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Republicans to Meet to Discuss US Senate Leader's Possible Removal - 2002-12-16

Republicans in the U.S. Senate are to meet on January 6 to consider whether to remove Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi as their leader amid a racially-charged controversy.

The meeting is scheduled the day before the Senate convenes for a new session under Republican control.

At issue are comments Mr. Lott made earlier this month that appeared to endorse racial segregation. The remarks prompted a political firestorm that, despite his repeated apologies, has grown and now threatens his position as incoming Senate Majority Leader.

Several Republican lawmakers Sunday called for a meeting to reassess Mr. Lott's position as leader. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, was the first to call for new leadership elections.

Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican, quickly endorsed the call on CNN's Late Edition. "It is our responsibility as a group to come together, make a decision and go forward, and not to let this thing be dangling out there day after day," he said.

Republicans have been trying to regroup in the wake of Mr. Lott's controversial remarks, in which he said America would have been better if it had elected Strom Thurmond president in 1948 when he ran as a segregationist. Senator Lott made the comments earlier this month at a celebration marking the 100th birthday of retiring Senator Thurmond.

President Bush sharply criticized the comments last week.

At the White House Monday, spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to comment on a possible bid to topple Mr. Lott as Senate Republican leader. But stopped short of calling on the embattled Senator to give up his leadership post.

"The President does not think he needs to resign," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Lott has so far rejected calls to step aside as Republican leader. The Senator has scheduled an appearance on Black Entertainment Television, a cable channel with a largely black audience, to respond to the controversy.