Replacing Lott

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Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles is calling for Lott to step down

With Senate Republicans planning to meet January 6th to discuss whether Trent Lott should remain as majority leader, everyone in Washington is wondering: if the Senator does bow out of the leadership post, who will take his place? The short list is Don Nickles, Mitch McConnell and Bill Frist. They represent a broad swath of the Republican ideological spectrum, and, to a man, have counted themselves as Lott's close friends. Now, they may be after his job.

Don Nickles
The most vocal support for Lott's departure has come from Oklahoma's Nickles, who is also considered his most likely replacement. In the week after Lott's disastrous comments became headlines, the Senate's second in command has made two things clear: one, he believes that Lott should be supplanted; and two, that there is a need for stronger (read: more conservative) GOP leadership in the Senate. "There are several outstanding senators who are more than capable of effective leadership and I hope we have an opportunity to choose," Nickles announced last weekend. Nickles, who has acted as Lott's right-hand man for years, is not considered to have the Mississippian's ability to work closely with Democrats, or to compromise. And as far as the right wing of the GOP is concerned, that's just fine. For moderates, however, and even for President Bush, Nickles' tendency for intractability could mean more fruitless standoffs with Democrats — catastrophe, in other words, for the bipartisan spirit. Nickles' record — for drilling in ANWR, vehemently opposed to all types of abortion EM] is solidly pro-growth and anti-government intrusion. In other words, he would have no trouble filling Lott's seat at the table.

Mitch McConnell
The four-term Senator from Kentucky is one of the GOP's most outspoken fiscal conservatives, and has fought tooth and nail against campaign finance reform, citing possible infringements on 1st Amendment rights. Although he is a member of the powerful and often contentious Judiciary committee, McConnell is not especially adept at handling controversy, and has generally shied away from social issues. Of course, given Lott's recent foray into social commentary, McConnell's relative reticence could suddenly seem quite attractive.

Bill Frist
He may be the dark horse in the race to replace Lott, but Frist is rapidly gaining visibility — and goodwill — among key Republicans. Coming off an extremely successful stint as the head of the GOP Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Tennessee Senator is in very good stead with his fellow party members. A heart surgeon by training, Frist, who votes a very conservative line on most issues, is known to depart from his party's position on issues with a scientific bent, including stem cell research and extending care for AIDS patients.