Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Friday that the U.S. Senate missed a key opportunity two weeks ago to begin working on a compromise regarding the war in Iraq.
On the University of Mississippi campus with former Sen. Tom Daschle, (D-S.D.), Lott said the Senate should have begun working in a bipartisan fashion following the status report from U. S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq.
“We missed an opportunity to come together in the last couple of weeks,” Lott said. “We can’t micromanage the war in Iraq, but we could have come together to begin to lay out a plan, to set some benchmarks, for withdrawal. It would be worth the effort to at least talk about it, and over time reach an agreement.”
Lott and Daschle were on the UM campus for a public coffee-table discussion titled “A Conversation with Leaders.” Sponsored by the university’s Trent Lott Leadership Institute, the event allowed the two senators to share with students and the community how congressional leaders can work in a bipartisan fashion. “It’s critical that leaders keep trying to find common ground,” Daschle said, regarding the Iraq war debate. “There are 535 congressional leaders representing some 300 million Americans, so we need civility. You can’t keep throwing rocks at each other.”
To work in a bipartisan manner on any matter that comes before Congress, Lott said liberals and conservatives must find a moderate common ground. With the Senate evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, it still takes 60 votes to pass legislation, he said.
“Republicans can’t keep trying to find 10 moderate liberals to join their side of the debate, and Democrats can’t try to move 10 moderate conservatives to their argument. The key is finding 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats in the center to agree on any resolution.”
From 1996 to 2002, Sen. Lott and Daschle served together either as Senate majority or minority leaders. Daschle is the first Democrat invited to speak as part of the Lott Leadership Lecture Series at UM. Both agreed that leaders from different regions of the country with diverse philosophical beliefs can work together as long as there is trust, open communication, respect, consideration and courage. Lott and Daschle also discussed how they worked together to overcome their greatest obstacle, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Both parties were resistant, but we knew we had to come together for America,” Lott said. “It was a trying time for all of us.”
Daschle agreed, saying, “I’ll never forget, Democrats and Republicans holding hands together, and singing ‘God Bless America.’ We started working together that moment.”
Curtis Wilkie, former national and foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe and holder of UM’s Kelly G. Cook Chair of Journalism, said the discussion was beneficial, especially for students who attended.
“This conversation demonstrates that reasonable men with different views can work together to get things accomplished,” Wilkie said.
Lott and Daschle met before the forum with students majoring in public policy leadership or journalism. Afterwards, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics hosted a reception for the senators.