WASHINGTON — Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., did what few politicians could accomplish yesterday – bring together former President Bill Clinton, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and current Democratic and Republican Senate leaders in a bipartisan show of force for the most genteel of occasions – the unveiling of Lott' portrait in the U.S. Capitol' ornate old Senate chamber.
A buoyant Lott joked "all my friends are referring to it as my hanging," just before the event, which was a family reunion for the Lott family, his current and past Senate and House colleagues and Lott’s staff over his 35 years of public life, including one-time staffers Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and former Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss.
All eyes, however, were on the three who in the late 1990s were the most powerful figures in the country -- the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader.
Gingrich said that "the three of us" - he and Clinton and Lott – "came out of nowhere and couldn't believe it when we got here and were confused by the experience."
Clinton, who was introduced by Gingrich, was the big scene-stealer, saying, "I'm still wondering what I'm doing here.”
Alluding to the friction between the Democratic president and the Republican House and Senate leaders, Clinton said, "The world would be amazed at the chemistry Newt and I and Trent and I had in private." Clinton praised Lott's negotiating skills and legislative accomplishments.
"What matters is the world you left your kids and grandkids and on that score, Senator Lott, you did pretty well," he said.
Lott said that it was an emotional moment for him and he seemed to relish the presence of so many current and former senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.
Lott pointed out Mississippi's senators, Thad Cochran and Wicker and said, "I didn't realize you had to have white hair to be a senator from Mississippi." Lott's hair is still salt and pepper gray.
Lott thanked his wife Tricia and spoke of the loss of their Pascagoula home during Hurricane Katrina. And he spoke of the need for members from both parties to come together.
"If three good old boys from the South can find a way to get common ground, I know the outstanding leaders we have in Congress can find a way to get things done," said Lott.
Lott's grandson, Trent Lott III, accompanied by two granddaughters (a third was asleep) pulled the chord unveiling the portrait by artist Steven Polson, who was also in the chamber. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the portrait will hang in the Senate Republican leader's suite.