WASHINGTON — Is a double standard going on in the Senate?
To some Republicans, there's a clear double standard in the reactions to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's racially insensitive remarks and to those of Trent Lott, who was forced out as Senate majority leader in 2002 after saying that the country might have been better off if then-segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948.
Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona have called for Reid to be removed as Senate leader for having described presidential candidate Barack Obama as "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," in "Game Change," a new book about the 2008 campaign.
Lott declined to comment Tuesday, according to a spokesman at Breaux Lott Leadership Group in Washington.
Obama has accepted Reid's apology.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday that there'd been a "stunning double standard as far as the treatment of Senator Lott, who also made unfortunate and inopportune remarks, and the treatment of Harry Reid by the liberal left."
However, Sen. John Ensign, a Republican from Reid's home state of Nevada, defended the Democratic leader, saying that everyone has made a comment that he or she regretted. "Democrats were really wrong in what they did to Trent Lott, and we shouldn't do the same thing to Senator Reid," Ensign said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who succeeded Lott in the Senate, took a different tack Tuesday, however.
"I was on statewide call-in radio this morning, and certainly there's a particular interest in our state because of what Senator Lott went through," Wicker said at a Washington news conference. Wicker had just returned from an official trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan with McConnell and other lawmakers.
"I think the voters of Nevada will make a judgment about that," Wicker said. "I think they'll make a judgment about the most blatant auction of votes, with this health care legislation, in the history of the United States of America. And I think the decision with regard to Senator Reid will be made by the voters of Nevada."
McConnell also refused to be drawn in.
"I think that's an issue for the Democratic conference. ... Who is going to be the Democratic leader of the Senate is up to the Democrats," McConnell said.
Senate Democrats apparently are standing behind Reid, in contrast to Lott's loss of support from the Bush White House and Senate Republican colleagues after his racially charged remarks at a birthday party for Thurmond, who was then a senator from South Carolina.
"When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him," said Lott, referring to Thurmond's 1948 run on the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket. "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 the years, either."
Marty Wiseman, a political expert at Mississippi State University, doesn't think Reid's and Lott's statements are a fair comparison, since Lott was, in effect, supporting Thurmond's segregationist past while Reid was guilty of "a terribly unfortunate choice of words."
"Reid was speaking to Obama's acceptability as a candidate," Wiseman said.
As for Lott supporting segregation, "I don't think Trent meant it," Wiseman said. "He was just trying to humor an old guy."
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