JUNE 7, 1996
There are two Senators from Mississippi who want to replace Bob Dole as the majority leader of the United States Senate. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Anyone watching proceedings in the Senate over the last few months might have thought Mississippi's Trent Lott already was Majority Leader.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Whip: Mr. President, I ask you now to present that the pending amendment to be set aside so that I may offer an amendment.
SPOKESMAN: Without objection. So ordered.
KWAME HOLMAN: As Majority Whip, he is No. 2 in the Republican leadership, and when Bob Dole began spending more and more time campaigning across America, Lott took over many of the Majority Leader's day-to-day duties. We talked to Sen. Lott about those responsibilities in March.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: (March) And I've got a job to do as Majority Whip, and when Bob Dole is out of town, he does leave some, you know, instructions that he'd like for us to follow.
KWAME HOLMAN: Although Sen. Lott is considered one of the more accessible leaders in Congress, he is denying most media requests to talk about his race to become Majority Leader, including ours, although it's not considered to be much of a race at all. Lott is expected to win easily, but he might be a little uncomfortable talking about his opponent.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, (R) Mississippi: The Senators are going to decide this, and they know us both very well. We recognize that there's not the usual campaigning that's done for this job that's done for a lot of other political jobs.
KWAME HOLMAN: He's Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 3 leadership position and coincidentally the other Senator from Mississippi.
KWAME HOLMAN: What would you bring to the job? How would you see doing it?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Well, I think by trying to build consensus first of all for a legislative agenda. I hope that immediately we would have a transition team who would try to develop with all the input they could get from other Senators what our legislative objective should be from now to the end of this year.
KWAME HOLMAN: The only bit of political intrigue surrounding this election are the similarities and off and on rivalries between Lott and Cochran going back to their days as cheerleaders at the University of Mississippi. Both graduated and obtained their law degrees from Ole' Miss. Both were elected to the House of Representatives in 1972, but Cochran made it to the Senate first in 1978, the first Republican to do so since Reconstruction. Meanwhile, Lott was moving up to the position of House Republican Whip before his eventual election to the Senate in 1988. When Republicans regained control of the Senate in 1994, Lott leap-frogged the more senior Cochran and ran for the No. 2 position of Majority Whip and won, but if Cochran holds any grudges, he's not talking about them.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: We've been very good friends really for 24 year. We've worked in harmony and in a cooperative way for the benefit of our state of Mississippi. And we're going to continue to do that however this election comes out.
KWAME HOLMAN: And having two Senators from Mississippi in the Majority Leader race may not be so much a coincidence as it is politically significant. Judd Gregg is a Republican Senator from New Hampshire
SEN. JUDD GREGG, (R) New Hampshire: It shows the shift of power, the shift South. It shows that Republicans are not only producing candidates who are competitive but first-class folks in the South who are really leading the country. And also it shows to some degree the shift of focus in the Senate, the Republican Caucus which is clearly a Southern-Western party to some degree now.
KWAME HOLMAN: The 53 Senate Republicans who will vote for their new Majority Leader will choose from two contrasting styles. Cochran is regarded as quiet, gentlemanly, thoughtful in his approach.
SEN. JUDD GREGG: Thad, Thad's been in the Senate for a while longer than Trent, and the Senate requires more comity. It requires going across the aisle, and, therefore, he's got a very good personality for the Senate, in my opinion, and he's a, he's a guy who has been very successful here because of that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lott, on the other hand, is seen as quick, aggressive, somewhat unpredictable.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: (1993) I mean, I've seen--there are a lot of lists floating around--I've got just here in my pocket $216 billion that are basically painless cuts that just about everybody agrees with, including you. I'll be glad to provide that to you.
LEON PANETTA: Let me have that list. (laughing) I want to see those painless cuts.
SEN. JUDD GREGG: Well, Trent comes out of the war zone. There's no question about that. He was raised in the House in the 80's when I was in the House and a lot of us who are now in the Senate were in the House when there was basically day-to-day, hand-to-hand combat with Tip O'Neill and Jim Wright, and we took no prisoners, they took no prisoners, and that's the way we learned to play the game.
TRENT LOTT: (1987) Mr. Speaker, I do not want to be recorded as handing Central America over to the Soviets.
SPOKESMAN: I do not rise today to record the handing over of Central America to the Soviets.
SPOKESMAN: I do not want to be recorded as handing Central America over to the Soviets.
KWAME HOLMAN: It may be those years spent in the House that make Trent Lott the favorite to win in the Senate.
SEN. JUDD GREGG: If you look at the 17 new members who have been elected in the last three years, the majority of them came out of the House also, so they knew Trent as a leader in the House, and they have a personal relationship that goes back over that experience, which was a bonding experience.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle will be as affected as any Senator by the outcome of the vote.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: He's the person who has to make the decision about schedule. He's the person who decides whether they cooperate or frustrate the majority or with, I should say, the minority and so it's still something that they have to decide. I can work with either of the candidates who are currently running.
KWAME HOLMAN: Daschle already has experienced Lott's unpredictability, for instance, recently during one of Daschle's morning briefings with reporters.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Whether or not we can amend it, uh, or not depends, in part, I think, on the--(laughter in room)--
SEN. TRENT LOTT: Did I get in the wrong meeting?
SENATOR: Join us. (laughter in room)
SEN. TRENT LOTT: Forgive me--
SENATOR: Less government, lower taxes, less--(laughter in room)--
SEN. TRENT LOTT: More freedom. Get that part.
KWAME HOLMAN: And two weeks ago, just minutes before the Senate shut down for a 10-day recess, Lott surprised Daschle by trying to negotiate an immediate settlement to issues that have tied up the Senate for weeks.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: (May 24) I would be willing to--on behalf of the Majority Leader--to modify that unanimous consent request to include those amendments on the gas tax if that would be helpful.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The Majority Whip has provided us, I think, with an opportunity here to reach an agreement, at least on that particular bill, and if it were in concert with the minimum wage bill to be taken to the floor at approximately the same time--
SEN. TRENT LOTT: Now on the Team Act, is there some, something more that the Senator from South Dakota would want on a Team Act?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: This is another step in the right direction. I appreciate the offer made by the Whip, and we will respond as soon as it's possible.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: And if we can find a way to break the legislative gridlock in a cooperative way and get the job done in the best interest of the American people, I think the American people would receive that very positively, and I want to work to see if we can find a way to make that happen.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Mr. President, let me just express enthusiastically my desire to work with the, with the Whip to make that happen.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I've enjoyed working with him. I still don't know how he's going to conduct the, the--himself in the new role, but I have a good relationship with him, and I, I think he'll be somebody that, that we can work with very well. I, I have no reservations about it. I look forward to it.
KWAME HOLMAN: And even Thad Cochran concedes the chances of his winning the Majority Leader race are slim.
KWAME HOLMAN: What will it say if your conference elects Thad Cochran instead of Trent Lott?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: It'll be a big surprise to a lot of people.
SEN. JUDD GREGG: They're both first-class people, and we're not going to lose whoever we end up with as leader when you look at these two folks, other than those of us in the Northeast who will have to learn to speak with an accent, of course, I mean, to understand what our leadership is saying, but we'll know they're good people.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Senators are expected to cast their votes for Majority Leader on Wednesday.