Cochran not prediciting senate leadership

Published 8:07 pm Thursday, November 9, 2006

U.S. Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran isn’t making any predictions about whether he’ll remain at the helm of the powerful committee until it is clear which political party will control the chamber.

“That will be decided next year. I’m not trying to figure out all the possibilities this far in advance. I’m a patient person,” Cochran, R-Miss., said Wednesday.

His comments came a day after the general election had given Democrats a majority in the House and strengthened them in the Senate. In Mississippi, fellow Republican Sen. Trent Lott and the state’s four U.S. House members — two Democrats and two Republicans — easily won re-election.

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The Democratic Party was at the brink of control of the Senate after Democrat Jon Tester prevailed over three-term Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in a Montana race on Wednesday.

The win assured the Democrats of 50 Senate seats, and a win in Virginia, where Democrat Jim Webb held a small lead over Republican Sen. George Allen, would give the party the majority.

“We’ll wait until the votes are all counted and we know how many people have been elected on one side or the other and then work together to address the problems that we face as a country,” Cochran said during a visit in Jackson.

Cochran took over the Appropriations Committee in 2005. The committee has discretion over funding for the federal government. He is Mississippi’s senior senator, and is serving his fifth term in Congress.

“We’re going to go back in session and complete the work on the appropriations bills that were not finished before the election,” Cochran said. “I don’t see any real problem about the adverse effects or the supposed adverse effects that this will have on the workings of the Senate.”

Cochran, who was not up for re-election this year, said he doesn’t believe the war in Iraq was the main issue that prompted the voter backlash against Republicans.

Lott, a former majority leader, has said he may seek a GOP leadership role. He said he’ll begin making calls to his chamber colleagues to get their thoughts.

Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was poised to succeed Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who is retiring from the Senate.

If the GOP doesn’t maintain the majority, McConnell would be in line for minority leader. McConnell, currently the whip, the chamber’s third-ranking member, is unopposed for the top position.

Lott could possibly pursue becoming whip.

“I’ll just weigh all of that carefully,” Lott said during his victory party Tuesday night. “Maybe I can just float back and forth and try to find a way to make things happen,” between the two parties.

At the 2002 birthday party of Sen. Strom Thurmond, Lott made comments that critics deemed racially insensitive, and he lost his majority leadership as a result. Since then, his political career has rebounded. And his political stock has grown since becoming an unofficial spokesman for Hurricane Katrina victims. Lott’s Pascagoula home was destroyed in the storm.

Cochran said he’ll support McConnell as the party’s leader.

“Mitch is the whip of the Senate. He’s done a great job,” said Cochran. “I think he’ll be unanimously elected as leader.”

But Cochran said that Lott’s influence will be important for Mississippi, as well as the country. “Whether he’s in an elected position of leadership or some other position. He’ll be a leader no matter what,” Cochran said.