Lott In Line For Panel Chairmanship

Pushed from his position as Republican leader, Trent Lott will take over the Senate Rules Committee when he returns to Washington next week, feeling no "vengeance in my heart" against senators who called for his removal.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and you should try hard to bring good out of about anything that happens in your life," Lott told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his Pascagoula, Miss., home on Friday.

Instead of being leader, the Mississippi senator will become the Rules chairman and hold seats on the Finance, Commerce and Intelligence committees. Lott sat on all of those committees last year except Intelligence, but did not serve as chairman because of his leadership role.

"I have the experience and the background to be very much a player," Lott said.

He had been expected to become Senate majority leader after leading the Senate Republican caucus for more than six years, but was forced to give up his leadership position in December after touching off a political maelstrom when he lauded Sen. Strom Thurmond's pro-segregationist presidential run of 1948.

Lott told Thurmond that Mississippians were proud to have voted for him at the time, adding, "If the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either."

After Lott stepped aside, Republicans quickly elected Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to replace him as majority leader in the new Senate.

"I'm not going back with vengeance in my heart. ... I set this fire myself and I do not intend to go around trying to blame anybody else," Lott said Friday. "I'll deal with this in a way that is positive for my state and for my nation."

The Rules Committee controls the assignment and administration of prized office space on the Senate side of the Capitol and resolves disputes on Senate rules and procedures.

Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, had been slated to become chairman before the Lott situation developed. A call to his office for comment was not immediately returned.

Republicans will make their chairmanship choices official next week when Congress reconvenes. Frist has been assembling his leadership team, with Mitch Bainwol, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as his chief of staff.

Lott admitted to some hesitation in facing longtime colleagues who called for his removal as leader.

"First, you never know until you experience it," Lott said. "Secondly, I didn't see a lot of what was being said simply because it was such an avalanche. Some of them were clearly those running for president ... taking a purely political position, I'm sure."

"And you can't just lay this at the door of the Democrats - some of the Republicans didn't do me any good either," he said. "I plan to ... look to the future, to be very sensitive to everything I say."