the Old Senate Chamber, were an important reminder that Senators are stewards of a tradition that’s only as strong as we leave it,— McConnell said.“Looking back, we can see that Trent’s had a remarkable career. He was the first person ever to serve as whip in both houses of Congress. He led the Senate Republicans at one of the most trying times in our nation’s history. And I can guarantee you this, no other party leader in history ever showed up to work in a kilt,— he added.