WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Republican leader Trent Lott on Friday threatened to retaliate against Democrats for defeating the promotion of one of President Bush's nominees to a federal appeals court.
``I'm not going to let go of it for a long time,'' said Lott, upset because the Senate Judiciary Committee killed the nomination of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi to the U.S. Appeals Court in New Orleans.
Lott also announced he will block an aide of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle from getting on the Federal Communication Commission.
Daschle, in response, said that could backfire on Bush's other nominees in the Democratic-controlled Senate. ``I would think they would want our cooperation in moving other nominees,'' the South Dakota Democrat said.
Lott, Pickering's friend of 40 years, called the committee's racially charged proceedings and its 10-9 party-line vote a ``slap at Mississippi.'' The NAACP and other liberal rights groups, a core constituency of the Democrats, strongly disapproved the nomination because they said Pickering supported segregation as a young man and had an ultraconservative voting record as a Mississippi lawmaker.
``This is people trying to use the ghost of the past to try to prevent us from rising up and going forward in a positive way,'' Lott said. He cited what he called Pickering's close ties to black leaders in Mississippi, some of whom supported his nomination.
Lott took Pickering's defeat personally, but said Democrats also are mistreating Bush's judicial nominees and if it continues ``the Senate is going to be in very bad shape.''
Lott insisted his plan to block Bush's FCC nomination of 39-year-old Jonathan S. Adelstein, a legislative assistant for Daschle since 1995, has nothing to do with the Pickering vote.
``He's relatively young,'' said Lott, who insisted he made the decision two weeks ago. ``He doesn't have the experience.''
Two weeks ago was around the time Lott asked for a delay in the Pickering vote in hopes of finding a Democrat to vote for him.
Daschle called it unfortunate that Lott ``would lash out at someone totally uninvolved with the Pickering nomination.''
``I don't know if they've given careful thought to that threat, because I think it could easily backfire in many ways that would adversely affect their own agenda,'' the majority leader said.
Bush wanted the committee to let the full Senate vote on the nomination. Pickering probably would have won a majority there, because at least three Democrats in the Senate, which the party controls 50-49, had said they would vote for him. Daschle has said repeatedly he would block any attempt to vote on Pickering without committee approval.
Pickering ``deserves better than to be blocked by a party-line vote of 10 senators on one committee,'' Bush said. ``The voice of the entire Senate deserves to be heard.''
One Democrat, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, attacked his colleagues. ``This action may very well elect a Republican governor in Mississippi,'' he said.
Senate Judiciary Democrats, however, were united against Pickering. They repeatedly accused Republicans of mistreating many of the nominations made by former President Clinton, to the point of denying hearings for months at a time.
In addition, the committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Pickering ``repeatedly injects his own opinions into his decisions on issues ranging from employment discrimination to voting rights.''
Other Democrats referred to a case in which Pickering had sought a lighter sentence for a defendant on a cross-burning case, which Republicans contend was misinterpreted by the judge's critics.
Pickering simply does not have ``the temperament, the moderation or the commitment to core constitutional ... protections that is required for a life tenure position'' on the appeals court, said Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Republicans were equally united in their support of the judge. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, argued that Bush's nominee had been victimized by a smear campaign by groups seeking to impose ``an ideological litmus test'' on abortion, civil rights and other issues.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also praised Pickering for ``moral courage on the issue of race,'' demonstrated in 1967 when he testified against a Ku Klux Klan leader in Mississippi.