WASHINGTON (AP) _ Trent Lott realizes he offended people with his remarks on segregation, but still can ably lead Senate Republicans, his incoming deputy said Saturday.
Other GOP colleagues said Lott's apology should end the matter.
``This is a forgiving country,'' said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who becomes GOP whip in the new Congress in January. ``He knows he made a big mistake. It's time to forgive him and to move on. And I think he can still be a very effective majority leader in the Senate.''
Several other Republican senators, including John Warner of Virginia and Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, joined the ``enough is enough'' chorus.
GOP gains in the midterm elections in November will put Republicans in control of the Senate, where Lott is to replace Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., as majority leader. But Lott's ability to lead his party has come into question since his remarks that Strom Thurmond's election as president in 1948 would have made a better United States.
Thurmond ran a third-party campaign that focused almost entirely on the segregation of blacks from whites, banning multiracial marriage, and protecting the South from ``anti-lynching'' proposals.
Speaking at Thurmond's 100th birthday party on Dec. 6, Lott said, ``We wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years'' had Thurmond been elected.
On Friday, Lott delivered an extended apology. ``My choice of words were totally unacceptable and insensitive,'' he said in Pascagoula, Miss., his hometown. He said had been ``winging it'' at the party for the retiring South Carolina Republican, and wanted only to help ``an elderly gentleman to feel good.''
``Segregation is a stain on our nation's soul. There is no other way to describe it,'' he said.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said Lott's apology was necessary. ``He let his party down,'' Hagel said. He added, ``I know of no one in our party calling for him to step down.''
Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican, told The Providence Journal that Lott's remarks smacked of ``stupidity.'' He did not call for Lott to step aside, saying he worries that potential successors might be even more conservative than the Mississippian.
President Bush last week rebuked Lott, but his spokesman said the president did not believe Lott should step down.
Some Republicans have kept silent, including Lott's current deputy, Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
Republicans are worried about the long-term effect of the race-based controversy on the GOP legislative agenda, on Bush and on the election prospects of Senate Republicans in 2004.
Liberal and civil rights groups have said the remarks were not an aberration, but emblematic of Lott's political career.
One Democrat, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, said the GOP must decide whether Lott ``represents the views of the majority of Republicans in the Senate and in our country.''
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner contributed to this report from Louisville, Ky.