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New leadership in a New Congress Posted:12.31.02
The 108th Congress will open in January 2003 with new leadership in the Senate, following the mid-term elections and the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott.
When Congress convenes on Jan. 7 there will be a new majority and new leader in the U.S. Senate to set the agenda. With the Republican victories in November and the controversial resignation of Sen. Trent Lott, Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, a heart surgeon with relatively little political experience, has become the most important person in the Senate.
Sen. Trent Lott's resignation
Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi resigned as Senate majority leader on Dec. 20 after losing the support of his colleagues in the wake of his racially insensitive remarks at the 100th birthday party of Sen. Strom Thrumond, R-S.C.
Lott said: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either."
Thurmond had run for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat on a segregationist platform. Many black leaders and Democrats were critical of the remarks. Conservative commentators and activists soon joined the protests, afraid that the comments would harm the White House's and GOP's efforts to advance their legislative plan.
A new Senate majority leader
Sen. Bill Frist was unanimously elected majority leader on Dec. 23 during a GOP Senate conference call. Frist is known as an expert on health issues and worked to calm his colleagues during the 2001 anthrax scare on Capitol Hill. He is also reportedly well liked by the White House. The position of majority leader is significant because this individual sets the legislative calendar -- deciding what will be discussed and debated by the Senate.
Even though Lott has resigned there are lingering effects from the controversy. The Republican Party's record on racial issues is being examined, which may impact future decisions. Some news organizations have said the White House may now choose not to intervene on behalf of plaintiffs who are challenging the University of Michigan's affirmative action program before the Supreme Court.
Judicial nominations may be affected as well. The GOP hopes to hold three voting sessions in January 2003 to install new judges on the federal bench. Charles Pickering, a controversial fifth circuit court of appeals nominee who was not confirmed in March 2002, may not be re-nominated. Critics of Pickering say that he has been insensitive to civil rights throughout his career.
President Bush's agenda
But with the Lott controversy behind them, Republicans hope to use their control of the House of Representatives and their newfound majority in the Senate to pass much of President Bush's main objectives. This next session of Congress will be the first time one party has held the presidency and both the Senate and House since 1994 when Democrats controlled Washington, but were then defeated in elections that fall.
To prevent this, Republicans plan to focus their efforts on improving the economy and national defense. The president has already called for his tax cuts passed in 2001 to be made permanent -- right now they will either expire or automatically be reduced unless Congress takes up the issue.
Mr. Bush will also urge both houses to continue its funding of expanded military efforts to support the ongoing mission in Afghanistan as well as any possible war in Iraq.
-- By Annie Schleicher, NewsHour Extra
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